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”.

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“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.

Jesus Loves Me”; Or, This Week: A Words Sketch

They have come down like snow, one blessing piling softly upon another like the purest, most intricate flakes.

All week, I have been working on a little portfolio that will serve as a family heirloom in years to come–an annotated list of all that the Lord has ever given to us, a book of all His provision and all that we have enjoyed as far as sentiment is concerned.

For days now, I have been enthralled by Allegorists’ songs. Who is Allegorist? Oh, my precious readers, perhaps I shall blog about him someday, but his music–public though it is–is private in my heart and his name is not as relevant to you as what you may think. So, Allegorist… His music, almost heartbreaking in its beauty and simplicity, has wrapped its way around my sentimental cortex like another layer, insulating me from all the storms that have threatened. Thanks be to God!

For the past few days, I have been in and out of the crawl space that Jedidiah recently finished. In go boxes of CDs and books, bags of old mementos, folded blankets and old scrapbooks, journals, and portfolios. But it’s not just a storage space. Behind all the bags and boxes is an open space, a place I am quickly turning into a prayer closet. Close the three-foot crawl-space door, travel behind the sloping ceiling and past the stacks of boxes, and you’re in a little corner devoid of all sound and pain and negative association, empty of clutter and expectation and burdens. There you sit or kneel or bow before Him, knowing His nearness and wishing you had remembered your Bible–or are you supposed to be unpacking boxes? You forget… You raise your hands and encounter the freshly-painted ceiling just a few inches above your head, remembering the time you came down here in secret one day, dedicated this “room” to God’s service, anointed a tiny out-of-the-way corner with oil… You listen to the silence, thank the Lord for all that He is–for His power and glory–and then, reluctantly, leave that newly-formed sanctuary in search of yet one more memento box. There will be time for prayer-closet aspects soon enough.

Yesterday, Jedidiah and Naomi and I ate dinner out. The restaurant was a chain, not a four-star experience, but–oh!–it was perfect. Fresh, fresh broccoli. Penne noodles celebrating amongst cheddar and Monterey and pepper jack. Bread with the tiniest hint of garlic. Iced tea, with lemon that tasted like restoration and like coming home from a long, excruciating journey. Lemon, in fact, that tasted like sitting in a tiny rocking chair at the age of three, rocking back and forth on those little wooden slats and tracing my finger across the cotton seat cover while a recording of “Jesus Loves Me” played in the background. Afterward, I remember, we went to a restaurant and I had my first ever glass of iced-tea with lemon and the tiniest hint of sugar.

Perhaps that’s where this thought of “Jesus Loves Me” began. Perhaps it was yesterday’s beverage that planted the whole thing in my heart: “Jesus loves me… Jesus loves me. Jesus loves me! JESUS LOVES ME!” Or perhaps there is no connection whatsoever. Perhaps it is simply the glorious love of the Holy Spirit–wonderful and awesome is He!

Then, there was Christian Contractor. Ostensibly, she’s a professional who has worked at nearly every non-profit this state has to offer. Beneath that surface, she is a joyous, caring, devout sister in Christ who seems hard-pressed to keep that love for God even slightly contained. Listening to her talk is such an experience in enthusiasm and grace that I once requested that she record a document we were working on “so I could have it for later”. That, too, but I also wanted a recording of my sister in Christ! It’s now awaiting placement on my iPod…

And the evenings… “Will Your Anchor Hold You in the Flood?”. “Father, I Adore You”. “Days of Elijah”. “In Your Presence, O God”. I cannot stop singing, cannot cease mingled prayer and worship. And then, there have been the moments of Bible study. I have read of Samuel and Moses, have marveled over what Jesus said about Sabbath observance in Matthew XII, have held to Paul’s exhortations about living in grace, have praised our Lord with David as I read the book of Psalms. And then, the Lord has used that same precious copy of the Scriptures to speak to me: “The Lord will perfect that which concerns me” (Psalm 138:8). Too precious, too personal, and much too marvelous for words at this time, though I hope to expound upon it at some other date.

If all of this weren’t enough, there was yesterday’s hymn-sing. During the time of requests that the music director usually hosts in order to involve the congregation, the Lord let me know so profoundly that He will not forsake me–so profoundly that it, too, merits its own post and so deeply that I will never forget it. Hallelujah!

All of this has been poured down upon me, but I didn’t take any of it to heart until this evening. I could never have anticipated what the Lord was about to do. It was all so unexpected–unconventional time, place, people, circumstances… This was not a tent revival, and I was not with a pastor and his wife; we were not singing “Just as I Am” and I had not just read John 3:16, but His Holy Spirit saturated my heart, mind, soul, and spirit with peace nevertheless. I am reminded of a strong Christian leader who writes of receiving the Holy Spirit one evening at a golf course, of all places! She was not seeking Him, necessarily, but He found her.

What happened in me was not nearly so dramatic, as I already have the baptism of the Holy Spirit, but in many ways it was just as elaborate. How is it possible to compare moments in the Lord and to say that Thus-and-So’s was deeper, and that 5 April 2014 was not “as wonderful” for me as was, say, 17 February 2012? Is it proper to analyze fruit trees, to compare this fig to that one, to state that this leaf is green but that that one has a tiny little flaw, to mention a gnarled branch? Is not doing so akin to questioning the Gardener? So, I shan’t say anymore that what happened was “not as dramatic”–perhaps I should rather describe what took place, because to me it was magnificent.

I had just finished eating and was reading an insightful though not terribly wholesome book when Hannah invited me to a local ice-cream parlor. Ordinarily, I don’t eat things like that (as of 9 November 2013), even if the ice-cream happens to be of the low-fat yogurt variety, because I want to honor God even in my food choices and because I want to keep my body, the temple of the Holy Spirit, strong and healthy. Tonight, though, I decided to make an exception. This was a Hannah-and-I activity, something that Naomi would likely enjoy, too, and perhaps Jedidiah would even participate. Could I flagrantly refuse sentiment and closeness just? Would not going along with it all, just this once, be more honoring to God than holding to a rigid regulation? So, ice cream it was.

Ordinarily, I love details in writing–my own or anyone else’s. Today, however, I will spare my readers a description of each and every ice cream choice, a miniature catalogue of the available toppings, and a lament over the music that was playing at this shop–such broken songs for such a happy place… But that is neither here nor there. We came, we sampled, we ordered. Dark Godiva chocolate yogurt for me, topped with cherries and almonds and, let’s face it, waffle-cone crumbles. Big, fluffy, promising lids whose patterns almost resembled fancy cakes–lids that bespoke deliciousness within those cardboard containers. Then, it was out the door again and back to the car.

And that’s when it happened. Suddenly, all the innocence and wholesomeness of that ice-cream parlor came floating down on top of my snow-drift of blessings, and the barriers to my heart caved under the weight of all that peace. All I could do was contemplate those myriad blessings, that endless grace which the Lord had been pouring out upon me for the past week. Material and spiritual blessings, all-consuming and all-enveloping. And my response–what would it be? It didn’t take me long to decide, to allow His kindness to lead me to repentance for all the doubt and complacency I had been harboring without really internalizing the damage they were doing to my life in the Lord. It was a moment of blank-slate, washed-clean restoration, a moment of being given back a pure, innocent faith, a moment of exquisite Agape.

All that knowing, that remembering, that sudden burst of love, that Hesed of our holy Lord God, welled up within me and I did the only thing I could think to do in the presence of such faithfulness–I sang. I sang the first thing that came to mind, the only tune that seemed appropriate in thanking Him for His goodness. “Jesus loves me, this I know, / For the Bible tells me so, / Little ones to Him belong, / They are weak, but He is strong…” I’m not sure if Jedidiah had any idea what I was doing–nor Hannah, for that matter, though she did sing a few phrases with me. Perhaps they understood that this was a prayer-closet moment that just happened to be taking place with them as witnesses–I don’t know. I do know that His awesome presence, all those attributes of the Trinity that A. W. Tozer was always much better at describing than I am, were suddenly in place in my heart once again. Perfect and holy, and now I know with clarity what I need to know–a fundamental truth that I had allowed a lack of spiritual rest and an over-abundance of small burdens to obscure.

Yes, Jesus loves me.

Jedidiah: A Words Sketch

And you didn’t know that Words Sketches could apply to people–did you? Now, you know!

As far as I can deduce, his name means “Beloved of the Lord” or “One whom the Lord loves”. He is like David in that he loves to praise his Creator and in that he knows how to defeat the giants of pain and difficulty through the small, smooth stones of prayer and the slingshot of faith. Like Solomon, too, in the wisdom he has received.

Many mornings, I awake to find an E-mail from him in my inbox. “Daily Bible Verse”, it proclaims. But he doesn’t just send every Bible verse he receives from a daily-devotional service; he chooses those that speak to him, those he knows will speak to me. Yesterday, it was Deuteronomy 6:6-7: “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” What does that verse say to him? Or what about the one from II Corinthians 1 on the comfort of the Holy Spirit? What does he think, feel, hold dear in his heart, when he reads these? Someday, someday… I will ask him.

His favorite version of the Bible is the NIV. He owns a small, thin, leather Bible given to him by someone very special in our lives. It’s worn and beautiful. When it’s open, as it often is–to John or Psalms or Proverbs–the pages crackle with use as he turns them. He also has an audio edition that I know he listens to in those quiet hours that so shape our spiritual lives. He is an extremely early riser; I wonder if those are his “quiet hours”, and how he spends them–or if his moments come later in the day. Again, someday, I will ask.

He loves the book of Hebrews. That General Epistle was the first portion of Scripture he read after giving his life to our Lord Jesus. “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for,” I can hear him intoning. “[Jesus]… has been made so much greater than the angels…” “The Word of God is powerful… sharper than any two-edged sword…” Words about entering God’s rest, ad our Great High Priest. I will ask him what his favorite portion of that precious book is someday, I will.

He knows Nehemiah. And Exodus, and John, and Isaiah, and Psalms. He does not quote them linearly. Instead, he strings passages together until they exude the awesome power of God. Part of this, I know, is due to the fact that the Lord has given him a pattern of sorts to follow in his Bible reading–one Psalm, one Proverb, and two chapters of the New Testament. That explains that, but when in the day, and with this pattern, is he getting the opportunity to read Nehemiah, Job, and Exodus? More questions.

He is strong of heart, mind, and body. Time and again, I have heard him proclaim that he will tackle some great project that requires much advanced thought and planning. He isn’t a computer geek, exactly–that’s not his life’s passion–but he can fix almost any piece of technology you set before him, albeit the software ever so outdated or the hardware ever so damaged. Analytics, my dear reader, analytics. He will install a new bathroom toilet and sink, he says, or fix the wiring and light/fan fixtures from thirty years ago, or build a much-needed wall in such a way that it is indistinguishable from the other existing walls. And if anyone can do it, he does. He builds and fixes wooden patio decks, removes and installs landscaping, and generally shores up any indoor and outdoor structure he comes across–all while listening to “Better Is One Day” on that radio of his. That, or the news–but I remember “Better Is One Day”. What goes through his mind as he is doing these projects? More I ought to know, more I don’t, as yet.

He loves to praise the Lord, and he loves good Christian music. I know for a fact that he likes Keith Green, particularly the songs “The Lord Is My Shepherd”, “Pledge My Head to Heaven”, and “Trials Turned to Gold”. He has a familiarity with Don Francisco’s early music that I would love to share. When he hears a song at church, his heart picks it up almost immediately and clings to it. Keith Green notwithstanding, I know he knows so many of our modern anthems–“How Great Is Our God”, “Holy Is the Lord”, “Ten Thousand Reasons”, “My Redeemer Lives”, and some older ones like “His Name Is Wonderful” and “Because He Lives”. I wonder if he knows “In Christ Alone”, if he has sung it in some Christian gathering where I was not present. Note to self: inquire. There for awhile, he was wearing out Michael W. Smith’s worship albums until, I suppose, the car stereo ate them up. Or did it? Does he still devour Michael W. Smith’s versions of “You Are Holy”, “Open the Eyes of My Heart”, and “Alleluia, Alleluia, Worthy Is the Lamb”? I must remember to ask.

He is my transportation to hymn-sings, church services, and coffee meet-ups with other brothers and sisters in Christ. He also lends out the car and his services for medical appointments, the occasional journey to the local French restaurant, and trips to WalMart and King Sooper’s. Does he remember shuttling me from place to place on 10 December 2003–from one boring function to another? Does he remember transforming the decidedly unedifying experience into a Spirit-led venture, remember that somewhat rickety vehicle and how its heating system warmed our hands agains the winter chill while the Christian radio station kindled joy and peace in our hearts? Does he remember?

He colaborates on profound spiritual projects. Last year, it was the Red Letters from the book of Luke. Many, many hours were spent with cups of coffee, a voice recorder, and the precious Word of God as his firm yet peace-filled voice read of salt light, wheat and fig trees, minas and talents, faithfulness and rest. Does he remember the joy of it all? Another time, he and several others close to me took turns reading THE CALLING by Brother Andrew–primarily at a time when I could not gain access to the book save through human narration. I wonder, does he remember reading about Project Pearl, Brother Andrew’s quest to deliver one million Bibles to Chinese Christians during the 1980s?

He knows what an allegory is; he learned, because I love that literary device. He knows that I can’t stand carbinated beverages but love tea, chai, and all manner of coffee drinks. He even knows how to make a delightful concoction I have designated the ChOrNillaMon Mocha–chocolate, orange extract, vanilla, and cinnamon. He is the only one who knows how to make it, and that requires a certain amount of gentleness beneath the oaken strength. He knows not to offer advice when some part of me breaks–he knows to pray and offer Scripture instead. He knows that the best remedy for Hannah’s ails is an iPad game and a funny television show, but the best way to cure my temporal pains is to offer a brisk walk that culminates at a park somewhere. He knows how much I love the chimes–the Northern Lights, I call them–and so presents me with copious sets to be hung wherever a breeze is likely to blow. He knows all these things, but does he know how much it means to me that he does–that he understands and remembers and respects the important things in life? Does he know?

This is Jedidiah–David-Solomon, beloved of the Lord.

“You Are My Hiding Place”: A Words Sketch of the Snuggler Chair

A few days ago, the television was on, much to my inward dismay. Somehow, my intellectual sensibilities have never found any use for the television–and not just because I happen to be a card-carrying, guide-dog-owning Braille reader. Most of the shows that producers see fit to broadcast are simply too loud or too unrealistic for my tastes. Anyway, the show in question was playing some obnoxious music that other people would classify as suspenseful. Beneath the sound of the music, footsteps were heard–frantic running. What do you suppose was my response to this moment? Empathy? Curiosity? Never! I merely remarked, “It sounds as though that man is running across a field of music notes.” Unyielding, clattering, metal music notes, to be exact.

You, my beloved reader, would refer to that line of thinking as unconventional. I shall refer to it as artistic. And–don’t you know?–everything in my life is like this, filled with colorful swirls of detail that make life interesting. Everything in life–be it shepherd’s pie or a down-filled quilt, a vanilla-and-lavender candle or a three-cornered shelf, an old tape player or a treadmill safety key, a button or a common toothbrush, onion rings or a refrigerator magnet, a Bible case or the worship song “In Your Presence, O God”, electronics with tangible buttons or sentences ending in single-syllable adverbs, ceramic items or 3 February of each year, a drawer handle or a recently-purchased coffee table, the texture of fine linen or a hot water bottle–everything in life is attended with profound, often spiritual, associations. Everything! What appears as a common drawer handle to you instantly puts me in mind of the day on which I opened that drawer–the same day I read Revelation and learned anew of His powerful redemption. A straightforward hot water bottle may bring into vivid detail the day on which I sat in bed propped against a reading pillow, Communion wafer in one hand and cup of grape juice in the other. The onion rings that either put a temporary smile on your face or cause you to decry American eating habits invariably remind me of the first day I was truly called upon to forgive someone, seven months after I received the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The three-cornered shelf that you picked up at a yard sale somewhere and that might go nicely with your decor will never be remembered for me without a mental image of the Nativity Scene I placed there one Christmas.

Hence, Words Sketches. Well am I aware that very, very few people see the world as I do–so I’d like to bring some of this beauty to you. The subject for the moment is the snuggler chair I bought two months ago and that was delivered on 22 November. For over three years, I had been sharing my apartment with a wood-framed velvet sofa whose padding had been affixed mainly to the back. Translation: No soft seat for the seat! It had gotten so bad that I refused to sit there anymore. Although I was grateful for the sofa while it lasted, it carried few associations because I tried to avoid actually using that furniture. A sad day when I, of all people, can’t link a piece of furniture with thousands of precious memories…

Enter the Snuggler, a reclining chair-and-a-half from a local furniture store. Recollection I: Pouring over three-ring books of fabric swatches in search of the perfect covering. Only the plushest velvet would do. In fact, if I didn’t find what I was looking for, I had resolved that I would forever resign myself to the lumpy love-seat waiting at home. But–delight of delights!–I did find appropriate material. My recliner would be upholstered in fine velvet. Have you ever noticed that furniture fabrics tell a story about their owners and about what is expected from members of a given household? Leather says, “Let’s keep it strictly business in here.” Highly-textured fabrics that fail to demonstrate any softness state, “We are a practical family, and we cut costs.” Fabric with a floral or otherwise decorative pattern sings, “I have personality.” Velvet fabric says, “Let us use this place for comfort and joy and peace, for cups of hot cocoa and beautiful worship ballads.” I told you I was whimsical…

Recollection II: Getting that recliner into my apartment, propping the footrest up and down and leaning all the way back in that memory-foam luxury. The experience was so special that I found myself recording it. You film memorable moments; I record them. Audio scrapbooking, and a very efficient way to utilize space on the ole’ iPod Classic.

Recollection III: Praying and dedicating that chair to the use of the Lord. In all seriousness, fellow Christians, this is very important. We don’t think about it very often, but it is extremely important to pray about any purchase–especially a large purchase–that will have any lasting impact on the way you live your life. This includes furniture, electronic equipment, dishware, etc. Why? For the same reason that people in Biblical times dedicated their houses, and the land, to the service of God. Also, it’s good to give everything to the Lord, and to ask Him to use even temporal goods for His purposes. Certainly, not everyone does this–and they don’t have to. But I enjoy doing it as something special between myself and the Lord.

Recollection IV: Finding that this chair is actually somewhat imperfect. The way that these chairs are constructed, the back reclines to reveal a half-inch wooden board. True, the board is covered with velvet, but it does tend to stab one in the back when the chair is extended. No amount of foam-scrunching or finding compensatory pillows is really effective. This, not to mention the larger-than-average gap that appears when the chair is reclined. Not enough cushionage–plain and simple.

Ah! But…

Recollection V: Entering my apartment to the smell of brand-new wood and padding and luxurious cloth. The smell of new furniture is and always been reminiscent of the worship chorus, “Father, I Adore You”. I have no idea why. Perhaps my family and I attended a conference when I was a child, whose facilities were furnished with new sofas and chairs, and I listened to “Father, I Adore You” immediately prior to or following the proceedings–but all of that is dim, vague hearsay. So, I enter my apartment and am immediately filled with the beauty of “Father, I Adore You”. And, because songs from Don Moen’s album HEALING have been floating through my consciousness since 13 November, my beautiful new chair is now going to bear mental audio clips of “Jehovah Jireh”, “I Am the God That Healeth Thee”, “You Are My Hiding Place”, and “Jesus, Your Presence Makes Me Whole”. All, of course, accompanied by Integrity Music’s anointed flute player.

With a greater sense of fulfillment than I have known in over a month, I advance toward that chair, turn on the heating pad that bespeaks evenings beneath the covers with the book of Psalms, and recline the chair until it is just so–not lying flat, but not bolt upright. Then, it is time to worship. By this, I do not mean that it is time to listen to worship music, but that it is high time I participated in my own private time of glorifying my Lord. This evening, He has given me an allegory. This is the second one He has given me over the eleven years since I received the baptism, but it is the first one I have ever had the courage to write. Will I be able to do it?

And then, the most glorious blessing takes place. One moment, I am struggling along, attempting to convey the Lord’s grace in the life of every Christian. The next, He is filling me with a sense of His holiness–a joy and peace so all-encompassing that I cannot help but write. It is wonderful, magnificent, unspeakable–and it obliterates all the discouragement I had experienced over the past month.

And so, I write and sing. Later, much later, in the 2:00 and 3:00 hours of the night, I unearth a plastic Communion cup and a tiny piece of bread. I resolve that I must listen to that heart-filling song, “Will Your Anchor Hold You in the Flood”. And from there, to simply bask in the Light of the World, the glory of His presence, the beauty of His holiness.

Why is this so great a blessing? Because, really, my living room had for some time been associated with things that were less-than-spiritual. There I worked, entertained, and slumped on a lumpy sofa while I contemplated life’s woes. Elsewhere–in bed late at night or on the porch swing–I worshiped the Lord and thanked Him for His goodness. The whole messy concept is too deep, intricate, and personal to explain here–but know that there was more to it than business vs. pleasure. More like sorrow vs. joy. But now, He has restored even my experience of a room that had become so business-focused. Now, this room that I had once known simply as the living room is an extension of the other places I use as sanctuaries–and He, ever and always, is my hiding place. Lovely are His dwellingplaces…

Associations for this piece of furniture: Every layer of foam, from the generously-cushioned arms to the padding flanking either side of the back to the pillow-shaped piece at the top of the chair–every creak and crack, every gap and board, every unnecessary piece of wood and everything in-between, will now carry memories of this holy moment. Even that back-jabbing piece of wood is now polished to brilliant gladness. Surface memories: of a time of fasting, of allegories in general, of congregational worship, of red letters, of Communion… The completed memory: holiness, glory, grace and mercy… Agape and Hesed.

The Scripture Cup: A Words Sketch

Note: Since this piece doesn’t really describe an experience or serve as a review–since what I’m describing can no longer be easily purchased–I am creating a new line of articles. Sketches will focus on a few details of life that are important and perhaps even spiritually significant to me, but that most other people don’t notice. I’m well aware that my mind somehow works differently than others’. Case in point: When I was eight and didn’t have access to many Braille or audio books, my mother read aloud from a children’s mystery. The story was set at a grandmother’s house. I got so caught up in the tiny details–the protagonists’ sleeping and eating arrangements, the number of knickknacks that were listed as being in a cabinet, the ways in which this grandmother’s house contrasted with my own grandma’s log cabin–that I paid almost no attention to the plot. When asked what the story had been about, I had to admit that I had no idea–only that it involved a clock, a vase, and a box of toys. Nowadays, I trust I’ve been able to channel some of that focus into more productive patterns–and, really, I consider it a tremendous blessing. Without that kind of cognitive process, I almost feel that I’d fail to see as much of God’s glory in day-to-day life as I do now. And so, in these sketches, I hope to introduce you to some of the things I do in worship every day. Join me?

On a makeshift end table to the left of this brand-new sofa sits the Scripture Cup. At the moment, it’s filled with hot, strong coffee. The chocolate, vanilla, cinnamon, cream, and other ingredients I add have worked together to form a beverage that, if consumed by the rest of the population, would immediately put all antidepressant manufacturers out of business.

But what makes this cup of coffee so exquisite is the Scripture Cup itself. The reasons for this are partly spiritual, but somewhat literal as well. The cup is a hand-made piece, lovingly thrown on the wheel by the head of Potter’s Field Ministries. It’s one of very few clay cups we own, and I have come to discover that clay cups taste much, much better than glass ones. You know how, universally, glass or metal containers enhance the beverage they contain, making them much better than plastic containers? Well, the same is true of clay cups over glass ones.

The Scripture Cup is flawed, but not so much so that the average person would notice it. It’s just that you can feel the subtle chinks and finger placements beneath the glaze, inside and out. Somewhat like us, wouldn’t you say? We’re imperfect people–Christians, but not free from all error. We, too, have flaws that the Lord is still working out. Except, with Him, we will be found pure and holy, a spotless bride on the day of His return, and thoroughly refined when He calls us home.

And yet, those flaws in my cup also serve another purpose. We, too, are quite ordinary, really. We hold the treasure we’ve been given from God–the Gospel, the news of salvation through Jesus Christ–in earthen vessels (See II Corinthians). Earthen vessels–in Biblical times, ordinary clay jars. Not vessels of silver or gold. The TREASURE, not the clay jar, gets all the glory. Let our flaws consistently humble us into remembering that.

The cup has a curved face and a unique handle that seems to have been pulled directly from the clay rather than being glazed on. (Ha! High-school ceramics courses do have value, even many years later, and even in the context of spiritual lessons!) Anyway, the cup curves in at a graceful angle, then curves outward and upward again. Details! And do you not think that the Lord does something similar with His creation, endowing us with gifts and abilities, skills and personality traits that He can use for His purpose? Do you not think that He, in His faithfulness, gives us characteristics that, if used for His glory and His purposes, can make us beautiful–well-pleasing in His sight, and able to serve others?

Now, why am I referring to this as the Scripture Cup? Because one of my “curved clay” gifts seems to be describing commonplace objects in spiritual terms? Well, that, too…

Deeply engraved on the side of the cup is Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them”. Isn’t that perfect–and so very appropriate, considering the object on which the verse is carved? Even the glaze for this Scripture is different, making it stand out from a tactile perspective.

Beside this Biblical exhortation, the sculptor carved a dove. Actually, this particular dove is also the symbol for many Calvary Chapels, signifying that they are Spirit-filled churches and deeply invested in Bible study. Many of these cups were made for the Calvary Chapel I still call my own, and I actually purchased this cup there after a particularly anointed Sunday service. In much broader terms, the dove simply refers to the great power of the Holy Spirit, and to the peace the Lord bestows on us all.

A quick story, as applied to the dove on my Scripture Cup: A little less than a week after the Lord freed me from debilitating depression back in February, I was thinking back over the events of the past few years. I happened to have a cup of coffee in my hand, and as I considered the things the Lord had brought my family through, it occurred to me that one concern had not yet been resolved to my satisfaction. “What if…” those words, spoken mentally, were followed by one of the most horrifying and personal possibilities you could possibly conjecture. As I contemplated this upsetting thought, I began casually to trace the outline of the dove on my cup. Then, slowly, I realized what I was doing, what I was holding. And then, there was a great and wondrous peace–tracing that dove had reminded me of the Holy Spirit, plain and simple. And remembering the presence of God–the comfort of the Holy Spirit, the love of Jesus Christ, the power of God the Father–was more than sufficient. At once, my horrifying thought receded into the background, and all was well in my soul once again.

Not that this cup is anything–anything at all. But do you ever notice the tambourine player in church–the one who, though unpolished, praises God with such passion that you can’t help seeing her joy in the Lord, joy that inspires you, too, to sing unto Him with all your heart? Detail-oriented writer that I am, I do the same thing–not just with people, but even with the everyday objects around me. And so, if there’s one more item in my life that reminds me of the blessings I’ve received from God, of His grace and His love, then I should take the time to write about it!–not to discuss some excessive fondness for an inanimate object, but to allow even mundane things to serve s tangible metaphors for the love I constantly hold in my heart toward my Savior, my Good Shepherd.

Adendum: This is a “words sketch”, rather than a “word sketch”, in order to avoid confusion in Christian semantic circles–many small words of worship, only one Word, Who IS God. Note: “He Is” and “I AM” are structurally configured in similar ways… But Christ-centered grammar must await a separate post.