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.

sequoia national park - 3

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.

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

Family Story

November is National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. Last year I used it to finish the rough draft of the novel I have been working on. I am still muddling my way through edits and rewrites, mostly because it is a daunting task and I have a tendency to put it off.

This year I am shooting for a somewhat easier project. I am going to write the tale of one my early ancestors and his journey to America.

Losing everything he owned in the Great Fire of London, John Perry had few options left to him. He could return with his father to the ashes of the city and try to salvage the scorched  fragments of his life and rebuild, or he could turn his back on the past and look to the colonies across the ocean for a new start. The black smoke hovering over the once great city merged with the gray clouds. The steady rain had finally turned the tide of destruction and conquered the flames. The smell of ash and charred wood clogged his every breath. Nothing remained of his life, his dreams. No, there was nothing left for him here. The colonies of the New World held the promise of hope and forgetfulness.

John Perry (the Younger) joined his parents, John Perry (the Elder) and Johannah Holland Perry on the trip to Watertown, Mass in 1667. There he married Sarah Clary within the same year. I can find information about births, deaths and marriages, but little else so many years later. I know bits and pieces and some stories that have come down through the family. My people were there during the French and Indian war, the Revolutionary War, Civil War and other important times in our country’s history. They were farmers, teachers and preachers. Simple people who grew up, loved, laughed and sorrowed just like we do today. They lived the history we learn about in books.

Their blood flows through my veins. It is enough for me to want to know them. Are they like the living, breathing family that I know and love? What parts of them have been passed down to me and my children?

Years ago, before I had any idea of being a writer, my Grandpa Perry and I sat together on the couch gazing out the window. He was telling me stories of his parents, aunts and uncles, their travels and their coming home. At fifteen I was keen to know who I was, where I had come from. As we talked about the ones who had gone, he said to me.

You should write a story about our family.

At the time, I eagerly agreed. I loved my family, I was fascinated by our history. I neglected to mention to him that I hated to write.

Years later he passed away, lost in the fog of Alzheimer’s syndrome. I was 1500 miles away and unable to get home. My biggest regret was that I never got to say good bye, second to that was that I had never fulfilled that request.

Still I waited. Now he has been gone more than ten years. I have been thinking about it more and more and have come to a conclusion. 4023864_origIt is time to grant that simple wish.

NaNoWriMo is coming.

Are you ready?

 

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

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.