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gatlinburgcc

The Great Smokey Mountains in 2012, after a torrential storm filled the rivers and streams to overflowing

“we can grasp the full meaning of the Resurrection, we first have to witness or experience crucifixion. If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution or crucifixion, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith. Ironically, avoiding suffering could be the very thing that prevents us from partnering deeply with the Risen Jesus.”
~ Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected.

The Great Smokey Mountains caught fire and burned, and in the burning almost feels like the straw that broke the camel’s back. The loss of children in Chattanooga to a senseless school bus accident, a car accident over Thanksgiving that took one of our town’s last year’s high school graduates, merciless violence at Ohio State. In the last few months, we lost my oldest aunt, my husband’s mother. A strange red car drove through my front yard today and off into the field beside us, and, like each one of us, I have my own challenges that try to steal my peace, grace and faith. It’s not just me that feels breathtakingly overwhelmed.

There are so many people hurting right now – hurting through the loss of loved ones through the in-your-face hard things like sickness, disease/cancer, car accidents, violence, through wildfires, tornadoes, hurricanes and all sorts of natural disasters, hurting, too, through the inside hurts that most cannot see but are wounds that nevertheless try to steal the grace, faith and hope right out of our souls.

In all of this, I hold on to the one who won’t let go of me.

Mountains may burn, the senseless and overwhelming may happen, the little foxes may tear at the vines, but God never waivers in his constant love for you and me. God has ever remained faithful, has always pursued each of us, sent his son so that we could live resurrection after each hard crucifixion whether physically, emotionally or spiritually.

I pray each person hurting right now stand firm in the Holy Spirit overflow of God’s love, knowing that He’s got it – whatever you’re wrestling with, whatever sadness or fear that threatens to overcome -each of us rest in the peace of comfort that He’s got it.

The solution may not look like what we anticipate.

The right now might not feel like salvation or resurrection. Yet, despite the crucifying hurt of the right now, I pray that we stand in the hope of our belief in our faith that with Him we will rise out of the darkness of these overcoming hurts into the joyous hope that Christ’s resurrection brings each of us.

gatlinburg2

Growing along the trail about 1/2 from Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smokey Mountains, Spring 2016

http://afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com/ Small Wonder (formerly Unforced Rhythms)
http://www.thebeautyinhisgrip.com/ Sharing His Beauty
http://donnareidland.com Mondays @ Soul Survival
http://www.richfaithrising.com/ Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/ Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://hollybarrett.org/ Testimony Tuesday
http://www.messymarriage.com/ Messy Marriage
http://www.w2wministries.org/ Word-Filled Wednesdays
http://holleygerth.com/ Coffee for Your Heart

a legacy of love

nannymaddy

About 10 days ago, our family celebrated a life well lived, well loved. There were roses symbolizing the 12 grandsons, and another set of roses, symbolizing the 12 great-grandchildren (11 here and one on the way). Her quilts were displayed, along with the little girl dresses she’d made for these long-awaited great grand-girlies. Every stitch, every story was a testimony to how well she loved.

Nanny’s  son, my husband talked about how “Dad and mom would turn small accomplishments into big accomplishments.  The grade was not the measure, but how hard we tried.”

One of our sons, the joy bearer,  read 1 Cor 13:4-8a. Like any good composition teacher’s son, he added a coming-away comment to explain how the quote promoted the point being made: “Nanny loved everyone the same way she made pancakes. There was always too much, but you could never complain.”

Two of her 12 grandsons shared stories. Love isn’t meant to be always somber and serious. Love is meant to laugh, too – and we laughed in remembrance of the joy and unconditional love she brought to our lives.

Then Sherry, her daughter spoke – and she knocked it out of the ball park! If you’re a stay-at-home, well, you will be doubly blessed by the  insight into the life career you have chosen.

“Mothers/Grandmothers are a model of hope to the young. Hope means to long for, envision and anticipate. Although mom dreamed some dreams that did not come true, set goals that weren’t met or had ideas that never became reality, her children and grandchildren did not know that.

They saw dreams coming true when they attended Mom and Dad’s 50th wedding anniversary. They saw goals accomplished as mom lovingly made quilts for them or taught them how to sew or attended ballgames, plays or whatever else they were involved in.

The hope for tomorrow always depends on the accomplishments of yesterday. Our success and strength for the future depends largely on our past. A mother’s decisions, accomplishments and dreams are really the beginning of a child’s life. My mom’s decision in choosing her life mate affected not only her but all of us. While mom did not have a workplace career, she made her family and friends her life career. The memories that she gave her children will live on in her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

After my dad died, mom asked me many times, ‘Why am I still here?’ My answer was always the same, ‘God is not done with you yet.’ I believe she remained to show us how to go on and live with strength, grace and, most importantly, love. Never forget how much she loved her family. When she wanted to give up, she didn’t – and we are all better people for witnessing her life” ~Sherry, November 16, 2016

She made a life-time career out of loving others – I don’t know about you – but that is the best job-description I’ve ever heard for housewives and stay-at-home moms! What a job advertisement!

What a legacy of love Nanny has left us – a legacy gently stitched into the heart of everyone standing under the apple tree with the tire swing – a legacy strong and true enough for passing down.

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends” ~ (1 Cor 13: 4-8a)

nannylegacy

http://afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com/ Small Wonder (formerly Unforced Rhythms)
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http://purposefulfaith.com/ Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://hollybarrett.org/ Testimony Tuesday
http://www.messymarriage.com/ Messy Marriage
http://www.w2wministries.org/ Word-Filled Wednesdays
http://holleygerth.com/ Coffee for Your Heart

dollyseaquote

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God—we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people—and this is not learned in five minutes” ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

Who wouldn’t like a 7 Day Spa treatment? Even one day at a Spa sounds enticing. There’s mineral spring spas for relaxing soaks, day spas for massage therapy, saunas, revitalization treatments, and destination spas for physical and mental strengthening in wellness.

Once people went to the mineral springs to “take the cure” for an array of ailments. Today, it’s more about pampering the outer man and his emotional inner man. Each spa is designed as a get away, whether for an hour or a week, to help one re-calibrate personal well-being. Simply put, Spas today help us get away from a life that we’re having trouble getting a hold of.

I don’t know about you, but while a spa getaway sounds delightful, I need something that’s going to go beyond releasing the inner pressure through a deep-muscle massage. I need spiritual re-calibration which can only come from relationship with the Father who designed and created me.

Dolly Lee’s book, 7 Days of Soul Care: A Guide to Letting God do the Extraordinary with Your Ordinary, felt like a soul-spa treatment where we are invited to rest, to massage the sinewy knots out of soul muscles, to slow stretch the God-design of ourselves by breaking old, ineffective patterns of soul fitness and developing not just healthier but truer soul fitness.

7 Days of Soul Care offers a holistic approach to soul care – the body, the soul, the mind: Know God, Know Yourself; Embrace Your True Worth; Know Jesus, Know God; Discern Your Soul’s Condition; What Trials Can Reveal; Take Steps Toward God; Rest and Play.

Regardless of how long you’ve been a Christian, Dolly’s book is refreshing soul care for the Christian whether they are just newly embarking on this life journey or for the Christian who needs a tune-up under the hood of their soul.

Dolly encourages us to be exceptional in the ordinary daily – not through acts and achievement but through real, intentional relationship with God. By learning who we are to him and how he sees us, we end up living exceptional in the ordinary. It is not a snap-of-the fingers metamorphosis; it is a life time development.

Dolly defines exception as “‘connecting with God to be my best,’ and by ‘best,’ I mean ‘more fully myself as God created’”

In order to see ourselves as exceptional, we need to understand how God sees us:

“Extraordinary—God looks at us with delight just because we’re his.” ~ Dolly Lee

“The more we see ourselves as Beloved, then the more we can see others as also Beloved by God.” ~ Dolly Lee

“I’ve learned what we believe about our worth is one of the biggest determinants of how we live our lives.” ~ Dolly Lee

Dolly shares her challenges that led her on this journey that led to this book. Chapter 6, what “What Trials can Reveal,” was a particular favorite of mine, providing fresh insight into the story of the Prodigal, allowing me a more multi-dimensional look into a story I thought I had mined thoroughly for wisdom.

“Whether we identify more with the dutiful, resentful older brother or the wild- living prodigal, God invites us to receive relationship with him. But we each must accept his invitation to join the party.” ~Dolly Lee

Her chapters include a devotional, questions and activities for discussion, and closing with a prayer. While 7 days to Soul Care can be read, in, well, 7 days, I recommend working through one chapter a week. I particularly enjoyed the caliber of questions and activities. The questions are ideal as prompts for journaling because these are not surface questions. The questions invite you to pull out your life experience and study it through Soul Care eyes.

Some examples are the following:

  • “Can you recall a time when God or someone else comforted you? What did you feel and think? How have you been able to come alongside someone else because of a similar trial you experienced?”
  • “When you read the story of the Samaritan woman by the well in John 4:6–42, what do you notice? How does Jesus embody grace and truth in his conversation with the woman? What truth about himself does Jesus want to reveal to her? What truth about her does Jesus reveal? How does she respond to Jesus at different points during their interaction?”
    • “How does she respond to Jesus? List the different ways. Can I compare her response to my response to my interaction with Jesus?”
  •  “How can you practice the freedom to live as our extraordinary God created you, so you can be exceptional in the ordinary things of life?”

Dolly’s Soul Care discussion areas not only invite us to write or talk out our answers – she also tells us it’s o.k. to wordlessly go to God because “Sometimes trust is turning our gaze and our broken hearts toward God without words.”

Dolly says, “We can’t be exceptional—connecting with our extraordinary God to be our best—without discerning the condition of our individual soul.”

dollyfinalI met Dolly a little over a year ago at Deidra Rigg’s Jumping Tandem Retreat. This trip was a big deal to me – the first time on an airplane by myself, away from all my kids. All my flights were cancelled when I pulled into the airport to leave. I was told I could get there Saturday night, which meant getting there in time for a wrap up before catching a plane back the next morning. I held on tight to my grace, opted for kindness and faith – and I arrived on-time Friday afternoon, frazzled, hoping that someone was really going to be there to pick me up – and, a distance away, came Dolly from the opposite direction, arms wide open for a welcoming hug. We’d been bloggy friends for a few years – and on that very frazzling afternoon for this girl who hadn’t been this far from home alone before – well, Dolly was all grace and comfort.

Dolly is good at that – bringing comfort, restfulness, hospitality into a group of women. She’s also fearless – She was one of the brave who embarked on a zip-line adventure while I stood securely on the ground watching.

Her sweet, welcoming, fearless nurturing is woven continually through-out her book, 7 Days of Soul Care. She has created a retreat, a spa for us to dip ourselves into the living waters, to refresh ourselves in our God-designed journey, equipping us to go forward not only better equipped, but in closer relationship to the one who created us and loves us so.

You can pick up Dolly’s book, 7 Days of Soul Care here and connect with her at her blog, Soul Stops here.

(I received an Advanced Reader Copy but I was not paid to write this review. This is my honest review of a book written by a sweet friend of mine)

http://arabahjoy.com/ Arabah Joy
http://www.janiscox.com/ Sunday Stillness
http://www.spiritualsundays.com/ Spiritual Sundays
Giving Up on Perfect, A Little R & R Wednesdays, Mondays @ Soul Survival, Coffee and Conversation, Coffee for Your Heart, Sitting Among Friends, Nanahood, Moments of Hope, Family, Friendship and Faith, DanceWithJesusFriday and Wholehearted Wednesday, http://seespeakhearmama.com/ Give Me Grace

http://afieldofwildflowers.blogspot.com/     Small Wonder (formerly Unforced Rhythms)
http://www.thebeautyinhisgrip.com/    Sharing His Beauty
http://donnareidland.com   Mondays @ Soul Survival
http://www.richfaithrising.com/    Unite the Bloggosphere
http://purposefulfaith.com/     Cheerleading #RaRaLinkUp
http://hollybarrett.org/     Testimony Tuesday
http://www.messymarriage.com/  Messy Marriage
http://www.w2wministries.org/     Word-Filled Wednesdays
http://holleygerth.com/     Coffee for Your Heart
http://3dlessons4life.com/ Thought-Provoking Thursday

stormybeach

Radical Christianity doesn’t intercede because sin is so ugly; Radical Christianity intercedes because it knows there is something beautiful to redeem beneath the sin.

Radical Christianity doesn’t beat the sin out; Radical Christianity loves the sin out.

Radical Christianity believes nothing is too big or too broken for our God to restore.

Radical Christianity doesn’t give lip-service to negative-Nancy platitudes; Radical Christianity speaks faith and hope words that empower to stand in the gap, interceding through the Holy Spirit.

Radical Christianity intercedes not just  for our friends, our family, our church. Radical Christianity intercedes for our schools, our cities and our country, regardless of political beliefs.

Reading the news for the past few months leaves me uncomfortable. Uncomfortable in a way I never imagined feeling in America. I’ve felt disquieted before – and have learned that disquieted feeling is a call to prayer, for intercession.

Abraham interceded boldly for Sodom. God has stopped by, talked with Abraham, told him of his plans for S&G. The Great I AM was going to see for himself it it was all true, to walk among the people before he destroyed the two cities.

The men set out for Sodom, but Abraham stood in God’s path, blocking his way” (Genesis 18: 22).

If I’d been a by-stander, I think I would have stepped back – waiting for a lighting bolt or other smiting material. Abraham stood in God’s path – stood – as if Abraham could stop God.

But that’s the kind of relationship they had – they talked to each other, broke bread together, sat under the stars together – Abraham cooked for him.

. . . . and God didn’t smite him because Abraham dared approach the creator of the world so.

Abraham confronted him, ‘Are you serious? Are you planning on getting rid of the good people right along with the bad? What if there are fifty decent people left in the city; will you lump the good with the bad and get rid of the lot? Wouldn’t you spare the city for the sake of those fifty innocents? I can’t believe you’d do that, kill off the good and the bad alike as if there were no difference between them. Doesn’t the Judge of all the Earth judge with justice?'”(Genesis 18: 23-25)

Abraham stood in God’s path and interceded – boldly – and God didn’t say, “How dare you talk to me that way.” Instead, God engaged, encouraged Abraham’s intercession.

I believe right now we need to be interceding the same way, going boldly to God just like Abraham. Jesus bore our sins and died for us so that we could come before God like Abraham.  His death and resurrection grafted us into that family, those promises, that same relationship opportunity.

I believe there are many righteous men and women in our nation. I believe there is a heart for the great I Am .

Abraham didn’t say things like, “Yes, Sodom’s going to Hell in a hand-basket.”  Instead, Abraham begged for Sodom, 50, 40, 30, 20, down to 10 faithful men (Genesis 18: 26-33). He interceded. He ASKED boldly, daringly. Abraham interceded with hope and faith, not finger pointing and sin cataloging. He didn’t bash Sodom as sin-city. Rather, he focused on the righteous man.

When I wrote much of this a few years ago, I asked you to intercede, to pray for our country, for God to move in our country, to save it – for the righteous men and women who pray with you, who minister to you in the grocery store, in the pulpit, in the blogahood – even the righteous boys and girls whom you have taught to pray, to walk in faith, to trust in the great I Am who says “I AM” able to save a country, yes – for even one righteous man.

Today I am asking again.

I do not doubt that we have 1, 50, 100, 1000, 10,000, 100,00 – even 1 million righteous men, women and children in our country.

Let us become interceders for our country like Abraham was for Sodom. Right now, I think we have much hope. Abraham’s story tells us we do.

I pray that you wake up to a faith-filled morning, where God reminds that for 50 righteous, he would save a city

Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking. Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.”

and if there weren’t 50 righteous, he would save a city for 45 righteous men and women:

Again he spoke to him and said, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.”

The great I AM, who created the universe, the intricacies of the reproduction system, amoebas, humor, tear ducts, love – He was willing to be talked down to finding only 40 righteous men out of an entire city.

Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.”

How much He must have wanted to save all those men, women and children – Even for only 30 righteous men and women would he save a city.

He said, “Behold, I have undertaken to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.”

For 20 righteous men and women, he would save an entire city.

Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it” (Genesis 18: 28-32)

Even for as little as 10 – and He filled me with hope – because our country still has righteous men and women who love the Lord our God with all their hearts and minds and souls.

Abraham didn’t talk God down to “if there were just one righteous man” – maybe he thought he was asking too much, had pushed God too far.

Sometimes we decide what God will do before we even ask. Sometimes fear stops us from saying what we really want to ask.

Abraham didn’t ask if he would save a city for one righteous man. He stopped at 10.

But God was willing to save a city – even one righteous man – just one. Are you willing to ask – to believe – be the one when others fail?

“Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city”(Jeremiah 5:1)

Are you willing to stand in the gap on behalf of our country, to build up a protective wall of faith?

“I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none” (Ezekiel 22:30)

50, 40, 30, 20, 10, 1 – don’t despair – for even one faithful man, He would save a city, a country.

Today, let us love the Lord with all our hearts, our souls and our minds – and let us intercede for our nation.

insanity-of-godAbout 33 years ago, my best friend’s sister and brother-in-law planted a seed in my heart. It wasn’t planted through preaching or religious discussion. It was planted by simply sharing the love of God through a generosity of spirit I had never experienced before. I wasn’t family. I was Catholic, and they were Baptist. I wasn’t theirs – but they shared a Jesus love that made me feel like I was.

This young couple made a life out of showing others the love of Jesus through their words and actions as missionaries in Africa. If they’d just written their own story, it would be an inspiring read of God’s love poured out, of heart-stopping challenges faced, and of God’s sweet grace redeeming that story. But it’s not just their story they tell.

For years, Ripkin delivered aid in Somaliland, a country that persecuted Christians to extinction. Persecution, though, doesn’t always come in the form of government sanctioned faith intolerance. Cancer, an automobile accident, heart disease, drug and alcohol addiction, peanut allergies, a hapless accient? A life taken too soon? Aren’t those satan’s tools of persecution? Persecution is always designed to separate you from God. For the Ripkins, their 16-year-old son died of an asthma attack one Easter Sunday.

“You can only grow in persecution what you go into persecution with” ~The Insanity of God.

After this grievous loss, they return to Kentucky to regroup. In the regrouping, they didn’t lose faith. Rather, they wondered how Christians in persecution can thrive. What could they do to better help Christians in persecution? The quest for these answers leads them to Russia, the Ukraine, and China where he meets Christians who have lived through persecution for their faith.

Nik Ripkin’s book  The Insanity of God, a True Story of Faith Resurrected isn’t just an autobiography. Their story is the vehicle that brings us some very powerful stories of faith not just sustained but growing and overflowing through suffering.  After they returned from Africa to regroup, Ripkin goes first to Russia, then the Ukraine, then to China listening to stories of Christians whose faith not only thrived in persecution, but planted seed into others.

Billy Graham once said, “If you want to change someone’s life, tell a story.” In the movie – and more in the book, are stories upon stories of Christian fathers who risked much for God. Some started reading the bible to their family because their fathers did. They would read and sing praise songs to God behind the locked doors and windows of their houses. Inevitably, a neighbor would hear and ask if they could come listen to the stories and praise God, too. One neighbor would grow to a house full – standing room only – often 75 people. That’s when the father who started out reading would be arrested and jailed – maybe 3 years maybe 20, maybe killed.

I couldn’t put down Ripkin’s book. When the movie came out in September, I took as many of my sons as I could gather to watch. They went, not because they wanted to. As a matter of fact, they would probably tell you I dragged them there. They didn’t want to go.

I explained to them that these people, Ripkin and his wife,  over 33 years ago changed how I loved others – they planted a God-seed that showed me how to love others beyond my family, beyond my best friends, beyond those easy to love. I was a better parent, friend, neighbor, person because of that seed they planted and that others watered. So they piled into the theater seats to watch The Insanity of God because I asked and asked and asked. Really, I felt God telling me not to back down from the asking.

The Insanity of God was meaningful – no gimmicks, no games – just real life stories of fathers who suffered persecution because one day, they simply started reading bible stories to their sons around their kitchen table. Or maybe they smuggled bibles, a death sentence in some countries.

Real men who were just ordinary fathers, like one who told his sons he would rather they die declaring their faith under persecution than to live denying Christ.

Real, ordinary men who went to prison for three years or decades because they wouldn’t recant – real men, ordinary men suffering in heinous circumstances because their love of God was stronger than their hate for their circumstances.

Could you say to your son, “It is better to die than to deny Christ?”

Would you risk your children and wife being killed in order to let others know about Christ?

Ripkin says, “Before we can grasp the full meaning of the Resurrection, we first have to witness or experience crucifixion. If we spend our lives so afraid of suffering, so averse to sacrifice, that we avoid even the risk of persecution or crucifixion, then we might never discover the true wonder, joy and power of a resurrection faith. Ironically, avoiding suffering could be the very thing that prevents us from partnering deeply with the Risen Jesus.”

For years, I’ve heard, “Where are the men in the church today?” Where?

I’ve wondered what happened to the young men who came to youth for gimmicks and games?

The Insanity of God doesn’t directly address these questions, but the answer, I believe, is there – in each story Ripkin shares with us. Gimmicks and games didn’t entice individuals to knock on their neighbor’s door to hear about God.

It was simply the word of God, praise and prayer that brought one person, then another and another, until one day there were 75 – and then they were imprisoned because a house bursting with God couldn’t hide itself.

“Don’t ever give up in freedom what we would never have given up in persecution! That is our witness to the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ” ~ The Insanity of God.

Maybe it’s the growing intolerance of Christian faith and values in our own country that caused these collected stories to resonate.  These stories stoked hope, faith and courage within me because persecution didn’t stamp out God – it multiplied God to overflowing.

The crew that went with me to the theater to watch the movie? Each was deeply moved. The 24 year old, the 21 year old, the 18 year old – each one called it, “Amazing.”

The 18 year old, he explained it to his brother who hadn’t gone like this: “I didn’t want to go – but, honestly, Christian, it was amazing.”

“It was amazing” – said the boy, who just like his brothers, eschew youth groups of today that use gimmicks and games to entertain youth into hearing the word of God.

“It was amazing” – said the boy, who just like his brothers, want real, meaningful conversation, real, meaningful bible study.

Thirty-three years after that short basement seed-planting meeting, that night in the theater, that couple planted God-seeds again – this time into two of my sons’ and this sweet daughter-in-law’s life.

“We desperately want our western brothers and sisters in Christ to realize that the greatest enemy of our faith today is not communism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Atheism, or even Islam. Our greatest enemy is lostness. Lostness is the terrible enemy that Jesus commissioned His followers to vanquish with the battle strategy that He spelled out for them in Matthew 28:18–20. He was addressing this same enemy when He plainly clarified His purpose in coming: ‘I have come to seek and to save those who are lost.’ ” ~Nik Ripken, The Insanity of God: A True Story of Faith Resurrected

For more information on The Insanity of God Simulcast, click here.

 

 

whitehall114

My Annual Ghost story, part of it passed down from Cousin Nancy, mixed with a story from my newspaper days. Pull your chair up to the fire, set your hot apple cider on the table, wrap the quilt around your shoulders. You wouldn’t want an unthinking draft to create a chill:

“One need not be a chamber to be haunted,
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place”
~ Emily Dickenson

The October day blustered its way to a stormy evening.  It was hard to tell what element bullied more – the wind or the rain spitting at anything in its way.  Baschum Sluckert slid down the wet oak tree, answering the coded call of Snuff Sparks.

Soggy leaves muffled their footsteps as they maneuvered through blackness down Boonesborough Road to the dilapidated manor house – their courage looking less promising with each wet step.

What could cause two 12-year-old boys to wander about on not just a forsaken, chilled night but All Souls’ night? A time it was whispered that all restless souls of evil character roamed free by the devil’s own decree until the saints sent them packing back to the netherworld the following sunrise?

Only a dare, of course.

Adley Bancroft, with his overly large head and punishing fists, had taunted them in nursery rhyme sneer that they weren’t men – they were just girls in boy pants needing their mamas to kiss their booboos and hold their hands.

Baschum and Snuff mustered up enough courage to be baited – and here they were. On their way to the abandoned Clay mansion up the road.  Back in their grandpa’s day, it had been a real showplace housing Cassius Clay, the notorious Lion of White Hall. Why, he had wrestled in political arenas from Russia to Kentucky.  He’d even wrestled the women folk in his home who wanted the right to vote.  So word said, he’d kicked them out, like an annoying cat.

Cassius Marcellus Clay

Adley’s ma and pa used the house now to strip tobacco in November and store hay through the winter.  Adley’s ma had found a statue, stuffed in a piano topped with salt licks for storage. The statue was a bust of old Cassius himself – and that’s what Adley had taunted them into taking. Not just taking it, though.  That would be too easy.  They had to stay until sunrise.

Not a soul would be there.  Adley promised.  At least, not a living one, he had snickered.

Snuff, breaking the quiet as they walked up the lane to the house, adjusted his back sack carrying a blanket and some marshmallows.  He asked “D’you believe in ghosts, Baschum?”

“’Course not,” Baschum answered, his courage insulted.  Sluckerts don’t get scared – he’d been taught that all this life.  At least, not the smart ones. “Besides, no ghost’s gonna bother me, even if’n that old Cassius himself steps out on that porch packin’ a rifle.  No misty piece of air’s gonna best me.”

“Adley said he locked his 14-year-old wife into his tie room, so she wouldn’t run away,” Snuff said.

“Don’t listen to nothing Adley says, Snuff.  Hes just tryin’ to get your dander in an uproar.”

“Adley said she jumped out of the window and some man on a horse carried her away.  Otherwise, she would’ve starved in that room.”

“She wouldn’t have, Snuff,” Baschum said, sticking his sweaty palms deeper into the pockets of his overalls, trying to stare down the white full moon.  The moon had an unfair advantage; it never blinked.  Sighing, he gave up, turning to see Snuff pointing frantically to the house.

“What’s th-that?” Snuff’s whispered.

A light blazed in an oval window, then vanished.

“That’s the room he kept her in Baschum. Adley said so,” Snuff reasoned.

“Now don’t let Adley go putting that fear in your head.  He don’t know beans with his head in the bag.  It was probably just him tryin’ to scare us,” Baschum calmly assured Snuff, albeit in a voice an octave higher.

Tugging Snuff’s arm, they moved up the brick sidewalk to the porch.  Rattling the door knob, the door opened easily. Earlier that day, they had gathered kindling for a fire in the hearth and cased the house to dispel any unwonted fears.

‘Anybody home?” Baschum called warily.  Black silence answered.  “C’mon, Snuff.”

‘Two hours later they were wrapped in blankets, roasting marshmallows in the front parlor.

“See.  There’s nothin’ to be frightened of Snuff.  Nothin’ here but us chickens,” Baschum laughed, his giggles rolling to echo beyond the parlor.

Suddenly, Baschum stopped laughing.

Chills shimmied up Baschum’s spine as the door beyond them creaked like leather.  His heart juggled up his throat.  Something rubbed against his back.

“Meow,” a cat trilled, stopping to sit by Snuff.

In disgust, Baschum spit into the fire.  Snuff spit.  The cat spit, too.

The cat looked at Snuff.  Snuff looked at Baschum, and Baschum looked at the cat.

“I don’t like this none,” Snuff whispered, his blue eyes wide as a meat dish.

“It’s just a cat,” Baschum said, bravado filling his voice.

“A black cat,” Snuff reminded in a hoarse whisper.

Baschum boldly picked up the cat, walked to the front door by the stairs, and threw the cat out.

Shutting the door, he turned around to the sound of furniture scraping across the upstairs floor and what-knots falling.

“It’s just Adley?” Snuff asked, hopefully.

Baschum didn’t say anything, just sat back down, pulling his blanket tight about.  The only thing upstairs that afternoon had been hay.

When nothing else happened, both boys stretched out, falling into a chilly doze.  Quiet – a heavy quiet resounded within.  The fire crackled comfortingly.

Snuff sleepily opened his eyes – to look directly into a pair of yellow-green eyes.  Hypnotic yellow-green eyes.

Frantic blue eyes turned to Baschum.  “I thought you put him out,” Snuff asked, nervousness edging his voice.  The cat just sat there, across from him, staring.

“I did.”

Baschum looked at the cat.  The cat looked at Snuff, and Snuff looked at Baschum.

The cat turned to the fire – and spit into the burning embers, causing it to hiss.

Baschum grabbed the cat, stomped to the door, opened it and tossed the cat into the spitting, blustery wind of the night.

Bang!

A door slammed within the bowels of the house.  Snuff lurched for the poker by the hearth as Baschum turned to look up the stairs.

Violin music wafted softly from the darkness above.

“C’mon Snuff.  We’re gonna give Adley the what for.”

whitehall300b_edited-1Moving quietly, they climbed the stairs.  At the landing, they listened at each door, trying to catch Adley. A pounding, thump, thump, thumping drew them to a room they had noticed early that afternoon.  A room trimmed in blue.

“One, two, three,” Baschum whispered before both boys slammed open the door.  No Adley. Just emptiness and a violin without strings.

“He must’ left somehow,” Baschum reasoned, not quite believing it himself.

Shoulder to shoulder in fright they walked back downstairs, practically holding their breath.

“Let’s just get that bust and leave,” Snuff offered. “I’ve had enough of this place.”

Sniffing, Baschum agreed. “It’s in what used to be the dining room.  At least that’s what Adley said.”

Walking carefully, quietly, they moved through the house until they came to a room used for stripping tobacco.

In a corner was a chipped, dusty bust of Cassius Clay.

Picking it up, they headed back to the parlor.

Looking into the room, they saw a little boy peering vacantly into the fire.  They blinked. And he was gone.

“I don’t like this Baschum.  I say let’s get out of here,” Snuff said shakily.

 Rolling up their blankets, they started to leave when out of the corner of their eye, they watched a black cat move to sit in front of the fire. “Mmmmerrrrrrr,” the cat growled looking at them, seeming to tell them to get out. Then the cat turned, spitting into the fire.

Screaming, Baschum and Snuff took off running, Snuff carrying the bust.

As they ran down the driveway, they saw a light flicker in the tie closet window above.  Horse’s hooves clopped, gaining speed as it neared.

Snuff dropped the bust.  A piercing keening sound echoed behind them as the head severed from the base, rolling to land by the gates.

Reaching, searching in pitch black night, Baschum grabbed what he could and ran. By Jove, he was not going to let Adley and the others think he had failed.  The base was better than nothing, and he just did not have the time nor the courage left for both.

whitehall1014Baschum and Snuff? They never returned. Not even years later when the great mansion was renovated, and its polished doors opened to tourists.

There is a bust of Cassius clay, the notorious Lion of White Hall, having been knocked off its base and reset.

Ghosts?  Even today it is whispered that footsteps can be heard on the staircase, doors mysteriously slam and a light appears in the tie closet of Cassius Clay.

A great ambassador who fought for the emancipation of slaves, he was also the father of Laura Clay who fought for women’s rights alongside Susan B. Anthony.  She was the first woman ever to be nominated by a political party (1920 Democratic National Convention) for president of the United States.

I collected information on White Hall State Shrine in 1984 for a Haunted House Series written for The Richmond Daily Register.  The Lion of White Hall was written shortly after.

The black cats were handed down from “Cousin Nancy,” my grandmother’s paternal aunt, Nancy Wills Chenault.  When Cousin Nancy came to visit (the last time was when I was 6 years old), everybody waited with great anticipation for her storytelling.  They would turn off the lights, light a fire in the big fireplace – and settle in.  I only remember 3 black cats spitting in the fire.  3 black cats without a story – is just a story waiting to be told.  I hope Cousin Nancy would like the home I found for them. 

Ghosty stories are great fun – at least the old-fashioned kind where it’s all really just a matter of mind over matter – or maybe faith over mind over matter. Often, what instills our fear is trumped-up worry, where things on the outside become stronger than things on the inside. Poor Baschum and Snuff – they were sneaking around, going places they shouldn’t – and the vapors of that behavior created a ghosty story – out of thin air.

Growing up in an over 200 year old house, I finally decided that God wouldn’t allow a ghost to scare me to death – and so everytime I climbed upstairs at night, in the seemingly ancient dark, He walked with me, my shield, my fortress and my deliverer – in the tangible and in the mind over matter.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Dueteronomy 31:6)

Of course, it helps if you’re not sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night trying to steal the bust of the Lion of White Hall in an abandoned house.

 

azalea16_edited-1

“The more one judges, the less one loves” ~Honore de Balzac (1799-1850)
“If you judge people, you have no time to love them” ~ Mother Teresa 

(I’ve worked on this since the azaleas bloomed. It was wanting finishing before the snow trees come. So the zinnias and tomatoj plants are pulled up and the burning bushes trimmed back, and the morning glories are untangled and summertime is pulled out of the gardens, I sat down to finish my rambling azalea story poem.).

shadows on an azalea blossom

Innocent azaleas dressed in white sidle
next to antebellum snowballs,
whose only job is to separate its charges
from a soldierly column of raucous
purple-bearded irises.
blue African daisies daintily sway
to a cool wind in the shadow of grandmother’s
Spider’s Wort and evening primroses that daily close
their shops after afternoon tea time.

from my porch all I see
are the best of themselves
wearing the prettiest colors
basking leisurely in a spring
sun

from my porch, I sit tangled
in spider webs and outside dust,
disorganized leavings of boys
in a rush, and the mess
of my own imperfection.
the view from this mess I’m sitting in,
is of all those living in my garden looking like
they’ve got it made, looking like
they’re living a garden variety
dream.

from my porch, I could think
how unjust
their advantage
a free privilege
to be created so effortlessly
lovely, so effortlessly
graceful, so effortlessly
blessed.

I could think it
unseemly
to be given more
abundant beauty
than others.
I could think it
unsporting
my toiling
the weeding, the feeding, the loosening
of soil for optimum growth,
for they don’t appear
to really do anything
except live their daily in
a fairy tale existience
while I live a messy chaos
and cobwebs existence on my
porch.

I could think simmering thoughts
that whistle and steam
hot enough to burn
others if not handled with care,
releasing it’s-not-fair mosquita rants that reach
to my fingertips that itch
to tear my garden neighbors
out – all root, stem and purple,
yellow, and pink petals of them.
I sat there, watching,
all the while whistling, steaming, itching
Until one morning, I stepped
off
my porch

I moved, drawing close
close, close enough to capture
their garden glamour with
my camera.
closer, closer, close I moved
near to know,
really know them
better
to know them better.

I drew close and saw
petal skins creased
and shadows that marred.
I drew close and found
truth conflicting with
my self-inflicted
myopic perception
I saw because I spent
time seeking intentional
truth
where they live.
I saw that my porch view
gulled me into unfair
judgement
or had my own jealousy
seduced me there.

All the garden flowers, not just
the azaleas,
had their own shadows to deal
with, marring their daily with heated
challenges, potentially spoiling
the impact of their God-designed
story.
I wondered whether other
flowers talked among themselves,
if when the winds blew them
close enough, they saw
the shadows, too.

Did they come close, close
closer to betray confidence for
morning glory
spreading knowledge gleaned
of secret sufferings throughout
the garden like pollen
on a blustery day
or did they keep confidences safe
in comforting friendship
protecting, lifting up in a hard wind
or a down pour?

I thought back to
earlier on my porch
to the envious song humming from
my mind to my heart,
a deceptive humming of an envy song
an envy song that spread like morning glories
that creep up vining around unwary branches until bursting
into conquering purple blossoms, declaring victory
while destroying those who extetnded
hopsitality

I didn’t realize. . .
I didn’t know
until I drew close
close, closer still
not only to know my garden neighbors better
but to love not for glory but for love’s sake.
it was there my envy song changed into a
a redemption song of salvation, of blessing,
of a soul saving love song

“In judging of others, a man laboreth in vain, often erreth and easily sinneth; but in judging and examining himself, he always laboreth fruitfully” ~ Thomas a Kempis     

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