WooOOOOoo

I almost didn’t blog today…I’ve got a busy day ahead, but since it’s Halloween, I thought I’d share a few of my ghost stories. They’re not really stories, but a few webbed occurrences that I can’t explain.

I work part time at a retirement resort. Ghost stories go with the territory, but most of them are explainable. I’ve been there a long time and know that when the air kicks on it can sound like a family of ghouls walking through the dining room. I know that the loud crashes coming from the kitchen are usually the ice machine, or dishes falling/rattling from the equipment vibrations. And sometimes the weird reflections you can see in the mantle over the lobby fireplace are just headlights from the care center that sits on the hill above us.

The spookiest stuff happened a good decade ago. I don’t know if it’s because I’ve dropped down to part time and don’t experience as many incidents as I used to, or the “situation” has left the building. So here we go. People with Alzheimer’s and Dementia—when they hallucinate, is it only hallucinations, or can they see into the other realm? At one time I would laugh at this theory, but not anymore. Here is one reason why: We had a few Dementia sufferers who would see a little girl or boy around the same time period. A little child bouncing a ball. Playing. Sometimes, you could hear old time music play, although that could have been a TV in someone’s room, but the sound was a little off, like weird carousal/clown-vintage-muffled music. One of our beloved residents known for hallucinating all kinds of things often came to the lobby looking for “the little boy. Have you seen that little boy with the ball?,” she would ask.

Maybe it was coincidence. A few of the staff surely blew the idea out of proportion, but when multiple people hallucinate the same thing, it makes you wonder.

My ghost story: While downstairs in our social room, I saw in a glass office door, a reflection of an old man wearing a red flannel shirt pulling an oxygen tank. He looked very much like a resident who had passed away some months earlier, but logic kicked in and I assumed it was someone behind me out for a late night stroll. When I turned to speak to him, no one was there.

Knowing how the mind can play tricks, I looked around for large planter, an odd shaped piece of furniture, or something that would make me think I had seen a ghost. Nothing but large open space.

No chills, no voices, no cold breeze. I looked back at the glass door, but the reflection had gone.

What was it? One of my friends assured me it was a demon. I have forgotten the explanation, but it was a stretch, in my opinion. Do ghosts exist? Possibly. There are a few hints in the Bible, but nothing (that I’ve discovered) that fully confirm or deny, except we know the people of the day believed in them.

When the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water, and accused him of being a ghost, he didn’t correct them by saying ghosts don’t exist, he just said, “Be still. It is I. You have nothing to fear.” Matthew 14:27.

I guess that’s all we need to know. There is a supernatural realm of some sorts, yes, but all we need to know is that there is Jesus, and he says we have nothing to fear.

Happy Halloween friends. Stay safe and have fun.

The Border of Courage

There was a girl in my high school who attended parties in the name of guard duty. She would watch over her bestie in case a guy tried to take advantage of her after consuming too much alcohol, or something.

She was ever glossed in cherry pink lips, charming, flirtatious. Churched.

At the time, I thought those girls were weak. Stupid. The one girl for knowingly (continuously) putting herself in dangerous situations—the other for trying to fit in with the crowd in the name of protection.

What a bad example, I thought, discussing life with my friends under shade of tree and good reputation. She’s certainly crossed the line from Christian to20160214_132506 compromise.

My own faith walk looked a lot different—for different reasons—but now that I’ve walked a little farther and read and re-read about Jesus’ life, I get it. Living in comfort is safe, but that’s all.

Jesus crossed the boundaries all the time. He never joined people in their sin, but he still joined the people. The religious of the day had set up boundaries—cross a certain line and your reputation will be ruined. Jesus didn’t even glance at those lines. He dined with tax collectors and sinners. On their own turf, Jesus shared His love knowing it would ruin his reputation with the religious elite.

When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” Luke 19:5-7.

Did they ever once consider Zacchaeus?

Now, I don’t know what went on at those parties with the two friends—I didn’t bother to cross that line—but now I know better than to assume the watchdog of the two had bad intentions. And as for the girl who drank too much and somethinged—she’s exactly the kind of people Jesus would have made his friend. Or perhaps she just needed a reminder of her worth.

Anyway, I guess I write this because I recognize a dangerous trend. Not everyone will be called to cross the boundary lines, but the ones that do don’t need fellow believers (of all people) to assume the worst. We all know how that went down for Jesus. He succeeded in His mission, but not without enduring extreme pain from those who should have known better.

Consider what God calls you to do. You don’t need to be safe if He’s with you. You don’t need the opinion’s of the crowd. You just need a brave set of feet.

The Lottery

In college, I invited a few friends to my hometown. One of them, we’ll call him Nate, came from the city—a large city, with traffic lullabies and amazing theaters and bars full of clean and polished people. He was as Left as I was Right, but we both loved the arts and shopping, so our friendship blossomed enough to shade those conversations we tiptoed around. When he stepped a Birkenstock-wrapped foot onto my parent’s rural property, he grew quiet. And a little bit scared.

I suppose the sound of crickets…and not much else…was foreign to him. And of course, there were wide stretches of unoccupied land, a few neighbors with horses—it was somewhat like the contemporary westerns on TV. I suppose there were some bold ideas pounding on his head about small-town conservatives. You see, his lifestyle was controversial as well, but I had hoped our friendship was enough proof to show him that Jesus follower was the farthest thing from hater.

He eyed the saddle, the chaps, the fireplace—the only source of heat—and grew a IMG_0361bit pale, I kid you not.

The gun shop next to the house.

And when we began to pray over the meal, he looked as if we were about to pull out The Lottery box and sacrifice him to the gods of harvest.

Shirley Jackson wrote The Lottery in 1948. In the story, a small rural town participates in a lottery every year—the unlucky person to choose the paper marked with a black dot must be stoned to death in order to ensure a good harvest. Even children weren’t spared from participating. I had to read this story a few times in my early education, and each time I hated it a little more. What was the purpose of putting readers through that?

So Nate, familiar with only the stereotypical version of small town life, nearly fainted when the theater of his mind nearly caused him to miss the fact that we ate supper with progressives and even enjoyed their company.

I was as surprised to discover how backward Nick thought small-towners were as he was to realize we didn’t reject him for his opposing worldview—there were plenty of people who did, though—I remember the taunts he had to endure when  walking through the dorms at school.

After our trip to the sticks, we returned to campus and laughed about it because friendship has a way of pushing through the muck.

But a few mornings ago, when reading the myriad threads of political discussion on facebook, I realized that we are indeed living in The Lottery–in more ways than one. The comment that reminded me of that horror story went something like this: “We need to stand behind Planned Parenthood because if we don’t allow abortions, we’ll end up supporting more low-income kids.”

That seemed to be the majority opinion—to weed out the low-income kids as if that sacrifice would cause our monetary harvest to grow. There was also mention of deformed babies, as if they had no more value than a weed in a garden.

Nate and I didn’t discuss everything in depth, but maybe we should have—maybe if more Lefts and Rights learned how to sit down at supper together, we could talk rather than throw stones through the safety nets of cyberspace. It seems as if that’s all we do now–throw stones and target those who are different. I’ve read the Bible. Jesus loves the outcasts, the crippled, the hurting. He came for them.

So here we are friends, smack dab in the Real-Life Lottery. But unlike in 1948, when Shirley Jackson received hate mail for her story, we’re embracing this lottery system and calling it progressive.

A tiny heartbeat, no matter how poor or different, is not a weed, but a life in need of Love.

“Explaining just what I had hoped the story to say is very difficult. I suppose, I hoped, by setting a particularly brutal ancient rite in the present and in my own village to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.” –Shirley Jackson

Show, Don’t Tell

There’s a technique that writers use to help draw a reader into a story. It’s called showing vs. telling. Of course, this is a universal truth. I could tell my kids to eat healthy or I could show them by doing it myself.

I could tell you Jane is angry at me, or I could show you how she tore into my driveway, banged on the door until I let her in, and then leaned into my face with balled fists, face hot-poker red, staring me down until I asked, “What?”image007

A great story will stir something inside you that makes you add it to your kids inheritance, it’s that powerful.

This is how we know Jesus is real, friends. How many religions tell you nice things? Mind-provoking things, even; things that you discuss for hours at a time? How many have enticing arguments against everything you thought you knew?

Now, make a list of all the “gods” that let themselves get beaten to a pulp, spit on, mocked (to this day), and literally crucified – showing you He is the real deal?

It’s Jesus, people. You won’t find that kind of love anywhere else. The generic versions are nothing but one-dimensional talk.

This blog was brought to you by the letter T for Truth.

Lord of the Flies

When I was little, maybe around five, the front of our house was coated in flies. They came with the dairy farm up the road, buzzing around the faces of cows and outdoor kids, flying in homes as doors were opened. We swatted those pests like no one’s business.

I liked to sweep my arm up and down the exterior wall, making the flies flee in a wave, only to find them coating it like black wallpaper a few seconds later.

It was as if they swallowed the wall beneath – the one stacked and mortared by my parents after work and on weekends. Mom and Pop layered bricks and pounded in beams for ten years, only to have an entire side hidden by flies.
My grandma could catch them in her hand. It was awesome. I took up the hobby for a while until I got bored. What’s one fly in the hand?

But, the dairy farm closed and the fly wall disappeared. They would bring the cattle in for winters, but we were never plagued with flies like that again.

I take that back. They don’t come in buzzing, poo-nesting hordes, but dark things swarm in my face, blocking my sight as I head toward Easter. Maybe it’s the same for you. As we walk toward the Cross this month, the overstuffed schedules and crossforblogheartaches lay heavy. The misspoken words, the mistakes enshroud us. Steps become shuffles and we try to catch at least one of them but what’s one in the hand? Where do we put it?
But that Jesus, He never stops working His Grace. He reminds us He already walked the horde up the hill. He let it devour His body so we could be free of it. He let His love pour down red until every single thing that plagues us is washed away. What’s underneath is His own custom-made design.

There may be flies, but they will forever be frozen in winter.

Rockstar Peter

I feel like I’ve slipped on Peter’s skin again. The boat reeks of fish as I climb over the splintered sides and push from shore. I probably won’t be catching anything but seaweed today. I can’t see Him.

I can almost feel the breeze, the same that kissed the face of Jesus. Oh, leaders of all kinds make fun of Peter. I’ve laughed along with them as they listed all of his screw ups. He lost his temper and cut someone’s ear off. He walked with the very Son of God and then was mocked by roosters when he denied Jesus in a moment of fear. I laughed until I realized I was him.

I don’t use a knife for anything but a tool, but my words have cut through the skin of more than one person, sometimes out of impatience, sometimes out of complete unedited idiocy.

I’ve believed in Jesus for as long as I can remember, but in seasons of heartache, seasons of stretching $25 into a week of groceries, moments when I just wasn’t good enough, I’ve looked away from the sky to my own solutions, finding shame in my denial of His power, His love.

I cast my nets and sit. I wait.

Sometimes in the waiting, I get impatient. I grab a dirt-coated worm, stick it to a hook and plunk it into the sea. No bites worth keeping.

Do I get a new boat?051909_1346[00]

I tug on my shirt and stare at the frayed edges. I look across the water to the hills.

Suddenly, a flash of white. A form, a bright something hovers over the water and I cry out. It’s a ghost—a haunting of all my screw-ups finally come to devour me!

I’m done for.

“Peter.”
When he says my name my heart winds down to shame. It’s Him. How could I have not recognized my friend?

I look around and take a feeble step. Should I?

Who do I think I am?

I want to – I look at His face, and just for a moment I feel like I’m anything but a dimwitted Peter.

I step onto the water and it holds. “I’m coming”, I say and I start to move forward. The sun burns fierce on my skin, a zephyr nearly knocks me over, but I keep my eyes on Him and I AM WALKING ON WATER.

The wind spins on my shoulder for a moment and blows trash in my ear. It reminds me that I’m not good enough for this.

My feet break through the water and I’m in over my head. I can’t breathe. All the mistakes I’ve made rush into my mouth and I’m drowning.

A hand lifts me up, up, up, toward the light. The surface breaks into a thousand shards as my Friend lifts me into the boat.

He puts His hands on either side of my face. They are bleeding, pierced with a sea full of hooks. Mine sticks straight into His heart and Love spills all over me.

“My blood is enough to pay for all of it,” He says, “Just keep your eyes on Me.”

Then he slips Peter’s skin from me and says,
“You are wonderfully and uniquely made.”

I pop back into my living room and stare at the painting on the wall called, The Word. I see Peter, my brother from the line of Oops, and watch as he leaves the boat behind to follow our friend.

Something happens.

Despite his mess-ups, his denial, his blunders, Jesus takes him and gifts him with grace and strong feet – the kind that keep walking toward Jesus. He keeps walking. He fishes for those stuck in the boat.

And somewhere along the way Jesus made him into a rock star.

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the forces of Hades will not overpower it.” Matthew 16:18 (HCSB)

I look at The Word again, catching sight of Peter’s last days. His walk has led him to a finely sculpted artwork. All because he kept his eyes on Jesus.

Shadows

“Let’s catch a shadow”, I tell him as he pushes around his new bike. Royal blue, motorcycle style, it was the first thing he woke up to on Christmas morning.

This idea came after he had been waking up to shadows that haunted him. Shadows lit by his nightlight from behind a coat, a toy; these things that cast their images upon the wall morphed into monsters, sending him to get me at all hours of the night. “They’re bad shadows, Mommy.”

He pulls his bike onto the patio where I’m waiting with sidewalk chalk in hand. Suspicion paints his face in squints and I point out the shadows – Handlebars, peddles, chain. They stretch unnatural, but he sees the familiar as the sun lights the sky, warm on our backs. The only darkness right now is that shadow. “Okay.”

I take blue and trace. He holds the bike still and watches me capture the darkness 100_3251in his favorite color.

“Okay, pull it away.” I smile as he catches sight of it.

“Oh, yeah, Mommy. Let’s do Sissy’s  now.” He pulls over Chloe’s bike and I pick up pink and begin to trace. “Are you done yet, Mommy?” He moves the bike to see where I’m drawing.

He moves the bike back into position and waits. He’s excited now, watching these bikes loom larger than life.

“I’m done.” He moves the bike quick and delights at the two captured on the patio.

“More, Mommy.” We trace each other’s feet, our legs, and our faces pressed into the patio, hats crowning our heads.

For this day he gets to hold the shadows captive. This moment, he knows that the handle bars are not twice-the-size monsters, but darkness at the mercy of light.

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” John 8:12

The Candy Cane Battle

Candy canes are essential. Their presence in Chloe’s stocking validates the holiday. She knows if her stocking is blessed by them, Santa and his Manager have delivered on their promise. They’ve brought the magic.

“I know it’s Jesus’ Birthday Mommy.” She brings home two candy canes from her Wednesday night church group and works on the red stripes. “When these are gone, Jesus has washed us clean. It’s his blood, Mommy.”

Noah gets one too. Crunch, lick, crunch and his stripes are devoured together in all 100_3165the sugary glory. Mmmmm. He’s off to don his spider man costume to destroy the bad guys with his sugar-powered web. He finds the magic in superheroes. Daniel in the lions den is his favorite story. The bad guys always lose to goodness, but there’s no time to be meticulous. It’s on.

The red stripes fade to white and Chloe announces the world white as snow.

She favors Noah’s style (the biblical one). She likes to line up her animals two by two, and haul them onto her pillowy soft ark. She even grabs her dollies so there is human representation.

Either way, the kids know that goodness in magical because no matter how the war of good and evil is fought, Jesus wins. And that means his friends win too.

So this is really for the grownups. Because when we lose the magic of Santa, and Christmas becomes more commercial, we feel the war something crazy. We have visions of heartaches, screw-ups, and impossibilities dancing in our heads, and have forgotten about the superheroes and the sweet taste of victory.

Focus on the candy cane. It’s victory made in pure truth, all the way through.

All of us, the tall and the small, can rest easy because we are powered by the stripes, not by our own strength.

That’s some beautiful sweetness.