My Headache Broke in the Middle of the Night

It’s a great story, really, involving a dream of six young African girls whom I’ve never met, and their prayers.

I have this “condition” I guess you’d call it, which the doctors refer to as “cluster headaches.” Think of migraines that come along in, well, clusters in terms of timing. Back in March I had two of them that lasted three or four days each, with a couple of days in between.

And then an unusual 23-day, incessant headache from which there was no relief. My doctors tried everything from tweaking medications to all the go-to treatments. Anything short of cutting off my head, which I figured would solve one problem but might create a few others.

Both of my doctors, each great believers, were praying for me, as was my wife. She has the capacity to keep on when some might give up. Some folks in my church were praying, and some friends in Texas, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Florida, Georgia, Missouri, New Jersey (yes, they pray there), California, South Carolina, and, as it turns out, at least one other place…

Hard to believe it, but I actually meet folks from time to time who have never had a headache. “What?” I respond. “Have you never run headlong, full-speed, into another human being in a football drill, practicing for such an incident in a real football game?” (Fact: in ten years of “organized” football, I never had a head-on collision with an opponent. But that’s just me.) I’m just saying that headaches have been part of my life since I was a young fellow.

On that Monday the headache was as bad as it had been during the 23 days. Prednisone had not helped, and the Durable Medical Equipment supplier had sworn they couldn’t fill the prescription for oxygen as written by the doctor, so that what they gave me actually damaged my nostril (good grief!). I went to bed Monday night with a bad headache and wondering what would happen. I was going to be referred to the UNC Headache Clinic the next day.

I somehow went to sleep that night. I was lying on my left side, the side of the headache. Early in the night, I think, I began to dream. I say it was early because this dream seemed to repeat itself many, many times. I’ve tried to describe it like this: have you ever had a dream that was like you were obsessing over something? Something you just could not let go? This was like that. I may have even awakened a time or two and then returned to the dream. Anyone? (I haven’t had any takers yet…)

The dream was of six young African girls, and they were standing in kind of an irregular circle, and they were praying. Each would pray in turn, and when each would pray, it was like a layer of something was being placed on a table or something. Then the next would pray, and a layer would be placed. And on, and on. When the sixth had prayed, the cycle would start again.

Until one time, as I watched (there was no indication that they had any idea that I was watching, nor was there any particular indication that they were praying for me), the cycle progressed and the sixth girl prayed and the layer came down to the table, and I knew it was done and that my headache was gone. This was in the dream.

And I awakened from my sleep. And my headache was gone. I looked at the clock: 1:30 a.m.

I lay there for a while reveling in the no-headache zone and then shook Windy awake. She prayed for me and we praised the Lord for a while, and then drifted back off to sleep. That was some happy sleep; I was rejoicing!

My alarm went off at 5:10 a.m., and I got up to let the dog out and feed her. Did a couple other things and then went to get my glasses and my phone. I noticed a text message from my cousin, in Florida, at 1:25 a.m.: “Hey brother! I’m up, praying for you. How are those headaches?” I refer you to the 1:30 a.m. comment of a few lines above…

Later that morning when I was talking to Bubba, that’s my cousin, he told me that the day before he had been praying, “Lord, some of my friends are always talking about how they see you or they see you do things like heal people or find them parking places or stuff like that and, well, I haven’t seen any of that, and I don’t need to see any of that but sometimes I think it might be nice, but I don’t need to…”

He said when I’d sent him the text telling him about the timing of me waking up without a headache, he praised the Lord and said he told Him “You know Lord, sometimes a boy just likes to see his Dad show off a little!”

Later in the day Windy and I were talking to a friend to whom Windy had already told the story, and this friend said, “Well, you know who those little girls are. They are some of the students at the orphanage in Kenya that y’all support with the wood choppin’!”

Hit me like a log in the head.* I hadn’t thought of it like that.

I shared that with Tom, one of my fellow wood choppers, who is also one of the previously mentioned doctors, and he said it had occurred to him, too.

Ephesians 3:20 indicates that God has resources working that we have no idea of, that we can’t even fathom. We were, I was, frustrated with all the things that didn’t work, but God was more interested in growing my faith than anything else. He used the prayers of my cousin/brother Bubba in the middle of the night, and undoubtedly the prayers of the children of MFangano Island to come to my aid. I never would have thought of any of that! We have a resourceful God. I am thankful…

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us… — Eph. 3:20 ESV

*One Saturday morning a few years ago when we were out splitting firewood (see the “wood choppin’” link above), a ~60 lb. log popped off the hydraulic splitter and hit me in the head. I’ve written elsewhere about that, but the short version is that I think it killed me for a few seconds or a few minutes, during which I may have been closer (duh) to the Lord Jesus than ever, and self-resuscitated when I hit the ground. I owe much to the children of Mfangano Island, in particular those at Gethsemane Garden Christian Center.

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A Log Hit Me in the Head

I know. That really sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

A fairly typical Saturday morning. Blueberry pancakes for breakfast. It was Autumn, so these blueberries came from our stash of frozen “fresh” from the outside garage freezer. This is a weekly ritual, you might say.

Tom picked me up around 8:10, as usual, so we could make it out to the “wood lot” by 8:30 to meet Jack.

Windy had a meeting at the church at 9:00 as the women’s organization of which she is a member was hosting a crowd from around the state for the day. It was planned as a fun but intense day for her.

Out at the wood lot, we were splitting some hardwoods for our ‘Fangano Firewood, uh, thing. Not sure what to call it, really. People give us these hardwood trees that we go and cut up, haul back to our lot, and split into firewood pieces ready for seasoning and then burning. We split and stack the wood back at our place so it can season there. Usually by word of mouth, folks hear about us and call either Tom or me and ask for a load of firewood. We take them a load of wood in a pickup truck and stack it for them. Then we direct them to our web site that tells them about Gethsemane Garden Christian Center, an orphanage we support in Kenya. We ask them to click the “DONATE” button on the site, and send whatever they think the firewood is worth to the orphanage. It’s between them and the Lord from there.

This particular Saturday morning I was operating the hydraulic splitter that is powered by a Briggs & Stratton engine. It basically makes the same noise as a lawn mower. The action of the splitter squeezes a log under about 30 tons of torque onto a steel triangular-shaped blade, and that splits the log. Jack was using a splitting maul to split some logs, with his back to me, and Tom was stacking some wood, also with his back to me.

It’s really something when guys can be out in the woods doing things that are mostly mindless. It’s such good thinking time. To me, it’s when what is in me tends to run through me, and turn around and run back through me the other direction, and then reverse fields again. And my thoughts might run from college years when I was a young believer and football season, particularly in the autumn months, all the way to scout trips with my boys just a few years back. Windy and I didn’t miss many Autumns at Windy Gap, Young Life’s camping property near Asheville, and I think about that a lot.

So, being out there, but alone with one’s thoughts, is a gift.

All that was going on that Saturday morning, as it had many, many Saturdays before.

And then…

I operated the lever on the splitter, as usual. Normally, the action was immediate: operate the lever, the log splits. BAM!

This time, however, I had placed the sixty-ish pound log on the splitter, operated the lever, and I guess I could have counted, one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand.

The log EXPLODED off the splitter, without splitting. So, sixty pounds under thirty tons of torque, this log hits me in the head.

First of all, I never saw it coming, of course. Second, I’ve never taken a lick that hard in my LIFE!

I began to understand that one’s brain can process many thoughts simultaneously. Here are those thoughts I think I was processing at the time. I’m actually not joking about any of these things now:

1) This thing has killed me. I am dead. Not “he died peacefully at home, surrounded by his family.” Just here in the woods with Jack and Tom.

2) Oh no! Windy and the boys. And their wives.

3) But, Lord, You are here. I am with you and it is so beautiful. I am thankful and feel so loved and you are so wonderful. If I am with you, then Windy and the boys and everyone will be ok.

I really was enjoying being dead. Does that sound crazy? Oh well. Have you met me?

Next thing I know, I’m lying on the ground. I pulled my red bandana from my hip pocket and held it to a place just above my left eye; there was lots of blood. I propped up on my left elbow and tried to raise my voice above the noise of the splitter to get Tom’s attention. I finally did and said, “I think I’m gonna need your help.” I wasn’t anxious. I was still having the most fun with the Lord! I was quite at peace.

Tom was not. Now, he’s a doctor, so he did all the doctor stuff, and he called the ER where he knows everybody and told them he was bringing me in. He had a roll of paper towels and brought those from the truck and that showed me how much blood was coming out of my head. Lots!

At the ER, I told Tom I should probably get rid of those paper towels so we wouldn’t scare children or anyone, but he said, “No, make sure they see blood, it’ll get you in faster!” (There may be a metaphor there?)

But faster wasn’t a problem. I think they had a team of eight folks there waiting for us. They were all anxious, or at least they were buzzing around as if they were. I was trying to take it all in, and asking, “Now, how are you today? Where are you from? Who are your people? I’m gonna pray for you!” I wanted, so much, for those folks to feel as loved as I felt. Crazy, right? Then, everybody just sort of backed out of the room except for the nice nurse who brought some of those warm blankets, and I sat on the side of the bed (didn’t want me to lie down) just covered in those warm blankets having the best time with the Lord for quite a long time. It was great. Then they came and did a few more things, and at that point Tom’s wife had somehow reached Windy and she walked into the room. It was great and perfect.

After it was all said and done, with all the scans and x-rays, the results were that there were no broken bones and not even a concussion. There was a really sweet cut above my eye, probably where the log jammed my glasses into the skin there. We found the glasses out there the next day.

We have never found that log. My theory is that you can see that sucker orbiting the Earth just above Whispering Pines, NC, on a crisp Autumn night. Either that or something else.

Tom tells me that the children of the orphanage at Gethsemane Garden pray for us because they know we support them in our small way. O Lord, thank you for using their prayers in our lives. They are your true Saints.

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Hidden Things

March/April 1998

I read this book about some fellows in the 4th century who went out into the desert to be totally alone for years at time. Each would find a place where there would be no other people to be around or to talk with. The discipline they chose was one of silence and solitude. One of the fellows, a priest, stayed out for twenty years one time. They said that when he came back, he seemed to have learned the art of ceaseless prayer, and that his peace was like a large room into which others could be invited.

I desire that in my life.

Hurry, crowds, and noise seem to be the enemies of peace, that’s for sure. Noise is probably more than phones ringing and horns blowing. Noise is probably those things, but also the constant dialogue in our minds that will not let us rest. I say “us” because I just assume, well, that we all…you know…whatever…

If all of us went to the desert to get some peace, the desert would become a crowded place. That may not be the answer to our search… There must be a place we can go that gets us away from hurry, crowds, and noise.

So, I guess we need to find the desert within us. Have you met many people who’ve found that place?

Maybe we need to be led there in order to find it. Maybe it helps to be led there by someone who knows the way.

The carpenter’s son, a rabbi, claimed that he was the way. For years this traveling preacher wandered the highways of Israel and Samaria, inviting others into his peace. Miracles followed him, certainly, though he seemed to work those simply from a place of deep compassion. The peace he promised often came quietly to those with whom he spent time.

As He allowed them to put him to death on a tree, he offered to take all their noise with him to the grave. When he rose three days later, the noise was left behind.

This year I plan to ask Him to take my noise to the grave and leave it there. Shall we ask him together?

“Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.” (John 14:27)

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If Nobody Does

I missed one yesterday. I think I missed almost the same one Sunday. I hate when that happens.

Those “Nudges,” you know. I know where they come from. I know that the Source of these Nudges is smarter, more competent than me. But I, sometimes, consciously decide that I have a better idea. So I miss saying yes to the Nudge.

Yesterday I was in the Post Office. I’ve been in there so much lately I feel like I should know the people standing in line. A lady behind me had a big box she was kicking along the floor as we all moved toward our turn at the window. This person in front of me had a really cool, leather backpack. I’d never use something like that, but I kinda wanted one.

I’m standing in line at the Post Office, see. A bunch of my fellow town folks are there. We have work to do. We are MAILING STUFF! I was also to buy ten stamps.

Ok, this is really just a mundane activity. Roughly half of the men and women in line there never make eye-contact or speak to anyone else. In the midst of all that mundane-ness, almost out of nowhere, this happened…

In the Post Office, over the speakers recessed in the high ceilings, came the most beautiful rendition of a majestic Christmas hymn! At once my eyes focused on the speakers, but my poor little heart was immediately warmed by the sense of fullness this carol brought to the room. And I was Nudged to do something! Something I knew I really didn’t want to do. It was a simple thing I was Nudged to do. I should have just done it. I should have just spontaneously raised my hands. It sounds so simple now, but I reckon I was worried about what other folks — my fellow town members — might think, or how they might react. I didn’t do it. I didn’t raise my hands.

I actually wanted to do it. I have done it at times, but only times that my surroundings might have made such a thing more appropriate. Like in church, right?

Remember when I mentioned I’d missed almost the same nudge on Sunday? I was in church then. We were kneeling and the choir was tuning up before the service (I think that’s when it was), and I felt that Nudge to raise my hands. Same concern, same non-action on my part.

So, late yesterday afternoon I was driving downtown and I thought about my failure in the Post Office. I was apologizing to the Holy Spirit for missing the Nudge. Then I remembered how I felt in the P.O. I remember standing there not raising my hands, but wondering if the others in there had noticed the music. I thought, “What if everybody in here, and all over the world just stopped once in a while and, with full hearts cast their eyes toward Heaven and, yeah, raised their hands?!

You know, I’ve heard that “waves upon a shore were begun somewhere way across the ocean when a butterfly flaps its wings.” I don’t know if that’s true, but I do think something seismic might happen if we all raised our hands. Something would probably happen to gravity, or the winds might shift or something.

But now I realize this: hand raising isn’t the issue. The Nudge is the issue. Or better, learning to obey the Nudge is probably the thing. The reason is that the Nudge is really a call. Listen to this (or, read it…): The Nudge is a call from Jesus. Now, if Jesus called me on my phone, if I looked down and saw “JESUS” on my Caller ID, I probably wouldn’t just let it go to voicemail, would you? I’d tap the green button or swipe right, right?

“But don’t be botherin’ me about raisin’ my hands, hear?” I would not be, and you would not be saying that. “I’m the Lord,” he might say. “I just wanted to see if you’d do the hand-raising thing. I wanted you to feel what it’s like to follow the Nudge, because I love you. Something bigger is coming, and I want you to be ready. It’s the little things, you know…”

I’ve heard “it’s the little things” all my life, haven’t you? I confess that more than a little trouble comes from cutting the corner thinking it’s OK to “skip the little things.” Big mistake; huge.

Don’t move on, Lord (“Master”). I want to obey the Nudge. I know that will help me be closer to you, sense more of your presence. Please give me another chance. I’ll even raise my hands in public. I really will. I’ll also speak to that person, make that phone call, respect the dignity…

What is the current Nudge in your life? Jesus is always calling, always. He wants your attention, and mine. Would you sit still for three minutes (3) and ask him for a Nudge? It’ll probably be something you wouldn’t predict. That’s the fun of it. He’ll Nudge you not because he needs you, but because He. Loves. You. Will you ask him? And then, follow that Nudge, and then let’s talk about it. I love to hear what he’s asking of others. It encourages me.

See, everybody won’t raise their hands. But if nobody does, nobody will. Are you in?

Peace, friends,

Mike

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And then one day…

On the occasion of my sixty-second birthday, Ill try to tell this story that is about my sixty-first year. Some craziness was forming the background for some deeper diving I needed to do with God. Remind me to say more about the deep diving later.

I really like birthdays. So many people reach out in so many different ways to let me know they are thinking of me, even if only for a few seconds, on this day. A core value for me is relationships — wish I was better about those — so hearing from folks is a gift to me.

This day, sixty-two years ago, when my mom did most of the work (I was born rear-end first) is a further marker letting me know that Grace is the highest and best principle. Somebody else did all the work to get me here! Mom is still here, living down the street from us. She won’t remember that today is birth-day, but she still smiles when she sees me and when I kiss her forehead.

So, last April I told my doc that that my left ankle was swollen. Bugged me some, but didn’t actually hurt. He said it was probably just old-guy stuff, but sent me for an ultrasound just to rule out anything serious. The ultrasound revealed a DVT — a clot — from behind my knee to as far as they could trace it down into my foot. They sent me over to the imaging place to do some sort of scan, like CT or MRI to check for more clots in my lungs, “b’cause that could be bad.” Thankfully, no clots there. Then they did one of those tests when they put all the little sticky things all over your chest to check your heart. Some abnormalities there. “Let’s do a stress test!” But, you know, they couldn’t put me on the treadmill because of the newly-discovered DVT in my leg, so they did the “chemical” kind of stimulation. That felt really crazy, but the result was, “abnormalities.” So, let’s do a heart cath. That’s where they, as I understand it, run a little camera up through your right wrist, around your shoulder, and across your chest into your heart. Something like that…

“Distal blockages” all down in there in the tiny bottoms of those arteries around my heart. Too tiny down there to treat, but since these blockages were creating some chest pain, I was prescribed some Nitro derivative with a name you can’t pronounce, to keep the pain (I say discomfort) at bay. Cool thing, one of the blockages had already bypassed itself!

I want to tell you the thing about stuff like this: a brother can get discouraged. My cardiologist told me that this wasn’t happening because of anything in my lifestyle, that there wasn’t anything I could have done to prevent this. Just heredity. Maybe he was trying to encourage me. That did help, because in my discouraged frame of mind, I could look only to God to ask, “Okay, what are You doing?”

The new meds helped my discomfort, until it didn’t. It was a few months later that I started having that tightness and shortness of breath and other “pain-ish” feeling in my chest. Back to the cardiologist, yada yada, and back to the Cath Lab. Not much had changed, so they were about to cut me loose again when…

Lying on the hospital bed in the recovery room, I told them I was having that pain-ish feeling again, “like, right now,’ and that it was proceeding up my neck into my jaws. Everybody got all excited right about then and there was suddenly a crowd around me. I was, admittedly, under some kind of “conscious sedation” which, around here, they call “milk of amnesia.” I was not aware, then, that simultaneous to my pain-ish feeling, my heart rate had fallen through the floor. (That’s not good under any circumstances, I now understand.)

Next thing I knew I felt the wind blowing through my hair (such as it is) as some good folks were running my hospital bed back down to the Cath Lab. They grabbed the only Interventional Cardiologist who was free and he went back in with the catheter and attempted to place a stent to give me a little more circulation down there in the bottom of my heart. Unsuccessful attempt, as it turns out, and I left the lab with a stent stuck in the wall of an artery. “Well,” said my doc later in the hospital room, “we’re gonna get a little more aggressive with the medicine, and see if we can’t keep you comfortable.”

Did I mention we had a hurricane that day? Yep.

A month later I was still having some of that pain-ish in my chest, and had met with another Interventional Cardiologist. The good news, he told me, was that it was now October. I could hardly control my excitement. “October 1st,” he explained, “some new tools — smaller catheters and smaller stents — became available, and I think I can get further down in there and get you some relief. If you’re willing, I’d like to try.”

(You’re thinking what I was thinking…that quote from Yoda about “try” vs “do or do not.”)

We scheduled for a week later, and I was back in the Cath Lab for round three. This time, successful. The two stents he placed that day have been helpful in relieving that tight, uncomfortable feeling. And the meds. Blood thinners. I bleed when I just look at a pocket knife. Oh, and there was another hurricane that day. Ain’t makin’ it up.

I read in a book one time that men of a certain age, or Level of Experience (I like to say) begin to notice, to greater and lesser degrees, “the descent into grief.” Grief over lots of things, but the category could be called “Loss.” Like it or not, we all, to greater and lesser degrees, begin to lose stuff as we age. I don’t run anymore as I did in high school. Don’t have the hair I once had. I can’t remember stuff like names or where I left my shoes like I did when I was 40. My good friend is no longer with us. My sons have left home to pursue their dreams, and I miss them.

When I grieve, I find a principle beginning to develop that is really kind of wonderful. There is joy in the grief because the God Of All Hope comes to fill in the holes of what I’ve lost (except for the hair; I still don’t have much hair!) Even with no hair, I’m getting the message that he loves me. (And you.)

I’m accepting that I’m an older guy now. I bump up against things almost daily that I can’t do, or that someone will not let me do. Oh, I’ll be around for another 20-30 years if genetics are anything, and I’ll keep attempting this and that. But God’s Presence is more real to me today, and will be real-er tomorrow, than I’d ever imagined. Check this out:

“Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee.” That’s Psalm 63:3. And this: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11

One day a log hit me in the head. I’ll tell you about that sometime, too. It was fun.

Peace!

Mike

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Thanks For The Lift

I’ve Been There

On the occasion of my parents’ 60-something (sparing the details!) anniversary, I wanted to write some stuff about them. I usually find myself writing about my sons, and talking about them when I’m not writing. Today will be different. I think . . .

We’ve all done this, haven’t we? We think about a situation and imagine ourselves playing a role somehow. When they were little I used to tell the boys (see, there I go) stories from the Book, and I’d put them in the stories. Like this one:

“Once upon a time, a long time ago and far, far away, there were two little boys.” At this point they’d insert their names. “Yes, and they were sitting beside a dusty road with their friend, Bartimaeus. Now Bart was blind…” One of them would insert, “Becausthe, becausthe he, he couldn’t sthee!” Then I’d tell them how a crowd hustled by and someone said that a man named Jesus was in the middle of all the excitement. “And Bart started yelling at the top of his lungs, ‘Jesus, have mercy on me!’ And from the middle of a crowd, with lots of noise everywhere, this Healer heard Bart and stopped everything, saying, ‘Bring him to me.’ So these two little boys grabbed ole Bart and dragged him over there. Jesus said to Bart, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Bart replied, ‘Well, I’d like to be able to see . . .’ And Jesus restored Bart’s sight right then and there. Then Bart and the two boys fell in with the crowd as they scrambled down the dusty roads of Palestine to the next town, Jericho, where this little man named Zaccheus had climbed a sycamore tree . . . but that’s another story.”

I got the idea from watching the Christmas Pageant one year. One of the boys was a shepherd, and the other was, if I’m not mistaken, either a sheep or a camel. Anyway, I remembered putting myself in that story as a child, and thinking about my dad as Joseph, and my young mother as Mary. I think I may have been the Boy-child in this scenario, though I remember seeing Him “asleep on the hay.” Maybe I was “out-of-body” part of the time. Maybe I was the Star of Bethlehem!  I also remember thinking that mom and dad probably had some appreciation for gold, frankincense and myrrh, but their value was lost on me. “Where’s that drummer boy?”

Let me drift aside here and tell you something that happened to me today. I met a fella who was behind me in line at Lowe’s (they’re improving home improvement). His name was Lane. Lane was carrying a beautiful new pick-axe. It had a red handle and a green collar where the pick-axe head was attached. The head itself was black iron except for the sharpened ends that were shiny silver. “Christmas, ya know,” Lane smiled, missing a tooth or two. “Got this for my wife!”

“She’ll be pleased,” I said and smiled.

“I don’t know,” he said, “got her a dump truck for Mother’s Day, and she didn’t seem to ‘preciate that s’much. And after all that work hidin’ it at my little brother’s!” (By then I was thinking this was about too funny to be real, figuring he must have read this somewhere.)

I suggested maybe he’d just want to get her a big hammer so she could hit him in the head with it . . .

A friend of mine bought his wife a vacuum cleaner for Christmas. I may suggest the hammer to him, too. (He’ll probably read this, or his wife will, in which case she’ll call me to borrow my wife’s hammer.)

Well, I’ve nearly lost my train of thought, but if I could find it, it would be something about wrapping paper. About how all this: Christmas Pageants, shepherds, camels, sheep, Stars of Bethlehem, hay, Mary, Joseph, pick-axes, dump trucks, big hammers, and Palestine . . . how all this is wrapping paper for the World’s most awesome Gift.

When I look at my life, and my wife, and our sons and their wives, and our parents, I understand that God still stops in the midst of hurry, crowds and noise to give us exactly what we need . . . a forgiver and a leader wrapped in swaddling cloths, His beginning in a manger.

Happy anniversary mom and dad. Thanks for giving me a lift up to this place where I can see the Baby asleep on the hay. Enjoy the Frankincense and Myrrh. I think Talbot’s is keeping watch over the Gold by night!

“Unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given . . .”
“Every good and perfect gift comes from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”

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Before You Can Sing “Jingle Bells” Backwards

In a New Testament theology class I took a few years ago—or a little longer ago than that—we heard the following, and it’s one of the things that have stuck with me over time.

“The Kingdom is where the King is.” So, when Jesus said stuff like, “The Kingdom of God has come near you…,” well, you can see what that means.

There’s no secret ‘round here that Christmas is my favorite time of year. I perpetuate the season with music and other symbols for months after, and start thinking about it well before most folks do. The first turning-leaf of Autumn makes a sublime suggestion to my inner Christmas calendar.

I like all of it. Decorations, shopping, music, bell-ringers, uncharacteristic goodwill, and even jolly elves make my season bright. I bet my parents would tell you i’ve always been like this.

But, about 40 years ago I started paying attention in a different way. A way that made me feel like a member of the home team, you might say.

Over those 40 years I have heard and read lots of sermons, messages, and, these days, blogs, about how bad it all is; how the whole thing is too commercialized and secularized and consumer-driven, and blah, blah, blah. These messages come from other folks who feel like they are part of the home team, too. Often, it seems these messages come from folks who seem to think they’re the first ones to ever discover this valuable truth about the sad state of Western Christmas. They’d tell us that the sappy message of Tiny Tim is beside the point. They might say that lights and colors are far from the images of “Real Christmas.” I’ve heard them say that spending money at department stores or, Heaven forbid, WalMart, is just a disgusting practice devised by the “whoever” to distract us from true meaning. See (they might say), we’re deluded and think that what we “feel” is a real “Spirit of joy” that couldn’t possibly be from God.

Well, duh. Of course all that is apparently true. Of course Jesus didn’t come so that I could get cool electronics or bow ties on a cold day near the end of December. Of course there’s more to it.

But I still maintain that Christmas, even in its current state, is Good for the Kingdom.

Remember, The Kingdom is where the King is.

The missionaries will tell us that, in every culture, there are allusions and analogies to the Good News of Christ. It must be so, friends, for we are all created in His image. Therefore, His fingerprints must be everywhere. One of the most visible prints in our culture is this season of Christmas.

Tell me a time or occasion in our cultural lives during which more people lean in, and listen with attention to stuff about Jesus. Not even on Sunday mornings do we get so many people ready to “get with Christ.” The worst of us put up a manger scene on an end-table or a bookshelf. Even folks we wouldn’t think of as being on the home team send us cards with blessings inscribed.

Might i suggest that, during this time when so many are leaning in, we of the home team refrain from throwing rocks at that which they lean toward? Rather, might we use the momentum to draw them in?

Jesus is the King. His name is also Christ. The Kingdom is near whenever His Name is mentioned. I know, some people use an X, and some people say Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas. By now, however, in our culture, we know to what they all refer: Christmas! And before you can sing “Jingle Bells” backwards, the Kingdom is near!

I hope you’ll relax this year, and breathe in even the notions of Peace on Earth and Mercy Mild. May more and more men and women, boys and girls be, with God, reconciled.

And I wish you all of it. The Kingdom is Near.

Praying for you all, always.

mike

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A Relationship With God

Here’s a story I like to repeat whenever I get the chance. It’s in regard to having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

Here’s how it happens. This relationship begins with God calling us to come to him (He is always the initiator). “You,” I like to say, “may hear him calling you right now. You’ll know it when he calls you.” When he does call, we have a small part to play, which is simply to say “Yes.”

(Of course He calls us! He sent his Son to reconcile us to himself. He did that by placing all the rebellion of our lives on Jesus–as he died on a Roman cross–so that this perfect Son would make the payment for our rebellion. He didn’t stop there: God raised Jesus from the grave to give us life. Having done all this, of course God calls us, invites us to come, giving us light to say “yes.”)

When we say “yes,” Jesus takes us to himself. “You will probably hear him saying that he loves you.” We sense his love, and it is profound. It is like no other love we have ever experienced. Then, he puts Himself inside us through the indwelling Holy Spirit. Once there, at our “yes” invitation, he begins to change us from the inside-out. We will notice that our desires begin to change. Things that were dead inside us are now being awakened. The Holy Spirit is nudging us toward becoming more like Jesus.

As he begins to change us (by living inside us, and through us), he also gently begins to turn us around to face the world and culture—the community—from which he has just rescued us. He goes with us (he’s inside us, right?) as he releases us back in to that world. Now we are there no longer as mere consumers of life and culture, but we are there with Him, as agents of this new life, for the sake of others. His desire from the beginning has been to “put things to right” in the world he created. We become his cooperative friends in that mission. We link up with others who are on that same mission, who have said “yes” to God’s call.

Here it is from II Corinthians 5:17-20 in THE MESSAGE: “Now we look inside, and what we see is anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.”

In the story, we talk about Jesus taking us to himself, and then putting himself inside us. That is the “indwelling Holy Spirit.” He “rearranges” things inside us. We begin to think differently, our wants change, and we LOVE differently. We will hear Him saying to us, “I Love You.”

A “Lord” who loves us? A Master who desires our friendship and our good? Benevolence doesn’t usually enter the equation when we say the words lord, master, or even “boss.” So, for our new Lord to lead with “I Love You” is a new thought. But we begin to get that he loves us as we learn about his death and resurrection. Those are usually the first things we learn about him in order to open the door for us to have a relationship with him. Then we begin to hear his teaching through which we understand the Love of God for us, the love we sense for others (he’s working in us), and how to respond to a world culture that needs to be Loved in this different way.

I think that if we think we will go on loving ANYONE as we did before, we are confused. This is Love of a different kind.

Today I had a few moments when I heard the Spirit whisper, “I love you, Mike.” It made me then respond, “Ok, let’s go clean up the yard together.” That may sound sort of superficial, but for me it was a way of illustrating, and experiencing, that surrender to him is a full-life experience (Raking leaves with JOY!). Just like I am, right where I am, he loves me…and it’s not weird. But, I remembered how Jesus said, “Make yourself at home in my love.” (John 15:9 MESSAGE) Doing so changes me.

I hope you can make yourself at home in His love some today…

Praying for you all,

Mike

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With Angels and Archangels

(Originally posted in early 2011, I’ve updated in October, 2015. These are things I actually think about a lot…)

This could be titled “Worship Is Better Than Asking”

Hi Friends!

Things were beginning to settle down around here. We’d had lots of activity over the last couple of weeks, including a wonderful celebration of Christmas with family and friends.

For several days since, however, Windy and I had been down with a bug. The intestinal kind, you know. We even missed the New Year’s Eve wedding of James and Samantha because of it. Not much fun, let me tell ya.

I don’t know about you, but sickness is a really interesting adventure for me. I don’t like feeling badly. I don’t like feeling uncomfortable. I don’t like it when it hurts. I’m talking about the kind of sickness that seems to separate one from one’s ability to think straight or carry on even simple activity. It messes with my ability to think about praying. On that Saturday Windy and I mentally reached that place at which we were trying to decide if we wanted to die at home, or at the hospital, or maybe on the way from home to the hospital. Someone described it as the feeling that you hope you don’t die, and then hope you do.

We both say we don’t ever remember being that sick.

Well, there was the time when, as a young husband, I took my also young wife to the Hilton Head hospital because a bug had rendered her dehydrated. She really felt miserable, and wasn’t helped by the fact that she was already tiny (105 lbs. soaking wet with a brick in each pocket) so the nurses had a hard time finding a vein in which to put an IV. She was pretty sick then.

Back to this recent weekend: Nurse Enola dropped off Gatorade and other supplies Saturday evening, and we did perk up a bit. But Sunday afternoon I relapsed and developed a huge headache to go along with everything else.

When I’m hurting like I was that Sunday night (yep, all night), I’m praying constantly for God to help me. I’m literally saying, “God, please help me!” A couple of hours of saying the Jesus Prayer* later, I began wondering about stuff and start asking, “God, what is it that You won’t help me?” (You do that too, don’t you? I hope so…)

At some point near daybreak—I hadn’t slept much—I was aware that Windy was awake. She knew how badly I’d been hurting overnight. By this time I had resorted to my standby prayer, “God, I don’t understand this situation, so please give me more light.” So, aware of Windy’s wakefulness and that she’d be praying for me, this new prayer presented to my feeble brain: “Lord, if you can’t answer my prayer, would you please encourage somebody else by answering their prayer for me?”

I told my friend Dennis about that. He said, “That’s a really unique prayer.”

How God answers a prayer is often also an adventure. Of course we can’t always even track His answers. Ned says the problem is that God sometimes takes forever to do things (a fair paraphrase, Ned?) so tracking is difficult.

That said, here’s what I think happened. As I was praying that someone’s (anyone’s!) prayer would be answered, something else occurred to me. It’s part of the liturgy from our Anglican/Episcopal service of Holy Eucharist. I started mumbling this as best I could:

(The Celebrant says,)
“Therefore we praise you, joining our voices with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven, who for ever sing this hymn to proclaim the glory of your Name:
(and we join, singing)
Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,
heaven and earth are full of your glory.
Hosanna in the highest.
Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Hosanna in the highest.”

Literally mumbling this no more than a few times, the killer headache was gone and nothing but weakness from the weekend’s sickness remained. Some awe-filled, amazed thanksgiving and, dare I say it, praise erupted in me. It took some convincing to get Windy to relax about me not wanting to go to the doctor…

So, I may have learned this little thing right here:

Worship is better than asking.

But I know that. I know that Jesus wants me. I know that the gift is never given apart from the Giver.

And I know that it’s ok to ask. “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek…Knock…” When we knock, we should probably expect to see the Savior’s face when the door is opened.

I’ll not try to engage any theological proof of all this. I might do that if I weren’t afraid that even my mother is probably already tired of reading this. Save it for a discussion some time. I do know that we can’t draw doctrine from our experience. Sometimes, though, our experience illustrates “something true about God.” (Tozer) I think this is one of those times.

So, if Worship is better than Asking, I want to get better at Worship.

The fact that they let us pray on our knees, IN CHURCH!, was one of the things that drew me to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church so many years ago, and has kept me in the Anglican tradition since. It felt like an appropriate posture. I know, some folks like to stand, but John, the writer of Revelation, didn’t when he saw the Lord. He “fell on his face” like a dead man (which might present a bit of a space problem in our church). When I first went to the Episcopal Church (I’m telling, not selling), I thought to myself, “Now, somebody’s figured out a way to bring what we do in our quiet times into a corporate experience!”

If Worship is better than asking, how powerful does that make Sunday morning? I know worship is more than just Sunday, but Sunday is really good, huh? Or it should be. What power is within our grasp as we, with our friends and members of our communities “Bow down and bend the knee, and kneel before the Lord, our Maker!?” Kinda sounds like something good, doesn’t it? May we all get better at Worship in the coming years.

Windy and I will try to find more ways of migrating our times of prayer for you into times of worship referencing you. Can we “worship on your behalf?” Can we, in worship, mention your name in the Presence? I will be seeking that.

What are your personal worship habits? I mean habits that are not about asking, or even praising, but worshiping? I’d like to incorporate some of your thoughts. My friends from from missionary school may have good ideas to add, as our mentor “coached” us about this stuff, right?

I look forward to hearing from you. Peace to your house, and blessing to you all.

Prayers always,

mike

*The Jesus Prayer: Bob Mitchell taught us about this. As best I can tell it comes from Luke 18, and from a little book called, “The Way of a Pilgrim.” This great little book is translated from Russian, written by an unknown peasant about his journey and his attempt to learn to pray without ceasing. The Prayer itself has a few diverse forms, but here’s the version I learned . . .

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior, have mercy on me, the sinner.

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Attraction

This is Achilles. He is virtually invincible. Seriously.

Of course I’m aware that cute puppies (Windy would remind me that all puppies are cute) attract everyone’s attention. So, I’ve used a cheap trick to, hopefully, grab your attention for just a minute…

Achilles is a great little guy we fostered for a bout a month for the Lab Rescue folks here in our town. He’s a Lab/Basset mix–they’d call him a “Bassador,” I called him a “Labass.” He came to us as “Mack” along with his brother, “Mick.” Mick was adopted the day after they came to live with us. Mack, or Achilles as he is now known, got pretty sick a few days later, and remained so for much of the month we had him. You can’t see it in the picture so much, but his two forelegs were mostly shaved so he could have fluids via IV, and his belly was shaved half-way up his sides so they could do an ultrasound to try to see what was going on. He probably had 20 shots of something or other while he was with us, and had about as much medicine as he did food. To survive all that, he really had to be invincible.

But cute the whole time. There were some days when he would just wander off and find a place to lie down. We thought he was looking for a place to die, maybe. But most days he would try his best to play to the extent of his energy, and then sleep. He got to know us very well, and was quite comfortable in our house, on our sofa, and under the drop-leaf table.

He had this thing he would do outside. We’d walk him to one side of the yard where he was most fond of doing his “business.” Then, we’d turn and walk back toward the deck. He’d come running and pass us. About three feet in front of us he’d duck his head and roll, finishing the move on his back with tail wagging, waiting for that tummy rub. It was cute.

A nice young woman from Virginia adopted “Mack” a couple of weeks ago. He took to her right away, and she to him. She’s sent us some great pictures and notes that indicate they are getting along famously. She renamed him “Achilles” which we think is quite fitting.

I’m getting to the point, really…

So, one afternoon in June I was out in the back yard with Achilles. We live on a golf course, and there were several groups playing through. The sixteenth tee is just across our back fence, so we pretty much hear just about everything that goes on out there.

So, this one group came to the tee–four men probably in their late 50s. The first gentleman stepped up and hit. As soon as his ball was on it’s way, the others all said things like, “Wow, look at that ball!” or, “What a great shot that is!” I thought, “now that must be a good player for those guys to gush like that about his shot.” So I watched to see what the next guy had.

He addressed the ball well. He’s played some golf in his time, I could tell. Then he took the club back in a very awkward way, and slashed at the ball stiffly–all arms and little follow-through. I winced for him.

“Wow Bob! Great ball man! What a shot that is! Look at that thing go!” His buddies were impressed, I guess, with the results.

Then I watched the next two in the group, with similar swings, as they hit their tee shots. The same chorus of encouragement came from their group-mates. Aha!

I picked up Achilles, that excited little pup, and whispered in his ear, “You know buddy, I’d like to play golf with those guys.”

Brothers and sisters, may we be such witnesses to Jesus in word and in deed, that lookers-on will watch us and say, “I want to do KINGDOM with those folks.”

Help me…

Praying for you always.

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