Sunday, March 2, 2014

My Friend's Testimony

I received this testimony from a long time friend and it was so powerful that I asked if I could share it.  My friend graciously agreed.  I think that anyone who deals with, has dealt with or knows someone who is going through depression needs to read this.... I knew when I read it that there is someone out there that needs to hear this and that's why God brought this across my path.  Thank you my friend for allowing me to add this to my blog.  

For He performs what is appointed for me...I was not cut off from the darkness, and He did not hide deep darkness from my face.  Job 23:14,17



     On January 22, 2012, I went missing. I went missing because I had awakened that morning

with a sense of dread. I thought something terrible was going to occur so I had to get to a safe

place. I left my house and literally ran for my life. I came across a building where a side door had

been left opened. I went down a hall, turned right and came upon a room where its door had been

left opened. I entered the room and shut the door behind me. I stayed there until I was discovered

by a worker the next morning. When he found me, he thought I was dead because I was dead still

on the floor. I woke up and found that I was surrounded by law enforcement and EMT. I was in

such a confused mental state, I did not even know my own name. I was transported to the

hospital where tests were run. I was fed breakfast and one of the nurses was a member of

Calvary Baptist Church where I was a member at the time and she prayed for me. I stayed at the

hospital until I told them I was ready to go home. After leaving the hospital, I made the decision

to go to Alabama with my Daddy. I knew I would be safe there. What was to be a short visit

turned into a nine month stay. I was hospitalized at Southeast Alabama Medical Center in Dothan

Alabama for seven days. I was diagnosed with Major Depression with Psychotic Features. The

word “depressed” literally means “pressed down”, that is, not up to your usual bounce. Psychotic

has always been a scary word to me because I always associate it with criminals. The word

“psychotic” means I was affected by psychosis and that word means a loss of touch with reality.

I had some false beliefs about what was happening around me. Now, you may wondering how

did I get to such a state of mind. Modern day science has discovered that some people’s brains

simply do not have the capacity to recover from the biological effects of stress and crisis. This in



turn literally shrinks a part of the brain that controls feelings.

      The cause of depression is rooted in brain chemistry. The chemicals necessary to maintain

this particular area of the brain are not sufficient. As a result, one’s mood is affected, and de-

pression eventually can set in. Genetics has a strong impact on a person’s tendency to become

depressed.

     I was placed on medication and started acting like my old self. It looked to be that I was on

the road to recovery. Not so. In March, I had a relapse, was hospitalized again for seven days.

This time I was placed on two different medications but I did not return to my old self. I would

have to wait twenty-one months for that to happen. It would be three months before I could even

laugh or smile. You see, I could not just “snap out of” depression.

     One night before my relapse, I had looked into the mirror and told myself I did not belong to

God. Suddenly, everything spiritual had no meaning in my life. I could no longer pray or so I

thought. If I don’t belong to God then His Word is not for me so it would be many months before

I read the Bible again. How in the world was I going to make it in life if I didn’t belong to God?

Looking back, I now see that God had a plan all along. He would make sure I would hear His

Word. One particular week my aunt invited me to Neighbor Night at her place of worship. Her

place of worship is a Jewish synagogue-Temple Emanu-el. I decided to go because I had always

wanted to go to a Jewish synagogue. When I entered the sanctuary, it looked to me like the inside

of a church. There were pews set up like they are here at New Bethel except they have three

sections and the building is larger. Up on the stage was a pulpit off to the right. On the left was a

table with candles. And in the middle, at the back, was a cabinet. I would out later that they call it

an ark, where the Torah is kept. Needless to say, I was intrigued and little did I know Temple

Emanu-el would be my “spiritual home” for several months. I find it ironic that I had told myself


I did not belong to Godl, but as I sat in that Jewish house of worship, I could see Jesus in their

symbols of faith. God knew what I needed. I needed to hear His Word. During those precious

nights of worship, by the way Jews worship on Friday nights, God’s Word was a balm to my

hurting soul. He knew I would enjoy hearing it read in the original language of Hebrew. He knew

the music would eventually lift my spirit. I grew to appreciate the kindness I was shown. I was

a stranger and they welcomed me in

     In October 2012 I was ready to return to Jesup. Before I left I attended temple for the last time

and one of the precious ladies I had grown to know-Roberta-told me I should stay and become

one of them. She wanted me to be a part of her Jewish family. I will always treasure those nights

of worship.

     I returned home to Jesup late October 2012. Only a handful of people knew I had returned.

I stayed away from church because I still believed I did not belong to God and I wasn’t going to

attend church and pretend I did. But, as we know, God has His mysterious ways and His timing

is always right. A few days before Christmas 2013, I went to the Post Office. Before I got out of

the car I saw a familiar face and realized he was a member of Calvary. I almost left the parking

lot because I was afraid to see him. I assumed I would get a lecture for being out of church. I

went in and fell in line behind the man and his wife. He turned around and spoke to me. I told

I had been back a while but had not been back to church yet. All he said was, “We miss you”.

I pondered those words for a couple of days and realized it wasn’t church I missed. It was God

I missed. A scripture was brought to my mind and as I pondered it, I slowly began to realize that

only the Holy Spirit brings scripture to remembrance and if the Holy Spirit has brought scripture

to my mind that means I do in fact belong to God! Just a couple of nights later I cried out to God

in prayer that I needed Him and the veil of darkness was removed from my mind. The Lord re-


turned my understanding back to me. You see, Jesus had been by my side the whole time. He sits

at the right hand of God the Father interceding for me. Romans 8:26 tells us, “Likewise the Spirit

also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the

Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.” During those

dark days, when I could not pray for myself, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were praying on my be-

half. Also, a special group of faithful prayer warriors never forgot me for those twenty-one

months. When I reconnected with them it was a grand reunion. The interesting fact is we haven’t

met face to face. We all participate on an online Bible study and we are connected on Facebook.

     I began making plans to return to Calvary Baptist Church and was looking forward to seeing

everyone after being away for two years. But, one afternoon, a thought came to me, “Go to New

Bethel”. I knew that was clear direction from the Lord for I had never considered attending

New Bethel. Tammy saw my post on Facebook and told me to call them so I did. Janie invited

me to the New Year Eve Service and I accepted the invitation. I’ve been at New Bethel ever

since.

     I no longer concern myself with why I had a mental breakdown. I remember what Job said

 after his ordeal, “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared

that which I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (Job 42:3)

God doesn’t reveal his grand design. He reveals Himself. (Frederick Buechner Wishful Thinking)

After I emerged from the cave of darkness and depression, I realized I had learned four things:

1. I am dependent upon the One True Living God.

    I was created for dependence, not independence.

2.God was with me in that deep dark cave of depression

    No matter what a child of God goes through, they have the assurance that Jesus is always with


them. Hebrews 13:5 tells us, “...I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

3. I am loved.

    But God demonstrated His own love toward Tammy, in that while she was still a sinner, Christ

died for her. Romans 5:8

If there is anyone here who does not know Jesus, He died for you too. If you will confess with

your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will

be saved. (Romans 10:9)

4. I am wanted.

    Ephesians 1:4-6 tells me, “just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that

we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as

sons and daughters by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will to the

praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.”

Jesus told his disciples in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you...”

     I want to speak to those who live with depression. Listen to the words of a pastor who faced

 his own battle with depression. Jesus understands our dark feelings, our doubt, our discourage-

 ment, and yes, even our depression; and his desire is to help us. Sometimes, the help we need

 might include professional counseling and antidepressant medications. After all, God created

 the minds that created these medications, and it is not a sin take them if you truly need them.

     If you are depressed, there is help for you. It is okay to admit it, and it is okay to get help. Life

will still have its ups and downs, but there are options for if the “downs” last for a long, long

time.



Sunday, December 22, 2013

First day of the Come To Me Like Rain Sale!

Well, peeps, it's been an exciting day for me on this first day of my sale.  I started out disappointed because I logged on at 1:47 last night and it wasn't on sale. There was a terrible storm and I couldn't sleep okay?  I'm not that self-absorbed.  I figured if I was up already I'd just check and it was not on sale.   I thought it was going to be such a disaster but as of this moment my book has gone from 2 downloads to 147 downloads and from nothing to #27 in the Christian Fiction section of Amazon.com Free 100 books.  I'm super excited about that.

 Thank you to all my friends who have downloaded, I hope you enjoy and there are not too many typos.  Since I'm my own editor and graphic artist there's bound to be a few.  My grandparents pictures aren't downloading on the dedication page and I'm sort of bummed out about that but after the sale I'll fix it and resubmit it.  When you download an update it should be fixed along with the typo on the last page where it says 1916 then a paragraph later it says 1917.  Sorry.  6 and 7 are really close to each other on the keyboard.

Other than that it has been a really successful first day.  I'm sort of scared and nervous and overwhelmed.  I don't know how to feel about all this... but it's not about me... It's about the One who allowed me to write this for Him.  I'm so thankful that He gave me stories to tell and He allows my pitiful attempts at writing out the stories He puts in my mind.  Pray that someone's heart is touched through this.  There's someone out there that will feel a connection with one of these characters that have been living in my head for the last 15 years.  I know they have all grown very close to my heart.  It's hard to put this book out there, they're like my neighbors or family or something... In my heart they feel like real people.  I don't know if that makes sense to anyone else except me.   I hope that doesn't sound crazy....

Well folks thanks for a GREAT turn out my first day.  I've been taking pics and face booking my progress.  I'm pretty excited that my words made it ANYWHERE in the top 100 of Christian fiction.  Just let me be excited about it.  I promise to calm down and quit littering your feeds with my prattle.  Tomorrow.  After that all our Facebook can go back to Phil and Cracker Barrel and pictures of cats. LOL.

God Bless y'all.  I hope you get to spend a BLESSED CHRISTMAS with the ones you love.   Joyeux Noel!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Whatever happened to being Grateful?

What the crap was wrong with this swan?  Actual sign from a cave we visited last week.  At one point this park had BUFFALO but the SWAN got the beware sign... Does anyone else but me find this funny?




Just in case my last post made people think I was ungrateful- I wanted to clear up the misunderstanding.  I wasn't just complaining.  I was venting and hoping that someone will read and smile.  Everyone has those minor catastrophes that drag us down.  At the time it's serious but a couple weeks or years later it's something we will laugh about.  Murphy moves in with everybody from time to time...As Dr. Seuss said, "Bang ups and hang ups can happen to you..."

I'm trying to look on the bright side when things do bang up and hang up.  I'm making an effort to be grateful.

I remember as a teenager watching the channel 9 news from back home and two weeks prior the had been moaning about the drought.  We needed rain, we were in a drought, we needed rain...

Well someone prayed for rain and several weeks later this particular town had all the rain it could stand.

And it was grumble, grumble, grumble... too much rain.

Three weeks ago we didn't have enough and now too much.

The local amusement park had to be shut down and the newscasters were talking with the namesake, a country music legend.  I suppose you can guess whom I'm speaking about.

"So what do you think about all this rain?"  The newscaster asked the country singer.

She looked straight into the camera grinned said something like:  "Well you know, we b***h if the sun shines and we b***h if it rains."  In her too cute Tennessee accent.

The newscaster almost choked.  You can't say something like that on live TV!  Someone told the country singer as well because she giggled impishly and they took her off the screen right away...

But you know... I've been thinking... she may have been uncouth but she was right.

We complain if it shines and we complain if it rains.

I turned on the TV yesterday to the channel with all the weather... I can't remember what it's called... Three weather people were complaining.

"We've had so much rain that I think we're in Seattle, not ATL."

"We haven't had a summer to speak of because of the rain."

"There has been only 16 days this summer that we've had no rain."

And I'm like... Well thank God!  You remember, Mr. Weatherman, that lake in ATL that just about dried up?  You remember several years ago when we had fires in the swamps we couldn't put out?  I do.  I just about died of Pneumonia due to smoke exposure! If I have the choice of fire and rain - I'll take rain.

So my car is a chia pet... so what?

So we had a breakdown... what will that affect in 5 years?

The tub leaked... big deal?

The little disappointments are a part of life.  It seems we can handle the big stuff better than the little things sometimes and that amazes me.

When I found out I had a tumor and I'd lose my lung it didn't get me down.  I mean, I cried when I found out and had all those feelings that people get when they find out they're sick.  But when they told me I was going to be okay...  I went into it like a champ!

No... it was the trip to Alabama where David licked the guard rail at Ruby Falls (and consequently got strep throat) and the van broke down on the interstate and I drove Momma's truck with the emergency brake on and it caught fire... that was my undoing.   I completely broke down in Whitaker's Pharmacy and Mrs. Opal followed me home (I only live 2 blocks away) because she was afraid to let me go alone.

Isn't it ironic that we get bent out of shape over such small things.  Maybe I'm just talking to myself here...

It's hard for me to be an optimist.  It goes against my wiring.  I'm wired up as a pessimist though I prefer to call it "realism".  I'm pretty sure God wants me to look on the bright side of things.  I'm pretty sure he gets tired of me complaining.  To prove his point he sent me a cute little girl who has my disposition.

Me: "Put your socks on Soliel."
Sol:  "I cant!  They have heels in them!"  She starts crying loudly.  "WHY OH WHY DO YOU BUY SOCKS WITH HEELS IN THEM???  OH THIS IS TERRIBLE!  I'LL NEVER BE ABLE TO GO TO SCHOOL! I'M GOING TO DIE HERE BEFORE I GET THESE SOCKS ON!!!"

I'm ready to smack her head off because I've asked her FIFTEEN times to put her socks on before now. I could cuss and God says... "You know... you do the same thing to me."

"What if I lose my job?  We don't have enough money for these repair bills!   Wahhhh!  The roof is leaking now? What did I do to deserve this???  What's wrong with you God?  We tithe!  Soingso over there doesn't tithe and they have a boat in their front yard!  WAAAHHHH!"

AAARRRGGGHHHH!  I do!   I do it all the stinkin' time...And He doesn't smack my head off.  I probably deserve it too.

Trying to be GRATEFUL for a little while.  I might live longer.  If you hear me complaining... just smack me upside the head okay?






Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Murphy: Our uninvited Guest

We kissed the kids goodbye Sunday after taking photos for my new novels and headed back to South Georgia.  We were looking forward to a week of just the two of us.  It was supposed to be like a mini vacation- just my husband and I.   It was supposed to be stress-less, fun, romantic stay-cation to unwind the week before I have to hit the books.

 Boy, were we wrong.

Let's rewind some, shall we?

We got the van checked out two days before our "first" vacation.  It had been making a wompy noise and I figured we were in need of new tires.  The lady from the mechanic called the day before we were to leave for Orlando.  "You can't take this van on your vacation."  She said.  "It's un-drivable."'

Un driveable?  I just drove it up there.  Not to mention back and forth to Waycross more times than I could count and a day trip to Macon with the whole family just two weeks prior.

Undrivable?

She  went on to tell me that all FOUR tires were bad... not just bad... warped, separated and gashed.  Then all manner of other things.  I heard tie rods, wheel joists broken... I just stopped listening after that.  All I could think was that we had driven our kids and Mara (Our 3rd sort of adopted kid) to see Cirque two weeks before.  It was a three hour trip one way in blinding rain.  It was driving wompy then and we just figured we needed to get a tire changed... Little did I know we were in a DEATH TRAP.

Needless to say: I thanked God that He kept us alive in that thing.  

The damage?  Almost a thousand dollars. (Tires are expensive.  Can I get a witness?) We canceled our vacation.  Two weeks before that we had just paid out the WAZOO to get our bathroom sink unclogged.  It was bad.  NOTHING was getting through.  I was afraid we'd find a squirrel in there.

The culprit:  a scrunchee.  It was like a mile up in under the house and the plumber had to bring out TWO pipe snakes to find it.  I swear it must be like that old pipe screen saver under there!  But, I digress.  After the clogged pipe and the van work we had no dough to go on vacation with so it was STAYCATION for the Crane family.

We stayed at home the next week and as it happened there was a tropical storm in Orlando and I caught a cold so all things considered... we did okay.

MeeMaw always said bad things come in 3's.

Multiples of three maybe.   Or maybe with us.  Mr. Murphy packed his bags and moved in for the summer.

The next thing: Dean's truck gets sick... the mechanic fixed that one in like one afternoon.  He's driving a truck from the 80's.  There's no gadgets. Should be pretty easy to fix.

After that: The car starts leaking.

We were on our way to Parris Island to see one of my "babies" graduate from Marine boot camp.  It was a great trip but it rained most of the drive there and back and I sat with my feet in a puddle on the way home.   We parked it in the garage but it never dried out.  Turns out... there's this hose that goes to your air conditioner... Yeah, mine had a hole in it so no matter HOW much we kept it out of the rain it was still wet.  (Our wonderful mechanic fixed that one for free- I am fairly sure our family could be single-handedly responsible for keeping him in business this summer.)  He said it was an easy fix so we left it for several days in the carport with the windows down... to dry out... Hang on to that thought for later though.

End of the summer- Alabama trip.

We take the van.  It was a great trip.  Granny Crane turned 80 today and we had a birthday party for her.  My kids got to visit 2 caves and an aquarium.  Soleil made a penguin friend.  It was a GREAT time.  I couldn't even tell you...



 Cathedral Caverns in North Alabama.  If you haven't been there-  Go.  It's great!



My kids stayed the extra week and we came home Sunday and WE ARE PUMPED about being "single" for a few days.  Well.. not exactly SINGLE but you know what I mean.

Monday:  Get up to go check on plants.  Despite the fact that it's rained every day and our yard looks like a jungle my tomatoes are brown... I water them and after that decide to go to lunch with my wonderful husband (Because I can do that.  There's no kids to round up) I'm not going to take the van.  I've been in it for seven hours straight yesterday.  I walk out to the car.

The previously wet.  Now locked tight with windows rolled up.  Sitting in the carport in the South Georgia heat. Car.

What do you suppose happens when you don't quite get the wet out of the carpet and then leave a car shut up for nine days in the heat?

Let me enlighten you if you don't know...

Mold.

The seats were spotted.  The seat belts were growing fuzz.  It looked a little like a beard.

Does anyone find it ironic that the tomatoes weren't growing but the car was?

I took the van and knew I'd hear it from my husband about driving a 'gas hog'.

We went out to eat.  I stopped at the library to do research for my novel.  All in all, it was a pretty good day.

Until I got home and noticed...

That smell.

The one like your brakes are on fire.   That smell.  You know it.  You smell it on the freeway and pray it's the car in front of you... yeah.  That was it.   It was coming from the passenger side tire.  I touched the tire.  I burned my hand.  Dang!  What was up with this van?

I returned to my mechanic.  Mrs. Heather gave me that "What did you do to it?" look.

They said it was the calipers.  I have no idea what that means but they said they could fix it.  

One's on fire.  The other is growing mold.  Figures.

My Momma asked me that night:  "What's the third thing?"

There wasn't a third thing.  Wasn't fire and mold enough?

Obviously not.

My husband calls from the bathroom as soon as I hang up the phone.   "The tub's leaking and I can't turn it off."  

Fire.  Mold.  Leaky tub.

Job said "Yet will I praise Him."  So we prayed.  "Thank you God that the car broke down here and I didn't have a wreck.  Thank you that you allowed me to see the mold before I drove to Jesup in this thing and ended up in the hospital with anaphilactic shock from my mold allergy.  Thank you Lord that the tub is leaking only a little bit and it can be fixed."

Tuesday:  Work on a book cover for TWO HOURS.  I'm a pencil and paper girl.  Not a computer artist.  I was ready to throw my laptop out the window before I got done.  But HEY, the covers LOOK GREAT JACK!




Mrs. Heather calls.  Tells me the van's ready.  I walk over to get it.  I've got a dentist appointment at three and I'm not taking moldy.

Six miles outside of town....  I'm like... wow... this thing is driving GREAT!

Until I reach 55 mph and... Houston, we have a problem.

The van commences to shaking and I have to pull off the road.

I call my mechanic.  They tell me not to worry and they're coming.  I stand under a pine tree until help arrives.

One of my neighbors stops to ask if he can help.  It is South Georgia after all and people still do help each other.   I tell him the mechanic is on the way and he assures me that "He'll do me right."  I know that.  He can't help it that I'm driving around a car that is from last century.  Things go wrong on antiques.

My husband calls.

"Hey, the plumber should be there in like... 10 minutes."

Well I hope not.  I'm sitting on the side of the road.  Do you know how much plumbers cost?  Like a hundred dollars an hour.  My doctor doesn't even make that much!

The dentist office calls to remind me I'm due in 20 minutes.

Needless to say.  I cancel the appointment.

I didn't want to go to the dentist that badly anyway.

The mechanic arrives just in time to pick me up, takes me home and drives the afflicted van to his shop.   The plumber shows up shortly afterward and fixes the leak in less than an hour and my husband and I go grocery shopping.

The van is waiting for me back at home when we arrive!  Best mechanic ever!  Thanking God that He kept us safe on our travels and the repairs that we had to do weren't as expensive as we thought.  Time for night night, kiddos.    Peace out, chicken guts and the like.



Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Tax Collector's Tale



Mark 2:13-17

Jesus Calls Levi and Eats With Sinners

13 Once again Jesus went out beside the lake. A large crowd came to him, and he began to teach them. 14 As he walked along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” Jesus told him, and Levi got up and followed him.
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
17 On hearing this, Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

http://www.biblegateway.com
 

My latest piece of artistic ramblings involves the story of Matthew Levi in the Bible.  Our pastor did a sermon on Jesus’ first encounter with the young tax collector and as he preached away I took notes.  Somewhere in the midst of taking sermon notes it turned into a story… and a couple jotted paragraphs in my journal turned into pages on my computer…

Here goes:

Matthew Levi was quite proud of his little tax booth along the road from the lake.  He’d had to work really hard to get it. Most people hated this little booth but to Matthew it meant comfort and security and the ability to provide for himself in his later years.  He’d had to give up a lot along the way; he’d lost family and friends over his decision to pursue this career but he acted like that didn’t bother him.  And when it did he reminded himself that he had a big house, servants and a retirement plan to make up for it. He was “living the life”- as they say..or so he thought. 
 
He rose quite early that morning convinced that this day was going to be an excellent day for him!  He had heard that there was a traveling preacher in town, and though Matthew wasn’t especially religious- oh, he almost laughed at the thought!  He wasn’t religious at all!  He didn’t even pretend to be!  Nonetheless, he looked forward to the preacher’s arrival like a kid looked forward to a holiday.

The traveling preacher meant more people and more people meant more money for him.  It was a win-win situation but he wasn’t interested in preachers.  He’d watched the preachers come and go.  Some came preaching the law- a person had to follow it TO. THE. LETTER.    They were really more concerned with appearing holy than the actual practice of it which seemed to Matthew like a pure waste of time.  

Then others came preaching a radical overthrow of the government.  But back in those days- preachers like that could end up at the pointy end of a sword if they weren’t careful so their popularity waxed and waned according to the economic situation at the time.  Right then, Matthew knew- times were hard.  People were desperate and looking for something more.  It created a perfect climate for not only the second kind of preacher but the third and final type of preacher to move onto the scene.  

They were the most likely to become an overnight success because they promised prosperity. They were the ones who seemed more interested in their own financial empire than in saving souls.  They wanted you to plant ‘seeds of faith’ and in return for such shows of faith they would promise the moon… but never deliver.  This was Matthew’s least favorite kind of preacher because at least the other two did things out of a sincere (although misguided at times) conviction.  The last category was just out for themselves and that made them just like Matthew- although Matthew considered himself more honest.  

At least he didn’t pretend. He was a tax collector.  He worked for the hated government.  He was the lackey for “the man” that kept everybody else down.  He was a traitor to his people and his own name. He’d been called every name in the book and then some. He had sold himself for money, he knew it.  He admitted it.  Somewhere along the way his greed got the better of him and he was here, ostracized by those around him, and rightly so.  He took more than his share.  He had to make a living, and considering what he’d had to give up to get this job- he needed to be rewarded- richly.  Besides that, someone had to do it, and he figured, better him than some Gentile.   

So when the crowds started gathering for yet another traveling preacher, Matthew wasn’t impressed.  He waited in his booth for the gimmick, to see the suckers walking back dejected before they pressed their coins into his hands.  Served them right, losers, they shouldn’t let themselves be so easily duped.  

The crowds followed the Preacher down to the lake and Matthew stayed in his booth and did not even cast a disinterested eye on the proceedings. 

He didn’t even care to get a look at this charlatan, why waste his time?  He drummed his fingers and waited during the revival meeting until a rather strange looking man jogged past.  Matthew watched him with a semi-amused expression on his face and it wasn’t until he’d already passed by that he realized:  He didn’t stop to pay his taxes!  Matthew started to call out to him, reprimand him, but then he stopped short and clamped his mouth shut.  The man was jumping and laughing and talking to himself.  He was prancing like a lamb in a field and there were only two things that made people act that way.  It was too early to get drunk and the other was some sort of madness.  He acted a bit too strangely for Matthew’s practical tastes and he just watched the peculiar sight with stunned silence.  

There was a Preacher in town, and anytime there was one of their sort visiting there would be those who would bring their sick.  Matthew recoiled, studying the tattered and dirty rags he was wearing- he couldn’t possibly have anything to tax and Matthew was afraid of what did have- he might share instead.  No, he shook his head and let him go on, keep his malady to himself.  He didn’t need money that badly, thank you very much.  The crowds stayed away for a long time but when the people streamed back by his booth, he heard the news about the strange man.  

To Matthew’s surprise, he knew that man.  Well, not knew, but he had seen that man.  He’d walked by that man every day, begging on the side of the road. His legs were shriveled like little raisins, hardly as big as a child’s legs but Matthew had done his best to ignore him, much the same way people ignored him when he wasn’t in his booth.   Good heavens, could it be that could have been the same man?  Could it be some sort of trick?  The people said it was a miracle, a real miracle!  Like those stories of the prophets of old… Matthew was a born skeptic but he’d seen this miracle dance right by his booth!  

So the next evening the crowds were bigger than ever, and after they disappeared down by the lake Matthew gathered his money purse and crept down to the edge of the throng to see this new celebrity. 
He wasn’t impressed at the looks of him.  He wasn’t any older than Matthew himself, and he was thin as a pole.  He imagined that a good wind could knock him over, and he wore homespun clothes that seemed a bit too big for his thin frame and his hair was a bit long for his tastes. He wondered who in the world told this guy he could be a Teacher.  He certainly didn’t look the part but there was something fascinating about him.  Matthew couldn’t quite put his finger on it- but when he spoke you wanted to listen.  People liked him; they wanted to be around him.  There was something about him that either drew people or deterred people, but either way you still felt compelled to him.  That was why the crowds were so large, he supposed. 

 Matthew could not get very close, the people pressed in from every side, so close that it was hard to breathe.  There were all kinds of people there.  The people with their sick, carried on mats or in carts or hobbling on crutches, with a look of timid hope in their eyes.  Could he do something to help?  They seemed to wonder, could this man be a prophet like they say?  Could he stop the pain?  

Then there were the searchers, and the dreamers.  They came looking for a word from a God who had been silent for around 400 years. Hoping and praying that this young preacher would stand like Josiah and read the words of the covenant and draw the hearts and minds of the people back to God.  They stood with moist eyes and eager anticipation in their hearts, ready and willing for God to move in their midst.

Then there were the skeptics who came claiming that all this was a scam, trying their best to figure how it was done. They studied his every move, hoping the magician would reveal his tricks.  They were to be sorely disappointed that day.   Along beside the skeptics sat the spectators.  They were just bored and wanted a show.  They brought picnic lunches and made a day of it; hoping perhaps there would be a miracle for them to see.  Maybe he’d make fire come down or bring some widow’s son come back to life or make an axe float for their enjoyment.  They didn’t really come for the preaching as much as for the entertainment, and they clamored for something; and it needed to be big and new!

Then the last group was all standing near the front because – by golly- it was their right! It was right there in their last name for goodness sakes!  They were set apart- special- and they were used to the best in life.  More than that- they deserved the best because they were holy, and they continually reminded everyone else how holy they were.  They were the religious leaders who had come for no other reason other than to find fault with this feisty young Preacher.  Matthew figured they would find much after those with all sorts of sickness were invited forward and their spots of importance were superseded by those miserable wretches!  They were angry before the sermon even started and then they found out that he was just getting wound up! 


After the sick were healed (Yes, healed! Matthew had never dreamed of seeing such things in all his years!) The Preacher called the religious leaders out; and they stood with arrogance acknowledging themselves before the crowd.  But then he surprised them all: naming them as hypocrites and blind guides and wore them out over their self-righteousness.  Matthew had to practically bite his lip to keep from laughing at the expressions on their faces.  Most stormed away angrily before he even got into the heart of his sermon, though a few remained- no doubt to test his theology.  This young Rabbi had certainly made some enemies today; his preaching career was in jeopardy if he didn’t learn to behave!  

Matthew moved closer to see and a group of men to his right noticed him and moved away when they recognized him.   For a few minutes, he’d forgotten he was Matthew, the tax collector, and had made the mistake of assuming that he was one like any of the others.  That simple act served to remind him of who he was and that although he had certainly enjoyed hearing the Pharisees “get theirs” he shuddered to think what the Rabbi would say about tax collectors.  Good sense told him to leave now and get on back to his booth.  He had sold his soul and he had no need of a preacher, but Matthew couldn’t leave.  He leaned in to hear his words, and the stories he told were about lost sheep and lost coins and rebellious sons and he found that he just could not leave as long as the man was speaking.  They were simple stories, yes, told by the son of a carpenter, but there was so much meaning found inside them, so simple that the youngest child could understand, yet so complex that a man could ponder over the mystery of them for days to come.   They were all about something that Matthew had given up hope for in his life.  The stories spoke to his heart and whispered an impossible hope: that God still loved him, still wanted him and perhaps was looking for him to return.  
Matthew returned to his home only to realize how empty it really was.  The preacher’s stories lingered in his heart and mind long after he retired to his bed.  

The next morning Matthew didn’t care so much about the taxes, he pushed through the day, the preacher’s words still lingering in his heart, and found himself looking forward to the time the crowds would form and he would slip away to stand on the fringe and listen to the Preacher.  This time he moved closer, and the people made a way for him, almost as if he had the plague.  There was a twitter of gossip moving from lip to lip this day, “The Master is looking to choose a new disciple.”  Someone whispered to someone close enough to Matthew, but not to him.  

No one ever spoke to a tax collector unless they were forced to.  

This afternoon went as the previous had, the healing, the angered religious leaders, the stories, but this time Matthew was close enough that as the Teacher spoke his eyes rested on Matthew. He gazed at him, tilted his head as if perplexed.  Like he knew him long ago but had almost forgotten his face and name. Matthew felt pure dread strike his heart and hardly dared to breathe but the rabbi gave him a slight nod and continued with his sermon.  

It was nothing, really, but it sent shivers through Matthew.

He knows me.  He concluded.  He knows what I am.  What am I doing here?  Pretending I’m a normal Jew like all the others- like I haven’t sold out my heritage for money?   What would he say to a tax collector?  I’ve pushed my luck long enough.  I need to go.  But he could not. 

As he walked along that night, Matthew decided that perhaps, he didn’t need to return to the meetings. 
It was as if the Teacher could see right into him.  He wondered if the teacher knew he was the tax collector.  Perhaps not.  He had dodged him earlier; perhaps it was all his imagination.  Besides, he didn’t like the way he felt when the Teacher looked at him.  He knew he was in the presence of a Holy Man and that realization made him keenly aware of how sinful he was.  He wanted to hide himself away from the eyes that seemed to look right into Matthew’s soul.  It was just too weird, too uncomfortable. No.  I don’t need to return tomorrow.     

The next day was particularly busy, for there was a caravan come from some faraway place to sell their wares.  Their camels laden with goods, people milled about, the air was filled with the sounds and sights of a marketplace.  He had talked himself out of going to see the teacher today.  He would be far too busy, but still there was something inside him that longed to go.  He pushed the thoughts out of his head and went about his business, almost succeeding in forgetting about the Preacher and his followers.  But then the crowds grew heavy, and Matthew realized too late, that the crowds were not here for the caravan just down by the lake.  They were following the teacher!  He didn’t have time to duck away; he didn’t have time to pretend not to notice.  Matthew looked up and the Teacher was standing just a few feet away and Matthew was rooted to his place as the Rabbi turned and looked his way.  

The crowds parted in front of the teacher; Matthew imagined much like Moses parting the red sea and he looked right at Matthew.  

The crowd waited in eager anticipation.  They seemed almost giddy!  The tax collector! Could there be a better example of everything that was wrong with society than this greedy little man standing in his booth right in front of them?  Matthew took a breath and steeled himself for the onslaught.  This teacher had already enraged all the religious leaders, he was due, he figured.  It would be a good move for him, and he couldn’t say he blamed him for what he was about to do.  No one was hated more than the tax collector, and if he wanted to win followers he wouldn’t have any mercy on such a sinner. 
 
The sudden thought struck Matthew that there was nothing he could do, besides stand there and take it- the people would stare and laugh but there would be no defending against his righteous condemnation.  Every charge he laid against him would be true and that was the best case scenario.  The worst- he shuddered to think- he had seen him heal the sick.  He could do as the Prophets of old and call down fire to consume evil tax collector and his booth!


Wouldn’t there be a party in town if that happened?  He thought grimly.  

A thin trickle of sweat coursed down the side of his face and despite the heat, he trembled and waited for the words that would condemn him.  He dropped his eyes; suddenly aware that he was not even worthy to look upon him.  

The crowds waited as well, barely daring to breath, leaning in to catch every succulent word that this fiery Preacher would say.  The one who called the Pharisees vipers and hypocrites- the cousin of the Baptizer- what would he say to this traitor?  This dog? 

Matthew Levi could hear his own heart beating as the noise from the crowd died to nothing and the Teacher opened his mouth.  He waited; they waited in utter silence and anticipation of his words.

“Follow me.”  

Matthew blinked; surely he was mistaken.  Those weren’t the words he was supposed to say!  He lifted his eyes cautiously.  Perhaps, the teacher was speaking to someone else.  

The eyes of the sinner met those of the Messiah and Matthew was amazed that what he saw there was not condemnation.

It was compassion.

He had said “Follow me.”  The crowds stood in stunned silence, uncomprehending for several uncomfortable seconds.  

Then their glee turned to anger almost as quickly- their fun spoiled. There was an audible gasp of horror from those all around him. The rumors had been true; the master had indeed chosen a new disciple.  Why him?  Their shocked expressions seemed to cry out.  He’s a tax collector, a traitor!  Matthew Levi could see the faces of those who had pledged to follow him only moments earlier, turn from adoration to anger and disillusionment.  The Rabbi had made a bad move, for every good politician knew better than to anger their constituency.  

The Rabbi turned and walked away then, knowing full well that many hearts had turned away from him that day.  

But one… one had turned to him!  Matthew realized suddenly that he was the lost sheep, the lost coin, the rebellious son and there was only one thing he could do!

                                                                                                            
Levi found that his feet would move and before he could even think about what he was doing he dropped his money purse and stepped away from the tax booth.  At that moment while the whole town looked on in stunned silence- he didn’t think about his job, his house, what his supervisor would say, how much trouble he would be in for in the morning.  All he knew that was the master had called him- out of hundreds- any one of them more worthy than himself- but he had chosen Matthew Levi! That was all that mattered!  He fell into place behind the Master leaving the piles of money unattended.  

                                                        
There was a roar from behind him as the once angry crowd leapt upon his booth, overturning it in their anger, and then just as quickly they turned jubilant at the prospect of free money.  Matthew marveled at how quickly this man in front of him could turn the emotions of a crowd!   The money clinked and scattered as the crowds surged forward in a frenzy grappling and fighting for the coins that fell to the dusty street.  The Master slipped quietly through them as they struggled for the coins- the symbol of a once sinful life- and none of them noticed that he had gone… Not one from the crowd followed the Master that day besides the most unlikely.  

Besides his new disciple.  Matthew Levi.  The tax collector. 

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Wonderings 2009



The First Noel

Musings on the ride home for Christmas Vacation 2009

As we drove down the interstate listening to Christmas carols I thought about the very first Noel.  The night of Christ’s birth, and inquisitive as I am I had some questions pop into my mind. One day when we see each other face to face, perhaps I will ask you, but for right now, I will just write them down….


Was it a night like tonight, the night You were born?  Was there a biting, stinging wind that burned your soft skin, or was it warm and calm?  Was it clear, like in the song or was it rainy and cold and foggy?  Were there stars out or were there wispy little clouds hanging low over the damp landscape, covering all but the brightest which was right over the place where you were born?

Some people say that you were not born at Christmastime, that this could NOT be the time of your birth.  Some think you came in the spring or late in the summer because the shepherds were out that night.  It seems to make sense to me that You would have born on a warm night- because who would want to be born on a cold and rainy night? But, then again, you never did take the easy road, so a cold, damp December night might have been the time after all. 

I imagine your mother was scared but her fear was overpowered by her desire to meet the child she had carried for so long.  To find out about the One she had felt kicking and moving inside her; I think she must have been inundated by doubts and questions and fears, like any mother right before the big day. 

Did she wonder if she would be a good mother?  Did she ask herself why the Father picked her?  What could she offer you?  Surely The Father could have found someone wiser or certainly wealthier, someone who could provide for you better than she?  Did she need to be reminded that the Father does not make mistakes, and that He chose her and she was exactly what He wanted?  Did the Father remind her that you had looked throughout the pages of time and from all the mothers that ever were and you had chosen her?   How you must have loved her, to entrust into her care the most precious gift that Heaven could give!

Back home, they had scoffed at her and called her names behind her back, others had the gall to say them to her face. Some pretended that she didn’t exist while still more were outright mean.   Did that hurt her or did she hold her head high with the knowledge that what had been done was done by God? It must have bothered her some, but more than that it must have bothered her to think that they would be equally as unkind to you when You came.  The very thought must have made her stomach tie itself in knots.  

And then there was Joseph.  No one talks about him.  He’s turned into a nonentity, just a figure placed in the Crèche, a secondary character compared to the mother and the child.  We overlook Joseph, but I imagine him overwhelmed with emotion and plagued by doubts, just as she was, perhaps even more.  I think more than the natural doubts and fears that any father has right before the child comes, he must have heard the deceiver whisper in to his ear thousands of times that she was lying and he was a fool for believing her. Did he feel like a ship swept about on the ocean tossed by the wind and waves?  Was he hanging on for dear life, waiting for the arrival of the One who could calm his storm? Did he feel weighed down by the awesome responsibility of caring for this special child?  Any father feels that way about his child, but this was not his child and this was no ordinary child! 

He was a good man; we can see that from the scriptures. There must have been something special about him just as there was about Mary.  Was he strong and kind and loving? Did he put others first, just as you did?   He must have been strong and honorable because the Father would not have chosen him if he was not capable of protecting and caring for this little family.   Was he full of faith or did he battle doubt and fear?  Did he ever ask the Father what He was thinking choosing him? 

Was there a woman who helped Mary with the birth or was it only Joseph alone?  Did he run for help or stay and hold her hand?  Did they wonder how they could be the parents of the Messiah?  About the time that you came and they were huddled in that little grotto with the smell of animals all around; did they wonder what on earth was going on?  They were having a baby in a stable of all places and they didn’t even have a clean place to lay you down!  Did Joseph feel like a total utter failure for not being able to provide even a decent room for you to be born in?  Or were they just thankful they had shelter, and they were not out in the open? Did they push their doubts and fears aside and do the best they could with what they had?   

Was he scared beyond his ability to put into words while his wife screamed in pain and worked to give birth?  There was nothing he could do, no way he could comfort her or help her.  Did he hold his breath and push along with her when it was time? Then when you were at last in his hands, wriggling and red and smeared with blood, was he overjoyed to hold you?  Did he laugh out loud or was he so overcome with emotion that he cried as you took your first breath?  Could he imagine all that you were?  Did they know that you were God on Earth or was that knowledge hidden from them because it was too much to bear? Did he kiss your little face, as he held you in his big, rough hands?  Was he relieved that that part of their journey had come to an end or was he even more apprehensive about what the outside world would hold for you? 

What did she feel when you were placed into her arms?  Did she cry?  Of course she did, we all do.  She had waited her whole life to meet you, her firstborn son!  To look upon that little face is every woman’s dearest dream!  She must have been ecstatic to see you for the first time; she had waited so long to look upon you-- but even more than that, all her people had waited for you for so long!  You were not only the fulfillment of one mother’s dreams but the realization of the hopes and dreams of an entire people as well!  The Jews had suffered greatly and had cried out and waited and longed for you, but when you came there was no room for you. 

Did your parents sleep at all that night or were they too afraid to put you down?  Did Your Earthly father feel awkward holding you?  Was he frightened that he would hurt you or drop you? Was he afraid you would break?  Did they rise at night and check on you to see if you were still breathing? Were they scared to death that something would happen to you?  Did the Heavenly Father laugh at their feeble attempts to protect you; not knowing that there were hosts of Angels at the ready watching over you every second?

  Your parents couldn’t see them, but the shepherds did and it scared them speechless.  I imagine that they weren’t very easily scared or speechless, so to be scared speechless was a big deal.  After all they spent most of their time outdoors and there wasn’t much out there that they were afraid of perhaps besides wolves or bears.  They were such a rowdy bunch that they were confined to the outer court of the Temple.  They were loud and unruly and somewhat wild, but when the messenger came they stood there and could not move.  They stood there with their mouths open, their hearts beating wildly or they fell to their knees, not knowing what else to do.  Surely they must have thought they were dreaming but they couldn’t all be having the same dream—they had never expected to see something like this!  Then the Heavenly Host had told them where to find the baby, the one who would save us from our sins. 

Did they leave right away, forgetting their sheep?  Did they go straight to the stable or did they stop and tell people along the way? If they did, then most everybody they met would probably thought they were crazy or drunk or both, but the shepherds didn’t care, they knew what they had seen so they found the stable where the baby had been born. 

Were they excited and boisterous, pushing and shoving to get a glimpse of this One that the angels had announced to them or were they fearful and penitent, bowing and worshiping the Messiah?

They told your parents about the Angels, and I think it must have surprised Joseph a little, but Mary might have expected it.  I think that your parents; like your disciples who would come later, were amazed at almost everything you did!  Every minute of your childhood must have been an adventure, because never before had there been a child like you! 

How the angels must have stood back in awe, and watched, almost unbelieving!  They could not imagine why you would become one of us!  You who were the center of all things, the creator, the LORD MOST HIGH, how you could become weak and small and entrust yourself into the hands of two inexperienced youngsters barely old enough to care for themselves much less the King of Kings!  How they must have marveled and loved you! How they must have hovered over you and held you dear to their hearts!  No wonder they told the shepherds that night!  The news was far too amazing to keep to them alone!

Did the kingdom of darkness know of your arrival that night, or did you come in beneath their radar? Were they, like almost everyone else looking for a mighty man of God to step onto this Earth?   Were they waiting for a Warrior King to do battle with?  Were they looking for something big, not small?  Did they even notice that you were born?  Was your arrival a slight breeze or was it like a nuclear bomb? Did your coming affect them at all or did it cause shockwaves throughout their kingdom?  Were they indifferent or were they insane with fear?  In my own mind I think that the minute that You took your first breath on this planet, they all KNEW and TREMBLED!  I believe that this whole fallen creation GROANED when it FELT the unmistakable presence of its CREATOR!   The angels rejoiced like never before!  Finally the King had come into this dirty little world to set into motion the very first step in the redemption of all of humanity!  When you were born did they know what You must suffer or were they completely horrified when the creation beat and spat on and killed their Creator?