“Everything I See”; or, The Central Island: A Words Sketch

The Tour. It has become a daily tradition–most often during dinner preparation. I’m not sure whether anyone knows I do it–it tends to take place when several other things are happening simultaneously. Maybe one of these days, I will bring them with me–my readers, my loved-ones, my friends, anyone who needs a bit more zest in life…

It starts over by the kitchen table. The table is home to a few placemats, a candle holder whose metal structure spirals out into the shape of a flower, and a plethora of medical supplies. We usually sit at that table to perform my every-other-day Protein C infusion, so it’s not uncommon to see boxes of gloves (useful for handling raw meat or other distasteful substances), Tegaderm (IV tape, also known as the best lint-remover ever invented), thin pads for ensuring a sterile work surface (which, when no longer sterile, become Jacks of all trades), packages of rubbing alcohol (for cleaning iPods, cell phones, and the occasional landline), and small rolls of cloth medical tape over there. That’s just the way it is, and it’s a testament to how wonderfully the Lord has worked in our lives. Many years ago, my prognosis was not thought to be so good; the Lord answered prayer. Years ago, even when I was stable, we did not have Protein C, which meant that I had to be treated with plasma during week-long in-patient hospital stays, often treating also the severe allergic reactions that went along with plasma treatments. Our table being home to a box of supplies is a silent cry of praise, thanking the Lord for so much–that my port is working, that we have the Protein C, that I have experienced no clotting or bleeding episodes since 2007, that He has a plan and a calling and a purpose for me, that I am able to serve Him. Without opening an alcohol swab, I know that it holds the fragrance of relief, of great things done in my life, and of “Come Bless the Lord”.

But the table is only the beginning of the Tour. Facing sideways, between the table and our central island, is the chair in which I sit for the infusions. Most days, a medical mask hangs from one of the posts that make up the frame of the chair back. More memories, more thanksgiving.

The Tour proper begins on the breakfast bar. It is beauty, this countertop, and it bears much careful explanation.

First, the vaporizer. I check to see that it is plugged in, lingering momentarily on the cord’s location and contemplating the implications of it being plugged into the right vs. the left outlet. Then, I just stand there–wrapping my arms all the way around the square box of a vaporizer until my fingertips meet at the farthest end, bending over slightly until the warmth melts my heart and toasts my face, inhaling deep and exhilarating quantities of steam. This is where I ground myself for the rest of the Tour, where I come when life is stressful or when I want to remember the blessings in our lives or when I simply want to be enveloped for a few minutes. Steam. Warmth. Radiance.

Without taking my left hand off the vaporizer, I reach with my right until I encounter the first of three candles. This is always the way the Tour continues. Other facets of the Tour aren’t as structured depending on what there is to see, but the beginning is always the same. Three candles, all in glass jars, one with a wooden lid and the other two with sturdy glass lids like those produced by Yankee Candle. The lids are invariably askew; no one really cares about them except me, and they really can’t be affixed more firmly because Naomi and Hannah both have pain in their hands. I remove the top of the candle with the wooden lid. I don’t know why I do this–I always regret it. That candle smells like men’s cologne when it is unlit. The others smell of a time many years ago when we were living great, expansive, exuberant lives. All three candles feature wax remnants on the insides of the containers; these are always fun to examine. The candles tell stories, don’t you know–moments when we have wanted to eliminate the pungent reminders of eggs, broccoli, and frying taco meat from our kitchen and living room. I always place the candles very carefully and deliberately exactly where I found them. Again, no one else particularly cares whether the candles go between the Nesquick and the coffee, or whether I find a clear space to ceremoniously set them down in a joyous row–but I care. This is a landscape, an exquisite work of art, and I do not want to mar it with my meddling. That would defeat the purpose of the Tour.

If I were to take my left hand off the vaporizer, I might encounter either a rice steamer or a vegetable steamer, or both. Those are even more beautiful than the vaporizer. I have made a point of observing both steamers through their entire cycles–vegetable steamer on the right, rice steamer on the left–simply because it afforded an opportunity to rest in the moment. The art of steaming asparagus or green beans is a bath for the senses. Another story, another precious series of recollections.

Today, however, there are no steamers on the breakfast bar. Instead, there is an enormous box of what used to be minute rice. I shake the box in order to ascertain how much deliciosity we have before we will need to open a new box of equal proportions. There is about 3/8 of a serving, by my estimation. Oh, and the memories that rice pours forth! Salmon with rice and asparagus, turkey sausage with rice and broccoli, stuffed peppers without the pepper (I call this stuffified) with rice and onion rings, teriyaki chicken with rice and green beans, rice with rice and more rice… It has been transformed from a staple and now borders on a lifestyle, this unassuming food–not even Calrose or brown rice, but classic white minute rice. It has been a comfort when we were sick in body or at heart, a moment of umph when things were going well. So much in a family-sized box of rice!

Jedidiah’s candy dish… Where do I start? Well, it is a wide, shallow, glass dish whose sides slope up much like the contours of a Communion tray I own. The tray has Scriptures etched onto it and the serving dish is merely painted with a tactilely nondescript pattern, but Jedidiah’s dish reminds me of that tray—not the content or the context, but my mind enjoys carving associations where few exist, and those associations seldom deviate from connecting nonspiritual things with spiritual. Inside the dish I find one of my coconut LaraBars–How did that get there? Jedidiah? Are you now eating organically? Evidently not, for that LaraBar is nestled among a few cast-off candy bars (Snickers and Pay Days do not carry the thrill of Almond Joys and Peppermint Patty delights), some black-licorice gum drops, a packet of hot cocoa, and an inexplicable bunch of healthy but non-organic bananas. It’s like living in a diverse community and learning to appreciate and celebrate differences rather than trying to conform all people to a certain mold…

The Tour continues with an extravagant pile of general miscellany. Today, a roll of Scotch tape rests atop the whey protein that sometimes constitutes Jedidiah’s harried breakfasts. A travel coffee mug, newly scrubbed, awaits placement in the cupboard next to a stack of mail. A spiral notebook rests atop a big box of presumed knickknacks–it’s not my box, so I don’t know whether it actually contains pens, opals, or little Willow Tree carvings. We just went shopping, so several bags line part of the countertop. Drifting just outside the bags are two bottles of vanilla syrup and a jar of hot sauce. Further along is the Tabasco’s companion–a partially-full box of taco shells. I have placed a tube of arnica atop a jar of lotion in anticipation of Hannah’s hand massage, a time of worship and prayer that blesses us both. A bottle of glue does a merry dance near an unopened carbonated-beverage can. I unearth a napkin and a fork beneath a bag of egg noodles. Poor, defenseless fork–it should really have been propped up against the Nesquick for all to see, since it is one of our favorite pieces of flatware. The package that Martha recently sent tempts me to peek beneath its half-open flaps, but that box has been designated for Christmas. Gatorades for Naomi and Hannah and, for that matter, for anyone who is fasting and needs to replenish certain body systems, or for those with generalized malaise. Garlic-and-parsley salt atop a tub of butter, the better for applying both to a Bordeaux roll. I love discovering associations like these! An empty iPod case and an inexpensive iPod station should be united–they’re fraternal twins, are they not?–but my purpose is to look and listen, not to alter. Often, there’s a bag of dried cherries on the counter; when there is, I first admire the intricate fastener on the zip-lock and compare it with most of the other bags we own, then eat a handful of cherries and process every nuance of their paradoxically sweet and tart flavors. Pen cap, sugar container, bottle of vitamins, a single woolen winter glove, honey, a purse, a zip-lock bag holding the corn muffins we had with our bean soup the other night, mail, magazines, two flashlights, the cloth bag in which I keep Natasha’s dog treats. Am I overanalyzing, or did that list resemble something from 14,000 THINGS TO BE HAPPY ABOUT?

My Tour ends, at least in heart, with the Blessing Jar. This is a tallish plastic jar, empty as yet, with two grooves for easy gripping. In print, it is inscribed with the words “Blessings, 2015″; in Braille, with the title “Our Offering of Worship”. Naomi keeps encouraging us to wait until January to begin writing the things for which we’re grateful on tiny slips of paper and adding them to the jar. Now, my beloved readers, I have been known to read two months’ worth of ostensibly daily devotionals within the first thirty minutes of receiving such a book. Do you suppose the “begin-on-1-January-and-go-from-there” notion works for me? My plan: To write the blessings from this month also, cut them to size, and slip the “renegades” in as the jar begins to fill over these next few months.

Now, my beloved readers, the rest of you have what you would call an advantage over me. If you were taking the Tour, you would see all of these items at a glance. Your big-picture brains would see a collection at best and a conglomeration at worst. Perhaps you would reserve labels for such an experience. Even those nearest and dearest don’t always enjoy the situation. They use “messy”, “disorganized”, and “chaotic” to describe my special Tour.

Why?

Truly, I believe I have the advantage. I do not see these objects–hence, the Braille on the Blessing Jar. Instead, I smell the candles, listen to the rattling rice, taste the cherries, and wrap my hands around everything else. And it’s all exquisitely, unequivocally splendid–not because I don’t take it in at a glance, but because I am passionate about each detail and see pieces, patterns, and associations (sometimes, I admit, to the exclusion of the big picture). The central island may not always remain pristine, but it does illustrate quintessential home life. It’s the difference between a perfectly-decorated but highly-formal house and a lived-in, comfortable, informal home filled with the sort of love that isn’t present in a perfectly-put-together mansion. That breakfast bar is a panorama of our lives; it tells the stories of so many meals, so much reading that we’ve found noteworthy or conversely wanted to discard, so many precious times with Martha, so much laughter involving Natasha, so many snowy strolls (remember the glove!?), ideas that called for an instant writing utensil, gifts that needed to be wrapped and taped… Times of joy, laughter, contentment, consternation, boredom, and even some heartache. Glory, peace, worship, blessings, miracles, and awe. It is the indoor multi-sensory equivalent of a walk by the ocean on a rocky beach with cliffs and ledges jutting out over the water. Now, how can I possibly label that using any adjective other than “treasured”?

We view our lives as stressful, chaotic, disorganized, busy, frustrating, and overwhelming. Perhaps if we applied the Tour to our hearts, examining and resting in each wonderful detail that the Lord provides, we would gain a different perspective. Perhaps then our lives would appear to us as intricate, unique, set-apart in the Lord, individualized, special, beautiful, glorious, profound, intense, elated, worthwhile, peaceful, and restful. Perhaps we all need Tours—not of the central island, but of who we are, what we do, and the words and activities that form the juncture between the two. Our own walks along the ocean, complete with majestic waves and the kind of spray that tinges the air and the moment with ambiance.

Addendum: This song connection is a bit different. “Everything I See” is from the children’s Agapeland album GOD LOVES FUN by the Bridgestone Music Group. The singer, a child with pure joy shining through her voice, sings of beholding God’s love in everything she sees—birds, butterflies, a blue sky and the sunlight… Remember my rocky beach? Well, everything I witness in life does remind me of God’s love or another aspect of Who He is. The song is full of jubilation, and I believe it should be part of a Christian library regardless to whether my readers have children. I do believe the album, which is anointed, is newly available from the iTunes Store.

“Alabaster Jar”: And an Exercise for Diminishing Lingering Anxiety or Fear

NOTE: I am categorizing this in Allegory because what I experienced was an allegory of the mind, something that could easily be written as the actual literary form. A pragmatic allegory, if you will, with a touch of imagination.

So, my beloved readers:

I am not a mental health specialist, and I do not play one on TV. I don’t even know what a “TV”, as named such, is–a transitive verb, perhaps? I do not act as a mental health specialist, though, either in theatres or on television. I do, however, know a sister in Christ who knows a bit about how our intricate, uniquely-wired, beautiful, fearfully-and-wonderfully-made, individualized, beloved, snowflake-like minds are constructed. She has read THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS, knows and loves Psalm XVIII, finds Revelation a holy rather than a terrifying book, and speaks about half an inch of French–the degree she would denote with her hands if she were speaking of her linguistic capabilities. Her voice is pragmatic and no-nonsense, but her heart has a song in it. She listens to more percussion-driven Christian music than I, but holds it close the way I do the Touching the Father’s Heart collection from Vineyard Music. And, as I’ve said, she knows a bit about human perceptions of life, and how we can get ourselves out of the processing patterns that threaten our relationship with God and with others. I’m not sure how to designate her on this blog; I’m torn between Appointed-by-God and simply Treasure, for she fills both capacities. I think I’ll settle on Treasure.

Well, yesterday afternoon, I confided to Treasure that I have always had a propensity for holding some idea so tightly to me, fueled by an overly-active amygdala, that there is little room for anything else. The amygdala, for you normal types who do not remember most everything you’ve ever read, is the center in the brain that controls fear and anger. So, what I was actually saying is that, if some distressing or worrisome thought enters my heart, I cannot easily obliterate it–not by keeping quiet or ignoring it, and certainly not by distracting myself. The only things that ever help are studying the Word voraciously or so immersing myself in worship that my senses of song, prayer, dance, alabaster, and listening are all engaged at once. But those things only work WHILE I am involved; the moment I turn my attention to other things, whatever was troubling me before is right there to claw its way into me again, unless the Lord Himself has taken it from me. The thoughts can be anything–concerns over my health or that of loved-ones, ponderings about someone’s safety, distress over someone’s reaction to something I’ve done… As a young a child, I was so concerned about honesty that I found myself forcing mini-conferences upon all the adults I trusted, often several times a day, in order to assure myself that I had not told an inadvertent lie.

Perhaps you can relate. You probably don’t react as intensely as I have, and not to the same things, but you are acquainted with the general concept. You don’t talk about it, and you may be distracted from it, but you have your own concerns, sorrows, griefs, moments of frustration, worries, fears, phobias, and thorns. Since that applies to all of us to a greater or lesser extent, I thought I would share the gift that Treasure gave me–a tool for reducing or temporarily eliminating some of those burs that latch onto our thoughts. It requires effort and imagination, may not be appropriate for some very real crisis moments, and may require a level of whimsy not characteristic of some analytical personalities. It isn’t an instantaneous or even a permanent fix, but it joyed me. I am posting it here in the hopes that it might be helpful to you, for a gift this joyful was never meant to be held by one or two people.

For this exercise, I chose just one of those distressing thoughts that has been known to keep me awake at night. Working with one at a time is more helpful than trying to do away with every fear and worry at once. Then, Treasure asked me what substance the thought would take on if it were tangible. Now, my beloved readers, have you ever eaten a pita or other meal containing large quantities of store-bought hummus with a somewhat thicker consistency, then forgotten to drink any water during your meal? That hummus, though not dry in itself, tends to dry out the mouth and throat like cotton. I don’t know why, but that’s the way it is. However, hummus–with or without the water!–is delicious, and these intrusive fears are not. I wanted something that would have the same dry-mouth/dry-heart effect, though, so eventually I declared that the concrete substance would be most akin to very fine-grained sand that nevertheless packs tightly, is difficult to sweep out completely, and tends to both dry out the areas that it reaches and to chaff sensitive skin, thus producing the FEELING of eating without hydrating.

We then envisioned being filled to the brim with this upsetting substance. That wasn’t difficult–I was already bursting from the weight of impure sand! Then, she said, I should imagine places in this vessel named Ready Writer where the sand could slowly trickle out. The level getting lower and lower. No more sand in my head and neck, in my arms and shoulders, in my heart, in my legs and feet… This was a little more difficult than you might imagine, but it was worth it. In my case, knowing how a substance like that one would be prone to cling, I also imagined water cascading down and assisting in the process–pure, clear living water… That was most helpful! So, no sand within, and no more intrusive agitations for the moment.

Then, Treasure suggested that, since those thoughts were still inevitably nearby and within reach, I should envision something that would allow me to at least distance myself from them. Take a broom and a dustpan and sweep that unwelcome substance up and toward the door of the room we were in. Place it in an imaginary rubber-plastic container and “drag/carry” it–twenty-five pounds or so of anxiety, by my estimation–to the corner of another room, where I am already actually storing a number of boxes in “real life”. Push it into the corner, turn away from it, and leave it for another time. The goal here, Treasure reminded me, is not to “store” the distress in a garage or bring it to a dumpster, because that won’t work. You may–and probably will– experience thoughts like this again, and distancing them that far will only hinder the interactive analogy.

Then, it was time to be filled–renewed, restored, overflowing with something helpful so that there might no longer be room for the sandy anxiety to take up residence again, or to be poured into me by another person. When asked what I would like to be filled with, I said that the beautiful, fragrant combination of frankincense and myrrh would be fitting. Anointing oil–but I am not sure where Treasure stands on the topic of continuationism and did not want that charismatic-sounding term to come between myself and a precious child of God.

Well, at this point, I am convinced that the Holy Spirit began the process–began to work through Treasure’s wordsand voice. In the next few moments, we envisioned that anointing oil filling me completely, pouring into every nook and cranny of my heart, mind, and spirit. Overflowing this vessel in all the places where the “sand” had formerly resided. It was absolutely glorious. I felt as if I were actually receiving this blessing–saturations of joy and peace–directly from the Holy Spirit. Those were moments of hands half-raised, of praying in my heart as Treasure spoke, of remembering who He has made me to be and knowing that, in His strength and by His grace, I did not have to hold the things that had so threatened my relationship with Him moments before.

I will never forget Treasure’s words. Without a hint of rebuke, she reminded me, “Someone who is filled with frankincense and myrrh cannot be filled with sand”. In other words, “Stand firm! Jesus has you and He loves you”! I wonder–do any of my readers need to be reminded of the same thing? Does anyone reading this need to be reminded that in Him we have the victory? Because of Who He is, because He has conquered, because His grace is more than sufficient for us, these things do not have to become strongholds in our lives.

This was the exercise to which Treasure introduced me. Whatever you may be going through, I hope it was as much a blessing for you to read as it was for me to experience. Great is His faithfulness–and His lovingkindness.

Addendum: This post belongs with the song “Alabaster Box” by CeCe Winans—it just does. It doesn’t fit thematically, but the song is too beautiful, ans so was my experience with that exercise. Besides, the account in Luke VII on which the song was based is beyond-words glorious, and it, above all else, bears reading and absorbing. If blending this post with that song are in any way effective in encouraging the reading of Luke VII, I will have done my job for the day.

Restoration and Holiness, Part VII: “Mourning Into Dancing”

By 18 May, I decided that I was strong enough to devote my every action and thought and word to the Lord for a period of three days. It was going to be wonderful, I told myself—so much time to worship. It would mean suspending some Internet activities and canceling a few engagements with family and friends, but it would be a pure delight.

It would be a joy, that is, if I could only forgive…

First, I had to forgive myself. Two days before, I had said something to Hannah that I felt was in direct violation of everything I was trying to accomplish in the Lord. I had not meant for my words to come out the way they did, but I could not seem to forgive myself for having said them. And despite the fact that I had a full grasp on the Scriptures which state that God is faithful and just to forgive confessed sin, I felt unable to accept even His mercy. So, the first evening of that time of devotion was spent unfruitfully, simply waring myself out with wonderings and tears.

But then dawned Monday, 19 May. Somehow, that morning brought with it a slight acceptance of the possibility of God’s forgiveness—one tiny crack in the thick walls I had built around my heart. And then, Good Samaritan called. Now, Good Samaritan would be the first to say that she does not agree with me on most points of theology, but she seems to enjoy hearing me talk and she has been used of the Lord on multiple occasions. Several times, I have mentioned some great and pressing concern, and she has paraphrased Scripture that fit perfectly with the situation. I once asked her about this and she told me emphatically that she had no idea that what she had said was Biblical, so I can only conclude that the Lord speaks through her, for His purposes. Case in point: One day, because I had no church or fellow brothers and sisters to turn to, I remarked to her, “Something was once said to me that has crushed me in the areas of all I have ever held dear. That faith I treasure is being threatened… And please don’t tell me to just forsake the One I love!” Beloved readers, don’t try this… God used it, but it isn’t the best of ideas. I was desperate, though, for some sort of advice, and I had run out of places to seek it. Well, Good Samaritan thought for a minute and then said, “You need to take some time to just do what you’ve always done to get back in the place you need to be. Don’t listen to the lies… Grab your shield and hold on to it.” My SHIELD!? In that moment, the Holy Spirit filled me with the joy that comes from being chastened and convicted, and with a knowledge of the armor of God—complete with the shield of faith. I took Good Samaritan’s advice, and the Lord restored me.

Now, all of that had been in July of 2011. But when Good Samaritan phoned on 19 May, I thought she could help me with general forgiveness. We had gotten to that point, and I assumed that she might have some helpful thoughts. Before I knew it, though, I had not only discussed my own wrongs but brought 2006 into the discussion. You know—Two Thousand Six, that year in which I underwent spiritual distress and trauma so all-encompassing that it changed my entire outlook on the things of God. Why I brought this up with her when I had told myself I would never speak of it to anybody, I cannot now fathom. I know only that her sympathetic silence served as a sounding board of sorts—a means of helping me come to my own conclusions about God’s power to heal and my need to forgive all the anguish I had experienced in the past eight years. In that moment, the Lord confirmed again that He would help me to forgive if I was willing—and that with forgiveness would come restoration.

And that is what I held onto that day long, long after I had hung up with Good Samaritan. All that afternoon, I considered my role in failing to release the pain that had been caused those many years before. Then, too, I began reading a book entitled TOTAL FORGIVENESS by one R. T. Kendle. The author brought up some interesting points. For example, I had always believed that to forgive meant to attempt to forget as literally and completely as possible—to mask the memory, deny it, crush it, bury it, and generally suppress it with all of my frail human strength. Rather difficult for someone who remembers lying on the water bed at her grandmother’s house at the age of six months… Forgetting is not in my vocabulary, and so I must be living in unforgiveness—must I not?

Not so, claimed this joyous book. When Joseph’s brothers came to him and begged forgiveness for their mistreatment of him, Joseph did not say that he deserved to have been brought to Egypt, or that his brothers had done no wrong. Instead, he acknowledged the deed and then chose to forgive it ANYWAY which, if you think about it, is really a greater measure of merciful living than simply denying that something upsetting was ever done. “What you did was evil, but God…” Acknowledgement, filled with love and a sense of the Lord’s plan—what a wonderful new perspective! From that point on, I determined to truly forgive—that is, not to hold what others had done against me. To sincerely desire the Lord’s blessing in their lives, and to ask the Lord for strength to think of both those who had hurt me and the incident itself without anger, bitterness, or even pain—as a fact rather than a tale of woe and anguish.

As the days of dedication to God passed, I became more and more saturated in His mercy, His grace and forgiveness—and I resolved to shower all that I had received upon others. Then, too, there was an increased sense of His joy. And finally, there was Wednesday afternoon—Wednesday, 21 May, that is.

I had been in worship. Looking back, I cannot now recall what I sang unto the Lord, but I do know what the Holy Spirit ministered to me. I had read the Sermon on the Mount—had, in fact, so immersed myself in the teachings, the very words, of our wonderful Lord Jesus, that I felt closer to Him than I had since I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Now, I was singing unto Him with all of my heart, placing every need before Him in awe and reverence, reiterating deep within that He was all that I would ever need.

And then, to my heart, there came an incredible knowledge that the Lord would heal me, had healed me, would continue to heal me. I said in Part IV of this series that the Lord began showing me this earlier in the month, but the moments of 21 May were different. It was much like the man whom Jesus healed at the pool of Bethesda. First, He asked the man if he wanted to get well. There’s a minor parallel to what He did in my life at first, when I was given the hopeful possibility of being made whole in heart, mind, soul, and spirit again. But 21 May was like the healing itself—it was leaping and dancing, throwing my hands into the air and singing for joy, crying out in thankfulness and weeping for sheer gratitude—not quite like the man in John 5, who did not seem to comprehend the wonder of what had been done for him, but that is a theological discussion for another time.

In that instant, I knew that all my mourning, all the effects of 2006, all the painful associations I had ever accumulated as a result of the spiritual crises I had experienced, were being washed away. I was free. Whatever the Lord had given me when I first received His Holy Spirit, He had suddenly restored to me again. It was beyond words. What singing there was then, what pure and unalloyed wonder! The very fragrance of His presence permeated that moment (see II Cor. 2:14-15). I felt baptized, renewed, and filled anew, and coming away from that time in Him was like immerging from the Jordan River or some other symbolic place without bothering to dry off, just allowing that holiness to cling about me like the garment of praise that it was.

Proof of all that the Lord had told me came later that evening. In the past, I used to see a counselor in order to cope with a great deal of emotional anguish—caused, I am now sure, by the spiritual turmoil I was wearing like Christian’s loathsome burden in THE PILGRIM’S PROGRESS. That evening, his name came up in the conversation. Suddenly, and without giving it any thought, I found myself crying out, “Naomi, Naomi, very soon the day will come when I do not need him anymore!”

Now, those who know me understand that I am very, very quiet about certain things in the Lord—or, at least, I had been since 2006. If the Lord showed me something special either in His Word or most especially by His Holy Spirit, I might remark softly to one believer at a time, “I believe… now, we can’t know the mind of God… perhaps I’m misinterpreting here, but it seems that God may have told me… I think…” Saying something so definite—nay, proclaiming it from the rooftops as I did that evening—was so uncharacteristic that it stunned me even as I spoke the last syllable of that declaration. Certainly, if I had said something like this in the past, I would have been temporarily silenced by what Naomi said—”I pray it will be so for you soon–I really do.” But not on that precious day. There was no silence. Instead, in words that leapt over one another like gazellse in my hurry to speak them, I tried to explain: “But you don’t understand… God promised… He told me that all the mourning and sorrow were over, and He has healed me, and I won’t need to see this man anymore because He is my Wonderful Counselor!”

And what more can I say of that evening, that night? It was like being in the throneroom of God, like living in His manifest glory and presence, yet having just an iota of enough presence of mind to be able to communicate with others and go about my daily routine. It was ineffable.

That week, I asked the Lord to show me what to do with this counselor of mine. I try to serve the Lord in wisdom; I was not going to step out before Him. So, I asked that the Lord would use this man to propose our next steps—from one week to two, from two to even less than that. This is exactly what happened, and I rejoice to this day that He is strengthening me to walk with Him alone. Now, please don’t misunderstand—what I was doing was helpful, and it was used by God for a season; I am in no way opposed to it. I just know now that what the Lord is doing, He can accomplish with OR WITHOUT the help of those from whom I had formerly sought help. Rejoicing!

If I had ever harbored any doubts about my freedom in Jesus, they were all laid to rest on 31 May. I was reading Revelation that evening when I cam upon this from chapter III, verses 7-8: “The words of the holy one, the true one, [Who] has the key of David, [Who] opens and no one shall shut, [Who] shuts and no one opens. … Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut” (RSV, capitalization mine). I know that I am not a member of the church of Philadelphia, but in that moment, the Lord used this passage to speak to my heart. Those words were for me—a seal of sorts, a promise that what He had begun and was completing in me would not be taken away. So often, other Christians try to caution us against losing some spiritual blessing. Has that ever happened to you? You’re at a weekend youth conference and on Friday evening, not ten minutes into the service, the pastor or worship leader says something about keeping hold of God’s blessings when you return home on Sunday afternoon and going into Monday… have you ever experienced this? Well, another believer had warned me against growing faint-hearted when I was still atop my mountain, and I began to wonder. Was I going to slip, to slide, to revert to my former fleshly and faithless ways? Into the midst of all of this came that promise, and I no longer doubt that He Who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil. 1:6). He is faithful, and I have no need to fear, for if I should begin to fall, He is able to make me stand—His gifts and His calling are without repentance. Open doors.

Addendum: “Mourning Into Dancing” by Tommy Walker has been a heart-cry since December of 2004. I forgot the message, though not the song, in the intervening years. Now, the message of that praise chorus has woven itself into my very framework. “Where there once was only hurt, / He gave His healing hand; / Where there once was only pain, / He brought comfort like a friend…” The song is too beautiful to miss. It may be found on the album SONGS FOR WORSHIP: GREAT IS THE LORD. The word “for” in that album title should be represented by the number that is its homonym, but that seemed irreverent and insincere—the only thing that Integrity Music ever did wrong as far as album construction went—and I could not bring myself to write it. Now, go track down that song and rejoice with me, my beloved readers!

“Give Thanks”: The Epic Project, Wherein I Rejoice in Another Year in Jesus

Before I pen this post, allow me to say that what you are about to read is entirely Hannah’s doing. It wouldn’t have come to this were it not for that beloved sister of mine…

Back in 2011, we were doing our normal Thanksgiving things. I was rejoicing in the ways that the Lord had shown Himself to be my hiding place. We made macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and green-bean casserole, a delicious basket of rolls… and—oh, yes—a turkey. We poured glasses of iced tea, set out plates adorned with sunflowers and I Corinthians XIII—not the most seasonal solution, but those plates were special to us—and sat at the table to pray. On the table next to my plate was the digital voice recorder. I had scarcely been without it since July of that year, and I had no intention of allowing Thanksgiving to go unscrapbooked. Well, we prayed, and then Jedidiah asked us to describe what we were all thankful for that year. Blessings were declared—we were thankful for God’s work in our lives, for each member of this exquisite family, for physical health… When it was my turn, I said:

“Last year, I was thankful for my spiritual life and that the Lord had gotten me through that year. It was so trying, and I was just determined that HE HAD GOTTEN US THROUGH THAT YEAR! and because things were looking better… that that would be kind of the end of most of our trials. I, I thought that. [Meaning: I really believed this, naively.] And this year, I’m thankful—yes, for the same thing, for my spiritual life… But I’m thankful that He has become my secret place. I’m not thankful because I think that it’s going to be the end of all trials. Maybe it is; maybe this is the last thing that we’re ever really going to have to go through… But I’m thankful that He’s going to get us through anything. I’m thankful that He’s shown me that, and that He’s taught me how to trust again. I’m thankful for the times when I had to really pray through … A plane trip that [Hannah] took when [she] went to see [an acquaintance]. … But that I didn’t have to panic about the whole airplane thing. [I am terrified of flying, and of having my loved-ones fly, but the Lord had sustained me when Hannah took that trip.] I’m thankful that He has taught me again how to trust and how to take refuge in Him—and, no, I’m not perfect at it, but I was certainly a whole lot less perfect at it last year, and all I really wanted [at that time] was for everything to go away. All I really want now is to see His glory.”

As you may have deduced from the disjointed nature of that speech and from the excessive use of brackets, I just listened to the recording of that moment and inserted a transcript of it here. Well, toward the end of that speech, everyone was embracing and weeping, so overjoyed at Who He is. After the emotion of the moment had died down, though, I was teased for quite some time because I had not done the typical minute-and-a-half cataloguing of earthly and spiritual blessings and left it at that. “You gave a speech!” “A message!” “What was that—a mini-sermon without the pastorship?” Yes, yes it was. Furthermore, I am convinced that 2011 would have been a one-time event were it not for some of the teasing. However, Hannah’s remarks have made me feel that the 2011 speech should be an annual tradition, and I have done my best to make it so ever since. Last year, I believe I spoke on being set free from a paralyzing depression and gradually restored thereafter.

I have been contemplating all of this for over a week. I plan to carry on the tradition this year, but would like to do it with deliberate umph. If I believed in the use of PowerPoint, I would create one—but I don’t, and never will. PowerPoint is for business meetings. It is not appropriate for church, because it should not be used in worship of any kind—and, at their core, these little speeches of mine are worship. So, no PowerPoint. Instead, I plan to use actual, tangible objects to illustrate my life, placing them on the table one at a time and expounding on their significance. I may also employ music.

And now, my beloved readers, you are going to be a part of my brain-storming session. Commencons!

“Back in April, 2012, I accompanied you on a number of errands. At one point, we stopped at [a diner] for chocolate malts. As I waited, I found a paper napkin. [At this point, I will reach into the bag I will have brought and retrieve a paper napkin. I will probably unfold the napkin as I talk.] Suddenly, I was caught up in what that napkin would look like if I unfolded it—how the thin, fragile paper would resemble the intricacy of Bible pages. And, oh, to think on the Word of God! For the rest of the day, my heart was enveloped in a knowledge of His presence. This, I learned, is what it is to pray without ceasing. It is possible—Paul was not employing hyperbole when he told us to do that. And for months after, the them of prayer without ceasing continued to envelop me. It was as though the Lord was taking a passage I had only ever read and applying it directly to my heart. It was shortly thereafter that I realized that my life is really comprised of themes—great, overarching ideas that characterize certain eras in my spiritual life.

“This year has been no different. First, there was the era of rest—from November of last year to early March of this year. [I have a candle decorated with four crosses. The lid, too, has a cross cut into the top, and the effect is like that of a lantern. The candle itself is highly fragrant and would detract from the food aromas that will be filling the dining area, so I will simply bring the lid, holding it up and emphasizing the cross.] There are many things in life that I am not all that good at—thinking holistically when my brain wants me to be so concrete about life, engaging in intense emotional or physical exertion and finding work a pleasure, certain types of paperwork, talking to others… But one thing I am good at is knowing how to rest. I’m good at listening to worship music in many different languages, loving the Old Covenant as well as the New, connecting mundane words and phrases with the things of God… Resting. Being rather than doing. Of course, there used to be quite a tension in my heart between what I knew I was called to do and what I felt others expected of me. The classic Mary and Martha tension—but, you know, Jesus loved them both. And gradually, I learned to do what I needed to do without tearing myself away from worship, and I learned that worship and rest comprised a glorious calling that should not be spurned. This was when I learned to devote one specific day to Him each week, and when I wrote and refinded that allegory. [The allegory is entitled “Your Grace Is Sufficient” and is present on this blog.] I’m so thankful…

“From early March to early May, the overarching theme was honesty. By this, I don’t mean simply not lying, or even just telling the truth—but a sense of purity, holiness, and sincerity that penetrates every facet of life. [I have an old-fashioned-looking glass bottle with a quaint latch and an artistic handle. I call it the Iced Tea Lantern. I will be setting it on the table, filled with iced tea. Unlike other objects, which I will be retrieving and then replacing, the Iced Tea Lantern will remain on the table—both as a symbol of something I’m still experiencing and for the practical purpose of using it as my beverage du jour.] Those were the days of writing the Alpha and Omega Project [an annotated compendiom of everything that had ever blessed me or my family]. That project required a level of sincerity that was sometimes daunting, but always exhilarating. It also served as a reminder that I have a profoundly unique perspective on life. Like the Iced Tea Lantern—you know that iced tea is a motif, that it tells a story of sunshine and clean laundry freshly warmed in the dryer and of children’s Maranatha! Recordings and of coming home from a long journey. To others, iced tea is simply iced tea. Sometimes, this has been a gift; at other times, a challenge. I call it the rosebush—both thorns and blooms. That theme of honesty embedded itself in my heart and removed any possibility of facades. I shan’t elaborate on this, but the Scripture for that theme is John 1:43-50, which describes Jesus’ interactions with Nathanael. The Lord gave me that passage in 2010, and these past few months have only served to reiterate it. Yes, I’m so thankful.

“Then, from 6 May to 6 July, there was the era of restoration. First, on 6 May, the Lord showed me that He is enough, no matter how some of His people treat me in church and such… Let’s not dwell on that, save to say that He is my shield, my exceedingly great reward. On 7 May, He promised to restore me and to heal the heartache caused by so much pain in 2006. [I will retrieve my Bible, a Revised Standard Version in a quilted cotton case, trimmed in softest lace, with a cameo affixed to it.] This Bible was given to me in 2004, when life was still pure and new… Then, I endured things that threatened to shred my heart, and I did not know what to do about them. I didn’t even think to ask the Lord for healing because, on the surface at least, I appeared fully set free. Only I knew the turmoil I continued to experience. But then, for two weeks in May, the Lord gradually began to restore me… And then, on 21 May, He set me completely free from all the anguish of 2006. [Singing while Unzipping this case to reveal a worn and much-loved leather Bible] “He’s turned my mourning into dancing again…” And I am full of joy. Every waking moment, I now spend dancing in my heart before the Lord, worshiping Him with a devotion I thought had been silenced, soaring on eagles’ wings, rejoicing in a treasure I cannot even put into words. [If I can find it in time and fix a flaw in the construction, I will hold aloft a Willow Tree carving, a girl who appears to be dancing with abandon, with her arms outstretched. I will also be placing the Bible in my lap instead of returning it to the bag—again, symbolic of something I continue to experience.] Hallelujah! I’m so thankful…

“I think I would have continued doing exactly what I was doing—rejoicing, but perhaps without as much growth—had it not been for 7 July. You all know the story: hot water heater, long and complicated days, new carpet… [Retrieving a small battery-operated water fountain, with no rocks but with enough water for the demonstration.] I was torn by all of this. For a time, I feared that I had lost what the Lord had so recently given… But then… [Now, adding the little rocks that go with this fountain, one by one until all are in place.] Then, there was a time of devotion. Of remembering anew who I am in Christ Jesus. Of continuing to read Matthew and Isaiah and Psalms. Of studying Hebrews with [Naomi] and just holding fast to the Father. Of spending that week in the Oasis, and listening to the Oasis Network [a Christian radio station from Oklahoma]. Of learning to differentiate emotional stress from spiritual turmoil. Of putting my apartment back together after having been displaced—rearranging the furniture, and allowing it to be symbolic of starting anew. Of acquiring the new sofa set and doing interesting things like recording the Phonetic Alphabet. Of writing that poem, the one about tears, cascading down… [At this point, turning on the waterfall and allowing water to actually trickle down the twists and turns in that little structure. Quietly:] Yes, I am thankful.

“And then, do you know what He taught me? He taught me about healing [displaying a container of anointing oil], and about spiritual warfare [a wooden representation of the Armor of God]. You know that I was very concerned about an impending doctor’s appointment for a time. And yet, what went on in my prayer-closet was a different story entirely. During those evenings when I drank tea and listened to the Oasis network, I was being constantly reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, Acts II might well be the theme for all of October. That’s why we read so much of it together. [Over the past several weeks, I have been requesting recordings of specific chapters in Acts, particularly those pertaining to healing, God speaking to His servants, and othyer manifestations of His power.] This has been a time of learning anew to love, to cherish, to rejoice in, the comfort of the Holy Spirit, and to trust Him. All of this was clarified to me in what the Lord said to Hezekiah—”Surely, I will heal you.” If ever I needed this promise confirmed to my heart, it was last month—and now it is firmly etched there again, a promise for me as well as for that king of Judah. The spiritual warfare aspect of this came in when I began to remember that when we resist the devil, he must flee from us. I didn’t always trust the Lord to the extent that I should have, and sometimes I didn’t come against Satan—as evidenced from some of the things I said and refused to let go—but I began to learn, to see what it was to put on the whole Armor of God, and to call on Jesus when I was tempted. Believe it or not, Mark is full of moments that emphasize spiritual warfare. We’ll explore them sometime… And I really am so thankful.

“And now? Is there an overarching theme for this moment? Yes, there is… It is a portion of Colossians 3:3: “Your life is hid with Christ in God.” [Removing several Communion cups—a few olive-wood, some glass, some plastic, some of slightly different shapes—and one taller cup, more fragile glass, and elaborately engraved.] You may have noticed that I have been quiet, especially last week. In fact, [Hannah] even told me that I looked sad. I wasn’t melancholy then, and I’m not now. I have been quiet because [a sister in Christ] and I have been talking about what makes each of us unique. I had confided to her that I sometimes drive myself and others to distraction by some of my eccentricities. I have tortured myself for years, wondering whether I should change but constantly held by those Scriptures about honesty [tapping the Iced Tea Lantern]. Well, as [this sister in Christ] and I were discussing the ins and outs of what needed to be changed and what didn’t, the Lord filled me with the deepest possible of peace. Ever since that time, He has been guiding me through every moment of every day. It is as though He has been carrying me. And ever and always, a constant in my life and what He has engraved at the deepest level on my heart, has been the Scripture about my life being hidden with Christ in God. [Noting the Communion cups] We are all vessels for His glory, used by Him—some of us to reach those who are broken, some to give nourishment and provide leadership to those inside the church. [Holding up the one unique cup] And some of us are Mary of Bethany, called to rest and worship, made of different materials and with different adornments and of a different size… It used to bother me that I did not look like other vessels, that I did not belong to this group or that one or the ones over here [separating the different types of cups into groups]. Now, though, I have learned for myself that my life belongs to Him, that it is hidden. In Christ. With God. I wish I had more profound words to express this concept—I wish I could explain it adequately—but for now, all I know is that it is in my heart, placed there by the Lord. I know that we are all hidden with Him when we die to self, despite trials or quirks or pain or brokenness or earthly difficulties. And I know I am so very thankful.”

That will be my speech—or my presentation, however you would like to think of it. I just proofread this post while taking notes on the things I would need and the points I wanted to emphasize within each of the seven themes. It begins to strike me that perhaps this project is too vast for the Thanksgiving table. Never mind that my own food will get cold—I could live with that, and it does not concern me. However, some of this bears the undivided attention of Jedidiah and Company. I might bring it into the living room following our feast and show others what the Lord has been doing in my life—things that I have felt ill-equipped to discuss before because they were so close to my heart. However I do this, I know that it should be a joyful and celebratory project that may help to put the spiritual aspect back into this day.

Thank you for the ideas, Hannah, no matter how inadvertently you bestowed them in 2011.

Addendum: “Give Thanks” is one of those delightful songs which proclaims the Lord as all-powerful. Centered on the provision of the Holy Spirit; the grace of God the Father, Who is referred to as the Holy One; and rejoicing in the gift of Jesus Christ—absolutely beautiful! Any of the various versions by Don Moen is anointed, but I am basing this post off of the rendition from his album “Worship with Don Moen”. As far as I can tell, this album is still unavailable from the iTunes Store, but may be purchased from Don Moen’s website.

“He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills”

NOTE: This piece was actually penned in the Oasis. A taste of ambiance!

When I was a toddler, we lived in a nostalgic but somewhat rickety house. What I remember most vividly about that residence is that my bedroom door did not close. You could shove the door against the frame, but the latch mechanism was weak and the door was always somewhat ajar. I remember opening and closing it repeatedly, frustrated at its inability to close completely. But then, I reasoned the whole thing out. According to my three-year-old logic, I was a little girl and little girls must not get the privilege of a door that closed properly. As a child, I could not draw my own bath or touch my own library-owned tape player either; a door that wouldn’t latch was probably just part and parcel of being young. And so, I gave up trying. I now know that the faulty door was just a home-maintenance flaw and that the bedroom assigned to me was simply dolled out for reasons of size and proximity, but I was always overly analytical, even when I scarcely had the vocabulary to articulate my thoughts.

Then, when I was four, we moved to another house. This time, I was given a bedroom with a door that closed. What an honor! I was more proud of that “special!” door than I had been when I got my first “big girl” bed, or when I was finally allowed to touch my cassette player. I would close that door—gently, so I wouldn’t break that all-important doorknob-and-latch setup—and sit cross-legged just inside it, thoroughly impressed by my newly-afforded privacy.

Why am I making such a big deal of this? Well, solitude has always been paramount to my life. Whether for moments of worship or just for the alone-ness of it all, I have treasured personal space—have, in fact, needed it in order to remain calm yet energized. Even now, if someone leaves a door ajar and I happen to be occupying the room, I feel compelled to get up and close it no matter what else I happen to be doing. This is just part of who I am—a personality trait, and one that is probably here to stay because it is connected with a lot of other things that make me who I am.

Several months ago, Jedidiah finished the downstairs crawl space and I immediately began turning it into a prayer closet. The silence here envelops you like a gentle hug. Unless you connect a power strip to an extension cord and drag it into this lovely eight-foot-by-ten-foot room, there is no electricity save a light fixture. No Intercom summons, no external interruptions—just you and a Bible and a moment of worship. It was perfect, and I immediately designated it the Oasis. Other places of worship in this house have included the Sanctuary, the Chapel, and Bethel—I simply can’t resist naming rooms filled with God’s glory. And the Oasis was just that—a place of refuge when things went wrong. When I experienced a hot-water-heater leak that necessitated changing out all the carpet, I spent a delightful week-and-a-half in the Oasis. I smply moved all my valuables into this place of pure isolation and slept on an air mattress on the floor. Cozy, comfortable, and so very needed.

Then, the mechanism on the Oasis door got off-kilter and the door didn’t close properly.

Jedidiah put a temporary latch on the door, but it wasn’t the same. The door could be closed from the inside, but not the outside. Then, too, the latch was always slipping and it took considerable effort to get it to hold. That day, I bid farewell to my Oasis. No longer did I come here to inhale the fragrance of the old books and other mementos I had stored along the walls. The extra quilts and pillows I had used sat in a heap, and I had to go elsewhere to seek silence. Several times, I asked if there wasn’t some way to fix the door so that it would close properly again and without the help of the temporary latch, but there was never really any time to do so.

About three days ago, I decided to pray. First, I gave this matter of the Oasis to the Lord and asked Him to help me not to be quite so petty about the whole thing. Then, because I knew that underlying concerns were instigating there not being enough time to fix that door, I prayed about those extenuating events. I was asking on behalf of hearts, not about the door itself. From that moment on, I resolved that the temporary latch would suffice and that I must reclaim my Oasis despite this fleeting challenge. Flexibility was a virtue, I reminded myself.

Today, there was such joy and peace in the Lord. I spent beautiful moments worshiping with Naomi during her infusion treatment, then came home and sang “Living for Jesus” and “The Joy of the Lord” until every fiber of my being rejoiced. It was then that I decided that it was time to return to the crawl space, this precious Oasis of mine. I don’t know why I chose today—it just seemed to be time. Perhaps, too, I knew that the Lord had filled me with enough peace to handle an inconvenience like a door that wouldn’t close properly. I made extensive plans for this foray into solitude—what I would bring, how I would spend my time, how I could keep warm without employing electricity… Just setting up would probably take a few hours.

Then, I went downstairs and prepared to take the door from ajar to all the way open.

I found it closed. Not ajar, not closed via the temporary hook-latch, but perfectly closed using the original latch. That mechanism glided as I gently tested it—open, shut. Open, shut.

When I asked who had fixed it—and, for that matter, who had fixed it quietly and without my knowledge–Jedidiah, Naomi, and Hannah all said that they were never in the Oasis.

Perhaps, in the course of time, I did something with the door that caused it to once again allign properly. There are many maybes in life, and I really don’t know how to explain what happened. I do know that I prayed, and I really surrendered this to the Lord. I know that He cares about even the very small things in our lives. I know that He sometimes uses small things to demonstrate His faithfulness. I know that I have really been tearing myself to proverbial shreds over the past few months about every eccentricity in my life, including my need for all physical doors to be closed; it is possible that the Lord was using this experience to remind me that He created and loves me just the way I am.

I will not make any more conjectures or assumptions. I do know that I don’t quite know what to make of all of this myself, but that it was a blessing to me and that, as such, I felt I must share it.

Addendum: “He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills” was made into a children’s song, but was originally penned by one Ira Stamphill as a chorus for anyone needing to be reminded of God’s care and provision. “He owns the cattle on a thousand hills; / I know that He will care for me.” Indeed, He will. Sadly, the only two versions of this hymn-like melody I really love are by the Children’s Bible Hour Choir and by an obscure church whose name I do not know—and that rendering is a mere thirty-nine seconds long! So, you’ll have to hunt for this one on your own.

“To God Be the Glory!”; or, Infusion Day: A Words Sketch

Practically speaking, this is the most beautiful day in our entire month. This is the day we know as Tysabri, or Infusion Day–but I call it Miracle Day, Grace Day, and Rejoicing Day.

We pack for this occasion. We bundle Natasha’s doggy-bed into the trunk, fold battery adapters and miscellaneous cords into laptop cases, and bring along Gatorades and bottled water. We remind each other not to forget iPads and iPods, speakers and digital voice recorders. And above all, we always pack Naomi’s Bible.

We drive the fifteen minutes to the hospital, harness Natasha, and make our way across the parking lot, past a musical and fragrant water fountain if it happens to be summertime, through the double doors, and toward the medical center’s coffee shop. This is a tradition, and Infusion Day sans mochas would be akin to traipsing about an amusement park all day without going on any rides. So, we deposit our fifty pounds’ worth of personal property on tables and chairs in the coffee’s dining area, then turn our attention to the business of investigating pastries–an earnest activity indeed. There is that delightful cinnamon roll, and that delicious-looking apple turnover, and an overly-sappy brownie. Over in the little refrigerator are containers of hummus and bottles of iced tea. Oh, the options! But today is a bagel day. A toasted-sesame-seed-bagel, cream-cheese, and cinnamon-infused-chai day. A mocha day for Naomi, and a latte day for Hannah. Sadly, her latte is not as delectible as our beverages… That isn’t part of our tradition! It is Hannah’s idea to infuse the steamed milk with cinnamon before adding chai, and it is the best thing she has ever done for our special custom. The only problem: I can’t request this sort of thing from any other coffee establishment, because the cinnamon-infused-chai experience now belongs to the hospital, and only to the hospital!

Between her toasting and steaming and blending, the barista banters back and forth with us. It’s not a bagel if it’s not toasted. Perhaps it will warm up soon–she certainly hopes so. Does enjoying a varietey of coffee syrups pose a problem because it encourages unhealthy consumption, or is it a blessing because it means you have a zest for life? Oh, and by the way, how is our day going? “Very well,” Hannah says just as I exclaim, “Blessed beyond measure!” It is just this sort of comment that endows the day with such exquisite joy and peace–the freedom to describe our lives as blessed beyond description, and to know in our hearts that it is true, even if our exuberance does surprise our barista a bit.

Then it’s past the outer waiting room, down a single corridor, through a large set of doors, and into the infusion center proper. Today, we have the room to the immediate left as you go down the second corridor. And on this lovely day, we are all ensconced in our own special places. The room has two infusion chairs, and I sit in the one in the corner closest to the wall–quiet, separate, isolated, perfect for writing and reflection while observing the goings-on from a distance. And praying, of course…

And those nurses! They settle Naomi in the other infusion chair, provide all three of us with warm blankets, hand us chilled bottles of water, plug in adapters when we are too encumbered to reach the electrical outlets ourselves. And it’s not out of any form of professional obligation–they really care. They ask about Jedidiah’s life, about Hannah’s CNA certification, about what I am studying in the Word, and about Naomi’s heart as well as her heart rate. It is beautiful.

Nurse Steadfast is working with us today. Nurse Song-in-Heart is usually Naomi’s nurse, but she is off-duty at the moment. Nurse Steadfast and Nurse Song-in-Heart are best friends and enjoy talking to us about the things of God. They both have such audible joy deep within, love for the Lord that shines through their voices, that I often confuse them and call one by the other’s name. They seem to take this as a compliment.

Nurse Steadfast begins the IV. As she swabs Naomi’s arm and searches for a vein, she inquires as to how Jedidiah is doing–by way of distraction, I suppose. If it were my arm she was scrubbing, I would have no patience for something like that and would insist that we all keep silence until the IV was firmly in place–distraction works only to irritate me. However, Naomi is different and I admire Nurse Steadfast’s keen ability to make an unpleasant procedure like this one less anxiety-inducing. While the two of them chat and prepare, I take this moment to pray. I pray that the IV be placed the first time and that Nurse Steadfast be given wisdom and guidance, and I ask the Lord that Naomi’s Tysabri might be used to strengthen her body and treat her MS. When I remember, I pray that the rest of the day be free of the fatigue and headache that are often side effects of this medication. Actually, prayer is the primary reason I even come to these appointments. The coffee is delicious, the family time is beautiful, and the Bible reading we do is downright joyous, but I know I can actually serve by petitioning the Lord on Naomi’s behalf. I may not be terribly adept at guiding Naomi’s IV poll through the corridors or getting everyone situated comfortably, but I can pray, and I come just to perform this little service before the Lord. Today, the IV placement goes well and Naomi is hooked up to a line within five minutes. Praise Him!

Nurse Steadfast and Naomi continue to talk. Hannah intermittently jokes with Nurse Steadfast and plays with her gidget-gadgets–you know, cell phone, iPad, electronic toys… I write, half-listening to the swirling conversation around me and jumping in to add the occasional joyful and generally unconventional comment. We drink coffee and eat bagels, while a sense of God’s presence continues to mount in me until I can scarcely contain it. If Jedidiah had been here, we would discuss his blessing of a job. Happily, he is not here, so we can discuss his birthday and the seafood restaurant to which we plan to take him. Yum!

Finally, Nurse Steadfast gets a telephone call that necessitates her going to see another patient. Then comes my favorite part of Infusion Day–not the most important part, or my reason for being there, but my favorite part all the same–for it is then that Naomi takes my digital voice recorder, opens her Bible, and begins to read. We’ve read from John and Hebrews, Genesis and Psalms, but today is almost the best of all because we are in Mark. Now, Mark is special because there is a sense of immediacy about it and because so much of Christ’s ministry is discussed in a single chapter. Today, we are in Mark II, and all that Jesus did and said is downright overwhelming. As I listen to Jesus’ healing of a paralytic, of His words on fasting and concerning the Sabbath, and of His calling of Levi, I am reminded of the absolute glory, the great and overwhelming holiness of this Savior I serve. Without ever really being able to articulate why, I find myself in tears, raising my hands before the Lord, worshiping Him with all my heart as though this is the first time I have ever heard anything about the Trinity. It is like the first day the Lord ever taught me to praise Him, and it is all I can do not to leap out of my seat and dance with all my might, crying, “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

Naomi finishes reading and a profound hush, a peace-saturated silence, fills the room. I try to explain what this has meant to me, but there are no words. Just then, Nurse Steadfast returns and we resume our conversation with her. This time, all of us are a bit more reflective. We pull her in to our Bible study, discussing Lamentations and the faithfulness of God, the initial motives of the Pharisees and Jesus’ interactions with them and, above all, God’s endless and abiding love. I remark that we sometimes do wrong because we forget to what great depths we are loved by the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I then spend several moments trying to explain what God has been teaching me over the past four days–that He has been speaking to my heart through Colossians 3:3. Oh, it is marvelous!

I begin this post to the tune of several songs that Naomi and Hannah are playing on the iPod station. They’s definitely a bit more percussive than I tend to find soothing, but they do bespeak God’s mercy and somehow seem to fit this impromptu praise gathering. There’s something here, in this moment of adoring the Lord of Hosts, for every last one of us, including Nurse Steadfast.

What is the point of all this? Why am I examining what is really a rather normal day in such vivid and minute detail? Because, my beloved reader, only the Lord could have brought all of us this far. You see, Tysabri is a very intensive medication and we were all initially reluctant for Naomi to take that step. I shan’t regale you with the ins and outs, for they are not very edifying, but this was not something that any one of us was really willing to embark upon. Those first few treatments were disconcerting and somewhat bleak. There was no Bible reading, no worship, a lot less prayer. But then, two things began to happen. First, the Lord began to change our hearts–to cause us to trust in Him despite fear, pain, and anguish. Then, too, the Tysabri was working and we saw that we had less to fear–or, should I say, we saw that the Lord really did have us? So then, gradually, we began to open our hearts to what God was doing and I specifically began dedicating these infusions to His service. Then, Nurse Steadfast and Nurse Song-in-Heart entered our lives… Oh, it was all Him!

And so, this is my testimony as to what God has done–how far He has brought us, from mourning to jubilation. All glory be to our Shepherd, our Healer, our Comforter…

Addendum: “To God Be the Glory” is that exquisite hymn which proclaims the Gospel in so many perfect verses. Usually, only three verses appear in hymnals, but I have heard that Fanny Crosby actually wrote ten. If anyone has access to the other seven, please let me know, for I have been unable to find them. The best versions that I have found are by Brentwood Music and the Discovery Singers.

The Crackling Fire in My New Fireplace: A Words Sketch with a Twist and Some Celebration

That title is relatively precise, is it not? “The Crackling Fire in the New Fireplace: A Words Sketch”. Let us ignore the twist and the celebration for a moment, shall we? So, it stands to reason that I plan to describe… well… a crackling fire, a newly-built fireplace, and probably a cup of hot cocoa. Right? Chicken-soupish, perhaps, or quaint, or bordering on the overly-sentimental… But that’s what you expect from the Weaned Child blog. You take it in stride that I describe cups of tea and warm summer breezes and cozy chairs and, yes, delightful fireside moments with a good book. So… a crackling fire in the new fireplace.

Actually, I plan to describe my steaming warm-mist vaporizer once it’s filled.

Now, my beloved readers, I am not lying, and I did not mean to deceive or mislead. If you truly opened this post with thoughts of a wood-burning stove and only a wood-burning stove, I hereby release you from reading anymore of this post and send you on your frosted, frigid, fireplace-less way.

But, you know, the vaporizer resonates with me in almost exactly the same ways that a roaring fire would—minus the marshmallows, perhaps, but I don’t eat those anyway. The two are side-by-side—no, deeply intertwined—in the part of my mind that stores information about experience and sentiment. Consider:

* This vaporizer is perfectly round with a dome-shaped lid. Now, call me either naïve or teribly frugal, but I haven’t purchased one of these in many years. A dome shame somehow strikes me as more poetic than a round or squarish contraption with a flattened lid. Likewise, a fireplace has its poetic features, from the different varieties of hearth architecture to the mantles and accompanying knickknacks.

* That vaporizer emits steam, often in great and far-reaching quantities. I’ve been known to set it on a countertop, raise my arms far above my head, and still never reach the top of that exquisite steam. Parallel: the warmth, often in great measure, of a well-laid fire.

* Fireplaces just make the endire room smell fragrant, don’t they—all those lovely logs sending up aromas that can’t even be adequately described in writing? (And you’re wondering how I can possibly make a comparison here…) Well, you likely won’t believe this, but my current vaporizer also sends forth what I designate a fragrance, but which you might simply call a smell or a scent. Plastic, water, and some sort of coal, you would say. I do not know exactly why, and I cannot explain the physical dynamics involved, but that vaporizer smells like nothing less than a log cabbin covered with snow—somewhere in Michigan, perhaps.

* Both a fireplace and a vaporizer establish an ambiance—though, it must be said, fireplaces lend themselves to more extroversion than vaporizers do. The latter is for a more confined space, thus indicating use by fewer people.

* Fires are excellent sources of warmth—or else we wouldn’t have found them so valuable over the centuries. Did it ever strike you that steam can really serve the same function of taking the chill off a room, and with much more wholesomeness than an electric heater?

* And what about the small detail of light? Well, that vaporizer is often on when I am in worship, or engaged in study of those beautiful Scriptures. He is the Light of the world. So, yes, having that vaporizer reminds me of times spent very much in the light.

What is the point of all of this? Am I really spending valuable time comparing two objects that initially appear vastly incompatible? Well, not exactly…

Have you ever felt downright different? So distinct from the rest of the population that you drive yourself and others to distraction? Well, that was the state in which I have lately found myself—until the Lord used a precious sister in Christ to clarify some things in my life, and then used Naomi to remind me not to ask the Potter why He created one of His clay vessels the way He did.

Now, I am free to celebrate. To add nearly a clove-and-a-half of garlic to a single serving of pasta until it overwhelmed the tongue like cayenne. To dance before the Lord between bites of garlic bread while listening to “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?” in French. To seek out solitude, fall into it like cleansing rest, and to remember that Jesus loves me and that His place for me, in this particular moment, is to worship at His feet. To wrap my writing, my hand-made quilt, and an anointing-oil-scented candle around me like a beautiful white garment and rejoice…

And, yes, to refer to the vaporizer as a crackling fire and employ creative fervor accordingly.

We all need these moments of celebration, but few of us take time for them. I once read about an exercise in which an artist was given one apple and told to draw a hundred pictures. There were apples from so many different angles, apples in different lighting, apple drawings based on the fruit’s ripening, apples with a little bite taken out, various pictures of the apple core once the fruit was mostly consumed… So much to say about a single apple. To me, life is that artist’s apple. A vaporizer doesn’t have to serve the sole function of providing steam. So, I ask you, what object or experience or detail have you hitherto overlooked? What are your lifetime “apples”, and how can you look at them from a different angle? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.