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

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