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!

Jesus in 2017: Resolution to Revolution


Happy New Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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A Love that Never Died

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Forever Season

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I anticipate it!

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

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

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

Quoth God’s seasons, “Evermore.”

 

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This Side of Heaven

Ever feel like a cosmic force has sucked you into space, spun you around, and then slammed you back hard against the earth? And then afterwards, if that wasn’t bad enough, it happens all over again!

This was the beginning of one of those moments. If you’ve ever been stretched to your limit, and then some, you’ll understand what I’m about to say.

It started simply enough: My husband, Alan, and I were snuggled up on pillows, reading in bed when I heard a voice. It said, “Be patient with your Aunt LoRayne.”

I lowered my book and looked at Alan. “Why did you say that?”

He peered over his magazine. “Say what?”

“You said I should be patient with LoRayne.”

“No I didn’t.”

Uh oh. The Voice was as clear as an announcement, and even though I’d never heard God speak, I knew it was Him. That, or I was developing multiple personalities.

Had I been raised in a different family, (see Something about Karyn) I probably would’ve ignored it. Must be my imagination working overtime I would surely have thought. And for good reason. For months, we had been making exhaustive, weekly trips to Atlanta for my mother, Naomi Cantees’, care, but this time was different. We were nearing the end.

You see, my 55 year old mother was dying of cancer. Intensifying the situation, my Aunt LoRayne believed she would be healed, regardless of the diagnosis. Having a cancer patient in the family or being a cancer patient, many of you know, is a roller coaster ride from hell. One day things seem okay, yet the next, Last Rites can be in order. One Charleston doctor had advised us, “Don’t drag your mother all over the country looking for a cure.”

But we had, finding a renowned physician at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta who had performed the difficult surgery for colon cancer the first doctor had advised against.

Then the Voice had said to be patient. And I knew why.

LoRayne’s positive slant on even the worst prognosis was making me fruit-loopy, even though she was steadfast to help. Still, that constant diet of highs and lows, of becoming excited about something positive she’d relay only to learn that reality was nearly the opposite, made me weary, and leery of anything she said.

However, after three long years we all knew the end was near. Well, eveyone except LoRayne.

She and I were taking 12 hour shifts staying with Mother at Emory Hospital, and I was due to relieve her. I phoned to see how things were going before I left, as we sometimes did.

LoRayne was upbeat. “There are complications,” she said, “but Naomi’s condition appears to be reversing!” What! This was Mother’s last chance, and I wanted desperately to believe. LoRayne’s words offered the only lifeline we had left and so I clung to the lilt in her voice and the magnificence of her words, though her past assertions had thumped me. Hanging up, I unleashed a bucket of tears, thinking: Could we possibly be planning a celebration instead of a funeral?

Almighty God, it seemed, had answered our prayers.

LoRayne drove from the hospital that day and I decided to walk. It was an early summer morning and the news had invigorated me.

When I arrived in the room, I smiled and threw my arms around Mother.

“What’s going on?” she asked. “I’m excited about your news,” I said.

Mother looked away. “What did LoRayne tell you?”

When I told her, Mother started to cry. “I’m so sorry, darling, but that’s not exactly what the doctor said.” She explained that an annoying itch she had complained about was the complication LoRayne mentioned. It had been diagnosed as skin cancer. Another cancer. Though it was likely treatable, the original sarcoma was still killing her.

I sat through my shift rather civilly, considering the lump in my throat was jump kicking between my feet and my head. I was restless and angry, but I hid it from Mother.

The acting ceased when I retired my shift early. I found LoRayne in her hotel room. Something outside of me took over. I screamed, “How could you do this? Skin cancer can’t possibly be a sign that everything is okay?” Over and over. I had been thumped from the foot of the grave to the heavens one time too many.

And then I heard, not the audible Voice as before, but an expression in my heart that was just as clear. “This is what I was talking about. Be patient with your Aunt LoRayne.” I stopped mid sentence.

LoRayne began to cry. She was older than my mother, and had been a sort of surrogate mother to her sister since the two of them were young. She was wearier than me and just as distraught. That night she cried a long while. Together, we decided that she should fly home. My brother Ric took her place.

A couple of months later, Mother died.

My Aunt LoRayne believed that If you have faith as small as a grain of mustard seed, miracles will happen, just like the Bible says. She had enough faith for all of us. And maybe if we all could have believed the way she did, my Mother would have been healed. I’ve heard it said that an uncommon problem requires uncommon faith. I think there’s much truth to that. God certainly heals people miraculously and I know He answers prayers. He heard my aunt’s prayer. And while He appreciated her hopeful heart, He knew there would be no miracle for my Mother this side of heaven.

The miracle was for me—the gift of His soft yet urgent Voice. He warned me, not just to save LoRayne from my tongue lashing, but as a powerful reminder that He was mightily present.

In life and in death.

In the middle of the pain, the suffering, and the tears.

Photos:  Above: On our way to Atlanta in our Cesna. One of numerous weekly trips. With my mother Naomi Cantees and my husband, Alan.

Pic left: Mother, center, with her sisters, Ilda, left, and LoRayne, right. Circa 1944 in Belfry, Ky.

Pic. right: Mother next to my brother, Rick, at Alan’s and my wedding in Charleston, WV.

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The Cat that God Sent

 

In Loving Memory: 1993 – November 5, 2015

Let’s be clear: I’m a dog person.

My dog, Tiffany Jewel, had died and I’d mourned her for months. I wanted another dog, but my husband Alan and I were traveling a lot and it didn’t seem fair to board a dog so much.

Still, when we were home our house felt empty. I prayed and put it in God’s hands. A few months later, I was standing on the parking lot in front of my husband Alan’s office with two employees, Carrie, and my stepdaughter, Cindy. Between them they probably had eight cats. Cat people! Suddenly at our feet was an eight inch ball of fur, a tuxedo kitten decked out in black with white underbelly, paws, and even a white mustache. He was trying to climb my leg!

Both women oohed and ahhed, and Cindy finally picked him up. But it was my attention he wanted, bending almost backwards in her hands to stretch his front paws toward me. When she put him down, once again it was my legs he stroked with his body and my legs he tried to climb. I was having none of it. Cats were aloof and prissy. I’d had one cat princess, and one was enough.

Cindy couldn’t leave him, so she took him home. That silly cat stayed on my mind for the rest of the day. After dinner, I asked Alan if he wanted to drop by Cindy’s. He shrugged. “If you want.”

When we got to her house, the kitten was in a bathroom, because of her multiple cats and a German shepherd. After retrieving him, she asked, “Want to hold him?”

“Uh, okay.” Alan loved him on sight, but it was me he nuzzled and purred for. He had claimed me, and the fact that I couldn’t get him out of my head, meant I’d claimed him, too. He went home with us and we named him Maui, after the Hawaiian island we love.

He would sit with his legs in front of him, like a person, looking around or watching television. He’d tear through the house like a gazelle, roll a few times, sit up and look as if to say, “Never seen a tiger?” He talked vehemently, letting us know what and when he wanted something, whether for food, play, love, or treats. Never has there been a funnier, sweeter, or more lovable animal.

Now, at 21 years old, he’s a grouchy old man, eating ground cat food, getting fluid injections, and sleeping all day. Yet still adorable.

I’ll always remember the kitten he was and the cat he grew into, following me around like a dog, batting everything in sight, and begging. His favorite foods–black olives, apricots, and asparagus. He’d start at the asparagus tip and chew up the stalk.

I’ve always said he’s a dog cloaked in a cat’s body, but really, he’s his own cat. Special and loving in his own feline way. And, the truth is, I think I’m a cat person after all.

The aging Maui sometimes wakes me by swatting my face with his paw or nudging my hand over his head. It reminds me of the kitten. And I thank God, He sent me the perfect animal—a cat I couldn’t forget—and two women standing on a parking lot with me who would have never left without him.

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The aging Maui, 21 years old, still has a bit of mischief in his eyes.