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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Yellow Therapy Dog

Something about the perfectly still leaves above me this evening. It’s a late night for the yellow dog and me. I brought her home from the pound four months ago as a therapy dog, not for me.

Not for me? No. I’m just the one who has trained her to sit, lie, stay, heel, and come. I’ve curbed her retriever enthusiasm enough that she now walks ladylike through the back door after adrenaline-pumping squirrel chases. I also taught her to greet guests at the front door politely with no jumping and romping as if they were a litter of puppies come to visit her.

I'm also the one who greets her in the morning and waits for her beneath limb and leaf, living canopy and fluttering veil.
Together we breathe in morning air fresh and night air charged.
I feel on my skin first light and night light, air breathing sleepy or panting fast in a windy chase.
Pieces of moon are framed tonight by twiggy and leafy fragments.
Yellow dog disappears in shadows on the far side of the fence.
I squint through the darkness to find her, then find the moon in the dark sky.
I’m not sure why, but my heart is responding to something. I want to know, before God and moon, what it is.
What is the empty frame inside me? I hold my breath and talk to God. Is He holding His breath too? He who is so full?

Moonlight fractions above me, quilts the lawn at my feet, and shadows stitch as night threads itself quietly and just pulls moon-glow through leaves which whisper among themselves, toss then turn till they sleep. 
It’s bedtime, but I’m not ready to pull the covers up.
Something inside me is waking up.

Still as all is, the air vibrates as if it is alive.
Katydids sing burry, wings strumming and shaking out a ch-ch-ch-ch rhythm. Frogs thrum a whirring song from bulging throats and then swallow loud before starting again. I close my eyes and let the whole serenade and peace song wash over me.

A pastor once overlaid soundtracks of stars humming, trees clapping, insect song, and whale song. My youngest daughter heard it on YouTube after school. Amazed, I had wanted to listen to it myself. And I am, right now.
All is orchestra praise beneath my tree.

I fill my lungs with air and sound and stillness and vibration.
Pieces of moon fit my heart-a fragmented mural. Frames. Scenes from the past. Thoughts. Memories. Feelings.

Thing is, shadows have been stitched into a quilt fit for my soul to rest beneath. But it doesn't come easy, the rest.
Maybe soul rest has something to do with what I choose to remember. And how I choose to remember.
"I choose to remember trials as what frames light," I barely breathe the choice; but I remember how the Light of the World was framed.

Do my nerve endings remember the searing shocks of adrenaline shooting fire and jitter through my veins? Yeah, but that doesn't mean I can't choose to remember everything I can think of that's good and right, trustworthy, praiseworthy, and honest. The choice is to remember light.
Do my emotions still pound discordant and race erratic pulse in my ears before I can think straight enough to remember what the leaves sound like tonight and hear God whisper like that to me in my dark? They do, yet still I choose to remember what He has whispered, and proved.
Does a dis-eased past infect the present? It wants to, but the thing is that there is balm in Gilead and maybe this balm is nothing but the blood of Jesus shed for every reason having to do with a glory just feisty enough to outshine the shadows that frame it. 
My heart beats cacophonous loud before it remembers melodious whisper. But that's changing.
It's what happens when I remember what to forget and what to remember.
It's what's happening right here behind my house and beneath the moon. I hear it, the long thrumming and rhythmic strumming. Hush, burr, and vibration.
And I will my heart to memorize this song.
“Help me, God,” I whisper low as I stand on paved patio where I hear the song- “Help me to remember what to remember and what to forget.

His answer comes as the question falls up into the night praise—in pieces. “Remember," He says, "to count whenever and whatever trials as frames of joy." He translates for me what He's showing me right here-the way shadows frame light and night sky frames the moon's face. He continues, "Remember, count it all joy where you thought there was none-and give thanks at the remembrance of My holy name. Thanksgiving, as moonlight, reaches long across the counting.

It doesn’t come easy, this remembering-but it comes steady on, right now while moonlight and shadows spread as quilt over backyard grass and I think, If I lay down on the grass, this moon-cast quilt would cover me. I don't, but I don't need to.
I'm already covered.
Yellow dog comes and we go inside, she to her bed and I to mine and I don't know about her, but I'll fall asleep to a whisper till I wake and there will be shadows and light come morning just hanging as a quilt hung out to dry in the sun after laying over dewy grass all night.
I'll watch them flutter in the wind as if clipped to a clothesline. It’s the same quilt: light patches stitched together with shadow.

I've hung my heart out on the line before.
I've clipped it there till pain that's cried like nighttime dew dries. I let it flutter its rhythm there till damp shadows pull back and become nothing more than a stitch in time-a morning of joy, marked- and a reference for light.
Isn’t that what shadows are? Reference to light?
Wasn’t the cross a wooden frame displaying the Light of the World?
Doesn’t the cross shadow-stitch together mourning and dancing? Weeping and joy? Pain and healing? Trials and faith? Past and present? Death and life?
I’m seeing it everywhere now-the pattern. It spreads over all earth from heaven, all time from eternity, all galaxy-spun universe from the quilter’s hand.
The quilt flutters and billows over me-kind. It's kind, and is kind soul therapy for me.
The moon is kind light in darkness. 
 My heart hanging out to dry, sun-cast shadows, quilts, frames. Kind.
I pray the word, “Kind.” Repentant-like.
I climb beneath a quilt beside my husband.
My heart is full of kindness toward him. And repentance.
And as I fall asleep, my heart finds a frame for these things.
I choose tonight to remember the song and discover that somehow kind is shadow-stitched to joy. It comes in the morning, joy does, after light has found reference as moon light has pressed out the frame called dark night and found reference. It's therapeutic, kind. And joy, too.
It can’t be helped. Joy is the canvas and music of God’s kind heart.
I reach long across His therapeutic heart.
All of God’s heart is framed in the cross.
Light was nailed down, and the cross was shadow.
Long quilting stitches run through the past, needling and pricking through to the present.
Stitching needle. Piercing nail. Quilt. Frame. I reach for His heart. I want to cover myself in His heart as I would cover myself with a quilt given to me.
I settle here remembering to give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
I might forget tomorrow. I probably will.
But the quilt is always outside my window and beneath my tree.
And the cross has never stopped framing the Light.
And, yes, the yellow therapy dog is for me after all.

written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig
(adapted from my book PISTEUO! Connecting with God's Heart)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

September Watermelon

September watermelon. Those two words don’t belong in the same breath, but there it is, a remnant ripe on my kitchen counter. It’s an old summer habit.

I heft the melon from bin to cart and roll summer through Kroger aisles to the checkout lane. I forgot my earth-friendly shopping bags again, so all but the watermelon is bagged in plastic. I know the young man bagging. But summer can’t be bagged, not even in September. So he places my September watermelon in the child seat at the front of the cart.

Seasons roll in on wobbly wheels and vibrate out metal carts on parking lot pavement. The young man and I raise our voices slightly to converse. We are acquainted by years of summer-to-summer seasons in which we push cranky carts through blistering three-digit heat and over ice in the winters.
He has a stutter that makes him lonely and a mind that is slow, and like me, he lives a tad out of season.
He loves the sweet, thirst-quenching taste of summer.
He loves the hot air balloon festival each September. And he likes the two together.

Watermelon in Shopping Cart
September watermelon, a remnant of summer, the last hurrah. I want to slice the watermelon right there in the parking lot.
I want to break open summer for the last time this year and share it with him.
I’d like to celebrate his simple love for the one who made watermelon, summer, and September and who understands stuttered prayer.

We would sink our teeth into thick melon slices and wear the rindy smiles, juice dripping down our chins and, for a moment, summer would not be a back road rounding a bend.
We would celebrate it all and celebrate Him who is as sweet as cold watermelon on a thirsty day—not the kind without seeds but with seeds, the kind that plants more sweet goodness and tomorrow promises.

The young man sets the watermelon in the back of my minivan, and I drive slowly along the back road home. I carry summer in arms that aren’t ready to embrace what comes next. I hear the rumble of the unknown that doesn’t take the back road slow but instead accelerates and is in my driveway before I know what season I’m in.

I set my watermelon carefully on the kitchen counter. I own it, and there it balances, a yellow spot off-center on its back side. That's how I pick watermelons. I look for the yellow spot. Sure, I might thump it too, but that's only for the benefit of anyone else at the watermelon bin. Honestly, I have no idea what tone to listen for when thumping, except  for a mushy soft tone. I know that much. But what I really know is the tell-tale yellow spot that says, “I have been unmoved.”

That’s how I feel at times, immovable, when I have no choice but to remain still.

I've lain still while rough shod panic has stomped me near straight into the mattress and I've split open between "Somebody please pick me up and cart me off somewhere other than here," and "What is this strange vine language coming out of me and saying things like, "O Lord my God, in You I put my trust" when I can barely trust the next breath to come. Yet, a deep red heart grows sweet on the vine and matures sweeter still in the Indian Summer.
This is the patch, and I have the vine to cling to.

“I am the vine,” says Jesus, and “I am the Word.” I’m becoming fluent in vine language and, really, it's the only language worth knowing, because isn't plain English too hard sometimes? I think so.

Heart-Shaped Watermelon

Once a farmer in Japan grew a heart-shaped watermelon. Who ever heard of such a thing? But he did. It was in the news. I painted the photo posted there, and remembered the promises given by the Exodus Angel of increased borders.

It means a lot when borders are about the size of a mattress.
I love Texas-grown watermelon, especially the last one in September.

The long knife cuts deep and divides the melon. Two halves roll away from one another, and there are the seeds embedded in the deep red heart. They are diluted to pink by the water running from the melon’s sides.

The juice forms pools in wooden cutting board ridge.

Sometimes this takes my breath away because I recognize Jesus, and me, in this together.

Jesus, full of holy seed, labored on wood cross until blood and water ran down the wood and pooled.

I, full too, labor for the next breath and His word just typed into thinnest wood constructed paper is as long knife cutting deeply till my heart's split wide open and whatever seeds are there-may they be holy. 
It's a little messy in the muddy patches, life. Sometimes it seems to get snagged up a little painful in the thorns of Devil’s vine the likes of what grows rogue up the trunk of the Crepe Myrtle out front. I've tried to kill it, but it won't go away.

Thing is, snagged or pierced, if holy seed-love of God-is in my heart then the real reason I can't be moved isn't because I'm stuck but because His love holds me though thorns make my heart bleed and my eyes water.
Sure, sometimes I can't be moved because I'm too worn out by the messy, but I also can't be moved because the blood and water of the Son of God lay claim on me.
And I can’t be moved because, by God’s help, I don’t want to be.
 So I ripen on my knees.
I really don’t know when it happens, the ripening. All I know is that my knees hurt and that I'm thinking about going to the garden aisle at Home Depot to buy kneepads, but then remember there’s a spare life preserver in the garage from the boat.
Does God laugh delighted, while I rummage for it. Surely. He must delight at stuttered prayer from a child kneeling on her bright yellow life preserver.

Praying Yellow

will cling to the vine-Lord, make it so-till I'm ripe behind the rind of my soul and till my heart is impregnated with His seed.

I will to be unmoved.
I will to be unmoved on my own patch of earth at the foot of my bed.
My knees are marked with pressure spots. I have my own yellow spot that has borne my weight while I ripen as fruit on the vine, morning hours, high noon, night time.
Still I kneel here; crack open the heart of God.

Still I open His Word; smooth the pages back with the flat of my hand and bow my head over it.

The Word of God magnifies who He is, reflects His heart, and it’s changing who I am and changing my heart.
My prayers have changed.
They've changed because His word is sharper than a double-edged sword and it’s gotten into me-just lanced life on this patch where I ripen. And where the vine conducts His very life into my spirit’s vein, marrow, and heart.
I feel the cut.
Yet, somehow there is exultation and triumph in it for me. I don’t understand how that works. It just does.

“You are like the sweetest watermelon at a hot air balloon festival in September.” It’s my own psalm to Him. “You are to me as cold watermelon on a thirsty day.”

I celebrate Him as I sink my teeth into a thick slice of melon.

Juice drips down my chin.

written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig

Sunday, October 2, 2016

What Fills So Many Holes (Chapter Six)

Dervish wind grabs ancient pecan tree and wrestles it to the ground. Across the street it had stood sentinel of history and witness of time since the Declaration of Independence was signed. It goes down with a fight. There is a hole in the sky and a hole in earth where the tree had spread root and limb. The holes gape wide, open-mouthed, silent.

A Patch of Light in a Dervish

Men armed with chainsaws, ropes, and pulleys step around and climb over mangled limbs. Saws eat and roar for more. Pulleys clang, ropes strain, men sweat, and always the constant roar carves through the battleground. Massive disks of trunk are hauled away. The family keeps one, though, and makes it into a patio table.
Heads tilt back in upward remembrance of what was there, in upward recognition of what is open hole now. They break bread together, thankful because what was there was so good that it is sorely missed now. They are thankful because of Communion promise: “My peace I give to you; not as the world gives. Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:27).

Peace fills the holes.

Thanksgiving fills the holes.

I stand outside in the backyard while yellow dog sniffs out the morning, and I look up long, rough lengths of pecan tree. My eyes climb woody heights, eighty feet of arms and hands browned as if by age and sun. It’s an old man tree, clapping, swaying, creaking, groaning a shuffling praise dance up and up and up.

I crane my neck back just to watch this worship, and maybe it’s strange, but in the worship I look for holes. Leafy shadows feather across my face and flutter wings of peace, Spirit dove. And, aha, there they are in the shadows—spaces dappled between leaf and branch. Sky itself.

And I begin to see the holes differently. I see them there, between leaf and branch—holes as deep as the Creator’s heart. I see them here behind the living sway and life always in motion—the still heart of God’s holes. His heart searches them out between leaf veils, cloud veils, and the sun veil. His heart probes for holes between the stars, black-hole space, space beyond the end of the universe.

His heart fills the holes.

Prayer Fills Holes

I hear it, feel it. It’s a holy morning in my backyard, a barefoot holy morning, no shoes to remove. I lift my hands high, and sky pieces jig and saw with tree pieces. It’s a fluid puzzle, a kaleidoscope.

I read this morning, “The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image."

The first person who loved me did so when I was perfectly full of holes. Unholy. It wasn’t another like me but the one who is perfectly whole—holy. God.
He doesn’t twist me into His own image but fits me into His own image.
He fit me securely in holy breath breathing life into Eden dust. “Let us make man in our own image” (Genesis 1:26–27).
And He is fitting me this morning.
I am fit into His image: barefoot on dew on grass on earth.
And I have Eden wonder.

It’s morning, and all He gave then remains even now.
It’s in my backyard.
It’s a wonder that it was all a gift to fit into the hole of nothingness before He created life. Praise filled every place, I’m sure, when He said, “Let there be.”
At that time holes gaped everywhere.

God’s gift fills the holes.
Moonlight Fills Holes

I’m looking for holes, searching for them in a jigsaw tangle. I glimpse the heart of God in the puzzle, how He fills what gapes wide in what tangles tight. I turn squinting eyes inward. I close them to better see my jigsaw heart—the jig of praise, the sawed holes.
Sometimes holes are sawed open so that they may be filled with praise.

A breath of wind parts leaf from leaf, branch from branch, high in the tree.
There's a pause in its praise. Selah.
But the wind opens a wide-eyed, gaping mouth hole, and it kind of hurts.
I hold my own breath.
Breathless is how I feel sometimes.
But then, I’m learning to look at holes and pauses differently.
The opening above lasts a breath, a Selah pause, and then closes full with whoosh and rush, branches, leaves, and old man tree praise.

Praise fills the holes.

Breathing Fills Holes

There are holes along the path in my garden where I’ve had to dig up dead plants. There is a gaping hole in my rose garden where my most prized bush suddenly shriveled and died within the week. The bush had filled the dining room window and glowed iridescent when approaching lightning storms turned the air itself green.

There are holes, empty chairs, around my kitchen table. I remember filling those chairs one at a time. First I filled the high chairs and booster seats, and then my children sat on the grown-up chairs, chins at table height and plate level. Two sons are now married, and one daughter is halfway out with one foot in college and the other at home. A pregnant pause. Selah.

There are holes of quiet where before a houseful of rambunctious children hummed loud and where dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer sloshed, whirred, thumped off kilter, and spun every waking moment and sometimes into the night.

And there are soul holes. They are weighty.
Who would have thought? That open space, air, too much silence, is heavier than enormous hardwood trees, rosebushes heavy with scent and bloom, an armful of toddler and infant on hip, and the time when two teenage sons swung like Tarzan down at a creek on poison vine. Nothing is heavier to a mother’s heart than brave man-boys fighting tears and losing a little.
Life Fills Holes

I call yellow dog. And I call to God, “So many holes!”

“My peace I give to you,” He says. And then He says what I don’t want to hear: “In all things give thanks.”

I balk. “What do You mean? What sincerity is there in me when I thank You for a shriveled rosebush that I loved? For a house too quiet and a table too empty? Heart of God, will You fill these soul holes I try not to feel?”

“I filled the heavens and the earth when there was nothing, and it was good. I filled empty jugs with water that became wine, and the wedding guests rejoiced. I filled five thousand hungry people with two loaves of bread and five fish, and my servants marveled in amazement. I filled empty nets, and the fishermen recognized Me. And I filled Peter’s sifted, gaping, and wide-open heart.”

“Oh. Well, yes, there is that.”

So that’s what He means.
Holes are fit for what He’s going to fill them with.
Holes are there because from the beginning there was a hole. The very movement of life is holed. And I am holed.

Holes are the weighty pause between empty and filled. The hungry void between too little and more than enough. The Selah pause, the pregnant hope, the holding of my breath. Holes are uncomfortable. I’ll hurt between breaths and in the Selah stillness.

I’m sure I’ll forget most of this when I feel most filled with holes.
But right now I'm remembering.
And right now pauses breathe.
And Selah stills.
And right now I'm barefoot on dew waiting to be fit into His holy image.

And that’s a start for when I fill a soup pot halfway and know that the bread I baked will last three times as long. I’ve taken to giving loaves to my sons’ wives.

Giving fills holes.

written by: Carolyn-Elizabeth Roehrig
(adapted from my book, PISTEUO! Connecting with God's Heart)