Beauty from Pain

A petal floats to the hardwood table before me. The bright pink veins contrast against the cedar’s rusty brown. The smell permeates the air, a reminder that Spring is upon us and the world is okay.

Peonies are fragile. They bloom for but a few days before disappearing again, unappreciated until the next year’s time.

Those in front of me now are the ones that I chose to set on my table. Guilt pricked at my soul as I snipped them from their stalks. I immediately placed them into the water, hoping to keep them as long as possible. I know it’s selfish. I ought to leave them happily basking in the sun. Yet, on my table, I can enjoy them more. They’re so beautiful, yet fragile. They are a small slice of happiness. A simple reminder of God’s goodness.

Even as I cut them from their stalks, I know that their chances for survival are minimal. They usually last about a week before they smolder into dried nothingness.

Yet, as I sit here at my table, allowing their beauty and fragrance to overwhelm me, the thunder rumbles in the distance. Its fury grows as it growls through the heavens, making its disturbance known to the universe.

I sigh, noting the time, heading off to bed.

Throughout the night, the thunder echoes and lightning flashes through my dreams.

The next morning, I awake to debris scattered across the yard. The view from my window is chaos. I note that the trees in our yard have had their limbs rent from them, scattered carelessly across the yard. The neighbor’s roof shingles have spotted their grass, their porch chairs turned sideways.

Then I notice the peony bushes. Those that I had left alone only the day before have been pelted by the storm winds and hail. They’ve been demolished, utterly unrecognizable from the day before as I gathered their betters to adorn my table.

The guilt I felt at snipping them has changed. It’s now an understanding that I have saved them from that terrible storm.

That moment of pain as they were cut from their environment actually caused them to live on longer rather than if they’d been left in comfort, their beauty to live on beyond those that were left nestled in the comfort of the flower bed.

 

Isn’t that the way of life? So often, Life causes us pain, which at the time seems unbearable. Yet, when we look back, we can see that they temporary pain of a separation or of something taken from us is far less than that which we may have suffered otherwise. Those fragile peonies were actually made stronger than their counterparts by having suffered a moment of separation from their comfortable environment. Yet, that moment of pain created for them a longevity which the others would never know. For theirs was a storm that pulverized them rather than a simple snip of the sheers.

So, in those moments of pain, remember that there is One who finds you so beautiful and cherishes you so much, that He is sometimes willing to allow that pain in order to draw you to Him… that in that drawing you to Him, He might shield you from greater pain which is yet unknown.

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Failure

I sit on my stairs head between my palms. Maybe if I squeeze hard enough, it will make my heart hurt less. His defiant voice still echoes down the stairwell. Little protests against the regulations and discipline.

“If you aren’t quiet, I will spank you again,” I promised as I closed the door to his room just minutes before.

He got a spanking for disobeying. But only after my pleading and cajoling him into failed attempts of acquiescence. Like a flip, our Bible stories and devotions ended, and the disobedience began. It’s as though he searches for the opportune moment to defy me, ruin the peaceful moments of bedtime.

He knows the expectations. He knows the routine. He knows the consequences. He knows all of it. And still…. STILL, he persists in defying it all. He is his own worst enemy at times.

“Why are you getting a spanking?” I had asked him.

“Because I didn’t obey.”

“That’s right. What were you told to do?”

“Stop talking and be quiet.” (Or any of the other fifteen things he’d been told but NOT done.)

“Yes. Now, I told you I was going to spank you if you kept talking, and you chose to keep talking.”

I hate it. I hate it. I hate it.

It overwhelms me, crushing my heart. It would be SO much easier to just ignore it- to threaten a spanking and hope that the threat works but knowing it won’t. It would be so much easier to just walk down the stairs and wait for big brother to yell at him to be quiet- to let them work it out themselves.

But that’s not fair. That’s not what I’m supposed to do. I’m supposed to train my children- even when it’s hard.

And so I sit on the stairs. I wait and pray that he will just be quiet so that I don’t have to go again.

Not all nights are as hard as this one. Sometimes, I can get him to just do as I ask. Sometimes, the threat of a spanking and reminder of spankings past works. Sometimes, I walk all the way down the stairs without looking back.

But it’s time like tonight when instead, I feel like a failure. Like tonight as I sit squeezing my eyes tight against the tears pushing forward. Tonight as I mentally beg my child to just do what he’s been told.

I do go back in because he is still not quiet. I flip on the light so he can see me, and I can see him. I look into those big blue eyes and try to transcend the words, hoping that he can read the emotions in my face. SO many emotions… love, exasperation, desperation, anxiety, longing, and even more love. I want this little human that has been entrusted to me to become the greatest he can be. I want him to be a man of strong character, of strong will, but one who is respectful of those in authority over him. I want him to grow in maturity knowing that he is loved despite his short-comings. I want the best for this child in every possible facet of life.

Holding his face in my hands, I say, “Mommy does not want to give you another spanking. I do not like it. I have told you to be quiet, and if you keep talking, you will get another spanking because that’s what I said I would do. Neither of us wants that. Can you be quiet now?”

A sob. A head nod.

“Okay. Thank you. I love you very much.”

“I love you too.”

“Goodnight, Love.”

“Goodnight, Mommy.”

I close the door again. Finally. It is quiet.

Momming is hard. It would be SO much easier to be lazy about it all. To set forth rules and regulations, but allow my kids to bend them so I didn’t have to enforce it. But what kind of parenting is that?

Certainly not the kind God has given us. Repeatedly, God has shown us how to parent. Time and time again in the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, there are reminders of his love and discipline for His children. He asks multiple times and is quick to extend grace. However, He sets forth rules that He expects to be followed. And when not followed, there are consequences.

How exasperated is God that He must continually tell us what to and not do to?

And how often do we, just as my child, push against those rules simply because we can?

I know it hurts His heart to punish us far more than it hurts mine to punish my three kids. Yet, I am thankful He loves us enough to do so. It shows that He cares enough to take the time to mold us, make us into the best versions of ourselves that we can be. For what purpose?

To become more like Him, and in becoming more like Him, we become a light to the world that is necessary. We show the world a grace and love that extinguishes the hurts and anguish of this world. Our character becomes a reflection of His in this world.

Does it hurt? Yes, it hurts. But that hurt is a reminder that our actions have consequences. And that hurt is a reminder that our Father loves us enough to take time to mold us into who He created us to be- the best versions of ourselves.

 

His Story Teller

A tear winds its way through the crevices that line the corners of her eyes. Using gnarled fingers, she wipes it away, blinking as the past fades before her to reveal the present. She smiles wistfully at her interviewer.

Her smile is still kind, though framed with lines. Lines of laughter; lines of worry.

“But I know he will come again. He promised that he would. And he never broke a promise.” She bobs her head, an outward show of her inward certainty.

The interviewer sets his stylus and papyrus down and peers at the woman a moment.

He looks down that words on his paper. Her words. Her story. His story. Intertwined.

But this was no ordinary story. This was the true story of the Messiah; told by the one person who knew him best.

Her words flutter across his brain…..

“I could hardly believe it! The child in her womb kicked as though he knew already that his cousin was special.”

“Ah, yes. Dearest Joseph. He loved this child just as fiercely as any of our others.”

“My soul magnifies the Lord…”

He looks up at her as she watches him.

“I’ve only one last question, if I may,” he asks though he will not write the answer. This is purely for his own interest.

She nods at him, so he continues. “Knowing now what ‘the sword that would pierce your own soul is’, would you still have been his mother?”

*** Her Story***

I remember Simeon’s words over Yeshua. They were so happy and full of promise, yet filled me with an unearthly dread. “Behold, this Child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign which will be spoken against- yes, a sword will pierce through your own soul also- that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.” Fear pulsed through me in that moment. I stole Yeshua back from Simeon, holding him tighter than was required. And I knew in my heart then that this child would bring me more joy and sorrow than I’d ever felt.

Yeshua grew strong. He was much like other children though there was a seriousness to his eyes others would never possess. His brothers and sisters teased at him. Perhaps they sensed even at a young age that he was different. He grew tall and learned quickly. Joseph taught him, as he did the other boys, the skills required from a carpenter. By age 13, Yeshua joined the other boys in the temple, though he was a teacher just as much, if not more, than a pupil. It was then that I saw a distinct change in him. No longer was he just a boy; he became a man.

I felt the first scrape of that sword then.

 At age 30, he began his travels. All those years leading to them, however, he studied carpentry, even taking over the business after Joseph’s death, taking care of our family. At that point, his brothers and sisters were grown with families of their own. I found myself alone.

And so I followed. I followed as he healed, taught, and stood firm. I followed the crowds that circled around him day in and day out. 

I watched the people ascend on him like bees to a honeycomb. And I watched as years later, they fled from persecution. 

The sword flashed even then. 

And I listened. I listened as they spoke words of awe, worship, and adoration. I listened to him speak to crowds and reveal the most marvelous, wonderous truths I have ever heard. And I listened when unbelievers spoke harshly, spreading lies about him. 

The sword pricked at my heart. 

And I saw him die. My beautiful son, created within me by Yahweh, beaten beyond recognition. Defiled by the very creation that he loved. His body, once small enough for me to hold in my arms, now grown and defined by the work of his father was broken beyond repair. His words, which once brought healing, now reverberated across the skies in anguish.   

The sword rent my soul in two. Simeon’s words echoed in my ears as Yeshua called out to Yahweh. Though he had said he’d live again, the broken pieces of me were too weak to find the hope required. My heart shattered, pieces fluttering in the wind with his last breath.

Yet I followed them to the tomb. I watched as they lay him in it. I listened for him to live again. And I saw the empty tomb.

***

“Yes, I would have been his mother again- a million times over. While my soul was pierced, my life is changed. For Simeon also said, ‘For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel.’ And as his mother, mine was the first face of all people’s that he saw.

For that, I would change nothing.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

 

 

Author’s note:

I can only imagine what it must have been like for Luke to interview Mary. She was one of his greatest resources in telling the story of the life of Christ. What I would have given to be a fly on the wall while the two of them talked.

See Luke 2:25-35 as a reference.

A King Unknown

In a world of diversity, a push for equality, and blurred social class lines, we have difficulty grasping the reality that not all people are born equal. Not all people are at all equal, though we like to pretend they are in order to appease a moral consciousness thrust upon us by society. Some are natural musicians. Others are intellectuals. Some are beautiful. Others are artists. We are not at all equal.

Some are born into royalty. Their bloodlines date back centuries to conquerors and rulers whose uttered words altered the course of history, sweeping countries into war or peace. Theirs is a history of honor and deference. Their title alone requires obeisance be given.

Yet, now, we forget these things. In a world where the mighty are torn down and the lowly uplifted by no means other than an appeal to humanity, the differences that once made us are squashed into the mire and muck of yesteryears, no longer considered with much import.

Perhaps that is particularly why we forget that there are kings and queens. There are those whose stations are borne of them simply in their having been for so long and persevered throughout time.

And perhaps that is why we also forget that there is one, true King. This king, unlike others today, has not been made by his forebearers but has always been. This king, also unlike others, cannot be brought low by His people’s thoughts or actions, as He is too far above them to be so. This king has always been, is so now, and will always be.

This king reigns on a throne not simply of authority (though that fact is inarguable) but also one of grace, from which He extends upon mere mortals who can never be worthy of it, a grace which transcends any that can be fathomed by our small minds.

Perhaps this is also why Christmas has become a time so full of frivolity and self-revolvement. We have forgotten that this king condescended to send His son, His only, to be just as mortal as we. Not only born a vulnerable baby but lower than the lowest- born in the midst of animals, a place not even fit for human habitation. He placed his son in the midst of a family situation which would have otherwise created him as an outcast within that society, and allowed him to be raised by parents who were of no fortune to speak of. This king, the most high-honored king, sent a part of him to become nothing.

Why?

That He might commune with us. That we might find His love in His actions. That we might come to repentance and redemption. That we may know Him.

How?

Simply by believing that this king lavished His love on us enough that He became the lowest of human form. By believing that He desired so much that we might not only know Him as king but also as friend. That He sent the sacrifice required to enter His presence.

For you see, this king is holy, is perfect, is worth more than we could ever, in our sinful unrighteousness, begin to consider being within His presence. Yet, in His desire that we be so, He sent to us the required sacrifice to cleanse us forevermore. He sent His son, His perfect sacrifice to purify us that we might enter into His throne room. That we might commune and have relationship with a king.

And while, in our society, communion with a king is unheard of… it is still desirable. It is still an opportunity that affords itself to us. A chance that we can take, grasp, and partake of each and every day of our mortal lives until we see Him face to face.

So, while we are far from unequal to Him by any standard at all, it is humbling to know that God, my father, desires that I should know Him and come into relationship with Him.

And it is in that humility that I am thankful for this Christmas season.

 

Honey, I’m Home

I wrinkle my nose. Fish, sweat, and pigs… he always smells awful when he returns. He kisses me, his beard so long and bushy that it covers half of my face. His passion is earnest. It’s been three months… no, four months, since he was last home. I try to not begrudge that.

Pulling back I see his smile is so wide, it crinkles in eyes. “Wife,” he says standing back to look at me. Somewhere under all of that, I can see the brown eyes that first pulled me under his spell. His charisma is undeniable. His charm obvious to the observer. His laugh infectious.

“Hello, husband.” I smile, yet inwardly shoo him toward a bath and shave. “Come in. Welcome home.” I stand aside allowing him into our house.

Our home used to be so much more grand, before he sold so many of our things. We were never rich, yet we were more well off than others. His business was successful,  passed down from generation to generation. Our home was enviable yet comfortable. Now, I maintain what is left of it in his absence.

He sits comfortably in his chair, removing his threadbare sandals, and washing his feet in the basin near the hearth. I pour him a cup of spiced wine and sit opposite of him.

He intakes half of it before resting back to look into the fire. His eyes watch the flames dance, and I wait.

“I have walked on water.”

The words hang in the air between us. I wait for an explanation. Ever since he first left, I worried that he had lost his mind a bit. The stories were too ludicrous to believe. His own tales were so far-fetched, far more absurd than usual. Now, my heart flutters against the chances that his mind may have slipped.

I clear my throat. “Excuse me?”

“I have walked on water.” His gaze continues toward the fire. It reminds me of what he told me only a year and a half ago. It brings the memory unbidden to my mind.

***

“I am leaving to follow Jesus.” He stared at me in earnest then waiting for my acquiescence… my affirmation even. 

“Who??” I had never heard of Jesus. No one had. 

“Jesus. He bid me and my brother to come, so we are going.”

“Where?”

“I don’t know!”

I stared at him dumbfounded. “You are following a man you do not know to a place you are unsure of?” 

Excitedly he replied, “Yes! Andrew and I both! We shall be fishers of men henceforth.”

***

“Wife.” His voice brings me back to the present.

“You…. walked? On water?” My mind is working feverishly to take it in. Over the past year or more I have heard of a great many things… many miracles so they are called. I have even seen them myself. Yet now, my mind twists and turns trying to digest this information.

“Yes!” He sets the cup on the table, leaning in. “Jesus walked out to us one morning at dawn in the midst of the sea. The guys and I were just waking when we saw him across the waves. He bid me come to him, and I did.”

He pauses looking at me expectantly, smile as wide as ever beneath his fur.

I stare back. What am I to say? My husband, a fisherman since his boyhood, one of the greatest swimmers I have known now tells me that he walked on the waters of the sea. Jesus walking on water…. that I can believe. Jesus pulled my own mother back from the brink of death. I saw it with my own two eyes. My mind swirls back to that moment….

***

“Mother!” I wiped her feverish face with a rag. “Don’t worry. Jesus is coming.” 

Her parched lips struggled. “Yeeshhush”. Her body trembled with the effort of saying his name.

“Yes. Jesus.” 

She and I both knew he was a healer. Peter was convinced he was the Messiah, but I had not known him to overthrow any Roman authorities whatsoever, so I settled in believing him to be a healer. 

He had appeared behind me without even a sound. 

“Woman, get up. Your faith has healed you.”

Before my eyes, my mother’s face turned rosy, her lips, just cracked moments ago, now full and lined as they had been. She smiled at him, extended her hand as he helped her from the bed. Within moments, she was up preparing a meal for him, my husband, and their friends.

***

He gets up and kneels in front of where I sit. “I walked on water. It was miraculous. I have seen so many miracles, yet this…. this has changed me. I walked without falling. But then as I saw the winds around me, I began to sink. Yet he caught me. He caught me, pulled me up, and we walked back to the boat together.”

His eyes implore me to not only to believe his story but to believe in his truth as well. My husband, who blindly followed Jesus, who has healed lepers with his own hands, who apparently has walked on water, now truly believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who was prophesied about so long ago.

I cradle my face in my hands, afraid of what he might see in it. I fear he has lost his mind. Yet even more so, I fear he shall lose his life. Over the course of the last few months, the Temple leaders have become fearful of Jesus. His words hold too much authority, too much danger to them. Yet if my husband, who has forsaken all of this to follow him believes, what choice have I?

I take his hands into mine, looking into them. They are worn and calloused. They have worked to provide for me, for our children, for my mother. Now they work to serve Jesus and heal people.

I look up, staring into the depths of his beautiful eyes.

“Peter. I will follow you as you have chosen to follow.” I kiss his knuckles. “If you believe Jesus to be the Messiah, I, too, shall believe. Do as he tells you and know that I support you.”

 

*****

AUTHOR’S NOTE:

Peter’s wife is mentioned three times but within the same story in the gospels. We know very little about her other than that. It can be safely assumed that without her support, Peter would never have fulfilled his ministerial potential as he did. There is Biblical evidence that she later followed Peter in his journeys (1 Corinthians 9:5). Other historians accredit her with having been martyred just before Peter was in Rome.

Either way, this nameless woman undoubtedly changed the course of Peter’s ministry in her support of him before and after Jesus’ crucifixion.

Herbert Lockyer. All the Women of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967.

 

 

Cheated by Grace

She shrugs the torn sleeve of her dress over her shoulder, trying in vain for a bit of modesty. While her flesh is hopelessly exposed, it is her heart that feels most raw.

They had surprised her, ripped her from a blissful slumber. She had lain there in his arms in the morning light, comforted after a night together. For too long she’d been alone, tired of being a shadow, of being dismissed and overlooked. Now, she had finally succumbed to one who attended her, broken her vow and turned for acceptance in someone else’s arms. It had been only once, and that seemed enough. For now, they had caught her.

Awoken from her bliss, she was dragged half-naked from his bed, tossed against the wall in a melee of insults and curses. Scrambling for any semblance of clothing, she had managed to slip her dress over her head as the temple leaders yelled and cursed at them both. Her lover, his eyes full of anger, shouted in return at them.

“Release her this instant!” He leaped out of bed to her defense forgetting himself.

“Shall we take you too, or just her?” the snarl masked by a long grey beard hurled the accusation at him. “It wouldn’t look very good for your position.” The last word hung in the air, an ominous threat to every fiber of her lover’s being.

He stopped. His flashing anger abetted a moment, cowering behind the fear in his eyes. She had seen it. She had seen how he was torn between duty and desire, love and honor. His eyes begged for an apology that she had had no energy to give.

Without another word, they had grabbed her, forcing her from his room, shoving her through his house, and dragging her through the town. She remained mute, finding that place within herself that she had visited far too often in her own marriage.

Now, she can hear the words of the crowd on her raking her over the lawful coals, feel their accusations seeping into her mind. The bruises on her arms pulse under her skin. The blood on her feet clots knitting with it chunks of stone from the road where she’d been dragged along. None too gently, they had tossed her in front of the man everyone called Rabbi. Now she sits, head low, dust her only true cover. Looking down at the earth on which she sits, she thinks to herself, I too shall be dust once this is all over.  

The questions and accusations whirl around her. “Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
Now Moses in the law commanded us that such should be stoned but what sayest thou?” Their animosity mocks her.

She thinks of her husband, yet again away far from this place. Will he even notice that I’m gone? He hardly noticed me even in life. The angry voices of the magistrates ricochet off of her ears and away from her. The dust before her is her only friend.

From the corner of her eye, she sees another squatting in the dust. His poise is not as shaken as hers. He rests there, also focused on the earth.

The questions continue around them, ““If a man is found lying with the wife of another man, both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman. So you shall purge the evil from Israel. So, Rabbi, what say you?” Their cadence of their anger affects him not, and he continues his position.

Lifting her head, she considers this man. She’s heard of him, to be sure. Some say he is wise, the son of Yahweh even. Others insist he is a blasphemer, fit only for death. Yet, the calm she observes in him stirs the soul within her.

A curse fills the air, and someone else shouts,  “If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.”

In this moment his gaze meets hers. His eyes are kind, without alarm. With a barely perceptible smile from his lips, she feels his kindness deep within her. He stands, slowly, as though the world turns at his command.

His eyes scan the crowd, and they shush to a murmur.

Hands lifted in casual conversation, he addresses them. “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” For just a moment longer, he locks eyes with each of her accusers before stooping to the dirt again to continue his perusal of the earth.

This time, she notes that he uses his finger to write in the dirt, though what it is, she cannot tell.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she wills her mind away from the pain that will surely begin. Her back tenses, waiting for the first stone. She’s only ever seen a person stoned once before, and she was a small girl. Her mother had guided her away as soon as it was clear the person was dying. Hunching her shoulders, she prepares for it. The shuffling of feet around her becomes louder. The moment is now upon her, she is certain. Focusing on the blackness, she fights the desperation in the back of her throat.

Silence fills her mind. She waits.

A slight whisper of feet on dirt beside her alerts her. Opening her eyes, she sees only him, Rabbi. Looking down at her he says, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

Struggling to her feet, she looks around. Her mind takes a moment to register the changes around her. Where there was once a large crowd of angry people, there is only an empty courtyard outside the Temple.

Turning to him, she meets his eyes again, “No one, sir.” His smile is confident, full of love, yet tinged in sadness. Tears burn her eyes.

Looking directly at her, his voice rings deeply into her soul. “Neither do I condemn you; go, and sin no more.”

He smiles once more before turning to leave.

She stands watching as he walks away. Tears sneak their way down her cheeks and fall from her chin. She looks at the stains they create in the dust. This man took from her the crowd’s attention, the shame, the embarrassment. This man saved her.

Eclipsing Home

Darkness spread its fingers across the land, weaving its way in and out of the leaves on the trees, and shadowing the faces of the onlookers. Their cheap, plastic glasses gleamed, reflecting the ongoing eclipse. I watched in awe at their wonder. Crowds grouped together, heads upraised to stare at the heavens. This once in a lifetime experience moved them deeply, drawing them to stop in their daily habits to look upward. The miracle of it was more than they had hoped. And while they waited anxiously for science to describe this phenomena, my heart beat in anticipation for something greater.

Perhaps this was the day. Maybe, just maybe, we would all be fortunate to look heavenward for something even more magnificent than an eclipse. Maybe, just maybe, my savior would finally appear. And maybe, just maybe I could go home.

A Tweet ran across my phone screen that morning…

“There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”(Luke 12:25-28)

While the eclipse was ‘cool’, I hardly cared much about it at all as I went on with my daily activities. I had signed the permission form for my son to see it at school, promising not to sue if he died (wha?!?!). I had left a pair of glasses for my mom to check it out while the kids took their nap. And I had stuffed an extra pair in my purse in case I got the chance to see it too. But I had far bigger fish to fry than the sun and moon colliding, so I went on without much thought toward it at all. Until I saw that verse…

That’s when my heart started pounding- thudding with excitement. It was a physical manifestation of the excitement from somewhere deep within my soul. My savior could return on this day. He just might! I imagined what it would be like, to stand there gazing at a universal shift and see Jesus coming back for me. To see his face, finally…. To see his arms open wide, welcoming me home. So that darkness, which to everyone else signified a great solar occurrence, became a chance at hope for me. It became a glimpse of possibility to go home.

I find within myself a deep longing, one which words can hardly express, to just go home.

Recently, while in Mexico, I stood on the shores of the beach as the waves pounded against the rocks and sand. The moon peered at me, full in its light. My toes squished in the sand and the rush of wind whipped through my hair. I felt myself melting into the moment. As I closed my eyes, the drawing of my soul toward Heaven was so overwhelmingly deep that I cried, mourning my absence from my Father’s presence. Tears burst forth from within me, and I found myself on my knees weeping and homesick for a place I have yet to see, with love and longing for a Father whom I can feel yet cannot see. All I could say, all I could pray was, “I want to go home.” My heart burst within me with the desire of it. Again, a physical manifestation of my soul.  

So as I watched the crowds of people gather to look upward, I wondered how they might react if it was Jesus who came “in a cloud with power and great glory” rather than a mere eclipse. As for myself, I’d can only imagine how I’d react. But in whatever way, my arms will be open wide, as my longing is finally fulfilled.

 

Tic Tic Tic

It wormed itself through his heart, starting off as a small tic really. Rubbing his chest, he could feel It burrow within him. Small, minute even. Hardly noticeable.

Continuing on, he thought nothing of It. But then It persisted. It wiggled more, slithering itself within the cavernous depths of his soul, growing in strength, making itself at home. As he allowed It sanctuary, It grew, weaving its web within his heart, integrating itself deeply, grasping him tighter.

He could feel It like a leaden weight within his chest now. His heart beat thudded heavier, burdened by the extra load.  His heart and It were now one. While Joy tried to enter, It could not, so was his heart crowded by It. Contentment pounded on the heart’s doors, but was turned away as there was no longer any room for it.

It churned within him, caressing his heart, begging for entrance into his mind. The ponderous weight of It now became a cogency. No longer a menacing tic, It is a force to be reckoned with. Each beat of his heart allowed It to ooze within him, pouring its oppression into his mind, reaching downward to his soul with its fingertips.

It nestled its way throughout his mind, convulsing as his conscience willed it away. So much more difficult than his heart. His mind knows right from wrong, but It is resilient. It can wait. Seizing an opportunity, It bores into his mind, encircling it, submitting his conscience to it. It’s all but encompassing him now.

Its fingertips have caressed his soul, so much more darkened now than before. That minute worming has irrevocably dominated him, now pouring forth with the strength of his heart and mind behind It. It gushes within, cascading into his very being, intertwining itself within his soul so that he no longer exists, but It thrives.

It has conquered him, taken his essence. It pours forth now unbidden in his words, conjured in a darkened mind. It propels action where once it might not have possessed power.

Tic. It was just a Tic. But now, It has become him.

Just Bloom

This is my favorite place. Ever since I can remember, I have escaped to this veranda. It’s nestled off the second floor of our old antebellum house, once regal but now chipped with paint and in need of attention. My haven overlooks a copse of generations old live oak trees smothered in Spanish moss. It also gives the best protection from the berating noises of my father hollering across the house at Mama. Lord knows what the bourbon has lied to him about this time. The magnolias have bloomed fast under my bedroom window just to the left of me, and their scent serves as a reminder. They are beautifully fragile and last only a moment, yet they are strong enough to return each year. Just like me… and Mama.

Dilcey says Daddy had a rough upbringing, and since she’s the oldest person I know, I reckon it to be true. She’s never lied a single day in her life any how. She says Jesus rewards those who are true. I sure hope so. She’s got to be at least sixty so she’s had plenty of time to figure things out. I can’t even remember a time when Dilcey wasn’t here with us in this big old house. Her grandmama was a slave right up the river a long time ago, and Dilcey’s grown roots here. Says she ain’t never leaving. I figure that’s true too.

Dilcey is the only one who knows that this is where I hide. It’s got two old navy damask wingback chairs, faded with time. They face one another like two old people sitting in silence. I usually just plomp down and cross my legs just to feel the coolness of the worn wood planks on my skin. Mama and Daddy haven’t been out here in ages. They stay downstairs where it’s cooler in the summer when the windows are thrown open, and heated up by the fireplaces in the winter. Only I use this place to look out over my little paradise. Or to escape it.

One time, before Dilcey’s knee began to ache too much, she climbed up the stairs after one of Daddy’s bad ones just to bring me an ice cold lemonade.

“Chile,” she said as she persuaded my fine, limp mousey hair into braids, “Sum folks jes got so much hurt inside of dem dat dey don’t kno’ how ta do nuthin’ else but hurt.” She didn’t say anything else to me. Just let me sit there in the shade, sipping my lemonade, trying to fix my helpless hair. I patted her arm to let her know I understood. That’s the way it’s always been with me and Dilcey- not a lot of words, but a whole lot of talking.

Now I sit- much older than I was then, but too young to do much about anything. My hair is now pinned to the top of my head, letting the slight breeze tickle my neck promising of cooler days to come. I close my eyes, trying to drown out the sound of his voice and strain for the song of whippoorwills in the distance. Mama doesn’t make a sound. Just listens. But unlike me, she listens up close. Taking the brunt of his anger, fending off the sharp edges of his words.

Eventually, he will put down his weapons and return to himself, just as he always has. Our little paradise will return, and life will go on. Kind of like those magnolias. When they are here, they are beautiful- pure. But as they die, they wither into a sickening brown, littering the yard below with their ugliness.

 

~~~

 

This is just one of many pieces I have written over the course of the past three weeks during the Oklahoma Writing Project’s Summer Institute.

http://www.owp.ou.edu

Homeward

Homeward

I reach up pulling my hair out of my lipgloss- again. My sleek ponytail is now a mess of cobwebs, but I don’t care. Pieces of it lash against my face, my ears, and my neck. But I just keep going. The wind whispers to me over the blare of music. My fingers tense and relax again. Invading motorists sometimes catch my eye, but I just keep going. Words swirl through my brain, “Mercy, Mercy… Heaven’s story, Breathing life into my bones, Spirit lift me, From this wasteland lead me home” finding release in my voice, firstly softly yet growing. “Arrest my heart, from its reckless path, release the chains in me.” I am off pitch and out of tune, but my Listener does not care. He appreciates my effort. “Gracious fury, written in my Savior’s scars.” My voice battles for my soul pouring over the beat of the wind. Tears spring to my eyes. “Mercy Mercy now engrained upon my heart.” The incredible gift of grace is more than this heart can bear. In this moment I find deliverance in the overwhelming gratitude for it. So often Life is too chaotic for me to find a minute to bask in the glory of His presence. The present engulfs me, suffocating me with this mortal life. So I just keep going. The peaceful noise of this moment reminds me of where I am going, my true destination that can’t be found on this road. My destination is not a house… it is my Home.