Crosses to Carry

Raise your hand if you have burdens you bear. It does not matter if those burdens are permanent or temporary, heavy or light, exposed or hidden, or even perhaps you are driving with your eyes closed, trust me, eventually you will crash! Come on, raise those hands, we ALL have our crosses to bear in this life. Some crosses are unchangeable and interminable. Some crosses are an adversity lasting an indeterminate, but limited amount of time. Some crosses are things that ‘happen to us’ causing severe ripple effects throughout our entire lifespan. Some crosses are consequences from conscious or ignorant choices made. Some crosses are life, redefining moments that establish a time marker of before and after where life breaks forever, you are now stumbling through an unfamiliar dense forest, and your life story is instantly getting re-written; life will never be the same.  Now that all of your hands are finally raised, you ALL can put your hands down now.

If we put together an impromptu list of crosses people bear, I imagine it would be a scroll stretching out unfathomable miles and truthfully still would never be all-encompassing.  I have my truly unbelievable ‘stuff’ to me, but I know every single person on the face of this earth has their personal story filled with hardships. I wish I had an anonymous PO Box to receive anonymous stories from willing people about their adversities. I think it would be quite therapeutic and safe to unload a portion of that weight. Whatever your crosses and however you define them, at times the pills seem too hard to swallow. To me I can feel like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up that steep hill; sometimes I would like to let go of that boulder and just let it steamroller over me. Crosses equal suffering! Suffering equals grief, pain, agony, anguish, despair, temptations, trials, and tribulations. I have had times when I felt like I simply could not tolerate my constant-never-ending-at-times-desperate struggling.  

For me, I did not exactly win the “Wonderful Parenting, Happy Childhood” lottery. Life was MESSED up!!! Nevertheless, I drove through life with my eyes closed. Externally, I gave the appearance of all together, life was a bed of roses – clean, pruned, good job, faithful employee, bills paid, nice clothes, friends, attend church and served, practiced personal spiritual disciplines, warm and cozy tidy meticulous home (all things said in no certain order,) the only external red flashing beacon of light giving off urgent warning signals was my ever-increasing weight. I was over-qualified at surviving, recovering, and denying and onward I raced through my inner obstacle course. On the inside, I was MESSED up! Weedy vines began choking out and killing my roses! Those vines intertwined around everything; they were killer vines invading and smothering my landscape. Yet, I was merrily speeding through life with my eyes closed at a high rate of speed. I did not even realize these vines had suction cupped and attached themselves to every piece of me, until eventually, I crashed. In reality, I was being internally strangulated by choking vines; I was being attacked by rose thorns causing injurious deep scrapes and cuts; I was slowly fading and dying. I carried crosses labeled spiritual, physical, gender, marital, financial, bankruptcy, loss of house, moving, friendships, family, financial, employment, disability, death, mental issues, therapeutic abuse, medical nightmares, insomnia, buried feelings of emptiness, loneliness, resentment, shame, PTSD, etc. – all symptomatic seepage from my internal brokenness.  I was fighting a fierce battle of survival, trust me I had an extreme arsenal of weapons acquired in childhood where I learned how to survive. Eventually, profound despair, exhaustion, and hopelessness turned into a daily crusade of desperately wanting to take my own life. I would sit at work on the third floor, thinking about going down to the vacant first floor restroom and slashing my wrists. I would think about OD’ing on pills. The abyss kept getting deeper and darker the further my mind slipped into searching for an escape hatch.

This is just a mere glimpse at the tip of my iceberg; it is the unseen mass below the surface that truly needed to be worked at chipping away. It takes a whole lot of courage to choose life; it takes a brave soul to look at what lies beneath the surface. It seems the holidays and winter months can capitalize on my weaknesses, even though I have gained many coping skills. I know that I am not alone. There are oh so very many who suffer during this joyous season – sadness, loneliness, estrangement, anxiety, stress, sleep disturbances, fatigue, isolating and social withdrawal, loss of interest in activities, depression, PTSD, grief, tearfulness, financial constraints, fear, shame, perfectionism, frustration, irritability, fixating on the past, physical ailments, aches, and pains, etc. These too are symptoms of floating icebergs. It takes bold audacity to drill down inside those frozen parts and take a hard long forward look at what is actually causing behavioral and symptomatic manifestations of deeper causes. It is hard work! It is hard to get gut wrenching honest with yourself and begin identifying your junk. And, it is even harder to implement the life-long changes in order to stop the hemorrhaging. There is always a different way to manage carrying our crosses. Now, I am no authority or professional, and quite honestly am still in recovery, but we have been able to cut away some of the vines, remove some of the thorns, I am breathing a little better these days, and definitely I am not suicidal.

I don’t begin to know or pretend to know what cross you are bearing; I don’t know if it is a thorn in the flesh, a death, a divorce, a sick child, someone terminally ill, mental illness, personal injury or illness, addiction, family issues, troubles at work, change in work status, less than favorable custody arrangement, financial decline, foreclosure, change in residence, school, or church, betrayal, loss of trust, loss of safety, violated, crime, imprisonment, a bad hair day, or hell on earth. Here is what I do know. There is ALWAYS hope, there is always something to be thankful for, and there are acts of service we can do for others to switch our focus!!  I do not mean denial; I mean concentrating on good things. Your situation might not change tomorrow, next week, a month, or a year from now, but there is hope and something to find gratitude for in the midst. You may spend a lifetime praying for something that will never be and at times, it makes your heart so painfully sad that you recoil from life for a bit, lick your wounds, and slowly emerge with renewed hope. Press the reset button and do a good deed for someone else. Somehow, find gratitude and bless someone else. You may spend a lifetime battling an addiction – rising and falling, rising and falling, time after time hoping this time will be victory at last. Do not give up hope! Extend grace and mercy to yourself. Stand up, brush yourself off, and try again! You may be carrying a hidden grief so heavy and painful that at times you are drowning and suffocating. Do not let hope slide away. Look around for even a miniscule something to be thankful for and spread a little joy somewhere. Whatever your cross, keep hope alive, find gratitude in the waiting, and grasp that little mustard seed of faith. Miracles happen everyday!

I want to share a writing by someone anonymous to me:

THE MIRACLE OF CHRISTMAS

The whole Christmas story is full of miracles. 

I personally find them hard to comprehend. 

It makes no sense. 

How could the infinite eternal God become a baby? 

Not only how, but also why? 

Why would He choose to be born to peasant parents? 

Why would He empty Himself of every advantage of His divine nature? 

Why would He choose to become a servant and become obedient to death?

even death on a cross? 

Why to sinners like us did He do it?

It is because of his all-encompassing love.

I cannot explain it, but I believe it.

I thank God for sending His Son to an imperfect world. 

To a world that celebrates the spirit of consumerism

Where Christmas comes from shopping lists, catalogs, and the almighty credit card.

I pray God delivers us from empty cheer and season’s greetings born of obligation. 

I hope He delivers us from all the social events that supposedly honor Jesus. 

Surely, Christmas is supposed to be more than packages, paper, bows, silver bells, Frosty, Rudolph and all his reindeer friends.

You see the true spirit of Christmas cannot be found in a store window or in a Christmas carol.

Christmas is not giving bigger and better so we can get bigger and better.

You cannot count Christmas by the number of decorations you use.

We cannot even count Christmas by the number of manger scenes and stars we have on the tree. 

In fact, we cannot even count Christmas by the number of verses we memorize. 

I pray God would grant us the true spirit of Christmas:

Generosity of heart and the love, which caused Christ to wrap Himself in the garments of our humanity.

I pray God shows us the true meaning of Christmas and affirms our worth apart from what we have or what we do.

For reasons which only His Holy love can explain, God gave Christ to become one of us and to suffer the consequences of our sin.

This Holiday season as we’re in the middle of singing carols, baking cookies, decorating our homes and opening our gifts

remember to leave room for CHRIST.   

“For unto us was born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord.” 

“And His name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Prince of Peace, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father.”

As we celebrate Christ’s entrance into the world, let us try to make our world a little better.

Mend a quarrel

Call a friend

Seek out a forgotten friend

Do random acts of kindness

Give compliments, encouragement, and appreciation

Do not be critical of others

Dismiss suspicion and replace it with trust

Write a letter

Send cards of kindness

Share some treasure

Cook dinner together

Bake something and take it to a neighbor

Pay for someone else

Let others go first

Give a soft answer

Say ‘Thank You’

Encourage one another

Be loyal in word and deed

Keep a promise

Listen

Love unconditionally

Apologize if you are wrong

Try to understand and show acceptance

Disregard envy

Be joyful

Express your gratitude

Welcome a stranger

Invite a friend for hot chocolate

Gladden the heart of a child

If you’ve wronged someone, fix it

If you think you’ve wronged someone, fix it

Forgive

Go outdoors and take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of this earth

Make a difference

I am not talking about the other person

I am talking about you; you are the one that can make the difference.

It starts with you.                    

At Christmas, we tend to believe all things are possible.

“The wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”

Sin can be forgiven.

Broken relationships can be restored.

Hearts can be healed.

Try to make your little corner of the world a better place!

To those who believe:

EMMANUEL, GOD WITH US!

Anonymous

Glad tidings of joy!

Merry Christmas!

Love you, meant it!

Maybe Life is a Little Bit More

For some reason, I have lost my blogging mojo! I have not lost my enthusiasm about the blog; I love writing and I love my blog. It is as if I have lost my energy and concentration. It is at these junctures, I need to push myself into deeper water. In deeper water, I can either give up and drown or dig into that well of reserves and swim with more determination.  So, here I am swimming with determination, but in what direction? I am floundering with what to whittle out, though in reality the pickings are truly abundant. Hey, there’s a word — “abundant.” Seems like a great word for the Christmas season. Now, I am not talking about prosperity, I am talking about abundance. Prosperity, on the other hand, has more to do with material possessions and affluence. Scratch prosperity, that is not what I want to talk about, though I think the two get mingled together into one ideology never considering the distinctions.  

Prosperity theology (sometimes referred to as the Prosperity Gospel or New Thought) peddles a controversial religious thinking filled with accusations of hypocrisy. This notion promotes the will of God as always being financial blessings and the alleviation of sickness and poverty. Faith, prayer, positive speech, and donations to religious causes will increase one’s material wealth. If humans have faith in God, He will deliver security and prosperity; after all, it is God’s will for His people to be blessed. One prominent proponent of these teachings is Joel Osteen. Osteen owns a $10.5 million, 17,000 square foot mansion with 6 bedrooms and bathrooms, 5 open wood fire places, 3 elevators, a guest house, an outdoor pool, and pool house in River Oaks, Texas (a ‘burb’ of Houston, Texas, paying over $260,000 in property taxes yearly.) *Picture below

Joel Osteen’s Mansion

His lifestyle includes fancy cars (for sure a Ferrari), private jets, yachts, tailored suits, a wife refined by lavish jewels, attired in top quality garments, etc. His estimated net worth is $50-60 million. A satirical joke by the Babylon Bee circulated during Hurricane Harvey saying, “Joel Osteen Sails Luxury Yacht Through Flooded Houston To Pass Out Copies Of ‘Your Best Life Now.’ ” (it is worth a little chuckle!) Now, I am going to just leave this right here because I am not a proponent of this doctrine. However, I will toss out a couple questions to ponder:

  1. Who is the primary beneficiary of the prosperity gospel? The leader?
  2. Wouldn’t Jesus have been the wealthiest man on earth?
  3. How do you explain the persistence of suffering, sickness, and disaster among Christians?
  4. Where are treasures laid up under this religiosity? – “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…”

I really want to try to keep this simple. Abundant living is not material blessings as I interpret scripture. I believe abundant living is quite the opposite. Abundant living is:

  • Faith and hope in Jesus; eternal life –
  • A true personal relationship with Jesus – “…the LORD your God is God; He is the faithful God…”
  • Pray, Pray, Pray about everything – “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.”
  • Reading the Bible – learning and maturing in wisdom and knowledge of truth – ““Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways!”
  • Trusting in God’s power and presence in your life – “”I am the LORD, the God of all mankind. Is anything too hard for me?”
  • Trusting that God is all knowing – ““I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning…”
  • Desiring God more than what the world offers like material possessions, status, achievement, recognition, popularity, approval, acceptance, attention, idolatry, fulfillment of the flesh
  • Practicing the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control
  • Confessing our sins regularly; asking forgiveness from God and others; apologizing; swallowing pride and humbling oneself to specifically say “I’m sorry for…”  – “The LORD is gracious and merciful; slow to anger and great in loving kindness.” The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth…”
  • Asking God for help and helping others – “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy.” “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.”
  • Choosing gratitude, being thankful for EVERYTHING – “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in ALL circumstances” (not some), “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you…”
  • Contentment in ALL circumstances – “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” “O, taste and see that the Lord is good…”
  • Choosing joy and peace amidst grief, difficult circumstances, and painful struggles (the list is not comprehensive, but here are many to contemplate choosing joy and peace amidst the pain) –

Death of a spouse
Divorce or Marital separation
Imprisonment
Death of a close family member
Personal injury or illness, major surgeries
Mental Illness
Abuse
Job termination or resignation
Retirement
Change in health of family member
Loss of Pregnancy or child
Sexual difficulties
Change in financial state
Death of a close friend
Change to different line of work
Foreclosure of mortgage or loan
Bankruptcy
Disability
Change in responsibilities at work
Child leaving home
Trouble with in-laws or family members
Spouse starts or stops employment
Change in living conditions
Revision of personal habits
Change in residence, moving
Change in church
Change in sleeping habits
Change in eating habits
Christmas & Holidays & Anniversaries
Home invasion, theft of property or threat of
Loss of Trust, Betrayal, Loss of Approval, Loss of Safety  

  • Deep, abiding peace that passes all understanding that does not come from deep breathing and counting to ten
  • Choosing to live a changed new life as a new creation through the power of Christ
  • Surrendering our will and desires over to God – one example is addictions, which includes failing, recovering, adjusting, enduring, overcoming, over and over until we have victory
  • Resting in God’s sovereignty and timing – “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” “I the Lord do not change.”
  • Loving and giving to others – “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”  “…give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”

You see, the abundant life is NOT an abundance of tangible “stuff” purchased at stores or online amassed in our homes or owning finer things keeping up appearances or keeping up with the Joneses, accumulating treasures here on earth. The abundant life is about the abundance of Jesus. I have often looked around our home and wondered what if I literally sold it all? A young man approached Jesus asking what good thing must he do to receive eternal life. Jesus replied, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Just think about that for a minute. What if we sold all our material prosperity and gave the money to the poor? What if?

Charlie Brown struggled with the meaning of Christmas and the trappings of consumerism until Linus tells him the true meaning of Christmas.

And, even the Grinch in all his grinchiness finally grasps:

“He hadn’t stopped Christmas from coming! It came!
Somehow or other, it came just the same!

And the Grinch, with his grinch feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling. “How could it be so?

It came without ribbons! It came without tags!
It came without packages, boxes, or bags!”

He puzzled and puzzled til his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

Maybe Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store.
Maybe Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more!”

The abundant life is about eternity with Jesus – “setting our minds on things above” and “storing up treasures in heaven.”  The abundant life is a state of being from within and living it outwardly toward others. The abundant life is a continual, un-ending season of giving; it is living out our faith through good deeds and blessing others. The abundant life is following Jesus.

Love you, mean it!

Are We There Yet?

The countdown is on! My husband has a mere six working days before he takes his annual vacation. We are in that anticipatory pre-vacation mode. You know that place; like the dog watching out the window, hearing the car door shut, becoming filled with giddiness, and prancing and wagging its tail waiting for it’s human to come inside. Every year at the beginning of October, we begin frolicking about in eager expectation of the last week. We begin to loosen up. That carefree spirit starts to emerge. We certainly do not want to rush October because it is our favorite month, but that precious last week is sacred. At quitting time on that last day of work, my husband runs out of his office and drives off like a lone wolf into the dark of night, destination home. We celebrate our anniversary that week. We celebrate his birthday that week. We celebrate the crisp air and beautiful colors of autumn that week. We celebrate being together, attending the Men and Boys’ Choir first performance of the season at the local catholic cathedral, long drives with no objective or purpose, road trips, visiting a bookstore, staying up late, sleeping in, hibernating a day or two, lighter moods and laughter, and rest. There are always a few “to do’s,” but the rush of time slows, schedules mainly cease, pressures release, anxieties temper, and a calming peace lightens our hearts. We become like eagles flying high, soaring on unseen air currents.

We have never been “vacationers.” We used to spend a night here or there, but have never traveled to far off destinations. Age, pets, and finances make us predominantly “staycationers.”  And, honestly, we have come to prefer and enjoy it that way. We share a deep friendship wherever we find ourselves. We love gut-splitting laughter, times of quietness, and the simpler things of life. Home is our refuge, a sanctuary of serenity, a haven of contentment. Certainly, life’s heartaches, struggles, and cares do not dissipate, but we place them on the back burner as a respite from the storms. As the few old quotes state from Gone with the Wind, “Fiddle-Dee-Dee, I’ll think about it tomorrow,”  “After all tomorrow is another day,” and “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”  So, hats off and cheers to our fast approaching, passionately welcome “staycation!” Our tails are wagging! Are we there yet?

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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.’”

================================

“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…”

My Friend “PSB”

Today on my music playlist the song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” by Susan Boyle randomly played. My friend PSB came to mind. PSB and I shared a love for Susan Boyle and Josh Groban. It is not as if we sat around listening to their music, but we were quick to share if a new CD released; we would play each other a certain song we loved. We laughed that we played one song that captured us over and over and over and over.  

I met PSB working in the HR department of a past employer. Sometimes I think God calls us to a place for just a little window of time because He wants us to meet someone; like that ancient Chinese proverb about the invisible red thread connecting those destine to meet. I only worked at this particular employer for a little over a year and a half. About a year in PSB was hired. She was having difficulty learning the job. I had not met PSB yet, but I sat back watching and listening for a couple weeks. I was irritated with their treatment of her – making fun of her, talking behind her back, and setting her up for failure – like big bullies in the work place! Now, I will fight the crusade for an underdog in certain circumstances and I certainly felt compelled in this injustice. One day in the break room, I saw her sitting at a table by herself crying. I felt her pain searing through me like the blade of a knife. I quietly walked over, introduced myself, and sat down. I explained to her that I knew there was a struggle and asked her if the supervisor would agree, if I could sit with her for the afternoon. She seemed thrilled. I made my way to the supervisor and requested that she allow me to sit with PSB and assess the situation. The supervisor thankfully agreed. Turns out her learning had nothing to do with her ability, but rather the inadequate, incompetent, careless failures of the trainers. What these morons could not understand is that training must be adapted to the learning style. We do not all have the same learning framework. In one month, I trained PSB. She became one of the best reps for the company and remained with them for about five years. God orchestrated that scenario to initiate a fourteen-year friendship that I treasured.

PSB and I also shared a love of designing and making jewelry. A couple years after I met PSB, she told me she was noticing the bracelets I was wearing. I told her I made them all. She was like, “What? Can you teach me how?” I taught her a few basics, but PSB was the type to dive to the farthest depths in her interests; she became completely immersed. She started taking classes at a little independent bead shop. I took a couple classes with her, but worked so much, that I did not have much time to invest. She ate, slept, and breathed jewelry design and began waking up in the middle of the night sketching out patterns from her mind. I was blown away at her all-consuming passion. In great haste, she far surpassed me. As work devoured my life, she decided that she would take the classes and to reinforce her skills, she would teach me the pattern when I could make time. It worked out great until I was too exhausted to comprehend a bead pattern. She then offered for me to buy the materials and in turn, she would make me pieces that she had learned. Fabulous! I still have several pieces and will cherish them forever!

One Saturday afternoon we were all three driving around to a few stores. PSB mentioned she saw on Dr. Oz something about ear candles. We were like, “What?” She insisted we drive around to the health stores and find ear candles. The approximate 10-inch candles, which are hollow fabric cones soaked in wax or paraffin cost about $2 each. Finally, at 8:30 pm we found the ear candles at a small GNC in a secluded strip mall area. We bought six.

We returned to our home. She was giddy with excitement. She decided Bryon would be the Guinee pig. We got a bowl of water to extinguish the flaming cone when done. We cut a hole in a paper plate and stuck the candle into the paper plate, which was to make a barrier between the ear and the flame to make sure candle wax and ash did not fall on his face. We had Bryon lie down on the bed on his side. We placed the candle in his ear canal and lit the other end of the cone on fire. The flame took off like a blaze of glory nearly catching Bryon and the bed on fire. We squealed, Bryon jumped up, we quickly tossed the flaming cone into the bowl of water, PSB and I were rolling with laughter while my husband said, “That’s it, I’m not doing this.” I did not think we would stop laughing. Finally, when everything settled, we actually burned ear candles in all of our ears. PSB wanted to see what was inside the cone after we were done. We set out cutting open those cones and looked in disgust at what appeared to be wax suctioned right out of the ear canal. Later we found out that the debris inside burned ear candles is supposed to be the impurities removed from your ear, but in reality, the debris shows up in the candles even if they have not been near an ear canal. We later learned that the contents were a blend of burned candle wax and fabric. We often reminisced and laughed over our experiment. She was always coming up with silly experiments for us to try. One time she arrived toting Bioré blackhead removing and pore cleansing strips. My husband refused to engage so we went into the bedroom and giggled ourselves silly playing with those strips. She continued to watch and share Dr. Oz and Dr Phil religiously. She told me she wished Dr Phil had been her father; she adored his strength of character and wisdom.

PSB would keep a small notebook beside her at all times. She kept lists of everything – to do, appointments, errands, scripts, and one list was everything she wanted to tell me or talk to me about next time we were together. I loved it! She called me “Sissy” and I her. Now PSB had her stuff and I had mounds of my own, but we never pushed and prodded for information. We enjoyed each other’s company and could chat for hours. PSB was not a Christian, but she knew I was a believer. Because my vehicle had a fish decal on the back, she called my car the “Jesusmobile” yet she was always ready to get in and take off on some adventure. I never pushed my beliefs onto her, but rather lived them out before her and I felt she respected my spirituality.

PSB was a girlie girl and I was not. One time she convinced me to get a pedicure and a manicure with her. I was so out of my element and nearly popped out of the chair when some Vietnamese woman began massaging my legs. Never did that again, but we laughed ourselves silly! Sometimes she would be putting on her make up when I or we arrived. When done, she would look at herself in the mirror, blow a kiss at herself, and say, “What a pretty girl!” Just comical! Sometimes she would act as if she was kissing her arms up and down, say, “Such a pretty girl”, and just giggle at herself. PSB had a dramatic flair. When telling me something, her antics were off the charts and made me laugh so hard. She had a confident strength that I lacked, which gave me a little more self-assurance when we were together. She refused to go to thrift stores. We would intentionally kid with her and say we are going thrifting today; she would get a high-pitched voice and say, “Bugs, Bugs!”

My husband, PSB, and I went to The Haunted Forest one Halloween. On the dark roads driving there, PSB kept saying, “My stomach is queasy. I think I’m gonna throw up.” My husband kept instigating the situation by pointing out how dark the country roads were. In pure fear, I like to never made it out of the forest alive. We laughed ourselves silly. Each fall we would take a color drive enjoying the crisp air and beautiful colors. One year we stopped at an orchard and took silly pictures with our heads in wooden holes – she was the scarecrow and I was the corn stalk. Late spring into summer, we would take a drive along the lakeshore. She would tell us happy memories about raising her daughter and taking her on picnics at the lake. She adored our two Maine Coon cats. She came over to visit shortly after having her knee replacement and our large male Maine Coon jumped up to get his dose of loving, but landed directly on her knee. She winced in pain, but loved on that gentle giant cat that we all adored.  PSB had some health issues that came on after her knee replacement and revision, which slowly began to diminish her life. Her visiting me/us slowly faded away, but myself or my husband and myself would regularly visit at her place. She liked a fountain Diet Coke, so anytime my husband and I went to visit, he would get her a large fountain Diet Coke. She loved it! Each and every time, her first drink of the Diet Coke, she would say, “Ahhhh, burns all the way down” with a smile on her face. Sometimes my husband and I say that to each other to this day. PSB did not care for men whatsoever at first, but slowly my husband was able to break that barrier and gain her trust. She nicknamed him “Sparky.” They shared a mutual banter. Anytime he would swat at a bug flying by, she would wave at him and say, “Hi Hi!” It was something between the two of them. One Friday evening she announced that she wanted to go out to eat somewhere so she could get pancakes. We all headed to Mr. Burger. Unbeknownst to us, PSB brought sugar free syrup in her purse. When we got to the table, my husband asked her if she wanted him to get her some syrup. She loudly proclaimed, “Are you trying to kill me? I’m a diabetic!” In shock and humor, we died laughing!

Though we both never shared the depths of our ugly pasts, we quietly knew they existed. Little things would trickle out from each of us that we discussed in small ways, but I knew she carried a heartache that engulfed her and suffocated her at times. And, on four occasions, our ugly parts collided, fracturing the friendship into shards for lengthy seasons of silence – the first time an entire year passed, the second and third times a few months passed, but the fourth time two years passed. These seasons were very sad and difficult for me. Somehow, we always found our way back and forged onward without a word of what happened as if sweeping it under the carpet kept it hidden with the rest of our secrets.

As her mental and physical health issues continued to limit her, she lost her driver’s license, she lost her stamina to walk, she slept two thirds of the day, and I began an unexpected role of faithful caregiver — cleaning, doing dishes, picking up groceries, driving her to do errands when she could manage it, and taking her to doctor appointments. One day when I was visiting, she said, “Deeon, would you speak to me about spiritual matters.” In that moment, I knew that through the years God had been softening her heart so that she could hear His calling. For years, I steadily lived out and offered her the love of Christ whenever and wherever possible. I would tell her about sermons we heard at church and she would listen attentively. She knew a few old hymns she remembered from going to a little neighborhood church when she was child. We would sing those select few hymns together; she held harmony like an angel. I shared Jesus with her that night.

One Saturday evening she called me and asked if we could come over. She said she was not able to breathe very well and just did not feel good. We rushed over. She was unable to walk from the living to the kitchen. I convinced her to let us take her to the ER. She begged me not to leave her there alone. I promised. After numerous tests, imaging, and blood work, they sent her home suggesting she had a respiratory infection. We picked up her scripts, got her settled at home, and crawled into our bed at five am. I checked on her regularly. The following Wednesday she called and asked if I would take her to a specialist appointment stating the hospital had called to tell her that her CT scan imaging showed shadows on her liver. I tried to encourage her in my ignorance. I told her that whatever this was, we were going through it together. A deep, dark fog of sadness fell over us when the doctor announced that she had stage IV liver cancer and had one to two months to live. A piercing silence echoed so loud, we lost our senses, like a demon screeching in the face of salvation. For me, it became all business and helping her manage her affairs. That diagnosis and prognosis rejuvenated an inner strength in her that I had not seen in a couple years. Together, we got her life in order, visited the mortician, she signed over her finances to me, and told me what she wanted done with each and everything she owned.

Two Saturdays later, I tried to call her around 10 am, no answer. I thought she was sleeping. I tried to call her around 12 pm, no answer. I thought she was still sleeping. I tried to call her around 5 pm, no answer. I left a message each time, but did not hear back. Around 7 pm, my husband and I decided we had better go over and check on her. She had a security entrance; we like to never got into the place. Finally, we got to her apartment, knocked, she answered, and I felt such relief, as driving over I certainly was expecting the worse. But, immediately I knew something was not right. PSB had a blank affect. She asked what we were doing. We explained that we had been trying to get a hold of her all day. She sat down on the couch and said, “I’m fine.” I immediately knew we were in crisis. Her phone was blaring the off the hook signal and the phone itself was in pieces as if she had thrown it against the wall in frustration. I asked her for her doctor’s phone number and her daughter’s phone number. She kept thumbing through her address book over and over, but could not comprehend or remember what she was doing. I asked her if she wanted to go to the ER. She adamantly said, “No!” I asked her why. She insisted she was fine. Finally, I convinced her to allow me to call her Oncologist on my cell phone and if he suggested she should go to the ER, would she? She agreed. I called their emergency number; they told me to get her to the ER immediately. 

We got PSB to the ER around 10 pm. The doctor began asking her a series of questions. Who is the current president – she said Reagan; what year is it – she said 1923; what is your name – she gave her maiden name; how old are you – she looked at me as if begging for help and the doctor went on. I turned my head and a tear escaped before I could catch it. The doctor left the room and she quickly asked me the answers to the questions. She kept repeating them in her feeble attempt to retain the answers in case she was asked again. She then began to projectile vomit. My husband immediately left the room. She looked at me in desperation and said, “Please, don’t leave me. Can you help me clean up?” I immediately jumped into action, grabbed latex gloves, collected up all the soiled sheets and her gown, cleaning her up and putting on a fresh gown, laying her back down on the gurney, and finished cleaning up the room by the time the doctor returned. The doctor informed us that PSB had hepatic encephalopathy; she was being admitted for further treatment. She begged me over and over to take her home. Finally, I convinced her it was best that she stayed because they could help her more than I could. I promised her I would be back each and every day for however long. Each afternoon and evening, I made my way up to the hospital. Each afternoon and evening, she begged me to take her home. Each evening, we would hold hands and watch Jeopardy together, and then I would tell her it was time for me to go home. And, each evening as I left her there, I would turn, look at her, tell her I loved her, and she would wave good-bye and say, “Over the Rainbow.” I knew it would not be long.

She recovered just a smidge, enough to get some coherency, but rather than allow her to go home, they transported her to a nursing home. It was a horrible nursing home! With much effort and demand, they finally placed her in a quiet, private room because Hospice knew the end was near. In the quiet of her room, she told what a good friend I had been to her, she said like no friend she had ever had. And, I told her how much her friendship meant to me. She said, “At this age, we don’t find good friends like this very often.” Our talk was minimal, but each night we continued to hold hands, watch Jeopardy, say our nightly good-byes, and she would say, “Over the Rainbow.” The last night I went to visit, I suspected she was passing away. I kept watching her intently, and it seemed to me that she was between two worlds. She would slightly open her eyes and slightly smile in acknowledgement that I was there, but no words were spoken. She would drift back away; a pleasant smile and peace would come across her face as I sat there watching. She lifted her hand in search of mine; we held hands; she smiled and drifted back to that place of peace. Finally, she remained in that place that I know not of and we quietly left. This time I quietly said, “See you over the rainbow my friend.”

June 12, 2014 at 2 am, my friend PSB quietly passed away by herself; I knew it was something she would do alone. I received a phone call the next morning around 10 am letting me know she was gone. Tears failed me as usual, but I sat in silence believing in my soul that the night before I had witnessed a passing between two worlds, from this earth into the presence of Jesus. I knew in my soul she was seeing and experiencing a love and peace she had never, ever known this side of heaven. I yearn for that sweet reunion someday!

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Philippians 2:1-5

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” 

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Love you, mean it!

Here’s to you my friend! I sure do miss you!

Love you, mean it!

The Joyful Crossing Guard

We are a one-vehicle family because it is how we roll. Several mornings I take my husband to work — sometimes because I have a commitment that day and sometimes simply to take a slow drive home savoring my morning cup of coffee. If I take a certain major thoroughfare, I encounter this joyful crossing guard waving at every vehicle passing by. At first, I thought, is she nuts, my arm would be falling off and people must think she is a nut! I began watching carefully the faces of drivers receiving her friendly waves and smiles. Now many looked and passed reserved to acknowledge her, perhaps thinking what I thought originally. However, I did notice many drivers intentionally smiling and waving back at her. I realized she was actually spreading her joy to those on their morning commutes who were willing to receive her kind gesture. Now I am projecting, but I think her wave is truly saying, “Good morning! Have a great day! Be blessed!” — at least that is how it speaks to me now. Someday I may just have the courage to buy her a small token, pull into the parking lot, and walk over to meet her. I will let you know if I do.

Good morning! Have a great day! Be blessed!
Love you, meant it!