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.”

“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.

 

 

 

A Love that Never Died

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul head shotIMAG0044 (2)

The Gift

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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