“Post Secret” God

Remember those “Post Secret” books? You’d read them, and feel like you weren’t alone. That somebody else was having that very same experience as you.

I remember feeling very alone as an adolescent. I remember hearing lyrics in songs by the Police and Styx that gave me hope that perhaps I wasn’t as far out there as I felt. Perhaps there were other people who had an “other” sense of knowing, who were “weird” but in a good way. When I moved to Virginia for a summer, I lived with a lady who also had that sense, and she talked to me about it. It was refreshing to hear that this sense wasn’t odd or weird, but shared.

It is like having an extra sense of color – say it is color that is somewhere between pink and orange. There is a stone called “padparashca” that names that color. But say you haven’t heard of that stone. You can see and identify that color, but nobody else sees it as different. They call it pink, or salmon, or orange, but you know it is not any of those, but it is more than those.

I have that with God. I’ve always known of God. I’ve always felt God. And I’ve heard from God since I was 12.

The problem is that in our society, we don’t talk about God like this. Lilly Tomlin said “If you are talking to God, you are praying. If God is talking to you, you are crazy.” This may not be the exact quote, but you get the idea. Is God the elephant in the room?

However, we are told in our religious institutions to pray to God. We read about people who talked directly with God. Yet if we say we hear from God today, we are shunned and silenced. Perhaps this isn’t the way in all denominations, but it sure was in mine.

Hearing from God is a normal part, is a desired part, of being a human. It is our birthright. Sadly, we’ve forgotten how to make this connection.

I’ve always felt different. I keep having these experiences. I’ve already begun writing them down and sharing them here. I first started writing this post a year ago. I was trying to warm up to the idea of sharing what I now have in my “Strange but true” section.

My embarrassment might be your awakening. And that is fine with me. I don’t share what I share to build myself up. I share it because it may help others who feel like I do. I share it because I know there are other people who hear from God but have been silenced or intimidated.

I prayed at Cursillo to not cry at the final event. I had been crying happy, overwhelmed tears a lot that weekend. I didn’t want to embarrass myself or my group in the final event. But then part of praying is that you have to be willing to accept God’s answer. I said if I can’t stop crying, let it be that my tears help others. Sometimes folks need to see someone else cry to let them know it is ok to cry. They want to – but it is socially unacceptable. You cry – and it is a release for them. It as if it gives them permission to cry, to let it out. That is healing.

So I’m giving you permission to speak your truth. I’m letting myself be open so that you can be open. Let us strengthen each other with our stories, in the same way we help each other with our tears.

Saying Birkat Hagomel in the middle of the night.

Last night was a little weird. I “heard” the words “Birkat Hagomel” repeatedly. I’ve been studying Jewish blessings and prayers, and I didn’t remember if that was the name of a prayer or some of the words in it. I wasn’t sure why those words were coming to me in the middle of the night. The words kept coming, and I got the impression that I needed to get up and say whatever prayer is associated with them. But the “voice” sounded different from what I’m used to, so I ignored it for a while. It has been a while since God has woken me up in the middle of the night. I’m out of practice.

It is really important for me to not be crazy with God. I’m bipolar. And I hear from God. Yup. I’ve tried to suppress this for a long time, but it isn’t going away. I’ve tested what I’ve “heard” and found that it always is true, so that is a good sign that what I’m hearing from is from God and not the voice of craziness. But it still scares me every time, because I know what going over the edge feels like.

It isn’t really a voice – I don’t hear words. It is as if they come into my head. So that is why I put parenthesis around “hear” and “voice” sometimes.

Last night I ignored the “voice”, thinking I’ll look up those words in the morning. I sat up for a bit, thinking about what I should do, and couldn’t find any paper in the dark to write down the words. I decided if it was important enough I’d remember it in the morning. I don’t want to get OCD about God. It is weird enough hearing from God in the middle of the night. It is weird enough hearing from God and having a mental health diagnosis. It has taken me years to reconcile those two truths.

I lay down, and it only got worse. I felt physically very bad. I had a sense of gloom. There was an ominous nature to it. I felt overwhelmed, trapped even. Was I having a heart attack? What is going on? I prayed some more. I decided to get up and figure things out. Sometimes my best clue as to what to do is whatever I feel compelled to do. It may sound strange, but I’ll pray and God will set my feet on the right path. I just have to wait until it is time.

I got up and went into my craft room. I got down my candle and lit it. I put down a pillow so I could kneel. I had the book I’ve been using to learn about Orthodox Judaism with me. It is “How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household” by Blu Greenberg. It has the prayers in Hebrew, then transliterated into the letters in English so I can sound it out, and then the translation in English. This is one more step than the siddur (prayerbook) that I have. It assumes I can sound out the Hebrew letters. I’m not there yet.

One reason I finally got up was that in the middle of all this I remembered that the “Birkat Hagomel” is a pretty serious prayer. It isn’t the words in a prayer, it is the name of a prayer. In the words of Blu Greenberg, it “is recited after having narrowly escaped danger, recovering from serious illness, or coming through safely after a long trip.” Remembering what prayer it was increased my feeling that I needed to get up and say it.

I didn’t know what I was being thankful for. I still don’t, really. But I knew I had to get up and say this prayer.

I had a feeling that I could just flip to it in the book and I’d find it. I thought that would be “testing” God, so I decided to look it up in the index. You know – if it really is a call from God, I’ll find it straight off. When I found what page it was on, I turned to it and smiled. I have two bookmarks in this book. One is where I’m reading. One just happens to be on the page for this prayer. God is always in charge.

The translation of the prayer is “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, Who grants favors to the undeserving, Who has granted me all kindness.” I’ve also seen it translated as “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the universe, Who metes out goodness to the undeserving and Who has dealt kindly with me.”

Before it on the page is the Shehecheyanu, which is “Blessed are You, Lord our God, Ruler of the Universe, Who has granted us life and sustained us and brought us to this moment.” That seemed useful too, so I said it first.

I said the Birkat Hagomel three times, slowly, sounding out the transliteration. On the third time I tried to remember the transliteration while looking at the Hebrew letters. Also on the third time, my husband got up. I’m very self conscious about praying like this in front of anybody. It looks a little intense. It is a little intense. I don’t want to worry him. He came in just as I was finishing up and asked if everything was OK. I said it was, because I felt better. I no longer felt the crushing sense of dread that I felt before I decided to get up.

We went back into our bedroom and I thought about it for a little bit. I decided to tell him what was going on. We talked about it for a little, and I decided/felt that I needed to get up and go into the living room to sleep/pray. I’ve done this before. It isn’t that comfortable to sleep in the living room, so I can lie down and pray for a long time. Then when I’m done with praying, I’ll go to sleep.

My husband mentioned that he had been having a dream a little earlier that he felt he couldn’t wake from. He was trying to move or make noise to wake me up so that I could wake him up. This is what he does if he is having a nightmare. The interesting part is that he wasn’t having a nightmare. He just knew that he had to wake me up. This gives me the feeling that it was really important for me to get up.

I went to the living room and lay down on the futon to pray and then sleep. I didn’t know what I was going to pray about, but I just prayed. I felt the same way I feel when there is a big dangerous storm coming, and it is important to pray really hard. I don’t know what the storm is – all I knew is that I had that same feeling. Sometimes the “wind” that I hear isn’t the wind, but the winds of the Spirit.

I was reminded of the expectant feeling that the Israelites had when they were in Egypt, about to be delivered from slavery. They celebrated the first Passover in readiness, prepared to get up and run at a moment’s notice. Their preparations made it so that the Angel of Death passed over them and spared their first born. How many of us are willing to do something as crazy sounding as what they did? Paint a cross of blood over the door? Eat your meal while holding a weapon? That sounds kind of wild. But that is what God calls us to sometimes.

I felt that there is a big change happening. I felt that it was important to pray through it, like how a midwife helps a mother give birth by being there and supporting her. I’m not making the change happen. I’m watching it. I’m supporting it. I’m being conscious through it. I don’t know what the result is, but I know it is important.

It turns out that the Birkat Hagomel is also the prayer recited in the synagogue by the husband after his wife has successfully delivered a child.

I remembered a story of how a guy was compelled to get up and drive over to a friend’s house in the middle of the night. He felt he had to sit in his car and pray for his friend, but not go knock on the door. He kept thinking how odd this was, but he did it anyway. He drove home after his prayer was over. The next day he found out from his friend that he had had a terrible night and felt that he was like Jacob, wrestling with the Angel. In the middle of that time of trial, he started to feel better and stronger, and was able to finally go back to sleep. That was during the time that his friend, unbeknownst to him, was outside in his driveway praying for him.

It is this kind of story that encourages me to keep following this feeling. And it is the reason I’m sharing my story with you. I don’t know the resolution to this story yet. I don’t know if I ever will. I don’t know what God needed me to pray for. But I know that it is important to heed that call.

May you be blessed through this time of change, and may you be found awake, with your lamps ready. (Matthew 25:1-13)

Mother Mary

There was a massive stature of Mary sitting in a throne holding baby Jesus at the convent I was at this weekend on retreat. When I say massive, I mean life-size. Their eyes were human-looking. Perhaps they were prosthetic. They looked real. Both Mary and Jesus looked a little sad though. They were right in the front, facing the door as you enter. You had to pass by them to get to the chapel or the dining room. There was a triangle tile area in front of them too, which set off that area even more. The rest of the area was carpet.

I spent a lot of years in a medieval reenactment group, so seeing this human-looking statue that looks like royalty kind of messed with my head. She’s in a throne. She’s wearing a crown. She looks real. Do I bow? Do I at least pause? How close can I walk to her? She was kind of in the way. There was no easy way to get around her. To just walk by like she wasn’t there felt a little rude. So I at least paused.

Here’s what you see when you come in, showing the statue and the tile area.
Mary 3

Here’s a little closer.
Mary 2

Here’s her sad face.
Mary 1

I was fascinated by her, and a little creeped out. Mid-way through the retreat I had run out of things to write and I was getting a little bored. I’d thought earlier about drawing her. But drawing her meant getting in the way. The best way for me to draw her was to sit in front of her, at the tip of the tile triangle. And that meant that I’d be sitting in the middle of everything.

I’d be obvious. I’d be in the way. People would have to go around me. They would know what I was doing.

Would this annoy the nuns? Would they be upset with me? They might get annoyed that I was in the way. They might get annoyed that I was drawing their statue of Mary and Jesus.

I thought about it some more. It was the middle of the day. Most of them spent their time in their rooms. It wasn’t supper time or chapel time, so there was a good chance that I’d have the hall to myself. And if they didn’t like me doing it they could tell me to move.

I’m working on this part of my internal dialogue. I’m trying to be mindful of other’s feelings, but also mindful of my needs. I’m trying to not let imagined censorship make me stop doing something. All too often I make up what people say before I even start something, and I assume they are going to say no so I never start. I’m pushing past that and finding out that they rarely say no.

Turns out, while I was drawing, the nuns smiled at me. A fellow retreat member admired my work. Sure, I was in the middle of the hall, but I wasn’t completely in the way, and I wasn’t there long. So I kept drawing.

Here’s the picture of what I drew. My paper isn’t big – maybe 4 inches by 6. I didn’t have space for faces.
Mary 4

I used watercolor pencils, but I’ve not added the water yet. This looks like regular colored pencil this way.

After I drew it, I sat there for a bit, and I talked quietly to Mary. “Should I draw your face? You look so sad.” And she answered. She told me to draw her the way a child would draw her Mom, if her Mom wasn’t around. She told me to not look at the stature of her, but see the image of her face in my heart. Imagine if you are in school and the teacher tells you to draw your Mom. You have to draw her from memory. But in this case, I’m drawing not my Mom, but Jesus’ Mom, but by extension, sort of my adopted Mom. It is hard to explain. Sometimes I realize that I didn’t get comforted by my Mom in the way I needed, and I’m realizing that Mary is there to comfort me. It is very soothing.

So I drew. I drew her the way I see her looking at me. She doesn’t look like any images of Mary I’ve ever seen before, but she does look beautiful and kind. And that is what I needed to see.
Mary 5

She said “My child, I am giving birth to you too.” She is nurturing me like my mother couldn’t. I sat there, in tears, drawing her, washed by her love and compassion. Her arms are wide enough for me too.

Getting hit by lightning. Or not.

While walking to my car on the way to work this morning, I noticed that the sky was very dark and heavy with storm clouds. The air was sticky with humidity. I had the distinct impression that a storm could happen at any moment, and that there could be lightning. Just ahead to my right, about four feet away I looked at the driveway. I had an impression that there was a lot of energy there, like lightning could strike. It felt then as if there was a strike, right there, too close for comfort.

This is hard to explain. It is as if I saw a lightning strike with my mind’s eye. I didn’t see the lightning, either real or imagined. I felt that it was simply there, beyond my normal perception.

What would I do if there was a lightning strike that close to me? Probably freak out. I seem to remember that you are supposed to drop to the ground but don’t drop flat. Just crouch down, so you aren’t tall anymore. Lightning looks for tall things. Lightning tries to bridge the gap and make a connection.

I stopped for a moment. Was I predicting a hit? Nothing happened. I kept going and went on to my car.

I was reminded at the time of the tale of Balaam’s donkey. It tried to warn him of danger ahead.

I’m reminded now of the tale of Moses and the burning bush.

A lot of crazy-sounding things happened in the Bible, to otherwise everyday people. But somehow we downplay such experiences today if a person says they are having a similar experience. We tend to think that the person is making it up, or needs to be locked up.

A little later on at work, I had the distinct impression that there was a man sitting in the chair just ahead of the area where I was working. It was approximately the same position from me when I was at home and I felt the lightning strike.

Weird. Is it a ghost? TheHoly Spirit? Again, I paused. Anybody there? What would I do if it was a manifestation of God, a messenger? Not a lot of training around for that.

Yet we are of a faith that tells us that God is seeking us. That God wants to connect with us.

God is that lightning bolt, wanting to make that connection.

In the Old Testament, people usually threw themselves down to the ground when a messenger from God appeared before them. Whether in fear or in humility, who knows? But whatever the reason, they made themselves smaller. Perhaps they didn’t want to be hit.

But I’m standing. I’m standing before God, saying here I am. Use me. Send me. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing, but I know that you are in control. It doesn’t make sense. But here I am.

I remember that every time I’ve needed a tool, a supply, it has been when I was unprepared. I was a good Girl Scout. I’ve got a first aid kit. I have phone numbers of community services. But every time that something big has happened, I happen to not have my kit or my phone.

So every time I pray, and God provides what is needed.

Perhaps that is what God is reminding me of.

I’m debating taking some classes. I’m thinking some classes about how to perform life-event ceremonies would be helpful. You know, weddings, funerals, the like. People need ceremonies and rituals to mark changes, to say “this has happened”. It is like how the Israelites were forever putting stones on top of each other in the desert to indicate that something amazing happened there. They’d mark that spot so when they came back to it they would remember. Ceremonies are like that, but for time. They mark not a place, but a transition from one time to another. Marriage, birth, graduation, a death – we have ceremonies for these things. I’ve looked online and the classes are long and expensive. It might not work out with my work schedule.

Maybe God is saying stop worrying about this. You don’t need a certificate to do this. Remember every time you needed to have something with you, it wasn’t there? Relax, and pray. Just like with the disciples, the Holy Spirit will give you the words.

But maybe God is telling me something like Noah. Build an ark. Get prepared.

So now I’m waiting for the third instance. I’m waiting for another sign. When I have them all together I’ll have enough data to go on. Maybe. That is what I’m telling myself. Sometimes the path for following God isn’t clear. It is like stepping from one pool of light, to one small stone, to another pool of light that just appeared right then when you stepped on that stone. Sometimes you just stand there and no light appears, and you just go forward anyway.

Meanwhile, this all sounds crazy. But I don’t feel crazy, and both times I was I knew it. And I get solace from the fact that there are a lot of crazy-sounding stories in the Bible.

Just look at Elijah and Isaiah and Daniel and Jonah. Look at Abraham and Jacob. Crazy stories. You’d have to be crazy to think that God is talking to you, right? Yet we have a book that is full of these stories. We have a faith built on these stories.

You’d have to be crazy to think that God isn’t talking to you.

Snake Handler 5 (husband)

My husband is proof to me that God keeps promises. He is also proof that God has a sense of humor.

When I was living in Northern Virginia one summer, I prayed to God and asked to see who it was I was going to marry. In a flash, I saw him. Eyes closed, face turned upwards to the sun. Angular cheeks, and shoulder length curly blonde hair.

Blonde hair? I like redheads?! What gives, God? No answer. At least not then.

I drew the picture and saved it. Years went by.

My parents died, I graduated college, I became a manager at a store, I sold my house, and moved to Nashville. I did a lot of living in that time, and no husband.

I prayed again. Hey, God, what’s up with that husband thing?

God said “The work you have to do in this world you can’t do with a husband.”

OK. Totally not cool. This makes no sense. First you show me my husband, then you tell me I’m not going to have a husband.

But God never lies. God is very careful about what words are used, however.

I came to some sort of acceptance of this. I’d created my life in such a way that I didn’t need a husband. It would be nice to have a helper, a best friend, someone who loves me no matter what. Someone to do laundry, you know?

But it isn’t my will, but God’s will that matters. Part of the long wait was about me coming to fully accept that.

A few years later I was getting ready for work. I wasn’t even praying this time. As I stepped into the shower, I heard God say “Wait.”

I knew immediately what the subject was. Wait. You will meet your husband soon.

I said “Wait? You said never!”

God just laughed.

Two weeks later Scott came into the library where I work. I recognized him instantly.

Well, I thought he was Dougal the Red Giant.

He had been visiting his friend Steve and for the first time decided to turn left out of the apartment complex rather than his usual right. Within a block he saw the library. Curious, he pulled in and went inside. I happened to be at the front desk and saw him.

Same cheekbones. With red hair.

He looked very familiar, but I thought he was a friend from a medieval reenactment group I was in. I said “Dougal the Red Giant!” surprised that he was here because he didn’t live in this town. Scott sort of half heard me. As he got closer, I realized he wasn’t Dougal. I went red in the face. We started talking.

Our first date was him helping me move into my new house that I’d bought, having given up on waiting for a husband.

I told him about the story and showed him the picture. Turns out, when I drew that picture, his hair was blonde. It started to turn red about that time.

So what about the “The work you have to do in this world you can’t do with a husband”?

God didn’t say “unmarried”. I’m married, but the work I do for God isn’t done with Scott.

Snake handler 4 (seeing stars)

Twenty-odd years ago, during the time that we knew my Mom was sick with the cancer that would kill her, an amazing series of events happened.

It started one night when I was preparing to go to bed. I had turned off all the lights except one, a floor lamp by the stairs leading up to my room. When I turned the small knob to switch it off, the bulb made a small popping sound and stopped working. I went in to find another light bulb and replaced it.

I went upstairs and went to bed. That night I had a very intense dream. I dreamed that I was standing, tied up to a post, my arms behind my back, in total darkness. I was being attacked, tormented, assaulted. I knew in my heart that my tormentor was an agent of evil in its most malicious sense. As far as I knew I was alone, defenseless, and in great danger.

In my fear and terror, I remembered to say the Lord’s Prayer.

In that moment there was a flash of orange light, like the light of the sparks from a foundry. The light was like the spray from a waterfall after a spring rainstorm.

Then the lights came on and my bonds had disappeared along with my tormentors. I could see that I was in something like a concrete underground parking garage, with many pillars and no natural light. I was free to go.

I looked to my right and there was another person there, who I realized had also just been freed from the same torment. We talked for a moment. I commented that it was strange that God didn’t send anyone to save me. I was a little upset that I had to do it all myself.

The stranger smiled and said “No, he sent Saint John.”

I was short with him and said “If he’d sent Saint John, there would have been stars.”

The stranger smiled again, patient with me, and said “Look” and pointed at the concrete floor. There, fading away, slowly, were orange stars. They were the light that had spilled out when I’d prayed the Lord’s Prayer and we were released.

I woke up suddenly.

Thoughts raced through my head. What was that? Was that real? What does it mean? Saint John?

Still dazed by the vividness of my dream I went to my bookshelf. I pulled down my saint book that I had gotten just a few weeks before from a friend for Christmas. I’d not had time to read all the entries and I was surprised to find there were so many saints named John.

I read through each one, and came across Saint John of Nepomucen.

John was the confessor to Emperor Wenceslas and his wife in 14th century Prague. The story is that he heard the Empress’ confession and the Emperor wanted to know what she said, suspecting her of adultery. John took his duty of being a confessor seriously and refused to tell. After other clashes between the two men, the Emperor had John tortured, ultimately having him bound up like a wheel, where his heels were tied to his head. He was thrown in the nearby river and legend has it that seven stars appeared in the water over where he was drowned.

He is the patron saint of confessors, and the star is his symbol.

I spent the following day in a haze.

That night I again was preparing to go to bed. I again went to turn off the lamp near the stairs, the lamp with the brand-new light bulb I had put in it the night before.

When I turned the knob, there was a huge popping sound, and an explosion of orange sparks like I had seen in my dream the night before. The room was plunged into darkness.

I stood there, motionless, not daring to breathe.

Finally I recovered and carefully walked away, certain that I would step on a piece of glass from the shattered light bulb. I went to another lamp and turned it on, and brought a flashlight to help me spot the shards.

The bulb was intact. That explosion of orange light was not the sign of damage or destruction. It was a sign to me that my dream was real.

It was a sign to me that God is always with me, protecting me, even when I am helpless, even when I am alone.

It was a sign also to take seriously the role of confessor.

Snake handler 3 (Jonah and the tornado)

Consider this Post Secret for weird people. This is a tale of Jonah in the whale, except I was Jonah and a tornado was the whale.

A few months ago a huge storm was coming. It was so big that the National Weather Service had sent out alerts a day beforehand. Now, I live in Tennessee, so severe thunderstorms that can produce tornadoes are normal. They are a fact of life, and just part of the tradeoff for living here. So for the local NWS to issue a strong alert about this the day before was concerning.

When I came home from work the day before it was late. The moon had risen, and a gentle darkness had covered my town. I felt a strong need to pray, right then, in my driveway. I didn’t feel like it could wait until I got inside. Also, I’m a little private about my prayers. Even though my husband has some inkling of my prayer life, he hasn’t seen it in action.

Now, you’d think that praying outside would be more public, but it isn’t. This is the South. It is hot. It is humid. We generally stay inside in air conditioned splendor. I’m honestly not sure how people survived before central air. Perhaps we have gotten soft with our modern machines, but I digress.

I was standing outside on my driveway, in the dark, praying to God. I prayed harder than I have prayed in a long time. I prayed for the safety of everyone in the path of the storm. I prayed that nobody lose their life. I felt after each request that it would be granted. I decided to push harder, and pray that there be no property damage, but I got a push back on that one and felt that was answered “no”. I prayed for about 20 minutes, fervently, earnestly, tearfully. This was a big storm. I was afraid.

The next day came and the storm was predicted for around 4 or 5. This gave me plenty of time to do errands. This too is normal in the South. We can’t let the fear of tornados stop us from living our lives. If we did, we’d never leave our houses in the Spring or Fall, when tornados are most likely to develop.

I had the day off the day of the storm. I met up with a friend and went to an art supply store. On the way I saw a guy who essentially lives at the library. He is homeless, and spends his days there. But on Fridays, we are closed. I saw him near the library and advised him about the big storm and asked if he had a place to go. He did. I went looking for another homeless person who lives near the post office but didn’t see him.

I finished my errands and went home. I prepared. I brought a camp chair into the area we use for tornados. There is a section in the basement that realtors refer to as “unfinished.” It is glorified crawl space. You can stand up in an area that is about 2 feet by 3 feet, and the rest is rock and dirt and conduit and pipes and wiring. There is an interior door and no windows. It is the best place to be in a bad storm – low, no windows. It is also really boring and a little smelly. I brought a flashlight. I brought my cell phone, with the Weather Channel application on.

Now, about now in this story you might be thinking where is my faith? I prayed to God. Yet I’m preparing for a tornado. Yes. There is no contradiction. There is an Arabic saying – “Trust God, but tie your camel”. I’m pretty sure that has a deeper meaning, but to me it means that you can’t be stupid. God will do what God will do, and it is up to us to do the rest. I also remember the story of the guy and the two boats and the helicopter. It is an old story that is told as a cautionary tale about not waiting for divine intervention to appear in miraculous ways. Often God works through simple everyday means. Perhaps I’ll transcribe it for another post, just in case you haven’t heard it.

I put on my long coat. I put on my bicycle helmet. I did both of these things to protect myself from potential flying debris. Sometimes it isn’t the tornado that kills you, but the stuff that gets flung around by the tornado. I looked outside and told my next-door neighbor who was just then noticing the storm coming that he should get inside and close his garage door. I suspect my wearing a coat and a bicycle helmet drove the message home that I was serious. I called my neighbor across the street to let him know about the storm as well.

I’m an Advanced Certified Storm Spotter. I’m certified by the National Weather Service. I’ve taken two classes for this, totaling 7 hours. I’ve got a certificate. I’ve got a non-public 1-800 number stored in my speed dial to call in reports. I know what bad weather looks like.

This looked bad.

The storm was huge, at least 6 miles wide. The center of it on the radar was purple. Red is bad enough. When it gets to purple you are in real trouble. The purple area was at least 2 miles wide. And it was headed straight for my neighborhood. There were reports of hail. Hail is an indicator of tornadic activity. We were under a tornado warning, not a watch. Warnings are worse. Warnings mean that it looks on the radar like a tornado could be forming, but the NWS has no way of knowing one has actually touched down unless it is called in by a spotter. So there could be a tornado happening and the NWS wouldn’t know. Best to prepare as if there is one.

I sat inside my safe place and waited. I could hear the storm howling around the house. I could hear what sounded like hail. I was alone, because my husband was stuck at work waiting out the storm there. I prayed. I prayed hard. I prayed like Jonah. I prayed in a different way than I’d prayed the night before. I was stuck in the middle of a bad thing, and instead of praying to get out of it I prayed prayers of thanks. I praised God. I gave thanks to God, praising Him for his mercy and kindness. I thought of everything that I had and everything that I am and I gave thanks to God for it. Instead of asking for more, I gave thanks for what was right now.

Meanwhile that huge blob of purple was headed straight for my house. There was no way it was going to miss me. If it didn’t have a tornado in it, it had wind strong enough to knock down the trees in my yard and flatten my house. You don’t need a tornado to destroy your home. A strong enough wind will do the job.

And I prayed.

And God listened. God always listens. God always answers prayers, but not always the way you want them to go. This is an important point. It is important to be OK with “No” being an answer. It is important to know that God isn’t your waiter.

The storm eased. It grew quiet outside. Was this the eye of the storm? I looked at the weather radar and it looked clear. The blob had moved on faster than I expected. It is as if this huge freight train of a storm had just hopped over my neighborhood.

I went upstairs to look out the front door. I braced myself for the sight. I expected to see several trees down, or power lines across the road. I steeled myself against the inevitable results of storms in the South, and especially one so ferocious sounding.

I opened the door and was greeted by bright sunshine and the songs of birds. The only thing that had come down in my neighborhood were leaves. No limbs. No trees. No power lines. It looked like a standard spring rain had happened. As I took all of this in, I heard very clearly in my head this voice – “And now you know that I am your God.”

I laughed. I laughed with relief and amazement. I had tears coming down my face as I laughed. I said in reply “And I am your girl.”

I checked the news reports the next day, and found that “miraculously”, no one was killed in this storm.

I’m telling you this story to tell you that God is real.
I’m telling you this story to tell you that God listens to prayers.
I’m telling you this story to tell you that it is OK to pray big.

I’m telling you that our God is an awesome God.
I’m telling you that even if you don’t believe in God, God believes in you.

This is the God of Abraham, and of Isaac and of Israel. This is the God who is the father of Jesus. This is the God who created the world and everything in it. This is the God who created you and me.

I’m telling you that it is comforting to pray to God. It is comforting to know that there is a power greater than you who is in charge and who cares about you. It is comforting to know that you aren’t alone. It is comforting to know that this power, this force, wants to connect with you.

I wish you peace on your journey.


(Edit – I’ve located the pictures from my phone of the radar picture from that storm)
I was right in the path.
It was a very dense storm.

Snake handling 2 (how memorizing some Irish saved the day)

About twenty years ago I was walking at night in downtown Chattanooga with a friend named John and came to a restaurant/bar called the Pickle Barrel. This was a common place among my friends to hang out. It was/is a ramshackle building set in a triangle bit of property at an odd intersection. They serve sandwiches that go well with beer, which is their main trade.

We saw another friend, named Malcolm there, who was with a stranger. I don’t remember much about how the stranger looked. I think he was skinny and had stringy hair. I think he was wearing the standard college student uniform of a worn t-shirt and Goodwill-bought pants. I probably wouldn’t even have looked at him twice if he wasn’t sitting with a friend of mine.

The stranger was sitting across from me at the round wooden table and we started talking. I got a sense from him that he wasn’t exactly what he appeared to be. I can’t explain how I came to this conclusion. Suffice it to say my “spidey sense” was tingling. He then started talking about magic. I don’t know what got in to me, but I “pushed” a little and said “Don’t talk about magic unless you talk about real, true magic.”

I’ll back up a little, here. We have in my family something I call “the push.” It isn’t something we talk about. If you have it, you know, and if you don’t, you’ll never know. The only time it is mentioned is if you figure out you have it and you start asking around. It makes it very confusing, because you feel like you are alone and strange. I’ve discovered other people who have it who aren’t in my family. People who have it generate a sort of magnetism. The idea of The Force also resonates with this concept.

I call it “the push” because that is what it feels like. It has the same feeling that a physical push has, but no muscles are used. It is mental/spiritual. Just like the Force, it can be used for good or bad. I use it when assisting others when there are language or processing problems. It can be a way to bridge communication gaps. It is helpful when communicating with people who are mentally disabled, or very young. However, I’ve seen one family member use it to get people to do what he wants them to do, rather than what is best for them. I’ve seen people use it to play people like puppets. I’ve seen people think that they are special, and the power goes to their heads.

So, back to the story. The stranger took my hands and started chanting something, in some language I don’t know. This may sound strange but it felt as if time slowed down and everything centered around us. It appeared that the lights and colors got much brighter and more intense. No – I wasn’t high or drunk. I asked Malcolm and John later if they saw him take my hands and start chanting and they both said no. Nothing different happened for them.

Everything different happened for me. I felt trapped. I felt that this guy meant nothing but harm for me. I felt the same kind of terror I would suspect I’d feel if a person had a gun up against my head and I was forced up against a wall. I was alone. I didn’t know what to do.

Fortunately I have a habit of memorizing things. I’d memorized the bit of Irish from Sinead O’Connor’s first album, from the song “Never Get Old”. Enya speaks it. It starts with the sounds “oh rourk she or du dein, gol et toe hue.” This is as close as I can approximate it. It takes about a minute to say. It sounds pretty cool. I’d memorized it pretty well, and can still recite it today.

He dropped my hands, stopped chanting, and cowered.

Everything went back to normal, of a sort. Time resumed its normal pace, and the lights and colors stopped being so intense. Our friends rejoined the conversation, and I looked at the guy warily. Not long later I got up to go to the bathroom and he followed me. He crouched down and held out his hand in supplication, and asked me to teach him what I knew.

I refused to touch his hand, partly in fear for what that contact would do this time.

I replied that how dare he attack me. I had not done anything to him. I had not provoked an attack. I had not deserved such behavior.

I replied that I am a servant of God, and that any of my power comes from serving God. I assured him that God is more powerful than anything he could dream up. I advised he follow God, and know that true power comes from being in His service.

Later I reflected on the words I’d used. I realized that the words were from Psalm 91, lines 11-13. I’ve Included 9-10 for background.

9 Because you have made the LORD your refuge,
the Most High your dwelling place,
10 no evil shall befall you,
no scourge come near your tent.
11 For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.
13 You will tread on the lion and the adder,
the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot.

I’ve since found a version of it in Irish. It looks like this –

11 Óir thug sé ordú da aingil i do thaobh
tú a chosaint i do shlite go léir:
12 Iompróidh siad thú lena lámha
sula mbuailfí do chos in aghaidh chloiche.
13 Satlóidh tú ar an leon is ar an nathair:
gheobhaidh tú de chosa sa leon óg is a dragan.*

This was the most appropriate thing I could have said at the moment. I give thanks to God that He gave me the mind and the will to memorize something so useful, and the ability to recall it at the right time.

We may not be able to see the angels God sends us, but they are still there.
It is also helpful to know that sometimes we are the angels. God works through us to help others.
Our calling is to align ourselves with God, and let the healing of the world happen through us. We are the bridge for God’s love.

We are told that we are the ones we have been waiting for. We are told that we are Christ’s hands and feet in this world.

Perhaps I read fantasy and science fiction because I want to find similar stories to explain these kinds of experiences I’ve had. Perhaps I’m sharing these stories to tell you that you aren’t alone. This sounds like a crazy story, but it is true. May it be of help to you.

Snake handling 1 (walks with God)

I’m going to start sharing stories of when God has called me with the hope that these stories resonate with you. I want to inspire you to be able to answer the call. It is hard to hear, and hard to understand. Perhaps we can muddle through together.

I consider this like “Post Secret” but for hearing from God. Or maybe it is like AA. I’m admitting that God talks to me. I think God talks to everybody, but they just don’t have their radio receivers tuned clearly. Maybe if I share some of what I’ve experienced you’ll realize that you have been through similar experiences. The purpose of AA is to let others know that they aren’t alone, and to give them strength on their journey. I have the same goal.

So I’ll start with this story, and add more later.

Many years ago I was walking with friends in downtown Chattanooga. It was late, probably 10 pm. We were walking to our favorite hangout, The Pickle Barrel. It was mid-November, and chilly enough for a jacket, but otherwise pleasant. This was not uncommon to walk at night in downtown Chattanooga. It was a safe town.

I caught a glimpse of a guy sitting by himself in Miller Plaza. This is an open area where bands sometimes play on the weekends. He was sitting by a fountain that had been turned off because it was winter. Something about him caught me. I felt instantly that he needed help of some sort. I told my friends that I’d catch up with them in a little bit.

It was as if there was a hand on my head and it turned me in that direction. The entire time I was walking across the street I was arguing with God. What are you doing!? I don’t know this person. It is late at night. I am a small white woman!?

Chattanooga in general was safe to walk at night, but I’d been cautioned about strangers my whole life. My parents meant well with their concerns and fears, but they themselves were ruled by their fears. Fear is what killed them, ultimately. I wasn’t rebelling against them by doing this, but I knew that I had to do something. I had to get over my trained fear and listen to that voice that compelled me onward.

As I got closer to him, and saw that he was probably 6 feet tall, maybe 140 pounds. He was pale, and had dark hair. He also had a silver ring on his wedding finger that could have been a wedding ring.

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have a script or training for this. I was terrified. But I felt like I didn’t have a choice in the matter. I was there already. I was looking at him, and he was looking at me.

I asked him if he was OK. He said he was. I knew he wasn’t. I kept talking with him. I wasn’t prying, and I certainly didn’t tell him that God sent me over because something was wrong. I just made light conversation.

We exchanged phone numbers and parted for the evening. It was months later that he told me that he was going to kill himself that night.

It was because I came up to him and distracted him that he didn’t.

This story has stayed with me for over half my life.

I still feel that pull to go up to strangers and ask them if they are OK. I still don’t know what to say or do. I don’t always go up to them. I wait to see if the pull is really there or if I’m just imagining it.

I don’t want to seem crazy.

It isn’t normal in our society to go up to strangers and talk to them. We are told not to. We are cautioned daily about how dangerous it is.

And then I remember this story. Normally we are told we might die if we go talk to strangers. Yet in this story, the stranger would have died if I hadn’t gone up to him.

It was a weird feeling, this pull. It was as if I had no say in the matter. I was as if I was a puppet. It was kind of unpleasant. It certainly was going counter to anything I’d been told by my parents or priests.

Yet it is everything.

We are told that if we are acting in accordance in the will of God, we are safe.

This is what snake handlers do. You know, the ones you’ve heard about in rural parts of the South or in the mountains of North Carolina. The ones who use snakes as part of their worship service.

They take their lead from the words of Jesus in Mark 16:17-18 “17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In My name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new languages; 18 they will pick up snakes; if they should drink anything deadly, it will never harm them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will get well.” And also these words from Jesus in Luke 10:19 “19 Look, I have given you the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy; nothing will ever harm you.”

I want to take that bravery out into the streets, into the market place. I want to take that and make it useful.

Snake handling done for the sake of snake handling is pointless.

But I also say communion for the sake of communion is pointless.

They both might make you feel closer to God. They both might make you feel connected, and may remind you of your covenant with God.

But they don’t mean anything if you can’t or won’t take that energy outside.

I don’t do this a lot. I saw a guy yesterday at my doctor’s office that I felt a small pull toward. I thought – what should I do? I walked out of the foyer, and I stopped for a moment, standing a few feet from the doors. I waited for the pull again. I waited for the hand on my head, directing me back.

It didn’t come. I don’t know if I missed it, or if it wasn’t something that I HAD to do.

I don’t know. I’ve not found books on this. I’ve not found a teacher.

Perhaps the experience itself is the teacher. Perhaps I need to just let God guide me through this. Sometimes this walk of faith feels like walking in darkness, with tiny pools of light to guide me. When I’m brave enough to step forward into the pool of light, another lights up before me. I don’t know where I’m headed, but I trust who is leading me.

I test everything. Does it feel crazy? That isn’t enough. Look at Moses – he talked to a burning bush. Look at Mary – she talked to angels who told her she was going to bring forth the Messiah.

Am I being asked to do something dangerous? That isn’t enough. Look at Peter – he walked on water. Look at Abraham – he was asked to sacrifice his son.

It is totally crazy to follow God. No wonder non-Christians feel like we are zombies. We pray about everything, asking God for guidance. We don’t rely on our own knowledge, because we realize that it isn’t enough. We are trying to tap into a bigger source. We aren’t lessening ourselves, we are plugging into Source. We are trying to upgrade from a 110 to a 220. We are trying to upgrade from a water hose to a garden hose. But it is hard, and confusing, and weird because there aren’t that many guides on this.

Here’s a test – is it for me? Or is it for others? Who will benefit from this action? If it is selfish, then run away. If it is self-less, then run towards it. If you are serving others, you are safe. Now, this doesn’t mean that nothing “bad” will happen – but it means that if it does, then it is also part of God’s will.

Confusing? Sure. But the Bible is full of stories that are confusing and yet many of us use them as the basis for our faith. I’m just bold enough to think there is some truth in these stories, and that it applies to us, right here and right now.


I was in a chapel at a retreat center last November. It was a tiny chapel, very personal sized. It was big enough to hold maybe 20 people comfortably. There was an old carved wood altar with icons of Mary and Jesus on it. There were small votive candles and white linen altar coverings. The chapel had that warm musty smell that I associate with old hardback books and dusty buildings. I was alone, and it was raining and it was so late at night that it was early in the morning. I was likely to remain there, by myself, because of the rain and the time. I was doing something called an altar call, but I didn’t know it at the time.

I thought about how this room, this chapel, was different from the other rooms at the retreat center. There was something special about how this particular room was set aside for worshiping God and for no other purpose. Because I was by myself, I decided that it was OK to talk to God out loud, instead of quietly in my heart as I normally would do in a chapel.

I said, God, how come when we are in a place like this, we know that you are here? We feel different in a chapel. We feel calmer, more at peace. We feel at home in a way that we don’t usually feel at our own homes. How come we can’t have this feeling everywhere? How come we can’t have this feeling in the kitchen, or in the living room, or at work?

And I heard an answer back.

I heard “You are to make within yourself a sanctuary for me.”

And I thought, of course we are. When I heard this, it made perfect sense.

If we make ourselves into a living sanctuary for God, we will carry God with us, everywhere we go. Not only do we have that warm feeling of God’s presence with us, but we are then able to share that sense of calm and love with everyone we meet.

In the church I came from there are home Communion kits. They are small kits that enable Eucharistic Ministers (lay people who are licensed to distribute the Elements during Communion) to take Communion to members of the church who are unable to attend the worship service due to ill health. Such a kit has glass containers for the already-consecrated Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood, as well as linens and a tiny paten and chalice set. These kits are used just for this purpose.

With these kits, we are able to share Jesus with them, in a literal way. In this way, we are able to remind them that they are part of our family even though we are not able to worship together in the usual way.

By making within ourselves a sanctuary for God, we are becoming living home Communion kits. We are able to share the light and love of God with everyone. We are able to let everyone know that we are all part of one family where we are all brothers and sisters.

When I first started the discernment process to see if I was being called to be ordained I was asked to read a book by the Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor. I was asked to point out what parts spoke to me. The part that got my attention the most was when she talked about her desire to take Communion out of the building and take it out to the sidewalk. She didn’t want the joy of Communion to be kept inside a building. She wanted it to be brought out into the middle of the busyness and bustle of everyday life.

Church buildings can feel very private, very members only. The people who need the healing light of God the most are those who don’t feel able to go inside a church. She wanted to take away the barriers between God and people by bringing God to them, rather than making them come to God.

I want this too. I want this more than I can possibly explain.

My priest misunderstood when I told her this was the part I liked the best. She sent me to a church service called “Church in the Yard”. It is an inner-city ministry that celebrates the Eucharist with homeless people, but instead of celebrating in the church building, it is outside, in the churchyard. While this was an enlightening experience, this wasn’t quite what I meant.

I want more.

I think the beauty of God is that He comes right to us. He doesn’t wait for us to be perfect or beautiful or fixed. He comes to us exactly as we are, right now. He doesn’t need us to go to a special place to know that we are special. He comes to us in our brokenness and our pettiness and our hunger. He comes to us in the middle of our day, unannounced, unassuming. He comes to us to let us know that we are loved beyond our understanding.

I don’t know if I’ve done it right, this “making a sanctuary” within myself. But I know that it is the answer. Because by carrying God within me, rather than thinking He’s out there, in a building far away, I have a sense of freedom that no minister ever taught me.