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Portrait of a Soldier

Original Oil on Canvas by Ember Canada.

1st Lt. Eric Yates, 26, of Rineyville, KY,

Death: Sep. 18, 2010, Afghanistan

Lt. Yates was my first commissioned portrait. It was 2013, I was living in Ft. Knox, Ky, in the middle of my transition out of the army. A friend of mine approached with a request to paint his friend, Eric. He wanted to give the painting as gift to Eric's parents: David and Kathy Yates. Despite the insecurities in my own painting abilities (I had only been painting for a year). How could I say no? I had to try. The importance of such a project weighed on my heart.

I had never met Eric personally, but I prayed over him and his family as I worked on his picture. God was very present throughout the whole process and a few times I even had the distinct awareness of Eric watching. 

I had several different pictures of Eric to work from. My friend wanted Eric to have a smile, but as I painted, no matter how I tried, Eric would not smile for me. In the end, he gave me a slight up-turn in the corners of his mouth. My friend later told me it was true to his personality.

Eric's face resonated peace. He was at peace now. No regrets, only determination to watch over his family from his Heavenly post. Eric's message to me was, 'It's not the duration of our lives that carry the most importance, it is how we live the days we have that matters most. Live with purpose.'

When it came time for me to paint the background. I had no idea what to do. I asked God to show me.  I got a picture of a well-loved American flag, but instead of it being in the regular horizontal position, I saw the flag draped at a distinct angle over the left corner. So I painted what I saw hoping his parents would like it (considering it wasn't the traditional way).

 Later, I had the honor to meet Eric's mother. One of the questions she asked me was if I had seen his grave stone before. "No, I have never seen it before." I replied, a little embarrassed, thinking I probably should have taken the time to do so. She looked surprised. "Well, the flag you painted on the background looks exactly like the one inscribe on his grave stone." "Really?"

Sure enough, I went home and looked it up online. I cried like a baby. It was so exact that no one will believe I didn't see a picture of it before I painted the background. But Eric and I know... 

God is that awesome.