Tuesday, December 18, 2012

One Voice

The arena quiets while the rider enters. It is a short stint in self control until the first maneuver begins. No matter what it is, there will be noise at the outset. The crowd comes to life and cheers its approval and encouragement and frankly, the louder the better! Circles, spins, lead changes or stops - they all illicit a din of response. It can be deafening to be certain. With so much noise it can also be hugely distracting.

Those competitors that have truly succeeded in the pen, the ones who have stepped out and really made an impact will often tell you that they hear only one thing when they are competing. They hear only their coach. There is no cheering crowd, no thundering applause, no music or whistling. They hear only the encouragement, instruction and critique of the one person they have tuned their ears to for their entire competition career. Everything else is silenced.

What would my life be like if I did that with God? What would I accomplish if, instead of consulting every Tom, Dick and Harry, instead of scouring Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram, instead of reading all manner of self-help articles, I actually tuned my ears to listen to ONE coach - GOD?

I have been there too many times. Faced with something that I need to research and get an answer on I sit down at the computer, Google up some results and before I know it, not only do I not have an answer to the question I originally sat down to ask, but I have dozens more questions and some aren't even remotely related to the original topic! It is what happens when I cut God out of the equation on life decisions as well. I stop listening to the coach, I try to do things my way and I get confused. It can be discouraging and at the very least, distracting.

The good news is this: God is still standing at the gate. He is still speaking to my heart, but He refuses to compete with the noises of the World. God knows that to get my attention He must speak quieter than the rest, not louder. Only then will I tune out the roar of the crowd and focus on what it is He is teaching me in that moment. Only then will He have my heart, soul and ears to accomplish His means.

It takes practice, this focus I am talking about. It means shutting out the well meaning advice of a friend. It means not Googling, reading or listening to the radio for my inspiration or answers. It means developing a habit of coming to God first, instead of last. It isn't an easy answer. It isn't terribly popular or trendy. But like the wooden pencil, it's so simple it works.

My husband told me once that he could hear his riding coach speak in a normal tone of voice above the noise of a full house crowd from deep in the stands. I found it hard to believe. How could he pick out that one small voice in a sea of distraction and tumult? "I knew his voice so well," he said, "I just could." You see, he practiced listening to that voice. He recognized it in the turmoil because he'd listened to it in the quiet first. I see now that in order to hear God speak to me when the World is crashing down around me, I first have to practice listening to Him when it's quiet. I can only pick out His voice if I know it intimately. I can do this through prayer, quiet time and bible study, but I have to do it if I am to recognize it when He speaks.

Lord, let me be so close to you, so familiar with the sound of your guidance and instruction, that I can pick your voice out of the din of my very noisy world. Let me hear you and heed you, no matter what is going on around me. Let me always be comforted by the utterances of your infinite wisdom. ONE VOICE... Yours.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Not-so-Silent Night

She was pregnant. For all intents and purposes, to the whispering outside world, the baby was illegitimate. Her soon-to-be husband was branded a fool and she had to know that he had toyed with a plan to quietly divorce her. It didn't change her mind. It didn't sway her attitude. When the angel came to her and spoke the words that would alter her very young life forever, she didn't whine. She asked one single question and she accepted that God was sovereign and she waited.

She didn't complain about the nasty comments she overheard in her gravid condition. She didn't attempt to explain her situation or send back a haughty retort that she would be the mother of the Savior. She didn't have even a hint of a surly attitude when her husband informs her they would be traveling during her last moments of pregnancy. Mary just trusted. After months of carrying a child that she must have been vastly unsure of (what does the progeny of God look like?), after riding a donkey all the way into Bethlehem, silently in labor I might add, Mary lays down in the straw and dirt of an old barn and gives birth alone.

I don't think I need to tell you that I am not made of that kind of tough! I would have been screaming at the top of my lungs as soon as the pains started. (I know this because that is exactly what I did when my own were born.) I would have been clutching at Joseph's hands, trying with all my tiny might to crush his bones to dust and I would have probably broken out with some stellar phrases questioning the origins of his birth as well as this child's... (Getting a picture of what my husband went through, are you? Ya, twern't pret-tay!)

But more than that, more than my lack of quiet spirit and sweet disposition, I don't have that level of trust. Nowhere near it. I would have been questioning from the very beginning and I would have doubted. I would have attempted at least weekly to call up Gabriel and ask multiple times what the plan was, how was it going to go again and if there really was any way I could be pregnant without looking pregnant. There are no records of further questions from Mary. She asks how it might happen since she is a virgin and then simply accepts that this is what her God is requiring of her and waits for it to come to pass.

For me it isn't about whether or not I was born with Mary's quiet kind of spirit. I think I have established rather firmly that I was not. It is about what I choose to do with what I am given now. I know that my instant reactions are often way off kilter. I accept that. I also know that somewhere in the midst of what is going on I will have an opportunity to choose. I can choose to complain, whine and grouse about my situation, or I can choose to look it dead in the eye, pray for an answer to some questions, and then accept that the God who has seen me through many storms thus far will see me through this one. When it all comes down to it, it is about choosing to let my God be God.

As this Christmas season closes in and the temps drop to chilly levels, as my schedule amps up and I feel rushed and uncertain, as things ebb and flow with the way they always do, I know I will have my meltdowns. I also know that I will have a choice to make. I pray right now that in that moment, when silence penetrates my heart and I am there on the edge of sanity, that I will be reminded to choose to trust Him. I will remember that I am not riding on the back of an ass to a town without a hotel during the last moments of my intense labor to give birth in the dirt alone. I will remember that she did all that so that I can sit back and watch Him, her precious baby boy, work a miracle on my behalf - Not because I deserve it or have earned it, but because it pleases Him. Amazing, ain't it? That kind of Grace just rocks my world...

Be blessed!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Taking Chances

I watched her face contort into this weird, smiling grimace. She was distraught and it was literally taking all she had to form the words. "I don't want to change! I did it before and I was miserable, I don't see myself ever getting better doing it your way." The tears had formed in my eyes as well. Man! I could completely relate to this girl and what she was going through. It doesn't really matter what the television show was about or the context of what that lovely, over made-up beauty was suffering from. The epiphany that surrounded me at that moment was simple and ultimately universal.

We all have our suitcase full of crap, don't we? Whether we struggle from an eating disorder, alcoholism, an overbearing mother, a contentious sibling, critical spirits, etc., it's all the same. We are fallen, and (to mock an old commercial) we can't get up - at least not without some help. It doesn't matter what we struggle with, most days we have the same reaction as the girl I saw sitting on that sound stage. We fight the healing we need because we cannot imagine being happy any other way than the way we have made for ourselves. So very tragic and short sighted of us....

We look at our path, we check out the forecast of our lives as we see them, and we try to foretell the outcome. We attempt to see ahead from one scenario to the next and build a plan and a path to walk based on what we know. It isn't reality. It isn't reliable. It isn't possible because we don't have any way to know what comes next. Only the Lord knows those things, and He's not ready to share them with us. Our only job is to trust Him when He shows up and tells us we must change, that it's time to lay down our old ways and move closer to what He wants for us. He isn't asking us to devise the plan, He already has that in the bag. Besides, if we could do it without Him, what is the point of a Savior? He is asking us to lay down our own agenda and follow Him to greater, more glorious lives, whether we think we deserve it or not. We seem to have this weird tally system in place and we assume that God is frustrated with us. We tell Him we certainly don't deserve a second chance.

I have heard the saying that our God is the "God of Second Chances." That's wrong. God is not limited in what He is willing to dole out. In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells us He isn't the God of Second Chances, He is the God of Another Chance! God delights in seeing us come back to Him, over and over and over again. He never turns us Prodigals away because we deserve to be punished. He doesn't waste His lectures with us when He can see a repentant heart and He doesn't hold it against us when He knows, in His omniscience, that we will indeed turn away again. God simply opens His arms wide, wraps His love around us and whispers, "Welcome home, Child!"

The next time I am tempted to cry out to God that I cannot possibly do it His way, that changing who I am is impossible and too painful to bear, or that I simply don't want to change, I hope I can be reminded of her face. Her twisted smile reminded me that I am not capable of that kind of miracle - Only God has that power. I am reminded that I am not being asked to do it alone, just to lay back in His arms and trust that He will bring me through it in perfection only He could arrange.

God wants me to forget all the chances He has given me in the past. God asks that I don't count the chance I am on right now. He knows He will grant me others. God asks only that I fall deeply into His embrace, bury my face in His love and breathe deeply of His forgiveness once again. "Welcome home," I hear Him say in a whisper to my heart, "Let's celebrate!"

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Plucking Out Burrs

November... It's that thankful month. The month that I don't always feel particularly thankful. In fact, it's a month that instills a certain level of panic in me most years because it is the month that I realize just how behind schedule I am. It is the month that from the first I keep telling myself that I have thirty days before I have to think about Christmas... Then November 27th hits and I realize that I am woefully behind the eight ball, staring down December and feeling anything but thankful.

It was in this state that I walked into my studio this morning. I prayed on the chilly trek out here that God would give me something to say. Something that had meaning and purpose. I prayed that God would reveal in me another burr to pluck out and heal with His love. I sat... And I sat... Nothing. I reached for my first devotional and He spoke from the pages about Thankfulness. I glossed over it. I reached for my second devotional and He spoke to me about His purpose for me and His love. I couldn't make the words apply to me. I tried a few posts of my own from journals... Flat. And then I went back and re-read the pages He gave me.

"A life of praise and thankfulness becomes a life filled with miracles. Instead of trying to be in control, you focus on Me and what I am doing." Ok... You have my attention now, Lord. A life filled with miracles? Really? And the relinquishing of control... Well, lets face it. I never had it anyway. God is in control - Has been since the beginning of time. What I want, what I think I need - It isn't going to come to pass unless it lines up with what God wants.

Then there was my second little book... "Long before you began seeking Me, I had designs on you for glorious living." The verse that accompanies it, "It's in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for." Eph 1:11 (Msg)

So now, now that my attention is fully engaged, I begin to realize that God is speaking to my heart about my lack of thanksgiving. Without a heart that is focused on how amazing God is and without being incredibly thankful for His love, I cannot become His instrument, living a glorious life. I won't realize my potential in who I am and what my purpose is. To become His, living gloriously and fulfilled by the purpose I was created for, I have to hit my knees and cry out to Him all of the things I am thankful for.

My job is not to be the best financial planner a barn has ever seen. My job is not to live a life of controlled madness, pinching pennies and fretting over delinquent accounts. My job is to open my hands and my heart to see with clarity the things that God has handed my family. They may not be items I can put actual hands on, but God is always providing. A heart filled with thanksgiving is not preoccupied with where the next meal is coming from. A heart filled with thanksgiving lives each moment thanking the Lord for what is before it, right now at this instant in time.

While the holiday of Thanksgiving may be over for another year, I am reminded that we as Christians are called to live it out daily. Thank God for waking you up this morning. Thank Him for what He is doing in your life and for having designs on you for glorious living. He is the ultimate deliverer! Trust Him to deliver you a life that witnesses, no - better yet: is filled with miracles...

Be blessed!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Giving Thanks

He kinda looks like a turkey...

It's that time of year again... That crazy, stress filled, I-have-no-idea-what-to-get-so-and-so, broke, messed up emotional time of year. The Holidays. (yay..) No one can deny that for some it is a holocaust of emotional baggage and unrealistic expectations. Somehow we think these days in November and December carry with them magical insulation from the day to day crap that hounds us the other ten months of the year. Every year we are shocked that it doesn't.

It is in this spirit that I want to bring a bit of clarity, levity and reality to my world this month and next. I want to be reminded that I have it soooo good! I want more than "stuff" to take center stage... I want gratitude.

*I am not going to participate in Black Friday. I don't know who thought calling it that was a good idea... It conjures up a chaotic and horrific image in my mind. The only thing more frightening is that famous bridal sale in a basement somewhere in New York... (shudders) Besides - any other thing we label with "Black" isn't a good thing: Black Beard, Black Hole of Calcutta, Black ice, Blacklist, blackened salmon... So until they rename it Lilac Friday, I will not be stepping out to shop!

*I will think on the things that I am eternally thankful for. I will remember that I have a healthy family, animals that love me, a husband that both works and plays with me, friends that think I am funny (yes, you do!), and a home in which to wallow (because I am fairly sure, by its current state, that we are pigs, not people).

*I will remember those that have gone before me and beside me to insure that I am free and able to eat, drink and be merry while they grab a quick snack of potted meat and crackers in a dusty tent somewhere. I will not complain that I have to work on that day because someone else has actually given his or her life that I can freely do so. If you don't want to work on Thanksgiving, you can always quit... I hear the job market is a veritable carnival of plenty! (Rolls eyes... Yeah, that's what I thought!)

*I will pray for our President. (Not joking. If anyone needs prayers it is the leader of our great nation!)

*I will miss my husband dearly tomorrow, but not allow it to sound in my voice so that he is reminded that I love him more than any other human on the planet. I will pray for God to show him successes measured not by trophies or monetary gain, but by holy influence and hearts touched. I too will strive to mirror that love and jubilation. After all, not everyone gets to do what they were designed to do. Someone has to be a Walmart Greeter...

During these months of craziness, when so much can be twisted around and focused on ourselves, I will remember that I am blessed beyond measure. I will be thankful that I am rich in Christ's love. I will hug my kids tighter, kiss my husband deeper and open more wine with my friends! Because now, more than ever, IT IS NOT ABOUT ME!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Nursing old wounds

Every now and again I am reminded. I hear The Voice, or I see a familiar face and I am reminded. Sometimes I will catch a glimpse of a sideways look and I am reminded. I am reminded that I am imperfect, unkind, unworthy and sinful. It's instantly accusing. It's immediately convicting. It's crippling to any joy I might be experiencing and it robs my confidence in one felled swoop.

While I am grateful to be reminded that everyone is fallen, everyone needs Christ's grace and love, I must remember that my past does not control or define me. I have been freed and forgiven. I walk forward, looking ahead and upward for guidance, not behind as if chased by demons of the past. I can never shake the consequences of my previous choices, but I can learn from them. I can use them to look upon others with grace and understanding. I can and will share my mistakes with those who desperately crave the knowledge that Christ isn't waiting for them to be "good enough."

My mistakes have shaped me, but they don't continue to describe me. My Bad Girl doesn't get to rule my heart and mind, but she's a valuable asset to lead lost hearts to be found. I refuse to pretend that she isn't there, just below the surface. No one is picture perfect, least of all me.

I am learning to measure my wounds of the past against what they can do for my future. "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." (Romans 3:23, 24 NIV) Be comforted that Christ refused the sterile life and placed himself instead in the midst of prostitutes, liars, thieves and tax collectors. It is the broken that need Him most - And Friend, we are all broken!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Safe, Warm, and Uncomfortable...

It hasn't significantly snowed here yet. It hasn't rained either. It has been a balmy 70 some degrees on a regular basis since the little tiny cold snap we had in the first weeks of October. While some have been lauding the wonderful weather and sunshiny extension of summer-like weather there has been a feeling of dread creeping up my spine and settling into my heart. We need moisture. We need rain. We need snow. It is imperative that somewhere, something breaks loose for the mid section of our country and we get precipitation to end this drought. In short, we need cold, wet, snow, rain - we need discomfort.

So too in my daily life. I need discomfort. I need the days filled with strife, angst, hardship, challenges, and busyness to move me forward into a life of bounty and fruitful existence. Yes, I know how dangerous that last statement is. Fully aware of the tongue-in-cheek saying among Christians: "Never pray for patience. God will deliver all manner of frustrating circumstances to teach you just how to be patient!" But the thing is, if I don't tell the Lord I am ready, that I understand that I need these challenges, it doesn't mean He won't deliver them anyway. It simply means that I will stick my head in the sand. It means I will be disobedient to His will. It means I will wander off the path in search of comfort, instead of staying by His side to witness greatness.

I accept that I need to be uncomfortable. I accept the discomfort as part of a necessary process in which my God moves me from barrenness to fruitful bounty. I open my hands to the gift the Lord desires to place in them, whether it looks like snow, mud, rain, dust or nothing at all. I accept that He alone knows what I need, when I need it.

I open my heart, Lord, to the willingness to be led and ask You to quell my desire to lead. I pray You will deliver joy into my heart when things are tough, cold, wet, uncomfortable... Remind me that there was One who endured horrors and pain unimaginable so that I might live. My discomfort pales in comparison. Remind me anyway. When life is hard, when circumstances seem insurmountable, when I am tempted to use my own flawed scale of fair and unjust, remind me.

Lean into the discomfort today and be reminded that God uses our pain to teach and grow us into the likeness of His Son. It is never wasted...

Be blessed.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Have You Been "Wrecked"?

I don't do endorsements often. I am an eclectic reader, my music - well we know how weird that is... I am aware that like Paul said, "all things are permissible, not all things are beneficial" and I would be horrified to cause someone else to stumble. So I keep most of those choices to myself.

I do believe in exceptions to almost every rule, however, and Wrecked fits the bill. I talked about it here. And to make it even more an exception I signed up to blog about it for the author, Jeff Goins. If you haven't guessed, I would highly recommend giving it a read! If you need a push, check out Jeff's answers to some basic questions about "Wrecked" and what it may do for you.

ME: As Christians, we all know that dealing with discouragement is a daily endeavor. We seem to think that the other guy has it easier, makes less mistakes and has better coping skills than we do. What is something that you deal with regularly that can discourage you if not dealt with properly?

JEFF: Insecurity. I rarely think much of myself — that I'm talented enough, smart enough, good looking enough, and so on. Despite what I achieve, it never seems to be enough. If I don't nip this in the bud — or more often than not, if my wife doesn't — this insecurity can consume me and paralyze me.

ME: What is a source of encouragement to you that might not look like encouragement to someone else - or what is the most unusual way you found yourself being encouraged?

JEFF: I think you alluded to it above. When I hear successful people having the same struggles that I do, I don't feel so weird. I am rarely encouraged by people who have it all together, who never seem to struggle. I can't relate to that.

ME: In "Wrecked" you speak at length about that gnawing feeling of wanting to do more, be more, give more. You also touched on the fact that not everyone experiences this is an over seas missionary. Can you please explain to those who haven't purchased "Wrecked" (yet) what it means to be wrecked and what are some examples in your own daily life that have caused you to be "wrecked"?

JEFF: To be wrecked is to be disabused of the status quo, to live a life that is about more than you. Ultimately, it's about intentionally stepping into discomfort, because that's where we grow. It's about laying down your life for others, because that's where we find our greatest desires being met.
I believe we should do the right thing for the sake of doing the right thing, but I also believe this is the most fulfilling way to live — when you focus on others and their needs.
As for my own life, I'm wrecked by everything from a trip to the developing world to the discomfort of a baby crying in the middle of the night. For me, it's not about making one experience more amazing than the next; it's about where we grow. And for me, that's always the place I don't want to go: the place of greatest discomfort.
Wrecked is about stepping into those situations, ready to be changed.

ME: Your book gave me a set of definitions to wrap my head around. I knew I had been wrecked months earlier but I didn't have a way to verbalize it to others. It was an awakening and I realized there had to be more to who I was. Explaining it has been challenging. Can you clarify: Is being wrecked akin to a midlife crisis, or is it something else entirely?

JEFF: Something else, entirely. A midlife crisis is debilitating — it's what happens when you defer your adolescence and it catches up with you. Being wrecked is empowering, when rightly considered. It's a vision of a life that is about more than you. Sure, it can turn your world upside down, but if you embrace the change this paradigm shift offers, it can change everything in your life — for better.

ME: Once I experienced the holy wrecking of my life, I knew in my heart there was just no going back. Something deep inside me had changed, although my outsides looked completely normal. I wasn't singed around the edges with tendrils of smoke wafting about, so it was difficult to keep myself accountable to the commitment I had made. Who and/or what keeps you living the wrecked life?

JEFF: My family. They remind me that my story is not about me. And when I make it about me, they remind me I'm living a smaller one than I'm meant to.

So there it is, folks! You can pick up a copy of Wrecked here (electronically or analog) and start living a life wrecked in the best way possible!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Wherein She Admits Things...

Photo courtesy of Quincy Brown, my daughter

It's been a while... Wish I could tell you it was because I found fame and fortune, or that I was immersed in the amazing loveliness of analog time with family and friends. It isn't. I've been angry. Specifically, I have been angry with God. I feel as though He took me by the hand, led me down a path and then when I bent to tie my shoe, I looked up and He was gone. I called and called and got no answer... Well, ok... That part isn't completely true. I got an answer, I just didn't like it. At all. It pissed me off in fact. And so, until I was ready to receive His instruction, God stripped me of my words.

For a writer to be void of the ability to write, well - that's a big deal! It didn't hit me until recently that that was what had even happened. I had talked myself into being very busy. Even today, when the overwhelming urge to write assailed me I almost pushed it aside, so unfamiliar was the sensation. I almost talked myself into the chores that need done for my son's birthday celebration. I almost unloaded the dishwasher instead. I almost immersed myself in the internet and Facebook and blogs of other colors... Almost.

Choices have consequences. I cracked open the door to my studio this morning to find that because of my anger and my neglect I have been unaware that the infrared heater had quit working. It is a chilly 20-something degrees inside. I have a little unit that I am trying to use, but so far I can still see clouds of steamy breath in the frigid air.

Because of my pride and my anger I am wrapped in a blanket and stuck wishing I had grabbed more than just one heater because this one ain't cutting it. And then it clobbers me. This is what it feels like to be cut off from God. Cold, lonely, desperate and cloaked in the slow dawning realization that I cannot stay warm by my own measure. Fixing this issue that has me so twisted and seeking my own solutions is not going to work on my own. I have to turn back to Him. I have to listen. I need to desire less my own way and desire more God's promise to provide what I need, when I need it. I have also realized I don't determine what I need, He does. It is here I am tempted to stumble again.

I think I know what I need. I don't. I know only what I want. Because the thing about needs is they are so basic, we tend to ignore them once they are fulfilled. We then move on to what we desire, what we want, what we covet... And therein lies the sin.

When I focus on what I want, what I say I deserve, I am lost. Mired in my own pride and believing my own self-sufficiency is enough, I cannot be blessed by the Lord to receive what He has for me. What I need is not comfort, or respect, or appreciation. What I need to is to have value in God's eyes. When I lose that, I lose - Period. Man will fail me every time. God will not. Time to look up and refocus.

See, God never let go of me. God didn't drop my hand to run off down bunny trails, I did. I quit listening to His quiet voice and I focused on things I thought would make me happy. I stopped to tie my shoes and I quit trusting Him. I relied on what I knew, instead of what I know of Him. I wandered off pretending that I was calling in the wilderness for His direction, when what I was really doing was making enough noise to not hear His answer. Time to take my fingers outta my ears and turn back from this bramble filled path. I look back to the clearing I left weeks ago and there He stands, waiting for me to rejoin Him, hand outstretched and patiently waiting for my grasp.

"The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." Deut 31:8

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Of Doors and Windows (Where In She Is Reminded)

The studio is chilly today. I have the heat going and I have a project I am working on, but the chill in my feet isn't leaving. This lovely little shack I have out here, roughly 150 feet from my home, is gloriously equipped with large windows. They are great for letting in light and keeping me inspired with their views, but they are not efficient holders-in of the heat. It's a trade off. I prefer the light...

Windows and doors have been swimming around my brain lately. God has been providing inspirational quotes and concepts about them. It is the start of how He gets my attention, bombarding me with something until I relent and listen closely. I think we all know about the one that goes, "When God closes a door, He will open a window instead." Tim Tebow just posted about giving thanks in the hallway when God isn't opening doors. Someone recently reminded me that your eyes are the window to your soul. So when I sat down today to write out my thoughts I had an entirely different approach in mind.

I had intended to write about how we manage our attitudes when God closes the doors on our desires or our plans. I had intended to wax philosophical on making sure we accept His guidance and blah, blah, blah. I even started the post. Yeah... Ahem. Like most things I try to handle myself, God had a different plan. To put it bluntly, my head is still stinging from the slap I got.

God chose my topic today. It isn't an easy one. It is hard. Really hard. His lesson to me today (a lesson I desperately need) is about windows. See, doors are easy. Doors are definite, cut and dried: they are either open or they are shut. They are either unlocked and accessible, or they are locked and entry beyond barred. Doors do not involve my heart condition. I can rail at the fact that I cannot gain access... But I either walk away or stand in a hallway, safely excluded from whatever lay behind the portal.

Windows are a whole 'nuther ball of wax. Windows allow me to see what is on the other side. Windows can be full of temptations and selfish desire. Windows can deceive me into thinking that but for one latch or a quick handle-crank, I could have what is on the other side. Windows make me choose. I either choose to be obedient, or I choose to desire that which God says I cannot have.

Anyone who has lived in Colorado can tell you windows can weave a tale that will leave you shivering. With 300+ days of sunshine a year, often looking out at the crystal blue skies and majestic evergreens will fool you into thinking that you could leave your jacket, even your parka, behind. It is never wise to rely on what you see. Instead, checking the temperature gauge will tell you that that sunshine is harboring a hostile 20-something degree day. Don't fall for it! Put on your coat, or stay safely inside.

God is my gauge today. I have windows tempting me these days. Windows that have promising views - things that look really good from where I am sitting in the cozy safety of my Christ relationship. The gauge is saying different. I keep looking out those windows and think maybe the gauge is off. Maybe it would be ok to just poke my head out that window and take a look-see. I have tried the door. It is still shut tight. But that window beckons...

Before I reach out and let in all the chill of our fall weather, before I allow in things that God does not intend me to have, before I disobey His kindest desire for me - before I do that, I hesitate. His voice speaks to my heart and reminds me of all the things I have seen in those windows. He asks me to recall the times I have not resisted and the pain I was caused. And He reminds me of the times I trusted Him. The times He Himself handed me more than I could have thought to desire. Much more than the window had promised to me...

Praise God, He doesn't speak to me in riddles. Praise to Him that desires me to be His tool, used by His purpose, fed by His plan. I can turn away from the windows, buckle down in my efforts and reapply myself to my time behind the closed door. I will let the window bring me light. I will acknowledge that it is there. But until the door is swung wide and I am released into the safe warm air, I will stay put, admiring the view only for what it is. Potential unrealized, until He says it is time.

Be blessed, admire the view, but enter only by the open door... Peace to you.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Going it alone

Photo courtesy of Taylor Larson
Community. Human beings can't live without it, although we try. Modern technology has made us think that we can survive by just logging in, Stumbling Upon, Reddit-ing it and hitting the share button. The facts are, it isn't enough. We may think because we have thousands of Twitter followers that we are connected, but unless you are out there in the analog time-space, you are no more than a blip on the radar. Momentary. Invisible.

I have joked about the life of a trainer's wife here. And it can be hilariously frustrating. This life can also be horribly isolating and lonely. I spend many days listening to nothing but the sound of my own voice singing off tune and the ticking of the clock. (And people wonder why I talk to myself?)

When I just can't take it any more, and the grunts of my teenagers aren't cutting it, I have to make myself pick up the phone to hear the voice of another human being. I have to put on real pants and walk out the door to visit a friend. (Jammie pants are not acceptable outer wear, no matter what my daughter's friends may say...)

The same is true for my relationship with God. I was never designed to go it alone. I was never expected to be handed the set of commandments and follow each to the letter, never faltering and always obedient. Those rules were given to show me just how much I need my Heavenly Father. They are not a standard to bear but proof that it is impossible for me to live sinlessly.

Christ covers for me when I fail. When I am weak and hateful, sinful and heartless, He steps up and reminds me that this life is not about me. He taps me on the shoulder when I curse and shakes his head. He pokes me in the ribs when I am tempted to say that spiteful remark. He slaps the back of my head when I covet someone else's relationship. Christ reminds me that for His love, I would be lost and owned by the most evil of taskmasters - my own pride.

When I realize just how far I have fallen, when I am covered in the mire of the pig-pen, I bow my head and beg His forgiveness. The best part? He doesn't hesitate - He just gives it. That's how He rolls. Like a little child I am welcomed back into the fold, hugged til I have no breath left in my lungs and shown the way to walk once more. There is community with Christ.

Follow Him when the way looks dark and uncertain. Follow Him when you are tempted to make your own way. Follow Him when life calls you unworthy. He is waiting to lead you on the path, hand in hand, divinely directed.

Be blessed!

Monday, October 1, 2012

In my ear

(photo courtesy of Apple.com)
There's this trend going on to know what's on the iPod playlists of famous folks these days. I think it gives us insight into who they are when no one is talking to them. I know when I put my ear buds in I'm instantly in another world. It can be reflective, fun, angst ridden or just plain relaxing. Now, I know I'm not famous! I know you could care less about what's on my playlist.... But this is my blog, see? And I can do what I want! Besides, I found some stuff that flat cracked me up...

Amos Moses - Jerry Reed Very red-neck of me, you say? Don't care. I love this song because it tells a story... Albeit one of abuse and murder, but a story none the less. And how to hide a body in a swamp... Good to know!

Brighter Than the Sun - Colbie Caillat This song makes me smile. It's also my ringtone. That's right, despite myself I'm a freaking cheery mess! Yes, I am... Oh shut up.

Crazy - Gnarls Barkley Pretty sure this is self-explanatory. Wait, let me check with the voices.... Ya, they say it's self-explanatory!

F-n Perfect - P!nk One of the few songs that I actually got a clean version of. I am always downloading the raunchy version on accident and I couldn't be happier that I did this one right. It's my anthem to my kids. They are so amazing! And there's no trace of that icky word to wreck how I feel about them... Just sayin'.

Gold On The Ceiling - The Black Keys Ok, so I know if you know me you know that I have very eclectic tastes, and that I revel in watching tv. These guys have made it big largely in commercial background music, but also in the alternative genre. Just love em! They look completely geeky and I find that sooo cool! (Snorts and pushes up reading glasses...)

Hot For Teacher - Van Halen Ya, I'm a child of the 80's - what of it? David Lee Roth was my high school crush. There I said it.... I still like big hair, spandex and dancing like a goober. Admit it, you do too! I know you still have a pastel blazer in your closet, the sleeves crushed and ruined from pushing them up your arm... You don't? Just me? Poop....

I've Got A Woman - Ray Charles Oh man, there just isn't anything like some Ray-Ray to get ya feeling the groove! It was a toss up between this and Seven Spanish Angels... (shivers) LOVE! The song is about a complete chauvinistic who literally says a woman's place is in the home, but man! Dude can make me sing along anyway...

Mexican Hat Dance - (who cares) This is bound to raise some eyebrows if you're in the car with me and it blares out, trumpets proud! My husband is a performer who rides horses to music on occasion and that auto update thingy in iTunes? Well, there ya go... Don't judge me. I laugh every time and so I keep it on.

One More Night - Maroon 5 Adam Levine is delicious... 'Nuff said.

Rolling In the Deep - Adele My spine gets chills when I hear Adele. Just an amazing set of lungs, that gal! I sing to this one regularly... Well, if you can call me butchering an Adele song singing. Ya. Nevermind.

The Battle of New Orleans - Johnny Horton This one I keep on my iPod because, without fail, every time my daughter pushes play that banjo riff comes on and just floors her! She looks at me every single time with that, "What the heck? Mom!" look and we both have a good belly laugh. And if I'm honest, there are times I sing along... It has great childhood memories of my Grandpa.

Texas Cookin' - George Strait When you're on a diet, songs about food are hard to come by... So if I can't eat it, at least I can have a handsome dark haired crooner sing to me about it, right? No calories in that, I hope. I play the song ALOT these days... While on the elliptical... Not eating cookies. I swear.

That's it, folks... Twelve of the many tunes that keep my toe tapping and me from shooting idiots roadside! What's your fave list of songs or just stuff you have on your iPod that crack you up? Would love to hear from you. Really... Comments make my week!

Saturday, September 29, 2012


Photo courtesy of M. Brubaker

It always bubbles just below the surface
That little place in my heart where you live
No matter how much I push and prod,
Swirl and shove, it bubbles there without ceasing.

The crush of it, the swells, the curling of it spins me
Deeper, down into the dark and the silence.
The light above seems far from me, a pin hole
Of brightness above my head as I sink ever further.

Reach for me, dive deep and far to grasp my hand,
Make it just as my lungs fill with the drowning liquids.
Save me, pull me from the darkest deeps to
Fill me again with the sun above the waves.

Don't leave me in the depths, spinning there
Just below the surface.
Bring me topside, hold me safely out of the churn -
Floating in the sunshine of your love.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

One last bit...

WARNING: Very long post... This is a full chapter, unedited (so please excuse the errors and inconsistencies. They will be fixed before publishing). This is the last of the fictional book I will show you... I will announce when it is done. ;) Thank you so much for your support of my story telling!

From: My Grandmother's Pearls
A fictional work by S.A. Brown

-Chapter 3-

As Tawny untied the knot and opened the leather cover, a tattered recipe card dropped into her lap. "Oysters Rockefeller" was scrawled at the top and below was a fading list of ingredients for the dish. Tay skimmed it quickly and smiled as she read the last line on the back of the worn card, "Serve with only the best of company, as if you were the Rockefeller's themselves!"
She set the card aside and turned to the first page.

December 12th, 1939

An oyster is a simple and delicious creature I have been familiar with all of my life. I have eaten them steamed, raw, broiled, Rockefeller, baked, and fried among many. I have held their gnarled shells in my hands and wondered at the pristine, smooth finish inside. So rough and pedestrian on their outside, built for weathering any storm, being buffeted by turbulent seas, affixed to anything that will stand still. That shiny interior, so much like a lady's dressing room, covered in pink satin and pretty damask, has always held me in wonder. How a rough exterior could hold such an amazing interior is a fair picture of my life.
I was born Ruby Josephine LaFloret to a wonderful man and woman in the backwoods of rural Georgia. We didn't have electricity, nor running water in our little sharecropper shack and most of the time I went without shoes. I don't recall being worried that we were poor until Mother died and Father left us with Her to find work.
When you harvest oysters, as my brother and I did many times in our young lives, you must be diligent in your shucking. Careful opening of those wonderfully delicious mollusks can reveal a treasure, if you are lucky. You see, when an oyster encounters a difficulty, say a scratch to its interior surface or unwittingly sucks up a grain of sand to that polished pink interior, it begins to secrete a coating around the wound to heal itself. In the process a wonderful thing happens. The coating forms a pearl. Without the trauma, the oyster lives happily in peace until snatched up for someone's dinner. But with the trauma, beauty is created.
I am far from home today. I long for the parties and the camaraderie of my peers. I miss the southern hospitality and the porch sitting. I miss the days before now, uncolored by tragedy and angst. I am hoping to be home for Christmas this time. Too much time has gone by without my own around me. This is not my first pearl, but it is especially painful.
I am in California at a clinic that I cannot name. It all sounds very mysterious, but I cannot risk naming the location for fear that it will be shut down again. Dr. B is a genius man who has the only facility able to deal with my problem. I have always been a very forthright person, despite being born a woman, and a southern one at that, so keeping secrets is not my strong suit. My illness is never spoken of lest suspicions arise and we be found out. As far as anyone knows, we are simply here on extended holiday, enjoying the warm air and the movie star sightings. How I wish we were back home...

Ruby closed her journal and tied the thong into a knot after laying the recipe card gently into the pages. She smiled. Tilly had handed her the card as she'd boarded the train for California almost five months ago. "I hope ya can find ya'll some decent oystahs ova theya!" Her blonde hair had shone in the morning sun and her perfectly applied lipstick framed a strained smile. She had been very worried about Ruby. They were friends from way back and Ruby's diagnosis had hit her hard.
Ruby's diagnosis had hit everyone hard. At least everyone that was told. It felt shameful to be sick, especially sick there. Folks just didn't talk about that kind of thing and so not very many of her friends had been informed of the reason the Moore's were taking an extended leave to the west coast. But Tilly, well she was her "bestest" friend and Ruby couldn't stand the look in her eyes when she had told her she was going away.
Tilly had been present for almost every significant event in her life. It seemed unfair to exclude her from this. Ruby admitted to herself now, thousands of miles away, it was also a selfish endeavor informing her friend. She had been terrified. It was frightening saying the words out loud, but living with the secret eating at her insides was even more horrific. She remembered telling her friend and how her eyes had welled up. Ruby could almost feel the touch of Tilly's soft hands as they clasped hers fiercely. It was as if Tilly alone was holding her there, daring the tumor to try to take her friend from her.
She had looked Ruby dead in the eyes and demanded that she fight. Ruby was going to beat this thing, no matter what it took. They would find someone who wouldn't give up, someone who could deliver a miracle. Tilly had steeled herself for the fight, and doggone it if she hadn't been right. Tilly had been the one to find Dr. B, she had made the contacts and started the process of getting her on that train. Tilly had always refused to lay down and die. It was who she was.
Ruby and Tilly had met shortly after Ruby's mother's death. If she closed her eyes and let herself drift, Ruby could still hear the cicada, listen to the starlings and feel the heat of the Georgian summer blast her cheeks once more.
She had run to the creek in desperation, hoping to escape the reality that was just now dawning on her young eight year old soul. Mama was gone. She stripped off her shoes, long too small for her growing feet and flung them angrily into the bushes that surrounded her favorite bathing spot. She would never wear shoes again! Mama couldn't make her and Daddy seemed so far away now.
Ruby recalled the look on his face as he'd come out of the small curtained off area they used as their bedroom in the one room shack. He was as far away as the places she read about in her history books at school. He sat in a heap on the step of their front porch, holding his head in his hands and shaking from head to toe. She had stared at him that way for what seemed like a long time, until she knew her Mama would be calling for water. She dipped the cup into the bucket she'd fetched earlier that morning and carried it carefully into the darkened space behind the curtain.
Mama lay under those covers, swaddled like her little nieces and nephews were when they were first born. Her skin was no longer feverish and glistening, but paler than usual. Her eyes seemed unable to close all the way, but then maybe Mama wasn't really sleeping. She had a hard time sleeping these days, with all the pain in her tummy.
"Mama," Ruby had softly called to her mother, ever so gently touching her mother's covered arm while concentrating on not spilling a drop of the preciously retrieved water. "Mama, I got ya water... Mama?"
Her father had entered behind her. He put his large calloused hand on her tiny shoulder, "She gawn, Gem. She done gawn on to be with the Lawd today." He had broken down in tears then, the shaking convulsing down his body, through his arm and into the little girl standing so alone in the room. She turned from her father's grasp and bolted through the curtain, tossing the tin cup toward the wash tub and the waiting breakfast dishes she'd been about to start.
Ruby almost knocked her older brother clean off his feet as she tore down the porch stairs and into the cool shadows of the forest. Jim called after her, but Ruby was off running from the hurt as fast as she could turn her legs. "Gem! Ruby..." He didn't follow. He'd been summoned from the fields by a neighbor that had stopped by with the terrible news. He had to get to Daddy.
The next days were a blur for Ruby. She had come back to the shack before nightfall. It was the rule. Mama would be worried if she stayed in the woods after dark, even if it was the best time to hunt lightning bugs. The house had been full of neighbors, family, aunties and uncles all putting small food dishes in cupboards, sharing what they could spare with Daddy.
Ruby had just wished that they would all leave. They didn't need all these people. Mama was just sleeping and when she felt better, she would wake up and fix them all a big skillet of corn pone. She might even break out the maple syrup to celebrate how wonderful she was feeling. No one really talked to Ruby, they just tskd when they saw her and tried to give her hugs and pats on her fiery red tangles. She was having none of it.
For two days, Ruby slept on the porch. The bug bites were worth not having to sleep in the crowded shack and endure the sorrowful stares of folks she had no interest in seeing.
Today had been the funeral. For a girl as young as Ruby to have lost her mother was traumatic enough, but to add to the injury, her Father didn't seem equipped to cope with the loss either. Jaques LaFloret had been raised in the bayous of Louisiana and had married Ruby's mother Theresa when he was seventeen and she was only sixteen. They had grown up together, loving each other and learning how to raise a family in the harsh back woods of rural Georgia. Daddy had the most incredible knack for making furniture and fashioning something out of almost nothing. He was a craftsman, he would often say with a devilish grin. It always made Mama laugh.
Mama's laugh. Ruby was sure she would die if she ever forgot that laugh. It was like rain pattering on their tin roof, like the wings of humming birds darting from flower to flower, Mama's laugh was like dancing moon beams on the creek edge. She squeezed her eyes shut tight. Ruby had to remember that sound.
She had sat quietly at the back of the church with her Daddy and Jim on either side. Daddy couldn't hold his head up and she watched as the tears dropped onto the one pair of trousers he owned. Jim looked straight ahead as if he were a statue on the square in Valdosta. He held her hand at least, squeezing it every now and then as if he were making sure she was still there. Ruby loved her older brother. He teased her mercilessly at times, making her blood hot on her cheeks and neck. He called her names as any dutiful brother would, taught her how to catch frogs and once, after she'd been bullied by a boy on her way home from the school house, he had taught her how to fight. James had been her best and only friend most of her life.
After the funeral was over and the casket was dumped into the ground behind the tiny white washed church, as the rest of the grown ups gathered round her Father to impart their condolences, Ruby had quietly drifted to the outer ring of people. She was only a child, after all, and grown ups didn't need to talk to her. Once she was safely out of range, Ruby had started to run.
She ran until her lungs burned and her legs ached with the effort of it. She ran away from the sorrowful eyes and the pursed lips. She ran from the condescending pats on her head and the unwanted suffocation of unsolicited hugs. Ruby ran until she came to the creek behind her ramshackle home.
Her feet now freed from the ill fitting shoes, she skinned off her sagging socks and stripped to her one piece underthings, the only dress she owned fluttering quietly into a muddy puddle by her side. She stepped slowly into the creek, letting the water rush over her toes and up to her ankles. Slowly and deliberately, Ruby walked into the creek until she was at it's deepest point, water swirling hypnotically around her knees. She sat down slowly and leaned back on her hands in the water, allowing her red curls to drag into the slow moving current. She breathed in deeply allowing the water to wash away her anger at being ignored, her fear for her Daddy who had never been without Mama, and her awe at her brother James who seemed to be so unshaken. The water bubbled around her in little eddies, caressing her tiny body as if it alone understood how she needed to be touched.
"Hey theya..." Ruby almost jumped out of her skin as she startled from her seated position in the creek. A girl roughly her age stood before her, knee deep in the creek herself, still wearing a flour sack dress. Ruby jumped up, crossing her arms over her chest in the sheer underthings, suddenly very aware she was all but naked. "I'm sawry I skeered you..." the little girl continued, lowering her eyes to watch the water swirl around her knees.
"I ain't skeered." Ruby shot back, stomping back to shore angry that her safe place had been infiltrated by another mourner.
"I jest saw ya runnin' and well, I did't wanna be theya eitha..." The little girl followed behind Ruby completely ignoring the surly red head's attitude. "This shore is a nice place! That ya house we come by?" She had produced a pair of socks from a nearby branch and was busy rooting around in a bush finding first one shoe and then the other.
Ruby pulled her muddy dress over her wet clothes and grabbed up her socks. She refused to go hunting for her shoes. They were too small anyhow, she reasoned. "Yes, that's my house." She stomped up the slope with the little girl hot behind her, chattering away.
"Mah names Mathilda, but ever'one jest cawls me Tilly. You Ruby, right?" Ruby turned on the chattering squirrel of a girl, ready to lay her out on her flour sacked butt. "I was hopin' we could be frey-yends..." Tilly's hand was stuck out in offering and there was a smile across her face that stopped Ruby cold.
"Friends?" Ruby was stunned.Who was this girl? Didn't she have a lick of sense? Ruby had just lost her Mama, and this girl wanted to be friends? Ruby turned on her heel and marched up the steps in a huff. "You have got to be the rudest most annoying girl I have ever met!" There, Ruby thought, that should turn this little chattering mag-pie around and send her back to the throngs of well wishers never to darken her doorstep again.
"My Maw tells me that awl the time!" Tilly laughed, "I guess I don't pick the best times, but she says it's endearing... Whateva that means! Do you have any watah? I might just die of thirst afta that run we did..."
Ruby shook her head in consternation and opened the door to the shack. Tilly followed, completely undeterred, and had been by her side ever since. How she wished that Tilly was here now! She missed her so much her heart ached with the pain of it.
Ruby lay the journal on the bedside stand of the little rented cottage she and her husband called home for the time being. Henry would be back soon from his golfing and she needed to be ready to go to dinner. They would likely return to the country club for supper and she would need to dress accordingly.
She stood in front of the small closet and fingered the dresses she had to choose from. Everything seemed so dull and lifeless. She hadn't made anything new for so long now she was sure her skills were waning. But then she hadn't felt well enough to even open the pattern books Tilly had sent to her. They were still hidden in a box under her bed. Henry thought it very pedestrian and back woods of her to still enjoy making her own clothes. He didn't understand the quiet solace she gained from stitching the tiny close stitches, taking time with each piece and making sure that no one could ever know it was home made. He didn't grasp the satisfaction she got with each new skirt or dress she completed. He cringed every time one of the ladies at the club would comment how lovely she looked and ask where she bought her latest creation. Of course he never allowed Ruby to tell them the truth, that she had sewn them herself and that is why they hadn't seen it in the shop window down town. She refused to lie however and would simply smile and say that she couldn't tell them who her tailor was or Henry wouldn't allow them to sew for her any longer.
Ruby lay out a navy blue dress that had taken her months to get just right. The cape collar and the fitted bodice were fashionable enough to wear out. Her hat and shoes would go nicely and the color would help her not look sickly. The paleness of her skin against the navy would be complementary, not alarming.
She had just enough time to draw herself a relaxed bath in the small tub. She twisted her hair against her neck and up onto her head, pinning it out of the water's reach. She looked in the large round vanity mirror to assure she hadn't missed any stray strands. The fiery curls were tamed for the moment and she strode into the small bathroom to run the water into the tub.
As the water swirled and rose, Ruby thought about the leather journal. She had decided to start writing about her journey just that morning. Yesterday's sermon had struck a chord with her and with her life and all of it's uncertainties, there was a part of her that needed to write down who she was and why. Part of her wanted to make sure that the days she had left if these unusual treatments didn't work would be spent remembering things that mattered and maybe even giving back to those around her. Another part of Ruby hoped that in putting her life's hardships into that journal she could leave some of the pain in the pages.
She slipped off her dressing gown and slid into the bath water, allowing the warmth to encircle her thin frame and wash away the aches she felt most all the time now. As she allowed her head to rest on the back of the tub Ruby closed her eyes and thought about the sermon. Each life hardship, each trial, each excruciating painful experience would produce beauty like the pearl inside the oyster. She smiled slightly at the thought. Could she really believe that after so much loss? Maybe the pastor had been more correct than she thought when he said the pearls may not be recognizable to the one feeling the pains of their birth. That even if she never saw the beauty one of her trials produced that it didn't mean it didn't exist.
Ruby thought about Tilly again. So much had transpired after that day at the river. Months of pain and sacrifice. Daddy and the way he just couldn't make sense of it anymore. Tears leaked slowly out of her closed eyes as she allowed her mind to drift back, to see his face twisted from pain and loneliness. She was back on that rickety porch, her aunt's hand hard on her shoulder and father holding both her smallish hands in his.
"Cher, it jes needs to be dis way fo a while. Ah be back fo ya quicka than da flick of a lamb's tail, shor 'nuf! Ah needs to find me sum work and den I be back fo ya and fo Jim. Auntie will care fo ya like I would." He looked up at his sister. She didn't smile. She didn't cry. She just stood there, hard and tall.
"Gem, I gots ta git now, but I gots ya sumthin'. It was your Ma's and I know she would want ya to keep it. Keep it safe for me, will ya? I give it to her da day I asked her to marry me..." His voice trailed off. He held his fist over her hand and when she reached out she felt something very small drop into it. She almost winced at the way he squeezed her hand tightly in his and held her gaze hard in his own. She knew she would have to hide whatever this was. She knew She would try to take it. Jaques let her hand fall limply to her side and Ruby slipped the very small something into her apron pocket undetected by Her. She kept her fist clenched as she watched her Daddy stumble to the waiting truck, wiping tears from his face.
Ruby knew it would be the last time she saw her father. She hadn't believed his lie. She knew then that she would have to do it on her own, to survive the hard hand of Her and decide to keep going no matter what. She had steeled herself that day as she watched her father drive away in the truck with the other men leaving for up north to try to find work. He had never fully recovered from their mother's passing and he saw this as the only way to make it work. It was a frightful, horrifying decision. It was a pearl that would come at great cost to Ruby. But she had determined it would not be the end of her.


December 15, 1939

It was always dark when he came. I was just a smidge of a girl, but I can recall those memories as if it were just night before. He was not a large man, but that never mattered. He may as well have been ten foot tall and bullet proof. I learned quick not to struggle. It hurt a lot worse when I fought. He would lean his forearm against my chest and press hard if I fought. It took longer too. I learned not to fight. I hated not fighting him, but I could wait. I would bide my time and someday I would see justice done... That was how I got through it. Just lay there while he finished and plotted my revenge.
She knew. She always knew. I hated her even more for that. She hated me too. Somehow she thought I was to blame for his disgusting assaults. I was always punished the mornings after he came. There would be a whooping. Always blamed on something else because she would never say she knew, but I know she did. Her eyes said it loud and clear like. They were hard eyes, brimming with hate and icy with murder. I know if she had killed me during one of her tirades she would never regret it. So I lived. I lived more to spite her than for myself back then. I had thought I was tough enough to endure anything she slung at me, but there were times I had to will myself to keep going, keep fighting. It was too much. I wanted to die. To be released from the grasp of two animals that neither loved nor cared for me would have been the sweetest reward...
I worked long hard days at Her hand. I washed all the laundry on the scrub board, I hung it on the lines strung from the sad and scraggly trees out back. I scrubbed the kitchen floors, did all the dishes, drew and hauled the water from the stream down front. I sat with her miserable kids, I bathed them, combed their hair and sewed their clothing. I was little more than a dirty, emaciated shell of a slave for her to scream obscenities at. When I chipped a dish, when I fell asleep with my scrub brush in my hands, when I didn't hear a child's cry She would break into a tirade the likes of which David must have experienced with Saul.
Like David, I never knew when the beating would commence. Unless of course He had come the night before. Then it was just a matter of time. Sometime in that day after She would head my way and I knew it was a comin'. She would have a switch or the birch paddle and once she simply took off her ratty, hole-riddled shoe. She would beat me until my skin split open or until I passed out cold from the pain. I would wake up where she left me and gather up my shoes or what was left of my clothes and head inside to finish up my chores. I kept living by sheer force of will. She would not beat the life my Ma had given me outta my body as long as I could muster one more breath.
I hadn't remembered those things for a long time until the other night in the bath. Henry had asked as we left for supper what was bothering me, but I just smiled at him and told him I was tired. He could never hear the truth. His mind would not wrap itself around my past no matter how much he may want to understand. There were just things my husband would never know from my mouth.
That sermon is still ringing in my ears. The one about the oysters. Beauty created from pain... I have decided that I will start myself a string of pearls. I will add a pearl for each hardship, trial or painfully won accomplishment I can recall. Like the oyster, I will tabulate each painful thing as one transformed into beauty. I will start with Mama's pearl, the one that Daddy gave me that day on the porch. The one I hid in all my stubbornness from Her and never let her take. The one I had pretended to chuck at the retreating truck on that dusty road way back in my memory. The first one I will put on the string in Mama's memory...
I see Dr. B. tomorrow morning. My last treatment will be Friday and I believe I will be allowed to return home. I can hardly contain my excitement to be back in my own home for the Christmas Holiday!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Building Muscle

I bet you didn't know that as a twenty-something I was a body builder for a short period of time. Yeah, I know - very hard to believe, but I was. I went from being a 100 lb waif to a 125 lb fireplug! I had 13 inch biceps (which for a little girl with hardly any body fat was impressive), washboard abs (never could get the whole six pack, but I had a solid four), thighs you could bounce a nickel off of and I spent hours perfecting a circuit that kept me competition ready for about six months. It was a ton of work to stay that fit, and I soon lost interest as it was something that came easily to my young body. (Wish my 40 yr old self could say the same!)

I could walk into a room anywhere and get noticed. I looked strong, I looked formidable, I looked like I could really take care of myself. If you had challenged me to a footrace, I might have ended up on the floor in a heap just 50 yards into it, but by all other appearances I was a force to be reckoned with. That's the thing about physical strength, it has it's limitations. If you are good in one spot, you are surely going to have to let something go somewhere else in your training. For me it was cardio. I only had so much time in the gym at night, working two jobs, so I had to sacrifice something. It left a hole in my overall fitness.

Spiritual strength runs parallel. You can take a look at life and decide that you have it all handled, that you are strong enough to deal with your job, your wife, your kids - but let a crisis hit you and something somewhere will fall through the cracks. We cannot do it alone. We were never meant to. God designed us to crave His brand of strength. He built in us a hunger for His presence. We generally understand this concept readily. Everyone needs help, why not get it from the one entity that is omniscient, all powerful and promises never to leave or forsake us?

The thing we don't understand, the thing that is monumentally hard for us to accept is that we are not strongest when we feel strong. We are not strongest when we have a plan, when we see the goal on the horizon. We are strongest when we haven't got a clue what's coming next. We are strongest when we feel as though we have all the wrong answers, if we have answers at all. We are strongest in our weakness because then, and often only then, we kneel and beg for our Heavenly Father to rescue us. When we finally come to the end of our own cumbersome human strongman act, we benefit from the incredible jaw-dropping strength of a Father that loves without limit.

When I feel the temptation to look upon my spiritual walk with confidence, when I am feeling strong and capable and unassailable, it is then that I am in the most danger of all. I will be taken down by my own pride, my own gullible belief in my abilities and I will fall headlong into terrible sin. To rely on my own skills at being strong is pure frivolity.

God wants to lend you His strength today. He wants you to put down the barbels of pride and self-sufficiency, He needs you to quit running toward things that will not build you up. Stop pretending you have it under control and tell Him how much you need His strength to fall upon you and lift you out of the mire. In your weakness you will find yourself carried upon arms that will never let you go.

2 Cor 12:-10 (NIV, Para by me) But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."... For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Of Things Past: A Short Story (warning: long post)

It was dark. Very Dark. Her eyes were open, or were they? She couldn't tell any more. The clock ticked in the hallway and chimed the hour, then the half hour. Sleep was elusive tonight. Her mind had been racing for what felt like days, though it had been mere hours. She took a breath deep into her lungs filling them slowly and allowing her shoulders to drop deeper into the mattress. She sighed.

It had been a shock to see him. She was running errands in town, trying to get back to the kids before the bus dropped them unceremoniously onto the dirt road where they lived. She had one last stop at the post office and then a mad dash to that destination, and dinner, and chores. One last thing to do...

As she opened the heavy door to the cinder block building he had almost plowed her over. He had his head down looking at his cell phone screen. She was juggling her purse, her letters, her keys and fumbling for that ridiculously heavy door.

"I'm so sorry!" He had almost shouted at her in embarrassment. He bent to gather the items she'd dropped there on the sidewalk. In an instant her mind screamed recognition at her; him down there on the cement, one knee bent as he picked up her things. In a flood of emotion she knew who he was, though it had been years. The rush of it hit her in the chest, tumbling her over and over, spinning in the massive wave of it, rolling her under the surface of time and drowning her heart all over again. It was him...

He was still a big man, still fit and trim. He wore a shirt and tie instead of a uniform but it was still him. His movements were quick and precise - confident, those of a military man with subordinates to command. He was standing now, looking ridiculous with her purse in his large hand. He had met her eyes and smiled. He was talking but she could hear nothing over the rushing of blood pounding in her ears.

"I really shouldn't be allowed to have this thing!" He gestured with his hand that still held the cell phone. He held her bag out to her a little closer and in an instant she was back above water, standing on the sidewalk in front of the post office. She tried to smile and took her purse from his grasp. He had neatly tucked the mail items in the side pocket and dropped the keys in the unzipped opening.

"Thank you..." she'd managed to croak out as he'd turned and started toward the parking lot.

"So Sorry!" he called back, one arm extended in a motionless wave. And just like that, he trotted back out of her life. He hadn't recognized her. She turned to enter the door that had just knocked her backwards and the reflection told a story she knew all too well. The last two years had aged her, she looked nothing like he'd known of her twenty years ago. The lines in her face alone had altered what he must remember, if he remembered anything at all. How is it time treats men so differently? How do they stay exactly the same?

She wandered through the rest of the evening like a zombie, made the bus stop just as the yellow beast pulled up in a hiss and a squeal. She had trudged through the chores of her night, mind racing then stalling into free-fall as memories flooded back. She made dinner for her children and sat on the worn couch as they fought for control of the remote. Nothing seemed to penetrate to her. She was still rolling in the deep waters of an ocean far away. Tossed by the curling current of a past long gone, opportunities missed, love tragically lost to the churning sea.

She clicked on the light at her bedside. The box was drawing her back to him. It was a form of torture she knew, but the draw was too great. She pulled the small cedar box from the corner of her closet shelf. Holding the dusty chest close to her body she made her way back to the rumpled bed. It left its imprint on her shirt, but she didn't brush it away. She drew a heart in the dirt with her finger and opened it slowly...

The ring gleamed up from the box, winking in the scant light ever so slightly. She reached out and put it on. It slid home easily and she smiled at the comfort of it, there on her bare hand. The photo was still there, in its cardboard frame. Two young faces smiled up at her, so much hope in their eyes, so much promise. A tear coursed down her cheek. The pain of it was exquisite, stealing her breath from her and depositing a deep ache in her heart.

She set the photo by her side and began to read the letters, removing them from the lavender ribbon tie. First one then the other, his voice silky and smooth spoke deep into her heart again. A faint scent of his cologne still lingered in the grain of the box and it wafted up to her, transporting her farther into the past. The last letter lay open before her. The final words slinked up her torso and burrowed into her aching heart, "I will always love you, Johnathan."

The sun was beginning to break over the horizon and fill her small room with pink light. The kids would be up soon. She tied the ribbon around the letter packet, making sure the order was still correct. She stared one last time at the photo of herself standing next to him, turned slightly inward towards his broad chest, smiling the smile of the newly engaged. It was no wonder he hadn't recognized her. Her brightness had faded, she was lined and dull and lifeless now. Even the green of her eyes had changed, now a muddy green-brown. Time had been cruel. It was not done either, it seemed.

She laid the photo in the box and stretched out her hand to watch as the light caught the diamond and sent luminescent rainbow prisms all around the room. He had always known exactly how to love her. A smile crept slowly across her lips as she remembered the way he'd handed her back her bag, things tucked neatly away, always more organized than they'd started. She wondered if he had a wife that benefitted from that talent. He must, she reasoned, he'd waited so long for her answer, his desire to be married so great within him. She slipped off the ring and laid it carefully on the folded frame.

She closed the lid to the tiny cedar chest and wiped away the dusty heart with her sleeve. She could hear the children stirring with their morning routines and they would need her soon. The box went back upon the high shelf and as an after thought she pushed it from the edge until she couldn't see it anymore from where she stood. There was a finality to it now. He would never be back.

Her drive to the bus stop and the chatter of her children droned on as she recalled the hasty decision. The fear she'd felt over his deployment and the argument they'd had before he left; she could recall them word for word, even twenty years later. Fear of losing him before she even had him had made her angry, livid to her core. She had ignored his calls, as if her temper tantrum could change the way the hulking military machine rolled on over their plans to be married. She had hoped in delirium that somehow he could change it, make it not so, not yet... She had been so very foolish. Weeks later she finally wrote him back, sealing the ring up in a final envelope to reach him where he was, so very far away.

It had been surprising to get it back, carefully wrapped in a velvet sack and protected from prying hands. She realized that it was a miracle he'd gotten it at all. The letter that accompanied the jewelry was simple and to the point. She could tell she'd crushed him. And yet, those last words... Giving her back the ring was a statement of who he was, who he would always be. She had dropped it in that box and not looked back for twenty years.

For twenty years she had been a ranchers wife, safe and secure in a small rural community not far from where she grew up. From where they'd met. The military base had closed up long ago, budget cuts moving the men on to other places, bigger stations and larger cities. Its presence so many years ago still drew some of them back. The beauty of the mountainous terrain was hard to get out of your blood once it sunk in. She had lived a very good life, loved a very good man and had two beautiful and talented children. It had been safe and fulfilling, until...

Her husband was killed on a highway not ten miles from the barns where his rig had picked up the last of the cattle for transport. The big bulls had shifted at a critical moment, the patrol man had guessed, and sent the rig into a unrecoverable slide over black ice during an early storm. In an instant all the safety she had coveted was ripped from her, leaving her exposed to the frigid air that January. Standing at his open grave she had stared at the box below while the wind whipped her hair and stung her cheeks wet with tears that wouldn't stop. It was so unfair that she couldn't drop into that abyss with him, leave behind the living for others to do. But she couldn't. She didn't. She lived on.

She pulled back into the dirt drive of her small home and watched as a fox trotted purposefully across the pasture, tall grass hiding all but his black tipped ears and an occasional glimpse of his tail. She stepped from the car and walked the path past the vegetable garden now in full riotous bloom, to her back porch. There, she stopped short and sucked in her breath.

Taped to the door was one stunning red rose and a folded note, her name neatly written in red ink. With shaking hands, her breathing coming in spurts she couldn't regulate, she reached for them. The note read simply, "Always means always... Johnathan."

She sunk to the greying planks of the porch, tears streaming down her face dropping like rain on the old wood. She didn't hear him approach her. She felt him. He had not only come back, he had never left.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Bleeding on the page

Certain accolades will always make me uncomfortable. I don't quite understand it. I mean, I write because I want to make a difference and yet when women approach me and tell me how much it means to them, I get all squirmy and my first instinct is to belittle what God does here. Not because it is God, but because it is me He uses.

"So then, Stace, why write at all? Why put yourself out there?" Frankly, I don't always know. But lately I have been trying to figure out at least some of the reasons why...

First, I guess it is a calling. I can't stand to hear someone say that they can't be a Christian because they aren't good enough or don't look like they should. It is one of the most tragic things I can hear. I believe that being real, being broken, being brutally honest is how we get to fully comprehend how infinitely encompassing is God's love. If I sit here and present to you a facade that I have it all together, that I never fall or struggle, if I don't share with you who I truly am - It perpetuates a false picture that keeps you from Christ, not draws you to Him. Being His daughter, His bride - It is what keeps me sane, I want that for you.

Second, writing completes me in a way words don't wrap around. Writing - any kind of writing - centers me, redirects my chaotic mind, keeps me focused on the important things like God, family, friends, making impact. When I don't write, I come unglued. My edges get frayed, I get crabby, I get snipe-ish, I am not who I was created to be. It baffles me how I kept going for so long without it. God has certainly been good.

Lastly, writing connects me. Living out here, alone a lot, I have to find community in different ways than most do. Driving into town gets expensive on a horse trainers budget so chatting with friends, keeping up on Facebook (evil creature that it is), and blogging are what keep me connected to the real world out there. Besides, some of the most heart touching comments I have gotten have come from posts I did just for me. Having another human being stop me and say, "I needed you to say that," Folks, it just doesn't have a match. When we realize we are not alone in our broken worlds, that someone else is struggling too and somehow making it through - It fuels us to continue. I come from a long list of survivors and tough chicks (just ask my mom the genealogist) but even I need a boost! Hearing from you makes my day, it really does.

If there is one thing I want all of you reading to know, and I think it's vital you keep this in mind... I never write with the intent on showing you how it's done. These are conversations I have been having with my own God, the prayers I send up, the heartbreak I feel, the joy I exude - It's all real, and it's all mine. I welcome you in with open arms and I hope you will keep visiting. Just understand that if you came here to find answers you will be sadly disappointed. I am no guru, or self-help aficionado. I am just a woman who cant stand to keep her mouth shut.

I will fix you a cup of coffee, sit with you on my lovely couch in my amazing studio and I will listen to your hearts pour out like rain. I will not fix it. I cannot fix it. That is for God to do. But He has allowed me to view your hearts with such joy and grace I would be remiss not to return the favor.

Be blessed...

Sunday, September 9, 2012


I don't fit here. This is not my home. I am made of the Maker's clay, molded and shaped, fired and cooled by His hand alone. While on this Earth, I may find pleasures, comforts and joys, but I am reminded to seek the things of God over the things of man.

I am a path paved with the stones of perseverance, hope, humility, sorrow, joy, grace, mercy and love. My Father has laid me out to be walked daily that I might revel in His wisdom. From His heavenly footfalls I am strengthened, renewed, uplifted and protected. My Lord comforts me in every situation.

Life in temporal terms is painful and so I am reminded through Christ that I am forged of the strength of God. He is the mettle in my soul, steeling me for battle, arming me with His Holy Spirit, bolstering my courage with shadows of His support in days past. In His name I seek to Glorify His purpose, not my own.

(Prov 31:30) Charm is deceptive and beauty fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Please, Lord, let me be that woman!

Monday, September 3, 2012

An Imposter Disclosed

Photo courtesy of Tracey Lee

There was joy when it happened. There was relief, fear and giddiness as well. It was a flood of emotions and not all of them good. In the midst of success there was a nagging voice... Small, but undeniably present. A voice that said, "All well and good for now, but what happens when they find out? What happens when they know you better? What happens when the reality police come knocking and call you out for the imposter that you are?"

That voice is something I have dealt with all of my adult life. You would think that after I became a Christian it would have dissipated but it didn't. It may have even gotten worse. The voice asks me who I think I am to sit down and write out anything that might pass for encouragement, advice, or knowledge. The voice strives to rob me of any joy in what God has called me to do. That voice.

While I could sit here and tell you nothing of the voice, pretend like my success in getting an article picked up on a web-zine was well deserved and something I worked very hard for, I would be lying. I would be lying to myself and I would be lying to you. It would be a lie of omission, but a lie never the less. I had been struggling with how to confront it head on and was coming up short. Then I got a phone call.

She was strong to start with, no nonsense and all business. She is a confident woman, and someone I often turn to when I need encouragement. She was giving me the low-down on details I needed for the day and the subject turned to a struggle she was having. I am invested in who she is, and so I listened. I listened as she wrestled with her perspective and her finances, and her life in general. And then she said it. I didn't make it up, I didn't "mis-hear" her. In wavering tones heavy with emotion she said,
"I feel like I am a little girl in a grown-up's game and I don't belong here!"

It was as if someone had turned the light on in a darkened room and the brightness hurt my eyes. I was not the only one dealing with "The Voice." That insidious conviction was not my exclusive domain. It was a part of everyone and it infuriated me in an instant! I was relieved to hear that I wasn't alone, but I was immediately angered that this nasty voice was robbing the joy in my friend's victory! She deserved better... She deserved to bask in the celebration. We get so few successes in our lives, she needed to be able to enjoy it just one moment before the hard work started again.

It was in that instant I realized I needed to act. I needed to convict that voice in my head that he was not in charge. He was nothing in the face of my God. He was already defeated and he could not have my dreams to take along with him. The Enemy feeds on regret, fear and doubt that lives in every one of us. When God gives us victory, that terrible voice will be right behind reminding us of how much we don't deserve it. Just like any good lie, there is truth in it.

We don't deserve it. We cannot earn the love of God. We do not deserve the grace of God. God gives his gifts to us because he pleases to do so. These things and the success God shows us come at His whim, His timing and His pleasure. So in actuality, Satan is right and incredibly smart to attack on that level. After all, we fall for it every time. The thing is, he is also a tired old man who cannot come up with anything new and innovative to try to steal away God's glory. He will attack the same way over and over again. It is time that I am prepared for his attack and ready to act with truth instead of self pity.

There is a saying, "When Satan comes to remind you of your past and all of its failures, remind him of his future!" He is already defeated - Don't go down with him! Take the gifts God is giving you, thank Him mightily and remember that He delights in you because you bring Him glory. Accept His gift to you with a thankful heart and praise God for His love of you. Turn away from the temptation to follow the enemy in his accusations. You cannot ever earn God's favor, but you can rejoice in it as your gift from a loving Father who has claimed you as His own.

Be blessed today by the things God has allowed in your life. He wants you to know exactly how much He loves you. Though we may not always see His works in our lives as good, He is working to create in us the most glorious beauty of all - the replication of His Son's image in us.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

On Being Called Out

Her hands shook almost imperceptibly. She'd stood in my office doorway for just a second and in my busyness, I hadn't noticed the Bible she held. "What's up? Do you need me for something?"

"How are you today?" She had asked me. I was busy, working on a task that always seems to make or break my day and she knew I could be volitile. I mumbled something innocuous and tried to smile through my teeth without making it a grimace.

"I need to show you something... I mean, I'd like you to read something that God has been asking me to show you." Her small hands held the Bible open and offered it up to me, open to Isaiah 58:9-11. My eyes struggle these days to read small print, but I squinted my way through it as I took the book in my own hands. I realize now that I never looked up at her.

The words didn't jump off the page at me. Instead they crept into my heart with purpose, determination and conviction.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, 'Here I am.' "If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness, If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, And your darkness shall be as the noonday. The Lord will guide you continually, And satisfy your soul in drought, And strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, And like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.

I admit I didn't read all of it with comprehension... But I was struck immediately by one phrase: If you take away the yoke from your midst, The pointing of the finger and speaking wickedness... ahem. There it was: the conviction that I had dreaded would come.

When you pray for God to reveal the source of a problem you are facing and He comes back at you with, "The problem is your attitude," it is hard to take. I want to explain, to justify the appropriateness of my actions. I want to make God understand that I have reason to feel as I do. Trouble is, God doesn't care about my own filthy justifications. God cares about my heart. God cares about growing me. God cares that I am humble and attentive and compassionate to others before I tend to myself. Here He was, pointing out that I was none of those things. God was holding up a mirror and I didn't like what I saw.

I read the passage and thanked her, finally looking up and meeting her eyes. I acknowledged my culpability in the situation. I told her I needed to hear it, and I wrote down the verse so I could later meditate on it. She breathed an audible sigh and confessed that she had stood outside my door arguing with God about showing me the passage. I tried not to cringe about what that says about my approachability. Instead, I marveled at the obedience involved.

That is what God is asking of me. It doesn't matter if I understand the plan, if I feel comfortable with the direction He is taking me. What matters is whether or not I am obedient to His direction. Listening when I would rather talk, moving when I would rather stay put, speaking up when it might be misunderstood - These are the things my God is asking me for. Obedience, brokenness and compassion. Obedience doesn't look like complaints, brokenness doesn't point fingers of blame and compassion isn't self-aggrandizing.

I thank God for that woman's tiny hands pointing to a verse I needed to see. I thank God she was willing to forego her fear of my temper and stand up for God's momentary mission for her, and ultimately for me. Praise the Lord He refuses to let me wallow in my own sense of righteousness and justification. I am truly blessed to be loved by One who refuses to let me stay where I am.

I endeavor to walk into my day knowing that complaints and blaming are not the path God desires for me. I recognize that my God is bigger than my problems and I strive to treat Him as The Master Planner. My role is to walk in obedience and today that feels like freedom!