Are you ready?

 

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Here we are: December 16th. Nine days away from Christmas!

“Are you ready?”

I’ve been hearing this question asked at the bank, at my work potluck, in line at the stores…It CRACKS me up!

Christmas comes the same time and date each year. Not like Easter, that one can mess you up. Christmas has been December 25th for about 2000 years. So, it’s not like we weren’t told about it in advance. How come people aren’t ready?

ANTICIPATION

One of the most tantalizing feelings this time of year is the anticipation leading up to this special day. I remember it well as a child.–The inability to get to sleep on December 24th. My heart beating so rapidly as the agonizing wait for 6 am (this was the absolute earliest my parents would allow for us to awake them!) and we had to bring them with us when we went downstairs to find out if all that “being good” in the weeks prior had put us on Santa’s NICE list —

SURPRISE-What did Santa bring you?

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Unfortunately, one of the biggest surprises this time of year is the VOID.

Some face the VOID of celebrating their first (or second, or third…) Christmas without their loved one.

For others there’s the VOID felt in the bank account, leaving nothing for gifts.

Amidst all the beautiful lights, wreath adorned doors, the hustle and bustle and gatherings, there are those for whom this is NOT the most wonderful time of the year. 

I’ll never forget the surprise of my very first out of state Christmas working at Phoenix Police Department. I swallowed the lump in my throat after wishing “Merry Christmas” to family and friends far away as I clocked in for my overnight shift working the holiday. I fully expected the night to be filled with bookings from partying: DUI’s and noise violations from all the celebrating…

Surprise!

The most common arrests I saw that night were the domestic violence and family assaults.

Not everyone has a family they enjoy celebrating the holiday with. That Christmas felt like a “Reverse Grinch” moment happened to me as my heart cinched up and threatened to break.

My heart has these moments when I hear a parent threaten their overly rambunctious child, “Christmas is canceled this year!”

My heart breaks every Black Friday when I watch humanity crawl and punch their way to the front line for the door-busting deals.

My heart breaks when I see the VOID left in this world.

The only cure for this heart break and void is the VERY reason why I love this season and this time of the year.

No matter how dysfunctional your family may be, no matter how misbehaved your children are, no matter how empty your bank account is, you have available a reason to celebrate–the same reason the shepherds, three wise men and a young couple with nothing celebrated in a manger  2000 years ago.

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Every year, I picture Linus in the Charlie Brown Christmas Special telling Charlie the TRUE meaning of Christmas:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Luke 2:8-14 (KJV)

He came to heal the brokenhearted.  He fills the void. He is the very reason for the season. So, the real question is:

Are you ready for Him?

 

 

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My Wish

I WISH…

 

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genie

 

 

 

 

Besides MORE WISHES—if you could wish for anything, what would you wish for?

My new husband and I are training for our first triathlon together. We have our “we-enjoyed-way-too-much-on-our-honeymoon-bodies” and yet we squished into our swimwear and headed to the community pool for a lap swim/workout. It didn’t take long for our discontent to float to the surface:

 

ME, nodding toward the woman my age with golden brown skin and a Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition physique: “I wish I had arms like her.”

HIM, nodding toward the spandex laden Michael Phelps look-a-like: “Wow, he doesn’t need to be here. I wish I was in swim shape like that.”

If I could wish for anything, would I really wish for her arms?

And, besides more wishes, what would I really wish for?

We dip into our lanes and begin the work out. Trying not to drown in the monotony of swimming laps, I ponder my wish list–

Drops of water seep into my already fogging goggles.

Can’t wish for more wishes

I inhale chloriney pool water kicked up at me by my lap swimming partner.

Wish I didn’t commit to this triathlon

Despite the “foggles” and the splashes, I breathe deep and press on. I fall into the rhythm of the breath, the plunge, the strokes, the kicks, the breath and I withdraw into my wishes–

Any wish I wanted—anything??

I wish I could fly like a bird–especially when I am running, in the AZ heat, and my legs feel like bricks and my lungs are working like a black mule hiking up the Grand Canyon.–I wish I could take off and soar effortlessly through a trade wind with a light body, the sunshine on my shoulders, and the spectacular Kauai coastline stretched out before me, captivating me with the beauty of the sea in an eternal embrace of the pearly white sand shore.

And If I did get more wishes–I wish I had moves like Mick Jaggar—(Actually, I wish I had any moves at all.) To be able to dance so effortlessly that it looks like liquid beauty in motion; pure joy!

I wish I had more time in the day.

I wish I had the bank account of Oprah.

I wish I could diet like Christina Aguilera.

I wish I had one more day with my beloved grandparents and one more day with my dad.

I wish… I wish… I wish my pool workout was already done.

 

I think a lot of us spend a lot of time wishing for things that just aren’t going to happen.

Be careful what you wish for...

Be careful what you wish for…

 

Or, wishing for things that they should really think twice about asking for!

-I have this friend who spends much of her time wishing for more time. She is miserable—what would more time do? More time to be miserable?

-I have this other friend who wishes she looked as beautiful as the friend who wishes for more time. But the “beautiful friend” doesn’t believe she is beautiful, so would the wish not work?

-I have another friend plagued with worries about money. Yet, she is more financially secure than the “beautiful friend” and “time wishing friend” and, really—more than 90% of the people I know. Yet, she wishes she could be more financially secure.

All this time spent wishing, I lose focus on what I have right in front of me (and in this pool workout, I might get kicked if I am not careful!).

 

A friend recently shared this poignant quote with me, “If I only had today, what I was grateful for yesterday, what would I have?”

 

All this wishing for impossible things is a thief that steals the moment, steals one’s ability to feel gratitude and steals away the appreciation of the everyday gifts that God provides faithfully.

 

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out; you formed me in my mother’s womb.

I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!

Body and soul, I am marvelously made! I worship in adoration—what a creation!

You know me inside and out, you know every bone in my body;

You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit, how I was sculpted from nothing into something.

Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth; all the stages of my life were spread out before you,

The days of my life all prepared before I’d even lived one day.

Psalm 139:14 The Message Bible

I conclude my pool workout and dry off my 40-something body as I watch all the wonderfully different shapes, sizes and ages enjoying this glorious refreshing pool. As my training has progressed and my age continues, I am coming to terms with the reality that, no matter how many laps I swim or “downward facing dog” poses I hold, I am going to battle the “40-something” underarm dance. And, maybe this is the only dance that I will be good at! 😉

 

I close my eyes and feel the Arizona heat warming me all around while I think back on that sea and that shore that I love in Hawaii; created by explosions throughout time and by a Creator who placed it all in motion–

Each of us is created uniquely beautiful by the ultimate Creator of all marvelous things-Isn’t it time we start believing this?

 

And we all have the same amount of time in the day. Wouldn’t it be better to appreciate every single minute we still have, so we soak up those minutes with the ones we love that we still have with us?

 

And each of us has the “financial security” that God will provide.

Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:25, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. Isn’t life more than food, and your body more than clothing? Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?”

 

And now that I think about it; I don’t need to fly like a bird. I am far more valuable than that!

And, I don’t need a magic lamp or a genie to provide me with more wishes; I have just one wish:

I wish: Each and every one of you finds joy in living in the moment, peace with who you are, friendships lasting through hardships, love so deep you get lost in it, security in knowing Jesus and where you are headed, hope enough to get you through the tough stuff, kindness of strangers at just the right moment, faith in knowing there is purpose to it all, beauty of the simple things, and an appreciation of it all when it is everywhere around you, within you and right in front of you.

 

Now, tell me your wish.

 

“Mister T” and the Peaches

School is back in session! Although I don’t have children, I get to reminisce and share in the excitement this year because my new husband is a teacher!

I not only love this teacher ;), but I LOVE teachers and I loved school! Looking back, even the teachers who were “mean” spent their lives making sure I learned to pay attention, to give respect, how to multi-task, and (ugh!) even how to do long division. And, (now I know) they took on this job while making “dittly squat” for an income!

Both inside and outside of the classroom, my teachers delivered lessons that still stick with me to this day.

I remain in touch with several of my junior high & high school teachers who had a profound influence on my life. This story is about one of these men; we will call him “Mister T.”

Colorado Peaches

Colorado Peaches

Colorado peaches are some of the best things on this green earth! A fresh Colorado peach is so juicy, sweet and tender, perfectly ripened by the Rocky Mountain climate and soil—they are out of this world!

My father loved peaches—only Colorado peaches, though. He loved them so much that he bought the tree and planted it in his yard so he could experience one of those beauties at his whim! Plus, as the cancer began to take over his body, his trips to the grocery store lessened.

Sadly, that tree he planted bore not a single peach.

Year after year—nada, nothing, zilch.

My father passed away March 29, 2008 and never ate a single Colorado peach from his tree.

Why?

The question that is never far away

The healing doesn’t come from being explained

Jesus please don’t let this go in vain

You’re all I have All that remains

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

If you’ve lost someone close to you, you know how it goes. Even though you feel your world has stopped; the world, in fact, keeps spinning. Time continues forward; people keep moving on; there is always the “TO DO” list.

As we went about the tasks of cleaning out his closets, settling accounts, paying doctor bills, we nearly missed what was happening with the tree.

Neighbors began calling.

He had one of the old voice message systems that recorded messages on a mini-tape. We heard his voice at every missed call. It was heartbreaking, like he was still here and waiting to return calls. “Just leave a message and I’ll get right back to you…”

At least four neighbors called and several family members who had been to the house; all with very similar messages –

“…Let us know if you need help. Especially with that peach tree…”

WTH?

So my sister and I went out to the yard to investigate.

What we saw stunned us into silence. With tears in our eyes, we looked up and shook our heads in disbelief.

Five years after he planted it and just two months after he passed away, that peach tree’s branches were so filled with peaches that several of the branches hung to the ground! Many had leaned over into each of the neighbors’ yards—No wonder they were calling!

 

Peaches at last!

Peaches at last!

Our silence turned to awe.

There were so many peaches that each of those neighbors and family members picked to their hearts content. We packed several baskets and took them to friends.

Abundance

Abundance

We had some ourselves and baked no fewer than 12 peach pies which we froze and enjoyed over the next two years. Those pies were absolutely heavenly! We’ve held on to one, saving it for a very special occasion…

It’s May 30, 2014 and a beautiful clear Colorado day; the day before I will to marry my “Mr. Right” in Golden, Colorado. He and I go for my favorite run to Two Ponds and then around by my Dad’s old house. As we begin our run, I always pass by one of my favorite junior high school teacher’s house. Every time we do this run I tell my fiancé— “One of these days “Mister T” will be out taking care of his yard. I can’t wait to introduce you!”

We round the corner at the exact time we see his garage door opening and guess who steps out and begins working on his fence?!?

Barely able to contain myself, I nudge my running partner, “Today’s the day.”

I continue to jog right up to my old teacher. It has been years and he has aged; I can see it in his eyes. His eyes shine with recognition and a little confusion.

“Mister T!” I say, “It is Julie…uh..Stoddard…uh.. but soon to be different.” I wink at my fiancé.

“Oh my God it is!” He says and wraps me in a big hug.

“I always remembered the Stoddard girls; that deep voice you girls have, just like your dad!”

We go through the introductions and the reason we are back in town. He is happy in sharing his congratulations and I tell him how much he meant to me as a teacher and mentor. I know he is still making a difference in young lives as he shares some of his latest endeavors. Yet, there is a sadness in him; a weariness.

“How’s your dad doing? He still up around the corner? He still doing well?” He asks.

It’s my turn to feel sad.

“He passed away just over 5 years ago.” I tell him of the death sentence he was given. I also share with him the 13 years of bonus life we had with him and the triumphs of the unconventional treatments. I hold back on sharing how tough those last months were, watching the losing battle, I don’t like to re-visit that pain.

He looks me straight in the eye, I see the sadness in him again, “I’m so sorry, Julie. He was a good man.” He looks over to my fiancé, “Not that you need to hear this right now, with your good news for tomorrow…But, my wife,” he stops and looks back at the door to his house, “Over 40 years we’ve been together…She’s in there…can’t walk; can’t take care of herself; wearing a diaper.” His shoulders sink, “I just got through prostate cancer. The next day she falls. Now she doesn’t even know who I am.”

I choke back the tears in watching my teacher struggling with this. It all just seems to flood out.

His eyes drop, then he looks up, “I used to talk to God all the time. Now I just have questions. Why? I just don’t know anymore.”

This breaks my heart. I remember those feelings; the anger, the questions, the frustration, the helplessness, the weariness, the very same struggle I see in him.

Breathe

Sometimes I feel it’s all that I can do

Pain so deep that I can hardly move

Just keep my eyes completely fixed on You

Lord take hold and pull me through

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

And I did just what this song said. I fixed my eyes on the Lord and laid all my questions and feelings at the foot of the cross. I handed it over to the only One who I knew could bear my questions. I trusted Him to be faithful. But the heartache is still real; cancer is still cancer; Alzheimer’s is still a thief, death still happens. I still have questions.

But I trust I will be given answers some day.

 

“Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.” 1 Corinthians 13:12 (The Hope Bible)

OR, like one of my new favorite quotes from Sonny Kapoor who repeatedly says in The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, “It all works out in the end. And, if it has not yet worked out, then it is not yet the end!”

 

I grab ahold of my teacher’s hand and tell him the truth, “I wish you didn’t have to go through this. I don’t know why. I don’t have any answers.”

I really don’t. I hate this. I wish I had something hopeful to share with him. I am at a loss. I tell him he isn’t alone. I end up sharing how hard it was at the end for us with our father; the deep pain of watching one you love wither away, mentally, physically; the utter weariness and exhaustion of one’s spirit to witness such a thing.

But, I also tell him how I wouldn’t have survived without the prayers of my friends, encouragement from family and others sharing their struggles & stories. I tell him that God hasn’t left him and can handle his questions and to never stop talking to Him. I tell him how I believe God draws very near to us when we are brokenhearted; how I truly felt that. I tell him we will pray for him.

We continue on our run and we do. As we go by my father’s house and the tears come.

We pray for the pain we witnessed in “Mister T.” We prayed for his wife. And then I remember all those peaches.

I begin to wonder. Maybe, this is like those peaches that showed up after my father passed away?

Dad wanted those peaches so bad.

“Mister T” wants answers so bad.

But we may not get those “peaches” in our timing.

It’s the moment when humanity

Is overcome by majesty

When grace is ushered in for good

And all our scars are understood

When mercy takes its rightful place

And all these questions fade away

I fall into your arms open wide

When The hurt and the healer collide

-Mercy Me “The Hurt and the Healer”

 

 

And, just like this “divine collision” Mercy Me so beautifully describes, it is at this very moment, “Mister T”, my dad and I will sit down and savor that last peach pie.

The moment

The moment

Is it finished?

Question: How do you eat an elephant?

 

 

How do you eat an elephant?

How do you eat an elephant?

Answer: One bite at a time.

I love this! Whenever I have a task, project, event or any challenging, time consuming, and effort-exhausting item on my “Things TO DO” list, I remember this.
Just start with a bite (and it usually is a pizza) ;)…but it begins.
When I set out to pursue writing and took on the idea of a weekly blog – it felt like a herd of elephants; trampling on my every plan of how I want to spend my time. And yet, here I am again. Let me explain…

We ascended the path uphill on one of our favorite walks in southern Oregon. The subdivision houses packed in side by side turn into countryside. The wildlife sightings increase and the open air, farms and landscaped beauty explode across the senses. Scents of earthy manure, wildflowers and the occasional whiff of a skunk assault the olfactory nerves.

Our walk

Our walk

It’s July 4th and even the back country roads are more quiet than usual.

Wildlife!

Wildlife!

As we plugged along uphill, we felt the temperatures of our bodies and the heat of the black asphalt warming; perspiration beads across our foreheads and trickles down our bodies. We approached the awe inspiring work of a new vineyard. Row after perfectly aligned row greeted us. We both smiled as we saw the bright green leaves popping their heads out of the cream colored encasements at the base of the planting; evidence of success.

Baby vines peeking out

Baby vines peeking out

As we walked, we reminisced about the progress; remembering when the hillside contained rocks, majestic oaks, brambles, thistles, grasses and probably innumerable amounts of other surprises.
The oaks were transported, one by one.
The rocks relocated, load by load.
And the grasses and other ground cover all removed.—That alone took several seasons.
Then came the rows and rows, upon rows and rows– of lines, of plantings, of piping, of draining systems, of watering systems…
Years later (and minutes later in our walk,) we neared the far end of this newest vineyard.

 The far end

The far end

We were a bit surprised to find another soul out here. An older gentleman, possibly in his 50’s or 60’s was hunched over and at work in what captured our attention. He was pulling weeds amidst the last few rows. As our journey neared him, he stood up and walked closer to us:

“Beautiful morning,huh?” he said to us looking up.

“You bet!” we replied, “Got your holiday plans set for you, huh?” We said as our eyes scanned row after row of the baby vineyard with the acres upon acres of vines that he was working his way through.

“Yep! All by hand; no pesticides! Trying to get rid of the poison oak and hand pulling everything else.”
Our jaws dropped. We were speechless.

“You watched the progress of this?” He asked.
“We have.” We nodded our heads, “Totally amazing how a field has been turned into…all of this.”
“Quite a project…” he looked back at the row he had just left.
“Really does a number on the back …and the hamstrings…but it’s cool to see the progress…”
Our conversation continued for a bit, and then we turned and continued up the hill and let him get back to his work.

“Wow! And we thought our weed pulling was a pain?!”

As we got to the top of the hill we stopped, looked out and, in awed silence, we admired his “project.”

 

His work

His work

 

“All by hand?” I thought.
I pondered what the rest of his holiday would entail- still so much work to do.
And so much more each and every season. Did he have help?
Not to mention the utter dependence on the sun, the soil, the climates; the uncertainty of what the wind might blow his way.
Will his work ever be finished?

The next day at Table Rock Fellowship, a church in the neighboring town, the Pastor spoke to those who listened of the beauty and privilege he feels when he gets to share his testimony and spread the love and message of Jesus. I listened in humility as he shared his story, then looked out at the hundreds of people, rows upon rows of seekers that he was reaching.
– He even mentioned a story of an elephant.

I am convicted of my own “work” once again.

“Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5

I believe there is work to be done; in the landscape of my heart and in the fields where I have been planted. I know there are people listening, watching, (and hopefully!) reading who need to hear a little love—people who need to hear the Truth.
All that God ever asks of us is to Trust in Him, rely on Him, believe in Him and be willing to be open ourselves up to how He can use each and every one of us.

Keeping my eyes on the Master Gardener, I know that I am not alone in this task (for He is ALWAYS with me) and I know that I am not the only one He has working for him.
I seek, connect and open my ears and eyes as the fields before me expand.

I climb the stairs to my office and type in the password to my computer.

I close my eyes and reminisce on God’s faithfulness over these last months while so much took place: the planning, the marrying, the moving, the honeymooning…

I open my eyes to my bible and study God’s word and the vines.
I listen; I trust; I rely on Him and prepare my heart and soul to be weeded.
I believe.
As I return to the blog and the task written in my heart, I type the first sentence—“Is it finished?”

And I take yet another bite.

Happy Easter!–A re-visitng of an older Post–THE END?

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THE END?

I am on the last few chapters of the Hunger Games.  I have been losing sleep the last three nights due to its riveting intensity of action. I have fallen in love with the characters – Peeta with his unconditional love and the hijacking of it, Gale with his undying loyalty yet clinging to anger, Katniss with her flawed harshness and her fierce love, Prim with her innocence and finding her strength…I am drawn like a moth to the flame or an addict to the needle.  I am sucked in each night, way past my bedtime, with a need to see how it ends, yet something holds me back… I don’t want to say good-bye to Peeta. I will miss Katniss’s valor and attitude. I don’t want it finished. Even as I fly through these last pages of mounting action, I am savoring every last word like they were my last breaths.

I don’t think I am alone in this.  –Not wanting to say good-bye to something. Even if the next novel, the next trilogy, the next job, next relationship, or whatever could be even better, could exceed our wildest dreams or could be “THE ONE?” Good-byes are tough.  I believe it is part of what keeps people locked in abusive relationships and dead end jobs; missing out on what is around the corner or what could be if you just held on a little longer…

Yet, nothing and no one in this life is permanent.

Until recently, I was never a church-goer. I didn’t know that people when to church on Good Friday.  Now that I have been to church on this day, I still don’t quite understand.  How is this day “good?” The Crucifixion? The One who came to save us is hanging on a cross?

John 19:30 records Jesus:  “It is finished!” Then he bowed his head and released his spirit.

When I picture the scene, Jesus’ beaten and abused body hanging on the cross and between two thieves, I can’t help but think about what his mother Mary felt. What Peter was thinking?  The confusion of all of those who followed him to that place. If there ever was a time to think things had hit an absolute bottom, this was it.

I can barely make it through a Good Friday service. Beyond the visual and the corresponding heartache, I don’t want to say good-bye.

Emerson Hart wrote a song for a friend who described to him the conflicting emotions he was having as he faced divorcing his wife. The song’s called “I wish the best for you.”  Check out a few lines:

“How long can we wait here To say goodbye?
The words once they’re spoken Are words that we can’t take Back to where we were, before Things got in the way Life gets so confusing When you know what you’re losing
You Me
Why can’t we see that there’s More to love than we’ll ever know
Sometimes you’re closer when you’re Letting go… I wish the best for you”

 

This song gets me because of the truth of it.

I know.

I’ve walked in those shoes – The very pain of saying good-bye, the hurts of letting go are vividly right in your face, even as you are saying good-bye. Even if you know it is the right thing. It has to happen.

 

After the Resurrection, Jesus spoke to Mary Magdalene in John 20:17: “Don’t cling to me,” Jesus said, “for I haven’t yet ascended to the Father. But go find my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”

I tend to forget what is around the next corner; that the story doesn’t end on Good Friday. I forget that this was part of His plan. It had to happen.

“I am leaving you with a gift; peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid. Remember what I told you; I am going away, but I will come back to you again. If you really loved me, you would be happy that I am going to the Father, who is greater than I am. I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.

I don’t have much more time to talk to you, because the ruler of this world approaches. He has no power over me, but I will do what the Father requires of me, so that the world will know that I love the Father. Come, let’s be going.” (John 14:27)

He knew what He was going to have to do. There was a purpose to the pain He was going to endure. He said His good-byes.

When I walk into the Good Friday service, I forget to believe. I forget to move my focus to the empty tomb; and the story doesn’t even end there! I get wrapped up in the pain and the stuff of this world and forget who God is—Forgetting that He knows about the pains of this world; that He overcame death; that He still lives.

As I ready myself to say good-bye to Gale, Katniss, Prim and Peeta from The Hunger Games, I remember there is always the movie.  As I dig out my waterproof mascara for the Good Friday service, I remember the Sunday Easter Service. And as we all face the pains of whatever it is we have to let go of, I pray that you hold fast to the peace that Jesus left us with. I pray that you know that there is a plan and a purpose to the pain and that purpose might just be around the next corner.

And I pray that you take heart and hold on to knowing that even though it is finished, it is not the end.

The Unseen

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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?