The Fire

Aren’t we all our most reflective selves at the end of a year? Everywhere we turn, folks are remembering and reviewing and resolving.  Certain markers in life cause us all to pull back and allow ourselves a broader view of the space in which we circulate.  We can count on a new year to be one of those.

All I know to do with my writing is be honest.  And there is a reason my writing has been a bit, well, constipated for the last ten months.  I have been exhausted beyond words.  About that many months ago, I quit a job I loved because things there got a bit awkward, and thank goodness I did because, though I didn’t know it at the time, my year was about to launch into a realm of busy-ness and difficulty that makes me grateful I didn’t see it coming.

This isn’t a poor-me post.  Before you quit reading because you don’t want to hear me complain about circumstances that sound ridiculous in the re-telling, just know that much.  Nope, I have nothing to complain about.  But if I could take you through all the shiny pictures on my phone from this last year, you’d see pictures of smiles and travels and guests and stunning scenery and grandbabies and all kinds of adventures.  And if you saw a picture of my heart, it would look super-glued and scotch-taped and sore and pushing through to create an outward smile.

Never in my life have I had an entire year of hard.  Up until this one, I’ve had years where I looked back and thought “Wow, there was a hard part in there!” but 2018 was more like, “Every single memory has a tainted backstory.” And not just for me, but for our whole family! Throughout this year, I didn’t find myself feeling sad, I felt myself having to power through as all the things around me that I held dear felt like they were crumbling and nothing I knew was secure — but One.

First a little story.  In the last three years, I have found a new hobby and you could NOT have convinced me that my animal-loving heart or my warmth-loving body would ever in a gajillion years enjoy suiting up in winter gear every day as fall turns to frigid winter and using various weapons to try to shoot a deer.  I’d have laughed at you.  But I found a new side of myself as Alison, the sitter-and-waiter.  And Alison, the harvester of beautiful organic meat.  And Alison, the defender of does — because if you didn’t know it before today, bucks are jerks.  I’m talking raping murderers of fawns, and mean as sin.  So I only shoot the big, mean ones.  Or attempt to.  And in the meantime, I visit with squirrels and birds, snowshoe hares, and beautiful does and fawns and the occasional wolf or bear.  I hone my eyesight to see every movement.  I settle into the woods and into my new instincts and train myself to sit so very still and listen and not fill every moment with busy-ness and plans and noise.  It is a process.  A long process.  And I’m super proud of it.  Two years ago, I shot my first deer.  It changed me.  I did a THING! and it impressed the heck out of myself and just about everyone who knows me.  (insert chuckle)  I didn’t enjoy the taking of a life.  BUT, I appreciated greatly the sacrifice that was given to nourish my family.  And, dang it, my shot through iron sites at 80+ yards that dropped a buck immediately was stinking impressive, if I do say so myself.

So this year, after having been skunked last year, the pressure was on.  We had a fabulous apple year meaning our orchards were bringing in some serious hoofed traffic. HUGE bucks were on our game cams.  Even before I could be out there for bow season, we were studying patterns and tracks and racks, and I was naming the boys I wanted to harvest.  Chocolate Rain and Mr. Big were my goals.  I was out in my stand most of bow season and almost every single day of rifle season — sometimes twice a day.  I literally didn’t go anywhere for almost a month except my deer stand.  I was so committed and ready.  I saw so many does, I couldn’t even count them.  So many fawns became my unknowing pets.  I knew who hung out with whom.  I knew which apples they liked best.  I knew what the sound of a little buck crunching his food sounded like and could hear and sense in an uncanny way, the approach of a deer.  I won’t tell you all the stories except that one day, I did shoot my beautiful buck.  And tracked him with my sweet man and eventually my son who came to help.  It was a good kill shot, but he ran far and fast and by the time he collapsed, our also-hunting neighbor found him and collected him (if you are him, and you read this, you’re welcome).  By dark, we had exhausted ourselves in the deep snow and dark and trudged up and down and far and wide in all our gear with our guns to a point of exhaustion I’ve only known a few times in my life with absolutely nothing to show for it.  When the four hunters in the family were done with the season and no one had gotten a deer for all our efforts and time and struggles, I found myself saying to God (because you talk to Him extra in the quiet), “Seems like it would have been easy to send me my big buck!  I tried so hard! What in the world?!  Can you just let me know why this had to be so hard?”

And like a thought-bubble of words that pinged around my head, I knew these words, “Was it enough that I found you faithful?”

Imagine my slack-jawed mouth shutting.

This year, a couple low points had me feeling like a failure as a parent in a brand new way, had me sobbing in physical pain that I haven’t known before, had me spent emotionally to a point I couldn’t describe, had me begging God to heal my daughter as she struggled to want to survive through a long battle for her health — she crawled into her Momma’s lap, a fragile wisp of herself with her bones protruding through her skin and pressed her ear to my heart as I held her in a way I hadn’t since she was tiny.  My sweet man and I had to trust God for basics and look to Him for answers in brand new ways this year — a battle between questioning every choice we’d made to get to this point, and choosing to stand and hold our ground.  We’ve stood for our family and our own mental health as never before — brand new and awful battles.

We gathered our family for the last few hours of 2018 to begin a new and not-so-new tradition.  We started our evening with lots of food and fellowship as always.  We took communion together as part of our tradition.  Then, we took a look back on our collective year.  The level of pain in each of my childrens’ and sweet man’s eyes and we tried to, each and all, find the good parts was a bit much.  And for Miss Merry Sunshine here, it was unusual to be the one who couldn’t come up with one solid, beautiful untainted memory of my own.  And then at the end of everyone else’s recollections, I found it.

At the worst of things, December 19th, 2018 my family said, ENOUGH!!  One of my children called an impromptu meeting at my son’s house and though it was late and we’d all had a long day and some of us had to travel almost two hours to get there, we all worshiped and prepared our hearts to storm some spiritual gates.   We arrived and settled the babies down and gathered in his kitchen and literally linked arms and began praising.  We had gone from despair that day to all-eyes-up.  We cast off everything ugly.  We claimed health and supernatural peace.  We anointed each other with oil and prayed for specific needs.  We broke spiritual chains, and prepared ourselves for a new beginning.  God met us there as we’ve never known before.  He heard His kids needing Him.  He surrounded and uplifted and strengthened and restored and healed.  And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like watching your grown children anoint their father with oil and pray over him.

Since 2010 when we took our big journey into the unknown, we began marking moments with altars. So on New Year’s Eve, we met and had prepared a giant altar behind the barn and went out there in a blizzard.  We gathered with words written on paper that needed to burn.  And as a family, we put it all to death.  All of it is done.

During the heat of my battle this year, a new and dear friend of mine gave me words that  have resonated in a way, I’ll cling to for the rest of my days.  She reminded me that when three men went into the blazing furnace as they stood firm for what they knew, that the only things that burned in that inferno were the things which had bound them.  Just let that sit there.

fire 2

I had things that bound me this year — things I didn’t even realize were stuck on me.  I had folks to forgive and ask forgiveness from.  I had some pride in my *rightest* way of doing things.  I had misplaced security in things that weren’t secure at all.

As each of these layers were revealed to me, I had a responsibility to dig in, gear up, be still, sit in the quiet, study my surroundings, train myself to know what is real and what is dangerous, be willing to take risks, be brave, stand in what I know, use the weapons I have, and know that at the end of it all, all that matters is if He finds me faithful.  It is enough.

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Lay it at the cross, Baby Girl…

I have a story to recount to you.  I recently told it to someone dear to my heart and it struck me again — the wonder of it all — particularly this Easter weekend.  Stick through to the end and you will see why.

One lovely summer day last year, I began my day with a phone call to a woman who has been a spiritual mother to me for several years now.  An integral part of my emotional healing, this woman consistently reminds me to stay on the path of thankfulness as I trudge through my journey, she having walked much of the same road as I, just a few years ahead of me.  That perspective is precious and vital — just to know it’s been done and is entirely possible to survive and thrive.  I cherish her more than I can say.

That morning, she listened to my words and tears and empathized beautifully, and she spoke words that felt like they had been written across the sky in blazing letters just for me.

“Lay it at the cross, Baby Girl.  Just give it to Jesus.”

Yup.  That is what needed to happen.  I could clearly visualize setting that emotional backpack I tend to pick up and lug around right down at the foot of the cross.

My heart was a bit tender and sore for the next couple hours and as the day developed, I decided to take advantage of both some rare time to myself and an idyllic summer day and drive to the beach (my happiest place).  I basked and floated and worshiped and prayed and practiced laying it at the cross.  As I floated in my little tube, I had an idea.  I thought it was quite brilliant.  “Lord, could you just show me a stone with a cross on it for me to mark this day?”

Across this country, I have picked up keepsakes — moment markers — as reminders of the precious steps of my journey.  And in this gorgeous place in which I live, there are gazillions of miraculously beautiful stones that I may or may not obsessively pick through on each beach visit.  It seemed logical to me to find a cross stone that day.  But no matter how hard I searched…nothing.  Zilch. Bupkis.

stones

Okay, I could handle this.  Really.  I mean, what more does a girl need than a beach day, stone or no stone.  I felt loved and content.

beach

Eventually, the waves lulled me to a most relaxed state in my beloved sunshine and I rested on the sand.

When out of nowhere, there came my sweet man. WITH A PICNIC!!! Now, don’t get me wrong, my husband does the sweetest things for me often, but romantic surprises are saved for rare days.  So when he shows up with my favorite food, at the beach to surprise me, I was beyond ecstatic.  My perfect day just got over-the-moon, off-the charts, home-run kinda fabulous.  We ate and relaxed, and I considered telling him about my morning and my conversation, but it was still a little fresh and raw and I kinda still wanted it all to myself.

Eventually, we went for a swim to cool off.  As we trudged through the water to the shore to dry off, my sweet man who knew nothing of my morning, looked down and said, “Wow! Look at this stone!  It’s got a perfect cross on it!” and proceeds to fetch it and hand it to me.  Yup.  That happened.  And to top it all off, the cross was in my favorite color.

There is so much to glean from that moment.  It’s so little and so huge at the same time.  How do you possibly explain that story except that I have a God who cares so deeply about my heart that He would begin my day with His love and confirm it entirely His way (not mine) through the loving hands of my husband and give me a little token of love on one of a gajillion stones in the right place at the right time, painted in my favorite color!?

Today, I woke up thanking my God for His gift of love on a cross.  Today marks the day He spent in a tomb after a horrific death and the cruelest rejection.  The Bible says that He (Jesus) “for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross.”  The joy that was set before Him.

Friends, that joy set before Him was us.  He considered it joy to do anything it would take to offer us a place of grace.  He was brutally beaten and willingly died for me, for you, so that our mess was paid for and covered by His very blood.  A ransom paid.  And the symbol of it for us is an empty cross.  Because He didn’t stay there.  And though there was a tomb, He didn’t stay there either which is what separates our God from any other possible deity.

The proof of His power lies in this symbol of freedom.

Freedom from death.  Freedom from pain.  Freedom from past.

And that’s where I find myself today.  I find myself worshiping at the foot of the cross.

Leaving it all right there at the place of ultimate grace.

And stepping away into freedom.

cross stone 2

Thank You, Jesus.