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Clinging in a Cling-Free World

June 22, 2016 at 2:25 pm

Clinging 2

“God Loves each of us as if there were only one of us.”
–St. Augustine

 written by Debbie Allen
When my boys were just toddlers, their daily lunchtime also marked the end of their Daddy’s workday.  Every day, the jingling sound of his keys unlocking the front door had the same effect on the boys as a starter gun sounding-off at the beginning of a school track meet.  They took off running the instant their toes hit the ground; fingers still crusted with peanut butter , and lips smeared recklessly with grape jelly!  Jim peeked around the edge of the front door, always wearing a surprised look on his face at the sight and sound of so many little boys’ feet smacking the linoleum and bounding straight for him.  Both boys strained for all they were worth to see who could reach the finish line first!  If you haven’t already guessed it…Daddy was the finish line.
I stayed behind in the kitchen with baby brother, Trevor, perched on my hip.  He and I played the part of the roaring crowd in the background, cheering Mike and Brian on to the finish line.  By the time both boys reached Daddy, they wrapped their spaghetti-like arms around his legs while  burying twenty bare toes securely under the laces on top of Daddy’s work shoes. This was the moment they’d been  waiting for!  So there they stayed…clinging tightly, each one holding onto one of Daddy’s legs.  With every step Jim took, the boys laughed hilariously; moving when he moved and stopping when he stopped.  My heart always melted at the sight of all this boy commotion.  The joy of seeing my children interacting so freely with their Daddy (and Daddy with his boys) still touches me to this day.  This is what  love looks like when it flows freely and naturally.
I believe God had a picture much like this one in mind for His own children and how they are to interact with and love Him in this life.  Unfortunately, sin has distorted this picture.  Just look around you.  The Family unit lacks unity.  Marriage has become a relationship with no time to relate anymore; to each other, or to God.  Its evident we live in a cling-free world.  A world that promotes dryer sheets that cause even laundry to free-fall into a laundry basket, minus static.  Today’s cookware is Teflon-coated to ensure a stick-free cooking experience.  There is even a brand of motor oil designed to keep pistons in a car engine friction-free!  Our world capitalizes on making things stick-free…cling-free…and just-plain-easy for us!
God, on the other hand, capitalizes on making things more real to us…especially when it concerns His Love.  God’s greatest desire for His children is for them to have a heart devoted to loving, serving and obeying Him fully.  Not because we have to, but because we want to.  Wild horses couldn’t have held back my boys when they heard their Daddy coming through the front door every day at lunchtime. They tried to out-do each other in their passionate pursuit of him.  After all, when you love someone with all your heart and soul…it shows!
When it comes to loving our Heavenly Father in this life, He desires this same response from His own children, too. Looking back in the Old Testament,  Moses paints us  a vivid picture of this very idea  when he tells the Israelites standing at the threshold of the Promise Land, “Choose to love the Lord your God and to obey Him and to CLING to Him, for He is your life and length of days.”
That little word, CLING, means “to hold fast, to resist separation, to display extreme dependence.”
“Cling” is an action-word depicting how we are to walk with our Father, God.  It’s a beautiful word-picture of us (His children), running to Daddy, climbing up on His Feet, wrapping our spaghetti-arms around His pillar-like Legs…clinging so tightly to Him we sense His slightest movement!  This is unbridled Love…the kind of Love that flows freely when you love Someone with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul!
“I cling to You;Your right Hand holds me securely.” (Psalm 63:8)
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HEART TRAPPINGS:  Where in your own life do you find evidence of this world’s  cling-free thinking/ lifestyles?  Perhaps in your own laundry basket? Under the hood of your car? Maybe your marriage relationship?  What about in your own heart?  When your Heavenly Father stands peeking around the door of your heart at you, what will be your response to His Presence?  Will you run…or hide?  Will you cleave…or leave?
 PRAYER:  Father, God, teach me what it is to truly cling to You .  When I hear you turning the key and see Your Face peeking around my heart’s door at me, may my pursuit towards You always be passionate.   As I climb upon Your Feet and slip my bare toes under Your sandal straps, strengthen me to hold fast; to cling to You so tightly that Your slightest movement becomes mine too.  For only then will I begin to understand what it is to love You with all of my heart, all of my mind, and all of my soul!    May You always be my Finish-Line at the end of each day’s race.

The Fleece-Maker’s Daughter

May 27, 2016 at 9:26 pm

Sheep Farm“Shearing Day on the Farm leaves a permanent

   mark of shear joy on little girl’s heart!”


written by Debbie Allen

Most of us would agree, there is simply nothing like being a child.  It should be no surprise then, to discover that after we grow-up; we often just wish we were a child again.  Somewhere along the way, as adults, we lose sight of the simple joy that characterizes childhood. We lose touch with the wonder that God has tucked into the folds of our days.  We begin to wonder “why?” concerning our circumstances instead of being filled with the wonder of The One Who controls those circumstances.    It is in this breach between the wonder-filled  hearts and our wondering minds, that we begin  to push joy and Truth  through our own filter of circumstances and logic; ending up with only  a strained version of  true faith.  Let me show you what I mean.

A few months ago, Billie, the librarian at the middle school where I work; shared with me the little bits and pieces of her childhood; growing up on a small sheep and cattle ranch in the middle of windy, Wyoming.  She spoke fondly of the brazen, fun-loving Dad she loved so dearly; and the staunch, God-fearing, Mom who she adored.

She remembered watching her Dad and Uncle back a flatbed truck up next to their barn on Shearing Day.  Then, they hung a lengthy, burlap, fleece-bag down over the truck bed.  To me, a city girl, Shearing Day sounded like anything but fun. However, Billie’s expression told me otherwise. Her eyes danced while she spilled the specifics to me.  She was like a child reliving every moment again!

Shearing Day took place on the farm, in Wyoming, in the heat of summer.  This day was also characterized by scorching winds dancing across sweat-drenched brows, while swift and sweaty palms worked shear magic to transform the wild and wooly into the scraped and scrawny.    Sheep bleating, clippers clipping, and fleece flying!   All of this sounds like more than enough exhilaration to rate “extremely-high” on a child’s joy meter.  Billie’s face reflected this as she proceeded to act out her part in this scene from her childhood.  While still sitting in her rolling desk chair across from me, Billie threw both arms out to the side, lifted her feet straight up, and began to re-enact the dance that little four-year-old Billie remembered dancing on Shearing Day; after being placed down inside of a fifteen foot tall, burlap, fleece-bag dangling from the barn loft high above her.

“I can’t remember how I got down inside of that bag”, Billie pondered, grinning “…I just remember being there; laughing and giggling for an entire day, while endless fleece rained down on top of my head!”

Now…like every other task performed on the farm, Billie’s Dad did not just place his precious, Baby Girl down inside of that stuffy, burlap, fleece-bag without a much greater purpose in mind. She was given a very specific job to do for her Daddy.  She was his own, personal fleece-stomper!  He was to her, the fleece-maker.  He sheared and sheared…Billie stomped and stomped.  At the end of that day, pounds and pounds of sheared fleece became bags and bags full of compressed wool to take to market.  I’m sure each bag brought a great price, but, do you know what I consider to be the most valuable take-away from the farm at the end of Shearing Day?  The expression of joy that Billie still wears on her face nearly five decades later. Shear joy!  It comes from the heart of that little farm girl inside of her who, even now, looks back on all her stomping…and sees dancing.  She remembers her sweaty, pint-sized brow…and still calls it fun.   She ponders growing tired…yet, still draws strength from her Daddy’s simple words of encouragement to her that day, “Just keep stomping, little Bill, keep stomping!”

“Just keep stomping, little Bill, keep stomping!”  These words continued to resonate in my own thoughts.   They were simple, yet wise.  The expression of joy Billie wears on her face today, might have been very different had she not heeded her father’s words that day.

What if four-year-old Billie woke up on that hot, windy, Wyoming, Shearing Day on the farm and said, “No!” to the joy awaiting her in that day (As we adults too often do)?  She could’ve chosen to dwell purely on the facts surrounding her.  She was too little…too tired…too busy…and the job was too much for her littleness to comprehend.  But, she didn’t!  Instead, in the way of a little child, she sought her father out and without questioning him, accepted her small part in his BIG world.  Grasping her Daddy’s hand in total trust, she went willingly down into the burlap, fleece-bag which swallowed her up whole and then kept her from seeing him at all.  Little Billie could’ve felt trapped or even alone in this unfamiliar place.  Fear might have won.

But, looking up, instead of giving up, she cried out, “Daddy?”

“I’m here!” Daddy reminded her…and fear was done!

Quickly, she learned that just because the fleece-maker was invisible to her; didn’t mean he wasn’t still standing there beside her.  And when the clumps of fleece from her Daddy’s hands tumbled down upon her head, she didn’t wince or cry out, “Why?”  She simply remembered her littleness…in light of his nearness; and joyfully danced to the sounds of her Daddy’s voice.

“Just keep stomping, Little Bill’…

Keep dancing for me!”

“And let joy teach your heart

to really see!”

 Most of us forfeit the chance to really see because we become paralyzed by, or choose to focus only, on the circumstances falling down around us.  If Little Billie had chosen to do the same, she would have been buried alive at the bottom of the fleece-bag on Shearing Day.  However, she didn’t.  She chose wisely to heed her Daddy’s words and responded with obedience.  She stomped and stomped, tromping the fleece falling on top of her head, beneath her feet.  In time, with both diligence and fortitude, she rose steadily to the top of that bag; climbing out into the arms of her Daddy’s treasured, embrace.  Though hard work and difficult circumstances abounded in this day, joy overwhelmed it.  Joy enough to teach a child’s heart that trust and obedience brings both treasure and reward at the end of any given day.  Shear joy, so deeply infused in a little girl’s heart; it is still worn on the adult face of that little fleece-stomper today.

The story of the Fleece-maker and his Daughter speaks loudly to my heart about the kind of relationship each of us is meant to live out before our Heavenly Father.  Shearing Day emulates waking up each morning and saying, “yes” to Joy.  It is seeing past the obvious; I’m too tired…too busy…and the job is too much.  Seeking our Father out, without question, we are to accept our small part in His BIG world.  Grasping our Father’s Hand in total trust, we are to go willingly, as He slips us down into the unforeseen circumstances surrounding us each day.  And yes…they swallow us up without reservation and keep us from seeing the Face of our Father at all!  Feeling alone down in these unfamiliar places; Fear fights to win!

But, we look up and cry, “Father?”

He answers, “I AM here,”

And Fear is done!

Quickly, we learn in such secluded places, that just because our Father is invisible to us, doesn’t mean He isn’t standing right there next to us.  And when the circumstances that fall from our Father’s Hands come crashing down upon our heads; our Father’s Love has taught us we don’t wince and cry out, “Why?”

We remember instead, to ponder our little-ness in light of His Near-ness and joyfully dance to the sounds of our Heavenly Father’s Voice…

“Just keep stomping, Little Child,

Keep dancing for Me;

Let Joy teach your heart

To really see!”

 “For in Your Presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11 NKJV)

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HEART TRAPPINGS:  How many of your own childhood memories still flood your heart with deep-seated joy?  How willing are you to accept  your small part in your Heavenly Father’s BIG world? How do you react to the circumstances falling down around you?  Will you choose to keep dancing…or will you succumb to being buried alive by your circumstances?  What in life is hindering you from seeing your own little-ness… in light of your Father’s Near-ness?

                        PRAYER:  Father, I pray You help me learn to trust You more like a little child, concerning the circumstances falling down upon my         head.  Tune my ears to hear Your Voice and may I never doubt that just because I fail to see You…doesn’t mean You are not standing right there next to me.

Treasure Hunting

March 23, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Easter Squirrel

“Not all treasure is silver and gold, mate.”

  (Jack Sparrow, Pirates Of The Caribbean)


written by Debbie Allen

After Winter’s frigid breath blows its final veil of frost across a cold, barren earth, there reigns a silence.  A pause between the seasons, into which the welcome voice of Spring speaks the Creator’s Good News of New Life and Eternal Hope into all the earthly places  where death once seemed to rule.  In so many ways, Spring is a vivid re-enactment of the miracle of the Easter Story.   This season is imprinted with the message of Jesus dying on the cross…laying silent in death’s grip for a time…resurrected from the grave to New Life.   Death for a season…silence for a time…new life springing forth! This is the pattern of Spring.

As I walked the perimeters of my backyard , hiding Easter eggs for my Grandchildren one Easter afternoon; it didn’t take me long to realize this pattern was everywhere!  Hiding Easter eggs under the withered stalks and dead leaves of  last year’s lifeless flower beds, I noticed the ground now studded with tender, green shoots pushing up through the dirt and springing forth with the beauty of a Day-Lily’s new bloom.   While maneuvering colored eggs into the crooks and forks of backyard bushes and trees,  I realized the barren tree branches, once laden with snow, were now covered with new buds; pregnant and ready to give birth to the snow-white blooms of the Wild Plum tree.  Any traces of winter that may have lingered behind in my heart were banished in an instant, by the unexpected warmth I felt just hearing the sweet chirps of a Robin’s new song in this new season.   Never before had Spring’s pattern been more evident to me.  Death for a season…silence for a time…new life springing forth!

After hiding all the eggs, I looked up to find my husband standing under the patio, laughing and pointing up at the tree I just walked away from.

“Looks like we have a joiner… an early treasure hunter!” Jim announced, laughing.

When I turned to see what he was talking about, I spotted a squirrel perched on a branch high up in our Cottonwood tree.  His paws were wrapped around the plastic Easter egg he’d managed to steal from the bush below.

That little squirrel recognized treasure in my backyard that day, too!  He wasn’t content to just give it a quick look and scamper away. He somehow understood the value of that treasure and his need to have it. So… he took a risk, leaving his place of safety to obtain it.  He worked furiously with both teeth and claws to bore a hole in the egg.    Because the egg was taped shut, that squirrel struggled for over thirty minutes before retrieving the chocolate candy stuffed inside of it.  Once  the sweet contents were in his little belly, with a surge of new life (His first chocolate high!), that squirrel disappeared out of sight, leaving the empty shell behind!

Spring is beautifully laced with the telling and re-telling of the Easter Story! This season mirrors, in unique ways,  the Story of the Savior’s Victory over Death and the New Life that springs forth because of it. Eternal Life!  Without a doubt, Jesus is the Greatest Treasure mankind will ever seek in his lifetime.  However we, like the little Easter squirrel, must first sit up and take notice of this One-of-a-Kind, Priceless Treasure, realizing that our greatest need in life is to lay hold of it.  Eyeing it from afar is not enough.  Just knowing it is there will not work. We must be willing to risk all, stepping outside our comfort zones to  receive this Treasure for ourselves.  Only then will we discover  it takes a personal sampling of the Sweet Contents of this Personal and Priceless Treasure to awaken us to the New Life that is within us!   Happy Easter…and Happy Hunting!!

“You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” (Jer. 29:13-14 NIV )

“The fear of the Lord is your treasure.   “( Isaiah 33:6b NIV)

mini heart fp  Heart Trapping –  What”imprints” of the Easter Season and the pattern of Spring do you see in your own back yard?  What treasures in life are you seeking?   How much are you willing to risk in life to attain them? Have they any Eternal value?   Do you believe that Jesus is your Greatest Treasure in this life?  Why or Why not?

Prayer –  O God, You are my God. You alone are my Treasure in this life.  My soul longs to find you. I hunger deeply for You; my whole heart longs to be satisfied by treasures beyond the silver and gold of this world.  Help me to find the Beauty of Your  undeniable and Priceless Presence in this Easter Season.  Thank you for Your gift of Hope and New Life…     Amen.

“The Miracle of a Magical Moment”

March 6, 2016 at 3:50 pm

Ryan the Great

       “RYAN THE GREAT!”          

“The real secret of Magic lies in the performance.”  (by David Copperfield)


written by Debbie Allen

Not long ago, I walked into my kitchen and heard my 7 year-old Grandson, “Ryan the Great”, speaking his own magic words and waving a wand over a little black box on my kitchen table. He loved the idea of being a magician so I decided to check out his first show!  Scanning the crowd, an audience of three, Ryan the Great, quickly singled me out and fanned a deck of cards out before me.

“Pick a card, Grammie…any card will do!” He advised me.

The card I picked was the Queen of Hearts. Taking the card back, Ryan placed the Queen of Hearts inside of the little black box on the table. Magic wand in hand, he tapped the box and cried,” Abracadabra!”

The audience’s eyes grew wide, anticipating what was next!  Ryan the Great’s eyes grew wide, too, for when he opened the box, the card was still there! Undaunted by failure, this great table-top magician simply shrugged it off and closed the box once more to try again. After studying the instructions inside the Magic Kit for a moment, Ryan tried once more.

“Alakazam!” he hollered out, this time tapping the box twice.  When he opened the box…there she was! That stubborn Queen of Hearts, still smiling back at him.

After shushing the audience (who chose to clap anyway), the Great and Powerful Ryan drew in a deep breath and put on his most solemn expression. Raising his magic wand higher than ever before, he tapped the black box three times, and spoke with the greatest of 7-year-old authority, these powerful words,

“IN THE NAME OF GOD!”

Do you know what? This time when he opened the black box, that stubborn Queen of Hearts had disappeared!  I imagine with words like those being spoken over her…that queen had no choice but to flee!

Every great magician’s first intention is to create an illusion that completely baffles the mind and dazzles the eyes of his audience.  Knowing the instructions for how to make that Queen of Hearts disappear from the little black box were packaged inside of Ryan’s Magic Kit; my eyes weren’t nearly as dazzled as my mind was baffled!  Baffled because when push came to shove…and life wasn’t offering the ending 7-year-old Ryan expected; he set aside the world’s magic words and generic instructions for success, and called on the Name of the One he knew was the difference between failure and success.  “IN THE NAME OF GOD!”

These words will forever be connected in my mind to the growing legacy of one of the greatest table-top magicians of all times (at least in Grammie’s kitchen and heart!) “Ryan the Great”, who even at age 7, understands where his greatness comes from!

 

“You are my King and my God. Decree victories for your people.  For it is only by Your Power and through Your Name that we tread down our enemies.” (Psalm 44:4)

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Heart Trapping:  Where do I find success in my life? What or Who am I calling on for help when failure stalks me again and again? Is my  daily performance before a watching world telling others… I am Great! Or do I cry out to the One Who is greater than I to do Great things through me?

Prayer:  Father, “In the Name of God!”  may each of us experience success by placing all we can do…and all we can’t do, under His Great Name and His Great Power, remembering where true greatness comes from.

 

“Here’s Look’in at You Kid!”

March 4, 2016 at 1:12 pm

                                                                                  “TWO-WEEK-OLD CHELSEA”
Chelsea Joy

“The most precious jewels I’ll ever wear around my neck…are the arms of my Grandchildren.”           


written by Debbie Allen

 Over the course of time, each life is marked by certain moments or seasons of change so influential, the rest of our life remains defined by it.  One such moment for me came about three years ago.  Sitting out on the patio with family, my son handed me my three-week-old granddaughter, Chelsea.  She lived 100 miles away, so I savored any moment I had to hold her close. As her sky-blue eyes pried open, I found myself searching them deeply… wondering what beautiful things God had planted down inside of her heart.  Then, it happened!  Though only for a split-second, our eyes locked and I watched an unexpected smile form across her tiny, rosebud lips. Her first smile.  Overcome by that unforeseen smile, my eyes teared at the realization that something much deeper and more profound than I was stirring my heart.  It wasn’t just Chelsea I was connecting with when our eyes locked.  I felt as though God were looking back at me through her. The innocence of her little heart overwhelmed mine. Her gaze and her smile seemed to be assuring me that I was both known…and loved. It was in that moment, my new little Granddaughter…whom the world tells me, thinks no thoughts past immediate hunger, thirst, or pain; and whose smile is simply the result of very timely gas; was teaching her Grammie a profound and unforgettable Truth.  A Truth I too often forget, in the bustle of my ever-changing circumstances.  My Heavenly Father wants nothing more from me than what I desired from Chelsea in that brief moment.  To rest assured that I am known and loved by Him…and then, for me to just “let” Him Love me back.

This defining moment in my life is a beautiful picture of the pure, undefiled level of trust God desires from us and the unfathomable Love He offers His Children when we just “let” Him Love us back. When we just lay still and helpless as a new born baby, in our Father’s Arms. His Arms will never fail us and if we lay there long enough, we will begin to hear the Melody of His Great Heart beating.  Every beat resounds with the Message of His Eternal Love for you and I…

“I have loved you with an everlasting Love. With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.”  (Jeremiah 31:3)

mini heart fpHeart Trapping- “What would my own life look like if I learned to trust You more like a new-born baby in my daily walk with You, God?”                

 Prayer:  Teach us, Father, help us to find our rest in your Unfailing Arms, even in the midst of life’s ever-changing circumstances.Hold us close and tune our ears to hear the Message of Your Great Heart…resounding  with every single beat, Your Eternal Love for each of us.    Amen

 

“Forever Autumn”

October 6, 2015 at 11:59 am

 

"Autumn's beautiful heart is, in so many ways,  the  Divine Artist's signature on the portrait of her life."

“Autumn’s beautiful heart is, in so many ways, the Divine Artist’s signature on the portrait of her life.”


 

written by Debbie Allen

When lazy summer days disappear every year under the shadows of the fall season; I sense the Hand of the Divine Artist brushing His most lavish changes onto the canvas of our world.  My eyes are captivated by the trees; as emerald leaves surrender to the kaleidoscopic beauty of bold tangerines and russets, shades of scarlet and deep plums.  Every year I find my heart scarcely able to contain the unmatched beauty of His Fall Glory!  But, all too soon the leaves drift down to the cold, brown earth; each a silent message from Heaven that the Artist is again at work.  This time He white-washes the canvas; leaving only the barren trunks of those same once beautiful trees, shivering along the horizon.  There are no leaves.  There is no color.  What can be the purpose of His brush strokes?

“Why, God?” I ask, watching my favorite season slipping away.

“Why strip these trees of their beautiful autumn raiment, leaving them to weather the coming storms without a decent covering?” “Where is Your Gory to be found in such a scene?”

I’m quite sure the Divine Artist’s Brow must have wrinkled at such a question coming from such a finite mind.  For not long afterwards, it seemed as though He tapped me on the shoulder, took His brush between His Fingers and began painting me the most vivid picture of autumn I could ever have imagined! One I will never forget.  Let me explain.

You see, I took on a part-time job at the end of the summer this past year.  Every morning since August, I stand in the midst of rows and rows of orange lockers; located in a girl’s locker room at a local middle school.  I am, who the girls deem, “The Locker Room Lady.” I am the one who stands in the doorway, arms crossed and a half-smile; ready to blow the whistle if things get too out of hand.  I hand out hair ties, retrieve lost gym suits, and referee dirty sock fights.  Though my job description doesn’t list it, I’ve also found my place among these girls as an official heart-monitor.  The one who steps in and listens to the bleating hearts of twelve-year-old love stories and fourteen-day romances gone awry.

Major drama here, I might add!  Something I’m not accustomed to; being the Mother of three boys.

Let me put it another way.  Watching sixty to seventy girls a day in this locker room setting is not too far removed from my days of watching ants in an Ant Farm with my boys when they were growing up.  Except…now I’m sealed in on the other side of the glass with the ants and the ants I’m watching seem to all be on steroids!

These unique, two-legged, middle-school Creaturettes tunnel furiously in and out of each other’s lives, gathering any little tidbit of love, friendship and acceptance they can find to keep their self-esteems alive in the hours ahead of them.  They run helter-skelter over each other’s hearts, and in and out of each other’s minds; feeding on the little crumbs dropped there by their peers.  Miraculously, they seem to thrive on this steady diet of carelessly misplaced words, vain opinions of who they are, and unrealistic expectations of who they should be.  It’s all part of living up to an unwritten Rule of Thumb that I’m convinced must be posted above every Creaturette’s tunnel entrance.  A rule which if written out, would no doubt read something like this:

“You are not who you are.

You are not even who others think you are.

You are who you think others think you are.”

          With a rule such as this in constant play, it shouldn’t surprise you to learn that the locker room is no safe haven for these girls.  It’s a rough ‘n tumble, ant-eat-ant environment where someone’s world is always at risk of caving-in.  Sounds a lot like the real world, doesn’t it?  A frenzied place of constant clamoring for love and acceptance.  If you can’t dig yourself into all the right places while the world’s eyes watch you do it; then, in the spirit of Ant-Farm mentality, your world is quickly reduced to a place where there’s nowhere to run and nowhere to hide!

In any case, life is full of such hindrances and the locker room is no exception.  By the end of the first week as the Locker-Room Lady, I thought I’d grown accustomed to all of the sights and sounds of so many different personalities colliding in a girl’s locker room.  The wind-tunnel effect of several hand dryers blowing full blast.  The ear-shattering squeals emanating from multiple giddy, teenage girls.  The echoes of twenty locker doors all slamming at different times.  All of these things combined made it impossible to actually hear anything in here.  But, one day, right in the middle of all of this controlled chaos; I managed to zero-in on someone’s faint cries echoing from a nearby bathroom stall.

“Can someone help me, please?” I heard a little voice cry out again.

Walking toward where I thought the voice came from, I listened for a moment.  Nothing.  There were two stalls so I bent over casually to inspect the ground for a pair of feet.  To my surprise, I instead found a pair of eyes looking back up at me from under the first stall door.

“I…I can’t get this door open…could you please help me?” the girl asked me softly.

“Sure thing.  Just stand back while I push on it.” I warned her, having been a prisoner in this same stall the day before.

Wham!  Bam!  A couple of hefty jolts with both my hands and the door flung wide open.  That’s when I came face to face with the owner of those two chocolate-brown eyes; now peering back at me from under thick strands of shoulder-length, licorice-black hair.

“Thanks.”  The girl said, speaking just above a whisper.

I introduced myself as the new Locker Room Lady and watched as she brushed her hair out of her eyes with a multi-scarred right hand.  A hand missing all of its four fingers.  Not much more than a fleshy palm with an appendage to the side that had been fashioned to serve as a thumb. No doubt, this was the very reason she’d struggled with the door in the first place.

“I…I’m Autumn,” she said to me, pulling back the curtain of bangs veiling her face.  As she did so, she exposed the face of a young girl whose entire countenance appeared ravaged by angry flames some time in her earlier years.  Trying not to stare, my eyes were quickly drawn back into hers.  It took every ounce of concentration in me not to shed the tears I felt welling up inside of me for what life had been allowed to take from this girl at such a young and tender age.  Oh, how the mother in me wanted to throw my arms around her at this moment.  To run interference for her and try to protect her from the awkward stares and abrasive comments I knew would come from the other girls.  How my heart broke as I watched the other girls glance in her direction and then walk, not just by her, but, around her; like she didn’t even exist. Watching Autumn walk away from me to follow her peers into the gymnasium; the mom in me began to cry softly; while the more brazen, Locker Room Lady proceeded to question God about another of His seasons in Life.  This time…the uninvited season of change that descended into this young girl’s life.

“Why God…why these brush strokes?” I asked, still in shock.

“Why leave her so exposed in this cold, cold world?”

“Where is Your Glory to be found in this scene?” I whispered for the second time in a week.

This time my words didn’t just fall from my mouth.  They, instead, flowed from the depths of my heart.  A heart in unexpected anguish.  A heart with no answers for my own questions.  A heart now made ready for the Divine Artist to step down into and set up His Easel to Paint.

Over the next few weeks, I watched Him paint a portrait of this young lady for me. Her assigned gym locker ended up being right around the corner from where I stood for most of my supervisory time in the locker room.  This allowed me to remain within earshot of many conversations that took place between Autumn and some of the other girls.  Curiosity drove the girls to tunnel a lot deeper into Autumn’s past than I would ever have dared to go.  As I listened to the other girl’s chatting back and forth, I soon learned that Autumn began her life as an orphan; left on the steps of a two-story Chinese orphanage.  She was abandoned by her birth-mother shortly after birth. When Autumn was eleven months old, a fire swept through the orphanage, consuming everything and everyone in its path.  Numerous babies and children lost their lives this day but, not before the wrath of the fire inflicted its permanent damages on her.  Unrecognizable and a near-casualty, baby Autumn spent an extended time in the burn unit of a Chinese hospital.  Nurses and doctors cared for her around the clock; treating extensive burns to her head, face and body; including her right arm and hand.  Burns which left her blind in one eye and bearing the tragic scars that now placed her on a low-eligibility list, concerning Chinese adoption status.  However, Chinese adoption status was no match for the Hand of God in this matter.  For, waiting back in the United States was a family who deliberately chose to adopt this living miracle; above all the other children made available to them.  She arrived in the United States as a toddler and since then, has undergone repeated surgeries and multiple skin grafts.  These surgeries will remain a necessary part of Autumn’s life for as long as she continues to grow and change.

Over the next few weeks, my desire to shelter her never went away.  But each time I felt compelled to run to her assistance, I also felt the Hand of the Artist holding me back…tugging on me as if to keep me out of the way of the portrait He was still painting for me.

“Just watch,” I heard Him whispering into my anxious heart every day…”Just watch.”

And so I did.  Every day I watched the other girls flock to the full-length mirrors, hanging on the ends of the locker bays like ants drawn to sugar.  There they stood, beholding their own reflections; conducting their own mini-beauty contests.  By the time I watched them put a third layer of mascara onto already foot-long lashes, I could almost hear them chanting in their hearts,   “Mirror, mirror, on the wall…It’s true; I’m the fairest of them all!”

Then…I watched Autumn standing in their shadows unnoticed.  She paused there only for a moment; long enough to share a tiny corner of the same mirror.  Though she had no lashes and no vision in one of her eyes, I watched a smile quietly invade the scars stretched so taut across her face.  A beautiful smile.  One that told the story of a grateful heart, uttering with every single beat, “I’m here…and just thankful to be alive!”

I watched the girls banging on their locker doors with both fists in frustration when locker combinations didn’t open up on the first try.  Unwilling to try again, they always hollered out for the Locker Room Lady to, “…”bring us the key!”

Then, I saw Autumn crunched down silently on her knees before her bottom-row locker. I watched as she turned the combination over and over and over again with great difficulty.  Never did she utter a complaint or think to call out for help.  I suppose that in a lifetime that has been filled with endless moments of frustration, this is only one more time of her choosing to not give up.  One more time for her to be thankful for the full use of her one good hand.

On Picture Day, I watched some of the girls break into tears because the picture on their school I.D. didn’t reflect the perfect, unblemished image they hoped to project to the outside world.

But…Autumn only tucked her I.D. away in a book bag with a shrug, claiming, “It’s just a picture…it’s not the real me.”

My heart melted at her words.  Autumn may live inside of a thirteen year old body, but she speaks with a level of wisdom that most adults never reach in a lifetime.  It is the wisdom that comes with learning to see life from the inside out.  A Heavenly Insight, daily reassuring her that the contours of a person’s face should never be given a higher priority than the shape of a person’s heart.  Her beautiful heart is in so many ways, the Divine Artist’s Signature on the portrait of her life.

I stand amazed every day as I watch this young girl whom the world has deemed less-than-perfect , helping to make the world around her a more perfect place to be.  She reaches with her one hand, farther than most of us will ever be willing to go with two good hands.  Though blind in one eye, she never fails to see the needs of those around her.  She has plenty of reasons of her own to cry over…but instead, she saves those tears for the times I’ve seen her sitting on a locker room bench consoling a broken-hearted peer.

There is a quiet strength that abides deep within Autumn.  One that allows her to withstand the coldness that surrounds her.  To live above the Locker Room’s unwritten Rule of Thumb, which dictates, “You are who you think others think you are.”

How fitting that her adoptive parents should choose to name her Autumn.  She is a beautiful reflection of the Fall season.  A season marked by change.  A season that mirrors so well, the meaning of self-sacrifice…the quiet surrendering of a beautiful raiment, so a cold, brown earth might be touched and changed for a time by its leaves of gold.

The Seasons of Life sometimes offer us branches, stripped bare and standing in wide open abandonment on a whitewashed horizon in a cold, cold world.  At first glance, most of us find it too difficult to see past the barrenness of such a scene.  Some of us will even go so far as to question the brush strokes of the Divine Artist; daring to ask Him,

“Why? What purpose is there?”  or even,  “Where is Your Glory to be found in such a scene?”

Whether looking at His portrait of a young teenage girl named, Autumn; framed in the chaos of a girl’s locker room…

Or gazing out across the barren branches of trees, shivering along the whitewashed horizon of a Fall landscape…

Hear His Voice. Just watch, while He sets up His Easel in your own heart to Paint.

The Divine Artist’s Answer will always be the same.

Because the branches are bare… My Glory shines brighter there.”

 

“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the Heart.”  (I Samuel 16: 7b NLT)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Dancing Lightly with Life”

September 7, 2015 at 1:56 pm

 

3-Year-Old, Chelsea, fills the room with her joy... "Today is my day to dance with Life, Sing wild songs of adventure, Invite rainbows & butterflies out to play, Soar my spirit, and unfurl my joy!" _Jonathan L. Huie_

3-Year-Old, Chelsea, fills the room with her joy…
“Today is my day to dance with Life,
Sing wild songs of adventure,
Invite rainbows & butterflies out to play,
Soar my spirit, and unfurl my joy!”
_Jonathan L. Huie_


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

written by Debbie Allen

Who needs a written definition of joy when there’s a picture like this one hanging in the halls of your memory?  Over the years, those hallways of mine have expanded into more of a Gallery of Kodak-moments.  Their steep, Victorian walls are now bulging under the weight of countless snapshots filled with the little faces of my children and grandchildren, captured in their own unexpected moments of undeniable joy.  I walk among them, gazing and praising God for each and every memory hanging before me.  Believe me; I retreat to this special place often.  For it is when I stand here, gazing at pictures like the one of Chelsea, above, I am most reminded of what it feels like when true joy floods the heart.    That deep, abiding kind of joy that so effortlessly frames our faces, sets our hearts aglow, and stirs our souls. While wandering through my Gallery one day recently, I couldn’t help but notice how even true joy seems to subtly fade-away from those same radiant faces with the onset of adulthood.  Intrigued at the very thought of it,  I  couldn’t help but wonder, “What is the source of such inexplicable joy   …and why is it that small children seem to have cornered the market on this rare and beautiful gift?”

Though there is no simple answer, I believe the answer still points us towards something simple.   The simplicity that comes with just being a child. A child’s eyes still see Mom and Dad as heroes worthy of their complete dependence.  Heroes with the answer to everything, and love enough for all things.   A child’s heart is still filled with innocence and wonder at every turn in their world.  Their heads are not yet swimmimg with doubts and worries of this life that steer them towards a life-style tainted by mistrust and unbelief.  Their hands have not yet taken hold of the hands in this world that so eagerly pull them down paths they were never meant to go.   Children wake up wide-eyed and eager to explore whatever a new day brings them.  They spring from puddles of joy, hair parted crooked, and shoes on the wrong feet, to the breakfast table where they wrestle with the hardest decision of their day. A chocolate-frosted, double-dutch doughnut with sprinkles?  …or a bowl of soggy Shredded Wheat? (We both know which one wins!)

There is simply nothing like being a child…and ironically, once we grow-up, we often just wish we were a child again.  Somewhere along the way, as adults, we lose sight of the joy that characterizes childhood. We lose touch with the wonder that God has tucked in the folds of each of our days.  Our wandering eyes are more quickly drawn to focus in on the circumstances surrounding us. It is in this breach between the wondering heart and our wandering eyes  (perspective), that we begin  to push joy and Truth  through our own filter of circumstances and logic; ending up with only  a strained version of what the world calls happiness.

Perhaps this accounts for the difference in the expressions on the faces of those in the snapshots in my Gallery, as they grow older.  I studied the snapshot of Chelsea as she danced with life.  Then, I glanced over at a picture of myself on one of my recent birthday celebrations.  Oh…I wore a big smile on my face, sitting before a glowing birthday cake and a pile of presents, but Chelsea’s expression radiated something mine lacked. (No…not youth vs. age! ).  I remembered being prompted by my Daughter-in-law right before that picture was snapped to, “Smile, Mom!”   So I did.  Evidently happiness is capable of being staged.  It can be put on as quickly as it can be taken off….much like a coat.  My smile was born in just the right moment, for just the right set of circumstances, and then quietly subsided.  My smile was not a world-changing event. Chelsea’s smile, however, filled the entire room, washed over all our hearts, and continued long after I captured her on camera.  She spilled joy into the room that night.   Chelsea beamed.  Grammie had only smiled.

Because of the huge difference I could visibly see in those two snapshots in my Gallery, I decided to further explore the difference between Grammie’s smile and Chelsea’s beam.  Here is what Funk & Wagnalls Dictionary had to say about it:

Smile– to wear a cheerful aspect.  n. an amused expression of the face, characterized by the raising of the corners of the mouth.

Beam- to grin radiantly.  to emit light.

So….a smile can be worn and can be considered more an act of the will, strongly dependent upon surrounding circumstances.

A beam, however, seems to take on a life of its own.  It is more spontaneous and comes from somewhere much deeper inside of us.  It is not forced, and something, or Someone, I can only call Light streams from its source. Light capable of flooding an entire room and touching any heart  captured by its radiance. It is contagious.  This is joy…and it comes from the Source of all Joy, God Himself.

Someone once said, “If you have joy in your heart, it will be heard by the look on your face.”  Chelsea’s snapshot is proof positive of this to me!  It’s the perfect description of what you see on her face.    A priceless picture of sheer Joy.  A living example of the immense difference between just a smile and a big beam…and just happiness and great joy.   Sadly enough, it’s also the difference between adulthood and childhood.   As we grow towards adulthood, the complete trust and peace we once shared while living under the roof of our parent’s love and guidance, slowly erodes with doubts, fears, and the ways of a world who claims to know what’s best for us…and insists on telling us how to find true happiness.   Granted, this world is a beautiful place. We can live within this world and even find happiness in many of its corners, but when life’s circumstances come crashing down around us and happiness transforms into a distant memory; the peace we knew in childhood seems nonexistent.  Without peace…there can be no joy.

I have walked this earth long enough to know the world’s happiness is no substitute for true joy.  Even though I understand this truth with my head, there are still times when I catch my heart feeling robbed of joy.  One day at work not long ago, I was feeling both overwhelmed and under- appreciated.  I let my unhappiness about some unpleasant circumstances surrounding me dictate my inner attitude.  Like a giant billboard, my face became an advertisement for my heart’s disdain.  As I walked by my boss, Billie’s, glass-framed office; she motioned for me to come in.  All I really wanted that morning was to get to my desk and indulge heavily in the cup of black coffee waiting there for me.  Sipping it, I grimaced.  Like the rest of my morning, it wasn’t what I expected.  It was ice cold but, I knew it was the only refreshment available for the pity-party I was about to throw myself.   Putting my pity party on hold until after my meeting with Billie, I headed for her office to see what was up.

Reluctant smile and cold coffee in hand, I braced myself, expecting her to approach me about the 101st thing gone-wrong-in-one-morning in the crazy Middle School world we both worked in. Such a moment never came.  There was a short time of just small talk and then Billie broke out into a story from her childhood that still touches me to this day.

Billie went on to share little bits and pieces about her childhood on a small sheep and cattle ranch in the middle of windy, Wyoming.  She spoke fondly of the brazen, fun-loving Dad she loved dearly; and the staunch, God-fearing, Mom who she adored.  Billie was the baby in the flock of brother’s and sisters she grew up with. Though they were dirt poor, love disguised it well.  She couldn’t think of a time when any of them ever went without a garden-fresh meal on the table or new hand-me-downs on their backs. Sounds to me like love filled in some pretty big gaps back then.  After a few minutes of sharing with me, Billie broke out in a hearty laugh; as she often did at the end of her stories.  But today, laughter didn’t signify, “The End.”  Her laughter was only the interval I saw her countenance transform happiness into joy.  Her laughter ushered in what I believe to be the very reason I was sitting there in front of her. For me, this moment gushed with God.

Without missing a beat, Billie began telling me how her Dad and Uncle would back a flatbed truck up to the barn on shearing day.  To me, a city girl, shearing day sounded like anything but a holiday, however, Billie’s expression told me otherwise. Her eyes danced while she spilled the details to me.  She was a child reliving that moment again!  I don’t believe I could’ve removed her smile with a crow bar even if I’d tried!

Shearing Day took place on the farm, in Wyoming, in the heat of summer.  I imagine such a day was also characterized by scorching winds dancing across sweat-drenched brows, while swift and sweaty palms worked shear magic to transform the wild and wooly into the scraped and scrawny.    Sheep bleating, clippers clipping, and fleece flying!   All of this sounds like more than enough exhilaration to rate “extremely-high” on a child’s joy meter.  Billie’s face reflected this as she proceeded to act out her part in this scene from her childhood.  While still sitting in her rolling desk chair across from me, Billie threw both arms out to the side, lifted her feet straight up, and began to re-enact the dance that little four-year-old Billie danced on shearing day; after being placed down inside of a fifteen foot tall, burlap, fleece-bag dangling from the barn loft high above her head.

“I can’t remember how I got down inside of that bag”, Billie pondered, grinning “…I just remember being there and having so much  fun; laughing and giggling for an entire day, while endless fleece rained down on top of my head!”

Like every other task performed on the farm, Billie’s Dad did not just place his precious, Baby Girl down inside of that stuffy, burlap, fleece-bag without a much greater purpose in mind. She was given a very specific job to do for her Daddy.  She was his own, personal fleece-stomper!  He was to her, the fleece-maker.  He sheared and sheared…Billie stomped and stomped.  At the end of that day, pounds and pounds of sheared fleece became bags and bags full of compressed wool to take to market.  I’m sure each bag brought a great price, but, do you know what I consider to be the most valuable take-away from the farm at the end of shearing day?  The expression of joy that Billie still wears on her face nearly five decades later. Shear joy!  It comes from the heart of that little farm girl inside of her who, even now, looks back on all her stomping…and sees dancing.  She remembers her sweaty, pint-sized brow…and still calls it fun.   She ponders growing tired…yet, still draws strength from her Daddy’s words of encouragement that day, “Just keep stomping, little Bill, keep stomping!”

“What else was I going to do?” Billie asked me, beaming a smile in my direction.

“After all, the only way out of those bags was up!”

Billie and I both chuckled at her last comment and how differently small children see their worlds.  As I walked out of her office that morning, I knew she had no idea just how much her story impacted my heart.  So much so, I dumped out my cold coffee on the way back to my desk and cancelled my pending pity-party!   Billie’s last words made me realize that my own joy meter was stuck on zero. Her childhood story about the joyful fleece-stomper and her beloved fleece-maker, made me sorely aware of the kind of story I was revealing to those around me that morning.  Mine was more a grim tale with a story line that fell somewhere between  the worst of  Hugo’s “Les Miserables”, and the frantic cries of  Chicken Little’s,  Henny Penny crying out, “The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!”  It portrayed nothing of the joyful relationship my Heavenly Father desired for me to be sharing with Him or living out before others.

As I mentioned earlier, this was a God-Gushing moment for me.  Every one of Billie’s words and gestures oozed with God’s message for me; concerning my grumpy, joyless responses to this morning’s unpleasant circumstances.  At one point, I felt God confronting me with this question.

“What if four-year-old Billie had said, “No!” to all of the things her Daddy had in mind for her that day?”

This question both haunted and humbled me.  I knew it was directed at my own heart.  Though I answered with silence that day, later, I clearly understood that if Little Billie had said “No!” that day, I wouldn’t even be writing these words you are reading right now!  So while Billie’s words continued filtering through my brain…God was busy translating her story even deeper in my heart.  Here is what gushed out.

“What if four-year-old Billie woke up on that hot, windy, Wyoming, shearing day on the farm and said, “No!” to the joy awaiting her in that day (As we adults too often do)?  She could’ve chosen to dwell purely on the facts surrounding her.  She was too little…too tired…too busy…and the job was too much for her littleness to comprehend.  But, she didn’t!  Instead, in the way of a little child, she sought her father out and without questioning him, accepted her small part in his BIG world.  Grasping her Daddy’s hand in total trust, she went willingly down into the burlap, fleece-bag which swallowed her up whole and then kept her from seeing him at all.  Little Billie could’ve felt trapped or even alone in this unfamiliar place.  Fear might have won. But, looking up, instead of giving in, she cried out, “Daddy?”

“I’m here!” Daddy answered…and fear was done!

Quickly, she learned that just because the fleece-maker was invisible to her; didn’t mean he wasn’t still standing there beside her.  And when the clumps of fleece from her Daddy’s hands tumbled down upon her head, she didn’t wince or cry out, “Why?”  She simply remembered her littleness…in light of his nearness; and joyfully danced to the sounds of her Daddy’s voice…

“Just keep stomping, Little Bill’…

Keep dancing for me!”

“And let joy teach your heart

to really see!”

 

“To really see…”

 Most of us forfeit the chance to really see because we become paralyzed by, or choose to focus only, on the circumstances falling down around us.  If Little Billie had chosen to do the same, she would have been buried alive at the bottom of the fleece-bag on shearing day.  However, she didn’t.  She chose wisely to heed her Daddy’s words and responded with obedience.  She stomped and stomped, tromping the fleece falling on top of her head, beneath her feet.  In time, with both diligence and fortitude, she rose steadily to the top of that bag; climbing out into the arms of her Daddy’s treasured, embrace.  Though hard work and difficult circumstances abounded in this day, joy overwhelmed it.  Joy enough to teach a child’s heart that trust and obedience brings both treasure and reward at the end of any given day.  Shear joy, so deeply infused in a little girl’s heart; it is still worn on the adult face of that little fleece-stomper today.

“To really see…”

A child’s eyes still see…really see.  They see beyond the point where adults choose to stop looking.  They see the wonder that God has tucked in the folds of their little lives…and their hearts chase after it!  Look again at the expression on my Granddaughter’s face on her three-year-old birthday.  That is a reflection of the very Signature of God upon her little heart…written in the ink of sheer joy!  Her Mom and Dad named her right when they chose “Joy” for her middle name; Chelsea Joy!  She floods an entire room with it when she smiles.  Joy inhabits the sparkle in her blue eyes.  Joy is what propels her little feet to dance in the middle of a room filling up with bubbles.  When we adults looked at those same bubbles that night, we saw only the soapy reminders of our own distant childhood.  Chelsea really saw them!   She saw tiny, shiny, floating spheres filled with miniature, glistening rainbows and the very Breath of God!  Her heart surrendered to joy as she danced on tip-toes, spinning around; her eyes drawn upward into a higher reality.  Reaching towards the beauty she saw in those heights, she listened hard to the good-bye cries of bubbles as they popped against the ceiling and disappeared.  The girlish giggles that followed those good-byes, exhibited anything but disappointment.  I believed them to be the outward signs of the inward Whispers of  a Loving, Heavenly Father assuring  His little girl’s heart  that just because something, or Someone, is out of sight…it doesn’t make them any less real! Oh, the joy that inhabits the trusting ways of a little child!

“To really see…” 

We must learn to embrace the possibility of the impossible.  To see that life is more than filling in the blanks with our own guesses for what is real and possible, and what is not.  Wisdom is not defined according to our own set of rules and boundaries, theories and happenstances.   There are many people today who choose these ways as a filter for living their entire life. Today’s world embraces such thinking, calling it knowledge.  Yet…when the world watches little children at play, doing this very same thing; they choose to call it ‘make-believe.’  So which is it?  Knowledge…or make-believe?

There are no double-standards living inside of Truth.  Even our very best guesses in this life are no substitution for Truth; nor do they change the reality of that Truth.  We were not designed by our Creator for living and making choices in a world where so many double-standards rule.  A place like this is laced with confusion, doubts, unbelief and fear.  These all come with a guaranteed promise to steal your peace, run away with your happiness and kill your joy.  The Truth is…all of us were designed to live as little children in our Heavenly Father’s world.  We can choose to make life up as we go, living on a steady diet of double-standards, or… we can trust God like the little child we were always meant to be and learn to live within the safety of His boundaries of Truth.   He promises His children this:

“ For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”   (Jeremiah 29:13 NIV)

These Words come straight from the Heart of the Perfect Father.  One Who knows His children from the inside out.  He wrote their story and shares their every joy. He daubs every tear.  He bears every complaint.  He treasures every moment of unquestioned reliance.  He endures every season of unmerited defiance…yet, He chooses to Love them anyway. There is great peace of mind living inside the safety of such a Great Plan and such a Great Love.

Little children understand what it is to truly experience life on this level more naturally than adults.   Adults have a tendency to endure what was meant to be enjoyed as a gift.  Chelsea didn’t just wake up on her third birthday, endure the bubble-chasing event, and then mark it off the calendar  before stepping into her new, three-year-old role.  Had this been the case, I’d have one less portrait of Joy hanging in the halls of my memory!  No…Chelsea experienced it!  She jumped and swirled and danced with the bubbles!  She felt them brush up against her pink cheeks and sting her eyes when they popped.  Catching them on her tongue, she sampled their soapy wonder.  She tried to capture their beauty with both hands, scooping at the myriad of bubbles as the floated by her!

Author, Sherwood Wirt, once wrote, “Joy is the enjoyment of God and the good things that come from the hand of God.”

I watched as Chelsea lived out this kind of joy with her whole heart on her birthday night. I witnessed the same joy overtake the adult face of Little Billie, as we sat in her office that day in the library.      Our Heavenly Father desires a life much like this for all of His children. We are designed for experiencing all of the good things He has already planned for us concerning every day of our lives.  Perhaps it is no accident the story of the fleece-maker and his daughter mirrors the story that each of us as God’s children were intended to be living out in this world before others.

The Fleece-maker and his Daughter speaks loudly to me of the kind of relationship a little child is meant to have before his/her Heavenly Father.  It emulates waking each morning and saying, “yes” to Joy.  It is seeing past the obvious; I’m too tired…too busy…and the job is too much.  Seeking our Father out, without question, we are to accept our small part in His BIG world.  Grasping  our Father’s Hand in total trust, we are to go willingly, as He slips us down into the unforeseen circumstances surrounding us each day.  And yes…they swallow us up without reservation and sometimes keep us from seeing the Face of our Father at all!  Feeling alone down in this unfamiliar place; Fear fights to win !

But, we cry, “Father?”

“I AM here,” He answers.

And Fear is done!

Quickly, we learn in this place, that just because our Father is invisible to us, doesn’t mean He isn’t standing right there next to us.  And when the circumstances that fall from our Father’s Hands come crashing down upon our heads; our Father’s Love has taught us we don’t wince and cry out, “Why?”

We remember instead, to ponder our little-ness in light of His  Near-ness and joyfully dance to the sounds of  our Father’s Voice…

“Just keep stomping, Little Child,

Keep dancing for Me;

Let Joy teach your heart

To really see!”

 

 

“..in Your Presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm16:11b NKJV)

Below you will find some of my most treasured Portraits of “Joy”.  These are some of the faces I gaze upon while strolling down the Halls of my Memory:

 

Granddaughter, Makayla, climbing a tree for the very first time!

Granddaughter, Makayla, climbing a tree for the very first time!

Chelsea,  a glimpse of life...riding on Daddy's shoulders!

Chelsea, a glimpse of life…riding on Daddy’s shoulders!

Grandpa Jim...just a big kid, swinging with his Granddaughter!

Grandpa Jim…just a big kid, swinging with his Granddaughter!

Grammie Debbie & Grandpa Jim...sharing a  mountain top experience; learning the art of taking 'selfies'!

Grammie Debbie & Grandpa Jim…sharing a mountain top experience; learning the art of taking ‘selfies’!

Rusty & Blue...the joy of finding you have a new and furry, Kissing Cousin!

Rusty & Blue…the joy of finding you have a new and furry, Kissing Cousin!

Grandson, Ryan...Tossing a little frisbee around at Glennwood Springs!

Grandson, Ryan…Tossing a little frisbee around at Glennwood Springs!

Grammie & Ryan, Chelsea, Makayla... Celebrating the joy of 'silly-ness!'

Grammie & Ryan, Chelsea, Makayla…
Celebrating the joy of ‘silly-ness!’

 

The “Cycle” of Life

June 11, 2015 at 1:46 pm

Blue Schwinn

“My first bicycle, Big Blue, is to me still, the beautiful piece of machinery

from whose framework I gleaned the secrets of living a successful life.”


 

written by Debbie Allen

History offers no man a more unique gift than that of the bicycle.  This priceless set of wheels began as a simple walking machine known as  the Hobby Horse, back in the early 1800’s.  Today’s bicycle has gradually evolved into a modern day, two-wheeled structure whose framework flaunts the very secrets to living a successful life!  No one will ever find a visible set of these instructions inside any box containing a brand new bike.  Such secrets are well disguised but, worth the effort it takes to discover them.  You see, most anyone can learn to ride a bicycle but, to grasp the ‘magic’ involved in learning to pedal with purpose across the paths of time…THAT is where the true secrets lie.

Everything I ever wanted to know about a bicycle I learned from my Dad.  One hot, summer afternoon, I watched him dump hundreds of loose pieces of metal into a pile on our front porch.  Those pieces, large and small, all fell  from an over sized cardboard box containing my first bike.  My eight-year-old brain swam aimlessly around in that metallic sea of confusion.  Dad seemed to understand it all, though.  He skillfully assembled each piece,  occasionally glancing over at a paper scrawled with thousands of tiny, meaningless words and confusing diagrams.  My  Dad proved himself a real miracle-worker  to me that day!  From my perspective, he took metal from cardboard and, using  nothing more than the little piece of  paper in front of him, he created my first bike!

“There you go, Sweetie.  It’s all your’s!” He said, standing it up in front of me.

I paid him in hundreds that day.  Hundreds of times of squealing, “Thank you…Thank you…Thank you!” while jumping up and down at least a hundred times more!

Oh, how I marveled at her beauty as I stood there beside her with my Dad.  Though my Dad called her, Schwinn, I was so awe-struck by the richness of her color, I nick named her, Big Blue.  From that moment on Big Blue became for me an adventure waiting to happen.

Oddly enough, the very first adventure Big Blue and I shared was just trying to keep her upright.  My Dad positioned me on the seat, put the pedals into an up-down position and then held me steady.

“Let me go, Daddy!  Just let me go!”  I cried out with confidence.

As the front wheels rolled forward, I could hear my Dad trying to warn me.

“Are you sure you don’t need these training wheels?” He hollered.

By the time he spit out his last word, I already wibbled and wobbled my way into a three-foot deep ditch.  Though I landed in soft green grass, my pride was brutally shattered.  Big Blue went down and she took me with her…or had it been the other way around?

In the days to come, my Dad spent countless hours coaxing, coaching, and chasing me up and down the driveway.  His hand never failed to steady me when I leaned a little too much one way or another.  And I always did.  For every time I managed to keep Big Blue upright, I fell down five more times.  I became well acquainted with what my Dad called the “ground rules!”

“It’s OK.”  He often said.  “Falling is just part of the learning process.  One of these days you’ll catch the magic!”  He assured me with a brimming smile.

Hills of discouragement heaped themselves all around me.  I spent many hours in these hills at the beginning stages of befriending Big Blue.  In these moments of doubt, I sought refuge in the sound of my Dad’s voice echoing throughout these hills.

“One of these days, you and Big Blue will become the best of friends!” He promised me.

About two weeks later, Big Blue and I did share our first moment of true friendship as I sailed, upright, down the full length of our driveway!  Excited, I skidded to a halt and turned to find my Dad jumping up and down at the other end of the driveway.  He paid ME in hundreds that day!  Hundreds of times of yelling, “Good job, Sweetie…Good job!”  “You just needed to keep pedaling!”

Finally, I grasped the principles he’d been trying to instill in me all along.  My Dad believed in me from the beginning…even when I didn’t.  The sound of his voice, not too far behind me, helped to keep me in proper balance between Big Blue’s wheels.  My Dad never did let me buckle under the idea that the task seemed too daunting for me to master.  After all, he knew what I could accomplish under the loving guidance of his hand.

Big Blue and I began a ride that day which has carried me from childhood into my adult years.  For me, my bi-cycle proved itself to be among the most significant of all of the Cycles of Life.  Its framework provided me the support system I needed for learning balance in life, and the unwritten instructions for living it successfully.

You see, I still wibble and wobble my way across Life’s pathways.  I am forever running ahead of my Heavenly Father crying out, “Let me go!  Just let me go!” (“Pride ends in a fall… ” Proverbs 29:23 LAB).  I fall!

From the midst of the ditch I hear His Voice asking me, “Are you sure you don’t need the training wheels?” (“There is a way which seems right to man, but its end is the way of death.”  Proverbs 14:12 NAS).

My Heavenly Father spends countless hours rescuing, wooing, and instructing me along bumpy roads,, blind curves, and dead ends.  Frequently, in my own discouragement, I have heard His Voice whispering softly in my ear,  “Its OK… falling is just part of the learning process.  Keep on pedaling and one of these days you’ll catch the magic!”

Do you  know what I have discovered that magic to be? It is the unfailing promise of His Hand, always there to steady me.  My Father’s Hand…nothing short of an invisible wall holding me upright throughout Life’s journey.

Everything I learned in Life about riding my bicycle, I learned from my Dad.  Everything I learned on my bicycle about living my life, I learned from my Heavenly Father.  My bicycle is the beautiful piece of machinery from whose framework I gleaned the secrets of living a successful life.  From childhood to becoming a Child of God, the message remains the same.  “Trust your Father’s Hand…hear your Father’s Voice.”  Discover the magic and experience the freedom that comes when you find yourself balancing upright between the Wheels of Life.  Hear Him calling out to you…

“Just keep pedaling…but,  pedal now with greater purpose across the Pathways of Time!”

Blue Schwinn

“She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of Life.”

—Francis E Willard

 

 

Life…’Tis the Cat’s Meow?

June 9, 2015 at 5:14 pm

Cat wearing glasses

 “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things in Thy Word.”  (Psalm 119:18)


 

written by Debbie Allen

 

“Dost Thou love life?  Then

Do not squander time.  For that

Is the stuff life is made of.”

As I poured over these few words of wit and wisdom, written by the quill of great Statesman/Publisher/Musician and Inventor, Benjamin Franklin; I couldn’t help but wonder if his own cat may have played a tiny, inspirational role in the penning of this lofty thought.   But, that is something each of you must decide for yourself. To fully engage in the story I am about to share; requires tapping into an unknown portion of the human brain.  I like to call it the phinnickus-imaginus. It is the  unseen spark that ignites when an unexpected emotional response occurs; forever bonding a cat to its human. More simply put, it is that fur-lined spot inside of human nature where all Cat Tales are stored.

Purr-haps I should elaborate.   One night back in June of 1752, Benjamin Franklin paced back and forth inside his Philadelphia home.  Sleeplessness often plagued him, but this night a raging thunderstorm kept him from slumber.  Deep in thought, he paused to fill his favorite pipe somewhere in-between the stages of inventing the bifocal lens, and securing a skeleton key onto a kite string.  Thinking was his favorite pastime…pacing, his way of doing it.    His own ambitions forever driving him, and his waste-not-want-not nature gnawing at his patience only added to the impossibility of his being able to think clearly.  Franklin struggled to hear his own thoughts over the obnoxious sounds of incessant purring in his background and the rolling thunder rumbling in the heavens above.  Hands clasped, retracing his steps in front of the crackling fireplace; his eyes came to rest on part of the reason. Shaking his head, he did his best to conceal the smile that overtook his countenance at the sight of his own lazy cat, Benjamina, stretched out across the warm stone hearth before him, purring like a freight train.

“Ah-hh…thou dost love life.”  Benjamin uttered, stopping in mid-stride to reprimand his furry name-sake.  “Truly, life is the cat’s meow for thee!” Franklin added.

Pulling his pipe from his mouth, he swung his arm out to one side and with great exaggeration, bowed low, in jest, before the hearth Benjamina claimed now as her throne.

“But I feel it my duty to inform your Royal Highness…that a cat in white gloves catches no mice, for the mice run free while you squander time given you to chaseth them in!” he added, backing away from her before standing up again.

His electrical experiments still weighing heavy on his mind, Franklin reached for his raincoat, stopping for a moment to study the home-made kite he’d constructed earlier. A glance back at the hearth told him his words to Benjamina went unheeded. Her concern carried her only as far as another lingering stretch and a new forced yawn could take her. So Franklin scooped up this furry queen in one hand and grabbed his kite with the other. With his house key now dangling from the kite’s string, he pushed the front door open with his foot and both of them emerged into this soggy night.

Benjamina’s four feet met the ground with protest from the very beginning. Out of the one hundred sounds that a cat can make, only a few were left unexpressed within a minute’s time.

“ME-EE-E-OW!!!”  Benjamina screeched as a last ditch effort to raise her master’s attention to the cruelty of such a hideous act.  If this is what master Franklin meant when he said “Life is the cat’s meow,” then she wanted no part of it! For her this entire incident boiled down to a simple matter of royalty vs. loyalty. Royalty, by the way, wins every time in Benjamina’s fur-lined mind.

Benjamina recoiled  as the cold raindrops continued pelting her; flattening the hair she wanted so very much to be standing straight up on her angry, arched back when her master turned to look at her.  By the time Franklin did turn his head, all he could raise was an eyebrow in her direction.  Even in all of her arched glory, her present de-pouffed condition made her look more like an oversized lucky-horseshoe leaning at a slant against his door.

Repulsed by her master’s unsympathetic gesture, Benjamina raised her chin into the air; higher than it had ever been raised before. Standing at attention on all-fours now, she did what all cats must do whenever their honor is at stake.  She piously flashed the Royal Rump in the direction of her master.  With poised and painful effort, she raised her water-logged tail straight up into the air and sashayed away from the one who just reduced her to the pitiful level of a mere mouse-catcher.

“Mouse-catcher indeed!” she thought once more in sassy silence. Slowly, she ambled away seeking shelter in the tangled root system of a Mulberry tree nearby.  She simply would not….no, could not lower her queenish standards and become the maligned beast her human made her out to be. Besides, why should she hunt for food when she could count on Mrs. Franklin to place a saucer full of milk near the hearth every night before she retired for bed?

“This dear lady…” Benjamina thought, “… appears to be the ONLY one in the entire household who even has a clue when it comes to understanding proper cat-servanthood!

On the other hand, Benjamina also knew Franklin to be a man who stood by his principles. His principles applied both to man and beast.  Anyone living under his roof.   More than once, she’d heard him confronting his teenage son, William; notorious for side-stepping his own household duties time and time again.

“Pulleth only thy weight, not thy punches!” Franklin would bellow at him, squinting over the tops of his glasses.

By the time this favorite dictum passed through all of the 64 twitching muscles in both her ears required for translating English into Cat, Benjamina perceived it more like this.

“Put your paws into it, or your royal rump is out the door!”

This thought in mind, failure to produce the mice she’d been summoned to catch tonight by the master somewhat worried her.  She concealed it well but, rarely did anyone in the Franklin household ever escape punishment concerning idle paws. She had no desire to sleep in the Mulberry tree in the front yard for the night.  She could not fathom what it might be like to have to claw her way up into a tree transporting 60,000 hairs per square inch topside, 120,000 hairs per square inch on her belly; and every single hair saturated to maximum capacity with rain!

“EEEE-EEE-EE-OOOWWW!”  Benjamina shrieked at the unthinkable possibility of experiencing life as a two-ton tabby before morning.

“Perhaps, though…” her devious mind continued to reason, “…should it come to that…I shall think of it only as the opportunity that forced me to become twice the Queen I was before!  Pull my weight, indeed!” she retorted, flashing two angry, luminescent eyes in Franklin’s direction.

It only took seconds for her to spot his silhouette running out in the field about a hundred yards away. He looked somewhat,let’s say…ridiculous to her at this moment.

What manner of human being…” she wondered, “…chases lightning in a field after midnight; with the six inches of mud accumulated on his soles pulling him downward, and more than two hundred feet of kite string pulling him upward?”

This tug-o-war with the heavens that Franklin seemed to have gotten himself into, confirmed more than ever what Benjamina always suspected.   Her master truly was a mad scientist!

On the heels of this thought, the heavens exploded with a flood of both sound and light! A deafening clap of thunder ushered in one of the biggest bolts of lightning Benjamina ever witnessed and it landed right on top of the master’s toy kite!  The ground beneath her still rumbling; her own sudden mixture of royal fear and adrenaline united to drive this trembling two-ton tabby straight up into the Mulberry tree. Before she could even get her eyes open again, Benjamina could hear Mrs. Franklin’s concerned voice calling out from below.

“B-e-n-j-a-m-i-n Franklin! Ben, dear…are you alright?” she hollered out into the darkness from the doorway.  No answer.  Just the sound of raindrops splatting on the ground.

Benjamina listened intently too, straining to hear above the noise level of her own heart pounding. In the silence that followed, she deduced right away who must have lost this game of heavenly tug-o-war.  No doubt, her master by now lay as a pile of dust and  ashes; garnished with only a house key and a smoldering kite frame left as the tell-tale signs that he indeed had been there.

After displaying a split-second of cat-sorrow, her royal instincts drove her back down the tree and across the yard; bolting toward Mrs. Franklin and the door she’d been waiting to open up for her all…night…long.

“Benjamina?  What on earth are you doing out in this storm?”Mrs. Franklin asked.   “Oh-h-h…you poor, poor dear!” she added, her voice now dripping with sympathy.

“Meow…” Benjamina responded in a very untypical, timid fashion. Wrapping her drenched skeletal body around her most loyal servant’s ankles, she allowed Mrs. Franklin the grand privilege of doting on her for a time. But about the time Benjamina decided to melt into this little heavenly moment of her own; she heard the master’s voice ringing again in her ears.

“The mad scientist lives?”  she puzzled in silence, stopping dead in her tracks.

Though she would never admit to fearing him or having done anything wrong; something… maybe the nearest thing to respect a cat can have, drove her back to the safety of her warm hearth.

“Deborah…Deborah …Tis true!” Franklin managed to spill out to his wife before collapsing on the front step to catch his breath.

“I can’t tell thee how excited I am.” He said, his chest still heaving and his right hand tingling and swollen. “Twas the most electrifying experience one could ever encounter in a night’s time! Most incredible!” 

               “Franklin…slow thee down dear. Why on earth did thee choose a night like this to run beneath the stars?”  she asked frowning.

Taking his muddy shoes and stockings from him, she reached for a small quilt just inside the door and wrapped it about his dripping wet torso.

“Come into thy house now.” she urged, nearly pushing him into his rocking chair to doctor his hand.

“Deborah, this discovery shall change the course of all mankind!”  Franklin continued through chattering teeth.

“I’m sure it will, dear, but all mankind needeth its sleep too. I shall be surprised if thou doest not catch thy death of cold this night!  Thou knowest thee takes thine experiments far too serious sometimes.” she carried on without taking a breath in between words.

Seeing her scolding only as her frantic attempts to make him comfortable and warm again, Franklin knew it would do no good to try and share the monumental details of his kite-flying scheme with her tonight.

“I supposeth mankind shall wait til morn, my dear.”  He offered her, smiling and patting her hand as she handed him a glass of warm milk.

“Good night, dearest Benjamin,” Deborah whispered, kissing the balding spot on top of his head.

“The Tabby and I shall be drying out a bit here by the fire.” Franklin answered, raising his eyebrow at Benjamina for the second time tonight.

Though Benjamina remained fully aware of her master’s presence in the room; she chose to remain in her preferred state of royal-anonymousness.  This is the condition whereby a cat’s involvement in their world is kept at the barest minimum. Hearing is optional too. Such a state only allows for the opening of one tiny slit in one eye.  And it is through this slit, Benjamina now observed Franklin’s every move.

His eyes were squarely on her, too.  She could feel the intensity of them scorching her eye-lids; just like earlier, before he dethroned her as queen and deemed her his lowly mouse-catcher. Though she moved not a muscle, mentally she raised her chin high, turned, and flashed him the Royal Rump again.

Hearing the shuffling of feet under Franklin’s chair, Benjamina half-way expected a deserved royal-boot coming her way.  But instead, he leaned forward and spoke softly while stroking her water logged paws.

“My little tiger-on-the-hearth…” Franklin began softly. “The master is not the ogre thou makest him out to be. Sometimes thou needeth only to engage in the work that is his purpose for thee; before soon realizing how even one simple tug-o-war in time, may indeed changeth the world forever.  For me tonight, ’twas tussling with a kite string in the heavens. For thee, Benjamina…perhaps tugging on a mouse’s tail in the night.  But if thou doest love life then do not squander time. For that is the stuff life is made of. One findeth his purpose in that “stuff.”  Idle paws only preventeth such a thing.” He finished.

“How dare he address her in such a manner.  Such big words…such high thoughts! What did this mad-scientist know about an angry-cat anyway?” she rationalized in silence.

Benjamina tried revving her engines another notch to purr-tect herself from the unwanted sounds of his voice drifting her way. She knew full well what might happen if his sounds reached the translation zone!  Should the master’s words start making sense to her…what then?  Acknowledging those sounds might mean trading away the safety of all the things she understood best.  Namely…the purr-tecting of her own throne.  She could not fathom trading her warm hearth away for the purr-fecting of this task the master seemed to have planned for her to do from the very beginning!

Oh, how she longed for the master to leave her be. She had only one desire tonight.  To remain tucked away inside this self-induced, catatonic state. Her royal comfort zone.  The place she retreated when life stepped all over her paws instead of serving them. A grudge-holder at heart, and her royal-fluff now ruffled; she had no intention of making amends with this storm-tosser of a master of hers.

“Not tonight…purr-haps not ever!” she mulled over in silence; still viewing Franklin through her slit.

In the midst of preparing to mentally flash him a third Royal-Rump for this evening; Benjamina watched Franklin backing away from her with an almost respectful nod.  Then he turned and walked straight for her empty dish by the hearth. Following his every move, she saw him do the unexpected. He poured his own warm milk into her empty saucer.

“Sh-h-h-h…tis our own little secret, Benjamina.” Franklin whispered in her direction.

“Did the master find this a-mew-sing?”  she wondered.  Had he known of her great weakness for milk? Especially milk blended with just a touch of honey; like the master always drank it. How could he!” she grimaced.  (If cats could grimace.)

Curiosity, now painfully tugging against her eye lids, and the muscles in her brow beginning to twitch; both eyes flew open like sprung shades loosed on a window. The milk looked even more enticing with both eyes wide open. Though her legs rose ever-so-slowly; her heart raced at the very sight of it.

Yawning once more to give an appearance of disinterest, Benjamina pried herself up from the hearth and stretched-a-mile in the direction of her saucer.

Franklin tried squelching his grin at the sight of Benjamina approaching him in such a nonchalant manner. Looking at her from the front, exactly half of her fur remained matted and flat from lying against the warm hearth; while the other side appeared electrified, pouffed, and frizzy from the rain.

“Benjamina…Thou art truly a perfect picture of the struggle going on inside of thee. An untainted version of a  tabby in turmoil!” Franklin added.

In the next few seconds, Benjamina’s paws came to a grinding halt at the saucer’s edge.  Here she entered her greatest struggle yet. Curiosity’s hand still shoving her royal rump from behind, and Stubbornness trying desperately to hold her back, she stood there quivering from head to tail at the master’s feet.

“Come…taste…see for thyself.” Franklin whispered, reaching a gentle hand down to stroke her back.

Though it went against every grain of reason in her royal thought process; she found herself dipping her rough pink tongue down into the luscious white, frothy liquid.

Never before had she tasted anything so wonderfully sweet before…ever!

“This is more like it…” she thought, purring louder with each swallow.  “This milk is truly a mixture fit for a queen.” she noted, lapping up the very last drop of milk from the bottom of the saucer.

But as soon as this thought entered her mind, she found herself gravely aware of her wrong perception.

“What think ye now of the master’s milk and honey.” She heard Franklin ask her.  Feeling his hand again on her back, she realized for the first time ever, the incredible warmth emanating from both his hands and the tone of his voice.

“Had it been there all along?” she wondered, glancing back towards her own throne for a moment.

“Pur-r-r-r-r-r-r-rrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” roared her engines, warming up to the master’s touch.

It is at this precise moment that a second lightning strike occurred on the Franklin property on that summer’s eve in 1752.  Though unrecorded by history, a giant unseen spark ignited the invisible line of communication that is strung between a cat and its master.

Phinnickus-imaginus! In the glimmering light of this exact electrifying moment, Benjamina acknowledged her task of becoming a lowly mouse-catcher. But not just any mouse-catcher, mind you.  She was now the Master’s mouse-catcher. His crumbs were her concern now. His mice were now her tails to tug-on in the night!

Though Benjamin Franklin took this cat tale with him to the grave many years later; his discovery of electricity that night continues to light our world even today. The tale of Benjamina’s own sweet discovery lives on too, illuminating the minds of her readers; inspiring them to seek greater purpose and softening even the hardest of hearts in this day and age.  For from these two great discoveries from years gone by; springs not only Benjamin Franklin’s proverb, but one more sweet and undeniable Truth for each of us to live by.   In Benjamina’s own words…

Purr-haps being filled and warmed from the inside out by a taste of the Master’s Milk and Honey; makes the thought of our own royal purr-tection, grow strangely dim in Light of the Master’s Loyal-Purr-fection.

 

“O taste and see that the Lord is good…”

   (Psalm 34:8 NAS)

“Fighting Fire with Fire!”

May 18, 2015 at 8:10 pm

fmn_kid2

We do it because we Care more than others think is wise,Risk more than others think is practical, and Expect more than others think is possible!”


 

written by Debbie Allen

 What is it in a human heart, powerful enough to kindle the flickering flame inside a little boy’s day dreams, into the roaring blaze that now daily consumes the grown-up heart of fireman, Derrick Kemp? Captain Derrick Kemp…loving husband to his wife, Clarice. Devoted father to two girls, Amy and Kristine. Loyal friend, firefighter, and mentor to those brothers and sisters fortunate enough to serve with him down at the Fire Station.

Derrick never really questioned why he’d chosen to become a firefighter. From the first moment he laid eyes on the little red fire engine that his father gave him on his third birthday, the matter pretty much settled itself in his own mind.

In morning’s early shadows almost thirty years later now, Derrick caught a glimpse of that same little red fire engine sitting on a bookshelf in his bedroom.  Studying it for a moment, he shook his head and smiled.

“Honestly…I don’t remember ever ‘not’ wanting to be a fireman.” he thought to himself, bending down to kiss Clarice good-bye.

“Oh…honey, do you have to go?” she asked him with only one eye open.

“You know I do.” he said with a smile and a gentle tug on her hand.

Taking his Bible from the night stand, Derrick tip-toed down the hallway to kiss the girls as he always did before he went on duty at the fire station.   They had long given up trying to understand Daddy’s crazy “fire time hours”, as they often referred to his schedule. Usually both of them slept right through his before-the-sun-comes-up kisses, but this morning a raspy little voice emerged from a pile of tousled blonde hair on Amy’s pillow.

“Daddy…is that you?” she said yawning.

“It’s me, squirt…go back to sleep now.” he answered, stroking her hair.

“Don’t go, Daddy, just… don’t go.” she cried softly watching him walk out the door.

“Its ok, Amy…” Derrick answered, turning to blow a kiss in her direction.  By the time his kiss reached her little cheek Amy had already fallen back to sleep.

“Lord, thank you for my family…” Derrick uttered aloud on his drive to the station.

“You know, Lord…those three beautiful women in my life that make it so-o-o-o hard for me to want to leave in the mornings?” he continued, breaking out in a big grin.

“Watch over them while I’m away…please just keep them safe for me. Amen.” He finished praying as he pulled up in front of the Fire Station.

Derrick started all of his shifts this way.  Good-bye kisses to the family he dearly loved. Challenging man-to-God talks on the drive to work.  Then quality time spent with his crew at the station’s kitchen table.  “The Captain’s Table” as the men often called it.

Every day brought something different to this table.  Sometimes tears. Sometimes laughter. Sometimes even the lingering grief from yesterday’s difficult call. But always, the best conversations ever shared took place over some of the worst cups of coffee ever drank, right here.  Derrick’s crew…his God…and his own thoughts converged often in this special place.    Derrick trained most of the men on his crew himself.  He stepped into their lives many times as the big brother they never had.  Over the years they grew to love and appreciate each other as sort of a second family in a home-away-from-home.

Today showed no signs of being busy to start. For men so eager to share themselves with the world, waiting for a call sometimes proved tedious.  Like many other things in his life, Derrick also had a unique way of fostering patience in his men. Humor.

 “Just pour yourselves another cup of bad coffee, guys…” he would say, …waiting here at the Capt.’s table is a lot like being parked in a car on a blind curve.  There’s just no way to know what might be heading straight for you!” 

His easy going ways never failed to spark both laughter and new conversation. As the clock tolled twelve, Derrick and his crew raised their coffee cups high.

“I propose a toast!”  Derrick cried.  “To… the rescuing-cats-out-of-trees sort of morning that it’s been!” he continued, cheering.

Almost simultaneously, the station’s fire bell sounded.  A caffeine drowned and adrenaline pumped crew jumped instinctively to their feet.

“Captain Kemp…this one’s for you!”  Chief Hogan hollered in through the door.  “The old Wadsworth Theatre in Lakewood!  Sprinklers failed…it’s a hot one!”

 “We’re on it Chief!” Derrick hollered, already running for his equipment.

In a matter of minutes, Derrick and his engine company, Engine 2, were pulling up in front of the theatre on 20th Street

“Doesn’t look good, Ace.”  Derrick commented to the Rookie seated next to him, eyeing the billows of black smoke already rolling out of windows on the front side.

“What now, Captain?” the Rookie responded.

“Now?  …I’m going to show you what it means to ‘fight fire with Fire!’” a serious Captain Kemp answered him back.

Before Derrick could explain what he meant, the frantic cries of a lady in the crowd nearby captured his attention.

“Mi pequeno muchacho! she sobbed, pointing toward the theatre.

“My brother is still in there!” yelled the little girl standing next to her.

Derrick’s heart sank.    The fire had started in the offices on the second level of the theatre and spread so quickly to the lower level, he had a hard time believing that anyone left in the building could still be alive.  Even so, he made his way over to the panicked woman in the crowd.

“Where is your son, m’am?” Derrick shouted, trying to focus the woman’s attention on his words.

“Mi pequeno mucha…en el fuego…” her voice trailed off as she fainted to the ground.

Derrick reached forward to catch her slumping body.  Within seconds, the young girl standing next to her jumped in to help.

          “He went to the bathroom a few minutes before the usher yelled “fire!”  I should’ve gone with him…but, they hurried us out so quickly… and in the confusion he was left behind!” she struggled to get out, her voice still quivering.

“What’s the boy’s name?”  Derrick asked, already moving towards the theatre.

“Carlos…my brother, Carlos! She cried out, tending to her mother.

“Start pumping!” Derrick yelled back to his men.  “I’m going in!” he added, masking up again.

Pete and Troy headed for the deck gun.

“Don’t do it, Capt.n!  It’s gonna blow any minute!”  Pete yelled out, choking on the black smoke collecting in the air above their heads.

Within a minute’s time, they sprayed more than five hundred gallons of water into this raging inferno, with little effect.  Policemen continued forcing the crowds back further to safety.

Pete cringed as he watched his Captain step through what once had been the twenty foot glass panels forming the front of the movie theatre.

“God help him…” Pete uttered, knowing that nothing he could have said would have kept his Captain from trying to save the life of this little child.

Feeling sick inside, Troy caught sight of Lieutenant Grady, from Rescue 1, trying to resuscitate the usher boy who felt responsible for leaving the little boy behind in the theatre. Half-crazed and yelling “I’ll lose my job!” he frantically re-entered the burning building to try and find the boy. He made it only a few feet in before he collapsed from smoke inhalation.

“That boy may lose more than just his job today.” Troy thought sadly.

The smoke was so dense inside the theatre; Derrick couldn’t see more than a few inches in front of him.   Just a few steps into the building the heat became so intense it knocked him down to his knees.  He crawled the next thirty feet along a wall, feeling all the way for an opening with his gloved right hand.  He came to what he perceived to be the corridor running parallel to the back wall of the main theatre.

“Oh, God…please keep him alive…just a little longer…” Derrick thought; his right hand still searching for an opening along the wall.  Finally…an opening!  Derrick fell forward into an opening slowly filling with a puddle of steaming water; spewing from what used to be a drinking fountain hanging between two bathroom doors. Derrick shoved the debris blocking the entrance to one side and pushed the door open.

Carlos!  Carlos…are you in here?” he hollered, his voice muffled by his face mask.  No answer. He continued running a desperate hand along the tile floor until his fingers came to rest on a little leg. Still blinded, and his lungs now burning with a mixture of both fear and adrenaline; Derrick held back his tears. It was a small boy, slumped over in a corner next to a urinal. He scooped the motionless torso up into his arms and pulled him close, knowing he didn’t have much time…if any at all.

“Hold on, little buddy…” Derrick whispered, pushing his way out into the corridor.  He stood for a second, trying to get his bearings again in the thick smoke.  For a moment he felt like a pilot flying blind in cloud cover.  Even over the noise level of this raging inferno he managed to hear popcorn going off like little firecrackers behind him. Enough of a reminder to him that the concession stand, where he first entered the building, was now engulfed in flames. This eliminated any possibility of retracing any earlier steps. Embracing the boy in one arm, Derrick had no choice but to try and make his way down the fire riddled, smoke filled corridor toward a side-exit he wasn’t even sure existed.  Running out of both options and air, Derrick dropped to the ground with Carlos and resumed crawling.

“Oh God…please…you are a God who is known for making a way where it looks like there is no way!” Derrick prayed aloud.

This wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last time that Derrick feared for both the life he was trying to save as well as his own. Pushing his own fears aside, he strained to see through his smoke tainted visor.  Nothing but black…in every direction.   Pulling himself a little further, he thought he heard a voice up ahead of him.  There it was again!  The sounds of hope calling to him from the midst of this black inferno!

“This way, Captain… this way!” a voice beckoned, followed by the sounds of breaking glass.

Dragging himself and Carlos just a little further, Derrick soon found his fingers wrapped around the ankles of the Rookie firefighter.

“This way, Capt’n!  Hurry…she’s about to blow!” he yelled, helping Derrick to his feet.

Relying on the last drop of adrenaline left in his body, Derrick wrapped both arms around Carlos and ran for all he was worth!  Half-way across the parking lot, a tremendous explosion shook the ground beneath them.  An explosion that should have happened five minutes earlier…but didn’t.  Before the debris could even hit the ground, rescue crews were already performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and CPR on Carlos until he could be airlifted to a city hospital. Against all odds, with more medical treatment, the boy would make it!

Carlos’s mother ran toward Derrick; sitting now on the back bumper of an ambulance, holding an oxygen mask against his nose.  As he stood up, she flung her arms around him and spoke.

“Con tudo mi cora´zon, bombero!  Usted sera´ siempre mi he´roe!” she said.  (“You are forever in my heart, fireman.  You will always be my hero!”)

Though he could not comprehend her words, Derrick understood perfectly the tears flowing from this mother’s grateful heart.

“Mi He´roe!” she called out to him once more from her car, as she drove away towards the hospital.

Derrick smiled and waved back; more than grateful that the afternoon had ended on this note.

“Mi He´roe.  It means, ‘my hero.’  You’re that lady’s hero, Captain Kemp.  How does that make you feel?”  the Rookie asked.

Derrick thought for a moment.

“I suppose it’s ok to be looked upon as a hero for a short time but…being a hero is all about glory.  I’m a Fireman…I’m more concerned with saving lives.  It’s not just about what I do… it’s who I am.” he answered back.

The Rookie nodded his head in agreement, always surprised by Captain Kemp’s answers.

“When I step on this side of my badge,” Derrick continued,

I am faceless and nameless to most of the world… most of the time. No one cares who I am…just that I’ll be there when I am called. I constantly walk on a tight rope stretched between life and death.  I do it because I choose to. Finding balance… teetering there between promise and sacrifice is the most difficult thing a fireman ever has to do. Do you know what keeps me up there, Rookie?”

“No sir, Captain… what?” the Rookie answered, still listening intently.

“It’s the Spark…the Fire burning deep inside of here!” Derrick added, tapping his index finger over his own heart.

“The kind of passion powerful enough to drive a man into the flames, willing to risk it all in order to save the life of one.  It’s a Snapshot of Heaven, and I fully believe God nails it to the walls of every Fireman’s heart.” 

“I understand, Captain.  It’s like what you’ve been trying to tell me all along…it’s all about “Fighting fire with Fire!” the Rookie offered, tapping his finger over his own heart with a smile.

 

“Lead them like a Shepherd and carry them forever in Your Arms.”

Psalm 28:9