Bruce Repei has made a career for the past thirty years as a head scenic artist, art director, and designer in the professional theatre business. For the past five years, he has also had a studio on James St. N., where he produced his own artwork. He is known and loved by many in the community for his work teaching the PMC art class for over a decade, as well as a more recent class for seniors at the YWCA. This is his story of losing sight but finding a new depth of faith.
I’ve been a believing Christian since the age of ten, but at some point in the past few years, I began to notice a growing sense of spiritual restlessness. I felt like I never had the kind of spiritual life that you read and hear about. I always felt there could be a better experience. I wanted that closeness to God and that shower of blessings that the scriptures describe, but I always figured I was not worthy of it—or else I would have known it by now.
A few years ago, pastor lane spoke about being “haunted by God.” This began happening to me. I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking someone was there. I was never afraid even though it felt surreal or supernatural. It was as if someone was trying to tell me something but no words were heard. Someone was there. It was the Holy Ghost haunting me.
This was a good haunting. I was quite moved by this and began to pray for something to happen that would make me a better person and Christian. I asked myself what would I want from God as a spiritual blessing or gift if I had the chance. I decided that my greatest spiritual weakness was a lack of courage, so that is what I prayed for. I honestly believe that my answer came in the form of the trial I would soon go through. I learned that when you ask God to do something you had better stand firm and be prepared.
In the spring of 2016, I started to notice my eyesight slipping. It was harder to focus. I got new glasses prescribed and by the time I picked them up they failed to work for me. The doctor determined that I had low eye pressure. The doctor tried some treatments, but every treatment failed. Sometimes my vision would return, only to fail again shortly afterward. I was coasting up and down with hopes and disappointment.
In the summer of 2016, Pastor Lane was teaching a series of sermons from the book of Job. This was never a favourite story of mine because I always looked on Job as someone with special favour from God. Each Sunday, I would take my seat in the balcony and listen to the woes of Job while at the same time in noticing that my sight was diminishing a little more each week.
I’ve never been known to have a quick temper, but one night lying in my bed I felt a real anger at what was happening to me. I was never a person who got angry at God, but now I was asking God, “how could you let this happen to an artist?” I had just turned sixty-five. I was looking forward to launching into more painting, more teaching, and a rewarding time ahead. Instead, my retirement gift was blindness—received with some bitterness toward God.
August 16, 2016
Taking what I thought was the mature approach to my anger, I decided that anger was not the right path and that it would only lead to my own misery. As Christians, we are always taught to look for the good purpose in all things, including our troubles and trials. I struggled to see where there was any good in an artist losing his vision. I was at a dead end and could not imagine my life without sight or the ability to do my artwork. I was forced to challenge God.
I prayed, “Lord I know I can’t be angry at you about this. I don’t believe you would allow this to be cruel or to punish me. I do believe you must have some purpose in this awful circumstances you have placed me in. I am helpless and unable to understand any purpose for goodness here. Show me what you want me to know."
August 17, 2016
The next morning as I was checking my email, I saw a message from a man I had worked with in previous years in the theatre business. I was a little surprised because I didn’t remember getting any messages from him before, so I was curious what he had to say. There was no text in the email, just an image of a stone tablet with the words “Psalm 73” carved into it. I had never known this man to talk about God or scripture, so this was a surprising message.
At this time, my vision was poor but still good enough that I could read using a magnifying glass. I had a Bible in my studio which Pastor Mike Mileski had given me. It was a special edition with beautiful abstract artwork and a very easy to read text. I read from it every day before I set to work on my painting.
On this day, I decided to read Psalm 73, hoping to discover why my colleague had sent it to me. I started reading about Israel and the ungodly prospering. This didn’t seem to have anything to do with my situation. Reading further, the Psalmist expresses frustration and admits his unworthiness to God. I could relate to that more. The next verse was one which I had heard and read many times before without too much notice:
“Nevertheless, I am continually with thee. You hold me by my right hand. You guide me with your counsel and afterward, receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you, Lord, and there is nothing on earth that I desire more. My heart and my flesh fail me but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. It is good for me to be near God...I will put my trust in the Lord God that I may tell of his works.”
I was reading while standing at my drafting table, but when I read these words, I slumped down into a chair because I felt my knees weaken. I was so overcome by the words I read; it was as if I had never read or heard them before. At that moment, as I sat in my studio, it felts like someone put a cloak around me. A wave of peace and reassurance washed over me. I felt peace I had never known before. This was the “peace that passes all understanding” which comes only from God. This was the Holy Spirit answering my prayer. Psalm 73 told me what I needed to know.
The Lord is with me, always at my right side holding my hand. He will guide my footsteps and prevent me from falling. When my life on earth is over, I will stand with him in heaven because I am just as worthy in God’s sight as Job. I have no doubt of all this because the Lord has given me the courage to believe it fully.
After reading and taking in the words of Psalm 73, I said out loud in my studio, “What more could I possibly want?” I re-read Psalm 73 several times right after. I had never had a verse that I might refer to as my “life-verse.” Now I had my own life verse because Psalm 73 changed my outlook on life forever.
In the days and weeks that followed, I read psalm after psalm. I discovered that I could listen to someone read the psalms on YouTube, which was easier than struggling with my sight. I was amazed that the theology that weaved its way through the psalms. Several of them bolstered my faith and my reverence for this great book. I always read the daily devotional reading and commentary by Charles Spurgeon. His insight into the human condition combined with his knowledge of theology is remarkable. Many days he would offer up a psalm which would prove to be exactly what I needed to have that day.
In the year that followed, there were many efforts to fix my sight. I underwent four surgeries and received countless injections in my eyes. With a newfound peace and courage, I was able to go through all these ordeals knowing that the Lord was always with me. With the help of excellent, caring doctors, I didn’t need to worry.
By the spring, it seemed at first that the surgeries had succeeded. The relief was short lived. The pressure problem had been fixed, but a new problem appeared in the form of calcium deposits on my cornea, which were clouding my vision. I was just ready to get new glasses after waiting a year, only to find out it was not possible until the calcium was dealt with. This involved another specialist and more delays. I had been dealing with my life very well up until this time, but the combination of everything seemed to drag me down ‘til I felt depressed and very discouraged.
August 17, 2017
One particularly bad day, I went to see what my friend Charles Spurgeon had to say. I was really counting on something meaningful to help me see my way out of this depressed state.
Instead of a psalm, this day’s reading was from John: the story of Lazarus. “Why Lazarus?” I thought. That didn’t seem to offer any help on this day. Spurgeon told how Christ is telling us that our trials, troubles, and illnesses are not forever, that there is a time for these things to end. That promise from God changed my mood from discouragement to hope and promise. I now had the promise that my long series of trouble with my sight would have an end. That was good enough for me. I had made it through the past year, and I knew I was a better person than before. I don’t think the old me would have come through the year as well.
The story continues
In September of this year, I had an operation to remove the calcium from my cornea. It was successful, but the condition has quickly returned since then. Once again, I find myself unable to get new glasses, parked on the sidelines with hazy vision. I am disappointed, but not without hope. I have hope because of the many prayers on my behalf and the peace and courage that get from my Saviour who holds my right hand.
I am in awe of what God has done for me this past year. I am in awe of how God has moved in my life since I asked him to do something for me. I am richly blessed with a loving wife, daughters, and a family who care about and for me. I have a church filled with caring people who have prayed for me. I have everything I need; I know not everyone is blessed the same way. I don’t know if I will have my sight restored to where I can read and write and create art again. Even if I don’t, I know that God will have a plan for me and I will never be left without him.
I once asked what the Lord wanted me to do. I found my answer in Psalm 73, which says. “I will tell of thy works.” This is why I am telling my story. I have yet to meet a person who did not face some sort of trouble, trial, illness, fear, and so on. I want people to know that you can be deeply blessed and assured by just opening your heart and asking God to do something for you. If you read Psalm 73 and do what the psalmist says by putting your trust in the lord, your life will change more than you can imagine. Whoever you are—rich or poor, young or old, you and I can be as richly blessed and stand as worthy as Job in God’s sight.