Do not be excessively righteous [like those given to self-conceit], and do not be overly wise (pretentious)–why should you bring yourself to ruin?
Do not be excessively or willfully wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time?
Once upon a time, in what seems two lifetimes, twenty odd jobs, and fifteen minutes ago, I lived in a house built of cedar planks. Gorgeous, orange, cedar-planked walls that dripped like honey; straight, knotty, planked cedar ceilings suspended in a sunset; pretty planked stairs of cedar ascended like a sunrise. It was a temporary residence, between residences, when I lived with my pastor and his wife – his wife being a popular traveling evangelist who was often gone weeks and weekends at a time.
The tall ceilings made the house feel huge, though I think that was part illusion. It had the perfect acoustics for letting a song drift from my upstairs bedroom down throughout the whole house, which is exactly what I decided to do on this particular day – taking the encouragement to make their home my home, perhaps, too liberally.
I played the Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington album. Their version of Yellow Days from the above album was climbing and crawling all around the cedar walls and ceiling, trellising down the stairway railing, when the pastor’s wife returned from a long weekend one Tuesday morning. Her eyes lit as she opened the door.
“Oh, that sounds so good,” she said, setting her suitcase down and stopping as she walked in to close her eyes and listen for a moment. Her smile immediately tripled my own enjoyment of the song.
Because, sometimes, when all you ever see and hear are churched people and sanitized things, one just needs a bit of Sinatra (or any lure that pokes at our humanness and reminds us that we are real boys and girls) to dislodge the plank called ‘excessively’ (proud or careless) from the eye…
And that’s all I’ll say about that and these favorite verses…
Do not be excessively righteous [like those given to self-conceit], and do not be overly wise (pretentious)–why should you bring yourself to ruin?
Do not be excessively or willfully wicked and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time?
(How’d you like the AI art? Yes, an AI program made my featured picture today… lol. This world is wack.)
This blog began as a once-a-month-er and has turned into a whenever-I-feel-like-it-er. I do apologize for that… But the truth is, we all get a lot of subbed emails in a day (No, just me?); sometimes, it’s better to be on random… keep ya guessing. ;-).
End blurb. #
I have an article to write. I have two pending projects from my publisher waiting on me. I have lambs to school. I should probably be figuring out lunch. My kitchen needs a thorough mop. I’m still in my robe…
In short, this is not where I intended to be this morning, but here we are… all because I found an old piece of writing tucked away in an odd place and knew… knew that it had been tucked away for a day like today.
I still can’t see the street outside; it’s so foggy… but lovely.
(Squirrel! …Speaking of, we’re pretty sure there’s one living in the basement.)
Let’s go swimming in and out of an atmospheric fog. Shall we? (I love swimming with you. Figuratively, of course. So I don’t have to worry about whether my toes look fat, naturally.)
And you shall love the Lord your God with all of your mind and heart and with your entire being and with all your might.
A wilderness often precedes a promise.
The Israelites before entering the Promised Land and Jesus before the work of the Cross, both experienced the wilderness. And it seems forty years or forty days — both are good measures for the length of time we undergo like treatment, I regret to say. Much of that choice in duration is ours.
None of us are foreigners to the wilderness of pain. Everyone has experienced the forces of betrayal, crushing waves of neglect, the tempting sorrow of being misunderstood, and the corralling consequences of unbelief. The whisper of God often becomes nebulous in such moments, blurred and lost, trampled by the crowding gods of anger, fear, and frustration that overlay the confusing maunders of hurt.
Only take heed, and guard your life diligently, lest you forget the things which your eyes have seen and lest they depart from your mind and heart…
The greatest temptation of the wilderness is to make something — a graven image of inferior strengths, the likeness of another human being, our own bread and fire, even our own anger — a god. Worship of such gods takes many forms. That worship may be outlined in pity, sketched by the fiery fingertip of harsh judgments towards others, cradled in the arms of a want of acceptance, and walled in and built up by the avoidance and rejection of God’s gracious work. Whatever the form of worship chosen, there is only one singular goal: To be heard… by the gods.
And I know that You always hear Me, but because of the people who are standing by I said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.
Jesus knew His Father heard Him and knew who He was in His Father’s view; thus, temptations conquered.
Everyone longs to be heard and that longing is amplified in pain. I am no exception. There have been times when I’ve held the opening scripture up for reflection and found that my heart was not entirely God’s first. No, my heart was often inclined to embracing pain, both living and imagined, and filtering that pain through my own graven imaginations about what I perceived as truth, what I perceived true about others, and what I believed true of God too. That pain was held and admired as the source of all of my reasons, the great muse of my heart and mind and the noble aggravation robbing all of my strength.
And you shall earnestly remember all the ways which the Lord your God led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and to prove you, to know what was in your mind and heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.
Still the promise remains.
Not for your righteousness or for the uprightness of your minds and hearts do you go to possess the land… but that He may fulfill the promise… Know therefore that the Lord your God does not give you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a hard and stubborn people.
Laugh or cry it out. But thank God the promise does not find its foundation or fulfillment in our merits but in the faithfulness of God.
THAT is Good News.
Do not despair, ‘For you are a holy and set-apart people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a special people to Himself… and He will love you…’
Deut. 7:6; 13
The same God said, “Go and sin no more.”
The same God also divorced Israel.
The same God also warned us not to take the same path as Israel, who was cut off from her Vine because of unbelief…
Unbelief. Of all things. That is not the sin that usually tops our list, is it?
Isn’t that fascinating?
His ways are higher, friend…. “He sits in the heavens and laughs and does whatever He pleases…” (Never have I enjoyed a lyric more; thanks Beautiful Eulogy. LOL)
End Business. #
Book Worming Through Wildness… (Random blurb)
I found the most amazing book. No, seriously…
I need to republish this one day.
1929: Peder Victorious, by Rolvaag.
Just go find it. I’ve only read the first eight pages and it’s dethroned every other book but the Bible. THAT brilliant.
The brilliant ones are always unheard. Ugh. Pains me.
Hey, it’s not easy dusting off ancient history; sometimes it blows back at you, covers your face with shame, makes your throat itch. But, as the old skin cells begin to settle around your feet, the air clears, along with the brain, and you see a little more clearly…
I suppose we had reason to feel insecure. When your church is the talk of the town, that chatter tends to settle between joints and creates an irritating tension between what one believes they are doing and what others perceive. It was like that.
We were the church with the rainbow painted in the sanctuary…
We were the church voted most likely to handle snakes…
We were the untethered upstarts who did not barricade beneath traditional keeps…
We were Charismatic — an anathema to any small city serviced by the First, the Second, and the Free (but still) Baptists…
(No insult intended; that’s just how it was.)
The truth? The rainbow had long been exchanged for a lovely tree mural; we did not handle snakes or drink poison (for the record), we chose to make God the Head rather than to seek after an institutionalized and denominational ‘king’; but, yes, we were definitely and unapologetically Charismatic: I can’t erase that fact.
The mood music will begin shortly. The words are going up on the screen. The worship team is jostling into place, smiling and nodding like they weren’t fighting over who got the mic last Tuesday during practice.
The Pastor gets up, greets everyone, and opens with a word of prayer. Bright light is spilling in from the back sanctuary window that extends from floor to ceiling — the building itself often being accused of looking more like a car dealership than a church. But warmer.
Nostalgia just walked in and swept me off my feet. (He’s REALLY good at that.)
Whoa… I can almost smell the sanctuary again. I can almost remember your lovely faces. I can almost see the room swell — the unseen aching to blow the walls of the seen out-of-sight, as the praises begin…
Have you ever entered a service where people were excited and expecting to see THE King? Where parading emotions, hopeful pleas riding the train of shouts of joy, and unabashed dancing like King David cast aside every fear, every wary glance of those visiting, and every hinderance to the Throne?
Praise. Worship. Lingering. Then, the offering plate is passed. A sermon. An altar call (sometimes). Pretty straight-forward.
Afterwards, an immediate B-line to the visitors in the room with one burning question.
You know what that question is, don’t you?
Of course you do.
It’s the one we all ask when we desperately want to be understood and appreciated and accepted:
“So… what did you think of the service today?”
I’ve asked that question, in the past, many times to many visitors. The wide array of potential responses can be terrifying, though most stick to the code of niceness when answering.
My face is windswept into a smile by nostalgia again…
“What did you think?”
“I’m concerned; this might be a cult.”
Okay, I’m paraphrasing (it’s hard to remember the exact words of twenty yesteryears), but I did get that basic response once… from a coworker who had visited our church.
What would you say next?
Yeah, I didn’t know what to say either. Deer crushed. And a lot of anxiety walking back into work the next day.
Changing The Question
Since leaving the pastoral limelight of church business, I’ve come to believe that we need to change the question. Instead of asking “What did you think?”, shouldn’t we be asking “How did God meet you today?” ? Wouldn’t that be a more beneficial question?
The first question asks for a reflection upon ourselves…
The second pulls for a reflection of the Spirit…
Whether we garner a different set of responses by changing the question isn’t really my point. It is merely our hearts in the asking that I want to check.
Because anyone who serves wants to be appreciated and understood in that service, as with any work. However, as Christians, our validation, all of our approval and worth, our sense of pleasing One audience (our King), must be tethered to what God thinks about what we’re doing…
In fact, He’s the only one we should be putting that question to after ministering the Gospel of Christ.
Beloved, rest in His approval.
(And, if you’re not sure you have it… Ask, seek, knock.…)
For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.
Well, I suppose there are thousands of nuanced reasons to stay – as there are just as many reasons to leave. You stay because you love deeply. You cling to hope. And you desire his wellness more than anything in the whole world – even unto your own pain. You’ve seen something in him that won’t let you go, won’t leave you alone, won’t permit your defeat…
Yes, you’ve seen what he could be… should be… what you saw in him at the first. And the only thing more dangerous and devastating than Hope is Hope Lost…
After all this time, if there is anything that you fear, it is that: Wasted Hope riding wasted hopeful years.
But I understand that no one else will see it that way, dear woman. I understand that they will look at you and find only weakness where, rather, they might marvel at your strength upon closer examination. I understand that they will judge you for putting so many things at risk…
Permit me some parallels…?
So, what is a life worth anyway?
It began with a simple conversation, steeped in doubt but riddled with desirous hope. My husband and I sat across the table from a convicted felon who, since serving his time, was now a spiritual leader seeking to make significant ripples across the landscape of our town.
There was so much to love in that conversation and fellowship; there was much to hope. We already sat under his leadership and understood the following. And, still, always this nagging doubt and unbelief ebbed and flowed. Could he be trusted? – And, even more than that, Was that even the right question?
Rather than a sure answer or certain discernment, this question shot through my soul with all of the momentum and predestined chaos of a boomerang:
What is a man’s life worth?
I am not one to entertain haunts, but, some time later, I found myself compelled to watch the Netflix documentary called I Am A Killer. Alone in my dark living room, I absorbed the first three episodes. (This is highly abnormal behavior for me.)
I watched the story of James, a killer, who had never had a family and never known love, but I saw myJames — one of the young men who lived with us in the group home my husband and I had worked in a few years prior. Their stories were not so different, and I wept as the episode closed, thinking:
What is a man’s life worth?
A short time after this, I watched the Netflix release of Nothing To Lose, a documentary about Brazilian mega-pastor Edir Macedo. However sympathetically, it told of his childhood struggles with bullying and his youthful grasping for intellectual and spiritual fidelity when faced with what looked like nominal faith amongst churchgoers.
Unknowingly, it also retold the same basic story of every kingdom-seizing pastor I had ever known in the Faith here in the States as well – in which the desire to overcome hypocrisy becomes the ignoble god that finally turns men into the very thing they hate. Mr. Macedo deserved compassion no less than the beloved ones I had known, even if wrong.
And, again, the question lingered like a hair in a biscuit… gum on your shoe… grit within an oyster… beach sand in your nether regions… leftover in your fridge… this ridiculous sentence:
What is a man’s life worth?
The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.
The going rate of a soul, in any arena, is not too good these days…
It’s no secret that women see potential and swoon. Without a doubt, that gift comes from our Creator who said, “It is not good for man to be alone.” We have a radar on that, don’t we, ladies? We can spot it a thousand miles away:
Ha. Oy vey. And so it begins… every time. (This applies whether one is Christian or Crazy. All women universally pick up this vibe and choose from a variety of responses. Matchmaking being a popular one.)
Over the last year, the Lord has been taking me on a spiritual un-backpacking trek through my life. S-L-O-W-L-Y, I might add. Beginning with childhood and on from there… I think we’ve finally reached my mid-twenties…
Well, it’s been like watching a dream I had several years ago on repeat in slow-motion. In the dream, I was walking through a bedroom that was very outdated and, yet, precious to me for various, personal reasons, and I understood that it was my past.
In real, waking life, the Holy Spirit has been gently leading me through that room and showing me things – events, people, mistakes, tragedies, hopes – from His perspective. That is to say, He’s been slowly replacing every painful thing with sweetness… showing me how indeed “all things work together for the good of them that love God” and walk accordingly (or die trying anyway)…
EVERY. PAINFUL. THING.
I mean down to the minutest detail.
The things that have come back to my mind and been returned to me with peace by His hands have been… well… breathtaking. Some of the memories have brought great pain too, but not in the same way as when I lived in that room… Even pain, when held within His perspective, can be transformed into something beautiful.
I too was just a bit of potential back then… unclear, uncut, and unfinished.
Within the same dream, I kept anxiously returning to the foundations of the house. I was deeply concerned about its structural soundness. But, in the dream, the foundation of this particular house was made from GIANT cedar logs split in half. GIANT. The house sat off of the ground and the logs were immense. More than enough to hold it all up…
But, when speaking of love, that’s not where I began.
I entered my first marriage with a list of ultimatums: Do this, this, or this, and I’m out. Period. And yes, I literally said so aloud.
I did not believe in unconditional love… and, if I’m honest, I’m not even certain that’s a Biblical concept (the idea of unconditional love) because God’s love isn’t exactly unconditional… imho. But feel free to argue theological points with me later. (You better have more than one verse to back it up though! I see in macro not micro… If there’s an IF statement, then it’s conditional.)
Even so, “love covers a multitude of sins”, and I definitely wasn’t anywhere close to that either. Well, Leigh Nash said it best:
Because, really, my ultimatums said more about my makeshift foundations than anyone else. If I could argue with God about whether I could be loved (and I certainly did), you better believe I could project that argument toward those closest to me too (in unspoken or spoken ways)…
Again, the way we see others says far more about ourselves. We can’t blame the devil or others for that; it’s more often our own foundations showing.
So, dear girl, when you believe the best of someone and get ripped to shreds by a harsh world, when you extend hands of mercy only to receive the chill of a biting wind, when you reach to embrace but find yourself mocked instead – I don’t believe what they say about you. Our world calls bad good and good bad. Our world persists in calling the innocent, the naive, the broken, the hopeful, and the victims words like ‘gullible’, labels like ‘asking for it’, ‘co-dependent’, ‘uninformed’, ‘insecure’, or a ‘glutton for punishment’…
The love of many has grown cold. If we dare to hope, we might be labeled an insecure glutton; if we dare to leave, we might be shunned for doing something ‘God hates’… There are many such loveless loopholes in Christian society today.
Sin will be rampant everywhere, and the love of many will grow cold.
My potential radar was keen; my foundations, however, existed yet in flesh and blood – in all of the cold hardness of this fallen world.
What is a man’s life worth?
What is a woman’s life worth?
What is a child’s life worth?
There are reasons to leave after cleaving… Sometimes, to spare the soul, one must divide the body. It’s a hard reality, but because of the sin, the wickedness, the “hardness” of our hearts, it’s the truth.
Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.”
I appreciate that Jesus was a realist, personally. He didn’t rug-sweep or break bruised reeds; that’s an ethereal line to walk. (Try it sometime.)
I think about Abigail in the Bible (I’m going to let you look it up if you don’t know the tale). She married a fool. Well, because of customs then, she probably had little say about his potential in that marriage. Nonetheless, that was the situation. If I recall correctly, the Bible calls Abigail wise and beautiful by contrast. If she had any brains at all, it was likely a troubled marriage…
Anyway. Her husband (being a fool) neglects to provide for David (the future king) and this sets the shepherd-king off. He’s coming with his men to kill Abigail’s husband and (if I recall correctly) his entire household!
Abigail, being wiser and alerted by her servants, rushes to make things right with David, falls on her face, and intercedes with him to spare them – admitting the nature of her husband and asking David to “remember” her when he is crowned king.
God himself deals with her husband; he dies that very night, I believe…
Later, David returns to claim Abigail as his own wife. (Woah. Soon-to-be wife of the king!… Though, if memory serves me well again, I think they had some years yet of hiding out.)
Well, for any woman in a rotten-to-mediocre marriage, not well-matched, it’s the first modern fairytale, isn’t it? [Ahhhhhh. I just got my next book idea… lol]
What was Abigail’s husband’s life worth?
What was Abigail’s life worth?
What was David’s life and provisions worth in this tale?
Oh souls… I think we terribly underestimate God sometimes. His ways are not our ways. And we terribly abuse people when we try to fashion them by the letter of the law rather than by the Spirit of Grace…
Was that not also the Pharisees’ mistake?
Some also grossly miscalculate their own worth. (We’ve all been guilty of this at some point.) Biblically speaking… love is God’s idea… justice is God’s idea… and He doesn’t slap the same label of worth across every soul. Think about that…
*Note that God took care of Abigail’s situation, not man… We tend to break all of God’s laws AND His heart when we take matters into our own hands. While divorce, in some situations, is the only way out, let’s not go around killing anyone’s husband or wife, ok?
I know I shouldn’t have to say that but… if we need this kind of warning label in society then I better make myself clear, right? Or die trying… (You can fine me later.)
What About Love?
Sometimes the effect of my poker-pen-face astounds me. Do I sound like I have it all figured out? Let me assure you: I don’t. And that’s not the message I mean to convey. Even so, like you, I have lived a little, heard a few tales, and sought wisdom from God; sometimes, I have something to say about it all.
For instance, I know what it is to love after the flesh…
I know what it is to love by pure emotional need…
And what it is to love someone after the spirit…
And wow. The first two can be misidentified and mingled, but that last one… loving after the spirit… that one is unmistakable. Nothing else comes close…
The only relationships that have stood the test of time and distance and even of falling out in my life have been those that fell into that latter category. And it’s not always romantic (in fact, the best Biblical examples of it are not); it’s just markedly different and superior to the other forms of love. Because it is fashioned and bound by the Spirit, it is also unshakeable…
One of the dearest examples of this in my life past was a former father-in-law. We were complete opposites and, yet, like white on rice: We took to each other and endeared one another. And it was a bond of the Spirit…
When I divorced his son, however, the sky fell down. He told me off and gave me the cold shoulder for years. You know what’s funny about that though? When it’s a bond of the Spirit, it’s hard to even be mad. I was deeply sad and deeply disappointed by his reaction, but I did not stop loving him in my heart. How I felt about him did not change… even if it became a depression rather than a source of delight for a time.
Anyway. Some many years later, we made amends, and the joy that brought me was no less than what I had known before the injurious incident. It’s as if it never even happened…
And, I’m telling you, only a bond of the Spirit, love after the spirit, can do that.
*We can foster that kind of Christ-love in every relationship (to some degree), though I do speak here of the sort that seems to naturally and suddenly befall souls – like a Jonathan and David sort of beloved loyalty, a Naomi and Ruth kind of devotion, a Daniel and King ‘Chad’ kind of hope-beyond-sin, a Mary Magdalene and Jesus sort of tenderness…
So, what of love?
Without Christ, it is nothing.
Without the Spirit, it is shakeable.
Without grace (free from fear), it is not perfected.
If you are married, set your Maker up on high as your ‘Husband’ – as, in a spiritual sense, Abigail did (displayed by her actions). This you can do regardless of the state of your marriage.
(And men, you can set Him up as your Helper. That is one of the functions of the Holy Spirit, right?)
If you are seeking, do the same… and pay attention to those who enter your life suddenly like the spirit… whom you love without reason and without ultimatums attached… striving-ever, like Jonathan with David, to submit and surrender to God’s will even before your own rights. (Because that’s the real stuff, friend.)
That kind of love… it doesn’t come around every day.
*Note, I did not say without expectations. Even God has those – call it whatever you like! I’m not saying let anything fly; I’m just saying… love freely, when it is given… as the Father has loved you.
“We love because He first loved us.”
1 John 4:19
Without receiving and understanding His love for you, it is darn hard to love rascally and fallen people – even the most saintly of them! And it will always be an inferior love if not forged (shaped) by His Spirit.
Recently, I found myself inspired and refocused by these words:
Maybe it’s all of the talk about hot weather…
Maybe it’s all of the smoke lingering in the crevices of my brain from last year’s wildfires…
Maybe it’s just the thought of a Consuming Fire… contrasted with Moses and the bush that was not consumed…
Maybe it’s the renewed warmth in my soul…
Whatever it is, I found 5am delight in it…
I don’t usually include numbers in a poem; I don’t usually think much about numbers anyway (unless for symbolism in writing). However, I like the way that the syllables fell in this piece and the allusions they might call to mind, so I’m including them…
What a striking story… one I did not intend to read this morning but found myself digging in (for hidden treasure) anyway. I was not disappointed…
If you are not familiar with the story of Eli, Hophni, & Phinehas, I highly encourage you to go read or re-read it now. I will provide some context but it is always best to have the full picture of a passage when reading any commentary on the Word of God.
Hophni and Phinehas were the sons of the high priest, Eli. They served with their father in the tabernacle, and they were wicked. We are told in the text that they took portions of the sacrifices for themselves that belonged to God; they coerced and manipulated God’s people for their own gain; and they fornicated all over the place with the women who came to the tent of meeting…
Eventually, Eli confronts his sons about their behavior…
His sons, however, did not listen to their father’s rebuke…
1 Samuel 2:25c
If you hear His voice today, do not harden your hearts…
It is the kindness of God to chasten (correct, rebuke) His sons before judgment falls…
Indeed… we are dearly loved by such a Father.
Bread often symbolizes God’s presence, body, or provision in the Bible. In the context of the tabernacle (and, thus, this passage), it makes me think of the ‘bread of presence’ (showbread). You can find a nice summary about showbread here.
Remember the opening passage? Sin removed an entire family from bread, the bread of [God’s] presence. The sin of Hophni and Phinehas put spiritual, if not literal, famine in their own family’s souls.
How many times have we done the same to ourselves?
What a blessed recovery then when Jesus later says, “I am the Bread of Life”! Do we find healing there? In His presence, in His Body, in His provisions for our wounds? I pray that you do, even as I pray the same for myself.
Consider the lovely parallels here:
*Hophni and Phinehas hereforth shortened to H&P…
H&P took the fat and portions of sacrifice that should have belonged to God; Jesus offered the full sacrifice of Himself, sparing not His own flesh.
H&P took advantage of the women who assembled at the door of meeting; Jesus lifted the women in His life to great honor, seeking not His own gratification but the health of their souls.
H&P made themselves fat with the offerings of the people; Jesus humbled Himself, stripped Himself of glory, and became the offering.
H&P would not listen to the voice of their father, Eli (we can argue the doctrinal issue of why later); Jesus submitted Himself to His Father’s will, not exalting Himself but letting His Father exalt Him in His time and in His way.
For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.
Live life in remembrance of Him. He is our daily Bread of presence, of substance, of life… at all times, in every season, through everything… if we have heard the Father and accepted our Advocate in Christ.
May you be richly blessed, upheld, supported, loved, and surrounded by the bread of His presence today, beloved.
That is the first line of Chapter 6 in The Trenches & The Bliss… but I’m calling a ceasefire to the wresting out of this book here. Not because I don’t want to share it with you; indifference is a delusion, remember: I very much do.
Weirdly, in sharing the first five chapters, the entire book, my hopes for it, and these characters have come into clearer focus — in a way that requires I treat them with greater care. Where I held it close prior to sharing due to my own lack of surety, I now find myself wanting to pull it back in close because I realize how powerful and precious it is — could be — I want it to be? Something like that…
This story draft was a great deal of fun to write, though it has been far more fun to re-read lately. Every writer has their own way of doing it. Me, I listen to music when I write; I have to tune out every distraction (children, the list of chores growing in my head, the TV, children [again], my own doubts, “squirrel!”, etc…). So I find a song that captures the mood of the tale or some sentiment therein and wear it out between my ears. Every word written thus far of Trenches & Bliss was written to one singular tune. Would you like to know it? Here’s entrenched moodiness with a touch of speculative bliss:
I keep a small notebook of story ideas and current projects. There are several backlogged and a fresh one waiting to be penned. Having recently finished a short fairytale, I am eager to write the next one; I just need to do it…
So, stopping with Trenches here simply means greater focus there… lingering in care behind the scenes.
Because I am not indifferent to this pen nor the effects of it; I want to steward it well.
My heart is stirred by a noble theme
as I recite my verses for the king;
my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer…
(Whoa. Talk about a fairytale… Read the rest of that chapter! I didn’t know there was a ‘wedding song’ in Psalms. Learn something new every day…!)
I’ll meet you here in devotion and orientation. Don’t be too disappointed. The fictional absence here means something better, fleshed out, and complete later… I love juggling words, dreams and ideas, but when an idea takes on the tender skin of flesh and blood in a completed work… well… there are no words then. Just the backbeat of a song floating from the page.
But what am I doing? Here juggling again… Time to go — pray! And write. =)
Shalom, Beloved One…
Hey, here’s the song I wrote the fairytale inside of (some of you know about or have read). Yep, one song. I’m a one song at a time kind of girl… Enjoy.
Who can understand the pitfalls of the dreamers, the visionaries, and the hearers except the dreamers, the visionaries, and the hearers? I’m convinced no one does (except God)… so convinced that I think it will make a fantastic premise for another book. (Yay! I love starting new things… oh dear. Let’s not talk about that.)
None of this I repeat to puff myself up. Why should I? I already know it, already lived it, and already know that faith is a gift from God (and the one I think He happened to give me)…
The things I am about to share, I share for your benefit, not mine… and I hope they encourage you along the way, dear saints.
Because of a dream I had before I was ever married, I knew my first child would be a girl. And so it was.
Because I knew the Lord had heard the desire of my heart, I knew that my second child would have red hair. And so she did. (Listen, her name could ONLY be a red-head’s name, and I had it picked out by month three of pregnancy…)
Because of a vision dropped into my heart immediately after having my second child, I knew that my third would be a boy. And so he was.
And all along the way, people would say to me, “Oh well, you know it’s a 50/50 chance…”
Of course it is.
Unless the Lord has already spoken; then it’s 100/100…
And therein is the rub of every dreamer, every visionary, every hearer-at-heart: We could, of course, be wrong. But did God say? What did you see? Did you hear Him?
Well, as noted before by me in other life lessons, YOU are responsible for what God tells YOU. No one else is responsible for that — not even other prophets. Don’t believe me? Read 1 Kings 13, the story of the two prophets, and weep…
Been that. Done there. (Putting more stock in other people’s thoughts about my life than what God said to me.) But I digress…
Why Did You Tell Me This?
For some time now, however, I have looked upon dreaming as an anathema. Often, in the midst of living between God told me this and Oh that really was God, I have spent too much time tormented by the question of Why did You tell me this?
Was it to torment me before my time, Lord? It often feels that way.
Recently, I had a dream that I had a baby boy and named him John. I found this to be highly unusual because I would never pick the name John. It’s far too plain! LOL. Even in the dream, I later asked myself why I didn’t at least pick Jonathan — a far more romantic choice.
Today, however, I was made to understand why… as I read the book of John. The baby boy represented the fruit of what I was reading…
But it is only by faith that I can tell you that.
Do you believe me?
Dreamers like to be believed; we’re a sensitive, slightly insecure part of the Body…
Because of a dream, I knew on the very first night of my honeymoon that I had made a grave error (in my first marriage). So much so knew that I considered annulment… but was too proud to follow through. And then, the dream faded. I suppressed it. Then, I forgot. But the end came all the same, just as I had been shown it.
(Another life lesson: If God says ‘No’, no manner of cover-up — not even a widely-approved marriage — will make it ‘Yes’. Yes, it falls outside of conventional wisdom. Put that in your pipe and smoke it… in this context, it’s good for you.)
Because of a vision, I knew whom my first husband would marry after me. But what sort of torment was that?! — I had this vision 2-3 years before the event would occur. And don’t think I didn’t suffer all manner of levels of feeling insane during that time! Why should I be shown such things? How could I even think them without being guilty of or accused of sin in my own heart?! It was not until it was happening before my waking eyes that I could finally make total peace with that vision, though I did accept it with joy when I first saw it.
But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart.
The disciples too were told things they could not understand as joyous in the moment…
No one looks at their flesh on the cross and thinks, “Yay! Thanks, God! Appreciate ya!”
No, I’m often found among the disciples — bewildered and filled with sorrow in what He reveals by the Spirit because I cannot grasp or understand it now.
I am only just now, in my forties, learning to find joy in the even less than less than visible and shocking things He reveals. (And learning to find contentment in what He does not reveal, which can be equally challenging.)
And that brings me back to John.
I have told you these things before they happen so that when they do happen, you will believe.
Okay. I get that…
These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble.
Okay. Having trouble here. It feels like opposite world…
These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.
If by ‘joy’ You meant torment, then we’re on the same page, Lord…
I mean, how was that to make the disciples feel joyful? Jesus was foretelling them about His impending death and absence!
(Again, I say, Appreciate ya, God! That was even less than less than joyful, thankyouverymuch.)
Ah, well, it’s easy in hindsight, right?
All of those prior dreams and visions and knowings I shared, I can joyfully share because they are behind me now.
And we now look back upon Jesus’ words in the book of John and accept the comfort of them because we understand the work of the Cross and how, truly, it meant joy! His work on the Cross is our present joy though it was, for a moment, the disciples great sorrow.
Faith Over Fear Mantra
Even though I dislike anything catchy or universal, Faith Over Fear has become a sort of mantra for me. Having lived more of my life in the Fear category, I feel the necessity of it. And I’ve noticed that I only feel tormented by God when I have shunned faith and clung again to old fears. Hmm…
Did God really say?
What if I’m wrong?
How can this be?
Why show me now?
Now what am I supposed to do with that?
And let’s not even get into interpretations, which can splinter as badly as sixteen denominations hashing out the book of Hebrews. (I don’t need another headache, thanks.)
I’m sure we’d all sleep better at night if that bit about the mark of the beast hadn’t been included in the book of Revelation. Actually, why Revelation at all? Wouldn’t we all sleep more soundly without it?
Perhaps a sleeping Bride was not His goal, eh? Oy vey.
… so that you might believe…
… so that you will not stumble…
… so that your joy may be full…
Okay, God… whatever You say.
I mean that now. (I give up. He’s right.)
If these are the reasons He tells us things in advance, as His friends, then we must accept His words as the truth — no matter what it looks like in the moment while we are sitting amongst betrayers, being arrested, and breathing what appears to be our last breath.
Maybe dreams and visions aren’t what you’ve been given. (We do all agree that these are spiritual gifts, right? Gifts not air pumps.) Maybe it is something else…
But everyone can relate with wrestling over what is or is not God’s working, God’s will, and God’s way for them in life. Everyone knows what it’s like to hold onto something no one else can see or believe or accept. Everyone knows the fright of deception too, whether they can admit it: Did God lead me here? Or was that my own wicked heart, my own spirit?
Every honest person will wrestle with these things. And many will wrestle them in unseen places, without full disclosure. (You need the Holy Spirit to parse any of it out! Because people, self included, rarely disclose everything! But many have been led astray, hurt, or ruined because they were counseled by someone who only observed what was visible. Remember that.)
In the movie, Inception (2010), everyone knowingly engaging in shared dreaming carried a ‘totem’ by which they could know whether they were still dreaming. Some dreams feel as real as life; one can get lost there, outside of time.
Our ‘totem’, if you will, is the Word of God.
If the dream becomes more important than what is certain in His words, then that soul is at risk of being lost in a world of their own making, their own desires, their own strength of will. In the movie, that meant never waking up. In real life, that may well mean the same…
Something about sleeping brides… or was it virgins?
(I know it was virgins. Come on, man. Give me some poetic license… lol)
In the movie, a ‘kick’ was necessary to wake the dreamers up. That is probably my favorite aspect of the tale because everyone can relate to the feeling of falling in a dream (the kick that wakes you).
Yeah. It’s no different in spiritual dream land. Fall down that rabbit hole and you’re sure to get a kick from the Word of God…
Just don’t miss it.
You can miss a kick.
You can stay asleep.
Did you hear the sound of His voice calling in the garden?
Or did you choose to ignore it? To stay asleep?
Peter’s kick was denying Jesus…
The other disciples’ kick was in scattering…
Jesus made provision for them on the Cross before addressing their failures. Isn’t that lovely?! They abandoned Jesus at the height of His love for them. Then, He came back and restored them all to Himself…
Truly, friends, we live the greatest story ever told every day…
By faithin the Son of God.
By faith in the dream Giver… not faith in our dreams. One truly does bring joy; the other can bring unending torment. It’s wise to know the difference and act accordingly by God’s grace — that is, His power beyond your own weaknesses!
The disciples idea (dream) of Jesus overthrowing Rome and ruling as King RIGHT THEN AND THERE in the moment had overgrown their ability to hear His words and His meaning prior to death and departure…
The funny thing is that they weren’t wrong exactly; but they were out-of-sync with God’s timing. When God returns, He will overthrow the kingdoms of this world and that will be a happy day…
But, in the meantime, the disciples had to experience and walk out what was God’s best and God’s blessing for them at the intersection of But God Said and No Not Yet. It’s not a fun intersection; I’ve been there before. One often gets run over and side-swiped while standing in such places.
Is it worth the beating?
Oh, I don’t know… Are we happy about the Cross of Christ and the fact that the Apostles brought Faith to the whole world? …
Yeah. Yeah, I think we can live with that, right? =) “His ways are not our ways.”
Set the dreams and doubts down at His feet. And keep listening and obeying while it is called ‘Today’…
We may be responsible for what God has said, but we are not the Gardener nor the Giver. Only He can build the house. Trust that.
“It is as difficult to begin a civilization without robbery as it is to maintain it without slaves.”
— Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: The Life of Greece
TRENCHES & BLISS, 2016
I almost sat on top of the blonde who had covered herself with a cream blanket on my sofa. I had forgotten she stayed the night or maybe I didn’t expect her to still be there — either way. Had it not been for her little painted fingertips poking out and brushing against my pant leg, I probably would have sat down on her face. The thought amused me.
She stirred as I was lacing the stiff, brown leather at my feet.
“Don’t you have a home?” I started.
She sat up, disheveled. “Charming.”
“Only when stray cats sleep on my sofa.”
Her eyes stalled like a hurricane with a headache over my dead body; she smiled, unmoved.
“Coffee?” I asked, already up, and turned my back to her cold winds.
“You’ve got gumption, girl; I’ll give you that. How the hell did you find me?”
The apartment was small and modest, however sterile; in contrast, she was like a delicate, silken buttercup one might marvel long enough to pick but could never keep without ruining… or being ruined. I watched her fold the blanket after starting the coffee.
“I’m not sure,” she admitted. “You saw me; they took me same as you, but then I woke up here.”
She turned to lay eyes on me again. “Oh, at my apartment here. That house just outside of town where we met, that’s my aunt’s place.”
“Ah. You say you ‘woke up’ at your apartment?”
“You don’t remember anything before that?”
“Not really. No.”
Hmph. “Figures,” I smirked.
Could she be that naive?
I peered into her hurricanes for a moment longer.
Yes. Yes, she could be…
“We’re probably in the Dream State,” I answered, eager to see her reaction.
My outburst of laughter disturbed the sterile air like a live wire hitting water. The blonde looked like she got splashed.
“What is funny?” Her high cheek bones reddened.
“It’s nothing. Forget I said it.”
I poured the coffee into two black mugs and handed the girl one. We occupied opposite ends of the indifferent, grey sofa.
“Who were those guys anyway?” she asked, following a gingerly sip.
I tried not to choke on mine. I should have been angry but it was just too perfect; she knew how to phish.
She jumped. “Who’s that?”
“Why would I know?”
I clutched the small knife in my jacket pocket. The leather from my shoes creaked across the marbly floor making the short distance to the door seem far longer. I cracked the door.
A young man, around my age but shorter, and of a sanguine nature, stood grinning like a fool, tennis racket under one arm and ball in his other hand.
No one called me ‘Rich’.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“Can I come in?”
“That depends. Who are you?”
“Oh, just a friend of a friend,” he said, trying to peek inside. “Is it a bad time?”
I snorted. What was it with the stupid questions today? This must be the Dream State, I thought: It was the only state in which I appeared smarter than most everyone.
“It’s a bad time to make friends,” I replied.
His face sobered. “Yeah. You’re right. I just thought we might play tennis.”
I laughed. “Another era, pal.”
I tried to close the door but he wedged in a toe.
“Hey, my name’s Bishop,” he said, hastily. “I think we should talk.”
If he’d kept the ridiculous grin I would have kicked him out on his ear, but he hadn’t, and he gave me a look now that made me think he might know something about things.
I nodded and let him in.
“Whose side are you on, Bishop?” I was blunt while rubbing the blunt end of the knife still in my pocket.
He straightened his shoulders a little. The effect was good; it made him at least half an inch taller.
“I’m on the side of truth,” he said nobly with a little shine on his forehead.
The blonde laughed little tintinnabulations. “Whose truth?” she bolded.
I raised my eyebrows to underscore the same question still looking at the strange man.
“Oh, there’s only one, Rich; everything else is a mere mortal’s perspective,” he said with an intriguing calmness. “You used to know that.”
I let go of the knife and sat down in the lavender armchair across from the sofa. I had his angle now. “I see. You’re of the Higher Order then.”
“You’re awfully brazen for an outlaw,” the woman said showing off her incredulous tongue. “I could have you submitted as a science experiment to the T.E.E.M.,” she further flaunted.
“Careful, dear,” I smirked. “You’ll tip your cards.”
Hurricanes stalled over me.
She was fantastic. They knew me well; she kept her composure remarkably well.
“Better a science experiment than a naked soul prancing about as if the Emperor’s clothes were made of real stuff,” Bishop quipped.
“They appear to be one-in-the-same now.”
A micro-aggression passed across his lips like cloud-to-cloud lightening, faintly.
I smiled and turned to the blonde. “I don’t think he’s scared, blondie; this could get ugly.”
“You shouldn’t entertain him,” she snapped.
“You invited yourself, buttercup,” I replied.
Her chin tilted. She left rather quietly for a hurricane, but I knew she’d be back.
The Bishop’s eyes lightened as he took her seat.
I could only be so popular in the Dream State. Who was I?Nobody. But I was enjoying the process immensely so far. The clothes, the setting, and even the people were infinitely posher here.
“So,” my right leg crossed my left knee, “what does the Higher Order want with me now?”
“Rich, this is serious,” his face crinkled. “God wants you back in his army. He wants you back, Rich.”
My eyes focused on the patterns of the floor. Where was my coffee anyway? Coffee table. I leaned forward to grab it and took a swallow of what was now lukewarm.
Funny. I couldn’t recall ever being in ‘God’s army’, only Bliss’…
“I guess I haven’t suffered enough then, eh? Is that what he thinks?” I replied, irritated.
“You know it’s not like that,” his voice softened. “Think of Job… John the Baptist… Peter… We all suffer, Rich; we are all tested.”
“Cain? Esau? Pharaoh? Judas Iscariot? I doubt we’ve read the same Bible,” I snorted. “We’re all tested all right — unless of course we’re just doomed from the start. Maybe I have a bad heart, Bishop.”
“Maybe,” he said. “Do you?”
“Do you have a bad heart?”
I emptied the coffee from my mug into his face. “I believed!” I spat.
He didn’t flinch and I almost felt sorry I’d done it.
“No good ever came of it,” I said to break up the convicting silence of his stare. “From devastation to devastation — that was Paul’s true experience penned by his own hand.”
“That’s not true, Rich, and you know it,” he said pointing at me.
He was half smiling again and I was ready to knock it off of his face again.
“You loved God, Rich. You did,” he shrugged, standing. “I’m just here to remind you.”
“Well, you can get out. Higher Orders don’t mean anything to Totalitaria.”
“I’m already on my way out,” he laughed, opening the door. “But you know I’m right and you know you’re not afraid of Totalitaria — as you call it. Besides, you know all of that’s meaningless except to serve —” he pointed his finger upwards to suggest the Higher Power. “There’s no neutral in a world war, Rich; and there’s always three sides.”
I considered throwing the whole mug at him as he lingered in the doorway.
“I’ll be seeing you,” he closed and left.
He was going to be a bigger pest than the blonde; I was sure of it. But I couldn’t imagine that they’d sent him. It didn’t make any sense.
I was making sense of it all until Bishop...
When I exited the cerebral, paralytic, floor-stare and came to my external senses again, I was tapping my fingertips on the side table, still sitting crossed in the chair. If I was to survive ‘training’, I had to decipher their intentions here in my head. Bishop might as well have been the Higher Power’s handwriting in a foreign language on my palace wall.
“Damn him,” came out quite naturally, but even as I said it, I knew I was the one damned.
It’s funny the things that intersect in life. I was just reading about the writing on the palace walls in Daniel a few nights ago, but I promise that these words were penned years ago — the timeless inspiration pressing in and out of realities at every turn.
This chapter is probably one of my personal favorites… I enjoy it because more of Rich’s dilemma-at-heart is exposed by Bishop; because Bish is based upon someone I once knew and enjoy writing; and because the situation with the blonde and the world come a little more into focus.
To me, Rich’s struggle with belief in a good God is universally felt. (Notice, it is not belief in God that he doubts…) So far as I know, every Christian, at some point, will walk that road… for better or worse. And I’ve seen men take both paths — one choosing unbelief and the other to trust — at the crux of it. Having lingered long upon the question myself in the past, I find it as easy as it is painful to write.
As for the hardboiled and sarcastic types, I might as well confess that Philip Marlowe is probably my favorite fictional character. (My favorite stories, however, would be Jekyll and Hyde by Stevenson, and The Tell-Tale Heart by Poe.) Marlowe, if you don’t know (or have never seen a Humphrey Bogart movie), is a hardboiled detective, often chased by insane dames and damsels in distress, who largely ignores the ones falling all over him to chase the slightly dangerous and also off-putting ladies while crime-solving. Raymond Chandler, the author of the Marlowe character, definitely had a way with words (why I enjoy him), though his evident plot-holes sometimes garner criticism.
Influences certainly matter. There’s one of my lesser-known influencers, picked up during college years.
The mention of the Dream State in this chapter made me think back to that movie Inception (2010). I actually had not considered the likenesses of my Dream State to the dream-sharing of Inception, but… yeah. Not unlike in concept. Just a different premise. I might have to rewatch the movie now…
“There has been a sad divorce in the Church today — a divorce between the Word and the Spirit. The emphasis of those who focus mainly on the Word is on sound teaching, expository preaching ministry, recovery of the doctrines of the Reformation, the God of Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Spurgeon and so on. What is wrong with that emphasis? Absolutely nothing. It is exactly right.
“Those who focus mainly on the Spirit emphasize the gifts of the Spirit: signs, wonders and miracles — as seen in the book of Acts. Until there is a recovery of what was seen in the book of Acts, the world is going to take no notice of the Church. So what is wrong with that emphasis? Absolutely nothing. It is exactly right.
“It is not that we need either one or the other but both. We need to emphasize both so utterly and completely that it is impossible to say which is emphasized more.”
— R.T. Kendall, The Parables of Jesus, pg 46
I have long agreed with these sentiments, though this is one of very few authors I’ve ever heard put it in black and white. This is a large part of why I don’t pay much attention to which camp an author, a speaker, a songwriter, etc., is in: “Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water”, as my dad used to say. “Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then,” someone else I knew used to say…
If there is even a measure of truth in it, I take it as a cold glass of water with thanks and keep moving.
I haven’t met anyone yet whom I agree with 100%, 100% of the time.
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?