Read to Feed Myself

“It has goat’s milk in it.” 

I turned the package over in my hand and examined it albeit not very closely. It was a soap gift pack. 

“It is made with goat milk and it is supposed to be good for your skin. Makes it all luxurious!” She knows me well enough to know I like things that are a little homesteady. I appreciate a yard egg from a named yard Chicken far more than I do a generic container of eggs collected from a mass of unknown, unnamed chicks by an unnamed and unknown egg collector. I like to know that Happy the Chicken produced my brown egg on the 12th of last month as I am breaking it and about to scramble it.

I love walking barefoot in the grass far more than I do in a pair of designer shoes. I love dirt and the smell of rain. I find healing outside and I am a firm believer that my darkest days are often directly linked to the short days of winter.  I am a firm believer that the beauty of nature points to the Creator, and the skies themselves declare the glory of the Maker. 

An all natural homemade goat’s milk soap seemed right up my alley, and I wondered if she half had me in mind when she purchased the gift for the gift exchange game. It must not have come as a surprise when I stole the gift from another family member, she smiled and tacked on another pitch for the “goatsmilk soap” gift. “They said it’ll feel nice when you use it.”

I nodded in understanding and agreement as I tucked the gift away and carried on with the day It wasn’t until later that night that I looked at the soap gift pack again. I was excited to use my goat milk gift when I showered that night. I stood in my bathroom and began to examine my gift closer. The scent was gingerbread and written in large print on the packaging “Vegan Soap Gift.” I looked at the individual pieces, each one stated it was gingerbread but each item had printed in bold upon it the word “Vegan.” I laughed again recalling her explanation that the product was made of goat milk and the clearly stated declaration of vegan on it. 

The two terms are incongruent. She was convinced it was made from an animal product yet the item itself declared in fact it was not made with any animal products at all. I used the soap and despite it note being made of goat milk it is still nice and luxurious, I still feel pampered when I use it and I love it just the same as I would if it were made of goat milk and maybe even more because that non-goatsmilk soap has taught me a valuable lesson. 

There are times when we take the verbal word of another as truth, I assumed since she bought it the gift-giver would know exactly what she had purchased and chances are she genuinely thought she had purchased the goatmilk soap gift and verbally passed that along to me. I did not even question what she had said. In all likelihood I would not have even given it a second thought had I not actually seen the emboldened words myself. 

The Word is like that, sometimes I take what someone says as the truth because I presume they know more than I, they should know more, or they have walked with the Lord in such a way that I assume if they say “it is in the Bible” I do not even question it. I simply accept it. That soap reminded and encouraged me to commit to learn for myself, to read and study the word in such a way that I can know for myself what is Biblical truth and what is hearsay from the mouth of another. I have been given the ability to feed myself by reading God’s word for myself.

Bleak Midwinter

The first time I saw her picture I thought nothing of it. I had no thought that this woman would impact my life in any way. Her brothers were artists and they had captured her image and preserved it for posterity.

I was wrong.

In the winter of 2020 I didn’t fully realize it at the time, but things felt very bleak. By then the world was all in dealing with the Rona. My work days were tedious and tiresome. I’m convinced I have some low key PTSD as a result. Online, Zoom, and “in person” was now added to the lexicon of how events would be differentiated. In fact, not much really was in person, and Christmas was on its way. I received an electronic invitation to attend a Christmas program put on by a large church. By way of clicking “here” I accepted. 

It was a Sunday night, I was sitting at my kitchen table looking at the backlit screen of my phone when my world was impacted a bit more. 

A song began to play and the words via the closed captioning of my phone brought tears to my eyes. I just sat there alone at my table sobbing because it felt like someone had finally put words to the burden and the deep and cold despair that I had been feeling since April 2020 that was now magnified times a hundred at Christmas. 

The song I would learn was called ”In the Bleak Midwinter,” and to my recollection I had never heard it before. 

It quickly entered my list of preferred Christmas songs.  I learned the song was a poem originally and it was written by a woman, her name Christina Rossetti. She was an Italian exile living in London. There is a fair amount of information on the interwebs about her, but I found it interesting that she was born and would die in the midst of the cold and bleakest of days. 

The poem she wrote was about the King, and while I get it’s an allegory and all that, I can’t help but think the world was colder and bleaker and helpless until He came, and her poem-turned-simple-song captured that. 

Her birthday is on December 5th, and her death on the 29th of the same month. While I don’t know if the world will recognize it or not, I wanted to acknowledge that despite her not being here anymore and being almost – if not mostly – forgotten, I am thankful for her encouragement during those deep, dark, midwinter days when the world felt cold as iron and the blessing of a baby that first Christmas morn.

In the Bleak Midwinter – sung by Susan Boyle

In the bleak midwinter

BY CHRISTINA ROSSETTI

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,

Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;

Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,

In the bleak midwinter, long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;

Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.

In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed

The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.

Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,

Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;

Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,

The ox and ass and camel which adore.

Angels and archangels may have gathered there,

Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;

But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,

Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.

What can I give Him, poor as I am?

If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;

If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;

Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Nativity Night

I saw the sign on the roadside a time or two. It advertised a live nativity two nights in a row, a few hours each. The sign made no promises and I neglected to research further the forthcoming nativity in live format. My expectations were not excessively high. We approached the address with the trepidation that accompanies the uncertainty of unknown situations. The Saturday night air was breezy and slightly chilly. As we made our way to the simple setup we were offered hot chocolate and cookies by smiling ladies underneath a tent. 

“Help yourself, be careful it’s hot.” My children have never said no to an offered treat. They reached for those cookies and molten chocolate like starved men in the arctic might.

We walked a few feet away from the refreshment tent to a place where there was a single street light and a few spotlights illuminating a manger with a Mary and a Joseph and real live baby. Mary seemed a bit geriatric compared to the OG Mary aged fourteen. There were some wise guys in fancy dress, a shepherd or two, all under the age of fifteen and more in line with the original Mary’s adolescent age. There were some sheep, a couple of goats, and a donkey. A miniature donkey to be exact. 

I love a donkey. I giggled when I saw him. 

“You can pet ‘em of you want.” A voice said from the darkness. The soft sound of “Away in a Manger” played in the background. 

My husband knows my affinity for a donkey and nudged me in its direction. I hesitated. I began to step forward and then I paused. I just wasn’t sure about petting one of the main players in the night’s nativity. He nudged me again, and whispered to me, “Go pet it, you know you have always wanted to.” I step forward and I remembered some of my favorite things I relate to donkeys. Like donkeys bear a cross in their backs because they once carried a King on a Sunday now known as Palm Sunday and legend says they were so marked by the moment the breed remains that way to this day. Donkeys have a reputation for being stubborn but in fact they are careful thinkers, and if they consider a situation unsafe they will avoid it. Donkeys can see all four of their feet at the same time. 

I reached for the donkey and petted him on the head. He hardly noticed, the burning of tears filled my eyes. I recalled my favorite quote pertaining to the donkey, the one that says, “Do you believe the donkey who carried Christ really thought all that cheering and excitement was for him?” When I heard that statement for the first time I made a mental note, a vow of sorts. I want to be like that donkey. I want to carry Christ wherever I go, and I truly desire for Him to be glorified as I do. 

They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. Matthew 21:7

Christmas Cave

Last year I clicked on an ad on the social media, it was asking for seasonal holiday help. The ad stated that a state park cave was looking for seasonal employees for their Christmas Cave. I am not unfamiliar with the cave, I have traversed it a time or two but it is the summertime swimming pool that typically has my attention. I am convinced that pool is the coldest in Alabama. Within the cave there is a lake, it is just barely visible from the walking path of the cave but where it goes, how big or deep it is, or where its water source come from no one knows. Attempts to demystify such things have all reportedly failed. The cave lake has a pump and with it every year the cave personnel pump water into the gigantic swimming pool on the surface, the water there is frigid. I can testify that when the Alabama summer is triple digit temperatures outside the water in that swimming pool is most refreshing to the wilted and weary body. 

Long about the fall they shut the pool down and for years that is where my relationship with the cave state park ended. That was until last winter when I happened across the ad. 

I saw the need for seasonal Christmas help and I was baffled. What on earth would or could a cave need help for Christmas? I read on, they were looking for help to work their Christmas Cave. I paused a bit and did some deductions. After some reading I realized that in the winter the cave is transformed into a light display. I marked seeing the Christmas cave down on my list of things I would like to see and do on my Christmas to do list. 

I love Christmas lights!

I love to look at those lights all aglow. I will literally ooh and ahh at a perfect stranger’s home when I see a display as I drive by. I will seek out “good” lights and I will take the long way home just to get a glimpse of those colored and clear beacons on a string.

My initial trip to the underground lights left me a bit speechless. While the tour is self guided, I had to be prodded along by my spouse who realized my attention was anywhere but on the rest of the light seeing world and the traffic jams I was causing. I was in awe. I kept trying to figure out why the lights seemed so dramatic, so illuminated, so bright and colorful and pleasing to my eyes. I looked closely at the lights, I could see nothing especially unique about them, they could be found at the Big Box or the General Dollar Store but those lights seemed to shine brighter. I rubbed my eyes, maybe it was me, the see-er that was making the difference. I struggle with crisp visual acuity at baseline and the one and only advantage of that diminished eyesight is how beautiful those bulbs appear sans corrective lenses. To my surprise it wasn’t me either. I couldn’t figure it out and it has taken me a year, several trips to the swimming pool, countless hours pondering pursuing, reflecting, remembering and a single bible study question later to figure it out. 

It was early fall, I was studying the plagues of Egypt. I have studied them before and I am fairly familiar with them. I am typically grossed out by the plagues and it is the tenth and final plague that typically holds my attention. Passover was instituted with it and it is the plague that I enjoy studying, it points directly to Jesus and I appreciate it most. That was until the question pertaining to the ninth plague. The question asked “What was the ninth plague?”

Easy, peasy I thought. “Darkness”

I wrote confidently in my book. I prepared to move on,

“When, if ever, have you experienced total darkness?” I stopped.

Immediately in my mind I thought backwards, it was a few summers before. It was July and as hot a blue blazes we had gone swimming in that state park swimming pool and had decided to take the cave tour to cool off even further. I was with several of my favorites that day when we were asked to take a seat on a low rock and turn off our electronic devices.  We were told we were in the “deepest part of the cave.”

The guide began talking about total darkness, how the earth only has two places where total darkness exists, in a cave and in the depths of the sea. I remembered the facts about total darkness and the verbal warning that the cave lights were about to be turned off, I remembered the feeling of heaviness and oppression that came over me as I sat for what seemed like half a day in the dark but in actuality was just a little while. Time seemed to stop in the absence of the light. I remembered that moment when I answered the question about total darkness and for the first time in my life I gave the ninth plague as much press time in my head as I had the tenth.

It wasn’t until this year’s trip to the underground winter wonderland that I figured out why those cave lights shine so bright. 

I was again standing, my mouth agape, neck stretched to its limits, causing a traffic jam, my husband’s hand on my elbow attempting to move me out of the way of oncoming cave light lookers,

“It has nowhere to go!”

My disjointed statement caught my husband off guard, he deduced I was talking about the traffic jam I had caused, he responded, “I know that’s why I keep trying to get you to move.” I said it again, this time adding pertinent details.

“The lights here, they are so much brighter because they have nowhere to go. Apart from them there is total and complete darkness so the lights, they’re brighter in here, more vibrant, more alive than they are outside where the light goes on and on and on until you can’t see it anymore!”

It was a Eureka moment, I knew the verse in John 1:5 that speaks of Jesus, the Light shining in the darkness and overcoming that darkness, I knew that one of the seven “I am” statements of Jesus in John 8:12 is “I am the Light of the World.” I knew it I just hadn’t really understood just what a Light that penetrates total darkness does. That Light does more than just make the way, that Light is the way, and He shines brilliant and beautiful and the darkness is incapable overtaking the Light. The Light has come and He has overtaken the darkness and we, His people are to shine brighter in such darkness, we are to be like Dollar General Store lights in a Christmas cave, beautiful, vibrant, illuminating, and brilliant.

Race Runners

“I crossed the finish line!” 

I had never met her before, but I love having a conversation with the hip-high part of the population, so I instinctively turned my head to her. 

She was by my estimation about four years old. She was just slightly pudgy wearing a pair of pink shorts that were riding up a tad in the middle. Her once pristine white shirt had a rainbow and a unicorn on it. Alongside some smudges of fudge icing from the doughnut she’d finished off were drips of red sports drink. She had a partial temporary tattoo on her arm, I think it had been a ribbon but I couldn’t rightly tell. She skipped as she walked and she smiled as she’d made her declaration about crossing the finish line. She thrust her congratulatory card my way.

I smiled in response, 

“I know I saw you!” 

I had been tasked with the job of onsite medical and had firmly planted myself, my baggie full of bandaids and cool washcloths at the start-finish line. I had a bucket of water in preparation for those runners who lose their breakfast or aforementioned hastily consumed doughnuts. I had an umbrella for rain, sanitizer for hands and salve for scrapes. 

My new friend was most proud of her accomplishment post one mile fun run. She had run alongside people of all ages and from all walks of life. A precious middle schooler who just shy of a year ago endured three nine hour back and leg surgeries in less than six months time. She walked that fun run (with a rod through her femur and rods, screws and bolts holding her spine together) with survivors of cancers and those walking in honor of those who had not survived. A former nurse, now a grandmother, pushed her elderly dachshund in a stroller. I had seen them all cross the finish line, I’d watched them all. For the ones I knew the story, and for the ones I did not, I cheered and clapped until my hands were raw and tingling. I’d cried tears of joy and ones that could not be defined, and I had done it for no reason in particular except that they had tried and had finished the race. They had indeed crossed the finish line. 

Second Timothy 4:7 says “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” I used to genuinely think that verse was about running and I am in no way a runner. I figured that verse in the King’s Book wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until I realized that those words were written to Timothy from his spiritual father Paul at the end of Paul’s life that I understood. These words were likely Paul’s last ones to his son of sorts, and he likened his life, his walk of faith, to a race. He didn’t say he had finished in first place or as best, but he had completed it. He described it as having crossed the finish line.

The four-year-old was certainly no first place winner or fastest participant, but she was a participant full of joy, and when she declared to me what I already knew, it challenged me to run my race of faith with joy and when the time comes for me to cross the finish line to do so knowing the Lord will say,

 “I know I saw you!” 

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

1 Timothy 4:7-8

Ailments

“Mame what’s-a-ailen’ you youngin’?”

The interrogative would be posed to me often. My Mam-maw could’ve said, “What is wrong with you?” Or “Is something bothering you?” But her mountain raising and simple cut to the chase methodology led to her all encompassing question. 

“What’s a-ailin’ you youngin?”

She knew me well enough to know when something wasn’t quite right. She would know even if I didn’t quite know what it was myself. I don’t rightly know how she always knew, but she did. 

Maybe I was as a child as I am now as an adult, somewhat melancholic. But I reckon it had to have been her God-given intuition. 

She’d ask me what was a-ailing me even as I grew older and her mind began to give way more often than not to the thief of Alzheimer’s. 

She would ask the question as to the source of my ailment, my pain, be it physical, emotional or spiritual. 

In all fairness I didn’t always know and couldn’t always say what the source of my ailment was but I was always mystified how she knew there was a source to be found. So many times she’d just snuggle in close or hug me and I immediately felt better.

Mam-maw went to heaven a long while ago and nobody has asked me that exact question in quite some time but in the wee hours of the morning over a rerun episode of Andy Griffith, it came rushing back to me and so did some tears. I was caught completely off guard. Barney was silently, sulking around the courthouse when Andy asked Barney what was a-ailing him. 

In the days of late my heart has been aching. Try as I may, I can’t quite shake the sadness. 

Like my Mam-maw my little pup seems to know my heart is achy and she’s been extra close and hot on my heels. The evening I had a bad headache, she wouldn’t find herself too far from me. I found myself wondering just how she knew. I’d not said anything out loud, hadn’t telepathically communicated it that I knew of, she just knew I needed some extra snuggles and firmly planted her wiener dog body at my side. 

She was still there about 4 in the morning when Andy was on the TV and  had posed the obvious question to Barney. I realized in that moment how much I missed Mam-maw and her ways. 

Sometimes grief is like that, just hits you out of nowhere and is compounded by other loneliness, losses and sadness. Then as Barney droned in about his issue, and my wiener snuggled in closer, I came to a realization. 

In our sadness and brokenness, the King is near, He snuggles in close like that wiener and we don’t even have to tell Him something is wrong, like my Mam-maw and my pup, He already knows. 

He already knows how bad it hurts and sad we are. He already knows and He promises to stick close and to intercede for us in the places we need it most even if we don’t even know how to say what those are. 

To The Rescue

“We gotta go get them.”

The higher up in the hospital chain of command was telling me, in brief, that there had been an accident and the helicopter had been deployed to go and get the one in need of hospital help. 

It was a benign yet factual statement but it made me think.

There are times when we need help and we go to the help; we make our way to the place of healing or any number of situations. While there is healing to be found in those circumstances, sometimes one is in such need of help he or she can not get it themselves. Times when a car accident occurs or any number of life-altering situations.

That hot summer evening as we sat in traffic with dusk setting in and our destination still far away, we heard a helicopter circling above us. That earlier conversation and the circumstances that called for such a remark came back to me.

Someone needed rescuing and they were unable to do it themselves. That person, in that moment, was incapable of helping themselves. The line of cars evidence of the road-blocking, individual-injuring car accident ahead. The stillness gave me time to think. The Spanish moss hanging from the gnarly old live oaks, the sun lowering on the horizon, gave way to the realization and conclusion that we as humans are like that, we need intervention when it comes to being rescued.

We are incapable of saving ourselves. We had to be rescued. So like the helicopter going to get the helpless, Jesus came to rescue us. He didn’t meet us halfway or expect us to make our way to Him by way of works or any number of things. He simply came to earth, sacrificed Himself and saved us once and for all. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

A song to encourage your heart: I Need You Jesus to Come to My Rescue

Serene Seaside

And the sea will be no more.

“Then I looked and I saw a new heaven and a new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away and the sea was no more.”

There’s more to it than that but I always get stumped right there and I make a face. 

It is a segment of a portion of the 21st chapter of the last Book in the King’s Book. 

I along with some of my closest friends spent the spring studying it and about 31 of us committed this portion and the subsequent verses to memory. We worked hard on it all year and then the day came when it became a part of my memory. I still get some of the articles and verbs wrong, But this part, the part about the sea being no more always gets me, the beach is my absolute favorite place on this planet and I could not appreciate the fact that the sea will be no more. I tried hard to reconcile that in a perfected new world there wasn’t a sea, or a beach. But a perfect world with no beach was a hard sell. 

After some study and some questioning I finally settled on the sea being somewhat metaphorical. 

The beach is the place where I think best, where I sort things out when they get jumbled up, where I check off items on my bucket list, make memories that last a lifetime. The place where I am inspired and it’s been the place that I’ve sought clarity and healing. I’ve limped there too many times to count only to leave walking upright.

The beach is the place where I refresh, reflect and recharge. 

Some days ago we Martins took a vacation to the beach, we visited Mobile and Fairhope. We witnessed a sunset that couldn’t be described and my words can not do it justice. We laughed and ate and swam and pondered and prayed. We attended church at a Bar turned worship center come Sunday Morning. We made memories and soaked up the sun and surf. 

We enjoyed our time and at the end of it all the King reminded me He is faithful in all things and can be trusted with the deep places of the heart, hurt and healing.

Best Thing I Ever Ate!

She was decked out in a pink and purple two piece bathing suit, her middle just peaking over the bottoms, her blonde pigtails long ago waterlogged, and her glasses smudged with fingerprints and sunscreen. They bore the evidence of having been surrendered every time she entered the pool. 

An older lady wiped her face and she pulled away, that is what caught my attention. I saw myself in her, it would have been more than forty years prior and I am certain my middle may have been pudgier and been peeking more significantly than hers did. 

The little girl held in her hand an ice cream bar on a stick and she ate it with such delight I found myself wanting one. She took another bite and nodded toward the older lady. I heard her approximately six year old voice say, 

“Best thing I ever ate!” 

And she smiled. I knew she was speaking the truth. I quickly calculated that she’d been alive somewhere in the 4500 days range and in all that time, here on this blazing hot afternoon by the pool she’d just consumed the best thing she’d ever eaten. I smiled at such a revelation and began to ponder, what is the best thing I’ve ever eaten? 

I’ve tasted some good things before but none of them are so ingrained into my memory that it tops the list so significantly that I can immediately recall it. 

Spaghetti is my favorite food and any time is a good time for pasta and I love a good salad, the kind that makes a meal with meats and cheeses and copious amounts of full fat dressings thereby rendering it no longer in the healthy food category. I love a good beverage, the kind that comes in a tall glass bottle with a top that requires more than just a twisting motion to open. I love a chocolate dessert, a brownie, a sundae, all manner of sweets and savories but there isn’t one thing I’ve tasted that made me hankering for more and forced me to declare it the best thing I’ve ever eaten. But there is One Thing that could hold that distinction. 

Although it is not physical food there is One Thing I’ve tasted and the moment I did I knew I wanted more, knew my life wouldn’t be complete until I had experienced it again. There is One Thing that has left me hungry and has truly been the best thing I’ve ever experienced and that is my Jesus. His word says to taste and see that the Lord is good (Psalm 34:8.) He alone is the Best Thing. 

He is better than an ice cream bar on a stick by the pool on an afternoon that’s been defined meteorologically speaking, as hot as blue blazes (I don’t even actually know what blue blazes are.) He is better than my Italian Grandmother’s spaghetti and sauce or those meat and cheese salads from my teenage years. He is better than all those things and once you’ve experienced Him you can’t help but declare He’s the best thing ever!

Unconventional Passover Practices

At Sundown on Passover if the weather is stable enough for the Patriarch to participate the Martin 5 will be celebrating. I want the Martin 3 to grow into adulthood understanding clearly the foreshadowing of Who was to come. 

It’s always a little weird and a ton of awkward, but it paints a clearer picture. I’m figuring out when you walk closely with the King there is often a little weird and substantial amounts of awkwardness. 

On Passover at sundown we step outside under the big full moon and we will blow the family shofar. Then we partake in an abbreviated sedar meal, we will read through our coffee company complimentary copy of our Haggadah and hang a red ribbon over the door frame of our home.

The Martin 3 will find the hidden afikomen that has the middle matzah that has been broken and hidden away and the finder will win a prize. It’s usually chocolate in nature.

It’s not the typical Jewish way of doing it, nor is it the norm, but it’s our way of connecting that Scarlet Thread that runs throughout the King’s Book. The old and the new. 

A couple of years ago as I made preparations for the meal I had asked Charlotte to remind me of a particular Hebrew word, she had the Google translate at her disposal and I knew she’d be able to correctly interpret. 

As I handed her the object with the Hebrew word, I said, “I think it just says Passover.” The Word Passover always looks to me like GOD written in backward (or frontwards if you’re a legit Hebrew scholar) in English. 

In a matter of moments she confirmed my suspicion and handed it back to me to continue with my preparations. 

The evening meandered on and just before bed, in her typical way she came to see me, tell me goodnight, snuggle a bit, and she handed me a drawing she had been working on since her impromptu interpretation session. It simply said “Passover” in Hebrew and she had added some floral accents.

She smiled as she handed it to me, pleased with her work and with pleasing me. Beauty at its best. A pureness of heart, a gift given with nothing expected in return, a beautiful and accurate depiction of what my King prepared to do this very week so long ago. 

A Chag Pesach Sameach indeed!!!