Mara Measor uses doodles to speak to God. They're only stick men, but they are surprisingly moving.
With the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, she's now producing a book called 'Naked Prayer' as a way of sharing her scribbles with others, as well as an album of songs developed from her prayers. The work consists of drawings and notes from her prayer journal from 2012-13 charting her thoughts and prayers at a particularly difficult time.
Mara, 26, is originally from Hong Kong, but now lives in New York, where she works as a freelance musician and actor. Having graduated from college and struck out on her own as a musician she found it difficult living away from her family, who still live in Hong Kong, especially when her father became seriously ill.
"A lot of stuff was happening which made it very painful to be in here New York," she says. Although she was finding things increasingly difficult, she tried to block it out. "I was just trying to do more and more to ignore what was happening, then at some point I completely crashed."
Having never struggled with depression before, it came as a foreign feeling – she denied it, and refused to have therapy, until her boyfriend intervened and called a counsellor. Although she was resistant at first, Mara eventually began what she described as a "gradual process of restoration".
Throughout this time she didn't stop praying and calling out to God, and the prayers and drawings she recorded form the majority of the book.
"One of the main reasons I wanted to share this was that when I looked back it was just so evident to me that God responded to a lot of those cries," she says.
"When I was feeling much better I looked back and realised there are a lot of people who are going through what went through and feel the same denial and feel very alone, and kind of crazy, and very guilty.
"I felt that I must have done something horribly wrong to be in this position. I think you can feel a lot of guilt in a Christian community when you're not doing really well."
Although Mara feels that God has answered her cries for help, she says it didn't happen as she thought. "I think I expected more of a 'snap' and then all of a sudden I'd be ok. It was much messier, but I think I agree with God's ways. It's nicer when he works out our stories through other people, through a slow, messy journey," she says.
"My dad is still sick, I still fly back. It's not like I prayed for his healing and he's fine. But I do feel that in the ways they needed to be answered, they have been. I have started to agree that God's ways are higher than mine."
Understandably, she felt nervous about sharing something so personal, but she found that as she shared it with others – first friends, and then a more critical audience – they were encouraged by her simple expressions of her life of faith. The final push to make the book came from their support.
One person who agreed to read the manuscript was a man in his mid-30s who worked in banking. She says that when she sent it to him, she didn't know what he would think of her "little girl doodles". He too was deeply moved by the pictures.
As a musician, the album was a natural extension of her prayers, especially as so many of her questions to God were about her music, and whether or not she was doing the right thing.
Although naturally creative, Mara had no formal artistic experience, though she has since taken a course in graphic design in order to complete the project. "This book is the level of sophistication I have reached," she says, "but I like to think I have mastered the two dots and the curve of a smile."
Drawing "helps me gain perspective," she adds. "I draw this stick figure and it helps me remember how small I am. I will draw this big stick figure, who is God, and it helps me take myself a little less seriously."
Mara started using a prayer journal when she spent a year working in Ethiopia after finishing High School. She says the journal "became increasingly intimate because it was my only outlet during that time. It was definitely a year when God became very real to me – he was the only person who spoke English."
She often sets aside time to listen to God in her prayer time, to ask God what he is saying, as a way of recognising that no conversation should be one-way. Sometimes the pictures she draws are less about things she is already thinking, and more a response to quiet reflection.
"Earlier in my doodling prayer days, the images came from what I was seeing when I asked that question. One thing I saw over and over again was girl standing on a mountain singing into the air – I see that image all the time when I pray," she says.
Rather than using drawing as a novel strategy when prayer is difficult, Mara doodles because she loves to pray, and finds it a place of safety.
"I've never felt like a very eloquent person," she says. "I often walk away feeling like I didn't quite express myself correctly. I have that frustration all the time with people. But the only time I really don't feel that is with God.
"It's nice to know that with him, words are just one part of our communication. He already knows what we're trying to say – I've always found that really comforting.
"Prayer to me has always been a place of refuge and much more peace than conversations with other people. It's a time when don't have to try so hard. 'Naked prayer' is about being honest about where you are."
Mara hopes that the book and album will speak to Christians and non-Christians alike; to those who need a source of comfort and hope, as well as those who don't know God, to give them "a taste of what it's like to reach out and be heard."