Country Roads

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Beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet. Psalm 45:1

Every now and then my heart is so filled, I can’t contain what’s inside. Today is one of those times. Because I realize how very blessed I am. And how good God has been to me…

It started this morning. I got a late start. Slept in a bit too late. And I felt miffed because my son rose at 2:30 a.m. and stayed awake till I rose at 6:00. The reason? He drank about a liter of Mountain Dew yesterday evening. And all I could think before school was how tired he’s going to be today.

But he didn’t complain. Happy to go to school. And when we had morning prayer, his words were so sweet and so sincere, I nearly cried.

After dropping Levi at the high school, I took hold of my little girl and breathed in her essence. I squeezed her tight as I lifted her to the ground and grasped her little hand. “Mommy, walk with me today.” And I gladly did, sending her off with a kiss.

Afterward, I needed to grab a couple of items for a ladies’ group meeting in my home. I had nothing to offer which necessitated the long way home, so I could come across a particular store. And as I cruised down the country roads of my youth, my heart soared higher and higher with every curve.

Then I arrived at my destination…

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I just love this place. So eclectic. So country. And man, it stirs a longing within me. Both the store and the roads remind me of a calling God placed within me at least six years ago. I seemed to have heard Him whisper, “Sit on the porch.” I even voiced it to my husband, “I think God wants me to sit on the porch.”

I’m sad to say, I didn’t heed His call. Instead, I entered the busiest period of my existence. No doubt, 2013 through 2017 brought me full calendars each month. I heard God again in the Summer of 2017. “Rest,” was the urge. And I tried. But in all honesty, I kept my toe in the pond. I couldn’t come to a complete standstill despite my best efforts.

And here I am today. It seems I’ve heard Him whisper yet again. As I traveled along a country road passing by various houses that prompted the sweetest of memories… Jack’s house, and Kathy’s and Sarah’s. Yes, I visited all those places when I was young. But not now. No more visits because there’s never enough time.

And so I hear God’s words fresh. The message? Be still. Quiet down. Take your time. Smell the roses. Watch the sunsets. Enjoy life. Lavish your family with love. Sit a spell. Go visiting. Practice hospitality.

Oh, my heart stirs this morning as I remember what He told me so long ago. And with gladness, I plan acquiesce to His prompting.

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As I said, I love that store. Laurel Mills, for those of you who are wondering. I love everything about it… how the tables on the porch invite you to sit a spell. A shelf offering books for the lover of words. A church pew for meditation. And praising.

And just look at that doorway. Thousands upon thousands must have traveled across the threshold. The wood deeply grooved by feet of all sizes. How it moves me. The passing of feet and the passing of time.

And that’s what really moves me to speak this day. Particularly, how my feet have passed through the days…

The Lord speaks; many, many women spread the good news. Psalm 68:11

This verse first popped out 7 years ago. What a turning point in my life. It was September of 2012. That was the true beginning of my spiritual journey with God, no doubt. Because what a journey He’s taken me on.

However, I digress. That Scripture. Many women spread the good news. But what good news?  Well, how about the first part of the verse. The Lord speaks. That right there is plenty good news. Indeed, God speaks.

The first time I heard Him, through His holy word, was nine years ago through the the prophet Jeremiah. “I will bring you back to the place I deported you from.” My heart soared then. I knew God would bring me back to my hometown and these country roads. And He did. God fulfilled His promise.

This is what causes my heart to overflow now, though. One, the beauty of this land I live in. I’ve traveled around and lived in many places. I just have to say, though, there’s not many like this county of mine. My homeland is stunning. The pastures and livestock and cornfields and trees and skyline. I don’t have enough words to capture it.

But the best part? I was raised here. Lived here till I was nineteen years old. Born and raised. And when God brought me back home at thirty-seven, I was a spiritual infant. Nothing more than a baby. I didn’t realize that, though…

And that’s what brings me to my knees in gratitude and praise of my God this day. That He saw fit to bring me back for my second raising. Raised twice in the most beautiful place I can imagine.

I thank Him for that today. That the second time around, He raised me up. A daughter of God. For truly, I am His girl. As precious to Him as my children are to me.

And even more.

Yes, I traveled multiple country roads this morning. And I visited a store that brings longing to my heart. It makes me yearn for a simpler life.

I ache for the days of my youth. How we’d just jump in the car and go to my aunt’s house. No call necessary, you just went. Endless Summer nights of playing in the fields. No agenda and no plans and no busyness. Nothing but time on our hands. Visiting. People. Life’s just not like that anymore.

No, the world clamors for our attention. Do more. No, do more, more, more. But God calls me to do less. Do less, less, less. He urges me to be with Him more. More, more, more. Like when I travel country roads. And oh, He was with me as I drove. And He was with me when I bought the pumpkin nut bread and half and half. Yes, God walked with me over that worn threshold. And He was with me when I brought my stuff out to the car.

That’s when I noticed the Bibles. One on each child’s seat. That’s because Levi will go to youth tonight. And Annabelle? Well, she saw us reading one this morning and decided to take one to school.

So my heart yearns for this. More of this. More of God’s word. Yes to more, more, more. I want more time with God and more time for teaching my children His ways. So they’ll learn to hear Him when He speaks.

For indeed, He does. And that is such good news. The Lord speaks in many places…

Often, for me, it’s as I travel down solitary country roads. When my body is stilled and my mind is free.

So I listen to Him today. And I throw off the world’s expectations of me and place all my expectation on Him. And I expectantly wait for the next word He will speak to me.

Just Jesus

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Today, I contemplate words. The word of God vs. words of men. God’s way or man’s way. See, there are just too many directions to go in life. So many opinions and traditions and denominations. Choices. And as time marches on, man’s words begin to mingle with God’s word. His word is not so clear amidst the noise pollution, and so, we become confused. Which way’s the right way? Before long, we may find we’re headed in the wrong direction. At least that’s been my experience. Until recently, I think I was going the wrong way… following man’s ways instead of God’s. And so after hearing too many voices for way too long, I longed for simplicity. I decided I wanted out. I rejected the words of man in favor of the Word of God. It’s His voice, His word, I chose to follow. I looked to the Word of God… to Jesus. That’s the way I decided to go. That was about four years ago.

He wore a robe stained with blood, and His name is called the Word of God. Revelation 19:13

Suppose there were only one way like in the book of Acts. For the followers of Christ were referred to in that manner… they belonged to the Way. Jesus even said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.” So then, if He is the way as He proclaimed, He’s the only direction to go. For His path leads to God. And so today, as I contemplate the Word of God, I contemplate WWJD (what would Jesus do). I realize I should never let those letters flippantly escape my lips. Not unless I’m really willing to trod His path. And not unless I’m truly willing to imitate His ways. And so I ask myself, am I willing today? Because really… WWJD? The cross, of course, is what first comes to mind. He hung on a tree, for me. And though images of the crucifixion portray Jesus wearing a loin cloth, in actuality, He probably wasn’t. He was likely naked for all to see as He was lifted up. He was vulnerable. Exposed. He wore one thing only that day… it was sin that covered His nakedness. The only piece of clothing draped across His body was a robe of blood. Tinged by a spirit of despair, its color was dark, stitched together by years of past, present and future sins. This is what my Lord wore upon that cross. My sin.

After crucifying Him they divided His clothes by casting lots. Matthew 27:35

And so I again consider WWJD. Am I willing to do what He did? Will I allow myself to be naked before my fellow man? Will I be so vulnerable? So exposed? Will I strip down to my true self baring my soul in view of many while donning only my garment of sin? Can I be so bold? Because this was His way. And if I dare call myself a follower of Christ, isn’t this the direction I take? For He calls out, “Follow me…” And He is the Way. The Truth. The Life. His way is the only way that leads to God. And so, leaving the voices of others behind I hear Him. And I find the answer is yes. I’m willing. There shall be no pretense. This writing is my attempt at transparency. This is how I abandon all other ways, all of man’s ways, in order to follow His way.

The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them. Genesis 3:21

When Adam and Eve trod this earth, they were naked. And nothing separated them from God until that fateful day of the apple. It was this event led that led to a new thing… playing dress up. For God’s creation sought to cover up their sin. And so, Adam and Eve were the first play the game. Although placed in Eden to dress the earth, they dressed their bodies instead. Adam and Eve made a choice to travel the path of sin, and so entered their vulnerability. They felt exposed and did what was natural… they tried to cover up their deed along with their bodies. Fig leaves were used to hide their nakedness. And ever since then, that’s what the human race has been doing. Playing dress up to cover the truth. Using fig leaves, or masks, to hide our sins. And over the centuries, we’ve become masters in the art of deception. And of pretense. Of imaging. Pretending. And playing dress up.

Me? I learned to play dress up as a young thing. That’s because I wanted everyone to like me. And so I changed myself to fit in with my surroundings. Like a chameleon. I learned the art of deception early on in that I pretended to be whatever I thought someone wanted me to be. I strapped on a mask at five years old, and there it stayed till middle-age. In truth, I never knew the real me till I was forty years old. And that’s because I was always trying to be someone I’m not. But see, there’s a danger in practicing deception, or covering up, or wearing a mask. Eventually, you come to believe the lie. And what amazes me the most is that this carried on while I was in church. Perhaps even more so for church was a new venture for me. It was a new path and there were so many voices. So many opinions. And so, I tried to imitate what I saw. At first uncomfortable, I adapted. I did what came natural in that I strapped on a good-girl church mask and walked forward. Basically, I played dress up. And over time I began to feel good about me and all that church stuff I was doing. As the years progressed, I simply forgot about the old me. The real me who lie beneath the mask. And in my own mind, I came to believe I was exactly like the part I was playing. My mask portrayed a sinless, perfect, godly woman, and eventually, I believed I was just that. Sinless. And perfect. My costume was just too convincing.

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

Basically, I believed a lie. I was such a good actress by the time I reached my late thirties, I fell for my own act. And the perfect, sinless, godly woman I portrayed to be had no need of change. I had succumbed to the art of deception. I thought I was just who I projected to be. And thus, I was totally blind. And thus, I was totally covered up, masked up and dressed up. Nothing about me was real. The worst was when I began to condemn others. See, I had adapted to man’s mindset… not God’s. And so, I weighed people by my own set of scales (faulty ones) and by what I could see (totally blind). I would look at someone and judge them in an instant just by appearance. But remember, in my own eyes I was sinless. And perfect. And because I felt so good about me and the things I did, others usually fell short. See, the mask I wore obstructed my view. I could no longer see what was actual because fake became my reality. And because I came to believe I was just like the part I had been playing, there was nothing for me to feel conviction over. I was so righteous (self).

But alas, after too many years of too much pretense, I knew there had to be more. Roughly four years ago, I began to long for something deeper. Something real. Something authentic. Finally, I wanted to really be who I professed to be. A follower of Christ. And after years of traveling my own way, man’s way, I decided there had to be another way. Which happens to be the Way. The Word of God. And so, as I stepped onto His path, I slowly began to tune out the voices of others. Over time, I began to hear Him. The Word of God. And ever so slowly, the way became clear…

Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will leave this life. Job 1:21

What did Jesus do? He was born. A naked babe birthed from his mother’s loins. And when the time came, Jesus began His ministry. He said to repent for the kingdom of God had come near. But also, He said that He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance. Simply, He calls out to those who are going in the wrong direction to come and follow Him in the opposite direction. For His way is the right way. But what’s key is only sinners can hear Him when He calls. The self-righteous totally miss Him as He walks by. Because in their eyes, they’re already righteous. They’re already on the right path. Blinded by their own masks and deafened to conviction because in their minds, they’re perfect. And sinless. And up till a couple of years ago, this was me. This was the mask I wore.

But today I see. For light has been shed upon my path and I know the way to go. But before I do so, there is one requirement. Honesty. I must not pretend. To walk His way, the mask has to come off. Because His way is the way of transparency. Of authenticity. There’s no room for playing dress up when you travel the path of Jesus. And so, that’s what I do. I lift off my mask and strip off my play clothes. And what’s left behind is only me. Just Pam. And when the pretend perfect is removed, all that remains draped across my body is a dark robe tinged with the spirit of despair, woven together by years of my sin, stitched by decades of transgression. Unmasked, and naked, this is all I have left… my gown of offense. And I feel vulnerable and exposed. Naturally, I want to cover up. But He says no. Because this is my natural covering. This is what He wants me to see. Because the robe of sin that covers my own body is the very one He wore, and bore, on my behalf. This is what Jesus wore on the cross as He died. In His nakedness, He wore only my iniquity.

Naked Jesus came into this world and naked He left. And He calls me, a sinner, to do the same. He calls me to be naked. Because when I’m so bold, or so vulnerable, as to strip down to my true self in plain view of everyone, people will see me. Only me. Just Pam. And that’s what He wants. Because when all the pretense and the pretend and the masks are thrown out, I’m real. And He’s real. Finally, I am who I proclaim to be. A follower of Christ. And this act alone makes me more like Jesus than anything. My nakedness. Because when all else is stripped away, I allow Him to dress me the way He wants to. He exchanges my despair for splendid clothes as He wraps me in gowns of salvation and robes of righteousness. And the miracle is that over time, I naturally will become more and more like Him. Simply by walking His way – the Way – I’ll transform. Eventually, there won’t be much of the old me left at all. Instead, there will be only Him. And as the years progress, when people look at me, He’ll be who they really see. Not me. Just Jesus.

She was permitted to wear fine linen, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints. Revelation 19:8

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The significance of a bracelet…

“Set up signposts,
Make landmarks;
Set your heart toward the highway,
The way in which you went.
Turn back, O virgin of Israel,
Turn back to these your cities.
How long will you gad about,
O you backsliding daughter?
For the Lord has created a new thing in the earth—
A woman shall encompass a man.” Jeremiah 31:21-22

I lost a bracelet Friday. It wasn’t valuable monetarily and it was really quite simple. Nonetheless, it was priceless to me. For this wasn’t just any bracelet. It was the one I had worn for nearly twenty years. I was twenty-one when my friend, Carmen, gave it to me. And sadly, I lost touch with her long ago. But then, we were inseparable. She gave me the thin, silver band as a parting gift before she moved to Germany. And I was delighted with the piece of jewelry. For many reasons, I guess.

Me and Carmen… Oklahoma… 1994

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In think one reason I adored that bracelet stemmed from my high school days. I just didn’t have a lot of jewelry. Unlike my best friend, who had amazing jewelry. A lot of it. I confess, I was nearly green with envy. Oh, how I coveted her silver collection. Not to mention her make-up, stuffed closet and CD collection. Yep. I did a lot of coveting my junior and senior years. I wanted what she had. And so, when my friend gave me a lovely piece of jewelry, I don’t think she knew how much it would mean to me.  I added it to the few pieces I already owned… some inexpensive earrings, a few bracelets, two silver rings and a class ring. Oh, there was one diamond ring. However, one of the diamonds was missing. That’s a story for another day.

And so, there was a bracelet. A thin, silver band. At first, although I wore it often, I didn’t wear it every day. But over time, I began to wear it more and more. Eventually, I began to sleep in it, bathe in it, swim in it. I lived with that bracelet attached to me. It became a part of me. Oh, I may have added another bracelet to my wrist alongside the first. But Carmen’s bracelet stayed put. It was rare that I didn’t have it on. In fact, it was a few months back when I thought I should remove it. I took it off for a while, but it felt unnatural. I felt naked, and so the piece of silver quickly made its way back to its rightful home. And there it stayed. A piece of me. Until Friday when I lost it.

In thinking back on my journeys, I realize that bracelet did some traveling, too. It was such a part of me, in fact, that it’s attached to many significant moments in my life. It was there when I went to Korea…

Korea… 1994-1995

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The bracelet adorned my wrist when I moved to Savannah and fell in love.

Savannah, GA… 1996

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It was there when we dated, when he proposed to me, and during our engagement.

Fall 1996                                                                   October 1997

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Winter 1998

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Then there were the days before the wedding. Look closely and you’ll see the bracelet remained. Through the shower and the day before I said, “I do.” The bracelet was a part of me. A part of my life.

Spring 1998

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Me & mom, June 1998            My mother-in-law made my dress

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The bracelet held fast to my arm through the honeymoon… and even when the honeymoon was over, for we had our first marital tiff.

                      June 1998                                                  Scowl on face, July 1998

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The bracelet endured… through our first two moves.

                Pennsylvania, 1999-2000                                     New York, 2000-2001

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There were special occasions… like my high school reunion. By the way, this is me and my dear friend. She had all the cool jewelry when we were seniors. And I know for fact that she still does as we just had lunch recently.

Virginia, 2001

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There were more moves, more occasions, more events, more life. Me and my bracelet…

                             North Carolina, 2001                     Another part of NC, Karaoke party for one, 2003-2004

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First (only) cruise, Spring 2005                         Labor Day weekend with Daddy, 2005

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The bracelet was always there. Even for the miracle of new life.

2006… expectancy

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2006… sheer exhaustionDSCF0625DSCN16832006…. baby dedication. More exhaustion as evidenced by bags under eye.

And then, the tiredness waned. The fun began. The bracelet stayed put.

2006, laughs DSCN2003HPIM0195_00822007, sips

2007, walks DSCN2897

I wore that bracelet on vacations…

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And I wore it when my deepest desire became reality. God sent me back home. After six months, we settled in a house in my home town. And within a year, we put down roots.

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2010 – 2013

All these pictures evidence the journey of my life. And the significance of a bracelet? It was a part of me. Always. It was there for everything. From Oklahoma to Korea to Georgia to North Carolina to Pennsylvania to New York. Back to multiple locations in North Carolina and ultimately… Virginia. My home. And so on Friday, when I looked down and found the bracelet wasn’t where it should be, I was surprised. It was as if part of me was gone. But rather than sadness that something valuable to me was lost… I felt expectant. Rather than grieve over a thin piece of silver that held so many good memories… I look forward instead. Because I believe I’m supposed to.

You know… I haven’t written since January 17. It was just before my birthday and I wrote about the significance of the date… January 22, 1973. Roe v. Wade. And then, eleven years later came sanctity of human life Sunday. The day of my birth is fraught with significance. And so, I shared about my past. I told of things I had done that I wish I hadn’t. And I realized it’s those things I’ve been carrying with me all this time. Along with the good, it’s regret that’s been attached to the bracelet… attached to me. I just didn’t know it. Because for so many years, I thought I was fine. And in looking at these pictures, I look fine. I look happy. But smiles are only skin deep and brokenness can be hidden. And all of this has come to the forefront of my heart and mind these past few weeks. And I find that through the insignificant act of losing a bracelet, I find a promise. I find significance.

So much has taken place in a matter of days… so much deep within that words fail me. And so, all I can do is tell about a bracelet. A bracelet… fraught with significance. Priceless in that it held so many memories. All those good ones displayed above. And yet, the rest of my past was attached to the thin, silver band as well. From a covetous heart to a couple of years I wish I could undo. See, the bracelet was a part of me. It held fast to my arm before I returned home, before I had my baby and before I met my husband. The bracelet was there for those things I don’t want to remember. All that regret. And yet, I wore it always. It was part of me. Until Friday. And so, January 31, 2014 becomes significant. As significant as the bracelet I lost. Because in the removal of a silver band that held me to my past, I find that I am now free to move forward. Expectant once again.

Look, I am about to do something new;
even now it is coming. Do you not see it?
Indeed, I will make a way in the wilderness,
rivers in the desert
. Isaiah 43:19

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