A Valentine’s Day divine appointment

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I waited patiently for my friend to arrive.

But she didn’t

because I had the wrong day.

I took a selfie and sent it to my son. I had no idea that soon I would be having a very beautiful conversation!

I took a selfie and sent it to my son. I had no idea that soon I would be having a very beautiful conversation! I was being silly and carefree!

So I sat alone at the restaurant

on Valentine’s Day

wanting to reassure everyone that people do love me, they’re just not here right now…

With little battery power left on my iPhone

I pull out my little journal

The one that I’ve been drawing in

And I grab a pencil and soon some images appear on the paper.

The owner of the restaurant walks by and stops.

He asks me how I like the food.

It was delicious!

What I was working on moments before the man started speaking to me.

What I was working on moments before the man started speaking to me.

And then he asks me what I am doing.

“Are you a poet?” he inquires.

“No, these are words from the Bible” I reply.

“You study the Bible?” his Lebanese accent as flavorful as his cuisine.

I thought I was meeting my friend for lunch –

but now I’m making a friend.

“My priest tells me about Jesus. I go to church. I think what you are doing is very good thing. I have questions. I think my priest makes God sound like a monster. He says things I don’t understand.”

He seems convinced that I am a student. It’s hard for him to believe that I’m a regular person. I tell him I read the Bible every day. I study but I’m not a student. Jesus is very real in my life.

Tucked away in this restaurant, I begin to tell him some of my story. “One day I began reading the Bible for myself. I read from a Study Bible and started in the New Testament. It changed my life. I was never the same. That is a good thing.”

His face is quizzical. We both seem confused about what is happening. Neither of us expected this conversation.

I feel a little embarrassed because I’m not an artist and these aren’t my words.

photo copy 9“Whom have I in heaven but you?” he repeats Psalm 73:25 aloud.

He pauses, I slowly turn a few pages and he says kind things. He tells me it is beautiful. I’m ready to cry.

He asks me if he can get me anything and I touch his elbow and tell him he has already given me so much. I thank him, he turns away. We smile and I tell him, “Bless you.”

I think this man might just start to read the Bible. Maybe God is tugging on his tender heart. I will never know the answer but that’s how it felt within me. The mustachioed man didn’t know that hours before coming to his restaurant, I was walking and praying. “Heavenly Father, if it pleases you, open up opportunities for my life and abilities to honor you.”

God gave me a special Valentine’s Day gift today. I brought my best Friend with me today even though I appeared to be alone. And I did meet a friend after all.

Deciding between Madame Bovary or the Bible

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Defining moments in my life - reading these books, answering this question

Defining moments in my life – reading these books, answering a question

What is the best book you have ever read?

I was asked this question 16 years ago while being interviewed for an article in a business publication.

Two answers swirled around my head.

a. The Bible

b. Madame Bovary

Option A – Upside – A great spiritual answer. Downside – I hadn’t read it entirely. Parts of the Bible, yes, but the whole thing circa 1996, uh, that would be a big fat no.

Madame Bovary is a seriously awesome book.

Madame Bovary is a seriously awesome book.

Option B – Upside – I had read Madame Bovary. In French. In France. Even bought it at a French bookstore. I read every word. Downside – not as impressive.

Briefly I wrestled with the correct answer.

“Don’t say the Bible,” God said.

“You’re lying, Cindy and we both know it. You haven’t read the Bible. Pick the other book.” He thundered a reply…

So I did.

Best book ever read as of 1996 – Madame Bovary.

Today my answer would be different. I loved Madame Bovary. Gustave Flaubert is magnificent. But it was just a book.

I want my faith to soak in my every molecule because of the Author of Life. Today, ask me about the best book I’ve ever read, the only book I’ve ever read and continue to read regularly is – the Bible.

Tuesday I read the first chapter Romans (Romains) as part of the 21-Day Challenge in YouVersion. There is much to glean from this weighty text. Part of verse 16 in the book of Romans jumps out at me.

“Car je suis fier de l’Evangile”

The English version states “I am not ashamed of the Gospel.” In French, it translates to “I am proud of the Doctrine of Christ.”

I’m proud of reading Madame Bovary. In French. In France. Purchased with my very own francs. 😉 It was a big accomplishment.

My soul rests in The Word.

My soul rests in The Word. This is my Journaling Bible which I love because I can write notes in the margin.

But for me, the life-changing book is Option A. The Bible is no longer an unfinished read on my nightstand. It is my source of wisdom and strength.

My past is decadent and jaded, I was intimidated to open the first few pages of the Bible for fear of great reprisal and judgment. I’m so dumb and was so foolish. But Jesus transformed this woman. I am a different and better person because I delve into Truth. Even in times of instruction, the Lord takes the hand of my heart and leads me to understanding.

The joy and pride I have now reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation surpasses all other words.

If you want to know more about reading God’s Word, check out these resources. Bless you, sweet friends for hearing my life.

When answers are few…

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A dear friend from high school experiences a great loss and then endures another huge tragedy immediately afterward. My head is still reeling from the news of the first sadness and then, bam, another one. Someone please tell me I’m dreaming, this can’t be happening to such kind people! Why, O Lord, why???

The night before I was taking pictures of the amazing black bean quinoa burgers I made. The next morning, I'm seeking Aaron's thoughts on much deeper things. I'm blessed to have a quinoa burger, Jesus loving boy.

Saturday night I took pictures of the amazing black bean quinoa burgers I made. The next morning, I’m seeking Aaron’s thoughts on much deeper things. I’m blessed to have a black bean quinoa burger, Jesus loving boy.

I reach out to my ministry-minded olive shoot who’s a Biblical Exposition major at Moody Bible institute in Chicago.  With a semester of Bible college, surely he can explain why God would allow these things to happen.

He can’t.

Ten minutes later, the pastor is setting up for church. He’s having technical difficulties with the computer, the projector, whatnot. Thankfully we attend a very modest small church so it’s not like we’re having a huge mass of people. I almost didn’t go to church, too vulnerable, I’m too sad.

But where else should I be but among Christ followers who can pray? It is a safe place for emotions.

And I approach the pastor, explain the sorrowful details, imploring him to make sense of it all. Tears flow, it’s hard to talk. Please give me answers, while simultaneously trying to fix the audio-visual issues, because I need them. NOW.

Lord, I don't understand

Lord, I don’t understand

He can’t.

All the human, mortal, flawed people I asked, they couldn’t come up with answers. What really could they say? But they listen and their hearts break. It validates my anguish and I know they will pray for those who are deep in the valley of grief.

I know where I need to go. Before the Lord. Even though it hurts and I might not completely understand. I speak honestly with God, my perfect, trusted Friend. I reach into his Word, I find truth and blessed assurance.

HE can –

heal (Psalm 6)

comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

lighten our darkness (Psalm 18:29)

provide refuge (Psalm 57:1)

strengthen (Psalm 84:4)

When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul. Psalm 94:19

Please Lord, comfort those who mourn today.

Please Lord, comfort those who mourn today.

Watercolor works wonders this Christmas

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Did you give a loved one a very meaningful gift this Christmas? Isn’t it a satisfying feeling? Four of the presents I gave to loved ones fell into the category of little things that mean a lot.

This holiday season I discovered a talented watercolor artist and fellow West Point mom. I admired Janet’s beautiful work on facebook and contacted her. Upon sharing a bit, Janet agreed to the daunting task of painting (in miniature) a time this year when God literally and figuratively used the Hubs and my three olive shoots to save my life.

On Christmas day, after opening all the other presents, I stood in front of my family. With a silly clearing of my throat meant for dramatic effect and levity, I read the cards I had written. The atmosphere in the living room grew from festive to reflective as I became emotional. I’m blessed (and cursed) with very active Lacrimal glands; soon my pajamas became tear-stained.

Fog, rainbow, valley watercolor

Fog, rainbow, valley watercolor

After reading each card, I simultaneously handed the Hubs and my OS their gifts. (Nate received his gift after returning from El Salvador). There were no shrieks of delight, the kind that are often associated with Christmas; these presents summoned brief silence instead. Each painting was similar yet each had a unique touch.

I gave this watercolor to my Soldier.

I gave this watercolor to my Soldier.

Without getting too personal and making things awkward, I’ll share part of my literal journey.

Some of the dense fog I experienced.

Some of the dense fog I experienced.

In the fall, while traveling to Chicago to see my ministry-minded OS Aaron, I drove through miles and miles of hazardous fog. It was the second worst fog I’ve ever encountered. The most terrifying fog was to happen on the way HOME from this trip and it wasn’t the serene, mysterious kind either. There was nothing ethereal and lovely about it, this fog was treacherous and blindingly thick, a wrong tilt of the wheel would result in certain death. And I had precious cargo aboard in both directions – my orange hair, freckle face Ike.  There was no safe way off the highway, I just had to drive through the fog until things cleared. Anxiety still looms in me as I type these words. Had I veered off the highway, we would have plunged deep into the valley below.

Yet during this journey, Ike and I also encountered a rainbow. He saw it first and pointed it out to me. Both the fog and the rainbow are metaphors for other aspects of my life and we’ll just leave it there.

Ike became my living rainbow.

Ike became my living rainbow.

Janet was “commissioned” to combine elements of both the fog and the rainbow into a 2″ x 3″ watercolor (the Hubs’ painting is a bit larger and trust me, he deserved it!).

The Hubs promptly hung his watercolor painting in his office.

The Hubs promptly hung his watercolor painting in his office.

I love this.

I love this.

And this blessed woman unbeknownst to me at the time, not only created paintings for the Hubs and my three olive shoots; she made one for me. I now own an original watercolor which travels to different rooms in my house lest I am unable to see it.

These paintings are small but Janet rendered them magnificently. Though I fancy myself as a thoughtful gift giver, the Lord gets the credit. He provided the backdrop and graciously allowed the Hubs and my three olive shoots to bestow hope and support to me at a time when the valley was dangerously tempting. The Lord created the scenery and granted me insight. Then at just the right time, God carefully provided an artist, someone with whom I share a kindred spirit.

Psalm 31:8

and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy;
you have set my feet in a broad place.

It was a privilege to give these gifts and I’d love to hear about a special gift you gave or received this Christmas. If you are interested in learning more about Janet, contact her at jacruick@yahoo.com.

Counting my blessings

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Aaron post-surgery, no kale but I'm not complaining!

Aaron post-surgery, no kale but I’m not complaining!

A week ago, Aaron had stomach pains and bam, within 24 hours, he was recovering in the hospital from appendix surgery. Although we have been silly and jovial about his speedy recovery, please do not take this as a lack of appre- ciation. I’m a 14 hours’ drive away from my boy. He’s never had surgery and I wasn’t there when that changed. Not known for my calm and demure nature, I was shockingly peaceful although he was in Chicago and I in North Carolina. The Lord used many people to stand in the gap. I have to acknowledge the sweet details God did not overlook.

1. Wisdom – It’s still surprising that my middle OS thought it was worth going to the hospital for abdominal pains. Aaron consulted with his RA, the Hubs and a few buddies and went to the hospital in the middle of the night. With this quick thinking, perhaps Aaron was spared a burst appendix.

Maybe Uncle Rich needs to be hospitalized! ;)

Maybe Uncle Rich needs to be hospitalized! 😉

2. Family – near and far my family rallied around Aaron. My sister, aunt and uncle came to visit him in the hospital. When my family said they would be happy to help if Aaron ever needed anything, they meant it. My cousin’s family reached out to my boy too. This allowed me as a mama to feel connected despite being so far away.  You wouldn’t have known Aaron had surgery a few hours previously, upon their visit, my aunt felt a party-like atmosphere in his room. A sense of celebration filled the air!

3. Humor – Since he was a toddler, I’ve always considered Aaron to be my human tv. He entertains me immensely. This time, however, my ministry-minded OS needed distraction. According to my boy, there were times in the Emergency Room where shrieks of laughter emanated from his room. Most people who go to the ER aren’t particularly jocular, Aaron’s friends made appendicitis kinda sorta fun.

I loved seeing this smiling face4. Testimony – The doctors asked perfunctory questions about Aaron’s personal life. “How much alcohol do you drink on an average week?” they inquired. Aaron’s reply, “I don’t.” They persisted because Aaron’s buddy chuckled at the question. “No seriously, how much do you drink?” the doctor wondered. My middle OS then replied, “I go to Bible college.” The doctor quickly retorted, “That doesn’t have anything to do with the question.” Aaron’s answer was steady and honest. He doesn’t drink. We are NOT perfect people but I delight in times when my family’s testimony is consistent and true.

5. Scripture – Aaron’s friends wrote Scripture verses on the nurses’ orders on the white board. They prayed for and over him and claimed God’s Word as truth. I pray the staff felt the Lord’s presence in his room.

6. Sacrifice – One of Aaron’s friend had just returned from her precious grandma’s funeral. She went right away to the hospital. Another suffered a horrible family tragedy and still wanted to come see Aaron. Incredible and selfless. They were not only concerned about Aaron but about me! I was deeply touched by everyone’s thoughtfulness. His friends were willing to do anything. ANYTHING. Two stayed overnight and helped him in very personal ways. I was in almost constant communication with them and I never had to initiate any conversation.

7. Face time – with my boy, his friends, his doctor, the surgeon. If your college student has an appendectomy, make sure you have an iPhone.

Prune juice and me looking like a chunky monkey

8. Kale and prunes – After surgery, I informed the doctor that Aaron needed kale. They don’t have kale on stand-by at Northwestern Memorial Hospital but I appreciated that the doctors were pro-kale. We also learned that Aaron actually likes prune juice. He appreciated the flavor in addition to its “medicinal” qualities. Huh…

9. Sweetness – I was leaving my own doctor appointment when Aaron’s physician called me to tell me the surgery was successful. “Will you see him in the recovery room?” I inquired. “Yes, I will.” “As soon as you see him, can you tell Aaron that I love him very much?”  There was a smile in the doctor’s voice as he answered, “I’ll be happy to do that.” The surgeon not only cared for Aaron physically but emotionally. A lady in the lobby overheard my conversation and asked me how my boy was doing. Kindness abounded near and far. Aaron recalled the surgeon giving him my message. Love.

10. School – Imagine entire classrooms of college students praying for your child. Imagine a professor beginning a lecture offering up prayers for your kid. That was our experience at Moody Bible Institute. Appendectomies stink but having legions of caring people nearby is cheerful medicine.

As far as I’m concerned, I already have my Christmas gifts. They came to me in the unexpected and most blessed ways.

Five Minute Friday – quiet

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Glamming it up at the lake – NOT

You won’t see me wearing “buds” in my ears when I’m walking or pretending to run around the lake. I have been assaulted in two countries – mugged in Peru and spit upon by a total stranger in France, I like to see and hear things before they approach me. Gotta be watchful after those kind of experiences, trust me.

Instead I enjoy hearing the ducks quack, the white swan bellow and the squirrels skitter. Dogs patter by and of course the people scuffle or rush past me. That’s all the earthly sounds I need.

I enjoy all those sounds but the thing I enjoy most, ironically, is the quiet. I spend a lot of time talking to God on these walks/jogs. Yesterday I logged over six miles around the lake and all the while, the Lord and I discussed life and my struggles. If I had music blasting in my ears, I’m certain I wouldn’t hear his voice. Instead the peaceful surroundings afford me a chance to reflect. To be still even though I’m walking/running if that makes any sense.

These are the sights and sounds I enjoy as I walk around the lake

Contemplative times around the lake

In the quiet, the Holy Spirit gets my attention. He bestows insight and courage. To move forward, to grieve, to heal, to contemplate, I need the quiet. I’ve asked the Lord why He has me going to a lake to exercise. It’s cold outside, not especially picturesque with the trees becoming barren.

And I believe He is telling me He wants to spend time with me alone. Just Father and daughter time.

Five Minute Friday – roots

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Attacking roots

Picking weeds
Attacking roots
Anger, anxiety, bitterness, jealousy, shame, fear
Regrets

Firming rooted in my faith in Christ
I now have the courage to get my hands dirty
Digging deep and hard

childhood home on Roosevelt Road, I did a lot of weeding and dug out many roots

As much as I hate weeding
I do enjoy that satisfied feeling
Grabbing ahold of an ugly, unwelcome root
Victoriously
Knowing it no longer lives where it does not belong

A recent visit to Chicago to drop my middle OS (olive shoot) off at Moody Bible Institute, allowed me to return to my roots.
I visited two of my childhood homes
I do not think it is humanly possible to visit a childhood home without tears

Aaron took some pictures of my home
Cars speeding past as fast as my life
The Hubs took me to my first home as a baby
Pangs of grief but love
Time stood still there

I was relieved and blessed to see my grandparents’ home well manicured. It was sad to go back to my roots but it would have been miserable if it had been in shambles.

Visiting roots, keeping the good
Pulling weeds, removing the bad

Every Friday at 12:01am a few hundred (or is it closer to thousand?) women pop on over to Lisa-Jo’s page to find out what the word of the next 5 minutes will be.

No over thinking.
No editing.
No extreme planning and linking and photographing.
Just FIVE minutes of writing to see what comes out.

Five Minute Friday – VOICE

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It’s a “flash mob” of writers. Every Friday at 12:01am a few hundred (or is it closer to thousand?) women pop on over to Lisa-Jo’s page to find out what the word of the next 5 minutes will be.

No over thinking.

No editing.

No extreme planning and linking and photographing.

Just FIVE minutes of writing to see what comes out.

I wrote this on my kitchen blackboard last night not knowing that today I would be writing about VOICE. I think that is interesting. Thank you, Lord.

It’s not ironic or a coincidence that Five Minute Friday’s writing prompt is VOICE.

Hearing God’s voice can be difficult.

Sometimes it comes to me as thunder.

I’ve learned that Psalm 29 was probably a song. A majority of the song describes the sounds and impacts of a severe thunderstorm. The word “voice” is an ordinary Hebrew word which can also mean sound. These are the notes in my Bible this week.

Like literally thunder. Scary, booming and intimidating.

Other times it’s a soft whisper.

Did you just say that, God?

Are you sure?

Tell me again, please.

A private communication shared by daughter and Father.

I’m in a weekly Bible study and we’re studying Psalms.

This week I’ve been reading contemplating the voice of the LORD.

What that means to me in many ways.

When I was a child and prone to nightmares, the only voice that seemed to soothe me was my father’s voice.

Not an award-winning father, (understatement), my dad’s voice was the perfect blend of stern and caring

Not always, mind you (see above parenthetical comment),

But when the shapes were crashing in around me

Triangles, rectangles and circles whirling toward me like meteorites in my dreams

I really did have those kind of visual nightmares often as a little girl

I was only comforted by his voice

The same is true today

Though I look up and listen heavenward

Through the din and clamor of this world,

I’m inclining my ear to the One who understands and hears me

My moans and aches and prayers

He catches my attention in the way only a Father of the eternal kind can do.

Five Minute Friday – Look

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LOVE this, join us! http://lisajobaker.com

It’s a “flash mob” of writers. Every Friday at 12:01am a few hundred (or is it closer to thousand?) women pop on over to Lisa-Jo’s page to find out what the word of the next 5 minutes will be.

No over thinking.

No editing.

No extreme planning and linking and photographing.

Just FIVE minutes of writing to see what comes out.

Ok, here’s my FMF…

Who knew Ohio could be so scary? Long regarded in my mind as a place of beauty and Americana, nothing prepared me for the treacherous journey the orange hair, freckle face olive shoot and I would have both coming and going to Chicago.

Fog hung in the air like mucus and there was no relief from the patches of blindness. I couldn’t pull over because I couldn’t see any exits and I was terrified to stop my car off the side to the shoulder because I was certain a truck would plow through my vehicle. Only a rail would have possibly shielded Ike and I from driving off the deep ravines but I’m not even certain there was a rail. It was only after telling a friend of my harrowing travels that I learned there was something like this on the stretch of highway. I’ve been driving since I was 16 years old and never been more frightened behind the wheel in my life. (This experience was only matched by the drive back from Moody Bible Institute and I’m not prepared to write about it yet).

My nerves were frazzled and we stopped after the fog had cleared. Hungry and needing a potty break, Ike and I paused at a restaurant at a nearby exit. I had forgotten that we had entered Amish country but judging from the simply clad little boys in the front of the restaurant and the young lady working behind the counter, I soon realized seeing me with my pink highlights surely gave them reason to pray.

Praising God for THIS rainbow in the sky!

As we returned to our car, it was my sweet Ike who pointed in the sky…”Look, Mama! A rainbow!” Sure enough off in the distance that beautiful reassuring arch (not McDonalds!) blazed through the powder blue sky.

I had been seeing gray patches of nothingness that only held fear and pending death. My son had been in the car with me and I was gripped with anxiety. It was when I paused, physically and emotionally, that the Lord provided a symbol of His presence. God knew at just the right time when I needed to see a sign of His glory.

Something NOT to debate about…updated

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I’ve been driving for two days to get to Chicago. I’m exhausted and crabby. Spending two days in an SUV, I can say with great authority, everyone is talking about the debates. I can’t take it anymore. Who’s going to win? What does BHO have to say to the American public? How about WMR, what strategies must he employ to garner the country’s confidence? Blah, blah, blah.

1LT Samuel Van Kopp

As you are listening to the debates tonight (or not), I have a challenge for you. Pray for this guy. According to all sources, including my oldest OS, 1LT Samuel Van Kopp was a gifted orator.

But now this West Point ’10 grad, has been critically wounded. On September 26th, during his tour of duty in Afghanistan, a suicide bomber detonated an explosive-ladened vest. Shrapnel hit Van Kopp in the head.

Frankly, I don’t care what your personal opinions are about the war. Not today. I’m tired and don’t have the patience to argue. We probably agree on many salient points anyway. Considering I have a son who is in the Army and a cousin, an Army Chaplain who just returned from Afghanistan, I’d say my family has a lot of skin in the game. Each time I hear of another casualty or serious injury of someone serving in harm’s way, I sink literally. Part of being a West Point mom is the tragic realization that these things hit very close to home and heart and will get even closer as my 2LT and his buddies set to deploy in the near future.

When I hear of a West Point grad being killed or injured, I always ask Nate, “Do/did you know this person?” His voice is heavy and somber as he replies and sometimes sadly I must offer yet another condolence to my young olive shoot. This time when I asked about Sam, Nate said, “he was a really good debater.”

Lord, please sustain and restore this young man to full function for your glory and honor.

As I listened endlessly to BOTH sides speak about the debates, Sam came to my mind. I sprinkled in a sermon, an audio book, a few songs and a smattering of bickers with my orange hair, freckle face OS too for good measure. But I kept thinking of Sam each time I heard the word “debate.” How about if we all prayed for Sam and his family each time we hear the word “debate” in the coming days? Pray for Sam and his family. His mom is like me. She has three sons! Surgery is planned for Friday at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., to remove pieces of Van Kopp’s skull from his brain.

God bless you and heal you, Sam. May you feel Jesus’ presence with you at this very moment and be reminded that the God of All Comfort is your Rock, the Great Physician and your ever present help in times of trouble. Amen

For more information about 1LT Van Kopp, click here. Here’s a more current update. Praise the Lord 1LT Van Kopp is improving.

Also, if you are so inclined and have words of encouragement for Sam and his family, send them here…

Get-well cards, starbucks cards (for mom) and letters to for 1 Lt Sam Van Kopp, USMA 2010.
Walter Reed Army Medical Center
8901 Wisconsin Ave
Bethesda, MD 20889 under the address put:
1 Lt Sam Van Kopp, Building 10, Ward 4 East