The jail of a questioning mind

Rainbow row in Charleston. Rows upon rows of homes right up against their neighbor. It's famous for it's beauty. I look up and think of Noah's rainbow, the sign that humans would never be extinguished by God again.

En masse that is. Many have been killed since the rainbow, including His own son Jesus Christ, who took our place before the wrath of God.

I hear about God - that He is good, that He has overcome eternal death, that He always gives a way of escape. Where is my way of escape? Where is His goodness?

Round church in downtown Charleston.
How about that He works ALL things for the good of those who diligently seek Him. That God's plan does not always match up with my plan. He seems so very, very far away. I heard something else - something considered a fallacy - that God is a distant cosmic creator.

I can't understand how the earth and all that's in it came to be without God. Why, if His eye is on the sparrow,  every one of them, do I struggle to believe His eye, provision, and love are real and true and ever present in my life? I can't seem to latch on to the power I hear He offers, and I feel abandoned and alone, even when others tell me His promises do apply to me. I am afraid of my own questions and afraid of the consequences if I let my mind go in the direction it's flowing.

For you refuse my discipline and treat my words like trash. "Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me..".(Psalm 50:17,21-22a)

I struggle to believe that the trials that have plagued me since age 13 will ever end. I don't understand why I hurt, and He does not help or comfort or heal?  I cry I need your help, oh God. I need to change how I see you. I can't do it by myself. By myself, I'll become a theist agnostic.

Take the brush from my hand - the one I'm using to paint your picture and the picture of my life. I struggle to believe that I will not always be the victim, the sufferer, the child injured - the picture that suffering alone is my destiny. That even here you have great plans for me, that you are providing here even in the worst of times, when I bow my head and close my eyes hard so I can't see you anymore. I struggle to believe that you have not turned your face from me already.

These are the bars between mind and soul that leave me with questions without answers. Wherever He is, I want Him to show up in a big way because otherwise I'm floundering. Not just shells on the seashore or B-3 organs for free on the curb. I'm talking about mercy, justice, love, pursuing, disciplining...a God who shows His involvement in my life.

Too busy post! Or e-mail. Or hardly even shower!!! We've been surrounded by beauty and I finished the data collection for my dissertation project, a huge accomplishment that propels me toward graduation. I'm leavin' on a jet plane for home tomorrow.

Thistles and weeds

Yellow stonecrop

Sedum caeruleum

Red clover up close

English daisies

Spare me your judgements and spare me your dreams,
Cause recently mine have been tearing my seams,
I sit alone in this winter clarity which clouds my mind,
Alone in the wind and the rain you left me,
It's getting dark darling, too dark to see,
And I'm on my knees, and your faith in shreds, it seems.

Corrupted by the simple sniff of riches blown,
I know you have felt much more love than you've shown,
And I'm on my knees and the water creeps to my chest.

But plant your hope with good seeds,
Don't cover yourself with thistle and weeds,
Rain down, rain down on me,
Look over your hills and be still,
The sky above us shoots to kill,
Rain down, rain down on me.

But I will hold on
I will hold on hope

I begged you to hear me, there's more than flesh and bones,
Let the dead bury their dead, they will come out in droves,
But take the spade from my hands and fill in the holes, you've made.

But plant your hope with good seeds,
Don't cover yourself with thistle and weeds,
Rain down, rain down on me.
~Thistle and Weeds, Mumford and Sons~

Plan A, Plan B, Plan C

Blink, blink. Your eyes open hazy and unfocused that first second of consciousness in the morning. You see the balloons of light dancing in patterns. Rub your eyes.

Suddenly everything is in focus, and you drop your feet off the side of the bed and get up. Go through your morning rituals. Then comes the crux of the day - what will you do? Who are you scheduled to see? Where might you go?

You make your roadmap for the day. Mine is always linear, logical, hour by hour, light the straight strips of sunlight coming through the slats under the boardwalk. I'm in the middle of two weeks of research, and I find myself thinking over my tasks like a gambler focuses on rolling probabilities. Right now I'm on Play A but tomorrow may find me on Plan B, and eventually that might even fall through. So of course I've planned C as well.

What I always forget is that God doesn't want me to place myself blindly and independently on a task-oriented line. Very few verses in the Bible say "if this, then this will happen". He doesn't want me to waste one minute of remorse over the undone lines of my to-do list. He simply wants me to do His will - and then I will soar with Him in the non-linear freedom of wind and sky and sun.
Why do the nations rage? Why do the people waste their time with futile plans? The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one.  "Let us break their chains," they cry, "and free ourselves from this slavery." But the one who rules in heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them. Then in anger he rebukes them, terrifying them with his fierce fury. For the LORD declares, "I have placed my chosen king on the throne in Jerusalem, my holy city. " The king proclaims the LORD's decree: "The LORD said to me, 'You are my son. Today I have become your Father. Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance, the ends of the earth as your possession. You will break them with an iron rod and smash them like clay pots.'" Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the LORD with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling. Submit to God's royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of your pursuits -- for his anger can flare up in an instant. But what joy for all who find protection in him!  ~Psalm 2:1-12
Lord I come to You
Let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace
That i have found in You
And Lord I have come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love

Hold me close
Let Your love surround me
Bring me near
Draw me to Your side
And as I wait
I will rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You
Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love

Lord unveil my eyes
Let me see You face to face
The knowledge of Your love
As You live in me
And Lord renew my mind
As Your will unfolds in my life
In living every day
By the power of Your love

~Power of Your Love~

Beach town personality

Every beach town has personality, and Folly is no exception. We spent Saturday on the beach, perusing the shops, eating some great food at Rita's. Enjoy the photos!

Patterns in the rust

Beach Cruiser - perfect color combination!

Barnacles on an old surfboard

Lights at Rita's
Kitchen entrance 
Diners in afternoon sun

Over the bar

LIttle girl looks out over Folly Road
Perhaps the most functional two-seater ever made

The beautiful lament

It's the best place in the world to be a color photographer. The vibrant personality of the beach is even painted on the buildings.

I body surf on a skim board and skin my knees on the bottom as the wave flips over the break and pummels me with a million grains of sand. My lips are chapped from the salt. My hair stands tall in the surf, whipped with wind and coated with ocean water. I laugh long and loud and my heart swells in my chest. I almost forgot how true belly-laughing, body encompassing joy feels.

I revel in the colors and stare deep into the wavy turquoise of a small fishing boat. I eat shrimp and grits for breakfast with a good friend and we swap stories of children and research, husbands and colleges hiring.

I come home from a day of number collecting, alive with the feeling of discovery, and the orange sun burns through the live oak covered in moss. This sun soaks me up instead of vice versa, sucking energy and coating me in a cool layer of sweat.

Finally, the weekend. A study over, I try to remember how to run my statistical program and end up falling asleep watching crime shows with my parents. Today, the beach. Again tomorrow, probably. I miss my husband and children, and the ache grows a little larger each day. God is good, and provides what I need just when I need it. A phone call from Aaron on a lonely afternoon, Katy's voice chirping with excitement over the phone as she describes her new toy, tells me about shopping at Scheel's with Grandpa.

Life is full. I feel fragile, my heart just repaired and the seams a bit dicey. A full heart almost bursting at those seams where my heart was broken.

The limbs of the live oak grow down, down to kiss the ground, a bough bowing, then rise up, up again toward the sun. I am the limb with the curvaceous growth, down on my knees broken, lifting face to the sun in praise.

The moss on her branches whispers weeping like the willows at home, a dance in the wind and lament as it dances. A picture of humanity in a gray-green wisp of moss. My God, the master poet, tells of the beautiful broken. Speaks to youth, and begs them to revel in His majesty. Today, God, I go out to revel in your creation, broken, but bound up; hopeless, but infused with your hope. You are glorious, my love, my Savior.
Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them." Remember him — before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. ~Ecclesiastes 12:1, 6-7
Listen as the wind blows
From across the great divide
Voices trapped in yearning
Memories trapped in time
The night is my companion
And solitude my guide
Would I spend forever here
And not be satisfied

Through this world I’ve stumbled
So many times betrayed
Trying to find an honest word
To find the truth enslaved
Oh you speak to me in riddles and
You speak to me in rhymes
My body aches to breathe your breath
You words keep me alive

Into this night I wander
It’s morning that I dread
Another day of knowing of
The path I fear to tread
Oh into the sea of waking dreams
I follow without pride
Nothing stands between us here
And I won’t be denied
~Possession, Sarah McLachlan~

Note: this is a secular love song. But I hear my relationship with God whispering through the lyrics; after all, it is like falling in love, knowing the unknowable God more each day. We are on another honeymoon together as He delivers gifts and buoys me up despite illness and grief to perform the tasks set before me. He is my strength and my song. If you are offended by secular music, simply ignore the link to this song.

The least of these

Kittens and cute kids! It's all I've got to offer tonight.

The gift delivered

My aunt Rosalie had a pink conch shell from Mexico that I always picked up first thing upon arrival, listening to the distant sounds of the sea I had never seen. At ten, I finally saw the ocean for the first time, at Haystack Rock on the Oregon coast. It was love at first sight. There I found sand dollars, starfish, and the bracken of broken shells of all sorts, bewitched by their pinks, oranges, and textures. At that beach I prayed to find a conch shell.

The only problem is, conch are local as far north as some parts of southern Florida, but are mostly found in the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Tobago, and Trinidad being the top 3 places where you can still eat conch and find their shells in shallow ocean water. 

Every time I visited the ocean - any ocean - I prayed to find a conch shell. I didn't want to buy it in a store, prettied up and covered in shiny polyurethane. I didn't really expect it to happen, especially after talking to the "shell man", Uncle John, on Folly Beach. He said, in all his years gathering shells for his eclectic shop, he'd never seen a whole conch. Just pieces, smashed by their battering trip up from warmer waters to South Carolina.

I found the pieces, too. But I kept praying.

God tests me physically, through health problems, church conflict, and the duties of being a wife and mother. But He is also faithful to gift me physically, too - like the exact amount of money needed for a car repair unexpectedly appearing, or a dissertation proposal being approved in a single day when I was expecting it to take months. Two organs for free when I prayed for one. A son at the end of my childbearing years.

On Monday, He gave me my conch. I took an impromptu stroll down the whole of Folly Beach, 1 mile of beach at mid-tide, trying to find a friend of mine there also. On my way home, I walked in the wet sand, letting the last tongue of wave overflow my hot feet. I picked up pieces of abalone, and more orange shell pieces for a friend who loves yellow. I saw the conch sticking out of the sand and leaned down to pick up what I thought was another partial swirl of broken conch broken down during it's travels through the ocean to this shore.

It was bigger than I thought and I had to dig it out, as it was firmly embedded in the suction of the wet sand.

It was whole. A whole conch. My prayer of 22 years answered, on a beach where there are NO conch.

I gleefully held to my ear and heard the whispering surf. It was clean, beautiful, smooth, crowned with intricate swirls and spikes. I could not believe my find.

This shell will be forever on my mantle, a visible reminder that God can do whatever He wants. At the beginning of a week filled with unknowns, a week of trusting Him with the degree I've worked on for four years, He shows Himself  in that intact conch shell. He is powerful, He is merciful, He is extravagant. He gave me this shell just to see my pleasure dance. I sang all the way back to our beach bags. You are so good to me, You heal my broken heart, You are my Father in heaven.

Do you long to dance down the beach basking in God's extravagance? Ask. Keep asking. Never stop believing that He might someday grant your strange request, no matter how bizarre, no matter how many years have passed with no acknowledgment from the throne. You never know when He's going to drop your precious gift right at your feet, in the most unlikely of places.

You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song
And I will sing again

You are so good to me, 
You heal my broken heart
You are my Father in Heaven

You are beautiful my sweet, sweet song

You ride upon the clouds, You lead me to the truth
You are the Spirit inside me

You are my strong melody
You are my dancing rhythm
You are my perfect rhyme

You poured out all your blood
You died upon the cross
You are my Jesus who loves me
~Third Day~

Someday I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying

There is a song by Tim McGraw that is enormously popular. I sing it every time I go out for karaoke. There are two possible viewpoints on this song: either it's Hedonist or compelling. You've probably heard it, and it may or may not catch your attention. Here are the lyrics and video:

He said: "I was in my early forties,
"With a lot of life before me,
"An' a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
"I spent most of the next days,
"Looking at the x-rays,
"An' talking 'bout the options an' talkin’ ‘bout sweet time."
I asked him when it sank in,
That this might really be the real end?
How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?
Man whatcha do?

He said "I was finally the husband,
"That most the time I wasn’t.
"An' I became a friend a friend would like to have.
"And all of a sudden goin' fishin’,
"Wasn’t such an imposition,
"And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.
"Well, I finally read the Good Book,
"And I took a good long hard look,
"At what I'd do if I could do it all again,
"And then:

"I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'."

Like tomorrow was a gift,
And you got eternity,
To think about what you’d do with it.
An' what did you do with it?
An' what can I do with it?
An' what would I do with it?

"Sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And then I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I watched Blue Eagle as it was flyin'."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'."

Some of the lines of this song sound hedonistic. You could focus on the fact that this man, given a fatal diagnosis, spent his remaining time fulfilling his "bucket list", traveling, taking chances. On the other hand, his diagnosis make him a better husband, a person who loves deeper and speaks sweeter because he knows his time is short.

That's me.

Cancer has reminded me what is important in life. While it may not be sky-diving, bull-riding, or other risk taking activities, it is instead surging on a boogie board, being sucked down shore by the rip time. It's laughing long and hard because God set a whole conch shell at my feet (I've been praying for one sing I was 11). It's running into friends in the surf. It's traveling to do two week of research. It's doing the things you've always contemplated but didn't find time for. It's living an extraordinary life, a life of joy and freedom.

May you find what lights you up, before you face the brevity of life. God gave us life to enjoy it and learn from it. What will you do with tomorrow?