Frankincense: The King of Oils

Frankincense

Often, I have a goal of reading through the Bible in one year, and often I have found it to be quite enlightening, edifying, and enriching (and there is my three-point sermon…). The one-year path feels like a sprint to cross that finish line; it is a hard push and honestly at times, the pressure can scrape up a bit of irritation and annoyance. I feel like I miss out on the power of stopping to smell the roses and the reverence of taking in the scenery – the study, the meditation, and hearing that still small voice. So, this year I have been choosing random books. I meandered through the prophetic message of salvation in Isaiah, spent many months strolling through the rhythm of the Psalms, inhaled Job for about the fiftieth time, and this past week finished reading about my fleeting life in Ecclesiastes.   

Every time I do the one-year plan, I venture into Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers packed with rules, rules, and more rules. Several times reading through it, I thought to myself, “God, how could anyone ever remember all these instructions regarding rituals and legal and moral practices for holy living?” The next time I came upon my missionary endeavor, I literally stopped and prayed. I asked God to show me truth about His reasoning for all these manners of conduct. As I was scurrying through the text, I heard the Spirit speak to me in that still small voice, “Deeon, these rules were not meant to harm the Israelites, they were meant to protect them.” I really had to step back and soak in that revelation. That little rocky crag in my heart softened. It changed my perception. As I continued reading, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers took on richer meaning. This was not about some punitive God trying to inflict punishment through laws, this code of conduct was about a holy, loving God living in their midst.  Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers, as is the entire Bible, is God’s message of His presence, His power, and His sovereignty offering reconciliation from sin and a passageway to forgiveness because He loves us beyond comprehension.

At any rate, I am intentionally choosing to read the book of Leviticus unhurried. I am trying to dig underneath and marinate on all the many ways in which God is protecting His people. Here is an example: near the beginning of Leviticus, the guidelines for the Grain Offering are rendered. Depending on the version of scripture (I lean toward the ESV or NKJV), the text states to put frankincense on the Grain Offering if it is fine flour. I am a “why?” kind of gal. These offerings are burnt on the altar. Have you ever smelled burnt bread – not so much a pleasing odor? Perhaps, the frankincense rendered that “pleasing aroma” to God, that aroma that represented the substitutionary atonement for sin, which is pleasing to God. Yet, I believe frankincense, the king of oils, had a multilateral purpose. What I mean is that the frankincense was a pleasing aroma to God, which I believe holds deeper meaning than I have studied, but it was not unilateral, only for Him. I believe God created and used frankincense as a medicinal protection for the Israelites.  

From an article entitled, Frankincense, The Holy Grail of Essential Oils:                                                

Here are a few other points of interest about Frankincense:

Frankincense, also known as Olibanum, comes from the resin of the Boswellia tree grown in Africa and the Middle East, particularly in Oman, Somalia, and Ethiopia, though the finest comes from Arabia. Careful incisions are made in the tree at key times of year, and the sap slowly pours out. Once the sap dries and hardens it is ready to be used. The first period of tapping occurs from January to March and the second from August to October. After tapping has continued for five or six years, the trees are rested (the irony that God created through the sixth day and then rested on the seventh.) Frankincense has a woody, spicy smell. Now, I have a little bottle of Frankincense oil and indeed the smell is woody and spicy. I think for some it would be a scent that gains acquired appreciation, though I have always liked the scent and whiff on my little vile occasionally.

“Traditionally, frankincense was used for hundreds of years in incense, primarily in ancient rituals because of its promise to bring tremendous healing properties. Priests, rabbis, and medicine men around the world—especially in the Middle East—appreciated the essential oil for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and rejuvenating properties.

Early use of frankincense resin was reserved for religious services, where it was burned as incense with the intention of the scent floating up invisibly to heaven in order to attract God’s attention. Historically, burning the resin was also a tool to vanquish negative energies or hold evil spirits at bay. To this day, it is commonly used in churches and temples and believed to affect us at our deepest level, setting our spirit free. The ancient Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks all used frankincense in their religious rituals. Similarly, the Chinese have been known to use it for years.

Frankincense was so valuable during ancient times that it was literally worth its weight in gold. Some cultures even prized it more than gold, making it an integral part of the Silk Road trade. Overall, it has been high in demand, from early history all the way to today.”

History, modern medicine, research, and the advancement of technology have offered some thought-provoking theories about frankincense:

Sacredly, when used during meditation, frankincense can be purifying to the mind, create a connection to one’s soul, and offer spiritual protection.

The smoke from burning frankincense drives out mosquitoes, pests, and other flying insects, reducing incidence of malaria and other insect transmitting diseases.

Frankincense has anti-inflammatory effects that may help reduce symptoms of joint inflammation caused by osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.

Frankincense may help reduce symptoms of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis by reducing inflammation in the gut.

Frankincense may help reduce the likelihood of bronchial and sinus infections and asthma attacks in susceptible people. It may also open breathing passageways and increase lung capacity, thus relieving symptoms, such as shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and as well reduces phlegm.

Frankincense has antibacterial properties. Clinical studies at major universities in Egypt and in the United States have shown that frankincense has fantastic immune-enhancing abilities. These studies reveal that frankincense can fight dangerous bacteria and viruses throughout the body by providing immunostimulants. When applied topically, these benefits will work to create a layer of protection against bacterial and viral infections. When used aromatically, the same benefits manifest internally while working to heal your body from the inside out.

Frankincense has antimicrobial and antiseptic benefits, working to destroy harmful germs and bacteria upon contact, whether on the body or on surfaces throughout the home.  It may help prevent bad breath, toothaches, cavities, and mouth sores.

As a beauty Serum, frankincense can revive, rejuvenate, and strengthen skin health, adding elasticity to the skin. It may reduce the appearance of wrinkles and scars, smooth the complexion, prevent acne, even out blemishes, heal minor wounds, help reverse damage caused by UV rays, fade stretch marks, and heal cracked skin.

Frankincense is supportive of cellular function. It can assist with healthy cell function by promoting cell and tissue regeneration. So far, test-tube studies suggest that frankincense may fight breast, ovarian, skin, and colon cancer cells. The small study indicates that it may also help reduce side effects of cancer and may help kill cancer cells and prevent tumors from spreading. It can suppress cancer cells viability.

Psychologically and emotionally, frankincense, through aromatherapy, reduces the heart rate promoting relaxation, balancing moods, reducing anxiety, and calming and lifting the spirit. 

And, there are a few additional opinions hanging out there for which studies have not been performed. Frankincense could possibly help to prevent diabetes by lowering blood sugar levels; may aid in preventing heart disease by reducing inflammation; could improve sleep quality; may well boost memory and cognitive function; and quite possibly balance female hormones — delaying menopause, and reducing menstrual cramping, nausea, headaches, and mood swings.   

An altar of incense burned inside the tabernacle. This incense was a specific recipe of spices mixed with “pure frankincense.” God gave the recipe and stipulated that only this incense, and no other, was permitted to be burned on the altar of incense, and this incense recipe must not be used anywhere or by anyone else or else they will be cut off from their people. Aaron was instructed to burn incense on the altar each morning and at twilight, every day, as a regular offering to the Lord. To release its scent, the frankincense was either burned or smoldered over hot coals.

The Altar of Incense

Frankincense complemented many offerings and sacrifices. Frankincense was extensively used in burial rituals as part of the embalming material as an offering to the departed, a means to cover the odor of the dead body, and I believe to create purification from the potential risks of chronic infectious diseases.

The market for frankincense was unlimited. It created commerce and trade, via merchant ships and camel caravans. In essence, it was a form of currency. Whereas other exotic spices and aromatics were luxury items, frankincense, though expensive was a household necessity, a basic staple. An article from the New York Times states:

 “In January of 1997, exploring the remote back country of Yemen, over hills and through valleys and ravines, a party of archeologists came upon ruins and monuments from the time when frankincense and myrrh were among the world’s most coveted commodities. In the 10th century B.C., the biblical Queen of Sheba is supposed to have ruled in golden splendor over this land on the southern rim of the Arabian Peninsula. For several hundred years before and after the birth of Christ, it was a major emporium of the ancient world. Spices and textiles arrived by ship from India, silk from China and gold and ostrich feathers from Ethiopia. These goods were then packed off by camel caravan to Egypt and Persia, to Palmyra in Syria and, often as not, on to Rome. Nothing in the shipments was more prized than the two locally grown gum-resin products, frankincense and myrrh. “

They say the encampment of the Israelites, though highly structured and orderly, was about the size of Houston, Texas, the ninth largest city in the US. Now think of Houston as an entire city of refugees. Some scholars estimate the total Exodus population, including men, women, and children to be around 2.5 million people. Houston’s current population is about 2.3 million. Now imagine Houston as a desolate, barren wilderness where these refugees are, with precision as directed by God, encamped in tents throughout the entire region. The potential for widespread disease is immensely problematic. Now I do not know if every household contained frankincense for personal use, but I do know every morning and evening frankincense was burned in the tabernacle, releasing smoke and fumes upward into the air. This was holy and reverent, symbolizing the prayers of the people rising up to God, which was a pleasing aroma to Him. But, secondarily, I believe the incense served to purify the air in the encampment consequentially benefiting the refugees with all the potential of frankincense described above. The Bible is not clear on these likelihoods, but that is what I believe, and I am sticking to it. I believe God knew the need beforehand. I believe God planned everything out beforehand. Frankincense is a mere fraction of all the ways God sought to protect His people. So you see, the Bible is not all about rules, it is about God’s protection, provisions, and ultimately His love. It is a clear reminder to me, He knows the way that I take, He works all things together for my good, and His love is everlasting and higher than the heavens. I am so thankful for the Holy Spirit’s little whispers and teachings as I persist in reading scripture.

Love you, mean it!

Book: Prisoner in the Third Cell by Gene Edwards

“Shall we scorn that God has revealed so little concerning His ways,
or rejoice that He has revealed so much?”

The book is a glimpse inside the life of John the Baptist, based on the scripture of Matthew 11:6, and the subject that Jesus does not give explanation or healing to everyone. Approximately five years ago, a friend loaned me this book. At that time, my world was swirling in the basement of rock bottom, asking and questioning, “Why, why am I in this dark, foreign pit? Why would God allow all this? Maybe I have been brainwashed to believe in this God?  God certainly does not love all people the same.” The author’s words offered a forgiving mat of padding for me on my concrete basement floor. The book is a gentle read in one sitting; I actually recommend it. It keeps congruency in the progression and brings it all home in the tempering summation at the end.

This is my second time reading the book. Wow! My thinking has changed immensely and I am in a different space in the house now. I am not in the basement of rock bottom. I am not wrestling so fiercely with this God who allows suffering and sorrow with seemingly no explanation. Though I continue to grieve for myself and others, I continue to wrestle with the ‘Why’ questions, and I grapple with fears of slipping into that darkness again, yet I am changed in several ways, not ‘because’ of reading this book alone, but rather through reading this book, God planted seeds of new perspective and thinking. Praise God!  Thank you, God!  

For me, the book is like rinsing with mouthwash; it disinfects the heart and mind a bit. If you allow the story to truly sink in, laying aside personal pain, heartache, expectations, resentment, anger, and anything else that seeps out and infects our hearts and minds throughout suffering, the book can soften the edges of your heart, shift your thoughts, and open a window in the house for a ray of light called hope. Though we may never know in this life the reason for our sufferings and sorrows, we can be confident that our God is sovereign and Jesus is acquainted, and I believe weeps, with ALL our suffering. We can have peace amidst suffering and sorrow; we can trust and have faith when there is no explanation.

A few quotes from the book:

“It has been said that it is impossible to forgive a man who deliberately hurts you for the sole purpose of destroying you or lowering you. If this be true, you have but one hope:  to see this unfair hurt as coming by permission from God for the purpose of lifting your stature above that place where formerly you stood.”

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“There is no end to the wickedness of the human heart.”

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“They do not know,” he (Jesus) sighed. “They will know, but not here on this earth. All they will ever know in this lifetime is that I did not come to them in their hour of greatest need. Today they, like all others, have met a God they do not understand…Everywhere I look I see my people caught up in circumstances not of their own making…Yet I have been to you, as to all others, a Lord not fully understood, a God who rarely makes clear exactly what He is doing in the life of one of His children.”

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“…every believer imagines his God to be a certain way, and is quite sure his Lord will do certain things under certain conditions. But your Lord is never quite what you imagine Him to be.

You have now come face to face with a God whom you do not fully understand. You have met a God who does not live up to your expectations. Every believer must come to grips with a God who did not do things quite the way it was expected.

Today you are resentful of those who so callously hurt you. But no, not really. Truth is you are angry with God because, ultimately, you are not dealing with men; you are dealing with the sovereign hand of your Lord. Behind all events, behind all things, there is always His sovereign hand.

The question is not, “Why is God doing this? Why is He like this?” The question is not, “Why does He not answer me?” The question is not, “I need Him desperately; why does He not come rescue me?” The question is not, “Why did God allow this tragedy to happen to me, to my children, to my wife, to my husband, to my family?” Nor is it, “Why does God allow Injustices?”

The question before the house is this: “Will you follow a God you do not understand? Will you follow a God who does not live up to your expectations?”

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“Your Lord has put something in your life, which you cannot bear. The burden is simply too great. He was never supposed to do this! But the question remains, “Will you continue to follow this God who did not live up to your expectations?”

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“Dear reader, no one can fully understand the pain you feel as you suffer your present situation. Whether it came upon you because circumstances or by the deeds of men, one thing is certain. Before this present tragedy entered into your life, it first passed through the sovereign hand of God.”

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Matthew 11:6

“And blessed are you, if you are not offended with me…

 And blessed are you, if you are not offended with me…

 And blessed are you, if you are not offended with me…”

Under The Rug

I do not know about you, but I have a lot of “stuff” swept under my rug, not literally, but figuratively. Things I want to ignore, avoid, deny, and conceal. It is peculiar how we think things magically disappear forever if we sweep them under that rug. The irony is this, those hidden “things” might be out of sight, your conscious awareness, but I am here to tell you they are not vanished and gone! I’m talking anger, resentment, conflicts, injustices, grudges, problems, unforgiveness, pain, hurt, secrets we hold as weapons against others, secrets about our pasts, responsibilities, other people’s feelings and problems that we have taken responsibility for, mistakes, fears, sadness, loneliness, guilt, things we don’t want to do, inappropriate or embarrassing behaviors, addictions, and unconfessed secret sins – anything that we want to keep in the darkness; anything we do not want exposed to the light, anything we have not dealt with appropriately, anything we do not want to own or deal with, and anything that holds us in captivity. The things we have under our rugs hold us prisoner, bound by shackles and chains to our current existence! Those things are not dead or departed, they are very much alive and present! In fact, they compound, intensify, and worsen the longer they remain under the rug. Those high, wide, and deep piles under my rugs created grave damage, horrific pain, and frightening levels of exhaustion the longer I remained in ignorance, the more I kept tripping over them, and the harder I fell.

Now, I believe we consciously choose to ignore things and brush them right under that rug, but once the situation is under the rug and it is a continuous ‘state of affairs’, I believe we begin a pattern of unconsciously and reflexively tossing any related circumstance on that interrelated pile under that rug, creating a mountain and quite a mess. It becomes an undertow. Those unseen currents below the surface of our rugs are moving in a different direction. They are dragging us backwards all the while we are fighting a losing battling to move forwards. They become weighted burdens that create a constant force of resistance and restrict us. They hold us back; they break us down; they create anxiety, depression, hopelessness, addictions, whatever unhealthy means you choose to cope; they destroy life! Here is the hard truth, it is HARD WORK and takes a lot of energy to clean up!!! It’s about being willing to put yourself under the microscope; it’s about dissecting every part of who you are; it’s about methodically looking at every single piece and part; it’s about being authentic and down in that pile of dirt under the rug all the way to the core open and honest. HARD WORK!

As a living example of what I mean, let me share a little trail of breadcrumbs from my life. Growing up, as a family we did not deal with emotions or feelings; we did not talk about, acknowledge, or give credence to their existence. I became a blank slate. I repressed my emotions and feelings continually. It was nothing intentional; I knew no different; it was my normal. It is not that my feelings and emotions did not exist; in ignorance and led by example, I concealed them under my rug. Repressing them became reflexive; I did not even know I was doing it. Who knew what a repressed feeling or emotion was as a little child. I normalized the environment. I did not know it was abnormal not to cry, not to show anger, not to talk about how I felt, and not to share painful heartaches. I interpreted normal as no outward reaction to anything. However, I became quite adept at monitoring and reading the atmosphere, the actions, and the faces of my family; I became a vigilante, unconsciously annexing my own and everyone else’s feelings and emotions, like extra-sensory perception. I harnessed and retained them all unbeknownst to me. They became a monstrous pile under my rug, which in turn created a riptide undercurrent effect in my life – generating an addiction, crafting destructive behavior patterns, producing mental and physical health issues, and a whole host of other crusades. I must say this, my blank slate of feelings and emotions piled up under my rug are not the total cause and reasons for my issues, but they are a huge piece of the pie. And now, my feelings and emotions can bleed out inappropriately. Though in many respects I still have that reflex to hide my feelings and emotions, I am super tender-hearted as when unhealed skin weeps; I can be reactive; I can be like a triggered pressure cooker to something totally unrelated; I can be a workaholic racing through life at warp speed trying to outrun my amassed pile of feelings and emotions; and at times I devour isolation and quietness to still the screeching chaos inside. Hopefully, you can get a glimpse of this trail of breadcrumbs that leads to the piles under my rug.

So, here’s the question – what’s under your rug? What are you ignoring, avoiding, denying, and concealing? Only you can answer that question. Only you know your story. I suspect, if you are willing to look closer, you can follow your own trail of breadcrumbs to your own piles under your own rugs. About a year ago, I got the absolute best broom in the world to help me clean this all up. It took many, many years and a whole lot of heartache, fear, and frustration, but God in His mercy laid His trail of breadcrumbs to guide me. Now I do not know why He waited so long and I do not know why I had to endure what seems to me wasted years, but I have learned to trust His sovereignty and timing. If that still small voice within is speaking to you, listen and pray. If that still small voice is nudging you and whispering that something is not right, listen and pray. If that still small voice is telling you it is time to move on or to do something different, listen and pray. I am telling you listen and pray. Give yourself permission to say, “No, it doesn’t have to be this way!” You do not have to remain stuck. You do not have to be miserable. You do not have to stay in unhealthy relationships or patterns of coping. You have permission to live and breathe. The breadcrumbs will lead you; give yourself permission to follow them even if it is just baby steps to the piles under your rugs. Even in writing this, it is like continuing to give myself permission.  

Love you, mean it!

Book – Hinds’ Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard

“The Lord God is my strength, and he will make my feet like hinds’ feet,
and he will make me to walk upon mine high places.”
Habakkuk 3:19

This book was published in 1955 in the UK and from the brief excerpt from the back of the book, extracts considerably from the author’s life.    

The book leaves many fingerprints on me. The journey of Much-Afraid is symbolic to the Christian’s path of transformation in life from unbeliever to child believer to mature believer. It certainly portrays that God, through love, can convert the most damaged soul. The book presents human barriers through various allegories that parallel the ebb and flow tides of life and incomprehensible passageways that most endure framed one way or another  – fear, humiliation, sorrow, suffering, injury, waiting, silence, cruelty, impossibilities, heartbreaking detours, incalculable obstacles  devastating set- backs, learning to accept help, bruising, threshing, grinding, cutting, kneading ,shaping, smelting and refining of dross, complicated hindrances, and constraints  and limitations that peck away at perspective and trust. The story illustrates the importance of humility, faith, hope, trusting in God’s love, presence, sovereignty, and provisions; obedience, courage, surrender, resilience, and perseverance despite the obstacles of evil, temptations, limitations, disabilities, listening to/believing wrong voices or imaginations, attitudes, and lack of understanding. I felt the book was a quick read, yet I paused often to consider what truth the author was symbolizing. The quotes I share below gave me reason to pause and a couple I actually surfaced deep emotion.

I loved the author’s use of creation. These allegorical scenes gave depth of imagery to the struggles and triumphs, as well as the names of the characters and places.  

Nature – landscapes, waterfalls, avalanches, flowers, grass, trees, rocks, mountains, snowy peaks, precipices, pinnacles, valleys, caves, canyon, gorge, meadows, plains, woods, seas, deserts, the moon and the stars

Weather – mist, clouds, sun, blue skies, visibility, darkness, thunder, rain, floods, storms, cold, hot

Four senses – the smells of the flowers, incense, perfumes, and herbs; all the beautiful places and colors she saw as she journeyed; all sounds she listened to in nature, the birds, the songs, and the voices of the other characters; and the taste of food and bitter and sweet water.

Characters and Places

  • Much-Afraid
  • Companions Sorry & Suffering
  • Dismal Forebodings (Much-Afraid’s aunt)
  • Craven Fear the Bully (son of Dismal Forebodings, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Gloomy and Coward (Craven Fear’s sister and brother-in-law, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Spiteful and Timid Skulking (Craven Fear’s sister and brother-in-law, cousin of Much-Afraid)
  • Pride, Resentment, Bitterness, Self-Pity, Anguish, Despair
  • Village of Much Trembling
  • Valley of Humiliation
  • Shores of Loneliness
  • Precipice of Injury
  • Wilderness of Agony and Disappointment
  • Forests of Danger and Tribulation
  • Valley of Loss
  • The Weed of Impatience
  • Flower of Acceptance and Joy
  • Bearing-with-Love
  • Praise and Thanksgiving
  • Kingdom of Love

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Quotes from the book:

“Then will you let me plant the seed of true Love there now?” asked the Shepherd. “It will take you some time to develop hinds’ feet and climb to the High Places, and if I put the seed in your heart now it will be ready to bloom by the time you get there.”

Much-Afraid shrank back. “I am afraid,” she said. “I have been told that if you really love someone you give that loved one the power to hurt and pain you in a way nothing else can.”

“That is true,” agreed the Shepherd. “To love does mean to put yourself into the power of the loved one and to become very vulnerable to pain, and you are very Much-Afraid of pain, are you not?”

She nodded miserably and then said shamefacedly, “Yes, very much afraid of it.”

“But it is so happy to love,” said the Shepherd quietly. “It is happy to love even if you are not loved in return. There is pain too, certainly, but Love does not think that very significant.”

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“She bent forward to look, then gave a startled little cry, and drew back. There was indeed a seed lying in the palm of his hand but it was shaped exactly like a long, sharply pointed thorn. Much-Afraid had often noticed that the Shepherd’s hands were scarred and wounded, but now she saw that the scar in the palm of the hand held out to her was the exact shape and size of the seed of Love lying beside it.

“The seed looks very sharp,” she said shrinkingly. “Won’t it hurt if you put it into my heart?”

He answered gently, “It is so sharp that it slips in very quickly. But, Much-Afraid, I have already warned you that Love and Pain go together, for a time at least. If you would know Love, you must know pain too.”

Much-Afraid looked at the thorn and shrank from it. Then she looked at the Shepherd’s face and repeated his words to herself. “When the seed of Love in your heart is ready to bloom, you will be loved in return” and a strange new courage entered into her. She suddenly stepped forward, bared her heart, and said, “Please plant the seed here in my heart.”

 His face lit up with a glad smile and he said with a note of joy in his voice, “Now you will be able to go with me to the High Places and be a citizen in the Kingdom of my Father.”

Then he pressed the thorn into her heart. It was true, just as he had said, it did cause a piercing pain, but it slipped in quickly and then, suddenly, sweetness she had never felt or imagined before tingled through her. It was bittersweet, but the sweetness was the stronger. She thought of the Shepherd’s words, “It is so happy to love”…

“Thank you, thank you,” she cried, and knelt at the Shepherd’s feet. “How good you are. How patient you are. There is no one in the whole world as good and kind as you…

“I am more glad even than you,” said the Shepherd.”

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“Once the Shepherd stooped and touched the flowers gently with His fingers, then said to Much-Afraid with a smile, ‘Humble yourself, and you will find that Love is spreading a carpet of flowers beneath your feet.’

Much-Afraid looked at Him earnestly. ‘I have often wondered about the wild flowers,’ she said. ‘It does seem strange that such unnumbered multitudes should bloom in the wild places of the earth where perhaps nobody ever sees them and the goats and the cattle can walk over them and crush them to death. They have so much beauty and sweetness to give and no one on whom to lavish it, nor who will even appreciate it.’

The look the Shepherd turned on her was very beautiful. ‘Nothing My Father and I have made is ever wasted,’ He said quietly, ‘and the little wild flowers have a wonderful lesson to teach. They offer themselves so sweetly and confidently and willingly, even if it seems that there is no one to appreciate them, just as though they sang a joyous little song to themselves, that it is so happy to love, even though one is not loved in return.

‘I must tell you a great truth, Much-Afraid, which only the few understand. Of all the fairest beauties in the human soul, its greatest victories, and its most splendid achievements are always those which no one else knows anything about, or can only dimly guess at. Every inner response of the human heart to Love and every conquest over self-love is a new flower on the tree of Love. Many a quiet, ordinary, and hidden life, unknown to the world, is a veritable garden in which Love’s flowers and fruits have come to such perfection that it is a place of delight where the King of Love Himself walks and rejoices with His friends.

Some of My servants have indeed won great visible victories and are rightly loved and reverenced by other men, but always their greatest victories are like the wild flowers, those which no one knows about. Learn this lesson now, down here in the valley, Much-Afraid, and when you get to the steep places of the mountains it will comfort you.’”

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“Would you be willing to trust me,” he asked, “even if everything in the wide world seemed to say that I was deceiving you – indeed, that I had deceived you all along?”

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“For one black, awful moment Much-Afraid really considered the possibility of following the Shepherd no longer, of turning back. She need not go on. There was absolutely no compulsion about it. She had been following this strange path with her two companions as guides simply because it was the Shepherd’s choice for her. It was not the way which she naturally wanted to go. Now she could make her own choice. Her sorrow and suffering could be ended at once, and she could plan her life in the way she liked best, without the Shepherd. During that awful moment or two it seemed to Much-Afraid that she was actually looking into an abyss of horror, into an existence in which there was no Shepherd to follow or to trust or to love – no Shepherd at all, nothing but her own horrible self. Ever after, it seemed that she had looked straight down into Hell.”

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“Other desires might clamor strongly and fiercely nearer the surface of her nature, but she knew now that down in the core of her own being she was so shaped that nothing could fit, fill, or satisfy her heart but he himself. ‘Nothing else really matters,’ she said to herself, ‘only to love him and to do what he tells me. I don’t know quite why it should be so, but it is. All the time it is suffering to love and sorrow to love, but it is lovely to love him in spite of this, and if I should cease to do so, I should cease to exist.”

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“Again he (The Shepherd) smiled, but only remarked quietly that the important thing about altars was that they made possibilities of apparent impossibilities…”

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“…take the natural longing for human love and desire which you found already growing in your heart when I planted my own love there, go up to the mountains and offer them as a burnt offering…she put out her hand and with one final effort of failing strength grasped the natural human love and desire growing in her heart and struggled to tear them out. At the first touch it was as though anguish pierced through her every nerve and fiber, and she knew with a pang almost of despair that the roots had wound and twined and thrust themselves into every part of her being. Though she put forth all her remaining strength in the most desperate effort to wrench them out, not a single rootlet stirred…in the grave of her own hopes…the priest wrenched it out of her heart, her flower of human love and desire, the plant of longing-to-be-loved, and burned it on the altar.”

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“She had the feeling that somehow, in the very far-off places, perhaps even in the far-off ages, there would be a meaning found to all sorrow and an answer too fair and wonderful to be as yet understood.”

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“She felt nothing but a great stillness in which only one desire remained, to do that which he had told her, simply because he had asked it of her.”

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“Every circumstance in life, no matter how crooked and distorted and ugly it appears to be, if it is reacted to in love and forgiveness and obedience to your will can be transformed.”

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“I have noticed that when people are brought into sorrow and suffering, or loss, or humiliation, or grief, or into some place of great need, they sometimes become ready to know the Shepherd and to seek his help.”

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“For he loves each one of us…as though there were the only one to love.”

Grace and Glory, Joy and Peace

“His name is an ointment poured forth…”

In Celebration of Grandparents, Part One

About a year and half after the end of World War I, in the spring of 1921, on a Wednesday, a little baby girl was born in Centertown, Kentucky, a little protestant town northeast of Lexington. Life happened amidst coal mines; prohibition, bootleggers, and moonshiners; the rise of the mob, mafia, and gangsters – most notably Al Capone, John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelly, and Ma Barker; women gaining the right to vote; Time Magazine first publication; the first Winter Olympics in the Alps; Hoover being appointed to lead the FBI; the Great Mississippi River flood; Charles Lindbergh making his first non-stop transatlantic flight; the beginning work on Mount Rushmore; Amelia Earhart being the first woman to fly over the Atlantic; JC Penney opening their first store in Delaware; the great stock market crash and subsequent Great Depression; the Dust Bowl; the construction of the Empire State Building; Bird’s Eye inventing frozen foods; Nevada legalizing gambling; Babe Ruth; and the book release of Gone With the Wind. This is a macro world picture of life during that time. Life on a micro level reveals that her real mother passed away during the childbirth of her younger sister, her sister lived. My great grandfather remarried, having four more children, including a set of twin girls. I have a few shabby pictures of her family – one picture of her grandparents, one picture of her real parents, and one picture of her real father and stepmother. I also have a picture of the front of the home where these six children grew up. I am told they could look through the cracks of the wood floor planks and see the ground; I am told it could get quite cold in the winter. They kept the fires burning with timber from the land. They slept on featherbeds and under feather blankets, cleaned clothes on a washboard and hung them outside on the clothesline to dry, and harvested the garden and canned much food for winter. In my mind, I get a hint of the Walton’s on a much smaller scale – faith in God, attending the protestant church on Sundays, singing hymns, saved and baptized in the river, playing with siblings, deeply loved, together working hard as a family living this life they had been given. In her mid-teens, my grandmother and her real sister move to my hometown. With little time to breathe, she meets my grandfather. He recently moved there from Paynesville, Kentucky with marginal education and means, looking for work. I am told, his grandfather, which would be my great great grandfather was the richest man in Mead County, Kentucky owning countless acres of land. When he died, the land was split up into parcels and given as an inheritance to various family members, my grandfather included. My grandparents marry in 1939 when she is 18.  She came with southern hospitality and deep Baptist roots. She overflowed a gentle nurturing spirit; kept a neat, clean, tidy home; cooked meals morning, noon, and night; and enjoyed spending much time with her family, as all the siblings, hers and his, slowly relocated to where they lived.  In 1940, she gives birth to a daughter, my aunt, and in 1941, she gives birth to a son, my dad. They rent a very small, one bedroom house. My grandmother takes in laundry and ironing for the property owner.  I am told they were in good standing with the property owner. The property owner actually lived next door in a large two-story home. My grandfather faithfully pays rent on time, completes carpentry work on both houses, and grooms the lawns. He finds favor with the property owner. When the property owner passes away, they move into the big house as renters at first, and eventually they are offered to purchase the properties at a fair, reasonable price because of my grandparent’s faithfulness and hard work. When my grandfather acquires the properties, he becomes the property manager and in turn begins renting out the little house and the upstairs of the big house, which has a separate stairwell entry from the back. Oh how I remember these places! Now my grandfather is illiterate; he has never learned to read or write. I do not recall his oppression and struggles, but I am told he carried much fear and shame as he encountered obstacles – employment hurdles; quality of life concerns such as driving tests, his inability to read street signs, names on buildings, mail, medication instructions, follow written instructions, write his name or anything for that matter. He is dependent upon my grandmother, my aunt, or my father. I am told he was a good provider and conscientious about paying bills on time. He actually works at a local dairy farm when times are about manual labor –  feeding cows, milking cows, filling milk pails or aluminum milk cans, and loading them for transport on a horse-drawn wagon. When dairy production becomes regulated, labeling requirements catapulte my grandfather into a frenzy because he cannot read the labels. He brings the new labels to my father and like flashcards, they work on visual recognition of which labels meant what. My grandfather is able to remain at the dairy for a season, but his illiteracy becomes his demise. I imagine it grieved him terribly. I faintly recall a tutor being hired to teach him how to read, but he does not have the self-assurance or patience and quits. Subsequently, he becomes a self-employed carpenter. Between rental properties and the carpentry business, he actually does well. My grandmother supplements their income by taking in laundry and ironing, working at a local canning company, working for a US TV manufacturer, and eventually working ten years for a local internationally known candy company. At some point in her life, my grandmother acquires diabetes. I do not know if it is Type I, Type II, or gestational, but what I do know is that my grandfather administers daily insulin shots to her. However, the progression of the disease seizes her eyesight. This is about the time I am born. I will write further on my relationship with my grandparents, but I pause here because the real truth is that every single person has a family history and every single person has their own story within that history. I feel like I am on a precipice overlooking a lovely landscape that I have never seen. When we share our history; when we share our story; when we invite others to enter into our story; when we open up to vulnerability; when we expose the dark secrets to light; when we reach past our inhibitions, shame, anxieties, and fears; when we reach down deep and dig in the messy, complicated, and imperfect to touch the pain, sorrow, heartaches, losses, failures, mistakes, hopes, and dreams; when we are willing to authentically speak our truth; we begin to break down barriers and stigmas; we become connected by tiny threads, we become a community. I am on the margins of considering that here is where we learn the truth about the immeasurable, steadfast, unfailing, unconditional love of God. Love you, mean it! +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ God’s Everlasting Love, Romans 8:31-39 “If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Book: The Little Way of Ruthie Leming by Rod Dreher

A friend loaned me this book with high accolades. I would rather not say how long ago she passed it my way, but I am seeing her tomorrow and was determined to finish reading it. I am typically reading multiple books at the same time, but of late have been trying to dwindle down those numbers.

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The book summary on the jacket cover reads:

When his little sister Ruthie Leming was diagnosed at age 40 with a virulent form of cancer, cosmopolitan journalist Rod Dreher was touched by the way the community he had left behind – St Francisville, Louisiana (pop. 1,700) – rallied around her. On visits home during her illness, he was afforded glimpses of a world he had turned his back on as a teenager.

A concert at the town sports park, dubbed Leming Aid, raised $43,000 to help Ruthie, a local schoolteacher, and her husband, Mike, an Iraq war veteran pay their medical bills. At the event an old friend pulled the author aside, pointed to the crowd of people there to support his sister and said, “This is how it is supposed to be. This is what folks do for each other.”

Dreher was also struck by the grace and courage his sister displayed in the face of death. Back home for Ruthie’s funeral, Dreher began to wonder whether the commonplace life Ruthie led in Louisiana was in fact a path to hidden grandeur, even spiritual greatness, concealed within the modest life of a mother and teacher.

To explore this revelation, Dreher and his wife, Julie, decided to leave Philadelphia and move back to his hometown. There he would help with family responsibilities, be there for Ruthie’s girls, and raise his three children amid the rituals that had defined his family for five generations – Mardi Gras, LSU football games, and deer hunting. As David Brooks poignantly described the move in his New York Times column, Dreher and his wife “Decided to accept the limitations of small-town life in exchange for the privilege of being a part of a community.”

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For me, the book started out slow, perhaps that is why I felt like I was dragging it around. However, the book does depict very real issues. Sibling rivalry is a current running throughout the pages. I could not understand Ruthie’s opposition and misperceptions she held against her brother for choosing to pursue his dreams beyond the small Louisiana Parish. Her resentment toward Rod strangulated the potential warm relationship they could have shared and placed undue awkwardness on the family system. Clearly, this was in sharp contrast to the relationships she maintained with her husband and children, the community, the church, and her professional peers. These two contrasts blur her true character for me. I wonder if the author’s rearview mirror was rose colored in an attempt to honor his sister’s life, tempered with trying to bring understanding and closure for him.

The issues of cancer and the far-reaching effects on everyone involved are sad, but West Feliciana Parish, Louisiana showed true value of community. Ruthie seemed to manage her fate with grace. The story does lead the reader to ask questions about what really matters in this life. Her story brings in a little focus on how faith in Christ helps sustain a strength, perseverance, and peace beyond understanding.

I felt half of the book dealt with Rod’s life (the author and brother.) I wonder if the book was away for him to probe and workout his personal life decisions. From an early age, his heart leaned toward escaping the small town. He wanted to pursue bigger opportunities that were not possible if he remained in a small community. He had a constant wrestling inside over his choices of leaving home, which religion he would align with, employment, and cities to live in, a constant mental struggle reconciling his life inclinations.  I got the impression that he grappled with giving himself permission to have his own unique identity and preferences. A point of interest to me was Rod’s spiritual life. I felt a true spirit in pursuit of God. He began as a Methodist in the tradition of his family, but soon ventured into Roman Catholicism, finally establishing himself in Eastern Orthodoxy. Despite these transitions, I sensed a true reverence for God.

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A few quotes from the book:

“She was just kind of magical. She saw something good in everybody, even as a child.”

 “There was something particular about Mam and Paw that made our house a center of community. They did not have a lot of money, but there was always room for more at our table. People dropped by constantly, and stayed for dinner—and sometimes into the night, even during the week. They wanted to be around Mam and Paw, who were boundlessly hospitable.”

“There has to be balance. Not everyone is meant to stay—or to stay away—forever. There are seasons in the lives of persons and of families. Our responsibility, both to ourselves and to each other, is to seek harmony within the limits of what we are given—and to give each other grace.”

“Contemporary culture encourages us to make islands of ourselves for the sake of self-fulfillment, of career advancement, of entertainment, of diversion, and all the demands of the sovereign self. When suffering and death come for you–and it will–you want to be in a place where you know, and are known. You want–no, you need–to be able to say, as Mike did, “We’re leaning, but we’re leaning on each other.”

Church 102

From my prior blog, Church 101, I wrote, “I had no emotion over our departure. However, I must admit in the wake of leaving the church, I certainly did not leave much behind, in fact quite the opposite. I packed myself numerous boxes of substance and toted them right out those church doors. One box contained my precious salvation and baptism along with a few spiritual disciplines like daily praying, reading my Bible, listening to my Christian music LP’s, and the various convictions of living a moral life. I lugged out a heavier box crammed with legalistic rules that I had witnessed and been taught to believe was the mark of the accomplished Christian soldier. I hauled a box brimming to overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and everything I ‘should’ be doing to gain His love and favor. I carted off a box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids.

These boxes were sealed tight with an encryption that only I could decipher. They contained my interpretation of what a Christian should and should not be, what they should and should not wear, what they should and should not do, where they should and should not go, and what makes a Christian acceptable and loved by God. In other words, I was inherently a bad person on a mission to attain these perfect standards. Then, and only then, could God possibly accept and love me, as well as these church people — or anybody else for that matter. I might as well have been an Israelite trying to live under the letter of the law, conditions of a narrow, rigid moral code that imprisoned me spiritually. And here is the kick in the teeth; I knew no difference because there certainly was no one at church or home explaining anything! These beliefs seeped into me without my awareness. These beliefs coupled with my home life constantly whispered in my ear, “You are unacceptable, a disappointment, and totally unlovable.” These beliefs drove me! I had mountains to climb to achieve that which I desperately longed for – to be acceptable and lovable by God and as a Christian.  

My mother took me to church as an infant onward. Weekly, faithfully we attended Sunday morning Sunday school and then the morning church service directly afterward. Of course, I began in nursery, graduated to toddlers, and then into Sunday school for certain age groups, progressively. When I was five, I shared with my mother that I got saved. She insisted that I was too young to understand what that meant. For two years, she contended I was not saved. At age seven, I had a Sunday school teacher who I thought the sun rose and set on. I lagged behind one Sunday morning after Sunday school helping push the chairs in – it really was not about the chairs, it was about being with her. She asked me if I was saved. I told her no because my mother drilled it into me that I was not. She shared Jesus with me that morning and I got re-saved. She told me I had to go forward during the morning worship service so that it could be announced to the congregation. Huh? You mean walk down that long footpath in front of all those people and tell the pastor I got saved? With fear, trepidation, and my little heart racing, I made my way forward in front of all those people to proclaim my salvation. Two weeks later, I was baptized. As I waded out into the deep baptismal, I heard a gasp hover over the congregation and then this hush of silence. On the way home, my mother told me that those sitting around her turned to her and said it was like seeing an angel walking out. I was wearing a white robe furnished by the church and had white blonde hair. In all truth, these two events were pivotal phenomena in my life. God knew that I would need Him at such a young age to survive all that was happening and all that lie ahead. He became the very foundation upon which I found my hope to keep trying. Without Jesus, I would not be who I am today. At this church, I was further strongly commanded to be reading scripture, memorizing scripture, and praying daily. This is the one box I took from that church that I cherish and hold with deep gratitude.

Now, children’s church felt like overwhelming chaos to me – lots and lots of kids from well to do families who attended the church academy huddled in their groups of friends. Oh, not me! I was fat, which made me a huge target for being ridiculed and laughed at; I owned one dress that I wore week after week as opposed to those who wore the newest trends; I attended public school and not the church academy, which made me an outsider; and I was not in attendance every time the church doors were open, which relegated me to being less than. To make it worse, somewhere between seven and eight years old, my mother began a path of irregular church attendance, which naturally played out in my life. Some weeks we attended both Sunday school and the morning church service; some weeks we attended just Sunday school and would scurry out the door to head home before the morning church service began; and some weeks we did not attend whatsoever. There seemed to be no rhyme, reason, or pattern behind the confusion of what each week brought, but this disrupted pattern of attendance placed me under a huge spotlight. You see, they took attendance. As I entered the Sunday school room or children’s church, someone took my name and checked me off some list. The woman taking attendance for children’s church would inevitably ask me why I had missed the prior week or weeks. Every time, I would tell her, “I don’t know.” One Sunday morning my mother planned to go to Sunday school only. I asked her if we could please stay for church. She asked me why and I told her because the woman keeps questioning me each time I am absent why I am gone. My mother looks at me and says, “You tell her it is none of her business.”  I proceed into children’s church a couple weeks later praying the woman would not notice I had been absent. Not on your life!  She again asks me why I had been absent the past few Sundays and, not knowing anything different, I say, “My mother told me to tell you that it is none of your business.” Granted, I was never questioned again, but it took me years to realize that that response was inappropriate. To this day, I simply say good morning, hi, or if I know the person well enough I might say, hey, I missed you, but I will never ask anyone why he or she was not in attendance.

Because of my father’s negativity about the church and my mother’s free-flowing feelings at home about her personal scrutinization from the church, I already had the strong sense that we were a diseased family of rats attending church amongst the snakes. The way I was treated by the other kids further supported my notion of being eaten alive. To the depth of my soul, I so wanted to fit in and be a part of the kids at church. It would have meant the world to me. But that simply would never, ever be, as hard as I tried. I had not one friend. There was one girl who was the ringleader and literally reminded me of Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie – prissy and spoiled, and displayed a vicious and manipulative personality. One Sunday they announce that our Sunday school class is having an outing. They are going to somebody’s farm to go horseback riding. I desperately wanted to go. I love animals and had never ridden a horse. However, I had no one to go with. As the time got closer, the desire to ride a horse outweighed the fear of going alone and risking the mockery of the other kids. My mother dressed me in a white speckled shirt two sizes too small and off I went. When I arrived at the church, we were instructed to get on the bus. I was last in line to enter the bus and there sat Nellie. My throat choked as she squealed in her shrill voice, “How much do you weigh?” The entire bus erupted into laughter as I deflated, hung my head in shame, and made my way to an empty seat. When we arrived at the farm, the horses were lined up on the opposite side of a wooden fence. We were told to stand on the opposing side of the wooden fence. As would be my fate, a horse walked up behind me and in between the slats of the fence, proceeds to lick me across the top of my suffocating tight white shirt leaving a huge grass stain swiped across the top. Once again, Nellie erupts into laughter and in her shrill voice announces to the entire group what happened causing a ripple effect of laughter. I wish the ground had opened up and swallowed me whole. The humiliation was crippling.

My mind was continuously trying to think of ways to fit in and gain acceptance from these kids. Around my sixth grade year, in an effort to gain acceptance and fit in, I asked my mother if I could attend the church academy. She was sitting at her sewing machine, as always making herself quite the attire, when I approached her with my novel idea. When I asked, she said, “Now why would you want to do that?” I said because I do not have any friends at church and I want to fit in with the kids. She said, “That is no reason for you to attend that academy. Those kids are no better than you are for attending that academy. Besides, we cannot afford to send you there. Do you know how much that costs?” Case closed! I continued attending public school. And, I continued to be the friendless laughing stock each time I attended church.

On another occasion, when I was in seventh grade, the 50 some year old teacher of the Sunday school class I was attending announces that we will be having a back to school pizza party at her home the following Saturday. Now my motivation to go had nothing to do with pizza or being with the kids. Truthfully, I would have rather played in traffic than be the fat girl scarfing down pizza in front of Nellie. My motive was the Sunday school teacher’s niece. Remember the Sunday school teacher that I thought the sun rose and set on, the one who shared Jesus with me? That was her niece. Her niece was the co-teacher of our class. She was not present in the class every Sunday morning, but I knew she was helping with the back to school pizza party. I wanted to attend the event because I wanted to see her. Did I mean anything to her? Not so much, as the years revealed, for that matter we never had conversation. But if you recall that emptiness that I spoke of in a prior blog, I was chasing after love from birth and other than my grandmother, she was probably the first female I wanted to love me. What a mistake to go to this party! What a BIG mistake!  You know how the Grinch’s heart grew 3X larger that day? My body had grown up and out over the summer and literally I had no pants that fit. Now my mother was a fine seamstress and in her brilliancy, rather than make me a new pair of pants, she decides to take a pair of my treasured undersized knit peach pants and sew (no kidding here) a 6-inch lace on the bottom of each leg of the pants. In a panic, I tell her, “No, I cannot wear those. I will look like a freak!” She convinces me that the lace makes them look really nice, they will not be too short, and everyone will think I look so cute. I wanted to puke the entire ride there. My mother drops me off at the end of the driveway. I see the kids playing baseball in the yard. I begin walking toward the area. I hear a piercing “Look” that split the atmosphere like lightning. Nellie begins pointing and laughing hysterically creating a riotous scene. As I got closer, the niece of the Sunday school teacher is standing on the porch watching the entire incident playout. No one stopped it. I had no way of leaving. I fell into a silent world of pure hell! This was the last attempt to participate in any church activity – no more Sunday school parties, no more children’s church, and no more youth activities. Remember those  boxes – the one overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and the other box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids – they both also contained blood from the wounds that dug so deep into my very soul.

That last box of legalism contained so many rules. And, I believed every single one. They were leverage against myself, indicators of my spirituality or lack thereof, markers of defeat, gages to remind me that I was not worthy to be loved, and guides that drove me just about over the edge.

Now, here is what I did love. I loved walking quietly into the huge sanctuary, locating my mother, quietly sitting in the pew, and listening to the prelude music. I loved singing the hymns. I loved hearing the beautiful choir each Sunday. I loved special music. And, I loved hearing the Word of God preached. At the most important level, somehow God got ahold of my heart and despite the fact that my heart was broken, I believe He held onto me beyond any words that I could ever write.

Love you, mean it!

Book: The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo

Summary of the book from Goodreads:

Rebecca never felt safe as a child. In 1969, her father, Robert Nichols, moved to Sellerstown, North Carolina, to serve as a pastor. There he found a small community eager to welcome him–with one exception. Glaring at him from pew number seven was a man obsessed with controlling the church. Determined to get rid of anyone who stood in his way, he unleashed a plan of terror that was more devastating and violent than the Nichols family could have ever imagined. Refusing to be driven away by acts of intimidation, Rebecca’s father stood his ground until one night when an armed man walked into the family’s kitchen . . . and Rebecca’s life was shattered. If anyone had a reason to harbor hatred and seek personal revenge, it would be Rebecca. Yet The Devil in Pew Number Seven tells a different story. It is the amazing true saga of relentless persecution, one family’s faith and courage in the face of it, and a daughter whose parents taught her the power of forgiveness.

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I finished this book a few days ago. My first thought upon completion – WoW!! Somewhere along the way, I missed it, but this story has been featured on Dr. Phil, The 700 Club, Lifestyle Magazine, and CNN.com – probably because I do not watch or read any of these media. For literally years, the Nichols family had been the target of threats – menacing phone calls at all hours of the night and day, threatening letters mailed to their home, drive-by shootings, and multiple dynamite bombings close to their home and the church. The local police and detectives were involved, and eventually the FBI, but all evidence was circumstantial and they needed concrete proof. My husband and I certainly feel more aggressive measures needed to be enacted by the police, the FBI, and the church members, but how deep did the corruption travel? Today I wonder if Child Protective Services would have removed the children from the home due to endangerment and an unsafe living environment.  

My husband and I had many discussions throughout my reading of this book. Some questions we discussed were:

  • What would we have done?
  • Would we have left before the violence escalated to such a disturbing intensity?
  • Would we choose to leave rather than put our children in jeopardy?
  • Why would you remain and traumatize yourself, your wife, your daughter, your son, your congregation, the city, etc?
  • Does God call us to remain in a place of service where clearly lives are at stake?
  • Should we sacrifice mental health, the well-being of our children, the congregation, and the town?
  • Would we choose to take a stand against an unethical wealthy ex-politician paying off officials and henchmen to work his evil schemes and cover up his demonic, depraved acts of hostility?
  • What was there to gain by staying? What was there to gain by leaving?
  • Were there other counter measures and tactics that could have been implemented hard core?
  • Was this down deep a power struggle and battle wills?
  • What would have been most glorifying to God?

The Bible says to live at peace with all people. I believe that whole-heartedly, but I also believe at times peace means not remaining in a volatile situation. Ultimately, our answer is “NO” we would have left to serve elsewhere, but these questions are relative to what a person determines to be God’s leading and what they are willing to pay as the ultimate price. Now, with this all said, I would like to point out that God has used all things together for good. Rebecca, the author and daughter, is a speaker on betrayal and the power of forgiveness and is involved in various other ministries. What a high price tag!

Some quotes from the book:

“And now Danny, the newborn, had signs of a nervous disorder.”

“I knew a thing or two about the impact of losing sleep. When awake, I lived with the constant fear that we were never truly safe. I’d jump at the sound of a car door slamming or at the screech of tires squealing, even if the noise came from someone arriving home for dinner…And when I was asleep, the nightmare we were living followed me into my dreams…”

“Like a puzzle with a thousand pieces, I struggled to fit together into any meaningful order the troubling thoughts swirling in my mind…Night after night, we prayed that this man would have a change of heart. We begged God to take away his anger, to transform his mind by the power of the gospel message that Daddy preached Sunday after Sunday.”

“Lying in bed at night was especially difficult for me. The memories of us living in Sellerstown and the fear that prevented me from falling asleep back then would flood my mind. When the nightmarish thoughts became too much to bear, too loud to silence, I’d get out of bed…”

“Daddy’s fragile condition was severe enough to require heavy medication – even an extended hospitalization of six months…I’m sure his condition was complicated by second-guessing. He had to have wondered about the wisdom of staying in Sellerstown when friends and family had pleaded, begged, and prayed we’d leave before harm was done. Should he have listened? Had he been stubborn? Had this been some sort of contest of wills: Daddy vs. Mr. Watts? Or had the voice of God really confirmed in his spirit that he should not abandon this congregation?”

“But would leaving to save our own skins have been what the Lord wanted? Didn’t Jesus say to take up our cross and follow Him? Did we get a say in where Jesus took us? By definition, a cross, as Daddy knew, was suffering even unto death. The Scriptures don’t paint a rosy picture for those who follow the Lord. Daddy knew full well that Jesus promised, “In the world ye shall have tribulation.” That’s part of the deal, part of what happens when living in a fallen world. And yet Daddy also knew full well that Jesus promised His followers hope saying, “Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world…In spite of what Daddy knew to be true in the Bible, his constant questioning about his decision to stay acted like a stage-four cancer. The speculations devoured his inner being, reducing him to a shell of his former self.”

“Here’s the best way I can describe those years. Imagine taking seven different one thousand-piece puzzles. Then, imagine doing the unthinkable – mixing them all together in one giant pile. Then, after you’ve created the mess, you look at the pictures on the various boxes and realize there are tons of pieces of non-descript sky and fields of grass. Your job is to re-create the seven puzzles. That’s when it dawns on you it might take a lifetime to figure out which pieces fit into which puzzles.”

“It’s always been a mystery to me how God can handle seeing all the pain my family has suffered, as well as all the suffering that goes on every second of the day and night throughout the world. Human understanding is limited. Only the God of the universe could have the capacity and belief to prevent Him from simply closing up shop and saying, “That’s it. I’m done.” Thankfully, no one is broken beyond God’s repair. Our Creator knows exactly how to heal and fix His created.”

Church 101

When I was 15, my mother announces we are leaving the large, wealthy Baptist church. She was a charter member, but no longer could tolerate the scrutiny of the pastor and many other members. I had no emotion over our departure. However, I must admit in the wake of leaving the church, I certainly did not leave much behind, in fact quite the opposite. I packed myself numerous boxes of substance and toted them right out those church doors. One box contained my precious salvation and baptism along with a few spiritual disciplines like daily praying, reading my Bible, listening to my Christian music LP’s, and the various convictions of living a moral life. I lugged out a heavier box crammed with legalistic rules that I had witnessed and been taught to believe was the mark of the accomplished Christian soldier. I hauled a box brimming to overflowing with all the reasons I was unlovable and unacceptable to God and everything I ‘should’ be doing to gain His love and favor. I carted off a box of glass shards each representing the countless times I was mocked, laughed at, ridiculed, and exploited by those church kids.

In this church, my mother was unacceptable because she came as a single parent bringing my brother and I on Sunday mornings, sometimes to Sunday School and church, sometimes just to Sunday School, sometimes just to church. My father adamantly refused to attend any church stating that the church was full of hypocrites. I never knew what that meant, other than Sunday morning TV, home repairs, and working in the garage was not what hypocrites did. Hypocrites went to church. The church itself had high expectations that everyone should attend Sunday morning Sunday school and church service, Sunday evening, Wednesday evening prayer meeting, and go door-to-door soul winning and visitation on Thursday evenings. She never met that mark and grew to feel judged, isolated, and lonely, particularly because she was ‘unequally yoked’ and her financial class did not measure up to their standard. I suppose she felt like condemnation was poured all over her. I believe there was solid evidence to support her feelings, but her own nefarious ways as well heaped conviction and guilt upon her soul. When she had a small meeting with the pastor to get ‘wise counsel’ about filing for divorce, it became her worst nightmare as the pastor resolutely objected. From that point on, she felt doomed to a marginalized place where only the poor were tossed a few crumbs. That is when she decided to leave.

As for myself, I heaved my over-stuffed boxes on my back, followed my mother out of that church, and year upon year, walked through life like a pack donkey. I believed those strongboxes contained all of my foundational beliefs; they contained the path and role-models to my spirituality; they contained my performance goals; they contained my spiritual benchmarks; they contained my self-assessment tormentors; they contained my mother’s boxes; and jointly  they continually catapulted me into a troublesome struggle with church and God. Now, of course, I had not a clue of all I jam-packed into my boxes at such an impressionable age. I never opened them to take a closer look and sort the contents all out. I just kept relentlessly trying to apply all these round pegs into my square holes, always expecting different results if I just kept trying harder and harder to become a round peg. For decades, the contents seeped all over my life, but here again I was ignorant and was not able to identify all the boxes strapped to my heart and mind; I was just a donkey loaded down with faceless, nameless burdens. As for the specifics of my personal experiences at this church, I will share in my future post entitled Church 102.

I am entitling this post Church 101 because boy do I have a lot more to say about church(s). Yet, I want to make this clear, I believe to the core of my being that Jesus died on the cross for my sins and the sins of the whole world – that is you too my readers! I believe Jesus is the only one true living Son of God. I believe that He was crucified on a cross, died a completely innocent man as the sacrificial lamb to redeem our sins, was buried in a tomb, and rose again in three days offering all salvation to those who believe. I believe the Bible is Truth and contains everything we need to know about living a life that glorifies God. I believe in reading my Bible and praying daily. I believe we are called to corporate worship. I believe that all true Christians throughout the entire world are the Body of Christ. I am a Christian believer saved by God’s grace and mercy. I am a follower of Jesus. He is my continual atonement!

With that said, I am one imperfect human being!! I have wrestled and struggled with various aspects of my spirituality throughout my life. Some issues have nearly crippled my faith. I have wandered off into complacency on occasion. I have meandered in and out of churches. I have felt deep discouragement. I have been angry with God. I have questioned God. I have read the book of Job about 100 times diminished to tears trying to understand grief and suffering. My pathway has twisted and turned, yet, I believe He is constantly pursuing me, in fact, I pray regularly asking Him to never let me go, to always come find me, and to do whatever it takes to humbly bring me before Him. Oh, and by the way, that prayer is continuously answered — He does not, He does, and He has! My soul truly seeks after Him.

Love you, mean it!