The Gift of Christmas

Since several thousand readers have read and enjoyed The Gift of Christmas, I’ve posted it again as my Christmas classic. It’s worth a re-read or to pass on! And I’ve written a sequel. Find out what happens when Matthew’s interview goes viral. It’s a touching holiday story that is crazy and fun. Posting in a few days. Merry Christmas everyone! 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. I try to regroup and immediately stand. Stepping to the side of Dad’s chair, I prepare to run. That’s when I notice his clothing—a long white robe with a gold sash. I’ve never seen anyone dressed like this. I’ve never seen anyone 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.”

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 and write an article about someone we knew, and, okay, I fudged. I waited until the last minute, so I made up a discussion I had with Jesus. She said it was unacceptable, because we were to interview someone alive, someone we knew. And besides, my questions were totally superficial.

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

Her look spoke an emphatic “No!” But when she turned from me she said, “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, love, and every good thing simultaneously, so much so that I cannot help but stay. love-1221444_1920

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?”

“Only a handful of people have 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! Regardless of what we’re doing or where we are, Father and I 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?”angels in the air wallpaper - Copy

“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 floes.” 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.”

When he smiles, I admire the soft halo about his body, his aura, so calming.

“Because the essence of Father and I are love,” he continues, “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. garden-of-eden-1803805_1920

“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.’ 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 frames 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, trying to imagine Jesus and Father God peeking down into my life as it fast forwards like movie screens on boxcars

“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 becomes more serious. “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 softens. “Back to a holiness and love they previously couldn’t comprehend.”

“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.” He strokes my hair.

“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.lightstock_55067_xsmall_user_2435152

“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 pull back again to look at him. “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.”

“The disciple Peter. I remember now.” I nuzzle back into his arms feeling more acceptance and love than I’d ever known. “Glad you didn’t listen.”

“Even back then, I knew you’d feel that way.” He rubs my back 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 tilts my head up and smiles at me. “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 pull away and 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.” A thought escapes my mouth: “But you got to choose your own mother.”

Jesus lowers 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 stirs the fireplace embers with a poker. “I just wish he’d left me a cookie.”

“Really, that’s what you care about?”

“Hey, bud, I’m just joking.’ He puts a log on the burning ashes. “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 brushes his hands together as he sits in his chair. “You really have been thinking about this?”

I nod.

“Want to talk about it?” He leans back, his eyes fully fixed on me.

“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.”

“Do you have something in mind?” Dad leans forward.

“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 shoulder 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 before pushing up from the sofa and walking back to the hearth. I follow behind him.

“I know I’m going to heaven, Dad, and I know how much Jesus loves me. He even knows I lied to my teacher about His interview, but He didn’t scold me. He actually helped me.” The poker is fixed in his hand.

“You spoke to Jesus about that?” His voice rises as he jabs at the small flame.

I shrug. “Well, yes. Sort of.”

“That’s good.” He’s cradles the poker and faces me. “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.”

A chime from the hearth alerts me and I raise my head from Dad’s chest. Nothing. Suddenly, as I’m wiping my tears, a startling light my dad can’t see moves up through the roof. Momentarily spellbound, I quickly compose myself and point behind him. “Look, Dad!”

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

“I didn’t do anything.”

“Well, someone did.”

I laugh enthusiastically, 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 turns around and picks 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 and sort of glows in the shadow and warmth of the flames.

“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.”


The sequel to this story will be up in a few days. Discover Matthew’s troubles and triumphs when he turns in his interview of Jesus. You will love it!

What comes next is better

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! The last three months of the year, I need all the energy I can muster. Now this!

“That tooth has to come out,” my dentist had said.

Since last winter, I’d had more health issues than I cared to recount: sinuses, eyes, lungs, shingles, fibromyalgia, even depression from all the problems. As soon as one ailment lessened, another surfaced. And now dental work. Maybe that tooth would just supernaturally fall from my mouth.

My first experience with the supernatural was probably around age five. Mother took me to see an old man (probably in his 50s) who prayed warts away. The ugly knobs lined my fingers and fell across my knuckles. They were gross even at my age and short of seeing a doctor, I’d have done anything to be rid of them. My peers assured me I’d gotten them from frogs, although I had no proclivity for amphibians. Since my brother did, I figured I’d gotten them by some sort of relational osmosis.

Mother and I drove to Toler, Kentucky, a bend in the road, and a short jaunt from where we lived. I didn’t know the wart healer, though I’d heard of him. Mother explained the details so I’d be excited, not nervous: “He’ll pray a special prayer and the warts will slowly disappear over time.”

The warts didn’t fall off in front of me as I’d secretly hoped, but over the next couple of weeks, everything she said happened. No doctor, no grandma mixing weird, foul-smelling concoctions. Just Brother Whachamacallem praying.

I wished things could happen that easily today. Now, it seemed I needed restorative spackle, superglue, and duct tape for all the appointments, tests, and procedures I had with my eleven doctors. I was beginning to feel like the Israelites in the desert, following the cloud of the Lord. Except, unlike the Israelites, it didn’t feel like a guiding cloud—it was a dark cloud and it was trailing me.

So, my dentist made me an appointment with an oral surgeon because the back tooth somewhat hooded the tooth to be removed. The day of the extraction, I met the surgeon and was immediately put to sleep. He didn’t know me, didn’t mention that it may be a difficult extraction. Afterwards, he sent me home with eight pills, standard instructions, and a couple of stitches over a big hole. 

When the anesthesia wore off, pain raced into my neck, my teeth, and inside my mouth. My back tooth had an intense ache that medication and no amount of instruction could fix. About 6 PM, distraught and teary, I called the oral surgeon’s answering service and was put through to him.

If he was terse, I was pathetic. Hazy in my thoughts and ill-composed questions. I asked if the back tooth, which hurt to even touch, might be diseased. Why did my upper mouth feel like it had been raked. Was infection spreading? I’d never had pain like this.

“I’m not giving you any more pain medication!” he said emphatically.

I was blindsided. I hadn’t asked for pain meds though the two pills I’d taken weren’t working. I was more concerned about infection and if an Emergency Room visit was imminent.

I would be better in the morning, he assured me, when he could see me.

I hung up completely unraveled. He had shown no compassion and little concern for my well-being. And he treated me as if I was an addict. Surely there are easier ways to get drugs! But, addiction was a problem in West Virginia and he didn’t know me.

The rest of that evening and late into the night, the pain escalated and I cried myriad prayers. “Lord, help me to be resilient, and kind. Because frankly I don’t feel kind.” Then, “Lord, just heal me. Jesus died so I can be healed.” Finally, “Forgive me, Lord. Pain makes us empathetic, strong. Jesus endured. Help me to do the same.” My prayers ran the gamut.

I had resigned myself to two extremes—I would deal with the pain or the pain just might kill me—when an exceedingly manipulative, self-absorbed notion ran through my head: “If you really loved me, Lord, you’d heal me.”

I wished I could take it back. It wasn’t even how I felt. But, at that moment, having whispered the most contrived prayer of the night, I received grace. My pain went from 10 to 0, instantly! Beautiful Grace. Thank God for the mysteries of heaven and what Jesus did at the cross. As to my tiny role—I had spouted a litany of affected, nonsensical prayers, sprinkled with some faith.

Sobbing with relief, I thanked God and woke Alan to share the good news. It was 2:30 AM.

I’d like to say that’s the end of the story, but later that day a mild pain kicked in. The extraction horror—the unbearable pain—was miraculously gone! The socket pain, however, was pushing full throttle.

Befuddled, I prayed: “Lord, why heal me half-way? Why heal one pain and not the other?” And, “What was that pain-free night all about?”

I questioned God the way I did when, in my teens and twenties, I pushed Him away. Yet He never gave up on the five-year old who believed warts would vanish. Then and now, I expected Him to be predictable, like a mother, not considering the Bible, which pretty much establishes His un-predictability!

It was just hard to comprehend a partial move of God considering the time I’d poured boiling water over my hand (see Angels Amongst Us) and He’d completely healed me thirty dreadful minutes and two prayers later. From removing warts to finding Alan and me a new home (see House of Grace) many of my past appeals had been answered. Thoroughly. I expected more of the same.

I expected the expected.

I got the unexpected. He went off on a tangent. From Isaiah 43:19. “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”

God showed me this scripture, this principle, through a sermon by Pastor Steven Furtick that I knew was meant for me, and really, for us all. Our expectation of God mustn’t rely on our history with Him: we can’t look back to clarify the present. And while we’re at it, we can’t second-guess God today.

Our relationship is ever evolving.

I’ve asked God for many things—haven’t you? Asked Him to shape me, guide me, make me  more like His Son. Maybe this incomplete healing wasn’t incomplete at all. Maybe it would help accomplish exactly what I’d prayed for. He’d still performed a miracle. Not exactly how I’d envisioned, but the worst pain had vanished. God had blessed me in this wilderness!

Consider St. Paul’s declaration in 2nd Corinthians: “Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake, for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Unlike St. Paul, I don’t welcome adversity. I’m too 21st Century reliant on comfort, which may be why blind eyes and graves seldom open anymore. But I can, when I’m weak, let God take over.

It’s an extraordinary thing when God intervenes. You know in your “knower” that the Divine has touched you. Sometimes it evens translates through a warm glow, tingles, or a presence. But, with physical pain, at least in my two cases, pain just left my body. All at once. That’s pretty spectacular, too.

Must I  question the ‘why’ or even the ‘how’ when I know Who?

I realized I’d been looking at the cloud that was trailing me the wrong way. I’d seen a threat, when really, it was akin to the cloud of God’s glory that blessed the Israelites. They didn’t always see their blessing either. They grumbled even when they’d seen a feast of miracles. Yet everything they needed was in that cloud: water, food, shoes and clothes that never wore out. Military supremacy. I too had endured some pretty tough enemies. I too had grumbled. Still, God had brought me through.

Dental pain might be a stretch for many to see the hand of God at work, but dental pain, which kicked in my fibromyalgia, was a nightmare. (With thanks to my dentist for helping me through) I declare it my final trial in the succession of misfortunes that have loomed over me for months. I am grabbing hold of God’s promise in Hebrews 10:23. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”

Yes, “He is faithful.” Yet, He doesn’t relate to me like he did my five-year-old self, or even the woman I was last year. He wants—no! He expects me/us to grow. What’s in front of us will always take us to greater heights if we’ll let Him work through us. God’s faithfulness is shown through a litany of saints—from Abraham, King David, and Queen Esther to Ruth and Naomi and St. Paul.

So it went with them, so it goes with us: What comes next is better!

Sure, they all went through the wilderness, and we will too. Just remember St. Paul’s “When I am weak, then I am strong” declaration. Lean on God. I mean, give it up. Press!

My best days are still in front of me. Even at my age, I believe that. Just because I can’t see, touch, or even understand what He’s doing at times, doesn’t mean—has never meant—He isn’t ever-present. His methods may change, but I anticipate, with joy and gladness, with awe and conviction, what God will do in my future. And I will remember His past faithfulness and His promises—to me and to the saints who went before me. I will stand on His Word with prayer and thanksgiving, knowing His promises are true. And believing with certainty Roman 8:18. “What we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us.”

This Thanksgiving, as we reflect on the past and look to the future, as we see the fruit of our labor and the goodness of God, let us consider that our thankfulness and faithfulness have been and will be rewarded. Now and in the world to come.

I am so thankful for the blessings God bestows. I know you are too.

Be blessed and Happy Thanksgiving!


In His Presence

This fictional story was inspired by a sermon by Christine Caine.

One late October night, wind with pelting rain blustered outside, seeming for all the world like March. Being extremely tired, I didn’t even read my Bible before lying down, just flipped the light and nodded off. Unusual for me. The next thing I remember is being abruptly awakened by someone tugging my arm, trying to pull me from my bed. Leave me be! I twisted face down into the nest of linens.

I was dead weight. Yet they managed to elevate my lifeless body and then bury my face into what must’ve been an armpit. As frightening and as chilly as it should’ve been–wind whipping my legs and tousling my hair–I wasn’t scared or cold or anything really. Except aggravated.

In a short while, my feet bumped the ground and a blinding light fully aroused and startled me, so much so that I covered my face with my hands. “Where am I?” I faced my sleep-napper and pulled my hands away, but the light drew them back to my face. “What’s going on?”

A kind voice spoke. “Don’t be afraid.”

“Where am I?”

“You’re in heaven.

Heaven? Seriously, heaven? Somewhat dazed, but still unafraid, I desperately wanted to view my surroundings and the person speaking.

“You’re about to learn something that those who seek God must fully understand, and you must pass along.” The voice was that of a man.

Me? I thought. Why tell such an extraordinary thing to me? Still, as curious as I was, I was more interested in seeing heaven. I peeped through slits made by my fingers, my eyes getting used to the light. Much better. “Is it okay if I look around?”

“Of course,” he said. “It just takes a few seconds to acclimate.” Seeing that I wasn’t fearful, he stepped closer. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Paul of Tarsus.”

I’m not sure what struck me more—the scenery as my eyes embraced every nuance of my bright and stunning surroundings or the seeming fact that I was conversing with the inimitable St. Paul—apostle, evangelist, and author extraordinaire. The man who penned most of the New Testament. Yet, even St. Paul couldn’t pull my gaze from the dazzling and contrasting vistas before me, like dropping into a fantasy. I twirled about, gushing. “Wow! So this is heaven?”

“Yes. You’re getting the abbreviated, back door tour. The country-side of heaven. Most people don’t come in this way, but the impact is nonetheless stunning.”

“I see you’re still the master of the understatement.” A silver sash complemented his pure white robe and his full face had an easy smile.

He laughed. “I’m glad you’re impressed.”

We stood near the edge of an iridescent road shimmering like golden diamonds. Yet it wasn’t opaque. Beneath the pavement, multi-hued earthworms wiggled and squirmed, and strange yet beautifully colored flowers whose petals popped beneath the highway’s glassy golden surface, could clearly be seen.

If that wasn’t peculiar enough, a crystal-clear brook near the road splashed across large and small rocks with jutting crystals and multiple striations, and with something resembling lips etched into their grooves! The rocks gurgled and chattered to the brook, the brook to the birds, the birds to the butterflies, and the butterflies to creatures unknown to me, flying over and around the brook.

I twirled around, trying to take it all in, and that’s when I saw the ocean. It laid beyond the brook and moved with one gentle wave as it glistened and caressed a shore that treasured its touch. The saturated sand seemed to sigh as it slipped underneath the great ocean’s embrace and then it would scurry back out. Under, over, and out. A happy game of water tag where I could see each individual grain, each drop of water, leaping, playing. How is this possible?

I turned to St. Paul, completely enthralled. “Is Jesus here?”

“He is with us, as He is omnipresent. In fact, He just asked me to bring you to Him.”

My hands quickly covered my heart, now beating so wildly I hoped it wouldn’t jump from my chest. “Here? Jesus wants to see me here?”

He smiled. “Of course, that’s why you’ve come.”

As I gazed about, spellbound, trying to grasp what was happening, trying to take in the grandeur, I pointed to the large, beautiful homes hovering near billowy clouds in the sky. “Do you live in one of those?”

He waved past me. “I live way over there.”

I tried to imagine living in one of these hovering mansions with an amazing view of talking brooks and birds, golden roads, and playful sand. And, really, I couldn’t imagine it. It seemed more like a perfected Alice in Wonderland fantasy than heaven.

I turned back to the Apostle. “I’m so grateful to you, St. Paul. You’re one of my heroes—the prisons, the torture that you endured for us all. My favorite of your letters is the one to the Romans. I bet I’ve read it a thousand times.” I hoped I wasn’t rambling.

Paul smiled humbly. “Thank you. I was dogged back then. If I couldn’t convert you, I would pray and fast for days. If nothing changed, I reluctantly moved on. Peter would tell me to dust the sand from my feet and go, but I always remembered.”


“The martyrs. My second chance.” Paul’s eyes filled with tears. “I was responsible for the deaths of many saints, you know, but Jesus gave me a lifeline. Afterwards, I memorized every martyr’s face. That, along with the hope of Christ, gave me the passion to try and convert every unsaved person.” He sort of gulped and then smiled. “But I’ve met the martyrs here! Every one of them.”

As I touched the great man’s shoulder, he dried his eyes and took my hand. “Are you ready?”

“To meet Jesus?”

He nodded.

Now somewhat fearful, I wasn’t sure, but returned his nod.

“Let’s do it.” His face was beautifully lit from his tears.

My feet lightly arose from the pavement, an amazing experience. I was so bleary-eyed before, I didn’t fully conceive that I was flying, even as my body weight had seemed to evaporate. Now, warm air rushed through my hair and filled my nostrils, my pores, and my lungs. I inhaled, riveted, as all sorts of multi-hued creatures, many of them foreign to me, flew with us and past us.

Shimmering light swirled about, dueling like swords of flashing diamonds. It reflected off every bird’s feather and blade of grass, off every splash of water and butterfly wing, producing colors alien to my eyes. Quickly, we came upon a knoll where thousands of blooming flowers and grasses in breathtaking hues birthed an enchantment of fragrances that blessed all my senses.

Stunning though it was, as I looked beyond us, a soft golden light held my gaze. I fixated on the light’s allure–like nothing I’d ever experienced–blissful, alive, captivating. Its radiance attracted every living thing toward it, including St. Paul and me.

A beautiful white stallion was enveloped by the light and was surrounded by hundreds of people, and what appeared to be angels, although I had trouble differentiating the two. The people were smaller and without wings, though some of the largest angels were wingless, too. Large and small creatures, some with four heads and six wings, some with many eyes, surrounded the soft glow and bowed to the ground. As we drew nearer, I realized the hum I heard from the distance was the glorious chants of the Cherubim and the Seraphim: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty; the whole earth is full of His glory.”

The reality of those words . . . the fragrance. His aura took my breath and I stopped mid-air. Paul smiled at me. “No one can resist Him. Well, not in this place anyway. Many resist Him on Earth.” He motioned to me. “Come. He awaits.”

It is Jesus. And he waits . . . on me. Tears came to my eyes and a knot formed in my throat.

As we floated to the ground, the great throng of angels and people parted. He stood no more than fifty feet in front of us, talking and smiling like a regular person. Anxiety filled me, realizing I would soon stand before my Creator, the Being I prayed to and listened for, and hoped to one day see. As we strolled in, my knees were giving way and my eyes were now fully moist. I measured each footstep. “Slower, St. Paul, slower.”

My senses tingled as we moved into what felt like a sunbeam’s shaft of goodness and light, where hope and mercy and love, and every good thing seemed to reside. “Worthy is the Lamb,” the Cherubim chanted, “who was slain, to receive power and riches and wisdom . . .”

My body hairs stood up like porcupine needles. The glory, the love, was so superior to anything on Earth that as Jesus’ aura fell over me, I almost couldn’t stand. I turned to St. Paul for comfort, for stability, for words, but he simply placed his hand on my shoulder and nudged me in front of him. Immediately, I saw the feathery wings and the glowing garments of the living creatures who stand before Him.

Then I saw Jesus . . .

and fell.

Tears flooded my face, not because I wanted, but because I was overcome. Breathe! I could not move in the presence of such amazing grace, my spirit discerning how completely deficient, insufficient, pathetic I was in the presence of such Holiness, power, and love. Oh please, I prayed inwardly, Dear Jesus, don’t allow me to be swallowed into the belly of the earth where I belong. Please let me do this thing it seems I have been commissioned to do, I am honored to do, I am resolute to do.

Except I could not speak or move or stand.

Since my eyes were the only things available to my will, I opened them. In my prostrate position, I saw His toes and His sandals, and the hem of his robe, and I tried to reach out to touch it like the woman in the Bible with the issue of blood, but I was paralyzed.

“Don’t be afraid.” He spoke so tenderly. “You won’t be swallowed up. You’re a vessel of light.“

“But, I am nobody.” My body trembled. “I don’t preach or teach or sing or do anything that should put me in your presence, Jesus. I wish I did.” I placed my face into the pulsating grass and it tickled me. “And my past. My past still haunts me.”

“It’s all insignificant. You mean everything to me.” He touched my hand, bidding me up, and I looked into his beautiful face, full of compassion and warmth. Not one hint of judgment. My trembling began to subside and I awkwardly stood up beside him. He put His arm around my shoulder and the white stallion neighed and bowed. “Not now, Bountiful,” He said, and I realized the horse was trying to allow Him up. Can’t believe I’m here. Maybe I’m dead?

Jesus nodded to the horse and waved to the people and angels before motioning me back through the meadow away from the crowd and toward a mountain. St. Paul had disappeared and Bountiful pranced in the distance, keeping pace with us. As we walked along, Jesus picked two flowers, a tall, cactus-like species I had never before seen. He looked over and smiled. “You’re not dead,” He said. “You’re just visiting.”

After what I’d witnessed, I was afraid to speak, though Jesus had given my fear no reason to surface. As we neared the mountain of multi-colored trees with shades of scarlet and purple, I seemed to float in the fragrance of empress trees and sweet-smelling pines, of jasmine and lavender. Even frankincense.

Jesus spoke and pointed His hand and at once an ocean appeared, exactly where the meadow ended and the mountain began. Exactly where we stood! My lip dropped. I had been almost drooling from the aroma’s and now I stood before a moveable, playful, and superior version of sea, sand, and sky that even my dreams could not improve upon.

“The ocean relaxes you. Let’s sit over there,” he motioned to two chairs facing the waves, “where we can talk.” Spectacularly-speckled silver and gold birds, with purple ribbons flowing behind them flew down to meet us and wrapped and unwrapped their ribbon-like wings around Jesus’ arms and even the strands of His hair.

He laughed and put his hands out, not waving them off, but caressing them as each flew to touch Him. “It’s their way of loving me,” He said, amused by these magnificent creatures. Afterwards, we sat in white linen arm chairs, and the birds gathered around us, cooing as birds often do. Sometimes cooing, “Hallelujah.” Sounding like chimes with an English inflection.

I was nearly trance-like when he turned his chair sideways. “So, what do you think of what Paul said?”

Knowing exactly what He meant, but still somewhat nervous, (I was in heaven with Jesus!) I tried to speak. “I . . . I’m not sure but what . . .” I shook my head.

“Don’t be afraid. I’m no closer to you here than sometimes when you pray.” He paused, an encouragement for me to answer intelligently.

“I. . . I don’t know,” I heard myself say. “St. Paul said I would be told something all seekers of God should know, and that I should pass on.” I twirled my thumbs around each other, nervous. Maybe I should just try praying. I bowed my head. “Jesus, more than anyone, you know I want to fulfil my purpose, to be part of your bigger plan.” I should just stop here. “But it never happened for me. I developed no particular gift and have little, if anything, to offer.” I sighed, and closed my eyes tighter. “I am nobody. No one thinks of me as a great person of God, or listens to me, or heaven forbid, thinks I’m someone with a calling.”

“Everyone has a calling. You’re my special child. I wish you and others knew how very special each of you is to me. But hear this–most of the time, you’ll never know the impact you’ve made. People will decide for themselves. Those who belong to me will listen.” He touched my knee. “Open your eyes. You mustn’t miss anything I have for you.”

I obeyed, blinking, knowing what He said was true, but equally believing it was useless to make the Deity who created me understand that I was nobody. I want to be a somebody, but I’m not.

He picked up a handful of sand. “Did you ever imagine sand would spill through your fingers and dance in your palm? Would glisten like tiny sunbeams and the grains would seem so individual?” He caressed it in his palm. “It’s alive, you know.”

I actually did know, as I’d read somewhere that the trees and the sea and all things bowed to Him, so having seen the sand’s magnificence, I suspected it too may be alive.

Again, I nodded.

“What would you most like to say to me?” he asked.

His face was so pleasant. Even his hands and his hair had an aura, a sereneness that defied human understanding. I should just pray again. Instead, I looked square in His eyes. “At one time, I had a million questions for you. Now, I seem so insignificant compared to this glory, what does it matter?”

“It matters. And you matter.” He opened his hand and the sand in his palm wiggled like tiny pets. “These heavenly grains of sand need water. They constantly move toward the shoreline, a sort of dance that causes them to shimmer. The water isn’t only their dance partner, but their lifeline.” He tossed the sand to his side and a gentle wind settled it back to the ground. Lifting his palm toward me, he said, “See here.”

I stretched to see that one teeny grain of sand had stuck in His palm.

“When it’s all by itself, it has no luster. You can’t even see that it wiggles. Though you thought you were seeing just a few grains in my hand, there were thousands, wiggling and shimmering.” He smiled, delighted. “This tiny grain needs the others to move it toward the water. Their connection is what creates this visually stunning seaside carpet,” he waved his hand outward, “and moves them triumphantly toward their life force.”

His gentle voice and the ambiance had soothed my soul. I nestled my bare feet into the sand, closed my eyes, and felt the warm hypnotic breeze.

“Doesn’t that feel great?”

I finally felt relaxed. “Feels like the best body and foot massage I’ve ever had.” But my mind was still working. “Am I like a grain of sand?”

He leaned forward in his chair. “You and others were created to have symmetry, to be devoted to one another, just like the sand. To love one another. But unlike the sand, you also have a role, a purpose, created specifically for you. And when you fail to complete your part, it becomes harder for others to perform.

“Come, let’s walk down the beach,” He said.

I arose and He put a hand on my shoulder. “Visualize a movie with several characters missing from the cast. Others would constantly be improvising because of the missing actors. Imagine the confusion.”

Far from Earth’s turmoil, with magical sand massaging my every step, I said, “I . . . I think I understand. Basically, we are grains of sand moving toward our life force—You!”

“That’s true.” He stopped to pick up a seashell.”However, don’t miss the part where you’re moving forward together.”

I picked up my pace, to look back at Him.”I know. But, what about the missing characters in the cast? Does some of the sand not perform?”

He slowed His gait. “No. Only humans disrupt the process.”

“I’m sorry, Jesus.” We continued on. “I want to be part of that moving-forward group, but I feel like one of those missing characters sometimes, like someone disrupting the process.”

“I know you believe this, but it isn’t true. You are Christ-centered and moving toward Me. That’s why you’re here.”

I stopped, holding onto His words, wanting to bawl. “Really, what I do is enough?”

He reached over and put the seashell in my hand. “Listen to this.” I fumbled as I found the open-shell side and placed it to my ear. I heard these words, “Not everyone in the body of Christ can be the mouth, the nose, or the eyes. Someone has to be a toe, a finger, a shin, a cell . . .” The voice faded out. “Wow! Do all shells in heaven do this?” I handed it back.

He laughed. “No, I wanted this to be a special remembrance for you.”

We walked again and Jesus became serious. “Everyone can’t stand out for the world to see. But I see. I see every heart and how the Body connects. I see who loves, who gives, who nurtures. And what you do is as important as the evangelist or the singer. Do you realize through love you can affect one person who can have a huge impact on the world? Or even in your own family. One person loving or praying, or believing for me to direct their path, can affect changes in the atmosphere, in the spiritual realm, that you can’t begin to imagine. You are not just making a difference on earth, but in heaven and also in hell.”

He touched my hand. “Let’s turn around.” I notice that His robe wafts in the same direction as before. The breeze at His back.

“After you go home, you should read 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13, often. ‘Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.’ Remember those verses?”

I nod.

“Everything passes away except for love. Mighty forces are moving and fighting all around you.” The wind whips up at His words. “You feel the tug sometimes, don’t you? Certainly you see the chaos.”

I nod as the sudden brisk breeze blows my hair.

“And, I know you hear my voice because you’ve responded. People read what Paul wrote about love and use it at weddings, as they should. But to affect real change, you mustn’t participate in conversations, in actions, in anything contrary to love. That means no gossip, forgiving, giving people the benefit of the doubt, no cheating, taking the furthest parking spot, loving the loveless. So many things. ‘Love bears all things, believes all things, endures all things . . .’ It’s a tall order, I know.”

I can’t believe I do this, but I interrupt. “What about purpose?”

“That’s exactly what we’re talking about.” The breeze has quietened. “People want to change the world, but not themselves. They compete with one another, not complete each other.” He sighs. “And everyone wants a platform. I suggest a platform of love. ‘Love never fails.’” His words are strong, but His voice is gentle. “Remember these verses?—‘Whether there are prophecies they will fail, whether there are tongues, they will cease, whether there is knowledge it will vanish. . . ‘ Nothing is eternal except love.”

He walks over to the shoreline, directly in front of our chairs. “How beautiful is this water embracing the sand?”

Breathtaking. “It’s a scene I’ll never forget.”

“This is how it is if you walk in love. This is where you’ll find My presence. You are one of the precious grains of sand by my side, anointed with living water.” He walks into the wave, covering His feet. “Living in love—living here at the water’s edge—will drench you in the peace and power you need to overcome, to live supernaturally, and to complete your purpose.”

He lifts His wet robe and walks to the chair. “Do you understand?”

I shake my head. “Yes, Jesus. I think I finally do. I’m just impatient, I guess.”

He nods knowingly. “When I was born on earth, I was no less God than I am today. Yet Father held me back for thirty years before my ministry began.”

“Wow! I never thought of it that way.”

“He knows your heart and your abilities and He already has forces in motion. When your fullness in love and understanding and His timing finally collide, that’s when supernatural changes can lift hearts and lives, can break chains and move mountains.”

I shake my head. “That’s awesome! There’s so much we don’t comprehend as humans.”

“It’s true. Plus, it’s difficult living in today’s world. The enemy ignites so much anger and division he’s tearing even the ‘body of believers’ apart. This is what I want you to remember above everything. Apart from each other, you are disadvantaged. But together, you are majestic. You are a part of the Bride of Christ, my church, the body that must shine to the world in order to bring the world unto Me.” He opens His arms, seemingly bidding the universe to come. “There is only one way to do that. Love.”

Suddenly Bountiful bounded up the beach; Jesus arose and stepped toward me. My time with Him was over. I didn’t want to say goodbye, yet I’d been blessed much more than I deserved. I stood and held on to Him as Bountiful bowed by His chair. Tears fell from my eyes and He brushed them away. “This has been very good,” He said.

I nodded. “I know. I just don’t want to say goodbye.”

He patted my shoulders. “I am always with you. Pray to me. I love you, remember this.” Then He turned and stroked Bountiful’s beautiful full mane before mounting him.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and turned to see St. Paul. Jesus waved to us and pulled on Bountiful’s reins, turning the beautiful stallion. He trotted along the flawless shoreline as Jesus’ hair wafted in the gentle breeze. I watched, nearly breathless, hoping to never turn away.

St. Paul came to my side. “Ready to go?” he said.

My eyes trailed Jesus, along with the soft caress of the breeze. “No. I want to stay forever.”

Rinnggg! The alarm jars me. I rub my eyes, throw the sheet back, and jump up.

“Jesus!” I scream, as I frantically search the bedroom, scurry into the living room, run around the sofa, almost tripping over a rug, and walk dejectedly back to my bed. I know St. Paul was here and that I was with Jesus.

I plop onto the bed and eye my Bible on the nightstand. Opening it, I fumble for my glasses and place them square on my nose. My eyes move to these prophetic words, “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love . . .” Tears flood my face.

I feel stunned, validated, loved. St. Paul, Jesus. It was real, wasn’t it?

I walk to the mirror over my dresser. My Creator revealed Himself to me, showed me my purpose, and really, every person’s purpose. Unbelievable. Pulling a tissue from its box, I gaze into the mirror.

A chime like that of an angel’s harp halts my blubbering. Suddenly I hear: “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three, but the greatest of these is love.” It’s from Chapter 13 of 1st Corinthians. What Jesus suggested I read.

Breathe . . . breathe.

I smile, crying and laughing, and gazing, just gazing into the mirror. Jesus is real!  At the Cross He gave me a gift I cannot repay and He asks almost nothing in return. Certainly nothing of comparison.

Now He offers me another gift–of supernatural living, of walking with Him, of knowing Him. In exchange, I offer Him myself.

I will swim in the wake of His presence by the ocean of His love, and I will give Him what He asks. Three words. Simple words.

I know you’re here and you hear me, Jesus.

I choose love.




The day I learned fear

There’s a scream that if you hear it, you’ll never forget it. Afraid that whatever caused it may be coming for you. I was a child when I heard a scream like that and it paralyzed me. Pain and terror sounded across our small corner of the world like a war-time siren that caused me to hush breathing. I can’t describe it. The best I can do is tell you what I remember, as close as I can.

It was a typical Sunday. Daddy was home, the only day of the week we usually saw him for more than an hour or so, and we had company. It was sunny and bright, a beautiful day. We were on the patio behind our house in Hardy, Kentucky. A couple and their young son visiting.

I don’t remember if they were staying for dinner, I really don’t remember them much at all. People came and went when I was growing up and it’s difficult to put faces and families together sometimes. Yet, I loved our revolving door of company. This day, I remember my mom and dad and the other couple talking and laughing, while I listened. I remember their young son tagging along after my brother and both boys avoiding me. No problem. I was a couple of years older and enjoyed the adults.

The boy was younger than my brother Ric (Ricky) by a year or so, I’d guess. Probably no more than three-years-old. The two had wandered up the hillside behind the house, not out of sight, probably looking for rocks and stuff, as boys sometimes do. No one paid much attention. Dad had cleared and planted much of the hill and we considered it part of our yard. Ricky and I were always roaming that mountain.

The two youngsters, I suspect, were headed back down and Ricky must’ve been in front, the younger boy perhaps dawdling behind. The turn of events that began this nightmare unfolded in less time than it took to write this sentence, in the time it takes to skim a rock across a lake. It lasted over a period of probably ten or fifteen minutes. Yet, even in my remembrance, it feels like hours. That ordinary, peaceful day that turned into tragedy.

If the boy fell, no one saw it, we only guessed it much later. Our first attention to him was the scream. We turned and watched him upright, trying to fight something off, watched him fall to the ground his arms flailing, his little legs kicking. He tried to get up, screaming, nightmarish cries, like something horrible had a hold on him. I can’t remember where Ricky was, but our dad and his dad were already racing up the mountain.

Adults can process things faster than children and maybe from their taller perspective they could just see better. But, the two men seemed to know what was happening. By the time they reached him, the boy had given up the fight to his invisible antagonists.

My dad scooped him up, his tiny arms now mostly limp. About halfway down the mountain I heard the buzzing, saw the halo of yellow jackets swarming. They were mostly on the boy, moving in that vibrating stop and go motion that makes them seem more animated than real. But, they were on the men too. Angry bees still fighting for their ground nest the youngster had obviously fallen or stepped into. The women were now screaming, concern for the boy, not because yellow jackets invaded.

Someone yelled, “Turn on the shower,” as the men dashed across the hilly slope and toward the patio. Mother ran into the house as the boy’s mother cried through terrified tears. I think I was crying too.

The adults rushed into the house and Ricky and I fell in behind them, but yellow jackets buzzed here and there and we stopped at the kitchen hallway. We could hear the running water, hear his mother crying, hear the men loudly talking.

Scared and curious, I finally made my way down the hall and peered into the bathroom. The two dads stood fully-clothed in the tub, shower water drenching them all, picking bees off the boy. Swearing occasionally. The boy’s mother talked to him, adding her tears to the cascading water as she reached through the downpour to pet him. Dead bees floated and live bees tussled in the tub and on the puddle-flooded floor where the open shower water splashed as the men struggled to save innocence from anger. And where bees still flew about. The men were as soaked as the boy. Their eyes as determined and stunned as they were fearful.

Until that day, I’d never seen terror in my father’s eyes, never heard fear in his voice. Until that day, I’d never felt such fear. Mother, I think, was on the telephone to the hospital.

I don’t remember hearing the boy make another sound. I just remember the men dripping as they ran through the hallway and kitchen as though a deadline was imminent. The boy’s dad holding him to his chest. The two men and the boy, along with his mother, then got into the car and peeled out of the driveway.

Mostly, for us, it was over.

Mother was left to deal with Ricky and me, her two traumatized children, a house strewn with water, and full of dead and angry yellow jackets.

How fast things can change.

I don’t remember praying that awful day. My brain, I think, stopped. Stunned. I’d like to think I’d asked Jesus to comfort and heal the boy. A tiny prayer is all I could’ve mustered at about six or so years of age in that state.

When Dad came home later that night, he had redness and swelling, but refused comfort or care. Doctors were with the boy, he assured us, his voice quavering. They thought he’d be alright. I’m pretty sure that last part was for Ricky and me. Apparently, there was a critical period and he wasn’t past that yet. When he passed it, he’d be out of the woods, a terrible analogy.

That very night, Daddy sped up that hill with a wide, determined stride, clenching a can of kerosene. I cried, not wanting him to go, afraid he’d be attacked. But he went. Poured toxic oil straight down into the yellow jacket’s nest. He didn’t say much afterwards, but he was visibly shaken, and I’m pretty sure he cursed a few bees.

I know my parents prayed for the boy because that’s what we did. Not outwardly for my dad, but my mother and her mother next door. I feel sure they prayed for my brother and me, too, so thankful we’d been spared.

After that day, I changed. Probably forever. Certainly, the way I looked at that mountain was altered. Until then, I’d had no reverence for it or the critters it might hold. Until then, I was pretty much fearless.

Yet, God was with us. As the events unfolded that tragic day, they seemed choreographed. Everyone had a purpose and role, except for Ricky and me. Certainly, we saw the power and love of God revealed. Two dads putting aside fear, plucking the boy from atop a yellow jacket’s nest, having wisdom about choices, being repeatedly stung, yet not flinching or complaining. Fearless to my way of thinking. Heroic.

I’m fuzzy on the part that came after that day, but here’s my vague recollection: Mother, I think, called daily to check on the boy, even as we went about our everyday routine. And then one day, he was okay. He’d survived. We were thrilled. He was “as good as new” she said, or some such cliché Mother’s use to reassure children.

All was right in my world again, except that I’d learned fear. Learned that a footstep could compromise my family. That my playground wasn’t quite safe. That parents can’t always protect children. That children can die . . . Fear teaches many things.

As I’ve aged, I’ve put that fear to both good and bad use. Certainly, there’s a healthy fear–that keeps us from engaging in certain behaviors, that alerts us to screams. However, for me, the comment that most helped put fear into perspective was spoken by Franklin D. Roosevelt at the start of World War II. He said: “There is nothing to fear, but fear itself.”

Living is dangerous. Ask the person with a broken leg or a broken heart. Makes no difference.

Some people hide from life, addicted to  comfort. Afraid of failure, of losing a position, of emotional pain, of bees. They fear the reality and the philosophy of life and living and God. They’re tuned into the “What about me” and “I deserve what I want” mantra that plays in every theatre and venue across our nation.

The Lord knows I’m a prime offender. Some of my excuses: My fibromyalgia might flair, I’m too old, I can’t travel that far, people are cruel. What if I fail? “Do not lose heart,” St. Paul says in 2nd Corinthians, “even though the outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.”

Sure, I could step into a yellow jacket’s nest, yet if I don’t take that chance, I’ll never play on the mountain. And I’m not ready to quit hunting wild flowers and dancing in the rain, though I act it at times.

In 2nd Timothy we read, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” Let’s take God at His word! No, He doesn’t protect us from all the world’s ills, but He is there with earthly and heavenly angels, gathering us to Himself. Just like He did with that little boy. Never leaving or forsaking, never putting more on us than we can bear. He gives us what we need to show the dedication, obedience, and fearlessness of His Son. Sometimes in the worst of circumstances.

I want to be a person who runs to help.

As Christians, our life is not our own. It was bought with a price. We are God’s change agents in this world. Let’s get out of our recliners and start acting like we believe His Word and His promises. 1st John states: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love cast out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” Perhaps, more than at any time in history, God needs us to put fear aside, to show the world the love, the passion, the hands of Jesus Christ.

I only have one life, and I’ve seen how fast it can end. In church we sing, “When we all get to Heaven what a day of rejoicing that will be,” and then wail when it’s our turn to go. Living isn’t just about the here and now. It isn’t so much about yellow jackets or even heartbreak. I know this sounds harsh. But, it’s about preparing our hearts for eternity. A very long time compared to this life.

We are spiritual, ever-lasting beings, not made for this world, but for the world to come. If we really believed God’s Word, wouldn’t we be more forgiving, more giving of our time, our money, and our heart? We may not know what tomorrow holds, but we know who holds tomorrow. It was heart-wrenching watching that little boy suffer the yellow jacket’s stings, but, oh, how much worse the tragedy, if he stopped climbing mountains.


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.



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. After watching my husband Alan fight to survive the early to mid-eighties recession, when life’s vagaries shattered us and tossed us down several flights of fancy, I determined he must ascribe to this philosophy.

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. I can be impatient and I like 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 hope to repay it. 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.

Low points, however, are God’s specialty; it’s where the good stuff happens. I didn’t know it yet, but at my gloomiest God would allow 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 absolute mysteries are revealed to your soul.

It was prior to this, however, in the midst of my misery, 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 and pleasure! 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 still remembered how to spend money and I needed clothes and shoes. Given my love of fashion I was 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, 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 be?

As the mogul settled in his chair, a very tan couple moved toward us, the man chatting briefly at the next table. He was 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.” Tears formed in my eyes and I quickly turned my head. God’s presence filled me. 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 final day was 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,

House of Grace

In 1981, I was living in a house I couldn’t have dreamed of in the 1950s of my youth. Maybe I could have plunked down fifty cents and seen something similar on the big screen at the Cinderella Theatre, but I doubt I could’ve conjured one up.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a mansion or anything. Just large. Over 7,000 square feet. Contemporary and grand. So, for this small town gal, living in that house was kind of like a fish flipping around in the forest. Felt guilty just being there, rambling around it’s big old rooms, surrounded by perfectly landscaped rhododendron and towering trees. I was too young to appreciate what I had. Perhaps what God had given me. But, I tried, Lord, how I tried.IMAG0098

I simply wasn’t prepared for what life had in store for me then, but there was a time when I was. It started with a conversation between my Hardy Grade School teacher and me. She’d discovered I’d be changing schools the next school year, to Williamson Junior High in Williamson, West Virginia, the area’s hub. “Karyn,” she said, “Wouldn’t you rather be a big fish in a small pond than a small fish in a big pond?” The only reason I recall this is because someone told my mother and she recounted it proudly. I supposedly looked my teacher square in the eyes, and said, “I’d rather be a big fish in a big pond.”

How I came up with that at eleven is beyond me. And while the little girl me may have liked the bigger pond, the 31-year-old me didn’t. Yet, one thing was definite: no matter the size, you don’t ever want to be jerked from the pond you’re in. But, silly me, I’d prayed God to get my husband Alan and me out of there, and sure enough, my prayer was answered. Not exactly the way I envisioned.

It was grim. In fact, it was a grim time. Stating that is like saying Hannibal Lecter wasn’t nice. Mother had died, the stock market had crashed, and we lost our home. Actually, we lost pretty much everything. So, when word came that something positive happened, we felt grateful for that one silver lining: we and our possessions could stay in that behemoth house until it sold, and at a rental rate we could afford.

The next year dragged out painfully. I skulked about that big and lonely house, my peace of mind as shackled as a death row inmate. Yet, gradually, agonizingly, I was learning to trust God, and I was coming to see how He’d fastened many of the right pieces into place, even as my world had been imploding. (Read “It’s None of Your Business.”) Our bankers, lawyers, even Alan’s employees, felt sure Alan would be back on top soon enough. Yet, ‘soon’ seemed as far away as mother.

Then the inevitable happened, the house sold. With just a few weeks to vacate, it was time to take inventory: we had a dog and a cat, furniture out the yingyang, and a pittance for a housing allowance. We’d looked at rental houses, but none were available. Not in our price range. Not with pets. Not with a decent square footage. What we found were run-down and falling down. An ad that read, “needs work” translated to “has no air conditioning.”

Given my disposition, I should have been terrified. Yet as the housing deadline approached, I was uncharacteristically calm. One night as I sat on the deck alone, watching the stars and meditating, my heart was actually hopeful. In the recent past, I’d heard God’s voice three times. Just amazing! He told me to be patient with my Aunt LoRayne twice and that mother’s death path was ‘none of my business’—affirming that the Jesus who had come alive to me over a year ago, at the top of this very driveway, was as real today as He was 2,000 years ago. Why did I always have to remind myself of that?

In our little cul de sac, only five houses lined the private road, and while I’d had problems living here, I loved the evening solitude. Sometimes I heard the tiny creek wafting gently over rocks; that night an endless swell of fireflies rivaled the stars of a clear, beautiful sky. Out of nowhere, just like the first time God spoke to me, I heard a simple, soft voice. It said, “Move to St. Albans.” Words that seemed to light up the night.

Abruptly, I sat straight up and pondered His statement, knowing God’s words are truth. For the life of me, I don’t understand why I countered them, but I did. I said, “Lord, I don’t think I’ll like St. Albans.”

He replied. “I said, move to St. Albans.”

End of discussion.

He had come at the Eleventh Hour as He is prone to do. I rocked back and forth frantically, hoping, praying He’d say more. But He didn’t. I had no idea why St. Albans. But, after consideration and before telling Alan, I decided it made sense. I’d been so unhappy in that big old pond. God understood that. A lesser house and smaller town only twenty minutes away might be perfect.

Feeling the wonder of my encounter, I was practically dancing as I opened the door, confident a St. Albans home was in our future. Finding Alan, I came straight to the point. “God just told me to move to St. Albans.” I could hardly stand still.

Alan was used to me of course, but not so much the ‘God speaks to me’ version. He looked up and without any sort of prompt said, “You won’t like St. Albans.”

I laughed, astounded that the first words out of his mouth had been the first words out of mine. But we were giddy. Both of us.

The very next day Alan called from work. Incredibly, an employee had told him about a house for rent in St. Albans. “I’m driving by for a sneak peek after work,” Alan said.

God has a house for us! I was so excited.

But when he came home that evening, he hesitated. “Karyn, trust me. God doesn’t want you living in that house.”

Father God, are you paying attention, here? It’s less than three weeks and counting!

I was trying not to panic, trying to pack, still heartbroken and crying over mother. I reminded myself, from God’s lips to my ears. I was a baby Christian, and though every nerve in my body was charged, every heartbeat too fast, every teardrop bitter, the recent past told me to trust Him.

Two days later, an ad in the newspaper caught my eye. “Historic home in St. Albans for rent, hardwood floors, Oriental rugs, updated kitchen, custom drapes.”

If it sounds too good to be true . . . Even the price was only $50 higher than what we’d determined we could afford.

I called and spoke with Patsy, (not her name) a neighbor showing the house for the out of state owner. That evening Alan and I drove up a beautiful, well maintained St. Albans Street. Each house seemed nicer than the next. Many were turn of the century and charmingly southern. Way out of our new price range. St. Albans street

We drove slowly, taking it all in. Manicured lawns and stately homes, some with veranda-style porches.Before we reached the top of the sloping street, Alan stopped the car. “This can’t be the address.”

I agreed. House number 512 (not the real number) would not fit into our budget on this street! Moving slowly, a beautiful three story tan brick with an enormous veranda-style porch and a red clay tiled roof, came into view. Arguably the most beautiful house on the street. “Wow, look at that,” I said to Alan. We slowed down and to our complete and total astonishment the number was 512. “Something’s wrong,” said Alan, “That can’t be the house.”

As we cautiously pulled into the driveway, I realized how dissimilar this was from what we were used to. Can this possibly be the house God has for us?St. Albans house

We approached it like interlopers, like children approaching the gingerbread house of fairy tale fame, ready for the witch, not to pull us in, but to shoo us away. Finally, we rang the bell. When it opened, I recognized Patsy’s friendly voice.

“Hi. Come on in,” she said.

Right house. Thank you, Lord. Before much was said, my eyes started roaming about the texture and textiles of the house. Custom window treatments on oversized windows, built in bookcases, hardwood floors, oval dining room, large sitting room, beautiful crown molding, high ceilings, massive staircase, crystal chandelier! And that’s just what I could see. This is not a house in our price range. Yet wanting it to be, I was afraid to ask.

The upstairs was somewhat dated, but we weren’t buying it, and I doubted we’d even be renting it. Generally, it seemed more like what we were leaving than what we were looking for.

Finally, I asked the dreaded question. The dialogue went something like this: “Do you know why this house is renting for only . . . ?“

Patsy cocked her head like she had heard me incorrectly as I said the dollar amount.

“Oh no, that’s not the rent,” she said, quoting a higher number. About what I’d expected.

“But it was listed in the newspaper for the lower price.”

“They must have it wrong,” she said, “The owner told me this price the last time we spoke.”

After we left that night, I was teary. Of course the price was wrong. Who would rent this magnificent home for our pitiful housing allowance? Yet, as badly as I felt, as badly as I wanted the house, I knew if this wasn’t it, there was another. God had said so!

The next day Patsy and I spoke. With no other options and a deadline of a little more than two weeks to vacate our furniture-full home, without a lot of resources, the hope in my heart, and likely in my voice, was apparent. Patsy happily relayed that the owner had indeed lowered the rent. She had done so to attract a better tenant. If we had excellent references, we’d be okay. She asked for particulars about the animals.

Shortly, we got word that the house was ours and the pets were okay; the biggest miracle of my life. Thank you, Jesus! It made no sense to me, then or now. Only in God’s economy does less money equal superior renters.

God had moved heaven and earth to put us there! I felt that way even before examining the equations: the house was showcased at precisely the right moment in time; the price was lowered, significantly, to almost exactly what we could afford—and before the owner even tested a higher rent; and this house was ten times, fifty times nicer, than anything we’d seen.

Then there were the surprises: Our eclectic mix of antique and contemporary furniture, our Persian rugs, all fit perfectly and looked better in this historic home than in the contemporary one. The drapes complimented the furnishings. The glass round table wowed the oval dining room. . . on and on. Who knew God cared about décor, color, and interior? Plus, we loved it.

If the house was a miracle, the ease with which we worked into that community was equally miraculous. The commute for Alan was better, and the mayor appointed me to the Planning and Zoning commission. Topping things off, the church where Alan and I married was just blocks away. The minister, an old family friend, had married us. He became our pastor!

And there was the matter of hearing that simple, soft Voice, Move to St. Albans. If not for that, St. Albans would not have been on our radar.

When I think of the old adage, you can’t judge a book by the cover, I realize Alan’s and my life reflected that perfectly. To a casual observer there was barely a ripple in our pond. We had simply moved from one gorgeous house to another. But the ripple in our world was like a tsunami. Behind the stone and wooden walls of that big old house was a couple shattered by life and by death, fighting to overcome grief, fear, humiliation, fatigue, and the financial disaster that nearly destroyed us.

Yes, status and wealth had brought advantages, yet when our pond ran empty and our souls lay bare, when bankers stopped courting us and options disappeared, God was our Champion. The power and purpose of our Heavenly Father was working long before we knew there was a need. And, ironically, it was in that moment of need and compensation that we found true wealth. The wealth of a heart that God can pour into if that heart is humble and surrendered to His will.

The book of Proverbs teaches us to, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge him and He will direct your path.”

In the hour of our greatest need, God provided our greatest miracle. And, here’s the thing, He didn’t do something for me He won’t do for you. It’s not about our worth, it’s about our birth—into the Kingdom of God through a risen Savior. When I put my trust in Christ at the top of that driveway, our Heavenly Father could finally ‘direct my path.’ He opened the windows of heaven and provided something Alan and I did not, could not imagine after what we’d experienced. Something we didn’t earn or deserve.

Amazing grace.

Available to you and to me. To all who trust and believe.


Next month: But, where’s the money?


“It’s None of Your Business”

We lost our home, houses, an airplane, and, oh yes, my mother. Nearly our sanity. And every time I thought things couldn’t get worse they did. This is a hard story to tell, but I’m writing this for all those folks who’ve ever dangled over a cliff. Especially those whose fingernails are currently scrapping across that last jutting rock.

In Memory: Naomi Dinguess Cantees – June 2, 1928 through Eternity

All the Mother’s Day tributes got me thinking about my Mother. Few people are as special as mom’s are to children, except perhaps the reverse.

I felt that way about Naomi Dinguess Cantees—my best friend and mother. Sadly, she left us at an early age, 55. She was smart, the valedictorian of her class, but what I remember most was her laugh. Loud and full. If you couldn’t laugh and have fun around Naomi, just get on down to the funeral home. Her love for life was contagious, and in her view, nothing was more important than the person in front of her. What I learned about respect and kindness, she taught me.

Once she explored Kentucky on a tour bus. (We’re from West Virginia so Kentucky is a stone toss across the river.) We teased her unmercifully, but she didn’t care. She was no less excited about touring the Bluegrass State than she was of sightseeing in Italy. Everything and everyone received fair treatment from Naomi. She was happy with what life had given her—my cantankerous brother and me, her small home, her loving family, and the designer-less clothes in her closet. Nary an ungrateful bone in her body.

Humor, smells, stories, and road trips—many wonderful things stand out when I think of mother. However, the juggernaut in my memory is the cancer. A three-year battle. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with—watching someone I love die slowly, painfully. Dear God, human beings aren’t cut out for this stuff.

She stayed with my husband Alan and me through much of her illness. When a person receives a death sentence their body peels away from their soul and you see them in a way you’ve never experienced before. Especially when pain is involved. What I witnessed kept me awake nights, but I was proud of my mother, of who she was. Her pain was excruciating, not entirely because of the cancer, but because of a surgery that cut off her tail bone, a surgery I and others encouraged. Afterwards, I heard her muffled cries into a pillow almost daily. And sometimes tears just materialized in her soft, pretty eyes.

She never complained. She never said, “I can’t take this, why me?, or I wish I’d die.” Never. Not the entire three years. She never even said she was afraid. In fact, when I complained that, “It’s just not fair.” She said, “Why is it not fair? Why not me?”

Are you serious? Who says things like that?

If you’ve ever prayed for someone you love to die, then you’ve seen horrible pain. I prayed that awful prayer. But, she didn’t die anytime soon. Towards the end, my brother and I tended her comatose body, never leaving her for even a minute as we changed shifts. And then one morning two nurses assured us they would stay with her while we had breakfast together for the first time in weeks. Thirty minutes later, she died. Without one of her children with her, she could die. Finally.

I was happy for her and so proud to be her daughter. Her legacy of love for God and for people had prevailed, even in the worst of circumstances. We were at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, a long way from home. Many hospital personnel had become Mother’s friends. When her tortured breathing finally stopped, nurses, doctors, and others gathered in her room, no one doubting that the brave, lifeless woman before them had slipped into heaven. And we all cried together.

What my mother was to courageous and inspirational, I was to tortured and discouraged. Mother went to heaven, I stayed in hell.

I’d only been married two years when mother became sick. Up until then I had been living what I thought was the good life—chicly-dressed, somewhat well read, West Virginia bred, and at that time, very well-to-do. I always enjoyed a good time, but after mother died I sometimes drank with friends until I was so drunk I couldn’t remember the previous evening the next day. It seemed a good thing, forgetting the memory of her pain. A pain I was complicit in.

If losing mother to cancer wasn’t horribly sufficient to unglue me, Alan and I were in the throes of fighting for our financial lives. A recession had slammed the U.S. around the same time as Mother’s diagnosis, the early 1980s. The majority of our money was tied up in a public energy company Alan helped found and in his own consulting firm. Just weeks after mother’s casket had settled into the surrounding earth, energy markets that had plummeted finally weighted their anchors to us. Alan tried to shield me from our personal meltdown, but it was impossible. Our small fortune plummeted.

We sold two houses and an airplane, all at significant loss. I was hospitalized twice for what was thought to be heart problems, but turned out to be anxiety. Personal bankruptcy wasn’t an option for my husband. “I made the debt, I’ll pay it back,” he said. More than once I tried to change his mind. Never has anyone worked so hard to dig his way out. But the harder he clawed, the further we slid. One lawyer asked why he was fighting so hard. He told him it was because it was all that he had. But it was as useless as fighting Mother’s cancer and almost as painful to watch.

Finally we lost our residence, Alan’s dream home. Personally, I hated the thing. It was cavernous, the planked ceilings running fourteen to twenty-eight feet in height with wooden beams, and four stone fireplaces. How many times had I prayed to get out of that house? It was like living in a ski lodge with no room service and floor to ceiling glass windows, made for throwing stones. Still, it was a roof over our heads. And it was the place where I had come to the end of myself, standing at the top of a lengthy driveway in the middle of the night, shaking my fists at heaven.

It was where I would have the experience.

Some people would call it a born-again experience, others might say I just found the Lord. My Grandmother Dinguess would declare, “Finally! Raise them up in the ways of the Lord and they’ll always come back to you.” I can still hear her spout that oft-quoted scripture.

Rest assured, I was raised up to know God. Sunday morning and night, Wednesday prayer meeting, and sometimes on Saturday—that’s how we did church some weeks when I was a child. In those days, God was preached as the ‘eye for an eye’ Loathing Lord of the Old Testament, regardless of the denomination, and we trotted to them all—Methodist, Southern Baptist, Freewill Baptist, Church of God, Church of Christ, and the occasional Pentecostal tent revival. My grandmother was usually the one taking me, and she didn’t discriminate. Mom and dad sometimes took me to the Episcopal Church, where I was sprinkled and confirmed. So, my spiritual life was as well-rounded as it was confusing.

All that hell, fire, and brimstone, coming at me at such a young age, was drowned out by partying in my twenties and early thirties. Still, sometimes I’d watch Brother Jimmy Swaggart, as he was called, on television. Some labeled him the Protestant Pope. He was first cousins with Mickey Gilley and Jerry Lee Lewis and just as colorful. I loved watching him strut back and forth, swabbing his forehead, his voice rising and falling with the urgency of his message. After mother died, I’d cry and cry watching him. Finally I quit. Until that one night. The night I ended up at the top of the driveway.

Broke and broken, I wept and shook my fists at God in front of the house that would no longer shelter me, without a mother’s comfort. It was a week night and I was severely sober. I hit my knees and shouted an accusatory prayer. Sobbing. The same old outrage about mother—“How could you . . . ? Where were you . . . ? Why didn’t you . . .?” On and on . . . My mother had died and it was God’s fault. It had to be somebody’s.

And then it happened.

Something or Someone spoke to my soul, incredibly, above my sobbing outrage of whys—so strong, so real, so powerful. These are the words I heard: “It’s not your business.” I remember licking the salty tears from my lips, gasping, rubbing at my eyes with shaking hands, still on my knees, and feeling strangely okay.


“It’s not my business.” I remember saying it aloud, and knowing, knowing in my heart it was true. Jehovah God was telling me that something in His Very Big Universe had played out beyond my ability to reason, and I believed Him. Yes, she was my mother and the void she left was as big as the galaxy’s black hole. It wasn’t that she died at fifty five, although that would have been enough. It was that she was in such pain, muffling her cries with a pillow so I wouldn’t hear, never complaining, asking after others, always noticing a new dress, a pretty smile, or sad eyes. She touched so many lives with kindness and laughter.

“Oh, God,” I cried, “She didn’t die for nothing. There was a reason, a purpose.” I felt amazingly calm and empowered for the first time in . . . forever.

My mother’s life wasn’t over any more than Jesus’ was when he died on the cross. His death looked like history’s darkest hour: Mary, his mother, crying at the foot of the cross, His disciples scattering, disbelieving all the bad and good news Jesus had tried to convey. And yet, it wasn’t the last chapter in Jesus’ life; it was probably only chapter three out of a gazillion.

“Why not me?” my mother had asked. And yet the process of dying is scary. I think it was for mother. And I think it was for Jesus, too. They knew what they were facing. But, life’s end was bearable for they also knew where they were going.

Just like Jesus, my mother is still alive. She’s a spirit who lives in her dream house in heaven, where the sky forever surrounds her, probably traveling the galaxy, writing, something she always wanted to do. I think that’s a plausible scenario. I know I’ll see her again, and I know she completed her purpose, whatever that was. I never question it anymore.

In the years since Mother’s death and losing our home, I’ve had setbacks and I’ve had victories. I prayed to be more like mother and I am: I’m kinder, less judgmental, more empathetic. Even emotionally stronger. I also have more joy. Could it be the “have great joy through experiencing great pain” philosophy. The joy to hell scale, I call it. I don’t think so. More likely, joy came because I fell at the foot of the Cross.

The most remarkable thing I learned is that the spirit realm is real. We absolutely have a Savior and angels, but we also have an enemy, Satan. The Thief, as he is sometimes called, didn’t really care about stealing my stuff or even killing my mother, although he did a pretty good job. What he coveted, salivated over, schemed for, and perhaps killed for. . . was my faith. Had I forfeited my faith he would’ve stolen the thing that, other than Jesus, most connects me to the Father, the thing God most entrusted to me—my destiny.

“If you seek me you will find me, if you search for me with all your heart,” the Scripture says. I was seeking Him, through my pain, anger, confusion, depression, and faith deficit. And still, He was ever-present.

God’s revelation that night in the driveway transcended my human understanding. Mother’s death path He said was “none of my business.” In the natural world that sounds more like the Godfather than God the Father, but at that moment something unbelievable happened: my faith kicked in at about a hundred on a scale of one to ten. Somehow our Creator allowed me to grasp that He had a plan—not just for Naomi Cantees, but for all of us. Something amazing. Something I can’t imagine.

Our fifteen minutes on planet earth isn’t about us, really. It’s about our Savior, about what He did for us and what he wants us to do for each other.

Lose yourself and find your destiny, that’s what I discovered. That’s what Mother did. And that’s how you hold on in the worst of times. Entrust your life’s story to the world’s best-selling Author, your heavenly Father.

Next Month: The aftermath of financial chaos. The greatest miracle of my lifetime!

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At Emory University Hospital. Always smiling. Top Photo: Mother, Alan and me in better times.

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Mother, my brother Rick, and me.

Leaving LoRayne

With a dab of perseverance and a dollop of faith, My Aunt LoRayne proved to me that in the worst of circumstances, all things are possible with God!!

The worst nine months of my life? Possibly. Mostly because I have fibromyalgia, a little known illness that sometimes includes chronic pain and debilitating fatigue. The doctors back then had told me to stay stress free. Oh sure…

Actually, I was doing okay until my Aunt LoRayne was found lying on the church lawn a block from her home, having suffered a heart attack. Alan, my husband, and I drove the hour and a half to Williamson, LoRayne’s and my home town, only to be told her heart was too weak for an operation. I arranged for her to see a specialist in our capital city of Charleston, West Virginia, Dr. K.C. Lee.

Dr. Lee was compassionate, but honest: LoRayne had a 50 percent chance of surviving the surgery because of her deteriorating heart.

Faith in hand, LoRayne, or Lo, as we called her, didn’t hesitate to let Dr. Lee know who was in charge. “God didn’t let me survive to let me die,” she told him. “Between you and God, I’ll be fine.” She dismissed her grim odds. Remarkably, she did much better than expected and came to rest and recuperate with Alan and me after her surgery.

The counselors were emphatic about her diet restrictions, particularly one: “Feed her no sodium.” Not to worry. Because of my own health, I was sensitive to medical instruction. I scoured the aisles at the local grocery and made her meals from scratch. I wasn’t staying stress free, but God would see me through. It won’t be that long and she’ll be able to care for herself, I told myself.

Two weeks later, a thud in the middle of a restless night jarred me fully awake. I found Lo bunched up on the bedroom floor. We rushed to the hospital by ambulance, where an Emergency Room physician quizzed me as to why there was no sodium in my aunt’s system.

“Well they told me not to…”

In my zeal, I had overdone my job and almost killed my aunt. I called the hospital. “You distinctly said ‘NO sodium!” I said.

The voice on the other end was incredulous. “Nobody omits ALL the sodium!”

It was a relief of sorts: a fixable solution and we could finally go out to dinner! LoRayne and I were both ecstatic. She was as tired of eating bland meals as I was of cooking them.

Alan allowed me to sleep in the mornings, checking on LoRayne before work and sometimes fixing her breakfast. My sharp-minded aunt and Alan discussed news and political events, religion, and even one upped each other with sports statistics. The patient was doing better than the primary caregiver—me!

We joked about the sodium incident each time I cooked. Maybe it was because of that episode that I wasn’t overly alarmed when I found LoRayne disoriented and teetering in the bathroom. I remember thinking: It’s probably a deficiency of something.

A quick phone call and Alan informed me she had been alert and capable when he left.

“Lo, let’s get you dressed.” She responded with gibberish and could barely walk. As I prodded her arms through her blouse, fearing the worst at that point, my words consoled: “Some enzyme must be out of whack. We’ll get it fixed, darling.”

She had a routine appointment that morning with a Primary Care physician she’d briefly seen in the hospital. I decided it might be best to keep it rather than risk a long wait in an emergency room. The glaze over her eyes frightened me and I hauled a mostly incoherent, babbling woman into his office, only to be told her condition was common among the elderly—dementia. He might as well have told me she was the bride of Frankenstein.

“It’s not possible,” I kept repeating. “Last night she recited a recipe from memory and we played gin rummy after dinner. Dementia doesn’t come on like the flu!”

But, he wasn’t her regular doctor and didn’t know the intelligent, take-charge woman who had suffered a heart attack just a few weeks ago. Telling us nothing could be done, unbelievably, he sent us away.

Frustrated and more scared than I’d ever been, I drove to her cardiologist’s office, where I rigged her arms around my shoulders and dragged her inside. Hopeful though I was, he told us the same thing. “She has dementia. She’s old!” Yes, but…

People stared as I lugged LoRayne through doctor’s buildings. Haven’t you ever seen a drooling, old person being towed by a hysterical middle-aged woman?! With only one option left, I asked if she had enough energy to visit her surgeon, Dr. Lee. She nodded yes and I knew she was as scared as me. Oh Lord, why didn’t I call an ambulance this morning?

“I’m so sorry LoRayne.”

She shook her head lovingly, but the glaze scared me. What if Dr. Lee turns her away? I knew we were both thinking the same thing.

Dr. Lee saw her immediately and after a few word and sight tests, he knew she’d had a stroke, a diagnosis I’d figured out by then. He would admit her to the hospital. Tears flooded her face and I fell sobbing in a grateful and exhausted heap into his chair. Every muscle and bone in my body ached.

The right side of LoRayne’s body was paralyzed and her speech was garbled. They told us she’d probably never speak clearly or walk again. Lo rolled her eyes. “We’ll see about that!” they said. Having survived countless operations during her life, she and God were up to the challenge.

My caregiving was now replaced with rehab visits.

Several weeks later, she left rehab shuffling on a walker and talking, some words garbled, a few understandable. Her progress was amazing, but she had a long way to go. Alan and I worked with her and she continued therapy. Every day marked a small milestone. She was my sidekick and though the stroke had made her emotionally dependent on me, she insisted her goal was to live independently.

After months of home therapy and care, amazingly, she felt ready to live on her own with a part-time caregiver. And she wanted to go home, to Williamson, back to her church and friends. We sold her house, found homes for the stuff she didn’t need, and found an apartment in a high rise for the elderly, a short walk into town. Perfect. Within weeks she was set up for housekeeping, complete with caregiver. She was excited and scared and so was I. Add to that totally exhausted. It had been nine long months and some days I felt near total collapse.

Not so for Lo! She was excited about her new living arrangement and the wonderful women who shared the seventh floor. “God put me in the perfect spot,” she informed me. She made it sound more like a sorority than an apartment.

Still, she was emotionally dependent on me; we talked on the phone several times a day and always before bedtime. I was excited for her, but the responsibility for her finances, the detailed care, the selling of her house, and the parceling of furnishings had taken a major toll. My fibromyalgia flared to a new level. And then depression set in. Alan suggested we take a month and drive through the Rockies. I loved the West, but it seemed too soon to leave LoRayne. Plus, the repercussions to my own body might upset the plan.

“We’ll be laid back,” Alan assured me. “We’ll stop and go as you want and sightsee at our leisure.” A perfect plan. I worried about broaching it to Lo, but after telling her, she seemed okay. However, the day before we left, she cried into the telephone: “I can’t believe you’re leaving me!”

My heart dropped. “I’m not leaving you, Lo, I’ll be gone a few weeks, we can still talk on the phone, and if there’s an emergency, I’ll fly home.” That seemed to satisfy her.

Two days into the journey, however, LoRayne cried into the telephone again: “Don’t leave me! Please don’t leave me alone!” I listened in disbelief and tried to reassure her. “You’re not alone, Lo. You have a wonderful support system of friends, a caregiver, and you have God.” But each call was the same. By the time we got to Kansas I told Alan we should probably turn back.

Alan was my angel. “I’ll do whatever you think best, but you need to think about your health, too,” he said.

Prayers and tears came easily that night. “Dear God,” I prayed, “please show me what to do, because, Lord, if LoRayne is the same tomorrow, I’m turning around.” It was probably after 2:00 a.m. when I finally dozed off.

I told Alan what I’d prayed without much enthusiasm about the possible result. However, when I called Lo that morning, she said, “I’m so sorry, Karyn. Please don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

I was stunned! Thank you, Lord! When I found my voice, I asked, “What happened?”

She had prayed to Father God and had spoken to her caregiver; both had told her what she already knew—she was acting childish and selfish. Her words. My aunt had never been either. Emotionally she had to untie the rope and set herself free and with Father God’s help, that’s exactly what she did.

It started out harrowing, but Alan and I had a wonderful vacation and Lo gained a new sense of independence. She’d been told she’d never walk or talk again, but in less than a year, God rendered a different verdict. We serve an awesome God!

When I look back, I see that the impossible was made possible with God. He was always there—prodding, helping, and carrying—serving as caregiver to both Lo and me, giving each of us what we needed at precisely the right moment.

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Angels Amongst Us

Angels are everywhere! I love it when it is obvious, they are following ME!

I shuddered as a snow front pelted the East closing schools and businesses. Reclining on my heated mattress pad, watching through the blinds, I hoped it would pass. Yet we were in its path. I snuggled down into the covers. “Lord, it’s coming. Please don’t let it be a wet, heavy snow, the kind that breaks power lines and causes outages.”

And it wasn’t. Almighty God answered me. Along with thousands of others who, no doubt, prayed the same thing. House

“Thank you, Lord.”

Skeptics and worse may believe this blanket of dry snow, which was predicted to be wet, is a coincidence, but I believe God is the Lord, our Provider. The Psalmist writes: “For He will give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all of your ways. They shall bear you up in their hands, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” This verse is from my favorite Psalm, 91. Some Christians call it a “covering” prayer. I memorized it in a warmer time, early spring, 2014, around 300 words, reciting it almost daily. The passage made me more cognizant of angels . . . and demons, and the spiritual realm that I’m convinced interacts with us more than we imagine.

On snow covered days like today, and often, I wonder: How is the spiritual world working in my life?

Just weeks after memorizing this Psalm, I got a lesson in Angelology 401.

It started on a road trip to Rugby, Tennessee, a lovely, restored Victorian community, settledIMG_1269 on the lush Cumberland Plateau. Rugby’s restoration was founded in 1966 by my husband Alan’s brother Brian, now deceased, so we’re family when we’re in Rugby. Our friends Cat and Dan came along. We’d told them about Rugby, how the original settlers arrived in the 1800’s, how a fabulous tiny library of Victorian literature was housed within the community, knowing Cat, a writer, would particularly enjoy it.

It was May, one of my favorite times of the year, and certainly my favorite in Rugby. The community’s Spring Festival was underway. People milled about the colorful church and buildings that lined either side of old Route 52. English buildings with names like Kingston Lyle, The Board of Aid, Percy Cottage, and The Commissary.

Open air tents were perched on the front lawns of the buildings where artisans sold glassware, jewelry, woodwork, stained glass and other handmade crafts. The festival goers and the artisans were sparser than usual, but a lively group walked about the grounds, along the charming wooden sidewalk, and near the two-lane, which split the community.

Our foursome had just left the library headed to the church across the highway. We chatted as I led us down a slope into the ditch that paralleled the road. Navigating the downward pitch on the ditch and back up, I obviously underestimated the thickness of the pavement. The toe of my shoe caught the lofty edge of the blacktop.

I saw it happening—that slow motion thing people talk about.

With no time to pull up my hands or arms to break myself, I fell forward on the asphalt. Hard. Fast. Nose first. Blackness smashed my face like an unsuspecting two-punch. It was a split second that felt as fatalistic as anything I’d ever experienced.

Stunned, my mind raced as thoughts weaved one way and then another . . . I won’t be making the Jamaican trip we’re planning with Matthew. Our grandson. Will I need plastic surgery? Have I been here seconds or hours?

At some point I decided my mind still worked, a good thing. Where was everyone? Did they notice I fell? The longer I laid there, it seemed I was loitering. (that’s the word that came to mind.) I imagined my busted face, no contender for the hard, rough surface. My glasses were probably smashed to smithereens, along with my nose, cheekbones, and who knew what else.

Alan had been behind me. Our friends Cat and Dan. Where was everyone?

Finally, Alan nudged me. “Karyn, honey . . .” His voice sounded unusually anxious. Later I learned he hated to turn me over, afraid of what he’d see. “Talk to me.”

Move. I have to turn and move. A car pulled up, stopping on the road. People spoke, but the words were mumbled. Alan rubbed my back. “Honey.”

He turned me over gently, looking at me a little too intently. “Are you okay?”

Still stunned, I couldn’t yet speak, but I was puzzled. Was I okay? I wasn’t sure. A woman came over, though I didn’t turn to see her. “I’m a first responder,” she said. “How do you feel?’

A first responder. I’d never needed one of those before. “I . . . I don’t know,” I heard myself say.

“You don’t look bad,” said Alan. “It’s not as bad as you think.”

How did he know what I was thinking? But he was right. Do I look like a Freddy Kruger victim? I wondered. Am I blood splattered? Yet no one turned in pity and Alan’s expression revealed nothing diabolical.

“She has to get some ice on that,” said the woman. “I’ve got something.” She turned to leave.

“My glasses?” I patted my face, realizing they were gone.

“They’re on top of your head.”

“I can use a new pair anyway.”

“They appear fine.” Alan never turned from me.

“Really?” I was wearing them when I fell. How did they get atop my head? He was mistaken. They had to be smashed.

Voices and someone exiting the car caused me to turn. Cat was talking to Thelma, (not her real name) an old family friend who’d cleaned my stepson’s weekend home, where we’d stayed. It was her car on the road.

I placed my hand to my nose. “I really don’t look awful?”

“No. I swear. I can’t believe it. The bridge and the tip of your nose are red and scrapped, but not bloody. That’s it.”

That’s not possible. I turned toward the car. Thelma was looking over at me. “Good job on the house, Thelma.” I sort of waved. If I wasn’t bloodied or half dead, it was time to move. Thelma walked toward us as Alan helped me up. I felt dizzy and completely unstable.

“You okay, honey?” she asked.

I stood for a moment, amazed that I could. “I think so.”

Nobody appeared to have called an ambulance. That and the fact that I could move were good signs. I hugged Thelma.

“I hope I did a good job on the house,” she said.

“You did. Thanks for cleaning it.” I must look okay or she wouldn’t be talking about the house.

Alan got on one side of me and Cat on the other. I was wobbly, but I didn’t feel hospital ready. We baby-stepped to the wooden rungs of Rugby’s gingerbread-like Episcopal Church. The first responder brought an ice cold bottled papaya drink in a towel since her ice had melted. Alan held it to my face. “I can do that,” I said, taking it from him.

A few people stopped to ask how I was. No one could believe my face didn’t look like it had been smashed by the front end of a dump truck. I knew the ferocity of the fall. I felt it. How did my nose, glasses, and cheekbones survive a forward, full-throttle assault? It wasn’t humanly possible.

Yet it was spiritually possible.

We went back to the house and I went to bed, my perfectly unscathed glasses on the nightstand. Alan tucked me in. “How long did it take for you to get to me after I fell?” I asked. “

About two seconds.” He looked at me lovingly, and like he was seeing a miracle.


When he left, I thanked God for the marvelous angel who’d softened my descent. My eyelids fluttered. It was midday, but all I wanted was to sleep, and dream. “For He will give His angels charge over you.” Had Psalm 91 made the difference? Had this “covering” prayer covered me, keeping me safe? The fall had shocked me, my body needing to rest and recover, but come evening, makeup dabbled around and over the bridge of my nose masked my redness. In less than a week, I was normal.

The incident humbled me, especially after seeing pictures of two Facebook friends who had similar falls. Looking at their battered, purple, and swollen photos, I knew this should have been me. Both required ambulances, hospital care, and a fairly lengthy recuperation. Before I fell, I’d never heard a story of someone I knew falling face first on asphalt.

However, another baffling episode lay ahead. It would leave me equally befuddled and amazed.

Just over a month later, late one evening, I was making a cup of magnesium tea, topping it with boiling water. Except on this night, distracted by my cat, I poured the roiling liquid over my hand. I shrieked and Alan came running.

“Put your hand under cold water!” He flipped on the tap and my hand was immediately soothed. Five, eight, ten minutes . . . every time I pulled it out, my skin felt like it was on fire.
Since it was near bedtime, I began to concoct standing sleep scenarios and prayed a simple prayer, “Lord, help this to heal. I really need you to do it now. Thank you, Lord.” Something like that.

As long as my hand was under cold running water, it felt okay, but outside the water, a fiery pain erupted. “How will I sleep?” Finally, I dried my hand and slathered on one and then several oils and lotions, hoping for a remedy. I settled in bed, blowing on it, shaking it. Nothing. Before returning to the water, I prayed earnestly: “Lord, I need you to heal this now. I didn’t sleep last night and tonight will be terrible if you don’t intervene. Please have mercy on me.” I ended as I usually did—believing. “Thank you for healing me, Lord, and for always answering my prayers.” And almost that quick, the pain left.


It didn’t burn, it didn’t hurt. Until a few minutes later, I laid back on the bed thinking, “Maybe that water didn’t boil as long as I thought.”

As quickly as the thought formed, the pain returned. (How stupid am I?) But, I repented and it left. No need to repent again, I’d learned my lesson. That night, like the afternoon of my fall, I slept peacefully, and my hand never again hurt.

What happened was clearly beyond the laws of physics. Once again, I felt thankful and humbled. God is no respecter of people, I knew. He won’t do something for me that He won’t do for you. Yet, all I could think was, why now and why me? On numerous occasions I’d asked to be healed of illnesses or pain and nothing happened. Perhaps, I theorized, angels  deal with wounds rather than sickness. But the “Why” word was stuck in my head.

I kept going back to Psalm 91. Was I now dwelling in the secret place of the Most High God like the Psalm suggests? All I knew for sure was that I’d been delivered on two occasions. Perhaps in my daily recitation of Psalm 91, I was dispatching angels and dispelling demons.

It’s difficult if not impossible to determine which prayers God fully answers. I don’t understand the Why in these two situations. Perhaps angels were dispatched because my trust is in Jehovah Jireh, the Lord my provider, and Jehovah Rophe, the Lord my healer. And on one afternoon and one evening, He had taken me under His feathers.

Today, in this very real blustering snowstorm, as I press up to a fire roaring up the chimney, comforted, warmed, and full, I’m reminded, He is always with me.

No matter how bad the storm, how hard the fall, or how hot the water.

“Thank you, Lord.”  xxx

Psalm 91
1 He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High
Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress;
My God, in Him will I trust.”
3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler
And from the perilous pestilence.
4 He shall cover you with His feathers,
And under His wings you shall take refuge;
His truth shall be your shield and buckler.
5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night,
Nor of the arrow that flies by day,
6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness,
Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday.
7 A thousand may fall at your side,
And ten thousand at your right hand;
But it shall not come near you.
8 Only with your eyes shall you look,
And see the reward of the wicked.
9 Because you have made the Lord, who is my refuge,
Even the Most High, your habitation,
10 No evil shall befall you,
Nor shall any plague come near your dwelling;
11 For He shall give His angels charge over you,
To keep you in all your ways.
12 They shall bear you up in their hands,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.
13 You shall tread upon the lion and the cobra,
The young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.
God’s speaks
14 “Because he has set his love upon Me, therefore I will deliver him;
I will set him on high, because he has known My name.
15 He shall call upon Me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will deliver him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him,
And show him My salvation.”