Saturday, December 22, 2018

Weariness and Peace

Christmas is my favorite. 

I don't even apologize for how over-the-top I am about it. I could be any of the crazy holiday characters on any of the Christmas movies.  I decorate early. I buy gifts until the budget is a distant memory. I bake treats. I watch dozens of Hallmark movies. I play music on repeat, and I cry while I listen.

Yes, you read that right. Christmas music makes me cry. 

The other night in the car, I was sniffling over a song, and my husband indulgently smiled at me. "It's that good, huh?" he asked, because he knows me and my propensity to weep over yuletide carols.

And it was that good, this thing that jumped out at me from a song I have heard a million times. 

I heard a word. A word I've said, and sung, and known for most of my life. But it resonated differently with me this time. I heard it, and ALL that it implied...and I was overcome with the fullness of meaning. 

"The weary world rejoices..."

That's the line from the song. And all I heard was "WEARY."

How well I know this word. I suppose its not one that is used a lot these days. We say "tired," "beat," "fried," even "exhausted," but it means the same thing. 

Worn to the bone, emotionally. Physically fatigued from the strain of LIFE. Weary...

I've always seen certain weariness in my mental pictures of the Christmas story. The wise men had traveled so far. They must've been tired. The low-class, low-income shepherds had to sleep in the fields, and they were definitely feeling the burdens of their lot in life. Joseph and Mary had been treated unkindly for so many months, holding tightly to a promise only they believed, bearing the weight of all that people thought of them...and I can SEE their shoulders hunched under it. Not to mention their journey to Bethlehem, and how draining that would've been on Mary's body, and Joseph's peace of mind. 

Weariness.

It's there, in their faces, in their stories. In ours.

But then. An angel. A star. A heavenly choir.

"Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth..."

Permit me, if you will, to adjust a few punctuation points in this passage in Luke. Allow me to type it for you the way the Holy Spirit highlighted it for me.

"Glory to God, in the highest. Peace, on earth."

It's possible that adding commas changes nothing in the way you read this. But it changed everything for me. In case you, like my children, need additional information...here is how I see this passage now.

"Glory to God, Who is on high, and Peace is on the earth."

Peace. Capitalized. God is in heaven. Peace is on earth.

And the weary world rejoices.

The world. The earth. Creation itself. Sighing out..."finally..." All those thousands of years since the garden, since sin entered, the world had been bearing the weight of the darkness. Atoned for with the blood of bulls and lambs...but never taken away. The burden of it all...it weighed on the very world. And not only that, but there had been no reminder that God had not forgotten them...not in 400 years.

So. Much. Weariness.

But then...Peace.

Not "There will be peace on you all now."
NO. PEACE IS NOW ON THE EARTH.

And creation burst forth in song, angels lighting the sky, a new star guiding the Gentiles, a baby wailing in absolute perfection. 

The dawn of Salvation.
The weary world rejoices.

Oh, how it changes me, this new understanding. 

Because Love broke the silence. Heaven sent Peace. And when you know the whole story...it makes the beginning so much sweeter. 

I picture that crinkled little face, hungry and cold and trembling, breathing in physical air for the first time...

Peace. On the earth. Breaking the silence. Fulfilling the plan. Hope on the horizon. For a moment all there is...is the beauty. 

But...

More to come. Misunderstanding. Veiled meanings. So much waiting. So many miracles. So much pain. Death. Confusion. Hopes dashed. Peace. Gone from the earth. Darkness settling down again. An earthquake. A grave. A stone. 

But...

Another earthquake. More angels. The grave overturned. Death...swallowed up by victory.

It's all there, in His crinkled little face, in the manger, surrounded by faces. Faces once weary. Faces now aglow.

My face is there. And yours. 

BEHOLD HIM. 

Let His face, and all that it means, take root in your heart.

And rejoice, weary one. His tiny, perfect, little baby shoulders, tearing into the world with all of the pain of the physical...are able to bear your weariness, and mine. That's why He came.

 Every time we feel it again...I pray that we will hear Peace whispering to our hearts, "I'm here."

"Jesus said to them, "Don't be afraid. Take courage. I am here." Matthew 14:27

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

The Rooms

I had a vision this morning.

I know, I know, it sounds crazy, or ultra spiritual and hokey. But it isn't the first time its happened to me, or the first time I've blogged about it. And this time...I almost didn't. Because I don't know...I don't think I can really give it the right words.

But I can't stop crying, and shaking, and laughing, and then back to the crying. So I want to share it. Because even if most of the blogging world (and by that I mean the few people who read this particular blog) thinks I've gone off the deep end...if the Lord shows you something, it's never just for you. Right? Eventually everything He reveals is for someone else...because He's just that good.

Okay. It started while I was praying, and mulling over a vision that a pastor shared during his message Sunday. I'll recap that one first, because I was praying about it, and about how it could apply to my life, and then the crying, shaking laughing thing started.

There is a person sitting in a room, on a bed. In front of them, on the floor, are broken shackles. The person isn't attached to the shackles anymore. They are looking down at them, recognizing them, but no longer bound by them. As the rest of the room comes into focus, you can see its a jail cell. The door of the cell is open. But the person is still sitting on the bed.

That was the vision my pastor friend had. And it spoke powerfully to many of us on Sunday. This morning, as I was praying, talking to the Lord about areas of my own life where I had been set free but wasn't walking in that freedom...I saw more of the vision, more of the picture. For the sake of easier writing, I will now refer to the person in the vision as myself. But...it is all of us. Read it like its you.

Suddenly, standing the doorway of the cell, is Jesus. "You are free of this, little one. See the blood on the shackles? Its my blood. I opened them with it. See the key in the door? That's the key of death. I went to hell and got it, and I brought it back to free you. Get up, little one. Leave this room behind you."

And I do. Because He paid dearly to free me, and with Him standing in front of me, how can I do anything but accept His offer?

As I walk forward, He begins to step backward, and, eyes on Him, I move out of that death cell.

We pass through the door and into another room. I stop, and take in the scenery. On these walls, I quickly realize, are a list of my failures, things I'm ashamed of. I don't want to look at it all. I certainly don't want Jesus to see it. In shame, in horror, I collapse on the bed in this room and cover my head. But...He sits beside me, and He speaks. "We aren't staying here. This room isn't a cell for you anymore. Look...look up, my child." 

When I open one eye, just a crack, and glance at the wall, I see the blood again. I don't see my guilt, and my shame. I glance at Jesus, and I see that He is also looking at the wall, but He doesn't see all of the sins recorded there. He sees His blood. And He is smiling as He speaks to me. "Let's keep moving."

And so we do. Each time we pass through a doorway, we pass into another room. But I'm getting used to what will happen, and its becoming less dramatic and horrifying. I see what is written on the walls, I know its meant to imprison me, to crush me, to keep me from being able to keep following Him to the next room...but now, eyes wide open, I get to see my Savior walk over to the wall, and apply His blood to it. White-washing it in red. And I start to get excited, almost, for Him to see more of my heart. "This room too, Lord! Clean this one out too, so I can leave it behind."

A long time passes this way. The process of cleaning out rooms and leaving them behind is hard. Its a lot of work, and it takes a while.

Then, we step into a room that is different from the others.

This one has furniture in it. A chair and a lamp in one corner. A coffee pot and mug on a table in another corner. The bed is there too, with a fluffy comforter and pillows on it. And I think to myself "yeeeeeeesssss. I made it out of the cells. Now I can rest."

Almost as soon as I sit down on the bed, I glance at the wall across from me, expecting to find lovely pictures hung there. But I don't. The words I see written there make me shrink back. I pull the blanket up to my chest and my knees into my stomach. 

"I don't understand," I say out loud. And I look over to see Jesus standing in the doorway, watching me with love in His eyes.

"You've had this room with you a long time, little one. Aren't you ready to let it go?"

I don't want to. I can feel the ache crushing me. I like this room. I can tell. It is part of who I am. Leaving it behind will mean losing a piece of myself. I shake my head at the Lord.

"It's too much, Jesus. We've already stripped so much of me. Anymore...and I won't be able to take it. This is far enough. I am not a prisoner anymore. I am happy here."

Time passes. I grow comfortable in my room. I even look back at the door I came through and praise the Lord for the freedom He's given me from the guilt and shame and addictions and lies. But...I don't look at the other door. Because that's where Jesus is standing. I crawl into my bed. I drink my coffee. I sit in my chair. I am at home here. This room has been with me too long to part with.

But then, something happens. Another person walks into my room. Someone who I just know, without it being explained to me, is also on a journey through rooms. At first, the person looks around, confused. I'm confused too. Why is this person passing through MY room on their journey? I don't speak, though. I just wait, sitting on my bed.

They look all around, blinking, taking in my comfortable existence. Then, they look at me.

"Why are you still here?" they ask. I shrug.
"Because its mine. It's part of me."
"But its a cell," they say, and point to the window. 

And for the first time, I see the bars on it. I lash out at the person."You don't know anything."

Nothing more is said to me as I lay down and pull the covers up to my chin. I shut my eyes and cover my ears with pillows.

But the person is talking. Not to me. To the other doorway, the one where Jesus was standing the last time I looked.

"Help her, Lord. Show her. She wants to be free, I know it. Cause her to remember all you have freed her from so far. Calm her fear of leaving this behind. Remind her that following You is worth more than anything else she would ever hold dear."

I can't take it anymore, and I start to yell, to drown out what the person is saying...and then my yell turns to a wail. I am gripping the blankets on my bed tightly, and I am curling myself around them. 

The weight shifts on the bed, and a strong, warm hand touches the top of my head. I don't move. I know Who it is, and I cannot make eye contact with Him.

But my heart is aching with thoughts. "I DO want to be free, Jesus. I DO want you more. But I'm afraid. I don't know how to leave this behind. Help me. Please, please help me."

He reaches down and scoops me up into His arms. I feel like my skin is being ripped away from my bones as He does it. I cry louder, in pain. 

He whispers. "Sssshhhh. I'm here. It's okay. I'm here." I manage to glance back at the bed, at the place I have been living comfortably, expecting to see chunks of myself there. Instead, I see words, written in blood. "Her healing from this has always hers. She is now choosing to walk in it."

I cry harder, and I bury my head on the chest of my Liberator. I am so ashamed that I have stayed so long in this place. I ask Him to forgive me. "I didn't know it was a cell. I didn't see it. I'm sorry. Forgive me, Lord. Help me let it go. I want to. But I need you to help me."

We stand that way for a long time, me crying, Jesus holding me. Finally the pain begins to become bearable, and I realzie that He isn't going to leave the room until I say I am ready.

"Okay, Jesus. You're here. I can do it. I can leave this behind. I want to be free of this place. If there is still more...I'm ready for it."

Only as we are about to leave the room do I remember the person that came in and called me out, pointing out my actual situation, and then praying for me until I was willing to see it for myself. I look back, wanting to thank them, but they are gone.

Jesus speaks. "I am always with you, little one. And sometimes, the way I am speaking to you is through others. Your journey is meant to intersect the journey of others. But...you have to keep moving in order for that to happen." 

As we leave my most recent jail cell behind, my Companion sets me down on my feet, and we resume our previous posture, where He is leading me, walking backward, and I am following Him.

More rooms, more freedom...it passes in a blur. I'm so excited to be moving again, and I keep praising the Lord for liberating me from all the things I thought I needed to hold on to.

And then I come into a room I don't recognize. With a chair in a corner, a coffee pot, a comfy bed. At first, I wonder if this is another room I am going to end up staying in for a while. But then...I see a person on the bed, looking at me in confusion. And I realize...I've entered someone else's journey. 

I'm so excited. "Get up!" I exclaim. "Don't stay here! It is a cell!"

They scowl at me. "Leave me alone. You don't know anything."

In sorrow, I beging to pray, and suddenly I realize exactly how the person who prayed for me must've felt. "Deliver them, Lord. Reveal the truth to them. Give them courage. Soothe their hearts in the process. So they can call others into more freedom too."

And then...then we move on, Jesus and I. 

Do you see it? Do you see the walk? Do you understand? The rooms...they are our lives. They are the journey with Him, they are the path. Sometimes we build new rooms, places to commemorate all God has done in us, a memorial of our freedom. But we don't stay there. We are on the move. We pass through each other's rooms sometimes. Sometimes we walk through the same rooms at the same times our brothers and sisters, working together to know Him more, to leave behind words of encouragement and prayers for anyone who may pass through later. Sometimes we are hurt again, and we crawl into bed and cover ourselves and sit...and Jesus is kind. He is patient. He is gentle. He will sit with us, and soothe our hurts, and hold us while we bleed out pain. 

But. If we stay too long...the pain becomes hardness, bitterness, un-forgiveness. And we can't feel Him at work anymore, because we are enveloped by this room and all it means.

He will send us people...people who have been here before, to remind us, to call us, to challenge us. And it will hurt. But, oh, He's faithful to use it all to guide us into more freedom.

To scoop us into His arms, even though it rips off chunks of flesh as He picks us up. 

He whispers to us, calming our fears with His Word. And then...when we are ready, He leads us forward again. 

We can decide to return to any room. Leave the light on so we can make it back if we want to, refuse to leave it behind altogether. But...why? Why do we do that? Is that sin, that hurt, that memory, that way we identify ourselves...is any of it REALLY worth it? If we are dragging remnants of our past rooms along behind us...it makes it so much harder to go new places. 

Sometimes others will point that out too. "Do you know that you're walking forward, but you've got a rope around your waist, tied to a bunch of junk from past rooms? Don't you think it would be easier to move without it? Also...you're kind of causing chaos with that junk. It's banging around everywhere you go. How can you not see that?"

Oh, brothers and sisters. Can you see it? I pray that this will begin to resonate with you the way it has settled so deeply into me that I cannot stop gasping for air. 

"Don't let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me...I am the way, the truth, and the life..." John 14:1, 6

Friday, November 2, 2018

Stranglehold vs. Spirithold

Have you ever been strangled nearly to death?

Obviously, the majority of us haven't been. It happens a lot on Law and Order, and other crime dramas. But in real, every day, middle America, most of us don't meet up with a crazy killer who tries to choke the very breath out of us for whatever evil reason. 

It takes a long time for someone to die of strangulation, if the above mentioned crime dramas can be believed. And it must be truly terrifying to have hands gripping your neck hard enough to leave bruises, knowing that they plan to maintain that grip until blood vessels pop in your eyes and your lips turn blue and your nails can no longer dig into their hands and your legs don't have any oxygen to use for kicking...

Someone who is being strangled KNOWS they are dying, and that its only a matter of moments before they no longer have breath to get free. Time is of the essence. If you want to live, you have to fight back fast, and smart, and forcefully.

I have watched my daughter in her self-defense class, standing still while a grown, tall, strong man grabbed her around the neck with both hands, simulating strangulation, so that she could learn how to fight back. I've watched her get loose, time and again, and I always let out a sigh of relief, not even knowing I was holding my breath until she was free of the choke hold.

I've been thinking about this particularly morbid topic for a while now, mulling over something I wanted to share but unsure I had to right words to explain it. Finally, I decided just to go for it.

No, I have never been nearly strangled to death, physically. 

But I have absolutely been strangled. Spiritually, emotionally, I have experienced the soul sapping realization that I can't breathe, I can't get away, I am going to die.

As clearly as if it were physical, I have felt the choke hold.

Have you?

Maybe not in quite such a dramatic way as feeling certain you are going to die from the stranglehold. But you have felt it...you just don't know it yet.

So...answer a few questions for me, if you will.

Have you ever said the sentence "This is something I've always struggled with" ?

Have you ever known there was an unhealthy pattern in your life, but chosen not to make a change because it would be too hard?

Have you ever come face to face with truth, recognized it AS truth, and still continued in a pattern that was opposite of that truth?

If you answered yes to any of these questions...

I would argue that you have, in fact, experienced strangulation...as surely as if the Devil himself were standing in front of you, physically choking the life out of you.

Did you know that the word 'strangle' doesn't just mean 'to kill by squeezing the throat and preventing the intake of air' ? That's the first definition. But listen to this one...

"To prevent the continuance, growth, rise, or action...to suppress, to stifle..."

Have you ever said the sentence "I've always struggled with...?"(fill in the blank with whatever you've said. Don't lie and pretend you've never said it. You've at LEAST thought it.) Well then, your spirit, you soul, your very life has been stifled in that area.

Sound harsh? Extreme? Like I took it a little too far?

I have, in the very recent past, been in situations where I knew...I KNEW, something was not right. I knew I should say so. I had all the words inside me...but I pressed my lips together and said nothing.

Why did I do that? 

Because not long before that, there had been another situation where what I had said hadn't been well received. And as I pondered it, I said to myself, "I must've made a mistake. I don't want to make mistakes. So I should probably stop saying things that could possibly be taken the wrong way." The next time the opportunity came to open my mouth and speak truth, I reminded myself "You could make a wrong step here. Better to take no step at all." The next time..."That is too hard. Don't say that. Don't do that. It will be a mistake."

Until one day, a very short time ago, I was sitting at my kitchen table, my Bible open in front of me, wondering why I felt so isolated, out of breath, unsettled, weakened, and afraid.

"Lord...help me to see what is wrong." That was my prayer, and as I prayed it, I was rubbing my tired throat muscles. (Church the day before had left my singing muscles all tuckered out.)

It was as if the Lord shined a giant spotlight on my hands on my throat. And He said, "You are being strangled by a lie."

Spiritually, I was stifled. Emotionally, I was suppressed. 

Not to the point of death...but certainly to the point of suffering. 

Another thing to note about strangulation is that the victims are silent...because they can't get enough breath to scream. 

That was me. Silent. With a lie gripping my throat just enough so I couldn't make sound, but not enough that I went into the panic of fighting for my life. 

THIS is where our sly adversary, the evil one lurking in the darkness, that vile deceiver...this is where he gets his wins.

Not from actually killing us. Not from walking up to us and announcing he is after our very lives. NO. He gains a victory in our lives every time we believe a lie.

As surely as if he had his hand around our throats, pressing down just enough to make us work harder, or stop working altogether, or adjust how we live, or concede in an area we wouldn't have before, or shy away from something hard, or accept something we wouldn't have tolerated before.

He is the most subtle of stranglers. So much so that all of us, ALL OF US, answered that first question "have you ever been strangled?" with a resounding "NO."

I'm going to pause right now and pray. Because my hands are trembling. And that means the Spirit is speaking.

"Oh kind, faithful, merciful Father...shine light where You want to move within us. Show us the enemy at work. Reveal him to us. Cause us to yearn for intimacy with You...and let that desire outweigh the hard things we have to look at within ourselves."

Our God wants us breathing, living, and testifying of that life. And He wants it for us in abundance. No stifling or suppressing. 

The enemy of God, and of our souls, wants the opposite. And he's crafty in how he assaults us.

"The thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that you might have life, and life abundant." John 10:10

The devil comes to kill you. But not just kill you. Destroy you. Not just destroy you. STEAL from you. 

Killing is very overt. Destroying is too. But stealing...its subtle. It's quiet. It's covert. It can go unnoticed for a long time.

And one small theft at a time, the enemy WILL DESTROY you. He will kill that abundant life that Jesus came to give you.

Until the day you are sitting at your table, massaging your throat, asking God why its so hard to get a good, deep, spiritual breath, and He tells you "You're letting yourself be strangled by a lie."

How I pray that I don't ever again have to arrive at painful, spiritual suppression before I see the lies for what they are: theft of my abundant life.

Do you know the truth? You can. It's His Word. And its available to you. If you know it...apply it to your current set of life issues.

You know how to get out of the choke hold, as surely as if you were in self-defense class with my daughter. 

ASK HIM, the One who came to give you abundant life, to show you the lies, and remind you of the truth that prove them as lies. And then...renounce them.

I did it out loud, almost wailing in my horror that I had allowed it to go so far, had been suffocated and stifled so completely that I was physically gasping for air.

"Oh God, forgive me for believing a lie and rejecting You, the Truth. (John 14:6) I declare, aloud so my enemy can hear it, that I see that lie, and I will no longer be strangled by it. I have authority over it because the Spirit of the Living God, who raised Christ Jesus from the dead, is IN ME. (Romans 8:11) And all authority in heaven and on earth is HIS. (Matthew 28:18) I am free from this choke hold in the mighty name of Jesus. Amen."

Two things: First, I used the TRUTH to fight the lies. You have to know it. You have to know it FOR YOURSELF, not just because someone else told it to you. Otherwise the devil doesn't even have to try and kill you or destroy you. He's already strangling you with the lie that its okay not to read the Word daily and let it sink into your very soul. Second, you have to continually identify the lie as it continues to ping around inside you, and declare truth to it over and over.

Like a blocked artery, once cleared, has to be maintained by correct diet and exercise, so too a spiritual bondage (which is what a lie, believed and accepted, becomes. Because the father of all lies is the devil. (John 8:44) If you believe a lie...you are in bondage to it. Its simple. And its absolutely possible to be free) must be broken, renounced, and then actively walked out of. 

I won't try and list all the lies we believe that become bondage in our lives. That would take too long. But I pray that by now the Spirit of God has already begun to point them out in your life. 

Have you ever been strangled? Yes.
Will you continue to stand there and let it happen?
Or will you fight back?

That first deep breath of free, SPIRIT saturated air...oh, it feels so good. How could we have ever thought we were breathing before?

Be brave enough to fight back and get loose from the grip of the lies...and then gulp in that freedom, for it is your very LIFE.

Believe the TRUTH, and let Him set you free.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

English Lesson

Confession (that will not come as a shock to anyone): I love English, and am a fan of strong words choices.

As a writer, nothing makes me happier than reading, or hearing, words that perfectly paint the intended picture in my mind.

I frown upon (and by that I mean, rant excessively about) weak words, or fake words, or words that don't give nearly enough information.

For example, my kids say "that's lit," all the time. I hate it. 

"What does that even mean?" I always question.
"You know...awesome...cool," they respond.
"That still doesn't really tell me anything."
"Mom...the song is just lit. That is all. It's lit."

Irritation abounds. 

Is the tune catchy? Does it have a beat that is fun to drum along to? Are the lyrics deep and exciting? Sad? Funny?

WHAT DOES LIT MEAN?

I frequently require them to give me at least one additional adjective to describe whatever is currently being discussed, and I am almost always referred to as the"grammar police" for it.

But words are supposed to resonate. We should understand the intention, or situation, or required response, or desired feedback, simply by listening to the words being said.

When my husband responds "interesting" to anything I say...I want to pull out my hair. "Funny interesting? Boring interesting? I'm-not-really-listening interesting? Which is it?" 

Perhaps my particular bent toward flowery words is why I love reading the Psalms so much. The verses paint vivid pictures in my mind's eye, and I so appreciate that. I am never at a loss for how I am supposed to respond, emotionally and sometimes even physically, to a particular passage. The direction is found within the words themselves. 

There are, however, passages that cause a struggle sometimes.

"Be still and know..."
"Be patient..."
"Be strong and courageous..."

If I was grading a paper which included the words, I would have nothing bad to say. Ask any of my former writing students. The problem I have is with the verb BE.

I don't like state-of-being verbs. I like ACTION verbs. 

Colorful images fill my mind if I say "Grasp patience" or "Practice strength and courage" or "Settle into stillness and knowledge." 

I can get behind those verbs. They require an action from me, and I am quick to respond accordingly. 

But...BE STILL. What does that mean? Sit still? Stand still? Lay still? Remain still? Return to stillness? WHAT AM I DOING?

I shared this particular dissatisfaction with the Lord this morning, during my Bible reading time. (Because what Author doesn't like to have their word choices critiqued?)(eye roll(at myself)) 

"I don't like this verse, Lord. Wait on You? What am I supposed to do? I clearly AM waiting...because I'm not doing anything. But I don't like it. It doesn't give me enough direction. I'll sit here, still and waiting, as long as you tell me to...but I need something to do while I'm here. I need more words..."

I'm giggling about it right now, because as I sat...I'm pretty sure an angel came into my sitting room. Why do I think that?

Because I had my worship songs play-list playing, on shuffle, (and it's over 11 hours long) and one song after another...the music, the words, spoke directly to what I had just been discussing with the Lord. I have basically decided an angel was choosing the music for me. Not every song in that 11.75 hours of music would be a direct answer to my prayer...but 5 songs in a row were. And I cried, and I laughed, and I was still before Him, and He spoke sweetly.

I don't think He minds that I need strong word pictures. He created me the way I am, after all. I don't even think He minds when I wish for a stronger synonym for a particular word. 

Because He always drops the synonyms into my spirit exactly when I need them.

"You remain IN me. And I am all things. I am Healing and Hope and Strength and Mercy and Knowledge and Faithfulness and Courage and Power and Understanding and Wisdom and Peace and Kindness and Rest...All the words you could ever need, you can find them IN ME."

And so, to wrap up this little English lesson...

I am CHOOSING to obey Him. Because that is an action word. And it actually takes quite a bit of exertion on my part. The grasping-with-my-nails, eyes-shut-tight, energy-depleting CHOOSING to be still, to wait, to just BE.

But y'all...I find Him there. I find all the things I wish He would direct me to do and seek and learn and become...I find them all IN HIM. 

And I find rest in the process. Which is good, because its exhausting to set aside all the synonyms I would choose for a word...

You want to know one more word with such depth of meaning that it could be endlessly expounded upon, but it doesn't need that? A word that paints so many pictures inside me that it really is the whole story, all wrapped up in 5 letters?

J.E.S.U.S.

A whisper. A wail. A shout. A laugh. A battle cry. A dying breath.
 
Every fear, hope, praise, request...every heartbeat. Right there within His name.

Isn't He an exceptional Author? All His heart toward us, painted across that one syllable word, echoing endlessly across our lives.

And He says "English class dismissed."

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Inside and Out

I'm an extroverted person. I always have been. I talked very early, my parents tell me, and I haven't stopped talking since. I never run out of words I could say.

So, it may be a surprise to learn that I also truly, deeply, enjoy alone time. Quiet. Cozy. Settled. With blankets and slippers and coffee and candles. And NO speaking. 

I'm doing it right now, in fact. Curled up in my sitting room, with only one lamp, two candles, and a half cup of coffee as companions. Oh, and my laptop.

Because clearly I need to talk even during silence. 

I can hear better in the still moments. That's the thing. I hear the Lord differently in these spaces.

Not that I don't hear Him in the chaos. I do. He speaks to me of His love for me every time my kids smile. I hear the Father reminding me of His goodness every time my husband tells me he loves me.

He testifies of His faithfulness toward me in the LOUD.
 He whispers of His presence WITH ME in the silence.

And so I am both. An extrovert and an introvert.

Sometimes He speaks to me in the transition from one to the other. Like this morning. As the dogs and the boys descended on the family room, turning on cartoons and cuddling with each other (rowdy cuddling, because that's the only kind dogs and boys know) I grabbed my laptop, my coffee, and the lighter, and retreated to the front room. 

When you first light a candle, it burns bright, doesn't it? For several long beats its a high flame, and it throws sparks and sputtering sounds before it settles into the simmer. The it flickers, and gives off a lovely fragrance, and casts a glow across the room. But if you blew it out and lit it again, it would flame high again before settling.

The candle is me, people. Loud and bright, slow and quiet. Both at once. The way I was meant to be. Speaking loudly of His glory. sinking quietly into His lap. 

One without the other...just wouldn't be complete.

But, (and here is the part that has me going "hmmmm" into the stillness of my solitude) candles spend way more time being the simmering, scent-dispersing, flickering, peaceful glow than they do burning high and bright and throwing off sound. And their best work is done in the low burn. 

Oh Lord, let that be true of me too. In the silence, in the moments alone with You, let that be where the best work of my life is done.

I love it when the Holy Spirit shows up in a big way, and I get to testify of His goodness and faithfulness and glory. I love it.

But I CRAVE the silent moments with Him. Its where I am renewed, and soothed, and warmed. If it weren't for the intimacy of the quiet times with Him...the loud times would have no purpose.

Because what good is a candle that is lit, and then as soon as the bright light slows and the sputtering stops, its blown out? Then there's no lovely smell, and no flickering, perpetual glow.

The same is true of us. We can sing loud, and testify long, and holler about seeing His glory in our lives...

But do we sit, alone and silent, in the glow of His fellowship, and just soak it in? Listen to the whispers? Enjoy the solitude that never really IS because He's with us?

Oh, its the sweetest thing. Its LIFE to me.

I'm not really sure how a candle became a metaphor for my walk with God...but there it is.

"Lord...today, in each moment, will You be the light within me? Burn brightly if You want to, for Your glory. But the slow simmer, the continual glow, of Your presence...that is my truest desire. And when I forget...when I neglect the quiet and instead choose the outside things...draw me inward, toward You, once again.

I see you, Lord. Inside and out. Cause me to see You more. Amen."

Friday, October 26, 2018

To do or not to do...

I wonder sometimes why I even bother to sit down with this laptop and try to string words together into anything resembling coherent thoughts. 

It seems so easy for all the movie bloggers. They write, people read, they get famous, life is grand. And their hair and eyebrows and thighs and wardrobes are perfect in the process. 

Why is it that whenever I have a "hmm, that would make a good blog post" thought, it is almost immediately followed by one of my children breaking a toe? Or using the bathroom outside? (not #1, by the way, and he's also WAY too old for that to be an honest potty training mistake) Or being so hungry that death is imminent if I don't get up RIGHT THEN and fix food? Or having an essay writing brain block that requires me to sit and brainstorm for an hour? 

After all of those things...who can even remember what the heck I was planning to say in that blog post?

Its a little bit comical to me, right now, that the sentence I almost wrote was "WHY do I bother doing it at all?"

Why is that so comical? 

Well, I have kids, that's why. 

Just last week, during a discussion about an upcoming geography quiz, I informed the boys that I wanted them to be able to name at least 10 countries per continent on a blank map. I even offered them cash for each right answer. (within reason, clearly. I'm not paying them a dollar if they can find Russia on a map. But for Uzbekistan I would totally pay that amount) Anyway, the horrified look on my 14-year-old's face...it was something to behold. "WHY do I have to do that?" (please read this with a) all the love I have for him and b) a total awareness of the tone of voice that gets under a mom's skin like nothing else in the world) 

"Because its part of your school," I responded calmly.
"BUT WHY?" he pushed.

And here is where the calm ceased. Why is it that only a teenager can push the buttons that lead to moms losing their cool?

As he stomped down the hall, my voice carried behind him. "Because I am the mom, I know what is best for you, and also I SAID SO."

Sigh...I could edit this story to make myself sound like a better mom, or my kids like the perfect kids, but honestly I'm way too tired to be that dishonest. And it wouldn't make anyone feel better anyway, so I'm really just hoping for some extra grace on this story.

I tell it for a reason. I tell it because, as mad as I was at him for pitching a fit about what I had asked of him...I literally almost typed that exact same sentence a few minutes ago. "WHY do I even bother? What is the point? Why do I have to do that?"

The truth is...I don't have to write. And I don't always. Because I'm busy cleaning up backyard bathroom incidents and bandaging toes that may or may not be broken, and cooking for three man-children on a near-constant basis.

And my son doesn't HAVE to know geography. It isn't a life requirement, or even a skill that will be particularly useful in any job he pursues.

So really...WHY DO WE HAVE TO?

And my answer to him is the Lord's answer to me. "Because I know what is best for you..." And, even though He isn't yelling at me when He says it, my good, good Father has absolutely said "Because I'm your Father and I SAID SO," to me before.

Obedience. That is the real rub, isn't it? Doing something because it is asked of you, even if it makes no sense, and doesn't fit within what you can understand or figure out.

And not just obedience when you know it will be hard but you can see that it will be worth it one day. No. I'm talking about being willing to do TODAY obedience, when tomorrow could have no payoff whatsoever. 

Because I don't think the Lord gives out dollars for correct answers to geography questions. Nor does He often show us all of a picture when He asks us to walk in obedience to Him.

Sometimes He just says, "Because I said so."

And you know what? I don't like it when He says that to me. Just like my kids don't like it when I say it to them.

I am still giggling a little bit. And also, I'm apologizing to my Father for all the times I stomped down the hall, mad about what He was asking me to do. Because even though I know He doesn't have skin for me to get under, or buttons for me to push...if He did, I would TOTALLY be the rage-inducing teenager.

This blog post has gone nowhere conclusive Further evidence that sometimes things don't make sense. 

But...He says for me to put my fingers on these keys and say words. (err...type words...whatever) So, I do it because He says so. And even if it makes me sound crazy or like a terrible mother or in need of a waste management team in my backyard...He knows what's best for me. 

Because He says so.

"You go before me, and You follow me. You place Your hand of blessing on my head. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand." Psalm 139:5-6

Monday, September 3, 2018

Milan

Every city is different, and its markedly true of European cities. They have an internal culture all their own, which I find fascinating, but also difficult to acclimate to. Just as I think I'm getting the hang of a city, we are off to a new one, and I have to adjust again.

Milan is a BIG city, with lots of modern aspects because of all the high fashion and expensive shops. We were nearly murdered by taxis (ones we were IN and ones surrounding us) and buses and motorcycles seemed to appear out of nowhere right as we were attempting to cross streets.

We did manage to wander through the oldest mall in Italy, taking in the array of high end store fronts, and then leaving to hunt for a bargain shop. We ended up buying nothing...because we are weighed down with extra things already. Wait...I take it back, we bought things...we bought food, and we are absolutely weighed down by that. (insert frowning face here)

We've come to expect the soaring beauty of the buildings and churches and plazas in Italy, and we were not disappointed in Milan. There is so much history here. I swear, it speaks to me, even over the roar of traffic and throngs of people.

The Manza race track was a surprise. The oldest Formula One track in the world, and the second oldest race track in the world...I guess made me anticipate buildings and established borders. Instead...it seemed the entire village was constructed the day before, amid trees in a park outside town. Tents were randomly spread over miles of forest, with dirt paths navigating between them. And because it had rained the day before, the dirt had become mud. The seats were all bleachers, crammed together tightly. The toilets were all portable as well, and when we arrived in the complex (5 hours before the race) they were already out of toilet paper. Ashley and I finally found a couple stalls with partial rolls, and we took advantage of our chance to stash extra in our purses. Which was lucky, because we never saw another stitch of TP the whole day. The boys had it way easier, as in Europe its totally acceptable to urinate in the woods, against the side of a building, in the middle of the wide open...wherever. This phenomenon had me wrinkling my nose in horror at the multiple, visible, peeing men everywhere I looked...all day long. It also added to the adventure of navigating the mud, which may or may not have been combined with random strangers' urine.

My favorite part of the culture of Milan is that everyone, EVERYONE, sits down at a curbside cafe for appetizers and drinks, conversation and relaxation, beginning at the 5 o'clock hour and continuing until supper time, around 8. We found a lovely spot on the main square, with a perfect view of the Milan Cathedral, and we slipped right into that particular cultural experience. People watching is always one of my favorite things, and its even better in other countries.

It's early in the morning now, and we are sitting in the airport, bags checked, extra bags (loaded with souvenirs) sitting beside us, extra pounds from all the pasta and bread we've eaten sitting ON us, waiting to board our flight. A brief layover in Madrid, and then we will cross the ocean, heading home. We have had a fantastic adventure, mouth watering food, beautiful views at every turn, and lots of bonding time in tiny taxis. We are glad to be returning to our world. Not because the countries of the world aren't wonderful. They are. But our sweet little babies await us, and we can barely contain our excitement to hold them and kiss them and hug them and inhale their scent.

Ashley and I finally, finally, ate a croissant and marked it off our list of things to experience in Europe. The boys say it was at least our 50th croissant...but we don't remember it that way...

I'm thankful that Italy and France welcomed us with warmth and excitement.

I'm MORE thankful that our people await us on the other side of the ocean.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Florence

My first thought about Florence, after we exited our train and maneuvered through the masses of people and luggage and made our way out onto the taxi platform...was "Dear Lord, its humid here. My hair is going to be gigantic."

Situated in a valley between two mountainous areas, the atmosphere holds a great deal of moisture. Up to 85% humidity is not uncommon. I am pleased to report that my hair soaked up at least 15% of it while we toured the city. You're welcome, Florence.

As I have come to expect from Italian cities (and cities of the world in general) Florence had a very distinct atmosphere. It had a big city vibe in some ways, with lots of traffic and throngs of people. But also, in the old, historical section of the city, where we were staying and spent almost all of our time, there are so many old buildings and marble statues that they start to all look the same. Art and architecture are the things this city is famous for. And, of course, food and wine, as it is the capital of the Tuscany region.

As we wandered, I would say "What is THIS amazing building?" (expecting it to be something famous and unlike anything else...) And then we would discover it was a museum, and we would take in its lovely renaissance architecture, and move on. After the 3rd of 4th time this exact same thing happened...I changed my approach. I began, instead, to count how many different museums we passed as we explored the old city. I am pleased to tell all of you that we laid eyes on 12 museums in the 2.5 days we were in Florence. I feel that keeping track of it was brain power well spent.

In addition to soaking up some of the humid air, my hair also received an original Florentine treatment, designed to instantly moisturize and perfume the strands...and by that, I mean...a bird pooped in my hair while we were exploring the old, original bridge crossing the river.

Not just a little bit of poop, either. It was a giant PLOP that soaked into my hair and onto my shoulder. Of course, we hadn't yet checked into our hotel room, so I had nowhere to go to wash it out. Instead, we stole some napkins from a street cafe, and I handed them to Heath to clean me up.

He barely kept from throwing up (eye roll) so Ashley took over picking the pellets out of my rapidly growing mane.

I have now developed a fear of birds.

Nature has been toying with us this trip, for sure. Ashley got stung by a bee in France, I got pooped on by a bird in Italy...and we were rained on in Cinque Terre.

But, oh my, how different that part of the Italian landscape was from the bustling cities we have stayed in.

It took 2 hours to drive from Florence to the coast, and as we went, we passed through several different regions of the country. Each one is known for a different specialty of food or wine or natural materials. For miles and miles we drove past nurseries, with rows upon rows of different trees, grown there due to the high volume of rainfall and then shipped all over Italy. Then, almost as soon as we entered a new region, the fields changed, housing grapes or olives. And then again, a new region, with many textile factories. Then we entered a mountainous region, and our guide pointed out a set of tall, white peaks nearby.

"This is not snow," he told us, then asked if we knew what it was. We were stunned, because anyone would immediately consider them snow capped mountains.

"The town is the town of Carrera," he hinted...and we blinked, not understanding. "The white you see is Carrera marble. It is only found here."

You've never seen anything like it. Actually, that's not true. If you've seen snowy mountains, you have seen something like it. But this was MARBLE. An entire mountain range of marble. Unbelievable.

The 5 tiny towns that make up the Cinque Terre region were charming, picturesque, adorable. We were amazed by the fact that they terraced gardens and buildings were built into the side of sheer rock mountains. And all of the planting and harvesting and working was done by hands and feet and backs, no matter how young or old. It had to be grueling work. And after everything was built, the grueling work continued. The people who live in that area work from morning till night, just to sustain their way of life. They produce wine and olive oil, they grow lemons and figs and prickly pears, and they fish, pushing their boats by hand down and up the precarious dock, and through the winding, steep streets, every time they want to use them. With such small space, and so much work that is required for everything they do, they don't have enough of the wine or olive oil or lemons available to sell it outside the region. If you want to taste it, you have to visit the towns and eat at the cafes. And so we did.

I can't describe how charming we found it, to sit down to a meal made entirely of things grown on the surrounding hills. It was my favorite Italian experience so far. And I've seen and done a LOT of really cool things here.

We climbed more stairs here, because we are eating so much pasta and bread that we keep looking for things to do to burn them off. (That last part is a lie. We ARE eating all the carbs, but we are only burning them off because their are very few elevators, and none of them were installed in the old structures we are touring.) Another 400+ steps to look out over Florence from the top of the Duomo (dome). It was oppressively hot. As in, Ashley and I are considering burning the undergarments we wore that day. My hair did its part to soak up the moisture...but we still sweat puddles onto the stone steps. The view from the top was magic, as all the elevated views have been.

The statue of David did not disappoint either. People with any artistic ability amaze me, as I have NONE. Seeing the famous art of the world makes me feel a lot more cultured, even if I know deep down I'm just a little old country girl who gets a daily hankering for sweet tea and bare feet.

Now, we can say were are country folk who have laid eyes, in person, on a few of the art world's masterpieces.

It's off to Milan now, but only for a short bit of touring. Tomorrow is the Manza Formula One race, so this evening will be our only chance to look for discount shopping. "Is there a Ross, dress for less, in Milan?" Ashley asked. And there is, in fact, a discount store. I'm not sure that the retailers of Milan have the same idea as us about what price is considered a discount...I'll keep you posted.

Arrivederci for now!

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Venice

Sigh...

You know how you've done something or been somewhere, and you came away with the most perfect recollection...and then you planned to go back, and you were a little bit worried that the reality wouldn't live up to the memories you had?

I am pleased to say that Venice has lived up to all my memories.

There is nowhere in the world like Venice. I am sure you've heard that, but once you've been...you'll know its true. 

I have written a blog about this city before, with all of the art and culture and beauty mixed with old world buildings and canals, and all of that was still magical.

The food...oooo, the food. Homemade pasta, pizza and gelato on every other corner, all more delicious than the last corner. As we had already decided, Ashley and I set out to try as many different kinds of pasta as we could while here. We have marked spaghetti, ravioli, tagliatelle, rigatoni, cannelloni, fusilli, lasagna, and pappardelle off the list. We plan to add to it in our next stops. Even Patrick, who is a self-proclaimed hater of pasta, ate, and enjoyed, spaghetti with meat sauce. He also ate at least 75 slices of pizza...maybe more. 

The vendors are protective of their wares, and quick to tell us, forcefully, that everything is made in Venice, NOT in China. (They pronounce it "cheena.") Several times every day, we were told "All made in Venice. No Cheena." 

We have added to our pile of luggage, with more gifts for our loved ones, and plenty of gifts for ourselves. Italian leather handbags, handmade lace, hand blown glass, local spices and candies, and so much more. 

Tomorrow we leave for Florence, where we anticipate more of the same perfect food and architecture and merchandise. 

The churches..I cannot even explain the over the top beauty of the cathedrals here. I walk into every single one we pass...and I stand in silent awe.

It strike me as something of note that we don't have churches in America like the ones they have here. The people of the Old World knew how to build a beautiful structure, ornately decorated, gilded with the most expensive and precious materials of the time, with walls several stories tall and soaring, expansive ceilings. Its truly breathtaking. But after taking it all in, my eye always returns to the lit candles, each one representing a prayer. 

I've turned those candles over and over in my mind, together with the glorious majesty of the buildings they are inside...

And I wonder. Did the builders think they needed to build something worthy of housing the presence of God? Were they trying to make Him seem more or less approachable? Do the people who come in, and light candles, feel that they can only offer that prayer in that place, because its so truly wonderful that it must be where the presence of God resides?

I have stood inside at least 5 cathedrals since we've been here. And every time, I have pondered the simplicity of those tiny candles, those flickering lights, and the overwhelming beauty surrounding them.

"Lord," I whisper, "I see the glory of You, everywhere. I see You in the beauty of these creations...and I see You in the painted skies outside. Cause me to burn like these candles, simple and unassuming, but lifted before You in faith, believing that everywhere I am, there You are. Will You show Your glory in my life, more and more?"

We are off to bed, to hopefully sleep off the exhaustion of soaking up the wonder of this city. We will drag ourselves to the train station early in the morning, to beat more paths to more places.

And we will take the glory of God with us. Because He is IN us. And knowing that He is as beautiful IN US as in those cathedrals...oh, that is more perfect than even Venice itself.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Paris

Ahhhhh, Paris...

I hesitate to even try and write about this city, mainly because everything has been said, in movies, in books...it is famous around the world, and most people know what to expect when they visit here.

We had read a lot of things, and heard a lot of things, before coming to the City of Lights. So we thought were prepared.

But, I think all things magical and spectacular start out hiding their wonder from newcomers, the way my dogs want to make sure you appreciate them before they warm up to you.

That is how Paris was when we arrived. Windy and overcast, streets all but deserted, more than half the shops on every street closed for the weekend. It was only truly warm on our last day here.

But, we managed to see all the important things. We walked to the Arc of Triumph, rode to the top of the Eiffel Tower (where it was as cold as the polar ice caps (I'm only exaggerating a little bit) shopped on the Champs-Elysees (the most expensive and famous place to shop in Paris) visited Notre Dame Cathedral (and climbed the 420ish steps up to the tower to see the view) saw the Mona Lisa and other lovely art exhibits at the Louvre, and ate dinner at the Moulin Rouge.

Each site along the way was full to bursting with wonder and awe.

The food...ah the food...We began our visit with a list of items we MUST eat in Paris, and I am pleased (and bloated) to say...we accomplished our task. French onion soup (which they just all onion soup here, obviously) duck, escargot (ick...but I ate it) eclairs, macaroons, Crouque Madame (a fancy grilled ham and cheese with a fried egg on top)(yum) cheese (so much cheese...they have over 700 kinds here , we were told) and much more. Also, Ashley and I decided early that we weren't checking crepes or croissants off our list until we left the city...and so we ate one last flaky deliciousness as we waited for our taxi to the train station.

Over all, Paris is everything I hoped, and more. Its bustling with big city smells and sounds and activities. It's rich in history and memorials to times gone by.

It charmed me in a way I wasn't expecting. They take the presentation of their culture very seriously, from food to art to language. The people are decidedly patriotic, but I don't begrudge them...I am decidedly patriotic as well.

We are leaving the land of baguettes and croissants and crepes and all the rest of the carbohydrates now. The Paris train station is large and crowded and swirling with a variety of culture. We are awaiting the arrival of our overnight train, bound for Venice, Italy...the land of more carbohydrates.

We have a list of all the pastas we must try while we are there...and there is an excellent chance that none of our clothes will fit before we leave Europe. That's okay, we don't have space for the clothes in the same bags as all the things we are buying anyway (read-souvenirs for the kids and local delicacies for us).

Au revoir for now.


Saturday, August 25, 2018

Freedom

A new city of the world can be marked off my list of things to do. 

I have now been to Paris.

I will write a long, drawling, comprehensive, totally biased opinion of my time here once we have finished soaking it all in...and by that, I mean eating as many croissants and crepes as we can find.

Today, though...today was an experience all its own, and it deserves an entry all its own.

Today we traveled by van to the coast of France, to the beaches, to the place where the scars of war still mark the ground and the buildings and the atmosphere.

There are many such places in Europe. Perhaps the rich history is why I love it so much.

But this place, these beaches and batteries and outposts and cliffs and harbors and cemeteries...

They have a heartbeat.

They have weight. 

They take your breath away with their combination of unassuming country-side and grand monuments of heroism.

Our first stop was Pointe de Loc, the cliffs that were scaled by 225 American army rangers, sent to capture a heavily fortified German outpost on D-Day, June 1944. Looking down, from the German outpost edge...seeing the drop...understanding that those men climbed those cliffs, took that outpost, and defended it against great counter attack...hearing that they were a band of only 90 when reinforcements arrived...the wind coming up off the ocean wasn't as breathtaking as the knowledge of the courage and sacrifices made there.

Then down to Omaha beach, the landing place of the American forces on D-Day. It seemed an almost sacred place to us. Families were walking on the beach, frolicking at the edge of the cold water, laughing and talking as all people do on a beach.

But it isn't just a beach. I could picture the planes flying overhead, the parachutes, the boats, the soldiers...I could see them in my mind, and my heart beat hard and loud as I grasped how far they had to traverse the sand, and after that, steep, fortified hills. I had to stifle the urge to ask the people to stop walking on the sand. So much bravery. So much sacrifice. So much pain. So much that was won because of it all.

We saw Gold beach as well, and a German battery that remains mostly intact. All of it...every thing, was sobering and breathtaking.

But...the Normandy National Cemetery...it left words rising in my ears, to the beat of my heart...

It's beautifully landscaped, even the parking lot and the entrance and the surrounding area. A lovely walk down a tree-lined path...and then you round a corner.

So many white crosses. Over 9 thousand American soldiers, buried there after the D-Day invasions and subsequent months of war. It isn't even the largest American cemetery in France...but the sheer volume of rows of white crosses...I stood, hand on my throat, choking back tears.

I don't have to imagine what it feels like to lose your family member overseas. To not get to say goodbye. To just feel...robbed.

And I swear, I could feel the pain of every mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter...everyone who loved a person buried in that place...I ached for them. I understood what this place must represent to their families. And so I tried hard to honor them, to take the time to remember what they had sacrificed.

The words kept beating like a drum in my head as we made our way through the museum there, filled with pictures and quotes and information. All the words I have said...they don't carry the weight of words spoken and written by those who were there.

So I will share a few.

"It all came down to this brief day of battle on the coast of Normandy, and, for so many of them, it all ended. For the rest of us, what has been since has not been the same." Captain Charles Cawthon

"You can manufacture weapons. You can buy ammunition. But you can't buy valor, and you can't pull heroes off an assembly line." Sergeant Ellery

"If ever proof was needed that we fought for a cause and not for conquest, it could be found in these cemeteries. Here was our only conquest...all we asked...soil in which to bury our gallant dead." General Mark W. Clark

"And let our hearts be stout, to wait out the long travail, to bear sorrows that may come, to impart our courage unto our sons, wheresoever they may be." FDR

"Some must die so others might live." Winston Churchill

If you've ever been to a cemetery like this one, that holds the bodies of so many courageous, mostly YOUNG men and women...I hope that you can understand the weight. I felt honored to be allowed to visit their graves, and sobered with the thought of all that had been lost...

We take it for granted, the pain and struggle of the past that bought for us so much freedom and peace. We don't remember it every day. Sometimes we don't even KNOW about it.

But today...today I remembered. And I will never forget the words that clambered inside me, rising to the surface with my tears, demanding to be heard.

"Freedom. Is. Not. Free."

It isn't something we deserve because we are...you fill in the blank...It was earned for us. It was sacrificed for, bled for, died for. It was grieved for, and the depth of that grief should never be forgotten.

It was paid for, for all of us. And we should remember.

Freedom. Is. Not. Free.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

The Vision

I had a vision this morning.

I know that sounds strange, and ultra charismatic...and it's not like a vision the way we imagine they were in the Bible, lest you tune me out and think "bless her heart."

It was more like a movie reel playing a scene in my mind, directly following a prayer. It happens to me a lot, words from the Lord that are actually pictures in my heart and mind. I guess He speaks to me that way because I'm a writer, and I can put words with snapshots and scenes.

I'm going to try and give this vision words. Hopefully the metaphorical movie reel will become clear as I type it out.

There is a boat out on open, ocean water. No waves, no storm, just calm, gently swaying current, and a strong, stable, waterproof floating ship atop the deep. 

The people in the boat are alert, and actively caring for their craft. A big wind kicks up from time to time, and it causes them to have to work hard, to buckle down, dig deep, and maintain all that they care about, which is all bobbing up and down on the water with them. Its mostly peaceful. Its safe. It's comfortable. Its all they know.

And then, out of nowhere ,with no forewarning, no time to mentally or physically prepare, a huge wave crashes over the deck.

A person falls into the water, knocked overboard unexpectedly, without a chance to even take a deep breath. And they sink, hard and fast.

The darkness of the water is all consuming. No way to know if there are giant, flesh eating creatures around, or where the bottom is, or which way is up. All the person feels is panic. 

Must get air.
Must find a way out.
Must get back to the boat.

Flailing, struggling, trying...and still sinking. And through the person's mind flashes the thoughts: If I had only known it was coming, I could've taken a breath first, or I would've grabbed the rail and not fallen in. I wasn't safe, but I didn't know it, and now I'm drowning.

It seems as if the sinking takes forever, and also that it's only an instant. And then...they hit the bottom. It makes a sound that ripples through the dark depths. BOOM. Silt and sediment cloud up around them as they land hard on the rocky ground.

And the panic has now become terror. No matter how much they struggled and tried to find their way up...they still sank to the bottom of the deepest, darkest water they had ever floated atop. 

And now they will drown. No chance they can survive this.

So, the person settles down onto the rocky floor, accepting at long last that there will be no escape, or quick recovery, or rescue. This is the end of everything. So...they curl into a ball on the bottom of an ocean.

Moments pass. The 'thud' sound the person made as they hit the rock has rippled out, out, out, and disappeared. There is only the sound of their heartbeat now, as they wait for the end to come.

Beat. Beat. Beat.

Beat. Beat. Beat.

Thrown violently from the safety of their boat, lost in unknown waters, sunk to the bottom of an abyss, curled in a ball on the bottom of the ocean...certain they will die.

But their heart continues to beat.

They don't understand at first. How are they not consumed by the darkness, the water, the suffocation? Why haven't they died from the crushing pain of so much pressure? They certainly FEEL the pain. It should kill them. It feels like it IS killing them.

And how are they still breathing? All that surrounds them is water, and liquid cannot be drawn into lungs. It's impossible.

But still, there is breath, and a heartbeat...they have sunk deeper than a person can survive, in darkness and pain and fear and questions.

They are curled up around themselves, waiting for death, almost wishing for it in some of the most painful moments. Eyes squeezed shut tight, wishing for it to just be OVER, one way or the other.

And then, then a realization. 

The bedrock they are curled up on, the very bottom of the place where they lay...its the heart that is beating...it is breathing for them. It is the reason they have not died from the pain, or been drowned by the crushing water, or eaten alive by the terror.


I have been that person. I resonate deeply with all the feelings. The safety of the boat, with work to be done and battles to face, but overall safety and comfort as the prevailing theme. 

And then the wave.
The sinking.
The shock and confusion.
The darkness...so very dark.
The crushing pressure on my chest.
The gasping, the flailing, the struggling.

Most of all, I resonate with the BOOM of rock bottom. And what follows. The terror that becomes inability to fight anymore, that becomes curled-into-a-ball acceptance, eyes tightly shut, waiting for the pain to end, one way or another. 

I recall the moment when I realized that, despite the fact I was unable to catch a breath...I hadn't drowned. Despite the surety that my broken, no...my SHATTERED heart would simply be unable to continue beating...still the beat, beat, beat sounded in my ears.

And when I finally realized that it was the Rock beneath me that was breathing for me, and it was His heart that was beating in my chest...oh, the sweet relief.

In my vision, the person wasn't saved from the depths. In fact, it ended with them still on the bottom of the ocean, curled into a ball, eyes tightly shut, pressure crushing them, pain consuming them.

But...there was breath, and there was a beating heart.

And the word from the Lord is this, for us all: WHEN the wave, the killer wave we never see coming, crashes over us and knocks us out of our boat, and we sink, hard and fast, to the the very bottom of the darkest place we have ever been...WHEN we are torn between wanting to get out as fast as we can and just shutting our eyes and waiting for it to kill us...WHEN we flail and strike against the pain...WHEN we accept it and decide to just allow the depths to crush us...WHEN we hit the rocky bottom, and believe with absolute certainty that this is the worst place we have ever been and we will NEVER escape...

It's there, its RIGHT THERE, that we are closer to the Air, to the Heartbeat, to the Light, than we have ever been before.

But we have to sink to find it. 

Can we? Will we? Dare we curl up on the bottom of the ocean and let our spirits cry out with words we cannot find...and then wait, listening, for the beating of His heart, the breath from His Spirit, to meet us there?

Oh, God, let it be so in our lives. When all hope is lost, when all strength has failed, when we are drowning slowly and terrifyingly...

Thank You that You are breathing for us, and living in us, and that Bedrock is the safest place to be.

I don't know who all this vision is meant for, only that it ministers to ME today, and I hope it does to someone else as well.