Here I am, 51 plus years on the planet. My life has not taken any road that I would have perceived or imagined at any point in the past. I have been a Math and Physics teacher for most of my adult life and never studied art or attempted painting until August of 2020. I felt like trying oil on canvas was something that would be good as a life experience. One week later, I had produced my first painting titled “Seeds of Love”. It would be beyond my words to describe what the process felt like to experience first hand. When I showed the painting to a friend with a vast knowledge of art, I was encouraged by her words to keep going and to more fully explore this medium.
I do not see myself entirely as an artist. I have a lot of directions that I want to continue to explore. There is a large work that I would like to do in the field of Education. I would also like to have conversation with the world at large about the matters of life that matter most. What is the nature of reality and the human experience? I recognize that healthy living involves a holistic approach of health in mind, body, soul, relationships, and finances. I am seeking to grow and share in each of these areas. But most of all, I want to live life like a child! I want to engage in play, to try new experiences, to behold wonder, to treat others well.
The name of my first exhibition is “Full Frontal”. That’s significant and purposeful. I think there’s so much more going on in the human experience, much of which we seem ill-equipped to find the language or opportunities to talk about. There are so many pressures from society to act, behave, and “present” in certain ways. Many topics, thoughts, ideas are not shared openly because of what we might perceive would be the feedback. So, … I choose to open up; throughout my life, in my art, in my relationships, in my faith. I intend to share the real me, freely with the world. I don’t think I’m any more special than anyone else on the planet, (although I admit I’m unique) but I think that by having the courage and confidence to live truly transparently, others will see that some of their own stuff isn’t so different. I hope to inspire you to honestly engage with others, with yourself, with God. I hope that some of what I do will help to create language and opportunities to discuss what it truly is to be alive, to be a part of the human race, the planet, the physical universe and the eternal.
I’ve asked a few people to share some words of their story with me, I’ll be including that below. First, I’d like to share a little bit of my story with you firsthand. I was born in Listowel, Ontario, Canada to Bill and Dorothy Bruins. At age 4, our family which included my older and younger brothers, Kelvin and Jamie, moved to Campbellford, a small town of 3400 on the Trent Severn Water Way. My Dad was a cop, OPP, and a good one. My mom was a homemaker and a good one. We lived in a big old farm house on the top of a hill on 6 acres of property, surrounded by forest, provincial park, and an apple orchard. We often had foster children come and live with us. My mom was usually looking after 5 or 6 of us during any given season. What an awesome experience that was! The house on the hill allowed for chores, dirt biking, tobogganing, climbing trees and jumping on the trampoline. It was an ideal upbringing.
At the age of 16, I was inspired to apply to the Rotary International Exchange program and was chosen. Originally I intended to go to Australia, but due to a bizarre twist of fate, I ended up in Recife, Brazil. Three days before I was scheduled to leave for Brazil, I was in a serious car accident and my back was broken. My L4 disk was sliced cleanly and completely through, but somehow my spinal cord remained in tact and I wasn’t paralyzed. I saw a Dr. Gertzben(sp?) at Sunnybrook hospital in Toronto, who found my case so remarkable that he wrote a medical journal about it. I was still adamant on going to Brazil, so I arrived a month late wearing a corset to help stabilize my spine.
That year in Brazil was such a game changer for me! Let me just say that Brazilian people are entirely awesome! I love the language, culture, music, colour, smell, dance, hospitality and sense of humor that Brazil offers. Recife is a city of 3 million people on the Northeast coast. That year, I made some amazing friends from all over the world, and spent 5 months of that year with the Fialho family, who I returned and stayed with for 3 months again, 5 years later. I still have regular contact with the Fialhos and painted O Brasileiro as a gift to them (which I will send one day 🙂
Mostly, for me, Brazil gave me a chance to reflect on the world at large, to become aware of some of my cultural beliefs that I held as absolutely true, which were not necessarily true at all. I remember in particular, being amazed by how happy the maid was in the Fialhos’ house. She worked long days, 6 days a week, and only got to see her two children on Sundays. She earned about $30 US per month. Yet, she was always beaming, singing, and full of joy. I remember thinking that none of the adults I knew back home were this happy and fulfilled and she works hard for peanuts! I asked her about it one day, wasn’t she discouraged to earn so little and to not get to raise her own children? She told me “No! With the money I am earning by working hard here, I am able to send my children to school. I know that my children will have a chance at a future because of the sacrifices I’m making and I’m so thankful that I can do that!” Wow, just wow!
When I returned to Canada, I was inspired to learn everything I could. I excelled in school and graduated with top honors and scholarships for university. I went to Trent U in Peterborough and got my honors degree in Physics and Mathematics. I made many good friends at Trent, but crazy Pete was a particularly close friend and partner in mischief! Peter Bruns was the one who got me interested in Jujitsu, something I am still passionate about today. After university, my roommate Jon suggested we get summer jobs in Vancouver before the next year, and then promptly got accepted into a good program at Georgetown and left me to go on my own.
In Vancouver, I got a job selling packages to play paintball for 90% off. At that company, the receptionist (Tara) introduced me to some friends of hers, and my life took another turn. I spent the next year living in a tiny room at the edge of Gastown, mostly volunteering at the Voodoo Electric Underground. It was an artist coop and underground night club. I was the chief custodian and head of security for club events. I basically helped out and hung out with a tribe of artists. (Never thought of myself as an artist there)
After 3 years in Vancouver, I returned to Trent to finished two courses that I needed. I stayed and worked at Beck’s Bindery in Campbellford for 2 more years to pay off my student loans, before doing a 3 month backpack trip around northern Europe and then returning to Vancouver. It was then that I met the love of my life, Claire.
Claire and I were married on November 11th, 2000. By that time, I had started working at Maple Ridge Christian School teaching Math and Physics. We had Hannah a year later, then Mikayla, then Isaac and finally Ethan. Wow, what a blessing! Four beautiful children full of life, promise and potential. In 2009, I stood up at an AGM for the school community because I was concerned by the way the new board was acting. I didn’t fully appreciate that I was calling out my bosses, publicly. I was laid off in 2010 and because the rules had changed while I had been teaching there with an independent school’s teaching certificate, I needed to go back to school and redo my teaching degree. (I hadn’t finished it back in the day) So, as the sole provider for a family of 6, I went back to school full time.
When I graduated in 2012, it was almost impossible to get hired to teach in BC. So I decided to apply to teach in Saskatchewan and was offered a principal position in Ogema. I am the only person I know who has taken a principal job directly out of teacher’s college. I bought a house in Ogema against the wishes of my wife, not understanding that I would never be able to sell it. I sunk my life savings into making the home beautiful (doing much of the work myself due to a shortage of skilled labor in the area). I was teaching 66% of the time, sometimes with 3 grades in the class at once, while being the only administrator in the building. To make matters worse, I didn’t know that one of the teachers there, who was born and raised in that town, had applied for the job and been rejected by their board. I walked into a complete ambush! It was an incredibly difficult year!
We moved back to BC the following year, but the house wouldn’t sell. We had renters for a season, and after living with Claire’s parents for a year, we got approved to buy a townhouse in Maple Ridge. About 2 years later, Claire became adamant on returning to Ogema and selling our townhouse in order to alleviate the mounting financial pressure. The house sold quickly and I moved Claire and the youngest 3 to Ogema in February with the intention of joining them in June and allowing Hannah to finish high school with her friends. The weekend I moved the family in, the SK government announced a massive cut to the education budget. There were no jobs available that year within 300 km from my family! I remained teaching at Meadowridge School in Maple Ridge until the summer of 2018 when I packed the family up and returned to Maple Ridge with them.
By this time, the stress had become beyond overwhelming. My marriage was failing, but I had no idea how badly. We had our truck and trailer repossessed. The renters who had agreed to buy the Ogema house backed out and we stopped paying the mortgage on it. Our debts had piled up beyond what we could cope with. Claire and I weren’t on the same page at all, even though at times it seemed like we were. Then, on November 17th, 2019, on the ride home from visiting Claire’s parents, I felt attacked in the car. It was bad enough that I considered stepping out the passengers door when we stopped at a red light and finding another way home. When we got home, I said goodnight, that I was going to spend the night elsewhere and get some space. I was told after I left that I wasn’t welcome to return home.
I haven’t seen or spoken with my three oldest children since. They have joined with Claire to cancel me entirely from their lives. This part of my story is the most painful. All I will say is that I believe that God has promised he will heal and restore my marriage and family. That may look impossible from here, but I choose to trust that God will do what He says He will do, even if it doesn’t look possible or like what I would expect.
So, there I was, no home, no belongings, my clothes left for me to pick up on the doorstep. I had no understanding why my wife and children had so completely turned against me. Fortunately, Dave and Kathy Elliot opened their home to me (a complete stranger) for the next three months before I took the basement suite in Meyer’s home. It was there that I started painting. 6 months after Covid, living in complete isolation, it was just the prompting of the Holy Spirit to give it a try.
When the Meyers needed to reclaim their suite for their parents, I was immediately reassured in my spirit that God had something good in store for me. Here I am, freestyling life, living by faith that God is in control, and learning to walk in all the promises of a life lived in relationship with Him.