My favorite artist is also good with words. Her paintings make me happy. Her stories make me laugh… and they stab me in the heart.
Amy Wilmoth Watts is multi-talented. She’s a cow farmer, a true cowgirl.
A Blessed Cowgirl.
She deeply loves her horses, her dog Snowflake, her husband James. And her sister.
“Never judge a book by its cover.”
That statement is never more true than when associated with Amy. I mentioned she’s a farmer. She wears a farmer’s attire. Denim and cotton, whites, blues and grays. She’s not frilly. She’s not flashy. She’s not concerned with fashion. She may even cut her own hair, but I can’t say for certain.
Her art though… Her art reveals a warm, vibrant soul. And it is beautifully flashy. I’m including some of her art in this article, but today, I bring your attention to her words. Her stories. One story in particular.
She so clearly reveals the angst of a teen, the stinging wound of not belonging. The discomfort of being an outsider. It’s those teens, I believe, the ones who are left to observe from the sidelines, that are most tenderly in tune with the emotions of others.
Another thing I admire about Amy… she has a clear understanding that God is in the bold, and in the imperceptible, spaces of our lives. That nothing is by chance or coincidence. You’ll see what I’m talking about in the following story Amy recently shared:
“Summer of 1981 and 15 years old when I moved with my family to Georgia and what I could notice was the trees that formed green walls to block the horizon. After growing up in Nebraska where it is impossible to sneak up on someone, and the wind carries the scents of the stockyards and the sound of the tornado sirens being tested every Saturday morning, I felt panicked and claustrophobic at once. A new place, a new school and all around me the houses reached to the sky and all four sides brick. Suburbia, a new place where you would be defined by your “Neighborhood”! When I close my eyes to recall my childhood, I feel the warmth of the sun on my face, and feel the wonder of possibility for the future, the excitement of things to come! Being a teenager, however, felt morose and ugly, the future seemed in my face and not happy to see me! There is a definite feeling I associate here. A feeling cannot be defined, but sheetrock and whitewash and newness, people from everywhere, MTV plays as a soundtrack, once it came out and everyone stayed home to watch it. “Our love’s in jeopardy>>” the first song I “saw”. Before that, famous singers and bands were mere pictures on album or cassette covers, now as they live and breathe! But, with all the newness and change, walls would close in on me in those days.
Our family of course could not rest in this new place until a church was located, and we were all keenly involved in the search. We tried a few here and there. A Saturday afternoon drive alerted us that a United Methodist Church would be found down a narrow gravel road with privet hedge growing so close that it scraped the sides of our station wagon as we followed it’s path. There we were to find a dark brown painted single wide trailer, hardly the kind of church building we were expecting and the sign said “Simpsonwood UMC”. My sisters and I had to laugh at the humble appearance! Surely this could not be a church of any spiritual import! The words my mother spoke ring in my ears to this day, “This church needs us.”
It was there settled and our family is written in the history books as charter members in what is now the Simpsonwood Church and Retreat Center. Our first Sunday, we went into the small room with folding chairs that served as sanctuary and with one small bathroom that opened up in the middle of the main wall. Cindy whispered that she had to go, and gave the door a yank. We all know how cheesy and ill made a trailer house door and knob can be and the throne was already occupied, with the woman there exposed for all to see! And we made our first impression thus. My sisters and I had been involved in youth group in Nebraska, and were sad to note that our new church did not have one. Maybe not, but this church “needed” our family! In a few weeks, we made posters to advertise a meeting, and persuaded a college aged young man to be in charge and what would be known as Simpsonwood UMYF(youth fellowship) was born.
The point of my story really begins here, as a few months went by, the new youth group “took off”, and young people already members came and brought their friends. My sisters and I were feeling like outsiders worse than ever. Not only were there other kids coming, but we were quick to recognize that these were a large group of the “popular” people, and not only were we not among them, we were newcomers to our own party. Cindy and I begrudgingly stuck with it, all the while distancing ourselves towards a morose and hormonal sulleness to which only teenage girl can adequately adhere.
The group became more than the college age young man could handle and God brought us a wonderful couple named Karen and Rob. “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Karen and Rob saw right through the discomfort of our scenario, chances are good they were new themselves at one time or another. They reached out to us, and worked hard to makes us feel a part, just as Jesus calls all of us to do. When the time came for us to go on a camping retreat, Karen put Cindy and I in her cabin, and did all she could to make us feel special.
In the time of which I speak, a singer emerged named Dan Fogelberg and he was one of the soft rock kings of the 80s. He is best known in my world as the singer of “Run For the Roses”, which is recreated by various artists in Oklahoma City every year for the winner of the Reining Horse Futurity. “Auld Lang Syne” and “Longer” are two more hits at the time playing on the FM dial. On Saturday night of our camping retreat, word reached us that Karen’s dad had passed away unexpectedly. She made the decision out of necessity to stay with us, as she was one of our only chaperones and we were to leave the next day. That evening, we gathered around a campfire to sing(something all church groups should do more of!). Someone led the fellowship with his guitar, and without knowing of Karen’s loss, began to play and sing “Leader of the Band”. This is a song Dan Fogelberg wrote to honor his father as he came to the end of his life. It became too much for Karen, and she rose sobbing to return to the cabin. I sat frozen, and watched as my sister Cindy got up to follow her out. No one else seemed to even notice. As the song finished, I got up quietly and went out into the darkness to the cabin door and looked through the screen. Cindy and Karen sat together on a bottom bunk, Cindy with her arm around our youth leader comforting her. And there my sister ministered to one who had to her done the same. My sister was special! And what I already knew came plain. “Truly I say to you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
September of 2011 finds me in a charming café in downtown Santa Fe, and internet access has me looking through itunes to make a new running playlist for the streets of the Plaza call to me every morning while I am there. I found myself shopping through the “Songs of the 80s” and there on the list is “Leader of the Band” by Dan Fogelberg. I am immediately restored to a time and place, one seen through the distortion of a cabin’s screen door and the memory of my sister who now takes her own rightful place in heaven. I purchased the song, along with a few others, and memories followed in my footsteps along the foothills of the Sangre de Cristos that week and this is where the story, for those who have stuck with me, gets not strange, ethereal and satisfying. One evening, having a sandwich at the same café, I received a call from my gallery just a mile or so away. The woman told me with great excitement that she had sold my piece “Vaquero” a moment before, and the buyer was none other than the widow of Dan Fogelberg! She had just moved to Santa Fe after her husband lost his battle with cancer. My painting was the first thing she purchased for her new home. I was stunned, but not really by the coincidence. I have proof of Heaven above and those who dwell there on a daily basis and this is just one more. It makes me smile to think of Cindy watching over my daily affairs, and it is in her witness that I make decisions to guide my life as she always did, walking with the Lord! “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
~You can find Amy, and her art, in galleries around the USA. And on Facebook and Instagram.
Tough Enough – Amy’s tribute to the memory of her sister, Cindy.