Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

The crossroads that changed our lives forever

By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published April 19, 2024

My parents rarely argued, but when they did, it was about money. My mother had grown up in a middle-class family with parents who could afford to send her and her siblings to college. But she married a man who had left school in sixth grade to support his family after his father died.  

My father had a hard time finding a job, but the bigger problem was his propensity to gamble. He drove a cab to make a living, but the money from that venture often made its way to the racetrack. As the bills piled up, the arguments intensified and my mother got a teaching job.  

Back then, gambling wasn’t considered an addiction for which one could get counseling, so the money problem continued. My mom ended up teaching for decades, although her heartfelt dream had been to stay home with her two girls.   

Fortunately, my late husband and I were on the same page about money. During the early years of our marriage, we lived comfortably, enjoying dinners out and vacations, although we avoided racking up debt. He was an electrical engineer and I was teaching college English and philosophy part-time. When I grew tired of teaching, I took a professional writing position at a university 30 miles away from home.  

As the years wore on, Jef became disenchanted with engineering, and I was exhausted by the writing job. But there was no way out—or so we thought.  

We had a big awakening, when we started researching ways to simplify our lives. We realized that unless we learned to live on less and leave full-time work, we wouldn’t have the freedom to do what we really loved. For me, that was writing, and for him, it was artwork.  

Little by little, we began changing the ways we spent money. For example, restaurant meals had been a weekly treat until we did the math. Dining at a home became a joy that not only saved money, but also encouraged Jef to experiment with gourmet creations. We tracked every penny we spent, and learned to distinguish between wants and needs. As our spending habits changed, our savings grew.  

When Jef initially told me he wanted to make a living as an artist, I had some misgivings. After all, I was the daughter of a woman who constantly worried about money. Still, I realized we were at a crossroads. We could continue working in jobs that left us little time to use our God-given talents—or take a leap of faith. But if we did leap, where would we end up?  

We knew we were on the right track, when our prayers were quickly answered about finding part-time work. In 2001, “out of the blue” we both landed jobs in the theology library at Emory University. My commute was reduced from 60 miles round-trip daily to three! Our paychecks shrank considerably, but we enjoyed our jobs, and had afternoons free for creative work. 

So where did that leap of faith eventually land us? This was answered in 2015, when Jef died suddenly while taking a walk. In 14 years, he had gone from being an unknown artist to an internationally celebrated Tolkien artist and illustrator. He had shown his work in art shows in England, three times, once in Canada and multiple times in the United States.  

He had become the illustrator for my columns in this newspaper and the artist-in-residence for a Catholic magazine. In his unique way, he was an evangelizer, as his work led people to admire the wonders of God’s creation. As for me, in those 14 years, I’d authored three mysteries, a biography of Flannery O’Connor and other books.  

Our home overflows with Jef’s thrilling creatures from Middle-earth, Narnia and the realm of saints and angels. Each day, I encounter his delightful paintings of shining sea and mountains, talking trees and jaunty hobbits.  

It wasn’t easy stepping out in faith, but I’m so grateful we did. Of course, we didn’t know Jef’s time on earth was dwindling. Through God’s grace, he was able to use that time to bring amazing beauty into people’s lives, and help them see God’s handiwork everywhere.

Artwork (“Echoes on the Road”) is by Jef Murray. Lorraine’s email address is