Crossing the Desert

My efforts at storytelling lately have been strained, even nonexistent. I know the Author of my stories has not changed or gone away. I only know that my own well of creativity has dried up and I am like the dry bones that Ezekiel saw in the desert. dry-bones-live

Sometimes we need to go through a desert to reach the land of milk and honey. That doesn’t mean that we stop searching for nourishment or that we lay down and weep until the dry bones become dust. No. The Giver of Life is still walking beside us, whether we feel him or not. My goal is to keep walking, keep seeking him, keep following him until it is time to cross the river to the land of Promise.

In seeking him, I have been reading others words and stories. The book I am reading now contains the story of the Israelites as they prepare to leave Egypt, bondage and the life they have always known. Before them is the harshness of the desert. Although it happened many thousands of years ago, it is still the story of my today. I need to find new ways to commune with my God. I need to deepen my faith and intensify my search, not because my God had gone anywhere, but because I have lost sight of the one who Loves me.

As I read, seek, and stumble my way across my own desert, I will choose to trust that My God, the God of Issac, Abraham, and Joseph, and the God of John, Peter, and Paul, will not leave me. Instead, he will see me through the valley of dry bones and lead me to the mountain top of his blessing.

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Now I See

I love fall. I think it is my favorite time of year. My love affair with Autumn probably got its start because my birthday is in fall. All those years of anticipating parties, presents and cake affected my mind. Now, even when I can’t say I look forward to that proof that I am no longer young, I still love fall. Now it has more to do with clear, crisp days, bright colors and frosty nights.

Sometimes I stand outside in the warm golden sun, and wonder what it would be like to not see the glories of the changing seasons. What if we could not see the faces of our loved ones, the obstacles on a crowded street? Those questions and a hundred more led me to write the story of Bartimaeus.

I drew in a deep, spice-scented breath and took a step, then another, stepping wide to miss the open drain. Hadar’s hand slipped a bit, but he tightened his grip and held on.
The clamor of the market was disorienting. I could barely hear the buzzing echo but I continued to shuffle forward. No longer sheltered by the wall, people brushed against me on all sides. With every step, my heart pounded harder. I held my hands out before me, hoping to encounter anything that might help me find the way to safety. All I could feel was the shifting wall of people. My fingers touched rough material and smooth skin. A strong hand grabbed my own and twisted.
“Watch it, old man.” The deep voice snarled above me. “Are you trying to steal from me? Trying to take my purse?” Another hand gripped my throat. Hard calluses scraped against my skin as a strong hand lifted me off my feet. I gasped for air, clawing at the hand that held me.
“Bartimaeus, where are you? Don’t leave me!” Hadar sounded terrified, but I could not offer comfort. My feet twitched as I dangled. The man holding me aloft dropped me. I collapsed to the cobbled street and lay gagging, trying to force my bruised throat to work.
“You are fortunate that I don’t want blood on my new robe, thief, or you would be dead. If I ever see you again, it will be the last time. Now go.” Something hit me in the ribs, further hampering my efforts to breathe. Small hands helped me to my feet. Hadar sobbed quietly in my ear as we stumbled a few steps. Laughter broke out around us and we fell to the ground again.
“Come on, thief, try to take my purse.” A sandaled foot connected to my hip, agony stabbed down my leg. More blows fell; I couldn’t tell if they were from hands or feet. I huddled on the ground trying to protect my head and belly from the blows. Dimly, I heard the sounds of a wounded animal whimpering. The sounds came from me.
“Stop, he is not a thief. We are trying to get to the gate.” Hadar was still there his voice shrill and scared. I wanted to tell him to run and hide lest they turn on him next. How was the boy to find a safe spot? Was anywhere safe?
“To the gate? A beggar then!”
“Come on, beggar, are you hungry? Here’s some fruit for you,” something wet splatted on my head, the juice running down into my ear. The smell of overripe melon washed over me. More rotting fruit and bits of spoiled meat rained down. Anguish and humiliation like I had never known raged through me.

coverRead the rest of Bartimaeus’ story in Now I See, an e-short sold on Amazon. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00O4CWK3U  This story is free to download until Tues. Oct 7 after that it is still a bargain at $0.99. check out my other e-shorts The Gift of Her Son and In His Right Mind.

Holding On

When you reach the end of your rope tie a knot and hold on.

Have you ever heard that? I remember seeing it on a poster when I was a teen and it stuck with me through the years. Back then the end of my rope dangled over the cliffs of rope's endhomework and tests with the jagged rocks of failure waiting below. Somehow I always managed to get back on track and avoid that dreaded fall. Again and again I was brought back from the brink by my faith in God and my family. Their support and encouragement kept me going.

Now, decades later the memory of that poster has come back to haunt me. No longer in danger of failing the tests of high school, now I battle endless bills and housework. I strive to provide my husband and kids with a home that is happy and healthy -although I seldom offer one that is clean and tidy.  I make sure there are clean dishes and clean clothes if not clean floors and tables. I am not a great housekeeper, as anyone who has been in my home can see.

I am a good wife and mother. I am a listening ear for my husband after a stressful day at work, I am my kids cheerleader and drill Sergent depending on what is needed. I help with homework and dreaming alike.

But there are days when I feel that not only have I reached the end of my rope, but it is fraying and thin. I tie that knot and hold on. Digging my nails deep into the coarse fibers, straining with everything I have left to hold on. Because now failure isn’t just about me and my future, failing now would cut deep into the ropes that hold my kids and my husband above their abyss. We are a family and what affects one will affect another.

Sounds good, right? The benevolent mother sacrificing for her family because she is the glue that holds it all together . . . except my glue is weak and ineffective. There is no way I can save those I love the most. I am not strong enough. I am not able to battle my own depression. Not to mention my families trials and struggles. I can’t.

That is hard for me to admit. I have always been proud of my strength. Strength of will, strength of character, strength of spirit. Even now when I can admit it, say it, share it with those who read this post . . . inside, I am still trying to do it alone even though I know I can’t.

So what is a mom to do? I can’t save my kids. I can’t save my husband. Heck, I can’t even save myself.

The knot at the end of my rope is slipping. Soon there will be nothing between me and the abyss.

But wait, there is Something, Someone who is helping. The knot on my rope is retying. A big strong knot. In fact, it is a platform; a strong and steady place for me to catch my breath and climb back to level ground.

Because Kate  loves me, says the Lord, I will rescue her; I will protect her, for she acknowledges my name. Psalm. 91:14 (paraphrase)

And there it is. Only God can do it. Over and over He has proven His faithfulness to me. He knows my weakness, even better than I do, and has always been there to save me from myself. When the depression rises up and despair sucks the joy and hope from my life, God is always there to remind me of His grace in the little things. Slowly, slowly I am learning to trust. Inch by inch I am learning to loosen my grip. When it becomes too much and I cling tight to my rope again, fearing that yawning gap waiting to swallow me, I am not alone. God puts his arms around me and whispers comfort in my ear, just like I did when a little one woke with a nightmare, I held them close and whispers prayers and songs of comfort.

I know I can’t save my self or my family. I also know that I can trust God to save us, we don’t have to rely on our own feeble grip to hold on, God is holding on to us and for us.

After taking the picture of the rope for this post, He sent me this on the way back home . . . a little bit of life and color amid the gray stones. Color amid the Gray

Faith through Disappointment

God, why did you let this happen to me? I did everything I was supposed to, I prayed, I trusted, I ignored my doubts thinking you would take care of it. But you didn’t.sad portrait

Do you trust me?

. . . yes . . .

Do you really trust me?

. . . most of the time . . .

I tapped you on the shoulder about tithing recently.

Well, yeah, but Lord, you know how things are right now . . . we can’t pay our bills each month. I tried to tithe, I put in $20, I know that is 1% instead of 10%, but even so, a week and 1/2 later we bounced 3 checks.

Do you trust me to take care of you?

You always have. I know we won’t starve or get kicked out of our home.

Is that trusting me or your family, since it is their house you live in?

Ok, good point, but still . . . You know this thing I prayed for, it would have helped financially, I was planning on tithing from it. It would have made things easier for a while.

Would it?

You know it would. I could have paid off some bills, put some aside for the kids school activities, gone to that writers conference. Maybe even have some left for Christmas shopping, well no, it probably wouldn’t have lasted that long. None of those things are bad, so why didn’t you let me have it?

No, none of those things are bad.

Then why didn’t you let me?

Do you trust me?

So we’re back to that. Lord, you know, even better than I do, that I struggle with that. I’ve prayed about that too, you know. Trust is hard . . . especially when good things I pray for don’t happen.

Just sayin’.

So you would trust me if I let you have your way?

Well, yeah, I guess.

I have given it to you before, with extra. Did it help you trust and bring you closer to me? Or did it give you security to keep going your own way?

But I didn’t pray about it those times . . . Ok, I guess it kept me secure . . . kept the status quo.

Do you trust me?

Yes, Lord.

Do you know how much I love you?

Yes, I never doubted that.

Do you know what I want for you?

Not specifically, can you drop me a hint?

In general, what do I want for you?

Well, I guess you want for me to have a good life . . . I know you don’t promise wealth or even perfect health, but I know you want me to have a life of trust, faith and peace.

. . . I guess I have a long way to go.

Do you sometimes take good things from your kids so that they can have better things later.

Yeah, I guess. *sigh* I’m still disappointed.

I know you are.

. . . *sigh* . . .

I love you, child.

I know, but God . . .

Yes.

Are you sure it is going to be Ok?

Trust me.double rainbow

I’ll keep working on it. Thanks God.

 

 

Embracing the Chains

singing treeI went for a walk in the woods last fall and came upon an old maple tree that I fell in love with. It looked like it was singing praise to its creator. I took a picture of it and keep it on my wall near my computer. This spring I returned to those woods and found my friend the singing tree, it still looked happy and green with the promise of new life. But this time, I  approached the tree from a different angle, and noticed something new. At the base of this happy tree was a tangle of barbed wire. The rusted wire had likely used the tree as a convenient support as it kept some farmer’s cows safely contained. The fence had disappeared with no other sign of posts or wire in sight. Why had this mess of barbed wire stayed? Because the tree had grown around it. It had embraced the chains that had once bound it.

We all have chains that try to tie us down, to fence us in, to strangle us. For some of us it is poverty, for some it is sorrow, fear or resentment. Many of us have survived sickness, addiction, abuse and injustice. We all have chains, but what will we choose to do with them?

Christ came to earth to break those chains. He came to set us free and give us life in abundance if we accept his gift.

A few months ago, I believe God sent me a picture during worship at church. We were singing ‘Break these chains’ and I saw myself in a dark dungeon with my wrists shackled and chained to the wall above my head. I had given up and hung my head in despair. Christ stood before me. He had broken my chains. The thing that bound me was nothing but shadowy illusion. It was my own fear and doubt that kept me chained in that dungeon. Jesus was imploring me to step away, to follow him into a life of hope and joy. I would like to say that I have shaken the chains and left that dark place, but I am still battling those fears. I just know now that He is with me and will not give up. embracing the chains4

It was after that moment with God that I found the tree that rejoices despite its chains. Jesus has set us free of the chains, the wire embracing the chains2surrounding the tree had been cut away from other posts long since gone, but the scars remain. The scars of our past, of our present don’t go away. They help to make us who we are. It is up to us to embrace the chains, the scars they leave behind and the God who is bigger than all that would hold us back.

I choose to acknowledge my weakness and fear. I choose to let God work through them. I choose to not let the fear and doubt hold me back, but will grow around them and beyond them. It will not be easy, the barbs in the wire hurts, but I choose to leave the dungeon and find the hope that Jesus promised.

 

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Thomas’ Doubt Part two

124 Thomas walked without seeing. He did not stop until he was beyond the walls of Jerusalem. The road climbed under his feet and a sickly smell of decay made him lift his head.

Why had he come here to this horrible place? The upright sections of three crosses speared up into the darkening sky. The setting sun lit them with a fiery glow painting dark stains on the wood. Thomas forced himself forward to the foot of the middle upright as he had not had the courage to do when Jesus had hung there. Although three days had passed, the smell of blood and death lingered.

“Lord, You said you were going to leave us. You said we would know the way. But, Lord, I don’t know the way. Must I allow myself to be killed as you were?” Thomas reached out a trembling hand and touched the blood soaked wood. He realized he had been hoping for some lingering sense of the Lord. Something to give him direction and hope. But there was nothing. Nothing except an empty piece of wood. Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in Me.

“How am I to trust, Lord? You are no longer here, You would not even allow us to fight to protect You. You said you had come to save the world, but I do not feel saved, Lord. I feel lost.” Thomas let his fingers fall away from the splintered wood. Jesus was not here, there was no reason to stay. He turned away and headed toward the nearby garden. His steps slowed to a stop still many paces from the tomb. The last rays of the sun had faded into darkness and the rising moon, just past full, had yet to reach this shadowed place.

Thomas found himself shivering although the night was not yet cold. The mouth of the tomb gaped wide like a giant’s hungry mouth. Thomas paused. The only sound was that of his own harsh breathing. Something rustled in the brush behind him. Thomas whirled, but nothing was there.

“Lord, are you there?”

Only when the words were spoken did Thomas realize that he had been hoping that Mary and John were right. Hoping that Jesus was alive. There was no answer in the darkness. He pulled his outer cloak tight around his shoulders against the chill night air. He watched in silence as the moon cast silver shadows through the quiet garden. He was watching still when dawn showed pink and gold in the East.

“Lord, are you here?”

There was no sound but that of birds singing their joyful greeting to the sun. Thomas rose stiffly from his seat. With weary steps he returned to the upper room. His Lord, his friend was gone.

Thomas raised dazed eyes, heavy from lack of sleep, to the occupants within the room. Gone were the sober expressions and tears of sorrow. In their place were songs and laughter, dancing and joy. Thomas stepped into the room, the crash of the door silencing the laughter.

“Have you all gone mad? Are you possessed that you can sing and laugh when your hearts should be grieving?”

“But we haven’t lost anything.” John rushed up and clasped Thomas in a close embrace. “My brother, Jesus is alive and I have seen him. Right in this very room.”

Thomas pulled away from the hug. His eyes scanned the room. Each face he saw stared back at him, glowing with happiness. “How can this be?”

“It is true. After you left last night, Jesus appeared in this room, even though the door was locked.” Peter came to Thomas and laid a strong hand on his shoulder. “If you had stayed with us, you would have seen him, too.”

Guilt and sorrow flooded Thomas’ heart. He had gone out and followed the path of Jesus’ last journey from cross to grave only to find emptiness. He shook his head. “No.” His voice rose in denial of the false hope. “No, I don’t believe it. Jesus is dead. Until I see the nail marks in his hand and place my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it!”

Thomas stormed to a dark corner of the room and pulled his cloak over his head. He did his best to block out the sounds of joy. Finally, tears wetting his beard, he fell asleep.

For the next week, Thomas kept himself apart from the others. He spoke to no one, turning away when one of the others tried to speak to him. When the Sabbath came again, Thomas had sunk deep into despair, made darker by the joy around him.

If only I was crazy, too. How I, too, long for words of comfort. The other disciples and followers of Jesus had gathered in the room and preparing to break bread together. They repeated the words that Jesus had spoken during their last supper together. Thomas unfolded himself from his corner. Do this in remembrance of Me. Thomas would remember with the others. Perhaps within memory, he could gain some measure of peace.

Suddenly the air was filled with strange perfume. Thomas looked up to see the other disciples faces light up with expectation. Thomas turned and looked toward the locked door. It remained closed. With a flicker of color, Jesus stood before him.

Bread fell from nerveless fingers. Thomas felt his jaw go slack as his knees gave way from under him. Jesus stood before him. Jesus was Alive.

“Peace be with you.” The words flowed over Thomas’s broken heart like a soothing balm. Jesus looked into his eyes and showed the scars in his hands. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side.”

Thomas winced, his own words piercing his soul like knives. He closed his eyes, attempting to shut out his humiliation. For a long time, no one spoke. When he opened his eyes once more, Jesus was staring at him. There was no anger or condemnation there. only love. Tears began to fall from Thomas’ eyes.

“Stop doubting and believe.” Jesus’ beloved voice echoed through the room. The power of it shivered through the air.

My Lord, and my God.” Peace rose up in Thomas’ heart. All the doubts and fears that had plagued him for days fell away.

“Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed.” Thomas bowed his head, accepting the gentle rebuke. All his life he had believed only what he could see with his eyes, touch with his hands and hear with his ears. Now, when he had not been able to believe, he was shown. but if his Lord, his God, could conquer the hold of Death itself, how could he not believe that anything is possible.

Now we know that Thomas did indeed stop doubting. After he received his portion of the Holy Spirit, he traveled far, preaching and teaching. Tradition tells us that he established Christ’s Church in India where he is still revered for his faith. From doubt, Thomas’ belief grew into a solid foundation, never to be shaken again.

 

 

 

Prodigal Me

You know that story in the bible that Jesus tells, the one about the son who squanders his inheritance with wild living? Well, guess what;

I am a prodigal.

Ok, I never really did much wild living, I am an introvert after all and parties are not my thing. I have never done drugs or developed a taste for alcohol. All things considered, I prefer to spend my free time snuggled on the couch with a good book or sitting at my computer writing, playing games or generally wasting time. Many people would look at my life and wonder where the prodigal part comes in.

Well, let me tell you.

The story of the prodigal son is not so much about the wine, women and song that the young man spent his money on. Rather, it is about disobedience, disrespect and distance. The man publicly humiliated his father by asking for his inheritance early. In effect, he was saying

“Dad, I wish you would kick off so that I could get my cash now. See, my buds and me, we want to take off for California and hang out at the beach. That is where the real living is. So gimme what I got coming to me.”

The Dad would have been the laughing stock of the town. I can just see his neighbors shake their heads and whisper behind shielding hands about how they knew that boy would be trouble and how Dad had never been able to control him. What a shame.

But Dad let him go. He probably stared after the retreating back of his son until long after he disappeared into the distance. Every day, week, month and year that followed, Dad would stare down the road watching for his son. Maybe today would be the day.

Then finally, one day, Dad looks up. Maybe today will be the day. He peers down that long dusty road. Something is moving. Just a tiny speck. Is it a traveler passing through? Or a peddler on his way to the next town? Or maybe the road is crowded with travelers, it is market day and everyone is headed into town. Out of all those people, Dad sees something. A beggar is shuffling along the side of the road. No one else seems to see him stumble with weakness. He is walking hunched over, one arm wrapped around his belly as if he is in pain.

Dad recognizes him. There is no physical resemblance to the proud, strong young man who had walked away so long ago, but a father knows his children. Dad drops everything. He begins to walk toward that shambling figure. He walks faster and faster until he is running. His robe is hiked up around bony knees as his feet move faster than they ever have before. His heart is pumping with exertion but over the pounding of blood in his ears, Dad’s spirit is singing with joy. He is home!

When Dad reaches the filthy creature, he pulls the boy into a close embrace. Dad doesn’t care that his son is dressed in filthy rags. He takes no notice of the stench of the unwashed body, ripe with the odor of animal dung and sickness. He doesn’t see the smears of mud and worse that are transferred to his own fine robes. All he knows is that his son has come home.

So how am I a prodigal?

By society’ standards, I am not so bad. But I know the truth. I know how God wants me to live. I know that I should be making the most of the gifts of the Spirit; love, faithfulness, joy, self-control, gentleness, patience . . . the list goes on. Those are my inheritance. But do I use them consistently? Do I pray and strive to grow closer to the goal?

No, not so much. I am critical, selfish, moody, impatient, pessimistic and my self-control is sadly lacking. I squander my days with unimportant distractions.

I am so grateful that every time I turn aside from the path where God is leading me, He is always right there waiting for me to turn back. As soon as I do, He races to meet me. He loves me that much.

Amazing.

Lord, thanks for being patient with me. You know my weaknesses better than anyone, even me, but You never turn me away or lose hope. I often lose hope, as You well know, I am frequently ready to give up, but You keep cheering me on. It is a precious gift and one that I often fail to appreciate. Thank you for not giving up on me.                

Amen