Stories that Shine on an Awesome God

God’s Choice

“Where was God?” A friend shuddered after I shared a few specifics of the story I’m currently writing. As we prepared for a picnic, I spread mayonnaise on two slices of bread then blurted a glib answer.

“God can bring good out of evil and He has a purpose for everything.” I added a slice of cheese and began to cut a tomato.

“I don’t buy that.” I immediately agreed with her vehement tone. “That sounds like an idea from my religious abuse.”   She shook her head with a finality that spoke of a hard-fought battle to break free from guilt-producing platitudes and inept interpretations.

She was right. Who could believe in a God who pre-planned a child suffer abuse at the hands of a monster? Had He arranged it with an ulterior motive to bring about some bit of good for His glory? What kind of a human, much less a god would do that?

“Why do you think bad things happen?” I asked, as I rinsed a handful of lettuce.

“There’s choice.” Her answer—the only palatable one—hit my brain the same instant she spoke.  She finished her own lunch creation while I added apples and chips to the picnic basket.

“Right and what’s God’s response to a bad choice?”  My question settled between us. I mulled it over well past our simple meal under an oak at the top of the mountain.

Certainly, we cannot suggest that evil is God’s will. I’m thankful that grace abounds all the more when evil increases, but the God I trust prefers no evil. However, if we humans, of our own free will, determine to do an inhumane act, what choice does God have? What is left to the One who gave us freedom? What is His option?

Healing. That’s it. Healing.

When oppression, injustice, abuse, or torture happens, God’s only choice is to begin the healing process. He knows how to restore every last fragment of a traumatized, fractured mind. He did it, does it, will continue to do it. Every sliver of human person-hood and identity is precious in His sight.

God’s ability to heal motivates me to craft a story on a subject that we are all loath to consider. It’s a consuming work in progress, but He knows when and how it will be ready to share.

In the meantime, as we allow (choice again), He continues to work within the different levels of our pain to restore our brokenness.

Because, once we make that choice, all He can do is heal.

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.

Wake Up!

WooOUUUwooo!

Dad’s cow horn, found at some tacky souvenir shop somewhere along a tourist trap, blasted down the hall past my bedroom door. I scrunched my pillow over my ears.  

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Dad had decided this was the best way to wake his family.

It was time for breakfast. Time to get to work. Time to go to school.

“Wake up! Hit the deck. Up and at it.”

WooOUUUwooo!

Rising at four to milk the cows had been his childhood routine, so, of course, being on time and no sleeping in came as a natural part of my inheritance.

This summer, I’ve been pretty sleepy. Spiritually sleepier than I like. Longing for deeper relationship with my Lord, but not sure how to break through. Still praying. Still reading the Word. But sleepy.

A week or so ago, God woke me up.

It began with a book(s) and a letter to my dad.

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The books, Lost in Translation Vols 1,2 & 3 by John Klein & Adam Spears, have taught me that there is an inheritance covenant that we can enter into with God. It’s the third level of covenant that we walk through as we grow in our relationship with him. I have always considered myself a child of God, intellectually, but has my soul reached that point emotionally? I read and I wondered.

At the same time, I have been encouraged to write a letter to my dad – the one who used to blast me out of bed with his cow’s horn and who has now been dead for over four years. Most of my life, I have embraced Dad’s positive influence, but it was past time to shed myself of the negative ways he still swayed my thinking. I needed to be specific.  And, yes, I was crying by the time I wrote the last few pages.

One by one, I named and let go of his hurtful choices. We have all made hurtful choices. We have all been wounded by someone else. I had thought myself free of them, but no, naming them, as my counselor encouraged, really does help.

Then God turned up. He assured me that he is my true father. He will never wound. I can trust him emotionally, as a child. With tears, I claimed this truth, finished my letter as though I wrote it to God, and walked deeper into his inheritance covenant.

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Then, a short day or two later, just like the dad that he is, God woke me up.

At this age, I pretty much know my destiny. I’m sure there will be deviations and surprises, but my Father has laid out most of my path in how I am to honor him and help restore others. I don’t have much time left. My destiny involves publishing what I have written and writing more, deeper stuff. Stuff that’s hard, that will take its toll, but that glorifies him.

But, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve been sleepy and a little bit scared and a whole lot distracted.

Thankfully, not so distracted as to quit reading the books by John Klein and Adam Spears. I continued to read how Christ’s letters to the churches in Revelation can be applied through the ages as well as in our personal lives. Their book quotes the letters. God’s letter to Sardis in Revelation 3 along with Klein and Spears’ explanation was written to me, right here in late summer, 2016:

“Wake Up,” my Father God called while he raised his cow’s horn, “and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. So remember what you have received and heard and keep it and repent. Therefore, if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. . . She who overcomes will thus be clothed in white garment; and I will NOT erase her name from the book of Life.”

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“I’m awake, Daddy/Abba Father! Keep me that way, even if you have to blow your cow horn.”

 

Old Fashioned Sanity – 3

Having survived life in an Ozark cabin, the Bible, in its preponderance of size and weight, now adorned a coffee table inside a house surrounded by Arkansas cotton.

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“Sharecroppers. That’s who my grandparents were,” my soon-to-be husband explained the first time we made the trip together, “I was born right there in that bedroom.”

Beneath the coffee table, wall-to-wall linoleum stretched across the room to a door ajar.

“Right there on that bed.”

A hint of a sag hollowed an otherwise smooth bedspread.

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Voices, along with the aroma of frying okra and candied sweet potatoes, wafted from another adjacent room. His mom and his grandma, the long ago birthing assistant, prepared dinner while the two of us, not yet out of our teens, waited on the vinyl couch.

“This must be the family Bible.” I ran my hand over cracked, brown leather. Jesus, in muted colors with arms outstretched, smiled from an aging picture.

“Yep, and here,” my boyfriend opened the book, “is my family record from way back.”

“My family never had a big Bible like this.” I leafed through the thin pages, through Genesis, Psalms, and Proverbs, pausing at vintage pictures. “We all had our own Bibles, plenty of those, but nothing like this for the family.”

“I reckon this Bible helped keep the family together,” his head bent over mine. “Helped keep them sane through the hard times.”

“I reckon it did.” With care, I closed the book and sat back from the treasure. “I reckon it did.”

Still do. But I don’t reckon anymore. I know for sure the Word keeps folks sane.

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My mother’s medium-sized Bible, had a black cover with corners rubbed down to expose the inner brown cardboard. Its translucent pages were marked with side notes in her flowing script. Its passages were underlined, often more than once.

As she struggled with raising four kids, farming, moving, living in unfinished spaces, teaching elementary school, or suffering the pain of cancer,  how often did it keep her sane? Many times over.

Memorizing Bible texts dominated my biblical exposure through high school. On my fifteenth birthday, my parents gave me a trim Bible with smooth leather binding. At eighteen, after I married, I carried it on the bus ride to work and nodded at blurry words during my early morning transit.

Three years later, motherhood arrived. I began to read in earnest.

Time passed. Every season brought and continues to bring different ways the Bible restores. Over the years, I have learned a few Bible reading practices that help me:

  1. Open it first thing in the morning. Even before checking Facebook. I wish I could say I always do this.
  2. Pray for the Holy Spirit to teach me and bring concepts alive.
  3. Read the entire Bible through the lens of what Jesus taught and lived. His life and words are the standard for revealing the truth about God.
  4. Look for nuggets that reveal God’s character.
  5. Read God’s own words as though he speaks them to me alone. Treat it like a love letter.
  6. Think out of the box. Be open to new meaning and interpretation.
  7. Hebrew is a rich, multi-faceted language. Learn about it.
  8. Read everything in context and try to learn about the cultural context.
  9. Think of the Words as life-giving. They are!
  10. Don’t put it down until I find at least one take-away, one treasure that brings me peace, one promise that helps me maintain my sanity.

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“Your Word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.” Psalms 119:105

Southern Appalachia isn’t the only place our ancestors eked out an existence clearing virgin timber and hauling rocks from new fields. Across our nation, across our world, survival usually depended on hardy folks with muscles hard. Folks in touch with nature and in tune with the soil. When food was scarce, what fed their souls? Other than fellowship, when they lost a loved one, where did they go for comfort?

“I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?”

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They lifted up their eyes to the hills, the windswept prairies, over the sandy beaches across the infinity of water, or up to a night of pulsating stars. Nature, mixed with its wild surprises and eternal solidity drew their souls to a larger existence.

Every day they woke up knowing oneness with the earth and there was something, someone, larger than they. They could depend on spring loosening the grip of winter. They were assured autumn would slow the intensity of summer’s hot work.

Nature can still do that.

It did for Rose-Marie, the protagonist in my manuscript, my work still-in-progress-submitting-to-publishers. A couple scenes pulled from an early draft describe nature’s role in her heart’s healing:

“At the top of Newfound Gap, Rose-Marie and her friends piled out of the car. A road, dipping and twisting along the mountainside, had long forgotten the teams of loggers that had rutted its surface. Now, blanketed with snow, it called to the teens. They grabbed their sleds.

When the afternoon grew late, she took a final ride, reached the end of the normal run, and continued to glide on deep into the forest. Snowflakes drifted. Hemlock and spruce stood like mute soldiers with their giant boughs drooping with snow in a world that was very still. Her sled stopped. She listened to the silence, turned onto her back, and with flakes gentling her face, gazed into the vast gray sky. There, in the peaceful quiet, she longed for Matthew.”

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 Near the end of the book, with teens of her own, nature continued to feed her soul:

“That weekend, fresh air currents swept the mountain and took the fog with them over the grassy bald, leaving a holiday scent of Frasier fir and Carolina blue sky. A mass of lavender rhododendron spilled a bank. Rose-Marie’s workweek slipped away like a leaf through an eddy.

She stepped into a clearing and dropped her pack. Soft, layered branches of majestic hemlocks drooped to the forest floor. Green expanses of fern waved from mossy ground.

Sunset spun the air with filtered gold and reflected from the white quartz outcropping where her family sat in awe surrounded by a sea of mountains. Forever they went, in hazy, folded shades of blue while the golden sun settled itself for the night. God had done his homework.”

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God still does his homework. Lift up your eyes to the hills and know where your help comes from. Take the time. Find the place.

In our complex, often crazy world, get out in the woods, the creek side, the ocean. Drink in the sanity it provides. Appreciate the symmetry and strength of a tree even if its growing in the medium of a traffic-jammed highway. Know, deep in your soul, that your help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.

“I lift up my eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalms 121:1 & 2

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“They need help unloading a trailer of food.” The coordinator at the flood response crisis center handed me, my husband, and a local friend a work order. “It’s a church, or what used to be.” She shook her head of gray hair as she turned to the next group of volunteers.

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Inside our truck, we followed her directions through an isolated river town in the heart of the West Virginia mountains. Flood cleanup had been going on for over a week. Soggy possessions piled along the streets next to homes that were now empty shells, filled, not with children’s laughter or a mother’s prayer, but with mud and mold.

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Mounds of dirt and debris lined the sides of a strip mall’s parking lot. Outside the town’s only grocery store, shopping carts tangled with twisted metal shelving. The nearest food store was nearly an hour’s drive away.

Connected at the far end, the church shared the mall’s disaster, but this flood casualty was undeniably still a church. I have seen strip mall churches before, with their flat fronts blending into the mall’s length of bland architecture with perhaps a small sign above the door, but evidently, this church had never planned to hide. Its church-y facade with cupola and cross still proclaimed its identity. From the outside.

We parked the truck, asked how we could help, and walked through the doors.

Church – padded pews and stained glass windows. Songs of worship, words of praise. Prayers. A place of respite in a week of stress. A place for spirits to be fed with the Bread of Life.

But not this one. Not now. Not after the river had risen and with a roar, claimed its interior. Walls, ceiling, and floors, already stripped clean by volunteers, offered no such sanctuary.

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“We will use this pile of boards to keep the food up off the wet concrete,” the pastor instructed, seeming resigned to his tragedy.

We started hauling lumber to turn a church into a food distribution center, and, in the process, constructed a real life object lesson.

Church – Sometimes, no more than a social club where members jostle one another for position and recognition. Judgement without mercy. Pride. Politics. Splinter groups. Holy Spirit grieved. Pantry shelves devoid of the Bread of Life.

“I am weary of bearing them [your assemblies, festivals, and feasts]. When you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide my eyes from you; even if you offer many prayers, I will not listen. Take your evil deeds out of my sight! Stop doing wrong. Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless. Plead the case of the widow.” Isaiah 1:14-17

‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” Matthew 25:40

Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is NOT a church. It is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction. It is to keep oneself unspotted from the prideful, me-first mindset of the world.

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I plunked my end of a board onto the concrete floor. I straightened my back. One American Christian church, gutted of its plush interior, had changed into a food distribution center.

Hopefully yours will too, but does it have to take a crisis?

“I am the Bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35-36

Old Fashioned Sanity

In Cades Cove, a white clapboard church stands protected by the Park Service of the United States of America and by the mountains of East Tennessee. Dedicated to worship for all ‘time and eternity,’ it has been sandwiched between a single lane road and a collection of gravestones for one hundred and seventy-seven years.

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A few days ago, my family opened the doors of this church, sat on its wooden pews, and began to sing. Voices from the past seemed to join us in praise. I couldn’t tell from their ethereal voices how they eked out a meager living, but I could imagine. I could also wonder, with times so hard, how they kept their sanity.

The early cove folks were a tight bunch. Their survival depended on it. Community barn raising and corn husking were common. Midwives made frequent visits. Undoubtedly, their two Revolutionary War veterans showed the others how to live on nothing more than determination.

While we sang, other tourists stepped into the church and many of them joined us. A community of strangers soon requested Amazing Grace and Sweet By and By. Music, sometimes a snitch off key, flowed over walls bare enough to belie superior acoustics. For those few sacred moments, I entwined my heart with the past and  sang against isolationism that threatens our present.

I left that church knowing, like that long ago mountain fellowship, our impromptu community had helped to keep each other sane.

“If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another.” I John 1:7

 

Soothing Oil

Entering my trashed apartment was like entering a mind diseased.

Your whole head is injured

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Carpet blanketed in filth –

Kitchen sink smeared with a brown film –

Your whole heart afflicted.

Food rotting in the refrigerator –

Windows broken –

From the sole of your foot to the top of your head, there is no soundness.

Counters and cabinets strewn with debris –

Walls pot marked with myriad holes, screws, and nails –

Only wounds and welts and open sores.

Hundreds of decals placed for hallucinogenic affect.

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Legal eviction had vacated the occupants, but not their mess. They had left that job for me.

I donned gloves and mask, scooped leftover items off the counters, and dumped decayed food from the refrigerator.

In less than six months, two people with diseased minds had turned a pristine, freshly painted, scrubbed and impeccably furnished apartment into a rat’s hole. They were two human beings caught in a trap of disrespect, dishonesty, and low living.

One glance at their mug shot and my son, quite snarkily, had commented, “How did you say ‘yes’ to that face?”

Not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with oil. (Isaiah 1: 5b- 6)

Eight heavy contractor bags later, I was down to the walls. Colored paper, butterflies, and flowers stuck to the sheet rock, the plaster clinging and tearing as I peeled. Bit by bit. Like the thoughts that dinged my brain with each decal ripped from the wall.

Disgust. Bitterness. Superiority. No soundness.

Human hands had pasted each item and pounded each nail into a scattering of holes my own hands would have to patch. My hands, created just like theirs. They were two fellow humans caught in a web. How had they become oppressed?

Caught in a web of its own, my heart was an open sore. I couldn’t clean up their heart or mind, but mine required soothing oil. I was willing.

Stop the meaningless religious rituals (Isaiah 1:7-15)

A prayer. A decision. Thoughts flowed: Compassion. Humility. Cleansing forgiveness. The good things of the land. Plenty of bandages and soothing oil.

Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow. Come, let us settle the matter, says the Lord, Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land. (Isaiah. 1:17-19)

Every head, every heart has wounds and open sores. Yours. Mine. Be willing to be cleansed. Know the Holy Spirit’s soothing oil.

Womb of the Wind

 

Heartache abounds. Slow and insidious or sudden and gut-wrenching

While the wind roars its violence.

Depression debilitates. Dark cloud suffocating heart and joy.

While the wind moans in death.

Suppressed grief. Trickling tears inside the mind. Slipping, sliding, letting go.

While the wind grows silent.

Others, friends, and mothers pray, weep, and worry. Cling to the faith of their fathers

While they wait for the Wind

Hearing its sound. Not knowing, only petitioning its destination.

While the Wind blows where it pleases.

Down the pathway of their hope to the heart giving up, letting go.

While the Wind soars on its wings with new birth.

Unseen work. Left to the Creator to tell where it comes from and where it is going.

While the womb of the Wind molds a new creature.

“He who forms the mountains, creates the wind, and reveals his thoughts to man, he who turns dawn to darkness, and treads the high places of the earth – the Lord God Almighty is his name.” – Amos 4:13:

Local Disturbance

Two weekends ago the weather was good for flying. Not perfect. A layer of haze, hot and moist, hung in the late summer sky, but visibility was good. My husband, Bruce, eager to get behind the controls, began his pre-flight check. I stepped onto the wing, slid into my seat, and let out a deep sigh. I was ready for the break.

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Since spring, lessons on the craft of writing have consumed me. While they have morphed my work into a better read, they have slowed its progress. This blog has been neglected entirely.

God, it’s your book, your blog. Help me stay true to your priorities.

I snapped on my seat belt.

Kids and grandkids, free from school, have also provided happy stretches of summer diversion.

God, our children are yours too. Help me stay true especially to them.

I snugged on my headphones and adjusted the mic.

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Most recently, a volley of written attacks lobbed against a loved one had thrown me temporarily off course. The vicious nature of the attacks had shocked all of us.

Father God, despite the lies, help me to stay as true to duty as the needle is to the pole, just like my husband reminds me. And thanks for this get-a-way.

Bruce climbed into the pilot’s seat and pulled down the cockpit’s glass hatch. He completed the final check and taxied onto the runway. He communicated our intent to take off. We would turn left and go north. With flaps adjusted and engine at full throttle, he lifted us smoothly into the air.

The ground below became a patchwork of homes, rivers, and fields.

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“See.” He pointed to the top of the controls. “There’s the magnetic compass we’ve been talking about. Even with my high tech, Garman G1000 panel, there is still a magnetic compass.”

I nodded.

“So tell me again,” I said. “What makes a compass not work well?”

“Deviation. Variation. Local Disturbance. To name three. You have to take those into consideration to stay on course and for the needle to stay true to the pole.

“Sounds complicated.”

“It is. Just like life,” he spoke the truth through his mic. “Deviation is a magnetic disturbance that is fairly constant and located near the compass. Deviation is caused by something like iron in the plane’s engine. If you navigated by compass, you would have to take that into consideration.”

“Deviation is kind of like making adjustments for life’s regular challenges?”

“Right.” Bruce reached his goal of three-thousand feet altitude and pushed on the auto pilot. “Variation is also fairly constant, caused by a band of iron in northern Canada and around the globe. When you fly, you still have to adjust your degrees so that you head true north and not just magnetic north.”

“And that’s like?” I asked.

“It’s called variation because the needle changes depending on where you are at over the earth’s surface. It changes with time.”

“So we might vary from our duty by where we are at in our own personal journey?”

“Exactly.”

He scanned the sky around us. I opened a book.

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“Local disturbances are the hardest,” he continued. “Significant iron deposits are scattered over the earth and can cause a local disturbance. To be prepared, you have to know where they are. If you are over a local disturbance, you ignore the magnetic compass because it can do crazy things.”

“Yeah, wow. Just like personal attacks. We get distracted while our life’s needle swings crazily, away from our pole of duty. But God allows for that, don’t you think?”

“For sure he does. At least the God I know does. He helps to keep us on course, as long as we watch and listen.”

I turned to my book. My headphones muffled the whoosh of the wind and the engine’s steady roar.

“Traffic ahead. One o’clock.” The airplane’s automatic alert system sounded its robot voice. “One mile. Same altitude.”

I grabbed the top of the control panel and peered in the one o’clock direction toward the haze.

“Where is it? I can’t see it!”

“Right there!” Bruce threw the plane into manual control and nose-dived. “Look up.”

A small plane passed overhead. It flew straight on.

“Whew! Maybe three-hundred feet to spare.” Bruce leveled our plane. “I don’t think he even saw us.”

“He probably doesn’t have an alert system,” I said. “Either that or he got distracted.” I settled back in my seat. “Woah.”

“That will make your heart race.” Bruce shook his head.

Thank you, Father. Thank you for guiding us through yet another local disturbance.

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Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation. Matthew 26:41

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. I Peter 5:8

How has God guided you through the deviations, variations, or local disturbances in your life?  Please share!

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Savior of Memories

A little box of baby things are tucked away wrapped in plastic, safe in a drawer. Whenever I open that drawer, I imagine a mother crocheting a blue sweater and booties, fashioning a delicate crocheted cap, and hand stitching simple flannel socks. I thumb through booklets on baby care copyrighted in 1932 and wonder what it would have been to be an expectant mother in that era.

A few cards adorned with dimpled babies are in that box as well, wishing all the best. There is a soft baby brush, and a baby pillow case  — again with crocheted edging. Wrapped in tissue are locks of auburn curls, an exact match to my son’s hair.

When I close the drawer, it is a mother I think of, a young mother, who cherished and saved memories of her boy.That mother is dead now, as is her son, but her act lives on in all the other mothers who save memories.

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We parents experience our children from a unique viewpoint. We witness their birth. We delight in each step of their growth. When we capture these memories to share with them later, we help to complete our children’s identities. We give them the gift of themselves.

I save many of my memories with a camera. But one evening, years back when my son was six or so and he and his Shih Tzu puppy, Lassie, needed a romp, my camera was not handy.

“Pull me on the blanket, Momma. Round and round. Yeah!” There was no resisting his nodding head and sparkling eyes.

He pulled an old blanket out of the closet and settled himself in its middle. Clutching two corners, I whizzed him over the hardwood floor, through the kitchen, past the dining room, and around the living room. Lassie, ever alert, pounced with furry paws and clung to the blanket. Around and around we went — Lassie, spread eagle, stomach sliding, then losing her grip and pouncing again. My son howled and squealed with delight. His every fiber throbbed.

The magic moment snapped like a camera flash and burned into my memory. I developed the picture and added it to my mental scrapbook.

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I love the fact that God savors His children’s precious moments and writes them in his own Book of Remembrance.

On the day when he makes up his jewels, he will settle me on his lap and I’ll be like a child who loves to look at her baby pictures. Snuggled close, my heavenly daddy and I will leaf through his scrapbook. He will show me how he cherished the choices I made for him. He will expand my understanding of myself by sharing his point of view. He will explain the decisions he had to make as my parent. He will complete my identity by giving me the gift of myself.

My daughter and boys

“Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name. And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up My jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him.” — Malachi 3:16 & 17 (KJV)

What memories of your life would you like to see in God’s scrapbook?  Please share!

Deliverer from Evil

“Momma, I want to sleep in your room with you and Daddy.”

Of course. He needed closeness. But how close was too close? Death was near but unpredictable. Would he suffer from overexposure?

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He was only eight and he needed to be protected. At such an impressionable age, he didn’t need to watch his father die. He needed, especially on the last night, to be delivered from hearing every ragged breath that for hours would rise from the hospice bed and reverberate throughout our home. Caught in a balancing act between the security of closeness and over protecting, I gave him permission.

A week, maybe two, passed. Most nights he slept beside me, but on the night of death he slept at his grandfather’s home miles away, protected and a safe distance from pain.

Our heavenly Father is caught in a similar balancing act. Does he let us see all the evil, especially the spiritual warfare, or does he keep it invisible? After all, our physical world has enough of its own pain.

Recently, a friend of mine prayed to see behind the scenes, to be given a glimpse of the warfare. As a new day dawned, she gazed out her window and asked, “Father, would you let me see behind the clouds, to the spiritual war that is raging?” The clouds parted and the sun shone very bright. She held her breath. An intense, blue sky radiated. Only the sky. She listened in silence to the Father’s voice.

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“You don’t need to see in the heavens where the real war is raging, for it all belongs to me. Remember, it is my battle. Rest in the assurance that through all the evil, my kingdom will come. Let me protect you. Rest in me through praise, through song and worship and words.”

God is caught in a balancing act. Does he let us experience all of the evil or does he protect?

“He suffers a broken world, still balancing it on the beams of a cross” Garden Surrender.

Regardless of our exposure, we can trust that he will never leave us or forsake us. He will protect our souls. In the meantime, we can repeat Christ’s words, “Deliver us from evil.” We can pray that his kingdom come on earth just as it is in heaven.

If you are a parent, what has worked for you as you attempt to protect your children? Comment below or Share here.

Sharp pain stabbed Mei’s arm and radiated throughout her tense, twelve-year-old body. Her whimper, barely heard beyond the curtains drawn around her bed, elicited a comforting pat from her mother. Skiing the snowy slopes had been fun until this.

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The emergency room nurse covered her with a warm blanket. The curtain slid on its track and the doctor entered, x-rays in hand. She spoke in simple phrases that her Chinese patient might understand.

“It’s badly broken.”

Tears welled in Mei’s eyes.

“We need to start intravenous.”

Blank stares answered. Fear, like the gray storm that covered the mountains’ peaks, clouded Mei’s face.

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The doctor glanced at the nurse. “She needs someone who knows her language.”

The nurse punched phone numbers to the private line of the translation service and turned on the speaker.

“Chinese, please. Mandarin.”

In gentle tones, the conversation progressed. Back and forth, questions were answered, explanations given.

Mei nodded and almost smiled. Her mother breathed a sigh.

“This will relax you.” The nurse, needle ready, turned a slim arm and pressed a vein.

Trust shone from dark eyes. Mei understood.

Our heavenly Father answers when we call. He answers before we call. Whatever the language, he knows how to translate every heart longing. It only takes a breath of a prayer to punch in his number.

“When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.” Psalms 91:15

“Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.”  Isaiah 65:24

Water for the Thirsty

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“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.” — Jesus

“Why can’t you be like other girls? They don’t ride bicycles like a boy. And your hair is ugly. Do something with your hair.” Wen’s mother had only been back from China’s outlying countryside for two days.

“Leave me alone,” Wen shot back. “You have never wanted me.”

Who did this woman think she was? She had devoted her life to the government, helping the poor villagers and when her baby daughter, Wen, had not thrived at birth, she had sent her  to the city to be raised by her grandmother.

Rejected. Unwanted. Unloved.

I’m fourteen and she thinks she can now come and turn me into her ideal female. Wen’s young mind whirled in anger. One day she would leave. If she wasn’t accepted by her own mother, why should she stay? Maybe I’ll find love. Somewhere.

The day finally came when Wen left. A college in Japan was her first stop. The dream of a new life thrilled her, but her heart did not know peace. Her mother did not love her. Not really. Would she ever find love? Was there any real reason to keep living?

The students gathered for lunch. While they ate, a Korean classmate sat alone reading from a large book. She read and then she looked up with shining eyes and a face serene.

Wen had never seen anyone’s face so peaceful. It was coming from somewhere inside. Could she have it too? She interrupted her classmate’s lunch.

“How do you look so, so happy? And what are you reading?”

“It’s the Bible, Wen. There is a God who loves you. Did you ever consider him?”

‘A God who loves? Tell me more.”

“Yes, Wen. God loves you. Let me tell you how his son, Jesus, showed the world his love.”

Wen’s thirsty soul drank deep. With her classmate’s help and the help of her classmate’s church, she accepted this God of love as her own. She made her way to a new life in the United States, but her search for love was over. She had found its source.

* * * * *

I too had been searching – for a new hairdresser. I loved my former one, but having just moved, she was a nine-hour drive away. Searching for a new hairdresser is a frightening prospect. I googled and picked a number. Wen answered.

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In the middle of a “foreign” town, God gave me Wen. Every four weeks, I go to church, a hairdresser’s shop in a strip mall and settle down in Wen’s pew, her beautician’s chair in front of her mirror. There, while she shampoos and cuts, colors and highlights, we share thoughts on God and life and love. God’s peace shine’s from Wen’s face.

Every four weeks I learn how God has given her the strength to make it in a new country, to leave an abusive husband, and to walk through the land mine of fake Christians who claim friendship. I rejoice that through her, his love has spread back to China in forgiveness and reconciliation. But those are stories for another time.

image of Water droplet, heart ripples“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters . . . . Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love . . . .” Isaiah 55: 1&3

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