“The Hour I First Believed” – My Latest Painting

Amazing Grace…

I’m walking down a familiar hallway for what I know will be one of the last times. I’ve come to visit my sweet, 94 year old granddaddy.  He greets me with a warm, toothless smile.  He’s frail, but strong in spirit.  He’s been longing for heaven for some time now, even telling us that he sees the gates and angels that await him. “Let’s sing,” he says.  I ask what he wants to sing, and he chooses “Amazing Grace,” his favorite. Together, we sing the words that he truly believes.  He has experienced so much of God’s grace in his 94 years, and though he mixes up some of the words now, we had a moment together that day that I’ll remember for the rest of my life.  We had only two more visits after that.

“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear, and grace my fears relieved.  How precious did that grace appear, the hour I first believed.”  Seven years later, as I sing these words now in worship, as always I remember my granddaddy.  But this time, I also see what I know will be my next painting, as clearly in my mind as if it was already completed.

The Hour I First Believed - Oil Painting by Kelly O'Neill

The Hour I First Believed

A man, tattooed and masculine, is shackled, but Christ is releasing his chains.  It is the moment of his salvation… the hour he first believed.

As with most of my “God paintings,” I knew that to not paint it would be disobedience. However, I wanted to use a model who had truly experienced God’s transforming grace so I started looking.  I called the Nashville Rescue Mission that has a rehabilitation program for breaking addictions, and they directed me to a young man named Chris.

Chris’s Story

Chris came from a home where he always felt loved.  However, at the tender age of eight, he encountered marijuana, and began smoking.  By thirteen, he had moved on to abusing prescription drugs and narcotics.  At 16, he was arrested for possession, and began dealing drugs to others.  During the next 6 years, Chris led a life of utter debauchery: a 6-month drug binge, multiple overdoses, being forced by a judge to enlist in the Navy only to go AWOL, and a marriage that dissolved into the “swinging” lifestyle.  By the time his wife became pregnant, Chris had begun dealing cocaine, making $200,000 per month.  When she gave birth to their son, Chris was so busy partying and spending money that he eventually just paid her a weekly allowance to leave him alone.

Hitting Rock Bottom

During the next few months, Chris was involved in several stabbings.  During one fight, he even shot another man.  After spending all of his money on partying, he began living with friends, stealing from them to support his drug habit.  He got arrested for one of those thefts and went to jail. Upon his release, as a last resort, his parents dropped him off at the Nashville Rescue Mission.  He completed the program only at the insistence of his probation officer.

He had gone from being one of the most successful drug dealers in Virginia to being homeless, without even a change of clothes, in a rehab facility…and an intense anger set in.  For his entire life, Chris had been an atheist.  However, at the Mission he heard about God daily in devotions. The more he heard, the more he wanted to learn, and he dove in to God’s word with feverish intent. Near the end of his program, God finally became real to him and he gave his life over to Him. At that very moment, he was free!  Free from the bondage of his addictions and sinful life. Free from chasing after things of no eternal value. He now lives on his own and works as a landscaper, is working to get his son back, and is sharing what God did for him with whoever will listen:

“I’ve realized something looking back on my life: because I was so hard-headed, God allowed me to reach a high that most people will never see financially, then He let me hit rock bottom to humble me and allow me to find Him.  The testimony of my life is that, no matter how much you achieve, you have nothing if you don’t have God. I’m ready to start over and to love God with all of my heart and prove to the world that I AM someone who can make a difference in people’s lives.”

“The Hour I First Believed” is a painting that depicts freedom.  It is a freedom that every person who accepts Christ experiences, though one person may feel the weight of their former life more than another.

Romans 3:23-24 teaches us that “…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

The Hour I First Believed - Chriss walking away from his chains

Set free!

Painting With Purpose

My hope is that this painting will be used in people’s lives who see it. How God uses my paintings is always a wonderful mystery to me, but I can’t wait to see what He’ll do with this one!  Please feel free to comment and share this with the people in your life.  Churches and ministries may use it after asking permission in their services or printed material. Canvas prints (full-sized at 30×24) are available on my website. Purchase one here!

If you’d like to see other paintings that God led me to create, please visit Paintings With Purpose.


  • I love that you took the time to find a real person who had been freed of his sins and past. Your Granddaddy was a person who had a past he had not been proud of, but he became free in Christ, just like Chris. I love this painting and I know God will use it for His glory in ways we cannot even imagine.

    July 12, 2011
    • Kelly O'Neill

      Mom, I love that about Granddaddy. He was such an amazing man, and one who inspired me as he longed for heaven in those final years.

      July 13, 2011
  • This is AMAZING. You are so extremely talented. I can’t wait for Chris to see this. I know he will be so blessed by it. Thank you for sharing this.

    July 13, 2011
    • Kelly O'Neill

      Michelle, Thank you! I so appreciate your part in making this happen. Feel free to link to or use part of this post in the publication you have at the Mission anytime. Have a great day!

      July 13, 2011
  • suzanne mcgaughey

    Kelly, I have been an admirer since Melanie first showed me one of your paintings, and this one is beautiful also – in the art itself, but the story behind it is AMAZING. I hope to meet you and your family one day – may God bless you all! Blessings, Suzanne McGaughey

    July 14, 2011
  • Lindsay

    …and how might one go about requesting a canvas copy? :)

    August 21, 2011
    • Kelly O'Neill

      You just did! :) I’ll email information about the two options I’m offering, and I look forward to hearing back from you! Thanks, Lindsay.

      August 22, 2011

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