About bethesdalily

I am a worshipper, a sheep, a coin once lost but now gloriously found, a fruit tree, a sixty-fold seed sown by grace in good ground, a child and servant, one among many members of the Body of Christ, a small light and a tiny grain of salt in a broken world needing both, a daughter, a student, a clay vessel, a soldier clothed in His truth and peace, a disciple... I am a Christian. And that, truly, is what matters--first and foremost, above all. What I do, what I enjoy, and what I feel will all change, but "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever". My true identity is found in Him, in His promises and His Holy Word. The "trouble" is, I tend to view life as an olive tree, when all around me others are serving God as fig trees. Not that there is anything whatsoever wrong with fig trees; we need both. Life can't be lived out in olive oil, even if that is the basis for certain anointing oils, grain offerings, etc. What would we all eat--be nourished by? Olive trees are created to produce oil, which must then be used for specific purposes--Biblically speaking. Figs are, even in a Scriptural context, more readily useful--they produce more fruit more quickly, and what they bear may be used immediately, and can more quickly nourish the body. The BODY. So, I'm an imperfect tree that still has to work daily to produce the fruit of te Spirit--just like my fig-tree counterparts. I just have something different to produce, something I long to express. This site, and any blog posts I write, will focus on that "something different", in the hopes that a Christian who has difficulty finding a church and sometimes has her head in the clouds, such as myself, can come to know ancd connect with nourishing, sustaining people who, with their less unconventional ways, can likely teach me a great deal. "What's the difference?" you ask. "What do you mean by unconventional?" Aside from the British punctuation... I eschew some of the visual aids used in larger church services; would rather discuss the coming of the Holy Spirit and compare it with the Old Testament description of the Feast of Weeks than talk about the latest and greatest in CCM; would, in fact, rather enjoy an old album by Martin Ball or Scripture in Song than "rocking out" to Jars of Clay; feel it my duty and calling in life to read Leviticus an d I Chronicles every six months or so, then compare them with Luke and I Thessaloniahs; and can't always bring myself to join congregations for coffee and doughnuts in the fellowship hall after church, particularly if we've taken Communion%2

“Entering His Rest”: A Weekend Worship Poem

Every Friday, I awake in peace–not on schedule, but when my body has had enough rest. I drink an ENORMOUS London Fog, overly sweetened with vanilla and tasting of a quaint sort of purity. Do I need thirty-six ounces of hot beverage? Most of you would say no, but on this day, I do! Well, as the day continues, I worship… I sing with those who love Jesus–everything from Stuart Townend, Don Moen, and Keith Green to old, nostalgic children’s artists like Ernie Rettino… Anyone who loves our Lord. I write, and I teach the Word, and I pray and read. I walk on the treadmill because it is a glorious means of bowing my heart before Him, but I do not engage in other exercises. I do crucial housework, like putting away medication shipments that must be frozen, but I don’t do any straightening beyond that. I communicate on spiritual levels, but I don’t answer work- or class-related calls. I spend time with loved-ones, and it is beautiful. I enjoy my guide-dog, for it is on this day that we have time to just be together, she and I, without the busyness that attends the rest of the week. I anoint the places I and my loved-ones frequent most, praying for them directly or by proxy. Often, I undertake a project related to the things of the Lord–unpacking several volumes of a Braille Bible and comparing the new translation with my other Bible versions, reading the Passion accounts in John 18-19, working toward completing a Bible-based Librivox recording… I listen only to material contained on my iPod–Shekinah-related, or at the least wholesome, material that I KNOW to be righteous. I take time to look at collections and collages of beauty–things like polished rocks, not one like any of the others. I find quiet sanctuaries–rooms and times and places to be alone with the Lord. I end the day with a semi-extravagant meal, worshiping all the while. And then, there’s the close of the day–rest and slumber, knowing that I have been washed from weariness, both inside and out.

This is my Sabbath.

Why on Friday? Logistics only, beloved readers. Both Saturday and Sunday tend to be overflowing with necessary work–errands that can only be run over the weekend, an extroverted church that tends to overwhelm my introverted self, much hustle and bustle and noise. By contrast, Friday is quiet and restful enough to really treasure. So, for the time being, Friday it is. The heart intent of the fourth commandment, as I see it, is to set aside a day consecrated to the Lord, and to rest on that day–doing nothing in my own strength, but dedicating my VERY to Him.

This Friday’s PROJECT involves telling others what He has done for me. Last week’s moment of “spiritual productivity”, not work but an outpouring of praise, consisted of a little poem that God gave me. I’m pasting it below for any possible edification it might hold. Before you read it, though, a few concepts:

I. This poem was supposed to consist of seven stanzas, each with seven lines–completion and perfection in the Lord. However, He gave me another verse, and I couldn’t discard it…

II. Mariocoi is the Greek word for “blessed”, but means something greater than a mere sort of happy reward. It means something akin to “joyed, satisfied, and contented at your very core, deep within your soul and spirit”.

III. Hesed: An English transliteration of a Hebrew term meaning “lovingkindness”–the Hebrew equivalent of agape.

IV. “Bread and wine”: In that stanza, I’m referring to Communion, but also to the Friday evening meal I often enjoy with my loved-ones. Private Communion first, often earlier in the day, and then this celebratory meal, in which there is sometimes literal wine and a large loaf of bread on the table.

V. The fireplace referred to in the seventh stanza is actually symbolic of certain wholesome books that I take in each Friday. Though not directly Christian, they are gentle and nostalgic, like playing a board game or, yes, like a crackling fireplace. A good way to relax so that I can sleep that night, a transition between radiantly holy things and mundane matters. They still border on brightness and joy, but they also act as camomile, making it less challenging to transition between rest and work.

VI. Chiming hours: Not because of a clock, but because of the Northern Lights. I own various sets of chimes, many of them decorated with Christian symbols and inscriptions, all of varied and beautiful sounds. They sing of church bells, of harps, of pianos and tambourines, of wholehearted praise. I was once told that the Northern Lights are the visual equivalent of those chimes. So, chiming hours refers to wind-chimes and to what the Alaskan Northern Lights must surely be like.

VII. The title, “Entering His Rest”, comes from Hebrews 4. For, my beloved reader, whether or not you agree that I should be observing a day set apart, or that that day should be a non-Sunday, this Sabbath poem is really more metonymy than anything else. “Sabbath” is a part of a whole, an earthly part of the whole, wondrous rest that our Lord Jesus provides.
And, on that note:

Entering His Rest

Listen to the Sabbath silence–
Look back on all the days
You served with diligence and care
With excellence and praise…
But in these early morning hours,
Simply thank Him for His rest.
Oh, today! Today, the Sabbath!

Listen to the Sabbath stillness–
Raise your hands and bow,
And as you hear His still, small voice,
Surrender hoe and plough.
For it is by His might, not yours,
That all your toil is blessed.
Oh, worship Him this Sabbath!

Listen to the Sabbath, singing–
Walk with Him each step
In fear and awe and holiness,
And let Him guide, direct…
See Him go before you
As you’re walking, fully dressed
In royal robes, for Sabbath.

Listen to the Sabbath, shouting–
Read till mariocoi
Sweeps through you, cleansing, filling you
And dancing you with joy.
Shalom your heart, abide in Him,
And take in His hesed.
Oh, hide His Word this Sabbath!

Listen to the Sabbath, speechless.
Encourage from His Word,
For ministry is never work
When poured out through the Lord.
Yes, in your heart, be speechless,
But use your mouth! Attest
That you are His, this Sabbath.

Listen to the Sabbath, soaring!–
Feast on bread and wine,
Make all your moments gifts to Him,
In spirit, soul, and mind.
Yes, even mundane things are filled
With joyful, wondering zest
Upon this holy Sabbath.

Listen to the Sabbath, smiling,
Treasuring the time
He gives to you for earthly things–
For family, fireplace, and rhyme.
Enjoy these chiming evening hours
Of leisure at its best.
Oh, cherish this, your Sabbath.

Listen to the Sabbath, sleeping–
A gift for His beloved.
Let peace and comfort cover you
And let your soul be salved.
For you are free, pure, clean, and whole,
No longer bound, oppressed…
Lord, thank You for this Sabbath.

“Talitha Cumi”: His Touch, His Word, His Voice

Please Note: This is the text of a speech that I recently delivered to a Bible class. If you have any further questions, please feel free to leave me a comment and I’ll get back with you.
Beloved readers, my heart would like to ask yours a question. Have you ever felt like you were dying–even after you came to know Jesus? Have you ever felt shriveled up, weighed down by sorrow or pain or fear, like you were going to wither away? Have you ever felt dry and parched spiritually? I know I have–sometimes for weeks or months. All the gory details would fill pages, perhaps volumes, if I wrote them down. But the Lord Jesus has given me an answer so great, so glorious, that it would fill entire libraries–never mind my few pages!
In Mark 5:40-43, we read of a child who had just died: Jesus “took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi”; which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” And immediately the girl got up and walked (she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.”
This child had died physically; have we ever felt so sick at heart, or in soul or spirit, that nothing else mattered and we couldn’t see clearly?
And yet, my beloved readers… Can you see Him? In that desolate room, amid such grief, He took the child by the hand. He does the same for us–He touches us with tenderness, comfort, compassion. Then, He speaks. His message to us has three parts:
“Little girl”… We may not be able to understand the intensity of this because of cultural differences, but He was identifying with who she was in that moment. Perhaps the translation read more like, “My child.” How does He address you? “My son? My daughter? Dearly-beloved? Young man? Chosen vessel? Man of valor”? Or does He call you by name?
“I say to you”… This is so powerful because Jesus’ authority is more than enough for our need, no matter how great it may seem to us. “I say to you,” says our Father, says His Son, says the Holy Spirit. This is the most important part of the message, and it is enough. Oh, do you hear that authority in His voice!?
“Arise.” That simple command follows directly from Jesus’ authority. Because He is all-powerful, we may arise–not in our own strength, but in His.
This is what Jesus says to us. Now, let’s look at what He does for us.
The girl stood and walked. Immediately–there was no protracted recovery, no continually feeling weak, no waiting to see whether she was really healed. No, she stood and walked, and ate. That is the power of God–His power allows us not only to rise, but also makes us whole enough, often immediately, to walk with Him and to feast on the Bread of Life.
And when He does, the result isn’t just revival in our own hearts. Mark says that all who knew of the girl’s healing were amazed. When Jesus touches us, we are able to so radiate His glory and presence that others will see His work in us and glorify God. That goes back to what many of us are learning about ministry–God works in us to comfort others, all for the aim of furthering God’s kingdom.
I hope the answer for you is no, but I’ll ask again. Do you ever feel like you’re dying–though you have tasted His goodness? Call out to Him. Ask, seek, and knock. He says the same thing to all of our hearts. Calling to you tenderly, touching your life, He will command, “I say to you, arise.” And soon, perhaps in the next instant, you will be strengthened. Even those around you will be amazed, and you will go on your way, leaping and singing and feasting… REJOICING!

“Sweeter”…

I thought–no, I knew–that there could never be any more peace than the day I gave my heart to Jesus. Nothing could ever be as comforting as that day when I was four, taking Communion in that Christmas Eve service and somehow, by God’s precious Spirit, knowing deep within the significance of what He had done for me. No, nothing could be more peaceful than choosing to trust Him always and follow Him with my life, my very, my all.

I thought- that there was no greater joy than receiving the fullness of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. To guide and to fill my every moment, to comfort in times of sorrow, to lead me in the Word of God, to fill me with a knowledge of His presence… To have gifts and blessings poured upon my heart–things that I had literally not known existed until He “clothed me with power from on high”. No, there could be no greater joy.

I assumed that there was no more beautiful wisdom than the day I asked Him to help me memorize His Word, and He answered. Oh, I couldn’t quote verse references–my mind reads the lines, not the numbers. But suddenly and without any great effort on my part, Philippians and John, Ezekiel and Daniel and Revelation, Jeremiah and Luke–all were stored in my memory. And through His grace, I understood what I read–not all, not perfectly, but a good portion. To study those beautiful red letters especially was my greatest delight. Certainly, no greater wisdom…

I was certain that there was no more awesome glory than 3 February 2003. That day is difficult to write or speak of, so marvelous were the things that He showed me. Things about the throne of God, about the meaning of “shekinah”, and one sheep who heard His voice–all while “I Can Only Imagine” played in the background. No greater glory!

Many years later, I thought the sorrow was insurmountable. I can’t say that there was “greater sorrow”, for the Bible does not measure human anguish by degrees: we are in turmoil, we take it to the Lord, He sets us free–but pain isn’t compared with pain. So, I shan’t say that the devastation I experienced was “greater and greatest”, but I do know that it led to a year of fear so deep that I could scarcely rise in the morning and misery so profound that I found it hard to breathe. Day after day, I cried out to the Lord… Until I stopped. Stopped, because I felt that He did not hear me after all. Stopped, because I wondered whether this distress was somehow part of His will. Stopped, because I was simply so weary. Then:

I thought there was never such exquisite hope as 23 June 2015. I was trudging through a workout and listening to anything that happened to be playing on my iPod when I came upon an old CBH Ministries podcast. CBH: The Children’s Bible Hour, which none of God’s servants are too old to enjoy, for those children have revival in their hearts. Anyway, the podcasted radio program opened with a little tune called “Brighten Up Your Pathway with a Song”. Oh, such intensity as was wrapped in those two minutes! Those anointed worshipers were singing of the One Who could right all wrongs and fill all emptiness. Powerful, powerful conviction. In the next moment, I had flung my workout and the treadmill’s safety key to the wind, danced my way upstairs, and stood near the thermostat. The temperature controls, you see, have a little slip of paper hanging over them–undecorated save for a border that I only added recently. On this sheet are written all the promises that God has given to me and my brothers and sisters in Christ. One by one, I reread what I knew in my heart but had temporarily forgotten. Knelt and prayed and asked God’s forgiveness for such unbelief. Held to His promises, clung to His provision. Most assuredly, I thought, there could be no greater hope.

Then, too, I was convinced that there was no greater rest than that evening–hearing His words from Exodus to the effect that I must remain still and see His salvation, treasuring absolute wonder as I went to sleep, and waking in the night to more of the same. No greater rest.

And when He did as He said He would, I knew that there was no greater freedom than 12 August 2015. Release from all strife–and in a way that only our loving Lord can accomplish. In one evening—a mere two hours–all of the desolation of the previous year was cleansed completely and in its place was something very near to a covenant, an agreement between myself and the Lord and one precious sister in Christ. Now, with no earthly friction swirling around me, I could focus on working for the Lord. No greater freedom!

Digressing for a moment… I thought there could be no greater holiness than 3 July. My sister and I had decided to attend an early fireworks display. As we waited for the festivities to begin, we began to sing to the Lord, so filled with praise were we. Hearing us, a little girl of perhaps seven approached and began worshiping the Lord, too. To this day, I am convinced that the Lord put each of us there for a specific purpose: the child was there to be encouraged, my sister was there to encourage, and I was there to listen–just to listen and absorb the love of God. No greater holiness, I affirm in a whisper. Standard font is too common for moments such as these, so my readers shall have to imagine small, humbled font–the kind you’d use if you were nearly too overwhelmed to even begin putting pen to paper but knew you must.

I knew there was no greater awe than 7 July. I ought to let the date stand on its own merits, so ponderable is it. Mary treasured many things in her heart, and the longer I live in the Lord, the more important it becomes to let certain things remain unspoken while emphatically thanking the Lord for them. Suffice it to say–no greater awe.

Without question, there was never any greater delight than Tozering a brother in Christ. If you don’t know what I mean, beloved reader, make your way to sermonindex.net and download all of A. W. Tozer’s sermons on the attributes of God. ATTEMPT to wrap your mind around them, though you likely won’t succeed. The sermons are that profound; even Tozer himself said that he couldn’t explain the absolute depth of God’s infinite grace, love, and holiness–and he was trying to preach about these things! On 16 July, the Lord enabled me to relate Tozer’s ideas in a less scholarly manner that this brother could understand. A mighty, mighty work was wrought that evening. No greater delight, honor, joy, or privilege.

I thought there could be no greater work for the Lord than the prayer ministry in which I became involved. Surely, this is the most fulfilling thing I have ever done outside the prayer-closet throughout this wondrous walk in the Lord. To be able to offer prayer freely to those who may need it, to discuss the things of the Lord–oh, it is beyond words! To lead devotions for the staff at the organization at which I volunteer… I will never be able to hear Keith Green’s song “Stained-Glass” or read Mrs. Cowman’s Springs in the Valley without thinking of this time of serving my Savior. No greater work than this, surely.

I am certain in this moment that there is no more fruitful season than the one I now have the joy of experiencing. Fruitful and beautified and harvest-like–a rich combination of green pastures and delightful gardens. And how detailed this time has been! Hitherto, I have avoided excessive detail in this account because it seemed irrelevant. However, I will say that the past several months have included many a foray into the allegorically-based teachings of Alexander White, the hymn “Oh, the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus”, and extensive studies in the book of Acts. Any refrigerator with unique magnets now holds profound associations–I can’t look at such a refrigerator without seeing the magnets on the staff refrigerator at the place where I do prayer ministry. London fog tea lattes taste like peace, and the summer Under-the-Weather tent is a place of worship and study. Jana Jackson’s music and a special prayer conference go together. A favorite room, whose exact location is arbitrary, contains a shelf with a large Bible on a stand. Cheese, crackers, and cucumbers will never cease to remind me of lunches with a beautiful woman of God. Then, there have been the fun things–the Jesus Our Savior Busy Bible, for example, which is a Bible storybook intended for young toddlers but which the former reviewer in me had to investigate anyway. That book, austensibly for a young audience, had at least three people in tears of adoration when I showed it to them as a sort of light novelty, so Spirit-filled was that little book. Oh, such joyous moments in Him!–and certainly, I reason, no more fruitful season than the one I’m experiencing now…

No greater guidance than 24 September–of that I am certain. Over the years, the Lord had given me some specific guidelines as to how I must conduct my own life. One of the most important pertains to how I minister to others: neither numbers nor finances nor other earthly statistics may dictate my interactions–only the working of the Holy Spirit in my life and that of the other person/people. Not quality over quantity, but quality instead of quantity. Well, recently, I was pressured to relax this standard. Statistics were needed for the proper running of the organization, and this was proving extremely stressful–to the point that I was no longer acting out of love. Right in the midst of this fight with conformity, the Lord reminded me of what He had shown me over the past several years. Then, deep within, I knew He was asking me whether I would actually apply what He had shown me, or whether I would discard it and allow it to remain theoretical in my life? The struggle was great, but I eventually surrendered in the knowledge that all necessary statistics were in His hands. I was to remember quality only, provide the numbers that I was told to provide, but not to worry about them beyond providing accuracy. Such unspeakably glorious guidance.

I just know that there is no greater Agape than that which the family of God has shown me over the past few weeks. A casual request for prayer galvonized at least two people into true, sincere petitioning on my behalf. Then, there’s THE CHURCH. At last, I have found a place to worship! Lacking available transportation, I had searched throughout the city for a church that provided rides to those who couldn’t just jump into their cars. The one I found is a good forty-five minutes from home, but they don’t care. It’s not that they are so terribly gracious that I’m made to FEEL comfortable; the staff truly seems to find the extra time and gas inconsequential. Quality over quantity! And once through those welcoming doors, the church is filled with the Holy Spirit in all love and fellowship–with God, and also with the brethren. Time and words fail me to speak of solid, Biblical worship; of a sermon that filled to overflowing; and of the pastor’s joyous words during Communion. No greater Agape, Shalom, or Hesed.

Today, there is no greater consecration than that found at Bethesda. Bethesda–my House of Mercy, the home that the Lord has provided. After much prayer, the Lord removed several proverbial mountains that seemed to be standing in my way and began to strengthen my entire family in profound, even miraculous, ways. The result was a Bible study that left me speechless, a time of intense worship, and a series of plans to remain steadfast in His service. Just as Lazarus’ house was filled with the fragrance of costly oil after Mary anointed Jesus’ feet, so my family’s home was filled to overflowing with the presence of God–times of holiness for which I have no words. It was something to absorb, to enjoy without comment, to kneel down and thank the Lord for, to rejoice in and dance in and try to sing about but fail–the Light of the world, the Bread of Life, and that thirst-quenching living water. It was overwhelming–not a cup running over only, but also a sacuer… Our entire tabletop, so to speak, was filled! Oh, no greater consecration or purity.

I feel this way–assuming that there could never possibly be anything greater than what the Lord has already given us–and then He showers still more blessings on our way. The things of the Lord, in their various facets, are the one thing that we can never be weary of. Things of this earth–every intellectual pursuit, every new car or house or electronic gadget, every travel experience–after awhile, even the best of these begin to lose some of their sparkle. We seek for some new amusement, but with the same results… But the infinite, incomparable presence of God never loses its splendor. The same joy I’ve experienced day after day after day since beginning to walk with the Lord still seems brand-new, just as beautiful as “the hour I first believed”. In this precious time of seeing Him more clearly, I am reminded of 2 Corinthians 3:18: “we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord”. And for the moment, examining this verse, I say… No greater renewal.

Addendum: The song that must needs accompany this post is from Travis Cottrell’s album ALIVE FOREVER. “Sweeter”–the title says it all, as does the oft-repeated line throughout this celebration anthem: “Every day with You, Lord / Is sweeter than the day before”. Yes and amen!

The Chocolate Muffin; or, Doctrine, Biblical Symbolism, and Worship–With Illustrations!

Note: I’m placing this in “Allegory” because it focuses on symbolism and I feel that creating a category solely devoted to symbolism would be counter-productive.

Sunday, 15 April 2012. It was the first time I had been to church in over six months. There was prayer, there was worship, there was a beautiful if slightly percussive rendition of “Amazing Grace”. There was Scripture reading, from a translation somewhere between the Living Bible and the Message paraphrase. The sermon was good, relatable to most, very sound. The church believed in the active gifts of the Spirit, in baptism by immersion, in the cleansing gift of salvation.

But I’m not here to talk about the church or that service. I’m here to talk about Naomi, the church bulletin, and a chocolate-chip muffin.

For months, we had been inundated by false doctrine. I shan’t go into detail here, but will say only that several churches in our area had been teaching in error. Now, Naomi and I were both so nervous and weary that we were on our guards against nearly everything. As she skimmed the bulletin that morning, a name jumped out at her–a guest speaker? A pastor? A missionary? I do quite a bit of apologetic reading, so she directed her inquiry to me. “Otis Spunkmeyer–is he sound?”

Well, as most of my readers are aware, Otis Spunkmeyer has never made himself any sort of public evangelist–at least, not that I’ve read… A closer reading of the bulletin revealed that “Coffee and Otis Spunkmeyer pastries will be served in the fellowship hall”. Well, I’ve heard of a fruit-check–the Word clearly states that men are known by their fruits–but a pastry-company check?

Looking back, I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or analyze–chuckle over the reading faux pas, or weep for the caution that drove us to such extremes. Frankly, it is a poignant moment if you’ve been so long in a fellowship wilderness that you must question every name that comes to you from a bulletin. However, I think a different course of action is in order. I don’t believe Naomi ever got her question answered, and what kind of friend would I be if I didn’t take her seriously? Does Otis Spunkmeyer, or does he not, have good theology? Let’s investigate.

Well, I know that I used to invite this gentleman into a place of worship. For several years, my home contained a room we all designated The Chapel–a place of Scripture reading, working on ministry projects, and general moments in Jesus. During several evenings in 2004, I took a cup of coffee and a chocolate-chip Otis Spunkmeyer muffin into that apartment and placed them on a low stool. Using the stool as a table, I sat on the floor near the bookcase, where I had easy access to the Bible and the CD case full of worship materials. And then, abandoning my dessert tradition before it had even begun, I would listen and read. 1 John 2:27. “Let Your Anointing Fall” by Don Moen. Prayers for more and more of His glory–rivers of living water. Feeble but heart-felt attempts at knitting a Bible case for Naomi. More worship. Purest adoration, basking in His presence. Although there were days when the coffee grew cold and the muffin dried out before I even thought to eat it, the fact of an Otis Spunkmeyer muffin in the Chapel remains. Now, I ask you, would I bring a man who wasn’t sound into these precious 2004 moments?

But all of that is personal experience. Let’s be a bit more scientific about it, shall we? We shan’t examine such things as calories and micronutrients, for those elements are never mentioned in Scripture. Instead…

* Firstly, I believe that the package designates Otis Spunkmeyer chocolate-chip muffins as Kosher dairy. Beauty, peace, and holiness! Kosher items are always sound.

* Wheat flour… What of all those wheat-related parables in Matthew 13?

* Milk products: Hmm. The Israelites were promised “a land flowing with milk and honey”, and we are told to “desire the pure milk of the Word”. More Biblical significance.

* I have no immediate access to the ingredients on a typical chocolate-chip muffin, but it would be more than reasonable for the pastries to contain salt. Symbolism: “You are the salt of the earth”…

* These muffins contain sugar, which is not nearly as Biblical as honey. However, just as no Christian is perfect, not all ingredients in food are perfectly Biblical. This symbolizes grace.

* Again, this is hearsay since I do not have access to an ingredient list, but I assume that these muffins came into contact with water at some point. I’ll let you figure that one out on your own. Naomi knows. If she ever stumbles onto this post, I will say for her benefit, “crystal-clear”.

* Of necessity, these pastries contain leavening. What of the parable of the yeast? Oh, I cherish Matthew 13!

* While certainly not present in chocolate-chip muffins, Otis Spunkmeyer cinnamon rolls contain, well, cinnamon! And did it ever occur to you, my beloved readers, that cinnamon is mentioned in Exodus and in the Song of Solomon?

* All muffins are wrapped in plastic, which isn’t Biblical in the slightest… But they are also encased in paper. Paper—parchment. Parchment–very special words, some of these being red letters. Not a direct correlation, but a vague association.

So much Scripture attached to so many ingredients. Such an abundance of joy and celebration during those prayer-closet dessert sessions.

Now, I could conclude this post one of two ways. I could play the role of a teacher and say, “My beloved readers, this is the way we must strive to think daily. Every minute of every hour, we should contemplate the things of the Lord–when we lie down and when we rise up, when we come in and when we go out. Prayer without ceasing. Whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure–think on these things. To attach Biblical significance and symbolism to mundane experiences transforms those temporal objects and brings us closer to the Lord, even in our thoughts.” I could continue in this line of lecturing for several paragraphs, but to do so would be in clear violation of the “show, don’t tell” principle. So I will take the other route and conclude that:

Yes, dear Naomi, Otis Spunkmeyer is doctrinally sound.

Addendum: This post was composed while enjoying a glass of milk and–you probably guessed it!–a chocolate-chip Otis Spunkmeyer muffin. It was written not in the Chapel, but in the Sanctuary, another one of the many prayer-closets that comprise my life.

A Words Sketch… Of Words!

Lamb.

Seek.

Salt.

Fasting.

Table.

Birds.

Fisher…

Banquet.

Manna.

This is the evening-word tradition, and it is exquisite in beauty. It is the last thing Jedidiah says to me every night—the last human interaction I have at all, in fact, before ’tis off to rest and repose for me.

It all began several months ago. I had remarked to Naomi, Hannah, and Jedidiah that it would be so nice to conclude the day with something beautiful or edifying or even simply wholesome. Too often, we have a stress sandwich in our lives—a thick slice of turmoil, a thin and watered-down spreading of respite, followed by another coarse and grainy slice of strife–when we should have a joy sandwich, in which the Bread of Life is primary and frustration is not the focus. I proposed the “last wholesome word” idea in order to minimize some of that emotional tumult. Complete all that we need to do, then read and sing, then pray, then take ourselves off to bed with one single thought in mind. We all agreed to do it, but Jedidiah is the only one who has consistently remembered. Even after I long would have forgotten this part of our evening routine, Jedidiah continues with our word-recitation. Our WORD recitation?

And so it is every night around 11:00 PM: “David”. “Tabernacle”. “Seeking”. “River”. “Fruit”. “Solomon”. Once, the word was something like “lampstand”. In three seconds and two syllables or less, we’ve discussed everything from Levitical offerings and the glory of our risen Lord as found in Revelation to Jesus’ interactions with those who loved Him. Often, the word is abstract and I really have to ponder it before understanding the reference. Other times, the word has multiple meanings. When Jedidiah said “birds”, he could have been referring to the specific references to the seven pairs of birds brought onto the ark, to the many Scriptures about doves, or to the verse that proclaims that we shall mount up with wings like eagles. Jedidiah seldom explains the words he has chosen; they are for me to internalize—”show, don’t tell”, you know.

Sometimes, I attempt to exchange words with Jedidiah—he says “tablet”, and I am very tempted to say “covering” or “cheribum”. But then, just as I begin to hand him the word I have spent all night thinking of, something in his tone or in the very majesty of the word he has chosen stops me—stuns me into awed silence at the beauty of our holy, holy God. So, usually, the words go only one way.

I wonder if he knows, Jedidiah, the man whom the Lord loves. I wonder if he knows that I cherish the word-a-day tradition and the principle behind it. He has read Deuteronomy—numerous times, I’m sure—but does he remember what is written in chapter six, verses seven through nine: “[you] shall talk of [God’s commandments] when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. And you shall bind them as a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates”? Does he remember, and does he know how intensely meaningful the tradition is to me?

I have a word for him. It is morning as I write this, not evening. Jedidiah has not yet given me his treasure of a word, so I cannot be so swept away by God’s awesomeness as to forget my meagre little phrase. Writing it is not part of this tradition—too formal for something generally spontaneous. And yet, despite all of this, I have a word—nay, perhaps several words–for Jedidiah today…

Brother.

Beloved.

Servant.

Agape.

Grammatical Aside: You don’t get an addendum today—just a critique of our language! I wrote of “three seconds … or less”. Shouldn’t that more accurately be “fewer”—”three seconds or fewer”—since “seconds”, unlike “sand” or “water” or even “time”, can be tangibly counted? Yes, “three seconds and two syllables or FEWER”.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

So, my beloved readers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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