I am combining my own true stories with the life-changing, near-death experiences of my forefathers in this blogpost.
Interspersed with the text are photos of my latest large detailed watercolor painting, Chariots of Fire, 14×22 watercolor on 300 lb Arches cold pressed paper. The full painting play-by-play is followed by detail photos of the progression of how I painted the focal point of men training in the boat, John Graves and Ben Davison. They are presently competing in the Rowing World Championships, in Sarasota, Florida for the United States of America. When I run fast, Jennie, I feel His pleasure ~ Eric Liddell.
It’s easy to believe the lie you are the “master of your own destiny.”
While I do believe our daily choices change our entire lives and that we need to take responsibility for the consequences of our decisions in life, I also believe there are many people who have really wanted to live longer, but died. And those who felt they wanted to die, but lived.
People sometimes spend years waiting for the right timing and funds to take steps to accomplish what they have always really desired to do.
Sometimes our lives can be changed in a hurtful manner by circumstances outside our control, or the actions of others.
Conversely, our lives can be saved by someone else’s care and protection.
I believe our Father in heaven holds each of our lives in His hand. He designs and allows our challenges and also opens and closes doors, in the right time and way.
I and II Samuel in the Old Testament contain chapters full of history surrounding many gory battles. Many, many people died before they had lived very long. This is true today. And if you’re reading this and still alive, you can be grateful for the immense gift and the great potential of just being alive.
I asked a nineteen-year-old acquaintance a few years ago if they had ever had a near-death experience. They said no, they had not. This surprised me, I thought everyone had had times, early in life where they realized their life had been spared.
When you realize you are still here, you could have died but didn’t, you can then figure you are here for a Purpose!
There is someone for you to help comfort, someone for you to encourage. There is something your life needs to say to the world, through an action or by words.
I nearly died a few times before being very old. My life has been like a Parkour obstacle course. Just getting through it has been difficult.
Yet another change of where I live and work at the end of August led me to some thinking about the Providence which has allowed me to be here. The relatives in my immediate lineage experienced harrowing times in life. Had these ancestors not been protected and died, I would never have been born. But God is in the business of providing and protecting those He wants to have escape trouble, to overcome trials and remain.
My Maternal Great-Grandfather and Grandmother, Opa and Oma
My Opa was born in 1891 in Hamburg, Germany. He grew up by the seaside and became a skilled mariner, working on three-masted schooners and traveling around the world by sail for many years.
Opa first went to sea at age fourteen, and worked his way up from cabin boy to first mate. He once stopped a mutiny on board his ship by telling the men, “If you want to get to the captain you’ll have to go through me, boys.” Opa was respected and the mutineers stood down.
When first mate, Opa kept the ship’s log. He spoke at least five languages fluently, and he was a writer and poet. German sailors of that time had to memorize the names of 360 different ropes attached to the sails on three-masted schooners.
My Opa nearly died when a young man, around 1914, after he fell out of the crow’s nest onto the ship’s deck, docked in the Melbourne, Australia harbor. The impact of his fall broke some of his ribs, puncturing his lungs. He was put into the Melbourne hospital, where his crew waited for three months for him to get well. Opa didn’t recover enough to leave the hospital after three months, so his crew sailed without him.
It took Opa six months to leave the hospital. We had his hospital tags. His seaman’s papers were taken from him, because of the start of WWI. Our Opa had no desire to join the German Navy. It seems he may have lived for a time in South America while fully recovering his health. He must have been quite penniless after spending six months in hospital, but he managed to work his way to New York City from Australia.
Arriving in New York City in late 1916 with just $37, Opa met my great-grandmother, Oma, a short time later at a German New Year’s dance. They married about eight months later, in 1917.
My Oma was born in 1893. She was twenty years old when she immigrated to America through Ellis Island from Bavaria, Germany, in July of 1913, just before WWI. This was fortunate because inflation became so bad in Germany during WWI, Oma told us, it took an entire wheelbarrow filled with paper money to buy one loaf of bread.
During the late 19th century, Germany was full of city states and Oma told me about the robber barons which still roamed about in her youth, who could jump out of the bushes alongside roads and hold up travelers who ventured forth from their walled towns.
Oma first worked in New York City homes as a domestic servant, and had carefully saved her extra money. After meeting Opa, between them they had just $200. Oma and Opa used these precious funds to purchase their first delicatessen in NYC.
Over the years, they owned and ran four different stores – one in Harlem, another was between 7th and 8th Ave on Amsterdam Avenue, and one was in Sunnyside, Queens. I don’t know where the fourth store was.
These were the days when delicatessens made the potato salads, coleslaw and beef roasts from scratch. Oma and Opa traded off, working together from 6AM ’til Midnight, seven days a week. When they got too tired out, they would spend time in Wannsee, Germany, where they owned a beautiful cottage, surrounded by flowers, before WWII.
During the 1917 flu epidemic, Oma came down with the flu. Opa would stand by their bedroom window and watch the hearses going by below to funerals. “There goes another hearse” he would tell his new wife…Oma survived and did not join those hearses. Oma lived to be 96-years-old and was very well until one week before she went Home to heaven.
Grandma was born in 1921, into a German-speaking family. German was her first language, she learned English at age five, and she eventually also spoke fluent French, after spending a summer in French School in Lausanne, Switzerland.
In the summer of 1936, just before her sixteenth birthday, my grandmother was sent to Germany by her parents, to attend gymnasium (German preparatory school). My grandmother was one of only a few unmarried young women passengers aboard an ocean liner which crossed the Atlantic ocean that summer, the SS Manhattan.
This liner also carried the 1936 USA Olympic team! “The Boys in the Boat” book and movie was based on the eight rowers who won their Olympic race. I assume these young men were also aboard Grandma’s ship.
Our Grandma loved to dance. She used to tell us how, at 10 PM, one of the coaches would tell the Olympic athletes it was their bedtime. The coach would stand at the top of one set of stairs, and check off each athlete as they descended, ostensibly going to their bunks. But Grandma said some of the young men would quickly go up another set of stairs to one of the ship’s dance floors, where she and another young lady danced with the soon-to-be Olympians far into the night!
It must have been in late August of 1939, three years later, when Opa heard the news another European World War was imminent. He called the American Consulate in Washington D.C. and instructed him, “Get my daughter out of Germany!”
Grandma was eighteen years old at the time. She was notified she must leave immediately. There was no time to pack. She left most of her possessions behind as she was rushed to the Berlin, Germany train station, where she took the last train out of Berlin, Germany, heading for Switzerland, before all the trains were used solely for transporting German troops to invade Poland.
She also took one of the last Atlantic ocean liners from the coast of Italy before German U-boats began torpedoing ships in the Atlantic ocean. I didn’t realize until doing research for this blog just how many ships had been torpedoed in WWII – 2,825 merchant ships, not including warships!
Had Grandma gotten stuck in Germany during WWII, she could have died. And she would not have met my Grandfather and married when she did, just nine months after returning to New York City.
My Grandpa was the third child of his father’s second wife. Grandpa’s father was sixty-nine years old when Grandpa was born, and his father died six years later, at age 75. Had my great-grandfather on this side not married again and had the faith to have children at an advanced age, I wouldn’t be here.
Grandpa had helped his mother survive the Great Depression in Republican, North Carolina using his fishing pole and shotgun, after the local general store no longer had any food to sell. People had run up their credit lines until the store could no longer buy food. My great-grandmother on this side planted a large garden, and Grandpa loved to hunt and fish.
Then, Grandpa attended Massey Business College, where he learned to take dictation in shorthand, write in Spencerian penmanship and also type. He worked as a secretary for a North Carolina Senator for a time and corresponded with President FDR briefly.
Grandpa’s life and future was nearly taken when he was a boy. He had pulled a pot of boiling water off the stove, and accidentally poured it down his front and into his rubber boots. He quickly ran outside and pulled his boots off, but the boiling liquid had already done great damage – the skin on both legs came off with the rubber boots.
Grandpa developed blood poisoning in both feet. A doctor said his feet must be amputated, to save his life. My grandpa’s grandmother was an herbalist, as many were then, and she refused the doctor’s advice. She made up a concoction using raw garlic and onions and applied this poultice to my grandfather’s legs and feet. “It burned like FIRE!” Grandpa told us. It also healed his feet!
My grandfather went north to New York City around 1933, to take a job in the garment district. Then he got a job with Canada Dry, where he worked for the next forty years, walking nine miles each day on those once-burned feet, to feed his family.
|Chariots of Fire, 14×22 watercolor by Elise, September 2017|
|The original photo I took from the coach’s launch|
Working to Save Others Lives
In the 1940’s during WWII, because he was married and had a child, my grandfather served as an air-raid warden in NYC.
For years after the war, our Grandpa and great-grandfather, Opa would cover their dining room table with brown-paper wrapped boxes, tied with red-and-white string. They would gather German addresses, any addresses, even for those they didn’t know. Opa knew the common German people were literally starving after the War, so he sent many food parcels back to his townspeople, to try to save their lives.
Opa also sponsored immigrants coming to America. He believed in giving people a chance to experience what America had given him. We believe around forty-two people were able to start new lives here in America because of my great-grandfather, Opa.
One family immigrated here from Paraguay, South America and moved to Arkansas, where they eventually owned and operated the second-largest pecan plantation in the state. Annually, at Christmas-time, our family would receive a box of pecans, in gratitude.
My Opa and my Grandfather understood money was a tool, to be used to help others. Their generosity is a wonderful example for me. I, too, am here in this world to do all I can to support and encourage others. To save many lives.
Detail progression starts here:
I’ve written previously about my dad’s early near-death experience, at age four, when the stitches from his tonsillectomy came out and he nearly bled to death in his crib. He was rushed to the hospital and given type O blood transfusions. We believe he was given untested dirty blood and my dad had many health problems as a result over his life-time.
My dad attended a military school for his first two years of college. It was a hard place, with young men committing suicide by jumping out of the windows because the physical and mental pressure there was great. My dad got through it. My siblings and I grew up getting drilled, learning to properly stand at attention, march, do an “about-face” and how to salute.
During the Vietnam War, my dad enlisted in the Marines. He didn’t want to wait to be drafted. During his physical examination he was told by the doctor, “I can’t send you to Vietnam! You’ve got a rash up both arms, and you’ll make so much noise scratching in the jungle, your entire company will be shot and killed!” “You can’t stop me,” my dad replied, “I already have my orders for basic training.” “Watch me,” said this military doctor. He picked up the phone and canceled my dad’s orders. And so, my dad didn’t join the Marines or go to Vietnam, he got married instead and had children. This doctor possibly helped save my dad’s life.
Another time, my dad went on a pretty crazy treasure-island hunt, getting caught in the Atlantic on a barge during a hurricane and very nearly didn’t make it back to shore.
My Own Life Experience of the Protection of God
I can point to four times I could have died but didn’t, although there are probably others our Father delivered me from without my knowledge. I am grateful for all that has happened to me, I’m equally grateful for much which has NOT happened to me.
My Leg Cut
We had a small beaver pond on our land when I was ten or eleven years old. My dad, a WSI (water-safety instructor), was our life-guard when we went swimming. One day, while swimming to try to reach my sister on an inner-tube, I felt something brush by my lower leg. I reached down and my hand seemed to go into my left leg! There was no pain.
I had to put my right foot down on the slimy mud at the bottom of the pond in order to raise my left leg, to see what was wrong.
What I saw was horrifying! I screamed. There was a four-inch long cut on my left shin. It was very deep and I could see the artery inside my leg, pumping blood!
My dad, trying to calm me down enough to understand what was wrong, told me he was going to walk away unless I stopped screaming. He actually turned around to walk away, so I would stop my hysteria. I told him about the cut I saw. “Now come over to me, Elise, and show it to me,” he said.
I exited our pond on the shallow and muddy far side, and went down across the stream below the concrete dam over the big rocks in the stream bed, to show him my leg. He saw the cut before I reached the other side and told me to stop walking. My dad came down into the stream bed to pick me up, carrying me up the bank and toward the house. My sister ran ahead to tell my mother I was injured.
My mom quickly came toward us and I saw her eyes as they met my dad’s eyes. He shook his head. My dad was trained in many medical procedures, but this cut was too big for butterfly bandages.
We went to the hospital that day, where I had thirty stitches. I remember my mom talking about packing the cut with sphagnum moss, so the cut would heal from the inside out…but we didn’t try that method. Instead, I got an intern who applied a “pain-killer” which I seemed to be allergic to, and only then did I feel enormous pain!
I spent a good deal of time sitting in bed that summer, waiting for the cut to heal. The very next day my dad went into the pond with his fireman’s boots and gloves on, sifting through the mud, looking for something sharp enough to have cut me…he didn’t find anything more than a sharp rock. We don’t know what sliced into my skin, but had my leg artery been cut, I know I could easily have bled to death.
Building Rafts and Nearly Drowning
My mother had a rule – we were not allowed to swim in our mountain stream-fed pond until after June 1st. But my sisters and I found ways around this by building rafts each Spring, so we could get out on the water earlier, as soon as the ice broke.
We made up individual “blue-prints” but usually had to combine our building plans for lack of good materials. We used poles from the woods and spare boards, nailing them together. We also had a prized inner-tube which we surrounded with boards and put in a trap door on hinges, in the center of the tube.
We used empty cider jugs with metal twist tops on them for flotation devices. After our nails punctured too many jugs, we used our Styrofoam play surf boards for flotation under our wooden rafts. We spent a good deal of time brainstorming ideas to make things float!
We even crafted one raft with a mast and sheet sail, and we let a friend christen this special boat. I guess we looked a lot like Huckleberry Finn, with our palm-frond braided hat, poling around the pond with our pants hiked up to our knees!
Sometimes we did accidentally capsize. If we leaned too far to one side, the inner tube would slide out from underneath the boards, and slowly, very slowly, the remaining unsupported wooden part of the raft would sink into the icy water…and whoever was on the raft had an awfully cold shock!
One summer day, when I was around twelve years old, and no one was life-guarding us, I jumped from shore onto one of our pole rafts. My small brother, who was six at the time and couldn’t yet swim, was already on board this raft. I knew the raft only held one person and it was really stupid to try to put two on it.
The raft immediately flipped over and while I was still in mid-air, falling, I twisted around to see my brother submerged, his straw-colored thatch of hair floating on top of the water. I grabbed for his hair, lifting him up and he grabbed me around the neck, trying to stay afloat.
Both of us went under the water. I remember kicking hard, feeling nothing underneath me except water, as I came up once. I can still see my sister swimming away from us in the inner-tube, not realizing we were in trouble. I didn’t breath, I just croaked “help” and then went under again, with my brother on top of me.
It flashed through my mind we were about to drown.
Suddenly, I felt firm mud beneath my feet, and I was able to stand up on mud in knee-deep water! I don’t know how this happened except that God saved our lives that day.
A Bad Car Accident
The year was 1987. Our family was traveling home by car from Florida, where we went annually to see our grandparents. It was lunchtime and we got off I-95 in Richmond, Virginia, to find some food. We had gone through the AAA tour book that morning, noticing Virginia didn’t yet have a seat belt law. We made the conscious decision NOT to wear seat belts that day. This decision probably saved my life.
My mother had twisted in her seat to ask my sister what type of food she wanted to eat. Turning back to the road, we headed through an intersection. I was reading my Bible for the day, and remember glancing up to see the street-light was red. I opened my mouth to ask why she was going through a red light just as, very suddenly, a refrigerator fell on top of me. It felt like a refrigerator anyway. It was really a two-ton truck, whose driver knew the intersection light changed rapidly. His truck plowed into the side of our car, T-boning our old 1969 steel Pontiac directly in the side, between the doors. The post held.
I was in the front seat on the far right. One of my sisters was in the middle seat. The door on my side of the car came in nine inches. Our car was totaled. The front window glass shattered but didn’t fall. Had I been wearing a seat belt, as was usual, I would not have been able to slide sideways away from the impact and crushed door.
The thin page I was holding ripped on impact and my Bible shot across the three of us in the front seat, hitting the front door to the left of my mom with a thud. Our car clattered up against the light pole on the opposite side of the intersection. A stranger came over and reached into our car to put the gearshift into Park, because my mother was in shock.
My sister and brother in the back seat had collided, hitting their heads, and both had bad concussions. My sister had a serious TBI and spent some time at the hospital because she lost her short-term memory for a day or so.
I could feel that my ribs were pushed out of place, in front and back of my rib cage, but I told the emergency people who arrived with an ambulance I was fine because I wasn’t coughing up blood. I couldn’t raise my arms above my head and developed a cough. A chiropractor helped put us back together after we arrived home in Vermont.
After priming and painting the outside of our large clapboarded farmhouse the summer I was twenty, I painted the walls and stained the woodwork inside my bedroom. I slept in the room that night, against the wishes of my mother. We had been doing a lot of home renovation, and the toxic fumes from polyurethaning our wooden floors had also affected me.
My pancreas decided it had had enough with toxic fumes and synthetic chemicals, and I nearly died the next summer.I remember having an infection in my abdomen, which caused a lot of pain when I walked. A doctor told me all my digestive organs were shutting down and that I could die…I couldn’t eat anything without lots of pain.
The pancreas and spleen meridian is known to be connected to “over-thinking” and I certainly had this problem in spades. At the time, I was highly critical of myself and others. I was inadvertently killing myself.
Our family went to Maine for a short time that summer, where I spent a good deal of time down by docks on the ocean, thinking about my life.
I remembered my past times of physical and emotional pain and thought about facing the unknown future. I remember deciding I wanted to live. This required faith. I began to heal following this decision. I also memorized and meditated consistently on Philippians chapter four, and focused on re-training my brain to think about beautiful, good things.
Just as a clay pot must be put in a hot kiln to dry it, and must be put into the fire again, when glazed, it also spends time cooling, on a shelf, away from being in use.
I feel like a clay pot sometimes. Being moved from here to there. I desire to be a vessel unto honor fit for the Master Potter’s use.
Our wise and kind Father never makes a mistake as He molds and shapes our lives to fit His perfect plan.
I wish you all contentment and joy where you are in life,
your painting friend,
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed; Always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body. For we which live are alway delivered unto death for Jesus’ sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh. ~ II Corinthians 4:7-11