The Unseen

Image

UNBROKEN

I requested it; waited weeks for it to come off “HOLD” from Scottsdale’s Public Library and now, I finally had it in my hands; “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I dove in like a ten year old at a pool party on the hottest day of the summer.

I had no idea what I was in for. The Olympics, the running, the crazy boyhood life, the spirited jokes, the military preparations, the flying, the crashing, the inhumanity, the horrors of war…

And, like a terrible car crash, I couldn’t peel my eyes from it. It was heavy. Like any great novel, you are transported there. I needed to take breaks where I could stare into my own reality and recover from the events– and I was only READING it! “Unbroken” is many things, but primarily about one man, Louis Zamperini who, along with so many others, was held as a POW by the Japanese during WWII.

Each day I awoke after a night-time reading of it and somehow I’d changed; unable to return to the daily tasks of life without my perceptions being altered.

I’m willing to bet that everyone who reads this book will take away something different from it. Depending on whether you are a WWII veteran, a Japanese student, a young American, a runner, an Olympian, a mother, a brother, an atheist, an alcoholic… your life’s experiences will determine the message. Yet, there is depth and meaning in it for all. Reading Laura Hillenbrand’s flawless, detailed tale of this amazing, passionate, heroic man’s death-defying, horrendous experience, and what he did with it, leaves you changed.

The dark night of the soul—this is a journey you take reading “Unbroken.”

The dark night of the soul; Biblical teachers write of this. I’ve heard it explained referring to King David. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. King David, whom the Bible refers to as “a man after God’s own heart,” had committed adultery and subsequently ordered the murder of his adulteress’s husband. He experienced this darkness when he refused to repent of his sins. This “dark night of the soul” is what’s experienced when one turns away from God. Unwilling to accept circumstances, unwilling to face one’s own sins, and in capable of doing it on your own, it’s an unfathomably deep and immeasurable darkness that suffocates the soul—it’s a place without hope.

Louis Zamperini knows about the dark night of the soul—but his hell lasted way longer than a night.

To appreciate the power of the transitional experience and the depths Louis found his soul in, you must experience the story for yourself. Yet, as I amass library fines to finish my own journey through the darkness he encountered, I remind myself that the title is: “Unbroken.”

There is survival from this dark night of the soul.

Page 175 of the hardcover is where the tumult of his life came to a pivotal juncture. Laura details an encounter Louis had at a Billy Graham revival– “What God asks of men, said Graham, is faith. His invisibility is the truest test of that faith. To know who sees him, God makes himself unseen.”

Invisible faith.

When one reads of the full on HELL that this one man endured, I can see why some might believe that there wasn’t a God looking out for these souls. And in hindsight, one can dwell in that despair or make a different choice, like Louis did when he chose to be unbroken by it and turn another direction.

It’s always a choice to search for the Unseen or to turn your face from it.

“Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” – John 20:29

 

Now that my journey through this story is concluding, if I had to sum this novel up in one word, I would say HOPE. In encountering the humiliation and depravity that Louis’s journey took him on, coupled with the intense and powerful heights of this champion’s life, it’s easy to see that hope drove him on; hope was never lost; hope was His experience.

He chose to be unbroken and he saw the Unseen.

And now, as I pass on this treasure to the next awaiting soul ready to immerse in the story, I pray, as they view every sentence and watch the events be brought to life in Laura’s words, that they too, will witness the Unseen.

What will you see?

SALT

SALTSalt from seedtofeedme.blogspot.com

Salt – sôlt/noun a white crystalline substance that gives sea water its characteristic taste and is used for seasoning or preserving food. (from google definitions)

On popcorn at the movies, on the soft pretzel at the ball game, in my mashed potatoes at Thanksgiving, sprinkled across lunch-time salads and balanced delicately at the rim of my margarita glass–

Salt, salt, SALT–

I LOVE SALT!

The majority of salt on the earth is found in the sea. China and the US are the top producers of it.

Salt, made up chemically of Na (sodium) and Cl (chloride), in its pure form, works in our bodies in conjunction with potassium to keep our muscles, nerves and hearts beating in balance.

Heidi, my friend and culinary mastermind, while teaching us how to create the perfect, most juicy and tastiest pork loin explains, “Salt works as a wonderful tenderizer to the toughest of meats.”

We discover this truth as we feast on the mouth-watering, fork-tender creation. As she sprinkles it across her other dishes, she explains how it works in partnership with the flavors of the meal to enhance it.

Back before refrigeration was common, salt preserved meats, keeping them from spoiling and averting countless families from starving through some tough times.

Not only used to enhance and preserve food, but also as a cleansing agent, in baths and mouthwashes, salt has also commonly been used as a healing solvent.

Salt, in its most natural form… brings things to life.

And yet, like we humans can do, we tend to make things un-natural.

Table Salt– we whiten it to make it more appealing. We add things to it (iodine) to make up for things we lack. We overuse it in processed foods and soups lacking flavor. And in doing this, a beautiful, pure and balanced compound becomes unhealthy.

We’ve bleached it, we’ve changed it, we’ve bloated ourselves on it and made it unnatural.

Jesus teaching his followers in the Sermon on the Mount states–

“You are the salt of the earth,”

Of the earth. Natural. Un-tainted or changed by the world. In the original form. Back to the basic, life-giving, life-preserving, life-saving balanced purity.

Jesus also says, “…but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.” Matthew 5:13

I believe many of us Christians have lost our saltiness. We dilute God’s message of repentance and salvation. In general, we add things unnecessarily to enhance the basic Truth. We become complacent and allow un-natural elements (like sin) to bloat the message of the cross. We try to “whiten” ourselves to a point of “purity” that creates hypocrites.  Man-made religion, with it’s rigidity and pious practices, has developed followers who forget to love.  Actions, deeds and lives of those who wear the title of “Christian” have become unnatural, unflavorful, and no longer good for anything—except to be crushed under man’s feet.

Like table salt, man-made religion has trampled the pure, life-giving message of Jesus.

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.” John 13:34

salt of the earth/noun/an individual or group considered as representative of the best or noblest elements of society.

(dictionary.com)

Again, the message of Jesus to his followers is that, “You are the salt of the earth.”

How do we restore our saltiness?

It is painful—like swabbing salt across an open wound, but it can also be healing– we must find restoration in the one place that will never disappoint—The message and life of Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ–God made human, who took on flesh and walked among us.

Jesus Christ–the Prophet, the Priest, the King.

Jesus Christ–who lived an innocent life and offered up himself as payment once and for all and FOR ALL.

Jesus Christ– the Way, the Truth the Life.

Jesus Christ–who did all things moved by an unfathomable, immeasurable depth of LOVE.

Holding fast to the teachings of Jesus, you are called to be true to who God made you. There is no one else like you.– You, as your redeemed self; you, in your sphere of influence; you, doing what you do best every day of your life; just be you. Be pure –unadulterated by the world. Be the best or noblest element in where God has placed you, keeping your motives focused on Jesus.

Acting out of love.

And, like all of Jesus’s followers in that day who heard his message, they ran to tell others, not wanting anyone to miss out on the life-saving and life-preserving message.

So, whether you are munching on your popcorn at the movies, or crunching your way through the whole bag of Lay’s potato chips (I can never eat just one!), or as you are sipping from that salt-rimmed margarita, remember to BE SALTY!

SOLD OUT

SOLD OUT

twinkie shelves from blogs.etruth.com

Sold out. It’s usually not a good feeling when you hear that.

You searched all over for it.

You located it.

You had to have it.

You waited for it to go on sale. Then, just as you were to retrieve your reward —

“Sorry, ma’am. We SOLD OUT.”

Nothing left.

Like the shelves of every convenience store the day after Hostess announced the end of the Twinkie.

GONE.

And such is the tendency of this world. We look for something to fill us up and realize it has the same ability to disappear as quickly as we attained it.

 

But when you leave it to God, the Master Creator, He has the power to create something from nothing.

“The Lord merely spoke and the heavens were created.” (Psalm 33:6)

“In the beginning…the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light.” (Genesis1:2)

And then there was sky, and dry ground, and seeds and plants, and seasons, and day, and all the fish, birds and animals, and mankind…

“So the creation of the heavens and earth and everything in them was completed.” (Genesis 2:1)

And it was good.

Not bad for 6 days work.

And don’t we all like to think we can create some pretty terrific things in our weeks? See, I think I have things figured out in my life. I love being the master creator of my “weeks” and my own little world. How I act and dress, where I work, what I do, how I spend, what I eat and who I choose to be with. Everything I accomplish — I like to take credit for.

And, there are some really cool things that we humans can “take credit for.”

 

Like the Twinkie. What a creative invention we humans came up with! Who was the genius that said, “I am turning this cake thing upside down and inside out!” They created a cake where the frosting is protected. A moist, spongy, yellow cake infused with creamy, sweet filling giving each mouthful the perfect amount of sweetness paired with cake; all wrapped up and easily enjoyed anywhere! Plus, their shelf-life guarantees you will always have the ability to enjoy them, like, almost forever. Almost.

My mom loves these things! She always has two or three boxes on the snack shelf at home. She calls them her “fountain of youth” and believes all those preservatives help keep her young. But NOTHING in this world lasts forever. Nothing.

Poof.

Nearly overnight, my mom’s shelf was bare. The Twinkie was no more. Hostess decided it’s “shelf-life” was over. Everywhere you turned, Circle K, Wal-Mart, Safeway, Piggly Wiggly and even AMAZON, the world’s largest marketplace—SOLD OUT.

Moments of accomplishment can quickly dissipate; feelings of happiness are fleeting and temporary. Stuff of this life, is just…stuff.

And, as Dr. Phil would say, “How’s that working for you?”

Nothing in this world lasts forever.

Enter Jesus.

God not only created all things, He also took on flesh and lived among us. (Emmanuel translated means “God with us.”) God shows us the true example of how to live in this world and to not end up with that empty feeling.

Jesus–

“I am come so that they may have life and have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10)

Leave it to God to come to us, meet us where we are at and bring fullness from emptiness. He takes everything we think is right and turns it upside down and inside out.

Jesus, born in a manger.

God made human.

One innocent, murdered for all the guilty.

A King for all eternity and for all creation.

He tells us to have everything, you must lose everything about yourself. To have Jesus and life to the fullest, you must be SOLD OUT to what this world expects from you.

 

When in doubt, TRUST

When in need, GIVE

When persecuted, LOVE

When betrayed, FORGIVE

 

He says to love our enemies, even as they hate us. He asks us to extend mercy, even when we aren’t shown any. He shows us how to live in gentleness and humility even in a barbarian world. He tells us how to live everlasting when all else will fade to nothing. Give Jesus your heart, literally “selling out” to Jesus and the opposite of nothing happens.

Matthew Chapter 5 tells us:

Those who find themselves in utter desperation for Jesus will be given the Kingdom of Heaven.

The persecuted will be blessed.

The broken will be made new.

And the meek will inherit it all.

With Jesus, you will never thirst again, you will not hunger and you will have peace beyond understanding.

So, when the world has stripped your shelves bare, eaten away at every last grain you have to offer and you feel you have nothing left. That is when you experience the fullness a life with Jesus can supply.

God is our endless supply

Jesus is the Hope to fill the shelves of our hearts.

To have everything, be SOLD OUT.

And it was good.

 

“This is your brain on…”

Image

“This is your brain on…”

For those of us growing up in the 80’s, we know this phrase all too well.  The commercial for a “Drug Free America” that began with a picture of a whole egg: “If this is your brain…” then they crack the egg and fry it in a pan. “Then this is your brain on drugs.”

The brain unraveled.

This last weekend I attended a seminar/retreat on Love and Joy (and getting more of it in life!).  The instructor, Christy Osborn, was a corporate trainer for over 20 years. She utilized studies of the brain to understand and train/retrain individuals in the corporate world.

In summary, (or if you remember from science class) your brain communicates through a system of neurons and dendrites. Thoughts are neurotransmitters (chemicals) that travel from the neuron and through/out the dendrite. Picture a tennis ball at one end (neuron) and a stem coming out of it with a bunch of tree branches at the other end (dendrite).

When a negative thought happens (and test subjects were asked to dwell on negative things), the neurotransmitter (chemical) travels from neuron, down the stem and out through the dendrite where it makes paths to other nerve cells.

When your mind dwells on negative thoughts, it produces toxic neurotransmitters.

And it isn’t pretty–

Your brain on disappointment

Your brain on sorrow

Your brain in anger

Your brain in contempt

Your brain on bitterness

Your brain on unforgiveness–

Picture that tennis ball as a dried up prune and the extending branch as a dead and gnarly, blackened, spindly thatch of thorns.

It is a sickness that translates into our lives.

My sister calls this her “bad berry theory in management”—Those people who arrive to work in terrible moods, never smiling, always complaining, gossiping and grumping about everything. Their negativity spreads like a mold or a cancer through the workplace. It happens in life and in our bodies. When we dwell in the negative, our immune response decreases, our bodies are weakened and our pain tolerance levels decrease. We are more prone to illnesses when under stress; when someone dies, when we dwell in the negative.

And just a little more bad news—as it would turn out, those negative thoughts reproduce like a cancer. They stack up on themselves like a heaping, stinking pile of rotten produce.

Negativity perpetuates negativity.

Of course, we all will experience negative thoughts from time to time (the loss of a job, a divorce, losing a loved one, etc.,); the secret is to not get stuck there!

Ready for the good news?

Positive thoughts also reproduce themselves.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8)

For positive thoughts, the same process occurs with the neurotransmitters traveling from the neuron to the dendrites–

Your brain on joy

Your brain in compassion

Your brain in forgiveness

Your brain in acceptance

Your brain in encouragement

Your brain in love!

Picture a robust golden apple and a stem emerging from it with branches loaded with a bounty of beautiful, shiny green leaves.

These positive neurotransmitters are like a shot of pure joy straight to the heart. They result in emboldening the immune system, increasing your tolerance for pain and strengthening your whole body and mind.

And ready for a little more good news?! (A good practice for that idea of MORE positive!) 😉

“I’m trading my sorrows. And I’m trading my shame. And I’m laying it down for the joy of the Lord.” Israel Houghton & New Breed

Remember that stinking, rotten pile?– It can be brought back to life!

 

The power of HOPE.

“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” (Romans 5:5)

We have a God who knows everything we’re going through.  He knows our hearts and our minds. He created us! And with His power in us, there is nothing man can do to us that He can’t transform to good.

“In my distress I prayed to the Lord, and the Lord answered me and set me free. The Lord is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” (Psalm 118:5)

For the doubters, unbelievers or many who are just stuck in the negativity, there is a place you can take it all and be changed.

“Anything is possible if a person believes”…“I do believe, but help me with my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Take your burdens to Jesus-He can handle your disappointments, your discouragements, your hurt, your pain, your unforgiveness and your unbelief.

“We take every thought captive so that it is obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

With his power, given to you by the Holy Spirit, you can overcome; you can trade in your sorrow, your hopelessness and your pain for hope, love and joy.

Retrain your mind by taking a negative experience and locating the hope in it and the negative can transform to positive!

How does this work? Here are a couple of examples–Knowing that with Jesus, though you sorrow for your loved one who left this world too soon; you find hope in knowing you will see them again!

Or, spreading hope in the walk of life by being there for a friend who is diagnosed with cancer. Helping guide her because you survived that same diagnosis.

“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others.” (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Hope is knowing that:

When chaos surrounds you, there is One that can calm the stormy seas (Matthew 8:24, Mark 4:35, Luke 8:22)

When things look their darkest, there is One who can light your way (John 8:12)

There is a safe place you can lay all your grief, unforgiveness, shame, anger, bitterness, negativity and contempt

There is nothing new or negative in this world that you can think up that He doesn’t have the power to transform for the good of those who love Him. (Romans 8:28)

Picture Jesus Christ betrayed, battered, bloodied and wearing that awful, thatchy, spindly crown of thorns, taking his last breath hanging on the Cross, paying the final debt for mankind and thereby enabling us all to live free from the negativity of sin–

That, my friends, is your brain on HOPE.

This is gonna hurt like…

Love to run two

THIS IS GONNA HURT…

“Hold on…Hold on to yourself. For this is gonna hurt like hell.”–Sarah Mclachlan

Two things you should know about me:

I LOVE to RUN

My day isn’t quite right if I miss out on my daily run. My thinking is foggy. My heart doesn’t beat as strong. My legs don’t hold me as upright. And if something comes to knock me out of balance, it is much easier to do when I haven’t had my run for the day.

And

I LOVE JESUS

I desire to live a life honoring God. I try to reflect the love of Jesus in what I do, how I live, how I treat others and in my heart. If I miss out on my time with the Lord, my thinking is foggy, my heart is weak, my walk is not upright and I am very easily knocked out of balance.

These two things are so entwined, interlocked and ingrained in the fibers of my life. My running time is often my time with the Lord; it is when I pray, seek and ask.  My time with the Lord is what keeps me running in this race of life.

“I’m not sick. I’m not sick. I’m not sick.”

It was the start of my weekend and I had lots of plans. I breathed deep and felt the gravelly, wheezy heaviness in my chest. I cleared my throat and began my mantra again, “I’m not sick. I’m not sick. I’m not sick.”

And as my weekend of denial progressed, the coughing began; the inability to breathe through the heaviness in my chest ended my restful nights and …

I got sick.

I hate getting sick because I know if I get out of my running regimen beyond two weeks, I have to start all over re-activating my cardio level, opening my lungs’ passageways and rebuilding atrophied muscles. The months of hard work, hills, interval training and hours pounding the pavement and in two short weeks of illness it’s flushed down the toilet.

So I fought it. Besides quoting my mantra of “not being sick,” I pushed through to keep my lungs open; I jogged, hiked and walked.

I got sicker.

It’s going around.

If you haven’t gotten it, you probably will. Your co-workers, friends and the seemingly harmless (yet, sneezing) 67 year old lady in seat 14D will ensure your immune system gets to partake in this.

Bedridden and nursing myself back with rest and fluids, I had to let go and realized a few things–

Coming back from illness is tough. Regaining wholeness and health is always an ongoing journey, and the next time I strapped on my running shoes—

–it was going to hurt like hell.

 

We live in a world steeped with sickness.

Sin, like an infection, is rampant in our world. If you are free from it now, you will catch it sooner or later. (We all fall short and we all will fall ill). And, if you are healthy, upright and steadfast, you will still teeter toward temptation. Worldly illnesses like selfishness, lying, envy, pride, hatred, bitterness, anger are just a few of the beastly infections we will face.

So how do you prepare? How do you fight them off? Even Olympic trained runners end up injured, even the healthiest of us will end up falling ill from time to time.

If we take a lesson from our bodies; we have to let go, we have to take time to rest, and we must realize we need help at times from a source other than ourselves.

Jesus, The Great Physician, came to heal the sick.

On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)

If it’s a deep rooted illness–(an on-going addiction, a dangerous dance with drugs, a penchant toward pornography,) or whatever your struggle is–STOP.

Continuing on in that same sick (sinful) direction brings worse repercussions. It will lengthen your “illness.” By not allowing grace into those broken places in our lives, we stretch out our pain and suffering.

Quit doing what you are doing.

To repent simply means to turn…So turn around–Let the HEALER examine your heart and prepare your spirit, cause this is gonna hurt like…

“I came to realize that spirit, as much or more than physical conditioning, had to be stored up before a race.”-Herb Elliott, Olympic champion and world record holder in the mile.

As my physical condition was deteriorating, I built upon my spiritual conditioning.

What I desire is the freedom to breathe in the forgiveness, the hope of redemption and the power of Christ. His mercy through our “illnesses” allows a new direction. This turning and allowing a Healer’s guidance brings new strength to face the path set out before us.

 

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4)

 

As I strap back on my running shoes, I take a deep breath. All that sitting, resting and re-hydrating as I was recovering will make my next few weeks tougher to push through what has built up in my lungs, my heart and my body. But I press on, because I know health and wholeness can be obtained again. My Healer will reward my repentance. My Healer will help me push through difficulties and rebuild me for the next time.

And I am assured that there will be a next time. –

“In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)

So, as I continue in His direction, running this race, I know I will be more prepared to handle stumbling blocks and more able to battle future illnesses. I awaken my vision so I may know where to turn around when I get lost, and I find my hope in knowing that there is nothing in this world that  can come against me that, with the power of Christ in me, I cannot face.

May you be encouraged as you run your race.

“I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”  (Philippians 3:14)

 

May you find renewed strength as you face your own obstacles and illness and, may you always find rest and healing on your journey.

LOST

Image

LOST

“Feeling my way through the darkness.

Guided by a beating heart…” –Avicii

I have a good (and unique!) friend who enjoys getting lost. Despite having GPS in her vehicle, she goes it on her own and considers getting lost an adventure! She savors finding undiscovered places she normally wouldn’t.

Me…not-so-much. I LOATHE getting lost. I have ZERO sense of direction. I plan ahead with maps and detailed turn-by-turn instructions because I get turned around and discombobulated very easily.

When I first moved to Phoenix, without my Rocky Mountains to direct me, I experienced this very thing.

Returning from a road trip to Lake Powell, I got lost for hours, in the dark, on the unfamiliar streets of Phoenix.  With no landmarks to direct me and no light to see by; I had no point of reference. I completely panicked.

I knew I was lost and hated every minute of it.

The tears began brimming. My breathing accelerated. My heart went wild. My brain locked up…

Hours later, when I eventually followed the right road signs, I pulled into my neighborhood as the gas gauge danced around “E.”   My blood pressure steadied, my tears dried up and, in the comfort of my apartment as I studied a map, I discovered my error. Compelled by fear and repeatedly making wrong choices, I actually drove in circles for those hours.

“We do the best by the light we have to see by.”—Julie Cameron

Something about the vast amount of trees, rain and places to lose yourself in northern Oregon reminds me a little of The Shack and Deliverance.

And, yes, one chilly, rainy, foggy day my fiancé and I decided to take a long run in northern Oregon. Since he was from those parts, (even though he hadn’t been back in years,) I trusted his proclamations that he knew where he was going.

The adventure began.

About an hour into the run, we got low on water. Amidst mossy back roads, gargantuan trees and a fog that hung down on us as a storm pressed in–

We got lost.

No, we didn’t hear banjos, but it got a bit precarious.

At one point we came into a clearing. We crossed the expanse and approached an ominous, brick building that looked like a modern day castle. We rounded the “castle” and, just as it began to rain harder, our hope ignited as we came upon the first person we had seen in miles.

She was crouched low, sitting on a curb by some large green dumpsters and her thin fingers held a burning cigarette with a long, dangling ash about to drop. As we approached her, in high hopes of asking where the heck we were, something stopped us.

She didn’t move.

As we got closer, her pale skin and statuesque figure seemed like an illusion. She was so engrossed in her thoughts that she didn’t hear the splashing of our running shoes, our gasps of breaths and she was completely oblivious to the rain that fell harder all around us. She was wearing a grey sweater that hung on her, leggings that clung to her bone-thin legs and flip flops. She also wore a men’s ball cap that hid her face and mostly covered the long brown locks of hair that escaped just below the plastic rim. Empty eyes stared straight ahead. She took a long drag on that cigarette.

Feeling quite out of place and with the panic of our predicament oozing out of our pores, how did she not sense us?

But she didn’t.

She looked right through us.

I choke up when I think of the look of pain in her. Something we couldn’t see had a hold on this woman.

She was lost.

Regardless of the increasing rain, our mounting thirst and our growing anxiety, neither of us said a word as we quieted our steps and passed by her. The rain gushed through the gutters and over her feet and, as I looked back at her one last time, she looked up.

We rounded the other side of the “castle” into another clearing and noticed the landscape here was dotted with small signs.

Approaching the first sign it read:

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things that I can’t change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

We continued on; looking for direction in the next sign about 200 yards further. It read: “Step one: We admit that we are powerless over our addiction and our lives have become unmanageable.”

Both our jaws dropped. We looked at each other and then back at the “castle” then sprinted back to the opening in the fence that brought us here.  On our way out, we passed two more signs.

One read: “ABSOLUTELY NO TRESPASSING”

And another that read:

“A power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity.”

About two miles later, the rain lightened and we found ourselves on the campus of George Fox University. We also found refreshment and relief.

Breathing deep and trudging our legs a few more miles back to home base, we both were haunted by the invisible chains we saw weighing down this young lady’s soul.

“I once was lost, But now am found.

Was blind, But now I see.” –Amazing Grace

I often think of that young lady.

What happened to her? What were her struggles? Could we have said anything to her that could’ve encouraged her? Something we could’ve done that might’ve helped her find her way?

And yet, I know there was a time when I wasn’t “found.”– Well meaning words from friends and strangers alike fell on deaf ears.

“All this time I was finding myself…

And I didn’t know I was lost.” – Avicii

Yet, I admitted I was utterly powerless to change my “directional dysfunctionality;”

I sought a guide for my journey;

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.…” (Matthew 7:7)

And now I am found.–I know where I am, where I am going and Who I follow to get me through.

In Jesus, I found a guiding light of Hope to direct me through the darkness.

And though I will still get off the beaten path and won’t always make the right choices; because I know The Way, I will never be lost again.

So, wherever you find yourself along this journey, may you discover enough courage to seek, to find and to look up in the storms of life.

WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?

Totally Awesome Floor Cleaner (available at dollar tree)
WHO DO YOU WORK FOR?

A year and ½ ago, I was working at an apothecary, at the police crime lab, as a landlord over rental properties and working on my first novel. At that same time, I was meeting lots of friends and family of my boyfriend. It became our joke; he introduced me as his “drug-dealing, C.S.I., slumlord, writer girl-friend.”

We ask it all the time. It’s always in the top five questions as people get to know one another. It appears to define and reveal much about a person. We become defined by what we do.
I would argue that more important than what we do is WHO we work for…

In this midst of his cancer treatments, my father ended up with pneumonia and a fractured back (in seven places!) Much to his dismay, he had to admit he needed help. I was able to take time off from the crime lab and flew to Colorado to stay with him and help him in any way he needed.

Finally, something I could do! A form of power over this power-less and uncontrollable cancer. I envisioned making him pancakes, organizing his pantry, running errands for him and, of course, praying for his recovery with him.

My father was a life-long packrat with his very own style of organized chaos. It drove me nuts, but it worked for him.
I arrived ready to go through all the piles.

But that wasn’t what he wanted me to do.

My father prided himself on his clean floor. With the fractured back, he no longer could attend to his sparkling clean linoleum. He was a perfectionist when it came to his floor. Despite the dishes in the sink, stacks of bills, piles of laundry and everything else; his floor got special attention; it required a very special cleaning agent and no spot or speck of dust made it to his floor.

It was his number one priority. It mattered to him.

He gave me the daunting task of cleaning his floor to his satisfaction. I didn’t see it as important. I didn’t want to do it.
Like it was yesterday, I recall it:
I hunted down that “totally awesome” cleaner at the Dollar Tree and “hit the floor.” I was on my hands and knees scrubbing the linoleum beneath his wooden kitchen table. My back was aching and my eyes watered as I inhaled the fumes of that “special” cleaning agent. In my fervor, I banged my head hard on the paper and piled-laden table above me. I began crumbling under the pressure to perform to his satisfaction. As hot tears stung my eyes, I set aside what I was doing and I remembered who I was doing it for.

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” (Colossians 3:17)

My attitude, my posture, my breathing all changed. The pounding in my head was replaced with the ability to endure. When my father later (and the rest of the week) pointed out all the spots and specks I missed, it was with a different heart that I returned to my knees and worked for Him.

A friend of mine is caring for her daughter in the end stages of rare and horrific cancer. (Aren’t they all??) Along with caring for her daughter’s household, pets, and every medical need, my friend attempts to balance working full-time, caring for herself, her own household and her pets. The treatments and pain, resentments and “chemo-brain,” years of buried mistakes and regrets surfacing make daunting the task of that care and her ability to endure it.

So I asked her, “Who are you working for?”
She looked at me like I was crazy, but I explained with my “floor story.”

Returning to the care of her daughter; visit after visit, doctor appointment after appointment, through the cancer treatments, laundry loads, groceries, cleaning, caring and carrying the burden of the breakdowns, unloaded anger and harsh words spoken from a tortured heart, she remembers Who she works for.

“…I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!…when you refused to help the least of these my brother and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” (Matthew 25:37,45)

The next time you DO something that you don’t want to do and you are doing it for someone who might be less than grateful for what you have DONE; I hope you are able to return to your knees, feel the change in your heart, and remember that Who we work for is far more important.

Dark Alleys and Illuminated Paths

Light in the Dark

Light in the Dark

DARK ALLEYS AND ILLUMINATED PATHS

I run in the mornings. I love the summer; even though it is hot, I am assured a lighted path. My mind can immerse itself in my IPod, in memories, in prayers. In the winter, I am on guard. The very same path I run is dark and shadowy and, being a woman, one must always watch for predators. My mind thinks on the runner’s body they found in the Indian Bend wash, the coyotes I’ve seen scavenging for food, the bobcat, hidden fears.
Amazing what a little light can do.

The dark cannot survive the light.

Un-forgiveness is a dark and murky place for our human hearts.

“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.” (John 1:5)

The light of Christ seeps into this very darkness and illuminates it with healing mercy.

But what about the times when it appears the darkness is winning?

It was the 1980’s and I remember hearing a story about a church-going lady that has stuck with me to this day. My eyes prick with the memory of the events. She lived in a lower-class community. She had many friends, a loving family and children who loved her. She sought to spend her life giving and caring for those the world left behind. She was going house to house to ask for money to give to the needy in the community on behalf of her church. While she was out on this mission, she went missing.
It was spread across the news. The troops of her church rallied. The posters of her beautiful face plastered on light poles, message boards and newscasts. Where was she?

It was later found that she had been abducted, tied up on a chair and abused. The two men who did this, did it for the less than three dollars that was in her pocket book.

Her family spoke of how they forgave. They knew she would want that from them. They did it to honor her and because of what they believe.

This kind of forgiveness would take me years. I would have to seriously work at it. They did it immediately. And to be face to face with an oppressor and to forgive them in the heat of the moment? It’s just not in me.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

So many questions. So much I don’t understand.
I don’t know why bad things happen to good people.

After torturing her sufficiently, they realized there really was no more money. They killed her that day.

Darkness appears to have won.

The abducted woman went to her grave with forgiveness in her heart.

Her family knew this, but how did the world know?

It was one of those “Dateline” or 20/20 type shows that really revealed the amazing part about it. Her convicted killer told the story of how, even as they were abusing her, she was forgiving them. They had not bound her mouth, because they were asking her where all the money was. She gave them her whole purse and told them to take it all. Told them she had more than money to offer them. She told them about Christ. She shared His story. She shared her life and continually told them she forgave them. Her message got through, to more than one.

And her story is just one of thousands. As I was researching to find her name and the exact details, I came across hundreds of other stories of Christ’s power at work in the hearts of abused, raped, tortured individuals who illuminated Christ’s light into the darkness with their immediate forgiveness toward their oppressors.

Although I was young, I remember my mom explaining the word “martyr” to me; (probably to stop all my questions!)

Worldwide, over 70 million people are martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ.

And this is in just the last 100 years!

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” (Isaiah 42:16)

The end of the story is that one of those thieves repented. (Sound familiar?) His darkness was turned. The light of Christ shone through her into the darkness of that place she was held.

She apparently wasn’t nodding off in church during the message about being the “hands and feet of Christ.”

Even in dark situations, light overcomes.

Share the stories of the light. You never know who it might impact.

THIRST

Thirst via flickr.com

THIRST
Sometimes a thirst is so ragged and entrenched in the soul that NOTHING seems to satisfy.

“Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again…” (John 4:13)

I live in the desert. I always carry water with me.
Because I once made the mistake of not carrying water.

It was during the running part of a triathlon. It was September and late in the morning; the sun was a blazing fireball in the sky. The course map showed several water stations along the run. I left my water bottle tucked nicely in my bicycle and, right before I headed out on the “out and back” trip, I stuffed two gummy sharks (for quick energy) in my mouth. After a chaotic swim and surviving the bike, even though it was hot and uphill, I looked forward to what is usually my strongest event.
Huffing up the desert mountain trail left no saliva to digest the sugars and those two gummy sharks became plaster in my mouth. Over the next mile of the steep run, my sandpaper tongue attempted digging those Sharkies away from my teeth in a fruitless attempt to dislodge them. Their indigestible shark bodies taunted me for 1.6 miles until the first water stop at the peak of the hill and the turn-around point of the trail.
The miniscule amount of water I was given at the first stop barely made a difference, like two rain drops falling on an encrusted desert floor.
And all those water stops on the course map?? There was ONE.
I tried to focus on waterfalls and drinking fountains, rivers and aquifers, children dancing through sprinklers…but my mind overpowered my will. My mind instead brought me all the scenes from the movie “127 hours.” Remember the story of Aron Ralston? He went out on a summer hike in the Utah desert and got trapped/pinned in between rocks for days and nearly died of thirst before he cut his own arm off to escape? That is what I couldn’t pry my thoughts from.

“… But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:13)

God nudged these words into my conscious. I let go of the nightmarish visions of “127 hours” and held fast to this verse.
Even as I crossed the finish line and chugged three bottles of water, my thirst lingered. This verse had a hold on me—it was what brought me through. It had brought me through before…

My father’s final days on the earth; he lay in Collier Hospice center in Wheatridge, CO. His skin, bones and organs were overtaken in malignant tumors winning their battle for his body. The friends and family visits had subsided except for those closest. The nurses/“experts in dying” told us his body systems would be slowly shutting down.
He was sufficiently drugged up with whatever concoctions they give to make the body more comfortable, but his face told a different story. He had lost the ability to communicate and, because he could no longer digest and swallow, we could no longer nourish him. The last friends who came by, dabbed the mouth sponge with rum and we all toasted with a shot of Captain Morgan’s and they swabbed it into my father’s mouth.

It was the last pleasant look I saw on his face.

Days passed. No water; just the moist sponge (that got really nasty after about two swabs) and his favorite lip balm-cherry “liprageous.” The things we remember… (and maybe should’ve re-thought that Captain Morgan’s).
When his eyes would open, they shone with fear and confusion. As he “slept,” his body writhed against some unseen enemy. His breathing was sporadic, sending my sister and me into panics. His existence appeared steeped in absolute torment.
In the quiet of the late nights, I sat in the chair beside his bed praying for life’s hold to let go, and for him to find peace. It was not to be so for several more days…
Every night, through those last few days of his earthly life, I prayed the same prayers–for peace and release.

“I love the Lord because he hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because he bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” ( Psalm 116:1)

Ever wished someone you loved dearly would leave this earth?? Don’t judge—it is TORTURE to watch them in pain and wish yourself in their place, and yet be absolutely powerless to make that happen. I thought my heart would shatter in pieces. My anguish was inconsolable.

Yet, I know Jesus. I know the love of my Savior. I know God’s love is what did this very thing for us with His Son on the cross.

It is written that no angels or demons will separate us from that love. (Romans 8:38)

He quenches the soul-thirsty. (And no “sacrificial” arm is required from you!) 😉

It appeared that God was working His magic on my father’s soul. My friends and my study of His Word all tell me that there is none too lost and it is never too late to accept the everlasting forgiveness, love and life offered through Jesus Christ. I was reminded of the one repentant thief that hung on a cross next to Jesus. His last minute change of heart and acceptance brought salvation and peace to his soul.—He would dwell with the everlasting. He would get to see his family again.

Could this be what was happening with my father? My father was a man who dedicated his life to science and engineering and who needed an explanation for everything. Faith was too murky for him. But, as his last days approached, (and it just happened to be Easter) he opened himself to the immeasurable, unfathomable faith and love of God.
As I watched the struggle between this world’s hold on him; his body and his spirit, it was the thirst that bothered me most. To be without water and with nothing but drugs and booze as the last “soul nourishment” that one experienced? Agony.

“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow river of living water.” (John 7:37)

My father found release days later as the world’s hold finally set his spirit free.

“… But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” (John 4:13)

My thirst is quenched.

In the days following my father’s passing, I was given so many “coincidental” occurrences pointing to his salvation that even doubting Thomas would have been convinced! (The trains, the flower, the song, the cross on his brain scan…Creepy, but awesome!)

With Christ, I have hope in seeing my father again. It’s where I find refreshment. I live with it now tucked in my heart.
I will never be without it again.
It’s what my heart needs to survive the desert days ahead.

BENCHES

bench

You see them in parks. You see them in playgrounds. They are found on front porches and in the front of the grocery store.
Besides a place to sit, what is it about benches?

When I asked Heidi Rosner, the artist behind the cover of my book “grace,” to add in a bench at the river scene, she said, “No problem. I do it all the time in my artwork. People love ‘em!”

A gentle man in his 80’s had finished “grace” and told me the bench was one of his favorite scenes because of what it meant to him. “In my marriage,” he said with a glimmer in his eye, “Oh yeah… Connie and I have had our ‘benches.’”
In the scene, and apparently for his relationship, the bench is a place of reconciliation; a place of confession; a place of releasing fears, finding comfort and new beginnings.
When I picked out the bench (and I never knew there were so many choices!), I chose the simple wood slats with iron bolts keeping the posts together. The bench was special for the characters in the book; it represented vulnerability and risk. But this bench represented all these things and more.

There are similarities that I hoped the reader would find there.

There is a “place” made of wood and iron that we can go to find a new beginning; a place of hope, confession, healing and rest. A place that we can lay our burdens, place our trust and release our grip of things we hold tightly.

“Lead me to the Cross where you love poured out
Bring me to my knees, Lord, and rid me of myself” (Hillsong United)

“At the Cross you beckon me
You draw me gently to my knees,
And I am lost for words so lost in love
I am sweetly broken…” (Jeremy Riddle)

So, the next time you see a bench, take some time, bend at the knee and take a seat. Rub your hands along the splintery wood. Thumb over the iron bolts holding it together and know that there is a place you can come to pour it all out, a place you can find peace, a place of healing and a place to release.

“…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…3 For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” (Hebrews 12)

The Cross is the place is where you find the One who can hold it all together for you.