Red Wings Rising

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The red is rising

With the sun

And melts upon the water

.

The sand it runs

Before the wind

Dusting where it flutters

.

The opening space expanding

Spans the misty miles

Pauses on the firmament

Billowing castles for a while

.

The giant stores yawn open

To flaunt commercial wares

Those friable plastic blings

Catching eyes in captive stares

.

And then the night flares up

With alcoholic sharks

Who go chasing after wind

Never resting in the dark

.

But still in silent watch I keep

Like candles set on altars

The deeper dreams of inmost heart

The ancient songs of psalters

.

I am always window watching

These persistent people passing

Shirts and jeans and sneakers

Like molds dropped from castings

.

And so they call from every corner

These temporary things

They cannot compare in brightness

To the shadow of God’s wings

.

The rising sun is faithful

To rendezvous on time

With the turning tides

Before beginning to climb

.

You have always met me

Your wings they are my cover

When the morning rises in mercy

With the passion of a lover

.

You speak to me in song

The poems of our foundation

Of the calling of ancient stars

The first works of your creations

.

I hear your heart’s great pulsing

And trace your fingerprint

Your fire’s flaming everywhere

Your eyes are steel and flint

.

I cannot escape your presence

Your breath breathes in my chest

If my bed were in heights or depths

I would always be within your rest

.

You hold me with your passion

On this Via Dolorosa

Pain refining purity

In suffering drawing closer

.

Now my path rolls onward

Out into the rising light

I feel the courage for jumping

Out into the starry night

.

I have these wings for climbing

Out into the vast expanse

They unfurl into the greatness

To join the cosmic dance

.

Of swirling arching orbits

Of planets in their singing

And the mighty acts of valor

That sets the heavens ringing

.

Then sets me down upon the sand

Where I began this song

Where you hold me in your hand

In the home where I belong

.

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The Sabbath of Singleness: A Travel Log

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Every body continues in its state of rest

Or uniform motion in a right line

Unless it is compelled to change that state

By forces impressed upon it.

-Isaac Newton

If, on a new moon, you have hiked 10 miles away from the nearest electrical light, and are at the edge of the ocean you can lay on your back with your head towards the water and your feet towards the dunes. The sky deepens into a blackness so thick you might think you could swirl your fingers through it as if it were oil. The stars burn cold and brilliant. They are joined by a host of other stars that you had not seen yet this season because you live in a city. The sand loses its heat. Your body begins to transfer its heat into the sand. You may start to feel dizzy. You may start to feel that the ocean is the sky and you are hovering above an immense space. You may begin to wonder why you are not falling freely through the expanse. You will notice how incredibly small you really are. You will be thankful that all the greatness of the Creator is inside of you. You will be so thankful that all the fullness of the godhead dwells with the nucleus of your soul. Then the thought may occur to you that in relation to the planet you have never actually been standing up straight, but have been walking at a 90 degree angle to whatever part of the globe you have been standing on. Then you might realize that not only are all your experiences relative to the angle at which you are looking at it, but they are relative to your size. You might think that you are very small compared to the orbiting planets in a solar system, and that you are very large compared to orbiting electrons in an atom. You will be engulfed by gratitude: gratitude that you do not have to control the universe, gratitude that you cannot control anything in the universe, gratitude at being a part of the universe, and gratitude for every breath. In the coldness you may fall asleep and dream about a living water flowing through the Valley of Life. In your dream you walk to the water. You ask it for a gift. It is not the gift you want it is the gift you need. The water says, You shall keep My sabbaths and reverence my sanctuary: I AM the Lord. You know that when you wake up you will. Not because you try to, but because He ordains it: the  way He ordains children to play, bees to make honey, dwarves to mine caves, and Starling to become a Star.

—————————————–

Introduction:

He sent from above, He took me;

He drew me out of many waters

He delivered me from my strong enemy,

From those who hated me,

for they were too strong for me.

They confronted me in the day of my calamity,

But the Lord was my support.

He also brought me out into a broad place;

He delivered me  because He delighted in me

-Psalm 18:16-19

Frog Eye Coffee in Tallahassee. I am ordering a vanilla latte. A woman is standing next to me. She has inhaled her entire vital capacity, and will surely pop a lung if she does not exhale. I say, “You look like you have something to say.”

She says, “Yes. I do. Do you mind.” Evidently, this is rhetorical. She tells the barista that since she ordered her drink extra hot she is not opposed to coming behind the counter microwaving it herself.

Barista says, “I made it hotter than the other drinks.”

She says, “Oh. Okay.”

I am wondering why she is wearing sunglasses inside on a cloudy day. Maybe she has had her pupils dilated.

Fall is stepping a timid toe into Florida’s aerospace. Instead of baking in an atmospheric oven, we are now simmering in a cloudy crock-pot. The students are back and the coffee shops have hummed back to life.

I moved down from the Maryland mountains 15 years ago. Fifteen years is plenty long enough to say you are from Florida. People come and go so fast you hardly ever meet someone who was born here, but many of the college students stay and make families that move to the suburbs and talk about how they got sucked into the Tallahassee Vortex.

This phrase always makes me wonder if they are actually unhappy. Maybe they are just saying something negative to try to better blend with perceived undertow of negativity. Is this easy town that is so much just what you make of it really the American Dream? Or is it really a lukewarm melting pot of state jobs with mission statements based on rehashed public education rhetoric: survival interlaced with a bit of prozac.

Mediocrity is like diabetes. It kills. It kills slowly. The slow twining of the imperceptible spider web twirls us into a comfortable sleeping state before the final stab. This death is so hard to recognize, because it is a hook so well disguised as a lure of doing the right thing: do well in school, get married, buy a house and a car, have children, work hard, be nice, obey the law, and maintain your credit score. We hardly even notice that all this doing the right thing is silent suffocation.

We do try to fill in the void. Women walk the organized well-lit stores in an attempt to bring something that represents that light and order home with them and wind up drowning in nicknacks and earrings. Men meditate on on the bravado and prowess of athletic sports and vicariously live out their passions through wearing the t shirt. Men find their identity in their work and sports, women find their identity in their men and clothes, children find their identity in their parents and peers, and we all marvel that 5 billion dollars of Paxil is sold yearly in the US.  We will do anything  to escape from the inevitable insanity of completely losing God through idolatry.

This manifests itself as a festering panic about coffee not being quite hot enough for our liking.

I am getting a divorce.  I have lost everything that mattered to me. Two days earlier I was standing on a deserted beach in the pouring rain. I had prayed that God would “pull all these idols out of my heart’s embrace.” The second time I prayed this I was laying in my vomit on the bathroom floor while Strong Enemy looked for his camera so he could take a picture of me. He left me on the floor and locked the bedroom door.

God answered me so effectively and swiftly that night that I began to wonder if He hears any prayers that do not come from the bathroom floor. Less than 8 hours later, I was a ghost, passing through everything solid as if it were a hologram. All the energy of the ocean was inside my body. At the end of all this, I would become more real and solid than I had ever dreamed possible, but I did not know this at the time. The water inside of the grapevine has no idea that eventually it will become wine.

The motion of a hurricane is so similar to the blooming of a compass rose. A blooming rose opens like a hurricane in slow-motion, and a hurricane rolls through the Gulf of Mexico like a colossal rose blossom. The whole universe follows this fractalized pattern as it expands. My soul is expanding. I am not afraid of losing everything. I have been pressed in close like a hurricane trapped in a bottle. The bottle has been my everything. The hurricane is coming out now. The hurricane has nothing to lose.

-Appalachia Amanda

September 17, 2016

——————————————————–

-1-

Everyone thinks that forgiveness is a lovely idea

until they have something to forgive. -C.S. Lewis

Suddenly released from slavery, I find that the extra freedom makes me nervous. Like a brand new kite, unfurled from its Chinese packaging and recently launched, I am not sure if this thin thread stabilizing me aloft is actually going to keep me from flying out over the ocean.

I am ready to lose everything familiar in exchange for freedom. I could not fit back into that hole if I tried. I have already become much too large for Strong Enemy. He would never be able to confine me again.

Today is day one of this crazy random trip I decided to take yesterday. Did I actually decided to do this or was I swept out to sea like a koozie in a rip current? I drop from Tallahassee to Nashville in about eight hours. It took $45 in gas to get here. This smoothie at the juice bar cost $10. It is good, but I am worried it might be too high on the glycemic index. I am afraid of being fat. I am also freezing cold, because I have no fat. I am worried that I might not have enough gas money to get home. Apparently, there is a Hancock Bank in Knoxville. Is that on the way to Amicalola Falls? What if Strong Enemy closes the bank account while I am out of town?

Why should I worry when He has brought me this far, and He keeps singing these crazy love songs in the space over the top of my head. 18 years of bondage gone just like that in the course of two months. How do I value myself as an individual when I had based my self-worth on Strong Enemy’s opinion for so long. I was never good enough for him to love, but now all I can hear is this deep Voice singing, “Don’t you know I’ve always loved you/Even before there was time/Though you turn away/I tell you still/Don’t you know I’ve always loved you/And I always will. It is a difficult concept to grasp for someone who was always waiting for the next performance evaluation to hear whether or not they were loved.

God and I are chilling in a hip juice joint. The glass of juice costs $10. Did I already say that? Strong Enemy likes to say things like that. I’m sure it must be the ambiance that counts. Sales is an experience and the packaging is the portal. God is meeting me on 4th Ave. North, Germantown, Nashville. His voice is bouncing in my head like a canyon echo,

“You don’t have to do anything.

You don’t even have to be happy.

I am going to take care of you now.

You are mine”

He is not angry. He has not made any comments about bank accounts. Talking to a man that is not angry is an unfamiliar unsettling experience. You never know when they might suddenly get mad about some random thing and ruin your whole evening. Talking to a God who is not angry is so scary, that it is nearly nauseating.

“I speak in differential equations,” he comments. “The enemy communicates with dollar signs.” “You would not believe how beautiful the order of infinite derivatives are in relation to infinite functions. They are so large they push the uttermost limits of the galaxies and cause the universe to expand! It’s totally cool. It is all happening very rapidly, but the universe itself is infinite, so your human body only experiences the expanding very slowly When you have new eyes I will show them to you.”

Apparently, God does not give a rip about bank accounts. I know that He is providing everything. Whether or not I worry about it is completely beside the point. It is just there, as available as my next breath. Provision: it’s a vibe. It’s a living breathing differential equation.

“You remember the temple on the plain of Shinar?” He asks.

“Right. The tower of Babel.” I nod.

“Yes, Shinar was the name of the plain the where the Babylon Tree grew.”

“Tree? Oh, yeah Nebuchadnezzar. He was a tree, a city, and a global institution. He also did a stint as a cow for 7 years.”

“Yes. I like Nebuchadnezzar. I had to turn him into a cow before he could return to the way he way when he was a child, when he was happy. It had been so long since he had been happy. I confused the currencies of the world when I differentiated the languages. The enemy keeps trying to globalize power, and I just keep spreading it out.”

“Like sand castles and ocean waves.”

“Yup.”

“God?”

“Yes?”

“Do you want some of this juice drink.”

“Nah. You go ahead, Starling.

“Starling! No one has ever called me that before.” I laugh. All my attempts at laughter sound like halting peals of anxiety. “Starlings are an invasive species from Europe introduced in America because someone thought it would be a  good idea if America contained all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare. “

“Stars are also giant balls of combusting gases, but that is not essentially what they are. Yes it is true that they compete for resources with the native species, but that is not essentially what they do.”

“I think you are going to have to land the plane here God,” I said.  “I do not see the correlation.” I am forgetting to speak only in my head. It is hard to imagine that no one else is hearing this.

God is doing whatever the invisible equivalent of jabbing me in the ribs is. “Yes you do. You have the gift of allegory”

“Ok. I had not heard of that one. Is that biblical?”

Yes it is. It is also called discernment. We are going to shine you up a bit, so it can be conveyed a little more clearly. You are becoming exactly who I made you to be. I need to call out a less diluted form of my Starling.”

“Do you mean, that just the same as stars are not only burning gaseous celestial balls, people are not the sum of their genes and environment.”

“Yes, and furthermore, the darker the night the brighter the stars shine.”

“This is a representation that the children of Abraham, reflecting Your character more gloriously in the midst of suffering?”

“Perfect, go on.”  God puts His elbow on the table and His chin in His hand.

“And just as the darker the night becomes, the more the stars become visible, so also this world will not always be filled with the kind of people who inhabit it now.”

“Good. And also like Abram, you have a new name.”

“God, I still feel nervous.” I am whining. Sorry about that.

“Of course you do, you have not laid it out on the altar yet.”

“Why would you want that? I thought you only accepted unblemished lambs”

I AM the unblemished lamb and everything that touches me becomes holy, healed, and well. I only accept what you have to give, whether it is fear, lust, and addiction; or praise, thankfulness, and joy. Any of these things are an acceptable reasonable sacrifice so long as it is willingly given to Me. I burn up all these things in my fire.”

“So all those nights that Strong Enemy was telling me how much he despised me, and I thought my body was on fire, that was You.”

“Yes. I was laying on top of you. I AM your maker and your husband. I like to lay on top of you.”

“Ha! That’s a thought!” I am sure I have turned the color of my beet juice. Sexy.

—————————

-2-

One sees great things from the valley;

Only small things from the peak.

-G.K. Chesterton

On the ride up, I meant to listen to an audiobook. I was going to play The Book of 3 by Lloyd Alexander and The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton. Instead of these more intellectual decisions, I started playing music on Pandora. Then I started singing. I sang the whole way up to Nashville. Now that might not sound like groundbreaking information to you, except that I never sing outside of the Christmas season.

Strong Enemy does not like any songs that do not sound like a rockslide of pots and pans and breaking ceramics set to the tone of a garbage disposal. He discredits anything with a melody as being too jovial. He does not even like ska. “Life is hard,” Strong Enemy says. “And I am a realist.” Worship songs are out of the question, and singing them is at the very tip top of his long list of unapproved actions.

“You sound like a whoring cat,” he says as he rips my head phones out of my ear and slams my phone down on the counter. “I wish I was filming you right now so everyone can see how crazy you are.” He said some other stuff too, but I am not sure what. I am throwing up a so called “sushi-burger” from a restaurant in Tallahassee midtown – not a very glamorous last evening to cap off my marriage. But hey! At least I did not try to stuff it all back down. Fools repeat their foolish actions the way dogs eat their own vomit. I am not going back. I am going to sing the whole way up to Nashville, even if it means I am followed there by a hoard of stray tomcats.

Sister lives in Nashville. Germantown, Nashville to be specific. I do not see many Germans. I do see Hispanic men They are working on the construction sites which are sporadically interspersed amongst the hip new dwellings and run down squat holes. Black people and white people do not say anything unless you are buying something, but the Hispanic guys smile and wave and toot the horns of their working minivans at me while I ride my mountain bike up and down the narrow roads. For this I am grateful. Maybe, if I ever get married again -which won’t be for another zillion years- I will marry a man who will teach me how to speak Spanish.

I am also riding my bike around this nice park next to the farmer’s market. It is so pleasant. I can see the old capitol building on top of the hill. There are families and a young couple who ask me to take their picture in front of a copse of trees. The trees are thinking about doffing all their stuffy Victorian chlorophyll and revealing some really racy autumnal coloring. Maybe this young couple is about to do the same. I like to get down on one knee when I take couple pictures. It makes a better picture and it is good luck… for them. Maybe it will give the man a good idea.

The trees are moving in slow motion in the breeze. God is talking again. “Be careful to remember this, Starling:”

Hearts become anxious,

When they do not praise Me for the small things.

Praise is lukewarm,

When hearts do nothing risky.

Hearts refuse to take risks,

Because they do not realize how cosmic I AM

Hearts do not realize how cosmic I AM

Because they do not see My presence in the small things.

There are homeless people in the park too. I think I fit in with them. I am sure my face looks like their faces. I am sporting an expression that lies somewhere on the continuum of Whatthehelljusthappened and WhereexactlyamI. A nice lady at the farmer’s market sees beyond that expression and helps me find the bathroom. Thank you for that. I brush my hair with my hands (I cut it short), and change into the only pair of pants I have that still fit (I lost 20 pounds).

Sister is starting her new job today. She is an esthetician. She is going to “do a brazilian wax” on me with sugar paste. This is not very scary. I have a high pain tolerance. Actually, its not a high pain tolerance, its just such a high level of constant pain, that a little more pain does not even register. Sister is very pretty, no one ever mistakes us for twins.

All this freedom to do whatever I want is making me nervous. I feel indecisive. I am used to Strong Enemy making decisions for me. I am afraid I made the wrong decision at the juice bar even though it is a good beet smoothie and the girl at the counter is very gracious despite my stammering efforts at ordering it. The anxiety is like a cloud coloring my experience with a haze.

I am trying to remind myself that the only really important things I need, I already have: Sister, A Place to Sleep Tonight, Air, Daily Bread. On top of that I have a truck with gas in it, so in reality, I am ahead of the game. So far, the kite string is holding strong, and I am elevated in open air. I am a little unsure of what to do with all this airy loftiness, but I have learned how to do a few nervous loop-de-loos.

God is talking again, “Imagine the future as it really is: with mercy that is new with every sunrise. The future you have envisioned is completely devoid of grace. Yes. All those bad things will happen, but they will not not come near you. You will only see them with your eyes. You will not feel them in your body.”

—————————————————————–

-3-

One does not surrender a life in an instant.

That which is lifelong

Can only be surrendered in a lifetime.

-Elisabeth Elliot

Sister waxed my pubic hair. Actually, it is not wax. It is a paste made out of sugar, water, and lemon juice. I know a girl from Egypt. She says in Egypt this mixture is called halawa. She says Egyptian men have an aversion to any hair on women. They must have an aversion to reality. I got the impression that Egyptian women spend a good portion of their waking hours depilating the hair from their various nooks and crannies, just like cats. Egyptian’s have one other ingredient they put in their halawa: spit. No lie. The amylase enzyme in human saliva, which breaks down sugar, makes the sugar ball easier to work with. Egyptian Girl feeds her sugar ball to her cat when she is done. The cat is very fat. She left Cat with me while she went back to Egypt. Cat ran away. Cat did not like living with Strong Enemy either.

I am sure I have never pulled out any hair “down there” before, but I have to admit, it does look nice. Sister is always trying to help me be more beautiful. I should take her advice sooner. I usually wind up doing what she says, but only after a longish period of doing it my way and not quite as well. It did not really hurt much. I think that the heart hurt is eclipsing any physical hurt I might have. I read a book by Dr. Paul Brand, a missionary doctor in India, who used a hair brush to stimulate proximal nerve endings to his distal procedures. His patients reported adequate pain control. My brain is so overloaded with emotional pain that I cannot sense physical pain. This same principle makes pole dancing and boxing easier for me than for other more well adjusted people, who might be more in tune with the messages their nerve ending are sending them.

Sister and I drive down the narrow bricky streets of Germantown to her husband’s studio. Sister’s husband’s name is Free Lance. Free Lance is hosting a party called “Drink and Draw.” This is a free lesson in charcoal drawing with complementary wine, cookies, and cupcakes. The room is packed. Free Lance is making humorous instructive announcements to a room full of grownups who are all wishing they could consume more wine and cookies than early evening social decorum will permit. Sister and I are late. We are giggling about something that only we know about. A third of the students must rise so we can wiggle into the back of the room into the only two available seats next to Girlfriend and Boyfriend. They are both very pretty people. Come to think of it, most everyone in Nashville is. Pretty. They keep a pretty steep cover charge to keep out the commoners.

I tell Girlfriend that she looks sexy in her dress. She makes a face at me. This may have not been the best comment. I forget that with all this re-education about how wonderfully acceptable it is to be gay that people are increasingly more suspicious that you might be one of those wonderfully acceptable gay people. This gets me in trouble. I am an RN. I have seen more Naked than I can shake a stick at. Naked is filtered out by my brain’s reticular activating system. In addition to this problem, I am very comfortable walking around in my underwear, or any outfit that comes close to it. All this casual bluster can be interpreted as gayness by someone who thinks that it is more efficient to complain to the pole gym owner about my perceived homosexuality, than to address me directly. I had to laugh about this. I am not interested in men, what on earth would I want with a woman. I need to remember not to tell women they look sexy, even though they want to look sexy, and they really really want other people to think they look sexy too. Right.

The drawing class went well. I feel happy. I drew a dog. It originally was supposed to be a dragon wound around a tree branch, but it turned out to be a very happy dog with antennae. Afterward, I carried my picture around in front of me so everyone could see it. I felt like I was in kindergarten again. Kindergarten was fun. I was in Miss Becker’s class at Intermountain Christian School in Utah. Utah has Rocky Mountains and you always know which cardinal direction you are facing because the mountains run North to South on the horizon. They look much closer than they are.

Spry Guy is in the art class, and he likes his picture too. Spry Guy is about my size and he has a lovely big snuggly looking beard. He says he wants to go camping with me this weekend. I do not think this is a good idea. He has announced in the first five minutes of conversation that he is antagonistic toward judeo-christian values. I am chock full of judeo-christian values. Also, I got in trouble camping the last time Strong Enemy was divorcing me. Lonely+Beautiful Beach+Marine/Construction Worker+Warm Starry Night is either a recipe for reality TV or Trouble. There was no camera crew present, but if there was they would have gotten some good footage of Trouble. This is not a bad memory, but I have no need to repeat the scenario.

Strong Enemy is also antagonistic toward judeo-christian values and we get along about as well as a mule and a wild mustang. He just cannot seem to stop being a draft animal long enough to lift his head and realize that the field is green enough to provide everything we need.

Spry Guy leaves. Later we see him hanging out with another girl. I suppose that when you are lonely, anyone will do. Good for him.

I hear the canyon echo of God’s voice. “Alone is lonely, but Alone is free, when it perches upon a mountain top tree.” I look around. Seriously, did no one else hear that?

Sister and I make toast with ghee, avocado, and goat cheese. This is the most amazing piece of toast I have ever had. We discover that the french coffee press is good for making loose leaf tea as well as coffee.

We watch a funny show about random pretty people who get plunked on an island where they are provided with unlimited room cleaning service and mixed drinks. The only catch is that they have to pick one of the other people on the island to marry. Pretty people seem to experience problems on a much more epic scale than the rest of us mortals. I am thankful not to be stuck on an island. One night of that was plenty enough. He had PTSD.

——————————————————–

-4-

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation for the glory of God,

it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied.

It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world.

Your soul is stuffed with small things,

and there is no room for the great.

-John Piper

I record myself singing the Hallelujah song from the Shrek movie. It does not sound like the girl from the Frozen movie, but it does not sound like a whoring cat either. I will ask Sister what she thinks.

Songs have to be very organized to make sense. They must follow a set of rules or they will not be songs. Songs without rules are noise. Just like freezing water follows a pattern of rules as it forms snowflakes around airborne dust particles, songs must follow a set pattern of rules in order to be beautiful. Every beautiful song has a grain of pain at it core. Every snowflake has a grain of dust at its core. Both beautiful songs and snowflakes clean the air.

Beauty comes from order and rules, which is not to say it is forced from a mold. It is to say it is formed with a framework. We might as well come out and say it, the emperor is not wearing any clothes, and nobody really likes Jackson Pollock. He just does not sell the way Van Gogh and Monet or even Andy Warhol sell. We all like the idea of throwing off the order of framework, but nobody is making a living flinging paint randomly on a canvas. We all are striving to better suffer the invisible unspoken framework so that we can better express our individuality through it. I take that back. By ‘we all’ I mean those of us who are not schizophrenic.

Anarchy makes a better philosophy than it does a reality. Schizophrenics are the only true anarchists. Sorry Noam Chomsky, you just are not extreme enough. Try again next book. Maybe you could publish a book with no words and only differently shaped pages, every page a different shape that the one before it. That might be an anarchist best seller, but it would still conform to the same book binding tradition, so maybe not. Maybe the next anarchist best seller would be a waste basket full of crumpled balls of printer paper with nothing written on them. That would be a more appropriate analogy. The first that happens after after a disaster isolates a community from protective law is looting – every single time.

So what framework shall we choose to organize our minds so that they do deteriorate into insanity? Either we work hard to make it to heaven -however we define the concept- with a list of arbitrary self-contrived regulations, or we allow God to find us and work Himself through us. This is more sane because it relieves us of the impossible burden of defining who an infinite God is from our finite imaginations. Finite imaginations contrive very unsatisfying finite gods that are usually just our own personality blown out of proportion. Either we pick up our plows and push them down into the dry soil to try to grow Him out of the fallow ground, or we lay down our munition laden fists and fall into the ground like seeds that suffer down into the soil and then grow up heavenward, not because we work hard at doing so, but because we are living plants and cannot help but reach for the sun.

Your rod and your staff they comfort me. Money: what a cruel master. It killed that man who I married. He is dead and only Strong Enemy remains. Sister has started her new job today. She always does what she wants to do. Eventually people started to pay her for doing what she wants to do. Sister works at the coolest spa in Nashville. It is two blocks from her apartment on Monroe street.

Being an esthetician, means Sister needs very special popsicle sticks. We drive across town to get them. The special popsicle sticks are located amongst a hodge podge of plastic bottles with small print all over them. They look like cylindrical car rental agreements. The lady who is at the counter of the popsicle stick store asks if I have my license. Well, of course I do. Every since I was 16. How do you think I got here. Apparently, you need a license to operate a special popsicle stick.  That’s fine.

The lady at the counter is complaining about the construction work in the parking lot. She will not be dissuaded from her tragic musings by the fact that they will be putting in flower planters. I suppose if you tried exceptionally hard you might be able to imagine that the sound of construction was an intolerable cross to bear even if their were flower planters on the other side. April showers bring may flowers, and may flowers bring pilgrims.Also, construction work brings Latino construction workers. They never pretend not to stare.

Mujer Valiente is my bestie. She speaks Spanish. Well, I guess, it would be more accurate to say, she speaks English. This is impressive because she grew up speaking Spanish in Lima, Peru.  Her Grandmother is an indian from the Andes Mountains. She spoke Quechua. Quechua was the language of the Incan empire which was destroyed by the Spanish in the 16th century. Mujer Valiente’s Madre learned to speak Spanish when she was a teenager. Mujer Valiente’s Abuela does other interesting things besides speak a mysterious ancient language. She makes wild lemongrass tea, kefir, and traditional peruvian pastries. Mujer Valiente is trying to teach me to speak Spanish. I am not a good student because I do not study. We will see Mujer Valiente later this week on friday. She will catch up with us at Foster Falls. She is going rock climbing her husband, Adventure Man, and the ninos.

This whole trip was Mujer Valiente idea. Sort of. I agreed to camp and rock climb at Foster Falls with her. Then I realized how close I would be to Nashville, so I came here first. Strong Enemy told me I was allowed to take the kids to Foster Falls, but they were not allowed to go rock climbing. I am so tired of being dominated. I left the kids with him for an extra week. I am making my own decisions. Strong Enemy said, “I am going to bring the camping gear over so you can take what you want. Just don’t throw anything away.” I was not going to throw anything away, but so as to not give  Mr. Enemy the opportunity to boss me around I said, “No. I do not need anything from you.” This might not seem like a significant exchange but you should remember that for 12 years I have not been allowed to put things in the grocery cart without first asking permission.

I have never found feminist philosophy particularly stimulating; however, one does not have to cow to the glory of Ms. Steinem to know that a girl just cannot live with a sporadic willy-nilly lack of order that is capriciously imposed from a man’s totalitarian imagination with no basis except what feels good in his stomach. Women are not valuable because because they can work, play sports, and run for president like men. Women are valuable because of the feminine way they love. Strong Enemy  just does not jive with the real order of the universe. This is all very irritating to think about. I better go to a yoga class.

________________________

-5-

As when, O lady mine,

With chiselled touch

The stone unhewn and cold

Becomes a living mould,

The more the marble wastes,

The more the statue grows.

-Michelangelo

The yoga class was good. I feel better. I felt better even before I got there. The walk was so pleasant. These streets in Germantown feel like the streets in Key West. Tightly packed and loosely arranged on a grid. The houses conform to a format, but each one is unique in the owner’s self-expression. Just like snowflakes. Just like music. Just like beauty. My kite is stable.

Thank you so much to everyone who smiled at me today. Thank you to the valets at 5th Taylor restaurant. Your smiles make the day worthwhile like soaring birds make a cloud backdrop worthwhile. I do not feel shy. Why should I? I have caused car accidents from motorist slowing down to look at me. I should be as beautiful as I can, because that is how my Husband made me to be. I should not be dumbing myself down and dressing myself like a single mom on welfare just because Strong Enemy is more comfortable. The yoga class was just one more nice thing that this beautifully ordered neighborhood added to my life.

It is really fun to listen to Sister talk when she is excited about something. Sister loves beauty and order. She loves essential oils and she sells so many of them because she communicates her excitement so well. Her face lights up like a joy conveying vessel. Sister is telling me to sell my art on Instagram and Etsy. She is such a motivational person, I feel as if I could actually do it. What would happen if I just did whatever I wanted to do, rather than do what everyone tells me I ought to do. If I became the person who God made me to be rather than what everyone else wants me to be. I would never have to worry about my daily bread. I would just have it and be thankful for it.

I had always wanted to be a textile artist, but instead of doing that I went to nursing school.  I guess I figured that a steady income would make up for lack of respect and shift work. Strong Enemy says that life is hard and everyone hates their job, so I might as well just do it. I can’t. I will not live like this any more. I am going to do the right thing. Even if I have to live paycheck to paycheck in a trailer, I am going to do what my soul knows how to do. My soul knows how to sew, my soul know how to put colors together, and my soul knows how to write. When I do these things I do them naturally, like a bird building a nest or a bee pollinating flowers.  It is better to eat oatmeal and apples in peace in the trailer park, than go to the steakhouse and fight about money, and other women, the whole way there and back again. It is better to live in the wilderness than to live with a quarrelsome and contentious man.

So how does one be happy, and how crucial is happiness? I hear a lot of people chatting over open Bibles about what God’s will is for their lives. I hear people talking in churchinese about “swimming against the current of the culture cult” and “living life out loud for Jesus” as if this were the key to happiness. I cannot say for sure that being in God’s will makes you happy, but I can say for sure if that if you are content with such things that you already have and rejoicing in the midst of your sorrow, you are in God’s will.

There is nothing mysterious about God’s will except that it can only be known one moment at a time. God’s name is I Am that I Am. That means God is currently abiding in the past, present, and future. We are abiding in the present. The present is the only place we can have contact with His presence. God’s heart is composed of all pain and pleasure from the past and future. We have only what we have at any given moment, and are therefore not expected to know God’s will for our future. Perfect love casts out fear, we are not to be afraid of the punishment that would come from being outside His will, because if His Spirit is the life giving nucleus of our soul we will not be outside of God’s will. We will no more seek to live a life in slavery to pornography or alcohol than we would randomly stand up and smash our heads through a stain glass window in a church service. We could. We have the ability, but we would not. A liver cell could replicate the DNA for a cardiac tissue cell. It could, but it does not.

If Jesus was right when He said, “This is the will of God that you believe in His Son” and if it is true that when He said, “It is finished” He meant that the work of salvation was completed and can not be more more complete by our righteousness, then the will of God is that we abide gratefully in the present moment with His currently provided provisions, breathing in gratitude and exhaling praise. It does not matter if the present moment is colored with our deepest joy, or drenched in our greatest sorrow. Either sorrow or joy is an acceptable sacrifice to be given back to God on the altar of our hearts. If He has given it to us, it is a good and perfect gift. If we do not have something  we do not need it. It would not be good for us anyway. If you do not have faith that this is true, you will truly pierce yourself with many unnecessary sorrows.

You can also think of it this way:  God is present throughout time like light is present in a room. We are present in time like we are riding an inexorable train that chugs in one direction at various speeds. We can conclude that His will has already been accomplished and to abide in Him is to be in His will. So where is boasting? It is excluded. God’s work is complete, or holy, whole-y, as a circle is complete and holy any efforts to make a perfect circle more circular will only bend the circle thereby making it less circular and less holy. It is a good thing that we cannot add to God’s holiness with works, and it is very arrogant to assume that our personal failures hinder God’s work. We cannot reach the circle to tamper with it, we can only be encompassed by it as it expands like ripples on the water, as it expands like the universe. Please do not send me angry emails explaining to me that light travels at a certain rate. The analogy breaks down here. Sorry.

Of course, we all know that being present and grateful in the moment is not unique to Christianity. This theme is repeated in Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and even westernized yoga just to name a few. The difference Christianity brings to the table is that the ability to have faithful contentment in the moment every moment is the gift of God through the work of Jesus Christ in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and each person has been allotted a different measure of faith. In all other religions the contentment is the work done by the religious person and a means to attaining salvation.

_______

-6-

“This is what the past is for!

Every experience God gives us,

every person He puts in our lives,

is the perfect preparation for the future

that only He can see.”

-Corrie Ten Boom

Sister and I look super hot. The two of us together and dressed up have caused car accidents from dudes rubber necking at us. We go to downtown Nashville with Free Lance to see if there is any Trouble to get into on a Thursday night. A band is playing music at a bar. They are practicing. The bar is closed The lights are bright. A man is operating a computer program that is intended to improve the sound of the music. It is going to take more than one computer to make this music musical. Every band member is competing for their own sound to be heard over the noise of the other band members – except for the female vocalist. I cannot hear her, she is shy. I am thinking about the amount of energy that was required in each individual band members life to learn to play these instruments, get them to Nashville, and adhere them into a unit. All that energy is falling flat in the room, as each member promotes himself above his fellows.

I remember watching a no name band in Panama City. They were four black men playing jazz together in a cheap bar on a back street. Each part of the band -each man- could feel the beat of the music as if it were a tangible frequency of joy. Each man encouraging, emphasizing, and expounding on the joy of the other band members with their own unique musical  interpretation of the same beat. How good it is when brothers dwell together in unity. It is like brushing your hair  with conditioner and getting it straight after being in the woods for three days.

The man operating the computer program is trying to communicate with me over the sounds of discordant energy dissipating into the walls. He tells me he is an atheist. He is presenting himself as jovial and big-hearted. He probably is. He tells me about his crazy ex-wife and his lucrative real estate investments in Nashville. He says he uses a large percentage of his money visiting inner city schools and promoting, through his recording studio, teens who wish to express themselves through music. He says he is not looking for talent, he is looking for passion. This is true and good, and I love how the rain falls on the just and the unjust. I love people who passionately chase sparks in the darkness. He gives me his card. He wants to buy me a drink sometime. I do not call him. I keep his card in my wallet to remember to love him. I can’t spend time chasing sparks. I have fire.

I am thinking about the interaction of men and women in bars. Most men understand that if they can get a woman talking about herself, coaxing her along with sympathetic probing questions, she will begin to believe that he is truly interested in her character and is therefore well along the way to loving her. Well placed eye contact and compliments aid this process significantly. Anything anyone tells you may or may not be true. Mannerisms associated with a certain attitude may not be indicative of that attitude. Just because he acts interested, does not mean he is interested.

On the other hand, men do not seem to realize that they are susceptible to dropping their own self-protective walls given the same type of treatment. Maybe this is why I seem to be a narcissist magnet. I am a sleuthing interviewer, an undercover asker of pertinent questions.

Yes. Sex is a need; so is food. If it is appropriate to fast from food, it is appropriate to fast from sex. Food and sex are also coping mechanisms. There is no such thing as “hangry.” There is only anger that is coped with by eating. The point of having a fast from food is to allow these underlying dysfunctional attitudes to surface so they can be dealt with through prayer. God meets us in our needs. If we have no perceived needs, we will very rarely meet with God. I would like to have sex. I have the feminine equivalent of testicle pain. I have been sexually active for at least 12 years and I now have whatever the female version of testical pain is. I am not looking for sex. Too risky. Too scary. Too hurty. You get your soul all tangled up with people you have sex with, so it would just be better to fast at the moment. I hope my vagina does not fall off, it feels really heavy.

________

-7-

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows will spring;

Renewed shall be the blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

-J.R.R. Tolkien

I am sitting on a stone throne in a thick green summer forest. It feels like a cave, but it is a more like an archway. A strong inner layer of rock is smoothly blocking the way into the heart of the mountain. It presides over the crumbled outer layer that is scattered down the hill. Apparently, that ancient race of trolls, the ones that were much larger than the modern day ones, began to tunnel here. The trolls who slammed into the mountain have littered the ground with broken boulders and crackled stones before they lost interest and moved onto more trollishly troublesome activities.  Trolls are not like dwarves, they have trouble remembering to complete their construction projects. Dwarves just cannot stop mining. It is just what they do. Bee’s make honey, children play, birds weave nests, currents pull you through the sea, and dwarves mine through tunnels forging metal as they go. You know you are doing what you were created to do when you just cannot stop doing it with a smile. Grace is in gladness, and skill resides in joy.

This is Pigeon Mountain  in LaFayette, North Georgia. Adventure Man and Muejuer Valiente are here with some other families. I am so happy to be single. I am watching these men and women bumbling along trying to eak out a relational existence with each other. It’s almost painful to watch. I know what they are missing and I almost want to tell them. But I did not, so I will tell you: Women speak in a language of love, men speak in a language of respect. They are not synonymous ideas, but the yin and yang of the the same concept. The feminine and masculine form of the same idea, if you prefer. When men give women the love they need, women respond by giving men the respect they need. When women give men the respect they need, men give women the love that they need. You can see how when this fragile emotional ecosystem is derailed, it quickly deteriorates through a self-propagating negative feedback system. It takes humility to offer love to a woman who is not respecting you. Women only offer respect to a man who does not love them, by swallowing a nearly asphyxiating bolus of  pride. This what is required to make the relationship function. No exceptions. Well, actually, it does not work on sociopaths.

I am watching a passenger plane cut through the sky. I am watching blue jay alight on a branch. I am on a rock. God is watching me. God is talking to me,

“My ways are not your ways.

You muscle your way through the air

With steal and engines powered

On compressed

Antediluvian organic matter

I slice a spiraling arc

On soft down fractalized feathers

I land by resting my wings

On the weight of the wind

That held Me aloft

You conquer with strength,

Money, and propaganda,.

I conquer by raising

Dry bones to life again.

You drink the sterile sand from the desert

Of keeping the religious laws

You have made in your own image

I am brewing new wine.

I am living water flowing through the vine.

I AM that I AM

And all things are mine.”

It is good to be single, It is good to be accountable only to God who is never tired or cranky, who is not a sociopath, who tells us over and over again how He loves us, who only gives good gifts to His children. True, sometimes, those gifts look and feel like stones and serpents, but in His time we find that those gifts are the bread and fish we originally asked for we just did not see it with the limited wisdom in our eyes at that time.  In God’s time, we find that the stone is turned into baked bread, and the serpent is transformed into a river full of spawning salmon.

Sorrow is going to take you somewhere. It is like a jeep. It can take us offroading. It can steer us into a dark valley of realizing our own sinful nature, up a ledge of repentance, and to the top of mount Carmel where it will turn into an amphibious vehicle and ferry us across the Jordan. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; Or it can coast in neutral down wide, heavily traveled streets with names like Why-Me Ave., and Poor-Me Blvd. It may even detour down Self-Made-Boot-Strap-Lifter Rd. before gradually almost imperceptibly easing the passengers through the gates of Hell where the root tips of deep bitterness hang like spanish moss from the ceiling. But the sorrow of the world produces death (2 Corinthians 7:10).

God is talking again, “The wounds on our back either sprout wings, or fester into infection. The enemy is not our friend Suffering. The enemy is our adversary the devil.”

_________

-8-

We are all faced

With a series of great opportunities,

Brilliantly disguised

As impossible situations

-Chuck Swindoll

Yesterday we camped at Foster Falls. I did outdoor rock climbing for the first time. Then the group stayed to continue climbing while I walked into the woods. I felt completely drawn away, like an unseen undertow was dragging me out into a rustling ocean. No one was holding me back. I knew, if I wished, I could just keep walking on and on forever: farther up and farther in, until there were only clouds. Oh, that I had wings like a dove, I would fly away and be at rest, I would fly away and live in the quiet of the wilderness. I would hasten to my place of refuge from the stormy wind and tempest (Psalm 55:6-8).

This trail has a name: Fiery Gizzard. That sounds like dragons to me. Chickens eat small stones that settle in their gizzards. The stones help grind the food they eat. Maybe dragons swallow the stones from this mountain ridge. Maybe these stones are magic, and help the dragons throw flames from their nostrils. God made dragons. He says so in the oldest book of the cannon, Job,

Who can open the doors of his face? Around his teeth is terror, his back is made of rows of shields, shut up closely as with a seal. One is so near to another that no air can come between them. They are joined one to another; they clasp each other and cannot be separated. His sneezings flash forth light, and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. Out of his mouth go flaming torches; sparks of fire leap forth. Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke, as from a boiling pot and burning rushes. His breath kindles coals, and a flame comes forth from his mouth (Job 41:14-21).

Yep. That’s a dragon alright, but you can call it an alligator if that makes you feel better. If you believe that is an alligator, you will probably also believe that the Behemoth with “a tail like a cedar tree” was a hippopotamus.

The wind is rolling through the tree leaves. It comes from all directions. I can hear it softly rolling toward me and then passing over head and into the distance. The maple and oak leaves are inhaling the sunshine and exhaling oxygen as the wind winds through them. The wind blows wherever it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit (John 3:8). It is not a dragon’s breath today. It is just a spirit drawing me on like a shepherd.

Of course, you are never safe when you follow God off somewhere. He’s not a tame lion, after all. Never safe, always providing. If we never put ourselves in a position where we might need God’s help, we will not see Him act until He puts us in a position where we need His help. The wind is not a tame beast either, but we need it to breathe.

When a trail map says, “Travels bottom of gorge. Rocky and strenuous,” this should be believed to be a true statement, but not entirely accurate. A more accurate description would read as follows: “Fourteen rapid descents on narrow paths in the midst of recent rock slides onto slippery bridges immediately followed by out of control assents to an equivalent height through the same boulder patches.”  No matter how crazy a situation I get into, I always find a way out at the end. I knew I would not be able to walk back, but I also knew that someone at the other side would be giving me a ride back to Foster Falls. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

I got thirsty and dizzy on top of the mountain.

“God, I am thirsty. I think I will get sick and fall if I do not drink.”

“Drink the next water you find.”

I find a puddle on top of the hill. I am dubious. It looks stagnant.

“God, I have never drank anything unclean.” I am speaking out loud again.

“Do not call unclean what I have made clean.” God is speaking out loud too. He seems to do that more often when we speak out loud to Him. His voice sounds like the water in the creek where I used to catch salamanders when I was a little girl.

I drink. I have to. I cannot stop myself.

I know I will not be able to make the return trip. My physical resources are spent. I also know that someone will be in the parking lot waiting for me to give me a ride. Sure enough, there was a sign on the post that advertised a $10 shuttle service back to foster falls. Best allocation of $10 ever. Much better than beet juice. Taxi Man tells me that we are in the poorest county in Tennessee. He says that Tennessee has a big problem with sex trafficking. Sister told me that the week before I got to Nashville the police had discovered 8 girls locked in a closet at a nail salon. They must have been little to fit in a closet. Of course, you could never contain 8 full grown women in a closet. You would be severely mangled if you tried, unless they were severely dehydrated.

I never did get sick from that water. Goodness and mercy follow me around like little puppies. Hopefully, the rest of my life will be like this: A Dangerous and Irresistible Calling and Following into the Wild Unknown. This is fun. A girl could really get used to a life like this.  I want to live in a place where I am continuously pushed beyond my limits and I am forced, gladly, to rely on the Creator of the Universe: my Spouse. I would find Him to be a faithful provider who delivered me everyday up until my ordained last day where He would cause me to soar beyond the grave. Are not all these things the deepest longings of the deepest parts of the heart? This is the life we are created for. Thirteen Florida miles is a nice long walk. Thirteen Tennesee miles is an adventure.

Just like following a winding path into the unknown is the act of putting one foot in front of the other, so is freedom. If I start, I will finish, The Lord my God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills (Habakkuk 3:19).

____________________________

-9-

[Isreal is]

“A people dwelling alone

not reckoning itself with the nations.”

-Balam

Faithful Friend has a gazebo in her backyard. I am in Atlanta sitting in it. From the gazebo I can gaze at the swingset that came with the purchase of the house. Faithful Friend is a nanny who aspires to be a mommy.

She genuinely likes children because she is childlike. Faithful Friend thrives on play the way the way fish thrive on water. She bought some nerf guns for us to shoot her husband with when he came home from work. Aslo like a child, Faithful Friend remembers stories the way History teachers remember dates and she loves structure and order. She is one of those rare people who refuse to make obvious mistakes. If she knows something is wrong, she simply does not do it. She does not evaluate pros and cons, or evaluate where an action falls on a scale of light to dark gray. Everything is either right or wrong. This is the way animals, children, and God see the world.

Faithful Friend’s husband, Courageous, has no idea how deep his strength is. He asks the blessing over our burrito bowls. The prayer is halting as if there were a right or wrong way to do it. I am thinking that maybe we should not lump courage in with all the other virtues as if it were on par with the rest of them. I am thinking that courage is the gasoline in the engine of all the virtues. We will do nothing virtuous without courage. The right thing done meekly is courageous. The wrong thing done boldly is craven fear.

Gentleman would call this “common sense.” Gentleman is one of those blessed people of the WWII generation that did not lose his compass in the haze of the 60’s.

I knew I needed to hike the 8 mile ascent trail onto the Appalachian Trail from Amicalola Falls because someone would be waiting there at the top to talk to me. I started at 2:20 and arrived at 5:30. The lady at the ranger station who registered me for primitive camping described to me the campsites in the forest along the way, “You’re getting a late start. This is an all day hike.”

I told her I would make it tonight. “I have an appointment to talk to someone at the top.”

“You must be a fast hiker,” she said.

Here I must point out that people do not hear what you say, they hear what they expect you to say. Sister and I were walking in Nashville when we were approached by a couple of sharp looking business men, one from California and the other from Texas. They told us that girls like us were their customer base – Why, thank you! How flattering – and asked us what we do to stay in shape. I said, “Pole dancing.” They then proceeded to quiz us on what we liked about stationary cycling. Sister and I laughed about this.

The ascent trail was not anywhere near as technical as the Fiery Gizzard trail. When I reached Springer Mountain, no one was there. I was afraid that my appointment was going to be with the two silly men I had met a mile back. “Do you know where we can get some water out here?” they asked.

“There is a sign right next to you that says ‘water’ with an arrow pointing that way.” I gestured.

At the top of Springer Mountain is a sign that reads, “Due to the presence of bears and the environmental impact of hikers, camping on Springer Mountain is highly discouraged.” There it is again: that word, courage. I decide to walk around a bit one more time to see if I can find the person I am supposed to meet with.

Gentleman is walking around the campsite looking for something. I do not talk to him right away. I have to get a sense of his vibe. Hey! Gimmie a break. I am alone in the middle of the woods.

I am squatting to make fire. Gentleman tells me, “I could be Japanese they way I can sit in a squat for such a long time.” He says the word Japanese with a subtle undercurrent of resentment. Therefore I ask him what branch of the military he served in in World War II.

“US Marine Corps,” he says with satisfaction. I commence to use my journalistic superpowers to ascertain that He joined USMC right out of high school because he felt it was necessary to learn how to be disciplined. His father died at age 36 in an accident. His mother had married his father when she was a teenager. She raised 6 children on her own while putting herself through nursing school. Gentleman’s first child died, and his first marriage disintegrated shortly thereafter.

I am thinking about how God gives us the grace to handle the situation that we are in today. He does not give us the grace to handle someone else’s situation, or even the grace to handle the situation that we may be in tomorrow. We have grace for today and therefore bright hope for tomorrow, because His mercies are new every morning. The trademark of a sabbath oriented people is our ability to refrain from laboring to gather manna for tomorrow as well. We live in tents because we are just passing through. This is the meaning of Balam’s unwilling blessing.

_______________

-10-

Have the courage

To live under the strain and pain

To be part of a better story,

A larger story.

-Beth Moore

Gentleman is worried I am putting too many logs on the fire. “You’re not going to burn all that tonight,” he asks. “You’ll be up until midnight.”

I ask Gentleman if he would like to watch the sunset over the valley from the clearing at the summit. He carefully deliberates something about the fire in his head before agreeing to go. The red sun dissipates into the mountainous blue horizon like water molecules being absorbed into a napkin capillaries. He brought me out into a spacious place; He rescued me because He delighted in me (Psalm 18:19).  Gentleman says he does not understand how people can make a habit out of showing up five minutes late for work.

I tell him that he is the kind of person who always makes good decisions. He says, “No. I just have basic common sense.”

“Why do some people have common sense and some people do not?”

“I learned how to follow directions in the Marines.”

“You did not answer my question, and you know it.” People! Stop answering the question you think you are hearing. “There is more to common sense than following directions.”

“Yes. True.” He pauses, “You have to be able to honestly evaluate the difference between right and wrong.”

“But why is that so difficult for so many people?”

“They are full of pride.”

“But we are all so full of pride. How do we lose it so we can know the difference between right and wrong?”

“To be humble, we must learn how to suffer well.”

“So arrogant people who refuse to acknowledge right and wrong are people who lack common sense.” I am putting more logs on his intellectual fire.

“Yes. Only people who suffer well, gain the clear vision of humility.”

“Why do good people suffer?”
“So they can help other people who suffer to suffer well.”

“So suffering is only meaningless, if we do not use it well.”

“Yes,” He says. He looks into the darkness. I put more sticks on the fire. “I never would have gotten my life back on track if it had not been for a pastor  coming alongside of me who had also lost a child.” Gentleman jabs at the fire with his walking stick sending a volley of sparks spiraling toward the stars. “I had been thinking about killing myself.” Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God  (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Gentleman is still worried about the fire. He is a cautious person, and wants it to be completely out before he goes to sleep. He separates the logs and picks up some of the dirt of the ground to smother the coals. Water is valuable on mountain tops. I pour a bottle of my water out on the coals as memorial to David’s drink offering. After David captured Jerusalem -a mountain top experience – he remarked that he wanted some of the water from his hometown, water from a well in Bethlehem. His warriors fought through the Philistine military to bring him back the water he desired. David poured it out, “God forbid that I should do this!” he said. “Should I drink the blood of these men who went at the risk of their lives?” You do not have to have much of an imagination to notice the correlation of Christ’s sacrifice where blood and water flowed from his side. Is he not the living water born in Bethlehem? The silent stars go by

.

—————————–

-11-

“Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to keep it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”

-C.S. Lewis

I go to my tent in the dark and lie on my back. I brought no sleeping pad. The grass mounds are lumpy. I am thinking about bears. I hear night noises. I know a bear is not coming for me. I have as much reason to be here as the bears.

As I fall asleep I feel the presence of someone wrapped around my body. I know it is my Husband. I listen to His voice. He knows me. I follow Him. I am asleep. He says, “Press into me.” I do. My body orgasms. His presence continues with me in my dream. He is a light that is pushing back darkness. I am not helping Him. I am observing His glory. My face feels hot. I touch it. It is a burning ball of gas. It is a star. It has planets orbiting it. The planets are my thoughts.

I wake up and it is still night. The raucous cicadas are roaring in the starry canopy. I cannot believe that was a dream. It felt so real. I guess it was real, as real as any vision, which goes deeper than real. I am thinking about reality. There are two real worlds. The world we live in shakes and trembles like a woman in labor pains, but the other world which is superimposed on top of it is solid, unshakable, and slowly, steadily replacing the other world. You can see it, but it is like looking through a dim piece of glass. Sometimes, like tonight, the two worlds come so close together that they almost seem united. God’s presence in our deepest heart is the anchor that holds us steady in the writhing world in which we walk.

I remember Gentleman telling me he was upset when he got on the trail because he realized he did not have any toilet paper. As he was worrying, he turned a bend in the trail, and there, sitting on a rock in plain sight, was a fresh roll of toilet paper. It is true that everything is sacred and nothing is meaningless. Everything is meaningful from sex and defecation to thirst and suffering. Everything matters to God because He is in us, having already performed a redeeming work that no one can add to or make it more holy than than it already is. He is complete. He knows His children by name because He has put His name deep inside of us in our inmost being. He will be faithful to complete it carrying us as we soar past the grave and into His sabbath.

Jim leaves early. I lay in my tent and listen to him pack his things. We are both coming down from the mountain, but we are both coming down from different mountains. The same Shepherd leads us along different paths to the same destination.

I see a bear on the way down. At first, I thought it was a big black pony. I wonder if sometimes the animals hide from us, not because they are afraid, but because they do not want us to be afraid of them. I make clicking noises with my mouth. The bear cocks his ears and tilts his head the way a domestic dog does when some auntie engages it in conversation. The bear is fat, it is very well cared for.

The path winds ever onward into the rising sun.

_____________________

-Epilogue-

“Simon, Simon

Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.

But I have prayed for you, Simon,

That your faith may not fail.

When you have turned back,

Strengthen your brothers.”

-Jesus

(Luke 22:30-32)

I am home. My pungent laundry is spinning in the wash. I do not feel lonely. Tomorrow, I will bust out the sewing machine and lay down a quarter mile of stitches. My dad is asking me for a recount of my adventures. He is especially interested in the cave on Pigeon Mountain. I love magical stories where people enter into what looks like a very small space and when they get inside they find vast acreage.

The cave is a very unsuspecting crack where cold air rushes out of a dark space in a pile of boulders. You have to squeeze through, but once inside you find a cavern that seems to tunnel into infinity into the heart of the mountain. It reminds me of C.S. Lewis’ wardrobe, or the egg home of the childlike empress in The Neverending Story.

The loneliness of being separated from Strong Enemy was like a small space that I did not think I could ever squeeze into. I thought my heart would be crammed into a claustrophobic cranny where it would have no air to breathe. After I committed myself to entering into it, it panned out into a great wide open space that mysteriously wound it way through the deep secrets of the earth.

In the beginning, I thought I would die with heartbreak. God literally took me out of that pit and brought me up on a mountain so He could have His way with me. He brought me to a level place where I could stand.

In Atlanta, I met Chano. Chano is my dad’s age but he looks much younger. He is from Acapulco Mexico. He asks me if I want to play soccer. I say, “Hell yeah, I want to play some soccer.”

Chano says that Acapulco is not a good place, “Too many drugs and gangs.”

I morph into sleuthing mode, “Tell me about it.”

“I left because the gangs forced me to take drugs. They tried to force me to sell drugs.”

“What did you do?”

“I left.”

“What makes you different? Why do so many people stay, and succumb to the pressures of the environment?”

Chano volleys the ball from one foot to the other. “I just want to live more,” he grins.

So that is it. It comes down to what you desire. Just like Jesus healing the paralytic at the well, He asks, “Do you want to be made well?” That is a good question. Not everybody does. God is omnipotent, and in His image we are potent. That which we most desire comes true for us. Those who desire to be free, become free. Those who desire to be slaves, submit to whatever they have been mastered by, whether it be money, pity, relationship, job, or exercise. The world offers a pantheon of gods to fit our fancy and they are all tolerant of each other. The only thing the world cannot tolerate is its Creator, because the world and the lust of it are passing away.

We cannot fly away to the high places  while we walk backwards trying to get one last glance at Sodom and Gomorrah. The salt loses its saltiness and becomes good for nothing. The heart must run wild with the passion to pursue its freedom. No one can serve two masters. Light has nothing in common with darkness. Every choice is either right or wrong. I I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life that you and your offspring may live (Deuteronomy 30:19).

 

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