2.12.2016

Heartbreak Happens......Now What

God's heart breaks when we wallow in sin.  And yet His love for us NEVER changes.

Some people wonder whether God feels, as we do, whether He weeps over us, whether He experiences emotion at all.  I am fully convinced that He does and that He does so more profoundly than we can imagine. Remember Hebrews 2:9-10 But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honor because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. In bringing many sons and daughters to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through what he suffered.

What is even more amazing to me is that even when we break His heart again and again as we run to 'other gods' to satisfy us, His love for us remains completely unchanged.

There are those in my own life that I love desperately, but who run after 'other gods'. Watching this has an effect on my heart that I am unable to adequately describe.  A heaviness sometimes comes on me that I feel sometimes I will not be able to bear.  A breaking, weeping heart.  A crack and a piece falling out of place, it's jagged edges piercing and scraping as it falls in a heap.

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12
I was asking Father God to help me understand this pain and what to do with it.  He reminded me that He allows it partly so that I will understand His heart toward me.  Each time I turn away from Him, I bring Him pain.  His heart, which is pure and perfect, must experience the pain of my foolishness.  His heart which has given literally EVERYTHING for me, must be broken time and again.

Oh Father!  I am so sorry for the way I've hurt you.  I hand Him the broken pieces and watch as He gently, expertly puts them all back as they were meant to be.  He heals them, sometimes even the scars disappear and I can see how He intended it to be in the first place.

Revelation 21:4 says "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." How I look forward to that day.  And perhaps that is part of why we face the pain we do, in it's way, this experience encourages us to gaze toward the future and to find hope in heaven.  

God will use anything and everything to teach and grow us, even the things we so desperately want to shut ourselves off from experiencing. Today, when pain comes my way, I do my best to let it do the work my kind and loving Father intends it to do.  It's not a lot of fun, but I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in you( and me!!!) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.(Phil 1:6) 

I'll leave you with this quote from John Stott which expresses this idea so beautifully.

"In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of the Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time, after a while I have had to look away. And in imagination I have turned instead to the lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside His immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of His. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering."

—John R.W. Stott in "The Cross of Christ"

2.11.2016

Grasping

Now that you have seen the shame, let me share a little more of how I walked under that mantle. Not so that you will come to believe that there is no end to it, but so that you may see that it often takes a good bit of pig slop before a Prodigal decides to go home.

I shared two incidences that seem in my mind today, to be the two most significant events of my promiscuity but there were others which set the concrete that was forming in my heart.

Back in high school, I'd made a brief attempt at pursuing a modeling career. On a random visit to Gates Pass, my dad and I had met a photographer who wanted to photograph me.  My claim to fame, he'd told me, would be my 'incredible eyelashes'. (He was quite adept at flattery.) He took me on a couple of shoots where I put on a bikini and posed among some construction equipment, complete with sprayed on oil.  He then offered to take me with him to Mexico for a 'real' shoot.  Thankfully, my father had seen through his scheme and declined the photographer's 'generosity'.  I was livid!  (And sooooo very naive, I marvel at the things I believed then. Eyelashes!!!  Seriously, any girl can have those with a pair of falsies and some glue!)

In my naivety, I imagined that I could have what Vogue and Cosmo advertised if I simply looked the part. Among all the humiliation of my earlier life, I somehow still believed that I was beautiful, even beautiful enough to join the ranks of Cindy Crawford and Claudia Schiffer. (Yeah, it was naive, but young people have hopes that aren't always quite realistic. And besides, who needs to be 6ft tall, the agents just hadn't seen me yet, that was the only real holdup.)

I was operating under a very specific belief.  If I am a model, it will mean that I am 'good enough'.  Or maybe even that I am better.  So I pursued that goal.

I shopped for just the right ensemble in which to present myself at the local modeling agency. (Did you know those are really just schools expecting payment from would be models? Erhmmm.........I didn't.) I found a short, tight skirt, a cute jacket and a strapless top with the highest heels I could manage. To that, I added reasonably well applied makeup and a rather pathetic effort at 90's hair. I was so sure they were going to feel lucky to have me.


With all the confidence I could muster, I strode in and presented myself for the next available modeling gig. The man at the reception desk, in his fashionable suit and well practiced lisp looked down his perfectly straight nose and haughtily handed me a clip board. "Fill this out over there and bring it back when you're done," he scolded, shooing me irritably in the direction of a very posh row of chairs.

'Well, this isn't what I was expecting', I thought to myself. But not to worry, once the photographer saw me, it'd all be good. I set about answering the questions and filling in my info. When I got to the bit about how I'd pay, I began to worry. Looking more carefully, the realization hit me that this was actually a school to prepare people for a career in modeling.

After finishing the paperwork and finally being ushered into a room to actually talk to someone, the stark truth hit me upside the head.  I was too fat, too short, probably needed a boob job, needed to tone and I'd require a ton of training to learn how to walk right, hold myself right, blah, blah, blah.  I weighed about 132 lbs at that time in my life, I was 5'7.  When I looked in the mirror, I thought I looked pretty good, but the truth was, I didn't look like a model.



Not to be deterred, I went back the next week for a 'trial session'.  I really had no idea that modeling was actually hard work and required technique.  In the end, I could pay up for lessons, quite a few of them for a quite a few dollars, or 'there' was the door.  I walked through it.

I was crushed.  My hopes for 'making it' were in the toilet and I realized I was going to have to figure out how to live.  Reflection is an interesting thing.  I've spent years telling people I modeled as a young woman.  I suppose on some very small level it is true, but really, it is just how I wanted to be viewed.  I wanted to be seen as a woman who held sway over the world through remarkable beauty. Somehow, I thought that would put me in a better light than the reality.

The reality was that I was an ordinary pretty girl. Lots of girls are pretty because God makes girls pretty, it's part of the plan.  But beauty doesn't define or elevate any one of us above the others.  It's a gift like any other, from the Maker, for His glory and our good.


With my ego deflated, I went back out and tried again to attract a man who'd make me feel like I was worth something. I found a few who were willing to pretend for a bit. One man was a Sportscaster on the local news station.  That gem invited me back to his apartment and tried to force me to have sex with him.  I escaped, thankfully, but it terrified me.

I reconnected with a guy I'd known in high school who was recently out of jail for selling drugs.  I'd liked him in school and thought perhaps we could rekindle something.  We couldn't, but it required sex to determine that.

I dated a few guys from work.  One was a great guy who had a girlfriend back home.  The reality was, I didn't date him because he wouldn't date me.  He was faithful to his girl, a genuine good guy, but I told myself we were dating.  And I hoped I could lure him away from her.

The other fellow was a confessed, practicing alcoholic, but I didn't mind. He was someone to be with when I was lonely. Meaningless, empty sex.

One man I dated as a challenge. A friend told me that she could get him into bed before I could.  He was 32 years old, married, and the father of a two year old.  I took up the challenge, and won.  What a lousy prize!  He was the biggest pig of all, a mechanic with a garage full of pornography and no shame in the way he spoke to me or about me to others.  He humiliated me often by 'bragging' on our sexual adventures as I stood there.  It wasn't any challenge at all to get him to bed, but I fell for it all the same. He was a philandering pig and I his accomplice.  Once again, I was willingly participating.  In the end, his wife found out and he divorced.  More shame. I was to blame, at least partly, for the break-up of a family.

I slept with another mechanic when I needed my car fixed. I was living cheaply, smoking away most of my earnings and barely managing to survive.  But I still wasn't ready to do anything different. I was still grasping at what I thought would fulfill.

My life at that point had been greatly informed by lewd Jackie Collins novels which painted a vivid picture of the need for a young woman to be a confident 'bi%$*' and a distorted 1980's entertainment industry and I was pursuing that dream for all I was worth.

2.10.2016

Friendship

My husband has, at times, had to be away from home for business.  There is always a part of me that dreads the separation.  I suppose that is partly due to being a creature of habit, but I think it is much more than that.  I think the primary reason is the interruption in our relationship.

My husband is my friend.  He's the one who listens to me the most often, who shares himself with me the most often, who cries with me the most often.

I sat here with my dog recently, as my only companion and thought what it would be like to be without the man who's shared my life for the last 24 years, and I realized how blessed I am to have a good man at my side.  I thought of friends I've known over the years who's only daily companions have been pets, books and very quiet walls.

(This is my grandson Liam and our dog Bean, they are working on their friendship.)

We are made for relationship. We need to share our hearts with another human being.  It's why sometimes we get desperate and will do almost anything to have someone there beside us.  I thought of the years I spent giving away pieces of my heart to friends and boyfriends simply because they were there and I wanted someone,.........anyone.  I thought of precious people I know who are doing that very thing now because of the pain of loneliness in their lives.

I'm blessed, as I said before, with a committed, kind and generous husband today, but that may not always be the case.  One day, I may face loneliness again.  Will I still be tempted to accept whatever companionship happens to be available out of desperation?

I believe the answer is NO, and here is the reason. Today, I know the very best friend I could ever have!  I know Jesus and it is He who will fill all the empty places.  I pray that those who know the depths of loneliness will find the One Friend who will never leave them or forsake them.  He is Jesus, the One and Only and He's always waiting to sit by the fire with you, share a cup of coffee and chat.

That may seem like so much cheesiness and maybe it is a bit, but it is also truth.  Today, if you hear his voice, listen and then share your heart.

And, if you know someone who is lonely, consider being a friend. And while you're at it, introduce them to the VERY BEST FRIEND, introduce them to Jesus!

No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:15

2.09.2016

A Tyrant Companion

Shame is a tyrannical companion.  It secretly dictates every thought, every word and every deed. It is a bully. And often, as is the case with bullies, it's tactics are so difficult to define and nail down that it gets away with it's destructive antics for a very long time before it finally gets kicked to the curb.

Shame defined many years of my life.  She was a tyrannical companion I hauled around, strapped securely on my back without my even recognizing it's existence.  She morphed into a voice which I wrongly recognized as my own.  She whispered to me 'they don't like you, you aren't accepted, he only sees your body, you'll never be good enough for them' and other angry and hurtful phrases.  Shame murmured in my ear about rejection, disapproval, and mental illness. I wore her like a shield, unwittingly using her to protect me from reasonable expectations.

My stomach lurches uncomfortably as I consider the way Shame twisted my thinking.  What a waste all those years were, when I believed that the babblings of shame defined who I was! I didn't notice she was an outside voice at all, it had become ME.

Reflecting over the past, I can see that I scarcely gave even the briefest thought to my actions in 1991.  Such a foreign concept to me now, as today I analyze everything for motive and purpose. But then, I simply existed, with the hope that I'd somehow stumble onto the ONE who would finally cherish me.  And yet......I had no real understanding of what love even looked like.  Experience had been an effective teacher, love was sex, physical approval.  That is what I sought. And that was distorted thinking.

Almost from the moment I moved out of the apartment Chad and I shared, I began hunting. I was literally grasping at anyone and everything that might fill the emptiness I held inside. One man I pursued a relationship with was a Deputy who was easily 10 years older than I and could most aptly be described as a womanizer. But I was too naive to realize his predilections.  I suppose he was in the same predicament as I, he too was searching for something that was proving elusive.

Another man was really just a boy, perhaps 17, who thought he loved me immediately after we met.  Interestingly, he was perhaps the most decent guy I encountered during that whirlwind of promiscuity.  But he liked me too much and it scared me, perhaps reminding me of Chad.  So I used him and went hunting again. The list goes on, but a couple stand out as especially harmful to my soul because I think each of them solidified in me an element of shameful identity.

The first was an encounter with a woman friend of mine. She and I had been friends for a while and she was in the middle of a separation from her husband.  I'll call her Lucy. Lucy and I shared in  the misery that comes when dreams crash down, this commonality brought us into a sort of sisterhood. We fell into the questionable habit of visiting one another and comparing notes late into the night. (I say questionable because, basically, we were just gossiping.  No good ever comes of that.)

There's something profoundly shadowed about night and the way it sometimes seems to breed an even deeper darkness. Things you'd never consider in the light of day can be given birth in the dead of night. Perhaps that's why we have such phrases as 'dead of night' or 'witching hour'.

I can still see the way the room looked the first time we entertained the idea of having an affair with one another. We sat on Lucy's bed, chatting about intimacy, about what it was like to be a lover.  A single bare bulb fixture lit the room, glaring a harsh, shadowed light onto the rumpled sheets.  The naked lamp was a stark reminder of the painful reality of our lives.  'What do you think of trying something together?' I asked.  Her face registered shock and surprise, but quickly recovered and turned into something sly, trying to laugh off the scandal of what I'd just suggested. Her manner held an air of superiority, as if she wanted me to know that she was greatly more expert at such considerations than I.  'Hmmm, maybe sometime.' she replied, and left it at that.

But a switch had been flipped in my mind. I began to obsess over this new possibility. For the next week or two I examined it in my mind.  The idea of sexual intimacy with a woman seemed like it held a kind of safety.  The fact that this woman and I already had a close friendship only served to deepen that particular appeal.  Lucy and I shared many of our deepest thoughts and had done so for at least a couple of years.  She knew me and I knew her and that was attractive all by itself. It seemed as though she really cared for me.

I pursued her.  It was a recent revelation for me that I used to have a tendency to seduce.  It's not something I like the sound of, but there it is, true. Seduction is self-serving.  Its aim is getting it's own needs met. Seduction doesn't think for a moment about the consequence to the other party.  In my case, I had a felt need and I reasoned that Lucy would be the safest way to pursue getting it filled. I never thought at all how it might affect her.

One night, during the hours when we should have been sleeping, Lucy and I gave ourselves to one another in sexual intimacy.  This moment is one of the heaviest moments of shame I've carried.  We each concluded that girls weren't for us and didn't need to experiment further to be certain. We knew. Yet the shame contorted my soul.  I had the sense that no one must ever know about this and I carried that burden alone for 20 years before I shared it with another soul.

The other incident that is seared into my memory was one night with a seemingly anonymous man named Brock.  I met Brock at a party on Davis Monthan Air Force Base back when you could still drive on base relatively freely.  I'd been invited by someone I didn't know and when I got there, I still knew no one.  The only thing to drink was beer from a keg, which is typical at such parties.  I never have been a beer drinker, but I wanted to be part of things, so I grabbed my Red Solo Cup and began 'fitting in'.

I don't remember much about that party. What I do recall was that the house where it was being held was owned/rented by Brock.  I stayed until the end.  Brock was handsome....... if indifferent. The conversation I had with Brock is completely unmemorable. I think he was the sort of guy that had VERY LITTLE to say.  What I recall was asking if I could stay the night, to which he responded agreeably.  I recall sex.

Not love.

Nothing like love.

What I recall was something that felt dead........empty.

And it all happened very late into the dark night.

I didn't sleep at all and in the morning, I simply left, with a bottle of orange juice in hand. It was Brock's only offering to me.  I called him a time or two, but I never heard anything from him.

Why did that stick in my memory? I think because I felt so cold and dead before, during and after.  It had felt mechanical.  In every other case where I was with someone, there was at least some level of relationship.  With this man, there had been nothing at all. Just sex.

I hear about people having one night stands all the time.  In the world, there is an attitude that this is fun and exciting.  People imply that it is an adventure of sorts and that they enjoy having no emotional ties.  And yes, I do mean women, as well as men.  I can't relate to that being a good thing.  This instance may be one of the largest regrets I have because I gave something of myself to someone who literally couldn't care less. And I chose to do that. I could see right up front that Brock was indifferent and I went forward, allowing myself to be used with no tenderness of any kind.  I think that to me, it seemed like how it would be for a prostitute.

I felt like a whore.

There'd been girls back in high school, my Freshman year, who'd walked behind me one day as I was heading to class, who'd said as much, only slightly under their breath. I'd been wearing a short, tight skirt and very high heels.  I looked the part and I knew it.  I didn't want to be labeled that way.........but there I was. That title had stuck.  Slut.

With Brock, I felt I'd confirmed those girls title for me.

Shame, the tyrant, held sway over my heart for decades. Through the choices I had made, I'd given Shame license to teach me who I am.


2.08.2016

Where Treasure Lives

The voice of a woman among the community of believers is more often misunderstood or ignored completely than the voice of a man.  I'm under no illusions as to that fact.  This is not because godly men don't desire to consider a feminine view, it's just part of the repercussions of  The Fall. Godly men will deny this fact on one hand and then immediately confirm it with commentaries about a woman's unpredictability during the course of her menstrual cycle.

As women, we may believe that the only way for us to prove our reliability is to effectively crush the very things which define our femininity. Little wonder that feminism has taken this approach in recent years.  Woman? What woman?  I don't see a woman here, just a human who has a female body, but NO, she's never governed by anything but reason and logic.  But that is a catch 22 isn't it, since such a woman isn't considered feminine, womanly.

We have a unique position as women in the body of Christ.  Often, it can feel like a position of powerlessness.  This isn't true at all. The reality is that we have tremendous influence, but rarely, if ever, direct influence and that may explain why we have the impression of powerlessness.

Mary, the mother of Jesus must have felt this very strongly.  As a Jewish woman in her time, she would have been relegated to the status of property,service and second class citizen by, not just her husband, but the community as a whole.  Within that brand of societal pressure, she was asked by God himself to bear and raise, together with Joseph, the Child who would change the world.

Perhaps it is important to consider that framework as we view Mary's response to the birth of her very precious Son.

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:19

Today's 1st World woman might be inclined to post it on Facebook, write a blog entry, invite the media or perhaps author a book. At the very least, she'd want to host a party. But Mary simply gathered up all the bits and pieces that God himself offered her and started a treasure box inside the confines of her heart where they would be safe from harm.

What does it mean to treasure and ponder? We can't know for certain, but as I've considered Mary's actions (it is said that she does this several times throughout the narratives) I've sought to learn how to treasure the things the Lord shows me.  The idea puts me in mind of another decidedly Jewish practice, that of placing stones of remembrance. Samuel does this in 1 Samuel 7:12 as a way to remind the people of God's faithfulness.

Each time the Lord opens our ears to hear His voice whisper truths, let us ponder those words and then set them alongside our other treasures as Mary did. Surely, there will be many times in the future when we'll have a need to go through our stored treasure as we watch our world crumbling around us.  I envision Mary doing just that as she watched her Son on the Cross.  The truths that she had pondered and stored all those years ago must have served to give her strength when she needed it most.

I'm hoping that the treasure I've stored will serve to influence you by the power of the Spirit of God. I'm opening up my treasure box today and sharing with you the jewel which I seem to have the most of.  This gem sparkles and shines and reminds me of who I really am in times when I begin to doubt.  This is the gem which whispers steadily and repeatedly 'I love you darling.'.  It's a phrase my Jesus frequently speaks to me and today I was reminded that He does this on purpose so I will store it carefully in my hearts treasure box.  I hope you too will store this truth in yours.

2.05.2016

Hidden

People tell stories for all sorts of reasons, but most commonly, when one tells a story from one's own life, it is designed to present either some funny anecdote, or perhaps more often, the subject in a positive light.  We like to tell of our trials and triumphs in which we appear as the hero.

What I'm about to embark upon in this next chapter of my story may have precisely the opposite effect. I've struggled with how to share this bit and at the same time avoid judgement.  It can be a fearful thing to lay bare past indiscretions.  On the other hand, it can bring freedom in that there is no longer anything to hide.

The events of the next 8 months or so of my life are rather jumbled in my mind, so that I can't accurately recall the order of them and that may serve to invite confusion over the course of the retelling. I apologize in advance. To add to that, I missed something important, choices that formed dark places in my soul, from the period when I was with Chad.  I'll start there.

During my relationship with Chad, before our marriage if memory serves, I continued to stoke a flame for another man.  He was a man I'd been attracted to for a long time but who had, up to that point, seemed out of reach. He had a way of listening to me when we talked that spoke to my heart and gave it value.  Or at least, that is how it seemed to me at the time. His name was Mike and he was beautiful to me.

At the same time, my feelings toward Chad were not especially filled with affection.  How can I explain staying with a man I didn't even like very much?  My understanding of the reasons are this, Chad and I had things in common that were unhealthy, primarily, the desperate need to be accepted and loved, at any cost. I think that is why I stayed. Chad was a sure thing. Because of his own desperation, I was certain that he would not leave me and so I stayed.

But the flame that I stoked for Mike continued to grow as I pursued him (this is important, if I hadn't pursued him, that flame could have died a natural death).  Perhaps I was hoping to discover that he'd choose me over the things that kept us apart and then I could more easily let Chad go. Isn't this the desire of adulterous women everywhere? At any rate, there was finally a point where our relationship did become physical.  In the dark.  Hidden. Wrong.

And that is always the nature of cheating.

There wasn't any romance, there were only secrets and fear of being discovered and, at least for me, a decided feeling of cheapness. Back seats of cars in dark, deserted parking lots never will bring about an awareness of actual love.  They are all about lust and the hope of gratification. They are cheap.  And yet the irony is they cost everything!  Dignity and integrity are fully lost.  What I bought with my actions was shame. Shame that I would carry for many, many years following.  I bought a question stuck on repeat, 'Are you really a trustworthy woman at all?'.

In all of that, I did KNOW that what I was doing was wrong, wrong, wrong.  But the power of justifying ones choices is extraordinary.  Justification held me in a tight grip, it had me doing it's bidding, willingly destroying myself and Mike and another friend as well. I was entering into what is known in the psychological world as 'escalation of commitment'.

As things progressed with Mike and I, I shared our relationship with a friend.  And then, at some point, invited her to join the party.

Shame grew.

I was responsible for every choice that led me to participate in this deviant affair. At the same time, I believe it is important to recognize that the Enemy of my heart, Satan, was also participating.  I cannot blame Satan and thereby exonerate myself from responsibility, but I do think it's important to understand that Satan has a very real, substantial goal in enticing people to sin.  His goal is to crush them under the weight of SHAME.

The more shame we carry, the more we will hide who we are.  The more we hide who were are from others, the more we hide who we are from ourselves as well. Finally, we don't even know ourselves who we are.

One of the results of hiding our real selves is that we end up inventing a 'cover' self. That is the person we present to the world and we secretly hope that the world will not get too curious and start to poke around to learn more about us.

To keep that from happening, we have a few resources up our sleeves.  Some of us retreat.  We shrink back into the shadows, never letting anyone see us at all. We say very little, stay mostly to ourselves and keep building up an image of who we are inside our minds.

Some of us become VIP's.  We're the ones who get things done.  We keep you from probing by being very necessary to the fabric of life.  We are the doers and you'll never have the chance to know what we may be hiding because we are always so busy being productive that there's never time to ask the first question.

Still others respond quite the opposite, and this was me. We set the stage and begin an acting career.  We become the people who are always presenting something interesting and exciting. We may even borrow pieces of our story from our past, but you can be certain that we've dressed them up to look just so.  We're painting you a picture of our heroics and perhaps, making you laugh uproariously in the process. You'll never even consider getting past our facade because we've been sure to tell you just how transparent we are.

Or maybe we combine all of those options.  In the end, we remain hidden and that just means lonely.......and did I mention ashamed?

Read the whole story here.

2.04.2016

Elusive Light

Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
    You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
    and when I rest at home.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!
I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave, you are there.
If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
    but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.
You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body
    and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex!
    Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,
    as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!
O God, if only you would destroy the wicked!
    Get out of my life, you murderers!
They blaspheme you;
    your enemies misuse your name.
Lord, shouldn’t I hate those who hate you?
    Shouldn’t I despise those who oppose you?
Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
    for your enemies are my enemies.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalm 139

The light of evening holds an elusive quality.  Sometimes?  No, all of the time.  It runs away like a cheeky child hiding in the bushes but then, when it's good and ready, comes bolting back out with a command that you be ready to play once again.

One might be tempted to say that spiritual fervor is this way too.  It seems all too ardent one moment then still and dead the next.

So what do you and I do when our fervor seems to have lost its lustre? For many years, I thought the answer was to just try harder.  To be honest, that is what I heard from respected Christian leaders. 

If you aren't feeling God's presence then you need to dig in to the Word and prayer more. Better yet, work on your bible memorization, or perhaps what you really need is to serve!  Have you considered 'Children's Ministry', they always need people!!

While each of these are good practices, I'm not sure that we can pin our spiritually darkened periods to how many good spiritual disciplines we have under our pious belts.

Let me pitch and idea out there for you to consider and you let me know if it rings true.  I think our fervor is dependent more on how intimate we are with the object of our fervor.  Think for a moment about someone with whom you have a relationship.  I mean a close relationship. Do you have that person in your mind? Ok, what is it that causes you to feel fulfilled in that relationship?

Is it that you've memorized facts about the person?  Is it that you read things about that person?  Is it that you have one way conversations with that person where you do all the talking and they simply listen?  Is it that you serve other people on that person's behalf so they will notice your kind heart?

Or is it that you spend time with that person, so much time that you can finish each other's thoughts?  Is it that you can look at your special someone and know how they are feeling and know exactly how to respond to them as a result?  Is it when you do things, even normal everyday things, together? Is it when you serve other people together?  Is it when you know them so well that you understand their motivations for whatever they do and even when you don't like what they do, you still like who they are because you get each other's hearts?

That is how we think of people that we care about, but is it how we think about relationship with God?  We may be able to recite His characteristics, but have we experienced those characteristics in such a way that we trust His heart? The Word tells us about God's character, but it is time spent with Him, knowing His character personally that allows us to love Him. It is when we are in such intimacy that we have listened to Him as He shares His emotions with us that we can begin to say we KNOW HIM.

This is why David wrote the way he did in the Psalms.  He poured out his heart, his anguish, his worry, his confusion, but always, he came back to words of praise and trust, not because it was so much information that he'd taken in, but because Jehovah God and David had walked together and talked together and lived together in intimacy.  This was not some theoretical intimacy, this was real! In Psalm 139, David trusted His God to carefully search the innermost workings of his heart for what might be ugly and sinful.  We will never do that with someone that we don't know intimately, that we don't trust completely!

We've all heard sermons on how to get intimate with our Father.  Usually, they include recommendations for spiritual disciplines in one form or another.  These are important parts of the Christian life, but they are not a substitute for spending time with the actual person of Father God, the actual person of Jesus Christ or the actual person of the Holy Spirit.

The light, the True Light is elusive because we simply don't let Him into our Christian activity.  We have moments when we do this, perhaps during worship, perhaps as we look out over a roaring sea or a storm wracked sky.  But these are exceptions.  We do not daily expect to exchange personal thoughts, heart desires, hurts and joys with the Lord Himself. We don't anticipate His voice speaking directly to us.  And so the light wanes.

Today, expect Him to respond when you talk to Him, and then simply listen.  What is He saying?

2.03.2016

Hansen's Hideaway

Most people are well intended and I know that was true of the Hansen family. They were a product of who knows what kinds of upbringing and circumstances. 

I once heard Dr. Ed Smith, of Transformation Prayer Ministry, say that people always do the things they do for a very good reason. What he meant by that was that people do what they do because of a belief that they hold.  It's not a commentary on whether or not their belief is true.  Instead, it demonstrates how strongly they hold it. 

Why am I saying all of this?  Let me step back a bit.  A few years back, when I began writing this story, I was writing from the perspective I held at that time. Unfortunately, there was still a large degree of 'victim' thinking in my mindset at that time. When I wrote about people, I tended to lay blame to some degree.  Today, I'm in a different place and I would really rather not point fingers at people to saddle them with all the responsibility for my experiences.  

While it's true that we profoundly affect one another, each of us must own our personal response. In telling you about this family and the influence they had on me, I want to be clear that I chose to stay in that situation of my own free will.  It was not my only option and even if it had been, I still could have responded differently in the specific instances where I fell into poor choices.

Back to the story.........As I said, this household was rather dirty and I suppose that reflects on those who lived there.  Interestingly, I can recall that it was part of my responsibility when living there to do some cleaning, yet cleanliness seemed the last priority to the Mistress of the home. 

It's difficult to adequately put into words what it was like to live in this environment so I guess the only thing to do is share a few of the specific dynamics that caused me unease.  

Mr. Hansen was a very large man, and by large I mean 450lbs and about 6 feet tall.  He tended to wear denim overalls and nothing else.  No shirt, no shoes and, no underwear (sadly, this last bit was obvious to anyone in the vicinity).  He was, as you might expect, completely sedentary as well.  His primary activity was to yell directions at whomever was in earshot.  These usually included demands for a drink, cigarettes or food.  These demands might be followed up with an order to retrieve some trinket or other his Lordship required.

He always reminded me of that horrible smoking caterpillar from 'Alice In Wonderland'. Bulging and huffing and not very nice.  He was witty, if you want to call it that, though I often find the acerbic wit people of his sort use to be more aptly described as cutting humor. Perhaps that was only a reflection of my own insecurities at the time, but I doubt it.


The thing about Mr. Hansen which most notably discomfited me was the fact of his common residence in his bedroom in a state of undress.  Perhaps it seems that this should be a good place to be in such a state, but given that the only usable toilet was through his bedroom, his situation in that room proved awkward. 

If I needed to use the bathroom, and walked through while he was there, I always had this feeling like I was doing something dirty. Clearly, I wasn't, but something about his manner seemed lewd.  Perhaps it was his perpetual lack of undergarments?  Or maybe the sexual innuendo that regularly comprised his comments?  

Mrs. Hansen didn't help matters, for she frequently presented herself in a very sensual manner towards her husband.  I can't say that I ever saw anything obviously inappropriate, but her eyes always held a look of seduction.  Even now, I feel I'm grasping at straws.  All I can think to say is that I often felt as though I shouldn't be in the room with them, as though she might leap naked into his lap at any moment and ravage him.  

Just typing this out causes me to pause in thought as to what might be the difference between a loving glance between a husband and his wife and something more raw and sensual which is meant to be shared only privately.

Parents and teenagers are another thing altogether and this household had two parents and two teenagers.  Now, this doesn't necessitate that there be weirdness.  But in this case, the two children remaining at home, Carter and Connie, had a hunted look about them. They consistently drug themselves about the house, shoulders drooping, back hunched, never looking up.  They were unkempt, scraggly little things and onlookers might suspect, malnourished. Surely the hunted, vacant look in their eyes could be related to Mr. Hansen's ever ready 'swatting apparatus'.  That pretty much meant that whatever he held in his hand might be used to swat a passing child as he or she happened by.

While my own upbringing included some horrendous experiences, this particular type was not something I understood, at least not as coming from parents.  My own parents had never had a flippant attitude towards us in quite the same way.  If we were swatted, it was usually a result of some specific infraction and we knew for certain it was coming.(at least that was true most of the time).  In the Hansen's home, the children never knew if one of their parents might fly into a rage and so I began to think that I was also in danger of a stray swat or two. 

Pondering this, I'm reminded of the same feeling which did exist in my home, but coming from my siblings.  I was the youngest by 6 years, quite susceptible to whatever my older siblings might wish to perpetrate upon me.  The one thing that sticks in my mind as reminiscent of my above description of the Hansen household was the way my brother and sister would twist up the damp dish towels and play the game of who could 'SNAP' whom most squarely.  As a smaller child, I was never going to come out on top and so, sustained quite a few angry welts at the end of a well-snapped towel.

I guess the bottom line for me was that I didn't feel safe.  Sharing an opinion was a sure way to be on the butt end of Mr. Hansen's caustic tongue.  Relaxing was a sure way to be given a job to do in the never ending list of duties on the property. Walking through a room might elicit some sort of inappropriate comment from either Mr. or Mrs. Hansen.  

Yes!  That is it!  I often felt that I might be physically attacked in that home.  Not that it ever happened, but it seemed the threat of assault always hovered.

I'll share a little something that I hope will come as an invitation into my heart.  It feels vulnerable to share this particular piece of the story.  I'm actually surprised by the emotions coming to the surface as I recall that time in my life.

I'm finding that taking the time to write this story is therapeutic, which isn't really a surprise, but I guess I wasn't anticipating all the things I'd shoved under the veneer until I started writing it all down. Hmmm, more to ponder and more opportunity for healing and wholeness! I am thankful.

2.02.2016

Attar Baazar Egyptian Shalimar

Attar Bazaar makes quite a few little gems that don't get much press, so I thought I might take a moment to review one of them here since I've recently tried their wares.

Egyptian Shalimar is a surprisingly good perfume oil which I'd ordered primarily for the name. I am a lover of the ubiquitous Guerlain Shalimar and thought it'd be interesting to see what a small perfume oil company might do that would imitate that renowned fragrance. Even better, you can get this little beauty for under $10 and given how strong it is, I think that will be quite enough to satisfy.



I couldn't have had a more incorrect assumption.  Mind you, it didn't come simply from the name as more than one reviewer has made the implication that a correlation exists.

It doesn't.

This is it's own fragrance!  The opening is heavy on incense and spices but with an underlying floral aspect.  The florals are not what I think of as typical florals.  There isn't a thing sweet or innocent about this fragrance, but they dance underneath in rather a mesmerizing fashion while incense wafts in and out of the maze of potent allure.



But it's the dry-down of Egyptian Shalimar that most loudly grabbed my attention.  If I didn't know better, I'd guess someone was sniffing Weil's Secret de Venus and borrowed the bass end of that impossible to find beauty.  Why, because the musky depths of ES are so similar as to possibly be confused for the same fragrance. It's a hot bed of smooth velvet musk.


I'll leave you with the image above, of an exotic tent draped in sheer layers of color.  I imagine flickering candle light and some Arabian music in the background.  Just think exotic and see where that takes you. And the best part, you can get this little beauty for under $10 and given how strong it is, I think that will be quite enough to satisfy.

2.01.2016

Phase: Chaos


When I left Chad that night, I didn't have a plan.  All I knew for certain was that I didn't plan to go back.

The next day, when I knew he'd be at work, I went back to the apartment and cleaned out everything that was mine as quickly as I could.  I packed it all into my little Datsun 610, which gives you an idea of how little I owned and drove out to Dad's place to lick my wounds.

After this, things are a bit of a blur for a few weeks.  The few details I recall were that I somehow communicated to Chad that I was not going to come back, that someone communicated to me Chad's crazed gun waving rage and that I might be in danger.  I have the idea in my head that Dad communicated to Chad that if he didn't leave me alone, he'd be confronted with my 6'4" father.

And then there wasn't anything else.  It seems like I felt a few days of drama over the issue with the gun.  I'm sure I told people that I thought Chad might kill me, or perhaps himself.  That would have been like the victim version of me that dominated at that point in my life.

By that time, I'd gotten a job at a local call center and was regularly conducting surveys with unsuspecting people about their financial information.  I was dressing professionally and I felt I was going to do well. I saw myself as a career woman.

I laugh at that now.  It was an entry level, minimum wage position and it offered no place to go, unless I wanted to be the supervisor at the end of the row of cubicles. If I leaned my chair back, I could see the woman at the end, too much make-up. scraggly dyed-black hair and pinched mouth from years of smoking.  She proudly sported a nasty disposition to match her appearance and to be honest, the package did not appeal.

First, I needed to figure out my living situation.  I was right back to the farm in Egypt with no running water and I didn't want to stay.  My only company were a few chickens and ducks since Dad spent most of his time in town with his current girlfriend.

I set about running through my contacts to see who might have a place I could live. It was a short list and the options were rather pathetic.  I settled on the best one, the ONLY one.  A room was available at the home of my high-school best friend Ingrid.  Ingrid had become pregnant her Junior year of high school and married the father of her child.  Her room had remained empty, perhaps her parents would allow me to rent it.

I'd stayed the night with Ingrid a few times and I knew her family to be eccentric, but there was electricity at least.......and people. Electricity??.....eccentricity???......I went with electric.

Ingrid's family home was situated at least as far out in the boonies as Dad's and quite possibly there was just as much dirt road to traverse to get there.  But, like I said, the lure of electricity was enough to tempt me and so I moved in within about 3 weeks of having left Chad.

This is where my memory gets a little fuzzy and I can't quite recall the order of events accurately so I hope the reader will bear with me as I may jump around a bit telling about the next 8 months.

If my family was dysfunctional, this family was...........well, what would be worse than that?  Really dysfunctional I guess!!!  I'll start by setting the stage, perhaps that will help you to get a picture.

The Hansen home sat on 5 acres of desert, but since it was near a riparian area, it had some beautiful large Cottonwood trees and boasted a more welcoming feel than much of the surrounding areas.  The house, a double wide mobile home of around 1800 square feet, sat in the center of the property. On two sides of the house, but set apart from it by a distance of perhaps 75 feet, were rows of dog kennels, the house itself being fenced in with standard box wire fencing.

One needed to enter at a gate into a small front garden, hand tended by the lady of the house. Up onto the porch you'd go to access the front door.  That is where the beauty stopped.

(Sitting in the home made garden swing with an unnamed dog!)

On entering, you found yourself in a long, dark front room.  There was a bed on the left, though you couldn't see if from the door, for the room was completely full of  mismatched cabinets, tables and even an old piano.  The room was always kept dim (did it even have any lights at all?) with only a narrow path through the furniture to the family living area. This was the dividing line of the house, where the two halves of the double-wide came together.

Behind the bed was a small room that served as a sewing/craft room for Mrs. Hansen.  At the opposite end was another bedroom, which I believe belonged to an older brother who I don't recall ever having met. This front portion of the room was nearly never used, with the family congregating in the back half of the house.

Once you walked through the archway into the back half, you the kitchen and dining area were to the right, with a small bedroom behind that (this was the room I rented). Right in front of you was the family area, with a small bar area on the left end of that room.  This actually had a door too it and was perhaps 7 by 3.  It had an open counter between it and the living area.  Behind that was the Master Bedroom and through this the room was the home's only functional shower and toilet. Directly behind the living area was the other bathroom which had an occasionally functional toilet and a mirror, but no running water otherwise.   A small hallway led to this bathroom and behind it was a washer followed by an added on room belonging to the youngest son.  Across from that was another small added on room belonging to the youngest daughter.

(This is me in my room with Sapphire Blue, the kitten I bought from the Hansens, and one of the Dachshund puppies that lived in the house.)

The result a family of 4 living in about 900 hundred square feet, though they had much more space available to them in the front of the house. There is of course, nothing wrong with living in smaller spaces, it's becoming quite the fad these days to live tiny, but this seemed odd to me due to the fact that nearly half of their space was taken up as storage for unused belongings.

Well.....and then there is the issue of all the dogs.

There were a number of things which made living in this environment challenging, but the dogs might have been the one of the most challenging for me personally.  The family raised and sold dogs, quite a few breeds of them.  You might refer to this as a puppy mill. They bred Dachshunds, Lhasa Apso, Miniature Doberman Pinschers,  and quite a few other larger breeds. Then, they also began breeding Himalayan Cats.  All in all, there were over 80 dogs on the premises along with a variety of other animals of the farm variety.

This would have been no problem, save for the fact that Mrs. Hansen was rather insistent in requiring all the small dogs to sleep inside the house and NOT in kennels.  These furry little scourges had the run of the house all night long.  I never counted how many dogs roamed the house at night, but I can tell you that walking through the house in the middle of the night or the next morning was an exercise in dodging land mines. They were allowed to jump freely onto the bed in the Master Bedroom where they released quite a few smelly packages for Mrs. Hansen's children to clean up each day.  Yes, I said IN THE BED. The couches, chairs and carpets also provided a handy toiletting spot for these wretched creatures. I did all I could to keep my own bedroom door firmly closed, but my efforts didn't always pay off.

And then, there were the people.


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