Friday, April 29, 2011

O'Dark-Thirty


Saturday morning I woke at four am. No way, not on a weekend. I rolled over, cuddled further into the blankets and closed my eyes. No use. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I gave up and crawled out from under my warm blankets. As I slipped into my robe, I noticed my husband still snuggled in and obviously sound asleep. Must be nice. I grumbled all the way out to the kitchen.

While the coffee brewed, I let the dog out and stood in the doorway. No birds, not even a moon, just lots of stars. Everything and everyone was asleep - but me. Even the dog went back to bed.

I took my coffee to my sitting room. My first sip of the hot liquid started that darn tooth to throbbing again. Well, maybe more of an ache. Since my dentist visit, my mouth felt tender, especially an old crown. It had not bothered me until he poked and prodded. Unfortunately, I also had a cracked tooth. It needed immediate attention and without dental insurance, I could only afford one crown at a time. Obviously the broken tooth had priority. The old crown would just have to wait, but when it became sensitive, I worried about an abscess.

My first reading that morning: Hosea 6: 1: In their affliction they will rise early to me…I laughed in spite of still feeling incensed at getting up at O’Dark-Thirty on a Saturday morning.

I paged to my next listed reading. My Bible fell open to Judith 10: 3.
And she washed her body, and anointed herself with the best ointment, plaited her hair, and put a bonnet on her head, and clothed herself with the garments of her gladness, and put sandals on her feet, and took her bracelets, and lilies, and earrings and rings, and adorned herself with all her ornaments.

Lilies – God’s personal promise of financial rescue...Consider the lilies of the field....Luke 12:27.

My next reading, Psalm 103 went a step further. Verse 3: Who forgives all your inequities: who heals all your diseases. Coincidence or promise?

The Gospel reading quoted Luke 18: 27: All things are possible with God.

I wanted to believe.

Later that day another interesting coincidence occurred. In a crime novel by one of my favorite suspense authors, one character tells another if you have only a little money, buy bread and then lilies. Really?

The next morning my devotions included Mark 9:23: Everything is possible for him who believes.

That evening my tooth felt less sensitive and sometime during the night it quit aching. When I awoke the next morning before the alarm - at O’Dark-Thirty - again, I didn’t complain. I hoped out of bed and hurried into my sitting room. The meditation in Streams in the Desert for that day: See how the lilies of the field grow… Matthew 6: 28.

Now, weeks later, I am still out of pain and I know the money will be there when I really need it. I have His promise.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Lion

Original photo
Easter Sunday. I've struggled with a story idea. Couldn't get it quite right. In fact, there were a lot of things I couldn't get quite right. At one time I had it all, so I thought. I was surrounded by loving family, long term marriage, slim figure, opportunities to explore and developed my talents. Then God pulled the rug out.

First, my husband passed away, family members scattered, children grew, work interfered with utilizing my talents, my health deteriorated, my weight increased. I clung to my faith, I got through it all, but I still didn't really understand. God sent messengers: rainbows, lilies, lions. I still didn't quite get it right. He sent visions. I got a little closer.

While listening to the sermon today, the picture of the Lion kept floating in front of me. This last week there have again been lions everywhere. A fellow blogger showed the picture of a carousel - a lion right in front. Recently I went to the zoo, lions were roaring. Disney has a new movie out this week featuring - Lions. Last night History International had a documentary on the Anti-Christ - parts taken from the book of Daniel. (Daniel and lions). Ironically, I chose to paint - a Lion. (This photo is the study for my painting.)

Then I knew. As clear as if He had spoken, I knew. My book, the one I had struggled with. The title, not Satan's Harlot, but Lion. The premise: A secret cult is kidnapping victims at random (based on a true story), horribly mutilating them to appease their god - (demons). Lily, a woman with supernatural gifts, is called to use these gifts and expose the cult - saving countless lives. Lions permeate her life in various forms. It isn't until she is face to face with The Godfather, the cult's leader, does  she understand the symbolism of the Lion and what it means to her, personally. Faced with horrible death as the cult's next sacrifice, she comes face to face with both Lions - Satan's raging lion and the Lion of Judah. Question is - which one wins this particular fight?

I didn't know myself, until this morning, at church. Lion. The Lion. My protector. He has been trying to tell me it isn't about me. It's about Him. Always has been. I just could not see it or understand. I kept getting in the way. My life isn't about what I accomplish, or about how many people read this, or how many people admire my art, or read my stories. It is about what He asks me to do. What He accomplishes through me.

When my painting is done, it will have far more meaning - it will be a symbol, a reminder. When things get scary, I have a Lion, gentle as a lamb, but capable of great power - fighting on my behalf.

He is risen. He reigns. I am free!

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Divine Embrace


In honor of this holy day, I have re-edited and re-posted this.

It happened on Palm Sunday.

One moment I was listening to the sermon, the next I was standing in a white void. I was not alone. Jesus was there. He opened His arms and beckoned me. I ran to Him and was enfolded into a tight embrace, my cheek pressed against His chest.

He was not spirit. He was flesh and bone. I could feel muscle, feel the strength in His arms as they held me closer. Surprisingly, His white garment wasn’t smooth, soft, as I expected. It was  coarse, like burlap, and I could feel the cloth pressing into the flesh of my cheek.  

The thought was fleeting, overpowered by a joy unlike anything I had ever experienced. I wanted nothing, needed nothing. There was no sorrow. No tears. No pain or anguish. The World didn't exist, only Him, only the ecstasy of being in His embrace. There are no words in our earthly language to describe what I felt and saw. This feeble attempt falls far short of the experience.

Unbidden and unwelcome, my past transgressions paraded against my closed eyelids. I wasn’t worthy of His embrace. How dare I touch Him? I drew back, my head hanging in shame.  

Gently, He urged me to look up. His eyes held no accusations, only unconditional love. He loved me just as I was, flawed and imperfect. It didn't matter how many times I failed, only how hard I tried. It was the effort that mattered.

The Man of Sorrows directed my gaze to my left. A huge pit of white-hot flames roared beneath black, roiling smoke. I could feel the intense heat from where I stood.

“Marie, you must walk through the flames.”

“I can’t! The pain will be too great.”

“You must, not as a punishment for your sins, but as a natural part of your life. You will endure great pain.”

Fearfully obedient, I stepped into the inferno and braced for a horrific blast of heat. I felt none. His hand reached through the flames and grasped mine. As long as I held onto Him - my faith - the flames would never burn me and He would be waiting on the other side.

The next moment I was back in my pew. I touched my cheek. The impression of His garment remained on my skin. The aura of peace, ecstasy, still lingered.

From that moment, He was with me in ways I had never experienced before. He was everywhere - in the smallest details of my life as well as the crises, the trials - the infernos. Granted, I felt a little heat now and then, but I was never burned. I set my eyes toward the other side, where He was waiting - for me

Friday, April 15, 2011

All Things Have Their Season...

All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. Ecclesiastes 3:1-2.

After twenty-six years I was leaving my home, the place where I raised my children and where I had spent nearly half of my adult life. The choice was not only voluntary, but necessary. Bill and I needed a fresh start, a home without ghosts of the past.

Sometimes late at night, when the ghosts and demons were likely to prowl through my imagination, I would see my ex-husband standing in the bedroom doorway and memories of that awful night re-played. Other times I saw Ron lying on the living room floor while the paramedics worked over him in a desperate effort to revive him. When I stood on the front deck I glimpsed images of Shannon and I sitting together in the swing.  Too many memories, too many emotional triggers.

I moved slowly from one empty room to the next, recalling all the memories, the joyful as well as the sad. Finally, with a sigh, I laid the keys on the counter, took one last look and quietly shut the door.

Outside, I walked the perimeter of the yard, staying longest beneath the Quaking Aspens. Ron and I had planted the small grove just outside the bedroom window. I told him I wanted to hear the melodious rustle of wind through their leaves while laying in bed. They would sing me to sleep at night and gently wake me in the morning. I felt a pang of melancholy. I would not see them leaf out that year. Neither would I see the orchard in bloom or pick the fruit in the fall. Someone else’s hands would till the garden and plant the seeds.

I stood on the front deck and watched the sunset. A slight breeze brushed my cheek and a Meadow Lark broke into song. It was then I realized how much the house represented everything I had lost.  By leaving I would finally let go of things past.

The first night in the new house was rough. I dreamed of my home, of the open fields and mountains, the family holidays and celebrations, of children growing. Shaking off the images, I rose and went out to the kitchen. I ignored the stacks of moving boxes and stood looking out the kitchen window while coffee brewed. The new house felt so strange, uncomfortable. Would it ever feel like home?

The sun rose, pouring bright light through the garden window and bathing the room in a warm glow. Mourning doves cooed from the rooftop and song birds chorused from seemingly every tree and bush. Humming birds flitted around the Crab Apple tree.

Bill came into the room and put his arms around me. “Good morning, Sweetheart. It is such a beautiful day let’s take a walk before we do anything else. The OC & E trail is only a few blocks from here.”

The OC& E was a converted railway stretching for a hundred miles through the heart of the city, outlying suburbs, open farmland and surrounding national forest. The section closest to our house cut through hay fields teaming with birds: meadowlarks, blackbirds, Mallard ducks, pheasants and Dove. Tall cottonwoods graced one side, mountains and old red barns lined the other - a little piece of paradise right in the middle of suburbia. I did not feel quite as homesick.

Nine years and several states later, I stood in yet another unfamiliar house, staring out the kitchen window waiting for coffee to brew. I thought about people still married to the same person, living in the same house, going to the same church, and the same job. How lucky to always be surrounded by the known, sinking roots deep within families, homes, careers and communities. I had that once, a long, long time ago, but for reasons I did not understand, God took that type of stability from me. Bill and I married late in life. We would be fortunate to celebrate our twentieth anniversary, and as to a home?  We were still searching.

Bill and I took our coffee on the back deck.

"Honey, before we start unpacking, let's take a walk. I found a foot path a couple blocks from here."

The path wound through the subdivision under huge shade trees, beside manicured lawns and flowering bushes, eventually paralleling open fields. Birds were numerous: Canadian Geese, Mallard Ducks, Black birds and so many song birds I couldn’t identify them all. We paused, holding hands.

 “So beautiful. How lucky we have been to always have something like this close by all of our homes. And, speaking of being lucky. My luckiest day was the day I found you. I think my whole life has been leading me here, to you. I only wish we could have met thirty years earlier, then we could have had more time together. But then, a life time with you would not be enough."

He kissed my hand. "And yet, I guess it doesn’t matter. Now is our time and nothing could be more perfect.”

“I have thought of that too- having more time with you, but had we met earlier it might not have been the same. Our life experiences have shaped who we are and the attitudes we have carried into this marriage. I think our appreciation for each other stems from the grief we have both known. That pain has made our relationship more precious. I never take you or any of the things we have for granted.”

At that moment I heard a Meadow Lark singing and I smiled. Even though a lot had changed, there were some things that always remained the same. The sun always rose in the east, there were always paths to walk and song birds to serenade us. Spring always followed winter, and God was always there, providing the most important things.

My devotions that morning quoted Ecclesiastes 3:15: That which has been made, the same continues: the things that shall be, have already been: and God restores that which is past.   Restores. Amen.


Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Psychic

Predators pounce once an obituary is printed. Thieves strike while the family is at the funeral. Long- lost relatives show up in time for the reading of the will, and self-proclaimed Psychics contact the dearly departed – for a price. After being widowed once before, I knew about these dangers, however, I did not expect to be approached by one of my acquaintances.


Belinda insisted. “You’ve got to come.”

“I just don't know. I don't believe in it and I am not comfortable with the idea.”

"Marie, Joan’s a Christian and this isn’t something she does for profit or for the general public. It’s a gift she shares only when inspired to do so. She tells me she has something very important to tell you. Please, come.”

“I don’t know...”

“Just come. If you are too uncomfortable, make some excuse and leave."

“Alright. Where?”

“Meet us at Marvin’s CafĂ© at noon.”

***

Joan spoke first, “I’m usually very conservative with my dress, but this morning I had my manucurist paint my nails this color. It was very important you see it. ”

Her nails were royal blue.

I shook my head. “Other than blue being my favorite color, it holds no significance."

“Trust me, it will. Now, Marie, bear with me. I see things - people who have passed on.”

My eyebrows shot up, along with my guard.

“No, no. Don’t think that way. Just listen. There are two men here with a black dog.”

The room cooled by several degrees. Joan knew about my husbands, but she did not know about Iger. Only close family knew the story behind his death.

Two days before Shannon passed away, I went out to the kennel to feed the dogs. Iger, snarling and growling, threw his body against the chain link. The whole kennel shook. Freda, our Bernese-St. Bernard mix, cowered in the corner. I stepped back and Iger settled down.

Speaking softly I re-approached the kennel. Iger again exploded into a blur of black hair, barred teeth and deafening snarls. I retreated back into the house and called our vet. The diagnosis: a brain tumor - the same disease taking my husband.

Using bits of hamburger laced with a strong sedative, the vet tranquilized Iger, then entered the kennel and administered the euthanasia.

I said nothing to Joan or Belinda.

“Marie, one man tells me he liked your hair better before. The other disagrees. He likes it the way it is.”

The chill in the room fell by several more degrees. Ron liked my hair very short and I kept it that way for the seventeen years we were married. After his death, I grew it out. Shannon preferred the longer length.

“The second man wants you to stop focusing on his mouth. He wasn’t as uncomfortable as you thought. In fact, he was rarely in his body. He spent most of the time standing by the clock.”

The world went a little hazy. Joan had never been to my home and there was no way she could know about the clock. It was an old fashioned pendulum that hung in the living room just opposite of the hospital bed.

After Shannon slipped into a coma,  the Hospice nurse had given me instructions to to swab his mouth with a moist pad several times a day. I struggled with the technique and felt I had failed. I told no one.

Reeling with uncertainty and doubt, I asked. “Is the clock is running or stopped?”

Joan did not hesitate. “Stopped.”

Granted, Joan had a fifty-fifty chance of guessing the correct answer, but I didn't believe she gussed. No one knew why the clock wasn't running. Friends and family assumed I hadn’t bothered to wind it, when in truth, the rhythmic sound of the pendulum bothered Shannon after his surgery, and he asked me to stop it.

Joan continued, “By the way, the answer to your question is 1 Peter 3:1.”

“Question? I have absolutely no idea what question you’re talking about.”

“You’ll know when you read it. Do you have a pen? I’ll write it down for you.”

I pulled my pen from my purse.

Both Belinda and Joan gasped.

“What?”

“Marie, look at the color.”

It was the same color as Joan’s nails.

I shrugged. “Shannon and I had matching pens. I don’t see any significance to that.”

“As I have already said, this color will be significant to another question you have. Now, there is one more thing...”

I didn’t want to hear anything else.

“...I’ve seen the man you are to be with. He carries a star, so I assume he’s a police officer, a very distinguished looking man of high integrity, and he is left handed.”

I didn't speak. I couldn't. Two days prior to our lunch, friends introduced me to Bill. He fit Joan’s description in every detail: a sergeant with the Sheriff’s department, left handed, a gentleman, attractive - a man highly regarded by his peers.

I went straight home from the restaurant, grabbed my bible and looked up the scripture. I did know the question.

1 Peter 3: 1:

In like manner also let wives be subject to their husbands: that if any believe not the word, they may be won without the word, by the conversation of the wives.

Thirty-five years on the police force left Bill scarred and jaded. Religion was at the top of his skeptic list. I had been wondering why God would pair me with a man who did not share my faith - if Bill was indeed the companion I would grow old with in health.

Months later, when Bill proposed, besides vowing to love and cherish me all the days of his life, he also promised to support my faith.  In turn I vowed to never to preach or push.

Now, nine years later, Bill not only supports my wish to attend Church, he asks about the sermon and the service. He admits he prays and concedes he has seen miracles since we have been together. This year’s Valentine card read: You are my Gift from God. Last night, he asked to read my blog.

As to the Royal Blue color, several months after the lunch meeting, I discovered Bill had a matching pen – three identical pens. The significance? I don' know. Neither do I know how to explain my meeting with Joan, except, God sometimes uses unusual circumstances to place emphasis on His message. Well, it works.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Child of God

The mountain of difficulties grew by the hour, nearly all of it beyond my ability to solve, but demanding my attention anyway. I wanted to hide under the covers and stay there. Of course I couldn't do that, so I prayed. I worried and I prayed some more. God answered through a vision.

I was walking toward the break room, when the words Child of God echoed through my mind. At the same moment, the world turned hazy as if a film or sheer curtain had dropped in front of me. The center of the haze sharpened, illuminated by the scene of a small child playing in a sunlit field. He ran and jumped, chased butterflies and grasshoppers. In mid flight, he was called in for lunch. Immediately he obeyed. He sat at the table and waited respectfully until the meal was served. The white plate held what looked like a single piece of baloney – no bread or condiments.

The child neither complained nor pouted. He bowed his head and said, “Thank you, Father, for providing this meal.”

The boy ate and went back out to play. He skipped and ran. He waded through streams, watched a caterpillar creep along a narrow leaf, and and tried to guess shapes in the billowy, white clouds. Birds sang and the flowers nodded in the gentle breeze. He gave no thought as to what was for supper or breakfast, or whether he had clean clothes to put on in the morning. It never occurred to him to worry if the house would be warm come winter. His Father took care of those things.

Night fell and the boy realized he had gone too far and was lost, but he didn’t panic. He didn’t cry. He sat down and waited for his Father to find him.

The vision changed. I was the child, shivering in the dark, worrying and fretting about being found.

“Come with Me.” I looked up and saw His outstretched hand.

Gently He lifted me to my feet and we walked along a steep, rough path. It was unfamiliar, not the usual way we went home. And it was dark. I couldn’t see anything ahead or behind.

“Where are we going? Aren’t we going home? What about supper? What if there are cliffs or deep holes?”

My Father tightened His grip. “Trust Me, Child. Haven’t I always taken care of you?”

“Yes.” I answered.

Back at work the nasty little voice, The Doubting Me, spoke up. “How do you know He will this time?”

How do I know? Because He told me so. As I was paging from one reading to the other during my morning devotions, my Bible fell open to Luke 12: 22-32: Do not be solicitous for what you are to wear, what you are to drink or what you are to eat….Consider the lilies of the field….Your Father in heaven knows you have need of these things.