The true story behind this painting based on the Book of Mormon’s ‘Flaxen Cords’ scripture


Editor’s note: This article was originally published on LDSLiving.com in September 2019.

Kate Lee spent nine months working on a painting at the invitation of her stake president. “Homework assignments” like this were not unusual over the course of the four years that Kate met her with her stake president as he sought to help her discover her tremendous worth in the sight of God. He knew Kate loved to paint and invited her to create something based on the scripture found in Alma 26:22 which says, “And there are also secret combinations, even as in times of old according to the combinations of the devil, for he is the founder of all these things. Yay, the founder of murder and works of darkness. Yeah. And he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.”This particular piece took longer than most of Kate’s paintings. In the excerpt below, Kate shares why. 

You can hear the entire episode here or read a transcript of the entire interview here

The following excerpt has been edited for clarity. Find the full podcast episode here.

Morgan Jones: At some point, your stake president found out that you like to paint?

Kate Lee: Right, he knew that right from the beginning.

MJ: And he invited you to paint a picture for him. If anyone has shopped in Deseret Book in the recent past, you have likely seen Kate's art. And it is not like something that you just do at home by yourself. And so for you, when he invited you to paint this picture, what was going through your mind? And then what did you end up painting?

KL: Okay, so it was one of his assignments that he'd given to me. And then he handed me a scripture reference during this time we were talking, and the reference is 2 Nephi 26:22 I think is what it is. But it talks about the flax and chords. So that's the scripture. So he hands it to me, and he says, "I want you to paint this scripture." And he's like, "I want you to interpret it however you want." And I said, "No.” I said, “No way. Are you kidding me? I'm not the right artist. I'm so not good enough for this." And he said "No. Yeah you are, you can do it." And he basically wouldn't take no for an answer, which I love about him but because he does it in such a loving, kind way. Yeah. Right. So I was like, "Okay, okay, I'll take this home and I'll think about it." And I thought about it for a really long time. Like, I was so nervous. "What if I paint it and he hates it?" And then he's gonna be like, "Oh, yeah, she's a failure here." You know, like, these are all the thoughts going through my head, “I'm not interested anymore. She just wasted my time," kind of thing. And so I got all these ideas, and I started drawing it, and then I put it on this canvas. And normally, it takes me about an hour to sometimes up to four hours to paint a picture, not super long. But this painting took me nine months to paint. Like, forever, because I drew it and that was okay because I could erase it. So it wasn't like I wasn't committed, you know, yeah. But once I put the paint on, and I paint with watercolor, but this one was acrylic. And so once it was on, it was on, you know, you're just committed. And so it took me nine months to paint this picture. And it was just something I really wanted, so I prayed about it a lot. I wanted to make sure I was going to get the feeling right, I wanted to make sure it was going to get, you know, the emotion that I felt, I wanted to get right on the canvas. And so the scripture talks about flaxen cords. And I'd been talking with my stake president, and he's so inspired because he gave me the scripture reference that talks about flaxen cords and how they gently lead you down to hell. And I was thinking, my flaxen cords are my doubts about who I am. And they are. They're keeping me from progressing. They're keeping me from happiness that I can have, like, they're keeping me from things. And so he, in essence, by asking me to paint this picture, he's inviting me to break free of these flaxen cords. And so I want to put that emotion on the canvas, right? So I'm petrified of getting it wrong, so I made sure that I wasn't going to rush myself. But nine months later, I finished the painting. and I was proud of it. But I was terrified to take it out of the studio to let anybody else to see it because then I'm like, “I can be proud of it now.” But what if my stake president sees it and he's like, "Never mind, like, you just blew the whole, like, we can’t (?) do anything now," you know. But I took it to him. And just, again, I wish I could describe the way his reaction was and everything, the way he talks, he was just like, "Oh my goodness, this is so beautiful. This is exactly what I was hoping for,” you know. “Thank you so much for it." And he says, "I want to keep it and put it somewhere that's gonna just be so sacred for me." You know, just everything that he was saying was like, "This is amazing.” Nobody's ever reacted the quite the way you're reacting, and it was a new thing because I'm like, "Oh, I'm trusting, you know, like, I can trust you with this, and I'm okay with this." But during that nine-month period, I also learned how to trust God, more and more, I learned how to trust in my abilities. Like, I'd always wanted to be an artist my whole life. That's all I ever wanted to be was an artist. But I never felt like I was good enough to be the artist that I wanted to be. And I always just doubted that. And so with this assignment, it was like, I kind of blossomed through it. I know that sounds cheesy, but it was just like, I started as this timid, shy artist, and then it just kind of came to be like, "Oh, I can do this. Oh, I actually want to do this." And I learned to just rely on Heavenly Father and Him teaching me who I can actually become through that. And from that painting I gave to my stake president, [that] was such a positive experience that I wanted to do more. I feel like that assignment opened up doors for me, you know, that really started this momentum that hasn't stopped. You know, it taught me that I really can paint those Christ-centered paintings that I always craved to paint, you know, it just was such a—again, right along with the sticky note assignment—it was one of the most powerful assignments that he'd given me because of what it taught me and how it brought me to Christ and how it helped me to share my testimony on paper, you know, and through my paintings and stuff.

MJ: When you were telling that story I found myself becoming really emotional, because I was thinking about how Heavenly Father gives us all talents, and opportunities, and how sometimes we may feel like, what if we bring this to Him, what if we come back to Him and we're like, "This is what I did with what you gave me." And He's like, "You blew it." But that I think His reaction actually will be much like your stake president in that it's like, this is exactly what I hoped you would do with this. And I think that is such a beautiful thought.

KL: You're making me get emotional.

MJ: But I think that that is what this is all about. Right? That God is giving us this moral experience so that when we come back to Him, He can show us his love in that way.

KL: Right. And I think that's why it's so important for us to know who we are, I feel like the world so often tells us what we have to be, and we really listen to that too easily, like we listen to, “Here's the standards that you have to meet,” from the world, right? And we listen to that, does that make sense? And when we do that, we're really keeping ourselves from progressing or from becoming who we're meant to become. I feel like, because I so often listen to my doubts and believe my doubts, I kept myself from Christ. I kept myself from God, I kept myself from progression. And the second I started listening to the Spirit and trusting the Spirit over my doubts, then my whole life changed, my whole perspective on what I wanted to be and who I could become changed. It wasn't, “Well, I can't do that because I'm not good enough.” It was like, “Well, why not try that?” Like, what do I have to lose? And I think, yeah, it's just really important that we try to seek out who we are so that those things that we've been given, because we all have something different to give, you know, but when we seek that out, and we're really trying hard to develop that, that's when we can really reach that full potential and we can have that joy, because we're promised to have joy here, right? And we can have that joy if we're seeking out those things.

Watch Kate share the story of another "homework assignment" from her stake president that changed her life in the video below. 

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Video Companion
When We Struggle to Find the Faith To Be Healed - Artist Kate Lee On Trusting God

"Flaxen Cords," the watercolor version of the acrylic painting Kate Lee created at the invitation of her stake president, is now available for purchase at Deseret Book stores and DeseretBook.com.

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