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Tuesday, December 22, 2015

How Many is a Multitude?






In January of 1968, I lived in a tiny hunting cabin in Jenningsville, Pennsylvania. We had a pot-belly stove against the frigid upstate Pennsylvania mountain winter, no running water, and an outhouse. This is where I lived with my husband and my two year old son, and it was into this world that I welcomed my second child, Joseph. 

I used disposable diapers (much different from the disposable diapers of 2015) because there was no way to wash cloth diapers as often as a newborn baby needs to be changed. I nursed only partly because I wanted to, but mostly because it was just too hard to get the clean water to sterilize bottles, or to make formula. Our water was hauled jug by jug from a mountain stream about ½ a mile up the road. 

But, once those early months passed, and spring came, it was a wonderful place to be raising two little boys. Those of you who know me now, would not have recognized the young woman who herded a toddler with a baby strapped to her back when we went wild berry picking up and down the mountains.  

Back in those days, I gained an appreciation for things that seem almost foreign now, but things that have never completely left my heart or mind.

I remember the night years later that I looked up at the Christmas sky and thought of a woman who gave birth to her first child in a stable. I remembered how hard it was to keep a baby clean and warm in a cabin, and couldn’t even imagine an infant in a stable. I at least had friends and neighbors close by. Granted, in the country, close by meant 5 or 10 miles away, but I knew people, and we had a phone if I needed someone. I was 23 when Joseph was born, not 14 or 15 like Mary – the mother of Jesus. This was my second delivery, after an uncomplicated first delivery. 

Mary was a child, with her young husband, with no nice clean hospital or midwife. This was her first baby. There was no mom there or nurse to hold her hand and tell her to just breathe through the pain, or to reassure her. There were no clean sheets or medical personal if there had been emergency with the birth. They were in a strange town in a stable, and alone.

I have thought of the story in Luke, and then thought of it from the perspective of a mom.
She was in a place where animals were kept. They would have been walking through mud and feces. They would have been herded into the stable through streets clogged with swarms of people in the vicinity for the census count. It’s uncomprehensive to think of all the germs tracked into that little dwelling – probably a cave kept just for the animals. In this environment, a child, was to give birth not only to her first child, but to the Son of God, to the King of Kings, to the Messiah. 

In the scriptures, it talks about shepherds watching their flocks by night – actually guarding against wolves, thieves and other predators. They would have been watching, being aware of where their animals were, and aware of any change in the environment. 

Can you imagine the devil at this moment? At no time in our lives are we more vulnerable than at the moment of birth. We leave a safe water bubble – always fed, always warm, always protected from the outside world, and are literally pushed and shoved into what would be a cold, harsh, and painful place. We have literally seconds to go from being water breathers to air breathers, and many babies don’t survive that transition. We are attached to our mother with a thin tube that today would be surgically severed under the most sterile conditions to avoid infection entering the child through the umbilical opening. Marry would have severed the tube with her teeth, or her husband would have cut it with the same knife that he used to gut animals or scale fish. 

I can almost see Satan laughing and rubbing his hands together as he dispatched every germ – every demon from hell, into that stable, but then………..

“…there was a multitude of the heavenly host….”

In some translations, it says a “heavenly Army”, or the “army from Heaven”.

All the songs and stories talk about the angels singing and praising God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The Bible talks about the light being so bright that the shepherds were afraid. These were men who would stand down a mountain lion with a rock or a stick, and they were afraid.

I think all that happened, but I think there was more.

We tend to think of angels as pretty little children with blond hair, wings and harps. In the Bible, they are described as fearsome sights. Creatures created in the image of man, but not like man. They are often described as carrying flaming swords. They are capable of compassion, but when God dispatches them to help, the first words to ever leave their mouth is always, “Be not afraid!” cause these are big, scary dudes! 

So here are the shepherds, guys not unaccustomed to fighting to protect their sheep, a brand new baby being born in a filthy home to animals, a frightened teenage couple, and here come the angels. 

How many came? The Bible says a “Multitude”. How many is a multitude? I have no idea. We only know that a multitude is a whole bunch. The Greek word for “host” means stars, so if we can’t count the stars, I would think that the number of Heavenly Host or angels that night blanketed the stars from sight. 

I think they came to announce the birth to the shepherds and to the earth. I think they came to welcome the Christ Child, but I think they had a far larger purpose. Angels are God’s ‘Secret Service Detail’, who have one job and only one job, protection! Just as our presidential secret service detail would and occasionally have, given their lives to protect the President of the United States, so the Angels dispatched that night would have been there to protect the Holy Family in that little stable. 

I don’t think Satan expected that kind of show of force, but the Heavenly Father protected His child, and He dispatched Angels. 

When I hear “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing!” or “Angels from the Realms of Glory”, I just see every demon in that little stable slithering back to hell in fear. 

The angels also proclaimed God’s pleasure at the birth, His pleasure for the new mother, and His pleasure with the man who had endured so much to stand beside this young woman. 

“8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. Luke 2: 8-15 NKJV

Well, that’s my opinion folks. Merry Christmas and God Bless You!

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Clustering

Depending on the English classes that you have taken, or the writing classes, you may have come across a technique for breaking 'writer's block', known as Clustering.

This is how it works. You take a word, circle it, and then write anything that has to do with that word - no matter how vaguely, then you take those words and do the same, until you hit a story.

As a nonsense example -

Yellow

A Color = flowers, raincoats, sunshine, brightness, happiness, saffron, food, exotic places, India, temples, monks, Tibet, the Delhi Lama, etc.

Somewhere in there is a spark that will or hopefully will, wake your muse. Somewhere in there is the spark to light an idea which will become a story, a poem, a book, a documentary, a movie...anything.

I cluster all the time. Sometimes on purpose, and other times by accident. Music forces me to cluster, as do certain books, movies, or even a commercial. Sometimes they result in a story or essay, but with me, they more often act as triggers of incredibly wonderful times or unbelievably bad times.

A few days ago, I watched a Lifetime movie, and it began. This was one of the bad ones. It triggered a memory that I have buried deep in my being, but which has influenced most of my life. I did what I always do when I cluster, and I took the word to all the other words and to all the things that those words represent. For 4 days, I was inside those words - reliving all the pain, all the confusion, all the shame, all despair, and all the years of feeling so alone in the trauma. I guess you could call it a PTSD moment that has never ended.

For the last few nights, sleep has escaped me. Moments of drifting off have been spent in the hell of memories so long buried, but then this morning, something happened.

Since I couldn't sleep, I got up, sat on my couch watching the news. As I sat there, my floor furnace kicked on and I felt the surge of warmth. I looked around my little house, and as the first rays of the sun filtered through the window onto my back, I felt an incredible sense of peace. An elusive thought overtook me and I realized that I felt happy.

Happy is not an easy emotion for me, but for that moment, it flooded my being.

My word for today is Happy - and I may Cluster it into a story, but first, I am finally ready for a good long sleep.




Tuesday, October 6, 2015

SOUL DIET

I haven't written much for while. I've written, but nothing that I wanted others to read.

Many of you know that my family has been in crisis mode for several years now. Most of my thoughts have centered on survival; very few thoughts have been on making my life worth living.

Almost as a tradition, on January 1st., people make New Year's Resolutions, where they make a plan of something to accomplish in the coming year. Normally it's something like stop smoking or drinking, lose or gain weight, get married or get divorced - basically a major life change, but we seldom actually do it. Those who make and keep a resolution, sometimes go for a long period into the year before they see an actual result. So it has been with me.

I decided that 2015 HAD to be better than the previous few years. I knew it could be much worse, but I wanted it to be better. I consciously started a new diet.

I am overweight, but this diet has nothing to do with food. I 'feed' on people, on ideas, and on affirmations. I gorge on books and movies that teach me something; that lift me. I surround myself only with people who see hope - I've had way too much of people filled with despair. I am impacted by music, and I spend hours in the center of music. Sometimes it's just happy music, sometimes it's lyrical music with words that speak to my soul, sometimes it's just the joy of old masters - like Bach played on box guitar by Andres Segovia, but it's also fiddle music played by a friend from the mountains.

Often my diet has been in the scriptures, but directed by great men and women of God who seem to know how to live. I have purposely looked for the less-than-perfect teachers and preachers. I look for those who have been hurt by life and people, and who have both acknowledged that they have feet of clay, and who have sought to make positive changes in their lives.

In that searching, I have read books such as by Anne Graham Lotz (Wounded by God's People), T.D.Jakes (Help Me, I've Fallen and I Can't Get Up), Christine Caine (Undaunted), Paul Viera (Jesus Has Left The Building), and currently, Brian Houston (Live, Love, Lead) - the one that has lead me to write today.

In this book, Live, Love, Lead, Pastor Houston, has addressed an evil that has manifested itself in my families life. I heard him talking about the book on The TODAY show with Hoda and Cathy Lee, and he discussed the chapter called, "The Worst Day of My Life". It was the same day as the worst day of my own life, and I ordered the book before the show was even over.

There are events in our lives that are so horrible and so devastating that we just don't realize that any other human could have walked this path. I have searched for others, and found some, but they don't seem to feel the same heartbreak that I have felt. Most of them have rationalized the situation or just denied the severity of the issue. I haven't. From the day I heard, I was crushed in so many ways.

I am a realist, and have had to learn to face life as it really is. I don't do fairy tales in how I see and perceive things. When my daughter died, I had to go to the junk yard and look at the car. I had to read every medical report. I had to face every detail to be able to understand. I have looked at things that happened in my childhood and had to ask people very uncomfortable questions to come to my own peace.

In his book, Pastor Houston addressed this evil head on - along with all the far reaching effects, acknowledging "a nightmare that would ultimately continue to unfold over all the ensuing years of my life." Boy, do I understand! BUT - after acknowledging all the pain and sorrow involved, he went on to offer all the scriptures and life events that gave he and his family hope - that brought shame into the light of love and understanding.

He talked about his own journey of healing, and how he, a well known and respected minister of the Gospel could fall into depression and brokenness. He talked about feeling empty and removed from all the joy of life. He talked about the physical toll. He spoke of how his whole belief system was challenged. He said everything that I desperately needed to hear.

Finally, he used different words to echo a truth I first read from Corrie Ten Boom in 'The Hiding Place', "There is no pit so deep that God's love is not deeper still." Pastor Houston wrote "No matter how difficult life's path, nothing can separate you from the love of God." Or as the first scripture that I memorized as a child says, "8 And the Lord, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed." KJV Deut. 31:8 - Something I had forgotten.

In Psalm 142, David says, "Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise Your name."

Although I am nearly into another year, my Soul Diet seems to be working. Sometimes it seems to be powered by cold molasses, while others, something kicks it into White Lightening mode! That is where I am today. I am always helped by those who have "been there, done that, and got the T-shirt", and that is where Pastor Houston had met me on my journey. 

I have to end this with part of the last paragraph in this powerful chapter, "Yes, the path will grow difficult, and the inevitable storms of life may crash through your windows and leave you drenched. But, if you return to the secret God has placed in your heart, if you keep his vision alive for your future, then you will know the kind of contentment Paul described here: "I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." Phil. 4:11-13.



Saturday, February 7, 2015

THE GROUP

For over 2 1/2 years, one Thursday a month, I attend a group. You can call it a meeting or therapy - in this instance, the definition could be either.

We are daughters, fiances, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, and children of someone who as broken the law. Our group also includes one father and one friend. Our number fluctuates as the person we represent is no longer compelled by the courts, as people end their relationships, as some folks just give up, and recently, when one of our members dies. Our members are between infancy and the lady who just passed away, who was in her nineties.

I don't think any of us come for the social experience. I don't think any of us come for frivolous reasons. I can only speak for myself when I say that I would rather be almost anywhere else, and wish to God that there was no reason for me to attend.We are black, brown, white and yellow. We are PhD's and high school drop outs. We make six figures, and we make minimum wage.

Crime in it's various forms, crosses all boundaries.

Before attending group sessions, we all had to complete 16 hours of education. We learned all the horrible things that one person is capable of doing to others. We saw examples of poor judgement, absolute stupidity, substance induced ugliness, and complete evil. I learned more than I ever wanted to know. We heard interviews with perpetrators. They ran the gamete  from someone who did something  unbelievably dumb, and whose remorse was so real that we could feel his pain, to an interview with a man who I can only describe as a complete psychopath. He was one who chilled all of us to our bones.

Some of us have also been victims. Some have come from families that were intact, and where no one was ever violated in any way. Both groups face their own challenges. For those who have never known crime, it is unconscionable that they should find themselves sitting in this room. For those of us who have been victims, it can be a sort of PTSD. We relive our own pain and confusion. We relive all the anger; the helplessness. We remember the moment our soul died.

We come for various reasons. Some are court ordered to attend. Some come as a way of supporting the person they care for during this time. Some come to know how to deal with the 'new normal' that is their life. Some of us come for very personal reasons.

I just want to be able to look at my child with love again and get past all the anger. It's possible to love someone and want to punch them in the mouth. I come because I believe he needs to know someone is in his corner. I come because when I'm not totally ticked off,  I still see a little boy who was kind, loving, and who wanted to do good in the world. I see him remembering that little boy too, and hating himself. Supporting my son is what has cost me my grandchildren. I have been told that because I haven't 'kicked him to the curb', I am "not safe" with them. Knowing all that I know now, I don't know many people who could be safer or more protective of them, but that's for another day.


For many of us, especially the mothers, grandmothers and wives, we also attend because it's pretty much all we have. All of us have experienced friends leaving, institutions walking away, and pretty much the same stigma as the person that we represent. The one difference? None of us has broken the law, yet we share in the sentence which society has imposed on us as well as our child, grandchild, husband, etc. There are women in our group who have been fired. Not for their performance, but because of their relative or connection.

This is the only safe place for most of us to speak. We live in denial, shame or sadness. The other night, a lady was asked if she takes her son to church, as that is something very important to her. She very angrily said, "NO! My church is clean. I don't want his filth anywhere near it!" Her son is no worse than any others, but her shame is so real. She is one of the people who have seen so called friends walk away from her when he got caught. I felt terrible for her, but I also felt terrible for her son. Where does your child go when no one wants them close - even their parent?

I am writing and disclosing for a reason. We are a small group, but there are thousands and thousands of others who have no where to speak - who live their lives hiding a huge part of themselves. I want them to know that they are not alone. For so long, I felt alone and as if no one really gave a crap. I have come a long way having the support of others like me and the support of this group.

Because I did something wrong when I set this blog up, comments are not possible, but I would be glad to hear from anyone in this same situation.

You can write me confidentially at kvsmm1945@gmail.com. I would honestly like to hear from you. You can't shock me, offend me, or say anything that I haven't already heard, and if I can help, I would like to.

You are not alone.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Give Them A Vision









Then He brought [Abraham] outside and said, “Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” GENESIS 15:5

I worked for a company I loved. Part of the reason was that I had an amazing department leader, who was only matched by her supervisor. One of the things that he did which stayed with me was to send out a daily devotional - something just not Politically Correct in this day and age, but something that I greatly appreciated.

He used teachings from the Maxwell Study Bible. They were short, motivating, and very powerful. Many of them have stayed with me and impacted my life. Today, I am choosing to use parts of one of them; expounding by adding my own feelings.

"Most people who are dissatisfied and discouraged feel that way because they haven’t grasped a vision for themselves. As a leader you can help others discover their dreams and then get moving.

You may already recognize much of the potential of the people you’re leading, but you need to know more about them. To help them recognize the destination they will be striving for, you need to know what really matters to them. To do that, find out these things:"

What do they cry about? To know where people truly want to go, you’ve got to know what touches their hearts.

What do they sing about? In the long run, people need to focus a lot of energy on what gives them joy.

What do they dream about? If you can help people discover their dreams and truly believe in them, you can help them become who they were designed to be.

Whom can you help discover their dreams?

                                                                         by John Maxwell

When I read this my first thought was for my grandchildren and step-grandchildren.

You look at these young people with so much potential, with their future in front of them, and it's almost impossible not to begin praying joy and fulfillment into their lives. 

I looked at the oldest girl and saw a strong, opinionated young woman and could easily see her with life in leadership. 

I looked at her younger sister; so close to the Lord, so loving, and could picture a mighty woman of God.  

Their youngest sister was a picture of contrast. She was full of joy, and so gentle. When I remember her there are certain things that will always stand out to me. When she was just too happy to contain herself or to know what else to do, she would stand on her tip toes, arch her back, grin, raise her face and just squeal at the top of her lungs. I was always reminded of the Lost Boys of Peter Pan when they sang "I want to crow!" But then, she worried about the little animals that needed help when we watched "Wonder Pets". She worried that Tinkerbelle wouldn't get back to Fairyland. One day after the insanity happened, she saw me cry and came to me, her little face full of compassion, asking if I was alright. I lied and said I had a bad cold and she was even more worried. Emily is the child who might someday become a missionary and go help famine victims in impoverished countries - never caring for her own safety and with such a love and desire to help.

The youngest - my grandson Micah - was joy and family. When he was tiny, he went through months of inconsolable crying, but then one day he just stopped, and he laughed. He saw fun in everything and in everyone. We would play for hours,with him stirring an empty pot with a wooden spoon 'cooking' for me. When he would feed the imaginary food to me I'd pretend it was too hot, sending him into fits of laughter and he'd do it again. He greeted me with shouts of "Granny!" and tight little hugs, just as he greeted his parents when they could come to pick him up at my home. Everything that happened was about happiness and his family and the joy that they gave him. I don't know yet what lies ahead of him, but I know he will be a good man who brings happiness to everyone that he meets, and that his family will always be so important to him.

Mr. Maxwell's lesson says that you have to:

1- Know what makes a person cry - what moves them.

For my oldest step grand-daughter, I think it would have been frustration with a world that wouldn't just line up because she knew how much better off they would be do if they did what was right. For her younger sister, it was tears motivated by her deep love of Christ, and her desire to share that love with others. For Emily, it was compassion for others who needed help, and for Micah, it was sadness at being separated from those he loved.

2-What do they sing about - what gives them joy?

For the oldest, it was getting her world organized and moving forward in a way that she knew would benefit them in the long run. (As an example, although she was a child, she potty trained her younger siblings).

For her younger sister, it was her faith and the joy she got from sharing those feelings with others.

For Emily, it was knowing that she was loved, and wanting to give that happiness to those around her. One day I was at their home and she went to the kitchen for something. She turned, smiled and said, "Don't worry Granny - your angel will be right back!"

Micah found joy in all of life. Walking with his sister and I to the mailbox was cause for celebration. Seeing me at church was a Micah-party! Story book time was hugs and smiles. We couldn't start a Saturday morning without watching Curious George cartoons at least once, and he laughed the whole time!

3-What do they dream about?

Sadly, I didn't get time to find out. I know what I wish for them, but I don't know their dreams, and I would love knowing.

His final question was:

Whom can you help discover their dreams?

Although I don't see them, there are others - mostly other adults who have grandchildren of their own, who see them, and who can help them to discover their dreams. My fervent prayer is that instead of filling them with confusion, that they will be filled with hope, joy, and a desire to see lives of happiness and contentment ahead of them.  

Take them outside at night, and do as God did with Abraham when He said:

“Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.” And He said to him, “So shall your descendants be.” GENESIS 15:5 

Show them that their futures are limitless.