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Advent is utter heartbreak.

advent heart

Love in unexpected places” by Katie Tegtmeyer, used under CC BY / Modified from original

Waking this morning to blue skies, there was a heaviness to my heart I couldn’t explain. Then I remembered what the calendar already knew.

Advent has come.

Advent is the complex fusion of anticipation, contemplation, and brokenness that ushers us to renewal. Yes, Christ is coming. We rejoice and celebrate. But we must also see beyond the glory and beauty to the pain.

Advent is about so much more than a time of renewal – of reflection, waiting, and patient abiding. Advent is about the heartbreak.

“The thing I love most about Advent is the heartbreak. The utter and complete heartbreak.” – Jerusalem Jackson Greer

The birth of Christ involves Mary, an unmarried teenager who carries a child she was told to carry; Joseph, a man who has to accept and support his pregnant betrothed; and a long journey on a donkey to where there is no room at the inn.

Heartbreak.

New life doesn’t occur with the snap of your fingers or the instantaneous answer to prayer. The journey to new life isn’t one lined with rose petals and – God help us – sappy music.

The path to new life, the journey Advent represents, is riddled with sorrow and pain. Like the journey to the manger, it’s not supposed to always be easy getting there.

The cycle of heartbreak carries us to the very place we need to be to receive the newness and goodness and truthfulness of a resurrected life. If we stop at the place of our brokenness, if we stagnate at the point where we grapple with our wounds, then we can’t receive the grace of new life.

Christmas is a gift of new life to you. A heart-wrenching, soul-splitting gift, but one that will ultimately transform you with magnificent hope.

As the days of December carry you through Advent, let the heartbreak consume you into newness. Let the absolute truth of what Mary felt as she travelled the road to Bethlehem give you a renewed desire to live a life of purpose and joy.

Advent is utter, glorious, life-affirming heartbreak. I hope yours breaks with all the intensity and beauty and promise of living anew.

Does Your Heart Break?” by The Brilliance

Where are you this Christmas?

Christmas poem
Where are you now?

Your silence stretches and pulls—
thin strips of yesterday
left hunched and withered.
Where are you now?

Our thirst waxes and wanes—
shadows from lost dreams
droop low to beckon.
Where are you now?

Time bends into slow miracles—
drift into moments
gone to search horizons.
Where are you now?

Untouched promises yawn deep—
breaths take sips slowly
waiting for sunrise.
Ah, there you are still.

Where are you this Christmas? Someone you love, someone you lost, or someone beyond this world, we miss you now more than ever.

Although you often seem far from us in this life, we know you’re there. No amount of silence, absent dreams, or time will separate us from you.

We hear you in our thoughts, see you in our visions, and feel you with our beating heart. Everything we touch, all that we do and think, the sum of our being, is waiting for you.

This Christmas we remember. We celebrate. We believe.

 

Spookiest Halloween Story Ever Told

spooky stories

Image is a derivative of “ghost” by Yosomono under CC BY.

“Because fear kills everything. Your mind, your heart, your imagination.”   ~ Cornelia Funke, Inkheart

Sitting around the bonfire one night, we tried to recall spooky stories. The surrounding darkness and silence was a frightful reminder of the unseen things that lurk on the edges of our imagination.

We thought of wolf spiders that hide in the fire pit and come crawling out and over your feet once the heat escalates. We remembered a few scary movies we’d seen, with their limited spooky appeal as we sat safely ensconced around the flaming embers, all notion of video drama and horror a distant threat.

That was as spooky as we got that night.  This morning, however, I dreamed a waking dream of what’s revealed in the spookiest Halloween story.

In that space between awake and sleep it’s far easier to recall the things that go bump in the night. I could see them there, the creatures of night, although they exist in every space, even light. Their work is never finished, which is why you won’t find them sleeping during the daylight hours.

They are their busiest then, when you’re trying to think straight, do work, have conversations, and just be alive. Because that’s what they don’t want.

They’d rather you were dead.

The spookiest Halloween story has no ghosts, unless, of course, you understand that these ghosts aren’t ghosts at all. They’ve never walked this earth like you and me. They don’t know the touch of a warm hand or the feel of a kitten’s fur or the button-down feeling of what it’s like to try not to cry over someone you’ve lost.

They don’t know because they were never human. They never felt the stirring of hope that only humans feel. But they’re well aware of our tendency to feel hope.

Their work is to kill that hope. Their work is to stir up fear and remove all sense of being human.

There are many words for fear. It’s labelled “anxiety disorder,” “phobia,” “paranoia,” and “panic attack.” It’s deemed irrational, pathological, mentally unstable, and weak-willed.

What it’s rarely called is evil. A certain amount of fear is acceptable and healthy. It can be your safety mechanism. Fear has its opposite in faith, the best method for combatting it’s tenacious effects on your heart.

It’s not fashionable or politically correct or educated to assume there is evil in the world that’s comprised of something outside of our own hearts. It’s generally frowned upon to believe there are supernatural forces waging battle for your souls.

C. S. Lewis writes in the preface of Screwtape Letters: “There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.”

In My Nightmare I came face to face with “the devils,” one an obvious junior demon, and the other, well, that one caused me greater terror than I have ever known. While a nightmare appears on the surface to be unreal and without substance, it can have elements of supernatural fingers cloying their way into this dimension.

The dimension where the fallen stalk us like prey is no farther than your thoughts. They exist in every single interaction taking place in this fallen world. Whether they are winners or losers depends on you.

Halloween recalls the spirits of the dead, the terrors of the night, and the ghastly images of monsters. But do you really know these monsters?

Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche

Don’t get too close to it. The abyss will suck you in. It is you who is living the scariest Halloween story ever told. They’re waiting. Watching.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

While we create, heaven waits: DIY furniture makeovers.

In case you think I’ve been slacking off instead of writing voraciously—as if—there are those of us, you should know, who suffer from ADD of creative pursuits.

We simply cannot focus on a single outlet. Instead, we are like magnets drawn to many creative forces, pulled like the tide to a full moon of creative impulses.

The full moon of refurbishing furniture has waxed to its fullest recently with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint. Discovering this paint has been an epiphany. Creating an aged look has never been simpler.

You can apply the paint over existing finishes – stain or paint – without any prep! You could sand a bit beforehand if you feel inclined. But remember, it’s the natural-looking texture you want to emphasize with the dark wax, so imperfections are good!

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

Before Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

After Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

After Annie Sloan Chalk Paint.

 

refurbishing old furniture

Beginning to add Annie Sloan dark wax.

haunted table

Annie Sloan Chalk paint

The dark wax versus clear wax.

As the dark wax is applied, the variations in the paint strokes and crevices, and in this piece’s ornamentation, are accented.

It is a simple thing to remove any excess dark wax by adding some of the clear wax and wiping.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint and waxes are so easy to apply since you don’t have to worry about getting the application perfectly smooth.

I used both the paint and wax brushes by Annie Sloan as well. I couldn’t resist since I knew I would be using them again and again.

The Old Ochre color easily covered the dark stain underneath and added to the aged look I wanted.

For my next project I will use her French Linen. I considered the Country Grey, but it was too grey for me (more than the color palette shows online). I wanted something warmer in the neutral tones.

Annie Sloan Chalk Paint

This table remake is like Munsters meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and the results are one haunted-looking table.

A haunted table, I soon discovered, that is fit for a Jane Eyre photo shoot.

You can see a similar table in the recent Jane Eyre movie (the one with Michael Fassbender and Mia Wasikowska), in the scene with Jane Eyre and Edward Rochester sitting before the fire, where Rochester is quizzing Eyre and asks her if she is afraid of him.

Sitting next to each of them is a table, minus the smaller top layer, that is like the original stained piece of this table.

If you haven’t yet seen this movie, I don’t know what you’re waiting for!

DIY furnitureWhile you’re working and creating, listen to music that inspires and uplifts.

 

What is heaven? Get ready to be surprised.

heavenThe magnitude of what the truth is about heaven could cause you to rearrange every priority you have.

Imagine you’ve just folded a mountain of clean laundry (you’ve done this before, yes?) and the entire assembly of neatly arranged items – jeans in one pile, t-shirts stacked in perfect folds, socks sorted and tucked into pairs – was dumped into a massive heap, everything helter skelter.

That’s how it felt when I read the truth about heaven. Not that I mind knowing just what God has in store for us. This is critical information, and it’s far more important than ever getting the laundry arranged right.

But when you’ve been doing something one way for so long, doesn’t it stop you in your tracks and leave you bewildered as to what your next move should be? I mean, you’ve always done the laundry that way.

Perhaps many of us have done our laundry—and our thinking on heaven—in a less methodical, organized fashion. We don’t give it much thought. It is what it is. Laundry: Washed, slapped together, tucked away, done.

Heaven: Be good, die without regrets, enter heaven, end of story.

Not exactly. Turns out there is a step missing in there (not to mention a whole lot of other variable tidbits, but this short post is about heaven, so we’ll focus on that for now). Right where you die, in fact.

What do you mean—don’t tell me I’m not going to spend eternity with God?

I would never tell anyone that, since that’s between you and God. I do want to tell you something singular and profound about where you’re going. And if it contradicts what you’ve bought into previously, then join the club.

The good news is you can spend hours reading about it and thoroughly acquainting yourself with all the historical research and theology that N.T. Wright shares in his book Surprised By HopeHe won’t disappoint you.

So what is heaven?

In the very beginning of his book, he wrote something that justified my obsession with eternity (and the resulting obsession with collecting and making angel wings). On page six, in the introduction, Wright says (bolded type is my own):

Nor is this a matter of simply sorting out what to believe about someone who has died or about one’s own probable postmortem destiny, important though both of those are. It’s a matter of thinking straight about God and his purposes for the cosmos and about what God is doing right now, already, as part of those purposes. From Plato to Hegel and beyond, some of the greatest philosophers declared that what you think about death, and life beyond it, is the key to thinking seriously about everything else—and, indeed, that it provides one of the reasons for thinking seriously about anything at all.

Sweet elixir though this was, I did grow a bit frantic. Concerned as I am about eternity and how it all works, I needed to know. What really happens when you die?

So I began to flip pages. Only when I found the crux of the matter could I then relax and really concentrate on reading.

Heaven, in the Bible, is not a future destiny but the other, hidden, dimension of our ordinary life—God’s dimension, if you like. God made heaven and earth; at the last he will remake both and join them together forever.

But that’s not the mind-jolting half of it. What this means is “we find not ransomed souls making their way to a disembodied heaven but rather the new Jerusalem coming down from heaven to earth, uniting the two in a lasting embrace.

The key point to note is “not ransomed souls…to a disembodied heaven.” We won’t be in heaven as pure spirits; we are meant to fulfill the main theme, the pièce de résistance, of the New TestamentWhat happened to Jesus on the first Easter is to happen to all of us. All who join Him will enter heaven with our new, transformed, resurrected bodies, just as Jesus revealed to us with His own resurrected body when he died and rose again.

Wright explains all this at length, basing much of it not only on scripture but on Jewish beliefs at the time and early Christian beliefs.

I know what you’re thinking. What happens in between the time you die and the time the new heaven and earth is made into God’s kingdom “coming on earth as it is in heaven?”

Wright admits little is known about that based on scripture, but again, based on the evidence to hand (including his studies of the ancient world), early Christians spoke of heaven as “a postmortem stage on the way to the eventual resurrection of the body.

And that when Paul says he desires “to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Phil. 1:23) he is thinking of this blissful, intermediary stage between death and the bodily resurrection. The Christian departed are all in the same state of “restful happiness,” where your body is asleep (meaning it’s dead) while the real you continues on.

Until the final destiny of bodily resurrection occurs, the dead are “held firmly within the conscious love of God and the conscious presence of Jesus Christ while they await that day.”

There’s more on how we aren’t angels, but made equal to angels, and the dubious waiting period we call Purgatory. (Oh, man, I need to revisit that notion in a big way.) The truth about what is heaven is that it’s life after life after death.

And here’s the very best part: what this all means right now. What do we do with our knowing of the ultimate space, time and matter—for it’s the whole cosmos that will be transformed, not just our bodies—as being renewed and taken up into God’s greater purposes?

It’s important to know that what you do now in the Lord is not in vain.

You are not oiling the wheels of a machine that’s about to roll over a cliff. You are not restoring a great painting that’s shortly to be thrown on the fire. You are not planting roses in a garden that’s about to be dug up for a building site. You are—strange though it may seem, almost as hard to believe as the resurrection itself—accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world… what we do in Christ and by the Spirit in the present is not wasted. It will last all the way into God’s new world. In fact, it will be enhanced there. I have no idea what precisely this will mean in practice. I am offering a signpost , not offering a photograph of what we will find once we get to where the signpost is pointing.

The joy beckons. What will you make of your travels in this earthly plane? Will you promote what you love instead of bashing what you hate? Will you allow yourself to encounter the Holy Spirit? Will you find God through His angels?

Will you be able to say, in your life after life after death, above all things, I have loved? For now we see through a glass, darkly, yet daily we are surprised by hope. The hope of heaven as we meet our destiny through love right now.

For there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).

I will go where He goes. Want to come?

“God Is Here” – Revealing Jesus, by Darlene Zschech

What’s a heaven for?

waiting in purgatory

This Way to Heaven” by Leeroy09481, used under CC BY / Modified from original

She was a wee thing, particularly when she tucked her legs up beneath her, a bit like a roosting hen. Come to think of it, she had a motherly nature to her at that.

“It’s a strange thing, it is,” she said, nodding. “Of course, it’s nowhere in the Bible, and there’s nothing to say it’s God’s word.” Looking at me, her eyes bright with the whiskey she’d drunk – good whiskey too, single malt, she’d called it, made in the lowlands of Scotland – there was a calm certitude in her next words.

“But who’s to argue the wisdom of the Church?” she intoned, a smirk growing on her face despite her attempts at seriousness.

“Uh, everyone,” I replied, grinning back at her.

“As they do with every little thing under the sun concerning His infinite wisdom,” she parodied. Her hands had been tucked into the folds of her legs and were now gesturing to the ceiling, as if beseeching whatever or whomever was listening from the great beyond.

“Still, it’s a reasonable notion, this idea of a waiting place,” she said. “Somewhere – some in-between place – where you go to await your eventual entrance into God’s kingdom.”

“Yes, but it’s the idea of waiting that people aren’t so fond of. They want instant gratification. Just like on earth, no one wants to wait for their reward. They want it now,” I said.

She snorted without derision. “Of course! Purgatory is seen as a punishment to them.” Now her hands were lying flat, fingers outspread over her thighs, a benign posture as she turned inward, reflecting on the proposition of Purgatory.

“Can you imagine? Can you even begin to imagine?” she asked.

I waited for her to continue. It was only a moment and she spoke again, sighing. “It’s not, I think, such a bad thing at all, waiting in Purgatory. The waiting is good when you’re not ready.”

She had closed her eyes, but they were open wide now and glistening. “Who’s ready, I want to know? Who’s prepared to go from this,” she flung her arm wide to indicate everything around us, “to standing before the very One who gave us life?”

With eyebrows pushed high to the limits of her forehead, she dropped her arm with the finality of a judge’s gavel.

“Who could bear it?” she said. “One minute you’re thinking how glad you’ll be to see your friend suffer for his idiot behavior, or you’re wishing the guy in the car in front of you would crash into the next utility pole, and whammo! It’s you who’s hit the pole, you who’s being whisked away, your soul.”

“You think you can keep your composure when all those thoughts were just rolling around in your head? You think you can look Him in the eye just like that,” she said, snapping her fingers, “when you’re ushered without warning before the Author of infinite grace?”

I stared at her for a long minute, possibly the longest minute I’ve ever lived, outside of when I was in public school and standing in line, holding in a laugh as the teacher stood glaring, bound to send me to detention should I weaken; no thanks to the friend standing behind me and whispering silliness to my resolute back. “I couldn’t, no. Bear it, I mean. Because I see what you mean. No way I’m ready for that. I don’t think I’ll ever be.”

She smiled then. Tilting her head, just like a mother hen eyeing her brood, she studied me for a bit. As if I’d passed some unknown test, she sighed again with resolution.

“That’s as it should be. We’re all saints in the making. Some of us more, some of us less. So long as we’ve an eye to where we’re headed. Because it’s going to be an awful long time there should we miss the mark.”

“Miss the mark?” I asked. I thought I knew what she meant, but I had to be sure. Besides, that was the other thing people liked to argue about. Was there a hell? And if there was, why would God send anyone there if He loved them so much? Was this another nice notion, like Purgatory?

She took a sip of whiskey, cradling the glass in her hands as she considered her answer. “We’re like an arrow shot from the quill. You’ll know what that is?” I nodded. “Well, where we’re bound is always straight to its target, all of us the same. But it’s a long way, the way of this arrow, and we’re not all going to be so –” she paused here, took another long sip, and set the glass down hard.

“We’re not all so headstrong about our destiny. That impatience you mentioned before? No one wantin’ to wait? That’s the arrow that’ll miss its target. It can’t wait for what’s been promised, and it goes astray looking for something to satisfy itself quick.”

She smiled contentedly, her teeth white against her dark skin. “What’s a heaven for if our aim isn’t bigger than what we can see? No sense in lookin’ too hard though. It’ll come. It’ll come.”

Do you know what’s written on your heart?

written on your heartDo you ever ask yourself if there’s more to life than this? Do you find yourself feeling numb? Like you’re walking in a fog of dullness? Do you yearn for something more?

Somewhere inside you is the secret code to your identity. Deep within you, written on your heart, is your life’s purpose. It is the transcript of your soul.

And no one can see it but you. And the One who created you.

We can spend our whole lives denying the truth of what has been placed there. Searching for happiness, we sink our teeth into all manner of diversions and addictions. Substitutions for appeasing the churning need for an elusive feeling of contentment.

Can you be wretched? Can you be depressed? How about persecuted or poor in spirit? That’s good, because then you’re in. You’re exactly who Jesus was speaking to in the Sermon on the Mount.

“You. I’m fixated on you. What are you going to do about it?” Jesus asks.

Misty Edwards said at Onething 2013 that it is we who are the radicals.

We who dare to throw off the cloak of lukewarmness, to risk losing the false security of worldly comforts and instead look within for our Creator’s counsel.

“I would rather be tortured than be bored,” Misty said, referring to the “absolutely petrifying” lukewarmness of the numb soul.

God knows we can’t live without pleasure. And He knows the complete disaster we become as we choose to pull away from Him and gossip, covet, cheat, steal, lie, and kill. Anything else to feel good, to forget the numbness.

And then when He’s there, knocking at your heart’s door, you resist. Keeping Him at a distance until you’ve got it all together and cleaned up the mess.

You’re never going to get it together. Inferior pleasures will always compete for your attention. But everywhere you go, He’s there. You can’t get away from Him.

“I need some space,” Misty tells Jesus. “Take a break so I can do what I want for awhile.”

As if He will look away so we can be horrible. He sees it all, this “dunghill of humanity” that we’re in. The amazing thing is this. From this place, if we’re willing, he’ll take us to sit with Him at the throne.

Until you open that door and look at what He’s written on your heart, you’ll keep feasting at an empty table. You’ll always be hungry for what doesn’t fill you.

“Are you awakened? Can you see it? Can you bear to face it?” she asks.

Look. It’s there. He’s there. Are you ready?

“Simple Devotion” by Misty Edwards

Finding God through His angels.

 

finding God through His angelsWere you to ask how I came to know God, I would tell you it was a zigzag journey. Overcast days often filled the horizon, where no shadows stretch out dark to mark your steps.

The days of low-lying clouds are better than the ink-black days. These days are so tiresome that light barely blinks from the corners of your eyes. Slowly, though, these heavy-lidded days begin to see some light as it gets in through the gaps, like a shining ribbon of grace, and wraps the dark with its brilliance.

What was once seen as normally dim is now painted in colors of hues beyond recognition. Although you are yet beyond the veil, you begin to possess the joy and peace that the song “Amazing Grace” acclaims. Once you were blind, and now you can see.

This is how finding God is.

I meet Him now at various venues; sometimes He pops up in the car, filling the blank spaces of my thoughts as I drive, reassuring me I am loved. He nudges me at the dinner table as my child shares a tale – with Him as the unnamed but main character: “I sat with this girl today at lunch who always eats alone. I think she is really nice; she just doesn’t know anyone.”

Most often, though, He walks alongside me, sweeping wide His arms to show me the world through His eyes. If only I remember to look.

In all the churches I’ve visited, I found Him, some more, some less. I felt as if I had bumped right into Him when I finally entered the church He chose for me. There He was, a holy reality in the Eucharist, waiting to be fed to the hungry. In the faces of the people as they lined up to receive Him, I saw the hope of being filled. There He was before me, the One who became man, who died on the cross two thousand years ago, so that I might find Him today and follow.

I found Him through and because of the darkness. “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” (Eph. 5:8) The darkness chases me still, but now I have His promise: “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

The journey continues. Now, however, I know where I am headed. Through His angels, I find creative expression on the earthly road, making it more bearable.

Angels are spiritual beings created by God to serve God. The Hebrew word for angel is mal’ach, and the Greek word is angelos. Both mean “messenger” and describe those who carry out the purpose of the one whom they serve.

Here’s the crux. Although all angels were originally holy, there are those who chose to follow the angel Lucifer and now stand directly opposed to God’s plan. The fallen angels have become fodder for a lot of young adult fiction, but there’s nothing fictional about their origin. There’s nothing redeeming about these beings that merits entertainment.

Only believe what is pointing to biblically sound narrative. There is a mighty and unseen conflict that is raging between the angels and those who are fallen and are called demons. God who created all beings will have the final victory (Rev. 20:1-15), which rather makes you wonder why Satan even bothers.

Satan bothers because there are so many souls to wage battle for, and quite possibly, since so many humans disregard God’s Word, what makes us think Satan won’t also?

Make yourself familiar with the angels, and behold them frequently in spirit; for without being seen, they are present with you. ~St. Francis De Sales

In honor of finding God through His angels, I compiled an eclectic mix of angel songs for your listening pleasure.

Doughnuts, funny conversations, and stomach aches.

stomach achesWhen my daughter’s friend, Esther, flew home to Taiwan after her visit, we drove her to the airport, stopping for her last American doughnut on the way.

She was flying United Airlines via Chicago to Taiwan, with escort service.  Paying for an escort service means there will be someone to escort her when she changes planes in Chicago, and when she disembarks in Taiwan.  It also means, unbeknownst to us, we are her appointed escorts until she boards the plane.

Meaning, my husband, whose name is on the paperwork, is her escort up until her departure, and at first the United staff wouldn’t let anyone but him through security to wait with her for the ensuing hour and a half.  Eventually they allowed my daughter to accompany them as well, but first I had to make yet one more circle around the airport in the family minivan, what I had been doing for the past 20 minutes or so.

Originally, I expected to drive around for only the short amount of time it took to get Esther on her way and to the security gate.  We hadn’t been informed of the requirement that we provide the escort service up to departure, which would not have been necessary had we simply dropped her off and left her to fend for herself.

The irony of this seemed to escape the airline employee, who couldn’t offer any excuse for our not being instructed of this constraint beforehand.  We would not have awakened our two other children at 6:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning and dragged them to the airport for what was now going to be an hour and a half wait.  We would’ve said our goodbyes the evening before.

Our airport-circling abruptly came to an end.  We headed back to Dunkin’ Donuts, bought another round of doughnuts, coffee for me, juice for the boys, and hunkered down to wait.

Conversation proves to be enlightening in these unscheduled interludes, where time passes like the hours spent awake in the middle of the night, sleep an impossible dream.

Two Boston Crèmes later, my youngest son complained of a stomach ache, something he’d often done while living in China. Having recently spoken about matters of the gastrointestinal system with my mom during the previous weekend’s visit, I knew the right questions to ask.

So I cut right to the chase.

“Do you have regular bowel movements?” I said, leaning over for some privacy.

“What?”  my youngest said at full volume.  I leaned in closer, his older brother following suit, our three heads nearly touching.

“I said, ‘do you have a bowel movement every day?’” I repeated in an exaggerated whisper, hoping he’d copy my quiet tone. His brother began snickering. He’d gone through the same interrogation when my mom was here, and had been equally clueless to what she was talking about.

“What’s that?” came the anticipated reply.  He was giggling now, taking his cue from his brother, who went from sniggering to outright laughing.  So much for being private.

“It is when you go poop. Do you do this every day?” I queried, feeling as if I should have a doctor’s notebook out, pen at the ready.

“Uh, not usually,” he said.

“You don’t go poop every day? How often do you go then?” I pressed.

Clearly, I wasn’t the informed mother I thought I was. I had lost track sometime around the age of three when he insisted on going by himself. He was now eight and possibly constipated for months, even years. What had I been doing as he sat there, all backed up for who knows how long?

“Usually I go when I play Gamecube,” he answered, now being very serious.

“You mean you only go when you play Gamecube? Do you go any other time?” I asked.

“Yes, I think it just happens when I sit still for awhile. It must be that,” he said.

“Oh, well that’s good. That makes sense,” I said.

Armed with this information, I felt confident he wouldn’t require an immediate visit to the doctor for an enema. Even with video game limits, he has enough allowed play time to serve as a sufficient laxative-inducing substitute. However, his stomach aches would need continued surveillance, doughnuts or no doughnuts.

This instructive dialogue now done, we moved on from funny conversations to bigger and better things.  People watching.

I was sure that the janitor that kept sauntering past our table had a walking problem. It appeared that something was attached to his back side and impeding the normal progress of his gait. In other words, he walked like he had a stick up his butt.

My older son insisted that this was the way he chose to walk; he was walking cool.  No, I argued, he has a problem and can’t walk any differently than this due to some impediment. Besides, he was way too old to walk “cool,” even if this was supposed to be an impersonation of cool and not a handicap.

Five minutes later he strolled by with no sign of obstruction.  His backside was absolutely unhindered, all right.

See, he was walking cool, Mom,” he admonished.  “I told you.”

Either that, or he’d had a stomach ache and resolved it with a quick trip to the men’s room. Doughnuts or no doughnuts.

Talking to a spirit.

 shine on

I was talking to a spirit.

If I believed that, then I was either crazy, gullible, or getting an incredible gift from the other side.

Several years ago at my church, our priest at the time stood at the altar speaking about his desire to know Jesus. The veil, he said, was almost palpable, and he raised his arms to press upon the unseen divide.

So close. We are here, and beyond that veil are those we’ve lost. Yet they’re not lost at all. They are always among us. Christ said, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Are they not with us too?

Where is this place? This heavenly kingdom described as the beauty realm*, where the first chapter of our eternity begins. It is described in Revelations as having a sea of glass and “many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.”

This is where we find our beginning. This is where the glorious splendor of God’s majesty is revealed in its fullness as we stand before the heavenly symphony.

From this place the spirit came to speak.

“He’s really taking his time,” the spiritual counselor said, chuckling. A male, she said, was making his way over very slowly. My insides melted.

The counselor was young, blond, with a sweet smile. She asked if she could hold my hands before she began. Briefly she held them, and I said a silent prayer. I invited Jesus into this unplanned, unchartered meeting. “Amen,” she said, as if she’d read my thoughts.

“Is it your spouse?” she asked. No. “Is it your father?” No. “It’s a child.” Yes.

Feeling skeptical? Believe me when I say I am not only skeptical, I am fearful. How I came to sit in this seat before this woman who claims to talk to the dead is the result of a series of small events that culminated with a resounding “yes.”

She could’ve, I thought later, asked me if it was my grandfather – a safe bet, but she didn’t. My friend, who’d sat down to talk to her earlier in the day, said both her grandfather and mother came through.

I was waiting for one to come.

“It’s your nephew.” Yes. Jonah.

She said he suffered a long illness and died suddenly. Yes. She said she was getting a feeling of being cold and numb all over, with a very bad headache.

She drew a heart over her breast. “I’m getting a heart. I don’t know if he means love; I just keep getting a heart.”

I said nothing. By now my emotions were a wave of raw energy. I was trembling. I didn’t tell her until afterwards that the heart was his gift of life. He received it at the age of four and lived nine more years with this gift.

And it’s what took him from us that April day four years ago. A donated heart has an expected life span of less than ten years.

“You’re stuck.” I nodded.

This made sense. She told me at the beginning of the session that most of what she would share would be to help me move forward. She didn’t predict the future, and she didn’t understand what was conveyed. Sometimes I wouldn’t either. Sometimes it would only be later that I would figure out what something meant.

“He doesn’t want you to be stuck.” What he wants is for everyone to focus on the significance of his life and not on how he’s gone. “Pay it forward,” she said, he wants you to keep paying it forward.

She asked if I had a large family. I told her no. She tapped her left wrist with two fingers from her other hand. It’s not blood. He sees them all as family. Everyone must keep paying it forward by using what they got from his life.

When I told my sister, Jonah’s mother, about this, she reminded me what they are working on. Every year since Jonah died, they celebrate his life by paying it forward with the iRun for Jonah.

Each year, a child in the community who is ill and in need of financial support is chosen to benefit from the fundraising. The next one is only weeks away, held in a state far from mine.

This spiritual counselor doesn’t know my name. I didn’t make an appointment. It was a woman’s conference, and at the last minute as everyone was leaving, I’d decided to sit down. She knew nothing about my family.

The counselor said to tell his mom that when she thinks he’s speaking to her – she tapped her ear – he is. He’s always with her.

She waited a long time, her eyes closed. She shook her head, smiling. She finally spoke. She was getting hair, she kept getting hair. Then, “brown, messy hair.”

I had no idea what this meant.

“Do you wear something in honor of him?” No, I told her, but his mom does, and I made it for her. “He likes that.”

Something about angels and you remembering him, she said. Yes. “He likes that too.”

I wanted to speak, to ask something, anything, but I was unable to.

“He’s in a place of light and love,” she said, finishing.

The next day, my sister texted me. She’d figured out what the brown hair meant!

The young boy who was chosen as this year’s recipient for the iRun for Jonah had brown, messy hair. A lot of it. But he’d lost it all in the previous months from chemotherapy. She sent me before and after photos illustrating the dramatic change.

At that moment, my skepticism fell away.


Shine on, my sweet nephew; we will remember you. And we will pay our love forward.

*For a beautiful description and a journey into the beauty realm, listen to Mike Bickle’s free audio “Beauty Realm of God.”