East Sparta artist and young couple re-create 'The Gift of the Magi'

By rita christieSpecial to The Press-News Published:

It was like the gift of the Magi. Remember the story?

The wife sells her hair to buy a watch fob for her husband who has a treasured watch….the husband sells his watch to buy combs for his wife's beautiful hair. Two people - so in love - selling their prized possessions so that they could bless each other with gifts of love for Christmas. Never before had I seen something as magical come from a love like in real life….until very recently.

Nov. 18, I spoke at the Church of the Open Door in Sandyville. I had recently met Pastor Lisa Elliot when she came to my grooming shop with her two dogs. Her grooming appointment turned into more of a Divine appointment, when shared conversation and testimony led her to ask me to speak at her church. I was supposed to bring some of my art and share the story of how God's Grace had saved me from a shooting and a kidnapping so many years ago and left me with this wonderful gift of art. I was so excited and happy to be asked. I always jump at the chance to share what amazing things God has done in my life.

My speaking at the church went great. I felt a love there that I feel rarely in bigger churches. I met so many wonderful folksy people who just warmed my heart.

One young couple I met particularly impressed me. They were so young, and yet had children with them that were in their teens. I found out that they were foster parents to several children, ages 3 months up through 16 years of age. They also had a son of their own. I was impressed because for all they had going, they still seemed so devoted to one another and so in love. It was obvious to me that God was so present in their marriage and that they truly put Him at the center of their lives. Their names are Tyler and Marissa Witts, and I was so happy to meet them.

A few days after I spoke at the church, I received a call from the young wife, Marissa. She asked me if I could possibly do a painting for her husband for Christmas. She said "This is what I want: A buck and doe…in the woods….by some water, and on it somewhere - I want the words 'Always and Forever'."

I thought this was very nice. I told her that I would be able to do it by Christmas and that I was thrilled that she asked.

In the days that followed, I began thinking about the painting. I sketched out some ideas, but with Christmas coming and other orders piling up, I really didn't give it much thought at the time. I just knew I needed to get it done along with the other paintings that were ordered for Christmas.

A few weeks later, I decided to go back to the Church of the Open Door. I had fallen in love with the people who I had started just running into different places I would go around the community. My second visit to the church was awesome - but what happened next blew my mind. As I was leaving, Tyler Witts cornered me. He asked me, nervously if there was still time for me to do a painting for his wife for Christmas. He said "This is what I want: A painting of a buck and a doe…in the woods….by some water. And I want you to put the words 'Forever and Always' on it somewhere."

I cannot imagine what my face must have looked like. I got immediate chills, and I know tears welled up in my eyes. "Forever and Always?" I asked….He said "Yes, it is kind of our thing. She always says "Always and Forever" and I always answer "Forever and Always."

Then the shivers started up my spine…the kind of shivers that happen in a good way - when God shows up. I nodded my head immediately. "Of course there is still time." I whispered to him, "It's Christmas."

Never before had this happened. Never had two people asked for the same painting. Two MARRIED people. Now this presented quite a dilemma for me. I had just promised the same couple the same painting for the same holiday. But the holiday was Christmas….the birth of our Lord: the ultimate gift of Love from our Father. And here were two young people with so much love for each other - who wanted the same beautiful present for each other. Two halves of a perfect union - asking for the same image with the same words said to one another in a mirror image. "Always and Forever, Forever and Always."

It took me only a second to know what to do. Their gift would not come one from another - they already had an amazing gift given to them: Love-- the kind of love that Christmas stories are made of…like the gift of the Magi. Their present would have to come from God. But God probably already had that part planned….Lucky for me that He is the one who does the work, and I just hold the brush….Lucky for me that He already knew what it was supposed to look like. And how Blessed was I to be on the receiving end of that gift….to be asked by this couple…and to be the one to hold the brush and let God do His work!

The painting took only six hours from start to finish. It was indeed a gift painted by God for these two amazing people who give and serve and love so much. The day it was to be presented to them in Church - two days before Christmas - they could not be there because their water heater had blown up. So the church went to them and a little presenting / Christmas party ensued at the Witt's house.

When presented with their gift, tears replaced their loss for words in their astonishment. They did not need words. Their faces told the tale….of a love and union so blessed that it could create a beautiful Christmas painting and a Christmas story…..and I was the lucky one who-- through God's Grace-- could help create both.

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