“JUST Let Me Say”

To my beloved readers: If you think you’ve seen this before on another website, you probably have. It is no longer on that site because I felt it was more appropriate to the Weaned Child blog. Enjoy!

JUST.

We have such a complex relationship with that word, and our consideration and usage of this simple syllable have only become increasingly lazy over time. It springs up in every discussion of ours–sometimes to joyous effect, other times in bitter sorrow. Have we ever considered the myriad meanings of this word–the multiplicity of circumstances in which it has been used? I’ve never quite seen anyone try. I’ve read articles in which people ask after Kindly Mr. Just, but no one has ever offered any explanation. Worse, the word “just” isn’t always appropriate–particularly if you happen to be a poetic thinker. Here, then, are my feeble attempts to justify our word uses. When said phrasing cannot be excused, I simply offer my thoughts on what it all conveys and the ways in which my experiences fail to match it.

Just ten more minutes… it’s only five o’clock in the morning. [Snooze!] For one thing, your ten minutes will quickly deteriorate into twenty, thirty, forty, fifty… You’ll learn to count by tens all over again–and you’re a grown adult! For another, why press the snooze button when you can hear the birds chirping outside? When there are mountains in the distance? When you can smell the coffee that has begun automatically brewing? When morning, in all its beauty, has come encroaching upon your carefully-planned snooze routine? When morning fragrance and stillness and Psalm-like peace steal over you, at once calming your heart and invigorating you? When Psalm 118:22 leaps gracefully and joyfully into your mind and you find yourself saying, “This is the day that the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it”? When a journal is on your headboard, not three feet away? “Just ten more minutes” isn’t worth it in the light of all that beauty. Let the alarm do the sleeping by turning off the Snooze feature while you get up for the day.

Just an open window. How can you use the connotations of cleansing, rejuvenating morning air and then those of boredom and laziness in the same sentence? A window is not “just”. This is particularly true if you have gotten up to watch the sunrise. Braille readers don’t do that, you say? You see with your eyes; you can watch with your other senses. I said “watch”. Seeing will come in His time.

Just chimes, just a whispering breeze, just a lilac-scented candle. The chimes weave in and out of each other. Through them, you’ve learned the incredible beauty of high and low notes being hung simultaneously, singing together as they do. You read somewhere that those living in Jesus’ time found 218 things for which to thank God during the course of a single day. Why should it be any different today? Each time you hear those chimes, no matter where you happen to be, you thank the Lord for something: “Thank you for Your presence, Lord. Thank you for Your grace. Lord, thank you for this friend and that devotional and Your Word…” How can the chimes be “just’, “simply”, “only”, under those circumstances? As for the breeze, it carries the fragrance of dewy grass through your window–inexpressible! No simpler than the chimes, I suspect. And the candle? Light! Light of the world, light in our hearts, light not under a bushel. Again, simplicity succumbs to intricacy. And then there are the Northern Lights, which are my name for the chimes. Here we go again…

Just a pair of socks. But the socks have knitted tops, like the comfortable sweater your grandmother crocheted years ago. True, those socks are factory-made, but they do put you in mind of a more nostalgic time. And, if they were practical yet much-needed Christmas gifts, they were purchased and wrapped by loving hands. Loving hands, my precious reader, can never be dull. Never “just’/

Just a quick wash and then… But the quick shower is so reminiscent of something else. Once, the editor of a magazine produced by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association wrote of a woman who had recently become a Christian. As she was praying with one of the leaders, the rain that had been expected for some time began to fall. The rain may have been anticipated, but the woman’s reaction was not. “I’m clean! I’m clean!” And now a shower is cleanliness–’tis music and joy and hope. The hot water flows over your hands like peace, the colder drops touching your fingers with exuberant joy. Am I really comparing the washing of one’s face with majestic beauty? Well, we’re told to think on the things of the Lord at all times and to pray without ceasing–so, yes I am!

“It’s just breakfast.” Translation: I don’t know what you see in a cup of tea and a few slices of toast. Milk and honey in the tea. The sharp, clean sensation of peppermint tempered with the elegance of Earl Grey. As for the toast, it’s so reminiscent of that time in third-grade, that moment of studying fractions and having every slice of breakfast toast cut into sixths and fourths and thirds and halves. Not a “just” experience at all.

Just a hammer and a few nails, a carpentry project that needs doing. But the hammering reminds you of another Carpenter, long ago, and of sacrifice and solid foundations. It’s so beautiful that you must record it.

Just a roll of flatware at an old diner. But look! The paper around the roll has come loose and the thin edges of a napkin are peeking through. Their delicacy is like that of Bible pages. Oh, it’s beautiful– not merely a knife and fork!

Just some flags on a building, flapping in the breeze. Those flags sound like hands clapping. Clapping in worship–to the rhythm of “Almighty, Most Holy God”, to be exact.

“I just want what’s best for you.” Translation: You don’t necessarily know your own best interests. “Just” isn’t always usef for glory and magnificence, you know.

“I know you’re right–it’s just that…” Translation: You win, but let me have one last word.

I ask, “What just happened in that play? Why is everyone laughing?” Braille readers must, you know. Answer: “Oh, it’s just…” Translation: This bit of information is worth neither your time nor mine. You don’t need to know every detail in life. I protest this treatment!

Just some tomato sauce. The sauce belongs with noodles, which belong on a plate engraved with I Corinthians XIII, which belongs on an antique table, which has a tiny scratch in the shape of a heart. And the sauce itself! Slowly simmering all day long, bubbling in that pot on the stove, filled with garlic and zucchini, if any were available. Topped with sharp cheddar and olives and expectation. Pasta that’s served with bread that pillows your palate and twisted around comfortable forks–not actual silver, but common family forks that have so many stories to tell you couldn’t possibly write them all down. You focus instead on the spaghetti itself. It transforms a house into a home. Once, when you were in middle school, you came home to an aromatic crock pot. It had been a very difficult two years, and spaghetti hadn’t been seen on the table in a long time. You lifted the lid of the crock pot, held that tangy tomato /cinnamon/cayenne combination in your breath and heart for a long moment, and inexplicably found yourself in tears. And that was the beginning of restoration–of healing from God, whom you had not even thought to pray to during this whole time. But He answered–and He used something as unassuming as angelhair noodles.

“Let’s just keep it simple.” Unless your name is Heidi, let’s adorn everything with as much elaboration as we can possibly find. Let’s add garlic to that bread, add notes and highlighting to that Book, and add praise to our hearts. “Just… simple” means, “Let’s be lazy, for it won’t hurt us.” Neither will eating strawberry stems, but you don’t do that, do you?

Just a quick walk around the block. Not so! No matter how brief the sojourn into the outdoors, there’s always something to notice. Traffic is lighter and more leisurely in the evening. It’s slightly uphill one way, slightly downhill the other. There’s a breeze throughout the first leg of your trip, but a downright nip on your second. It’s a contented chill, though–the kind that makes you want to fling yourself down on the patch of grass to your left and just enjoy it for a few minutes. There’s a gentle, indefinable fragrance here, too–grilling and wood smoke and grass and flowers. Beauty! And there are the chimes on neighbors’ houses–more Northern Lights. Can I call this “just”?

Just a laptop. No, not even that, despite its propensity for statistics and such. The first laptop I ever received was a precious gift, bestowed upon me in order that I might better glorify God through writing and song. “I don’t eserve it,” my fourteen-year-old self protested, for I elt that it was far too great and elaborate a gift. But then came that beautiful question–“Will you use it to serve God? Then, yes, you need this.” Every laptop since has been almost a covenant in the Lord.

Just five more pages and just one last trailing sentence–then I’ll put the book away and go to bed. Technically, I could tear those pages out of my book and staple them together, in which case it would all just be one long, extensive page. And how am I to know what page I’m reading if I’m in the middle of an author-narrated audiobook? What I’m saying is that “just five more pages” is a polite colloquialism that has no basis in reality of any kind.

Just five minutes later… Translation: at two o’clock in the morning. “Just” means, “time is immaterial to me–be it three minutes, five, or ten.”

“I Just Want to Be Where You Are, dwelling daily in Your presence…” This is a worship song, and here the word “just” is beyond suitable–the only word that adequately expresses that ever-present need to serve the Lord. All I really do want is to be in His presence, surrounded by His glory. If I had nothing else for the rest of my life, I would be satisfied with this. “Just”: only, ever, and always.

“And all his words fell just like honey on the rock…” The person referred to here is a preacher who proclaims words of revival and salvation. The line was taken from Robin Mark’s timeless story-song, “Billy Spence”. “Just like”: exactly, identical, comparable. Revival, then, is sweet as honey and just as potent. It is promise and prayer, and “just like” is “just so”.

Just Like Jesus. If you’ve never read Max Lucado’s book with the same title, you’re missing out. There’s a chapter that mentions foot-washing, and it’s a desperate, unspeakable shame to have been without it for all of these years. “Just Like”–very, intensively, profoundly. Yes, this is what I want–to be so much like Him that all of my faults and sins fade in the light of His glory. “Just” and “just like”: righteous to the point of worship.

“Lord, we just come before Your throne, and we just thank You for who You are. We just ask that You would just bless Hannah in all she does and…” Often, I have encountered articles in which the question is asked–why? Why is there this propensity to use the word “just” when praying? I’m here to answer that query. On a subconscious level, it’s used to submit to God’s will and to acknowledge Him as powerful. “We just thank you”: that is to say, “we, as mere man, cannot possibly come before You with the reverence due Your name, but we are nevertheless thankful.” “We just ask that you would bless…” This is a proclamation that our tiny request pales in comparison to God’s great, awesome power–far more wondrous than we could ever, ever know. I realize that people–to include a few in various prayer meetings I’ve attended–wonder about that consistent use of the word “just”, but I believe it is fully valid.

Just a blanket. with roses on its velvety surface. I’ve read Job and Jeremiah and Ezekiel here, read and reread the Gospel of John and the book of I Corinthians, dreamed of glory and majesty, hoped for answers to prayer and received them when the time was right. How can this be “just”?

Just for You. I’m afraid I must forsake both intellectualism and dignity and salute the children’s author Mercer Mayer for his brilliant idea. In the book of the same title, the protagonist makes every effort to please his parents–with, let us admit it, inconsistent results. And yet, the pronouncement stands–“just for you I do this”, “just and only and especially for you I sew my heart firmly onto my sleeve, where it shall remain never again to be hidden”. And so, I publish this post–just for you, just to share a bit of joy, just, just, just…

Addendum: Title taken from “Just Let Me Say”, sung to radiant effect by Jennifer Anderson.

“Jehovah Jireh”

All day, I had felt as though someone had taken me aside and beaten me to a pulp. Someone named Influenza, perhaps? Everything ached–my knees, my arms, my neck, my shoulders, my head, my hip joints… I’m pretty sure the only muscle that wasn’t crying out in some sort of distress was my tongue. That, I used to form copious complaints about the various ways in which a professional massage would enhance my life.

Underlying all of this was the impression that something simply wasn’t right. I had gotten only four hours of sleep, so it wasn’t surprising that I should be a bit tired–but not this tired, not this exhausted, not this sluggish and weak and generally fatigued and foggy-brained. The malaise was so irreconcilable with any inclination toward activity that I readily stayed home from church this morning, resolving to have Naomi bring home a CD of the sermon. Something was amiss, and I was pretty sure I knew what it was. The last time I had felt this way, my INR had been significantly elevated. I have Protein C deficiency, a coagulation disorder that can cause severe clotting and bleeding if not controlled by limited Vitamin K intake, Coumadin, and Protein C infusions. That’s what you need to know in layman’s terms–much, much more important is what God did this evening.

The INR is one way of measuring coagulation factors in the blood. Therapeutic range for a person without a coagulation disorder is between 0.8 and 1.2. My therapeutic range has varied over the years and depending on treatment plans, but at the moment, I’m supposed to maintain that INR between 1.5 and 2.0. Mine is an extremely rare form of Protein C deficiency, and those levels can and do change more rapidly than in the average Coumadin patient. Also, more factors tend to affect my INR–stress, the onset of a cold or flu, a slight variation in Coumadin dosage, and especially my Vitamin K intake. The same broccoli that most people, even Coumadin patients, are encouraged to take for consistency of diet, may plunge my INR from 2.0 to 1.7 in a matter of three hours.

Never mind all that–my INR was likely high. I did need to be sure, though, so I mustered every bit of emotional and physical stamina to beg an INR test from Jedediah. The home monitoring machine is a bit visual to use, and no one seems to have found a way to equip the CoaguCheck device with either a Braille display or voice-guidance components. I could imagine that Jedediah wouldn’t really want to do the test, not on a lazy Sunday afternoon with the football game on. I understood the need for relaxation–even if I never will be able to understand the “necessity” of football–but I also understood that an INR test was in order, and that somewhat urgently.

While we prepared for the procedure, I speculated as to what my dinner options might be. My INR was elevated–I had already accepted that premise. Probably 2.6 when it should have hovered no higher than 2.0. With that assumption firmly in place, I determined that spinach-filled pasta shells were in order for dinner, and that they coupled with the spinach-topped pizza I had enjoyed for lunch would probably work to lower that INR right on back to 1.9. Perfect solution!

Then, my INR result appeared on the screen–1.6. Not too high at all, but just on the border of too low. And, considering that slice of spinach pizza, a number that might drop within the next few hours.

Immediately, I swung into action. A little more Coumadin, taken a bit earlier than usual. And, because I could, a dose of Xantax–a prescription that I received for indigestion, but which is contraindicated with Coumadin and which I usually have to avoid if I don’t want my INR to soar. Now, let it climb a bit!

Once the practical concerns were taken care of, I had a chance to contemplate what had really happened. Corrie ten Boom wrote that there are no “what if’s” in God’s kingdom, but that we are to trust His provision. I do trust His protection and guidance, but just this once, I think I’ll make an exception to Corrie’s advice about “what if’s”.

If Jedediah had not done the INR test…

Then, I very likely would have feasted sumptuously on spinach, pesto, broccoli, or eggplant. Those were the selections that seemed most appealing at the time–and, besides, wouldn’t they help to lower an INR that was “quite obviously too high”, sight and numbers and statistics all unseen?

If I had enjoyed such a vegetable-rich dinner rather than resorting to minute rice–the least nutritious, but safest possible food, Vitamin-K-wise, might my INR have plummeted?

And if 1.6 had turned to 1.4 or 1.3… The possibility does not merit elaboration, but I’m sure my medical readers and even those who know little about Protein C can fill in some of the blanks.

Now, I realize that God doesn’t always work this way–that sometimes, be it for our refinement or for purposes of His which we cannot, in our finite minds, begin to fathom, He allows us to go through deep and difficult suffering. Naomi, Hannah, and I are all well-acquainted with medical difficulties and the bittersweet emotions they can bring–everything from fear and anguish at our physical circumstances to joy, peace, and trust in the care of our heavenly Father. But right now, in this moment, I have only one thing to say:

Isn’t God good!? Isn’t He faithful and merciful and compassionate? And doesn’t He protect us from things that we can’t even begin to anticipate? Hallelujah!

Addendum: Title taken from the song “Jehovah Jireh” on the album GIVE THANKS by Don Moen.

“Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome”

It was Saturday, 17 August 2013. All day, I had been reminded of 17 August 2002–also a Saturday, and the day on which I had very quietly received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. It was an experience so new, so unexpected yet so glorious, and so seldom addressed among the other Christians I knew, that for three months I didn’t even realize what I had received. Oh, the joy when I eventually had a name for the glory of the Lord that surrounded me on that day!

On this particular 17 August–in 2013, not 2002–Hannah and I sat on the long sofa overlooking the second-story banister. I wish I could make this piece elegant and claim that we sat on the plush, velvet, rose-patterned sofa, but that would be a lie. We sat on a burlap sofa–I kid you not–for that couch was the most economical and, it was thought, would blend nicely with Naomi’s decor. I will forever be grateful to the dipsy-dumpster that hauled that sofa away, and to the company that provided said dumpster. But on that Saturday evening in August, the sofa fabric scarcely mattered. Between us was a medium-sized packing box wrapped in brown paper. To my right was an Olympus Digital Voice Recorder. Taking a deep breath, I switched it on and prepared to use my audio scrapbooking tool to record some of the most precious twenty-two minutes, five seconds of our lives.

On 6 August, my grandmother had announced that she would be sending Hannah and I a package. This was nothing new–always an occasion for gratitude and, depending on the worship materials she sent, sometimes even for rejoicing–but nothing new. Grandma had been sending care packages of sorts ever since I could remember. Everything from a pendant in the shape of a harp and a recording of her reading a book about the Azusa Street revivals to more lighthearted items like microwaveable neck wraps and Fisherman’s Friend cough drops. Anything she thought we could use, or that she just happened to pick up at a yard sale, or that wasn’t readily available in our neck of the woods. Some of my favourite moments came when she sent what Hannah and I thought of as Log-Cabin staples–chocolate-covered cherries that she could purchase, it seemed, by the drove, and a menthol-based rub that served as the most effective homeopathic treatment I’ve ever known for aching muscles. There was never any real rhyme or reason to the packages, either. Sometimes, a handful of old cassettes would be cushioned by rubber bands and straws “because we said we needed them”. The boxes were just love–pure and simple.

Then, her log cabin burned down. This would be the last box from that cabin. Knowing my grandmother, there were likely to be other boxes–but none like this. I’m surprised Hannah didn’t set up her camcorder alongside my voice recorder–but perhaps I’m the only one who scrapbooks moments like these.

Even before the fire, Hannah and I had a special tradition. Each of us would take turns lifting items out of the box. Sometimes, one of us would get a single sock that had come loose from a neatly-folded pair; at other times, we might end up with a paper clip. No matter–it would then be the other person’s turn. So it was that I pulled off the brown paper, which we determined to save for the sheer fragrance of it all. Then, Hannah took her first item from the unwrapped parcel. It turned out to be a series of interesting newspaper and magazine articles–Reader’s Digest, the Saturday Evening Post, things like that. We promptly recorded these before continuing to make our careful way through the box.

The next few items were so unique to the two of us–a hat for my sister, who loves to place all manner of accessories on her head, and a pair of leather slipper-moccasins for me lest our cold linoleum floors overwhelm any semblance of calm for my poor feet. Have you any idea what the fragrance of leather combined with that of antiques can do for the heart? Learn, my beloved reader–now is the time to learn.

These were followed by The Bouquet–some crushed and preserved flowers from my grandmother’s garden, carefully inserted into a tiny ceramic vase adorned with a spun-glass rose. The accompanying note invited Naomi to take this gift, but Naomi said she had no place for it and told me that I was welcome to it. “Brickabrack,” she called it. “Knickknacks,” I amended. And there are very, very few material items I enjoy more than apparently-impractical knickknacks. That vase is much too small to hold actual flowers save those pressed lilacs, which were already in disarray by the time they reached us–so now the vase serves as a repository for jewelry I wear every day but must, for any reason, remove.

What Naomi couldn’t cherish in the rose vase she more than made up for with her delight in some stationery that lingered somewhere toward the bottom of the box. Not any ordinary stationery, mind you, but fine paper bearing sunflowers. Sunflowers have always been symbolic of Naomi’s life in the Lord–just as they grow tall and strong, always turning toward the sun, so Naomi has also grown steadfast through the many trials in her life, turning her heart toward the Son. So, sunflowers are promise and glory and joy and peace, and my grandmother is well aware of this. She might as well have sent Naomi a little placard with John 10:10 on it and a picture of the Good Shepherd holding a sheep. Don’t you love silent, symbolic conversations that go far deeper than words?

And then, the clincher, at least for me–the emblem of all poignancy, of every drop of sorrow and sweetness that had culminated since the fire. Nestled at the bottom of the box was a pure, beautiful handkerchief. Now, you must understand something about handkerchiefs in our house. We do not, and never have, used them for their intended purposes. Instead, they have become prayer cloths. I think the tradition began when I was a newborn. When I was less than a week old, I was diagnosed with a rare protein disorder; I am one of twelve in the world who have it, and it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster, especially when I was young. Anyway, a precious prayer warrior had read Acts 19:12, which describes handkerchiefs and other articles being carried away from Paul to the sick, and that they were healed of their infirmities. Accordingly, she anointed a tiny piece of cloth–not a handkerchief, really, but just a scrap of linen fabric–and prayed over it, asking the Lord to heal me. At the time, my grandmother was staying with my parents and I, and the three of them found a teddy bear and a strong, sturdy safety pin and affixed the cloth to the bear. Although healing was not instantaneous, the Lord did save my life–I was not expected to live beyond two months. I still believe, with every fibre of my being, that He is able to heal me completely, and I trust Him for that healing and thank Him for it every day. So, that cloth came to represent a precious promise–not physical healing only, but God’s love, protection, peace, and faithfulness. I still have that original cloth, by the way–the safety pin is different, the cloth itself has survived many moves and become awfully tattered, but it is now fastened carefully to a pillow I use daily.

The handkerchief tradition didn’t end there. Now, we saturate them in frankincense and/or myrrh, or sunflower-scented perfume, or the perfume we bought on the day when we first discovered some profound truth about the Holy Spirit… Then, we wait for an appropriate occasion–a day on which the Lord showed us something new about Himself. A minor or major anniversary, if you will. Examples: the time I became truly free following a dark valley in 2007; the day I knew that I was altogether restored in 2013; the day I made a promise within myself to live a deeper, fuller life of holiness in the Lord. And then, we take those beautiful handkerchiefs (or, in a pinch, those swatches of velvet that we happened to find in among the craft or sewing supplies), and put them someplace: pinned to bedsheets or pillows or quilts, pressed between the pages of our favourite Bibles, tucked into the pockets of Bible covers, secreted away in jacket pockets, wrapped around voice recorders or other caseless electronics… I write “we”. In reality, who else do you know who uses a caseless recorder or has seven pillows to attach handkerchiefs to? So… The handkerchief tradition is mostly mine, although Naomi and Hannah have participated on occasion. And, yes, I remember exactly what each handkerchief symbolizes and why I placed it where I did–usually down to the date on which I made a tactile reminder of some joyous anniversary.

Back to the box. My grandmother’s handkerchief wasn’t just “any old hankie”. Instead, I made immediate plans to use the same sentimental tactics as at other times. No need to add scent to this one; Grandma’s house in and of itself is its scent. To myself, I said, “16 August 2013: Grandma’s life was spared, and I remembered anew the grace of God, and how wonderful my life truly is in Him. Joy and peace”. And then, I planned to seal this particular handkerchief in a bag–creased and folded so beautifully–and then to tuck it into the lace-trimmed pocket of the Bible case she sent in the package penultimate to this one.

Ah, the Bible case. It came in July, and my grandmother–bless her heart–was so profoundly excited about it. Her theory was that I could use it for the print Bible I carry as a reminder of God’s ability to heal, and as a repository for all the notes, dates, highlighting, and underlining I can’t inscribe in my twenty-volume Braille Bible. But, you see, I already had a Bible case–lace-trimmed, made of white quilted cotton with a sturdy zip fastener, a pocket for handkerchiefs and such, and a metal cameo pin affixed to the outer flap. More symbolism, but that’s another story. This new case was… nice… but that was about it. MY CASE was a promise; this one was simply… lovely. Pink quilted cotton, also lace-trimmed but without the gentleness of the silk-fibered lace of MY CASE, no zip closure… The thing was at once too practical and too fragile. It could not carry my print Bibl. Thinking I should keep it as a remembrance of Grandma’s love in the Lord, if for no other reason, I relegated it to a bureau drawer–a symbol, but not something I would use every day.

How wrong I was! Three days after my grandmother sent the discarded case, Holy-Hands came, bringing Pastor’s old Bible–the one he had used all throughout his ministry. You think I’m bad about highlighting I Chronicles 1:7, just because it’s part of Scripture and for no other reason! Multiply that sort of thinking tenfold, and that’s Pastor’s Bible. However, this Bible is extremely fragile. It’s only been in use for, say, seventy years, but the care with which it must be handled is more reflective of a twelfth-century treasure. Ordinarily, a cotton-quilted, lace-trimmed case would not be the place for a Bible belonging to someone like Pastor, but you must understand what I was doing in making this decision. To begin with, for the first and only time in 2013, I was making a practical judgment call–fragile item must be protected, somehow, and we don’t have thirty Bible covers floating around. The other consideration was purely sentimental–my grandmother and Pastor have shared a special bond over the years, and their hearts for the Lord were the same, or complemented one another. It somehow seemed fitting that Grandma’s strong, practical love and Pastor’s gentler, more theologically in-depth love should be side-by-side.

What is my point? Well, um, it’s a little hard to condense at the moment… I suppose, if pressed, there are three points to the piece of writing that I have named the Parcel Post since I began it on 4 January.

I. Love the Holy Spirit. Adore, worship, and glorify the Holy Spirit. So often, we praise the Father and the Son, as well we should, but tend to forget the comfort, peace, and power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s do something about it!

II. Cherish the details in life. Cherish the handkerchiefs and bedroom slippers and pressed lilacs. Embrace the smile they bring to your face and the poignancy they plant in your heart.

And, if all of this isn’t quite enough to convince you that this piece did, after all, have a point…

III. Some posts don’t need a concise little point. At least once a year, fellow writers, pen something that has no discernible premise and no determinate conclusion. It will be good for your sentimental cortex.

Addendum: I’m entitling this post “Holy Spirit, Thou Art Welcome” because, for the first time, I have felt entirely free to write of the Holy Spirit in a way I have felt compelled to do for months, but which I never had the courage to act upon. The version I’m envisioning is from Don Moen’s album, HEALING. Let us, oh, let us, welcome more and more of the Holy Spirit in our lives!

“We Will Serve the Lord”

Do you know what I have hated, loathed, detested, despised–ever since I was eight? The television. That buzzing little box was my mortal enemy. If this were a fictional account rather than a memoir-sketch blog, I would classify the television as an antagonist, or an outright villain.

Members of the National Federation of the Blind, listen up. I am not giving the visually-impaired community a bad name by admitting this; it is a personality trait and related much more to a series of traumatic experiences than to a simple complication known as bilateral retinal detachment. Members of the general public, you listen up, too. In layman’s terms, all of this translates to the fact that I don’t, and never did, loathe the television because I happen to be totally blind. I dislike that device because it is not intellectually stimulating; because the raw emotions expressed in many shows either remind me of my own difficult past or seem to make light of serious situations; and, above all, because the television has come to symbolise profound loneliness and isolation over the past two decades. Instead of interacting, of playing board games or reading the Bible together or preparing meals side by side, most of my friends and family had screen-related concerns, be they sportsball games or crime shows. Even popcorn, because it is associated with movies and television, takes on a bleak air. And, that device is NEVER, under any circumstances, “the TV”. We award nicknames and acronyms to items of which we are fond, and to designate the television using initials would fabricate an affection that I do not harbour. Even frozen meals are not “TV dinners”, but recreational meals.

January always seemed to be the worst timeframe, as far as television was concerned. January, 2001: Sportsball, right alongside a very serious crisis that is too personal to print. January, 2002: a new move to a new little apartment, complete with television, ostensibly to pass the time. January, 2003: extensive television, albeit some of it of an evangelical nature. NOTE: Pastors who happen to be broadcasting their messages onscreen do not count. January, 2006: Super Bowl snackage and a very lonely Ready Writer on the sidelines. January, 2007: loud programmes of every description, right alongside the worst spiritual valley I have ever endured before or since–not related to television-watching, but associated in my own heart and mind nevertheless. January, 2009: see above. January, 2013: more words spoken electronically than by active human voices in the home, right alongside the second-worst spiritual and emotional valley I have ever experienced.

What is my point? Not bitterness–trust me, this post goes far deeper than an angry polemic. And, to all you Christian readers out there, not superstition. Just because many Januaries have featured isolation and television does not mean that I find the first month of every year responsible for the phenomenon–merely that people get “more relaxed” in the middle of winter, and that many of our more difficult times happen to have taken place then. I simply catalogued all those January television experiences to illustrate the fact that my memory doesn’t function the way most other people’s does, and it never has. You see, it isn’t just television I remember dates for–I can tell you the exact date on which Naomi shared her hot cocoa recipe with the rest of us, the date of a routine dental appointment in 2003, the date on which I acquired most of my music collection, the last time I enjoyed fettuccine alfredo, and exactly what time I woke up yesterday morning (4:36, if you’re curious.) I can describe in vivid detail what happened on 20 February of last year–very routine things. Hannah took me to a doctor’s appointment, we went to the mall for a much-needed neck massage and some less-needed bath salts, and I recorded an audio-journal entry about Naomi’s health. All of this became clear, vivid, and intense shortly after I received the Holy Spirit, but I can see vestiges of the trait even before then; by the time I was eight, I could remember on what days of the week my birthday and Christmas had fallen, and could name the day of the week on which they would fall next year. Going even further back, I remember learning to talk. One of the first things I did when I had enough vocabulary to string sentences together was to remind my parents of incidents that had happened months or even a year or two before, when I was barely a toddler–dreams, bathtimes, the scents of the grocery store, old toys, overheard conversations, you name it!

Until recently, I thought everyone’s mind worked this way. I used to belong to an online writing group and can, to this day, remember nearly every piece of authorial excellence I ever read there. One day in 2010, I met one of these wonderful writers for Mediterranean food and referred casually to something I had written two months before. She had no idea what I was talking about, though she had quite obviously read my little piece at the time. I tried to jog her memory with a few keywords, but she was stumped and probably came away with the impression that I was quite egotistical if I expected her to remember everything I had ever written. Embarrassing? Absolutely! I had only mentioned the piece because I didn’t want to repeat information she had already read because, I reasoned, everyone could remember everything they had ever read, complete with the exact wording…

Sometimes, this excessive remembering gets me in trouble. Once something is planted in my mind and especially my heart, it stays there. This has caused many people to assume I don’t forgive them–if I forgave, then I would forget, right? Not really. Once, back in January of 2007, we all got up in bad moods and someone snapped at me about the thermostat. Very, very minor in the scope of life. I remember that incident to this day–not with bitterness or pain, though that took me quite some time to get over, but because I feel it imperative to remember what was said about the thermostat until or if the heating standards change. It isn’t that I don’t forgive, it’s that I don’t seem to be created in such a way as to enable quick forgetting.

Another thing: My brain doesn’t differentiate between long-term and short-term memory. Everything is lumped together in such a way that the song I sang in church this morning is just as easy to recall as the evening before my little sister was born, back when I was two-and-a-half. This morning, I awoke when Natasha needed to be fed; one day when I was four, I awoke to hear my mother sing out that she had recorded several audiobooks on tape. Today, I went for a little walk around the neighborhood; one day in 1992, my blood levels were too low and I stayed home from school, but my mother and I managed to get a walk in and to enjoy the magnificent fragrance of neighbouring pine and juniper trees. Today, I used white lilac Camille Beckman hand lotion; when I was eight, my mother gave me a tiny sample of her face cream to try just so I could experience the silken smoothness of it all.

Sometimes, though, this sort of thing works against me. On 4 December 2013, Naomi experienced a severe migraine. After going to check on her, I passed someone in the kitchen. This person’s actions triggered a heart-rending memory of 25 February 2010, when a fellow Christian seemed to be rebuking me in the Lord. At once, it was though I were reliving the experience–not remembering it, but experiencing it all over again. It was impossible to escape, and I spent the rest of the day in tears.

What, you ask again, is my point? I’m getting there, my dear reader, I’m getting there. Over the past year-and-a-half, I have come to recognise how rare this way of thinking is. A bit of research yielded the term hyperthymesia, which is derived from Greek words meaning “excessive remembering”. This is the scientific term for my thought processes, but before any of you suggest that I enroll in a formal study, I must emphatically declare that this was a gift given to me by the Lord and meant to be used as a gift, and as something to overcome when it presents challenges. This is between me, the Lord, my family, a special person in my life whom we shall designate Good Samaritan, and my blogging community.

Ever since I returned from guide-dog training, I’ve attempted to explain it to my close friends and family. I wasn’t sure whether anyone really understood, though. Most of the time, I still got the impression that people thought I had cultivated this way of thinking, and/or that I wasn’t a good forgiver, etc.

Until today.

The turning-point came so unexpectedly that I almost put up an unwitting barrier against it. All day, the television had been on. At least it didn’t buzz anymore–we had just purchased a newer model. Sixty Minutes was on. I’m not sure whether I should be spelling out that number or using Arabic numerals, but I’m frankly too lazy and tired to research the matter. Anyway, I was tolerating it–it was better than a crime show, something featuring an obnoxious laugh track, or a football game. Suddenly, Jedediah remarked, “Here are some people like you! People with extraordinary memories, or something.” Even then, I wasn’t so sure I was interested. Watching the segment wouldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know…

Sure enough, the show featured a study that had been performed with some fifty subjects, all of whom seem to have thought processes similar to mine. The only difference is that most of these people associated dates, emotions, etc. with political events or those related to popular culture, whereas I tend to make firmer associations with things involving my spiritual life. Everything else, though, rang so true that Jedediah, Naomi, Hannah, and I spent the entire twenty minutes laughing and learning. The most poignant, joyous moments came when I would explain something and one of the interview subjects would back me up a few minutes later. “This time last year was a really bad time for me,” a little boy might say, and Hannah would turn to me and say, “I’ve heard you say that before!” All those dates that I recall with ease–these subjects were using the same exact schema! Best of all was the discussion of emotions. Subject after subject explained that they couldn’t simply forget difficulties, and that when they remembered various traumas in their lives, it was like reliving the whole thing. “I can’t make it fade,” they said over and over again. I echoed their words, or they echoed mine–sometimes, I would say something only to have it backed up not ten seconds later. Toward the end of the segment, some of those interviewed were asked if they would trade this ability–this wondrous gift, this terrific challenge–for a typical memory. Their statements mirrored my own: collectively, we wouldn’t relinquish this way of thinking for the world. Despite the accompanying hardships, it’s far too precious to surrender.

By the end of the segment, we were all hugging and laughing and acknowledging and understanding. I did not cry–I had long ago become too brittle in this area to expend the luxury tears–but my heart wept for joy. Naomi admitted that she used to wish that I would “just stop”, would simply forget difficult things and go on, but that she understood things so much differently now. Jedediah, who had really had little inkling that any of this was going on, said that he had been educated all-around. My moment with Hannah came later. She was sitting at the computer, recounting a misdemeanor she had committed when we were children and that plagued her to this day. “Hannah,” I said, “I have hyperthymesia. You don’t. Now, forget it!” It’s such a privilege to be able to laugh with a kind, good listener and one of the most understanding human beings on the planet.

All of this has made me feel washed clean. I had always known that I was different, but surely not so different that absolutely no one thought the way I did worldwide. Now, I have proof–and, much more than that, I have the love, understanding, and support of the three people who mean the most to me. What my research and litanies couldn’t do, this miniature documentary did with aplomb. Even now, I’m stunned by the breakthrough we have all experienced. It’s going to be different now–a greater tolerance for my little eccentricities, but also a greater openness on my part and a willingness to accept that other people don’t process life the way I do. At the risk of appearing over-dramatic, I believe that the Lord put that show in our path today and that He gave us the wisdom to watch it.

Now, I have one more date to slide into the filing cabinet of my heart–the cabinet that doesn’t have a drawer or compartment for discarded or seldom-used data. Today, for the first time I can ever recall, the television was used to bring us closer, to close a chasm that had been widening for many months, and not for the desolate purposes that I had always associated with its presence in our house. There is no way I can know how I will feel in a few months from now, but today, in this moment and for the first time, I am exceedingly fond of the TV.

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Addendum: The title for this post is from the song by Rick and Kathy Riso entitled “We Will Serve the Lord”. The chorus seems appropriate to this post: “Hand in hand and heart to heart, / Together in the Lord, / We will serve each other, / All in one accord. / Father, mother, sister, brother, / We have been restored. / United as a family, / We will serve the Lord.” Yes, we are, and yes, we will.

“He Leads Us Along”

My grandmother’s cabin was built in the 1950s, an enormous log affair with four bedrooms, a beautiful loft, a large and inviting kitchen, and the most delightful, airy spaciousness throughout. The table was built as part of the cabin, all of hewn logs, and with two long benches to match. You could do so much with a house like this–hang things from the loft rails, host whole Bible study and prayer groups at that long table, tuck a bed under the sloping roof in one of the bedrooms and open the window in order to listen to the lapping waves from the nearby lake… Once, when my parents and younger sister and I came to stay for a week, Sister of Mine found her niche in a little bed on the mezzanine, where she could look down and see everything that was going on–important, adventurous, whimsical necessities for a four-year-old. I, meanwhile, had been given the distinction of the aforementioned Lake Room, complete with sloping plank roof, a well-appointed window seat, and the softest possible rug on the floor. There was a chair in the room, but the rug did even better duty as a seat–I spent countless hours there, sitting amidst that plush softness with books, journals, and music, feeling as though I were in a field of something ineffably beautiful.

And the things stored in that cabin! It was a veritable attic, from the myriad sets of chimes in the kitchen/living room to the old wicker chairs, to the stacks and stacks of books in the living room, to the antique rugs placed every which where upstairs, to the 1905 gramophone, to the collection of old quilts, to the cameos and other precious jewelry, to the old worship music c. 1972 that no one seems to be recording anymore, to the dresses and robes and blouses and pants of every shape and size, to the button boxes, to the hand-made coffee cups, to the cards and letters and pictures and scrapbooks, to the toys antique and modern… Case in point: My grandmother once found a 110-year-old book of children’s Bible stories in among some more modern books, a few discarded jackets, some videos, and a few containers of vitamin supplements and, calling it “junk”–that is, unnecessary to her life, bestowed it upon me as a matter of course. Another time, she sent a spool doll with a note stating, “School children made these in the nineteenth century. Enjoy it, and throw it away when you’re done.” I think not! But those sorts of things were so commonplace for her that she regarded them with little fanfare.

There are no words to describe the fragrance of that house I cannot adequately describe it save to say that it was leather, books, antiques, and well-cared-for wood, with a touch of myrrh and gentle undertones of peace. That aroma clung to everything she ever sent us, and we couldn’t receive so much as a plastic bag from her without inhaling the beautiful fragrance first. “It smells like the cabin! It smells like the cabin!” was our joyful cry–though, not like the cabin, not like so many antiques, but more like grace and mercy, unconditional love, being set free and restored and healed, conversations about the things of God, Bible study, worship… That was the aroma of the cabin. I once sent my grandmother some pajamas so they could absorb that scent. And, if she ever put dried apricots or chocolate-covered cherries or even oyster crackers in a package, you can bet that the food would even taste of the cabin.

Grandma never kept the blessings to herself, either. I was not the only recipient of spool dolls, antique books, and Scripture in Song cassettes. The cabin served as a sort of lending library. Every summer, my grandmother would have a yard sale and try to get rid of some of the material things she didn’t need anymore–old tables, T-shirts, toys that her fifteen grandchildren had gradually outgrown, boating equipment, etc. But she never, never charged for any material that pointed the reader/listener/viewer to the Gospel; that was always free. Even when the yard sale had run its course, she always sought out people whom she could bless with her books, CDs, and videos. When the recipients were done, they could keep the theological fodder, pass it on to someone else, or return it to the Christian Cabin Library for further informal “circulation”.

On the evening of 15 August 2013, that cabin burned down. The damage was total.

Over four months later, I’m still in shock at this–that all those beautiful memories could be obliterated in a mere three or four hours. My heart aches, for that house was dear to me. If I were going to anthropomorphize anything in life, which I don’t make a habit of doing, that precious log cabin would be my first candidate. On one hand, I mourn the loss of all those precious moments–of every hand-stitched quilt and hand-crocheted afghan.

On the other hand, part of me is in denial. Why, just weeks before the fire, I had perused an obscure British book by Jennifer Reese-Larcomb entitled WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, GOD?. The book addressed those spiritual valleys through which we all travel and, unlike so many other books I’ve encountered, attempted to tackle the question straight-on, to explain why some of us face times when we do not know the presence of God. It was so beautiful that I passed it on to my grandmother, who was reading it voraciously. She, too, was enjoying it and planned to donate it to her church when she was done. I had ordered the book from the Amazon Marketplace and it came to me with the deep, joyful fragrance of the cabin already clinging to it. I think there must be a Spirit-filled, antiques-infused counterpart somewhere in the English countryside… Anyway, I still picture my grandmother with that book. She’s sitting in one of the wicker armchairs in the kitchen, with cushions and furs hiding the flaws in the twisted twigs. A cup of black coffee is in one hand, my book in the other. The phone rings. She puts a bookmark in the book–likely the bookmark that I gave her back in April, the one bearing meaningful Scriptures, and sets the book on the table between the two chairs, intending to return to it when she’s taken the prayer request and promised to pass it on through the church’s prayer chain. But one phone call turns into four, and then there’s supper to get and Sid Roth to watch, and then it’s off to bed. She never does finish Page 57. Now, the book, the bookmark, the table, the coffee cup, the chair, and all the cushions are gone–burned or, if salvageable, sold. It seems so… unreal.

But what is real, what is abiding and steadfast and unwavering, is the faithfulness of our loving Lord. And I can’t overlook the many blessings and miracles that came forth from this time. First and foremost, my grandmother is safe. She smelled the smoke, fled the cabin, and was entirely unharmed–no flare-ups of her asthma, no injuries of any kind. I am daily thankful to the Lord for this–that it was not her time to be with Him, and that she and I are still able to keep in contact. She is having a new house built, and it sounds lovely. It really makes you put things in perspective–a house is just a house, after all.

Then, there’s the miracle of the Bible. Everything was lost except for that precious Book. When the firefighters came, one of the first things they salvaged was the Bible my grandmother has been reading and using for at least fifty years, complete with the dates on which she and others received the Holy Spirit, notes about abiding in Jesus, and modest highlighting–Grandma never highlighted or underlined unless she was certain that she would feel the same way about a passage for the rest of her life. Half of the cloth case in which she kept it was burned, but the Bible itself did not even smell like smoke! On a side note, I just reread the previous sentence and saw that it bespoke a parallel to Hannaniah, Mishael, and Azariah (most of you know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, but I prefer their original Hebrew names). I didn’t mean to create that parallel, but I think I’ll let it stay.

In a way, this whole thing reminds me of how transient our lives and circumstances are–that we are but mere vapours in the light of eternity. One moment, I was talking to my grandmother on the phone that has been connected in that cabin since before I was born, the phone she answered when I made my first independent telephone call at the age of five. The next minute… That phone is no more, but the connection remains. A new landline in a new house, but the same kind, practical, steadfast, trusting woman who loves Jesus and still knows how to pray–still wakes herself up many nights praying in the Spirit. The woman behind those brand-new doors has not changed. She is safe and sustained in heart. In so many ways, that is more than enough.

In all of this, I have been reminded of a love-drenched promise verse and a beautiful hymn. The verse, being God’s wondrous words to us, is of far greater importance–Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” So very, very true. The flames may set our house ablaze, or our pride, or our anger and envy and strife, our temporal possessions or our money, fame, or prestige, and perhaps even our health, body, abilities, and strength, but they will not set ablaze the love of the Lord, the hope that dwells in us, our peace, our desire to live a holy life, our faith, or our trust–our spirit, soul, and heart.

And so I leave you with “God Leads Us Along”, a hymn penned by a man of God named George Young. I’m particularly fond of the refrain: “Some through the waters, some through the flood, / Some through the fire, but all through the blood; / Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song, / In the night season and all the day long.” And, under that definition, covered by the blood, reminded of His gift to us, standing on His promises, we can trust even in trials like these that He, in His infinite mercy, will lead us along. Amen.

“I’ll Still Choose to Worship You”

All right, all right–so this post is extremely long. However, I make it a point to write only what I myself would want to read. If someone else, on another blog, posted something of this length but made it clear that the writing would be detail-oriented and Christ-centered, I would read it. That doesn’t mean that you must read this post–it only means that I’m aware of what I’m doing and conscious that it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. I write for my readers–but then again, sometimes I write simply to thank the Lord. If He wills, I will try to discuss my blogging purpose–and perhaps the art of Christian writing in general from the viewpoint of the Ready Writer at some point in the near future. Meanwhile, enjoy!

At the time of this writing, it is nine thirty-six PM on Tuesday, the thirty-first of December, two-thousand thirteen.

When I said something about the date to Hannah and Naomi, I was met with incredulous laughter and endured five minutes of teasing about how Everyone-Else simply referred to New Year’s Eve. Everyone-Else, you know, is spoken of so frequently that I have begun to convince myself that he is a person, a proper noun at the very least, and deserves the honour of capitalization–particularly since I’m not always particularly adept at following the rules set forth by this nagging, mysterious, exacting Everyone-Else, Esq..

Yes, to you it is New Year’s Eve. To me, it is the thirty-first of December. Why the defiant lack of conventionality? Before I answer, allow me to say that I may come across in the next few paragraphs as a slight stick-in-the-mud, and all readers who enjoy making mud-pies had better vacate the premises or beware of the twig they may encounter in their imaginary gourmet concoctions. Or not. If said mud-pie makers understand that I am approaching life from my point of view, recounting my own personal experiences and not attacking them, their celebration methods, or this all-American tradition of ours, then perhaps I won’t be seen as such a stick-in-the-mud after all, but more like a little sapling planted in ground that just happens to be somewhat sodden from recent inclement weather.

Now, on to my explanation. I don’t classify this day as any different because, frankly, it simply isn’t that big a deal to me. I don’t make resolutions because I can’t possibly know God’s timetable, and how can I ever say what will happen tomorrow or the next day? “Therefore, take no thought for the morrow, for the morrow will take thought for itself.” Besides, what can I resolve to do? A healthier diet, a more rigourous exercise programme, a cleaner house, a determination to do more cumulative good deeds, a self-made promise to work with my guide-dog more attentively, a miniature vow to focus more and daydream about worship music less–these are all externals. If I think of my home as a place to share the Gospel, I will keep it clean without a resolution; if I allow the Holy Spirit to produce fruit in my life, kind words and deeds will be the natural result. First cleanse the inside of the cup or dish, and then the outside will be clean as well–not perfect, but cleaner, and both inside and outside will be more reflective of the glory of Christ. And so, I do not make resolutions for two-thousand fourteen. All right, all right–even I know that that kind of writing will drive all my readers to distraction. Hereafter, 2014. Moving on…

Whether I complete this post in thirty minutes or three hours, I plan to spend some time in worship, then go straight to bed–the midnight hour is for resting or for Jesus, but not for the staying up of it all. Several months ago, the Scriptures which state that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and that we are to be holy and live to honour the Lord even in our bodies were all impressed upon me with a profundity I could no longer ignore; consequently, I have been trying to eat more Biblically, as it were. It’s such a delight to me that I will probably pass on snack platters of sausage and cheese, opting instead for a delicious lunchtime bowl of lentils. I want to serve the Lord my God better and better in heart, mind, soul, and strength–to love Him with my “very”. (For more on loving the Lord “with all your very”, which is the way the original Hebrew reads, you may wish to peruse Lois Tverberg’s excellent book, WALKING IN THE DUST OF RABBI JESUS.) To serve Him as I long to do, I may pass on the football game that will accompany the snack platters and enjoy some time listening to the Keswick Praise worship team. This means that, if the Lord wills, I may be writing tomorrow–not about 2014, but about something random and unrelated, like gift of miraculous physical healing as compared with the Lords slow refining of our inward being, or the moment of worship I experienced on 2 December, or the absolute joy of resting in Jesus, or the various delights of Resurrection Day (never mind that it’s the wrong time of year entirely). All, of course, rather comically unrelated to the subject popularly at hand.

So, if I don’t make resolutions, don’t stay up until midnight, don’t eat New Year’s Day snacks, don’t watch televised games, don’t “ooh” and “ahh” over fireworks, and don’t even write the date conventionally, then what do I do? Will this day slip by me unnoticed? Does it mean nothing to me? No, dear reader–this day means so very much to me, just like every other day the Lord gives me to rejoice in Him. “This is the day that the Lord has made,” proclaims Psalm 118:24. “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Today, more than being the eve of a corporate holiday, is a day to celebrate, to thank the Lord, to love and serve and worship Him.

That said, perhaps I can meld my philosophy with your conventions. What has the Lord done for, through, and in me over this past year? While the answer would fill volumes, perhaps some of it can be reproduced here:

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January, 2013: Not much to report. The month of January was still characterized by a spiritual desert through which I had been traveling since 30 August. Solomon had it right when he wrote in Proverbs 18:14, “A man’s spirit sustains him in sickness, but a crushed spirit who can bear?” I had endured far greater physical turmoil by the world’s standards and had sailed through it on a sea of glorious peace, but January, 2013 was still seeing the fractured state of my heart, and I could scarcely eat a meal without falling to pieces.

Only one day even began to touch the pain. I had gone to see my hematologist for a routine exam, but she ordered a number of tests that were anything but routine. This in itself was unnerving, but then, several nurses all had trouble drawing the required labs and inserting an IV. I’m almost ashamed to admit it now, but I became hysterical–not so much from the pain as from a terror of what might happen next. If they couldn’t insert an IV, then they couldn’t run a CAT scan with contrast; if no CAT scan, then I might be treated for a condition from which I wasn’t suffering or sent home without being treated for a condition from which I might be suffering. And so, I panicked. No matter what I was told, I could not control the tears and screams that overtook me–and any sort of relaxant was out of the question, as relaxants had only ushered in even greater trauma in the past. Right in the middle of this crisis, a nurse approached me and said simply, “Sometimes, singing helps during times like this.” True–singing keeps the singer taking deep breaths. And then she continued, “What do you like to sing?” By this time, I was so terrified that I likely couldn’t have told you my name or here I was. I could have told you that I was a Christian, but I’m not sure I would have, for beneath all the anxiety lurked shame at not having been a calmer servant of God. Now what was I to do? To admit that I loved, cherished, clung to worship music–at a time like this!–I had already tarnished my witness for Christ to such an extent that I feared she might never listen to the Gospel again if I mentioned that I followed Him. I couldn’t be dishonest and deny my Lord, though, so I tried to throw her off-course. “I like all music by Don Moen and Bob Fitts,” I replied, thinking that she would have no inkling of those worship leaders and walk out of the room, dismayed at my preference for obscure music. Instead, she shocked me by drawing the other half of the Ichthys I had drawn in the sand, so to speak. “God will make a way…” she began tenderly. “God will make a way, / Where there seems to be no way. / He works in ways we cannot see– / He will make a way for me…” So, she knew all about Don Moen, who penned that worship anthem following the tragic death of his sister and niece.

So, yes, that was my January–one holy moment, much strife, but a gentle promise somewhere in my spirit that I would soon be free from the anguish that kept me in such misery.

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February, 2013: Absolute glory! Peace! Joy! Surrender! It was on 17 February that the aforementioned gentle promise was fulfilled. By this time, I had almost given up waiting and hoping and praying, but thought I would dedicate one more weekend to seeking His face and His presence through fasting and prayer. By this time, everyone I knew was beseeching me to “just give anti-depressants a try”. The story is one for another post, but I kept resisting well-meaning pleas because I felt then, and feel now, that the Lord did not want me to take that course. So, fasting and prayer were my only remaining option.

Three days of supplication, one worship album, two chapters of a devotional book on rest, and I was soaring on wings like eagles. For the first time in many, many months, I was again able to read Revelation. The joy was so intense that it was almost like the day when, over a decade before, I had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Victory and triumph! In a matter of ten minutes on that seventeenth day of February, all that had been broken in my heart and life was completely restored. Meals I would not have been able to eat the week before were now delectable; worship music whose intricacy had physically hurt my ears was now so beautiful I could have spent all my days and nights in those green pastures.

And the freedom didn’t go away. It only got more and more beautiful. As days became weeks and weeks turned into months, I found that I could remember Scripture that had long been buried beneath sorrow. No longer did I mourn, no longer did I weep. Evenings were spent not in tears, but in learning how to worship again. A skeptical reader once saw this experience summarized and posted on another site and implied that she didn’t feel that this time of rest would last. In response to the question she posed in March–am I still in that place? Do I still rejoice in 17 February’s freedom? Oh, every hour… I could not now be writing unless I were still in that place of freedom, for I don’t write when I feel down-trodden. Writing is a gift I have been given solely to glorify God, and I fear I might misrepresent His Word if I write when I feel discouraged. So, commenter at my former writing community, yes, I am free–and I praise the Lord always for that freedom!

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March, April, and May, 2013: Have you ever experienced church? Not, “Have you ever attended church?” Most of my readers would answer the latter question with a resounding yes, and would likely find my inquiry somewhat silly besides. No, that’s not what I mean. I want to know whether you have ever been completely disillusioned with most of the churches in your area, attended a church function under the guidance of a spiritual mentor, and found yourself so blessed that you could scarcely contain your joy. I want to know whether that church you so reluctantly attended introduced you to a piece of worship–music, prayer, something in a sermon, a new way of taking Communion–that you held in your heart for days and weeks to come. I have. The event was a hymn-sing, the church was affiliated with the Assemblies of God, and the piece of worship was “Sunshine in My Soul”.

Those months were times of learning. During them, the Holy Spirit taught me to trust Him again, to rely on Him completely regardless of circumstance, and to devote my life to serving Him. You see, six-month valleys can take a toll on how we serve the Lord, despite our best efforts and intentions. I had to relearn to read Scripture and internalize it, to listen for His voice and obey His guidance, to enjoy worship music album by album rather than five minutes at a time… I had to learn that, when the Lord promised to heal a minor medical difficulty that Naomi was experiencing, He would do what He said He would. Naomi, by the way, was fine.

However, I also had to learn that God is God, all-powerful and all-knowing, on 15 April–the day on which Hannah was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. I didn’t understand. Hadn’t all trials somehow been eliminated? (I don’t know how I justified that doctrine from Scripture, where it clearly states that the Lord will be with us THROUGH and IN the fire and flood, but you must understand that I was still learning how to stand in my newly-acquired freedom.) At that time, I experienced much anger and denial and almost shut down completely. All I had to hold on to, spiritually, were a promise from Psalm 126 and the hymn that kept floating through my mind. Psalm 126 was most comforting: “He who goes forth weeping … will come again rejoicing.” It was a direct promise from our loving Lord that He would piece even this back together if I would trust Him, and that Hannah’s diagnosis would not somehow plunge me back into the valley whence I had been delivered two months earlier. The hymn was more perplexing. There I would be, putting away groceries and listening as Hannah recounted new and scary symptoms she was experiencing on this MS journey, fretting about what this could possibly mean for her–for all of us!–when, quite unbidden, lyrics would fill my heart and unconsciously pour out of me in song: “There is music in my soul today, / A carol to my King, / And Jesus, listening, can hear / The songs I cannot sing… / Oh, there’s … blessed sunshine … in my soul!” I couldn’t figure it out. Even as I was humming or singing those words, there seemed to be nothing of the sort anywhere near me–only clouds and rain–and yet, here I was, being compelled to sing about gladness and glory! The Lord used that hymn in those days to show me that, while my flesh might be wracked with pain at this new medical crisis in our lives, my spirit could still rejoice, could still love the Savior, could still celebrate His grace and rest on His Word. Or, as Psalm 30 describes it, “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Then, too, there was the period of recovery. When Jedediah proposed a picnic lunch in a scenic park, I found it in my weary heart to take along worship music. As Hannah and I listened to Grace Community Church’s rendering of “Beautiful Redeemer”, we discussed her MS, and it really didn’t seem so bad. Or take the time Naomi and I found that we weren’t really talking or listening as well as we could. It was a long, hard road, but on 26 May, we reaffirmed our deep friendship in the Lord–so profound that it bordered on a covenant. Perhaps it would have taken less time had I accepted Hannah’s diagnosis more readily, but who am I to begin making those sorts of comparisons?

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June, 2013: It was all about learning to trust God in the smallest of details. Long had I desired something that, in the scope of eternity, is really very insignificant–but, how I wanted that little proverbial knickknack! On 19 June, it was given to me, not so that I could rejoice in a simple situation resolving itself but so I could trust even more deeply in the One Who knows the number of hairs on my head.

Then, too, that month was filled with small symbols–an allegory about Naomi’s life in the Lord, a crocheted headband whose every stitch bespoke sentimentality, a bag for anointing oil that Seamstress had so kindly sewn and sent with encouragement and Agape…

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July, 2013: For the first time in many months, I resolved to trust the Lord Jesus with everything I had, everything I feared, every unknown entity in my life–to include the health of loved-ones. Then it was that I was able to listen to songs about heaven again, to read Ezekiel, to pray without ceasing as in days of old. Then it was that the Lord sent us help in the form of Holy-Hands, a precious sister in Christ who, despite her own family’s illnesses and other trials, remains so steadfast that it warms your heart just to be with her for ten minutes. But Holy-Hands did not linger for ten minutes only–she stayed for a week. It was one of the most refreshing times I had experienced in years–fellowship, singing unto the Lord, reading Scriptures together, discussing the Holy Spirit… Everyone needs such a visit at least once. It was a turning-point, for I had prayed for some sort of help, someone to come and help us make sense of Hannah’s MS and other difficulties in our lives–and Holy-Hands announced her visit a mere three days later. Ever since that day, I have known, have understood and internalized, the Lord’s awesome power and His great care for each of us.

All that glory and joy culminated on 22 July and 25 July. Prior to those days, I had longed for a chance to be somewhere else–anywhere else. I was not satisfied with the city in which I lived–too few churches that really preached the Gospel–and I wanted to live in a more friendly town. I remember begging the Lord to let us move several times, pleading with Him that I just wanted a chance to start over and build community… But it was in late July that the Lord convicted me to stop asking for the chance to start over–that I could be a shining light right where He had planted me, and that I must learn to see those around me through His eyes before traipsing off to do “mission work” somewhere else. That realization came with such a magnificent knowledge of His manifest presence that there were no words to sing, to speak, to pray–no thoughts save of His greatness. Hallelujah!

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August, 2013: The moments were scattered, but they were blessed. First, there was the internship I took at a local center for people with various disabilities. The center was not an ideal place to work for any length of time–staff concerns, not consumer conflicts–so the days when the Lord broke some of those barriers were absolutely wonderful. First, there was the young man who came for career counseling. While we were talking, I prayed for him, and the Lord convicted me to tell this man that I had prayed. The man’s response was emphatic–he, too, loved the Lord with all his heart. Actually, he expressed it more articulately, but confidentiality does not allow me to use his actual words. Then, there was the day when the Lord used my guide-dog, Natasha. A young girl asked, with apparent difficulty, to be allowed to pet her. I have a very, very short list of people who may pet my dog because to do so is invasive of personal space and property. But the Lord told me that this as important, so I readily said yes. Come to find out that this girl had communication difficulties, seldom ever spoke to people, and used to be afraid of dogs–that this one interaction was like a miracle breakthrough. Fellow Christians, keep this in mind before saying no to something the Lord may want you to do!

There’s more to August–something about an out-of-state journey to see family, about an early morning in a hotel room, about worship music and angels… But that account is so precious, at least to me, that it must be saved for another post.

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September, 2013: “Arise, My Soul, Arise”. Another magnificent hymn-sing, this one even more Spirit-led than the one in April had been. Two long, weary weeks of feeling separated from God because of all the busyness that was threatening to consume my life. One wonder-filled night, complete with Communion. One simple message–I may, I must, rest in the Lord–even if the world is imposing other priorities. Never again should I allow anything else to usurp my time in His Word or my knowledge of His love. Although the same ill-arranged priorities have been extended to me since that timeframe, I have never again allowed my heart to forget the verse that is indelibly etched there: “Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Now I know, with absolute clarity, that I don’t resemble Martha the hustling servant in Luke X, but Mary of Bethany, who sat at Jesus’ feet to hear Him. That’s all right. Not everyone needs to be in a leadership position to love God and serve Him and His people.

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October, 2013: First, Naomi and I betook ourselves to a Christian conference center, there to participate in a self-directed retreat. Oh, how we both needed it! Naomi was blessed by seeing so many others who loved and served God–a rarity in our community–and I could not get enough of the project we began there. If you have never read, preferably aloud, all the words of Jesus in a single sitting, you must try it. I can’t explain it fully, but it provides an entirely different perspective on His life, ministry, and great and glorious gift to mankind.

That was 7 October-9 October. On the night of 15 October, the Lord Jesus called me back to a life of holiness. He called me in a dream whose details I don’t feel equipped to describe. The message was something akin to the fact that I had been healed emotionally and set free, but that I was now to use the freedom God had given me not just to absorb and to know His joy, but to serve Him and others better. More Bible study, less moaning about insignificant problems, more worship, less idling while waiting for a free three hours, more faith, less fear. For three days, I refused to surrender–and, trust me, this was the sort of call that required a response. I was afraid to repent and tell the Lord that I would return to holy living in Him, though, because I was afraid He might ask me to do something for which I didn’t have the strength. But–oh! the peace that surrounded me when I did surrender. No to say that the rest of that month was easy–it wasn’t. In fact, it was so chockablock with emotional and medical stumbling blocks that I was tempted to give up in despair. Only the grace of God, and His command to live more fully for Him, kept me clinging as tightly as I did to His love and mercy. I didn’t know what direction my little prayer of trust would lead, but then came…

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November, 2013: The changes were small, but I cherished every one. A little extra time to worship here, a decision to honour God in day-to-day life there… For the first time in months, I was able to worship the Lord in both prayer and fasting–not out of desperation, as in February, but out of simple adoration. No, this is not intended as a catalogue of days on which I determined that fasting would glorify God–the way I read the Scriptures, such discussions of fasting are expressly forbidden. I mention it only because that discipline had been missing from my life and the Lord restored it. I had refrained–refused, really–because returning to mundane life following an extensive time of fasting and prayer could be difficult. What a ridiculous reason to refuse the presence of God! And so, the privilege of sacrificing for the kingdom of God is now firmly in place again–and how glad I am to have it there!

It was on 9 November that I decided that even physical things such as what I ate and how I lived my leisure moments should be consecrated to the Lord. Does penne alfredo honour the Lord? If I plan to supplement it with a hearty serving of cheesecake, probably not. If I haven’t eaten all day and that penne alfredo happens to be adorned with broccoli, then it would be acceptable for this temple of the Holy Spirit. Not a maniacal count of calories or measure of micronutrients, since those calculations were never discussed in Scripture–just living life, living it for Him. It has been a pure delight–not bondage, but another way to proclaim God’s praise–with every bite at every meal, my heart can say, “Holy is the Lord!” A decision that posed many ramifications, since there are now things I don’t eat at all such as hydrogenated oils, but such a blessing.

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December, 2013: If I were to classify months by characteristic rather than by Latin name, December would have been “Faith Month” from the second day. First came the tests–all minor, but all designed to teach a lesson. Right up until Christmas Eve, I had to trust that the Lord would provide another minor desire of my heart that, though small in the scope of eternity, seemed great in the scope of the next few months. More seriously, I underwent a medical procedure that had historically been very upsetting, but it turned out beautifully this time. Naomi wasn’t always in the best of health, and her migraines were cause for deep unrest in my heart, for, even though I knew she was going to be all right, her illness several years ago had led to someone criticizing my spiritual life and I was afraid it might happen again. Not a light matter, but certainly cause for my faith to be stretched, shaped, formed, molded, and refined.

And rewarded! You see, besides being “Faith Month”, December was also “Joy Month” and “Promise Month”. Aside from decorating the Christmas Tree–indeed, the whole house!–my family and I did things together that we had not done in years. At the same time, my times of worship and of reading Acts were producing real, tangible, flourishing fruit–not fully ripe yet, but certainly present. One day, I plastered a page of God’s promises on the wall in the corridor just above the thermostat and Naomi, who has not read Braille in many years, found it so important that she spent several moments trying to decipher my complex Braille shorthand. I saw progress on every side, fruit in the lives of every one of the people for whom I daily prayed. Christmas was a joy, and its Christ-centered, peace-filled aftermath lingers to this very hour.

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What is my point in all of this? Thanksgiving, my beloved reader–pure thanksgiving. While I can’t make great, lofty, sweeping resolutions for 2014, I can look back over this past year, behold what the Lord has brought me through, and thank Him for the victory He has wrought in my life and in the lives of those around me. Then, I can trust that His care will be the same in the coming year as it has been through these twelve beautiful months with Him directing my steps. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever”.

Many of my readers will be familiar with the fact that I title most of my posts after worship songs. “I Still Choose to Worship You” is a unique, beautiful Algerian worship anthem of about six minutes. It is available on the album “You Are the Only One”, which is currently awaiting your purchase from the iTunes Store. The song employs vivid descriptions of worship being poured out like fragrant oil from an alabaster box–calling to mind one of my favorite accounts in all of Scripture–and emphasises the need to worship Him, even when our circumstances seem bleak. “Shall we accept good from the Lord, and not [difficulty]?” (See Job 1-3). The song has elements of both joy and testing and has shaped my spiritual life this year ever since I discovered it on 26 February. I encourage you to buy it in the belief that it will prove as much a blessing to you as it has been to me–and, oh yes, in a campaign to bring more global worship music to the United States.