The Halls of Heaven

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God is our refuge and strength,
    an ever-present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
    and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
    and the mountains quake with their surging……Psalm 46:1-3

Sometimes Jesus sneaks a quiet thought in when you aren’t expecting it. He does that a lot. I always know when they come from Him because they just make so much sense, and most of the time, I don’t have that much. This is the kernel of wisdom He gave me:

I never asked you to do or be everything, I only asked you to follow me.

I have been racing around, trying to learn a new job and run over and do things for my folks which is part of why I came. There hasn’t been much quiet time, but as my other wise friend said, “You have to make the quiet time, it doesn’t come and find you.”

This world has really turned up the noise lately. I am so done with politics. Really, it means so very little. In ten or so years (or maybe one month) we will have forgotten why we got so upset about it all. There are a few things that come with a guarantee in this life. One of them is that as I grow older the halls of Heaven are getting more crowded. This world in my circle is shrinking as it will continue to do until such time as I join them.

A death of a friend will bring that home quicker than anything. We lost a dear friend shortly after we moved here. We passed their house on the way out of town and it haunts us both that we didn’t stop. I first met Ruby when I ran out of Mary Kay, back when we lived in Payson. I called the number because I ran out of Mauve Elegance lipstick. She and her husband Ron lived in a big house at the top of the hill. When she answered the door what struck me were her green eyes and striking smile. Her last name was Green. As was the carpet in their beautiful home.

She became like a surrogate Mom to us both. We were invited to home cooked meals and always laughter, always laughter. She was one of those people who could be working out in the yard without a stitch of makeup, sweat rolling down her face and then disappear in the bathroom for an hour and come out looking like Fifth Avenue. And she loved the Lord. Years would pass sometimes between the time we would see them again, but it never mattered. It was always like old times when we met again.

I miss you Ruby. Our loss is indeed Heaven’s gain.

This world can stomp us into the ground if we let it. Sometimes I just want to shrink myself down until I all but disappear. But the problem with that is, you disappear for those who need you. Who are counting on you. It’s all about balance. Jesus had to retreat to quiet places time and time again.

And so do we. And what a place I have now to do just that. We all have a challenge to keep that spark from blowing out. Each day we have a choice to fan that little spark. I think of when Ruby and I used to sit at the piano, “C’mon and let’s sing!”she used to say. She loved that song, “Pass it on.” She loved the lyrics, “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around will warm up to its glowing…..”

This world is increasingly not my home. The time we have down here is precious. No doubt about it, this world is enough to make us rock back on our heels with our hands in our faces, but it can also make our hearts split in two with the joy of it.

Today I opened my devotional with Numbers……..‘ “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.”

I got a flashback because that’s the verse my Mom used to pray over my niece, Lauryn before she left for school back when she reached down to put her loving hands on her head. Now she would have to reach up……they don’t take her to school anymore, but the prayer is always there, will always be there.

Both down here, and ringing in the Halls of Heaven.

The Lord bless us all. We sure do need it right now.

Down to the River to Pray

Settled. The Prayer Closet found its new resting place here down by the river. I haven’t been able to find the peace to pray or write at all it’s been such a whirlwind of activity since we got here. We are comfortably settled in the RV (3 things broke soon after we got here but those have been fixed thankfully.) Helps so much to have a very handy best friend!

I am so thankful we have such a wonderful opportunity to stay here on my Aunt’s beautiful property. However long this season lasts I will be thankful to her for generosity. It’s good to be able to help her out with some things too. God is good.

Here I can feel and see nature all around me and hear the sounds of trains which I have always loved. I have missed the trains of my childhood, it’s good to have them back. There is something Holy about a train whistle….they bring with them (to me) a sense of longing and promise, and a bit of sadness to.

This morning I was treated to the sight of a white heron on the very top of a tree across the river. And our second day here I was greeted by the resident robin (Mrs. or Mr. I couldn’t tell). That of course was very important since robins have always held signs of promise to me.

The presence of the river is strong. Rivers always are. They carry things like dreams and hopes. We had our maiden voyage with the kayaks which was something we wanted to do since we got here. Coming back in was a sight to see. We laughed so hard we couldn’t catch our breath. Now we have a rope affixed to the tree to help pull us in!

Until next time, keep my Mom in your prayers, she is still struggling after her thyroid surgery several months ago. It hurts to see her not doing all the things she loves, but her attitude remains thankful and hopeful.

Also, pray for my friend Ron Green, who lost his wife, our dear friend Ruby. She is safe in the arms of Jesus now but he will need the strength of the Holy Spirit to keep going.

Blessings and peace to you all.

Prayer Journal: August 11

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Rain slammed down hard last night, awakening me from sleep. It was a welcome sound…..something I had been hoping and praying for. And in between the silences thunder rolls this morning.

Here amidst the boxes in the shop, the Trinity and I are having our coffee communion. There are different types of communion you know. There’s the church kind and then there is this kind. Where we invoke and invite the Presence of God into our moments.

Thunder amplifies the Holiness of the hour, and I think about that Day.

When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. Mark 15:33

At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Matthew 27: 51-54

Some standing around finally got that they had killed not only a completely innocent man, but God Himself. Even nature reeled from it, punctuated the awful truth of it with darkness and an earthquake. The prophet Amos predicted it in 750 BC……

It will come about in that day,” declares the Lord GOD, “That I will make the sun go down at noon And make the earth dark in broad daylight. Amos 8:9

We, all of us want to know we’re going in the right direction. But sometimes, despite our best efforts, all the signs along the way, we get lost. Or feel lost. Ever made a mistake of epic proportions or feel like you did something irrevocable?

Few things can’t be reversed, forgiven or undone. That’s the Good News I bring today. And some paths you have to turn into on faith, knowing that the only way is to walk it for a while to know if it’s right.

With God there are no blind corners, He knows exactly where we are and what’s beyond the next bend. I just have to pick up my walking stick and follow.

Know this for sure, that uncertainty…..the dread of what might happen……the icy fear that slips in during the night? None of that came from God. 

I can assure you that if you are wondering where your happiness went? It wasn’t God who stole it. But I do know that He can bring it back.

Let the life-giving Holy Spirit breathe fresh life into your weary heart and soul today. And know that if you are living and breathing, that it’s a good day.

Dawn: I only have time for Eternity

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“Praises and canticles anticipate each day the singing bells that wake the sun. Open the secret eye of faith and drink these deeps of invisible light”……Thomas Merton 

Yesterday was a tough day for me. I knew this would be hard, packing up this place has been like packing up part of myself. How do you go about doing that? This little home, the most humble of all the homes God has blessed us with has felt more like home than any of them. It’s been a place of tremendous comfort and joy.

So I packed some and I cried some. By the end of the day I was worn out. But this morning I may have turned a corner into the new Chapter. Maybe I did. It was slight, like a chord change that takes place somewhere deep in your soul. The Holy Spirit speaks in a whisper.

It was hard to walk out into the shop yesterday and see a whole wall blank, but this morning I went out and it was like it’s always been. Today I needed some Thomas Merton so I took his little “Book of Hours” with me. His words breathed life and freshness through my soul like the wind through the pines.

Today, if you are reading this, do this one thing. Go easy on yourself. It’s what I have needed to do and you need it too. Life is hard. Give yourself time to adjust to the winds of change that sometimes blow more fiercely than you anticipated. Get help from an outside source if you need it. Sometimes the body is fine but the weary heart and mind need a physician.

Here is a partial reading for the Sunday Chapter:

“Meanwhile, the most wonderful moment of the day is that when creation in its innocence asks permission to “be” once again, as it did on that first morning that ever was. 

All wisdom seeks to collect and manifest itself at that blind sweet point. Man’s wisdom does not succeed, for we have fallen into self-mastery and cannot ask permission of anyone. We face our mornings as men of undaunted purpose. 

We know the time and dictate the terms. We know what time is. 

For the birds, there is not a time that they tell. But he virgin point between darkness and light. Between being and non-being. 

Here is an unspeakable secret: paradise is all around us and we do not understand. It is wide open. The sword is taken away, but we do not know it. We are off “one to his farm and one to his merchandise.” 

Lights on, clocks ticking. Thermostats working. Stoves cooking. Electric shavers filling the radio with static. Wisdom, cries the dawn deacon, but we do not attend.”  Book of Hours, page 46

I for one, will be present today. Help me to do that, Lord. You have given birth to a new day and that is always a gift. I thank you for today and whatever it brings. Because whatever it is, you will meet me there.

God’s Speed Bumps

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“Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.”  Thomas Merton

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis

Last night we watched the storm come in, the skies filling with every shade of pink, peach and amber, then the screen of dust came and diffused the light. The trees bent unnaturally this way and that. And finally, healing rain beating it all down, flickers of lightning here and there like God’s flash bulbs. Easy to believe in God during these kinds of storms.

There are times throughout our lives that stand out. And I’m not talking about the usual Big Moments like births and weddings. I am talking about those little everyday miracles you just can’t explain that won’t go away. I call them God’s Speed Bumps. I believe sometimes He has to stop us in our tracks to remind us He’s still there, still loves us enough to nudge us with something unexplained. A gift that removes all doubt of its source.

I keep a journal of these……answered prayers and moments that stand out no matter how many years pass by. I never want to forget. Maybe you have some too. Here are some in my collection:

The white dove that wouldn’t leave, resting on the flower box as my parents left the house after praying when my sister-in-law was so sick. 

The unmistakable presence of the Holy Spirit that enveloped me like the fog that covered our house as I listened to “Oh, Holy Night” in my little room so long ago now.

The mother duck and her ducklings walking along the side of the road as the sky turned peach all around us, as we drove to Church on an Easter morning. 

The letters found in the parking lot as if dropped straight from Heaven at Elaine’s Dad’s nursing home on a day when hope was desperately needed. (You can read about that here.) 

The Holy Spirit taking over as I sang my first solo in church. Each time after as well, and not one missed lyric, except the time I crashed and burn when I got a little cocky and forgot to pray. 

The supernatural evening touched with grace as I prayed and asked for help while watching the sunset with Tux my little stray yard cat. 

Elaine and I finding the song by Jessye Norman for Lori’s memorial service, truly a needle in a haystack. 

And this one at the end of a particularly hard day, Elaine glancing over to the side of the road at the precise moment a little round squirrel stood up on his hind legs while holding a flower between his two front paws. She said it was like he was posing for a greeting card. 

The robin in the yard at dawn just when my Mom needed to see it after those dark days after my husband died. 

The bright and long shooting star Elaine and I both saw walking out of the restaurant at Moss Landing. 

There are so many, friends that I could never count them all. And yes, I believe in a God who doles out parking spots sometimes because it’s His good pleasure to give us good gifts. The truth is, He does these things for all of us but we don’t all take time to notice or thank Him.

And no, my God is not a Genie…..my wish is not His command. But I believe He reveals Himself in a myriad of little ways to those who pay attention. For those who ask to notice and keep their Spiritual ears and eyes open…..He waits.

Today, open your eyes to what He has surrounded us with. And start counting!

Letting God

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“My little story, which was like a fairy-tale, has turned into a prayer.” St. Therese

It’s nine thirty and by now I should be fully immersed in the business of life and ticking things off my to-do list. Nothing on my mental or physical list is done, unless you count morning prayer and devotion time and you can’t really check that off as a task. The whole point of prayer seems to be to never, ever have it completed. It’s an impossible task anyway, for I find that no sooner do I get off my knees, either figuratively or literally, that my next breath becomes a prayer again. Lately, it seems I need it to move from one thing to the next.

I ask God for the thousandth time to direct my path. Right now I am a stubborn leaf clinging to a rock in a fast flowing current. This home has been my monastery, my hermitage…….my refuge and place of peace for the past 10 or so years and part of me is fighting leaving. I look around and see everything placed just so, I see all the work, all the love, all the things we’ve done to make it home. So much life is in these walls. So many battles, joys, heartaches, sorrows, and always at the end of the day a sweet place of light and welcome.

It’s been a place to wipe the grime of the world off our feet and leave it behind on the other side of the threshold.

Each time I think of packing, taking anything down off the walls a little voice of rebellion screams, no. It’s change, and change is what I have always fought. At my job I was forced into it, and it was good for me. And I know change is necessary and healthy. Do I have the strength to start new?

I sit quiet, acutely aware of every little sound, not wanting to leave the peace of this moment. I hear the scratch of the pen, Briggs soft snore, Pandora filtering David Nevue’s piano as my backdrop. I hold my breath and it feels Holy.

My tears fall as I read once more from The Cloister Walk, a favorite I read long ago. This little home has been my Cloister like no other home has ever been. Do I have the courage to leave? Do I have what it takes to beat back the fear of the unknown?

I think of that little leaf, I see it as red somehow, scarlet against the gray stone. Something about it is fierce and brave and I admire it, I want to tell it to hold on and yet I know the current is part of the big picture and it has its place in the universe too.

Maybe, when it all comes down to it, this is why writers write, painters paint, restorers restore. It’s all about freezing time and a process of letting go again and again. We push words out like breath in order to keep from being overwhelmed and pulled under the current.

It’s a way of saying “this little moment is important” and the moment that comes after is just as important.

To God, time doesn’t matter. To us, it is everything. It’s all we have, right here and right now. It’s what we are guaranteed. There are really only two things in life that are guaranteed.

The here and now. And eternity. 

And I understand more the older I get that those two things are what Jesus meant when He said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” By His coming, He made the here and now collide with Heaven. And ultimately, it’s why I can step forward even with trembling knees and shaky feet.

It’s why I can step into the future and whatever it holds with hope. Because after all, “Letting Go” is only one letter away from “Letting God.”

Why we can’t ever stop loving

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“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken……..” C.S. Lewis

“We love, because He first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

It’s been a hard week, friends. First there was the call from my Dad. I could hear the panic in his voice: “There’s something wrong with your Mom,” he said, “I’m not sure what to do……” Then the texts and reports came back from my brother and my concern grew. I heard the word, “Sepsis” and alarm bells rang inside my head. Elaine’s Mom was in the hospital 14 days due to that condition. That pretty much ended the “should I stay or go” battle.

It was the spur of the moment and the weekend……..flights were few. Elaine said, “I’ll drive you, let’s just get in the car and go. We’ll drive as far as we can and stop and sleep, then keep going.” So we did. We called our faithful friends who have watched the cats for years and they said of course they would. Sydney had not quite been himself but he was still eating and drinking. He was in good hands.

When we got there 16 hours later Mom was just out of the hospital. (One day and one night too long in her words) She was shaky and disoriented and not looking good. After a week’s worth of antibiotics at home due to some pneumonia setting in, she was on the mend and I felt I could leave.

Elaine had turned around and left the same day we got there after having dinner with her brother in a nearby town. She was scheduled to train on Monday at work and she was also worried about Sydney. (She may not have a cape but she’s the closest thing to “Wonder Woman” I know)

She had asked me before we left, “If something happens to Sydney, if he gets really sick, do you want me to tell you or wait until you get back?” I told her to wait until I got back.

When she got back he was still eating and drinking but hiding under the bed which wasn’t at all like him. And all that week, while I was in California nursing Mom, she was nursing my cat. (she loved him every bit as much as I did) Two days before I got back he had some kind of a seizure and it scared her to death. She brought him back from the brink but after that he wasn’t the same.

We had decided after the last vet visit two years prior, no more vet visits for him. It was just too traumatic.

And she never let on how bad he was, how scared she was, because she had made that promise, you see. That’s what best friends do, they keep their promises even if it hurts.

When she picked me up at the airport I still had no clue. I breezily suggested we go to dinner. She didn’t answer right away and then she told me between tears and sobbing……”It’s Sydney……” Then panic ensued and all I could think of was getting home.

Sydney has been my baby right from the start, you see. He chose me fifteen years ago, back when I desperately needed something of my own. I had lost the cat who had brought joy back into my life after great sorrow, and my arms felt empty.

Of all the kittens in those two rooms, Sydney (Sammy then) kept coming up to me. He was God’s gift, an answer to my prayer, I know it. Later, when my niece was born, I remember lamenting that she was so far away in California. Sydney helped me with that by insisting that I hold him. I had never ever had a cat that turned on his back and insisted I hold him like an infant, but he did.

And now he needed me. With shaky hands I filled out the online form to have the vet come to the house the next day.

All that evening I stroked him where he lay under the bed, and held his paws. He was quiet, and he was never ever quiet. I was so grateful I made it back in time. Elaine had been holding such secret sorrow and so afraid he would die before I got back. Unbeknownst to me, she had made all the calls and had already checked out the websites for vets that would come to the house.

That night I made a bed on the floor so he could feel me near; he always slept right by my side or preferably on my pillow, he loved stealing my pillow. And he actually loved to cuddle, remarkable for a cat.

Sydney was my faithful and loyal friend. For 15 years of his life, each time I left for California he would look towards the door and cry and mourn for days. It was so bad that Elaine would have to leave to get some peace. After a few days he would settle down and allow her to be surrogate Mom.

The vet responded the next morning and said she would be in the area the next day, but there was no way I could let him suffer another day so I pleaded our case for haste and she came through. She said she would be here within the hour.

I waited and prayed for strength at my bedroom window and when her van pulled up I jumped.

We had already gotten Briggs out of the room. And she was so kind, so compassionate. I knew we had made the right call. She got everything ready beforehand and we comforted him as she gave the sedative. I held him close for what seemed like forever. Time stopped and I was strong for him as I knew I had to be. I owed him that.

She suggested wisely that Briggs be brought in to say goodbye, for they had never been apart. Elaine brought him in and they touched noses for the last time. “If you don’t,” she said, “he will always be looking for him.” I guess animals need closure too.

I was okay until I put his little body in the box with the shell blanket. I didn’t want to let him go and the dam burst as I pressed my face to his fur, the softest I had ever felt.

I recovered enough to go hug the vet. Soon I will go pick up his ashes so that where we go, he can go. I happen to believe he is pestering Jesus right now with his loud Siamese meow and insistence on lap time. My Mom said she thought that too.

So again, I feel how hard and unnatural it all is. We were never meant for this kind of sorrow. And though Jesus has removed the lethal stinger that reaches beyond death to redemption, we still feel the raw pain of it.

But there’s something else that reaches beyond it. Softly and insistently it flutters its way into our heart. It says with promise. This is not the end. There’s Hope.

So my question is, “Why do we keep opening ourselves up to love?” Over and over again.

The answer is simple, we keep loving because it’s in our DNA because it’s in God’s DNA and we are His children. He loves us and has loved us from the beginning with an everlasting love, even when it hurts.

We love because He first loved us. And despite the pain, we keep giving. He keeps giving. Because without love, life has no real meaning. With every loss, no matter how painful, we are better people for having risked and loved.

And God has a happy ending for us, folks.

It’s all arranged.