Stories that Shine on an Awesome God

Archive for the ‘Points of Light’ Category

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.

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.

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

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

I snapped on my seat belt.

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

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

I snugged on my headphones and adjusted the mic.

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

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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