Just over three months ago I was contacted by a family friend asking if I would be interested in doing a painting for her. The painting was to be based off of a photograph of a woman standing on mountainous terrain with her arms outstretched and her face radiantly lifted up to the heavens. The woman in the photograph was Jaime’s sister, who sadly had taken her last breath just the day before Jaime had written to me. Tammy had lost her 18 month battle with pancreatic cancer at just 54-years-old. I never had the privilege of meeting Tammy here on this earth, but from what I’ve heard and read about her, she is nothing short of extraordinary!
It had been quite a long time since I had done any large scale portrayals of real people, however I immediately agreed to do this for Jaime. If my God-given talent could bring some fraction of peace to her shattered heart — then yes, of course I will do this!
I shopped that weekend for just the right sized canvas and splurged on some durable “real artist” paints and some new fancy brushes. (The little artists in my family don’t always rinse Muthr’s brushes out properly.) And then I set to work.
The large blank canvas sat before me in my quiet, empty house.
“Lord, I thank you for this talent. I pray that you guide each brush stroke, that each dab of paint will bring honor and glory to You and to this beautiful life you created, Tammy — who was on loan to us for only a short time. I pray that the paint on this canvas will bring peace and comfort to Jaime and to the rest of Tammy’s family. Amen.”
I took a deep breath as I dipped brand new bristles into the fresh dollops of paint on my pallet. Large sweeping strokes of blues, grays, and whites, cirrus whispers of pinks and yellows, the sky, an ever changing moment in time.
The rest of the painting would come to life over the course of the next 3 months, usually on quiet uninterrupted afternoons (except for the occasional cat visit) while the kids were in school. I smiled as I contemplated the original photograph. Tammy’s face simply radiated with joy as she looked up to that sky on that day. She was in beautiful Hawaii for the gender reveal of her grand baby due in a few months time, I was later told. There was such hope and promise on that breathtaking horizon. Tammy’s terminal illness hadn’t been diagnosed, yet it had already established itself, silently and cruelly stealing her away from all that she loved and all that loved her… or so it seems from this side of heaven. There were some afternoons that I cried bitterly, especially while painting Tammy. How unfair and fragile this delicate balance of life and death is — and has always been. It’s not until someone we love deeply is torn away from us that we fully comprehend this.
The last two days I spent working on the final touches of this painting were such a gift. Summer would never have to bid its farewell, if I had anything to say about it. The gift of 76 blessed degrees in late November, little butterflies and sweat bees still lingering about… It would have been a tragic lapse of judgement not to drag everything outside onto the back deck. My makeshift outdoor studio overlooked Autumn’s majestic trees dressed in splendid finery of reds, yellows and blazing oranges. Wisps of feathery clouds coiled and whorled above me against the backdrop of God’s cerulean blue hue canvas. I turned on some nostalgic 70s music, and vowed to soak in the last of these perfect weather days, as was forewarned by the forecast. It certainly wasn’t Hawaii, but my rendition of Tammy, with her arms outstretched seemed to revel in the treasured warmth out on the back deck right along with me.
The blustering cold had snuck in during the night shortly after the final strokes of my signature had dried. The painting was finished. I tearfully hoped and prayed that it would bring comfort to Jaime.
And It did. I eagerly brought it to her the next day, just in time for the difficult, bittersweet holidays that loomed off in the short distance. As I presented the painting to Jaime this past Monday, we held each other in a tearful embrace. I had absolutely no idea, but this day, Jaime explained, just so happened to be the anniversary of her mother’s death. There could not have been better timing.
As we endure the empty space in our hearts and around the tables this Thanksgiving and Christmas, let us be reminded of all that is still good, and all that was once “perfect”, and all that WILL BE perfect once again, in the very true sense of the word. Love and blessings to each of you this Thanksgiving.
“Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (Psalm 106:1 NIV)