Jesus in 2017: Resolution to Revolution


Happy New Year!

Look forward—that’s the general theme of January. Many of us make resolutions we can’t keep, promising to be more forgiving, and/or throwing out old habits and junk. I quit making resolutions a few years back. Why? Because I never kept them.

The most profound resolution I’ve ever made was over three decades ago. I resolved to try and be the hands, feet, eyes, the very spirit of Jesus on earth. Oh, yes, I’ve failed miserably. But I’ll keep trying.

Why? Because I’m hooked, fascinated, Holy-Ghost filled. Because the premise seems too good to be true: Some two-thousand years ago, Christ incarnate walked the earth as an ordinary man named Jesus. Sent by a holy God, His own Father, who wanted to redeem us, His creation, from sin and death!

The Bible tells us that nothing about Jesus’ appearance was outstanding. He was only thirty years old when He started His ministry, a carpenter prior to that. Probably strong from walking and from his trade. His face was likely ruddy, his hands rough. No one would have pointed to him and said, “Oh look, the Son of God!” Even his name was ordinary for the time.

Today it’s this very ordinariness that makes many people take notice. Because how could someone so nondescript, so common, become the most influential, most celebrated man to ever live. If I were to argue for Christ, I wouldn’t point to his miracles, His amazing sermons and parables, or even His love. No. I would just say, “How could such an ordinary person change the world in such an extraordinary way unless He was who He said He was—the Son of God.” And close behind, how could twelve men, His disciples, mostly laborers, common and uneducated, take the gospel to the world? Further, why were these men willing to be martyred for him?

And if that ancient truth isn’t enough, two-thousand years later, lives are still being transformed because of the Gospel of Christ. Peace, joy, and love transform hearts and minds. A spiritual dimension once unknown opens eyes to the goodness, the mercy, the love, the very person of God. You see your “neighbors” in a new and enlightened way. Supernatural experiences become a reality. Even dying isn’t an issue.

Witness the twenty-one Christian Egyptian martyrs beheaded by the madmen of ISIS. Not one of them renounced Christ. Why? I mean, really. . . Why? They could’ve lied. Thinking about it, I wonder if I might’ve considered lying. There’s a lot of pre-Pentecost Peter in me and I fear I might’ve denied Him, might’ve said, “Okay, I’ll convert to Islam.” And then after the flogging for indecent dress, after the burka and the baptism from hell, I would’ve tried to hold Jesus in my heart as they scrutinized my every whisper. But, not these young, brave men.

I will never forget their images: twenty-one orange-clad heroic souls, their faces calm, some praying, their hooded, cowardly captors dressed in black, leading them as though they were dogs on a short leash. I wish I’d turned away.

How I prayed for their families, and hold that thought . . . how I prayed for their murderers. No, I didn’t pray they would be blessed. I prayed God would reveal Himself to them. (Which actually is a blessing) That He would convict them and they would see themselves the way God sees them. That the Almighty Creator would allow them a glimpse into the hearts of these decent Christ followers and it would haunt their nights and change their own hearts.

So, why did these martyred Christians not convert to Islam? Because the resolution they made to serve Christ is part of the revolution that Jesus began. People in Islamic countries know the risks, but even at the point of death, they know the benefits are greater. They/We are part of a bigger plan.

We, as Americans, must especially develop a determination, a resolve to be more like brave Christians around the world who stand up to ISIS, other terrorists, and hostile-to-Christian governments. More like those who work tirelessly to spread the Gospel of Christ, to feed the hungry, the thirsty, the poor. Even more like those who pray for those in ministry and in turmoil, and those who are especially forgiving, thoughtful, kind, and generous.

And my resolution, coupled with yours and others becomes the revolution that will eventually change the world and restore Christ to His throne. We don’t all have to die for Christ, but we should all live for Christ.

So as you make your New Year’s resolution, I hope you’ll remember God’s love, His Grace, and His promise: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Think about what this promise must mean to Christian martyrs, now at an all-time high, around the world. Think about what it meant to those rag-tag disciples of old who followed in the footsteps of Christ, eleven of them martyred.

Most of all, remember the one Man, Jesus, who left a throne in the kingdom of heaven to walk the dusty earth in cloth and sandals, unshaven, unkempt, and at the end, unloved. He died brutally for you and for me and we owe Him everything. Like those disciples who’ve gone before us, let us resolve to be part of the revolution, to spread the Good News of Christ’s coming and of His return.

In January 2017, and always, that’s a resolution worth making. Worth living for. And many think, worth dying for.

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A Triumphant Defeat

Hallelujah for new beginnings! The last story in the trilogy about financial loss during the 1980s.

There are some defeats more triumphant than victories. So wrote French philosopher, Michel de Montaigne. My husband Alan ascribes to this philosophy, especially after surviving the early to mid-eighties recession when life’s vagaries shattered us and tossed us down several flights of fancy.

It was a triumphant defeat for Alan in many ways, mostly because his joie de vivre never withered in that broken environment: the fight for his business, his reputation; the crying wife, despondent over the death of mother; the loss of several friends, and I use that term loosely; the death of the good life (let’s be honest). Alan took one pounding after another, and after each knockdown, God bless him, he got up with a lop-sided grin.

I have been blessed in my whiny life to watch two people I love—my husband and my mother—maneuver through insurmountable, even horrible circumstances with more grace than I can sometimes muster in a long checkout line. For the most part, I am an impatient person who likes to be in control. However, after wading through illness and death, recession and survival, I discovered how not in control I am. Pretty much everywhere.

Our debt—because we didn’t declare personal bankruptcy—seemed greater than my hopeful imagination to repay it. Unlike Alan, I was fragile. Like a wounded animal struck by a hunter’s imprecise arrow. And it was darker than I can portray. Not my mood, but the circumstances. The unexplainable tide that came against us. Our lawyers could not only not explain it, but were powerless to stop it.

Sometimes if things were particularly dark, God would pull me back from the precipice. Distract me from self-absorption and let me care about someone else’s plight more than my own. Looking back, I see how these distractions helped me and others—that silver lining.

God’s opponent was also busy. Over and over he played this tape in my head: “Trust no one, numb your feelings, get even, forget others, don’t forgive,” And the toppers, “You have nothing to offer, and, people pity you.” I had more or less survived the losses, the debt and its extenuating circumstances, and even the death of mother, but that relentless, demonic voice was like lightning striking my sanity.

I had to quell that voice and block myself from listening. It was my lowest point.

Yet, low points are God’s specialty; it’s where the good stuff happens. At my lowest, God allowed me to peek into the supernatural. I’m not talking white doves landing on outstretched arms or seeing angels—I’m talking uncanny occurrences, amazing coincidences, serendipity. That once in a lifetime when planets favorably align and you know that it is not happenstance, or whatever one chooses to call it. And your heart can at last sing a new song. Your circumstance remains, but Almighty God is thrust into the equation and unexplainable things occur—prophetic things—absolute mysteries revealed to your soul.

It was within this environment of extremes that Alan asked me to attend an industry conference with him in Lexington, Kentucky.

I did not want to go. My presence of mind was reserved for God and for Alan, for a few friends, and for novel writing, my new hobby. The last place I wanted to share my limited lucidity was with people I didn’t know—happy people, prosperous people, probably phony people.

I would pray about it, but some things even baby Christians know: spiritual well-being takes precedence over business! One of the events was even at Keeneland, the horse track of Lexington’s vanity. Where gambling occurs. No way God wanted me there! Except whenever Alan mentioned the meeting, my heart said, “Go.” When I prayed, the message was “Go.” Each time it was mentioned, I felt a tug at my heart that was difficult to ignore and harder to believe. “Go!” But I most assuredly did not want to.

“Go,” however, was Alan’s new mantra and while I was still fighting the demons of our past—Life Fights One and Two—he was suited up for Round Three. So, I did what every good wife does, I grudgingly went.

Alan assured me the people at this meeting were “good” people. “They don’t know what we’ve been through, anyway,” he said, “You don’t have to tell them anything.”

Not to worry! There’d be no conversations about our paltry finances. I hadn’t spent money on clothing or shoes in a couple of years. Given my love of fashion I was afraid to spend, afraid I might initiate another groundswell of debt.

The first night I remember was the banquet. A few hundred people, many in small groups, chatted like old friends, drinking wine, nibbling on stuffed mushrooms and an impressive array of hors d’oeuvres. People without a care. Everyone in finery. Me? I felt as if I’d fallen through a sooty duct and landed in the jester’s seat, spit out for scrutiny. Even so, my Appalachian roots kept my neck held high.

Out of the hundreds of people, Alan mentioned two men he hoped to meet. One, a company president, the other an entrepreneur. He had spotted them both in the crowd, but, not knowing them, he didn’t approach them. Not his style.

People stopped to speak to Alan, and I met a few wives. I began shedding my sooty indignity, started to feel lighter, even affable. I could feel the presence of God as we moved about, now talking like we belonged, sipping wine, nibbling appetizers, laughing. Dear God, we are lemmings.

Time passed fast, surprising me. Now we stood to the side in a large, impressive room, admiring the elegant round tables of eight for the dinner banquet. People had begun sitting at the white cloth-covered tables. Alan spotted an old friend, a Kentucky lawyer and his wife. “Mind if we join you?” Alan asked, as we approached them. “Come on in.” The lawyer arose and pulled out a chair. Alan had spoken highly of him and his wife, but I’d never met them. They were funny and charming and we chatted easily. It was turning out to be a delightful evening. Thank you, Lord.

Out of the corner of my eye, I watched an older gentleman approach our foursome like he was honed in on radar. The lawyer grinned and stood once again; he greeted this well-respected mogul effusively, introducing him to Alan and me as the man sat down. Unbelievably, it was the entrepreneur Alan had hoped to meet. I gawked at him from sheer astonishment. Dear Lord, could it possibly be?

As the mogul settled in his chair, a very tan couple moved toward us, the man chatted briefly at the next table. He was large, middle-aged, wearing a beige suit, his wife a gorgeous blond. They stopped at our table. “Anyone sitting here?” he asked, pointing to empty chairs. “Join us,” someone surely said. But before sitting, he introduced himself and his wife.

Disbelief and wonder overcame me as they sat and I nodded “hello.” God’s presence fell over me, filling me with thankfulness and love. Tears formed in my eyes and I quickly turned my head. The tan-suited man was the company president.

From one side of the room and then the other the two men Alan had hoped to meet made their way to our table. I prayed God would come to this meeting, prayed for it to be productive, and, yes, fun. My prayers were so generously answered. Thank you, Lord. Again.

The last day of the gathering was at Keeneland. Watching horses chase each other’s tails around a track is as much fun for me as trailing a school bus across town in my car. True to the Bluegrass tradition of horse splendor, however, the room we were in was beautiful: dark wood paneling, colorful prints, rectangular tables, and oversized windows for race viewing. People moved elbow to elbow in the bustling room, chatting and smiling as they found their seats. The helpful wait staff dressed in black and white uniforms. Dinner would be served. Okay, this is nice.

When we finally came to “our” table, Alan grinned, recognizing the man on the end, a friend and fellow Tennessean, with his wife. I had not prayed God to provide people that I knew, but my heart wished for it. Introductions were made and we chatted briefly with them before Alan and I maneuvered to the chairs beside them.

As I made my way, my eyes seemed to deceive me, but my neck wouldn’t budge for a double take. Considering how the presence of God had gone before us, I should’ve been used to things lining up in my favor. Yet, the person in the chair beside me was completely unanticipated. A fellow Williamson High School alumnus!

She was a few years older than me, an upperclassman I had admired. We hugged. She seemed as astounded to see me as I was to see her. Her husband and brother, both alums, were also there and we had a reunion of sorts. What were the odds? Old friends of Alan’s from his beloved Tennessee on one side of us and fellow alumni from my high school on the other. Even at a race track, I wouldn’t take that bet. God’s planets had indeed aligned; He tended to our pleasure as well as our business. Once again I hid my tears.

Overall, it was a great day. In fact, that weekend was the best I’d had since Mother’s diagnosis. Thankfully, I’d responded to that tug on my heart to “go,” which allowed me to reshape my thinking. God, it appeared, did go to meetings and racetracks after all! He also showed me that I had judged these people, not based on who they were, but on my own circumstances. Forgive me, Lord.

Alan and I became regulars at these meetings and made wonderful friends throughout the years. The financial turmoil that had disrupted our lives eventually became a memory. Alan rebuilt his business as the eighties faded, and I began selling real estate, giving up a small ad agency I founded before mother’s illness. We paid off our debt, some taking more than a decade. The road was difficult, but God was there, allowing us to be good stewards.

As I’ve settled into the time and space bequeathed me, I realize my joie de vivre, that heart-felt enjoyment of life that so defines my husband, now radiates within me, too. Oh, it flickers from time to time, but the darkness that captured my youth has departed. Why? Because my self-worth no longer aligns with my standing before “man,” but rather before God.

Today, I can say that I also agree with philosopher Montaigne. There are some defeats more triumphant than victories. Yet it is not my own defeats or triumphs I reflect on. My mind sees Jesus. Hanging on a cross. Tortured, belittled, stripped.

Totally defeated.

Or so it seemed to those who watched His torture and death on that cross. As God’s Messiah hung His head and said, “Father, into  your hands, I commit my spirit,” every believer’s hope died with Him.

But things were not as they seemed. No.lightstock_115933_xsmall_user_2435152

Because the promises and prophecies of God throughout the Old Testament, over 320 and counting, could not be fulfilled until Jesus Christ was crucified. The most triumphant defeat ever chronicled!

Jesus died to give us miraculous hope. And a miraculous hope can only come from a supernatural being, the Holy Spirit, the part of Jesus that lives in us. Please, please get this. Holy Spirit is not magic or kooky or weird. Holy Spirit is the reason people like me put their lives out there for others to scrutinize. He is why missionaries die in distant lands to “save” people they don’t know. He is the supernatural touch to your heart that lets you know there is a God in heaven. He is the chime in your heartbeat. And once you’ve met Him, your world and your worldview are seen through a kaleidoscope of beauty and passion for the things of God.

Holy Spirit brings us mystery and enchantment. He is what caused St. Paul to say, “When I am weak, then I am strong,” a statement that makes no sense unless you know Holy Spirit helps us to move mountains when we’d rather hide, to “see” circumstances differently, to imagine the unimaginable. He gives us wisdom, passion, unknown information. He is our adrenaline, our intuition, our light-giver. He is who prompted me to go to that meeting, to marry my husband, to write this blog.

To know Holy Spirit is to know we are mysteriously coupled with the Divine, and at the moment when things look bleakest, we aren’t alone. During my moments of despair, the pain of this world didn’t leave me, but God’s footprint was everywhere; I felt it, I saw it. And I knew I was and am a part of something bigger than my pain or my circumstance. Think Jesus—things are not as they seem. It helped me then and it helps me now to go on.

Yet nobody wants to suffer. Even Jesus prayed, “Father, if it be your will, let this cup pass from me. Nevertheless, not My will but thine be done.”

What if God had answered that prayer? We would all be toast.

What if God had answered some of our crazy prayers?

Today when I pray, I pray strength for my soul, that nothing is so grand or so tragic that it would divert my eyes from the wonders of God. To miss His divine mysteries is to miss heaven touching earth. It is the very thing Christ came for—died for.

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” 2 Corinthians 5:17

This is a part of the divine mystery. In Christ, I have a new heart, a new will, new sight. Holy Spirit fills me and I am totally renewed. Not just in the here and now, but throughout eternity.

Thank you, Lord.living-the-sup-life

The Gift of Christmas

Merry Christmas everyone! Two weeks ago, after praying about my Christmas blog, I awoke with a fictional story in my head. (With concepts I have never considered and terms I don’t know) I wrote the story as I envisioned it upon awakening. Tears came often, though it’s not particularly sad. I hope you see it as I do: a delightful story about a boy . . . and a Christmas gift explained, perhaps only as Jesus can.  kcs

I should be snuggled in bed, but as my family sleeps, I tiptoe downstairs, the smell of stale popcorn and pine guiding my footsteps as much as the soft Santa nightlight and dying fireplace embers. I walk past the poinsettias lining the foyer, past the big wreath hanging over the wooden nativity, and finally stroll under the mistletoe atop the arched doorway leading into the family room. Our nightly gathering place seems eerily serene without the twinkling lights and the family din.

Like a Christmas thief, I slink into Dad’s big oversized chair where I have a bird’s eye view of yuletide magic–the chimney embers fading with the night from the stocking-adorned brick fireplace, and nestled beside it, a ceiling high, ornament-bright, Christmas tree.

One of Mom’s small china plates, decked out in green and red cookies and flanked by a glass of milk, awaits Santa on the hearth, left by my little brother Jeff, or Jeffy, as I call him. Colorful presents with sparkles and bows spill well past the Christmas tree, topped by a drooping, oversized star balanced above the popcorn strings our family threaded at the dining room table.

Jeffy loves Christmas. Makes him the happiest kid on the planet. Me, I like it. Mostly because I get toys and stuff, but also because I like watching my brother have fun. Sometimes I feel cheated there’s no Santa for me. Oh maybe to some extent, but I’m too old for Santa, really. Twelve. Not too old for the Christmas spirit. At least that’s what Mom says.

I close my eyes, thinking I’ll sit here until Dad comes down to eat his cookies and distribute a few Santa presents, but my stomach rumbles at the thought of the cookies, probably the largest and most garish I’ve ever seen. They must scream “buy me” to mom’s who want to impress six year olds like Jeffy or to Christmas greenhorn ’s, if one exists on the planet. Still, the cookies are for Dad, and I promise myself not to eat them, even as I think about it.

I rise from the chair and immediately fall back. In the dim light of the embers’ shadows, a man sits on our sofa!

I pull back and gasp! He isn’t Santa by a whole lot of belly inches, and he just sits there smiling like he’s at home, one arm propped up on a sofa cushion. After I gather myself, I immediately stand, step to the side of Dad’s chair, and prepare to run. That’s when I notice his clothing—a long white robe with a gold sash. Never have I seen someone dressed like this. Never have I seen someone who seems to . . . to glow.

“I hear you want to interview me,” The stranger scoots to the front of the sofa, clasping his hands atop his knees, looking for all the world like he belongs here.

“Are you serious? How did you just materialize out of . . . ? Who sent you?” I laugh, nervous. “It was Joey, wasn’t it? I’ll get him for this.”

“No, Joey didn’t send me. He’s in St. Petersburg with his parents and sister, Leah, for Christmas.”

Oh crap! I grab hold of the chair back. “How did you know that?”

“I know everything, Matthew.”

“Is this a joke? How do you know my name?”

“No,” the man says. “It’s not a joke.”

The interview. It was for an assignment. Our teacher told us to interview someone we knew, and, okay, I fudged. I waited until the last minute, so I made up a discussion I supposedly had with Jesus. She said it wasn’t acceptable, because we were to interview someone current, someone we knew. And besides, my questions were totally superficial.

Oh really! “I do know him,” I had argued. “Give me one more chance.”

Her look spoke an emphatic, “No!” But then she turned. “Get a Christmas interview with Jesus, and if it’s decent, we’ll see.”

“Maybe you’d like to interview me now,” he says.

What kind of a get-up is a robe and sash, even for Christmas Eve? Is he supposed to be some kind of fit, new-age Santa—or Jesus?

“Wh. . .who are you?” I stammer. Afraid to stay, afraid to run, and especially fearful Jesus is here because I lied. About him! Whoever he is, the man’s aura has an undeniable sense of calm, and every good thing simultaneously, so much so that I cannot help but stay.

Could this be . . . “Is it really you?”

“Yes, I’m no new-age Santa,” he answers my unspoken sarcasm.

As he holds up his hands, I see the faint light through the puncture wounds in his palms, and my lower lip drops. Jesus? Two steps forward and my misgivings vaporize. Obvious holes!

My knees sort of buckle and a nervous tick I sometimes get over my left eye comes upon me. “Wait, I’ll be right back!” I run to get paper and pencil, afraid he’ll be gone when I return, but he isn’t. He’s smiling, telling me how he loves to spend time with me. In fact, he says he loves that I talk with him every morning and sometimes during the day.

“So, what did you want to ask me?” He settles back like there’s no place he’d rather be.

Guess I’m really going to do this. “Well, for one thing, I need to know about Christmas. I mean, I know the Christmas story about the angels, the manger, the wise men and shepherds coming to see the baby Jesus. . . uh, I mean, you.“

Jesus points to my paper and pencil. “You don’t need those.”

I toss them by my chair.

“You’ll remember every word of our conversation until you’re very old,” he says.

His eyes seem to burn into mine and I can’t stop gazing at Him. The need of his touch is so overpowering, I rush to the sofa as He arises. The fullness of His white garment and His ample arms fall around my shoulders like rings of love. I bawl like a baby, for what reason, I have no idea. When I pull away, he kisses one of my cheeks and then the other. “We are brothers, you know. Always talk to me.”

“It’s so good to see you in person.” I dry my eyes on my baggy tee shirt. “Millions of people would love this. Why me?”

“You’re one of only a handful of people who ever claimed to interview me, and since you didn’t, and you need to, I thought I’d keep you honest.” We both laugh.

When I sit down in Dad’s chair, he asks, “So what’s your first Christmas question, Matthew?”

“Well, tell me about the beginning, before Christmas, before everything,” I say, feeling the need to pinch myself, but ignoring it.

That’s easy. The beginning was before the world began. When there was just Father and me.”

“Wasn’t that lonely?”

“Oh no! Father and I are filled with a remarkable love. So regardless of what we’re doing or where we are, we love. And since we’ve created everyplace we go, we just enjoy our creations.” He actually flashes a mischievous grin, but I am too awestruck to return it.

“Did you live in heaven then?”

“Oh yes, of course, we needed a place to live.”

Of course he lived in heaven. What a stupid question.

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question.” Once again he answers my thoughts.

My eyes are as saucers. “What exactly do angels do? Are angels around us now?”

“Oh yes, angels surround us.” He gestures around the room and actually nods a couple of times. “Angels guide, engage, and protect my people—from themselves, from each other, and especially from Satan, the evil one. Angels have many wondrous attributes, one being their astounding beauty.”

I consider these glorious creatures, and finally say, “I know my questions aren’t really about Christmas; there’s just so much I want to know.”

“They are about Christmas.” His eyes twinkle like that other patron of Christmas. “You’ll see how it all works together.”

“Okay, then, tell me about when you or rather God, or, um, when humans were created?”

His eyes move heavenward and his body relaxes. “One day Father decided to create special beings he called people. They would have hearts and be in our image, and they would love us as we loved them.” His smile literally casts more light into the room. “So, day by day we began establishing what you know as the universe.”

“What about the people? Adam and Eve?” I ask.

“They’re coming.” He grins at me. “But first we had to create an environment they could live in—planets, moons, atmosphere, sun, stars . . . every vector in the galaxy had to be planned.”

I sit forward, riveted.

“Layer upon layer, we crafted, over more years than you can fathom. We were creating out of that deep vacuum spoken of in Genesis. ‘The earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep.’ He spreads his arms. The blackness was our blank canvas.”

The incredulity of His words nearly dwarf His presence.

“We set things up strategically, making sure it would all work together, and then, Bang! everything materialized as Father intended. He even fashioned a way we could ride intergalactic flows.” He smiles at what must have been a beautiful memory. “In that very beginning we had so much fun.”

I shake my head, mesmerized, so happy to be sitting here.

“Even for us, this was new. The Bible says that a day is as a thousand years, but that’s really just a number because before man, time didn’t exist. Suffice to say, your beginning is not Our beginning. And, time as you understand it began when the first humans, Adam and Eve, bit into the apple in the Garden of Eden. The first sin.” He stops. “Are you getting this?”

I nod. “Time began after Adam and Eve and sin.” I repeat His words. “An amazing statement. So many amazing statements! This will blow my teacher away.”

He smiles and continues, “Because the essence of Father and I are love, we never even postulated Sin in the Garden. Everything was perfect. Almost as magnificent as heaven: blue-green rivers, and oceans with crystal crests, glistening mountaintops, and long, lush valleys, and the blueness of an uninterrupted sky, dotted by perfectly visible galaxies, deficient of structures and pollution and even mankind.”

“It’s hard to imagine.” My thoughts race through my narrow band of travels. “Was it anything like Alaska?”

Jesus laughs. “Much nicer than even that. However, sin caused even the atmosphere to change. Father had given Adam and Eve only one small, now-famous tenet: Do not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.” He lowers his head and I suspect that happens each time the Tree comes to mind.

“That Tree had to exist, because human beings had to be given a choice to obey Father. Or not. I remember Him saying, ‘I cannot force my will on them. I want them to love me simply because I love them. They must come to me as a gesture of our love for each other.’ And, if not for Satan’s deceptions, it would have worked.” Jesus looks away, remembering, no doubt, that time when Earth was paradise.

“I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.”

“Oh no. It’s okay.”

I shrug, not sure it is. “Can I get you anything?”

“Actually, I’d love something to eat.” He looks toward the kitchen. “Just something simple.”

I walk to the hearth. “How about some Santa cookies?”

He eyes me shyly. “Speaking of forbidden fruit. Those are for your dad?”

I walk the plate to him. “He’ll understand.” I make a face at the dollops of color. “Do you even want them? They’re heavy on icing.” Setting it on the sofa cushion, I go back for the milk.

He eyes the cookies. “The essence of Christmas,” he says, dryly.

“They’re awful looking, aren’t they?”

He takes a bite.

“One thing I don’t understand,” I say, setting the milk on a table by the sofa. “You said time didn’t exist. I thought time had always existed?”

“When earth was created, its axis rotated, which humans eventually hypothesized, then used as a gauge. However, in the early period, earth and the galaxies that surround it didn’t subsist in time as you understand it. They lived in God’s time, which is really outside of time.”

“It sounds plausible; it’s just mind blowing.” Something implausible—watching Jesus eat a cookie! He lifts the plate in my direction.

I shake my head.

“Go ahead,” he says. “You’re hungry.”

Two of three cookies are left. “I’ll have one,” I say, walking to retrieve it. “Since you don’t get my way very often.”

“I’m always here, Matthew. Holy Spirit alerts me every morning when you pray or when you need me. Just like with the interview.” He wipes his mouth with the cuff of his sleeve just like me. “But, you’re right, I don’t often come in the flesh. Speaking of flesh, let me explain the ‘time’ thing in a way you might understand.” He sips the milk and sort of swishes it in his mouth. “That Rudolph cookie was a little heavy on the sugar.”

I can’t believe He said that, and I’m sure I wear a stupid look. It’s just that He’s such a regular guy.

“Father created time all at once. One day it didn’t exist, the next, it did. Imagine a storybook with picture frames that continue through every second of every day. Except that this storybook has players—people—who are writing their own script. And while Father set the storybook in motion, he didn’t dictate what would happen in each frame, which serves as the seconds, hours, and years of a person’s earthly history. Father and I can look down into the frame and see what you’re doing—past, present, and future. If you’re making a huge mistake in June of next year, We set things in motion that could counteract the consequences of that wrong choice, always encouraging you to act in your best interest. Yet if you don’t listen, we don’t interfere.”

I nod, admiring the soft halo about his body, his aura, so calming.

“And really, that’s the simple version,” he says. “Because, the fervent prayers of a righteous person can reverse anything.”

“That explains so much. I never understood it when people would say, God . . . well, you . . . knows our yesterday’s, today’s, and tomorrow’s.”

“I’m glad it’s clear to you.” He breaks the second cookie and brings me the largest half.

“Thank you, Jesus.” I bite into it. “But there’s another thing that isn’t clear.” I am chomping through my question. “You said time didn’t begin until after Adam and Eve sinned. I would’ve thought time began when you created earth.” I swallow hard.

“Time wasn’t needed then. Like heaven, earth was a Paradise outside of time. Adam and Eve were pure and Father actually walked side by side with them.”

His tone changes. “It’s difficult to understand the holiness of God.” A thoughtfulness comes over him and he hesitates. “God is detached from evil and sin; if you dwell in it, you’re separated from Him. And all mankind dwells in it. The Apostle John wrote that God is light and in Him there is no darkness.’ That’s true. We are moral perfection. Our hearts—our very beings—are light and love.

“After Adam and Eve became creatures of sin, Father was daily confronted with the thing He abhorred the most. Sin not only brought death into the future generations of his precious creation, but they were lost to him forever. He had to find a way to redeem them.”

His Christmas cookies gone, Jesus walks the dish to the fireplace. I wonder what Mother would think if she knew the Messiah, the true King of Christmas, had eaten Rudolph and half an elf on our best china.

“Mankind had no future.” He looks at the empty plate. “They were now as devoid of God as this plate is of cookies.” He places the china on the hearth and returns to the sofa. “To redeem mankind, Father came up with the time/frame concept, which put earth on a different plane, if you will, from heaven. Father no longer walked with man, but He could teach them about goodness and sin through ‘time.’ He did this by creating the laws of the Ten Commandments, which no one could fully obey. Not the Jews of latter day or the Gentiles of today.

“But there was icing on God’s plan of salvation. It wasn’t sugar coated like those cookies, that wasn’t possible. Sin had to die. And the only thing pure enough to remove it had to be as light and as white as a Christmas snow.”

“Enter you!” I pump my fist in the air. “Christ Jesus.”

He nodded. “As mankind’s Messiah, I was born to a woman and became human. My birth was prophesied throughout time in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament: God’s sinless Son would shed His blood for Godless men.”

“I’m sorry, Jesus.” I hang my head.

“Don’t be sorry. Be happy.” His tone is gently firm. “Now Father sees you through a filter of light, forever forgiven, and, once again, God’s friend. The New Covenant covering of my blood redeems all people back to Father, if only they believe.” His voice is now very soft. “Back to a holiness and love they previously couldn’t understand.”

“The gift of Christmas.”

“Yes,” He practically whispers.

“Jesus.” I whisper, too. “Thank you for Christmas, and for coming.”

“You’re welcome, Matthew.”

“Help me to be more like you.” I wrestle tears as I crawl down the sofa and throw my arms around his neck. “I’m so glad you came tonight.”

He kisses the top of my head as his arms encircle me.

“I love you so much,” I say, tears covering my face. “I know you love me and I’m just grateful for all you’ve done.”

“I know you are, son. I love you more than you know.”

I pull my tee-shirt up to wipe my eyes and nestle into his chest. “Thank you for all this, but I have one more question.”

“Okay, that’s why I’m here.”

“Tell me what happened that first Christmas in heaven, before you came to earth as a baby? I know the Christmas story of your parents, Joseph and Mary, and your birth, but what was it like in heaven—before you left?”

I feel a chuckle in his chest. “Well, first of all, we had a feast. Everything in heaven begins with a feast. The archangels Michael and Gabriel were there, other angels, the Seraphim and Cherubim. Father. It was grand. We love parties in heaven. Don’t let anyone say otherwise.” I pull back, beaming, to look at his face. Something about a heavenly party makes me smile.

“But, it was bittersweet,” he says. “I would be a fetus for nine months, not separated from Father, but not walking with Him either. And when I did surface, I would be a baby. But, I was excited to go, and Father wanted me to go. As I mentioned, He was anxious to have His beloved people in heaven and that couldn’t happen until we liberated them.”

“I’m grateful you came,” I say, “but if you had been my best friend, I’d have said, ‘Don’t do it!'”

“And I would have said, ‘Get thee behind me Satan.'” He sort of laughs and I try to remember the story he refers to.

“I said that to Peter,” he says, “one of my best friends. He told me I couldn’t die for mankind.”

“St. Peter. I remember now. Glad you didn’t listen.”

“Even back then, I knew you’d feel that way.” He nods knowingly and continues, “I longed to become human, and believe me I’d seen the future through time in the storybook frames, so I knew it would be agonizing. But, like Father, I wanted those who loved us to reside with us.” He pats my shoulder. “But, yes, I had reservations. I was, after all, the Son of God. I sat on a throne, exalted. Seraphim sang above me, ‘Holy, Holy Holy, is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory.’ And the building shook when I spoke and it filled with glorious smoke. It still does.”

“Wow! That sounds awesome.”

“I guess it is, but it isn’t some fantastic ritual. No. It’s a testimony to who we are and it portrays the pureness, the holiness of God.”

I crawl to the opposite end of the sofa, to see his face. “I can’t imagine going from heaven to earth. That’s backwards. No wonder you had reservations.” Facing Jesus, I pull my feet up in front of me. “You left a throne to be born in a barn, with a carpenter for a father. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s a long way from being the Son of God.”

“I would have done anything.” Jesus leans forward and rests his hands on his knees.

“Actually, you did everything possible–designing the universe, leaving heaven, dying horribly.” I hesitate. “But you got to choose your own mother.”

Jesus tilts his head and laughs. “Well, that’s only partially true. I agreed, but Father chose Mary. She was amazing. A perfect mother. Always knew exactly what to do. Even today, Father allows Mary’s vision to be seen around the world. People adore her, and so do I.”

“Matthew!” My dad calls from the stairs. “Do I hear you in there?”

“Dad!” I look at Jesus, stricken.

Jesus leans over and squeezes my foot. “Your interview is well complete.” He winks at me. “Now you understand, Matthew. Everything Father and I did, we did for you. For all of you. I love you, little brother. Merry Christmas.”

“I lov . . . “ My mouth flies open as Dad walks in. It is now officially Christmas morning.

“What are you doing in here?” He shuffles into the room in his slippers and pajamas. “Do you know what time it is?”

My eyes move from one corner of the room to another. His aura, His glow! He’s gone. Jesus! Be cool. “Hi, Dad.”

“Did I hear you talking to someone?” He’s carrying a poinsettia that he sits on the hearth.

I look at the opposite end of the sofa and glance around the room again, crestfallen. “I was talking to Jesus.” I shrug.

Dad sort of laughs as he looks at the empty cookie plate. “I suppose Jesus ate the cookies?”

“As a matter of fact . . .”

“Couldn’t sleep, huh?”

So glad I couldn’t. “No. Not really.

He walks over and musses my hair. “You still feeling cheated because you’re too old for Santa.”

“No!” I practically scream. “I have something so much better than Santa.” I look away, missing Jesus already, trying not to cry. “Jesus visited me tonight.”

“Well, I’m glad,” he says. “I just wish he’d left me a cookie.”

“Really, that’s what you care about?”

“Hey, bud, I’m just joking. I don’t care that you ate the cookies.”

“I don’t care about the cookies or the presents. I just wish people would think about who Jesus really is and what He did for us.”

Dad sits in his chair. “You really have been thinking about this.”

I nod.

“Want to talk about it?”

“Do you believe Jesus is like us?”

“Well,” my Dad hesitates. “He’s God, but He came to earth in an ordinary way to an ordinary family and worked an ordinary job for thirty years before starting His ministry. So, yes. I think He’s like us. And I think that was the whole idea. Now we know the person advocating for us in heaven has been here and done this just like us.”

“Can we do something special for Christmas this year? Something to honor Jesus for coming to earth as a baby.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“Can we just love everybody? Maybe not say negative things about not even one person. Try to love even the people we don’t like.”

Dad walks to the sofa, sets beside me, and puts his arm behind my shoulders. “I think you’ve finally outgrown Santa,” he says. “I’m very proud of you. After what Jesus did for us, the least we can do is love those who are sometimes unlovable.” He hugs my shoulders.

I nuzzle against him. “Did you know God and Jesus sometimes get their feelings hurt?”

“Well, I never thought about it, but it makes sense,” he says.

I put my head on His shoulder. “The Virgin Mary was an awesome Mother. Did you know that?”

“Well, she does get a few accolades.” He pats my head and chuckles. “I’m beginning to think maybe you had a real conversation with Jesus.”

“He’s real, Dad.”

“I know.”

“Do you love Him?” I ask.

“With all my heart.”

“Good. I want you to be in heaven with me.”

“You sound pretty sure you’re going.” He musses my hair again.

“I am, Dad. I know how much Jesus loves me. He even knows I lied to my teacher about that interview, but He didn’t scold me. He actually helped me.”

“You spoke to Jesus about your botched assignment?” His voice rises with each syllable.

I shrug. “Well, yes. Sort of.”

“That’s good.” He’s thinking about something, I can tell. “One thing I hope you always remember, Matthew–Jesus is always with us, whether we see Him or not. And for all the cookies and presents in the world, the love of the Father through His Son Jesus Christ is the real gift of Christmas.”

“I know, Dad.” Tears flood my face and I throw my arms around his neck. “He did so much for us.”

“He certainly did, Matthew.” He hugs me tight. “I don’t understand what happened tonight, but I think I like it.”

When I pull back, a chime causes my head to turn toward the hearth. Nothing. Suddenly, as I’m wiping  my tears, a mesmerizing light my dad doesn’t see moves up through the roof. Spellbound for a second, I finally point to the hearth. “Look, Dad!”

Dad turns and grins at me. “How’d you do that, Matthew?”

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Well, someone did.”

I laugh, gregariously, loving the fact that the cookie plate is now piled with those awful green and red cookies. Loving Jesus.

“So, how’d you do that, Matthew?”

I look at my dad, wanting him to know the truth, but knowing he can’t accept it. “Some things a guy keeps to himself,” I say. “You taught me that.”

“That’s true,” he says, walking over and picking up the plate of cookies, offering me one.

“I got an elf,” I say, holding it for him to see.

He looks at his. “I got Santa.”

“That’s fitting,”

I crunch into my cookie and look up, up, wanting desperately to see Jesus, wishing I could see heaven. Choking back tears, I am humbled and overwhelmed, like I’d wished on a star and received every Christmas miracle imaginable. I silently pray: “I’m so grateful you made me an honest boy, Big Brother. Thank you for coming tonight . . . and for coming before. And, Jesus, thanks for the cookies, too.”

“So, you ready to help me set out Santa presents?” Dad has already downed his cookie.

“Dad, I can’t believe I was so upset about Santa when I had Jesus all along.”

Dad puts his hand on my back. “I love you, Matthew. Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas, Dad. I love you too.”

Karyn & Alan

From our table to yours . . . Wishing you the merriest Christmas possible!!

Karyn Cantees Stagg

A Love that Never Died

Thanksgiving is about love—love of God, family, country, and for some, just love of food. I’m thankful for much, but especially for family, particularly my Aunt Jeanette, above with her grandson, Rod McCoy. By the grace of God, she is still with us, miraculously. Hope you enjoy this story I chose for Thanksgiving. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! kcs

She had searched under her bed, through her closet, behind the dresser, and throughout her bathroom. Nothing. Maybe she was wrong; maybe she hadn’t smelled something burning after all. Things had started to change as she aged, her 84 year old brain worked fairly well, but maybe her sniffer wasn’t quite up to par. Still, my Aunt Jeanette checked the room several times that balmy June morning in 2010.

My brain doesn’t work as well as my Aunt Jeanette’s, and even if it did, I couldn’t remember back to when Jeanette met her future husband, Paul McCoy. Or even back to 1949, when diapers were my underwear of choice.

Back then, I was the first grandchild to debut. As such, my aunts, uncles, and parents often sat me in their midst where I mesmerized them with baby gibberish as I tried to eat my toes or yank on one of my fourteen hair strands. They would make faces and ridiculous goo-goo sounds as they coaxed me to their laps. Like other oft-told stories from my childhood, this one seems like a memory, but I was much too young to remember.

Paul McCoy wasn’t my blood uncle, but I didn’t understand what that meant until I was too old to care. By then, blood, coca cola, or whiskey couldn’t have kept me from my fun-loving uncle. He was a big man, tall, with brute strength, always teasing or pranking, scrubbing your head with his knuckles, and telling you the latest and best of the dozen or so jokes he’d just learned. He was always happy to see every person who walked through his front door.

Jeanette feigned exasperation at Paul’s jokes and stories, but exposed her affection by repeating them often. They were quite the pair; Paul was an early bird, Jeanette was a night owl. She’d often cajole her nocturnal kin to drive around our small town, looking for neither mischief nor mayhem in the early hours, just laughter and crazy fun. I’ve made that circuit with Jeanette, my mother, and Jeanette’s daughter, Cheryl, more times than I can say.

The years passed; Jeanette and Paul grew older and we children grew up. In 1997, Paul succumbed to diabetes and passed into heaven. Jeanette’s friskiness was understandably curtailed. Her heart and humor were forever intertwined with her husband, and his death, she often stated, was the worst thing that ever happened to her.

Make no mistake, the myriad surgeries and ailments she had suffered were major calamities in their own right—hip replacement, knee replacement, even breast cancer. All told, nine operations. And although she was grateful for the years she’d survived since Paul’s death, not having her best friend and soul mate to share it with still brought tears to her eyes.

And that morning in 2010, she was acutely aware that there was no one to confirm or deny the burning smell that may or may not have been. And, so, she went about her day, making the trek from her bedroom to the kitchen, and passing, as she always did, the photograph of the man she couldn’t remember not loving, which hung prominently on the living room wall.

In the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians, the eloquent St. Paul writes: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” Jeanette knew the quote, but her husband was gone, and in her twilight years, when her senses weren’t what they once were, when her confidence waned, she needed him more than ever.

That evening in 2010, around eight o’clock, Jeanette did something uncommon; she fell asleep on the family room sofa. It was early for her, but it had been a long, busy Friday—cleaning day—and she’d worked harder than usual. Fatigue swept over her, driving her into a deep slumber.

How long did she sleep? She couldn’t quite say, but something in her subconscious was nudging her to awaken. A noise . . . buzzing. What? Finally, groggily, she realized the phone was ringing and reached to pick it up.

“Hello.”

“Grandma, I knocked and knocked and you didn’t answer,” said the voice on the other end. “I’m outside.”

Jeanette quickly arose and opened the door to her grandson, Rod.

“I have the keys to Chad’s truck,” he said, referring to his cousin, another of Jeanette’s grandsons, and laid the keys on the kitchen table next to her purse. It was an odd time for him to come by. Odd that he had Chad’s keys.

She shook off her sleepiness and walked outside to say goodbye, where they chatted, as they often did.

Just minutes had passed when Rod glanced up, startled. “Grandma, look!” he said, pointing to the left side of the house.

She turned to see an alarming gray haze rising like a storm cloud from the living room. They rushed inside to find every crevice of her one-story home filled with smoke.

“My purse!” Jeanette, near hysterics, covered her mouth. “I have to get my purse.”

Rod jockeyed to move from the hallway into the kitchen, but the dense fog blocked his vision and choked him. He retreated. “Can’t do it,” he said, and led his grandmother outside. It was not only an impossible feat, but surprising, given the short time they’d been outside.

When the fire truck arrived, a fireman retrieved her purse, but the house was a loss.

It seemed a blur, this finite period of time that had assaulted and then plundered her. That had brought her from a groggy awakening to now standing in the dark with flashing red lights and puddles of water and meandering hoses. Without a fresh set of clothes or a place to sleep. Without a safe harbor. Tears covered her cheeks. Except for Paul’s death, nothing had ever compared to this.

The next day she and her children made their way through the charred remains of a life well lived, now mounds of soot and ash. The furniture, pictures, clothing, books, shoes, linens, eye glasses, and vast array of Christmas ornaments—everything was ruined. Glass shards littered the sooty floor beneath the blackened lop-sided picture frame that had held Paul’s photograph, now missing from the frame. Once again, Jeanette couldn’t contain her tears.

Her daughter, Cheryl, noticed what must have looked like the tip of an angel wing peeking through the midst of the dismal gray floor residue. She bent down to investigate and pulled the whiteness up and out of the ashes like the Phoenix arising. After blowing the soot off, she gasped, “This is impossible!” Then she turned the photograph so her mother could see the familiar head shot of her husband Paul.

They were speechless. (The second miracle of that day!)

Though her home and her valuables had burned, Jeanette understood—the love that burned in her heart lived forever. Forever. And it had just been confirmed, miraculously, unbelievably. As she stared at the perfectly intact photograph, she knew it was a gift. Paul McCoy, by God’s Grace, had made an appearance on the second worst day of her life, an appearance she desperately needed. Love had reached out of heaven and shown its face, healing some of the heartbreak.

The Psalmist writes, “For He will give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” And so He had. From Rod waking her unexpectedly from what could have been, to Paul’s coveted picture escaping the blaze. Miracles existed in her world.

One day she’d be reunited with the man she loved, because love, as St. Paul promised, never fails. And Paul and Jeanette’s love surely never died. xxx

Below left is the recovered picture of Paul. Right, is a rare picture of them dancing. Today, Jeanette is 89. She has survived the odds, many of her friends, her seven siblings, and her husband. She still lives alone, cleans her own house, and goes to every home basketball game her high school alma mater plays.

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The Forever Season

Yellow, brown, scarlet, and orange—the brushstrokes of angels bring autumn’s beauty to life. Instead of enjoying the pageantry, I busy myself lamenting the stark wintry weather that will soon ravage fallen leaves, old bones, and the landscape. Those merry folks who embrace winter’s bite make me grumpy, honestly. Vapor rises from their breath, liberating squeals of joy, as tongues escape to catch snowflakes. Bliss for them, despair for me.

I scold myself: Do not despise what hasn’t yet come!

Still, winter arises for me each year like the wilderness trip for the Israelites. It seems to last forever and I yearn for it to be over. It feels longer than other seasons, meaner. But in the valleys of our lives, when we face dragons and demons and worries and winter, we are empowered to survive, to rise above whatever metamorphosis, whatever pit of despair or anguish, winter brings.

As leaves flutter in the breezy wind that will soon make me gasp, I ponder the philosopher’s question: Could I truly appreciate summer had I never known winter? In this body that feels every nuance of cold, I scream “Absolutely!” Just as I know right from wrong, though the boundaries challenge many in the 21st Century, “Yes!” I don’t need a comparison to cherish the difference.

But then I laugh. Taking things for granted is a human condition I can scarcely escape.

When I am still unbundled and carefree, I enjoy watching cascading leaves on that perfect autumn Wednesday or Sunday when the day can’t decide if it should be hot or cold and so it climbs up and back down that Fahrenheit scale until my closet is a mishmash of sandals and boots, sleeveless dresses and coats, sweaters and shorts.

In autumn, I like the way the glass catches the sun at my window, it’s feigning-friendly ray sneaking into the warm indoors, until its untimely eventide turns—into a blistering chill against my unsuspecting window pane. I even like it though spiders trail the sun into the nice, warm shadows of my home and spin dusty looking webs.

Autumn is that compromise between extremes, a lesson perhaps, bestowing a leafy, cool reception for winter’s gray and white affliction. It doesn’t sadden me like winter. It just disappears much too quickly.

Nowadays, seasons seem to depart faster than they come, faster than the weather that defines them. Reformed of centuries-old lore: Sun scorches. Leaves fall. Snow pelts. Rain pours. Quoth God’s seasons, “nevermore.”

This prose, these lyrical phrases I’ve written with the vain imagination of emulating my poetic friends, evokes a smile and a recollection of the romantic John Keats. His lusty spring, summer nearer heaven, autumn of contentedness, and winter of pale misfeature.

Seasons are the song of the poets. For Keats and his kin, they are metaphors for life. However, seasons, like their defining weather, cycle endlessly. Human seasons are finite. Once we reach what Keats called the pale misfeature of life—brought on, not by sunless days, but by maturity—the spring in our footstep lessens and we move closer to winter’s finale.

Manes and whiskers turn bristly and white, and eyes dim, as the autumn years become wonderful, long-ago memories. Soon, the effortless, anticipated wounds of winter will linger once too long and the curtain on our final encore falls. Goodbye, we say, to loved ones and planet earth.

It makes me sigh and smile. This juncture in my life is not fearful.

I anticipate it!

If we know Christ, we must never fear seasons of change. Even as breath becomes a whisper that fades into the universe, we are still merely evolving. We get to (yes, it’s a privilege) escape our earthly bodies and embrace a heavenly spirit. At least that’s what I believe.

Like the butterfly fleeing it’s cocoon, untouched as it makes its debut, so God’s grace, that Holy miracle we can scant understand transforms and welcomes earth’s pilgrims as we discard our fleshly cocoon and encounter our eternal home. And like the butterfly, we are liberated, declared by a Holy God to be, not sinless, but guiltless before the Creator who loved us enough to undergo the earthly metamorphosis of seasons for Himself.

In the summer of His life, He died on a cross, ensuring that when our winter expires, it will mark a new and amazing beginning—a heavenly eternity—rather than the end.

Quoth God’s seasons, “Evermore.”

 

snow (2)Butterflysmokebush back

The Gift

New York City was like a drug and I was a junkie.

In the late 1960’s, I left the mountains and valleys of West Virginia for the sprawl and vigor of New York City. The air is different there. It stimulates your senses and you’re always in motion. The City is like a drug and I was a junkie.

Even before New York, and really for most of my life, I felt different. As a child I was terrified of the dark, fearing the demons that lined my room when the lights went out, creepy eyes always watching. I begged to sleep with Mom and Dad.

It sounds bizarre—demons. Well, that’s what I call them now. I’m not sure what I thought they were then. But there was something—I believe that. They weren’t in my head. And neither was the small angel who sat in the room’s lone chair.

Mostly, I was normal growing up, but sometimes I knew things there was no possible way I could know. It happened rarely, but it happened enough that I noticed. However, when I went to New York, that city air hit my brain and triggered something.

Strange things began to happen. For starters, New Yorkers don’t notice much, but they noticed me—on the street, in elevators, on buses—they spoke, stopped me, or struck up a conversation—invited me to dinner, to parties, to become famous. Sometimes it was a pure con brought on by my naiveté, but mostly it was just natives, curious about one of the city’s imports. Regardless, I felt like a yellow pointer sign flashed over my head, like a mountaineer hippie version of Marlo Thomas in ‘That Girl.”

My first New York address was the Phoebe Warren Hotel for Girls on East 68th Street. The Phoebe, as we called it, was a foreboding brownstone sitting amidst other better kept brownstones and high-brow embassies on a swanky limousine-lined, litter-free street, a half block from Central Park.

I met a few residents, including Christina, my future roommate, and now lifelong friend, a beautiful native with a great laugh who was constantly steering me from psychos, weirdos, and con artists. A demanding task, since they also saw my flashing yellow sign.

That revelatory ‘knowing’, energy, whatever it was—the lukewarm phenomenon that had ‘shown’ me things in my past—was now set on “go,” and because of it, occasionally I’d tell fortunes. One afternoon a woman I’d seen in The Phoebe’s dining room grabbed my arm in the tiny hotel elevator. She eyed me like someone who had latched onto the Holy Grail.

“You know something,” she said to me, her voice shaky. “You have to tell me! Please. Tell me now.”

I was alone and startled, but naïve woman/child that I was, I went to her room. Why? Well, I did sense something.

When we got there, I asked for a deck of cards. I didn’t really need them; mostly they were a prop, a way to share my ‘gift’ that people could understand.

After flipping through the cards, I unveiled a strange saga: two men were following a younger man they intended to harm. And the younger man needed to contact her. I don’t remember the details—they went on and on—however, I do remember her tears. You see, I confirmed her fears; the young man was her son. This happened at least twice at The Phoebe.

Religion wasn’t something I embraced at this life juncture, but I still prayed. And I believed. Mostly, I believed I had a terrifying gift from the dark side, and I prayed God would take it away.

One night, Christina and I went out to dinner. After we’d returned and gone to our rooms, she ran to my room because a large black bird had flown through her window and into her mirror. Not long after, she and I moved into an apartment on East 74th Street.

Months had passed without much ‘psychic’ nonsense when out of the blue I told Christina my ex-boyfriend was going to call. We hadn’t been in touch in over a year, maybe two. Unbelievably, he phoned that very night. She answered, and after he told her who he was, she screamed, “Karyn, you freak me out!” and handed me the receiver.

“What was that all about?” he asked when I answered.

“I told her you were going to call,” I said.

“How did you know that?” he sounded incredulous. “I didn’t even know it.” My life was about to take a huge turn.

The next few months were hectic. I was enduring the strain of a new job and a renewed long distance relationship with my ex. The first of November seemed to come early and was much too cold. I was out window shopping, on the way to an afternoon matinee with three friends. Suddenly, an attack of anxiety, complete with heart palpitations, swept over me. I spun around, reversing directions, like a drug addict sniffing out a fix. “I have to get back to the apartment!” I yelled back to my startled friends. They chased after me as my feet clapped the pavement. “What’s going on?” my friend Bobby asked as he hustled alongside me.

“I’m not sure.” I kept moving. “But something awful has happened and I have to get home.”

Bobby motioned for the others to follow and they were all there when I opened my apartment door to a ringing telephone.

It was my ex, who was now my boyfriend, and he was visiting in our hometown. “Karyn,” he spoke softly into the receiver, “your Dad died early this morning. Your Mom’s at the hospital. They think he had a heart attack.”

Just like that. Cullen Cantees, my 47 year old father was dead.

I had come to New York to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and, truthfully, to escape my father’s watchful eyes. The irony didn’t hit me for years: Dad died when I was living in the one place I felt hidden from his control. To further the irony, I immediately moved home. Five months later, I married my ex, who is, once again, my ex.

Thankfully, while I was in New York, I had a heavenly Father who sent both heavenly and earthly angels—friends like Christina and Bobby—who steered me. And though I wasn’t religious, two things I believed: Satan and evil existed as surely as God and good. And in the 1960’s of my youth, evil was often lurking. Today I believe the prayers of my family and my own simple prayers sustained me.

One of those prayers, the appeal I made from fright, I still sometimes ponder: “God, please take this psychic power, this “knowing,” whatever it is, away from me.” It was a prayer that for the most part was answered. At least for a time.

My ‘gift’ prepared me for certain events during this brief two-year, New York stint, and probably saved my life at least once (stay tuned). Yet knowing the unknown was frightening. Here’s what I’ve come to believe: For whatever reason, God gave me a prophetic gift, which, in my youth, I abused with cards and fortune tellers, not knowing what it was or how to use it.

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The left side view from our hotel room overlooking Central Park two years ago. The above, main photo is the right side view, the gorgeous NYC skyline, looking more like a painting than a photo.

Still, God was faithful! Because, while my “gift” was sidelined, it wasn’t eliminated. Today, I sometimes know things I have no way of knowing, other than the divine. It’s rare, but when it happens, I am reassured of His unending grace. And I am reminded that when darkness falls, the wondrous light of Christ is always shining.

The orchestra pit at Phantom of the Opera. Part of my dowry when Alan and I married was a yearly trip to NYC. It doesn't always happen anymore.

Orchestra pit, Phantom of the Opera. My marriage dowry *giggle* included yearly trips to NYC. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen.