Saturday, August 29, 2009

Dark Nights of the Soul

Many of us have experienced them. Great saints experienced them, sometimes for years on end. Those dark nights of the soul when we feel totally numb to the things of God. When the curtain is drawn and we can’t see Him. We can’t hear Him. We can’t sense His presence. We feel as if He has forgotten us or that He never cared at all. We begin to doubt we ever knew Him, if He even exists. The blackness overwhelms us.

I used to work in the operating room. I helped prepare patients for surgery. I prayed with them and helped them move from stretcher to table. I strapped them into place, applied monitors and protective devices. I held their hands as they drifted into a deep sleep, or at least received medication to numb the surgical site.

I stood across from the surgeon and passed instruments and sutures. I reached my hand into a body to help expose a tumor or diseased organ for dissection. I held an amputated limb. I watched a heart beat, stop, and start again as the surgeon completed a delicate and lifesaving procedure. I marveled at the miracle.

I watched a patient open heavy eyes and become once again aware of surroundings, yet unaware of the process of healing that had taken place within.

There are times in our lives that God can do a deep work of healing only when we are totally still. There are cancers that He can remove then because we can’t fight against Him. These are the times when we need to slide over to the altar, give Him our total trust, and rest. Only when we are spiritually anesthetized can He wield His scalpel. And then we awaken rejoicing in His presence, perhaps unaware of what has happened within, but feeling somehow renewed, healed.

So if you are swallowed up in darkness today, dear one, this shall pass. Lie back on the altar. Rest, trust, and let Him do His work. Soon you will feel His hand in yours again and hear Him saying, “You can wake up now. It is finished. You are healed.”

“Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits—who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion.” Psalm 103:2-4

Have you experienced, or are you experiencing a dark night of the soul?

Copyright © 2009 by Sandra Heska King

Friday, August 21, 2009

Laughing at the Fire

There was a fire in the neighborhood last night. Across the road. The big house. Our house. Well, not really “our” house. But a piece of our history. My husband’s great-great grandfather built the house in 1870.

My inlaws sold that property back in the late ‘70s. I think I was more sad to see it go than they were. That owner sold it to someone else who lives in Detroit. He tried to put in a truck stop a few years ago, but that fell through. Nobody lives there now, but a local farmer farms it and has a few cattle over there.

There was a lot of smoke, a lot of trucks, a lot of lights, a lot of activity in the back of the house last night. The house still stands, although the back looks pretty black. The news report says the fire started when a generator in the house (?) backfired.

Hubby says it’s not the first time that house has seen flames. Back in the ‘50s, my inlaws sponsored a couple of families, brothers, from the Netherlands. They lived and worked on the farm. One day Mrs. Knibbe was burning paper in the furnace, cramming it in until sparks flew up and set the wooden shingles ablaze. There was no phone in the big house so she ran across the drive to the little house where her brother-in-law lived to call the fire department. She was so scared and distraught that she broke into her native tongue. Luckily, the recipient of that call put 2 and 2 together, remembering that Mr. King had Dutch people living on his farm and sent help.

Mrs. Knibbe was so afraid my father-in-law would be angry. But he laughed.

He laughed.

In spite of the inconvenience and damage and expense, he laughed.

He saw past all that, that nobody was hurt, that the house was just a house. He saw the humor in the situation, and he laughed. He extended mercy and grace to a foreigner. Can you imagine Mrs. Knibbe's relief?

He was an example to my husband who laughed when I stuffed the garbage disposal so full of potato peels it clogged and overflowed right before our pastor came for dinner. Who laughed when I smashed the van into the side of his dad’s car in our driveway and ran screaming to hide behind a bush. Who laughed when I allowed his horse to drag me across the yard, catching the saddle horn on a neighbor’s clothesline, uprooting both cemented-in-the-ground posts. Who has extended grace and mercy to me in a million ways on a million occasions—even when I’ve said and done things so undeserving of his unconditional love.

Who shrugged his shoulders last night and said, “It’s just a house.”

How easy it is to let life’s little fires get out of control. We can fan the flames with angry words, bitter hearts, and depressed spirits. Or we can douse them with the water of grace, mercy, and forgiveness.

And laughter.

Maybe use those fires to give light to others.

It’s just a house.

Have you used words to start, fan, or douse a fire this week?
Can you laugh at life's little fires?
When did you last offer grace, mercy, or forgiveness to someone?
Can you say, "It's just a house?"

Copyright © 2009 by Sandra Heska King 

Monday, August 17, 2009

Book Review - Faces in the Fire by T.L. Hines

Faces in the Fire (published by Thomas Nelson) was my introduction to the work of T.L. Hines. The book pulled me in immediately, but it took me a few chapters to realize that they, the chapters, were all mixed up, disjointed, and set within stanzas that served to separate the stories within the story. I also noticed the shadows of handwritten titles and chapter numbers behind the printed ones. That in itself was intriguing, and although this is a fiction suspense thriller, described as “noir bizarre,” I found myself underlining character quotes, phrases, symbols, names, and other bits of information—trying to put pieces of the puzzle together. I finished the book a few days ago, but it continues to haunt me.

“Sometimes as humans, we need to move backwards before we can move forward.”

Faces in the Fire revolves around 4 characters. Kurt is the truck driver/sculptor who can’t remember his past but is haunted by ghosts. Corinne is the e-mail spammer diagnosed with lymphoma who embraces the basement of her past. Grace is the tattoo artist/heroin addict running from her past, and Stan is the hit man who is a prisoner of his past.

In a sense, the book reminded me a little of the concept of 6 degrees of separation. The lives of major and even minor characters are “coincidentally” intertwined through their attempts to find some sense of identity and significance. Threads of numbers, catfish, ghosts, shoes, locked doors, fire, human and supernatural touch and voices run throughout.

This is an easy read and will appeal to anyone who wants to sit on the edge of their seat, continually turn just one more page, and be surprised in the end. It’s a great, yet weird, story with loose ends attached--much like our own lives, often disjointed and frayed at the edges, with shadows of the past that we can choose to embrace or overcome in time.

I saw hope, redemption, and freedom for those facing the fires of life, those who have been burned, and even “bottom feeders” when grace knocks on the door and is invited in. We can find our true face, and old things can indeed become new.

I recommend this book and will likely read it again.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Calling Out Clutter

My yearning for simplicity began years ago. Searching for it has been an elusive journey along quiet roads and through tangled brush. Grasping it has been like trying to capture a butterfly with bare hands. Just when I think I've almost got it, it flutters away.

A year ago I realized I was exhausted, overwhelmed, out of control. I was still living life in frantic fragments. My joy was ebbing, my peace was fading, my energy was sagging, and my focus was blurring. By all appearances I was doing pretty well, except for the occasional--okay, frequent--temper tantrum and sometimes falling asleep on my keyboard because of only sleeping a few hours at night. But inwardly I was wasting away. I did not see a stamp of eternity on many of my activities, and I felt like I was chasing the wind.

Clutter had overtaken me again, and it was time to face it down once and for all. And although it was scary, I quit work to do full-time battle.

First, though, I had to call the enemy out, distill it down, in order to attack it. What I realized after several days--no, more like several weeks--of doing nothing but resting was that I actually needed to fight on 3 fronts. And I would have to simultaneously tackle them because they were working together to defeat me.

1. Home clutter.
2. Head clutter.
3. Heart clutter.

It was time to tear down strongholds once and for all, to throw off everything that encumbered, to once again find my true calling and walk in it. It was time to find my center.

I love what Thomas Kelly said: "Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new and overcoming."

That's what I want. That's where I'm heading.


"As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God." Psalm 42:1

Are you panting through life or are you panting for God?

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

What Is Clutter? Part 2

Life was so simple.

I remember our first home in 1971--a small brick house with pink trim, rented from a man whose deceased dad had had a perennial green thumb. Something was always blooming in the yard. There were 2 small bedrooms--one with a door that opened to the backyard. We had a small living room, a kitchen, and a tiny dining area. I remember picking up our mail off the front closet floor. That's where it fell when the mailman pushed it through the slot outside into the closet. I remember that our pink bathroom had "issues." The wall was crumbling into the bathtub, so we could not bathe or shower in there. The landlord was always coming to fix it, but always got sidetracked. Luckily there was a basement shower. I showered before dark because we shared the basement with a "pet" bat.

That little house was furnished with the 4 rooms of furniture my hubby had purchased for $400. We had a bed, chest, and dresser--that bowed in the center after our first move, presumably from items that had been stacked on top of it. Dennis' bedroom office held a desk, chair and file cabinet. We had a Formica table with 4 yellow and brown chairs (in the kitchen) and a black vinyl recliner and studio couch. The back of that couch folded down to make a bed. I remember the night our friend rolled over too far on the back, and the whole couch rolled with him, and both crashed to the floor. Dennis brought 2 step-type end tables and 2 yellow lamps. I contributed another Formica table and 4 red and black chairs for our "formal" dining room and my great-grandmother's cedar chest that served as a TV stand for years.

My mother-in-law bought me a black rocking chair with red cushions that first Christmas along with a yellow and white umbrella stand filled with peacock feathers confiscated from my father-in-law's birds.

Better Homes and Gardens would have had no interest in our black, red, and yellow decorating scheme.

But we were so happy. We could zip through cleaning that house in an hour on Saturday morning and then spend the rest of the weekend with his parents and our horses.

Life was so simple.

And we have way cool stories.

I think back on those days and realize I really was happier before we started exchanging furniture with character for new pieces and then antiques. And then inherited things. And collections. And paper. And clothes--to fit expanded activities. And toys and kids clothes and more furniture and more collections and books. Wait--we aren't going to talk about the books.

Then there were bins and boxes and shelves needed for storing stuff. But it began to spill over as our lives got more complicated. Instead of taking care of things, I moved things from here to there. I lost or forgot about bills. We were late for important dates because we couldn't find the right clothes or directions. Finding those half dozen pictures for student of the week created a major crisis and, yes, even temper tantrums.

You get the picture. We were under a full-blown clutter attack.

What is clutter? Clutter consists of "stuff" that fills our hunger with emptiness. Things that:

1. Steal our joy.
2. Steal our peace.
3. Steal our energy.
4. Steal our focus.

God stoppers.

And it's more than environmental.

I'll talk about that next time.

"...let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles..." Hebrews 12:1

What is stealing your joy, your peace, your energy, your focus?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

What Is Clutter? Part 1

I've been on "sabbatical" for the last year in order to declutter my mind, my body, my spirit, and my surroundings. With years of accumulated "stuff" as a result of traveling over several bumpy roads, there wasn't too much tread left on my tires. I was wearing out.

I'm still a work in progress, but several friends have asked how I've done it, am doing it. So I'm going to talk about clutter and decluttering for the next few posts.

What is clutter? Dictionaries give several definitions, including:

1. a confused multitude of things
2. state of disorder
3. untidy collection of objects
4. a condition of disorderliness or overcrowding
5. images on a screen that hinder observation
6. disorganized mess
7. scattered or disordered things that impede movement or reduce effectiveness.

Some interesting words similar to clutter include:

1. confusion--a mental state characterized by lack of clear and orderly thought and behavior
2. mare's nest--complicated or confused situation; a discovery at first thought to be important or valuable but subsequently found to be an illusion, a hoax, or valuelessa
3. cultch--(from 1913 Webster's) - definitions include rubbish, debris, refuse
4. junk--something of poor quality
5. litter--rubbish carelessly dropped or left about
6. stuff--fill completely, stuff

I was intrigued to see that the word clutter has its origin from the middle English word, clotteren, which means to clot.

Chew on this for now. More next time.

"More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ." Philippians 3:8 (NAS)

What insights do you gain from the definitions above?

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Just Josiah

We've been on a Steak and Shake kick. Hubby and I were sipping on our shared chocolate malt (the cherry is always mine) when I felt a little hand on my head and tickles on my shoulder. I heard the mom trying to settle the child down in the booth behind me.

"Who's gittin' me?" I teased as I turned around. The dark-haired 3-year-old giggled.

"What's your name?" I asked.

"Josiah," he said softly, tucking his head down but raising big brown eyes to look at me.

"Oh, what a great Bible name!" I exclaimed. "Did you know Josiah was a king? Are you a king?"

"No," he sighed. "Just Josiah."

I talked about the meadowlark yesterday. I also saw it at one point fluttering up and down a car bumper, stopping occasionally to jab at its reflection in the chrome. Attacking its own likeness. For several weeks every spring we have a robin and a cardinal who spend a large part of the day attacking their own images in our basement windows. I guess it's a territorial or mating thing. At any rate, they don't like the images they see mirrored.

Sometimes we think of ourselves as "just (sigh) Josiah." We focus on our flaws and failings and further corrode our self-image. We might base our self-worth on past, or our appearance, or whether we feel loved or approved, or if we are measuring up to our own expectations. We forget that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, fashioned by the Master's hands, that we are children of the King of the universe. We forget that He created us in His image and are destined for greatness, with a special purpose. We forget how He sees us. Beautiful. Able. Valuable. Perfect. Lovable.

We need to see ourselves in God's eyes. In His mirror.

Definitely not "just Josiah."

"Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous--how well I know it." Psalm 139:14 (NLT)

Do you believe it?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Image of a Meadowlark

It looked like any ordinary brown bird as it pecked its away across our front yard. Then it snapped to attention, beak pointed toward the sky, totally still, focused on something unseen. The bird's bright yellow breast stamped with the bold black V made me gasp.

The image of that meadowlark has stayed with me for over 20 years.

When we were many times uprooted from close friends and comfortable surroundings, God said, "Look up!"

When internal and external stressors threatened to tear our marriage and our family apart, God said, "Look up!"

When our family was touched by darkness and confusion, God said, "Look up!"

When I was tormented with guilt and fear, "God said, "Look up!"

When I had to confront issues and situations and people I never dreamed I'd have to, God said, "Look up!"

When I was so mad at God--and told Him so--and began to wonder if He cared or even existed at all, He said, "Look up!"

When my heart hurt so much I could barely drag myself to church and when I did all I did was cry, God said, "Look up!"

When dreams and expectations lay in ashes at my feet, God said, "Look up!"

When I lost my joy of writing and teaching, God said, "You are too strong for me to use. You haven't hurt enough to help others, gone deep enough to lift them up. Look up!"

When I suffer from what-ifs and what-could-have-beens, God says, "Look up!"

For all things will work together for good when the pieces come together in my timing. What seems like forever to you is but a blink of my eye. Just stop, be still, listen, and look up! Get your eyes off yourself and your circumstances. Fix your eyes on me and look up!

Lord, help me to be like that meadowlark, not drab and dreary pecking away with head down, but beautiful with my head lifted high. Help me to keep my eyes fixed on you and to look up, knowing that as much as you care and provide for the sparrow and the meadowlark, you love me so much more. Nothing can come to me that hasn't first been filtered through your loving fingers. And even when things look the darkest, I can trust that you are creating something beautiful and preparing something far greater. You are my hope when life seems hopeless. I will not lose hope.

I am looking up.

"Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." II Corinthians 4:16-18

Are you looking down or up?

Monday, August 3, 2009


Startled by the commotion outside my hospital room, I looked up to see a nurse pushing a stretcher through the door. A roommate! Thus ended my quiet time. I was perturbed at the thought of having to share my room.

The patient was a young girl, about 17 or 18 as I remember. She was crying as she scooted over to the bed. She was alone. I learned that she was single and had been diagnosed with an ectopic pregnancy. Her family had not yet arrived. Hospital staff hustled about. There were questions to ask, vital signs to take, an IV to start, nail polish to remove. I left my "prayer chair" and moved to her bed to hold her hand and explain what was happening from a nurse's and a patient's standpoint. I tried to provide comfort until her family arrived and she was whisked off to surgery.

This all took place in Florida. We eventually moved back to Georgia. Some years later, friends from Florida visited our church. We had been in a share group with this couple in Georgia before they moved to Florida, but hadn't seen them for years, even in Florida after we were transferred there for a season. (I know--it's complicated.)

Anyway, I still don't know how we began to talk about this experience. But it turned out that they went to the same church that this girl and her family did. They told me how the family had shared with their church about a roommate who had provided comfort to them and their daughter.

Wow! It's seldom that we hear how some small act may have touched another person. We will not see most of our crown jewels this side of heaven. God graciously gave me a glimpse into what it means to be able to comfort someone going through the same trial with the comfort He gives me. Even if it's something that appears like a very small thing.

It really is all about Him. Hes in control of everything in our lives, even when it seems like life is spinning out of control. He uses our pain to refine and strengthen us, and as we come out of the fire, we can walk with others through theirs. With our scars, we can help heal. And through it all, He can be glorified.

You see, I know what it's like for another to struggle with infertility. I know what it is like for another to suffer a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. I know what it is like to avoid church on Mother's Day. In fact, I remember having to flee a service when the children in our little church were asked to stand up and tell their mothers they loved them. And pastors, trust me...there are women in your congregation with aching arms who do not want to hear that they can mother other children. They can receive that when the pain eases, but not when it's raw. I know what it's like to ask all the "what if" and "why" questions. I know what it's like to experience loss.

I also know what it's like to gain because of loss.

God had other plans for us that involved their own joys as well as days of intense fear and pain. We walked through flames we never imagined, had experiences and contacts with people we would never have chosen to associate with.

Why? For refinement. So He could provide comfort. So we could give comfort.

It's all about getting our eyes off ourselves and on Him who knows every hair on our heads. The One who holds us and weeps with us. The One whose ways are not our ways, who does not count time according to our time clock. It's about trusting and resting day by day and allowing Him to work in all the details, to work good out of our perceived bad.

It really is all about Him.

"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God." II Corinthians 1:3-4

When have you received His comfort? What will you do with that?

Note: See also post on July 31.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Confessions of a Chocoholic

Do you behold God in chocolate? I do. Who else could have created something so heavenly?

Yesterday was a little heavy, so tonight I'm serving up something on the lighter side. I'm going to share something I wrote a couple years ago for Bridging Boundaries, the online publication for OA-AHDI, Online Association of the Association for Healthcare Documentation Integrity. You could gain some pounds on that mouthful!

Snady Chocoholic: I made your muffins. You lied. One was not enough. I ate 2. I wanted 3. So this morning I ate 3. I wanted 4. How many points is that?

Sharon Discipline: Two points each. Four of them would be less points (and FAT) than a big fat chocolate bar. Plus they have fiber. That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Snady Chocoholic: That's good. Cuz I ate the 4th. And later the 5th. There is no hope for me. These were not supposed to be mini muffins, were they? Because if so, I'm sunk.

Sharon Discipline: No. I use a regular-sized muffin tin. Nice big muffins for 2 points. Of course, you are only supposed to eat 1 or 2 at a time.

Snady Chocoholic: Well, that's a relief. So I could eat 6 muffins for 12 points and still have about 12 points to spare? Actually, I could eat a whole dozen and a couple of carrot sticks and an apple and call it good.

Sharon Discipline: OR you could eat ONE as a treat and then have a piece of fruit or some yogurt.

Snady Chocoholic: ONE? You've GOT to be kidding! This is your fault, you know. I just bought 2 more boxes of chocolate and 1 of spice and 3 cans of pumpkin.

Sharon Discipline: I take it you haven't tried this with the mini chocolate chips yet? You probably shouldn't. This would be like starting an addict off on the very first hit or something. Add another point per muffin.

Snady Chocoholic:, not the minis. I grabbed the full dose--the big ones--on accident, of course. I'm in big trouble, right?

Sharon Discipline: Back away from the full-size chips, Snady! Back away, ma'am.

Snady Chocoholic: My son's girlfriend confiscated all the cake mixes and cans of pumpkin. I know where to find more. Will you visit me in rehab? Bring muffins!

1 box chocolate cake mix (dark chocolate with pudding!)
1 16-ounce can pumpkin
Scant cup water
1/2 small bag mini chocolate chips (if desired - HA!)

Mix and pour into lightly-sprayed muffin tins. Bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until toothpick is clean. (Unless you've used too many chocolate chips - then guess.) Cool on rack. Extra yummy while warm.

Use spice cake mix and golden raisins.

ONE without chocolate chips or raisins: 3
ONE with chocolate chips or raisins: 2

Recipe developed by Sharon Cline, Service Team Manager, Webmedx, and shared with permission.

Well tested in the kitchen of Snady the Chocolate Lady.

So now I'm off to look up verses on gluttony...
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