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Divorcing at 47, after my only marriage of 3 years, was not my idea of how my life should unfold. I was devastated. Shattered may be a better word because I had lost my sense of self, of my place in the world, of how to be. I was disoriented. The ideal I had held for myself, and worked for my entire life, failed, and I had nothing left to hold on to except a knowledge that God loved me. And that was enough to keep me moving. Seeking understanding and a way forward, I put a tent and sleeping bag in my trunk and headed for the mountains of the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t come back for 3 months.

I thought I would figure everything out if I just had some time alone. But instead, my mind went silent. I thought I would cry a river of tears, but instead I was mesmerized by the grandeur of nature. I thought I would come back stronger, but instead I came back unfettered and simplified.

My dissolved marriage also dissolved many of my solid beliefs about how life is supposed to be. It took me another two years to realize I had not wasted that sacred time in the woods; but that God was putting me back together in those solo camping days, leaving behind unnecessary parts I had amassed over a lifetime. Two years allowed a new understanding to distill on my heart and put a few things into perspective. But new questions arose. Feeling more stable, I again left for the woods, but this time to find a new way to express myself—and hopefully a new work to do in the world.

My career in “corporate America” no longer fit me. I had been incredibly blessed to start my career with Microsoft, and later Nike, and even Product Management with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But I hungered to express my heart, share a deep well of compassion I felt for those suffering emotionally, and serve in an entirely new way than I ever had. I prayed and prayed in those woods. But again, disappointed, I finished that solo camping trip empty handed, except for a bucket of random pretty rocks I had picked up in a dry riverbed deep in the mountains of Montana.

I had never noticed rocks before, except heart-shaped rocks which I always pocketed over the years, as love notes from God. All the others were just, well, ordinary rocks. I had no idea then that rocks could tell stories. The scripture about the rocks crying out (Luke 19:40) was just a metaphor to me—until I spilled out that bucket of rocks from Montana and started seeing how the rocks could be organized into the shapes of people depicting the stories of Jesus—testifying of Him. I pushed those rocks around one afternoon, until, to my delight, the entire nativity story was before me. It was all just playful fun to see if an angel or a pregnant Mary was among those rocks. And they were! Even camels, kings, a stable, sheep, and Bethlehem! The stars would come from Lake Blanche of Big Cottonwood Canyon in Utah, but the rest of the scenes tumbled out of that bucket.

I was delighted, amazed, and as happy as a child to put them together. Creating the rock stories was a bit like staring at a campfire, poking at the coals—mindless, soothing, but not productive—we don’t do it to accomplish something. But I did like those rock scenes enough to put them in zip lock baggies, and keep them—why? I wasn’t sure.

To get your copy of Patti’s Easter book, He is Risen, CLICK HERE. 

A few dear friends who support anything I do, just because they love me, said they wanted a book of my rock pictures. Hesitantly I made a little prototype. One of those same friends, Tracey, put a video camera in front of me and said, tell your story and see if anyone wants to buy the book. So, we posted that two-minute video on Facebook, and in two weeks, we sold 900 copies! I was utterly astonished. These were just pebbles. Why were people so interested? Excited about the possibilities, but not faithful enough to believe this warranted the typical grueling effort to get “published,” I decided to take one run at the hill. I reached out to the world’s largest Christian publisher, and shockingly, they were immediately interested and eventually gave me a contract for two hardbound coffee-table books —one for Christmas and one for Easter. Imagine that! A pile of common rocks turned into an internationally published book—something only God could do.

All of this kept me so busy that I had not stopped to realize God had been continually answering my cries out to Him. The first solo camping trip was a time of healing, unburdening, and humbly walking with God, completely lost to the world and to myself, raw and vulnerable. In that tender space, God reformed me. The second solo camping trip was a direct answer to my prayer about finding a new way to express myself and a new work to do in the world, even though I didn’t know I had received any answers at the time. What remained was to find the purpose of the rock art. Certainly, it is to testify of Jesus Christ and draw people to Him. But there is more to it than novelty.

When I get pictures from parents of what their kids are making with their own backyard rocks, I rejoice. Children and teenagers take one look at these pictures and head outside to go rock hunting. They recreate the life-changing stories of our Savior, in their own way. Sometimes I weep, getting a glimpse into the heart and faith of another. A Lutheran church in Maryland just wrote asking if they can use the art and videos for their Lenten Season and their Easter services. A Catholic Church in England is using the books as the basis for an art curriculum for their children’s ministry. A church school in Australia wrote asking for instructions on how to teach the children rock art. And an international girls camp wrote an article in their magazine to their youth with my rock art, encouraging them to try it. Every time I hear of something like this, I shake my head in wonder at what God can do with a broken heart and a few common rocks. And I often fall to my knees in gratitude to an incomprehensibly tender God who loves me like I mean everything to Him.

The moment that touched me most was at a retirement party of a Christian friend. I assumed everyone there believed in Christ. When I was introduced to a delightful couple, they asked “what I did,” meaning my career. I said, “I play with rocks,” and we laughed. A copy of my Easter book happened to be in my bag, so we sat on the couch to thumb through it. They smiled and pointed at the surprising likeness rocks can portray of people and things. But the mood markedly changed as they turned the pages of the Garden of Gethsemane, the Crucifixion, and the Resurrection. The couple got very quiet and showed a serious side I had not yet met. Finally, the wife leaned over to me, and said, “Is this what Christians believe?” I was stunned.

I thought everyone in my circles knew the story of Jesus Christ, even if they didn’t believe it. Quickly gathering my composure, I asked about their religious background, of which they had none (these folks are in their 60s, well educated, and social). I had the high honor of getting to discuss the reason Jesus came to Earth and my love for Him. In that noisy room, the Spirit encircled the three of us, as my new friends attentively engaged in a rich gospel conversation. As they left, they said they wanted to get the book and try their hand at making rock art. Later, as I was helping the hostess clean up, she told me she watched in wonder as I sat on the couch with her friends, discussing the Atonement of Jesus Christ. She then explained that they are atheists, and that through all the years of living near them, they would not permit any discussion about God.

Perhaps the purpose of the rock art is clear to some, but not to me—not yet. I have a feeling there’s something deeper at play here than a new art form that depicts the life of Jesus. It’s my experience that when we’re hurting or disconnected or even broken, nature is the great place of healing. The pristine places of God’s creations are teaming with His life, light, and love. To touch and be in awe of a tree, a stream, a caterpillar, or even a stone is to directly connect with the Light of the World. And we cannot help but heal in the presence of God.

My broken heart took me to the woods, where I found peace and wonder. My yearning heart took me again to the woods, where I found purpose and creativity. My childlike heart takes me back to the woods, where I find delight and awe—a pure connection with my Savior.

The deeper purpose for the rocks:

Rock art is a simple way for anyone to get absorbed in nature, create a space inside big enough for God, and connect to something much bigger and more beautiful than our very busy minds. I’m convinced that God is the source of all healing and of all peace. If we can let Him in, we can be transformed. But that’s the challenge. HOW do we let Him in? Rock art is one way to rediscover our very real connection to God and to each other. Perhaps it’s the childlike play of rock art that opens me to the unfettered love of God, and his creative power flowing through me. Certainly, I did not make the art in those books. Angels nudge me to pick up certain rocks. And angels are doing the art. I’m just their hands.

If ordinary rocks were created for an extraordinary display of testimony, might our common lives have a greater meaning and purposes than we ever thought possible, even when our lives don’t turn out to be anything we planned? I’m sure God’s promise of “beauty for ashes” is real. He’s turning all my life’s ashes into beauty—my rocks into “a light unto the world.” As President Russell M. Nelson speaks often of gathering Israel, I figure this is the way God gave me to hold up a light. I’ve been amazed at who takes an interest and how their hungry hearts reach for the truth—the truth that Jesus Christ is our Savior and our Redeemer.

To get your copy of Patti’s Easter book, He is Risen, CLICK HERE. 

Palm Sunday Rockmation:

Last Supper Rockmation: