Finding Peace in the Pandemic

Preparing the Heart:

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The morning mist over the pond at the farm.

My boys are restless. I feel their bottled energy as they slug around the house with that wild look in their eyes as if they hear war drums in the distance but are forced in their barracks unable to join comrades in battle. My hunter runs off to hunt the woods daily. My fisherman runs off to catch those bass in the pond. My youngest son runs between the two. They’re biding their time in quarantine as best they can.

Meanwhile, beyond the farm fences, out there in the real-world, there’s a dangerous invader whose sticky barbs have infected every aspect of our lives.

The enemy loves to break everything at once.

Have at it, as long as he can’t break our knees.

There’s a quote in The Art of War by Tzu Sun, “Begin by seizing something which your opponent holds dear; then he will be amenable to your will.”

Which brings us to the question, what do we hold dear? Money? Time? Conveniences? Church? Education? Entertainment? Sports?

Satan has tampered with all of it. But here’s the thing…

God’s allowed it.

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Unfortunately, many times we push God behind those things we hold dear. And once God is pushed out of that space inside us reserved for Him, a vacuum is created that is filled with something dirty. On a personal level, it doesn’t have to be a virus it could be a god we’ve created on our own. That thing that started out innocent enough, maybe even it was once a good thing, until we poured our everything into it. We should all ask ourselves, is there anything or anyone we think about more than God? Is there anything or anyone we hold more dear than our Heavenly Father?

So why has dirty Corona taken over the world? Every country has pushed God out. To mention a few…

In the United States, we’ve decided to abolish absolute truth. The Word of God has become debatable around the campfires, while we shoot holes through passages establishing God’s authority on mankind. We’ve even allowed some pastors to dispute the Word of God from the pulpit. We’ve made vulgarity and sinister evil into entertainment. We’ve given Hollywood and the secular music industry the power to dictate the standards of morality. The ones who are courageous enough to take a stand for absolute truth, are pushed by political correctness to the front lines to be squelched.

Throughout the European countries beautiful churches stand empty. Worshipping God has become old school. Some churches have even been sold to be turned into restaurants, pubs, or even a skate park. Can you imagine skating on a ramp while Jesus watches bleeding from the cross? (Netherlands) In Italy, while church pews remain bare, hordes willgather to hear the Pope. Are they worshipping God or man?

China…I’ll never forget an article I read in Marie Claire featuring a dead baby girl lying in the city gutter on the street. The journalist snapped pictures of people walking on by, even stepping over her, not one person appeared shocked to see a dead baby lying there. It seemed as if this was an everyday occurrence. Until an elderly man stopped. He placed his hands on his hips and looked down for a moment. Relief, someone cared. The man went into a nearby store, came out with a black trash bag, and threw the body in it before tossing her into a dumpster. It was a perfect illustration of their cultural position on the sanctity of life.

Before we Americans pat ourselves on the back for how we regard human life, we are heading in the same direction. In the United States we’ve killed 50 million babies since abortion became legal. Case in point, in January, Governor Andrew Cuomo was so proud of passing expanded abortion rights in New York, he lit up the One World Trade Center in pink. Was he celebrating the increase of infant death? Three months later, he’s battling the highest death rate for Corona in the United States.

Corona is the natural consequence of our pushing God out of His place of authority. He’s the Decider of life or death. It is unfortunate that all citizens suffer the consequences for a nation that has thumbed its nose at God.

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How do we prevent Covid 19 from destroying our peace or taking our joy?

Believe it or not, we can look to the source of the virus for that answer. While many churches have become bloated, boastful, proud entertainment hot spots, they lack any true power to fight the spiritual forces of darkness. Meanwhile, the humble underground meetings of devout Christians in China whose members risk everything to worship have become a beacon of light for the rest of the world to follow. We now have to worship in our homes. We are being humbled and just maybe God wants His church to transform in the process.

We fight Covid 19 in the humble repentance and surrender of what we’ve held dear. Surrendering those things to our Heavenly Father as an offering and placing Him back in our lives where He belongs as Lord will equip us to handle any weapon the enemy uses against us. It is in the surrender we find peace, joy, and contentment no matter what our circumstances. Healthy or sick.

“Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:2-3 English Standard Version.

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Tomorrow Passover begins, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the plague that entered Egypt. The Israelites protection from the plague came in obeying God’s command to sacrifice a lamb and paint the blood over their doorway. Then God told them to remain inside. If they remained inside protected by the blood barrier the angel of death would pass them by.

Today, there’s power in the blood of the perfect Lamb Jesus Christ. He provides our protection from the barbs that stick. Besides, He’s a God who’s familiar with the pain from barbs and can be trusted with your life.

Won’t you hide yourself in Him?

“Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.” Isaiah 26:20 ESV

If you’ve never given your life to Jesus Christ and proclaimed Him to be your Lord and Savior. It is not too late.

“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” John 3:16-17 ESV

Won’t you accept Him today?

 

 

 

 

 

 

When A Farm Gets X-Rated

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First day of Dove season. Our friends Ed Kobel and Beth and Mike Weems on an unsuccessful hunt. The dove  were all hanging around our house and vacated the woods. Smart Dove.

So, October is not only breast cancer month, but wait for it…..drum roll please…. it’s wild hog month!  Who knew? Well, um… this girl did. Last weekend, I gave an X-rated tour on the farm to a few wives that attended our couple’s Abiding in Christ study. I drove them through the woods back towards the river and beach. Along the way, I spouted off bits of information I’ve collected about farming from how to produce rich grasses to how to make the meat of a hog juicy. The ladies in the back seat leaned in close to hear.

Through the woods, I pointed out where the wild hog had destroyed the vegetation.

“The vegetation along this trail used to be so dense and beautiful, but we’ve since had wild hogs come onto the property. They start their mucking which makes holes in the land, and then those holes fill with water and can turn a dense forest into a swamp. They can quickly tear up an ecosystem.”

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I further explained, “the weekends my son Christian is on the farm, he hunts at night for the hogs. He walks on foot through the darkest part of the woods, finds a hiding place, and waits. Many nights he returns to the house with several dead hogs in the back of his ATV. One weekend, he’d had an unsuccessful hunt, so he prayed that God would send him something. Suddenly, the brush started moving and he heard their snorting. He’d been standing in that same spot for a while, and they were silent, but as soon as he prayed God brought the hogs. He killed them and brought them home.”

“What do you do with the hogs once their killed?” One of the ladies asked.

“We clean them and put them in the freezer for meat,” I said. “Well, we do that with the females and babies, but if it’s a male you have to cut off its testicles within seventeen seconds, or the testosterone will spread throughout the meat and ruin it.”

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My son Christian in the forefront with his kill. His little brother and friend admiring his work.

Their mouths dropped open.

“Well, I don’t know what I’m going to do with all this information I’ve heard today.” Angie, one of the women said. “But it’s been a very interesting ride.”

I thought since they liked that one, when we reached the bull’s pasture I’d bless them with more. “Did you know we had two bulls last month break their penises trying to mate? They jumped on the back of the cow and missed their aim and it just broke!”

They gasped. “That’s possible?” A lady said.

“Apparently so.”

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Let’s assume he’s fully equipped to handle the job. This girl’s not inspecting if you know what I mean.

 

After I dropped them off at the house, and drove off, I realized I just filled their minds with some X-rated hog testicles and bull penises, when they came to the farm to learn how to Abide in Christ. I wondered what they must think about me. I admit, I tend to put my foot in it.

Surprisingly, the next day they circled around and hugged me goodbye. They thanked me for giving them such an interesting farm tour. They couldn’t wait to go home and tell their sons all that I’d shared. One of the husbands even laughed and told me he’d wished he’d been on my tour.

All was well.

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A boar I painted. 

 

I painted a Wild Hog once. I was renovating and decorating the retreat home, where our guests stay the night. My friend Ed wanted the home to be in the theme of a hunting lodge. One of the bedrooms I made the Wild Hog room. I couldn’t find a painting of a wild hog that fit into my decorating budget, so I printed off a tiny picture of a painting from an artist off Etsy, taped it to my easel and went to work. While painting, I realized how peculiar, spectacular, and cute these creatures are. From the rich autumn colors of their fur to that funky twisted snout with the flat end made for rutting. (The wild hogs of North America don’t have the twist, but the European Wild Boar do.) I had to remind myself what these creatures do to the land and wildlife in order to allow my son to go out and hunt them after painting that picture.

Temptations in life are like that. We entertain the thoughts, justify them in our minds, and lose control of them. Suddenly they are a full-scale sin wreaking havoc on the landscape of our lives. It can ruin the ecosystem of our souls. We won’t see the damage at first, it’ll leave a little hole here, a little hole there, but then the rains of lies, pride, fears, justifications- whatever we try to cover up our sins with, come. Before we realize what’s happening there’s a stinky swamp where lush foliage used to be.

I am thankful our forest on the farm has yet to become a stinky swamp and still has plenty of vegetation, but we are vigilant about keeping the Wild Hog controlled.

So, as you celebrate Wild Hog month (side note: we celebrated Christian’s 18th birthday this month as well), keep a grip on those temptations don’t let em loose.

Before I close I thought you’d enjoy some wild hog trivia. You know I got it in me.

 

-Wild hog rut in search of food. They eat snakes, worms, acorns, berries, roots, eggs from birds and alligators. They have ravenous appetites and rut all day and night eating.

-As I stated before, their rutting uproots small trees, grasses, shrubs, turning a forest into a field of mud holes. Their rutting damages root systems of trees, taking out homes of other animals. It damages an ecosystem, causing other animals to flee an area where wild hogs have taken over.

-They normally travel in packs.

-They produce four times the amount of offspring of a deer in any given year. They mate more than once a year and produce 5 to 6 offspring on average.

-The Wild Hog carries 45 different parasites and diseases that can be a danger to livestock and cost farmers boo-coos (very technical term here) of money.

-The Wild Hog can charge up to 30 miles an hour. Females are aggressive if they are protecting their offspring. Males will become aggressive if they feel threatened, but normally they are not aggressive animals.

-They have weak eyes, but they have keen sense of smell. So, believe me they can smell you when you are hunting them.

The Wild Hog started in North America when hunters released farm hogs into the wild in order to later hunt them. Not realizing how quickly they multiply.

-Currently, in some southern states there is an overabundance of wild hog creating real problems for not only the ecosystem but the economy as well. The wild hog can be hunted year-round as they are considered a nuisance.

 

Supposed to be cooler this weekend. Hope you get some Outdoorsy time.

 

Half -Naked and Picking Weeds Part 3

(Please note: If you haven’t read part 1 and 2 of Half Naked and Picking Weeds, I suggest you scroll down and read those first as this is a continuation of it.)

 

I asked Vanessa what she wanted everyone to know. Before the words slipped from her lips, she closed her eyes to concentrate on forming them. “Every day counts,” she said. “I want them to know, every day counts.”

   Every day counts. Even the humdrum days?  Even the days when the kids are driving us cray-cray?  Even the days we can’t wait to slam our bedroom door and disappear under the cool sheets because the to-do list whipped our butts? Even that day when her head is wrapped in cold rags and she has to wear sunglasses because her eyes hurt from a cancerous tumor pushing against her skull? She would tell you…yes, even that day.

            I’m convinced there are days of our lives that count more than others. They weigh more in value on eternity’s scale.

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          The doctor didn’t lie when he said rotator cuff surgery was painful. I’d given birth to four children and after surgery the pain sent me moaning on the floor rocking back and forth. He’d stated my arm was so tore up it looked like an eighty- year old woman’s with an old tear and new. For six weeks, my arm was in a bulky sling and I couldn’t hold my baby, so I borrowed Vanessa’s arms.

            You can’t help but get personal with someone who’s loving your baby. Her affection for Bella built the foundation of our friendship… our sisterhood. One day she casually mentioned that she worshipped the Hindu gods, Allah, and the Christian God.

            I laughed. “What are you doing covering all your bases?” I said.

            “Oh my gosh!” She burst out laughing. “Yes, I want to be sure I get it right. Besides, I think they’re all the same anyway.”

            “You should look into the characteristics of each of them, that’s how you’ll know if they are the same,” I said. “I think you’ll find the Christian God is far more personal. He’s the only one out of the bunch that gave His life for mankind. He’s the only One who loves us whether we love him or not.”

            I walked her out that day and knew when I closed the door, God just opened one.

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Doors in Rome, Italy

            The next afternoon, “So, how do you worship all three gods?” I said.

       “I have three altars in my apartment. I’m drawn to the Christian God, so I go to church on Sunday, but I have a Hindu altar, an Allah altar, and an altar with a cross. I pray at each.”

            “What do you pray about?”

            “I just want some direction you know?  I want to know what I should be doing in my future,” she said. “I’d like to use my experience with cancer for something good now that I’m healed.”

          It amazes me when God opens a door. Sometimes, it’s just a crack, while other times it is thrown open so wide the light is blinding. Soon after, over the phone my father told me what he taught in Sunday school that week, the story of Paul’s travel to Athens.

            “When Paul arrived in Athens he noticed all the gods and altars scattered around the city,” Daddy said. “but there was one altar titled the “Unknown god,” and Paul stood before them and told them about that God, our God. You see, baby, they were trying to cover all their bases, as many people do today, but in doing that, they are lost.” (Acts 17: 16-34)

I was blinded by the light.

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The next day, Vanessa sat across from me at the kitchen table. Praying she’d understand, I slid my open Bible across the table. “Before you go, I want you to read something.” I pointed to the passage.

            After she finished, her eyes widened. “Oh my gosh! That’s me!” she said.

            “You said, you were praying for guidance and for your next purpose in life. How can God lead you if you haven’t made Him Lord?”

            She nodded.

            “I don’t want you to do anything for me, but you need to think about that,” I said. “God will never lead you if He’s not in the lead.”

            She promised to think about it. I wasn’t there the day Vanessa chose to make Jesus Christ her Lord. God placed the seeds in my hands, I pushed them under the soil, and moved on to tend to the weeds of life, but God sent others to water it.

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            After I recovered, Vanessa remained Bella’s babysitter one day a week until Bella started preschool.  Jay, my husband, then hired Vanessa to work at the office for him and his brother Shaun. She was so happy to be back behind a desk. One Thursday morning, Jay stopped by her counter.

            “Why are you sitting there?” Jay said. “Come join our Abiding study in the conference room.”

            “Really?” She jumped up and followed him.

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Vanessa’s desk at the office.

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            She sat in a men’s Bible study every Thursday morning learning how to Abide in Christ. Between Jay and Shaun his brother, Vanessa had two very determined men pouring Jesus into her on a daily basis. She told them she’d made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as Lord.

            It was then…the cancer returned.

            Last week, I wanted to hear from her own lips she’d made a decision. I swabbed her bald head with a cold cloth. Our relationship had come full circle I was now at her home.

            “The last time we discussed God, you told me you’d think about it. Did you?” I said.

            “Yes, I chose Christ.” she said.

            “Did you tell Him that? Ask Him to take your life?” I said.

            “Yes, I did.”

            “You’re undertaking the most important assignment of your life, but you know that don’t you?” I said squeezing her hand.

            Vanessa nodded. “I do.”

            “You are just as much a sister to me as Tricia was. Our relationship is eternal.”

            “Really?” she said.

            “Yes, in fact if Tricia wasn’t a Christian you’d be more of a sister to me.” I hugged her.

 IMG_2962       I’ve never seen a faith so strong in someone so new to it. How does she know He’s a loving God when as soon as she gave her life to Christ, her cancer returned? I’ve pondered this. I’ve asked God why didn’t He allow her some healthy years to use her faith for Him.

Then, I glance at Vanessa she’s filled with a peace that is not human. She knows God loves no matter what she’s going through. If anything in this life can give us comfort, it’s this…our circumstances are never indicative of God’s love.

            What a relief! Having a bad day? God loves you! Husband’s left you? God loves you. Your son has passed away? God loves you! Your addicted to drugs or alcohol? God loves you. You’re sick with cancer? God loves you. Praying to the Hindu gods or Allah? God loves you right where you are. Vanessa’s proof of that.

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            It’s time to harvest at the farm. There are rows of heavy vegetables curling the stems. I don’t know about you, but there’s something satisfying about snapping them off and filling a bucket. We load them in the back of the ATV and drive them up to the farmhouse. In the sink, we wash them one by one, preparing them for the job they were born to do. Nourish.

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            Just like those vegetables waiting to be plucked off the vines, Vanessa’s story will become someone else’s spiritual nourishment. In time, someone will be walking ankle deep in the dirt and weeds of this world and feeling empty. They’ll wonder is this all there is to life? They’ll witness the light and color of a young woman’s faith and want to consume the invitation of salvation for themselves. The circle of life is eternal.

When Vanessa’s time comes, I’m so sure Tricia will run up and greet her at the gates of heaven. “Vanessa! I’ve been waiting for ya. What took you so long?” She’ll give her a hug with a hard pounding on the back. “Welcome home, sister. Welcome home.” She’ll wrap her arm around her shoulders. “So you gotta tell me, is Tammy fat? I sure hope so.”

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If you would like to donate to Vanessa Raghubir’s Go Fund Me Page, please click on the link below. She is in need of some financial aid. The Go Fund Me page needs to be updated it is from her first diagnoses of brain cancer, but the need is even greater with the second. Thank you and God bless you for helping someone you don’t even know.

https://www.gofundme.com/i3nnns

Half-Naked and Picking Weeds part 2

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I can remember it like it was yesterday. Tricia, my sister, and I were sitting on the veranda watching the sun go down at my Orlando home. I was going over the plan to send her to Germany for breast cancer treatment. I would keep Peyton with me, so she could finish the school year, while her and Thomas would travel back and forth to Europe. She would be receiving hyperthermia, a treatment that is now in its experimental phase here in the states.

            “I feel good about this one,” I said, for this was our third hospital…third attempt to fix this and my anxiety was heightened by the cancerous sores spreading over her abdomen and back.

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            She glanced at me across the table. “Tammy, if God doesn’t heal me in this life, He will heal me in the next,” she said. “Besides, if my cancer reaches one person for Christ, all this is worth it.”

            And there it was suspended in her prophetic words. Although, I was too preoccupied at the time to recognize it for what it was…Purpose.

            We will never know how many she reached for Jesus. Tricia and her husband Thomas handed out the gospel message everywhere they went in Europe. Tricia let her bald head and joyous spirit tell the story.

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            But there was the one…the special one…and she wasn’t from Europe. She was an American immigrant from Guyana. A twenty-nine year old, my sister never met. A girl my sister had nothing in common with except one thing…cancer.

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            Vanessa worked at the bank where my husband Jay had his account. He’d gone in one day to make a deposit and mentioned I was writing a blog about my sister’s journey through breast cancer. Vanessa wanted to read it.

            “Send my wife a friend request on Facebook, because I know it posts there. I don’t know how that whole blog thing works,” he’d said.

            Somewhere at the starting line of my sister’s four-year illness, Vanessa’s friend request came and I accepted. I can’t tell you how many times I saw her face pop up on Facebook and couldn’t remember who she was. Nevertheless, I left her there on my friend list.

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            One month before my sister passed, I was nursing my baby Bella in the middle of the night when my phone lit up a private message sent to me on Facebook. The message came jumbled a bit, but I deciphered what she was trying to write. I will take the liberties of writing it clearly below.

            “Hi, you don’t me but I know your husband from the bank. I’m in the hospital, just had a cancerous brain tumor removed. I wanted to thank you for writing your sister’s story. I’ve been reading it. How is she?” (from Vanessa Raghubir)

            Ironically, a month later I posted a blog about a girl with brain cancer who was taking her life via pills. I had no idea when I posted that blog in the morning, my sister would pass that afternoon and due to the controversial topic that blog post was read all over the world. You can find the post Right to Life here:

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            After Tricia passed Vanessa and I communicated via text. She’d shared her heart’s disappointments regarding marriage and children, while I set out to save her by giving her nutritional advice. I look back at those posts and feel ashamed. I was manic to save her as I couldn’t do with my sister, but there are times people don’t need fixing, they just need to be listened to.

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            One day, Vanessa messaged me she was having trouble paying the bills and wanted to know if Jay was hiring. She’d completed treatment but due to being left with a speech impediment, she couldn’t return to her former job. Jay had just started his own development company and couldn’t hire at the time. I told her I’d keep my ears open for an opportunity.

            Soon after, I lifted an iron pan with my bad arm, something tore and I landed on the floor howling.

            “It’s a double rotator cuff tear,” the doctor said. “One tear appears to be very old, I don’t know how you’ve been living with it, and I may not be able to fix that one, but it put a strain on the remaining tendons until another one snapped. You need surgery and I think you should know it’s a painful long recovery.”

            “What?” I said. My eyes widened before landing on my baby girl. He followed my gaze.

            “I know it’s not the best timing for something like this. We can wait, but I don’t recommend it.”

            We scheduled surgery.

            We hired Vanessa.

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            The first morning she arrived Jay asked her to wash my hair. I shot him a look that said, I don’t know this girl, you wash my hair, but he ignored me. Vanessa followed us to our bathroom and while he brushed his teeth, she leaned me over the tub and washed my hair. It was like a weird blind date.

            After she blew it dry using her fingers instead of a brush, which was uh…different…I looked at her reflection in the mirror.

             “I’m sorry,” I said. “I know this is awkward, normally my sister’s here to take care of me in times like this. It’s what we did for each other.” My eyes teared, for my heart felt her loss that day.

            “It’s okay.” Vanessa said smiling. “Your sister brought me to you.”

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It is often said God works in mysterious ways. It is like the seeds growing under the soil, we can’t see the sprouts bursting from the shell, until the healing of time passes, the tears pour, and God mercifully shines His grace on our mournful soul. One dawn when we’ve moved onto plow another plot of land in our lives, we look back and see fresh green shoots popping up, that’ll eventually produce their own fruit.  We’re taken aback by it, because it’s this miracle that we were allowed a small part of or at least to be a witness to.

Vanessa is that to me.

If you would like to donate to Vanessa Raghubir’s Go Fund Me Page, please click on the link below. She is in need of some financial aid. The Go Fund Me page needs to be updated it is from her first diagnoses of brain cancer, but the need is even greater with the second. Thank you and God bless you for helping someone you don’t even know.

https://www.gofundme.com/i3nnns

Part 3 next week…

Half-Naked and Picking Weeds

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When I was a little girl we had this huge garden running alongside our house on Mockingbird Lane. Mornings and evenings when the heat was bearable we’d pull the weeds and collect our bounty in baskets. I can still feel the prickle of the cucumber stems and smell the pungent scent from plucking the tomato off the vine.

            My sister, Tricia and I labored in our underwear. The sun-browned our bodies to the color of mahogany and we’d moon Granny our bright white bottoms because she’d laugh so hard tears spilled out of her eyes. We didn’t have air conditioning in our home until I was almost a teenager. Daddy clutched the coins and feared a high electric bill. In case you’re unaware, summers in the Tidewater area of Virginia can get extremely hot and sticky.

            We didn’t have a microwave either. Momma feared her children would glow in the dark from the radiation. She was a purist when it came to feeding her brood. Most of our food was homemade for she didn’t like preservatives. While Tricia and I raided our cousin’s house for the Pop Tarts. No amount of begging in the grocery aisle would make my Momma cave.

            “That’s junk!” she’d said. “Do you want your poop to turn green? I’ll bake you a banana bread instead.”

            Momma was a firm believer in the color brown, brown eggs, brown bread, brown cereal, brown poop. She was obsessed with us having a good BM (Bowel Movement) every day. This obsession peaked in her wheat germ phase. As I sat guarding my mashed potatoes like a dog over a bone, and hoping Daddy would hurry up… for all things good and decent in this world… and say the blessed blessing so I could get in a few bites before she came around with that jar of brown granules…splat! It was too late, my potatoes were healthy-matized brown.

            “There! Now you’ll get a good cleaning out,” she’d said.

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            I can still picture Momma clad in a halter top and shorts standing by the hot stove. Her dark hair piled on top of her head, while her brown skin glistened from perspiration, cooking up dinner or canning the cucumbers. Without air conditioning, summer meal preparation was a true labor of love. It probably explains why Momma’s lost the joy of cooking today.

  I suppose my nostalgia stems from just returning from taking care of Momma after her surgery. Time has a way of turning the table. I was the one standing by the stove cooking the meals albeit in a nice cool kitchen.

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             I haven’t written in a while because I’ve gone through an extended season of illness. I had Influenza B, then strep invaded our home, after that a dear friend named Vanessa who’s been battling brain cancer took a turn for the worse, followed by my trip to Virginia to take care of my parents.

            Meanwhile these last two months, I’ve felt half-naked in the scorching heat picking through weeds while they keep popping up through the soil of my garden.

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            Speaking of gardens, we’ve entered the garden season at the farm. The land is plowed and planted. The families on the farm are pitching in, to weed and harvest. We are then going to learn to can the produce in an assembly-line fashion. I’m surprised I’m excited about this, and yes, for all those dirty minds out there, I wear clothes when I garden now. (Farm friends you can thank me later…Ha!) Our last attempt at gardening, we ended up with vegetables rotting on the vine, that eventually sank into the earth and fertilized the soil.

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            Lately, I’ve thought about times we feel like that, the times we feel God out of reach or not answering our prayers, the times we think He’s neglected us, left us drooping on the vine. If only we could peer into the future and see our rotten times just may be the fertilizer in someone else’s life, would we be more willing to allow ourselves to be bruised… to feel neglected? 

            I imagine Vanessa feels that way as she lies in her hospital bed suffering from seizures. There were times my sister Tricia felt as if God left her dangling on the vine during her battle with breast cancer, but her rotten part revived the heart soils of those around her.

 

            The older I get the more thankful I am for the rotten times. I hated my sister’s suffering, but it was through it my husband strengthened in his walk with God. It was through it, we all strengthened our faiths in a God who’s sovereign and holy. My sweet Tricia passed away in the winter of 2014.

            When vegetables rot on the vine, they not only fertilize the soil, but their seeds fall into the earth as well. After the vegetables have been long forgotten, a new shoot springs up from the earth. Lately, I’ve witnessed one of Tricia’s seeds in the green faith of Vanessa.

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( To be continued…)

I’m Full of Bull!

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At the farm, there’s a gentle bull in the pasture behind our house. Some mornings he’s standing there by the fence looking through the french doors at me. I step out onto the porch and sweet talk him. If we’re by the fence, he’ll trot over and without warning give you a lick across the face and neck with his enormous tongue.  It’s gross, but you can’t help but walk away feeling loved and a bit sticky. He’s a new Brahman bull the farm has acquired from a ranch in Texas.

While the other bulls buck each other over territory and food, he meanders away, not wanting to participate in the conflict. He not only stands out from the herd in behavior but in his appearance as well. He is pale in color and has an enormous hump on his back that looks burdensome and painful to carry.

            I’ve nicknamed him Ferdinand after the once controversial classic children’s story, The Story of Ferdinand the Bull, by Munro Leaf.  Ferdinand is a bull who’d rather smell flowers in the paddock than fight with the others. It’s a Bella fav.

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I find it intriguing how much we can learn from a bull. His breed is named after the Brahmins who were Hindu priests. It’s ironic considering the Brahman is looked upon as sacred in India, the Brahman breed is the largest source of meat for carnivores today. Due to their thick skin, they are resistant to extreme heat and pestilence. They also do well in extremely cold temperatures.

Traditionally, the Brahman bull is used in a sport called Bull-butting. It is a ferocious game between two bulls until one falls to the ground disabled or gives up and retreats. To prepare for their sport, their bodies are strengthened on a diet of milk and honey. It is beyond my comprehension how so many people enjoy watching sports involving hurting animals. If there’s one thing I would change about this world, it is purposely hurting the defenseless for pleasure, power, or convenience.

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Yet, we have become a world of bullies haven’t we? One can scroll through Facebook and find political rantings written in a way that shames those who have a different viewpoint on the matter.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything political or responded to anyone’s comments. God impressed upon me it’s not my place, for I’m His. He doesn’t want me to lose my clout by being a lout (sort of speak. I tried here.)  I’ve been obedient, but I admit, some days it’s not easy. I pursued a Political Science degree in college, and I was raised in a very political family that loves a good debate, but then there’s Jesus. He didn’t waste breath or influence on politics. Although He had the power to overthrow the Roman government, He used his energy and His influence on Kingdom work alone. I love that about Him!

 

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There is also body-shaming going on throughout social media. It’s another kind of bullying it’s just hidden under self-promotion. I was blessed to see what that does to a woman whose breast was chopped off, whose hair and eyelashes had fallen out, and who felt she lost everything that made her a woman. My sister Tricia died of breast cancer in 2014. One night, I found her sitting on the bed staring at a friend’s sexy pictures with tears in her eyes.

“She’s supposed to be a Christian,” she said. “Does she even know how this feels to someone like me?”

I snatched her phone away. “That’s it!” I said. “We’re having a friend deleting party!” I deleted all the women from her friend file who made her feel inadequate. You see, the enemy tried to use those pictures to steal her light, but he didn’t win.

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I say I am blessed to have witnessed this because it gave me a love for women and their struggles. I know the women who reveal their bikini-ready bodies, are not thinking about how this affects women who are hurting, women who can’t lose weight, women who are sick, women whose husbands find them unattractive, but I plead on their behalf that you remember to love them by considering their feelings. We need to be more outward- focused in a world focused inward.

On the flip side, we Christians have to stop being so easily offended. We tend to live with our hearts outside our chest, which causes them to get bruised and banged up. In defense, we want to stand up for ourselves or our Lord, while God is saying “it’d be better for you to get out of My way.” There have been times I’ve wanted to stand up for myself because I felt attacked or accused unfairly, but you know what? God’s got my back.

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We as Christians should carry our cross of self-denial like Ferdinand carries that large hump on his back. We should learn from a gentle bull not to bothered by the heat of politics or the pestilence of a self-obsessed culture. Just as he gives kisses to a carnivore like me, we should be willing to love those undeserving as well. When we see some bucking going on, it’s best to get out of the way and mind your own Kingdom-building business. The cold don’t bother Ferdinand, so don’t let the times people are cold bother you. Allow God to thicken up your skin and see yourself through His eyes.

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Momma often rolled her eyes and said “Bull!” when she felt we fed her a tall tale, or she used the cliche’ “He’s full of bull,” meaning he’s full of you know what (wink). I no longer subscribe to those cliches. Don’t go offending my bull now, Momma! In the case of Ferdinand, I hope someone thinks I’m full of bull, for he’s a bull with a lot of heart. See you soon Ferdinand.

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If the Chestnut Tree Could Talk Week 4:

 

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Over the last three weeks, we have been letting the Chestnut Tree speak to us. If you have missed any of the valuable lessons in my previous posts, you can scroll down to the older posts and find them there. Today, the Chestnut Tree wants us to understand how fruit is prepared.

 

  1. Chestnuts grow within a spiny green burr, which protects the nut while it grows. Once ready the burr pops open and the nut falls to the ground.

 

The Chestnut Tree wants us to know that sometimes God places us in a shell as well. This is where God prepares us for the work He’s already planned. When we are tucked in the shell of preparation, we are usually unaware of what is happening. We may even look at the tasks as beneath our capabilities, but it is in these humbling, menial tasks, God is laying out the groundwork for our futures. When we are ready God opens up the opportunity and we are released to follow His plan.

Motherhood took some surrendering on my behalf. The two things I missed the most were business conversations with colleagues and the creative fulfillment my career afforded me. Looking back, I’m so thankful I surrendered to the call of being a stay-at-home Momma, for God presented volunteer opportunities which helped me discover what He poured inside me when He made the me I truly was.  I’ve discovered my passions.  If I’d continued working, I wouldn’t have discovered my love for Bible study, art, interior design, history, or writing.

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Last weekend at the farm, my sister- in- law Prem and I were washing the dishes.

“If I had a business today,” I said. “I’d hire a mother of multiple children before anyone else to be my assistant.”

She nodded. “Multitasking skills.”

“Exactly. Did you know how many things you could get done in a day before you had your second child?”

“No, I didn’t,” she said.

“And with four, the list grows.”

After experiencing one year with my three boys in school, I felt God telling me to bring them home and homeschool. I admit, I fought the idea at first. I didn’t want to homeschool! I’d just pointed my wings to Starbucks for girlfriend coffees, but one night, I invited two sisters over for dinner (Lisa Mann and Liz Hammond). We sat around my dining room table and Lisa told me she homeschooled her children.

“Why would you do that?” I said. Lisa explained all the benefits and suggested I read, So You’re Thinking About Homeschooling? by Lisa Whelchel.

The next day, I purchased the book and read it in two days. After that, I read another and another. I researched it online and searched homeschooling organizations in Orlando. Soon, I could barely contain my excitement. I was going to be a homeschooling Momma! Somebody give me a lab coat. In my imagination, we’d be in the forest collecting bird eggs and plants. We were going to experience some real- life learning. It was going to be an adventure.

The reality was long days in my upstairs classroom feeling suffocated, but within those walls God was preparing me to write, bringing us closer together, and sparking my curiosity in everything.  As I taught my children, I was being prepared for the freelance writing assignments I have today. I look back fondly on those two years now. My boys and I grew so close and that closeness has survived time.

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Today, I see positions God is putting me in, which I know are shells of preparation, and I’m a more willing participant because I know I’m going to fall into some fertile land when my shell pops open.

What about you? What in your life do you feel is menial or beneath your station? Could it be God preparing you for something bigger? Can you look back and recognize where your preparation occurred, for the work you do today?

We have one more week with our Chestnut Tree… See you there.

 

 

 

 

If Chestnut Trees Could Talk Week 3

 

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Many times when you plant a young tree you stake and tie it, so it has a support system for growth, but a Chestnut Tree shouldn’t be staked and tied when it’s newly planted unless it has an immature root ball.  A Chestnut Tree needs the movement to grow. When a Chestnut Tree sways in the wind, it stimulates its roots to grow, and also allows the trunk to become thicker at the base. This movement creates a healthy tree.

This brings us to the third thing the Chestnut Tree wants to tell us:

 

III.  When planted if a Chestnut tree is tied and staked tight, it will never grow roots and a trunk that can weather the storm.

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My son Nick came home from FSU for Christmas break, not looking healthy. He’d lost weight, and his eyes sunk deep into his pale face. Each morning, he headed out the door and didn’t return until late. Everything in my Momma body screamed something was not right. One afternoon, I received a text from his roommate’s mother, who was hosting a brunch for all his high school friends.

“Nick brought me flowers but didn’t stay for the brunch. He didn’t look good. I hope everything is alright.”

That night, I texted him demanding he come home immediately. I met him outside and he followed me in.

“Sit” I pointed to a dining chair across from me. I leaned over. “What’s your GPA?” I said.

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His eyes teared up. “I don’t have a GPA, Momma. I received a call on the way to the brunch. I’m on academic suspension for a semester.” He spilled the whole story. He couldn’t handle the 16 hours I made him sign up for in his freshman year. He found himself buried after the hurricane when a week of makeup work was piled on top of his regular week, which started a cherry-picking of which class he’s doing well enough to skip, in order to catch up in another. He’d always been good at school, and now he sat across from me with his tail tucked between his legs. He was having an identity crisis.

“I stayed up all night studying and vomited on test days. I panicked and then I made stupid mistakes, like forgetting to email my speech to my professor, which earned me a 0 on the whole project.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what I’m doing.”

I recalled a conversation with my husband Jay, during Nick’s senior year.

“I’m concerned life’s been too easy for Nick,” I said. “He’s never failed at anything. He’s always been a good student, good at computers and editing, he’s talented in art, he picked up a guitar and learned how to play. Everything he touches turns to gold. I’m scared when he does fail, he’s not going to know how to recover.”

“He’ll be fine,” Jay said.

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I’ve gone over and over in my mind the picture of my boy. I think of mothers who have heard worse news from their boys, like the parents who showed up for parent’s weekend only to find their son died the night before from alcohol poisoning. This could be so much worse.

He hung his head and promised to pay us back. “Maybe I’ll just quit college and work for Dad, I can learn the business.”

“No, you’re not. You’ll untuck your tail and try again. Look, I can handle bad grades. I’m not happy about it, and we did lose money, and I’ll admit I’m a bit embarrassed to tell family and friends, but that’s just my pride and money can be replaced.” I reached for his hand. “To be honest, I’m relieved it’s not something worse.”

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Life is messy. Sometimes, we have to flap in the wind to learn how to weather the storms.

My son is flapping in the wind like those Chestnut trees on the farm. He’s learning how to weather the storms of failure, criticisms, and a confidence beating, but the roots of humility, perseverance, and faith will spread. His trunk will strengthen. Too often as parents, we tether our children too tight to our aprons strings, and they never learn coping skills. The best lessons we can teach is how to turn to God when they’re in trouble, and how to learn from failure.

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Nick is reading Discerning God’s Will, by Richard Case and journaling. It is a crash course on hearing God’s voice. He is on academic suspension until summer, when he will start again with a clean slate.

“I’ve been praying about my degree. I pray a lot in the car. God will show me what to do, for now, I volunteered to work for a guy starting an oyster business,” he said.

He also has an interview with the city of Tallahassee to volunteer for several organizations this Friday and is re-thinking a business degree.

“Would you guys be okay, if I just pursued my passion in Marine Biology?” Something, Jay and I talked him out of. (Momma has had to take some responsibility. No judging. I’m a work in progress.)

Nick is spending a semester spreading roots and growing a thick trunk so he can bear fruit no matter what storms come along.

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What about you? Do you see failure as hopeless? Or do you see it as an opportunity for growth and change?  Next week the Chestnut tree wants to tell us what protects them until they are ready to nourish others. Have a great week!

 

The Kingdom of Goats and Guards

“Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. Amen.”  (Matthew 6:9-13, King James Version 1611)

 

IMG_0046We celebrated Christmas in Orlando, before returning to the farm for some downtime. One afternoon, Bella and I walked to the equipment barn to retrieve an ATV. Along the way, a family of goats escaped the fenced-in pasture. They walked along the road as if trying to slip away unnoticed.

“Oh no Momma, Look!” Bella said pointing to the other side of the fence, where another baby goat had his head wedged in the electric fencing.

While I tried to decide which one to save first, the herd in the pasture bleated as if telling on the escapees. Our three goat guards stood alerted, and one of them Franklin this huge dog (an Anatolian Shepherd) sprinted to the fence and barked at them. Immediately, they spun around and sprinted back to the hole where they escaped. Inside the pasture, they approached Franklin before rejoining the herd. I was amazed by how they responded to his voice. They know with Franklin they are safe

The goat’s pasture is their kingdom and Franklin establishes the order and protection therein, just as we abiders in Christ live within the kingdom of God here on earth. It is within the protective barriers we can discern God’s voice the most clearly. Once we participate in activities outside God’s will, God calls us back through conviction, which we can either turn around and re-enter God’s kingdom (His will) or we can ignore and go about living in our earthly kingdom. Outside God’s will there most certainly will be dangers, attacks by the enemy, and consequences we will face for our own behaviors.

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Just like the spiritual world, there are enemies on the farm. The goats enemy is the coyote. During the day, they are alone or in pairs, but under the cover of darkness, they communicate. Their yapping sounds innocent, like pups, but it’s their way of coming together for the hunt, to devour. There are nights I stand on the porch and feel surrounded by the yappers in the forest.

In the evening, the guardians settle in with the goats and disappear into the sea of them. They are a quiet and mysterious three. We often refer to Franklin as a phantom, for he will rise up on his tall legs out of the midst of the goats. Even during the day, it’s hard to spot the dogs, unless you are right up next to the pasture. They are quiet and disciplined only barking when they need to. They warn the enemy as they encroach upon the herd that they are trained to annihilate them. The guardians will put their lives on the line for their goats.

Christ sacrificed His life to give us access to His Father’s kingdom. Inside God’s will, there will also be challenges and attempted attacks by the enemy because although we are within God’s will, we are still living on earth which is enemy territory. Our power to fight the enemy’s attacks comes from our access and relationship to our three guardians- the Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The longer we live in the Kingdom, we will emulate God’s character and bring the Father glory, by revealing who He is to those outside.

There are gaps in the fencing of the Kingdom as well – the gap of free will. I don’t know about you, but I’ve been known to poke my head through the hole and allow my mind to envy the green grass over yonder. There have also been times I’ve defiantly walked out of the safeguards and trotted down the lane of selfishness and disbelief towards what I thought was an adventure. Albeit, those trots have not been without consequences and only gave my enemy stockpiles of ammunition to use against me. Just as Franklin is greater in power, strength, and size than those coyotes, greater is He that is in Me, than he that is in the world. (I John 4:4)

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There have been times Franklin’s behavior has been questioned. There was a day Franklin made the farmers so angry they nearly got the shotgun out to put him down. He carried a dead baby goat away from the herd and planted it who knows where. They thought he killed the baby goat. Later, they realized Franklin was only doing his job. If a kid is born dead or dies soon after birth, he carries the goat far away from the herd, outside the pasture. You see, the dead goat could have a disease that will harm the others, and the dead goat scent attracts the enemy. It is his job to send death far from the living outside the green pastures.

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The Father will one day separate the living from the dead.  He will separate those who choose not to enter into His kingdom when they were called, from those who chose His Lordship for their lives. This saddens me, but I’m sure not as much as it saddens God. He’s the one who feels their rejection. It is our job as His kingdom dwellers to plant grasses that will feed and encourage others to enter the pasture of the living Christ.

“Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John 14:6, English Standard Version.

Has God called you into His kingdom? He wants to grant you an abundant life, filled with peace, joy, and purpose. He wants to bring you into His pasture of rest, power, and protection.

For those who’ve already accepted grace, but have wandered outside the fences won’t you consider abiding in God’s kingdom? Keeping your head inside the safeguards from the dangerous climate that exists outside? Stop allowing your lifestyle and your message to seek the approval of man and use your words and influence for Kingdom sake?

 

I cannot close without admitting I often wonder how God finds me capable of raising four children. This is not false humility, but the utter truth.  I often tease if any of them had fur I’d never let them leave for college. Once the herd was safe in the fence, the baby goat cried out the most pitiful sound. In a panic, I sprinted to the barn without looking back.

“Momma wait for me!” I heard Bella’s voice behind me.

“You’ll be fine. Baby goat’s in trouble!” By the time, I barged into the office shouting a goat was getting electrocuted into the ears of the farm manager, Jeff, who’s a calm and quiet cowboy, Hilario (one of the farmers) had already worked the goat out of the fence. Lucky for him, the electric fence was turned off. I smiled watching that little thing trot across the pasture towards his mother. Awe… just like Bella… Bella? Oh no, my Bella!

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Bella lumbered up the driveway looking like the little brother in the Christmas story who couldn’t put his arms down, and less than happy with a Mom who’d leave her for a goat.

 

New Year’s Resolutions:

  1. Do not leave your toddler in the dust for the sake of a goat.
  2. Remember Bella is only three.
  3. Love your children as if they had fur.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Closing the Envelop

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She pressed the pain button on the pump wedged beside her and turned to me. “I think God’s timing is so different from ours,” my sister said. “When I go to heaven, it may seem like I haven’t seen you in a few minutes, but for you it will feel like a lifetime.”

God’s timing is a mystery to me. I believe His timing is not linear in the way we experience it, but falls in circular patterns, like the closing of an envelope, our past folds over and seals our present. We hum the Nocturne of our present, knowing His fingertips composed it somewhere in the past.

After posting my last painting, “Out of the Boat” to social media, I received a text from my sister-in-law, Tracey.

It read:

“The title of your new painting were Tricia’s last words to me. She said, ‘I have to get out of the boat! I have to get out of the boat!’ I pushed her down in her seat and told her to stay right where she was. That’s when she looked at me and said, ‘How are you going to stop me with your skinny self?’ I thought she was hallucinating, but she was still herself.”

I didn’t know this story when I painted the picture. I didn’t know it when the story of Peter stepping out onto the stormy seas kept reappearing in my devotionals. One thing is clear, I know God closed this envelop and is preparing me for something different, but I am humbled and saddened to admit, it is not for me to move to the farm.

I have a Cabinet of Curiosity in my Orlando home. Behind it’s metal grate doors, there’s a collection of treasures. On the shelves, to name a few, there’s a rock from Appian Way, the road that leads into the gates of Rome, another from the walls of a pirate’s handmade tomb I found on an undeveloped island, a rock from the catacombs (I hope it’s a rock), and a human skull I purchased from an old southern gentlemen’s garage sale in Windermere. (Yes, I did, much to my parent’s horror.) In my cabinet, are things from the natural world I treasure and love to bring out, hold in my hands, and ponder on.

Metaphorically, God’s timing is also there. When I think I’ve understood one tiny thing, and filed it away in my box of knowledge; after time, it springs out like a jack in the box revealing something more. Maybe that’s my mistake, trying to put anything about God in a neat square box. Around the cabinet, I’ve peered through the metal, curious why He’s telling me to step out on faith, to step out of the boat, if it’s not to walk across the cow patties? Moving to the farm would take tremendous faith! I’ve tried to convince Him of this.

The same husband who told me to get the boys registered for the new school admitted he was following my lead and had no peace about the move.  He listed his reasons: his ministry is in Orlando (he teaches business men in Abiding in Christ), his office is in Orlando, and we’d be apart from one another three to four days a week, Jay feels God wants us to use the farm house for Bible retreats, and if we lived there it wouldn’t be, I would be spending most of my day carpooling children in and out of the city. He didn’t like the idea of me riding those country roads alone after dark. On and on he went and when he reached the end…

“That’s just great! Well, thanks a lot for blindsiding me, after I’ve put myself out there on my blog!” I said. “In one fell swoop you’ve obliterated my credibility, squashed my ministry, and killed my dream of riding my horse and growing my own food!”

“You don’t even like to cook!” He said. “You will have to cook every night.” He’d already stated this. Mentioning it twice proved what I suspected, he hated my cooking.

But, I would not be defeated. “I’ve been preparing. I bought that cooking school book. I could become a chef if forced to,” I pointed my finger at him, “but now you’ll never know my full potential.”

He didn’t appear disappointed. “Walk me through what a day looks like living on the farm,” he said. “I don’t think you’ve grasped what it will be like.”

“I can ride horses. Bella can run and not get hit by a car. Do you realize we are losing our boys to other houses? The boys will make friends at their new school and our house can be the hangout place. You know boys would love hanging out on a farm.”

“What if they don’t make friends?”

I shrugged. “Then, we’ll come back.”

“You want to uproot the boys from a school and friends they love, so you can ride horses?”

It sounded selfish when he put it that way, but it wasn’t truly about the horses.

I stared at the floor. “It’s not just about the horses.”

“Explain to me what it is about.”

“I can hear there okay? Here, the landscapers never stop. I can’t think. It’s quiet on the farm.” I struggled trying to explain it. “I see things in nature. I grow creatively. I need to try a different life.”

He nodded. “You feel inspired there.”

How did he do that? I nodded.

            “You can go to the farm anytime. The boys are in a good school and have good friends. Why rock the boat? Until I know it’s what God wants, I’m not on board with it.”

“Fine!” I stomped out of the room.

Funny thing about time it brings clarification. I’ve stayed away from the blog and given myself time. Time to lick my wounds and wallow. Time to hear. Time for prayer and acceptance. Time to rewrite this essay over and over. Time to repaint the walls of our Orlando home white, breathing light back into this Mediterranea. I’ve made other changes. I’ve moved my art studio into the formal living room. I am surrendering my studio space, so the boys will have a place to hang out with their friends.

Easter at the farm, my boys celebrated two gifts of grace. I teared up as I explained to them, I am giving up my dream of country living and leaving them rooted where they are happiest in Orlando. That evening, Jay drove the Dually packed with my large easel and painting supplies to bring home. I followed behind in my SUV. He waved and blew kisses to me in the mirror at every stoplight. Charmer! He knows how to get on my good side. I’m no longer mad or sad, but humbled. How could I have gotten it so wrong? Did I run ahead of God? I have a tendency to do this. I like to lead… to step on toes…to be the boss.

Recently, I spoke with one of my spiritual mentors Linda Case about how I got it wrong and am now eating crow. “I suppose God wanted to humble me,” I said.

Linda’s smile can light up a room. “I wouldn’t look at it like that. Maybe you found a hallway. You realized God was telling you something and you opened a door to a hallway of more doors. Door by door, that’s how we walk in faith. We just have to keep ourselves willing to opening doors. You’ll find His will behind one of them, but it will happen in His timing.”

Did I mention, God’s timing is a curious thing?

This blog post was supposed to be about how to hear from God through scriptures, but I’ve asked Linda Case from “All for Jesus Living Waters Ministries” to write on the subject of hearing from God. I can’t wait to see what she has in store for us.

While my pet goat returns to the herd and my Tennessee Walker vanishes from its stall, all I can do is pray and wait. Besides, God’s timing is not like mine. He will close the envelop when He knows I’m prepared to receive the missive. Until then, my readers the content I’ve planned for the year is in the trash. I’ve lost my way a bit. Please be patient as my blog may swirl around through loops and circles. I apologize in advance. Until the direction is clear, sit back and enjoy the ride.