O Taste and See: Tasting His Goodness, Feasting on Joy and Peace

My beloved readers, which is more beautiful?

Is it greatest beauty to receive a gift? To be like a young child again and be given a great, heavy, promising present wrapped with such flare and flourish that you know the gift-giver must really, really care? To tear off the paper and find that the box inside contains what you’ve always wanted? To take a quick, hasty, youthgul look at the package, the accompanying card, the instructions, and all the little pieces and parts, and to squeal in delight over the gift as a whole—since, by this time, you can’t even begin to decide what you like most? To jump up and down and clap your hands like the little one you are? To go running to your Father, Who gave you this gift, on legs that don’t know whether to leap or dance or race around the room? To throw yourself into His outstretched arms so hard that it requires all your energy, but barely makes an impact on the One so strong that your loving hug is a flutter by comparison? To thank Him, though you don’t have any words? To tell Him that this is all you’ve ever wanted, but that you love Him much more than the gift? To pause reflectively as you note how much effort and provision went into everything from the package to the last little detail on your brand-new present? To realize, as you gaze upon the pieces and parts of this set of good things, that the gift your Father gave you will have to be assembled, built upon, used with both joy and care? To laugh with delight as you realize that this was your Father’s intent all along—to give you something that would help the two of you grow closer? To see the love in His own eyes as you finally find one phrase—”thank you”?

Or…

Is it most blessed to travel far, far away for a time? Not to wander, necessarily, but certainly to explore foreign lands? To learn the language, music, philosophy, cuisine, geography, and recreation of every land save your own? To decide to return—again, not really as a rebellious prodigal, but as one who has done her traveling and now wishes to settle down? And then… To be welcomed home with the same outstretched arms, by the One Who gave you those wondrous gifts when you were hardly more than a baby? To hear a voice you love, speaking in a language you know better than anything you’ve ever learned in your travels, and to respond again in your own native tongue? To be invited, ever so gently, through that beautiful door of your own old house? To see, in a corner, the gift your Father gave you years before, waiting and ready for use, for this present didn’t grow old or useless when you aged and matured and wandered a bit? To wash the travel-dust from your aching body, allowing every drop of soothing water to cleanse you through and through? To dress in something soft and pure and bold with colors and textures you had not experienced in weeks or months, noting the sharp contrast between ytour own clothes and the stiff and roughened and travel-stained garments you’d been wearing only the hour before? To sit down again with your Father and feast on food that has never tasted so good, cuisine finer than anything you ever experienced in all your wanderings? To curl up in bed with a great, glorious Book in your lap, turning over those precious leaves and marveling at the simplicity and intricacy of the message therein? To nestle beneath your own perfect pillows and blankets, in soft and silent surroundings, warm and fed and protected? And, to feel this deep and endless satisfaction, quietly resolving that when the day dawns, you will thank your Father for all of this—this everything? To know, in this moment, that you have no needs whatsoever?

To raise your voice in song, for mourning turned to dancing, rejoicing beyond what your flesh feels able to contain??

Or

To kneel in satisfied surrender, knowing with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength that all your needs have been met beyond what you could possibly imagine?

Which is deeper, joy or peace?

It’s a subjective and personal philosophical question, and a conundrum that I have been attempting to solve within myself for several days, having experienced both in the Holy Spirit to a degree I had not realized was even conceivable. Let me know what you think, if you’re the commenting type… Then, find my answer below:

Which is better, fountains of joy or calmed-storms, peace?

Love—pure Agape love that encompasses the gift and the welcome, the garment of praise and the moment of stillness.

Both are of the Lord, are they not? And so, it is impossible to choose.

Tears: A Poem God Gave Us

I have not written poetry prolifically since 2006 and have penned nothing at all poetic since 2010. However, God gave this to me this afternoon, and I thought I would share it here. Initially, I was thinking of the things I keep concealed behind a vast effort to live my life in Jesus–but then, as so often happens in written worship, the Lord took this piece in an entirely different direction. Be blessed!

TEARS
Our house, how it cries:
No rain upon rooftops,
No drops cascading down glass—
But a hot-water deluge,
Leaking our pent-up pain.
We gaze upon symptoms:
Clanging doors, murmuring computer, shouting dishes, silent stove,
And yet, I see weeping.

Our family, we cry:
No sharp words or fighting,
No bitter burst of tears,
But a solemn sorrow
That blankets our smile.
We use other words to descibe:
Angry and sad, frustrated and scared—
But indeed, I hear weeping.

My heart, yes, it cries:
No drenched pillow at night,
No soaked handkerchiefs by day,
But a mind that absorbs,
That clings and that grasps,
That tries and that fails to comprehend.
Working, failing, wondering,
In all this weariness,
What is the use?
People see, hear, observe:
Happy, hopeful, honoring, holding fast—
But inside, I am weeping.

“Exceedingly great and precious promises
Are given unto us.”
“To the hungry,
Every bitter thing is sweet.”
“Love bears, believes, hopes, endures…”
“In Him, we are complete.”

My heart, it will rejoice again:
No anguish of soul,
Just singing and prayer:
“Hosanna! O save!
How I trust You, O Lord…”
And a rainbow promise in the storm:
“Do not grow weary,
Do not grow weary
In well-doing.”
If others could see, they would behold:
Tears and repentance, handkerchiefs drenched—
No… Cleansing rejoicing.

My family, we will rejoice again:
No knives in our words,
Just cherishing, always:
“I love you,
We love Him.”
Others will witness:
Openness, talking, sweet words and laughter, tears and discussion—
Agape.
Ever rejoicing.

This house—oh!—it will rejoice again:
No floods from the heater and heart,
But rain atop the roof—
Drip-drop, drip-drop!
Hail pounding on porch and patio,
Thunder shaking the walls,
Tender drizzle cascading down the Prayer-Closet Tree.
We’ll hear this rolling majesty:
Water and thunder and wind and whisper-leaves—
And join that song, rejoicing.

Restoration and Holiness, Part VI-A: “We Worship You in Spirit and in Truth”

Finally, back to the multi-part “Restoration and Holiness” series! There are reasons I ceased, but they are for exploration in another post.

In my last installment, I had noted that most of my life consisted of “enrichment reading”—books of an educational but non-spiritual nature that I felt expanded my horizons. On Friday, 9 May, I was convicted to relinquish these for a month and ten days, right up until the morning of 19 June. The time that would then be freed up, I was to spend in purest adoration.

Saturday, 10 May, was my first day of Project Walking by Faith. I can’t say that terribly much was different in my life. I read more of the Word, but I’m not sure that my Matthew IV readings absorbed as deeply into my heart as I would have liked. Instead, I was steadfastly focused on a very carnal problem in my life, an earthly want and desire that, while not unrighteous in and of itself, was certainly distracting me from seeking the Lord with all my heart. I prayed about this complication, I attempted to surrender it to God, I looked for some earthly solutions in order to temporarily silence the thoughts, but nothing seemed to do any lasting good.

I went to bed that Saturday evening with the burden still firmly affixed to my back—in fact, it had only become heavier as I dragged it along. But there was a glimmer of hope, too. A few days earlier, the Lord had impressed upon me that He would soon show me His glory in a mighty way and that I would eventually worship with overflowing, inexpressible joy in the place that I had come to know as The Sanctuary. I believed it, as we do all God’s promises, but I could not conceptualize of such a thing on Saturday night as I prepared for rest. We can have faith without trust—faith that what God says is true, holistically and in the long run, without necessarily trusting in the moment. That was my state of mind.

Then, too, I knew I would have to do something on Sunday that I was not looking forward to. Bible Student, whom I now realize is everything I hope to be in forty years, had been encouraging me to contact her so we could discuss the Word. I now see that the enemy was attacking me enough to discourage me from ever contacting Bible Student, but all I saw then was that I dreaded doing so. For one thing, there is a movement in my area that is so outside of Christianity that I can only call it a cult, but many sincere Christians are subscribing to this movement’s teachings—only to discover later that they are corrupt and contrary to Scripture. What if Bible Student was involved in this movement? I couldn’t say I was in the mood to spend an afternoon evaluating someone else’s fruit. Then, too, what if she interrogated me about my spiritual life and found me lacking, somehow? It was all very complicated, and I wasn’t sure I would ever be ready to take that sort of plunge.

That Sunday, though, I knew I could put Bible Student off no longer. I prayed for courage, wisdom, and—yes—discernment, then dialed her lopng-distance.

“You have the New King James?” she said as soon as I had her on the phone. “In Braille, right? Good! Audio is fine, but you’ll want to read for yourself when we’re studying… Now, you’ll need the volume containing Romans—and, let me see, the one with Matthew.”

What? No interrogation? No words designed to make me feel like less of a Christian? No questions as to why I had so obviously put off calling? And you, my beloved reader, are probably wondering what experiences I could possibly have had that would cause me to stamp such accusations on a believer I had never even met. It’s a long story… Suffice it to say that not everyone I’ve ever met has acted in love, and my interactions with them sometimes color my communications with other believers. The Lord is still working on me…

For the rest of that glorious hour, Bible Student expounded the Scriptures, and my thirsty soul drank in every truth-filled word. Together, we examined pairs of concepts in Romans 1 and how they built upon, clarified, or contrasted with one another. We discussed Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane and talked about His cry to the Father, “If it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me”, followed by surrender—”nevertheless, not my will, but Thy will, be done”. Bible Student suggested this as a model for our own moments of surrender to the Lord.

And then, there was the whole concept of worshiping the Almighty, the one true God, of the Scriptures, rather than idolizing something of our own creation. We believers do this, too, you know. We probably don’t have statues in our houses, but we do lie to ourselves about who we are serving. (Note a deliberate lack of pronoun capitalization in the previous sentence.) We tell ourselves that God does not care if we sin, that this is why grace exists and abounds to us, that we may do as we please without consequence. Grace does abound to us, more than we could ever know or conceive, but liberty is not to be abused and God is still grieved when we sin. Others among us say that grace is not enough, that we must work and strive and beat ourselves about the head if we want forgiveness from God. I tend to fall into this camp more often that I would like to admit. But what does the Word say? Does it say that a perfect home and body, perfect relations, a perfectly-stewarded and well-balanced bank account, and the outward appearance of a flawless spiritual life are necessary to earn His love, favor, and grace? Certainly not! There are other lies we tell ourselves—perhaps God loves everyone but us, perhaps He does not hear our prayers, perhaps we are not forgiven, perhaps we are separated from Him… All these possibilities! But each and every one of them involves taking one or two passages of Scripture and twisting them without proper context, or conceptualizing who we believe God to be and acting upon it, or both. This is inventing something to serve from our own imagination, a mental image of God rather than the God of Scripture.

My beloved readers, have you any idea how wonderful it is to have your theology realigned, especially when it is done with an extraordinary measure of grace? To be told the truth, to accept that truth, to repent of all the lies you’ve believed about God and to determine in your heart that you will worship Him for Who He is—all of this is far, far better than momentary joy or happiness. Te be realigned in your heart, from the Scriptures, far surpasses in beauty the most wonderful experience, because the Holy Bible is our glorious bedrock.

And that’s what the rest of the day entailed—repentance, adoration, worship, singing and making melody in my heart to the Lord. The joy and glory I had been promised a few days earlier was mine on that glorious Sunday, and nothing was ever again capable of taking it away.

Next in the series: what the Lord did between 11 May and 21 May—all the fruit He began to develop on a tree that felt it had been withered. Gnarled and unfruitful no more!

Addendum: The name of the song off of which I based this post is technically “This Is the Time”. However, the most compelling line in that nine-ana-a-half-minute anthem is, “We worship You in spirit and in truth”. How marvelous to be brought back to that place! The song, if you’re interested, is by Terry MacAlmon.

“How Beautiful”… Is the Body of Christ!

This is peace: To fill a glass Communion cup, one in a set of four that your sister blessed you with years ago, and take a Communion wafer from the container where they are kept. To place all these things on the lace-topped antique sewing table on which you now display such items as an olive-wood cross made in Jerusalem. To look with admiration on that table, and on the chairs you’ve placed near it, and to remember that just beneath the altar-table is the chest in which you keep tangible memories of your spiritual life, and on top of this the velvet bag in which you keep anointing oil. To anticipate time in Jesus—this is peace.

This is peace: To seat yourself on the ottoman that accompanied the gliding rocker you purhcased several years ago. To feel that piece of furniture, not really made for your seat but doing just fine as a temporary worship location, thank you!—to feel it creek and sway a bit as you sit down, and to remember that both the glider and the ottoman feature a runner-and-frame construction that is downright graceful and has provided hours far more enjoyable than the LazyBoy company has ever been able to supply. To recall the day when you listened to Vineyard’s worship music as you re-upholstered all the relevant cushions for both pieces of furniture. Worn, roughened near-burlap would never do—it had to be that deep-blue, velvet fabric you picked up somewhere. As you think on that day of fabric, safety pins, and purest adoration, you remember another glorious time when you were in the manifest glory of God, His holy presence. That day is too personal to print now, though you may try later. His glory—that is peace.

This is peace: To seek out worship music, and to find an abundance of it. Voices blended in unison, illustrating in vivid audible detail Jesus’ words: “Where two or more are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them”. And so it is—listening to those recordings from Keswick and Stoneleigh conferences, Hosanna! Music, and the various Vineyard churches and Calvary Chapels, you hear the anointing of the Holy Spirit in each one of the singers’ instruments. Musicians’ lutes cry out in praise, and harps and pianos join the symphony of adoration. Those beloved, old, refreshing, new songs—yet more and greater peace.

This is peace: Just surrendering. “Just to trust His cleansing blood…” Taking all the turmoil of the carnal trials you’ve experienced over the past three weeks and placing them at the foot of the cross. Remembering His promises neither to leave nor to forsake you, and believing them. Recalling, too, His recent promise to your heart, that He would restore you and return years wasted in sorrow and mourning, that He would cause you to forget the pain of past spiritual deserts… His promises—infinite, unspeakable peace.

This is peace: A precious song, by the Starsong Artists if it matters at all, entitled “How Beautiful”. To hear the Gospel outlined, then proclaimed, in this anthem. Ah, the amalgomation of the music you’ve just been cherishing and the promises the Lord has just reiterated to you! “How beautiful”, how beautiful indeed… And now is the time to allow those words of joy and comfort to wash over you, to renmember His gift as you prepare for Communion, to think on “the body of Christ”, the hands that served and the feet that walked the road to Calvary, the heart that loved us and forgave and took our sins… His gift, His sacrifice—is there anymore room for that flood of peace?

This is peace: To forgit that, ten minutes before, you had not really even been feeling close to the Lord. To remember that life lived in Him is not about feelings and experience, but at the same time to rejoice in what you are being given. To worship with your very, with your heart and mind and soul and strength, to attempt to pour words onto paper, to set down His love so that others may read about all that the Lord is able to do–His power and glory and might. To love the Lord—purest peace.

This is peace. We call it the Normal Christian Life, we sometimes dismiss it when all is going well, we take it for granted when we allow ourselves to forget—but this is the sort of joy, love, and blessing that the Lord pours out upon us day by day. This is the relationship that God wants for us to have with Himself, the contented, worship-saturated life we have the privilege of leading. And it is so wonderful to draw and be drawn nigh unto Him, to trust in His provision, to accept freedom and reject the lie of bondage that has consumed you for so many days. Above all, to remember His words: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you. I do not give as the world gives…” Perfect peace.

Addendum: No, not my usual song credit—you’ll find that in the body of this post. A year or so ago, I read an account by a father of a developmentally-delayed child. This little girl had a great deal of difficulty communicating most of the time. One day, though, she was on the beach, just appreciating so many of the small details that many people would overlook. Suddenly, she cried out, “This is beauty—hallelujah!” The father was taken aback, but was soon caught up in his daughter’s elation. Down the beach they danced and frolicked, both of them taking up the daughter’s concept and periodically shouting, “This is beauty—hallelujah!” Oh, that we all praised our Lord with so spontaneous and devoted a heart! This is my contribution to that effort. This is His overwhelming peace—hallelujah!

“‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”…

NOTE: I penned the greater part of this piece last night between 1:00 and 2:30 AM. I had no Internet access at the time, but intended to post this when I did. That moment has come. What you are about to read is more a letter to the Lord, an outpouring of thanks for what He has done and provided and taught, the growth and fruit that He is producing. No, I have not lost interest in my multi-part series; I still have much to say on the Lord’s restoration, and I hope to continue when I can.

Several months ago, I was taking that glorious day of rest that every Christian should have—one of those days just for refreshment in the Lord. My day of rest happens to be Sunday, and that Sunday I was meandering my way through family memories and listening to worship music. This, from Robin Mark, was among the auditory treasures I unearthed:

When the rain falls, and it some days will,
Then the pavement under my feet
Sparkles silver and gold in reflected light
That I otherwise wouldn’t have seen.
And when the storm comes and the strong wind blows,
I will bow my head to push through,
And every step that I take, I will watch and pray
And be sure my foothold is true.

Now, I could say “amen” to all of that! I had been through my share of difficult times and had even discovered treasures in some of that darkness. But it was the song’s refrain that began to trip me up:

Jesus, don’t You keep me from that storm;
I want to walk that sacred ground,
For You are Master of it all
And I am but a lost-and-found.

Now, I wasn’t questioning Robin Mark’s theology—I knew that his words were Biblically sound. But on the other hand, I didn’t feel I could ever come to a point of praying such a thing. “Don’t keep me from the storm”? “Don’t keep me from it, if You can use it in my life”? Well, God’s will be done, but how could I ever actually pray, ask for, petition God for, treasure, cherish, appreciate, or value difficult times? It wasn’t humanly possible, I concluded, to say in effect, “The sand of this place scorches my feet, the nearest oasis is miles away, and I am parched—but, oh, thank You for all the manna!”

Nearly four months hqave passed since I heard that song and admired Robin Mark’s bravery from a distance. Now, I know exactly what he meant.

It all began on 13 June. I awoke that morning, read Matthew and immersed myself in worship, and then deecided that I would update the content on my iPod. Simple enough, and not much to be learned, you say. Ah, but the device wouldn’t synchronize with my computer. Instead, it kept going into recovery mode, then wouldn’t even try to sync… Three, four, and five times we tried—first Naomi, then Hannah. We tried with different iPods; we tried uninstalling iTunes and downloading it anew; we tried manual syncing. Each time, we encountered fresh challenges. Now, don’t misunderstand—this did not leave me without a few silly songs and a movie or two. It left me without ten thousand songs’ worth of worship music and hundreds of sermons but, much worse, I was also without my eleven audio Bibles. If I wanted the Word, it was going to have to be a Braille edition—nothing wrong with that, but not as effective for quick, efficient study. Besides, I like to listen to the Scriptures as I’m drifting off to sleep, and I was now being denied this delightful pursuit. But do you know, my beloved reader, what came of it all? In the twelve-hour gap between the problem and the tenuous resolution I reached that night, the Lord put a song in my heart and a precious knowledge of His presence deep within my spirit. My refrain all that day was, “Lord, I will read Your Word in whatever format I can find. If that’s just one version, it is enough. Your presence, O Lord, Your Holy Spirit alone is more than enough.” And there was such a sense of His holiness in that day!—such a knowledge that He was with me? Would I ever relish having my iPod malfunction? No, not in the flesh—but the Lord did use this experience to teach me something about Himself and to reinforce to my heart that He is my everything.

“If that is what you call a desert,” you say, “then you really haven’t lived life. What you believe to be a storm was a gentle sprinkle of a rain-shower…”

Fast forward to last Monday. In the past ten days, I have been displaced from my apartment due to an exploding hot water that resulted in a destructive flood that ruined my carpet; we have temporarily lost our internet; two members of our extended family are seriously ill; anger, sorrow, and anxiety have filled my interpersonal communications with many of my brothers and sisters in Christ; I have faced challenges on both employment and guide-dog fronts; Naomi has suffered health difficulties; feelings of worthless and failure have threatened to sweep me away; and I have felt highly unforgiven by God, separated from Him and no longer permitted to come into His presence. My “church community”, y brothers and sisters in Christ, and I have been attacked in so many areas, and even now it has been difficult to wrap my heart around solutions. If you’re covered with bruises and you only have so many ice packs, which injuries do you tend to first?

First for me, and first for anyone who may be reading wthis with a similar list of heartaches stretching before them, is to address any outlying spiritual concerns. I tend to conntct every event, be it pleasant or unpleasant, with my walk with the Lord, so I was really in a bit of a bind. When the hot water heater burst, we all became stressed; when we were stressed, we got impatient with each other; when we became impatient, things were said that we might later regret; when something critical but unspiritual was said to me, I decided that it was a reflection of how I was living before God and, what’s more, a reflection of His heart toward me. My beloved readers, don’t travel down that slippery slope—it’s one I know all too well, and it invariably ends in quicksand.

What got me out of my spiritual valley was a little book by Jennifer Rees-Larcombe entitled WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, GOD? In it, the author reiterated some truths about God’s love that my heart really needed to hear. Then, too, the fact of these difficult moments in our spiritual lives was treated seriously and sensitively, which I can’t say for very many writers/pastors/theologians/books/treatises/dissertations… You get the idea. So, that book was helpful, but as we all know, things like this are only a tool in the Lord’s hands. It was really my prayers for forgiveness, an acceptance of His love and grace, a few tearful pleas to “start anew”, and, above all, the ever-present love, compassion, and mercy of the Trinity that set me free from the spiritual part of this valley. Am I still tempted to proclaim myself outside of His care, especially in these last few days and especially when some carnal concern makes me feel like a failure? Yes, I am—but now I can take those thoughts captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ, know that He will free me from them, and move forward in His joy and peace.

So, thus much of spiritual trials. Did my human suffering fade when I repented of last week’s sins and began to move forward in the Lord? Not quite. We’re still dealing with illness and anguish, pain in our hearts and aches in our bodies. But—don’t you know?—all of this is drawing me ever nearer to God, making me rely on Him more and more for every ounce of strength I possess.

At the moment, all of my furniture is outside my apartment, with boxes stacked against the dressers and headboard and tables. I am living in a small, unfurnished room that I have made comfortable and as home-like as possible just because it is my nature to do so. True, my “bed” is an air mattress on the floor, topped with a pillow-topper that I salvaged from the flood that threatened all of my apartment’s carefully-chosen accoutrements. The Faith Box, a large chest in which I keep anointing oil, Bibles, Communion wafers, and spiritual mementos, is now serving as a table. The rest of the room is filled to capacity with bags and boxes of things I did not wish to lose track of during this transition from old carpet to new.

What is my point in all of this? That the room in which I’m now staying, and the bits and pieces I’ve put into it, are almost symbolic. I have always named living spaces—Bethesda, Bethel, The Chapel, The Sanctuary. Accordingly, these new quarters are The Oasis. The Oasis, despite the unique circumstances. The Oasis because, though not a place of safety itself, it has come to represent a place of security. The Oasis, because it is here that I come when burdens are unbearable. The Oasis, because here almost more than ever, I seek and I find the presence of the Lord. His Shekinah glory is here. His light fills this place, even when my life and thoughts and day have seemed so dark. His comfort is constant—both in this physical room and in my day-to-day life, as I navigate our current trials. Here, I have seen and experienced and known with all my heart the holiness of God. Holy ground, even when my mouth is parched. Joyous ground, with plenty of manna. Awesome ground, even when the heat of circumstance presses in. Everything He provides here is all the more precious as I learn to trust Him more.

Am I enjoying all of this, every iota and each tiny detail? No, humanly speaking, I find it hard most of the time. But now, now more than ever, I’m being taught how to rely on the Lord, and on the Lord alone, to meet all of my needs. Minute by minute and day by day, I’m being given strength, wisdom, grace, mercy, peace, love, and even profound and inexpressible joy that surpasses all the fiery darts that the enemy could possibly hurl at me or my loved-ones.

Now, I understand Robin Mark’s prayer-song, “Jesus, don’t You keep me from that storm.” Now, too, I know what is meant by a few lines in that beautiful worship ballad “Just Let Me Say”:

Let me find You in the desert
Till this sand is holy ground,
And I am found completely surrendered
To You, my Lord and friend.

I will trust Him in the deserts of life, whether they be carnal and temporal wilderneses like our saga of the ruined carpet or more serious matters such as a wounded heart and a crushed spirit. Trust, surrender, relinquishment—”peace, wonderful peace”.

Books: A Words Sketch… And a Pages, Bindings, and Fonts Sketch!

My beloved readers, please excuse the redundancy if you’ve seen this post before. I wrote it for Epinions.com, but it is no longer on that site, and I thought it might be suitable for the blog. As you can see, I had a propensity for creating extremely long articles, even in pre-blog days… And, if you’ve never seen this before, enjoy!

The book is compact–one historical event, one life, one little memoir. It has a glossy cover and a smooth, unbroken binding. All of that is about to change…

Really, it is a disgrace to treat a book as you are about to treat this one. You wish you didn’t have to… but there isn’t any other choice. Taking a deep breath, you open the publication to the exact center, pull the pages apart as far as they will go, and press down. The book creaks in protest, then breaks. Farewell, unblemished binding.

But now, you have the facts. Through a break in binding and a few moments with the scanner, you know that this is, indeed, a special book–one worthy of both your bookshelf collection and Bookshare.org, the online library for those with print disabilities. Now, the reading can begin.

First, a dilemma: Your scanner does not announce page orientation, and pages are adjusted automatically. If you’re going to scan, read, and save this book in an electronic format, you will need to know with absolute certainty which cover is the front and which the back. Both covers are glossy. There is nothing particularly distinguishing in size, shape, or dog-eared corner… There! You have it! Almost imperceptibly, the outlines of a little wrinkle. Can it be? What your fingers have encountered is, of all things, a set of tooth marks on the front cover of this children’s book. Now, where could those possibly have come from? Did some mischievous cat saunter across the table one day and decide to see whether the book tasted of salmon? Ah, well… let bygones be bygones. The tooth marks may now serve as clues for the task at hand. You can’t mar this publication with a Braille label, so the tooth marks will have to stay. Other books you’ve scanned have possessed different attributes–a folded corner on the front, a library jacket fitting the entire publication like a child’s bulky mitten, a sticker on the back cover… every book has something unique to celebrate. And, if not? Well, you can always notch one of the covers gently with a pair of scissors. It’s your book, isn’t it? And the binding is broken, anyway.

And so, you begin scanning. Open a file, save it using the title of your book, making sure the document is saved in RTF format… and you’re off! First the title page. It will be produced with or without fancy, curling, calligraphic font; with or without “Praise For” stamped all over it; with or without a list of books by the same author; sometimes, with or without any discernable text at all. You will experience page numbers–or not. There will be Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, a little flourish that could be anything with some stretch of the imagination… the possibilities are endless! Your favorite, you think as you regard the book with satisfaction, are those pages with lower- rather than uppercase Roman numerals–for the sheer improbability of it all.

Now for the copyright. This must be in place for every book; otherwise, the venture is an infringement of copyright law and highly illegal. And so, you scan the copyright page. Pay attention: Is the ISBN in place? Some older books don’t come with ISBNs, but do look closely. Check and double-check, if necessary. Are the copyright dates, copyright renewal dates, permissions holders, etc. all properly acknowledged? Or, is the copyright page not even in the front of the book? Will you find it somewhere near the back–perhaps even on the back cover? So many choices…

Legalities aside, a story is coming your way. There’s no need to walk you through the careful process of scanning each page–of checking for errors, making sure page numbers and chapter headings correspond with text, etc. So, instead, you let your mind wander back to a time when books were in large, cumbersome Braille volumes. A time when recorded material was easier, but more limiting. A time when, in sad truth, you led a relatively bookless existence.

Oh yes, there were books. Your mother’s Bible, for one. From earliest childhood, you’ve always loved holding Bibles–but this one was special, magnificent, simply awesome. It was first put into your hands when you were seven. This was the Old Testament, and this the New. See how much smaller the New Testament is than the Old Testament? See what lessons can be learned from both, if you’ll only hide this Book in your heart? See these thin, perfect pages that must be turned with all possible reverence? And those index markers to help you find your place–so necessary, because this Bible has so much to teach? Feel the weight of that exquisite message–those pure, beautiful, wonderful, joyous words?

You do. And as the years pass, you begin to see other glorious things in your mother’s Bible. Even though you now have a Bible of your own and read it regularly, absorbing that holy message for yourself, there’s still something about another person’s copy of the Scriptures. One afternoon, you find that Bible lying open on a table. One wondrous page–the left-hand one– is smooth and unmarked. The right-hand page bears tiny grooves–small lines and other marks from careful underlining. You turn a few pages. More underlining, and a few places where entire sections have been heavily highlighted. Those smooth pages must be in… let’s see… Ecclesiastes, which your mother has admitted to not understanding. Carefully-highlighted ones, further back, must mean you’re close to Psalms. Oh, the joy of experiencing a book this way! Including, and especially, the Bible.

Your own Bible is much different. Not the Braille one that comes in twenty volumes and takes up an entire bookcase, but the print one you received several years ago. Others read it aloud, write your comments in the margins, and highlight where you direct. Oh, the things you could say of others’ serving hands! But, for now, our topic is books—not hands–so you’ll refrain. Your Bible is smaller–a unique size in that it isn’t quite fit for pocket or purse, but certainly smaller than your friends’ Bibles. The leather binding is worn and falling apart. It’s been glued in several places, but still comes loose. One of these days, someone is going to encourage you to get it rebound–but then, you wouldn’t be able to cling to that old adage, “The evidence of a well-fed soul is a well-read Bible.” And those awe-inspiring, holy words! You know the Scriptures well enough to imagine what that print must be saying–“Beautiful words, / Wonderful words, / Wonderful words of life.” One evening, you sat with this Bible on your lap, a recorder in your hand. Without commenting, you carefully turned a few pages–one by one, paragraphs of love and grace. The thirty-second recording is still on your iPod.

As the scanner hums in the background, you turn your attention to other books–literary and didactic, polished and somewhat flawed. The sudden acquisition of a scanner has broadened your world, and yours is no longer a bookless existence. No more must you content yourself with Braille textbooks and audio devotionals alone. Now, you can read almost anything. And, while you’re waiting to investigate the latest biography or work of poetry, you can study what the sighted world has known for years. You continue turning pages, pressing them onto the glass surface of the flatbed scanner, and waiting for your software to convert the image into readable text. As you do, you make some observations.

Cover: With or without a jacket? If with, can the jacket be removed? Is the book or jacket engraved with a tactile, raised-print title? Is the book hard-back, or paperback? [Hint: Paperbacks are easier to scan.]

Distinguishing Features: Did you know that stains can be beautiful–especially if they’re rather sticky? A spilled remnant of last summer’s sweetened iced tea can provide insight as to which cover is the front. Scrape off some of that stain, but leave a bit intact. The same principle applies to wrinkles, stickers, creases, dog-ears, and even those infamous tooth marks. Aside from directing you in the scanning process, these features are sentimental—plain and simple.

Binding: Leather, or thoroughly ordinary? Oh, yes, you shall judge a book by its cover! Are there pre-existing breaks? Where? Is this a well-loved book, or did it collect dust? Trace the book with your finger. Any remnants of ribbons or torn, fragmented bookmarks? Does it smell of a library, a musty attic, or a lavender sachet? Hint: The very best books smell something akin to all of the above. They are British; smell of bath salts, furniture polish, fresh air, antiques, and cedar; and cost a mere cent on Amazon, even though the seller must ship the book all the way from somewhere in Brighton… That book was by one Jennifer Reese-Larcomb, was entitled WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, GOD?, and was th only Christian-living book you’ve ever encountered that could make a spiritual valley seem almost inviting. Yes, judge a book by its cover, but most especially by its scent.

Size and Shape: Ah, now this says something about the book’s character! Is it more efficient to design a smaller but thicker book, or is it more literary to produce a larger yet thinner book? Why are picture books produced the way they are? Why is a particularly edifying devotional just slightly too large to fit on the scanner? Why, you almost feel as if you’re chopping and cutting that book from its binding to no purpose! And if a book can’t be unbound, how will you handle a cumbersome size? In these cases, you have little choice; you must scan one side of a page, then another. This doubles your time, but it’s worth the effort. Lesson: If you love your books, you’re even willing to unbind them.

Inner Flaps: Why, we have a pocket for a library card on our hands! But you purchased this book used from Amazon. Oh, the stories the previous owners could have told…

Front Matter: How do other people do it? Sometimes, front matter is quite illegible. It’s all you can do to coax it from the scanner. Titles in brazen, screaming fonts. Authors whose names, even typed, insist on announcing their presence with a curving flourish. Copyright dates and ISBNs that are so small or faded that they come trembling onto the page as a series of whimpering, jumbled letters and numbers that may or may not make sense. Inscriptions in the previous owner’s sloppy handwriting—nuances that the scanner can never pick up, but which you know must be present on a given page because they have a tendency to interfere with the rest of the typed content. Even so, you love them all–every flawed, beautiful I that should be the number 1. Every symbol that announces itself as a “black square” or some other strange bullet—every asterisk and other squiggle that the scanner seems to derive from front matter. Why find these details so striking despite the challenges they pose to the process at hand? Because those inscriptions indicate that someone loved my book. The publisher cared enough to make the title font dance across the page, or someone’s dearest friend cared enough to write “to my sister in Christ with agape, shalom, and hesed” on the dedication page, or a devoted Bible student cherished this theological text enough to scrawl a note in the margins. Case in point: LORD, I WANT TO BE WHOLE by Stormie Omartian. Your grandmother wrote so many notes in the body of the book, and underlined so extensively, that the scanner never could have done anything with the text. So, instead, your mother made an exception to the “fewer audiobooks, more personal reading” maxim you’ve been embracing and read the book on tape, complete with the book’s handwritten notes as well as her own commentary. It’s like a spiritual button box, that book. What does it matter that you had to order a crisp, clean, like-new copy when you found you still wanted Omartian’s excellent work on Bookshare?

Main Content: Sharp and brilliant. Hyphens where you don’t expect them. Intriguing line breaks. Poetic license taken with capitalization and commas. Authorial and publishing decisions regarding fine points of Christian grammar–to capitalize pronouns relating to God, or not? You’re always so glad when they do. You’re always tempted to correct lowercase pronouns, including “who” and “whom”, when they don’t, but this would be a serious infringement of copyright law and the rights of the author and publisher, so you grit your teeth and imagine every pronoun properly capitalized, glad, for once, that you don’t own one of those fancy Braille displays that would be constantly putting the publisher’s pronoun faux pas at your fingertips. Page numbers–in which corner of the page? And, you never knew that so many headers and footers could exist in one place!

Stationery: So many varieties! Fleming H. Revell, the Christian publisher of such materials as Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler and Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, prints many of their books on sturdy pages with slightly jagged edges. Could this be symbolic of the doctrine of grace? Just as we are, with all of our jagged sins, we come to the Lord to be used for His service… The Prison Letters of Corrie ten Boom is printed on thick, straight-edged paper. Could the durability of the pages represent the ten Booms’ courage amidst trying times? Likewise, Mommy Whispers, a picture book patterned after the classic Love You Forever, is printed on pages that are both large and heavy–the vastness of a parent’s love, coupled with the gradual passage of time and the strength of a family bond. By contrast, a profound mid-grade book is printed on small, fragile pages that make a quiet yet persistent rustling sound when turned. Like the crunch of autumn leaves, or the soft voice of a child who has experienced much in her thirteen years–a memoir whose pages carry a message in and of themselves…

Pages: Check for splotches, tears, etc. Not only do these lend the book character, but they must be fixed. Get up-close and personal with each piece of paper. [Hint: Camille Beckman’s Glycerin Hand Therapy cream works well for this; it absorbs quickly, does not interfere with scanning, and preserves your hands against the inevitable dryness caused by this sort of minute examination.]

Your scan is nearly finished. In the time it has taken you to ruminate on these matters, you have produced over a hundred pages. Your ultimate conclusion is a startling one: Books appear much different if you aren’t merely reading them. If every word must be personally handled, if every page and paragraph must be examined from the front and then placed face-down on a scanner, you learn to appreciate your literary companion a bit more. Suddenly, you have to ask yourself whether that cookbook is really worth the trouble, or if there’s a more exigent bit of information to be shared.

As you submit the completed scan to Bookshare for consideration, you’re almost loath to let it go. The hard copy has been turned this way and that, broken, battered, lovingly arranged when legible, hurled across the room when not… Now, an electronic copy is being placed in a holding cell until a volunteer proofreader rescues it out of the kindness of his or her heart. From there, it will be checked for errors–and how tragic ‘twill be if any are found!–and submitted for final approval. In a few weeks, other visually-impaired readers will have yet another book from which to choose. What can you say to the volunteer who will hold your hard work in their proverbial hands? “This book took me three days to scan; please keep this in mind when proofreading”? Or, more kindly, “The hard copy is wrinkled–well-read and well-loved. The pages are fragile and wispy. There is a tiny rip on Page 53. Someone read and reread Page 134, obviously incorporating some sort of touch as well, , for the ink has faded and the scanner had a difficult time processing it. I wish you could have absorbed the fragrance of this book; it smelled like a joyful home in which God had restored a marriage, my beloved proofreader—that’s what it smelled like!”? Instead, you take the sedate route and write in the comment box: “Line breaks on Page 141 did not come out well. Dialogue on Page 86 is authentic and spelled correctly, to the best of my knowledge—the author simply has a unique style. The ISBN is not located in the text of the book, but the copyright page is present.”

Then, not willing to let the experience go unnoticed, you open a new document–not RTF this time, and not with a scanner close at hand. First, you describe the experience of scanning. Then, hoping your words will penetrate a heart grown used to ignoring small luxuries, you write an appeal:

To My Friends in the Sighted Community:

I have but one request for you. Please, dear friends, beloved readers, notice life. Buy a set of chimes and notice their complexity. If you do it right, you should have found some chimes that seem at once to play both high and low notes–so very intricate… Or, go to a gift shop and find the chimes that resemble a cross from one side and a dove from the other. Trust me, they exist. If you can’t afford them, record their complexity. Oh, yes, there are signs everywhere forbidding customers to photograph merchandise, but no one ever said anything about recording goods for sale!

Buy a turntable and plenty of old records. 54 is a good number–or, if you prefer, LIV. Examine them individually, noting their condition and any interesting attributes of album covers. Then, gather them in your arms and inhale their fragrance–like that of a library. When you actually listen to the albums, take in the crackling sound that some make–irritating to some, but comforting in its own right.

Wash your hands–not because they’re dirty, but for the sheer joy of the water itself. Let that hot, peace-evoking water, scented as it is with myrrh-containing soap, swirl about you. Change positions often for the full effect. Reduce the temperature to something cooler–the sudden, surprising rush of joy. Turn water to a trickle, then off completely. Now, wasn’t that lovely? Of course, you do have to obtain myrrh-scented soap… Look at an organic grocery store.

Drink some tea. Don’t just throw it together; choose everything carefully. Pretend this is a book. Select your tea, combining flavours such as Earl Grey and peppermint if necessary and deliberately seeking out nothing but loose-leaf; heat your water to the perfect temperature; choose a cup and justify your decision through an elaborate thought process using ninety percent of your sentimental cortex and as little actual logic as possible; add preservative-free clover honey and full, rich, authentic cream as if this will be your last drop of hot comfort for the rest of the year; and decide on some music to accompany your treat. Ah, the majesty of Integrity Music’s early releases–velvet congregational voices and the harp!

Or, you could just read a book. But, beloved reader, I implore you–don’t just “pick up a book”. Take several moments to examine it. It will cease to be just a few printed words. Truly, dearest friends, take time to touch the pages.

“Steady My Heart”

Back in 2012, I decided that I desperately needed a guide-dog to further my independence and enrich my travel experience. In August of that year, I was introduced to Natasha—and she has been a joy and delight to me. However, the actual training experience was difficult. I faced challenges with cherished friends, persecution from instructors and students, condescension at the church I attended during that time, severe sleep deprivation, and a constant fear of failure, all of which led to a period of extended melancholy once I returned home.

But I have written about this. Both on Epinions and on this blog, I have exhausted myself and my readers by dissecting everything that ever went wrong at The Training Center. I have wept and whined and whimpered over institutional food, accommodations, and treatment for so long that I had nearly forgotten the many blessings that the T.C. era held. Now, I believe that the Lord has laid it on my heart to elaborate upon all the blessings of that time. This will be the next step in my healing from traumatic memories—from the spiritual crisis of 2006 as well as from the anxiety and depression of 2012. Following, then, is the post I should have written years ago—all that the Lord did, both in great ways and smaller, to fill my heart with love for Him and for His servants during that month at the Training Center. Quite obviously, the blessing of my guide-dog was a great one—everything from learning the fundamentals of guide-work and of situation-specific commands to the laughter she brought during play, bonding, etc. So, all of that goes without saying. I’m actually here to discuss what the Lord did in a purely spiritual sense through and in the midst of the trials—the rainbows following every storm, His peace and promises illuminating my darkest night.

The day before I was to leave, I had dinner at an Italian restaurant. At the time, I could never have guessed that this cuisine would form a motif of sorts while I was in training, coming to represent comfort and consolation. At that evening’s meal, Naomi, Jedidiah, and Hannah busied themselves for a few minutes in taking some last-minute pictures, so I found some worship music to listen to. Actually, “worship music” is an understatement. What I found on my iPod was a seven-minute song in a foreign language—though, shamefully, I do not know exactly which one. I have music in Dutch, German, Afrikaans, Swahili… and without a good reference point, I’m really not sure what I was listening to. I do know that the song was congregational in nature and highly anointed, and that I have never been able to find it since. When you have over ten thousand songs on your iPod and ten thousand more media files besides (sermons, audio Bibles, etc.), some of your content tends to get lost in the SHUFFLE!—pun intended… The Lord will help me to find that song in His plan, His will, and His timing. Meanwhile, I will treasure it as a blessing for that season.

When I arrived at Center headquarters, I was met by a few things that filled my heart with joy. One, and perhaps the simplest, was an enormous, blue, velvet husband pillow with a small pocket for things like a voice recorder—or a remote control, if creativity has forsaken you. Immediately, I saw the potential of this pillow—to hug during homesick times, to use as an enveloper when in times of worship, and as a sound barrier against other students’ chatter and electronics. Just prop it up correctly so you have a wall and a nightstand on one side and a huge chair-back of a pillow on the other and—voila!—sweet, silent dreams. The pillow seemed to have been made for me, so much so that I tracked one down as soon as I got back home and have cherished it ever since. Then, there were the other touches of home. Dove soap in the bathroom, much like the very kind I had brought, baked zitti al forno for dinner that first night, iced tea available on demand… All of these small gestures allowed me to feel at ease and almost served as confirmation that I was at the correct training school.

My dorm room was two doors down from that of one of the instructors. Across from my room was the laundry facility, and many evenings I was treated to the tranquil hum of the dryer as students did their weekly washing. Just a few paces down the hall was the door leading outside–a quick escape during visiting and off-campus hours!, and a less tedious way for Naomi and Hannah to make their way into the building. One afternoon, the school’s director explained that she had actually assigned rooms with much careful thought–one student needed a room with amplification equipment attached to the telephone, another had had several guide-dogs and didn’t need to be so close to an instructor… What no one could have anticipated is that the school’s two wings came to take on more personal characteristics–there was the Quiet Wing and the Social Wing, which often had loud music blaring from one of its rooms. I was at the most silent end of the Quiet Wing. And, no, I do not believe that the arrangements were solely a director’s doing. The director may have known that this would be a good placement for me based on external factors, but only the Lord could have known how much I would come to cherish the silence that that particular placement afforded.
That first evening, we were all presented with our leashes. These are not ordinary leather leashes—you can’t buy them in a pet store. Later, we were given dog booties, feeding bowls and measuring cups, grooming supplies, treat pouches and, of course, our dogs’ individually-constructed harnesses. With each piece of equipment, I felt more and more like a potential graduate, a guide-dog handler, an independent woman, a non-cane traveler. It was like taking so many steps up a steep yet scenic mountain.

Although I did not have extensive opportunities to use the Center’s amenities, my month-long place of residence did feature a computer room, a library of Braille and audio books—including a teaching series on the New Testament!—a music room, a silence-filled living room that was seldom occupied and featured the most comfortable of sofas, and a coffee machine whose beverages, though not very tasty, warmed my heart on emotionally-chilly mornings. Moments spent in these places felt so much like home away from home and even afforded occasional opportunities for worship.

Neither did I get the chance to spend two, three, and four hours in Bible study and worship as I do now. Nevertheless, I clung to my heavenly Father in every way possible. Part of our daily training took place in a small town forty-five minutes away from the Center’s headquarters. What better way to use an hour and a half than to hold in my heart “In Your Presence, O God” or songs about Communion, or to read Luke and I Corinthians and Revelation? Then, too, there was a lot of waiting involved while other students worked with their dogs—more reading! Many of the students became curious, and few things during that time gave me greater delight than to explain exactly what I was reading—to demonstrate tangibly that these words of Scripture are breath and life to me. Now, most of the instructors were less than thrilled with my reading choice—they indicated to me that they thought my carrying a two-pound book bordered on a waste of that right arm of mine and implied in their conduct toward me that they would have liked it if I had spent those round-trips chatting or listening to their music. But…

Then, there was Student Intern. She was a treasure, a gem, a jewel. In Matthew 10, Jesus said, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a rightous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is My disciple, assuredly I say to you, he shall not lose his reward.” Well, part of this intern’s service did include furnishing all of us students with water, coffee, etc., following our work sessions—it was just was just something she and some of the instructors did. But Student Intern was far more than an instructor-in-training. I’ll never forget the days she saw my distress and talked with me about church, about having a gentle heart and being a fruitful tree, about how well Natasha and I were doing—especially on the days I feared we might not graduate, much less that we were actually doing well. Difficult though it may be to imagine, we had no Christian radio stations at this institution—I know this because Student Intern spent a tireless half-hour carefully tuning the radio in my room and listening to everything she found in hopes of presenting me with some glimpse of CCM. In a season in which most of my instructors referred disdainfully to my Bible as “that BOOK!”, Student Intern sometimes retrieved it from my room if I forgot it, usually with a sort of sad compassion in her voice as she said, “Here’s your Bible—I’ll just put it over here…” On days when she saw me frantically typing on one of the Center’s computers, she must have deduced that I was doing something urgent (indeed, I was usually writing E-mails begging for prayer), and on these occasions she would be uncommonly compassionate about pulling me away. “Lunch in five minutes… Are you coming?” Since I knew that this was not really an optional meal, but a training experience and sometimes a time for a mini-lesson, I would accompany her, only to find that she deliberately placed me at a table with other Christians. Cold, refreshing water.

So long as I am writing about servants of God, I cannot exempt the housekeeping staff from my pen-and-paper portrait of life at the Center. I met the woman who cleaned most of our rooms once and she was beyond kind. Later, I found that it was she who had placed the husband pillows in our rooms. Every evening, I tend to spread spiritual things out all around me, topping the whole bed with reminders and symbols of His glory. On any typical evening, I might cover myself with some great piece of cloth representing His covering, hold a print Bible in a worn case, keep a Braille Bible lying next to me, and have two or three prayer cloths pinned to various pillows. I carried on that tradition at the Center—the pillows, of course, being housed in my own cases, cases that were more than able to withstand my safety-pinning efforts. No, I never once damaged Center property for the sake of my spiritual reminders. In the early days of training, I used to make an effort to keep everything as tidy as possible—both so the housekeeping staff wouldn’t have to, and so that I could keep personal things in the Lord between myself and Him. One day, though, I ran out of time to perfect my surroundings and just left everything as it was. When I returned that afternoon, I not only found everything put in order, but my Bible and the other things I treasured had been handled with such careful deliberation, yet with such evident joy and artistry, that I almost wondered whether the woman who had been in to clean had known what everything was and felt spiritually about it the way I did. I can’t explain what she did—it was just tiny, almost-imperceptible nuances. For example, I believe in placing Bibles on top of other objects rather than covering them up—no journals on top of a stack of Bibles! This kind woman had stacked everything together, with my Bible on top, just the way I would have done it. Her folding mirrored mine, as did some of her other arrangements. Pillows with prayer cloths affixed to them were placed up-front and center, propped against pillows without handkerchiefs and safety-pins decorating their surfaces—things like that. “She saw this kind of thing,” you will insist. “She saw what you did and she replicated it.” How do you explain, then, the fact that I had never arranged anything like that while I was at the Center, but had kept everything hidden away where she wouldn’t have found it unless she was very, very unethical? And, even if she had found it, how do you explain those specific arrangements, folds, placements? From that point on, I stopped being quite so maniacal about keeping everything in perfect order, taking the housekeeping staff’s services as a blessing from God and something that, really, I had no time to do myself unless I was willing to get up even earlier than I already did—and for what? To prove myself? And every day that I left things in slight disarray, I returned to my room to see the same beautiful arrangements of everything that was precious to me. That child of God knew—she knew.

There was a little Italian restaurant nearby. Its name is irrelevant, but its asparagus-stuffed raviolis, complete with smoked mozarella, are not. Again, we harken back to the Italian food of the evening before I departed. These raviolis came to symbolize everything being right in the world of Ready-Writer. You see, part and parcel of my experience at the Center were the profound feelings of displacement and disorientation. I do not exaggerate when I write that I felt like a person who had been rendered suddenly unconscious, only to wake up in a foreign country—though which one would not become apparent for days. All I knew was that, all around me, a foreign language was being spoken, unusual cuisine—emotional, spiritual, and, if I’m being honest about the institution’s cooking, tangible—had been set before me, alien customs surrounded me, and I had no idea what to do in such an unfamiliar culture. Actually, if I had found myself deported to Germany or Thailand or Kuwait, I might have felt more at home more quickly. Everything at the Center, from the concrete floors to the isolation to the new ways of governing my life with Natasha to the mistreatment of other students that I saw daily was entirely estranged from the way of life I had always known. And so, I did things to center myself and to remind myself of who I still was in Christ Jesus—again, if I’m being honest with myself, I was afraid I would lose that passion for the Gospel. And so, I journaled. I described the bracelet that held spiritual value, talked about the other students and how God could use them, discussed my love for our Lord, filled entire ten-minute recorded journaling sessions with my interpretations of Scripture… And then, there were the minor earthly blessings. I kept hummus in my room, used frankincense-and-myrrh soap, and wore a waist pack with a little cross-shaped keychain dangling from it. I listened, day by day, to the recordings of family members—both those that they sent while I was at the Center and those from much earlier times. When Naomi and Hannah came to do infusions—the Center’s nurse wasn’t licensed to infuse that specific medication!—they always brought along a chai, which I held in my heart and sipped with all possible deliberation just before bed on those precious nights. When I took my meals with the other students, I usually made sure to bring at least one thing from my own supply—I would eat the rubbery spaghetti, but I brought a frapuccino to go with it, or occasionally I simply brought my own full meal. All of this somehow became encompassed in asparagus-and-smoked-mozarella-stuffed raviolis. That dish came to represent all possible gentleness, peace, tranquility, and calm, for I only ordered it when I knew that, somehow, I would survive my travels “abroad”—even if I never really assimilated into the culture.

Earthly blessings, those, but provided by God nevertheless. Another string of joys lay in that ubiquitous recorder of mine. I remember wandering the halls one day and hearing the dryer in the laundry room. Immediately, I ran to my own dorm room, retrieved the digital voice recorder from the pocket of that exquisite husband pillow, and made my way as quickly as possible back to the laundry facility, only to find an instructor there. Of course, I then had to explain that to record the dryer was to record themes of purity and wholesomeness… In so doing, a profound connection was established—if only for a time. Then, there were those chimes. They hung near the door of one of the Center’s other training facilities, reminding me of the dancing, singing chimes at home which I had always referred to as the Northern Lights for their beauty. Oh, I saw to it that Student Intern recorded the campus chimes! And when Hannah and Naomi came, as medical necessity dictated, they always had a digital voice recorder with them—Bible passages, songs, prayers, old books… But the recorder wasn’t always merely for recordings. Once, my recorder’s alarm went off while I was in the van and, while I fiddled with the machine in an attempt to silence it, the entire backseat was treated to a minute and a half of Paul Wilbur’s nine-minute rendering of “In Your Presence, O God”. Yes, that recorder was a blessing.

So was the instructor’s radio. Not always—certainly not! I never did develop a passion for the popular and hard-rock music that seemed to run rampant during that time. But there was one day when, while browsing through stations, the instructor accidentally stopped on Christian music. She didn’t keep it there long, but I had heard thirty seconds of Kari Jobe’s “Steady My Heart”, and that was enough. I had not heard Christian music on any radio in weeks; that briefest of intervals helped me to see that I was not alone, not forsaken in a place in which even my church attendance was an anomaly. Then, on 17 August, the day I had received the Holy Spirit ten years earlier, Instructor of Mine decided to listen to country music. When a Christian-oriented song, entitled “I Saw God Today”, played, she made no move to change it. I think it must have been the Holy Spirit keeping her hands on the steering wheel, because her silence and failure to change the station were out-of-character for her. And so, I sat back and let references to the things of the Lord wash over me, filling some of the emptiness I felt and lighting up the darkness around me.

But do you know what might just have been greater than the radio and the recorder? The rain! I was the only student who relished walking in it, who cherished every raindrop and every clap of thunder. One day, when the others decided to seek refuge from the rain, I requested special permission to go out and work with Natasha in the downpour. Instructor of Mine brought an umbrella, under whose shelter I was a very reluctant participant. Personally, I think that getting soaked—not sprinkled upon, but so drenched that you need to change your clothes and wring out your wet outfit—is one of life’s greatest pleasures and never worth missing out on for the sake of convention. As it was, I did need a towel when I arrived back at the Center. You know why this was so special? Because I experience in the rain and snow what most of you experience when you see a rainbow, or a fabulous sunset, or a towering tree, or the moon and stars—I witness God’s majestic creation. So, that rain-walk was a heart-saturating moment for me. As was the time I tripped and fell, believe it or not. I was not paying attention during one of Natasha’s supervised work sessions, and sleep-deprivation caused me to stumble over my own feet. I wasn’t hurt—a tad bit scraped up, perhaps, but not seriously injured. And do you know what I thought even as my shoes-on-asphault contact gave way to knees-on-graveled-dirt? “Oh, yes, kneeling before Him—always the place to be. And this soil, now running through my fingers and down my shins, is yet one more moment of His creation. What a wholesome fall this is!”

From tangibles to God’s creation… what comes next? Do you know, my beloved readers? The things of the Lord!—they are what spring from this journal of joy. You see, He was so close to me during that time. Since I didn’t have hours to read and study His Word, the moments I did have became more precious, and I found myself studying each verse in more minute detail. In a month in which church attendance and especially Communion were rare and elusive, I came to delight in both in a new way. Actually, I take private Communion every evening—then, now, and as long as the Lord convicts me to do so—but grape juice was scarce. Having real Communion elements—grape juice rather than water or sugary grape drink—took on new meaning and significance, as did songs about remaining strong in Jesus, staying true to who He had made me, and even a few worship anthems about Communion itself. John 1:43-50 wrapped itself around my heart then and I have never lost sight of it, even to this day. Like opportunities to take Communion, fellowship with other believers was rare, so I delighted in it all the more when it did happen—all someone had to do was mention that his church had a special outreach ministry, and my heart filled with joy at having found a brother in Christ.

Oh, the joy! When I couldn’t read the Word due to time constraints, I read memoirs like DANCING WITH MAX, an excellent book about grace in which the author describes the joys and blessings of raising a son on the autism spectrum—more a Christian devotional about patience and love, though, than a typical disability/parenting memoir. Or that book called CELEBRATE JESUS, relating the stories behind many common praise and worship choruses. Not for one moment, not for one millisecond, did the Lord ever forsake me—I always knew His presence, His nearness. And in it all, even during the worst of trials, there was joy, joy, joy! Joy so great and extensive that people always asked me why I was in such an unrestrainedly enthusiastic mood. Joy that elevated simple pleasures to lofty heights. Joy that caused me to cry out, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” at every turn. “Hosanna” in both senses of the word—”hallelujah, praise Him”, yes, but also, “O, save!” Keep me safe, for You are able…

Then, there were His gifts. You know, the gifts of the Holy Spirit are always given according to God’s will, and often distributed according to need. There may be more need for the gift of healing in a place of illness, for example, than for a person to only pray in the Spirit—but there may be more need for the gift of tongues than healing in, say, a country that has never heard the Gospel, if some of the inhabitants are to hear God’s Word proclaimed in a language that they can understand (see Acts II). The same thing applies to the gift of discernment—or, as I Corinthians XII calls it, “the discerning of spirits”. All I know is that, halfway through most meals, I often sensed that there was something spiritually amiss in my surroundings, and particularly as it pertained to a specific faculty member. There was a profound sense of oppression, and it was often at these times that I felt I needed to pray more fervently or to leave the premises. Later, I learned a bit more about some of the circumstances surrounding this faculty member and, sure enough, it included condescention and emotional mistreatment of another student, as well as some spiritual confusion. God had been protecting me and showing me how to pray. Discernment in action!—and I was so very grateful for it. But, you know, that gift isn’t given only to protect us from spiritually-compromising situations—it can sometimes be used to help us see our brothers and sisters in Christ, or to simply see things a little more clearly through His eyes. During the third week of training, all of us traveled to the state’s largest and most populated city. While strolling sidewalks and making my way under the overhangs of various shops, I inhaled the fragrance of spices and leather goods, exotic foods and beautifully unique knickknacks and suddenly began to imagine the people behind all those doors. I prayed for many of them, rejoiced at the thought of those who knew of our wonderful Lord, and really prayed for the Lord to sustain and fill those whom I thought might be feeling empty or despondent. Time and again, I found myself thinking, “Oh, you behind that metal-and-glass frame, whoever you are, Jesus loves you so much!” It was a glorious experience, and one I am actually hard-pressed to describe adequately. More of His grace.

And His holiness! I remember one day being given exquisite, glorious news from Hannah and Naomi. Then, due to a very minor injury that nevertheless precluded Natasha and I working together, I was given the day off. Off, to rest and sleep more deeply than I had in weeks. Off, to allow worship music to float through my heart. Off, to take a meal in semi-solitude. And especially, as all of this was going on, to find that Isaiah ch. Vi, was penetrating all those barriers I had established and melting my heart—every word about the seraphim and their cries of “Holy!” That time of having Isaiah’s awesome vision impressed upon my heart stayed with me, even until I arrived home, and during those first few days of re-orienting myself to home life, I found worship music that bespoke His holiness. Without it, you know, I could never have survived…

What am I saying? I’m saying that God has the power, and the love, mercy, compassion, and faithfulness, to truly work all things together for good for those who love Him. I’m saying that, despite the anguish that prevailed during and after my time at the Center, God never did abandon me—and He will never abandon you either, no matter what you may be going through. “Even when it hurts,/ Even when it’s hard, / Even when it all just falls apart…” Then we all must run to Him, the Binder of our wounds and “healer of [our] scars”, trusting in His protection and provision even when we neither see His face nor hear His voice nor feel His presence. His love endures forever—after many long years of wondering why my time at the Center had to culminate in so prolonged a period of heartache, I know that He was, is, and always will be my Rock, my Deliverer, my place of refuge, my strength, my song, and my salvation. “And that my soul knows very well…”

Addendum: Although I have been creating a whirlwind of worship music that must resemble a mixed metaphor to some of you, the title for this piece is taken from that thirty-second clip of a song with which the Lord so richly blessed me. Find Kari Jobe’s “Steady My Heart” on the album THE ACOUSTIC SESSIONS.