DALLAS — Leighton Autrey was a high school standout, a college star, and a Major League Baseball draft pick who thought he had his future mapped out.
At least until a tsunami of unexpected events turned his life upside-down.
The crossroads gave him a choice, and Autrey rediscovered his purpose in the least likely place — the Gallery of Life in Dallas' Deep Ellum district.
Autrey, who was hardly a choir boy, admits that illustrating Bible verses in his paintings was never a career choice. Nor was the idea of speaking in churches.
"All I cared about was baseball," he said.
But five years ago, his mother was dying from skin cancer. His father refused to leave her side, forcing Autrey to put down his bat and raise his two brothers.
"She called the whole family around and she said, 'I want you to go home and read the 91st Psalm,'" he tearfully recalled.
The scripture promised Autrey that God would deliver his dream back if he gave God his all.
He took a job in carpentry, earning $7 an hour, to stay close to home. "I was on my hands and knees doing tiles," Autrey recalled. "Six-foot-six guy doing tile work is not fun!"
Yet, it was there, on his knees, he had an epiphany — a hobby he had once used to kill time was really where God wanted him.
"I was on my hands and knees blaring Eminem and I felt a voice say, 'Leighton you're going to paint my painting and paint my scriptures,'" he said.
The risky career move paid off.
Autrey's artwork now hangs on display at the University of Texas at Austin; he's been commissioned by Major League Baseball to produce original work; and he's gaining a growing legion of fans.
"It really shows that no matter what you think you're supposed to do with your life that God's purpose for you is so much more fulfilling," he said.
And as for Autrey's mom? Looks like she's been blessed, too.
"Today she is completely healed, she still has her arm, and that's why I'm here," he said.
Autrey's first gallery showing in Dallas is next Saturday at the Life in Deep Ellum Cultural Center at 2803 Taylor Street from 6 until 10 p.m. His paintings go for $150 per square foot.