Sam.

I used to have a best friend named Sam.

She lived on the other side of the forest, a few blocks down. We spent a lot of time in that forest, imagining trouble, and sometimes actually causing it. Sam was bolder than me. She had what my mom would call, a glint in her eye. She wasn’t afraid of adults and she wasn’t afraid to get in trouble. I, on the other hand, earned the nickname Miss Goody Two Shoes quite early on in my childhood, so I always envied this quality in Sam. For instance, when we were about ten, we sent my mom into a tizzy when she couldn’t find us one afternoon. We were on the other side of the forest enjoying some lemonade with some strangers who invited us in for a cup. Without Sam, I wouldn’t have dared, but with her… I was invincible. My mom was not pleased.

sam3Sam gave me Porkchop at my 8th birthday party. I insisted on inviting every girl in the 2nd grade class. It was probably one of the most disastrous experiences of my childhood; however, I still have my gift from Sam. I actually passed it down to my son. A tiny lion, called a pocket pal, filled with beans. I slept with it from the day I turned 8 until the day I turned 18. Since he was easy to conceal, I had him stashed in my college dorm room. Then, I had him stashed in a keepsake box. Now, I have him stashed in my son’s closet.

Sam may have been a bit of a trouble maker, but she eradicated more trouble than she caused. I remember one particular example quite well, another birthday party. I was turning sixteen and was squeezing every minute out of it in my green, cement basement with a large collection of friends—some may have only been acquaintances. Things took a negative turn when two rough looking boys showed up unannounced. Miss Goody Two Shoes was not impressed with some stunts they were pulling in my basement. Sam found me crying in my parents’ exercise room because they had ruined my birthday. She released me from any reason to cry, with her impeccable ability to listen and make things right. It is even more impressive that she pulled this off, since she is the one who invited the boys in the first place.

Sam had a quality about her that I could never quite put my finger on. I always thought she was rather nosey, but I never had any qualms about letting her put her nose wherever she wanted. It was because she cared for me, even when we began to grow apart in high school, I knew she really, genuinely cared for all of us. Not only that, Sam was the girl to seek out when you were looking for gossip. She was the queen of knowing everything. I loved that about her.sam4

Some of my most exhilarating memories from my childhood have Sam in them; she is the leading lady in most of them. Sam and I spent an entire summer with our feet hanging off a handsome boy’s tailgate as he did circles around our Podunk town. It would be late and approaching my curfew, but it was hard to care when I was sitting next to Sam singing “Too Much Fun” at the top of my lungs.

Even though my parents believed her to be a rather negative influence on me, I never got into any real trouble with Sam by my side. I mostly just had the time of my life. She always took me home when I mentioned my curfew, and she never rolled her eyes at my inability to disobey my parents. The only time I remember her genuinely “corrupting” me was when she double-dog-dared me to yell the f-word at the top my lungs. Don’t forget my nickname. It took a lot of persuading, but Miss Goody Two Shoes eventually stood up on that dugout (I have no idea why we were sitting on a dugout) and yelled it. This was just another moment that Sam made me feel free, like I had some invisible shell that only she could see.

She eventually moved even closer to me, just a few blocks down the street across from the railroad tracks. I can’t imagine how boring my high school experience would have been had she not been right down the street. Her basement was the location of many unusual, yet always legal and, more importantly, God-fearing activities. Without Sam, I think I would have conversed with two boys during all four years of high school. But in Sam’s basement, I had more boys to flirt with than I ever had in English class. Sam was a great flirt; I sucked at it. The point is, Sam always made me feel like I could flirt, like I had nothing to lose. She made everyone feel like that.

I learned a lot from Sam. Most of the life lessons she shared with me were discussed on the top of a grain elevator. We thought we were such rebels. I didn’t find out until later that nearly every teenager in our town spent a good deal of time on the elevator, but still, we were trespassing and we felt dangerous. One morning, around five a.m., Sam and I snuck out of her parents’ house and walked to the elevator. We weren’t trying to break every rule in the book, we simply wanted to watch the sunrise from the highest point on the grain elevator, and we were determined.

I have thought back to that moment many times in my adulthood, sitting atop a grain elevator, discussing every topic from the most shallow to the most profound. I had seen countless sunsets with Sam, but this was the only sunrise I ever watched with her. I can still see her silhouette against the soft glow of the horizon, but what I didn’t know in those moments, was that I was taking her for granted, that one day she would not be there and I would only have the memory of everything she taught me.
sam5Despite growing apart as we became teenagers, I still remember spending so much time with Sam. She was my first friend, and she was the only one who never completely went away. We were so proud when we would tell people we’d been friends since we were two: We thought we had accomplished some impossible feat. The impossible feat would have been for us to continue to speak after high school—we didn’t.

Sam was not perfect—she’d be the first to tell you that. She knew her imperfections and she had plenty of insecurities, but she was an incredible friend. I would give anything to go back to our college years and somehow stay in touch with her. Even though she’s gone now, I am always surprised by how often I think of her and how often I catch myself mentioning her to my husband, who never knew her. I didn’t realize how big of an impact she had on my life, until the chances of her impacting it again became impossible. I wish I could share every memory I have of Sam—I can’t believe how many there are.

She was extraordinary, and she took away any chance of me ever hearing “Too Much Fun” by Daryle Singletary without lifting my eyes and asking Sam to sing it with me.

I do know one thing. I know she knew the Lord. I don’t know how much she knew Him in the days before her death, but if I know Sam, she never stopped seeking Him.sam

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His Will. My Will.

My lips so often say, “Lord, Your will be done.”

It is my heart, however, that rebels and screams, “My will. My time. My plan.”

I struggle to synchronize my lips and my heart. I know what I should want and I know what I should say, “Lord, Your will be done.”

beach-1868772_1280As I say this, and try to mean it, my plan is still burning in my thoughts and seems so much better than His.

Tonight as I sit in the quiet of my living room, having a few minutes of peace while my husband runs errands with my son, it becomes blindingly clear to me that my current situation is less than ideal.

I am 39 weeks pregnant.

Christmas is 5 days away, and we are completely without a definite plan because of the baby.

I am recovering from a severe kidney infection, a harrowing experience indeed.

My family is 200 miles away; that is possibly 200 miles of extremely icy, unpredictable North Dakota roads.

My baby has been teasing me for weeks, acting like he or she would be here by now, but instead, has decided to permanently take up residence inside me.

As it is in the last weeks of pregnancy, everything is an unknown.

Today, God brought me to Luke 1:26-38. This is when the angel, Gabriel, appears to Mary and reveals to her that she will bear the Son of God.christmas-crib-figures-1060059_1280

Um…. Let’s talk about uneasiness and a less than ideal situation.

She’s a virgin. She’s engaged. She’s a teenager. Now, she carries the Savior of the world. Yikes!

In verse 28 it says that Mary was “deeply troubled” when Gabriel greeted her. Later, in verse 34 she asks him, “How can this be?”

Mary’s immediate response was not to trust God, but to doubt His plan and wonder at what it could mean. I resonate with Mary here since my first impulse is nearly always doubt, fear, anxiety, panic…then… in time… I settle upon trusting my Heavenly Father.

Mary does finally settle on blind trust when she says, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Even 2,000 years ago, these words are like magic to this sick, pregnant, anxious woman.

I have no doubt throughout her 9 months of pregnancy Mary regularly wanted to scream, “My will. My time. My plan.” However, her trust in God carried her through nine months, and mine has and will carry me through these uncertain weeks.

Each time my heart screams, “My will. My time. My plan.” God will answer back and remind me to be still, give Him the glory, and let Him work in my life.

And besides, nothing would be more incredible than my little one sharing a birthday with the Savior of the world.

Words that Shrink the Storm

The waves curled and bowed in mockery around the small boat. As they rose and fell in an unpredictable and terrifying pattern, Peter couldn’t shake the idea that they were laughing at him, holding his friends in their death grip, entirely aware of how hopeless the men were. They were just playing with him, like a bear plays with his food before he ruthlessly stops its breath.

 

The men had lost their ability to remain on both feet long before. They had run out of options and most of them could now be found sitting on the deck, huddled beneath the thin shelter of the boom with their knees pulled tightly to their chests. Most of them clutched their knees as if it was their very life before them, knuckles turning white with tense desperation.

 

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Doubt. It crept in suddenly, without warning, as the man they once trusted, the one who could rescue them, slept soundly at the back of the boat, taking no notice of the destruction around him. The cushion beneath him remained tucked neatly under his head, and his eyelids did not even flutter as the boat rocked violently, mercilessly, in the middle of the sea.

 

Hours before, as the storm brewed in the distance, Peter viewed it with confidence, knowing Jesus would keep them safe. Even as things began to look more grim, Peter was able to hold tightly to reason: Jesus had a ministry to continue on the other side of the sea; they would most certainly make it. However, reason had been tossed into the sea along with the men’s belongings and hope. Perhaps, only Jesus would see the other side.

 

The noise of the storm was deafening, creating a panic inside of him that he could not shake. Each time his mind began to formulate a plan, a deluge of water crashed down upon him, leaving him with only his weak life, and nothing more. The shouts and whimpers of the men around him could only be sensed, but not properly heard.

 

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Peter was reminded of a moment in his childhood when he slipped unnoticed into a river. His head immediately disappeared beneath the water and the silence that pressed in upon him drowned his reality. It was so tranquil, so noiseless under the waves that Peter felt an overwhelming desire to hear sound again, the giggle of his baby sister, the hum of his mother as she prepared a meal. He began to fight the silence with his arms and legs, punching the water, while defeating death. With each kick, light and sound crept closer to his face. The hubbub of his village welcomed him back to reality and the panicked screams of his mother flooded his soul, reviving him, thrusting the terrible silence further from his memory.

 

Now, Peter faced an entirely different reality. His reason and his fear had abandoned him, leaving him with only the noise, pressing in around him, threatening to drown him even before the boat capsized. He knew he must fight, to kick and to punch until he rises above the tempest, above death.

 

Clarity comes in a blink and is gone; he knows what he must do. On his hands and knees, he begins to creep forward in a direction that he hopes is correct. He cannot even see his hands move below him, but he knows they are there because he continues to inch forward.  

 

When he is three more paces from Jesus the sea takes a deep breath, pausing the ruination around them for the briefest of moments. As the mist fades, Jesus seems to materialize before him, still peacefully asleep and curled up like a small babe, as if the boat has become his cradle. Just as the sea begins its fiercest exhalation in attempt to destroy the men, Peter reaches out and touches Jesus. Forcing a spew of words from his stiff, cold mouth he says, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?”

 

Trying to be heard above the warring waves, it comes out harsher than he had planned. Jesus rises to his feet, hunching down to feel the bottom of the boat, which is now covered in three inches of water. There is no surprise in his eyes, no fear, no frustration even at Peter’s doubt.

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The hatred of the sea contrasted with the love and peace of Jesus causes Peter to lose balance, collapsing onto his belly. Jesus takes no notice but stands with arms open wide and chastises the brutality of the waves. Then looking down into the sea with a flawless mixture of calm and fortitude he commands, “Peace, be still!”

 

The sea did not hesitate, but shrunk away from His powerful words like a scorpion scurries from an unfathomable heat wave. At the sound of Jesus, the jaws that kept opening and closing around Peter and the men close forever. Peter rises from his stomach to see that a stillness has subjugated the sea, and the sun, which he thought he’d never see again, has torn through the clouds to shed a sparkle of light on the beaten and battered boat.

 

Jesus turns to his disciples with disappointment etched on his features, “Why are you so fearful? How is it that you have no faith?” He reaches down to assist Peter’s brother, Andrew, to his feet, then walks to what is left of the front of the boat, kneels down, and prays.

 

Andrew, skin yellow and knees still shaking, leans over to Peter and marvels, “Who can this be, that even the wind and the sea obey Him!”

 

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Peter who has been welcoming a justified and great feeling of guilt for his lack of faith, feels a peace shedding down from the heavens, as he smiles and looks toward his Savior, “This is the Messiah.”

 
*My own interpretation of Mark 4:35-41*

A Garden Hose and Our Heavenly Father

I love to watch a garden hose snake and swell across my lawn as the water propels through it. Usually this visual treat occurs when I am watering my garden and I quickly forget about it as I start analyzing my bent onions and yellowed green peppers. However, today as I opened the valve to release the vigorous water, I realized how much I am like that hose and how much my circumstances are like that water.

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We can’t control what happens to us anymore than a hose can control the water pulsing through it. I like to be in control. I think this is mostly the trait of any woman, but us women with the, shall I say, strong personalities perhaps suffer from this ailment a bit more. I have been known to attempt to control my husband, our finances, his job, our health, and my son’s moods–that’s just to name a few.

 

In my desperate need to control my world, I hear the Lord prodding me, “Be patient. Be patient. Be patient.” Truth is, I always act, again attempting to regain some control, instead of waiting patiently for my God to act. This is a severe lack of faith, but I have a feeling many can relate.

 

I may act with my words, which tend to be strong and convincing, but never have the effect I was hoping they would. I may act with my computer, jumping to Google to answer my burning questions. I may act with my cell phone, connecting with a friend who may be able to point me in the right direction. I may act with my feet, running to get a jump on things, to force control back into my life. No matter what path I choose to take, I am always left with a worse situation, a situation I created myself when, perhaps, God was hoping I’d step aside and let Him create for me a masterpiece.

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Don’t get me wrong. I am fully aware the Lord has the power to work around my controlling nature and lead me down the right path anyway, since this is what I desperately desire if I were to just let go. However, I know that the hold I have on my own life hinders and slows God’s work in me. I can just hear Him saying, “Seriously, Tara, back off” in a calm, compassionate, considerate voice of course.

 

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David says in Psalm 130:5, “I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in His word I put my hope.” I truly wonder what might be happening to David as he waits so patiently. Staying faithful to God through adversity is the way in which the Lord renews our faith (James 1:2-3) and transforms us (2 Corinthians 5:17). It is in those circumstances we may beg God to take away that God truly speaks.

 
Like a hose, I may feel like I am twisting out of control as a rush of unwanted circumstances propels through my life. However, like the hose submits to water, I will submit to God’s will and let the struggles mold me in whichever direction and shape God desires.

One Year with my Son

It was one year ago today. I laid awake, invariably exhausted, yet awake, listening to the grunts and squeaks of my brand new baby boy. He awakened every hour that night. With the new-mother adrenaline pumping through me, I sprung from my bed and happily took him in my arms, no hesitation, no grumbling. I was thrilled. I knew his sleepless nights wouldn’t last. I would be such a good mother that my son would be that talked-about and coveted newborn who slept through the night at two weeks. Yep, that would be my son.

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One year later, I lay awake, invariably exhausted, yet awake, listening to the wails of my 12-month old boy, begging every known entity to get him back to sleep so I don’t have to crawl out of my nice, warm bed. There is an abundance of hesitation, and even more grumbling, as I peel myself off my mattress and drag my weary body into his nursery. One year later… My son does not sleep.

 

One year later. How could that be? One year ago I gave up my teaching career to become a mom. One year ago I looked down at my flawless baby boy, wondering how on earth I got so lucky. One year ago I finally found out that labor really does hurt as much as everyone says it does. One year ago my husband became a dad and I became a mom, changing our marriage forever… for the better. One year ago.

 

One year ago I flipped out when I picked my son off the floor and bumped his head, ever so slightly, into the side of the couch. I asked my husband, “Okay, I know I’m probably overreacting, but like what if it hit his soft spot or maybe it was harder than I originally thought? Do you think he’s acting funny?” I wish I was making this up, but alas, I was off-my-rocker with legitimate concern and overzealous panic over my new bundle of joy.

 

Now, I watch my son as he bumbles around our living room and into the kitchen. I hear him rummaging in a cupboard, pots and pans slamming against our cheap, laminate floor. Pots and pans–that means he is not in the cupboard with the poison, so it’s all good. Then, I hear a distinct sound that I have become surprisingly accustomed to–my son’s head hitting the floor. I wait to see if he will cry, or even whimper…the banging of the pots and pans resumes and he seems to have recovered with very little trouble.

 

One year ago I had an unhealthy fetish with mosquito netting whenever my son was to cross the threshold of our front door, into the outdoors. I no longer viewed the outdoors as a sanctuary of beauty and sunlight; it had suddenly become a trap of death for my son, everywhere I turned.

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Now, I watch my son discover the outdoors with a permanent smile plastered to my face; it doesn’t even phase me when he eats a bug. It is incredible to watch him touch grass, sand, rocks, leaves, trees, and… yep… dog poop for the first time (of course, dog poop does cause me to freak out a bit). I get up to comfort him the first time he trips over a crack in our driveway and cheer with pride when he remembers to step over it the next time. I overflow with pride when he tosses, or rolls, or more like drops a ball, toward me.

 

One year ago my husband and I could be found screaming at one another in the dead of night, while our son screamed louder. We were at a loss for what to do for him, and desperate for some peace and quiet. My son still screams, but my husband and I have learned to handle it with style and grace. Sometimes, as my son collapses to the floor, tragically heartbroken because he is not allowed to suck on the toilet, it even makes us laugh.

 

One year ago I genuinely worried about my ability to be a mother. How could I possibly care for a baby while still remembering to eat, shower, and clean the house? How could I possibly care for a baby in the dead of night, without neglecting him as I settle into another dream? How could I possibly care for a baby in the zero belows of the winter months without forgetting his hat, causing his ears to fall off?

 

Now, I still genuinely worry about my ability to be a mother, but we have somehow made it through the first year with few catastrophes. I have showered and eaten daily, and found comfort in the new-clean of my home, which generally consists of random items from every drawer in the house being dropped about like crumbs. I am far from perfect; I have screwed up royally; I still pray passionately for grace when it comes to my parenting, but my son thinks I’m a rockstar. That, to me, makes me a success.  

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One year with my son has made me crazier than I ever thought I could be, and calmed my soul in a way that I can’t possibly explain. I still lose my mind when he wakes with a runny nose, desperate to find a cure to the common cold. Yet, I laugh and roll my eyes when our snot-nosed dog with grass and dirt hanging from his mouth, shoves his nose right into my son’s mouth–the smile this creates on my son almost makes it worth it, no matter how disgusting it is to witness. I have felt every kind of happiness, every kind of fear, every kind of desperation, and every kind of pride as I have watched my baby transform into a kind, joyful, active, and terrifyingly adventurous little boy.

 

There is no greater gift.

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Living Outside the Cocoon

She will never forget the first time she heard his name. She was 12 years old, and had seen on the news that the Americans were celebrating his birthday. They all looked so joyful and she became immediately curious as to why this man’s birthday was so important. It took her weeks, but she finally gained enough courage to bring it up to her father.

 

“Papa, who is Jesus?”

 

“Silence, my child. Where did you hear of that name?”

 

“I saw it on the news, Papa.”

 

“My dear girl, you are to never watch the news. It is breaking the Islamic code for a young lady to poison her mind that way. The Americans are ignorant. That is all you are to understand about them.”

 

“I know, Papa. I’m sorry.” She felt a desperate urge to try one more time, “But, who is he?”

 

“He is a prophet that we are to honor. Nothing more. Nothing less. Now, be quiet and go help your mother.”

 

A prophet that we are to honor. Nothing more. Nothing less. Dilek had always trusted everything that her father told her, but she couldn’t help but wonder why she had never heard of Jesus. If he was nothing more than a prophet, she should have learned about him in her study of the Quran like she had of Harun, Ibrahim, and Adam.

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***

 

She is a little girl again. Her hijab is hanging in her bedroom, and she is free. A song is playing that she has never heard before, “Silent night, Holy night, All is calm, All is bright…”

 

As the music fills the room, she lies on her stomach staring at a dazzling light, like a star. The star is blotted out by the shape of a cross. It casts a shadow on the porcelain figurines below. There is a small baby in a manger and a woman in blue standing above him. A man is standing next to the woman reaching down toward the baby.

 

She awoke to the sound of gunfire in the distance. She looked out her bedroom window, which faced south, and saw flashes of light. When she listened intently, she thought she could hear the sound of hatred being hurled back and forth between the Americans and the rebels of her own country.

 

Her eyes settled closed once again and she tried desperately, yet unsuccessfully, to recreate her dream in her subconscious.

 

***

 

As Dilek neared adulthood, she was becoming more and more conscious of her loneliness, her emptiness. Every morning when she would dress in hijab, it felt like crawling into a cocoon that nothing and no one could penetrate. She would talk with her mother and sisters throughout the day, and sometimes her girlfriends would come over to visit, but what no one could see was that she never smiled. She was pretty sure her mother had also found rest in perpetual sorrow.

 

Each day, she would watch her mother’s eyes very intently as they worked endlessly on chores, attempting to detect a smile. Sometimes, to test it, she would even tell her mother a joke. She waited for the corners to twist upward, pulling her mother’s naturally round eyes into a tighter oval shape, but she never saw it.

 

No one ever smiled. Except her sisters, who seemed to be oblivious of all emotion. She constantly fought a thought she knew was like a malignant cancer to her faith. Perhaps, the women were forced to wear hijab so everyone could ignore the fact that they were miserable.

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As Dilek walked to the market the morning after the dream, she could not erase it from her mind. It wasn’t the strangeness of the magnificent figurines or the unfamiliar music that had struck her hardest, however. It was the appearance of her face in the dream. It had such a ridiculous smile plastered to it, that Dilek, now quite distant from the dream, wasn’t even sure if it was her face.

 

***

 

“H-Hey Ma?”

 

With a sigh, her mother clatters the dishes into the sink with significant exaggeration. “Yes? What is it?” Her mother had always been a brusque woman.

 

“Um…Have you ever heard of Jesus?”

 

Fear immediately replaced irritation in her mother’s eyes as she rushed toward her daughter, grabbing her by the shoulders.

 

“Sh, my child, you must hush. Why on earth are you asking me such questions?”

 

“I just… I was wondering why I have never been taught anything about him.”

 

“You are a woman, Dilek. Your duty is to your father and then to your husband. You are in no position to wonder.”

 

“But…”

 

“Enough. We will speak no more of this. Jesus is nothing.”

 

Her mother hastened from the room like she were afraid of catching something contagious, as if curiosity could kill.

 

***

 

Dilek walked to the market every morning. She was the best at getting the most for the small portion of money her parents were able to set aside each day for the evening meal.

 

Crossing the path of American soldiers on her journey was so commonplace that she barely noticed them anymore. The hatred and disgust flowing from them was so oppressive that she never even bothered to look up when she would see camouflage approaching.

 

It had been months since the dream, and thoughts of Jesus had been pushed to the back of her memory. She considered bringing him up to her best friend for awhile, but the way her parents reacted to her, made her scared.

 

She lowered her eyes to their usual position as she approached some American soldiers. The rocks below her bounced to the rhythm of her step.

 

“Excuse me, ma’am?”

 

The blood rushed to her head and her hands began to shake as she slowly lifted her eyes from the ground. A blonde-haired, blue-eyed soldier was standing before her holding a pice.

 

“I think you dropped this, miss.”

 

Oh, Dilek, move. Move your hand. Take the coin. Walk away. Move, Dilek. Move.

 

“Um…. Th-th-thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome. God bless you and may Jesus keep you safe.”

 

As he turned away, she finally gained enough courage to look at him directly. A piece of silver hung around his neck and it tossed a glimpse of light back toward her, the shape of it was unmistakable, a cross.

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***

 

God bless you and may Jesus keep you safe. God bless you and may Jesus keep you safe.

 

The words had been a constant echo in her mind for some time now. Everywhere she went, she looked for the blonde-haired, blue-eyed soldier. She knew he would tell her of Jesus. She just knew it.

 

She had ruthlessly battled vicious thoughts against her Islamic faith for what seemed like an eternity. If her parents found out the things she was thinking, she would most surely be shunned, maybe even killed, if the Taliban heard of it. She thought if she could just satisfy her curiosity, things would be better.

 

Today, she would rush through the market in order to have time to go to the local library. She made sure to wear her most respectable looking hijab, so no one would suspect her of wrongdoing. Women were not supposed to read, or wonder. Her father, however, had taught her to read when she was very young, before the Taliban. “A book can take you away from here, my darling,” he had said with tears in his eyes, causing her to wonder what could be so bad.

 

She knew she would find Jesus in the Holy Bible. People reacted to this book in the same way they reacted to Jesus’ name, with terror. The clerk eyed her intently when she brought it to the counter to check out; she was so thankful the librarian was a woman, one of the few that still worked outside the home.

 

As she handed it back over the counter, the librarian whispered, “Be careful,” and held the book for a second longer than was necessary.

 

“Yes, ma’am” Dilek responded as she rushed out of the building.

 

On her way home, she kept checking behind her, convinced she had heard the footsteps of the Taliban on her heels.

 

***

 

She read. All day and all night she read about the man named Jesus. She read of his life, his death, his resurrection. She even read of his return–despite the storm of fear that it created inside of her.

 

She had to read beneath her blanket using a flashlight she had borrowed from a friend, being careful not wake her siblings, but for three nights, she never blinked, she never questioned, she never tired. The words of Christ were feeding her thirsty soul and slowly filling up the emptiness she had grown used to.

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She made sure to continue in her sorrow during the day, so no one would sense the joy that was growing inside of her.

 

On the fourth night, she cried. Her tears poured out of her from a place much deeper than her emotions; they came from a place she was unaware of until this Holy Bible worked its way into her hands.

 

“Jesus, I-I can’t. Help me. Please. I’m Muslim. Allah is my king. Please. Jesus. Don’t take me away from Allah.”

 

As the sun peeked over the horizon, Dilek had quieted herself enough to think reasonably and all she thought of was John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life.”

 

Dilek had lived in fear all her life–fear of failure, fear of suicide bombers, fear of death. The Islamic life she lead was a prison with guards who forget to feed the prisoners; she was starving for freedom. She knew all that mattered was Jesus. With Jesus, she would welcome the death that was sure to follow.

 

She could hear her mother moving around in the kitchen when she finally whispered, “Jesus, I love you. I’m yours. You have saved my life. Please, be my Christ forever.

 

***

 

As she walked to the market that morning, she no longer looked over her shoulder, and when the American soldiers approached, she walked boldly passed them, checking each of them top to bottom for a silver cross.

 

The Savior of the world loves her. The Savior of the world will come for her. She has nothing to fear. She was so grateful that Jesus had pursued her heart, tormenting her until she finally succumbed to her curiosity.

 

With an elusive smile on her face, she was weeding through the fruit at the front of the store when it hit her. First, she smelled it, like smoldering meat; the flash of light that came next was so intense it knocked her from her feet; the sound deafened her instantly, transporting her to another world, one of total silence. Finally, the pain overtook her, startling her, even though she had been expecting it. As her life ebbed away, peace enveloped her and her grimace slowly altered into a smile because of what she now knew to be true: Jesus was coming. 

 

 

A Glimpse of Jesus

If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace–but now it is hidden from your eyes. ~Luke 19:42

 

What if I had been there? What if I had decided to follow you then, in the dust and dirt of Jerusalem? What if I had become wrapped up in the excitement of your presence, that I had fought to get close to you? What if I had been there?

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For weeks, I had heard rumors that the man who raised Lazarus from the dead would be arriving back in Jerusalem. Business had never been better–all my customers were discussing the drama that was sure to arrive with him, feeding on the gossip like vultures. There was a buzz about town, as both skeptics and believers anxiously awaited his return.

 

I was neither a skeptic nor a believer. I, personally, could not possibly understand how an ordinary man could raise a man from death. Rumor has it, Lazarus had been dead for four days. That is quite a miracle. However, I have heard many report that this “ordinary” man calls himself the Son of God. That really must infuriate the Pharisees, as well as scare them. I suppose the Son of God could defeat death, but how could I know for sure?

All week I had been trying to quell the inexplicable inkling that was battling its way to the surface of my thoughts, the feeling that perhaps this was another chance for me, to see this man who claims he will be dead soon. If he is right, I might not get another chance. Perhaps the disordered panic and irrational anxiety that has plagued me all my life could be eliminated once and for all; if I could just catch one glimpse of him, maybe I could be one of the lucky ones that he heals, and he could raise me from the slow death of fear, panic, and anxiety.  

 

While I was consumed by these thoughts, fighting my craving for hope, a fellow shop owner burst through the door, “Tara! Tara! Come outside, quick! Jesus of Nazareth is riding a colt right down the street!”

 

This was my chance! I exploded through the doors of my small shop and into the street; the chanting became immediately deafening.

 

“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

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It was so loud I could barely think. Hating crowds, I considered closing my shop and heading home for the afternoon, but this crowd would surely generate good business once Jesus had passed through. Absorbed in my thoughts and my attempt to keep my panic silenced, my breath caught, halfway exhaled, when he finally came into view. I couldn’t see what he sat upon, so his body appeared to float above the street, untouched by those who were hurling insults at him. I wouldn’t describe his facial expression as a smile, nor a frown–he actually seemed to feel nothing at all, which struck me as odd, since he was involved in such an emotional moment.

 

There were angry shouts woven together with praises for him, but when he looked upon those who were enraged, his eyes quickly glanced upward as his lips moved slightly. It was not easily discernible to the crowd, but he drew his steadfastness and conviction from something above him–he fed on it like it was life–my skepticism faded as he and his followers inched closer.

 

I had never seen a robe so white: Jerusalem is a dusty, dirty city,  even the rich struggle to keep clean, but he looked as though dirt could not touch him, like it hated him as much as the Pharisees did. Butterflies awoke in my stomach as he got closer to me. I didn’t know whether I should join in the crowd by praising him, or whether I should look at him in condemnation–neither response seemed appropriate.

 

He was looking both left and right, equally, being sure to survey every face, all the while his lips were moving, speaking to no one specifically, as if he knew something the rest of us didn’t. A few hundred yards from me, a woman with sores sprouting from her body fell at the feet of the animal below him, halting the steady ebb of the crowd; her hands were pressed so tightly together that they had turned white, and she appeared to be begging him for something. She seemed relieved to be on the ground, her only home, and her shoulders naturally slumped downward, as if gravity was even her enemy.  I always hate looking at lepers, their eyes tell such a tragic story of despair and isolation. Sometimes I lay awake at night, praying I never become one–it is one of my darkest fears, and it lies dormant inside me until night falls, then it awakens, like a nocturnal animal, and torments me.

 

Jesus reached down and touched the top of her head, this despised and rejected woman who was absent anything of value, without even hesitating for a moment. I was too far away to hear what he said to her, but when she looked back up at him, she opened her arms, the blood quickly rushing back into her fingertips–it was as though I could see the desperation falling away from her, landing with a thud onto the street. The woman turned toward me as she watched Jesus ride further down the street, her posture dramatically less feeble, and her eyes full of something, not sure what, but it certainly was not isolation or despair.

As Jesus approached me, I thought of running back into my shop. What if he decides I am deserving of some sort of punishment? What if he sees right through me? Just as I was about to turn my back on him, his eyes swaddled me in something unrecognizable, but for a moment I felt like a small babe, resting snuggly after her father wraps her in linens. For just a moment, no one else, nothing else was, except the Messiah and me. Like a key into a lock, I found shelter in his eyes. I was unable to move, to speak, to blink. A single tear rolled down my cheek and, for once, I did not fight it. I am usually incapable of expressing such emotion in public: I become so self-conscious when I show vulnerability, but this time, I felt solace as the tear fell, as if it righted everything that was askew before Jesus looked at me.  

 

I did not fall at his feet as the leprous woman did, nor did I sing praises to him as the crowd who followed after him. I did nothing to deserve what happened next: Jesus reached out toward my soiled clothing, my tear-streaked face, my shattered heart, my tormented mind and wiped away the tear. As he did so, the corners of his mouth turned upward and his cheeks swelled into a smile, however slight. I blinked rapidly, drinking in his presence, desperate to remain in his warmth forever; then, he was gone, veiled in a crowd of followers.

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From that touch, from that smile, redemption reached out to me. I stared after the crowd for a moment, hoping to catch one more glimpse of him, just one. Then, I turned and rushed back into my shop. I felt resplendent, like I was illuminating the street in a brightness more powerful than even the sun, and I didn’t want anyone to see me. It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realized what it was I was feeling in that moment. It was peace. I had not felt real peace since I was a little girl, unaware of the brutality of the world, so it was difficult to recognize. Jesus, the Son of God, the Savior of the world, gave it back to me. He gave me everything, including his life.
“Surely this man was the Son of God!” ~Mark 15:39

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