Stopped In Their Tracks: It’s Going To Be All Right.


Writer’s Note: I first recorded this blog entry in February 2016. It was during a time of storms and health scares and God showed up to comfort me in a miraculous and undeniable way. I share this again because God guided me through this same health scare yesterday as well as a series of other storms that have occurred over the last month, bringing my mind back to this very event as He continues to comfort me and let me know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that He is right here with me and it is indeed going to be all right. I don’t necessarily know the details of how it will all work out, but He is PATIENTLY teaching me that I don’t have to know. I just have to know and TRUST Him. If you are going through anything at all right now, if you feel scared, alone, or simply need something to boost your faith, I hope you will read this. God loves us, y’all. He really, really does!

deer image for amenandehmen

Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.—Hebrews 11:1

What a beautiful, hope-inspiring verse. It flows like honey from the lips of whomever recites it and gives comfort to all who struggle with the troubles and tribulations that are guaranteed to come as long as we continue to live and breathe this side of Heaven.

However, when you are in the midst of those troubles, most of us would be less than truthful if we said that we did not ever doubt. Indeed, sometimes our confidence in what we hope for DOES wane. Sometimes we’re NOT so assured that the things we cannot see are fully under the control of a loving God who will use them for our good.

The fact is, sometimes, when life gets hard, uncertainty will often fuel fear instead of hope and, if you are like me, it becomes more about survival—just putting one foot in front of the other—than it does about resting in peace and hope. It becomes more about drifting in seclusion and fear than living in the presence of God and trusting His promises fully and completely.

Truth be told, as much as I love God and as much as I know in my heart that He is always present and always worth trusting, I have still loitered in a self-imposed seclusion at times; wandered aimlessly through shadowy valleys where cares and concerns take the form of dark and menacing shadows hell-bent on blocking the light in my life. In fact, over the past few months, it feels like I have stood frozen and wrought in fear more than I have walked in peace and rested in trust and faith, even though I absolutely know better.

Thank God I know better. Thank God for the proverbial and omnipresent life-line that He continually invites us to grab hold of and uses to pull us back to a place where we can see Him, hear Him, and feel Him. Thank God, He never gives up. No matter how many times we drift away and lose sight, He just keeps offering Himself to us over and over and over, repeatedly reminding us that He is right beside us and worthy of our trust.

So, as I continued to occupy that valley between fear and worry and complete trust in Him, God started pulling me back to Himself. And, just as He often does when there is something He wants me to really hear, He began putting the subject in my path so many times and in so many ways that it was simply impossible to deny. It seemed that He used practically every thing I read and heard to assert the same truth. Trust Me, He said again and again.

And, trust me, I had heard quite a few messages in the last couple of weeks. Realizing my spiritual and prayer life was collecting dust, I had recommitted myself to the daily habit of spending my half hour drive to and from work either praying or listening to podcasts by various preachers and teachers. It’s something I had enjoyed for several years and I was hoping that it would get me reconnected and out of this cycle of fear and worry which I had fallen into. And, of course, never one to disappoint, God Almighty, the Teacher of teachers, showed up and picked up right where we left off.

Now, I don’t want to say that He harped on and on about that one thing that I was obviously needing most at this point in time, but I will say He was quite persistent. Days turned into weeks and podcast after podcast, sermon after sermon, in one way or another, all dealt with same subject: trusting Him; living in His presence; walking and dwelling with the Holy Spirit; not fearing; and, finally, believing in His good plan for my life, no matter what.

Everyday. It didn’t matter who was delivering it, the message was the same. Steven Furtick. Andy Stanley. Joyce Meyer. Louie Giglio. Over and Over. I couldn’t hide from it. Though, truth be told, I really didn’t want to.

I wanted nothing more than to honor God and find that place of peace for myself where my trust in Him is unbridled. And, so, on my way home one day, after hearing Joyce Meyer preach on the Holy Spirit, I turned off my radio and began to pray. From the Eisenhower exit to Hartley Bridge, I prayed for God to once again heighten my ability to sense the Holy Spirit as well as my ability and desire to follow His lead. I asked to hear His voice loud and clear and to once again be able to trust that everything in my life would be used by Him. I asked for reassurance that it—that I—really was going to be okay. “God, show me that it’s going to be okay,” I pleaded.

As I rode along praying from the deepest reaches of my heart, I suddenly became overwhelmed with this feeling that I was in danger. Completely out of the blue, I sensed that there were deer in the woods parallel to the interstate I was driving on and that, at any moment, that they were going to dart in front of my car. I can’t explain it, but it was so real and so intense that I began to feel panicked.

My first instinct was to brake and slow down, for I figured that slowing down would either keep me from hitting them or, at the very least, lessen the impact. However, when I looked in my rearview mirror, there was a car practically tailgating me, rendering that plan null and void. Next, I considered changing into the middle lane, thinking that I could perhaps put a little more distance between myself and them, but, yet again, a car was fast approaching there as well.

Finally, I did the only thing I could think of left to do, and I blurted out the following plea, “Lord, please just stop them in their tracks! Stop them in their tracks, Father!”

Just like that, the feeling of looming danger dissipated just as quickly as it had started. I took a deep breath and thanked God for this unseen, but deeply felt occurrence. The sense of danger had been so real, but, thankfully, this peaceful, safe feeling felt just as real. That in itself was enough, yet my impromptu lesson on trust wasn’t quite over. Just as I was exhaling a breath of relief, my eyes were almost magnetically drawn to the woods just beyond the road’s shoulder. I couldn’t believe what I saw. There, standing tall, his body half in the woods and half out, was a deer! Head held high, looking in my direction and poised like he had literally been stopped in his tracks!

Though I would have been content with the feeling of relief I experienced a split second earlier, God knew that I needed to see it with my own two eyes. In fact, if you recall, I had just asked Him to come close and to show me that it was going to be okay; that I was going to be okay; and He did just as I had asked! Astounded, I immediately began to gush words of thanksgiving and praise.

Oh, how very much he taught me in those precious seconds and in the hours that followed as I recounted this beautiful experience.

For one, my initial response, as you may recall, was to try and do something myself. I checked the rearview mirror to see if I could slow down and then checked the side mirror to see if I could change lanes. Then and only then did I call out to our Lord to take control of the situation. I don’t know about you, but I do that all the time. I try everything in my power first, when I could save myself a whole lot of trouble by just asking God for help to begin with.

Secondly, I fully believe the woods are symbolic of things that have been going on in my life. Unknown things, such as my health, have been weighing heavily on me and causing angst. But, in just a few moments while driving down I-75, our beautiful Father in Heaven sent me a reminder that just like He controlled that deer in the woods that He was also in control of my health, my future and anything else that I might not be able to see. All I have to do is call out to Him.

Lord, I will never be able to thank You enough for answering me when I call out to You and for being relentless in Your pursuit of me. No matter how many times my trust falters, You never, ever leave my side. Thank you for SHOWING Yourself to me when I need it most and doing so in such a way that I know, without a doubt, that it is You. I shall never forget the image of that deer standing on the roadside, half in the woods and half out, obviously stopped in his tracks just by my asking. Your word says, “Ask, and it shall be given; seek, and you shall find; knock and it shall be opened to you.” And, as always, you are true to Your word. My dear sweet Jesus, I promise to work on trusting in You completely; to remember that You see everything that is going on—even the things behind the scenes—and that, no matter what, you will use it all for my good, all because I’m your child and I love you. Thank you for loving me so and for teaching me to look at everything through eyes of faith and trust. Oh what a difference it makes. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen and Ehmen!

“I know his name, child, and he knows Mine.”


               

Writer’s Note: Today marks four years since my brother drew his last breath, and three since I wrote this post. Today as I spent some time thinking about him and reminiscing, I felt comforted all over again. Please, if you have not accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior, consider taking that step today; if not for yourself, for your loved ones. Don’t take a chance on leaving them to wonder if they will see you again, for that grief is a grief like no other.


 

September 7, 2016               

One year ago today, I heard your voice for the last time.

I miss you, dear brother.

Truth is, I have missed you every day since you left us, but as we move closer and closer to the one year anniversary of your death, it has been especially hard.

               Gary  May 9,2010 While the grief process continues and I have taken many strolls down memory lane remembering your life, these last few days have found me especially reflective of your death. Those were dark days, brother. Painful days. It was so hard to watch mama as she realized she had to let you go. No mother should ever have to bury her child.

                It was hard to watch the interaction between you and Karen. It was obvious that she was the love of your life. As dim as your eyes became, the soul-depth love you had for her burst forth like a beacon in the darkest of nights. It was heartbreaking and heartwarming all at the same time.

It was hard for all of us who loved you to say goodbye, but we didn’t have a choice. All of our days on this earth are numbered and, ready or not, one day the last day will come for all that have ever drawn breath. Still, I can promise you none of us were ready for it to be your time.

At the time, the worst part of it all, Gary, was not really knowing your spiritual condition; not being sure that you had accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Not being sure that you would soon enjoy everlasting life with our Father in Heaven. I know that it was said many times right before and after your passing that a man’s faith is a personal matter and that one doesn’t have to talk about it, but that just isn’t true. No words will ever be able to express the extreme heartache not knowing levies on the hearts of those who struggle with the thought of never seeing their loved one again.

It is the same wrenching heartache that I felt a few years prior when I, as an adult, began to deal with the tragic death of our daddy decades before. In talking to mom one day, I discovered that at the time of dad’s death, she wasn’t certain of his salvation. Like you, he was a man with a heart of gold and a man of great respect and humble attitude, but, unfortunately, they had never talked about it. Having been only eight when dad was taken from us, I never really got to know him. I can only hope for another chance on the other side.

But, back to you. Your last days were heavily laden with prayer, by me, by family, by friends and the church. Though I didn’t really get the opportunity to talk to you directly about God, our cousin Patty did. Still, we weren’t sure where you stood and that hurt more than anything. But, then something happen. I was getting ready for your memorial service. It had been an emotionally charged week and I really wasn’t thinking about anything. My mind and emotions were taking a well-needed time-out when, out of the blue at exactly 7:53 a.m. September 10, 2015, the following words floated into my mind. As clear as the spoken word I heard Him say: “I know his name, child, and he knows Mine.”

Now, Gary, that’s not a phrase that I had ever heard and I knew instantly that it was the still small voice of our ever-loving God. Powerful words swaddled in that unsurpassed comfort and peace that can only come from Him. I just knew and it’s all I needed.

I was so excited and relieved that when got to your memorial service, the first person I hunted down was Patty; and when we hugged, I excitedly whispered the good news. She, too, began to grin from ear to ear.

“Brenda,” she told me. “I prayed all night and all the way up here, begging God to show either you or me that Gary was with Him.”

Sigh. What a beautiful gift. I can’t tell you how much easier it made it to say goodbye. You know it rained during your service that day and I can just remember thinking that it was apropos. In fact, I think it was Heaven’s way of helping us mourn our loss while celebrating its gain.

Now, what about dad?

Though I have spent the last several years hoping and feeling like he is probably with you in our eternal home in Heaven, I have never received such certain reassurance as I did with you. Until this week. Enter another cousin. This one, Debbie, one of Uncle Don’s daughters. She had read a recent post about how hard it was to hear that daddy’s salvation was also unknown to those who loved him most. It spurred a memory that she shared, probably a nudge from God, if I had to guess.

As you know, Uncle Don also left this earth way too early. He died in a car accident when he was in his early 30s, leaving behind a beautiful bride and two beautiful young daughters. Daddy always made sure to stay connected to them and our families were quite close, I am told.

What I didn’t know was that Aunt Vera Lee, Uncle Don’s widow, had spent some time in the hospital visiting daddy during his last days. Debbie relayed a sweet story that her mom had shared before she passed about how they sang a hymn together and that daddy had been the one to start the singing. She also relayed how she had felt the presence of Uncle Don in the room with them, so heavy, in fact, that she said she actually spoke his name out loud.

“Brenda, Mama said that she was convinced that she felt Daddy Don’s presence so strongly because he had come to show Uncle Billy the way,” my dear cousin wrote in a note this week. “And we all know the devil doesn’t send someone to comfort and guide you on your journey home.”

Sigh. Another beautiful gift. We will see you both again! And Uncle Don, who I never knew. And Grandma. And Granddaddy. And our beautiful aunts, Aunt Hazel and Aunt Vera Lee. You are all there waiting for the rest of us and celebrating every moment with our Awesome and Beautiful Creator. I can only imagine, but boy oh boy do I enjoy imagining that day!

But, until then, I still miss you. And, yes, there are still tears, but they are no longer all sorrowful. They are also intermingled with tears of joy knowing you are enjoying everlasting life and that one day we will meet again.

Until then, to you and all of our loved ones previously departed, much love from earth to heaven.

Amen and Ehmen.

Come to Order


June 12, 2017

 

Dear God…

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Dear Child,

It’s okay child. I know your brain and emotions are scrambled right now, but I am here and I know your heart. Just breathe. Speak My name when you feel overwhelmed or at a loss. Let’s come up with a schedule together. Something to keep you on track. Do not feel less because you need this. Order is necessary for all of life. Order, in fact, was the second most important ingredient in Creation, second only to love. Can you imagine a world with no order? What if the sun rose only when it felt like it? What if the moon and the stars were random about their appearance and nighttime blanketed the earth at unplanned times? Yes, child, everything must have an order to be successful in the long run. If it was and is important for all of Creation, it is important for you. Let’s start with your daily schedule and then we will continue to work on your schedule for fulfilling your calling and purpose. I am proud of you, child. You have a mission and a calling and I am so pleased that you desire them so. Together, we are unstoppable. You are unstoppable. Don’t ever forget that. And, if you do, just come back into My Presence where I can remind you. I’m always here, day and night, from beginning to end, creating your present and your future with beautiful mixture of love and order.

The Beautiful Order of Creation…

Genesis, Chapter 1:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

And God said, “Let there be an expanse[a] in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.” And God made[b] the expanse and separated the waters that were under the expanse from the waters that were above the expanse. And it was so. And God called the expanse Heaven.[c] And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth,[d] and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good.

11 And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants[e] yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons,[f] and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds[g] fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” 21 So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” 23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. 25 And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds and the livestock according to their kinds, and everything that creeps on the ground according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make man[h] in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

27 So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them.

28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” 29 And God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the heavens and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Genesis, Chapter 2

Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them. And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation…

Tribe of Thorns


With time not my own this past year, I have let most of the flowerbeds around my house Thorny weedgo. Thisthorns week I decided to tackle them, one by one, starting with a particularly unruly looking bed alongside the fence.

The first thing I noticed as I surveyed the situation was a growing number of prickly vines. Armed with thorns, they infiltrated the fertile ground and stood watch over a second army of unwanted weeds.  They looked like green goliaths wielding tiny swords ready to pierce the skin of any intruder that threatened their mission to overtake the flowerbed.

Standing between and behind these evil, self-proclaimed soldiers were other thorny vines that had certainly seen better days. Brown and brittle, it was obvious that they were the senior ones amongst this tribe of thorns. I reached in to grab one of the weaker ones, but quickly pulled back as a river of red broke through the surface of my skin and rolled down my arm. Ughhh! I guess Grandpa had a little life in him after all. Ornery old thorn.

It is then that I heard God whisper deep into my spirit:

“It is not just the thorns of today that can hurt you, my child; the thorns of your past will continue to hurt you as long as you leave them unattended. You must suit up and face them; cut them off and throw them into a pile to be burned. They may look dead, brittle and harmless, but looks are deceiving. If you will let Me, dear child, I will help you tend the garden of your soul—pulling up the old and new vines of thorns and allowing the beautiful and the fruitful to flourish.”

Sigh. Thank You, Lord, for these special teaching moments and, above all, for loving me unconditionally. I ask You now, Father, to help me rid my soul of weeds and thorns, both the new and the old. I want nothing more than to be fruitful; a beautiful garden for which you are proud to call Your own. I am Yours. Amen and Ehmen.

Ass But Not Least


Though they are often the “butt” of many a joke, I have always had a special affection for donkeys. And, Donkey and Cross imageevery year around Easter, that affection grows. Have you ever wondered why Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem oh so many years ago on what we now call Palm Sunday? Why not a strong, valiant horse? A horse worthy to roam the king’s pastures?

This week, in reflecting on that very question, I thought I’d ask God himself. And so, during my God time earlier this week, that is exactly what I did. As I sat quietly with nothing but a Bible, a blank page and a deep affection for The Father, these are the thoughts that came to rest deep in my spirit.

“Child, do you remember the verses in My Word in which I told you that the first will be last and the last shall be first; those that remind you to be a humble servant? My friend, the donkey, is a fitting image of what I expect from my children. Humble, hard-working, peaceful. I don’t need pomp and circumstance from you. I just need a willing, servant’s heart.

I asked for a donkey to ride me into Jerusalem for many reasons, one being to remind all of my childrenpalm sunday that it matters not how the world sees you, but instead how I see you. This donkey, considered one of the least among his kind, was fit for a King. With a servant’s heart and attitude, he escorted me into Jerusalem and into my destiny and this is exactly what I ask of you, dear child—a servant’s heart and attitude that I can use to take me to the people of the world and into my ultimate and eternal destiny. I want ALL of my children with me in eternity. Even one lost grieves my spirit so. Think of those parents who have lost one of their children to drugs, alcohol or depression. Think of the parent whose child has run away, who they’ve lost all contact with. Oh how their heart grieves! Now, multiply that by infinity and that is how I feel about my lost children. My heart is not complete without them. My kingdom is not whole. They are MY children. All of them. No matter what they have done. No matter what they haven’t done. They are MY children and I love them. And, I need you, to help me bring them home. I need you to be like that humble, willing donkey that will take me to my children; to my destiny as Father of All. Go read the story of the Prodigal Son. I will open your eyes to new things, my child. And, go through this day aware of my presence. I’ll be right beside you all the way. It’s going to be a good day, child. A very good day.”

Thank you, God, for this. Thank you for the donkey and thank you for now giving me a reason to smile when someone calls me one.  Last but not least, thank you for being such a The Legend of the Donkey's Crosscreative Creator. Whether the legend of the cross on my favorite furry friends’ back is true or not, it is quite a beautiful touch. 🙂 Amen and Ehmen!

 

 

Today’s Prayer


Our broken hearts reach out to You. Our deflated spirits struggle to find You. Oh, how I want to stand in the face of evil times and to be the reflection of hope that You promise, but sometimes I, too, am overwhelmed by disappointments in my own life and in the lives of those around me–my friends, my family, my neighbors. I get disillusioned by the evil that lurks just beyond our walls; the darkness that all too often breaks into our most secure places. Although, Lord, it seems that evil has no boundaries, I know in my heart that it does–and that boundary is You! Hold us tight, Father. Protect us from evil, for Your name’s sake. Comfort those that are hurting and help me, Lord, in my time of need and waiting. Help me to remain thankful; to learn in the waiting, and to reflect You in all that I do. I trust in You and give my present and future to You. Mold me. Melt my heart and reshape it so its desires are your desires. My hope is in You. I love You, Abba. Amen and Ehmen.

Time for a new scene: Goodbye 2016!


Like many of you, I often find myself in reflective mode during this week which we find packaged between Christmas and New Year’s. This year is no different.

Though I know I am blessed beyond measure, I would be lying if I said that 2016 was a great year for me.

It wasn’t.2016-to-17

And, based on the laments on social media and the increasing soulnessness which makes up the news every day, it seems it has been a pretty rotten year for most everyone—a year woven together by tragedy and heartache.

The amped-up level of evilness that once seemed to wreak havoc on those in faraway places now pulses feverishly through the veins of our own nation. Terrorists play in our own backyards and heartbreak is an almost daily response to news of yet another of our beloved men and women in blue killed in the line of duty; another senseless shooting; another terrorist attack, another natural disaster or the untimely and unexpected death of another beloved friend, family member, celebrity or public hero. Few, if any, no longer have faith in our government, especially after an election that even the most creative satirist could never match.

On a personal level, it has been a year of change in almost every aspect. Though my physical locale remains the same, life as I knew it seemed to up and relocate itself, leaving me with no choice but to adjust to new surroundings in both my personal as well as my professional life. I’m still adjusting and, truth be told, I think I may be struggling with some depression. All I can say is thank God for the hope that He gives us. Whether or not I feel His Presence at a given moment, I know that I know that He is always and in all ways with me and that these melancholy feelings are just that—feelings, ever-changing, hollow fruits of the flesh that I can never trust.

His Truth and Spirit, however, can always be trusted. The never-changing, soul-sustaining and boundless fruits of His Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, matthewfaithfulness, gentleness and self-control—constantly summon me even in the midst of the storms. All we have to do is ask, seek and knock in faith and our Father in Heaven will provide.

In Matthew, Chapter 7, Verse 8, Jesus promises: “Everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”

My prayer—as we prepare to shut the door of 2016 and knock on that of a brand new year—is that each of us will remember to ask, seek and receive all that He has promised us and that we choose to grow life -sustaining Fruits of The Spirit instead of hollow fruits of the flesh.

Father, help us to remain focused on You; to learn to respond to this fallen world, not with fear, but with our eyes on the big picture for which You are the creator; that we remember that this is Your Story and Your will and purposes will always, always prevail. Holy Spirit, come, fill me so that I may do the part that was set aside just for me before the foundation of the earth was ever laid. Help me to make 2017 a year of progress and purpose—a truly Happy New Year for You and for me.

I love you, dear Father. Let’s do this!

Amen and Ehmen.

High-Flying Faith: A True Story of God’s Presence In The Midst of Tragedy


Writer’s Note: Please indulge me as I again share this true story of God’s presence, love and promise during a period of earthly sadness and tragedy. Today marks the fifth anniversary that my friend Neil left us, but it also marks the day that God made it unequivocally clear that His purpose and plan for me is to write. I may not have the book completed on paper yet, but it is nestled safely in my heart. Please give me the strength and perseverance to see it to the end, Lord. And, thank you, God, for writing me into this story and for always “showing UP” when we need you most.  Amen and Ehmen.

vapor-trail-and-neil-for-blog-2

I sat back in the seat thankful, that even on a full flight, I had somehow managed to get a seat all to myself. It sure seemed as if God was looking out for me these days and especially on this day as He knew I had much to think and pray about—how, for example, I was going to get through this trip.

My dear friend, Barbie—Neil’s first cousin and Denny’s best friend—was gone, having just succumbed to lung cancer just a few short months after an out-of-the-blue diagnosis. Denny’s husband, Neil, who had also unexpectedly fallen ill about the same time as Barbie, was in the midst of battling his own recent diagnosis of a rare and incurable disease called amyloidosis.

And, Denny, my beautiful friend to who God himself introduced me was quickly slipping into a pit justifiably described as hell on earth as everything she knew and loved was being stripped away from her. The fact was, Barbie’s death and Neil’s illness were just two of several back-to-back losses that had her looking more and more like a female, modern day version of Job with each passing day.

As the stewardess stopped momentarily in front of my seat to close the overhead compartment, she gave me a sympathetic nod. My pain, obviously visible to even a stranger, quickly liquidated into a stream of tears as I closed my eyes and began to recount the five years that had led to this moment; how an anonymous, virtual game of internet Scrabble, a chance meeting on a social networking site, had led to such a deep, tangible and very real friendship, first between me and Denny and then between our family and friends; a friendship that was obviously God-ordained, God-blessed and God-planned, but still a mystery to our mere mortal minds.

What could He possibly have been thinking when he paired the two of us? From the outside, we were so different. I was a single mom with two jobs and she was a semi-retired housewife. What’s more, we lived what seemed like a world apart—she in western Canada and me in the southeastern United States.

But, on the inside, well, that’s where it all began to make sense. For there, we were practically twins—soul sisters as we later dubbed it—whose bond was quick, yet undeniably powerful and steadfast. What started as a little friendly banter on a Scrabble chat screen turned into hours of truly getting to know each other. Letter by typed letter, we talked about everything, from our childhood to our adulthood, our pain and sorrow, hopes and dreams, and, most especially, about God, who we both loved with all our might, and who continued to make it abundantly clear that He wanted to be at the helm of our lives and that our lives were meant to be intertwined. He would prove that to us over and over again, including on December 8, 2011 as I headed back to Alberta.

The story of this December day had actually started a couple of months earlier when I began searching for air-fare for a pre-Christmas visit with my friends. My plan was to fly in on Dec. 10th, which also happened to be my 50th birthday. I was struggling a bit with this milestone birthday and decided that a day of travel would be a fine distraction.

To paint the picture more completely, I had been bidding on tickets through Priceline in search of the best deal possible. For those who have never used the “Name Your Own Price” feature, one must submit a method of payment along with an offer for airfare and, if accepted, you are rewarded with a non-refundable airline ticket.

Anyhow—after two weeks and a dozen or so rejected offers —I decided to try one last time and submitted an even lower price than I had attempted before. I was both shocked and ecstatic when it was accepted at almost 40 percent less than the going ticket price! When I looked closely at my confirmation, however, I noticed something terribly wrong. The departure, it said, was 7:05 a.m. December 8, 2011. Wait. What? December 8th?  That wasn’t the plan. December 10th was the dreaded birthday and the date my work vacation started. Nevertheless, God clearly had another plan, which I now realized included getting me there in time for Barbie’s funeral.

And, so, in the early morning hours of December 8, I sunk deep into my seat and tucked my earbuds tightly into my ears. Praise and worship tunes playing as soothing background music, there was time for a lot of prayers between the airport runways of Atlanta, Georgia and Edmonton, Alberta and, as the plane took off, the praying commenced.

During a short layover in Denver and before boarding the final leg of my day’s journey, I texted Denny to see how she was doing. She had been pretty emotional the night before, but was adamant that she would pick me up at the airport. I begged her to let one of our other friends do it, but, as per usual, she got the final word and would be waiting for me.  Period. She didn’t reply to my text and I presumed she was probably busy with Barbie’s funeral planning.

Back on the plane, I started to get more anxious. Denny was going through so much heartache and seemed to be struggling a bit with her faith.  She was finding it hard to fight anymore; her strength understandably gone. Just as the illnesses had stripped Neil and Barbie of their physical muscles, she was feeling stripped of her spiritual muscles. She still loved God. She still believed in Jesus and she still believed in heaven. In fact, those were the only things that made any sense to her at all anymore. Yet they seemed so far away and her heart continued to crumble under the weight of it all.

My mind, my heart and my emotions were swirling like a hurricane as the plane taxied down the Denver tarmac and I returned to my music, once again getting lost in my own little world of praise, worship and prayer. About halfway through the four-hour flight, “Hold My Heart” by Tenth Avenue North came on and I was immediately transported back to exactly one summer before when my previously-planned visit turned out to be a time of support as Denny’s brother, Stevie, had tragically drowned the week before.

As the song pervaded my heart on that June day, I had turned every word into a fervent prayer for my friend, pleading with God to please—just as the song beseeches—to come close and hold my friend’s heart. Suddenly, I began to feel a sense of peace followed by an inexplicable nudge to open my eyes and look out the window. When I did, I saw something that I shall never forget. Right there, on a canvas of deep blue sky and billowing clouds, were clouds in the distinctive shape of two strong hands gently cradling a heart. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and quickly reached for my camera, but when I looked back up, the image was gone. I may not have gotten the picture with my camera, but it was forever etched into my memory to be recalled many times in the days and years to come—including this day as I traveled once again to see my friends.

Leaning forward in my seat, I wondered if perchance God might give me another sign. Praise and worship lyrics dancing in my ears, I studied the clouds, but saw nothing. I looked towards the ground. Still, nothing. But, as I sat back in my seat disappointed, I soon felt another inexplicable nudge to take one more look. I pressed my forehead to the window pane and gazed at the sky. It was cloudless and there was nothing really to see when all of a sudden a streak of white shot across the blue sky. It happened so quickly, I almost gave myself whiplash attempting to see what could have possibly left this white mark in the sky. I sat back quite perplexed and more than just a little nervous. If that was left by another plane, it sure was awful close, I thought to myself.

As I continued to ponder what I had just seen, the flight attendants began preparing the cabin for landing. In less than a half an hour, I would be on the ground. My emotions shifted from anxiety to excitement as I knew I was about to see the people who had become so near and dear to me.

Having visited several times before, I had become somewhat of a pro at maneuvering through customs. I breezed through and, luggage in tow, followed my fellow travelers through the hallways leading to the lobby where Neil and Denny usually waited for me.

Walking through the doors, I looked around for Denny. Not seeing her right away, I figured she was probably hiding around the corner and laughing at me. She loved to make me look like a dork and, to be fair, I often did the same to her. I especially loved when we would make Neil laugh with our silliness.

In an effort to maintain at least a shred of my self-professed coolness, I stepped to the side and looked down at my phone. As I peered back up, I saw a couple of familiar faces walking towards me. It was Alex and Trina.

Good, I thought to myself, Denny had decided to take a break and ask for help. We exchanged hugs and I started into my story of how customs didn’t try to give me the third degree for once. As I used Neil’s name a few sentences in, I noticed Trina’s eyes filling with tears. Alex’s face grew dim and right there in the middle of the Edmonton Airport, I heard these words, “Brenda, Neil passed away this morning.”

It was as if the world came to a screeching halt and I began to hyperventilate as my sweet friends, themselves sobbing, guided me to a nearby chair. It didn’t take long after I sat down, however, that it all became clear.

The December 8th Priceline ticket I held in my trembling hands was far from a mistake. My sweet Lord had sent me there on this very day as support for my dearest friend now plunged into the darkest hour of her life.

And that streak against the sky? Well, that was undoubtedly Neil doing a fly-by and letting me know that He was indeed ok.  A pilot, I could always see the passion in Neil’s eyes when he spoke of flying; how exhilarating it was for him to play high above the earth, amid the clouds and along the very threshold of Heaven—a place where he could now enjoy that same exhilaration multiplied by infinity.

As for me, every time I see a feathery white brush stroke painted in the sky, I stop and thank our awesome God for writing me into Neil and Denny’s story and for this new symbol of hope and joy; this reminder that He is oh so real and has a plan and a purpose for all of us; mine being to follow Him and to live and retell stories like this that will, hopefully, lead people to that place inside themselves where He is always patiently and lovingly waiting with whatever is needed.

Oh, and Denny, although there were many days following Barbie and Neil’s deaths in which she seemed to be in a freefall, God lovingly guided her hand to her own parachute’s ripcord and she is today living and loving life once again. She doesn’t even mind being compared to Job anymore, because just like Job, our loving Father in Heaven has fully restored her to a life full of love, blessings and a joyful, ever-healing heart.