A Nest for Herself

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A Nest for Herself is the first of several original seasonal stories I am posting to endeavor to convey the truths of  Christmas in a subtler form. These are my gifts to you, dear readers. I hope these small stories draw you into the greatest Story we are looking forward to celebrating.

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It was the lights which first drew her, glowing warmly from tall arched windows. Snow swirled thickly where the yellow beams lay across the sidewalk. Laurie Kay stood just outside their reach, her pale face turned up to the high colored windows set like jewels in the stone facade of the towered cathedral. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth to catch the falling snowflakes on her tongue. They melted on her cheeks, cooling the hot tears trickling down. How did she come to be here in this unfamiliar part of town, where well-dressed people carrying glittering packages rushed past her? Why had she come to Christ Church Cathedral?

A peal of bells cascaded from the top of the tower, ringing out a joyous Christmas carol. In a few hours the carved double doors would swing wide to welcome in people for a Christmas Eve service. She would be far from here by then, maybe at the shelter or on the corner by Tom’s Bar; anywhere she could find a little warmth. If it got colder she might even knock on JD’s door. A few bruises were the price she might have to pay for a warm place to spend the night. He was still mad about her having the baby. She pulled her thin coat as tight as she could around her swelling stomach.

Someone came out of a small door at the base of the cathedral tower and hurried down the street. Laurie Kay caught a glimpse of warm wood paneling and soft yellow lights. Without thinking, she crossed the sidewalk and slipped inside before the door closed automatically behind her. The hush of this holy place fell around her shoulders like a blanket, muffling the clatter of the city beyond its doors. Warmth, stillness, a sweet scent of burning candles and polished wood; she knew this place. Maybe not this actual place, but she knew the atmosphere. She grew up in a place like this, it was like home. She couldn’t go home but maybe she could stay here for a little while to warm up.

Across the city the windows of a simple old church grew increasingly bright with a flickering light. A man inside made his way patiently around the sanctuary, lighting candles tucked in greenery on window sills and walls. At the last pew he blew out the taper in his hand and sank down with a sigh. The old church’s scarred walls and stained ceiling took well to the forgiving candlelight. This gentle light would help hide the sadness in his eyes and strained lines around his mouth. When he stepped up to the pulpit shortly to lead the Christmas Eve worship service, Pastor Randall would need to work hard to project the joy of the Christmas season he wasn’t feeling.
Where was she? Was she warm? Safe? Even alive?

Thoughts of his daughter Birdie wore their weary way through his mind once more. After her mother’s death two years ago, Birdie had turned a hurt and angry shoulder on the life she grew up in. He remembered her as a little girl perched on the edge of the pew below him, her feathery head of dark hair and round brown eyes giving him a focal point while he preached. His wife would gently hold her hand to keep her from fluttering from pew to pew in the middle of his sermon to visit the church family who loved her so much. After his wife’s death he spent long hours alone in his study, unable to deal with Birdie’s despair along with his own. He was helpless against her anger and rebellion, rising from her broken, motherless heart. His feeble attempts to comfort her barely touched the passion of her grief. She flung herself against the loving arms of family and friends until they could no longer hold her. Then she flew away, a crippled bird, into the night.

Laurie Kay caught her breath when she stepped through the recessed door into the vast vaulted chamber of the cathedral’s sanctuary. It was as if heaven’s floor had dropped away so she could gaze up into its glory. The frescoed ceilings far above gathered the glow of a myriad of candles and jeweled scenes in stained glass windows seemed to come alive in their flickering light. There were a few people dotted among the rows of oaken pews. She went unnoticed as she stole up the side aisle to slide in beside one of the tall stone pillars. She leaned her head wearily against its cool surface, gradually relaxing into the warm, quiet hush of the great church.

A rich tapestry hung near the high altar, with intricate threads weaving a picture of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus. Thoughts of her own mother came crowding in to her mind. She was too tired to stop them so she let them flow, remembering the sound of her mother’s laughter, her eyes alight as she held Laurie Kay up to put the angel on the top of the Christmas tree. With the house darkened except for the twinkling tree lights, they would wait for Laurie Kay’s father to come home, and each time he would exclaim how beautiful everything looked. But his gaze was only for her mother and for his little Birdie snuggled close to his side. Such comfort and belonging seemed so long ago, shattered by the sound of sirens in the night and men in white taking her mother hurriedly away. The pain was so great that Laurie Kay had only one urgent desire; to fly, to escape, to lose herself in a life so opposite to what she had known, she would never be reminded of what home used to be. She had succeeded for a time, up until tonight when she turned a corner to see the windows of the great cathedral gleaming through the snow. If this lofty chamber was as near to home as she could find, then she would rest here a while.

She noticed a carving of a small round bird on the high arm of the pew in front of her. Looking closer, she saw a bronze plaque below, with words inscribed.

“Blessed Are They That Dwell in Thy House”
“During the construction of Christ Church Cathedral in 1895, a swallow’s nest with eggs was discovered at the peak of this Gothic arch. Work was halted in this section until the eggs hatched and the fledglings left the nest. When the arch was completed, the nest was preserved in plaster and remains there to commemorate this house of God as a sanctuary for all His creatures.
“Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even Thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” Psalm 84:3”

Laurie Kay’s gaze followed the length of the stone column, seeking out a tiny gray nest tucked in the embrace of the curving arch.There it was, the one spot a little mother swallow had chosen as the safest place to have her young. In the midst of the formation of this mighty cathedral she found sanctuary, and God had protected her.
“Will I not do the same for you?”
The words came fully formed in her mind, settling in her heart just above the warm round form of the child within her. There was a safe place she knew of, much like this. She remembered the warmth, the refuge, the love she once knew there. Could she go back…like this? In all her migrations in the mire of this sickened world, she never forgot the sound of her father’s voice calling her his Birdie. Perhaps it was time to wing her way home.

Pastor Randall was reluctant to extinguish the candles yet. Their glow tinged the edges of his heart with a little warmth and he found solace in the quiet of the empty church. There was just enough light to read the banner hung above the pulpit.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
He prayed for God’s good will to reach his daughter, to bring her peace, wherever she was. His requests for her became more simple the longer she was gone, yielding all his anxiety into a single prayer of surrender.
Candle flames guttered in a sudden draft sweeping through the opened church door. Before he turned around, he heard a sound like wings beating the air, becoming the patter of light footsteps running up the aisle. The weight of the child was forgotten as Laurie Kay flew into her father’s arms.

In the Wake of the Storm

img_2323At some point that evening I went from being exhilarated by the fierce summer storm raging outside, to fleeing in fear to the only windowless room in our home. I huddled with my husband in the dark while the wind roared and shook the house as if it were too close to a speeding freight train. Finally sensing a lessening in the storm’s clamor, we cautiously crept out to witness the utter chaos left in the wake of its violent tantrums. Broken tree limbs and debris littered the lawn, but worse was the uprooted cottonwood tree stretched like a slain giant across our crumpled fence into the yard behind, barely missing the neighbor’s house.

In the following days as we cleaned up the wreckage from the storm, I mourned the loss of the cottonwood tree. On hot summer days we used to rest in our lawn chairs under its cool shade, lulled by the lyric rustle of its leaves in the breeze. It had been a green sanctuary to myriads of birds which we enjoyed watching splash in our nearby birdbath. Our grandchildren once climbed the lower branches, safe in its woody embrace. Now an ugly stump was all that remained, and empty space where once a friendly giant stood.

My husband took a more pragmatic view of the loss of the tree. He saw how its absence allowed more sunlight to reach his vegetable garden, especially the rows closest to the fence which always did poorly for lack of light. We observed carrots and parsnips gradually flourish with more sunlight to strengthen them.

In her book, “Roots & Sky”, author Christie Purifoy writes, “God does not erase our losses, those empty places in our lives, but He does something almost more miraculous. He fills the loss with a sign of His presence.” Losing a tree cannot compare to losing a loved one, or a marriage or a part of who you are, but for me it was a picture of how loss opens up room for a new work of God.

There was a time in my life when I lost everything I had ever feared losing; my marriage, financial security, health and family unity. In the midst of these devastating losses, I could not imagine a future when all would be made new, even better than before. But God could. “His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of.” (Eph. 3:20 TLB)

God takes loss and turns it into abundance. In the ashes of my pain, I discovered the abundance of God’s love, His perfect character and His always faithful promises. When life left me hollowed out, He filled the space with His own presence. As I discovered, this is God’s specialty, giving beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. (Isa. 61:3 NKJV)

In the equation of loss becoming abundance, He uniquely illustrates for each of us His supreme renewal project, the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24 NIV) He was speaking of Himself as the Seed, abused, crucified, buried in a dark tomb. Then the Seed came bursting forth alive, His resurrection beginning a great harvest of souls for God’s kingdom. Death gave way to life. Decay became deliverance.

A mighty tree once stood in my yard where now there is just a weathered stump. However new light floods a healthy garden where many seeds now flourish in abundance. In our memory’s landscape, the scar of a loss does not need to be a place of pain forever. It may be remembered, even mourned, but more significantly, it is a landmark telling where God met us and how He brought restoration and renewal out of the darkest places of our world.

Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Legacy of a Teacup

IMG_2404-001She cradles the delicate porcelain teacup in her hand before placing it on a saucer in the china cabinet. Someday my daughter will inherit this set of heirloom china, so I tell her the story of how it came to be in our family. The fine Austrian dinner set was purchased by her great-great grandparents in 1923 to make a favorable impression on a suitor who was courting their eldest daughter. Preston Sharpe married Mabel Stevenson, my great aunt. I remember the stately old house they lived in, with a formal garden lush with roses Preston cultivated himself. He named a soft pink hybrid after his Mabel, as it reminded him of the old-fashioned roses trailing across the china she treasured. This tale is recorded in my grandmother’s beautiful script on sepia-toned paper tucked inside the elegant teapot. Perhaps the true heirloom is this story, a branch of the tree which is our family, green with love, rooted in rich relationships, sending out shoots now blossoming in the lovely face of my daughter.

How do I craft an heirloom to pass on to my children and their children, a legacy fashioned from what I value the most? What comes to mind are not physical treasures but the treasures of my heart and spirit, pebbles of wisdom collected on my long walk with God. If I could package these treasures to give into their hands, I could breathe a sigh of relief when the transfer is made. But that is not how this particular legacy is handed down. No, it is lived out minute by minute, word by word, spun in multi-colored strands of dark and light, communicated with hands and tears and long talks into the night, recorded in letters and looks and words unspoken.

“I will teach you hidden lessons from our past — stories we have heard and known,
stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about His power and His mighty wonders.” (Psalm 78:2-4 NLT)

Trails of brokenness and hardship thread across my past like the cracks in a shattered teacup glued back together. These are a crucial part of my legacy because they tell how I learned of brokenness being the way to wholeness, weakness required to find strength and an empty heart leaving room for the fullness of God. I cannot imagine the grind and sweat of my battles to be for nothing. The cracks are not so much evidence of breakage but pathways carved out, leading to the truth. Most of all, I want to pour out the precious contents of this glued-together teacup. Christ glued me back together, healed and redeemed me, so I could be filled with the water of His Spirit — sweet, thirst-quenching love, overflowing like a reviving drink.

With every sip of tea from my heirloom china teacup, I remember the legacy of my ancestors. Theirs was not a perfect history but it is a part of my history and I am thankful for the good they left me. Author Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

May my legacy, dear ones to follow, be that you feel God’s love through me, poured out in a thousand different ways from this broken teacup.

 © Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Standing Stones

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I have come across them on an ocean shore, on top of a mountain, beside a river; a stack of uncut native stones balanced upon each other, often forming a manlike figure. They are called inuksuk, meaning “in the likeness of a human” in the Inuit language. On a forbidding, often featureless northern landscape, these rough stone sculptures were a welcome sight for searching travelers. Originally used by the arctic dwelling Inuit for communication and survival, the inuksuk is a traditional monument, saying “someone was here” or “you are on the right path”.

An even earlier civilization used standing stones as monuments, not by their own decision but at the command of the Lord God. In Joshua 3, the Israelites came to the Jordan River where Joshua conveyed God’s instructions to the Levite priests carrying the ark of the covenant. They were to step into the water and lead the people to the other side. This was no meandering stream but a river at flood stage, swift and deep. Obediently they took their first step, then watched in wonder as the waters mounded high on either side of a dry path opening up across the riverbed. “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” (Joshua 3:17 NIV)

For the second time in their exodus from Egypt God had parted the waters miraculously before the Israelites. He wanted them to remember, so through their leader, Joshua, He instructed a man from each of the twelve tribes to carry a stone from the middle of the Jordan and set them up together as a monument. “Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what He had done to the Red Sea when He dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always worship the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4:21-24)

I have standing stones in my life. Not actual stones but figurative markers on my lifeline indicating where God has done mighty things. When I am asked, “What do these stones mean?“, I will speak about a barnacle-covered beach stone at the seaside bible camp where he made me His own. The place where tears wet a crumbling altar of broken vows and health is where everything was lost so I could come to know the Love I could not lose. I will gladly describe the obelisk pointing skyward where He knit my life back together in a new place, grounding me with love and purpose. Each beauty sketched in sky and landscape, creature and person, places a pebble in the monument of my worship of Christ who is worthy of all honor and adoration, the Living Stone.

“Come to Him — the living stone — who was rejected by people but accepted by God as chosen and precious. Like living stones, let yourselves be assembled into a spiritual house, a holy order of priests who offer up spiritual sacrifices that will be acceptable to God through Jesus the Anointed.” (1 Peter 2:4-5 The Voice)

This Man

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Beards jutting, black robes rustling, the assembly of Jewish elders stared with contempt at the prisoner before them. They saw a man swaying with exhaustion, dark bruises swelling, blood dripping from ragged wounds. Enraged before the Roman governor, they cried, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king!” How could such a miserable piece of humanity claim equality with God? Standing before them in humiliation, he incensed them to anger tinged with apprehension. He moved the hearts of the people; their presence only fostered fear. If they were to retain their power, this man must die.

Pilate, the Roman governor, thought he had side-stepped the troubling issue of what to do with the Galilean, charged with sedition by the Jewish elders. Learning that Jesus was under Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him to Herod, who sent him back, his wounded frame mockingly draped in a rich robe. Even in disgrace the prisoner imbued the robe with an air of dignity. Pilate recalled his earlier sardonic question to Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” He hadn’t expected him to answer affirmatively. Regardless of the forceful entreaty of the elders, he could find nothing in the prisoner to substantiate the charges they brought against him. To appease the mob, he offered to punish then release him, but they kept shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate washed his hands of the distasteful business and granted their demand, though he could find no basis for a charge against this man.

The thief knew he deserved death by crucifixion, though he fought against dying without hope. Through a veil of blood and pain he watched the face of the man on the cross beside him soften with compassion as he murmured something about forgiveness towards the mocking crowd. He and the other thief were ignored in the spectacle directed at the middle cross. People jeered and soldiers ridiculed the man they mockingly called “the king of the Jews”. The other criminal hurled insults, demanding that if he were the Christ he should save himself and them. The thief found himself rebuking him.“Don’t you fear God, since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Hope flared within the thief, sparked by the innocence of the man beside him. He believed he was who he claimed to be…the Christ, the Son of the living God, assuring him in truth, today he would be with him in paradise.

In the throes of death, the man on the middle cross held the attention of the Roman centurion. Gambling for clothes at the foot of the cross did not interest him. Just hours before as the last nail was pounded through this prisoner’s feet, darkness laid eerie claim to midday light. Then someone reported that the veil in the Jewish temple was ripped apart. Somehow the centurion knew these mysterious events were connected to the man on the cross. Suddenly the crucified man cried out, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Then he breathed his last. The very one who wielded the hammer, fixing the prisoner to the cross, now declared, “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

(based on Luke 23)

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

The Cross Around My Neck

IMG_2129In its little velvet box, the gold cross on a chain appeared small and fragile. But I saw a royal insignia, a medal to wear into the fray, the emblem of a conqueror. It took three months of minimal payments on layaway at the jewellery store before I owned it. Working part-time and on a limited budget, buying a gold necklace seemed extravagant, but I knew it as a necessity. You see, my life was a battlefield, with my marriage gasping out its last dying breaths and my family scattered and struggling. Yet in the midst of the smoke and ruin God showed up, like a bright flower blooming in devastation. I needed the cross necklace as a banner for going into battle.

Before this, God and I were old friends who had lost touch. I thought of Him with affection and respect, but not someone I talked to often. Then His Spirit began stirring up a hunger in my soul. Like a starving woman, I consumed the bread and wine of His Word, longing for more. His voice drew me into deep, prayerful conversations. I craved time with others who knew Him, whose encouragement fortified me for what was ahead. I knew that God was preparing me for combat.

So why wear a cross around my neck? Some saw it as an archaic icon of a gruesome form of public execution, even a talisman to ward off evil. To me it symbolized the One who died on such a cross with His arms spread wide in love and sacrifice. I had come to believe that Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, gave His life willingly on that cross, was buried then rose from the grave to conquer death and sin, offering forgiveness and eternal life to those who believe in Him. I wore an empty cross, not one with Jesus still nailed to it, because I knew He was alive, just as I knew the battle I was facing would be fought in His strength.

“Stay focused; do not lose sight of mercy and truth; engrave them on a pendant, and hang it around your neck; meditate on them so they are written on your heart.”
(Prov.3:3 The Voice)

When I stood before a courtroom judge to fight for an equitable end to a dead marriage, I wore the cross.
While toxic chemicals flowed into my body to fight a life-threatening disease, I wore the cross.
As I battled abandonment, poverty, loneliness and more, I wore the cross.

Every morning as I fastened the chain around my neck, I felt fortified. It was only a little piece of gold, but it gave me a focus, a touchstone to wear into the day, reminding me that I faced the challenges ahead in the strength of Jesus, who overcame death on the cross. He promised in His word, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor.12:9)

Jesus brought me through those long ago battles and for now the fields are green and peaceful. But I still wear the gold cross, although brutal in its origins, because it is the highest badge of honor displayed for the ultimate sacrifice given upon it by my Savior.

“It was God who brought us to life with Him, forgave all our sins, and eliminated the massive debt we incurred by the law that stood against us. He took it all away; He nailed it to the cross. But that’s not all. He disarmed those who once ruled over us — those who had overpowered us. Like captives of war, He put them on display to the world to show His victory over them by means of the cross.” (Col. 2:13-15)

 

©Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Sense of Place

 

IMG_2005-001There is a phrase echoing around in my mind, easier to describe than to define. A sense of place.

It is warm golden pine needles carpeting the ground, spicing the air with each cushioned footstep; shafts of sunlight dropped down through tree columns, alive with dancing dust and insects; a rhythmic sound, swelling and receding, growing louder as the ocean’s edge comes into view; once beyond the trees, drawing in big breaths of salt-rich air, then kicking off my shoes and burying my toes in the sand, more fully alive here than anywhere else.

By the ocean is where I derive my strongest sense of place, a locale for joyful contemplation when all goes well and for comfort when solace is sought. I don’t live near it anymore but in some tender corner of my heart it will always draw me. I was happiest there as a child and dream of living near it again someday.

“Place is where meaning, belonging, and safety come together under the covering of our best efforts at unconditional love,” writes author Randy Kilgore. “Place beckons us with memories buried deep in our souls. Even when our place isn’t perfect, its hold on us is dramatic, magnetic.”

Place, that idyllic memory evoked by emotions connected to it. For me it has become more a person than a physical setting. Yes, my heart responds to some places more than others, where special memories have their roots or beauty stirs me. At some point those places may be changed or even destroyed, but the Person who gives me the most secure, eternal sense of place will be forever present.

Jesus Christ said, “Abide in Me, and I will abide in you.” (John 15:4 NIV) What a strange concept that must have been to the disciples listening to Him. Abide? Live in? Take up residence in Jesus? When read in context of the parable of the vine and the branches in John 15, abiding in Jesus makes sense. He is our vine, our source of spiritual nourishment so we, the branch, can bear spiritual fruit. Important as spiritual fruit is, it is not the main reason for Jesus wanting us to abide in Him. His desire is for intimacy with His beloved child, a sense of connection only achieved by living as close to Him as possible. Abiding — when our inner spirit, the truest essence of who are, takes up residence in the heart of Jesus. It sounds a bit spooky, even supernatural. True spirituality is a mystery, but the practice of it is simple. Spend time with Jesus. Seek, long for, thirst after, engage, know, hear and respond to … Jesus. Find Him in His Word, talk to Him in prayer, listen for His voice in your spirit, live in Him.

The ocean shore gives me a sense of place because of significant personal epiphanies occurring there. But I have learned that my truest sense of place happens in my spiritual abode, the heart of Jesus, a place of love. “As the Father has loved Me, so have I loved you. Now abide in My love.” (John 15:9)

 

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.