"It may be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life.
The thing I mean can be seen for instance in children, when they find some game or joke that they especially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.
But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening. ‘Do it again’ to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite for infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.” ~G. K. Chesterton
I knew I had another post with the word "Harley" in it. Since my ride a few weeks ago, I've had Harley-on-the-brain. I am thiiiisss close to convincing my husband we need one.
I managed to set my Harley thoughts aside long enough to get some work done. Part of that has included research on Vietnam. While talking to a friend about what it was like to be eighteen and facing the draft in 1967, he told me about the choice: avoid the draft and go to prison, or go to Vietnam and die. He really thought he wouldn't live to see twenty.
I can't shake it. I'm the mother of a nineteen-year old boy, and I can't imagine sending him off with those thoughts in his head.
* * *
His name was Lou, but everyone on our listserver called him LocoLou. And he was all right with that ... liked it, in fact.
I never met him, never spoke with him by phone, never saw a picture. But I can see and hear Lou in my mind nonetheless. His voice is low and gravelly. He shaves only when he can't stand his reflection. He owns a single jacket: scuffed black leather with stories attached to each mark. He favors jeans, boots and white T-shirts, barely cooked steak, and women who don't mind an occasional ride on the back of his Harley. And the heart beating under those T-shirts--despite his efforts to prove otherwise--is baby soft, tenderized by the God he met after Vietnam while in a trauma-induced state of craziness.
Lou's not crazy now. In fact, he's quite lucid. We members of the Calvary Chapel Fellowship listserver looked forward to his grizzly posts, because his words never failed to provoke thought and discussion. Sometimes they stirred memory.
For no particular reason at all, Lou wrote a post one day in which he described a trench he'd called home one long morning in Vietnam. The words he spilled onto the screen proved he could recall even now every pebble, groove and divet of that open-air coffin. He put himself there again for our benefit and filled our ears with the sounds of battle, the sounds of a nineteen-year old's heart pounding against his chest. We tasted his fear as he hunkered there trying to force his body into submission so he could obey orders, so he could pull himself out of that hole, stand tall, and advance on the enemy.
"I didn't know I had courage until I found myself flying down the face of that hill," Lou wrote. "And to this day, I can still hear the blood pulsing in my ears as I charged, just as if it were still Christmas day, 1966."
As I read Lou's words, I stood with him in that trench, pulled myself out with my own shaky arms, fortified my fear-wobbled legs and moved to take that first step down the hill. But when he wrote the date, I left him there in Vietnam. Because when I read that date, I knew I had my own hill to return to.
I was five that same Christmas day, and I'd just maneuvered my brand-new bicycle out the back door of our house and around the side gate toward the front yard. New bikes need to be seen, especially by neighbor girls who have been hah-hahing you for months with their own sparkly transportation. The only glitch to my showing-off plan came when I ran out of level front-yard grass. The last ten feet or so of our yard was a hill that led down to the street. There was no moving around that obstacle. I had two choices: I could walk my bike down the slope, or I could ride.
I've revisited that "hill" as an adult. I've driven slow circles past my old house on many occasions, trying to capture a wisp of those long ago days and the family who lived there. And I'm almost embarrassed to call that slight front-yard incline a hill. But measurement taken by adult eyes differs greatly from that of a child's eyes. To my five-year old way of thinking, that slight incline was Mount Challenge.
I almost walked the bike down. Almost. But I sensed that a defining moment had presented itself. I could ride off down the street a little girl, or I could ride off down the street a big girl. And no one but me would know the difference.
I like to think Lou and I conquered our hills at exactly the same moment on that December day. I like to believe that my leg swung up and over my bike seat at the same moment Lou swung his leg up and over the edge of his trench. I like to believe our hearts pounded in tandem and we rode the wind together as we flew past fear.
Here's to courage--and the wars it wins. Here's to our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. And here's to all of you standing on the precipice of your own personal hilltop, gathering strength to charge. Whatever mountain you face today, don't give up. Fight the urge to retreat, for victory is closer than you think.
You'll find it just on the other side of the hill.
Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes it is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, "I will try again tomorrow." ~ Mary Anne Rademacher-Hershey
The washing machine is full, which would make sense at the end of a long trip except that so are both my suitcases.
My heart is full because I'm back in the place of green, where the sun has to go deep and crafty if it's to find a way through all those emerald boughs. Where it succeeds, bright speckles dot the lawn. Where it fails, dark shadows invite and tease. I'm sorely tempted to leave this leather office chair, descend the man-made steps inside and the God-made steps at the edge of my patio, and explore those living, green caverns.
It's good to be home.
But my head is full too. Flashes from the whirlwind intercept my normal, about-the-house wanderings. I lift the faucet to fill the tea kettle and I'm outside the sanctuary in Murrieta, staring at the burbling waters of a pool-filling fountain. I unsnap my briefcase and the moment my hand touches my recorder, I'm in the homes and offices and backyards of all my interviewees, listening to their love stories. I catch sight of Mittens racing herself across the patio, and I'm defying gravity and common sense along the Ortega Highway on the back of a friend's Harley, watching the blur of Scotch bloom at 90 miles an hour--and loving the sound of my freedom.
I hear music and see the morning star and remember laughter. I see the faces I came to appreciate and to love, and I find yet again that I long for heaven--where all is hello, and good-bye isn't worth a memory.
I've stories to tell. Some might find their way here. Most will find their way into my book. But every one has changed me in some way. I've been reminded once again of the vastness of God and the beauty of His sovereignty, the transforming touch of Jesus, and the sacred romance that whispers our name on every breeze.
While I've been here in southern California fighting off the heat, my thoughts have drifted often toward home--where time (and traffic) runs more slowly, where breezes are polite enough to cool you, where the garden yields food for not just the eyes and the stomach, but the nose too. I'm missing the tangy scent of earth, and beans, and ripe-to-the-minute tomatoes. So here's what you get ...
When I grab my one and only Longaberger basket--the one with the frilly blue liner I made myself because I was too frugal to buy theirs, overlaid with the plastic liner I bought from them because I was smart enough to know I'd need it--and head down to the garden, I know I was created to harvest tomatoes. And beans. And whatever else my eyes spy out there. There's something earthly and perfect about hunkering down before a groaning tomato plant, reaching between those curly, pungent leaves, and relieving the branch of a hefty round orb--the scent of which I simply cannot describe. Nor can I quite capture the color. It's almost alive, that ruby hue. Nestled in all that green, those gems practically call your name when you make your appearance through the greenhouse door. "We're here!" And so they are.
So when I'm loading my basket with perfect tomatoes, I know I was created to feel the growing weight of that Longaberger basket slung over my arm.
I'm convinced, too, that I was born to make spaghetti sauce. I feel like a genuine earth mother chopping the peppers, zucchini, garlic and onions that found their way into my basket during the tomato-fetching mission. And when I'm tearing bits of basil from the pot on my patio, I'm quite convinced that God wrote somewhere near my name, a century or two before my birth, "Make this one love to cook." Because I do. I love the tasting and testing that goes with the venture. I love digging through the spices above my stovetop, looking for that one particular something that I'm sure will pull the best flavor out of the pot. I love the warm, lovely smell of just-peeled garlic ... and the patterns made by dancing, jumping herb-flecked splatters ... and the hot sound of burping, burbling, bubbling sauce. And I love that I get to wear -- and wipe my hands on -- my black Starbucks apron.
And though I truly don't want to go all Chariots-of-Fire on you, the truth is, when I'm cooking, I feel God's pleasure. Maybe it's because He's a parent, and a banquet-setter, and the satisfier of all our hunger. He knows what it is to see upturned, expectant faces, and to watch hope dawn in the eyes of the hungry. So when He looks into my kitchen, and sees me stirring that ugly wooden spoon in my sloppy fashion, I feel the rhythm of His heartbeat.
I had a bout of food poisoning over the last few days. So when I found this post from a few years back, it seemed a timely offering. Today, I'm restored ... and grateful.
I am back among the land of the breathing.
This morning, I opened my eyes and realized two things: one, I had slept through the night without a single coughing fit, and two, I could smell the rain-washed air drifting through our bedroom window. No more congestion, no more sore throat, no more rattling cough.
It's funny how just three or four days of discomfort can make you appreciate normalcy. I ran through the house sniffing that lovely smell and even went outside for a long moment, just because the scent of morning no longer eluded me. Every intake is pure delight. Last week I wouldn't have even noticed.
I've often thought about the people in first century Israel and what it was like for them when ailment struck. Blindness, flesh-eating disease, incessant bleeding, insanity--if those conditions stump our modern-day experts, imagine the helplessness you'd feel two thousand years ago when a diagnosis of that sort landed in your lap. Your only hope would be prayer.
But for a few, a different sort of Hope walked their way. A man blind from birth encountered that hope one ordinary day. He heard the voice first, then felt hands rubbing mud on his useless eyes. The voice told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam--and he did. He felt his way down the hillside, searched with his foot until his toe touched wetness, bent down and scooped a handful of water toward his eyes. And for the first time in his life, the man saw a flicker of light ... and then a ripple of watery motion ... and then his own reflection. He looked down in that water and saw the face of a once helpless, hopeless man who had been both helped and filled with hope by the God who loved him.
Ten lepers found healing one day when Hope walked past them on the road to Jerusalem. They knew, somehow, who He was. "Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!" They needed that mercy. Since the first tell-tale spot had appeared on each of their bodies, they'd made their home together wandering the hills, banished from all other human contact. Though occasionally a loved one ventured to within a hundred feet or so and lifted a hand or a voice in greeting, those glimpses only served to remind these lepers how long it had been since they'd kissed their spouse or held their children. And emotional turmoil aside, their physical condition was gruesome. Fingers rotted off. Noses disintegrated. Feet melted away to bone. Sores grew and covered their bodies. The only hope for these ten was the hope of death--until the day He walked among them.
He could have transferred healing through touch. He'd done it that way before. But maybe to remind those ten, and all the rest of us, that in the beginning He created the world with nothing but a word, this time He healed with His voice. "Go, show yourselves to the priest," was all He said. But when they did as He said, when they turned and began walking in obedience, it happened. I wonder what they noticed first. Was it the fingers that grew from their stubs? Was it the fact that they no longer walked on bone, but on fully formed feet? Or was it the ears, the noses, the beautiful restored faces of each other that first tipped them to the truth--that they'd been healed with a word from God?
A woman who had bled for twelve years found the courage to go against convention, show herself in a crowd, and touch, briefly, the hem of Jesus' garment. Power flowed from Him to her and stopped her bleeding on the spot. With no more interaction than that, the woman was restored. Hope healed her--then turned, smiled, and called her "Daughter."
And my favorite of all: the crazed, demon-possessed cave-dweller. I stood on a hill across from that cave this last October above the shores of Galilee and heard the story again. I heard about the man of the tombs, the untamable madman who had broken every shackle men could put upon him, but who couldn't break the chains of his hopelessness. Isolated in the cave, with nothing for company but a legion of demons, this man too woke every day waiting for death. But on a very ordinary day, God brought the key that would release him forever from his chains. With a word, Jesus emptied the man of his demons, filled him with hope, and restored both his sanity and his dignity. And the man was so spilling-over-grateful, he begged Jesus to go with Him. But Jesus sent the man home to his friends.
I have often wondered what that homecoming--what all those homecomings were like. "I'm home," I hear in my imaginings. "I've been healed!" And I see the faces of loved ones as they behold and then embrace the truth: their lost one is restored.
There's nothing new under the sun. The hopeless still walk among us. And God hasn't changed. He's as willing today to restore as He was two thousand years ago. But something else that hasn't changed is that people want a selective part of God, but not all of Him. They want the miracles, but not the relationship. They want the blessings, but not the obedience. They want the hope of heaven, but they don't want God to intrude on their lives here on earth.
If you're in dire straights, God will hear your prayers. If you feel despairing or broken, the healing you need is as near as a whispered prayer. And His name is Jesus. But know this: whatever situation you want out of, whatever healing you need, the fix you find will be only temporary. The blind man? He died eventually. So did the lepers. So did the bleeding woman. So did the man of the tombs. They enjoyed their healing for a time and had stories to share with all who would listen, but in the end, their life here was a brief, flitting appearance. So is mine. So is yours.
Don't ask God to solve your temporary problems and ignore the eternal healing He's holding out to you. He wants to give you a hope that lasts forever.
And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. 1 John 5:11-12 NKJV
Bob Bennett, singer and songwriter--and one of my all-time favorites.
Under an inky black sky and a tree flecked with lights, the dredlocked man shimmies to his own guitar licks. He's found a way to jazz up "Three Little Monkeys." A handful of those monkeys, wearing sneakers and flip flops and baby Crocs, shed timidity and their parents and perform an unrehearsed dance revue, while we adults laugh and applaud and urge them on.
One 30" child with a penchant for pigtails and pink places a tiny hand on her tiny hips and sways to the bluesy beat before doing a slow, rhythmic turn. This one knows her charm.
Not to be outdone, a blue-clad boy in a backwards cap arches his shoulders, flexes his arms, and breakdances--right there on the street.
I don't know how he learned to do that, but I suddenly long to be short and uninhibited, with a brazen stance and the gall to dance in public to the monkey song.
Our game of "catch me; catch what I throw at you; come and find me" has been ongoing for two months now. Of course, we have to stop here and there for short breaks. I mean, he lives in one house and I live in another, and there are all those naps to take and meals to eat and family obligations to fulfill. But the moment we're in the same room together, play resumes right where we left off.
This morning after church, I was trying to have an adult conversation with another tall person, when I looked down the aisle and caught Luke advancing toward me. As soon as he saw me looking at him, the gig was up. He tossed stealth to the side and came running straight at me. I didn't even have time to apologize to my friend, because before I could say a word, Luke had leapt in the air--a la Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon--and attached his little octopus suction cups to my arms and legs.
My friend recognized defeat. She got the rest of her sentence out all in a rush: "OkaythenI'llseeyouattheYtomorrowat8:30," and wisely backstepped out of the play arena.
I held Luke close and tickled him. He pretended to want me to stop. I grabbed his chunky little legs and poked my finger under his armpits and blew raspberries on his exposed side, just under the edge of his t-shirt. At one point, I couldn't help myself--he'd thrown his head back to laugh and there was all this neck skin just begging to be bitten, so I did. I took a very mild, very polite nibble. And Luke, well-trained, listens-to-his-mama Luke, said, "Hey! No biting." But he said it between giggles.
He decided we ought to spend a little time throwing his red Matchbox car back and forth at each other. He tossed it toward me, I sent it skittering across the floor, then he threw it back to me the way you'd skip a rock across the lake. This went on for about 90 seconds, and then Luke, obeying a stopwatch seen only by him, decided some hand-holding and dragging was in order. So he grabbed my hand and tugged me in and out of the rows of chairs until another silent ding went off and he switched us back to tickle.
That boy tuckered us both out. Laughing, we stopped for a moment to catch our breath. He hooked his hands around my forearms and smiled up at me. Looking down at his hot little face I thought, I love you. So I said it. And right at the exact moment those words came out of my mouth, Luke said, "I love you."
Our love for each other passed in mid air. It made me say, "Oh!" and it made Luke grin. And then he decided he wanted to prove his affection. With a rather stern, commanding voice, he said, "Stay here." He then walked over to the refreshment table, grabbed a quarter of a banana nut muffin, and walked back to me. With great flourish, he broke off a minuscule section of that muffin, held both pieces up, surveyed each carefully, and handed the smallest piece to me. I knew he really meant it, then.
I took a tiny bite and handed the rest back to him. Then he knew I meant it too.
I'm still in southern California, still loving the sunshine and the circumstances that have brought me here. I'll have many stories when I get back. For now, here's one from the past ...
My proper but mischievous grandmother had one firm rule about cussing: If you must do it, do it in the barn. I believe now that her unspoken message was "animal behavior belongs with the animals," but we didn't hear that subtext back then. We just thought it a tantilizing and dangerous invitation. Of us seven girls, I only remember one who regularly took Grandma up on that offer. "Dang it," the girl-whose-name-I'm-not-telling-you would whisper, when she just couldn't take the pressure of being seven anymore. Sometimes I overheard her. Sometimes I didn't have to. She'd come moseying out of the barn with that satisfied look on her face, and I'd know the old building had stripped her of all her troubles.
I spent the majority of my growing-up summers living on my grandparents' farm. And I wasn't alone. Whether my grandparents extended the invitation to bless us or to bless our parents didn't much matter. We seven cousins packed our bags the first day of summer vacation, hit the farm running, and didn't look back until September started making noise.
When the sun broke through our dreams and drove us from our beds, we girls would gulp down breakfast, yank on our cowboy boots, and head for the barn. We ventured out now and then, of course--to chase cows, climb trees, ride ponies, and beg Grandma for a cup of sugar for dipping rhubarb stalks--but our home base was Grandpa's barn. To this day, whenever I walk into a barn (and I do, every chance that presents itself), all I have to do is close my eyes and draw in a big breath, and I'm instantly short again. The perpetual dust inside is drifting through a sunbeam like miniature snowflakes, I'm surrounded by the heavenly tang of manure, and I can feel and hear the stomp of cow feet or horse feet or girl feet slapping the concrete floor.
Our favorite thing to do in the barn was to climb up to the hay loft and make mazes with the bales. It took all fourteen of our skinny little no-muscle arms to lift and stack those bales, but unity of purpose kept us grunting and puffing. We'd take a whole morning to create the perfect hay maze, then spend the rest of the day hiding around corners and trying to scare one another.
Grandpa let us sweep the broken bales and loose hay out the window. When enough had accumulated in a heap below that second floor window, we'd jump. The worse part of growing up was saying good bye to that rush. There's little in the adult world that offers the same freedom as leaping from a second floor window. For just a moment there, you and your sixty-five pounds don't belong to earth.
One summer day, while preparing for a jump, my middle sister Megan took off her spanking-new, bright green tennis shoes and set them off to one side of the window. If her goal was to spare her new shoes an afternoon of dirt, she didn't quite think it through. After repeatedly jumping in the hay, running over the grass and across the dirt path and up the grimy stairs to repeat her performance, the feet she planned to plunge back into those new shoes were beyond filthy. But she never got the chance to dirty her footwear. One shoe went missing. Though we looked high and low and everywhere in between, though we moved hay bales and checked corners and took a pitch fork to the pile outside, we never found that second green tennis shoe. No one ever found that shoe. I like to think a family of klepto-crazed field mice lined up while we were giggling in the pile of hay below and dragged that green shoe down a secret hole. In my best imaginings, it became a mice family heirloom ... and the story, a legend.
A piece of my sister lingered in that barn, long after she outgrew hay jumping and pony rides. And that's just how it goes when you've sojourned in a place. Whether we plan to or not, we leave pieces of ourselves wherever we travel. Those little markers, little breadcrumbs, show we've been this way.
I hope you're conscious of the pieces you're leaving behind today. Someday, someone will hold up that breadcrumb and tell the story of you. Make sure it's a good one.
I am a Calvary Chapel pastor's wife, editor, speaker, and the author or co-writer of nine books, including A Whisper in Winter: Stories of Hearing God's Voice in Every Season of Life (New Hope Publ.) and Inconceivable: Finding Peace in the Midst of Infertility (Cook Communications). My monthly column can be found at Christian Women Online.
Finding Peace in the Midst of Infertility
Book reviews. . .
"Shannon Woodward is a master storyteller! From the first word of Inconceivable, Shannon's warmth, humor and transparency drew me in. I have walked this same path and can honestly say that this book not only addresses the gut-wrenching emotions of infertility with rare integrity, but also offers fresh Biblical insight wrapped in a powerful story of God's grace and healing in the midst of great pain and deep loss. Inconceivable is a life-changing gift for every woman who deals with infertility. " --Mary Southerland, Founder/Director of Journey Ministry, Inc.
A Whisper in Winter
Book reviews. . .
"This book still whispers to me. It follows me and lingers like a fragrance ... a sweet, holy haunting." --Nancy Anderson
"I read A Whisper in Winter like I eat a bag of little Dove chocolates--slowly, savoring each bite. Each year, I read dozens of books, but it is rare that a book captures my heart in the way that this book did." --L. J. Seaborg
"I knew by the title and the forward that this was going to be a good book to read. What I didn't know is that it would open my mind and my heart and cause me to be more aware of God in my life ... He's been beside me whispering all along." --Nancy Henry