So, to begin any good story, you need to go back to the beginning. I’m not necessarily going to do that, but I will start back in January 2010.
2010 started out just like any other year: fireworks, resolutions, hopes and dreams for the future, etc. Well, in the Aiuppy household my wife and I were enjoying each others company and excited to see what God had in store for us in this new year. We had no idea that taking one step of faith would alter the course of our entire lives.
Through January my wife and I talked about wanting to start our family (seriously this time), but we were running into obstacles of planning the “when” as in “when would we start trying”. Ultimately, after seeking the counsel of some close friends we decided that we would go ahead and start trying. However, my wife was still a bit hesitant. I told her that God knows exactly when she was supposed to get pregnant and when the child would be born. In a way to remove any remaining obstacle and as an added measure of faith I hid my wife’s birth control from her and hence, we began our pursuit in started our family.
Two moths later, March, that is, for some reason beyond belief we received a ginormously gargantuan tax return. In an act of faith we decided to give a obscene amount of it away to the church that we attend. It was a big step in faith for us because we could have used it to pay of some debts that we accrued. We could have looked responsible like the world around us tells us we should look.
Then in April, we were invited to become a part of a small group of people who wanted to see God come in new ways and make his presence known in Jacksonville Beach. From that time on we prayed that God would show us what it would look like for us to be a part of a church plant at the beach; including taking over the details so that we might be able to move there and away from our beloved neighborhood of Riverside.
When summer hit, nearing the time we would have to renew our lease in Riverside or move to the Beaches area, we began praying and looking for a new home. Our friends starting the church plant, Ocean City Church, started gathering people at a house at the beach, us being a part of that. One day, maybe the end of June, my wife and I went apartment hunting and we found the place: no deposit (well it was so small it felt like nothing), no signing fees, no nothing! And it was the first place we checked out. We looked at a couple other places to play it safe, but we knew we had a caught a great deal. Oh, and around the same time, we found out that my wife, Melissa, was pregnant. God was really beginning to orchestrate our lives in a new way.
In August we moved out to the beach and continued meeting Sunday nights at Ocean City Church. I entered my last semester at the University of North Florida as a fine art student. We really felt connected to God and were in this place of freedom and joy because the faith we believed in, the faith that God had bigger plans for us than we even new about. *(As a side note, in October I won a scholarship to study abroad in Venice, Italy.)
December 2010 comes around and I graduate with a BFA concentrating in painting and drawing. In faith, I took Christmas Break off to spend time with my wife, who was doing wonderfully with her pregnancy. We decided not to worry about what kind of job I was going to get post-bachelor’s until the beginning of the new year.Over Christmas Break, however, I began thinking about what I’d like to do as a career. I kept coming back to this notion that I wanted to become a teacher, but not just any teacher. I really desired wanting to become a college art professor. On several occasions during school professors and friends suggested to me that I would be a great teacher and that I should consider graduate school. So, I began to pray about that: grad school, teaching and the like.
The new year rung in with just as many hopes and dreams, etc., as the year before. 2010 was a huge year for us in regards to faith and trusting God more full with our lives. Currently I feel like I’m in the midst of something so much larger than myself.
Since I desired to teach art I pursued various venues. I sought out substitute teaching so that I could gain experience and, likewise, met with the Art Liaison for Duval County Public Schools. For the past few years leading up to Winter term 2011, you had to already be a substitute teacher to teach in the classroom because it was frozen. However, the Monday kids went back to school after break they removed the hold on hiring new subs and I began teaching art when I had the opportunity. Around the same time, January 2011, I was repeatedly bombarded with requests to work on websites for various people. So I began doing that as well as subbing. Likewise, I sold a couple of small paintings to a very nice gentleman.
As well, in January, my very adorably cute pregnant wife and I traveled to Savannah, Georgia to attend a SCAD Day to take a look at their E-Learning MFA Painting program. I wanted to apply to SCAD, Savannah College of Art and Design, because they were the only MFA I could pursue without having to uproot my family. Plus, if I applied that day, during the SCAD Day, it was free (saving us $50 we didn’t have). We enjoyed our time in Savannah and I had a wonderful opportunity to sit with a graduate professor and talk about my portfolio, my body of work. He was very encouraging and I became very excited about possibly being able to attend SCAD as a graduate student.
In early March someone bought another rather large painting of mine. I also got another offer to build someone’s website. I did some graphic design work for a friend of mine. By the middle of March I received my letter of acceptance to the Savannah College of Art and Design. It was thrilling to know that I had made it in! However, when I looked at the award package they had granted me it was too small for me to be able to commit going to what would have been my dream school. From there I laid the opportunity down, not really telling anyone that I had applied anyway for fear of not being able to go, and began to pray for clarity on the next step. On March 21, right before Spring Break (my wife is an elementary school music teacher), Melissa gave birth to our firstborn Blaise Philip. God’s timing was completely perfect, allowing my wife to give birth in a time to maximize her maternity leave. *(Minus a couple week stretch working the final weeks of school Melissa has 5 months off with our beloved son!)
The first week of May I sold three small paintings and did a commission as well as reserved another commission for June. The reason that all of this is worth noting is because by no means did I try to get any of this work (since January). I received phone calls and emails from people who were interested in giving me business or buying my art. Some of these people I did not know beforehand. It is amazing to me that I have been able to substitute teach a little bit and work on all of these other projects; all without the stress of not having a full time job. God has been very gracious and generous to me and my family.
Shortly after the first week of May, however, I began to have what seemed to be a faith complex. I believed and trusted God up until then, surely, and everything had really fit together, synced in what seemed to be a supernatural way. For example, the bills were getting paid while Melissa was on maternity leave without a hitch, and I felt like, no, I knew, God was in control of it all. But during the second week of May there was no more work. No work the third week either. Amazingly, I got a random check the last Friday in May. That was an unforeseen blessing and we had enough to pay the bills for another month.
Over this period of time an overwhelming sense of isolation from God came over me and I began to want to work in my own strength to provide for the needs of my family. I decided that I needed to get a full-time job and the summer months were looking bleak. One example of just how futile my thinking was: last week I applied to 25 jobs in one day and I still haven’t heard back from a single one. I had forgotten the faith I once had that God was in control of our lives and that he would provide for us and our needs and He’s good at the same time.
By now you must be thinking, “What’s the point to all of this?”
To you I would say, “Allow me to finish.”
On Sunday, June 5, I was praying and began to have a sense of peace over my life and for where God has us, even though I don’t have any real work right now besides some painting gigs, Melissa is about to be on Summer Break and we still need to make ends meet until school starts back up in August.
Monday, June 6, I get an email from someone I don’t recognize, but in the tagline it says view your SCAD financial report. By this time I have avoided and deleted all SCAD emails that came into my inbox and avoided all calls from the school. There was no way I was able to go to that school. Well, reluctantly, I opened the email and downloaded the attached PDF. Looking in the margin along the right-hand side I noticed that they gave me a little bit more in a scholarship than previously offered; not a lot more, but enough to make a difference. So, I told Melissa about it and we began to pray about it. There might be a chance that I could go to SCAD, after all?! What in the world is going on?
See, this was the clincher: in order to be able to go, in order to accept the upgraded award package we had to commit by paying a $500 enrollment fee. Um, we don’t have that kind of money just lying around. That’s bill money for the next month. So, we prayed. And then we prayed some more and we decided that it was too good not to do. Sure, the bills might get paid a week or two late, but it was too close not to do it, not to take this opportunity. We decided to risk big and take a leap of faith. Tuesday I called my advisor at the school and told her that I was going to go there (By the way, did I mention that for the E-Learning program begins the last week in June?) and that I could pay the enrollment fee. Needless to say, she thought I was a bit crazy to enroll with only 2 1/2 weeks before the term began.
The next day, Wednesday, I received an email from the same sender as the one before with an updated financial aid package for SCAD. Nervously I clicked on it, downloaded the PDF attachment and quickly my eyes went to to that right-hand margin with all those numbers. I was astonished. Amazed. Well, more so traumatically enthused! In addition to the upgrades scholarship I was awarded a grant in the same amount. “You don’t pay grants back!”, a friend of mine reeled when I told him about this crazy story that has become my life. In retort, I declared, “You don’t pay scholarships back either!”
So, basically within a span of hours I was a guy who was accepted but couldn’t go to grad school to a guy how had half of his schooling paid for. Apparently, at least in my case, God’s economy works something like this:
x (X)2 = half of my grad school tuition paid for.
At this point in my life I am beside myself. I feel the way you would if you had just gotten in a car accident, or the way you might feel on your way up to the stand in a court trial just before you give your testimony. All of my categories for what God can do have been shattered by the this display of grace and generosity in my life.
Sure we have to get student loans and yes, the bills still have to get paid over the summer, but my God is bigger than all of that. My God heals the sick. My God raises the dead. And apparently my God knows the desires of my heart and provides opportunities of faith and trust so that he can get the glory in the end through my satisfaction in Him. A fine art graduate student.
There’s much to do until I go to Savannah for 5 weeks. I should get to it.
*(I am a graduate student at SCAD in the E-Learning MFA Painting program. I will spend the summers in Savannah, Georgia and the rest of the year taking online courses while living at home in the Beaches area near Jacksonville, Florida.)