Stories that Shine on an Awesome God

Archive for the ‘God of Our Ultimates’ Category

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.

Cell phone

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

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.

Bible and Roses

 

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

Food Distribution Centers

“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.

Interior of WV Church

“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.

CadesCove Church

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.

Plane Open

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.

Rita with Headphones

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.

Earth from air

“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.

Pilot Bruce

“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.

Land Under Plane Wing

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.

Baby clothes

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.

Scrap Book

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.

Bought and Paid For

Five-year-old Caleb came into the bedroom first thing one morning clutching his money box. He wanted to show me that he could buy the toy of his dreams.

“You know, Momma, the one where the car goes ’round and ’round.”

Yes, I knew. The one we had told him he would have to wait for Christmas to get. The one that was already hidden away in the closet, bought and paid for.

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He emptied his box on the carpet beside the bed and sat there surrounded with various coins and dollar bills. They represented his work. He was certain he had enough. He had no idea how much he had, but he had “counted” it and declared, “See, I have enough money. I do. I know I do. Now I can get it for Christmas.”

“But, Caleb, it’s for your Christmas present. You won’t have to pay for it.

“But I have enough.”

“Perhaps, but when you get a gift, a present, like at Christmas, you don’t have to pay. Mommy and Daddy have to pay. Sometimes it costs a lot of money, but you don’t have to use yours. We use our money. It’s free to you.

Christmas Present Wrapped in Gold and Silver

All this time I thought he had understood. All this time he thought he would have to pay. In fact the gift was already his and he, unaware, still counted his money.

I looked down at my pajama-clad son sitting among his scattered coins and saw all humanity.

Like Caleb, we long for the toy. We long to be right with God. We’re certain we’ve worked enough to earn it. Unaware that it is already bought and paid for, we’re certain we must buy it. Yes, it was paid for—at tremendous price, but not with our money. To us it is free. All we must do is be like Caleb on Christmas morning. We must reach out and accept our gift.

I felt like God that morning trying to explain the beautiful truth to His children.

“Little boy, you sit surrounded by money that you consider yours. You forget that you depend on your dad and me to give you that money, and now, what’s worse, with it you would buy a gift that is already yours. Please realize that your money and your gift flows from the same source. Everything is bought and paid for.”

“We’ve got you covered, Son. We’ve got you covered.”

Father-Child-Holding-Hands

Whether you do Christmas or not, please know that there is a God out there who has got you covered.

Covered in love. Covered in mercy.

Right Now!

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! . . . Dear Friends, NOW we are children of God . . . ” — I John 3:1&2

Down the Drain

“Why didn’t you, God?” Esther snapped. She slammed the lady’s room stall door and jerked the lock into its latch. “We trusted you. We prayed.” She dropped with a thud onto the commode. “This was suppose to be the perfect vacation. Why did you let this happen?” She glared at the shut door.

Image of Women's bathroom entrance

Down the corridor, at their airport gate, her husband, Bob, hunched over a phone with the receiver pressed tight against his ear. Their oldest daughter, in the seat beside his, leaned toward her dad, intent on every word. Esther had heard just enough to know that the call was from their youngest daughter and her boyfriend, traveling from Nebraska to join them in Colorado, and that the two college kids had had a serious accident.

Image of Air Traffic Control Tower at dusk

“Drug how many feet by an eighteen wheeler?” Bob’s eyes had stared into hers, damp and overly bright. The first call to board their flight had been announced. Esther had fled to the ladies room.

“So now, God.” She jutted her chin. “Everyone else is in route to the slopes from three different states. The three of us here, my brother, his kids, and now this. It’s too late to call this ski trip off. We knew it was a lot of travel. A lot could go wrong. We prayed for special safety.”

She clinched her fist and hit her thigh. Hard. If she could have, she would have beat God in the chest, but she didn’t want to get that close. She wanted to hurl things at him from a distance. Things like sticks and stones. Things like words.

image of the totaled car

Through clinched teeth, she spat words that she had never uttered to any authority, much less God. Punishment would have been swift. Repressed anger had served her well. When she was a child, even her mother, when highly vexed, had denied that she was angry. “No, I’m not angry.” Her mother’s eyes would bulge. “I’m determined.” So who was she to be angry with God? God was God. One didn’t question the Omnipotent.

Esther snatched at the toilet paper. “There was no reason to allow this to happen, God. You had no right. None. You should have protected them.”

“Esther, I did protect them.” The voice resonated, audible and clear. “Who is Bob talking to? Your daughter. I did protect them.”

image of man holding Phone in Airport

Esther’s hands stopped midair and flew together to cover her face. When she could breathe, she exhaled in a gush, inhaled slowly, deeply, and then tremblingly exhaled. Someone unseen had stepped inside the stall. Someone had ordained it sacred. Her ears strained for one more word. Instead, her own voice repeated, “I did protect them.”

“You did protect them?”

She hurried out and back to the gate. “Are they hurt, Bob? How badly? What happened?” She joined her husband in line to board.

“The car is probably totaled, but neither one has a scratch. Didn’t even go to the hospital.”

The two were renting a car. They would meet the others in Colorado, only one day late.

For once, words failed.

Image of clouds from above

Later, high above the clouds, she had plenty of time to talk. A humble child and a merciful, Father God held a quiet conversation in the most subdued tones:

“I was angry with you, God. I was really angry. I let you have it.”

“You sure did.”

“But you let me do it. You gave me the freedom to be honest with my emotions.

“Yes, I did.”

“So your chest, which I wanted to pound, is big enough for all of my venom.”

“It sure is.”

“So with you, I can be honest with my emotions.”

“Yes, you can.”

“About anything?”

“Anything. Especially when it comes to you and me.”

“And you talked to me. Out loud.”

“Out loud.”

“In a commode stall of all places.” Esther’s smile turned into a giggle. This God of hers had a sense of humor.

“Yes, in a commode stall, but then I like to flush anger down the drain.”

image of Sun shining on clouds from above

“Behold, you desire truth in the inward being and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” Psalms 51:6

“The Lord is righteous in all his ways and loving toward all he has made. The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” Psalms 145:17 & 18

“Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace. Zechariah 8:16

Pristine Presence

“Are the rooms clean?” I asked when I called for reservations. Well, I didn’t know. It was a center, a Family Reconciliation Center they called it, made available for the family and friends of those incarcerated while they came for prison visitation. I had never done this before, so how was I to know? It seemed like a logical question. “Yes, they’re clean and my husband can pick you up from the airport.” If Donna thought my question rude, she never let on. “He’s bald. Got a beard. I think he’s kinda cute. His name is Lee.” “I’m sure we’ll recognize him, and thank you, Donna. This is a huge help. ” image of Barbed wire fence The horseshoe bend of the river formed a natural moat for the sprawling state facilities below our wings. I counted three. A deep rock quarry in clear outline locked the remaining land mass from the rest of the world. Serious security. We circled, landed, and lost our omniscient view. Suitcase in tow, my husband and I left the terminal. A bald man with a beard approached us. I agreed. Through the eyes of love, he was kinda cute. Lee led us to a van that sported a large dent on its side and welcomed us on board. The precursory small talk lasted until he pulled out onto the street. His quiet and unassuming manner belied the misery of his story. He stopped the van at a clapboard house surrounded by a low metal fence and a lawn that was as tidy as a napkin covering a plate of communion wafers. image of Front Walk and Yard “There’s a support group going on in the front room, but just go on in.” Lee invited. “You won’t interrupt.”

Donna’s smile when she met us half-way to the kitchen illuminated the soft contours of her motherly face. She stretched out her arms and drew me into a hug that said, “I’m a woman whose been there and survived.” The light in her eyes kindled her abundant auburn hair.

image of Donna “Soup’s warm on the stove, but first let me show you your room,” she said. It was a guest house, actually—through the kitchen, out the side door, and next to a swing set for kids. The simplicity of the bedroom indicated that thriftiness was an art. The spotless bathroom indicated that someone understood the adage of cleanliness being next to Godliness. “The sheets are clean. But here are fresh ones for tomorrow.” Donna handed us neatly folded linens. “Just put them on in the morning and the bed will be ready for tomorrow night’s guests.” Back at the kitchen table, we devoured her luscious vegetable soup and macaroni salad. Lee, now silent, lingered beside his wife while she poured out her carbon copy story. A mother and a father filled our stomachs while their hearts still bled. image of the Kitchen A grown son. A motorcycle accident. A lost leg and adjoining pelvis. A life-long catheter. Despair. Spousal abandonment. Rage. Imprisonment. Special needs facility. Neglect. Abuse. Solitary confinement. Chains. Filth. Lack of food. Denied communication. A mother’s stubborn intervention. Prayers. Continued court hearings . . . . Lee and Donna talked on. Their misery mounted but their joy could not be suppressed. Only a survivor could understand such a paradox. They had been slammed with the plight of prisoners. They had ached with the pain of the parents. Then they had been given this Kingdom ministry, this Family Reconciliation Center, and their mourning had been turned into dancing. Image of Donna and Lee “God worked it out for us to be here.” Donna said. “We couldn’t imagine doing anything else. He’s given us a passion for others, right here near the prisons. To help others like ourselves. God is so awesome.” Praise fell from the lips of this red-headed mother from Ohio who had suffered a childhood of abuse. “I have never been so happy, so fulfilled in all my life.” Beamed Lee, the kinda cute man from West Virginia’s farm country who had survived his own struggles. image collage of DONNA AND LEE How does one thank such a host and hostess? How does one say an adequate goodbye? We could do little except join them in praising the God who works all things together for good. Then we finally said goodbye to a cottage pristine with the presence of Divinity.

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever!” Psalms 30:11-12

Perhaps you have a story where God turned your mourning into dancing. Please share it by clicking here.

Provider of Poems

Guest Blog, Poetry, and Photography by JerryAnn Berry

Finding my way to identity while filled with the shame of sin and abuse was like a maze of mirrors. I never knew if what I was seeing was my reflection at all. In the end I realized God found me and He knew where I was the whole time. The past 20 years of recovery are coming to a close. It has been a long journey out of shame and pain, walking into the healing light of God.

Poetry was one of the only ways I could express the situations in which I found myself. When reality had been processed and distilled down to its simplest, most authentic form, poetry was my heart’s elixir. This came through my connection with my Creator as He led me step by step. His view blended with my view, simplified the intense complexities and in the succinct words of a poem I could see clearly, often for the first time.

These three poems are examples of the progressive work of His Spirit mingling with my spirit. They are in sequence of experience and discovery. The last one I wrote this past weekend. Each one has come with new revelation of a God who knows how to touch me and heal my heart. In His presence each experience turns into silent words fitly spoken.

 Jeri's LifeLight Postcard - poem on image of stone hall

Shame, the darkness of not “BEING” right. Satan first introduced it as a subtle thought to the perfect pair that God has just joyfully completed. Not “being” right in the not knowing. “Such a horrible state of being–Not knowing. Such an easy thing to fix.” Satan told the Eden Pair!

And shame was accepted when the satanic reflection was accepted. And change was sought. And God’s perfect work was thrown away for a change of “being” – a new knowledge.

And it seems God went into hiding after that. Not because He wanted to but the shame of not “being “ right made God an unwelcome visitor. Humankind had accepted the reflection instead of what was real. But it wasn’t God that held the mirror.

Jeri's Maze of Mirrors Postcard - Poem on Image of glasses & vases

And now life is full of mirrors.  Lost in a maze of mirrors we turn from side to side banging into the solidity of the deception in our attempts to find escape from shame. Many give up long before they find freedom. Many knock themselves out banging against what isn’t real.

Only as God begins to restore what is real can it be distinguished from the shameful reflections. Only His light shows the way through the mirrors that result in more shame.

We all experience in some way the maze of mirrors that magnifies our shame. We all need to find our way out of the maze and into freedom.

God did not leave us without a way to know freedom. He says it simple and plain. It is in Truth that we find freedom. Not reflected “truth” from any other human, only the Truth that He gives. Truth that is discerned deep within the individual heart and seen through eyes touched by the light heaven shines into the soul.

Positioning is the main tool we have to access this healing. And the starting position is pretty low. Much lower than we find comfortable. Much lower than our protective minds are willing to take. Heaven knew we needed a friend in low places. And so one came and went there in the agony of shame. So we could go there too. And know the joy of resurrection. Today the Conqueror of Shame gives us hope. Only HE knows the way out of this mirror maze.

“He Endured the Shame for the Joy that was set before Him.”

Jeri's Image of the Desert will blossom Postcard

Yom Kippur Atonement
by JerryAnn Berry

With a long list of sins
I come to you
Not because you demand me to eat crow.
But because I know
You hold the fuller’s soap
The refiner’s fire
The Life giving blood.
I can exchange this dead stuff for
Your light
Your goodness
Your joy
Your restoration.
The closer I get to you
The more I see Your goodness.
My stack of “important” sins
Trickles through my fingers
Like sand.
You have forgiven them already.

I just needed to see
You had the way
to put them in the
Bottom of the sea.
Where all sand should be.
No condemnation here.
Only life and the beautiful curl of a wave
Glistening in the Son’s light.

Jeri's image of Hatteras Sunrise

Partial to Kids

“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God.” Mark 10:14

The year was 1954.

Clara raised her three children in the apartment above the garage while Hartman, her husband, ground out hours of labor establishing a business below. Most weeks the help was paid more than the boss.

Image of Roses

Late at night with their three little ones tucked into bed, the two of them sat at the kitchen table and calculated income by lamplight. Barely enough. Just like her depression-era childhood when her family of nine gathered around a table to eat popcorn and milk. The only food in the house. Giving up was not in Clara’s genes.

Hartman shouldered another day’s work. Clara prayed and sang while she cooked, cleaned, and loved her babes. At dusk, she heard her children’s prayers.

“Dear Jesus.” Six year old Bruce’s innocent voice diffused a warmth that radiated her heart, setting it aglow. “Dear Jesus, we need more money.” The word had gotten out. “Please give Daddy one hundred thousand dollars.”

Image of Prayer-Boy kneeling at bed

Bruce finished his prayer and crawled between the sheets. “That’s lots of money, huh, Momma?”

“Really, sweetie, it’s not a lot of money, not with what your Daddy is trying to do.”

Another day passed. Clara spent it deep in thought. God, I know you can answer my little boy’s prayer, but how?

Another night. Another bedtime.

“Dear Jesus, Daddy needs lots and lots of money. Please give him a million, zillion dollars.” Bruce had been thinking his own thoughts.

His eyes, full of trust, opened. His earnest face turned to hers. “I know Jesus can answer my prayer, Momma. I know he can.”

“When Jesus gives us this money where do you want him to put it?” Perhaps logic would prepare him for disappointment. Prepare her.

“Oh, he can put it back by the rose-bush. Back in the property behind the garage.” He waved his hand. “Back there.” Catching his hand, she kissed right over his grubby fingernails and hugged her only son goodnight.

The year was 2009.

Bruce hunkered over a sheaf of estate documents, wills and such, with the names of Clara and Hartman written all over them. Both parents gone within one year. Gone, yet the impact of their full lives on their loved ones, the prayers they had answered for students struggling to get an education, and the endless donations and personal time they had spent for the good of others would never be forgotten.

Bruce sighed as he leafed through the papers and shouldered this new responsibility. It was huge, but giving up was not in his genes.

A lease contract caught his eye. One with a substantial, steady flow of income on a piece of what was now his and his sisters’ property. His parents had bought it when he was six or seven. He couldn’t remember.

image of Roses

“Want to buy this piece of land behind your garage?” Their neighbor had asked his dad. “Just make the payments and in a few years, you’ll have credit and can get a loan to finish the purchase.”

Bruce took off his glasses and brushed the moisture from his eyes. Like a child at his mother’s knee, he reached out in humble trust.

“That was your answer, wasn’t it, God? That piece of property, back behind the rosebush, that land was your answer. Never thought of it before, but right now, when I need it most, you remind me. You open my eyes. Now I see just how you answered a little boy’s prayer.”

 

“Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Mark 10:15

Image of Jesus and children

A God with a Purpose

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

It had been a long seven years for Bobbi, but she never looked back. Schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, Age Related Dementia, Dysphagia, C.O.P.D, and Congestive Heart Failure were just a few of the challenges she had faced while caring, in her home, for her father-in-law. Feelings of inadequacy and imperfection had surfaced as the years stretched on. Every time they raised their ugly head, she cried out to God for his strength and comfort. Every time he assured her that he was near and that taking care of family was her highest calling.

Rodger 2

Rodger

Now, the man who had consumed every ounce of her energy was gone. Flowers faded on his grave. Her house breathed stillness. Blessed quiet. Time to write, grieve, and recover. And her book was born.

Several states away, Bobbi’s sister had experienced her own care-giving challenges: A mother in law with Alzheimer’s, two teenagers, two pre-teens, plus a daughter who moved in with her baby girl. Bobbi and she had often chuckled about her “girls in diapers.” Her sister belonged, as full-fledged member, to the Sandwich Generation. Like Bobbi, she took care of family.

Bobbi dreamed of writing a series on care-giving. She called her sister.

“Hey, Sis. I’ve been thinking about a book, one we could write together. Your story needs to be told. I’m done with my book. What do you say?”

Silence.

Had Bobbi offended her? Did her sister want to write the book alone?

“Sis?”

A sniffle from across the miles traveled straight into Bobbi’s heart.

“Oh, Bobbi.” Her sister gained composure. “You have no idea what this means. I’ve been offered a promotion at work and I’ve been praying, praying, praying. I’ve been impressed that my purpose in life is not a fancy job. It’s service to others. And now, right now, when I need it most, my sister phones and answers my prayer. You have just reaffirmed my calling.”

Today, two women are engrossed in a collective, creative work because they love God and are called according to his purpose.

Bobbi

Bobbi

Are you called according to his purpose? How do you know?

What IS his purpose?

He answers that question in Romans 8:26-39. There we can begin to understand what kind of purpose motivates our God and Lord. It’s the same kind of purpose to which he calls you.

His purpose is to:

Help us in our weakness (vs 26)
Intercede for us (vs 27)
Work things together for good (vs. 28)
Conform us to the image of his Son (vs 29)
Call, justify, and glorify us (vs 30)
Be FOR us (vs 31)
Graciously give us all things (vs 32)
Make us more than conquerors through all trials (vs 35-37)
Allow nothing to separate us from his love (vs 35 -27)

Whenever you are uncertain of your calling, review those verses.

Then ask yourself. Does my passion include helping others in their weakness?

Does it include

Interceding?
Working things out for others good?
Conforming to Christ’s image?
Accepting God’s call, justification, and glorification?
Being FOR other humans?
Giving?
Conquering trials?
Clinging by faith to his love?

If your answer is YES, then indeed your calling, no matter how insignificant it appears, is according to his purpose. Follow that calling with full assurance and never look back.

Bobbi’s book, Confessions of the Imperfect Caregiver, can be purchased on Amazon. Click here.  Visit her blog by clicking here.

 

All It Takes Is One

Chaos in a Midwestern town. Desperation in the mountains of Iraq. Fear in an Amish community. A politician in Kenya who calls himself Christian wants a law that stones humans of differing sexuality. It may seem odd, but what comes to mind as I read the posts and watch the news is myself as a ten-year old girl on a bright, Tennessee day going to church with my friends.

black patent shoes

It doesn’t take much to make a crowd. All you need is two. We had three.

“Make sure to save seats.” Beverly reminded.

“Be sure to get behind Alicia.” Joyce added with a sly grin.

Spotting the back of Alicia’s curly blond head, I picked up the chorus book from the seat behind hers and plopped down. Stretching out my legs I made certain that my black patina shoes joggled her chair.

She turned to look back. For an instant, blue eyes smiled. To avoid those eyes and my twinge of guilt, I focused on pale, plump arms set off by silky sleeves puffed to perfection. In her lap, dimpled hands clutched a silken purse. She noticed my two cohorts taking their seats beside me and turned around in a hurry.

“How’s our proper little Southern belle?” Beverly whispered loud enough for Alicia’s ears.

“Let me hear that Alabama accent.” Joyce reached out a finger and poked the back of the new girl in town.

We giggled, smug in the strength of numbers. Then we opened our hymn books and sang about heaven.

Image of blonde girl left out

Alicia went back to Alabama, but all through fifth grade our crowd of three grew denser. So tight in fact, that cheating was a breeze. Conniving against school rules was challenging fun. After all, we had each other, a shared identity, The Three Musketeers. Together life was tight. Life was secure.

Immersed in our ten-year old mob behaviors we considered ourselves  holy, just, and good. We had no idea that “The mob takes on a spirit of its own and the satanic is generated,” Or that “The mob becomes capable of evil that would be unthinkable for most people as an individual” as Brian Zahnd writes. We had no idea that Alicia had been our scapegoat, a sacrifice made so that we could belong.

Fortunately for my crowd of three we had a summer break. We also had a Jesus who “never leads anything other than a gentle and peaceable minority.” I have lost track of  my two friends, but I’m quite certain that they have become honest and kind adult women. I don’t know what might have been their moment of truth when the Prince of Peace shone on their hearts, but I know mine. It came in the form of a story.

During that summer break I read through a bedtime story collection. When I finished reading about a girl my age who determined to break away from her crowd even if it meant being called Teacher’s Pet, I determined to do the same. Alone, with only a book and his Light shining inside, I decided to act as an individual.

Image of cross by JeriAnne

I soon learned that “To follow Christ is to differ from the crowd. To differ from the crowd is to be controversial. To be controversial by differing from the crowd is to run the risk of becoming [like Jesus] a scapegoat yourself.” I was misunderstood. I was even called Teacher’s Pet. It wasn’t easy, but I suspect it never is.

It doesn’t take much to make a crowd. All it takes are powerful people bent on crusade. All it takes is a different group fighting their own holy war. All it takes are a few straight folks with an agenda against gays. All it takes is one man and one woman to close down a quiet community’s roadside stands. All it takes is a nation full of self-righteous pride to kill, maim, and destroy. All it takes are three little girls singing Jesus songs to intimidate a chubby blond.

On the other hand, all it takes is One individual willing to surrender to that crowd. All it takes is that One being vindicated through His resurrection. All it takes is that One calling us to forsake the crowd’s evil practice of turning fellow humans into scapegoats. All it takes is that One establishing mercy instead of sacrifice.

All it takes is One.

Image of easter lilies near headstone by JeriAnne

The quotes above are taken from Brian Zahnd’s book A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Journey Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace.  It’s radical. It’s truth and light. I highly recommend it. For your convenience here’s the link:   A Farewell to Mars

A God of Cats and Old Age and Teenage Boys

“Rosey can barely walk, Mom.” My sixteen year old son gently picked up his cat and carried her down the hall to her litter box.

Rosey2

“Yesterday she seemed slower, but you’re right. She’s definitely struggling. She’s old, Son. Older than you.”

We’ve known this day was coming. Sometime. In the future.

“Let’s move her food and box to your room so everything will be close and she won’t have to come down the hall. Tomorrow we’ll take her to the vet.”

The arm load of blankets that my man-boy gathered for Rosey’s new habitat included the baby blanket I had crocheted before he was born. The calico kitten had curled on one end while I worked on the other. She had been there to welcome her new master. As he grew, his bed was where she slept. His desk was where she lounged as a companion to his studies, an aid for his tactile learning.

His face grew grim as he hovered over his aged pet and grasped his new reality. I ached in a grief more for him than for her. Tears were catching up with us both.

“God, I sense you’re timing here. I want to see it clearer. Please show me. Is he ready for this?”

Memory took me back, a good twelve years back, when I had written the following words:

Most every parent longs to protect their children from the dangers of life. I am no exception. Isolation tempts me with its safety. I consider a deserted island or perhaps some kind of bubble suit where only good can get in and all the bad stays out. Of course I know that good outside boundaries are only part of the answer.

To be truly safe, my child needs to be bounded internally. He needs to equipped with internal strength to survive a crazy world. I have decided that there are two essential pieces of this equipment. One piece is Security, the other, Hope. My consistent, always available love helps equip my son with security. And when I tell him of Christ’s promise to return, of life after death, and elaborate on heaven, I equip him with hope.

However, he hasn’t lost so much as a pet to death, and being taken away from the world he knows to go to heaven might be a pretty scary thought. He has sorted through the possibilities, and, one day on a quiet ride home from town, he shared his solution:

“I know, Mommy. When Jesus comes we hold hands. Okay?”

“You want to hold hands when we go to heaven?”

“Mommy, Daddy, and me hold hands. Then we go togedder! Okay?”

I promised him we will all hold hands real tight when Jesus comes.

On another day a dog lay dead on the road. “Mommy, will Jesus make the dead doggie alive and take him to heaven?”

“Jesus promises to make a brand new earth where there will be lots and lots of doggies and kitties.”

I’ll take a leash for my kitty. Yeah, and one for Lassie too.”

“So now, God, my son is sixteen and his kitty, seventeen. He has lost much more than a pet in death, but is he ready for this? Is he equipped with that internal strength? Does he possess that essential equipment, Security and Hope? Is this for a deepening maturity? Another necessary step out of childhood?”

I watch my son carefully squirt the vet’s pain medication into his pet’s mouth and receive a fresh glimpse of a God who promises to carry us even to our old age. I know I can trust God’s timing. Next, a vision presses my thoughts. It’s resurrection morning. Christ has returned to leashed animals and eager humans holding hands, meeting him in the air.

Caleb&Rosey

 When you face pain or grief, try to consider how it has come to you at that point in your life. Are there others who are ready to gain a glimpse of God through your experience? Does your experience mark a spiritual turning point for you? Can you feel God sustaining you even through your darkest hours? He is there. Sometimes it is only through faith that we perceive him. Sometimes it is through simple things like old cats and the teenage boys who care for them.

“Listen to me, all who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.”  Isaiah 46:3&4

If you have had an experience when you saw God through the simple things of life, please share that point of light with me. On the “Share Your God Story” page you can send me a brief telling that will be rewritten and approved by you. I look forward to sharing God through your eyes.

 

Wooer of My Heart

Early Teens:

My church school teacher cleared his throat and adjusted his tie. The class hushed. “Everyone turn in your sermon notes.” I passed mine to the front.

image of gavel-law-books

​“So, this week’s sermon was about God’s unconditional love that caused Jesus to die for our sins, but what do you think? Does God’s love mean we don’t have to obey the law?” His full lips stretched into a smile. “Are the commandments still important?” I was used to his probing questions that often expanded into hours of discussion and for this one I had no answer. I kept my mouth shut.

​“Yes, of course they’re important.” A more courageous friend spoke up.

​“So how important?” My teacher prodded deeper. No one said a word.

“What happens if Jesus comes back and we still have sins in our life? Will we go to heaven?” He opened a  book bound in red leather. “This book says that all of our sins must be confessed and that God holds us accountable for every thought and every word. Even how we spend our time.”

He smacked the book shut. “The angels keep a record of everything you do or say. Just make sure, before you go to sleep at night, make sure to confess all your sins. You don’t want Jesus to come and you not be ready.”

image of sundown and tree

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters . . . .Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live . . . .”  The One Who Longs for Me (Isaiah 55:1-3)

Mid-Twenties:

​“Father God.” I pleaded. “I’m not whole. I’m leaving pieces of myself on things. I’m trying, God, but my thoughts have not been established. Straighten me out.​

Soon after this prayer, I began a spiritual journal:

​”Today I gained victory and assurance that the dark thoughts about my own works are not from the Giver of Light. Wonderful relief! I have God and the church confused. I have been trying to live up to others expectations, so I generally feel rejected. Lord, help me to gain my strength from you, not others.”

On another day I wrote:

​”God accepts my humanness!!! Not sinfulness, but humanness. Christ was human. Why do we try not to be human, to live apart and above ourselves and others, thinking this will make us more heavenly? This is the basis of coldness and neglect. We must be human, share our grief and joy, laugh, cry, and sing with our fellow-men.”

Light leaped. God was answering my prayer to straighten me out, but old mindsets die hard. Subconsciously, I was never good enough.

image of woodsy creek

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” — Jesus Christ, The Living Water (Matthew 11:28)

Late Twenties:

​Alone on my dark front porch with only the rush of a creek and a void in my heart, my agony with God began:

​“The doing, the doing, it’s always been the doing! So where is the joy, the wellspring of life? Where is the fountain of water you promised, the water surging into life everlasting? It has evaporated and I’ve been left desert dry.

“Where are you, God? How can I find you? I want to obey you, to serve you in completeness, but I can’t go on. Where do I go from here? I must know. There has to be a better way.”

My tears tried to wash away the wall of spiritual uncertainty. The wall did not move. Instead, a clear Voice penetrated:

​”Go to the Word.”

​“What does that mean? I have gone to the Word! That’s why I’m in this mess!

​”Go to the Word.”

​I did not understand, but I knew that I had best not silence the Voice.

​“You’ll have to show me, God, because I’m going to stop this insidious wandering in the world of externals. I’ll go to the Word. I’ll let you show me in your time. Meanwhile, I am going to stop trying.

Image of Fontana Lake in NC

“Yea, I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore with loving kindness have I drawn you.” The Wooer of My Heart (Jeremiah 31:3)

Early Thirties:

The continuing love of family and friends, raising innocent children, living in a beautiful mountain setting, experiencing daily provision, dropping my preconceived notions when reading the Word, all that and more, over the years, was how God showed me. It is how he wooed me.

One quiet night I knelt alone.

“Father, God.” My voice broke. “If you require anything it’s only to make me whole. You’ve convinced me. You want my best good. You really do love me.

It was as though a warm hand gently wrapped my heart with a radiating glow. My tears fell unchecked.

​“Now, about your salvation. Can you trust me with that? What about your weak areas, those things you think I expect you to give up? Will you let me work them out, or do you want to keep taking them out your way? Will you accept my unconditional love?

​“I don’t know how you’ll do it, but it’s yours. I can trust you because I know you love me. Yes, Lord, my salvation is yours.”

There was no organ music or sermon appeals, but it was my true surrender made possible only because I had finally fallen in love.

Image of Merita By Creek

 For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing.” — The Love of My Life (Isaiah 55:12)

 

For a short, poignant glimpse of a God from whom we don’t have to hide, click here:

thumbnail of "The Law of Love" with heart

From Shame Wringer to Joy Catcher

“I want to praise you without restraint, but my joy has not yet been released. Why, God, Why?” Tears, the only evidence of release, flowed free and full like the words of her longing. “I sense my joy, deep down. What is keeping it there?”

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Beside her, two godly women prayed. “Try coming to joy like a child by singing a simple song of Jesus.” They suggested. Is it even possible to think about coming to joy and at the same instant experience joy? She wasn’t sure. All she knew, as she left the meeting early, was that the women’s prayers were doing God’s work. They had tapped into a deep place.

Out of that place echoed a quiet voice from years before: “God never turns shame into anger. God always turns shame into joy.”

God, after all these years of healing, is there still some leftover shame? You know my heart, Lord. You know what I need.

She fell into bed emotionally exhausted only to wake throughout the night. Each time she woke she was aware of God’s healing presence working within her, as though gentle hands were massaging and pressing far beneath the surface. She felt them. Drifting in and out of sleep, she dreamed:

Dirty water squished out between the rollers on an old wringer washer. Rollers pressed clothing into a tub for rinse. It was as though she were back in childhood, and with a sense of danger, her small hands guided the clothes, helping Momma. She was excited by the challenge. Clothing must be wrung smoothly. They couldn’t be bunched. Not too much could be fed through the turning rollers; only enough so she could gingerly catch and tug the laundry steadily through. All the while dirty water squished from the squashed clothes.

wringer washer with suds

She woke remembering a release bar for safety, just in case her small fingers or arm rolled with the laundry into its pressing, wringing mouth. She remembered Momma’s help with no harm done. She woke, aware of a divine Presence, aware of hands pressing, gently pressing within.

She slept. The clothes in the wringer washer rolled on, leaving the dirty water behind. She woke to the inner press of healing. Lying in the darkness, she sensed that this pressing was squeezing out the last traces of the shame of her life’s dirty water; even the remnants of the sewer water from choices not her own.

She slept and dreamed of lines hung with clothes and sheets billowing, filling with air fresh with the scent of sunshine.

She woke to memories of earlier bedtimes when she buried her joyful face into those sun scented sheets and drew in deep breaths of nature’s fragrance. She remembered drying with towels stiffened by the wind. Their roughness, so unlike soft, dryer-dried towels, had stimulated her skin. For years she had chosen not to own a dryer.

Laundry on line

She slept and when she woke again, anticipation coursed her being. It was an anticipation for the joy that she knew was set before her. Throughout the night, at a subconscious level, her shame had been despised and wrung out like so much dirty water. Shame was gone. Joy and unrestrained praise would come.

With sunlight brightening her bed, she reached for her Bible and listened to her Father speak:

“Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion. Instead of dishonor you shall rejoice in your lot. Therefore in your land you shall possess a double portion. You shall have everlasting joy. For I the Lord love justice.” Is 61:7

We all long for joy. Shame kills it. Jesus endured the cross. He despised its shame knowing there was joy set before him. (Heb. 12:2) When we sense our joy is lacking, we need more of him! We need to claim the truth that he did not come to condemn but to heal. (John 3:17) When we choose to believe that Jesus gives us the right to become children of God (John 1:12) and let him press that truth deep within us, our shame disappears. Whenever we gain a deeper sense of the stain and effect of our sin or as shame raises its ugly head in the words or actions of those who do not love us or our God, we need the truth that Jesus declares.

old washer with womanWe each need him to wash us clean and to wring away all the dirty water of shame. We need to allow the wind to fill our billows with the fragrance of his sunshine! As life slings its mud our way, we need to be released and refilled again and again. If we do not wrangle with the wringer, we will be pressed down only to fly against the sky on his wind, filled with his love, his fragrance, and his joy.

“Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” Romans 10:11

“These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” John 15:11

Release your own shame to the Savior as you listen to Julie True sing “Beautiful Tapestry and I Release.”

Story contributed by JerryAnn Berry. Written by Merita Atherly Engen

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