Monday, December 17, 2012

Untitled

It's just two days later.  Two days after the event that should have stopped the world.  She, my oldest granddaughter*, is about to sing on stage at church for the second time in her young life.

I keep remembering Thursday afternoon, how she and I practiced her song, watching other kids perform the same one via youtube videos.

Thursday night, how I woke up all through the night feeling afflicted with worry for the coming grandson.  "Why? Why can't I stop worrying about the child," I asked Him in the wee, bleak hours.

Friday morning when she rearranged the nativity, leaving Jesus alone in the manger, turning away the momma and daddy and shepherd and wise men.  At my inquiry, she told me that they were all watching the tv.  Two hours later, I heard the news.

The news that should have stopped the world.

I have not the vocabulary to express the pain and grief I feel.  I'll borrow Leonard Cohen's "it's a cold and it's a broken hallelujah."  Mine is a broken hallelujah.

With deep gratitude to these who can compose themselves, I share:

Advent: Prepare, Jay Kim "Our words do little good and our greatest efforts to comfort fall so far short. But we must give what we can. We must send our love and pray our prayers, from up close and afar, because this is what we have to give and to not give it would be to coalesce into the destructive powers of apathy."

Anger, grief, and love. Feelings (not thoughts!) on a tragedy, Margaret Felice  "I love you, amazing, broken world, and lament that I cannot love you back into wholeness."

The Truth About Sandy Hook: Where Is God When Bad Things Happen?, Ann Voskamp  "Could we sit in hushed silence, hold hands in this vigil, hang together in this suffering solidarity? What if we wordlessly groaned this prayer that Cain would stop killing Abel, that Rachel wouldn’t refuse comfort, Rachel in Ramah, weeping for her children here no more."

When Parents Have Nightmares, Lisa-Jo Baker  "We are the Sunday morning, eyes still swolen from weeping people."

It's Sunday morning
and this baby is supposed to sing
and I am prickly with my old fear.
 
What if something happens to her?

It has required my vigilance, my obedience, my reliance on everything He is in order to push through these last two days.
  
His presence. 
His strength. 
His promise of the peace that is to come.

There was an interlude on the way to the church when she, out of the blue, decided that she didn't want to be on stage.  At this, I had to call her momma.  Her momma had to be the strength in that moment, convincing the baby that she did, in fact, want to be on stage, and convincing the meemee that everything would, in fact, be okay.

It is some deep part of me that wishes the world could stop, would stop, even if but for a moment.  I want the world to look at Newtown, to see every baby's face, to hear every hero's name.  If but only for a moment, I wish that every one of us could carry, would carry, the unimaginable burden of grief felt by those left behind.

But the world does not stop, cannot stop.





And so this child,
she leads me on.

 













*I am grateful for both of my granddaughters and my coming grandson and for all the ways that I am blessed and taught by each of them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Faith Without Works

As I told it in A Watery Grave, I had to start with a new Bible some time back.  The Book that is gone from me had so many things that seemed to matter so much:  notes from loved ones, dried flowers, pictures.  But what I might have missed the most, at least for a while, were my highlights and personal notes about the Scriptures themselves.

It was so much easier when I could just flip quickly through my pages and come to precisely the verse I wanted ~ because I'd already done the work.  The highlighting, the underlining work, that is.

But this Book is organic and its work is never done.  It lives and breathes and has the power to speak something different to us each time we read it.  "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart." Hebrews 4:12 (NIV)

As I have been reading the book of James again, it's difficult to imagine that I hadn't highlighted all of James in my previous Bible.  However, while it's all so penetrating and I could as easily highlight the whole thing, particularly as I've come to the "faith without works" passage, there are but two words that have pierced me this morning.

Don't ya know?

That's how I've known the verse all these years...'Don't ya know that faith without works is dead?' (my paraphrase.)

But that's not what it says.

That's certainly not what it said to me this morning.

James 2:20 says,
"But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?" (NKJ)

Don't ya want to know?
Don't ya want to seek until you find it?
Don't ya want to work until you grasp it?

Obviously, I could have written an entire treatise about the message and meaning of "faith without works," but, before I can understand any of what He's saying to me, I have to want to understand. 




Thank You, Lord, for speaking to me this morning.  I pray that I will always want to hear You.  And I pray the same for any who read these words.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Son Is Coming

We're expecting the third g'baby this month.

That's right ~ it isn't right. 
I'm really only just now old enough to have kids (I keep telling myself.)

Anyhow, this is a Girl Family.  I come from a mom and one sister*.  I had two daughters.  My husband comes from a mom and three sisters*.  He had a daughter.  (We're blended, obviously.)  Two of our daughters had daughters.  Our dog is a girl.  And while our cat is a boy, we tease him as we do my husband, noting that they both like chic flicks and have a peculiar sense of fashion.**

Girl. Family.

But this third girl's about to give us a boy.

I have marveled about this since seeing the dingle dangle at the first ultrasound screening. (And thank you, special friend, for that form of reference.)  What?  What are we supposed to do with a boy child?!

Ohhh, I'll learn and I had what I believe was one of my first teachable moments this morning.  As my daughter sat next to me in church, belly big and low, I caught myself thinking, "Oh man, what if this kid comes early?  What would I do if he came this week?  I have work, so much to do."

And then we lit the first candle of Advent.  And it hit me that

he is coming
and
I am wondering how to make time for him.

"The Gospel of John speaks of Christ as the true light coming into the world. In commemoration of that coming, we light candles for the four weeks leading to Christmas and reflect on the coming of Christ. It is significant that the church has always used that language—the coming of Christ—because it speaks to a deep truth.
Christ is coming. Christ is always coming,
always entering a troubled world, a wounded heart. And so we light the first candle, the candle of hope, and dare to express our longing for peace, for healing, and the well-being of all creation." processandfaith.org

He is coming
and
I am having to make time for Him?

me, my youngest girl, my mom

It cannot be overlooked that our family's first boy child is due on December 26th, that we await his arrival during what is already the great season of anticipation and wonder.

These are good tidings of great joy.
A son is coming.
The Son is coming.

"Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
Luke 2:14

Let our haste be made toward the manger. 
Let our eyes be fixed on the wonder of His coming.
No other earthly thing will bring such joy as this.
Glory to God in the highest.



One account of Jesus's birth can be found here, in Luke 2:1-21.


*My husband and I both had the benefit of relationships with our fathers, but for different reasons, these are the best descriptions of our first families.

**My husband is the man.  Just sayin'.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Thanksgiving*

For days and days, I've been watching as my friends post the things for which they're thankful.  I love** every post and love this whole idea, this practice of daily seeking and speaking out those ways in which our lives are blessed. 

And yet I've not participated.  I think that I thought somehow that I'd make some kind of statement by not making any statement.  You know, "I'm grateful Every Day, dont'cha know?!"

I'm still this plain ridiculous sometimes.  Will I ever stop embarrassing myself this way?!

However, strangely, in an entirely different vein of thought - or so I thought - I recently had one of the clearest realizations of my entire life and for this - the realization and the realized thing - I am thankful.  Immeasurably thankful.

Sometimes I wonder why I do this, write these words, tell these things to ... that's just it.  Does anybody read this?  Does anybody care?

Would you believe these questions really don't matter to me?

What I really want is to make a difference, a positive difference, in other lives.  I want to share the joy and hope I've found in Jesus Christ in such a way that others will want to know Him too. 

I don't know what purpose this thing serves, who reads it, if it lights a path.  But I keep writing because I have faith.

I've been intrigued by some of the big life questions:
"Why would a loving God allow suffering?"
"Why wasn't my prayer answered?"
"What about the kid in the Amazon who's never heard the gospel?"
"What about the scientific evidence that supports ___ or ___?"

But there's never been a question to which I've required the answer in order to know that He is there.  God is alive.  He is present.  He loves me.  He loves me so much that He manifested Himself in the person of Jesus Christ to walk this planet, to suffer and die and rise again so that the penalty for my human depravity would be paid and that I might have from now into the never-ending blue of heaven to spend with Him.

I have had this faith for all of my life.  That's not to say that I haven't struggled with things or that I haven't been angry with God or that I've never tried to ignore Him.  It's that there's never, ever been a portion of my life that was not measured against Him - because I have always known Him to be there.

And oh my, God, how great a gift!  How many times have I read,

"There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other. To one person the Spirit gives the ability to give wise advice; to another the same Spirit gives a message of special knowledge. The same Spirit gives great faith to another, and to someone else the one Spirit gives the gift of healing. He gives one person the power to perform miracles, and another the ability to prophesy. He gives someone else the ability to discern whether a message is from the Spirit of God or from another spirit. Still another person is given the ability to speak in unknown languages, while another is given the ability to interpret what is being said. It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have." 1 Corinthians 12:4-11 (NIV)

without realizing that I have been given a very specific gift, by the Holy Spirit Himself, and for a purpose?

Now I'll be honest here and tell ya...I might have picked healing, or miracles, or prophesying*** - something that would seem immediately and obviously and magnificently powerful and world-difference-making.

But then the Amplified Bible calls it a "wonder-working" faith.

There have been moments since my epiphany that I've felt the pang of guilt.  In this very moment, for instance, I feel great sadness for those who wrestle with those same and other questions and who need to have answers.  Maybe God will someday give me wisdom or knowledge so that I can help with resolutions.  Til then, I pray that my words demonstrate the kind of peace that is attainable through communion with God.  And I have faith that this thing has a purpose, that He will somehow use these words for His own kind of wonder-working.  And that's all I need to know and for that, I am immeasurably thankful.


*so two posts are named the same.

**we water down and misuse this word but that's for another time.
***He equips and gifts as necessary and that can change but that's also for another time.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Mighty

I "got saved" (a phrase still too church-y ) when I was a child but I didn’t understand what that meant, didn’t understand salvation until many years later, as an adult.

There’s this verse, Romans 5:8, that says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Or in other words, God says, "I loved you at your darkest."

I’ve seen a lot of darkness since I was a child. I’ve had the great misfortune of having to witness my own dark side at work. And I’ve been down in a pit so deep and so dark that I’d lost all hope of ever seeing daylight again. I never could have dug myself out of such a place. But God...

God made all of this ~ everything ~ and that’s pretty powerful. And He made me too. And He loves me - in spite of everything I’ve ever done, in spite of everything I ever will do.  And, well, that’s pretty powerful too.

Left to my own devices, I would just keep digging. I would eventually cover myself over in my hole. Left to myself, I would destroy myself. But God is mightier than my will. He is stronger than my self-destructive nature. His love for me is more vast in every direction than the deepest pit of hell and He sent Jesus to raise me up out of it. All I have to do - all any of us ever have to do - is just reach up and accept His offer.

I was given a very special opportunity to speak these words into a microphone along with a couple of my very most favorite friends.  To See this message rather than just read it, click: Mighty To Save.

"The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.
And for those who lived in the land where death casts its shadow, a light has shined."

Matthew 4:16 (NLT)






Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Thanksgiving

thank You for deep, unsettling conviction.
thank You for thinking me "grown enough" to figure it out for myself.
thank You for waiting patiently while i dilly dally, for reminding me when i procrastinate.
thank You for making things clear to me when i am too stubborn to submit.
thank You for never leaving me where i'm at and for never failing me ...
... no matter how many times i may fail You.
thank You for loving me that much.

and please, God, help me to remember these words when i start another day. help me to remember them an hour from now, moments from now, when the world and my own stubborn self would have me cast my gaze on other things rather than recognize and be grateful for Your endless Presence in and will for my life. amen.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Share Much?

 
Marriage.  That's the subject most sensitive to me and my references to it almost always, always send me into meditation.

Specifically, I mean that every time I share publicly in any way regarding my marriage, my mind wanders off then to think about all the folks who struggle with their own, or whose marriages have ended for one reason or another, or who want to be married but aren't.  The list does go on.

But other lists are developing.  For instance,

  • When I talk about my kids or grand-kids, I wonder if I'm hurting someone who wants them but doesn't or can't have them.
  • When I make references to my work, am I hurting those who can't find work?
  • If I'm friends with this person, am I offending that person?
  • If I'm sharing about my struggles with this or that, I wonder if I'm triggering someone else's struggle.
  • When I share my accomplishments, such as with my recently recovered habit of walking, does it cause someone to be sad because they can't do the same?
  • When I tease about rice krispie treats and cookies, am I causing someone to be distracted?

To be clear, nobody's ever made any such complaints to me.  But I do wonder...

And yet, I keep talking.  As I hoped to imply (at least in some part) in my last post, I do truly, whole-heartedly believe that there is purpose in my sharing.  But am I over-sharing? ...

Tucked away in my secret, "Must Read Later" file, are several recently discovered articles concerning the topic of sharing too much, talking too much, networking too much.  I'm holding off.  I'm concerned that the level of conviction I find there will require me to alter my very comfortable lifestyle and who really wants to do that?  I mean.

One of these mornings, though, and probably by accident - because that's usually the way I do the most beneficial things I do - I'm going to read them.  What will come after, who knows?  Maybe I'll finally make a list, draw up some kind of schedule which only permits me to Facebook once per week or from 7:01-7:18 a.m., Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday.  Who knows?

But just in case my abundant sharing may be drawing near its conclusion, I want to put out these last few too personal bits of information.

I never, ever, ever, ever want to hurt or harm someone.  I'm drawing up now from the deep deeps:  this has been a looming fear over me for a very long time.  What you see of me, how you know me has been shaped and fashioned around my fear that I may be a source of pain to someone else.

By contrast, however, and causing pain (and genuine confusion) to my own self is the plain fact that I happen to be one of the most selfish, most self-centered people that I know.  Case in point, I often say what it is I want to say regardless of any other lingering thought or conviction I may have.

I am ever hopeful for the resolution to this bit of human-ness.

Maybe that morning will come when I'll shut it all down and have nothing more to say - or I'll have it to say but I'll keep it because I will have learned something new.  Maybe I will have found that subtle nuance between living out loud and living loudly, that perfect spot where I can fling the doors open wide - but without squishing you against the wall in the process. 

Ever hopeful.  Evvvv-er hopeful.


 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

You Can't Write If You Can't Relate

I’ve told this one before, but not often. Not with much clarity. As I sit here now, tapping finger to chin, wondering why it’s been archived, I think I deliberately edited it out for the purpose of character development.

If my mom reads this, it might be the first she’s ever heard of it. If so, I’m sorry, Momma. I really hate it when my kids do that to me - tell me years later about the things that could/should have killed them. (Do I really need to know?)

Anyhow,

When I was twelve years old, I became the fourth to join a circle of girls. Good girls. Church-going girls. In fact, it was they who sought me in my "lost-ness" and got me a’goin’ to church. It was in their presence that I met Jesus, that I was baptized. For as much of my life before that time as I can recall, I’d had no place. I fit nowhere. I was like no-one. I was awkward in every respect and could not fake an otherwise or edge my way into any clique perimeter. Till them, that is - the church girls. They accepted me as I was and then guided me toward something better.

For a good long time (for a twelve-year-old), I was on top, having a confidence founded in Jesus and bolstered by three very good girlfriends. And then...

I was thirteen. And I met a boy.

I fought to stay my course and my friends fought alongside me, all of us knowing that I was at a very, Very important crossroads. Right choice: Jesus and blessing. Wrong choice: I was about to find out. I kissed the boy.

The days that followed with my friends grew more and more strained. How much of that was their frustration at my failure to heed their wise counsel and how much of it was their refusal to participate with the person I was becoming, I cannot be sure. But finally the day came when, sitting in our circle on the floor during class to do our group study, they would not speak to me at all. They would not return any words to me.

So I fished around in my book bag and found a bottle of aspirin. I tested my friends then, narrating my "exit from this miserable world," one word, one aspirin at a time, till the bottle was empty.

It’s really weird the things I remember after that. The bell in the hallway after I’d called my dad to pick me up, how my hair seemed to stand up and vibrate with the ringing of it. The way that I stayed focused on the top jamb of my bedroom door more clearly than most any other thing through the remainder of that afternoon. All I could think was that I’d be moving through it as I passed from this life to the next.

Aside from the friends who watched me do it, no-one else knew about the aspirin.

It’s why I can’t take aspirin today...it still makes me sick all over again.

Could the aspirin actually have killed me? I don’t know and won’t look into it because what matters is that, as a naive’, confused, scared thirteen-year-old girl, I thought I was going to die. What’s worse, I’d wanted to. I’d try to implement it.

Can I say that what's even worse is that my friends watched me do it?

Because I should say right here that this is not intended to be a poor reflection on my friends’ characters. They were also thirteen and did their best as well. I know this. I also know that I probably don’t always remember myself entirely and I was entering a season of change. I’m not sure how much patience they’d had to practice with me before that day.

I also know what it’s like to feel responsible when someone commits suicide.

There are (at least) two sides to this and I’ve sat on (at least) two of them. I’ve been the girl miserable, hurting, wishing to exit, finding no-one who seems to care quite enough. I’ve also been the girl watching the train wreck, trying desperately to halt its progress, finding myself inadequate.

I’ve been the outsider, the dark blot. I’ve also been the church girl.

I wouldn’t be here, right now, writing this, if it weren’t for those three girls who saw me where I was, who brought me in, who did their best. That has greater measure to me than their human inadequacy in a terribly difficult time.

It sure does seem as if this should make me a better seer. Too often, though, in my talking and telling, I’m failing to see and hear others in their own terribly difficult times.

To be entirely honest, there are times that I do see, I do hear, and yet fail to know how or am afraid to try to intervene. Sometimes, I am just afraid of the experience. This has been of deep conviction to me these recent days.

As I’ve written this, I’ve counted, cringing, my use of "I, I’ve, I’m, my, and me." I wholly, sincerely believe that relating what I know is (at least a part of) my purpose. I’ve been prompted to write this. I’ve listened and I’ve responded in the way that I’m sure I’ve been called.

And then I tried to make this be about that ~ tried to use this story to resolve my shortcomings ~ tried to somehow explain away my failures by means of my experience. But LISTEN. That is next. That is from here on out. Whatever is my issue, I promise that I’m trying to work it out.


And see what I just did?
I made it about myself again. 
Soy un perdedor, baby. 
But thank God
I'm still trying to work it out.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Unto The Hills

Have I ever told you the story of how I came to be here ~ on this street, in this house, I mean? It’s a favorite and I feel as if I tell it or at least refer to it once a week.  In any case, for prosperity’s sake, I’m recording it here as well as expanding some of my insight.

A few years back now, between the sudden downward slope of the housing market (which hit us from all angles, being that my husband owns a stucco company) and the (husband’s) heart attack, Terry said, "I think we need to sell our house."

These were piercing words to me at the time. Not only did they come in the midst of my dad’s final year (as he contended with terminal lung cancer), they mixed in with my pre-existing fears about the emerging market conditions and would become the prompt of recurring discussion, even as more and more trial and trouble stirred at our feet.

This was our home, our hideaway, our refuge from the rest of it. We’d drawn the plans; we’d literally labored in its construction; we’d blended our families into it; we’d weathered so many storms there already. It was my art, my masterpiece, as I’d taken such time and care in decorating every last niche. And God was telling my husband that we needed to sell it?!

God was telling my husband that we needed to sell the house.

Our talks went on for about a year, surfacing now and then amongst the many other waves of deep distress roiling 'round us. Each of us, it turns out, was praying for God to change the other’s heart about whether or not we should leave that place...until the strangest and most accidental thing occurred. I can just about see, as through a dim haze, that moment when I prayed - and quite before I realized what I was doing, mind you - that rather than change Terry’s heart, God would change mine. I asked God to make me into the supportive and trusting wife that my husband deserved - even if it meant leaving my home.

Oh, that I could tell you here and now about all that God did to get us from there to here! And I mean the practical, legitimate, tangible ways that He paved the road before us. I think, however, it will be necessary to keep some back for later tale-telling. The summary: we live now in a house that’s nearly half the size, with ceilings one foot lower, having central heat and air but lacking all those other centrals, having not a scrap of granite in the place ~ a fairly rectangular house on a street that is not a cul-de-sac in one of the town’s older neighborhoods which has likely never had a set of covenants.*

Let me be abundantly, screamingly clear: I feel no sad longing for that former place. I am grateful, to be sure, for God’s provision and for all that He taught and allowed us to accomplish by our being there. But it is here - where pirouetting in my living room, I can see every far reaching corner of this home - that I am overcome by emotion.  My joy, satisfaction, gratitude, comfort, and peace in this place, this home which God has provided - all are beyond measure.

But this is where new insight begins to emerge.

As sparkly as I may have looked had I just packed up at Terry’s first impartation, I halted his progress at Haran.  (See Genesis 11:31-12:3)  I have to tell you plainly that I have no regrets about it all. Terry and I are both aware of God’s working even through my stubborn interference with His plan and we’re grateful for every bit and measure of the whole experience.

The question I must ask myself is, "have we yet reached God’s promised land for us?"

I’m not implying so much that we may be called to move again, though I also can’t deny the possibility. I just don’t ever want to hold us short of His promises again. The next time that He says "Go," I want to do so more quickly, more readily, with more certainty and trust.

Our former neighborhood was an ideal terrain for walkers. There was a wooded park at the center with trails leading out to every level street and it may have been the one thing I lingered over when leaving. It’s taken me some time to regain my walking habit, partly for legitimate reason and partly for sorry excuse - but I am back at it, at last. And I measure my morning walks now, not by miles or by steps, but by hills.

There is a street adjacent to my own and from which quite a number of steeply inclined cul-de-sacs extend. I started my walks by going just around the block but now every couple of weeks, I add a hill. Increasingly, my legs are stronger, my endurance is greater, my confidence is improved, and my ambition is to go further and higher.

photo source:  ninbra.tumblr
This is how it works as we follow God into His promises, how we go more readily at each call. One step and then another and then at a quicker pace. Lack you any certainty that you can make it to the promised land, look up into those hills. From there your Help shall surely come.




*We are blessed beyond measure.  I pray never to forget those who live in so much lesser abodes or who may not have homes of any sort.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Dead's Dead, Baby

FREEDOM:  No More Bondage
In both Old and New Testaments, freedom refers to liberation from slavery, whether in a socio-political sense (see Joseph's imprisonment, Genesis 39:20-23), a spiritual sense (Galatians 4:21-5:15), or with regard to our mortality (Hebrews 2:15).
     Given this context, our freedom - whether political or spiritual - depends on God's initiative (Micah 6:4; Romans 8:2).  When Adam and Eve sinned, God came to them (Genesis 3:8) with the promise of freedom from sin's curse (Genesis 3:15).
     This promise was fulfilled when God sent His Son to be the Way to eternal freedom (Luke 4:18, 19).  We do not have to be slaves of sin (John 8:34), for the Truth (that is, Christ) can make us free if we will accept the price of deliverance (John 8:31, 32).  Paradoxically we are freed from sin's bondage for a purpose:  to become "slaves of God" (Romans 6:22).  We are free from the judgment of ourselves and others (Romans 5:9) and, at the same time, free for service to Him and others (Galatians 5:13, 14).  Ultimate freedom, that is, being ransomed from the slavery of sin, is vital to any understanding of redemption through the blood of Christ (Romans 6:15-23). 1

From as early as I can remember, I was raised up to call myself a Christian.  I was taught it ~ right along with my gender, race, nationality, etc., but it was in my early teens that I met Jesus for myself, and so began my personal relationship with Him.  It was peachy for a bit.

By my early twenties, life was anything but peachy and I'd become quite cynical of most everything within my sphere.  How I got to that is for other pages.  Suffice it to say, there was no shortage of encouragement to go astray.  Or, I should say, further astray. 

Chief among my sources was an author to whom I took a particular liking and who I will characterize as "liberal hippy rebel enchanter."  He shall remain otherwise unnamed.  I read - and was changed by - everything he wrote.  But there was this one book that seemed to climax in this profound sort of postulation, the essence of which was along these lines:

"If God really loves us so much, why enslave us?  If our end is either to serve Him forevermore or to burn in hell forevermore, no true freedom is to be found."

I cringe even to write that out now, but back then I bought it ~ hook, line, and sinker.

I never said, "I am an atheist," or "I hate God," (again, cringing) but I did decide to stop having a relationship with Him.  I chose to stop considering Him at all.

Years passed and here I will just point to Why I Believe In God.  One of the very first and deepest revelations that I had in those early returning days was that I had become very much a slave to my own destructive ways. 

These were, after all, the days when, just before, I'd been going to a different store every day to buy my 12-pack so that no one person would realize how much I drank.  These were the days when I would stumble to bed every night swearing that it was my last to do so - but knowing by 10 o'clock the next morning that I had to have a beer.  These were the days that I was afraid for most of my waking hours - consumed by the fear that I wouldn't be able to quit drinking.

I had the typical, accompanying lifestyle.  I smoked cigarettes, wasted money, neglected my kids - just to hit the highlights.  Any may call it what they like ... but I was living a deeply sinful lifestyle ... and I was under its rulership.

Now, I am no sage or learned scholar.  I read the Bible and I read the commentaries and the blogs and I listen to the messages about the meanings.  But what I am doing here with this space is telling you about my personal experience and I must do it with my own words.  God knows I pray to tell you rightly about the ways that God's grace and freedom work.

So here's what I've come to understand...

"God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 (NIV)

Acknowledgement of that truth is the fundamental, elemental start of it, this liberation from the life which leads to death.

"When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness.   What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death!  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life." Romans 6:20-22

"Set free from sin..."  This part, or the nuances of this part, to be quite frank, I continue to ponder.  If you know me or have read previous posts, then you know that my struggles didn't end with the drinking.  (see Live Free or Die.)  There's still much that I don't understand about my own human nature.  There's infinitely as much that I still don't comprehend about God. 

But I'm thinking on it.  And I can do so with a sense of peace and security because, "There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)

If freed from sin, then slaves to God.  But if slaves to sin, then freed from what?  To put it as simply as possible, every one of us will serve a master and we're free to choose which it will be.  The choice we make determines whether or not our freedom is everlasting.



1 The Woman's Study Bible, (Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995), page 1440

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Synchro-Intimacy

This morning's message was about the intimacy of the relationship we have with God. (Exceptional message!) After Reverend Ausley's 'Bride of Christ 101', he said, "Now, what you have to ask yourself is, 'Do I have that kind of relationship with God?'."

In perfect unison, my husband and I took deep breaths - long, deep inhale, pause at top, long exhale - all as if we were performing a syncronized water ballet.  So then we giggled and bumped each other.  Honey leaned over and said, "and that's WHY He wants [this kind of relationship.]  So that even our breathing is in sync with His."

And Now THE REST OF THE STORY...

So then we went to Sunday School and today we talked about what it means to revere God.  As we discussed the means by which we put reverence into practice, I told the above story.

Honey piped up and said, “that’s NOT what I said.”  He explained, “the first thing I said was ‘we are as one’ but when you looked puzzled, I said, ‘that’s why we breathed together, because we’re as one.  We’re in perfect unison.”

It’s the same message. 

Honey said it one way and I understood him, even if in different words - because of the intimacy of our relationship.

And it’s the same message.

Reverence of God means (a lot of things including) that every moment, every action, every breath you take is with Him in mind. “Respect, awe, regarding God as holy” means leading a life in intimate synchronicity with Him.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Watery Grave

About a year ago, a bag was stolen from my truck and thrown into the culvert around the corner from my house. The bag contained the Bible that my mother had given to me more than a decade before - the one that lit my path as I found my way back home, the one I clung to as my father passed away, the one I read through as my children struggled in their daily walks. It was My Bible, you know what I’m sayin’?

After finding the bag floating in the swamp water, my gracious and gallant husband waded out and, for nearly an hour, raked the bottom, attempting to find my Bible. He was able to retrieve all the contents of the bag and even most of what had been inside the Bible’s cover, but he could not find the book itself.

photo credit: Nancy Garbarini 2009
For a while after the event, nearly every time I drove past the culvert, I stopped and stood and stared, as if my Bible would magically rise to the top - like some scene from Camelot. I know, I know. I don’t really want a mud-soaked remnant. It’s just one of my human shortcomings - that thinking that I just need to know. Know what I’m sayin’?

I did think I’d given up the ghost finally. However, on recent walks, I’ve found myself stopping and staring long into the swamp water again, trying to discern a bit of leopard print (my Bible cover was cool like that.) Yesterday, what rose up to me was these words, "Why are you searching an empty grave?"

"Remember what He said to you while He was still here."

Got it. Got it, for real. I do know what I need to know because that Word is alive.  There is no grave that can contain it.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Just Plain Wrong

When I made the appointment, I knew that my "issue" would turn out to be a fluke.

When the xray tech asked to expedite the next appointment and as I watched the ultrasound screen, I decided that this was not going to go so well, after all.

As I waited for the results call, I convinced myself that they hadn't actually seen anything.  Between that call and waiting to see the specialist, I prepared for the worst possible news.

Waiting - again - for final test results, I changed my mind entirely and decided that there's absolutely nothing going on here.

Nothing to see here, people.  Move along.

Today, as I'm writing this (Tuesday morning), as I'm in the countdown to going back to the specialist's office for those results, what I actually do know for certain is that I've been just plain wrong about this all along.  Not about the "yes" or "no", the "do" or "don't", but about attempting to determine what is coming for me.

See, I can plan for my future.  And I can speculate, sure.  But only God knows what my future holds.

For You formed my inward parts;
You covered me in my mother’s womb.

I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Marvelous are Your works,
And that my soul knows very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the lowest parts of the earth.
Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
And in Your book they all were written,
The days fashioned for me,
When as yet there were none of them.

Psalm 139:13-16

Thank You, Lord, for your peace and provision in all seasons.  Please grant the same to any who read these words.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

This Time Tomorrow...

How can you tell about what you can't tell about?  Sometimes the ownership of your troubles belongs squarely with someone else and telling would be a trust violation.  Sometimes the answers belong, for the moment, to someone else and there's nothing but to wait and see.

But this time tomorrow, and the day after, and the day after that, I want to be found unchanged...

Having the same sense of His love for me.
The same assurance of His provision and grace.
The same certainty that He is with me through all of life's highs and lows.

And the never-ending peace that comes from knowing that, "we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellence of the power may be of God and not of us.  We are hard-pressed on every side, yet not crushed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed."  2 Corinthians 4:7-9

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

He Is My Everything

i hear, see, sense God in everything.

even in those things where i might say,
"oh, that is not from or about God," or
"that does not honor God,"
God is still the gauge.

and even in those times that i've sat in darkness,
it was the absense of His light that i perceived.

everything.
He is everything to me.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Good Behavior

This being the latest pin-sweep, I've seen it nearly every day lately and I do, in fact, get it and understand the point it's making.  But there's an iggling in my brain that compels me to question the principle so I'll just put this out here, not for contention but for consideration.

Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it." (NLT) 

So actually, my behavior does not make me a better person.  My belief (in the right thing) does, in fact, make me better, make me well - it saves me, in fact.  My behavior should demonstrate that.

The book of James, chapter two, has much to say about the relationship between behavior and faith.  My behavior will perfect my belief, as James essentially puts it.  It's not that we're done once we've made the claim.  It's just that - I humbly submit - we should be careful not to develop a works-based faith through our good behavior.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Live Free or Die

First of all, I thought this would be titled "Grateful" until I actually sat down to write it. This new title makes total sense to me now and I hope both will make sense to you when I’m done.

Second - and this is important - the stuff that I’m about to lay out here is a reflection on my own experience and is not intended as any sort of finger-pointing. I’ve tried always to be clear and forthcoming about my own inward reflection and would not have thought such a thing necessary to say except that I’ve seen much "out there" lately (reaction wise) to indicate a possible otherwise.

So now, three years ago at about this time, my husband had a heart attack, the kind commonly referred to as the widow-maker. Without making this whole thing about that experience entirely, I’ll share only this part: when the doctor who was performing the heart catheter came out to tell me that what was supposed to be a fifteen minute procedure resulting in the installation of a stint was turning out to be much more serious - "dangerous" was the word he used - and that they’d had to call in an open-heart surgeon just in case my husband’s artery blew out which would require emergency bypass surgery, and he allowed me to see my husband for just a moment before the surgeon arrived and they continued with the procedure...well, it was my husband who prayed for us. I could barely even breathe through my tears. Need I tell you how grateful I am for him?

As soon after his recovery as he was able to climb stairs again, we went away for the weekend to celebrate simply the fact that we still had such opportunity. How grateful we both were that weekend at the beach back in ‘09! How grateful we’ve tried very hard to be on every day since then. It’s a trick sometimes. I’m assuming you know what I mean. So it’s an anniversary now, an annual practice for us to spend a weekend away celebrating the life that God has given us.

This year, we threw in a couples’ massage - at 7:30, Saturday morning! (Really??!!) Later on, we would ask each other questions such as, "Are we being frivolous?" "Do we really deserve anything?" Etc., but that’s not what this is about. At least, not exactly. I’m not sure if it was the shortage of morning coffee, if it was an endorphin thing, or if it was just part of the enlightenment process but I found myself reflecting on some very unexpected things that morning.

I’ll start with massage as that’s as logical as any other place. I can’t remember the last time I had one before this time, but I used to have them regularly, and not the therapeutic kind. The indulgent, stupidly-expensive kind. I also had pedicures - either frequently or slightly less frequently. And manicures too, of course. But these were my indulgences (vanity-wise.) I had regulars too. I saw a hairdresser ev-er-y six weeks for cut, color, highlights, Coiffure (read with french accent, please.) I saw an aesthetician every five weeks because, after all, "you brush your teeth every day but still see the dentist every six months."

When looking back at my former self, I wonder how it is that all that high maintenance didn’t yield a better-looking product. That is where I find my Dorian Gray. You can paint a canvas over and over again, but the oily ugly* will eventually seep through. Thank God I have been freed from such a prison as that.

Nowadays...I "run up the road" when I have twenty minutes to spare and my (new) hairdresser can work me in for a "super-trim." I color my own hair from a box. Occasionally, I pin in highlights (but they’re usually pink.) Way less than frequently, I’ll spend an afternoon giving myself a pedicure - employing my dremel tool when necessary. I make my own facial pastes with things such as aspirin or vinegar. (Pinterest, anyone?)

How much God has changed me. How much more work He will do in me. How grateful I am.

"For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death." Romans 7:5

"O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Romans 7:24-25

"Today I have given you the choice between life and death" Deuteronomy 30:19a

I have chosen to live free in Christ rather than die in my sin. Thank God that He loves me enough to make this possible.



*As I lay there reflecting on my wasteful past, other indulgences came naturally to mind, my various addictions through the years. Alcohol, cigarettes, prescriptions, shopping, to name the doozies. Shopping has been my last and hardest addiction to beat. I say again, addiction manifests itself in all manner of ways and I do not disregard my susceptibility to establishing new addictions / addictive patterns. 

"I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me." Galatians 2:20, daily.

Or in other words, to live free I must also die to my selfish, indulgent will.  Daily.  Thank God that Jesus made the way for me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Faith Like A Potato Seed

(December 2010)

What seems like a really long time ago, though it was probably no more than two years now, a very good friend strongly urged Terry, my husband, to watch a movie called Faith Like Potatoes. At the time, he was trudging through some difficulty and she seemed certain that the movie would have a relative message for him. Since then, we have considered it many times but we’ve always settled on something else.


Yesterday - (it’s occurred to me that the "years ago"s and "yesterday"s will always be applicable time frames as God’s words for us are always relevant) after church, we stopped at the movie store. As we started to browse, Terry informed me that we had to choose carefully because he was in a state of prayerful consideration of something and didn’t want to be distracted. Truthfully, this irritated me because I totally Wanted to be distracted and this would limit my choices significantly.


We wandered apart and each of us chose a couple of movies that we’d been wanting to see for some time. As I reached the end of the ‘new releases’ and Terry was catching up to me and we were both ready to go, all of a sudden Faith Like Potatoes came to mind. Truthfully again, I hesitated to even mention it - not because I didn’t want to see it but because it didn’t seem to fit my agenda at that moment. But I did inform Terry that it was THE movie that he needed to see. It would speak to what he was dealing with. I was certain of it.


Now. I am in a Celebrate Recovery 12-Step program. I don’t like it but I’ve continued to "not like it" till I’m about halfway through. I’ve wondered many times, though, if I would reach the point that I could go no further. This last step has been that step for me - the one I can’t take. Repeatedly, I’ve stared at the latest assignment in my workbook but haven’t been able to complete it.


My Sunday routine is to go to church first and then to my CR group. During the message yesterday, my mind kept wandering off to the fact that I was about to have to tell my group that I couldn’t finish. And then I realized how specifically the message was speaking to me. Reverend Ausley was talking about miracles and the fact that NOTHING is impossible with God. He listed some things that people typically deem impossible. I heard, "a healed heart," and "a changed life" among other things.


So I went to group and said different things than I’d thought I would. I explained that I’d thought I’d finally reached that point of dropping out but that the message had just informed me differently. Further in, I stated - without really even meaning to, by the way - what I have sensed to be the great "Impossibilities" in my life. Underline "impossibilities." It was a very, very, very heart-stirring time for me. It was hard and it was why I’d wanted to be distracted later on.


So later on, we watched Faith Like Potatoes. There were many themes that were relevant and personal to me but near the end, Agnus Buchan says, "The condition for a miracle is difficulty. The condition for a Great Miracle is IMPOSSIBILITY."


Nearly two years ago, someone planted a [potato] seed in my mind. Today - TODAY - it brought harvest.



"For with God, all things are possible." Mark 10:27b

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Thank God For Answered Prayers

(Lent Devotion, 2010)

“If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you” John 15:7 (NKJ)

Through the years, one of my most peculiar pleasures has been to try to decipher this particular scripture. If I desire a pony, do I get a pony? Or, on a more serious note, how ‘bout a pair of this season’s hottest boots? Certainly Jesus intended for me to have loftier goals than these!

The concept of answered prayer has been beautifully illustrated in recent years by song lyrics and movie scenes. If I pray for patience, does God give me patience or an opportunity to sit it out? If I pray for courage, does God give me courage or an opportunity to do battle? If I pray for my family to be closer, how might He answer?

In the days that followed (my husband) Terry’s heart attack at the beginning of ‘09, a strange and wondrous thing was revealed to us. During the previous year, Terry had worked hard to lose some weight and, in general, had begun to take better care of himself. However, in those last few months before his heart attack, he had been praying that God would “get him back on track” as he’d started slipping back into some of his old habits.

Terry didn’t know that I had also been praying for something. In those same few months, I’d been realizing that I wasn’t always putting Terry ahead of other commitments in my life. Quite unintentionally, I’d allowed the world around us to slip in-between us. And so, I had been praying that God would help me to appreciate my husband more.

The key to John 15:7 is understanding that when Jesus is our dwelling place, what we desire is what He desires. And when you add to that, “If two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven,” (Matthew 18:19 NIV), then you can expect your prayers to be answered in a very big way ... though maybe not quite the way you expected.

Prayer: Gracious God, thank You not just for hearing our prayers, but also for answering them so generously! I pray that each of our hearts has a renewed sense of wonder for the miracle of Your Risen Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we may truly align ourselves with Your will.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Loose Lips Sink Ships

(August 2010)

Written quickly, before I work myself out of the conviction...

Quite a few years back, our church did a message series about the prayer of Jabez. For those who haven’t heard it before, 1 Chronicles 4:10 says, ‘And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!’ So God granted him what he requested.” The “big picture” lesson of the overall series, as I took it, was that we should pray to increase our sphere of influence. But there was one particular part of one particular message that turned out to be quite a life-changer for me.

Rurel, our Senior Pastor, told a story about a lady he’d known years before in some other time and church. He explained that this lady always, always knew your name. The story was relative to the meaning and importance of names, and Rurel was illustrating something that we all know is true - we feel valued when we’re called by name. I thought about his story for days and days after that and came to the very clear conclusion that I wanted to be that kind of lady. I wanted to be able to remember people by name - to illuminate for people, very personally, the value that they have and are in life.

So I prayed that I would become a name-caller and God has granted my request.

We are again in the midst of a series, a good one about “putting off the old self and putting on the new.” And this morning there was a particular part of today’s particular message that I can’t stop thinking about. Jeremy, our new Teaching Pastor, referred to the kind of people “who never say anything negative about other people.” He implied something that must be true for everyone - that we are just enamored with such people ... that we wish we were such people.

So I’ve been thinking ... I could just pray to be that kind of person. But this is where the story takes a twist. I feel some kind of reluctance - some kind of absurd hesitation about asking for such a thing! The real meditation is not about what it would mean to be a non-negative person but about why I would even hesitate to pray to become one.

Here is my conclusion: on count one, I asked God to give me something; on count two, I’m asking Him to take something from me. So I was good with the getting ... but with the giving up, maybe not so much.

Maybe I oughta be shocked by this realization. Maybe, at least, I should feel reluctant to share this information. However, I feel obligated to share this. I’ve heard too many messages, had too many conversations with friends, been corrected too many times about the need for transparency not to share it. The sad truth of the matter is that I am still clinging to my “old self” ways.

Please understand that I would not define myself by habits such as gossip, or foul language, or hateful, negative talk. But I also cannot claim an absence of these things from my life. And the clearest conviction I’m having here is that, when I get a hold of something upsetting, I’m like Gollum with his precious ring, turning it over and over and over - unwilling to let it go, albeit my ultimate demise.

I’m talking about asking God to make me into the kind of person who never says a negative thing about another person. The kind of person who never says a negative thing. The kind of person who does not “let any unwholesome talk come out of [her mouth], but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29 (NLT)


“If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?” 1 John 4:20 (NKJ.) If I call one person by name, claiming this as an example of God’s love, but speak harshly about someone else, do I really carry the Truth?

“The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” Matthew 12:34b (NASB) To become a wholly wholesome-speaking person, the change must begin in my heart. I will pray for God to change my heart.

And for my own will to die, as I must pray every morning that I wake up, remembering that “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20 (NKJ)

What If I'm Wrong?

(May 21, 2011)

Okay, I’ve gotta write this very quickly. I hear that time is running out so I wanna play with my g'baby and clean the house before Jesus gets here.

But seriously.

One of my pastors likes to employ a certain, simple kind of logic when he’s presenting the questions that matter in life. You know, when you think, "there’s no God," or "the Bible is just a fairytale," or "it doesn’t matter as long as I’m a good person." Logic asks, "what if you’re wrong?" So I’ve been thinking...

I do not believe the rapture will occur today at 6:00. But what if I’m wrong?

If I believed it, how would my day look? Would I really be acting criminal (as I’ve seen suggested via certain social enviro’s)? Or might I concentrate on expressing genuine love and care for my fellow humankind? Picture it for a second. For real.

If I believed it, then it shouldn’t have been just today but every preceding day that I lived this way. Have I done it? It may be time to switch some gears...assuming that time enough remains.

And I’ve been thinking on a few other ‘what ifs.’ What if what’s-his-face is not entirely wrong? What if there’s some other (presently undeciphered) event (code) he’s uncovered? Just sayin’. After all, Jesus filled something like a gazillion of the Old Testament prophesies. Underline: prophesies. It was right there in the Book that the big dogs knew so, so well...but they flat overlooked Him. It’s in the hindsight that we’re saying, "well, duh."

At the end of it all, (wink, wink) somebody has to be right and somebody has to be wrong. Right?

Humility

I'm speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it's important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what He does for us, not by what we are and what we do for Him.  Romans 12:3 (MSG)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Don't Call Me Daughter

alone... listless...
breakfast table in an otherwise empty room
young girl... violence... center of her own attention
mother reads aloud, child tries to understand it
tries to make her proud

the shades go down, it's in her head
painted room... can't deny there's something wrong...

don't call me daughter, not fit to
the picture kept will remind me
don't call me daughter, not fit to
the picture kept will remind me
don't call me...

she holds the hand that holds her down
she will... rise above...

don't call me daughter, not fit to
the picture kept will remind me
don't call me...

the shades go down
the shades go, go, go...



These are the lyrics to Pearl Jam’s Daughter, originally released in 1993.

If it’s playing, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I stop and join the battle cry.

It’s been an anthem since the very first time I heard it. Don’t you call me daughter.

It’s not about my mother. Or about my father.

It’s the retaliatory word-strike against the blows that life has dealt and the oppressions that I’ve known, whatever their source. These are the words I’ve never mustered on my own.

Don’t you do it.

At church this morning, I was reminded of the woman who was sick for twelve years and was finally healed by touching Jesus’s robe. Jesus said, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering." Mark 5:34 (NIV)

I know this story.  I’ve read / heard it countless times.  But when my pastor said, "Do you know this is the only time that Jesus ever called someone "daughter"?" ...

I stopped.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

I Am His Beloved?

(December 2010)

I’m just gonna skip all the artsy-fartsy footwork and tell you straight up what’s happening.

First, you need to know that I’m a hater. I don’t hate you, or the Muslims, or the wife-beaters. It is my own pitiful self whom I am happy to loathe. It’s been my make-up, my m.o. from as far back as I can remember. "Jesus loves me." (does He?) "This I know." (are you sure?)

Tic toc. Tic toc, the pendulum swings.

When I was a child, I had a recurring dream (tune in a little Pink Floyd here,) difficult to describe. In it, for what seemed like endless hours, I bounced back and forth from the ceiling of my bedroom toward the window on the opposite wall. The only thing I’ve ever understood about that dream - and I know it for certain - is that I wanted to escape that room ... but I never did. The last time I had the dream, in fact, a darkness covered the window, possibly meaning I was trapped forever.

Welcome to my own prison. These words are my diary screaming out loud. And all that jazz. In here, I am a trained killer. I am Gollum, Dorian Gray, Dick Whitman. I am amanda. I am His Beloved?

Maybe this is a little bit artsy-fartsy after all. Maybe it’s something else entirely.

Here are the guts of the story, the part you’re no doubt waiting for me to get around to. At some point in the recent past, it came to mind that I wanted to have "Beloved" tattooed on my wrist. I’ll just stream out my line of thought here: 1)(I have believed since I was young that) my name means "Beloved"; 2)Look at Biblical history. When God claims someone, He changes their name. 3)"and another will write on his hand, ‘belonging to the LORD’" Isaiah 44:5 (NASB); 4)I have hoped that a constant, visual reminder might quiet the negative thoughts.

It’s a strategic battle-plan, really. I will show the enemy of my soul that I am, in fact, worthy of God’s love and that He has claimed me. (are you sure?)

Now this mustn’t become some kind of tattoo business. "Ohhh, that girl’s goin’ to hell if she writes on herself," business. I already have a tattoo. It is, in a sense, an altar to God, marking the end of one treacherous journey. It is also a message: we all, "within the family" and "outside the family," are on a level playing field. It also says that I won’t go to hell for having it.

Do y’all know there’s a Bible story about an angel coming to answer one of Daniel’s prayers but, as the angel explains, he’d had to fight for three weeks against a dark angel in order to reach Daniel? (I’m re-telling a re-telling by John Eldredge as told in Waking the Dead and you need to employ all your senses here.) In essence, the bad guy had placed a force-field around an entire region and it took real warfare to break through it. Dude. The bad guys have force-fields.

The bad guys actually employ all sorts of tactics and, particularly as I’ve journeyed through the 12-step valley, the battles have been especially gruesome. I’ll spare you the violence and share a few of the victories.

I listened to Waking The Dead on cd as I traveled recently. At one point, John Eldredge told a story about his desire to know that God had called him to something, that he had been created to be and do something special. In his telling, John said, "God had His own name for me and I wanted to know what it was, the name elemental to my being." (I paraphrase.) I stopped the cd, amazed and wondering if God was communicating with me somehow. We (Terry and I) happened to be at a stopping point so, as I wandered for a few moments, I was thinking, "Okay. God must be telling me that He has, in fact, claimed me. He has a name for me. ... But it can’t be ‘Beloved.’ That’s just what I want it to be. That’s just me trying to impose my personal desires over God’s will." I resolved myself to the usual state of being. But when I re-started the cd, John said, "As I hiked the trail and pondered the possibility, I decided that the name God had for me could not possibly be [what he had hoped.] That’s just me trying to impose my personal desires..." I paraphrase again but it was a dead-on hit. John went on to tell how God set him undeniably straight. (Buy the book.) I divulged a little of it to Terry then. Through tears, of course.

Now I’ve got to have it straight with God before I go inking myself. But I must also have Terry’s permission and blessing, something I’ve been without since that first tattoo, mind you. Recently, however, perhaps feeling a little of the Christmas spirit, he told me that he would drive me to a parlor, sit with me to watch, and even pay for me to have "Beloved" tattooed on my wrist. I couldn’t even actually respond to his offer. I had to hang my head in resignation as I left the room. I was back to toc.

Several days later, I logged onto Facebook to see a picture of a friend’s wrist with a new tattoo ... an altar to God, I believe. A message to others, certainly. That’s when I called Terry at work to tell him that I couldn’t get my tattoo ... but I didn’t tell him why. How do you tell people - especially people who love you, whom you love in return - that you are not certain that God finds you worthy of His love?

After making that call, it occurred to me that I should listen to the Christmas eve sermon that I’d missed. There were a couple to choose from so I chose randomly. That message, the one I blindly chose, ended with a story about a man who changes his name as he answers God’s call on his life. As he ponders whether the name he chooses is the correct one, (I’m editing and inferring a little), he asks, "did he (the one whose name he’s chosen) really love me?" The response he’s given is, "What more could he possibly have done to demonstrate his love for you?"

I don’t know if anyone actually reads this stuff or if my words just drift away into the cosmos, losing weight as they exit the earth’s atmosphere, eroding to mist in its shadow. But I woke up this morning with a compelling, soul-deep need to share all of this. So I started to write, and I reconsidered, and I re-wrote. But what I’m about to tell you - well, it changed the whole arrangement.

And just in case I don’t compose this part with enough clarity to raise your back-hairs, then I’m instructing you: after you read it, stop for a second and just trip out.

I’d been awake for only minutes this morning when pieces of this came to me, for only minutes more before I was at my computer, recording them. Back and forth I went, from quiet time to word processor. As habit, I had a peek at Facebook. Three emails but no time for that. Back and forth. More phrases. A remembered piece from another book. I should share that right away. Back to Facebook and, as I was typing, the ‘three’ changed to ‘four’ so I clicked. The "just arrived" email was from a childhood friend who began with this, "Hey! I have NO IDEA why I am writing you about this. Something just told me to!" Without reading on - because I was somewhat aware of what was happening and I was freaked out of my gourd!, I sat back and took the screen in as a whole, seeing the words "tattoo," and "God," and "dark times." I had to walk away and come back to read it. Her words were encouraging, did you guess?, and ended with, "like I said, I have NO FRIGGIN IDEA why I had to stop what I was doing and write that, but maybe now I can finish my coffee!"

What more could He possibly do?

But the real question now is this: will I share this, my burden and my blessing? ... tic... or will it remain mine, alone? ... toc...

I mourned like a dove;
My eyes fail from looking upward.
O LORD,
I am oppressed;
Undertake for me!
Isaiah 38:14