Stories that Shine on an Awesome God

Before I Leave Winter

March has hit a home run and is sliding into April. It even sprinkled a few early daffodils as it rounded second base. Sunshine ahead should get it well past third. It runs pell-mell down the last stretch toward spring. I must tag it now or it will be too late, because there is a moment of winter I want to freeze in time.

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Nine years ago, I learned to snow ski and I was no spring chick.

My husband, at the top of each run, watched his student progress in hesitant turns, hogging the whole slope. He waited and then, in half the time, caught up in rhythmic, even glides. Most every winter since, we’ve made it to the Colorado mountains. Each time, I’ve gained more confidence.

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“All you need is miles under your skis,” he assured me.

This winter, we had five weeks’ worth of miles. We left home in January with new skis itching to show off their finesse and returned in March with legs that never felt stronger.

“You sure turned the engines on,” my husband bragged. “I’ve got to up my game.”

I also returned with a new glimpse of heaven.

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We woke around 6:00 every day, ate a sturdy breakfast, and, ski boots fastened, clumped out the door in time to make first tracks. If we’re early enough, we can be there when the lifts open, ahead enough so, when we slide off at the top, all that lies before us is pristine sky, mountains rising in grandeur, few or no people, and ski runs groomed to perfection.

There are no other tracks but those in our thoughts—the ones we are about to make.

Trust me. It’s worth the early rise.

Give it thirty minutes and it’s time to work one’s way to the back side where the lifts open later.

***

We were well into our third week. My amazing skis had made me look almost expert.

Beauty, the kind that truly catches one’s breath, had blended with exercise. Our blood flowed pure.

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“Fresh powder last night,” my husband says over his oatmeal topped with cinnamon and pecans.

Powder! Magic word. Snow had fallen again. Not a minute to waste.

First off the lifts, we warm up on the front runs and head to the back.

We push off from the lift, and, as we glide to the top of the slope, I adjust my poles. It’s more than a straight run. It’s a wide swath of nature that spills in all directions over the mountainside. Scattered evergreens rise stately over its surface. Today they are more than frosted. Today, their boughs are laden.

The air is crisp … clean … with a hint of fir.

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My husband slides along beside me.

“Wow. Look at this,” he breathes.

Further words are useless.

On the horizon, other peaks zigzag a cloudless sky. They trim the cobalt of heaven with white.

Stretched beneath me, four, maybe six inches of virgin snow whisper a promise of pure ecstasy. I take my time. There is plenty of room between the trees to weave in and out. To explore. To sight-see.

I swish through the powder on ski wings.

Floating timeless through my Creator’s perfection.

Just me and His Spirit in soundless bonding.

This is one holy place.

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Alright, March, go for it. Reach home plate and usher in spring. Let’s see what divine glories it will display.

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Hard Candy Christmas

A lifetime of Christmas memories meld into a swirl of yearning that pulls at my heart like taffy and melts like chocolate into a puddle of longing. As though it were the glob of molten candy my mother used to drop into ice water, this holiday feels condensed.

Christmas Candy

Stories of the season flood my thoughts with their pathos and beauty.

My own Christmas story is in there somewhere ready to emerge.

This year my children and their families will remain miles away. There will be no Dollywood tradition. Those days fled with my son’s childhood.

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Dolly says to figure out who you are and do it on purpose. I’ve done that, yet my finished manuscript will, for the time being, remain unpublished. It’s the best decision, for the good of others, but I need to tuck my soul into a winter coverlet thick enough to absorb the ache.

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Tears wet my pillow.

It’s time to rest deep in a Love that has no measure. It’s time to wait on the Lord.

I wake to sunlight and a phone call. My son, who, until now, has never spent Christmas away, is headed to the ski slopes with a friend. It’s not our festive theme park, but it’s a prayer answered.

A text message pops up with an unexpected invitation from fellow writers. I accept and drive over. We watch a Christmas movie, sip tea, and just be.

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My friend’s son arrives home from first-year college. He hugs his mom. They talk classes. I’m happy for her, yet I blink back moisture. He hugs her again. Yes, our big boys miss their moms, even if they won’t admit it.

When I get back home, my youngest daughter calls to schedule a family visit in March.

Later, another phone call from my eldest draws us into conversation of goals and ministry and her journey of love.

I wrap final gifts for my husband’s siblings. We will be with them on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I’m grateful for their inclusion.

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I plan the meal for another day, close to New Years, when my children and grandchildren by marriage will join us. Around here, we save the best until last.

I begin supper. A hearty stew bubbles on the stove. The table is set. Candles are lit. I chose a country Christmas album and Dolly tells me she’ll be fine and dandy.

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My husband arrives with overnight guests. It’s been a long day—a long flight. I can offer food, clean sheets, and a hug. I can just be myself.

Thanks, Father, for drying my tears. For friends. For family. Thanks, for a season of soul hibernation. Joy may seem to lie dormant, but life will awaken. Thanks for reminding me of who I am. Give me the courage to keep doing it on purpose.

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And thanks, Dolly, for your inspiration.

Looks like this will be a hard candy Christmas after all.

Looks like I’ll be fine and dandy too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Plundered Pastures

Our pastures have been plundered. At least mine have. And it’s taken only a couple days of Supreme Court hearings to do it.

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Thursday—the day one terrified woman doctor and one emotional male judge testify. I carry my phone around so I can watch and listen while I pack. We plan a trip to our land where pastures hug the mountains.

Friday—the day a judicial committee meets to vote. I turn on my C-span app so I can listen with bated breath as I drive toward those pastures through scanty radio coverage.

Saturday—the day of rest. I hug my grandchildren and their momma and daddy and do not talk politics.

Sunday—the day spent where cell coverage equals one bar. Maybe. I wake slow to a cool, deep fog outside the screen, serve tea to my husband in bed, and rise when the sun has dried the pasture enough to mow.

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Monday—a day of weed-whacking and clouds golden with sunset. I watch a doe glide with slender legs through thick grass. Later, I stare into our campfire’s glow and pray for my nation.

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Tuesday—a day of homeward travel. I spend the night unpacking and doing laundry. I catch up on emails and surf the net for news. I sift through comments and commentary. Both sides. I absorb crazy-making words. I eat stuff I shouldn’t and wonder where my faith has gone. Digesting news makes me sick to my stomach.

Am I sick because my passion is to share how a culture of silence has affected me personally? Or does my stomach churn because I’m in the process of telling a story of how God healed and integrated a woman who suffered extreme abuse in childhood? Yep, our nation’s issues hit close.

Most likely, I feel nauseous because the differing views come from voices I love with all my heart.

Sleep overtakes me in the wee hours of morning.

Wednesday—a day to begin again—I sit on the front porch where morning sunlight filters fresh over stately oaks. I open my Bible to where I left off five days ago.  Ezekiel, chapter thirty-six.

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“Aha,” The enemy has said of us, “the ancient heights have become our possession. The enemy, that father of lies, rubs gleeful hands together. His tone holds only malice. It’s as though he is saying to me, to my nation: Now, amidst your cacophony of accusation and blame casting, amidst voices clamoring to release a lifetime of pain, amidst a naked grasping for power, chaos reigns. Just the way I like it. I have ravaged and hounded you from every side. I win.

God, help us. This is getting personal. I read on. Aloud.

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says to the mountains and hills … to the desolate ruins … that have been plundered … With burning zeal, I have spoken against [your enemy] for with glee and malice in their hearts they made my land their own possession so that they might plunder its pastureland.” (Verses 4 and 5)

“Father,” I whisper, “It’s not just my nation that has been plundered. It’s my spirit. My pastureland. And much of it is my own fault—my wrong choices, like you say here in verse seventeen. Too many times have I’ve taken my focus off of you and stopped following Jesus.”

I keep reading.

“I am going to do these things for the sake of my holy name which you have profaned … I will show the holiness of my great name … Then the nations will know that I am the Lord … when I show myself holy through you before their eyes.

Amazing! You will show yourself holy through me. How?

“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.” My voice caresses his answer—words I have underlined in the past. “I will cleanse you from all your impurities …”

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“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws … You will be my person and I will be your God. I will call for the grain and make it plentiful … I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field … the desolate land will be cultivated … this land that was laid waste….”

That’s the land of my spirit, Lord.

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“They will say, ‘This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden.’ Then [others] will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.”

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“Father, I wish you could infuse my whole nation with a new spirit, but I can only take care of mine. Yet, I want to help calm the chaos. As you replant my own plundered fields, perhaps others will see and take notice. Please, show yourself holy through me.”

Today—a day my plundered pastures are restored. I click off C-span, open my computer, and follow my passion.

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Has your spirit, your pasture, been plundered lately? How has God restored you?

 

Equipped

Scraps of tune weave into my waking.
What is that song?

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I reach for my phone and press Search on my app. I must need the music. Why else would the Spirit impress it on this coming-out-of-a-dream moment? Yes, it is Him. I’ve experienced enough dream-related moments to recognize the insight.

I raise myself on an elbow and type. You will overcome. No, not that one. Broken strongholds. Nope. How does that song go? Something about a crown … ah, yes. Victor’s Crown. I select Play and the music spills over the edges of my downy comforter, flooding my mind with words of war. (Click on the link below to listen to the song.)

Victor’s Crown

I hold my breath. I’m secure in a room that’s warm within a house stocked with plenty of food, so why does the music of conflict stir my heart until it swells with hope and courage?
Do I need a buttress from the craziness in my nation’s capital, an hour’s drive away? Or perhaps against the monstrous hurricane bearing down on my favorite island beach?

Waves

My lungs whoosh out their air.

Maybe. Yet I believe in a God who stays with me through events I can’t control. Even if they affect me, which they undoubtedly will, He will give me wisdom and strength.

I listen through to the end, press Replay, and sink my head onto the pillow.
No, this is not about any exterior event churning my world into one I don’t recognize. These words of absolute victory strike a more intimate note.

It’s been a packed and wonderful summer of reunions, vacations, travel, loved ones, grandchildren, and … an empty nest.

That last one has nearly gotten me. Not the empty nest. It’s the fledgling, miles away, still trying to learn which way to fly and how, that knots my gut and tightens my throat.

You are ever interceding …

Fledging

The music definitely applies to my fledgling and to my other adult children and their children. I’ve needed the courage to rise above recent depressing demons of helplessness, ineptness, regret, and doubt where they are concerned. I’ve offered weak prayers, it seems, against their weaknesses inherited, in part, from their mother. The spirit-battles in their regard have raged and I’ve been near defeated.

Every high thing must …

I can’t control my children. I know that. Don’t want to. I can only pray and influence a little. Precious little.

I press Replay and throw off the covers. The music resounds and moves beyond my kids.
The song is for me this morning. It’s for my own personal war.

The carpet is soft to my feet. At the sink, I turn on cold water and splash my face.

You have overcome … You have overcome …

A verse I read a few days back comes to mind:

“Get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on … I am the Lord your God.” Ezekial 20:7&8

The Spirit of Light pokes with gentle touch. I bury my face in a terry towel.

What have I set my eyes on?

Easy. A screen. Hand-held or on my lap. A screen filled with the latest news that isn’t news, or maybe it is, who knows? Or filled with a recommended movie. Or a fellow author’s book. They are all good things in due season, but not when that screen should be pulsating with words, sentences, and holy passion being typed into an unfinished manuscript the ruler of darkness absolutely Does. Not. Want. Me. To. Write.

Not to mention my blog.

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I surrender to my truth. My war is one that extends well beyond media, but I often set my screen idol before my eyes and it consumes precious minutes. Hours.

High things must come down.

You will overcome … You will overcome.

Music in hand, I pad down the hall and settle into my devotion chair. I want to enter the sacred place that holds my battle gear. I open the Word.

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“…but you, woman of God, flee from all this and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith… keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in His own time.” I Tim. 6: 11, 12 & 14

“Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness … pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart … gently instruct [those who oppose] in the hope that God will grant them repentance … and will come to their senses and escape the trap of the devil who has taken them captive to do his will.II Timothy 2: 19, 22, 25-26

“But God’s Word is not chained.II Timothy 2:9
“For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. It teaches us to say “NO” to ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, while we wait for the blessed hope–the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness, and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.” Titus 2:11-14
“It wasn’t by THEIR sword that they won the land, nor did THEIR arm bring them victory. It was YOUR right hand, YOUR arm, and the light of YOUR face, for You loved them … Through You, we push back our enemies; through Your name we trample our foes. I do not trust in my bow. My sword does not bring me victory, but You give us victory over our enemies. Psalms 44:3, 5-6

Sword fight

I glance at my phone, press Replay, and bow my head.
Jesus, it’s You who wear the victor’s crown. You have won this good fight of faith. Since You are in me and I am in You, it’s my victory too.

I close the Word, equipped.

HALLELUJAH

If I had known…

If I had known all the arduous effort, attention to detail, and mind-and-heart-breaking labor my first literary work would take, I probably wouldn’t have started.

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It has been a labor of love from the first day, but I had no idea what a degree in creative writing would involve—even though it’s only a home-schooled course. If I had known, I might have chosen a different field.

Fortunately, I didn’t know.

Even more fortunate, this school has a fabulous Teacher. He knows the end from the beginning. He views a thousand years as only one day and one as a thousand.

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My teacher knows that in order to heal, one must go back to the point of pain and doing that takes time.

It takes experiencing the healing process in the now, even if one turns gray in the meantime. For me, it meant setting my work aside for about twelve years, but my Teacher didn’t give up. It’s been messy. It will continue to be messy, but he continues to teach.

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His most recent lesson, the one that brought this blog concept to the forefront, involves Point of View.

Disclaimer: The following includes shop talk. I know from experience how tedious shop talk can be for those not interested in the shop. I’ll try to make this succinct.

I studied the craft of writing stories. I wrote and wrote and rewrote and rewrote. I shared my manuscript baby. I cut out complete scenes. I pitched to publishers. I entered contests. I applied the judges’ suggestions. I submitted to publishers. I involved editors. I even lived life beyond writing. I submitted again.

The latest answer? “Resubmit when it is in Deep Point of View.”

Resubmit, for those not in the shop, is a very encouraging word from a publisher. It’s another word for “Your manuscript has potential…but…are you a serious writer? Really? Are you willing to stretch yourself more than you ever dreamed possible? If so, resubmit.”

Evidently, I was still telling too much and not showing enough. Still? Yep. After all my long nights and early mornings and solitude and tucked-in-around-living writing-time…after all my gray hair…it was still too easy for the reader to get out of the character’s head.

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I bought a different book on deep point of view. I read and reread.

My “telling” statements began to pop out like hands waving in a classroom. I began my umpteenth edit.

“Now, I’m done,” I said. “I’m ready to resubmit.”

“Uh, not so fast,” said my Teacher. “Take a look at that blog. Yeah, that one, right there, on your email feed that you were about to delete. The one for writers that you subscribed to. The one with the headline about point of view.”

I opened the blog and learned that having the character’s name too many times in a scene distracts the reader. Pronouns work better. It was a simple point. The kind I should have recognized myself. Did I really want to resubmit with reader-distraction words embedded in my scenes? Messy work, this.

My Teacher had caught me just in time.

I am so ready for graduation. I’m ready to move to the next level as I start a new project, but these instances with my Teacher are worth all my work.

There’s no guarantee for a publishing contract. I may have to submit far into the future, but it’s all good because…

My Teacher controls the calendar and that’s OK with me.

“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46:4

On the subject of God’s school…

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I’m including a little bonus for those who have read down this far. It’s one of those scenes I just told you about, out of my book. At this point in the story, Rose-Marie, the main character, is fourteen and just graduated from eighth grade. This is how she formed her ideas about being in God’s school. Matthew is a sixteen-year-old she has deep feelings for. Enjoy!

***

Whew. What a night. She slid off her shoes. What would Matthew’s card say? The bathroom would be private enough to find out.

On the front was an owl wearing a graduation cap with the word, “Congratulations.” Inside was the single word, “Smarty!” She chuckled. That rascal. Such a tease.

Even what Matthew had said under the streetlight had been half teasing, but it had also been true. You will enjoy dating. She squirmed, remembering. What else had he written?

Dear Rose-Marie, I found this quote and thought about your graduation. Something to remember: ‘The highest education possible is learning God’s will and God’s way. Build upon principles that are eternal, not on the principles of this world.’ Yours truly, Matthew.

What a way of making her laugh while making her think—all with one simple card. She would hide it in her Bible.

She slipped off her A-line dress with three-quarter bell sleeves. Its filmy outer layer with a leafy pattern in aqua, slid between her fingers. Pretty, but not sweet. She had sewn it for graduation., but with her graduation gown covering the dress most of the evening, Matthew hadn’t even seen it. Oh, well.

The house was quiet with everyone else in bed. A warm bath for relaxation would be just the thing.

God’s education? She lowered herself into the tub. God’s education was different than graduating from elementary school, high school, or college. And more important. Eternal salvation depended on how well she learned God’s lessons. She rubbed the soap, with its sweet bouquet, over her bare arms. How would she do in God’s school?

Scattered Thanks

Today isn’t my traditional house and heart crammed to the brim with family, then emptied in a whoosh when they leave, kind of Thanksgiving Day.

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I’m not even cooking. Oh, I baked a couple pies—cherry, my husband’s favorite—but that hardly counts. There are no grandchildren crowding the kitchen or sleeping on mats on the floor.  The foyer isn’t dotted with sneakers. There are no piles of dishes to wash.

Instead, for nearly two weeks, this year’s Thanksgiving season has offered me an extension of thankful moments. It has scattered me with pleasures, even if they took time and fuel to make happen.

It began a week ago Monday with a trip to the dentist. (3 hour drive) My brother-in-law did the honors. Afterward, a lunch with my husband and his two sisters gave us a lovely chance to catch up.

That same evening, I drove to my youngest daughter’s home where I soaked in three of my grandchildren’s hugs and enjoyed time with her and her husband in the midst of their busy lives. (5 hour drive)

On Friday I headed home, leaving behind a birthday girl with a room freshly painted. I love to help make dreams come true.

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Saturday, I waited with my son for his girlfriend to arrive from her college. (9 hour drive) Long distance relationships are tough, and he was one happy guy when she came through the door. Made my heart happy too.

Sunday, I cooked. Thankful I’m still able.

Monday, through a clean November day of sunshine and blue sky, my husband and I drove (3.5 hours) to our spot in the mountains we call The Eighty-Five. Car travel provides a captive audience and we were both thankful for in-depth talk time. We used these questions for (rather late) starters: 13 Questions to Ask Before Getting Married

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Once on The Eighty-Five, my oldest daughter and her two boys were able to break away from their visit with other family to join us and eat what I had cooked on Sunday. (9 hours from their home, plus 3 for the day with us).

Those grandsons are growing up way too fast and live way too far away. We hiked the fields. I lost my cell phone. We hunted. We prayed. God used our neighbor to answer that prayer. I offered more than scattered thanks.

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Today, my son is at his girlfriend’s. My two cherry pies are being finished off here at my step-daughter’s place. Her dad and I are helping ourselves to someone else’s cooking. Her home is full. It’s all good. It’s family.

Tomorrow, I’ll cook. Some. Maybe.

Saturday, I’ll get to see my sister. (She travels by bus, then the metro. 12 hours?) My sista!

Kids move out. Parents die. Grandchildren are born. Adjustments are made. Traditions, stretched out and scattered around, are often done upside-down. That’s the way life is and, with my heart crammed to the brim, I give thanks.

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How has God helped you adjust to changes in family tradition?

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Ps. 106:1

 

Writing Prompt

Oranges…  I see. I feel. I taste….

Oranges as a creative writing prompt?

I could turn this into a blog. I’ve needed to blog for months. Fallen way behind, doing other writing and editing and living. Blogs are important for writers to keep up. Mine is particularly important, because I’ve dedicated it to sharing God, in little “penpoints” of light.

Why not?Oranges

I was nine, just home from school, and ready to play. The garden patch with its tangle of dried plants and weeds beckoned my little brother and I into a game of Hide-and-seek.

Run and disappear into the weeds. Wait for footsteps. Jump up. Run. Repeat. Laugh a lot.

Trip. Fall down. Scream. Leap up. Scream some more. Swat at yellow jackets angry that you landed on their home. Dash to yours.

Mom met me at the door, stripped off my clothes, and prepared a tub of water and Epson salts. As she sponged the healing potion over my seventeen stings, my tears subsided.

“You stay here and soak,” she cooed. “I will bring you something to help you relax.”

Enter oranges.

A plate of orange wedges placed, eye level, on the edge of my tub. A whole plate of expensive and therefore, scarce and carefully doled out fruit, all to myself. To be savored in private. One at a time. Each section glistened with succulent promise. Mom smiled, turned, and closed the door.

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My nose touched the plate. I sniffed the tangy, citrus burst, then closed my eyes and took time to inhale the smell of comfort.

The surface of the wedge of orange between my fingers pressed firm yet pliable, smooth yet dimpled. Most of the wedges included the globular flesh of the orange’s navel. I would tug them off to savor their peculiar texture and their enhanced sweetness. Under the skin, a layer of white cushioned the juice. Perfect. The pith of a navel orange would extend the pleasure.

I sank back into my very first luxury soak, and brought the orange to my lips. As the elixir slipped between my teeth and over my tongue, the stings on my body receded. I sucked the wedge dry and reached for another. And another. Life was again worth a game of Hide-and-seek.

As my friend, Grand Andrew wrote and sings, I was “living in the luxury of the little things.” (Check out his music, here. Grant Andrew Music )

To this day when I’m in pain, and if I’ll remember, there is comfort in the little things. There is luxury and solace in the smell, the taste, the feel of the oranges in my life.

 “The [orange] trees of the Lord are watered abundantly.” – Psalms 104:16

If I take the time to relax and enjoy God’s simple gifts, so are my days.

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