Trees of Righteousness...That He Might Be Glorified - Part IV - The Real Reason I Am An Artist

Anybody know what a “ram of righteousness” is? Well, I wondered, too. In this last post on the subject of WHY I am thinking I became an artist, the verse in Isaiah 61:3 finishes with these words:

that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.”

So in the process of asking myself why I do what I do, I now see that God tells us His “Why”. He desires that our healed lives bring Him glory.

Across Frozen Fields, 10x13 watercolor by Elise, March 2017, available

The word for “tree” here, in Hebrew, can also mean “ram”. What in the world is a “Ram of righteousness?!” My concordance goes on to explain it's like a twisted rams horn, for a twisted horn is stronger than a straight one.

In battle, the strength of a ram's horn is probably important for coming out on the other side in one piece and winning the battleground.

The Jerusalem Bible version says, “They are to be called 'terebinths of integrity', planted by Yahweh to glorify him.

terebinth is an old word for an oak tree. Old oak trees are often twisted and battle-scarred, having weathered and stood through many, many storms.

The Snow Swing - 5x7, watercolor by Elise, 2017, of the old oak tree outside my studio window, Private Collection

The word for “righteousness” here can mean integrity or prosperity.

So, I'm thinking someone who has suffered greatly, and then experienced healing from their losses, grief and despondency can come out of the fires shining like gold!

They can go from sorrowful weakness to great strength and “strong prosperity”!

Such a hope-filled passage!

Top of the Hill, 17x22 watercolor by Elise, March 2017, available
I'm reminded of the “coup-fourré” card in the game, Milles Bornes. Where you are under great strain but suddenly, you have the protection you need and the tables are turned!

I am reminded of the testimonies of Joseph, Job, David, and many others.

This passage goes on to say in verse four, “And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.”

Light Splayed Out watercolor by Elise, March 2017 Private Collection

Build, raise, repair. Verbs which connote taking action!

It takes skill, strength, vision, courage, resources and perhaps even funds to do these “reparations”.

And so, loss in life often leads to our gain. Sorrow to joy. Ugliness to great beauty.

Spring Thaw, 14x22 watercolor from March 2017 by Elise, available

I desire that the work of my hands and heart would inspire our present-day culture to go in the direction of repairing broken places, shattered hearts, and ruined lives. May it be so!

With love, your faith-full painting-friend,

One Little Tree with Lowering Clouds, 1/2-sheet watercolor (15x22) by Elise, March 2017, available

Isaiah 61:1-7 from The Message:

The Spirit of God, the Master, is on me
    because God anointed me.
He sent me to preach good news to the poor,
    heal the heartbroken,
Announce freedom to all captives,
    pardon all prisoners.
God sent me to announce the year of his grace—
    a celebration of God’s destruction of our enemies—
    and to comfort all who mourn,
To care for the needs of all who mourn in Zion,
    give them bouquets of roses instead of ashes,
Messages of joy instead of news of doom,
    a praising heart instead of a languid spirit.
Rename them “Oaks of Righteousness”
    planted by God to display his glory.
They’ll rebuild the old ruins,
    raise a new city out of the wreckage.
They’ll start over on the ruined cities,
    take the rubble left behind and make it new.
You’ll hire outsiders to herd your flocks
    and foreigners to work your fields,
But you’ll have the title “Priests of God,”
    honored as ministers of our God.
You’ll feast on the bounty of nations,
    you’ll bask in their glory.
Because you got a double dose of trouble
    and more than your share of contempt,
Your inheritance in the land will be doubled
    and your joy go on forever. 

The Garment of Praise for the Spirit of Heaviness - Part III - The Real Reason I Am An Artist

A garment is something you wear. You carry it around. It's outside of you, but part of you at the same time. Other people can see it, feel it and recognize you by it.

Brightly colored or drab, garments often define you. I believe it was C.S. Lewis who said a person is more themselves clothed than unclothed, because clothing reveals a lot about who you are.

An early Hunt Scene by Elise - not sure what year and I don't think it has survived
The Hebrew word for “praise” in Isaiah 61:3 means a song or hymn of praise, adoration, and thanksgiving paid to God.

Dr. Datis Kharrazian, who studies and really understands the brain, encourages people to either gargle or sing, stimulating the uvula in the rear of the throat. This will stimulate the brain, keeping dementia away. Over 400 times in the Bible we're told to sing to God! And a friend of mine told me “praise” appears more times in scripture than we are told to pray!

It was my mother who first taught me to observe God's wonders and to praise Him for them. She would sit with us by the window during thunder storms and marvel with us as the lightning flashed. She stopped the car and climbed a hill to show us the beauty of a rainbow. She took us to the tops of many mountains and set up tents in the wilderness on many family hiking, backpacking and camping trips.

Hiking with Mom and Dad, I'm on the far left
My mom would also sing my siblings and I to sleep at night with hymns from her childhood. And she modeled many times how to praise God in the midst of suffering.

Life is often very tragic and very hard. It's easy to feel down and heavy about things. God still asks of us praise, even when it hurts. He wants to know our level of trust, our faith in His unseen plan.

I have been learning recently about plasma, and how the electrical field around our body can store trauma. I wonder if the “garment of praise” relates to this. Whether it does or not, I believe our Father gives us the Garment of Praise to wear as a special gift of Love.

Praising the One who sees the End of Life's Story

I remember the old cassette tapes my family listened to, many years ago.

Joni Eareckson Tada was young, an unmarried woman at this time. She used her voice to sing praises to God after being confined to a wheelchair as a quadriplegic, through breaking her neck in a swimming accident.

I could relate to her strongly because of my many back problems. She was also a former horsewoman before her accident, and had become a good artist using just her mouth to hold a paintbrush.

Joni sang a wonderful song called Spirit Wings . We sang along with her as we traveled in the car together as a family.

Spirit Wings!/You lift me over all the earthbound things/and like a bird my heart is flying free/I'm soaring on the song your Spirit brings/Oh Lord of All/You've let me see/A vision of Your majesty/You lift me up/You carry me/On your Spirit Wings.

Now when my life confines me/I just look to you/And soon my heart is soaring high above/Troubles look much smaller/From Your point of view/Lifted up on Spirit Wings of Love...”

She also sang a song she had written. In part, it went like this:

I have a piece of China, a pretty porcelain vase -
It holds such lovely flowers; captures everybody's gaze.
But fragile things do slip and fall, as everybody knows
And when my life came crashing down, those tears began to flow

Cause don't we all cry, when pretty things get broken?
Don't we all sigh, at such an awful loss
But Jesus will dry your tears as He has spoken
Cause He was the One broken on the Cross.

Now Jesus is no porcelain Prince, His promises won't break
His Holy Word holds fast and sure, His Love no one can shake
So if your Life is shattered by sorrow, pain or sin
His healing love will reach right down and make you whole again.”

We sang our friend Judy Peatfield's scripture songs, too. One of them went like this:

I have loved you with an everlasting love/I have loved you til you're whiter than snow/I have wiped all the tears from your eyes/I have loved you with an everlasting love.”

We sang Psalm 25:1-7 often, and we sang I Timothy 1:17, too. We sang a lot as a family, going places in the car. They are wonderful memories!

I remember God taking my shattered heart during my teen-age years and making it sing praises to Him, in faith and trust that He saw and knew all about the little details. Praise was connected to gratitude and to seeing and depicting beauty. 

Early Goals and Desires in Life

You have to be careful of what you place in front of a child, for it will change their life.

I first sat on a horse when I was around six months old. She was Red Roses, my mom's 16.3 hand Thoroughbred, raised off the track from a two-year-old. You can see the smile on my face, I was so happy! There was never any fear in riding a horse.

My mother's Red Roses, with one of her foals
I wanted to be a jockey and win the Kentucky Derby after reading The Black Stallion books at age six.

I drew horses in school all the time. I would often go around to my generous friends and classmates in first and second grade, and ask them if they thought my drawings looked like real horses or not...they were kind and encouraged me.

I told my mom I just wanted to draw and paint horses, nothing else. My mom told me I would need to learn to paint sky and backgrounds, too. She was right. But for years, I loved drawing horses at every opportunity. Graphite horse heads decorate the edges of all my school papers.

By age ten, I knew I would become too heavy to be a jockey, so the life plan switched to riding horses in the Olympics. Now it was Eventing I pursued. I studied hard for many years. I read Dressage and CT, Horseplay and any other horse magazine I could get my hands on. I read books on equitation, dressage, training horses, jumping, and many other topics. I rode all the time, in my mind.

Suspended Animation, 1996 14 x 22 watercolor by Elise, an Eventing photo taken by my dad, at an Olympic trials
For my thirteenth birthday, my mother gave me the best present ever – a week of riding horses at the camp where she had once learned to ride! I was on cloud nine. It was shortly after my dad had left us, and my time with horses were a large part of how I survived my dad's absence.

I heard someone from the Boston Trauma Center explain on a webinar how it used to be thought that talking was the only way to help heal trauma. This is how psychotherapy and couches became so popular. Now, after more study, they find that trauma is also helped through movement and touch. Horses provide both movement and touch! 

Dedicating my Life to God

There were other things going on in my heart and life, too. Earlier that same year I turned thirteen, a month after my dad departed and basically disappeared from our lives, my mom had taken us to three evenings of talks at a local fellowship.

The speaker only came to Vermont once. His name was Otto Konig, and he told The Pineapple Story to us. At the end of the three nights, Otto asked everyone in the audience to consider dedicating their lives to Christ, as Romans 12:1-2 beseeches us.

I had prayed to receive Christ as my Savior when I was five years old, and had no more fears about my eternal destiny at that time. I had attended church services three times each week for years and years. I loved God and felt His presence in my life, but I was strongly and consciously resisting giving my whole life to Him...I didn't trust Him fully. My faith was small. I figured, rightly, if I gave my entire life to God, I would then have to do what He wanted, for life.

And I really doubted riding in the Olympics would be acceptable. I wanted to retain “control” of my own life and future. I didn't realize at that time how beautiful His plans are, in the end. I didn't know how little I was really “in control” either.

But, that night, after hearing Otto Konig's personal and very humorous story of yielding all his rights to God, a battle raged inside my heart and soul. I heard a voice in my head saying, “if you give your life to God, you'll have to go to Africa as a missionary.” Leave my family! This was a horrible thought at that time.

Yet I knew I really needed a father.

When my dad had left, my mother had sat my siblings and I on the couch and told us, “You are not fatherless, God will be your Father!” She showed us Psalm 68:5. I had taken this rather literally.

And now, grace overcame my fear. I remember yielding my will and saying with true sincerity, “Okay God, you can have my life.”

Instantly, an enormous sense of Peace flooded my heart and I thought “Satan, you lied!”

So, when given an opportunity to ride horses on my thirteenth birthday, I was overjoyed.

I've said previously how disobedient I once was, as a small child. Now there began to be some transformation, some desire to obey both God and my mother. I wanted to please them. I wanted to live my life to glorify our Father in all the ways I could. 

Early Awards for my Watercolor Art and Loving Horses

When you are young, your interests are endless, the possibilities and curiosity in life and learning immense.

With my first art teacher's encouragement, I entered the local University art show a couple times, at twelve and then thirteen, with framed charcoal drawings of animals – specifically an running Elephant and a grazing Horse.

When fourteen, I won the children's section of this large local exhibition with a watercolor painting of a Vermont barn. It was a perfect copy of a photograph from Vermont Life, which I had not taken, and I've learned a lot since about not using other's reference material without permission...but I was told the jurors had considered my painting good enough to win the adult “best Vermont scene” competition. They decided I was “too young.” I've never liked the constriction of age groups since then.

I remember hoping my dad would show up at the awards ceremony, but he didn't come to share my accomplishment. I was very disappointed, but had to continue on without his loved presence in my life.

I had prayed for a horse of my own for many years. We had the blessing of little Shetland or Welsh-type ponies who were broken to drive. We rode them, too, bareback with halter and leadropes, as best we could. This pony team had come as an answer to my sister's and my prayer, but I now wanted a larger horse to ride.

One day when I was fifteen years old, coming home from church, I was praising God in my heart. I was very happy and told Him while looking out the window, “if I never have a horse, it's okay, because I have You.”

Literally three or four hours later, that same afternoon, we received an unexpected phone call from a horse owner who said, “If you can raise your offer to $1,400, you can have the horse, I must make a truck payment.” My mom had gone to see a mare with her filly a month earlier, and made a $1,000 offer on the horse. The owner's asking price was $2,500 for the mare. She was a gorgeous papered Morgan, well worth the money. He now dropped his price over $1,000.

Her name was Skyview Coriander. I called her my Manna from Heaven. I knew God had heard my prayer and given me the desire of my heart. Corrie was an incredibly athletic and gifted mare, green-broke and five years old when we got her. She taught me so much during the next six years.

Riding my Manna from Heaven, Corrie, at sixteen
I was also fifteen when my mother again invested all her extra funds in my future. She gave me the very special gift of painting for two weeks with Zoltan Zsabo, the now-deceased but then nationally-recognized former Hungarian watercolorist.

I was the youngest attendee in the workshop by about thirty years. Zoltan recognized my early skills, for I had been painting with watercolor for four years by then. He told me, “you will be my competition in three years.”

The next Spring, I was able to take another week-long workshop with an artist on the coast of Maine. He told me, “I'll bet people have only praised you, and I am going to critisize you.” This wasn't true, but he was convinced I needed his “help.”

You have no eye for composition,” he declared quite firmly. I was quite discouraged following those workshops. I tried to copy these master's styles, which were quick and large. I just mixed up a great deal of mud and wasted much expensive paper and paint.

As I am not someone who responds well to verbal negatives, this second instructor really discouraged me. While I did take a pen & ink course that year, and also a plein air watercolor course, I stopped painting with watercolor for the next four-five years.

During the next five years, I really didn't paint much at all besides the walls inside our house and the clapboard outside it. I did about one pen & ink or pastel painting each year, as gifts for friends and relatives.

I was learning so many other things – how to cook, garden, hay, sew clothing, make baskets and bread, paint the inside and outside of our house, practice classical guitar, help my mother in her many projects, serve local people, horsemanship and animal husbandry. We had cats, goats, chickens, geese and turkeys, plus five horses to care for.

The Boys - photo of our Bronze Turkeys - how they loved attention!
I had also begun to read my Bible on a daily basis, to memorize and meditate on long passages. I had many schoolwork assignments to complete.

There wasn't much time for my artistic development on paper, even though I was still noticing color and light. Had some inexplicable things not happened, I may never have really painted again. 

More Tragedy

I used to read “Drama in Real Life,” a section in the Reader's Digest magazine. I no longer feel a need for an adrenaline rush...there have been so many trials in my real life.

In the Spring of 2001, several major life changes occurred.

Roxie and Dixie, with our Toulouse Geese - early watercolor by Elise
First we lost Roxie, our dark brown Morgan/Percheron mare, half-sister and teammate to Dixie. Roxie had a shiny coat and was perfectly fine one day. The next day she was sick and off her feed. We immediately called our vet. He came and took blood samples. We thought she may have been poisoned. Her sickness was in her nervous system. The samples came back negative for everything we tested.

Roxie was trembling all over, had no saliva, and would not drink water. She died the next morning, after her heart rate went over 100 bpm.

Our experienced vet remembered a case in veterinary school where a horse having no saliva had had rabies. So he came back, cut off Roxie's head, leaving her body headless in our driveway, and took the head to test her brain for rabies. This test also came back negative, thankfully. But seeing our headless horse whom we loved lying dead was very horrible.

Our carpenter had a very serious accident that Spring too, requiring months of plastic surgery. A story too long to tell here.

And then, our Morgan mare Corrie, who had become such a dear friend to me, also died very tragically one summer night.

We had to put her down after a hit-and-run motorcyclist broke her hind leg. I remember the pain she was in, the beads of sweat on her coat and the look in her eyes, pleading for our help. But we couldn't fix her compound fracture.

I remember questioning how all these horrible events could be occurring, one after the other. But I knew God had given us Corrie, and now He allowed her to be taken away. 

Sorting Priorities

The reason I returned to painting was probably due to several coinciding factors:

  • The shock of Corrie's death – I no longer had a horse to take care of and ride.

  • My own physical  breakdown and near-death illness - my digestive organs began shutting down. I had painful pancreatitis caused by over-work, not forgiving myself, trying to be perfect in my own strength, and over-exposure to toxic chemicals.'

  • My desire to obey my Father in Heaven, as well as make good on my promise to my mother, to use the artistic gift I've been given by God.

I had asked God for a present when I turned twenty. “I don't have a dad, but you're my Father, would you give me a present?” I asked in prayer. 

Faithfully, He gave me Psalm 9:1-2. It seemed to stand off the page when I read it:

I will praise thee, O LORD, with my whole heart; I will shew forth all they marvellous works. I will be glad and rejoice in thee: I will sing praise to thy name, O thou most High.”

For several years in my early twenties, I had become sicker and sicker, to the point I nearly died. A lot of it was my stuffed emotional issues. My mother spoke to me and reminded me I was taking on responsibilities she had not delegated to me. She told me she wanted me to stop doing all the other things on my enormous daily to-do lists, and return to my painting. I had become a workaholic.

But by then, I didn't think I wanted to return to painting. It took so much discipline and patience to sit still and concentrate!

People gave me their “advice” and most of it was anti-mom. “You can do what you want to do,” they'd tell me. What did I want to do? I didn't know anymore. I was over-tired and felt very ill. But it was my mother and God who knew me best of all. They knew the delight I had after finishing a good painting.

I was very upset with myself for so much time off, realizing I'd perhaps lost years of artistic growth...and was also at the age when I would have graduated from university, had I attended. An artist-in-debt doesn't stay an artist long, so I had chosen not to attend art school. I felt after prayer that I needed to stay home and help my family.

After considering my options, I determined to re-learn the painting skills I once had. I told myself internally that I would be obedient to God and my mother if it killed me.

Yet after trying to paint for just an hour, my hand began shaking - I couldn't hold it still!

 Day After Doe Season, 16 x 20 watercolor, my first serious attempt after deciding to regain my skills. I was twenty-two. This was a three-color study, using only Antwerp Blue, Burnt Sienna and Sepia.
So, I set a goal of painting just six hours each week. I asked a dear older artist friend who I saw weekly at church to keep me accountable. She would ask me if I had painted that week.

Once I told her I'd only painted two hours, making the excuse of how little time I had had that week. She told me firmly, “you will add the four hours on to this coming week.” Sitting for TEN HOURS! I thought this was terrible. But I did it.

And I didn't forget to paint six hours each week from then on. 

God Desires Praise More Than Sacrifice

I've been thinking a lot on this third phrase from Isaiah 61:3 – the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. About the importance of praise, and how it must come from our heart and spirit. I've surely felt the spirit of heaviness competing for supremacy in my mind over the years. But, by grace and faith, I was given many opportunities to paint and through my work, praise the King of Heaven, the Ruler of the Universe, the Sovereign who controls all things, from the immensely huge to the infinitely small.

He is the Great Potter who molds and shapes us. Who are we to fight against His plan?

And so, I am His servant.

Our Father in Heaven took my broken dreams, my feeble eyes and injured body, the tragedies over which I had very little control, and used them to shape me into an artist.

It is my continued goal to bring Him glory through the work of my hands. He has continued to strengthen my eyesight, give me time, space and painting tools.

While I've never owned a car, nor married, often live a very secluded life and am alone a lot, yet I feel blessed to have been given a very unique life journey.

I feel very grateful for my mom, who first taught me to sing hymns of praise to God and who has always seen my artist-heart. I would not have become and continued as an artist without her help and support. It was she who encouraged me to stay home and paint instead of going out to get a 9-to-5 job and focus on gaining money.

I am also very thankful for the encouragement each of my artist mentors have given me.

Without my collectors and those who have commissioned my work, I wouldn't be an artist today. Thank you, friends!

With gratitude, I remain your painting-friend - with many other interests!


Praise ye the Lord the Almighty, the King of Creation! O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation! All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near; Join me in glad adoration!

Praise ye the Lord, who o'er all things so wondrously reigneth, Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth! Hast thou not seen, how thy desires e'er have been Granted in what He ordaineth?

Praise ye the Lord, who with marvellous wisdom hath made thee! Decked thee with health, and with loving hand guided and stayed thee; How oft in grief, hath not He brought thee relief, Spreading His wings for to shade thee! 

Joachim Neader 1650-1680; Translated by Catherine Winkworth

The Oil of Joy for Mourning - Part II - The Real Reason I Am An Artist

Symbolically and in reality, I believe the “oil of joy” is something applied. It has a resonance, a vibration to it. It changes you.

You can breathe it in, affecting the oxygen taken in by the lungs and thereby making alive every cell of the body.

Grief, an emotion which is the opposite of joy, is often stored in the lungs and large intestines, which are also major cleansing organs in the body. Waste products and things you don’t need are to be let go of by these organs.

The Oil of Joy replaces and exchanges waste for wholeness and healing.

Grieving can perhaps also be a calling, reminding us of Jeremiah “the weeping prophet” – a man whose tears depicted God’s sorrow over His people’s suffering for their “missing the mark” and their coming judgment.

Early Impressions on a Life of Pain and Mourning

Farmhouse in Summer, 10x14 watercolor by Elise, September 2016

I experienced a fair amount of physical trauma at an early age. I was my mother’s “problem child” – always exploring, testing boundaries, feeling things with my hands. She would need to remind me to “look with your eyes not your hands” if we entered a store.

I was prone to disobeying her instructions and this got me into a whale of trouble.

My mom got off the phone when I was very small to find me going through her pocketbook. I had smeared her lipstick all over my clothes and chewed up her glass contacts, too.

Another time I went in the downstairs laundry and got my hands into a nice-smelling pile of sandy, white laundry detergent. After rubbing my eyes the soap burned terribly. I remember my mom stuck my head under the running bathtub faucet to try to wash the soap out and save my eyesight.

Once I ran out to follow my dad into the woods, and came home screaming with a horde of yellow-jackets following me. I had stepped into a ground nest wearing sandals and shorts. I was stung eleven times. A baking soda bath ensued…

My mom said I was her hardest child to raise.

The Pain of this World 

I arrived with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, not breathing well. The doctor panicked, snatched me up and spanked me hard. My tiny foot was pricked, repeatedly, for a PKU blood sample. It hurt.

A very clingy baby, I never wanted to be put down. My wise mother spent a lot of time holding me. She said I cried as if I was in pain when she put me down, from a young age.

I had rickets, bowed legs, as a child. We believe fluoride tablets prescribed by her doctor when pregnant may have contributed to this malady. Sodium fluoride is a toxic poison which “shoots” the endocrine system, pulling all trace minerals, so my body probably didn't have normal calcium or magnesium levels.

I beat the back of my head against a wall when I was very little, scaring my mother. She took me to a doctor, who suggested I was probably frustrated. She got me a little shoe-hammering toy and I spent forty-five minutes at a time, beating those little wooden pegs down, then turning the wooden “shoe” over again, to beat the pegs down again.

Determination was my autograph as a little girl. I learned to zip my zipper and tie my shoes very early. Fine motor skills developed which I use today.

A few times my mom saw me get smashed on the head by other children who were playing roughly. She was not able to get to me in time to stop them. As a result, I became increasingly non-trustful of children. I preferred to be with adults who didn't play so wildly. I came to dislike parties and being with children. They usually injured me.

I didn't see as well as my older sister at a young age. I'm sure beating my head on the wall was related and being knocked on the head hard from behind, too, by a child in Sunday School.

My mother's pet name for me was “Lumpkin” because I had so many head injuries.

I ran into the wall when my dad called for us, not looking for the door.

My sister and I were sledding down a hill when I was around two. My sister was big enough to see the tree and roll off the sled, but I was too small. My forehead hit the tree. Another lump, more ice.

It's not the best idea to tell a child they are “an accident looking for a place to happen” but that's what my mom told me. She would say, “We are going to trade you in for a new model, from the head down”…

The Pain Caused by Eyeglasses 

Then came first grade. I was taken to an eye doctor and fitted for glasses. I was excited by the idea of “being like mommy” and having glasses. But the moment I put the new pair on my face, everything in the room suddenly turned sideways. I told the eye doctor, and he replied, “Oh, you'll get used to it.” He was right, but “getting used to it” meant an extreme amount of energy expended by the brain.

I hated those glasses. I spent three days in the teacher's bathroom at school sobbing, afraid to enter my classroom. They were terribly ugly glasses, but I think seeing clearly scared me, too.

I stopped wearing them after a year and managed fine. My eyesight was far better then. I was shooting bulls-eyes with a BB gun around the age of eleven.

But after my dad left, my eyesight collapsed, perhaps because I didn’t want to see him leave.

Again, at age fourteen, I was given eyeglasses. This time it was a strong myopic prescription for both eyes, astigmatism and bifocals.

Anyone who thinks eyeglasses protect vision can think again. Eyeglasses, from my perspective, have really injured my eyesight. They have locked up my emotions and the perception of my surroundings!

I was prescribed a new and stronger pair of eyeglass lenses every two to three years after this. My eyesight continued to decline and did not stabilize.

Appointments with various optometry specialists always made me cry. I felt very sad and scared about my declining eyesight. I didn’t like being so different from my siblings – who didn’t need glasses to see.

Realizing I had been a Guinea Pig

Years later when I was twenty, I asked an eye specialist about my first eyeglass prescription. 

He looked through the little lenses and said, “Oh, these are plaino in one eye and a very strong prescription in the other. The brain likes to be balanced and these eyeglasses could have given you major low back problems!”

My mother and I looked at each other.

I remember soccer games at recess in second and third grade. I was kneeling in the back of a pick-up truck on the way home because my knees hurt too much to stand up. I can see my swollen knees in family photos. My face often revealed how I felt, too. I was in constant pain.

I had no idea other people didn't have the pain I had. I didn't know what it was like to be out of pain! I thought you just bore it. I became pretty stoic, and very insensitive toward my body. I locked up my tears and my feelings for a long time.

After eight consecutive years of wearing eyeglasses, getting stronger and stronger prescriptions each time I saw an eye doctor, I stopped wearing them.

There was an instant improvement in my posture and pain level. I could feel my body again. 

Glasses for near-sighted people treat only symptoms, not the cause, and I really feel strongly that my eyesight decline was a combination of my neck and head injuries as well as the issues surrounding the unresolved and stuffed emotional traumas, of which I was largely unaware even existed.

I know from my own experience that eyeglasses are not the best solution for all myopic situations.

I once asked a behavioral optometry specialist why I see nine images with one eye, when looking at small images at a distance. He said the fragmented images are caused by extreme tension in the brain. It may be very romantic to see nine moons at night, instead of one, but it's not very practical!

The Pain of Serious Physical Injury 

When the Roses Bloom, 10x14 watercolor by Elise, August 2016, Private Collection

When I was about to turn eight, I experienced a life-changing accident. I was attending the birthday party of a school friend and all the children were playing a game of volleyball. A big girl backed up to hit the ball, tripped and then fell on top of my body.

My neck didn’t feel right so I pulled away from the game. The birthday girl's mother noticed, called my parents and we went to the hospital for an x-ray, to see if the injury was serious. They had full insurance.

In the x-ray room the osteopath told my mother to leave the room, he was going to take an x-ray. I heard the steel door bang shut behind my mother. Then the osteopath walked over to the gurney where I was lying and asked me, “How far can you turn your head?”

I was an extremely strong and active child. I preferred climbing trees to playing with dolls. My dad had taught me to do flips on the trampoline when I was five, and I began to also do flips on my bed. This wasn't allowed but I did them anyway.

I replied, trying to be positive, “I can't move it very far in this direction, but I can move it really far in the other direction” showing the doctor my range of movement as best I could while on the gurney.

He didn't say anything else, he just took my head with both his hands and jammed it in the direction I said I couldn't move it!! I screamed, in intense pain, and my mom heard me through the steel door.

Then, this doctor went around the glass and took an x-ray of my neck over my fully exposed thyroid. He showed the x-ray to my parents and said, “She doesn't have a broken neck, she just needs to wear a neck collar.”

What if my neck had been broken or fractured before he yanked my neck?!

My mother and father realized this doctor had acted wrongly, it was clearly malpractice – he had really exacerbated the initial damage to my neck. But my mother didn’t think anyone would take the word of an eight-year-old child against a doctor.

I was given a neck collar to wear for a few days, but the serious damage done to my neck was not addressed.

I remember crying buckets of tears just after the accident, because my plan to ride the roller-coaster at Canobie Lake Park on my eighth birthday had to be canceled. It was a huge disappointment, as I loved riding this roller-coaster with my dad.

And I could no longer do headstands. It hurt my neck too much. Looking back, I'm sure the injury affected my dental health as well as my eyesight.

I lived with pinched nerves in my neck for the next six years. Sometimes, while running somewhere, the shooting pains up my back would cause me to freeze and fall to the ground, afraid to breathe because the pain was so intense.

My body did it's best to compensate for the neck issue, and then I had mid and low-back problems, too.

By the time I was fourteen, I had fallen skiing and sledding, and been thrown to the ground countless times trying to ride our ponies bareback. My dad had taught me to dive off a diving board. He didn't realize how injured my neck was. Every time I would hit the water, intense pain would shoot up my neck. I learned to land my dives feet-first as often as I could for this reason. I swam, and tried to run, too.

I was also splitting firewood after my dad’s absence so we could stay warm in the winters. Splitting wood was a strain on my back and neck.

Now that I think about it, I had tried to run the annual one mile and then 5K races in our town with pinched nerves in my neck, mid and low back. It's no wonder I didn't do well at running! Pounding on pavement was just too much for me.

The Pain of Partial Paralysis

Diligence, 10x14 Pen & Ink with Watercolor by Elise, September 2016

One Wednesday evening in the winter-time of my fourteenth year, my mom urged me, “Come on, Elise, it's time to go, it's nine o' clock and we need to go home.” I was sitting on a couch after attending Bible Study. “Mom, I can't get up,” I said.

My sister and mom gently pulled me to my feet and I could shuffle, slightly bent over, out to the car. I remember sitting down on the back seat and telling my legs to get into the car. They didn't move at all. So I used my strong arms to lift each leg and put it into the car. Things were declining for me, physically.

I was in enormous pain just sitting in the car as it bumped over our dirt road.

“Mom, we've just got to do something!” I told her, “I am getting worse.” “Yes, Elise, but I am afraid to take you to a doctor. If they do surgery, you could wind up in a wheelchair for the rest of your life.”

My mother thought chiropractors were all quacks, but, in desperation, she took me to one.

The first man said I had developed a calcium deposit on my cervical spinal column. He said I'd need to see a chiropractor every week for the rest of my life.

We got a second opinion and she said, “What the body lays down, the body can take up.” One year later, that calcium deposit, laid down to protect my spinal column, had totally dissolved. I slowly regained full mobility by the grace of God and skill of a gifted chiropractor.


Learning through Pain

I have had many painful experiences to let go of. It has been a process of many years and I am still working at it, but can say I finally chose to reject the spirit of self-pity and to rejoice. 

Giving thanks in all things was a much better response than feeling sorry for myself. And the best things in life often come out of the worst things in life.

I have often chosen to focus on what is beautiful when things looked very bleak, but now I consciously chose to feel joy in every moment. I chose to receive the oil of joy, which is the gift of the Crucified and Risen Christ to us. I chose to trust in God for health and healing, in His time.

To experience pain and to suffer doesn’t mean you are in the wrong place, although sometimes pain is a large motivation for growth and for change. For me, pain turned me toward my Father in Heaven, not away from Him. For this I am grateful.

Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 says something I’ve always thought of in relation to mourning:

It is better to go to the house of mourning, than to go to the house of feasting: for that is the end of all men; and the living will lay it to his heart. Sorrow is better than laughter: for by the sadness of the countenance the heart is made better. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning; but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.”

There is more to say but this blog is far too long now. I will continue my series of thoughts on pain and painting in the next blog post. Thank you for reading, friends.

To your health and healing in 2017,
and because of beauty arising from accepted pain,
I remain your joyful artist-friend,


To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified. ~ Isaiah 61:3 

Beauty for Ashes – The Real Reason Behind My Career as a Visual Artist

I have always loved asking people I have just met what they do as a profession, and how they first became interested in this field.

Recently I've been asking myself those same questions. I have come to some answers and have decided to blog about some of my early life experiences. This is more emotional content than I have ever posted on my blog, and I hope my readers will understand.

I have come to believe the main reason for my painting and being a visual artist is not because of some talent, or special gifting, but because of an enormous level of pain, which has led to my life-long attraction to beauty, color and light. Painting has been a form of self-therapy. It is the way I have been able to create order out of chaos, and give the world beauty for ashes.

The Pain of Abandonment

Your body is telling me you have a fear of abandonment. I'd say it's more of a phobia than a fear and it's been life-long.” A massage therapist who had never met me until five minutes earlier was saying these words as she gently tapped on my solar plexus and the top of my cranium. She knew NOTHING about me, my family or my past!

Can I speak,” I asked her. “Yes, as long as it's about what I'm addressing,” she replied.

Well,” I told her, “my dad first left my mom when she was pregnant with me. My mother stopped eating for about three weeks at this time because she didn't have money for food and was too ashamed to call her parents, so I was born three weeks late and weighed just seven pounds.”

That would explain the abandonment being life-long,” she agreed.

Three at Home, 7x11 watercolor by Elise, November 2016
Emotions do cross the placenta. The reason pregnant women need stable, restful and happy environments is because what they are feeling does affect the growing child!

The main reason I had gone to this therapist was I had received three pieces of bad news all in one day, and I wasn't handling it well.

I had gained a splitting headache, the closest thing to a migraine I'd ever experienced. I very rarely have headaches. My normal chiropractor was on vacation, so I had made an appointment with this massage therapist, who was also trained in EFT – emotional freedom technique – something I'd vaguely heard about and dismissed. The massage therapist had explained by phone that if my body wasn't ready to heal and release emotions then she would just give me a massage.

I was hoping for some relief from the pain, and so I prayed for protection and healing and went to the appointment.

This was in 2009, over seven years ago.

I had been told previously by a doctor, around the year 2000, that I had major abandonment issues. This time they had again surfaced due to extreme stress and had caused me to throw-up uncontrollably for a couple hours. I was not sick with the flu, I had worried myself sick and a rib connected by muscles and nerves to my stomach was jammed. I had gotten an emergency appointment with my doctor, who had informed me the rib was not moving. I had looked up in my mind, in desperation, and prayed silently, “Jesus, heal the pain.” The jammed rib immediately moved. I went home and ate a full dinner. I was not bulimic, my body rarely throws up. It was again a very strange occurrence.

I thought, somehow, if I knew something was a problem and prayed about it, it would go away.

Apparently, that is not always the case.
December 9, 2016 - photograph of the view from my new art studio

In 2007, I again experienced abandonment. Someone I was emotionally close to left without saying goodbye. This caused me to shake uncontrollably for 1.5 hours without stopping.
It took me three months to figure out why this had happened. My dad had left our family when I was twelve years old, without saying goodbye. Twenty-five years later, this was repeated, with a similar degree of intensity, uncovering what I had tried to bury.

The Pain of Physical Violence and Abuse

One year ago another layer of my “onion” peeled off. I was in a safe place and had had enough rest and thinking time for another emotional “break-through” to occur. I was renting a spare bedroom from an old family friend. My friend decided she was bored and would watch a movie, which was highly unusual. As an extreme outdoor athlete, sitting in front of a TV is not my friend's normal cup of tea.

She chose the Johnny Depp film, Chocolat. I had never seen a Johnny Depp film and agreed to watch it with her. At one point in the film I recognized the body language of a woman and said, “What, is her husband beating her? My mom used to have the exact same body language.” My friend spun around on the couch to face me, exclaiming, “This is a much better reason to avoid men's attention than the one you gave me, Elise!”

I had told her I hated being “chased” because a boy in second grade had chased me during every recess. He never caught me, I kept just far enough ahead so he could not touch me. I was afraid of what might happen should he catch up. One day I led him up a jungle gym, leaped off and ran away. He tried to leap and run, too, but he broke his ankle and wound up in a cast, ending those scary recesses.

Then, in May of 2016, my older sister told me she remembers our Mom lying on the kitchen floor, passed out from being beaten by my dad. “Do you think I saw this, too?” I asked her. I have no conscious memory of it. “You probably did see it,” she replied. “This could be the reason my eyesight shut down at an early age!” I exclaimed.

We had grown up to the sound of plates crashing, furniture being demolished with an axe, names being thrown around, shouts and screams. My mother didn't leave my dad often. She went to counseling and was told she needed to leave him, because the counselor was afraid she would become a statistic of domestic violence on the obituary page.

My dad's leaving us probably saved my mother's life. It is a hard truth because we all loved my dad so much. I have many, many happy memories of doing things together, and of his teaching me important and useful things. We were a very happy family when things were good. I adored my dad and remain grateful for all the good things he instilled in me.

Building That Which Remains, 14x11 calligraphy with ink and paintbrush, May 2016
Our dad died five years ago with large cancerous tumors in his brain and liver. I had not seen him in twenty years. He had not been able to hold down a long-term relationship outside of his mother during his entire life. I do not blame him, I forgive him. My dad was very ill on an emotional level for most of his life. He was diagnosed as “manic depressive and obsessive compulsive” but early childhood trauma, and a bad blood transfusion probably really injured his life.

But the fear created by the sight and sound of my mother being abused still seems very much a part of my unconscious.

The body doesn't forget, even if we do on a surface level.

Our Father in Heaven says in His Holy Word that He will give Beauty for Ashes. When destruction of what God meant to be beautiful occurs, this is not the end. The recent forest fires in Eastern Tennessee created much death and destruction of property. The land that has been burned there will eventually recover. The lime in the ash will cause green buds and beauty to once again cover the land. It will take time, and patience is needed.

As I have sought our Father's face over the years for healing, understanding, order and balance in life, I have invested much time in painting.
And so, I believe this is the real reason behind my “success” as an artist – my experience and then response to intense pain and loss in life.

Water Lilies - Deeply Rooted, 5x7 pen & ink with watercolor, November 2016
I have a few other things to say on this subject and will continue my thoughts in another blog. Thank you for reading, friends.

With Love for all that is Beautiful and Gentle,


The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me; because the Lord hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified. And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations.  ~ Isaiah 61:1-4

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