Stories that Shine on an Awesome God

Archive for the ‘Points of Light’ Category

Caught in a Cycle

Guest Blog -Condensed from Misty Dawn’s Blog on Shakam Boqer

There’s a cycle of abuse. It’s a cycle that often takes a long time to recognize for the victim, but eventually those who are survivors, who recognize their worth and value, step out of the cycle.

Leaving abuse isn’t easy. Many victims of domestic abuse will leave and go back seven to twelve times before they’re finally “done.” Usually, the abuser lashes out and will use anything in their power to regain the “relationship.”

ANYTHING.

 And EVERYTHING.

 For YEARS.

That’s why many support groups recommend a “no contact” policy with the abuser. Of course, in certain situations, usually when children are involved, that’s impossible. Then, it takes far longer to truly get out of the cycle.

Here’s the cycle 

1.    Building Tension

Lots of controlling behavior from the abuser. Walking on eggshells by the victim. Trying to keep the abuser happy. The victims may even be “happy” with some connection, intimacy, and joyful moments, but under the surface, the victim is on edge, waiting for the next proverbial shoe to drop. Which it will.

2.    The Drop

The abuser acts out. Is violent in some way—verbally, physically, etc.  The victim sustains deep wounds—body, soul, or both. They begin to bleed out—emotionally and/or literally. 

3.    Self-Protection

The victim enters full self-protection and defense mode and will do anything to make the abuse stop. They will tell the abuser what they want to hear, or clam up, or placate. Whatever it takes. Just stop. ASAP.

They may also be in “self-protect” mode for the marriage or relationship and will do things that seem off to the onlooker as they try to hold the idea of the relationship together while also defending themselves against the abuser.

Sometimes victims stay because of the “idea of marriage”, the “hope of being loved”, the “person he could be”. Sometimes, it’s because they were raised with the idea that “God hates divorce.” which is another blog in itself. Whatever the case, they may self-protect the “marriage” and therefore the abuser; even while self-protecting themselves against the abuser.

4.    The Honeymoon

At some point, the abuser’s anger dissipates. They apologize, shed tears, and/or blame the victim. The victim usually accepts the apology, has hope, and thinks, “The abuser is really going to change now.” The victim may take the blame. They may apologize for whatever small infraction caused the blow-up. This brings the relationship to some sort of “peace.” 

This part of the cycle is called a honeymoon, but it isn’t a honeymoon. The victim is still reeling in pain, trying to find sure footing. The abuser is manipulating the victim to keep the victim from leaving.

It IS manipulation, because if the abuser was truly sorry, they would stop abusing. As my counselor has clearly stated, “If you apologize, you may only do so once. Apologize and change. If you apologize and do the same thing over and over you will lose all credibility.”

If the abuser is apologizing, just to repeat the pattern next week or in a month just to lash out again, it’s not an apology. It’s manipulation.

If the abuser is blaming the victim, it’s manipulation. If the abuser was healthy, they would take responsibility for their actions. Period. Full stop. Always. They wouldn’t put their woes over on everyone but themselves.

If any of this feels familiar, I encourage you to look at other commentary on abuse cycles and the power wheel. Learn the words that describe what you’re experiencing.

This cycle is NOT loving. It does NOT reflect the heart of God. His word makes it clear that those who are His will love Him and others.  He makes it clear that He didn’t send Messiah into the world to condemn us, but to save and heal us. He will give you wisdom and courage to break the cycle.

You are loved, right here, right now, just the way you are.

“And I will betroth thee unto Me forever; yea, I will betroth thee unto Me in righteousness, and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth thee unto Me in faithfulness: and thou shalt know the Lord.”

Hosea 2:19 & 10

A Survivor’s Dream

I’m pleased to introduce my daughter, Misty Dawn, as my guest for the next few weeks. Her blog, Shakam Boqer (Hebrew for “early in the morning”), is an eclectic gathering of her own deep thoughts centered on finding hope of bright joy after a night of distress. 

Following is the first of several segments derived from her most recent blog. These are lessons she learned from surviving abuse. We hope these segments will help you or someone you love. 

I had a dream last night. I love it when, in my dreams, I do what I would do in person. It usually means that I’ve finally processed a thing deeply enough that my heart and psyche have caught up with what my head knows. 

In my dream, I made no excuses. I called abuse what it was, and I stood firm on the boundaries set. I held space for the victim. My dream was a reminder that my processing has, over the last few years, shifted. I usually have to live through something and come out the other side before I can write about it. It’s taken years to get here. I needed to heal. My children needed to be safe from repercussion. 

For the present, I’m not going to share my story in detail. Not yet. There are other hearts involved that aren’t ready for those disclosures. For now, I’ll share what I’ve learned along the way and trust you to trust me when I say, “I know this deeply.”

These aren’t just words on a page. This isn’t psychobabble.

This is an overview of my experience, and the experiences of those who are flesh of my flesh. I’ve felt it to my core. I know it in the very fiber of my being. This is what I’ve learned. Well, some of what I’ve learned.

To start, here are a few truths:

  • You are loved, by God. You were created in His image. Because you bear God’s image, you deserve to be treated with respect and kindness. Period. Full stop. If you’re married, your spouse deserves the same. As a married couple, you both deserve love, kindness, and patience expressed in verbal, emotional, and physical ways.
  • God is very clear that abuse towards women and children is not to be tolerated. In fact, in Scripture, God took His people from a culture that didn’t value women or children to a place where they realized immense personal worth.
  •  Knowledge is power.  If you are an abuse victim, you need to understand the abuse cycles and need words to describe your experience. If you care for or know someone you suspect is being abused, you need the power of that same knowledge.

I woke from my dream, and I have words!

I want you to have them too.

Next time, Misty Dawn will outline The Abuse Cycle.

Please visit her blog at: Shakam Boqer

Of Tadpoles, Creeks, and Choosing Love…

It didn’t matter what she did, it wasn’t good enough.

Evangeline let the door slam behind her. Her mop of curls bounced auburn at her forehead. Stones nipped the callouses on her bare feet, but there were no stupid rules along the creek bank.

Turtles and tadpoles didn’t care if she drank eight ounces of warm water first thing. They never forgot to turn on the cold for three minutes before they left the shower.

Those daisies along the path—pure-white petals sparkling with morning dew—weren’t concerned about going to church to have old ladies with hardened eyes check their skirt length or note if they’d painted their nails.

The remains of her father’s mandatory raw almonds stuck to her teeth. Her tongue raked them loose. She spit.

If God was this, there had to be a different choice.

* * *

It mattered what she did when it came to others.

Evangeline rose from her desk of polished walnut and glanced at her watch. Lunch with the mayor in fifteen minutes. A slip of joy coursed her heart. Together they would accomplish nothing but good. Kids would enter college. Single moms would find meaningful employment. The arts would be funded.

Three teenagers smiled up from a desk photo. Her children. How she loved them. She patted at her curls, then shrugged into her tailored jacket, but no straight-jacket religion for them. Church was optional.

Oh, she had done the church thing and gotten burned and betrayed in the process. No bitterness, though. She did have a choice about that. She did have a choice to love.

Choices—logical, well-considered…and helpful—impacted lives. Now and for the future.

God’s rules and expectations only muddied the water.

* * *

What had mattered most?

Cradling her coffee, Evangeline settled onto her porch swing. She tugged at a wisp of gray, then flipped the strand away from her face.

 A rosy dawn eased over the mirrored surface of the lake. Her favorite view. She lifted her cup and breathed in the soothing aroma.

An empty nest. Retirement.  Financial security. A healthy, still active body. A husband, asleep inside, whom she wouldn’t call a soul-mate, but could always admire. Siblings who waded with her out of their shared spiritual abuse….

Through it all, had she found her own identity? Or was it mixed with expectations that made demands from her parents’ graves?

A kingfisher skimmed the water’s surface. Its squeal of freedom echoed the shoreline. She shook her head, feeling the curls. When she looked within, whom did she see?   

I’m a woman who’s chosen love, and that is good.

Along with her sip of coffee, the truth slid its warmth through her body.

I don’t know about God, but I’ve chosen love.

* * *

“God is love.”

1 John 4:8

“…Everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God.”

I John 4:7

Untangling Forgiveness

The woman sits in the front pew, expectant and eager. Her grandchild will be baptized. It’s a time of celebration, but church hadn’t always been so joyful.

Most of her early pew-sitting and hymn-singing was nothing but an inner struggle from a lifetime of double-speak.

The conflict of many words. Way too many words.

She lifts her gaze to the stained-glass. Jesus loves me this I know. When she was six, her abuser had her sing that song while he did his evil.

What kind of love was that? She shudders and opens a hymnal. If only it had stopped with Jesus Loves Me.

Songs, sermons, scripture…any religious term could be used to imply the sexual. She’d stayed alert, always in survivor-mode. Years of sifting through adult innuendoes had even caused trouble in her marriage. Simple instructions from her husband often seemed unclear and hard to process.

The pastor takes the podium and begins to speak. His compassionate tone resonates. She closes the hymnbook.

“Let’s talk about forgiveness.” Her chest tightens. Now there’s a conflicted word. Hope he’s got this one right.

How long had it taken her to untangle the forgiveness concept?

Because, you know, “good little Christian girls forgive their abusers and, if you don’t, shame on you. However, if you forgive, then everything will be okay and we can do anything we want. Whatever we do will be fine. The responsibility is on you and you’ll forgive. So, let’s have at it.”

Yeah, crazy-making stuff. An internal shiver courses through her.

If I do all the forgiving, even to make myself feel better, but it doesn’t matter what others do, what good is forgiveness? Doesn’t repentance and forgiveness go hand in hand?

Yes! Yes, they do. And aren’t you glad we’ve worked that through? The inner voice she’s come to recognize as Jesus’, who really does love her, speaks its comfort. Remember, forgiveness isn’t just about making you feel relief. It’s not just a gift you give yourself. That idea is a dark side counterfeit.

She clasps her hands. Age spots and bulging veins form a crisscross pattern.

It’s taken years, but this is what God has taught:

Forgiveness needs a place to land—a heart that is repentant and can accept it. Yes, her own relief is part of the process, but providing a place where forgiveness can land is God’s truth—His ideal cycle of healing and restoration.

The pastor warms to his subject. She follows along, a step ahead with her own conclusions.

God’s ultimate goal is restoration of relationships. Restoration can’t happen unless there’s a change in the part of the person who did the wrong.

BUT…. She closes her eyes.

God is always ready to forgive, yet He also needs my permission to make the forgiveness cycle complete. Yep, God respects my boundaries—my need to stay in control, to hate, to become bitter, or to take vengeance, so He waits for me to give all that to Him. When I forgive and give Him permission to restore relationship, my piece of the puzzle is in place.

Only God knows the heart—theirs and mine. Only He knows if my abusers are truly repentant and a safe place for my forgiveness to land, but their repentance piece needs to be there too. He knows when it’s in place. I don’t have to worry about it. I can rest in Him. He can impress them with the wrongness of what they did—to convict and bring them to Him.

Her heart swells with the beauty of such a God.

The concept continues to take shape:

If the abuser doesn’t repent, vengeance flows into that space. And if a victim doesn’t forgive, chances are, they will become abusive because of their bitterness. Vengeance will flow into that space too.

Cleansing air fills her lungs. She releases it, slow and sure. Peace floods her spirit.

Not only did my forgiveness free God from me trying to take control of vengeance, it also allowed me to heal so that I wasn’t a hurting person hurting others.

Another stained-glass window catches her attention. Christ hangs on the cross. Moisture wells in her eyes.

I didn’t even have to go to them with my forgiveness. I just had to forgive them to God. I GAVE their actions to God BEFORE they repented.

Hmm—Fore-Gave.

“Jesus, You did this in the midst of torture. In the middle of our abuse, we had no idea how to forgive their horrendous acts, did we, Jesus? How could we, when we hurt with so much pain? But what did You do? You gave Your forgiveness to the Father. You asked Him to forgive them. You even tried to understand their actions and said ‘they don’t know what they’re doing.’”

 The pastor finishes his discourse, which happily parallels her own. Her grandchild enters the baptismal pool.

Her heart quickens with joy.

Forgiveness and cleansing….

It’s been a long hard road, but her abusers have been fore-given to God.

Now it’s up to Him.

Thou hast set our iniquities before thee, our secret sins in the light of thy countenance.

Psalm 90:8

“Thank you, Father, for a merciful countenance.”

Treasures of Darkness

It’s dark on top of our hill out here in the country—miles from any town. Very dark, with no electricity. I love to sleep in total darkness, but I don’t want to live in it. I slip away from my bed and wander outside.

I’ve been interacting with survivors of childhood trauma who are desperate for answers, resources, hope…anything to bring them relief.  I think of them, as, high above, myriads of stars shine their glory.

A verse at the front of the story I’m currently writing comes to mind:

“And I will give thee treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the Lord, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel.”

Isaiah 45:3 KJV

“Okay, Lord God, I’m trying to hear You, but….”

Is there anything darker than the mind of one abused in childhood? Especially abuse mixed with religion that disfigures Your very character? Is there any place more impossible for light to reach?

How can riches be hidden in a heart that has absorbed the evilness and lies of the perpetrator—when the only “secret places” are the secrets one is forced to keep? When one’s personal identity is obliterated with each cruelty, what, please tell, is this name of which You speak?

His stars blink back a silent answer of constancy. Perhaps the morning will bring answers. If only there were a manual.

I text my sister. “Can you recommend a resource I can share?”

Within minutes her reply glows on my phone:

“From my experience, without God, you have no way to really know what you even need. Your abuse doesn’t come with a recovery manual.

God created you. Only He knows who you were created to be. But you can be certain it wasn’t to be abused. All of us have been lied to because it’s lying people who abuse. And because of that, I knew only God was big enough–was wise enough, was safe enough and true and faithful enough to trust with my story and to write a different ending than the only one I thought possible.

He was the only one willing to love me enough to die for me, but more important to live for me every day and work out all I needed.

His promises had power and hope and the outcome only He could create one step at a time. One question at a time. One tear at a time. His love is what has broken down all my walls and fulfilled my dreams better than I could have imagined. And He doesn’t stop! Healing from Him covers all the need and raises me up to more than I knew possible.

You want a manual? Just walk with Him. He has the pathway all planned and ready. And He will only go as fast as you are ready to go and slow enough to give you all the processing you need. He will only lead you, never push you.”

I turn off my phone and sleep until sunlight rises over the eastern mountain and splashes the tops of the trees outside. Bird song floats through the cool breeze. I breathe deep and, from a grateful heart, whisper a prayer.

God’s healing power to reconcile through Jesus Christ—to restore and make whole—is the a treasure that can shine from the darkness of abuse.

Of course, He uses therapists and those who have studied the workings of the brain, the effects of trauma on a child, but it is His love that does the healing, restores identity, and calls us by name.

Paul (2 Corinthians 4:6&7) refers to this treasure as the “light that God commanded to shine out of darkness.” He said this treasure has been put in the earthen vessels of our hearts to shine and give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, who, it turns out, is an accurate depiction of God’s character.

Through His love and acceptance, God provides healing. He will walk alongside through the fear of remembering. He will call you by name, and you won’t be afraid to answer. His Treasures of Darkness and Hidden Riches are there for the asking.

The path of the righteous is like the morning sun, shining ever brighter till the full light of day.  But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.”

Psalms 4:18 and 19 NIV

Upgraded Passion

This is the story of one writer’s journey. It’s also a story of one awesome God. Both are mine.

God and I birthed this blog seven years ago. The blog grew. It faltered with neglect. I tended it and it blossomed. Fortunately, it never died. Writing a full-length-fiction-based-on-my-own-story consumed blogging time.

And other excuses.

In that first blog, I wrote, “Nothing thrills me more than to discover a new example, a new angle, of God’s love at work. Nothing.” That passion motivated me. It continues to motivate.

Now, God’s added another passion.

My journey to this new passion started in the fall of 1990 when I began to write for my own catharsis. I edited, re-edited, let life take over, and stopped writing for years. In 2013, I spent money and time to hone the craft of writing (I still have much to learn.) More re-writes ensued.

The manuscript “completed,” I pitched it as a “love-lost-found” story. I envisioned my audience as women who had not let God lead in their youthful choices and who could share the book with their children as guidance. A few editors showed interest, but only with a complete re-write. I understood their point. For a story of that theme, the end needed to come first. My gut said, “hold back.”

But, when, God? When?”

My timing is perfect. Wait on Me. In fact, put your love-lost-found story aside. The time is not now. Work on your sister’s story.

I began to research and write a second fiction-based-on-a-true-story. This work is about survival from abuse and integration from DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder). It caused me to look more closely at how the events in her life affected mine. Boy, did they ever!

A Culture of Silence pervades both stories. This culture enabled me to lose that young love and to deny the truth of my heart. This culture demanded my sister lose her complete, God-given identity.

In the process of writing her story, my first book took on a different theme and the idea for a series I’m calling Sisters of Silence was hatched.

So, now, I have a new theme and a new audience—adult survivors and their siblings of childhood abuse and trauma who are breaking through the silence. It was a cognitive realization. But how to reach that audience? What to say? Where to go?

“I’m not getting any younger, here.”

In My time, sweetie. Just chill.

Last month, my sister and I visited a little-bit of a woman with great faith, a dedicated plot of ground, and a supportive husband. She’s a survivor too. She’s also an author. She’s been working publicly a lot longer than I have on these issues through her ministry, Broken Pieces No More. www.brokenpiecesnomore.org

As she told me about the hidden abuses in her area, God’s Holy Spirit moved my heart with an upgraded passion. In the days that followed, I heard my Savior say,

You’ve lived under the shadow of abuse all your life, Merita—in that culture of silence. In fact, you were molested and deeply impacted. All these years of writing the “wrong” story was your training ground. Continue to work closely with your new friend and with your sister. They have much to offer.

Plus, I’m calling you to seriously reach out to other survivors. They are more than an audience that you mentally catalogue and market. They are real people with similar experiences. You love them and can empathize.

Remind them the deceiver often mixes religion into their abuse so they grow afraid of anything spiritual and become unable to truly heal. Tell how the dark side pits it’s victims against the truth of My love. Share your stories of how My light broke through for you and others—how it sets the oppressed free.

Your mind has been engaged for years. Now, your heart is too. Because you’re heart is now all-in, it’s time.

Evidently, my journey is only beginning. I breathe in deep, humbled by the thought.

“I’m just a newbie writer, Lord, but here I am. Send me.”

“For we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.”





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.

skiing 2018

“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.

cobalt sky

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.

white-firs

 

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.

white-firs

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.

Trees from porch

“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.

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

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.

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

Old Fashioned Sanity – 2

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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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.

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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.

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