A letter from Jesus to you…

To the one I so dearly love:

Someone I deeply love and adore has made mistakes. Someone I love needs to have faith that despite these mistakes, they are My delight and joy and that I will never leave nor forsake them. Nothing will ever separate us. Nothing and no one. My love and forgiveness are unconditional. I know how hard that is to grasp. Don’t try so hard to understand it in finite ways; don’t try to put Me in a neat and tidy box; just trust Me. I am more than what is seen, heard and explainable, but I am a safe place to rest and find peace. Place all fear, worry and troubles at the foot of My Cross and then leave them there. I am in control. I know how this all ends.

Someone I love knows in their heart that they have strayed far away from Me; taken a path I never intended for them to walk. Those consequences are hard and it hurts. Someone I love is feeling broken and ashamed. I long for this dear one to remember that there is no condemnation for those whom I hold in My hands.  Trust Me when I say that I  have come to heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds. My arms are wide open; just turn towards Me and come. The heart knows the way; I’m calling My lost one home.

Someone I love needs to focus on Me and believe that I will walk with them through this difficult journey they are facing; through these circumstances that have blindsided them; hit them hard out of nowhere.  I am right here. My arms are strong and My feet are steady. I will carry My precious one when they need Me. I will hold them in My hands; I will catch every tear.

Someone I love needs to remember that I am their Healer, their Redeemer and their Salvation; that through Me, their sins are washed as white as snow.  I see them as lovely and graceful; of great value and worth, because I died for them. I keep no record of wrongs. I am so very proud to call you Mine!

Someone I love needs to be reminded that My love endures forever, through the good times and the bad. Someone I love needs to know that I am here, and I am listening. I see every joy and pain, every failure and every victory.

Someone I love needs to believe that everything will work out according to My will, and that if they trust in Me, I can use what was meant for evil, for good. Scars are evidence of my Healing. Scars are beautiful in My sight.  I delight in restoration!

Someone I love needs to be reminded that I have plans for them; plans to prosper them and not harm them; plans to give them hope and a shining future. Be at peace. I am in control. All is well. It will be okay. Talk to Me. A heavenly bear hug is waiting!

All My love and peace to you- your best friend,

Jesus

 

 

The Beauty of an Altar

This year I am reading through the Bible and taking notes on things that jump out at me. The theme that is jumping off the page at me right now is altars. The first time an altar is spoken of in the Bible is in Genesis 8:20 “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it.” Noah obeyed God and built the ark. God remembered Noah. He caused the winds to blow over the Earth and the waters to recede. When Noah left the ark, he immediately built an altar and made a sacrifice to God. God was pleased with the aroma. God then made His promise to never again curse the ground and destroy all living things. Here was a divine interaction.

Throughout Genesis, Abram, Isaac and Jacob built many altars to the Lord. Often the altar was built after the Lord had appeared to, spoken to, or protected His child. The altar was a place where the divine and humanity interacted; a place of communion, sacrifice, divine exchange and worship. Particular places were named in honor of what God had accomplished there.  There was a keen awareness of the smallest acts of God and His intervention and concern in the lives of those who put their trust in Him. I noticed, too, that God actively responded to altar activity. He smelled the aroma and it pleased Him. God sealed promises and made covenants with His people after they built an altar. This altar building speaks to the priorities of these men of God. They wasted no time in erecting an altar and offering sacrifice and praise to God for all He had done. They gave God glory and honored Him. It deeply moves me to read about these altars, these markers of peace which commemorate an encounter with the Most High. It speaks of humility, love, dependence and a true heart of thankfulness.

Thinking about altars and the way our forefathers commemorated God’s acts of love, kindness, mercy and generosity started me thinking about whether I am creating altars of my own for all that He has done in my life. What would that look like?

I have some thoughts on that. One altar might look like giving God glory and recognition when something is accomplished or an obstacle is overcome. It reminds me of my battle with breast cancer. It is God alone who healed me. He directed my path to the doctors I needed, to the treatments that worked and He alone gave me the courage and strength to fight every day during my almost 2 years of treatment. I give glory and praise to Him for healing me and allowing me the honor of sharing my story with others.  He takes every single thing that touches our lives so seriously.  It brings me peace to know that everything that touches me or my family is first filtered through hands of love.

Another altar might look like a true physical structure. In my garden, I love to decorate with rocks and stones and other natural things. I could build an altar commemorating His love, protection and divine guidance over me and my family. A memorial of all He has brought us through; an altar of praise and thankfulness that we can physically see and touch.

A prayer journal might be another altar that records the prayers I have sent heavenward and the answers He has given. Not every answer will be one that I want or understand. Not every answer will turn out the way I think it should, but the journal will be a record of the human and divine exchange that took place when I humbled myself and cried out for His help. What a reminder it would be of all He has done! I imagine seeing a beautiful theme of redemption, love and tender care as I look back on all that I turned over to Him and all that He did with it. He is a good, good Father.

I wonder if living a life sharply attuned to the Father’s heart could be an altar? I wonder if seeing others as He sees them and treating each other with forgiveness, tender mercy and compassion would be a pleasing aroma to Him? I wonder if being grateful for each day and thanking Him for His breath in our lungs would be a beautiful memorial to all He has done for us and through us; all that He has yet to do? I wonder if asking Him to use us for His glory would so please Him, that He would make covenant promises to us and speak declarations of love, purpose and blessings over us? I wonder if He would take our seemingly mundane lives and show us parts of the tapestry He is weaving and how the ordinary is transformed into the extraordinary, if only we would expectantly look, watch and listen?

I would love to hear your thoughts about how you create altars to God. We have so much that we can learn from each other!

Communion with Heaven (Psalm 91)

“Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare of the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; He is my God and I am trusting in Him.” (1)

I’m searching for it. Shelter.  Protection and rest seem elusive. There is too much noise, so much confusion. This landscape is so dry, hot and barren and I am weary. I found shelter, rest and protection once upon a time.  Somehow, bit by bit and small step by small step, I came out from the places of safety. Oh, it was very subtle, my wandering; slow and insouciant; without the purposeful intent of distancing myself and going too far, but nonetheless I left my safe haven.  It felt a little exhilarating to be out on my own, managing things well and keeping things orderly and controlled. I have learned so much!  Venturing out a bit from under the shady covering seemed fine, good, well deserved. I felt stronger and Your strength lifted me up and gave me confidence.” I am stronger”, I said. ‘There are things I can do on my own.” “Watch yourself do it, watch yourself succeed and use that new strength,” Self Reliance said, soft as a whisper. “You know you can, I know you can and so does He”, Ego breathed. “Trust yourself,” Pride hissed in my ear, “you know yourself best, after all.”  Well, only a little way out from the shelter should be fine, I won’t be gone long….

A little way out turned out to be quite a journey. There were so many cheerful, encouraging voices urging me on, out into the unknown.  “Go on!” they shouted, “look at you, you’re free, you’re doing this on your own, bringing all your knowledge and understanding.  Now it’s time to use it, show what you’re made of!” “You are needed out there!” Yes, yes I am needed and I have so much to offer, how could I not use it?”  I begin to notice that things are not so easy anymore; control is not coming so willingly and my knowledge and understanding are not adequate. My strength isn’t enough and I am weary, thirsty, afraid. Anxiety and worry are like leaches that I cannot shake off, that dog me exhaustingly, and relentlessly until there seems to be no way out from under the heavy weight I am carrying on my back.  I grow weaker and weaker under the pressure of it all. The once friendly, encouraging voices have changed their tune. Instead of cheers and words of praise for my strength and knowledge, I hear mocking laughter so full of malice it is unbearable. The chaos that surrounds me sucks all peace and beauty from where I find myself. I am in a wasteland of my own making and I cannot save myself. I am sure You must have abandoned me, left me to my own devices. Weariness overtakes  me and I have nothing left. I am undone. Lowering my face to the dirty and sandy ground, I feel something soft, light, lovely and gentle cushioning my cheek. I begin to cry, asking You to come and rescue me.  You come.  I sense a presence more glorious and breathtaking than anything I have ever known, come over me. The shade, the shadow, the shelter; it is here. You are here. Looking up, I see You. At your feet are angels, against whose wings I am resting my cheek. You are the most powerful, wild and terrible, yet beautiful vision I have ever seen! You stand above me with Your wings spread out over, above and all around me; my refuge and my fortress. Your eyes are closed and I hear the song again! The song that You sang over me before, when Your mercy and love rescued me. Your eyes hold mine and the deepest feelings of acceptance and worth pool and flow around and over my heart, my soul, my entire being. Bathed in Your mercy, washed in Your love. Shelter. Rest. Refuge. Safety.  I lie at Your feet feeling light, free and at peace. I am wanted. Your angels lift me up and I sit at Your feet, looking back over the places I’ve been. I notice my wayward path. I can see where stones, traps and snares were shoved away. Small pieces of feathery white, show brightly against some of the larger rocks, where they were snagged as a way was made for me. “He orders His angels to protect you wherever you go. They will hold you with their hands to keep you from striking your foot on a stone.”(2) I was protected, even along the path that I was not meant to walk.

“Watch daughter,” You say. Subtly, the air begins to stir, gently at first and then stronger and more violently. The atmosphere sizzles and snaps and I am frozen to my spot under Your wings.  There is a commotion, a rupture of sorts and it throws me to my knees. Fire, wind and lightening begin spewing and shooting all around as I watch with my eyes, the destruction that comes. It is terrifying. Something huge is shifting and rending the ground I am standing on; like a break, a rupture, a bringing down of giants. Strongholds. You are breaking them. It is chaos and destruction and storms, but I am untouched. The wind and air are warm. There is enormous power at work here, beyond anything I have ever witnessed. Suddenly, I am lifted up off of my knees and something slams into my body; it is supernatural; terrifyingly beautiful. A bright light explodes in my chest and eyes and I feel so incredibly hot that I am numb. I can’t breathe, but that force is breathing for me. I turn my face up to the sky and open my mouth and sing. I sing with such force and strength that I can feel my chest and throat thrumming from it. As I watch the sky, my voice becomes a huge beam of white-blue light that points straight up to the clouds, parts them and points into Heaven. The sound of my singing is so beautiful.  I have never heard anything like it. There are no words that I can understand, but the sounds are beyond description.  As I sing and sing, other voices join me that are even more beautiful and haunting than my own, but blend beautifully, perfectly. The deep is calling to deep and I am part of it. I see it, feel it, hear it and know it. It is almost too much to take. A communion with Heaven. Then it fades and is gone.  I am left completely spent, lying face down, trying to process in my finite mind what I was just blessed to witness. Sounds of peace and singing, scents of beauty brush over me, soothing, healing, filling the redeemed places with validation of Your love for me, Your desire to make me whole, Your desire for me. Simply me. I am wanted, not needed, and that realization brings a tender joy that I accept and hold tightly. I can trust you with me. Gingerly raising myself up from the ground, I immediately notice that I am no longer in a wasteland.  I am on ground that is alive with hope, joy, and new life. Strongholds were broken this day. This fresh, new ground was watered with my tears and my cry to my Father that I love, to rescue me, to bring me back to His shelter. You did. I have found rest.

“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty…because He loves me,” says the Lord, I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.” (3)

(1)    Psalm 91: 1-2

(2)    Psalm 91: 11-12

(3)    Psalm 91: 1, 14-16

Divine Exchange

Maybe this time, I tell myself.  I can do it.  I’m strong, I can handle this.  I strain to see.  I try to remember how it looks, but it’s been a long time.  A primal knowledge in my soul tells me that I need to see it, must find it again, but things are obscured through the webs; my vision seems cloudy and I can’t clearly make out the shapes in the strangely filtered light.  Frustration wells up inside as the heaviness settles back in to take the place I’ve given it. When did that happen?  Did I give it permission?  I used to hear, but the sounds I’m searching for are muffled now in my ears; very faint and far off; disturbed by an odd rattling, scraping sound. Frustration, blindness and confusion; is this where I’ve settled?  “Maybe if I get up and move around I can get a better view; this odd lighting is the problem, “I decide.  With that decision made, I make my move to stand and am confronted with the source of the rattling, scraping sounds; thick, heavy, rusted chains.  My chains.  Mine.  I can’t get up and move around for a better view, because I am bound to this place of filtered light, muffled sounds and intolerable frustration.  Why? When? How?  Panicked, I struggle and fight, then in exhaustion I slump down in defeat.  Tears begin to fall from my eyes and spatter down on the ground all around me.  Am I bound here forever? Is there no escape, no way out?  Dark images flicker across my line of vision; stealthy movements threaten and mock.  Is that faint laughter I hear?  I didn’t start out here, bound like this, in chains like a condemned prisoner.  Who put me here? What did I do?  “Please,” I call out, “someone, will you help me?” I don’t belong here.  I want out.  “Someone, rescue me!”

I hear faint movement coming from all around me.  The dark shapes are shrouded by the obscure, filtered light, but I sense them coming closer, bold and violent; mocking in their approach.  “Help yourself,” one hisses in my ear, arrogance and fear scenting its breath, mocking laughter flowing from its tongue.  As hopelessness starts to fall, I look more closely at my surroundings. I am elevated on a mass of circular stones with faded words written on each one.  They are carefully arranged and set just so, in a small clearing.  Like an altar.  All beauty has been methodically wiped away, revealing only dust, barrenness and grotesquely twisted roots, thrusting up out of the ground.  The harsh loneliness of this place is terrifying.  Wait…I can see more clearly now; this used to be shadow-like and obscure, but now I sense the light shifting; brighter, clearer, full.  I don’t like what I see.  Webs from something horrid and smothering have been woven around, above and below my prison, trapping me; altering my view; skewing my perspective.  “Lies,” a Voice gently says, “lies that have kept you snugly ensconced on your altar of self.”  Altar of self.  Yes, that is exactly what this is.  As recognition of my pridefully built, self imposed prison floods my awareness; I realize that I cannot get out on my own.  I have locked myself in.  Trapped.  The mocking laughter swells and I feel the heaviness trying to descend again, the weight of my chains pulling cruelly at my limbs.  I am at the end of my self.  ”ENOUGH!” I shout.  “Please, Jesus, You have the keys…set me free!”

The mocking laughter is silenced by my words.  The atmosphere shifts and grows completely still, except for a deep vibration I feel surging up from the altar on which I stand, as it cracks in two. I look down and see a clear stream of water gushing out from that crack.  You stoop down and scoop the water in Your hands and offer it to me.   I see the silvery scars on Your hands and a song I can’t name, but deeply understand, floods my soul.  Thirst quenching.  A divine exchange is taking place here and my cracked altar becomes the catalyst.

The sounds and scents I have longed for begin to reach me.  Sweet laughter, gentle voices, Spirit breath, heavenly song.  Delicate and powerful, they flow all around me, bathing me in sounds and scents so sweet and pure that my breath comes in gasps; expelling the dust and debris that accumulated in my spirit as I worshipped at the altar of self.  I again breathe You in deeply, richly, slowly.  Freedom bathes me, ministering to the wounds inflicted by the stones named Fear, Pain, Loneliness, Pride, Rebellion, Abuse that I used to build my altar.  I feel lighter, clean, loved.  Heavy, rusted chains break apart and fall away from me.  I dance before you with abandon, unashamed, cleansed; my weakened muscles growing stronger and more nimble.  The heaviness is gone and a gentle, but vibrant spirit of praise now clothes me.   “Climb down, child, get down off of your broken altar.  Take the stones with you; they have a purpose to fulfill here.  There is something you need to see again.”  I fill my white robe of praise with all of those stones. Somehow they all fit.  I follow You out of the clearing where that altar once stood. As I go, new life is sprouting up. The gnarled roots of bitterness and rage, rejection and vengeance are sprouting into lovely trees of forgiveness, peace, Sonship and humility.  “Stop here, beloved.  Now You must use these stones to build your steps leading up to My Cross.”  I look up at the Cross and it speaks to me of ultimate sacrifice, profound mercy, joy indescribable, unmatched beauty and plentiful grace, even grace for one who built her own altar of self-protection. Tears of gratitude and love wash over my face and spill down onto my hands as I build those steps. It is hard work.  My building stops at times, as I find a tenacious tendril of frustration or pride trying to creep in over and around my stones, but I rip it out with Your strength in my hands.  As I lift my stones into place, I notice that where my tears have fallen shoots of brilliant green are pushing their way out of the rich soil.  As the sprouts emerge, You bend down and I see You writing something in the dark ground and I hear You speaking tenderly to the new sprouts. Your voice is the nourishment they need as they continue to grow. You rejoice over the harvest that only You can see.

My steps are built. They are placed firmly and deeply into the ground at the foot of Your Cross. Engraved by Your hand on that first step are the words Nisi Dominus Frustra.  “Come up, Daughter.  Come up higher to the very foot and find rest. Up here is what you have been searching for in vain.”  I ascend those steps in anticipation. As I come closer, I stop for a moment and look back down, surveying where I started.  My tears watered what You divinely planted and I see beauty stretching out below me and Your Cross is beauty before me.  I feel a shout that I absolutely cannot for the life of me contain, rising up in my throat, so I shout! It is a shout of pure joy, a song from my spirit to Yours.  A harvest will be reaped from my pain that I never thought I had a right to know. It is a beautiful inheritance.  It is You.

The Banner

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

There is change in the air; I can feel it. I stand on a gentle rise and see that same banner in the distance snapping boldly; vivid colors weaving and twisting in the steady breeze. It’s been there, just beyond those high, craggy mountains, since the start of my journey with You, like a back drop in a production.  Oddly, I feel very drawn to it; I yearn for it, yet can’t quite explain the pull it has on me. Something bright under that banner catches my eye.  What is that glinting in the sunlight? I survey the path opening up before me in the soft grass; wildflowers nodding and dipping as the perfumed air lifts them and tosses them about on their slender green stems.  Such beauty here; such peace – must I leave this place?  Is it already time to move on?

Memories return of days spent resting and healing, when time seemed to stand still as I walked with You by the quiet waters, drinking in Your presence as You restored my soul.  My scars have begun to fade, pieces of my shattered soul returned to their rightful places, stronger than before.   My mind and spirit are full of the sweet memory of grace and mercy poured out over me as strongholds fell and angels rejoiced over the victory. Strength has returned to bones made weary from battles only fully comprehended in the Heavenlies.  You revealed a pathway of righteousness and truth and my feet were set upon it, leading me to Your place of safety and rest.

I turn toward the sound of Your footsteps coming toward me, firm and strong.  “Come child,” You say, “today is the day.”  “Well, I’m not sure I’m ready yet, Father, I’m not fully healed.”  “Please, can I rest just a bit longer?”  I notice Your staff in Your hand and turn to look again at the path open before me.  Level at first, it seems to ascend, and not too far off, I see the beginnings of hills and further in the distance, the mountains; bigger than the ones I journeyed through not so long ago.  Can I do it?  I sense something familiar and uneasy begin to rise up in my throat; the tiniest whisper of Panic. No, I think, not again!  Haven’t I passed through enough mountains? Haven’t I already stumbled through the darkest valleys?  The grass stirs at my feet as You cradle my face in Your scarred hands. You bend Your mouth to my ear and You whisper; “You are stronger than you think, beloved.  I AM here.”  The scent of Your breath revives my soul and the fear is pushed away.  The sight of Your Staff brings me comfort. Didn’t it beat back the brambles and reveal paths where there seemed to be none?  Did it not stave off the enemy’s fatal blows as I passed through that last valley? And was it not there, always before me, as You led me around that mountain and parted the waters that threatened to engulf me?  Yes, yes it was; yes, yes You were.

With renewed hope and remembered faith, I take one last look at the tranquility of this place and turn to face the path You’ve laid out before me. You are already walking and I hurry to catch up to You.  The beauty we pass as we walk side by side along this wide, easy path is breathtaking.  The sights, scents and sounds are water to my soul and each grows stronger as You pass by, as if they know their Maker is in their midst.  Joy!

We travel in comfortable silence for a good distance before You stop, looking beyond the mountains. I follow Your gaze to the snapping banner, past the last looming mountain.  I look at You.  You’re smiling.  You are beautiful.  Laughter rolls from Your lips and You turn to me.  “Wait ‘til you get there,” You say.

Time passes too quickly in this place of beauty and soon the wildflowers begin to fade away and I notice small rocks have replaced the quiet swish of the grass underfoot.  The path narrows a bit and the footing is a little less sure. I find I am paying more attention to the growing size of the rocks than to my surroundings and to Your presence.  Unpleasant memories of what happened last time I became distracted flood my mind.  Stay alert and focus on the Staff, I chide myself, remember what you were taught.  I am not alone and I am not forsaken.  He makes a way when there seems to be none…remember…remember…

You are up ahead, walking with confidence and silent strength.  I watch as Your Staff easily moves larger rocks and thorny bushes out of my way.  You are not worried, not concerned.  You have my destination in Your mind and You will not be swayed or deterred.  Day after day goes by as we walk this new path of rocks and brush; gnarled roots jutting up just enough to pose hazardous to my tired feet.  I stumble more frequently now and You patiently stop and help me up each time.  Soon the sun dips out of sight and night falls.  The going is getting harder now and I tire more easily.  Sleep comes quickly as I lie down near You.  I rest in Your peace.  As I drift off to sleep, my mind is soothed and quieted, as the fears and worries of the day’s journey are eclipsed by the sound of You singing over me as I rest.  I have never heard a lovelier sound.  Heaven.

In the light of morning, I take in our surroundings.  Today we start up the first of the mountains, having traveled over the hills for a while now.  I’m not looking forward to this part of the trip. I have grown comfortable in the hills and I remember what the mountains of the past held.  The path is steeper and much narrower.  Not that far ahead, the path winds and twists out of sight and I cannot see ahead.  Fear slowly and stealthily attaches itself to me and I do not follow You as quickly or as closely as I had at the start of our journey.  I hear noises that frighten me as I pick my way up the path.  Shadows flicker and slink in the dark shade of the boulders that line my path.  Panic joins Fear and my thoughts get muddled as their voices mock me.  “You are out of control”, they tease, “You’d better make your own way; You are alone.” “This way is much faster,” they reason smoothly, “go ahead and try it, you may just beat Him there.”  ”Yes,” I say, “no harm in taking an easier route; why I’ll plan it out myself, no sense in getting too tired and sore climbing over and sliding about on this slick, uneven, unknown path.  This path over here looks well worn and safe.”  Panic and Fear retreat a little and Arrogance moves up to whisper in my ear.  “You can do this, no problem.  Once you arrive, you can teach others how to navigate these mountains, show them the short cuts. You’ll be a pro.”  The well worn path veers sharply to the left and I march on with renewed self importance. I can get there quicker and it will save so much time and effort.  How smooth and easy this new path is…why would anyone take that twisting and unknown one I was traveling on?  Briefly, an image of that brilliant banner flashes through my mind, but Arrogance and Self Reliance quickly distract with a tantalizing reminder that I am in control now. Pleased with myself, I continue down this wider path for a while, lost in my self serving thoughts.   After a bit, I begin to notice it’s getting hard to breathe.  It seems awfully stuffy and stale; suffocating. The lightly fragranced breeze that had been tousling my hair and buoying me onward has died away and it’s very still.  A bitter, pungent smell begins to filter through the still air.  There is a distinct odor of decay, of loss.  This seems too familiar.  I see the white glint of bones in the shadowy darkness that has begun to descend around me. This path is wider but filled with death.  No! No!  I know this place, I know it. I know it and I am terrified of it…wasn’t I just here? Panic rushes forward and I am having a hard time thinking clearly.  I can’t go on, can’t go further, but Fear and Dismay dance and leap around me, shrieking, laughing, knocking me down, convincing me I’m stuck, that there is no way out. I huddle alone on the ground, visions of a brightly colored banner streaming through my mind.  If I only I could get to it.  Before the wet heaviness of despair fully falls, the faint sound of the sure and steady tread of familiar feet, catches my attention.  A glimpse of something solid and safe comes slowly into view.  It comes closer and closer and stops above my head, the taunting jeers ended. I look up and see You standing above me, the Staff in Your hand. The eyes I see looking down at me are filled with compassion and something deeper I can’t name, yet I respond to it willingly, feeling my parched throat soften and my ease of breathing return.  I feel a sweet release as what were the beginnings of chains, clatter to the ground.  You lift me up. You carry me in Your arms.  As You take me through this deep, dark valley of shadows and death, I fear no evil.  The mocking voices are silenced, the stench of death is overridden by the breath of Life.

There are more days of arduous travel left, yet Your Staff comforts me.  There are more mountains to conquer, valleys to endure, storms to weather and paths to be revealed.  There are times when You go before me to show me the path and make my way clear, yet You are also behind me, hemming me in.  My Protector.  At other times, You walk by my side, Your hand resting gently, yet possessively on my shoulder.  I am safe because I belong to You.  I am Yours and no words can describe what that knowledge does for my soul.  Knowing my every thought and points of weakness, You speak out words of encouragement when snippets of mocking laughter or menacing shadows threaten to overwhelm or distract me.  Fear, Panic, Dismay and Arrogance have no place here.  Prophesy flows out from Your mouth as You shout over me Your plans, Your vision, my destiny.  It is more than I can take in; my thoughts are not Your thoughts, but Your Spirit captures those declarations and plants them deep in my soul, to be watered by my tears and looked after by Your very words which will not return to You void.

As I struggle on the slippery rocks of a steep slope, my fingers scrabbling for a hand hold, You reach out Your right hand to me and pull me up over a craggy out-cropping of rock.  As You settle my feet on the ground, I see that the path is once again soft and smooth, caressing my feet after the pain and sharpness of the rocky trail.  Ah, what a blessing.  “What do you see?”, You breathe in my ear, “look all about you, listen and look.”  My eyes and ears are met by the vivid colors of the snapping banner. A steady, fragrant breeze billows it out and in, out and in.  The colors are rich, deep, mesmerizing; colors of royalty, purity, power.  I can’t look away.  There is safety here. I never want to leave.  I look to You and You throw back Your head, smiling, and laugh!  The sound is beautiful and untamed as it ripples out and out, echoing off the mountains, resounding through the trees.  Joy fills my heart just hearing it.  “Keep looking, daughter”, You shout, “I’ve only just begun!”

I scan the path ahead and notice a large open space.  In it, is a lavish table, set with the finest of dishes, glinting gold and silver with brilliant blue and brightest white.  This is what I saw glittering near the banner at the start of this journey.  You had already planned it and set it out for me? You prepared it for me and me alone?  The magnitude of Your love descends and envelopes me and I am undone.  I weep without shame before You; completely captured by Your perfect, unconditional love.  Oh, Father, this is what I have been searching for in vain on those wide, well worn paths, straying far from the narrow, uncertain one You urged me to follow. I thought I could find it on my own; thought I could control and command it. All along You were leading me to it; in Your way, in Your time.  I see it now.

On this table is the most sumptuous feast I have ever seen. Fruit ripened to perfection is strewn in perfect chaos around about the table.  Delicacies I have never encountered before are placed before me and You gesture I should eat.  I do and I taste Your goodness, faithfulness, patience and generosity in every bite. In the middle of this beautiful table is a pure white marble fountain. The purest, clearest water bubbles up from its center.  The water never stops flowing. The source originates from the right hand of Your seat. Mercy. My cup runs over.

Every good and perfect gift does come from You. I have tasted it and I have known it.  I dine with You in the presence of my enemies. Fear, Arrogance and Abuse; Rage, Pain and Bitterness.  They are there, watching from the paths I didn’t take, peeking from the thorny bushes that pricked me and drew blood.  They taste defeat, while I taste victory, freedom and deliverance.

As we dine together, You rise and stand next to me, raising a golden horn of oil above me.  You anoint my head.  I am chosen, wanted, redeemed and purified in Your sight.  You set Your seal upon me and pour out Your blessing over me.  “You have an open invitation at this table, child, do you not know?  After all, I set it for you.  How long I have waited for you to come and dine with Me!  Dwell here in My house all the days of your life.  I have given you all you need; you are well equipped to be about My business.  My goodness and love will follow you; watch for them, listen.  Keep your eyes on My banner, never let it out of your sight, for it is My love.  Yes, His banner over me is love.

Death of a Stronghold

I want out of here.  I am so cold.  It’s getting darker. Where did the light go?  The air feels heavy and oppressive.  It’s getting harder to breathe.  I can hardly see anything around me.  I reach out my hands to grasp the door.  My fingers brush across the handle, but it doesn’t budge.  I realize that I’ve been sealed in.  Heavy, awkward looking blocks are stacked in front of the door; seemingly tossed in random piles, but effectively blocking my escape. “Who did this?” I wonder.  I turn around and around surveying this place I’ve built for myself. Funny, I don’t remember it looking so bare, empty and void of life; like a grave.  There is nothing of me in this place.  What happened here?  I try to remember the last time I really saw it as it used to be when I first built it; strong, safe, impenetrable, as it was supposed to be; guarding my secrets.  It was a long time ago.  I allow my eyes to wander around the room and then I see them.  The boxes…a flicker of recognition snatches at my thoughts and the old feelings of terror and pain stir and begin to move toward the surface.  I see memories shimmering inside their tightly bound boxes where I banished them all that time ago.  “No, no,” I cry, “I can’t!”  “I can’t see you!”  Not yet…not yet…

My heart is pounding far too hard.  “I can’t…please don’t make me.” I am frozen, staring at the memories bumping up against the lids of the boxes, straining against the ropes I used to tightly bind them away out of sight.  They have been safely tucked away in this tower of heavy blocks I constructed for them. I worked so hard.

I can’t look at them. I am too afraid.  Then, in the silence, almost imperceptibly, I feel a stirring in the air.  It is like the faintest breeze, buoyant; like a soft feather dancing lightly against my bare skin.  I catch the scent of something wonderful! It smells new, clean and light.  Pure.  I know this scent, but can’t yet place it; it’s been so long since I’ve breathed it in.  In contrast, the stench of death, decay and emptiness in this place is overwhelming, yet cloying and familiar.  My imprisoned soul is drawn to the new, the clean, the light and I search for its origin.  Compelled by something supernatural, completely unexplainable, I find myself moving toward the boxes. I am right there, closer to them than I have been in ages.  Despite the desperate sinuous fear that is crowding me on all sides, I sense a shift in the air. It is lighter and I don’t feel crushed by the weight of it. I smell the beautiful scent again and it gives me courage.  There is a palpable change in the atmosphere now. I feel the gentle, sweet brush of feathers all around me and know I am safe. I slowly let myself be drawn in again. The stench of death and decay is very faint now, replaced by the scent of Heaven coming from the wings and feathers in which I find myself enfolded.  Your voice is huge, powerful and deep, yet gentle, quiet and sure.  “It is time.  Look at them now, child; open your boxes.”  “Only if You promise to stay. I cannot face them alone,” I whisper.  Strength flows into me that I know cannot be of me. I am all too familiar with the sense of my own failed strength.  Your voice reverberates through the very core of my being saying, “I alone am your refuge; your place of safety; I am your God and you will trust Me. I will shield you with My wings; I will shelter you with My feathers.  My faithful promises are your armor and protection.” Yes, Father, yes.

You place the frayed, weathered ropes that bind up my boxes of memories into my right hand.  I still have Your strength flowing through me, so I pull the ropes with all my might.  As the ropes slither to the ground, my memories, carefully hidden and preserved, gently dance and hover above the box tops, bidding me to look at them and release them.  Peace that I cannot understand washes over me and I go to the boxes, Your hand warm upon my head; feathers brushing my cheeks.  I inhale You and deeply breathe in Life.  I lift up my head and welcome the memories, and they come.  I look at each one as they come before me. I weep and cry out as I acknowledge them all; the violence, terror, pain and fear; the cruel words and hateful actions and slowly nod my head.  I feel You hold me tight and whisper to my spirit.  I am startled and struck silent as I feel the sweet warmth of Your tears spill onto my face as You weep for me.  You turn my face upwards and I watch my memories, my pain, my loss ascending to Heaven, where You will take them and re-shape them to be used for Your glory.  “Is it done, Father?” I say.  “What about these walls of heavy blocks you constructed to protect your pain?” “Is it not time to tear that down, too, Daughter?”  “Do you really want to be free?”  You take my hands and turn them over. They are calloused and rough, from all those exhausting years of building my stronghold.  I watch in awe, as Your breath, Your right hand, begins to smooth away the hardness, the deep grooves and scales, revealing new skin underneath, that glows with life, energy and health. New life is here, in this place that was seeped in death and emptiness.  In the next moment, my attention is caught by a sound, unlike anything I have ever heard before.  It starts as a deep, low rushing, and then begins to spiral upwards, like a roar, like a violent storm and I fear I can’t stand up under the enormity of it.  It is too much for me to bear and I close my eyes, barely breathing.  As quickly as it came, it is gone.  There is peace; blessed silence, as I rest safely in the shadow of Your wings.  The roar is replaced by the most beautiful song I have ever heard, being sung above me, all around me.  I cannot understand the words being spoken; it is too lofty for me, but something deep in my spirit awakens and responds. I am utterly captivated.  I feel so light, so new, so clean!  As I raise my arms in praise and abandon to my Father, I see that I am free! The walls I built are no more, the boxes are gone, the air is clean, and the Light is back.  Gingerly, I begin walking where once the walls of my self imposed prison stood tall. I notice only a slight indentation, like a scar, left there; an indication of where the pit of my captivity had once been.  Today is the day I traded my stronghold for a strong tower.  As I soak in the song You sing over me, Your voice becomes imprinted on my heart, “I am the Lord Your God, I am with you, I am mighty to save.  I will take great delight in you, I will quiet you with My love, I will rejoice over you with singing.”