“Even the darkness is not dark to You, And the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to You.” -- Psalm 139:12
People frequently ask me about the story behind the Strength of Woman Series. This is one chapter.
I first started seeing this image in 1994. It was a frigid winter. Trees coated in ice were snapping and popping, literally exploding, sounding like rounds fired by shotguns everywhere. It looked like a giant had sheared off the treetops throughout Sussex County when the storm was over. There was ice everywhere. It was the worst winter I’d seen in years.
I was living alone in a friend’s borrowed beach cottage a block from the ocean. It occurred to me as I got out of my car with groceries one evening that if I slipped and fell, no one would find me on my deserted beach block until the garbage men came a few days later. I stepped very carefully.
A friend had offered the cottage to me several times, knowing my circumstances, but not wanting to take a handout or to leave my hometown, I didn’t take her up on it until there was no choice.
I had to leave my marriage; it had become abundantly clear. I’d been married almost 28 years and most of it was unbearable. I’d left once but came back for Christian reasons. However after an episode of violence from a man whose temper was enough to make me tread on eggshells every day of my life, I knew I couldn’t stay longer. I’d been praying about a way to get free for years, when in answer to constant prayer through a long period of illness, a chain of events started that would propel me forward in unforeseeable ways.
One December day, two months after a newspaper story about my newly released Treasure Beaches of the mid-Atlantic map went nationwide on the Gannett News wire, resulting in enough money of my own to get by, I took my dog, my art supplies, my computer and an armful of clothes and closed the longest chapter in my life, moving temporarily, or so I thought, back to the shore side of the county.
The night I moved, exhausted, I turned on a small TV left there by the owner and fell asleep on the sofa listening to the crackle and hissing of a fire in the fireplace. I awoke awhile later very surprised to see Dick Clark in Times Square.
New Year’s Eve. So frightened was I at the thought of moving and being on my own for the first time in my life, I’d had no idea what day it was. How fitting for a new beginning I thought as I drifted back asleep to the sounds of Guy Lombardo and his orchestra.
The peace of being on my own after 28 years of a horrendous, extremely mentally abusive marriage was welcome, almost unbelievable and frightening at the same time. It had been pounded into me that I could never make it on my own. But here I was and I was okay.
There was total uncertainty about the future. I missed people. My grown son and all of my friends were a good 20 miles inland, where I'd lived and made a home for my family. I was in hiding in an older, deserted off-season beach neighborhood. My husband had said he was going to find me and told me calmly that I would die. I understand why abused women stay too long. Leaving can be more frightening than staying. Better the problem you know than the one you don’t know. I did not go back.
The strange thing is that even after all of the hardships, the deceits, the battles, the cruelty, the infidelities, the lies, the extreme control, I felt so very alone when I turned off the lights at night. The daily distractions were absent, and at times I felt almost paralyzed with fear, but in no way would I go back.
As I had for many, many years when faced with things I didn't know how to handle, I turned to the Bible. Each of the verses at the top of this page gave comfort, but the last one meant the most to me in this time and in challenging times to come.
After reading studying it one night during those first days away from my home, feeling "out there" and alone, I saw a mental picture of myself resting in and being held up in the middle of our vast universe by this invisible hand of God. It mirrored my feeling of aloneness but also filled me with peace – the kind of peace I needed not only to sleep at night no matter what was going on around me, but to gain strength and go on to do all the work necessary to being a female artist sustained financially solely by the ideas for paintings she was given to create.
Life got easier after that year and remained so until the great recession began in the fall of 2008. Though there were challenges every step of the way and still are, through leaving my heart open for God’s direction, counting my blessings for all the good in my life, and taking practical footsteps in the directions I felt led, many more blessings unfolded … wide, even national, acclaim for and support of my art, large corporate commissions, buying my own home, starting a small gallery and taking the steps to make it one of the most successful small galleries in the country….
The steadfast truth I’ve hung onto through all of it is that I never was – and you never were – and no one else has ever and or will ever be – outside of God’s loving, strong, comforting hands. And that is enough.
I hope the telling of this chapter in my life helps others who may be going through similar circumstances. God bless you.
With love, Ellen