New mural a testament to positive impact of faith for New Tazewell woman

Published 4:26 pm Wednesday, February 28, 2024

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By Sandy Brown

For the Claiborne Progress


Change is rarely easy. However, Jessica Konieczny of New Tazewell, Tenn., sees only positives in the many changes in her life over the past seven years.

The 44-year-old was living in Crown Point, Ind., where she was in what she describes as an “emotionally abusive” relationship and working as a bartender. Her spiritual life was pretty much non-existent, she says. That all changed when her husband committed suicide in 2016.

She spent the next few months feeling very much alone. But she used her newfound alone time to concentrate on reading the Bible and listening to worship music. The result was a huge change. “I literally went from darkness to His overwhelming light,” she says of the experience, which brought her closer to God.

The change began when she moved from the home she had shared with her husband into a new residence, and her then-friend Jonathan Harper helped. “We weren’t even friends before that,” she says, but that quickly changed. The couple, who are engaged, have been together since Feb. 14, 2017. “We kind of consider this our anniversary.”

When Jessica discovered she was pregnant with now 5-year-old Lorali, she made another big change. She and Jonathan both got sober, and he joined her in studying the Bible and listening to worship music. They both also battled health issues: she developed blood clots (a disability that still prevents her from working) and Jonathan suffered from gangrene. “Together we have been through so much.”

She describes Jonathan as always encouraging and supporting her. “He is everything a husband should be. This is everything I’ve ever prayed for in a marriage,” she says. His positive influence also includes her artistic leanings. Jessica says she has always been interested in painting.

 “I took every art class I could in high school,” she says. “I wanted to go to art school but never did.” Jonathan encouraged her to pursue being an artist after she showed him one of her paintings, and that’s exactly what she’s been doing.

“He’s always believed in me and everything I can do. He’s always encouraged me. He got me back into my art.”

The couple decided to relocate to Tennessee when Jonathan brought her to the area as a gift for her 40th birthday. She and Jonathan have become active in the First Christian Church of Middlesboro. They visited a couple of other churches in the area but were searching for a place where they felt more at home. 

Jessica noticed the building after dinner at Shades one night (just across the street from the church). She initially thought that it was a courthouse. Upon discovering what the building actually was, the couple decided to attend services the following Sunday.

“We have never felt so welcomed as we did here,” she said, adding that the congregation makes her feel as though she is part of a caring family. “Astor (then pastor Astor Simpson) really embraced us. We felt the love from this church almost immediately.”

One night, as they were leaving Bible study, Jessica noticed how the stained glass windows lit up the church and had an idea to gift Pastor Astor with a painting of the church at night. She also included one of the pastor’s favorite sayings: You will not find a perfect people here; you will not find a perfect pastor here; But you will find a perfect Lord here.

She finished the painting just in time to present it to him in October – on Pastor Appreciation Sunday. The occasion was not planned, she says; it just kind of worked out that way. “I just wanted him to have a little token of what he’s done for me and my family and really everyone in the community.”

Recent work in the Sunday school classrooms gave Jessica the idea to paint a mural of Noah’s Ark in the 4-5-year-old classroom and include a separate rendering of the three monkeys (see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil) on another wall between the windows. She and Jonathan both thought the freshly painted walls could use an accent, and it gave Jessica the chance to do a new project.

“This is my first mural. I’ve always wanted to do a mural. I feel very blessed to do this.” She has been working on the mural for approximately a month and is almost ready to start on the rendering. 

“It (the mural) makes me think about Jesus,” says class member Coraline Hall, who, along with Jessica’s daughter Lorali, used their hands to form hearts to describe how they feel about the painting

For many years, Jessica neglected her artistic passion because, as she puts it, “life got in the way.” Along with her job, she was busy raising daughters, recently married Hailey, now 23 and pregnant with her first child, and Addision, 17, along with Lorali.

“I’m glad my passion is being used for the Lord’s purpose,” she said, adding that she is happy with the changes in her life over the recent years. In addition, she plans to teach a monthly craft lesson to the class.

“The things that you dream about are possible when you give your life to Christ,” she says. “If I can do it – anyone can do it.”