Denise’s Blog

Dwell Retreat Reflections II: Managing Expectations—(at both ends)

Dwell Retreat Reflections II: Managing Expectations—(at both ends)
managing personal expectations, new beginnings, new friends, writers, writing,

     The first of my Kansas Sunrise triad of poems, titled ‘First Impressions’, was one of those that I read as we flew into Wenatchee. In it, over 23 years ago, I had sought to capture the way in which this whole new world of Leavenworth, KS impacted my tropical senses—soil, normally rich and dark brown, glistened instead  with sparkly bits, the sun did not come up from behind the mountains, and in fact, without my Blue Mountain ranges, I struggled to keep oriented ordinally—all of this being affected, of course, by my expectations.

KANSAS SUNRISE (I)

First Impressions
Kansas sunrise happening to me 
What a slow rising you seem to be 
Half a Sunkist submerged in grey 
Winter that loathes to let go of the day
Now you’re hot, now you’re cold 
Dubious rays of folly’s gold 
A bit more light, a bit more heat 
Would make the fruit of your rising sweet
How tempted am I to spew you out 
Corn syrup in my Carib mouth 
But for a draught that sparkles, stings 
Like juice of tropic fields and springs
And yet I’m told you have your day 
To truly reign in a tropic way 
I’m told that you can make men thirst 
Make temperate humours flare and burst
But a-cooling is what you’ve been to me 
Since I travelled across my Carib sea 
Now like a mango half-ripe, half-sweet 
I hang in limbo unfit to eat.
                             Denise Stair Armstrong
                                                        ©1992
      Ah, expectations, I took some of those with me to Leavenworth, WA, as well.
     We were standing in the middle of a three-way crossroads when we met Christie. A woman easily in her early 60’s, given her matronly frame and gently wrinkled visage, she presented a surprising picture as she entered the intersection on a mountain bike in capris and helmet.
      We had just come across the ‘footbridge’, one that was supposed to join the main road through Plain community ( a tiny township outside Leavenworth) to Grunewald Guild, where the retreat was to be held starting the following day. However, we just could not see which of the roads would take us there.
     It was our first morning and we had headed out, after breakfast, to scope out the prospect of my walking from the lodging to the retreat each morning. To drive or not to drive: that was the question. All other participants were to be accommodated on site, but due to the dual nature of my trip (25th wedding anniversary plus retreat), we had taken lodging at the amazing Beaver Valley Lodge ( a place with a story all its own!).
     Our puzzlement must have been evident to Christie for after sipping on her water bottle she coasted towards us. After initial pleasantries about the beauty of the region and our respective purposes in being in that spot, we were swept up with her into an amazing conversation.
     I immediately apprehended the similarities between Christie and myself—veteran homeschooler, English Literature & Language teacher, Christian Drama/Theatre amateur and former eldercare-giver to her now, late, mother. But I soon realized this lady was in a whole other league: she had already ridden ten miles by the time she paused to talk with us and she was not panting! Her husband of  40 plus years was esconced ten miles away in their RV at camp Lake Wenatchee, this being a trip they took regularly driving from their home which was in an area further north. She still tutored and had a thriving business selling her homeschool curricula and lesson plans online!
     Our conversation came around to the purpose of our visit and I wound up commenting on the sunflowers (even there evident) and their personal significance. She replied that Eagles were her thing, the mounting and soaring to ever higher levels, etc. I was in awe of her spirit and could not help but mutter internally, an almost envious, “You go, girl!”
     That’s when I heard Him, “You go, Denise. You also have as much as you are willing to receive from My hand. I set before you, at this crossroads, Eagle Mom, Christie; metaphorically or literally come soar with Me also; let your faith in Me, not life’s circumstances, determine your altitude”.
      By the time Christie rode away, our GPS had figured out that we were virtually on Grunewald property, the whole time of our conversation. The building to our right almost hidden by wild brush and natural foliage was the library—the historic schoolhouse where we would actually have our joint sessions. When we first approached it didn’t look like much. But I was fast learning that on this trip expectations were to be set aside: ‘Plain’ would not mean the Amish have been here, Guild would not mean ‘medieval monastic stone masonry buildings set in a mountainside’,  and a matronly 60-ish-year-old is an eagle in disguise and a love note at the crossroads.

Dwell Retreat Reflections I: Journey Past Beginnings

Two weeks ago I attended the ‘Dwell’ writers’ retreat, held at Grunewald Guild near Leavenworth, WA – a journey which is profoundly affecting this season of my life. What follows is the first of my reflections about this time, which I will release weekly. Enjoy!

A Pilgrimage Launched
Awenatchela, “People at the source”, Wenatchee—(Native American) Sahaptin word for ‘River from the Canyon’ or ‘Robe of the Rainbow’. The moment I heard the name of the city into which my husband and I would be flying, on our way to the writer’s retreat in Washington state, I harbored a deep anticipation that the meaning of the word would hold a special point of significance: What are writers if not ‘people at the source’ ? First peoples poured so much meaning into names, and this land was already proving to be eloquent with creation’s cries.
My spiritual senses were already heightened since I found out, months after registering, that the name of the town where the retreat would be hosted was Leavenworth—the same name as that of our first hometown in Kansas! Leavenworth: the place of many first and new things for me—marriage, pregnancy, childbirth, foreign landscape, climate, food, church, friends…foreign world, working through me, changing me, like leaven.
But we had flown hundreds of miles over, above and beyond that Leavenworth, on this flight, going further west than either one of us had been before. My Dear-heart had his Master’s course studies to ensure that the trip would be worthwhile for him one way or the other. But as for me, I was a bit nervous. 
Of the intimate number that would be in attendance at the retreat, I knew only one lady—the visionary behind the event. ‘Know’ being relative, as we had become friends solely through her writings, both printed and emailed. Meeting Kimberlee Conway Ireton, writer of The Circle of Seasons, in person, would be the anticipated highlight. This aspect also, presented a pre-sentiment — for just as my relationship with my husband had progressed, Kimberlee & I would be meeting each other face to face for the first time, after almost two years of written communication and exchange of one, maybe two photos online. Would this be a onetime event or would lasting friendships be established among the hearts gathering at Grunewald Guild?
Image by WenatcheeOutdoors www.WenatcheeOutdoors.org

Driving up from the Wenatchee airport, visually trying to come to terms with the stark semi-desert landscape of the foothills of the Cascades, I was surprised by the sight of sunflowers, of all plants! I had adopted Kansas’ state flower as my personal ‘avatar’ the day we flew into Leavenworth, on our way from our wedding and honeymoon in Jamaica, to start life together. The flight path had taken us over fields of sunflowers, providing an assurance to my heart, from that time forward, that I would survive & thrive in this new temperate clime just as they did—facing the ‘Son’. Now here we were, in the Pacific Northwest, 25 years later, taking advantage of the opportunity to also celebrate our silver anniversary, encountering sunflower garden after sunflower garden on our way to another Leavenworth, just in Washington!

The last thing I grabbed before heading out the door from home in Richmond, VA, was a file folder containing pieces of my writing, about my earliest impressions & grapplings with adjusting to life in the Midwest. These are what I felt oddly compelled to read, as the plane approached to land at Pangborn Memorial Airport, Wenatchee, Washington. I did feel called to this quest but found myself questioning, like the captain of the Jamaican bobsled team, from Disney’s Cool Runnin’s,
“Coach, how will I know that I am enough?” 
Was there enough to this dream to write, to have justified this long journey? I wondered. It wasn’t quite a ‘plummeting’ but the Air Alaska plane was not the only thing losing altitude in that moment, however well-managed or controlled  I may have appeared to the casual observer.
It was difficult to not also find metaphor in the geo-political and historical facts of the western movement, which helped develop this part of the country, especially the gold-rush. As we left the flattened desert foothills, driving by sparkling river and ascending alpine slopes, I continued to worry about the retreat. Would this prospect pan out? Have I been deceived about my writing capabilities or is there really gold ‘in them thar hills’?  I was never one to waste good money, and I had had enough time to prepare my heart so I fixed my eyes on the hills and leaned forward, determined to not miss out on one iota of this ride.

Of Bridges: When you can’t get over them – Pt.1

     I cringed internally as I approached the massive, limestone structure. The Natural Bridge Historic Landmark in Glasgow, Virginia, was impressive at night. But here, in the stark, honest light of day, its size and bare-ness were just disturbing. What kind of force scoured that massive hole through a rock that has otherwise survived centuries of Nature’s weathering, eroding influences? A river persistently flowing, as the guide suggested? I don’t think so! That literal monolith stood like a visual punctuation, illustrating that cataclysmic moment in the Old Testament when  “…the fountains of the great deep were broken up” (Genesis 7:11b).

Natural Bridge, Glasgow, VA

     It was a natural wonder in itself, how we came to be actually having a family vacation this year, the years of a single family Summer plan were seeming to become a forgotten thing – ’empty-nesters’, a tag we were already donning. Yet somehow, in the midst of study abroad program, youth mission’s trip, and relocating graduates & undergraduates, a hybrid vacation package emerged — A free-ferry ride across the James, to dinner at the Virginia Diner on Friday marked the first thaw, as we breathed in the fresh air, standing on the deck of the ferry and laughing at the ‘river’-gulls (?) ‘hanging-three’ at the brunt of the vessel.

Saturday was the day for the main stop of our family’s ‘staycation’ this year. ‘Over-nighting’ in the grand old Natural Bridge Hotel afforded us the chance to spend Sunday morning calmly sitting at varying vantage points, drawing the bridge in the art medium of choice offered from several options in my cooler bag. I had cautiously suggested the activity, as one to turn our thoughts God-ward, since we would not be with the gathered church that morning. I had asked that we do it quietly, reflecting devotionally on any thought or idea inspired by this aspect of Creation, as we captured it on canvas.

To my grateful relief, all three of my college/career aged kids fell to the activity with almost impassioned gusto! All three interpretations were as unique & as significant as each ‘artist’ — a freshly graduated (& employed!) junior video/editor designer, a 3rd year architecture student (female) and a high school senior taking his first tentative steps in community college towards biomedical
engineering.

I was reminded afresh of the paradigm altering experience we had been called to participate in, as cross-cultural, inter-“nation”-al, Christian homeschoolers—bridge people! if ever there were ones!

Appreciative as I was of what I saw in my family that morning—diligently, seriously working on those renderings of that natural site for almost two hours, I might have missed its starkness had I not had a chance to see them further through the eyes of passersby. Scarcely an individual, or family going by, failed to acknowledge, quietly or with voiced approval, what they observed not just of the children’s abilities, but of the sheer idea of taking the time to capture in pencils, charcoal or pastels, Nature’s display of God’s handiwork, instead of briefly shooting a quick pic with their phones and moving on. What was it that I detected in their questioning eyes and wistful glances—A longing? A hope? A pledge to try again? A memory of the really important? The uninvited, unexpected attention,
though awkward, felt purposeful.

Just as it is quite possible that many have driven over Natural Bridge, (US Highway 11 literally runs atop this landmark!) without realizing its presence or significance, I realized how demanding seasons can make us rush by significant structures that are anchoring us to meaning & purpose. I felt provoked by the reactions of Natural Bridge’s visitors, to examine afresh our family’s call, and to cherish the proven rhythms and values that have shaped us. I experienced new appreciation and gratitude for my brave children, knowing the trials of the unique paths they each take and was strengthened in my awareness that we are in no way accomplishing this in our own strength. I felt proud of them & pledged to keep praying for them a lifestyle that identifies, savors and represents their Creator well, to their generation, in a day when many will be oblivious & spurning of the truth of Creation’s message.

I had a Psalmodic moment sitting there, feeling the precious oil upon the head, and my cup running over, catching a glimpse of the Good Shepherd in the face of the Natural Bridge, maybe not in the way many have claimed to during the light show, but His glorious face nonetheless, leading us on towards the next season. I wondered what yawning fracture of human experience we would next be called to span by the grace of the Cross, that Bridge of all bridges. His glory being perfected in our weakness, leaves us confident that the same Hand that released the fountains of the deep & caused the Jordan to flood will continue to also design paths that point Home, though they lead through oceans, deserts or rocks

*************##########***********#############*************

[Natural Bridge’s overtly Christian light-show theme, based on the Bible’s seven days of Creation, is scheduled to be discontinued in a few months, as it transfers into the State’s Department of Conservation and Recreation system. Nevertheless, may the starkness of daylight continue to reveal, the testimony of Creation, and Creation’s God.]

Living Bread …Fruit? For Easter

I could hardly believe my eyes : a real, live breadfruit in my local, generic, suburban, South-Eastern American supermarket. Approaching the stand, with my mouth caught agape somewhere between a crazy grin of delightful recognition and amazement, I picked up the familiar cantaloupe-like, green, rough-skinned fruit from my homeland- a Jamaican breadfruit. 

As muscle memory took over, I checked for optimum texture, weight and absence of blemishes, then making my pick, went giddily to the cashier, holding myself back from proclaiming my special find to the entire store. I was all benevolence and compassion as the elderly Southern cashier struggled with her register & charts, hunting for code and key and finally, manager, to identify my odd selection from the ethnic foods department.

Back in my car, I sat the visitor from home on the seat beside me, and proceeding on to my place of part-time employ, suddenly realized that a bridge moment was in full construct. My morning’s devotional meditation in John 6, fueled by having shared in Communion at church the night before, had left me full of gratitude for Him who is declared to be the Living Bread. I had journaled on His role as Sustainer, Restorer, and Life-giver, and had waxed lyrical in agreement with the Gospel writers and Paul, that my substance was in Him and to do His will my meat & my drink. ‘In Him I live and move and have my being’  I sang, as I drove down the road… then the word-play struck me – Living bread / breadfruit! 
 The breadfruit was a round ‘bread loaf’ ( once roasted!) that had grown on a tree, a live bread! Living bread! Jesus, the Incorruptible Seed, sown in earth’s sin-soaked soil, grown in wisdom and stature and favour with God and man.Then, in the fullness of time, was plucked and offered on a ‘tree’ of Calvary, for the redemption of our lives! How I remember my grandfather standing beneath and peering up between the branches of the breadfruit trees  in our backyard, looking for fruit, full and ready to be ‘plucked’ for a family meal. I teared up as I recognized this custom-designed meditational gift from my Heavenly Father. He who watched over His Beloved Son’s sojourn on earth, looking to the Day when this One, offered and received, would bring many more sons to glory. My Jamaican ethnicity had again found a wonderful nexus in the presentation of Scriptural truth. Truly, the Divine Counsellor wastes nothing. Not a crumb.
Later that evening as I joyfully peeled, sliced and offered the roasted fruit to my family I prayed for grace to grasp and similarly respond to the Father’ s offering of the Living Bread to me, daily.

His Feathers

Our morning conversation did not entertain too much small-talk today — grace-filled, honest, tearful, challenging and encouraging all at the same time. My friend, my sister, my mentor, with kind but deft, insistent fingers, handled my heart and teased out questions and answers with skills learned through diligence and study, and gifting , yes, but also through wisdom gleaned on her own pain-filled but God-directed life-journey.

As we closed in prayer, I identified with her mother-heart’s cry for her youngest, who that very moment was in a mental health evaluation facility. All who know her scream a collective “Why!?”. Yet we have learned the grace of the open hand through this faithful, warrior-Mom’s example and, with her, stand on our watch to see what He will do. 
Standing with her this morning in prayer, I saw the Lord’s assurance of His Sovereign grace over this situation in the form of His Hand as a massive, wide-spanning wing over that health facility, over that precious righteous seed. Each feather soon became identified as an aspect of the select care He was overseeing for her (nothing random here)— the medical professionals, the medications she would imbibe, the therapists, the treatments— all established, pinioned and aligned to suit a purpose momentarily veiled to our earth-bound eyes.
What assurance! What a place to fix our eyes when we long to rail against the darkness, the clouded, the shadowed, the Hard. Remember, then, my fevered soul, you are no ordinary chick, you are His. There settle down and ride it out; you are under His Wings.
With apologies to William Cowper:
         “Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take,”
            Lift now your burdened head
            See over all and underneath
             Eternal Wings outspread-
           Resplendent pinions flashing fierce
           With span too grand for earthly sight
           Are still the tender, broody kind
           That succor and give might.
To you my friend; you make me want to be brave too.
                                                                               DSA

Easter Bun, Hot-crossed or with Foreign Cheese

Though I have convinced myself that the Jamaican Easter bun is descended from the British Hot-cross bun, I have been hard- pressed to find anything but circumstantial evidence, that would probably not stand up too well in a court of historically correct cuisine. I have also wondered how it is that we have come to serve it with that orange-colored cheese in the round can, from New Zealand of all places! What an intriguing mix, this trans-Atlantic/ trans-Caribbean world of the Americas!

 I stumbled on it quite by surprise- my new Easter bun recipe. Searching through a healthy meals cookbook, I looked across the page from my ‘Millet in the Skillet’ project and saw the recipe titled ‘Brown Bread’. Back home that was the name for bread made with whole wheat flour, ‘brown’ because of the flecks of wheat bran included. My new discovery was made ‘brown’ however by a more culturally relevant ingredient, molasses. Additional sweetening came not from good old brown sugar but from honey! So much for cultural relevance!
As this recipe struggled on to win its place in my repertoire of culturally relevant cuisine for Jamericans, I was hit by an old favorite which I had not met before being transplanted into American Mid-West homeschooling life, buttermilk. Another cultural flare-up occurred as I tried to decide on fruit to include;  raisins, ‘yes’ but then a new and now dearly loved North-American ‘sub’ volunteered unabashed, knowing it was always welcome in my kitchen, craisins- sweetened, dried cranberries.
Pressing on with this new ‘bridge’ recipe, I realized I had yet another cultural struggle on my hands. The Easter bun recipe in vogue, just before I left JA, was bun made with stout, Dragon stout. But I have learned how to quit when I’m ahead when it comes to being purist in my hunt for Jamaican ingredients; so I had settled for Guinness stout when I decided to try this cultural confection at home in my Jamerican kitchen last Easter. I could not recall last Easter’s outcome so I had determined to try again this year despite the nay-saying of my ‘tea totaling’ son. Well, he won out due to my uncertainty about how baking soda would react with the fermenting factors in Stout draughts, so I was denied Irish input to what was fast becoming a United Nations event in my kitchen-what with crushed walnuts and almonds joining the party!
Amazingly, the result was very ‘Jamaican-Easter-Bun- ny’ in every sense! (Pun intended! No rabbits indigenous to JA at all!) The taste, texture and appearance were comparable to that from any kitchen worth the moniker ‘Jamaican’.I’ve proudly presented it to family and friends as such as I’ve entertained this Easter season; though I must admit to a slight twinge of conscience whenever I did so. Well, it looked, smelled and tasted like a duck…! a bun, that is! 

Whichever, it served its purpose: it drew people together in a language which touched us all at the level of our senses, identity and emotions providing a door to conscious engagement with things ultimately most meaningful…that primary moniker – Easter? Forget all the purist brouhaha about ancient Spring rites etc. Today the term connects us to rememberance of the Ultimate love act that bridged the deepest relational gap ever ( the one between God and man ) : the Atoning death of Jesus the Christ and His glorious resurrection! You can pass on my new bun, but don’t miss that Cross or that Sunrise! Christ has died! Christ is Risen! Christ will come again!

Uncrossing For Lent

 Like falling into an all too familiar rut, I internally, defensively rolled my eyes; sure that the elderly gentleman addressing us was misjudging my folded arms. “A sign that you are closed,” he said. But his kindly eyes and gentle, entreating way made me listen more closely; could it be that I was looking at it from the wrong direction? 
 My knee-jerk response had  to do with my having heard this ‘body posture’ assessment mentioned from the pulpit too often, by what I assumed must have been insecure preachers, doubting their ability to get through to their listeners. Being of a bent to encourage and not distract anyone in as vulnerable a position as a  public speaker is, I always uncrossed my arms whenever I was aware of it, not wanting to be offensive. My moment with Doug and, no doubt, the Holy Spirit, made me think again.
 Forget the speaker for a minute, “Was my posture defensive?” Why is that posture so natural? So comfortable? So comforting to me? In that minute I was amazed by a new revelation about myself – the default, rounded, hunched shoulders posture I was coming to despise and correct here in my mid-life season was not intended to be offensive but self-defensive. The suddenness of the realization almost made me gasp, sure sign of the Divine Counsellor at work.
 I immediately started to address it. In church, the very next service, I observed my arm-crossing impulse, and sure enough, caught myself resorting to it in any moment that threatened a psychological ‘ouch’. It seemed as predictable as pulling away from a heated burner. Here surely, was fodder for growth, for healing, for maturity.
 Subconscious self-defense mechanisms are understandable and even wise for a child – one who does not yet have the capacity to deal openly, in an intellectual and decisive manner with threats visible or psychological. However, a security blanket on an adult is at least distracting and at its worst destructive, to relationships and all that that impinges on.

 I realize that more than an upright body posture in my middle years, I desire an upright, healthy spirit. So I’ve decided to open: uncrossing my arms, and consciously engaging the person, the idea, the message, the situation which tends to evoke the folding. Open, both physically and emotionally, I find I can breathe more effectively, the air of Truth, of reality and thence the air of God’s great grace to deal with whatever is ‘out there’ or ‘in there’. Like uncovering a poorly dressed wound to finally have it dealt with by one who knows not only the hurt but also the antidote, is this new attitude of mine.
 My skinny arms were not doing so great a job keeping hurt out my soul anyway, much like a blanket wouldn’t stop an arrow. I guess I have lighted upon a unique application of the verse in Scripture, ” the arm of flesh will fail you” ! I wonder what that means for my dear hubby who likes to cross his legs? Scripture, in my current vein of thinking speaks to that too, “the legs of a man are a vain thing to hope in”! – I love the breadth of application afforded by the picturesque language of the KJV.
 Nonetheless, jests and metaphors aside, I have decided to uncross, unfold my arms this Lent, and trustingly open: to God, the Author and finisher of my faith, who let’s nothing into my life without modifying purpose. After all, a closed approach to life speaks of a lack of trust in His sovereign abilities and good plans for me; and, if Jesus could open His arms as widely and as trustingly to the Father’s purpose on the cross as He did for us, uncrossing for Lent seems like the only reasonable response.

Of Lent and New Wine

“Give up the habit of giving up” 
…encouraged the man of God. Seemed like a good idea to me, especially since this season seems to be one which has necessitated the relinquishing of so much already.
 Give up the habit of giving up on the idea of a forever safe hobbit hole in the Shire, or anywhere in Middle-Earth anymore? He, upon whose shoulders all government rests, is our shield and strong tower! – the ultimate Hobbitt Hole. Abide under the Shadow of His Wings!
Give up on the habit of giving up the illusion of control – unless you understand your vantage point and privileged position in the Grand-scheme: Consider the mouse, invited to ride high on the back of the massive elephant as they cross a bridge, who quips “We sure shook that bridge, didn’t we!” A picture of the ‘control’ we wield in prayer. Pray!
     Perhaps the way Zechariah felt when he looked up and saw an angel in the inner sanctum of the temple telling him that his barren wife would conceive… give up the habit of giving up; 
     Or the way Naomi felt as she looked into the eyes of her son’s widow Ruth, whom she had earlier advised to return to her family of origin and their false gods, but who had now placed, on her lap, the man-child Obed , who would be the grand-father of King David, of the line of Messiah. She gave up the habit of giving up! In fact she dandled fulfillment on her knees with greater joy than when their new wine abounds – the tune of an eternally joyful lullaby. Persevere in hope!
Lent: A time to persevere in hope.
Lent: Because no one wakes up on resurrection Sunday with full appreciation of the Atonement, who has not set his soul to ponder These Things, to meditate, to worship, to lay hold upon the exceedingly Good Thing – The Gospel.
Lent: An old wine skin? Not if it means giving up the  habit of giving up… and laying hold; persevering until The Dawn.

Unmasking for Lent

Ironic that Mardi Gras, the huge celebration of the flesh (bacchanal, similar to Trinidad’s Carnival), held just before Lent each year, should involve the use of masks. Seriously funny, given Jesus’ admonition against assuming a persona to impress others or even oneself, a potential pitfall involved in seeking to apply any spiritual discipline to one’s life. The third reading for Ash Wednesday (Methodist hymnal lectionary, Matthew 6:16-19) records His words, “…when you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces that they may appear to men to be fasting”: masking with a certain countenance to give a desired appearance… hmm.

Looking over my daughter’s shoulders last night, as she scanned for picts for face-painting, we were intrigued by the way facial structure affected the appearance of the figure painted over it. No matter how cute the cow, painted on the human face, the appearance was disturbing. Underlying factors, it seems, affect what’s seen on the surface… hmm.

No wonder Jesus underscored heart motive so thoroughly in these epic sermons in Matthew. The religious leaders’ observances were intended to impress others or themselves. Remember the example of the one described as “…pray[ing] with himself thus, ‘I thank you God that I am not like other men…'” Jesus urged His disciples, rather, to obey His Words out of a love for God. This undergirding manifests in earnest, private, devotional pursuit birthed out of one’s awareness of his total inability to do the good he desires in his own strength. The result of obedience thusly motivated is sweet communion with the Godhead. The Gospel of John is littered with such assurances. Chapter 14:20-26, for example, outlines promises such as the love and entrance of both the Father and Son into the Believer’s life, the promise of the Son manifesting Himself specifically, as well as instruction and enlightenment by the Holy Spirit; all in the secret place.

In a culture whose favourite Bible quote is “Thou shalt not judge”, Jesus here agrees except for the time factor. Through the Apostle Paul, in I Corinthians 4, He instructs, “judge nothing before the time, until The Lord comes who will both bring to light the hidden things of  darkness and reveal the counsels of the heart. Then each one’s praise will come from God.” Masks, held up, strapped on, painted on or assumed by grimace, have no lasting impression on the soul thus concealed, though the disturbance visited on the onlooker may be of some duration. Whereas a day in His courts or 40 in the wilderness can yield eternally wonderful transformation. 

So let’s waste no time this Lent in vain efforts to impress man but seek instead to be the one whom God regards, “…who is humble and contrite in spirit, and who trembles at His word.” Let the show and public parade go by, and seek Him instead, in the secret place. Then from that place of private counsel with the Wonderful Counsellor, “…your light shall break forth like the morning,…” Isa 58:8a.

I Have Begun…

A contemporary Christian music artist sang,

“There are days when I feel the best of me is ready to begin…”. 

     Well, though I can’t quite say that is what I am feeling right now, I do believe I must begin anyway… Not quite Caleb with ” Give me my mountain!” gusto either… In fact, feeling more like one of “the company of ‘the Ring'” pinned against the cold, sheer face of the mountain Caradhras, with all nature and the enemy seeming to control my ability to go forward or not. But whether I have to climb back down to the foothills and find that I need go through Moria…or not, all I have is this moment. So there, I have begun. My hand is in the River, at His invitation, and only good can come of that.

– Denise A Stair-Armstrong