Grace and Mercy

I have noticed a distu022 (5)rbing trend among Christians lately, including some people whom I love and respect deeply. I have also noticed there are few others who seem troubled by it. Surely, I am not the only one….
Across the ocean and far from our shores, people are in fear of their lives. They are fleeing their homeland in terror, often with little more than the clothes on their backs. Everything they have ever known is going up in the smoke of war and tyranny. They seek refuge wherever they can find it.
The Syrian Refugees.
I generally go out of my way to avoid any mention of politics. But to me this is not just a political matter although politicians have lost no time in sharing their views loudly and self-righteously. There are politics involved, certainly and the government will have its hands full in dealing with the mess. That part is on them.
The matter I am struggling with is our unwillingness to share what we have with those that have nothing.
In Matthew 25, Jesus speaks of separating the sheep and goats in heaven. Of the sheep he says,

Caught!

I don’t remember ever reading qualifications. Take care of them when it is convenient. Help them when they agree with your religious and political views. Encourage them when their countrymen are harmless.
But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Luke 6:35-36
I understand the fear of allowing the terrible things that are happening across the ocean to come to our safe, tidy little world. I know that there is a possibility that a terrorist could slip in among the huddled masses. I agree that opening our borders also opens us up to trouble that right now seems far away.
All that is scary and a very real possibility. I know what it is to be afraid.
But my God is stronger than my fear. Even if my faith wavers, underneath it all, I know that I can trust him to care for me and my family. He is higher, stronger, and infinitely more powerful than the terrorists that seek to destroy me. Do you think God can’t protect us, or that the government can do a better job of it?
Do you think Islamic extremists, terrorists, are stronger than God?
I don’t. I will put my trust and faith in God and do as he asks me to do. Even if I die, or my family killed, I will trust and do as he commands.
Can I do less when my King has given so much more?

I will believe.

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
And the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
Though its waters roar and foam
And the mountains quake with their surging. Ps. 46:1-3

Balloon Busters

Oh shiny rubber wonder
Bobbing along beside me
Tugging at your tether
Longing to be free

Oh, bouncy balloon of delight
You hold the best
The brightest parts of me
Within your supple skin

The hopeful dreams of ‘someday’
The whispered bliss of ‘maybe’
The terrified promise of tomorrow
Swirl endlessly within

I keep you safe and silent
For the dreams you hold inside
Could shatter and die within
If I dared to give release

This week’s sermon dealt with finding your God-given dream. To find the passion that he laid on your heart and to go with it.

Well, I know my dream, I know what he has called me to do. Or I know about as well as any of us can truly know the heart of God. One of the few things on this earth that can really fire me up is an increasing ignorance of the Bible. More and more I come into contact with people, average American adults, who have no idea what is in the scriptures. Many of them don’t even know the most basic stories that were once common knowledge like Adam and Eve, Noah and the Ark, David and Goliath, to name a few. Or if they know the story, it is from a simplified children’s story or a blockbuster Hollywood film.

Yet there is so much more within those wonderful pages. The stories within are about real people, real events, and a very real God. My passion is to reacquaint today’s people with those people of long ago. To make their stories come alive and awaken the world to the God who loves them.

I have the calling. I have the talent (or so I believe). What I don’t have is the courage. Yesterday, the pastor spoke of turning away from the dream busters, the people who tell you that you are not good enough, not worthy, and you don’t belong. But what do you do when the biggest ‘balloon buster’ (I like the alliteration) is yourself?

I read the words of other authors and often think to myself; I could never write like that, I will never be that good, and other self defeating phrases. I could go on all day. Yet even with such negative ‘self-talk’ God keeps bringing me back to the computer to type another scene, another chapter, another section. Because like the prophet Jeremiah,

If I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name’, his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in, indeed, I cannot. Jer 20:9

I am no prophet, and my stories are not earth-shattering messages to God’s people, but there are stories within me that beg to be told. I have stories of God’s faithfulness and grace, of his love and provision for everyone and they burn to be told.

And yet, lack of faith holds me back. Faith in myself, in my words, and yes even in God. Even then, in my darkest place of despair, in that vast sea of hopelessness, He meets me there and encourages me.

Oh, faithless child
Your dreams are safe with me
Let go the chains that bind you
Yield them to my hand

Look close, you will see
That my dreams are also yours
I put the spark within you
To brighten up the night

So trust me, child
To lead you where you want to go
To feed your dreams of ‘someday’
And take you safely there

 

So while others may not understand the dream that I hold close and tight, a dream that I can barely speak of (unless it is couched in a joke) because it is too important to risk the attention of a ‘balloon buster’. I know that God understands the dream and the weakness that holds me back. And he will never bust my balloon, he is waiting for me to find the courage to release it so that He can make it come true.

‘Catch’ My Newest Story

After a short hiatus in January to recover from the marathon of story writing in November and December, I have a new e-short out on Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00TEE1HZK

Caught! Is my take on the story of the woman caught in adultery. Found only in the Gospel of John, it is a tale of forgiveness and second chances like only Jesus can provide. The dramatic scene on the steps of the Temple has been told and retold in words and art through the centuries.

I think the words that ring loudest are those of Jesus.

‘If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Jn 8:7

What an example of love and compassion! Of all those in the Temple watching, Jesus was the only one qualified to judge. He alone was sinless. Yet he chose to forgive and offer a second chance at life.

‘Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’    ‘Then neither do I condemn you. go and leave your life of sin.’ Jn 8:10,11b

Perhaps we should remember those words before we judge and condemn those around us. Sin is sin, none bigger or smaller than any other. Adultery is no different than lying, or gossip, or envy. Are there any of us who can claim to perfectly keep all 10 Commandments?

No.

So before you pick up a stone to cast or a finger to point, remember that Jesus alone is worthy to judge. He loves all of us enough to die for us. Can you say the same?

Caught!

Caught!

The Big Orange X

I have noticed a new arrival on my road lately. Big orange x-es are appearing on the old maple trees. Those who know me or follow this blog 001know that I have a soft spot for trees. I love their ability to overcome hardship and damage as well as their peaceful acceptance of the seasons.

This marking happens every year and always makes me sad. These are the trees the county has decided are too old and ill to survive. They have become a hazard to the road below and the ugly black wires that stretch from pole to pole.

We can’t have them shedding limbs and stopping traffic or bringing down the wires now can we?

It doesn’t matter if the trees were there first. It doesn’t matter that they have been standing there tall and strong for 100 or 200 years. They are a liability.

007Now I know that there is truth to that. The marked trees have lost much of their former glory. Halfway up, jagged stumps remain where the main trunk had been lost to a storm or lightning a decade ago. Often there are only a few branches that still produce leaves, and those are growing sparse. The bark is rough and split with dead wood showing through. They are dying.

But I remember them as they were 30 years ago when my family moved onto this farm. They were at their prime and there were so many more of them back then. They lined the road every fifty feet or so. They were the home to thousands of birds, squirrels and chipmunks . . . not to mention the occasional raccoon and possum families. In the fall, the road became a glorious bower of red and gold splendor.

The family we bought our farm from told us some of the history of the area. They had lived here for generations, since the 1800’s at least. Our004 farm began as a small cabin at the base of a nearby hill. The hard working farmer who first settled here soon built a larger place where the house currently stands. It started as two small rooms and has expanded several times so that it can now hold my sister’s family and my own.

That same farmer was wise enough and compassionate enough to plant these so that his horses would have shade as they toiled along the dirt road. The fields were wide open by necessity, but the roads to and from was thick with cool, refreshing shade. The trees fulfilled their purpose long after teams of horses gave way to tractors and trucks. More than 100 years later they continued to stand guard over five young girls riding their bikes or walking 1/4 mile to the nearest house to play with the children who lived there.

So many times I would climb into their spreading boughs when the world became a hard place to live. I would go high as I dared and cling with my ear pressed to the trunk. There I could hear the creaking and sighing of the ancient tree. It seemed that it was talking to me, if only I could understand the words.

Now there are few of my old friends left. One by one they have fallen to the storms of the world or that dreaded orange X. The sunlit street is lined with new homes. Children no longer ride their bikes or walk in the road . . . with cars whizzing by without thought or care it is no longer safe.

Time marches on and everything must someday fall to its command.

I still hate the big orange X.

The other day when I was thinking about those trees marked for execution, my thoughts strayed to the Great Gardener. Perhaps if someone had tended to those old trees, they may have survived longer. If someone with skill had trimmed the diseased and damaged branches, had kept away the strangling vines, the trees would have been strong enough to withstand the storms.

Jesus said that he was the vine and we are the branches. (Israel doesn’t have much in the way of maple trees.) He knows how to tend to his branches to keep them healthy and strong. He prunes and binds, trims and trains so that we become all that the Father meant us to be.

He does not paint big orange X’s on us when we become old and weak. He tends us and loves us until time wins its battle. Then he takes us home where we are planted by streams of living water to become forever young, forever strong and forever with him.

 

The End is Near!

Here it is, November 26, the final days of NaNoWriMo.

Have I kept pace with my goal of 1700 words each day?

No, I am averaging about 1400, but have picked up the pace with ‘the end’ looming.

Will I finish all 50,000 words before Dec. 1st?

Well, its not looking good. I passed 36,000 yesterday, but that leaves 16,000 to write over the next five days (including today)

Do I like what I have written so far?

Well, parts of it. It is, after all, a very rough draft since I have had to lock away my ‘inner editor’ for the last few weeks. There are a lot of notes, highlights and whole sections to revisit during the coming months before I will consider it good enough to send through my critique group. That being said, the basics, the bare bones of it is good and there are some rough gems hidden within. The coming months will determine if cutting and polishing can bring out the shine of the early promise or if it would be better off as a paperweight.

I did write in a turning point last night and this morning:

NGS Picture ID:1075708“You have one shot, make it worth it.”
John sighted down his musket barrel until his vision cleared. He could see the play of muscle beneath the coppery skin.
His finger was greasy on the trigger as his pulled away the primer cover. The smell of burning saltpeter from the wick caked the back of his throat. 1. Steady your stance. 2. Take a deep breath and let it out slow as you draw a bead on the target. 3. As the last of your breath goes out, squeeze the trigger . . . gently.
Please, Lord.
Blinking, he focused on the brown, now, red skin. The forest had gone eerily still, even the birds and creatures that rustled in the leaves went still.
“Don’t move. Reload. There are always more.”
Swan crept forward once more with his already loaded gun. John rushed to follow, loading primer, powder and ball. They made it to Clary without incident. John laid a hand on the older man’s chest.  The heart thumped strong and steady beneath his hand.
“He lives.” John swallowed the lump in his throat.
Swan moved toward the bleeding Indian. “So does this one.” He stepped on the indian’s wounded shoulder to keep him from crawling away. The native’s black eyes were emotionless with not even a tremor to show the pain he must be in. Swan grabbed a leather thong from the Indian’s outfit, tied the native’s hands behind his back, and forced him to his feet. A bead of sweat traced its way through the garish paint. It stared at John with quiet menace.
“We will take them both back to the village. The savage will be our hostage to keep the others at bay. Can you manage Clary?”
The sight of the arrow sticking obscenely from Clary’s back made him queasy, but John swallowed and lifted his friend to his shoulder, careful to disturb him as little as possible. Bowing under the weight, he nodded to Swan.
Swan nudged the captive with the knife he had pulled from its sheath.
For John, the beautiful forest, just stirring with the new life of spring, had suddenly become a labyrinth of peril where death lurked just out of sight.

Sary stood and brushed the wrinkles from her skirt with her eye fixed on Mr. Whitaker. He would know if her father had arrived.
Before she was more than halfway across the crowded lawn, there was a commotion where the clearing gave way to trees. The shrill scream of a woman and the shouts of men made her grab her skirt and run. She pushed her way through the mass of bodies until she could see the trio of men that staggered from the woods. Skipping over the black haired savage and Mr. Swan, her eyes latched on the stooped form of a young man staggering beneath the burden of a familiar brown coat and shock of grizzled chestnut hair. Bright crimson blood streaked both men.
“Papa.” Sary clapped both hands to her mouth to hold back the cry that rose to her lips.

 

Fall Behind, Hurry to Catch Up

I am a few thousand words short of where I should be if I want to stay on track. But the John and Sary’s story is slowly coming together. They have just met for the first time on Christmas Eve day . . .  Want to read it?

095The warm light drew him. It became a window. John fell against the rough siding an peered in. Through the wavy panes of glass, a fire crackled beneath a spit where a giant bird slowly rotated.
A sleepy-eyed child crouched next to the hearth yawning as she turned the spit. A woman worked a mound of dough at a table. John stood transfixed as the dough became loaves of bread. His stomach rumbled but he was afraid to move for fear the delicious scene would disappear.
“What are you doing?”
John whirled around at the snap of the voice but ended up on his hands and knees once more.
“Mother, Mary, come help.”
Slender arms wrapped around his chest and helped him to his feet. A nearby door swung open spilling light and heavenly scents into the cold morning air. John allowed the women to lead him inside.
They ushered him to a chair next to the fire. The heat seemed to scald his skin. Phantom pain flashed through his numb hands.
The women worked at the knots holding the blankets around him around him. Then did the same to his woolen coat. As the soaked layers were pulled off, the heat flooded over him bringing on a violent fit of shivering. When they tried to remove the linen gloves from his hands, John curled his fingers and held them on.
“Now sir, we must get these wet things off of you. Let me have the gloves.”
With his teeth chattering, John was unable to speak but he shook his head and pulled his hands closer to his body. He was too cold to think, but still refused to show his hands.
“Well then, hold this tea, it will help warm them.”
John took the cup, but his hands trembled so violently the tea sloshed over the side. The young woman cupped his hands in hers and steadied them. The first sip scalded his tongue, then slid down his throat with blissful heat. He closed his eyes allowing the warmth to spread through his belly.
“Have another.”
He opened his eyes and met those of the young woman crouched before him. They were wide with concern and the fire reflected off the hazel so that they seemed to glow with tones of green-gold and bronze. Her cheeks grew red under his gaze, a perfect complement to the eyes. He stared until thick lashed fluttered down as a shield.
“What were you doing out there, young man?” The mother came back to the room with a thick towel and began rubbing it over his head and shoulders. The vigorous rubbing awoke thousands of red-hot needles in his skin. More woke in his feet as the youngest removed his sodden boots and rubbed with another towel. The agony brought a moan to his lips, tears threatened to escape regardless of how he tried to hold them in.
“I know it hurts, but we have to get the blood moving before frostbite can set in.” The woman continued to rub across his chest. The girl with the eyes had taken his cup and he spotted her hanging a woolen blanket near the fire. He followed her movements. She still wore the cloak and scarf showing that she had been the one to find him.
“Th-th-thank you.” It took several tries before his lips would obey his command. “Moth-th-er. F-f-father.”
“I’m sure you are welcome, but I am not your mother young man.”
“By th-the river.”
All three females stopped their ministrations and stared at him.
“There are more of you out there? Why, it is below freezing, what can you have been thinking of.” The mother offered another sip of tea then another.
He tried again. “Set ash-sh-shore by ship’s long boat. Mother sick. Had to find help.”
“Sary, you’re dressed, go out and find your father. Mary, put more tea on and get the quilts from the attic.”

What do you think? Is it an interesting meeting?Cutting-gingered-bread

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