Smells of cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, pine, drying berries, cool mornings and evenings, daylight shifting- they all beckon to the call of that familiar homey time of year called Autumn. It signals the beginning of the holiday season, the ending of a year and new beginnings to come. It’s my favorite time of year despite having been grown up in South Florida where seasons don’t abide.
It was on such a day like this 16 years ago that everything changed. America was forever altered after we watched two commercial airplanes crash into the twin towers of the World Trade Center. One day changed everything. It shattered our cloud of false security, but it also bred fear across the nation. It fueled hate. I remember that day. I was in 7th grade. Siting in the library watching live coverage of the event for a short while before being sent off to class, head spinning.
People were crying. People were shocked. People didn’t know how to react. I was the latter. It almost seemed like it was some made up tale- planes flying into buildings. A bad end-of-the-world movie scenario. Yet, it’s a truth that remains. An ugly truth engrained in the land of our hearts, carved into the province of New York City. Today lets remember. Lets remember what hates does. What it destroys. How much it costs. Lets remember September 11, 2001.
If you know me, you’ll know that music speaks to me. Though, I don’t write songs, God always speaks to me through music. Songs have been God’s microphone in my life since I was a little girl and this lyric could not be more true in my life…
“you unravel me with a melody,
you surround me with a song,”
This short trip to Haiti was no different. God had a song ready to unravel me. I didn’t think I’d find a song to be unraveled by in the 6 measly days I was in Haiti. I was wrong. It was an old song turned new for me, sung by the innocent voices of 40 orphans on the back of a truck. One little girl, dubbed ‘The Singer’ of the clan, started out with these words:“I have decided to follow Jesus.” The other kids picked up the old tune and soon the truck we were crammed on trudging toward the new orphanage location for a day of games was filled with a simple song I also had learned as a child at Sunday school.
“I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus.
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back, no turning back.”
It’s a simple hymn with a simple melody and very repetitive words. Its not what we’d consider a hit worship song in the modern world. Yet, the depths of the words in this song and the singers who were belting it out, hit me full force in the depths of my soul and the song rang in my head for the next 4 days of my Haiti trip.
40 orphans, the oldest of which is about 15 and the youngest being under 2 years old, were declaring that despite everything, they have chosen, would follow Jesus and from which point there was no turning back. I once made the same choice they did. I decided to follow Jesus when I was about 12 and indeed, despite moments of heartache and fear and seasons of doubt, there is no turning back for me.
So, one verse into a song, my heart was sewn into the fabric of a patchwork quilt of 40 different shades. 40 lives of beautiful children through which God showed me that deciding to follow Him is just the beginning of the adventure. It is the mere nadir from which a person begins their journey. Like Pastor Emil, who found the 40 and took them in and through which God is doing a grand work to touch the lives of so many other orphans and people in the village, we also will be used. We have a grand destiny to be a small part of the song God is writing on the pages of our lives. All we have to do is decide.
And just like that crammed in on a bumpy truck, the song wove its way into every nook and cranny of my trip, calling out to me as it went the verses of that old hymn as soon you will discover in my next posts.
Death, dead things. They are grotesque to us. So disturbing is the idea of a dead rotting thing. Dreams are no better when they die. They hurt us, haunt us. Their stench in our nostrils, revolting inside us. They break us in ways that no one can know, in places that never have seen the light of day. They burrow their sorrow where the sun cannot reach and their tendrils coiling ’round us, even when we don’t want them to- even when we can’t admit them to anyone, least of all ourselves.
But here is one thing I know. The death of our deepest most vibrant dreams is not the end. Not when God is on the throne and last time I checked, He hadn’t abdicated. This is a new season for me. A season to experience the goodness of God in a whole new light. After all He is the ‘God who brings dead things to life’ and my deadness is just one of His exploits. No not in the context of spiritual salvation. I walked that road long ago, and chose to follow the Fisher of Men. But in the context of my dreams, those longing desires I never revealed to another living soul for fear of hearing the truth: I would never be enough, not if I ever wanted to be on the winning side of my dreams. I knew that was the truth, still, a dream burned within and it never went away. Funny thing is I never thought it was from God. I thought the dream was me, born of my own greed to be recognized. Yet, it wasn’t.
I grew up in church. I know the whole shebang on who God is supposed to be; loving, kind, merciful, a healer, the good father, the God who brings dead things to life. Like Lazarus. Only Lazarus was a big deal, he was not insignificant. What I never realized in the many years of being a Jesus-follower was that God also brings those insignificant dead things to life, not just the ones that are big and significant. But just in the last year I have understood that after 28 years of life and following Jesus, I don’t actually know God. The depths of His unfathomable wonder are so far beyond what I thought possible, what I have ever conceived about Him.
You see, in the long run, in the grand scheme of things, my meager dreams mean nothing. They are insignificant. But they are not insignificant to me. Thus, because I am significant to God so are my dreams. So are your dreams.
In this new season, I am looking back and understanding that in the depths of my despair, God was making a way where there was no way. Where I saw only a dead end, He was carving a path out of stone, like water eroding the banks that contain it. He is bringing my deepest longings, my dreams to fruition. Those dreams I long thought dead. And so I buried them, because that’s what you do with grotesque rotting dead things. You burry them in the earth until only their dry skeletons remain. I mourned the dead dreams and moved on looking for new fertile ground, unwilling to spend my life crying over spilled milk. Only to have God say ‘it’s not over yet- watch and I will bring those dead bones to life.’
Yet, here I am, 7 years after the death of a dream, finding myself in the unfathomable places of God, where like in Ezekiel in the valley of bones, He is bringing dead things, my dreams- my deepest darkest longings, to life. I’m learning that God has a back up plan and a backup for the backup. When I miss the mark, am too afraid to trust, am paralyzed by pain and grief and fear of life, He still has another way. He is not limited by our limits. And He will fulfill those things that burn within our hearts because He’s put them there.
Yet, this is just barely the shoreline. In 20 years, I’ll probably be saying the same thing still, because there will be so much more to dive into even then. He is the God who brings the broken dead things to life.
Ezekiel 37:5-6, 12-14
This is what the Lord God says to these bones:
I will cause breath to enter you, and you will live.
6 I will put tendons on you, make flesh grow on you,
and cover you with skin. I will put breath in you
so that you come to life. Then you will KNOW
that I am Yahweh.”…
This is what the Lord God says: I am going to
open your graves and bring you up from them,
My people, and lead you into the land of Israel.
13 You will know that I am Yahweh, My people,
when I open your graves and bring you up from them.
14 I will put My Spirit in you, and you will live,
and I will settle you in your own land.
Then you will know that I am Yahweh.
I have spoken, and I will do it.”
This is the declaration of the Lord.
When your in the battle, in the battle,
In the raging battles of life
And there seems no end in sight
No rhyme or reason to the madness
The mad, mad battle that just keeps on.
It just rages.
Inside. Outside. It goes on.
It rages without mercy,
Without compassion, with no hope.
It just continues on
Killing as it goes unending
Devouring you in its wake.
It swallows you whole, and alone you will die,
you’ll be all consumed, but for those
ally or foe who stand
and stand firm in the battles of life.
Those who have learned firmness
To stand erect and stand strong and deep.
They will stand strong, strong in your battle.
They stand on your behalf.
On landslides and avalanches
On torrential thundering waters
They stand and remain unmoved
Solid in their mounted states,
Solid, as poles dug in the ground, set deep
Deep enough that they cannot be upturned
Not in hurricane winds
Not against tidal waves.
They remain and you remain, clinging
Clinging to life in their deep-set strength.
In their iron clad will, unbendable
Unyielding strength, they remain
Erect, firm, unmoved
And you with them,
Though perhaps slightly more
More battered, more bruised, diminished.
Yet, none- the- less alive
Alive in your strife, in your pain
Alive in your raging fears.
But still a survivor of that which
Is unsurvivable, that which
Kills, destroys, leeches, diminishes you.
And one day you too will learn, learn how
You will learn how to dig deep,
Spread deep roots that broaden
Into earth’s center and remain.
You too shall grow erect, tall-
Surmountable in your own unmovable state.
You will learn the art of standing
And standing firm, firm in your battles.
In your own raging waters and avalanches,
You too will one day remain undevoured,
You too shall become like a steel pole
Bolted and bolted deep into crumbling earth.
You too shall remain unmoved, a marker,
A sign, a hope to any who can see
Who stand in the battles of their life
Soft and breakable as you once were.
And you shall be their pole,
Their firm and righteous strength.
You shall become that which
You never were, never thought to be.
So stand now in the battles of life
Clinging to the hopes that come,
And come steadily before you,
Engrained, unmoved, implanted in the earth.
Remain in them, the strong, as you would wish and
Wish deeply for one to remain in you, trust you
Clinging to that which you’ve learned
Holding on to that which you’ve weathered
Cleaving to that which you may become,
Becoming like them: strong unmovable, erect.
All in the name of the One who goes,
Goes before us all and stands,
Stands the firmest of all, erect and proud and strong.
God, in His greatness, His hope, His mercy
He goes before and paves the way
Makes provision for our lacks our wants, yet He stands.
We’re waiting for the apocalypse, the zombies to arise, but we’ve fail to see that it’s already here. We’re it. We’re the ones to fear, the living but dead. It’s just that we can’t see. The deadness is inside, not out.
We tote all things behind us like a prized possession, but we are dissentgrating. We’re dragging on looking for life in putrid dead marshes. We crave left and right, this thing and that, but nothing satisfies. Nothing hands can grab onto can fill the deep deep void.
What can satisfy?
What satisfies a punctured heart thats bleeding out with every beat? What is enough to fill the leaky void we call our souls? Nothing short of something vastly unending. Abysmal in proportion. That would be nothing physical, for the physical will change. It will all pass away. It will be eroded piece by piece, grain by grain, moment by moment. Nothing short of something all sufficient, omniscient, without limit of power or margin of error can even put a dent in our void- only what is already full can fill what ails us.
We wonder around- a needle in our bag, porn in our pocket, murder under our belts. Booze is in hand while we’re trying to navigate stormy seas and we’re hoping to come out alive and unscathed. It’s unrealistic. It’s idiotic. It’s insane.
We’re crazy demented, tormented spirits running from the vaccine for our souls as if it were the plague- as if one little book, we fear, could set us ablaze like Chernobyl. Thus, we plunge ourselves deeper into the zombie apocalypse, trying to escape the inevitable, and live the half lived lives we have and call it breathing.
The zombie apocalypse is already here. We’re it. Awake. Arise. Be set ablaze by the truth you run from.
A year ago today I was sitting in a surgical waiting room, in Florida, facing my single greatest fear in life, as my mom was getting her womanhood chopped off her body in an attempt to save her life against breast cancer. Her getting sick was always one of those things that has weighed heavily on me since moving to Texas 5 years ago and leaving her behind in Florida. Particularly cancer. I dreaded the thought of it. I hated to even consider what I would do if ever I got that call. So I avoided it like the plague.
Early January 2016 I did get that call. My mom called and dropped a bombshell. She was going for a biopsy. That’s never good news. Yeah, I felt sick at that point, but I tried holding it together for her sake. I knew it was a hard thing for her to have to face without me. In February, we got the confirmation that it was breast cancer, though a very early stage and surgery would be needed. In the end, my mom decided for a mastectomy. That way she didn’t have to do chemo or radiation. Then to be extra sure, she decided on a double mastectomy.
So there I was March 1. Sitting in a waiting room filled with people and yet feeling so absolutely utterly alone playing ‘what if’ games in my head, endless scenarios echoing throughout my mind. “What if it spread?” “What if it’s in her lymph nodes?” “What if she needs long term care?” “What if she needs chemo after all?”. I knew i would have to move back and I was ok with that. The scenarios kept coming.
There was no shortage of mind and heart crippling fears to draw from. I went through all the scenarios. I made a game plan for each of them, and waited. I wondered the halls in short bursts, and waited. Eventually some of church friends came and waited with me- a welcomed source of comfort and strength in a trial of limits, my limits. Alas, the surgery went well. None of the scenarios I planned for were needed. I stayed with mom a few weeks, taking care of her. I learned what a surgical drain was and how to empty it and a variety of other medical things. I learned to look at my mom’s beautiful smiling face and aquamarine eyes and not fall to pieces over her missing womanhood when in front of her. Eventually, I returned to San Antonio.
I returned a hollow shell. I couldn’t even look at the pictures of my mom and me on my mantle that had been taken the month before I had moved away. Those times when she had been whole and never would be again. It hurt volumes just remembering her in my childhood days and then having to remind myself that she would never be the woman I truly knew growing up.
You see cancer takes things away from us. Not just physical parts of ourselves, but mental parts too. Strengths that we once had, love for life and joy that were once full, or at least fuller. Cancer devours us whole and without mercy. Not just those victims of its icy claws but their friends, their families as well.
A few months after my mom’s surgery, I got my own “news”. Abdominal mass, they called it. Well safe to say I had no strength left to fight that battle. None even to process the potential of what the outcome of that news could be. I sure knew where I would not run right away. To my mom. She was already broken. I was shattered, broken even more than I had been before, praying to God for strength, for something supernatural to carry me over this threshold of emotional death.
And He did. He carried me on strong shoulders by the arms, the prayers, the feet of other people who upheld me. Those who grieved with me, and held me close, who prayed with me through the mental battles, the numbness, the despair. There were real friends, who called and checked on me and took me on frozen yogurt dates. My church who asked frequently about updates and held me in constant prayer and battled the demons of fear with me, providing strength in tangible volumes. After my diagnosis was all done and the ‘abdominal mass’ turned out to be an ovarian cyst and not cancerous and new battles arouse like, “would they have to take an ovary with the cyst and would I be able to have children, and who would want to marry half a woman who can’t even guarantee them a child if it came to that?”. Well, my warriors were there too. They still fought for me and never tired. They never strayed from their course of being Jesus and God heard our calls in the darkness and answered.
And when my final pathology report came in and was clear, they also upheld me in my joy, celebrating with me all that God had been faithful in, all that He had done. And my heart is grateful. Grateful to God for giving me them, those warrior hearts whose strength far surpasses my own. In a year filled with despair, despite battling my deepest and darkest fears, it has turned into a year filled with God sized lessons that overflow from a God sized love, which I am only beginning to understand despite having grown up in church. And I am thankful. I am thankful for all God has taught me in this season, despite its hardship. Like learning to lean not just on Him but on His people too.
My heart is grateful. It overflows. It will sing a new song.
I have always loved Narnia. Though, I admit I was a late bloomer to the Narnian world of wonders. I only really found out about it when I was about 15 just before the first movie hit. Still, I have loved the books. Devoured the movies. Most of the time I find that I either like the movie version or the book version of a story better, but there was something about Narnia that drew me to both of the versions interchangeably. Still yet, I have loved the soundtracks to the films as well. Some 10 years later after the fact, I still listen to them and they still bring me goose bumps, and let me soar on their wings of majesty.
It wasn’t until recently I ran across the “Prince Caspian” soundtrack in my car that I put it on. It was probably the first time I’d listened to it since moving to Texas. I had it blaring in my car as I coasted on a drive through the country side.
The song “This is Home” by Switchfoot came on and it seemed as if I was hearing the words anew, as if for the first time. Thus, I realized something. The song was actually describing me. I remember having listened to it years ago and loved the music but the word never truly made sense to me. I guess it was because I’d never had that experience or nothing to relate it to. But the song is describing someone being called home to a foreign place that we were made for, where we belong, and are perfectly fitted for it. All the spiritual aspects of that aside, I realized that Texas has been to me what Narnia was to the Pevensie children. This song, though I’ve known and have sung it for many years, is now my own and I can sing it and mean it and understand it because I’ve lived it.
“I’ve got my memories
Always inside of me
But I can’t go back
Back to how it was
I believe you now
I’ve come too far
No I can’t go back
Back to how it was
Created for a place I’ve
never known; This is home
Now I’m finally back to where I belong”
While I loved growing up in South Florida, smack in the middle between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale, the epitome of urban city, I cannot go back. I cannot be who I used to be. I cannot fitin the places I once fit. I am different. I have grown. I cannot fit there again because I am not the same person anymore. I never felt in my heart that Florida was me, that it was home. I used to long for quiet, curvy roads in woodlands of adventure, not high traffic city high-rises or street racing competitions. I remember taking long drives out into the marshlands of the Florida Everglades. It was a 45-minute drive just to make it out of the city and onto I-27 driving into nowhere. I loved driving out there. Few cars, lots of open space (which is a vast commodity in S. FL), and giant electric landlines. It was passive and quiet. And every now and again you’d have to stop for the giant alligator crossing the road (no joke).
I loved my life growing up. I cherish the memories with the Romanian community I grew up with there, and the friends and memories cultivated there. Beach life was awesome. Always hot, always ready for a swim, or at the very least, a walk on the 68 degree “frozen” beach in winter.
I do miss the condominium I called home for 20 years, overlooking the Intracoastal watching speedboats and day cruises fly by leaving green churning waters behind in their wake. It was breath-taking beauty and I’ve realized its something many people would give their right arm for. But it was not what I yearned for.
Coming to San Antonio, the big city with a country feel, has been the adventure of my life. I left everyone and everything I’d ever known behind to follow what I felt God calling me to do, move away. I’ve grown so much from the Lilly that I used to be in the almost 5 years that l left. Its been an adventure, no doubt. I’ve grown in my faith, having to solely depend on God for a lot of things. I’ve grown as a person, as a writer, and even as a crafter.
About Texas. Well… It’s large, it vast, it’s wild. Literally. I have driven on the road with a peacock almost as tall as my car staring back at me while I’m stopped at a light on a major access road. I’ve narrowly missed colliding into wild boar as they come out of the trees and cross the roads. I’ve had to drive 2o miles slower than the limit at night because unlike S. FL. there are not a lot of lights and deer are always about. I’ve hiked along paths shared alongside Buzzards with wingspans the size of my two arms and then some. I’ve met a fox or two. I’ve been greeted by a flock of Turkeys (mind you the flock is really called a rafter). I’ve watcher Heron take off from tree, its wings audible from 50-100 meters away. Oh- and lets not forget I’ve found about 17 species of wild mushroom.
There is a wild, sentimental natural beauty in Texas that was never or could never be a part of my life there. I’ve seen beauty impossible in FL. I’ve grown in unimaginable ways. I am braver because of Texas (and its ginormous bugs), stronger because of the amazing people that just “happen” to drop onto my path who carry me through remarkably unsurvivable things and in remarkable ways. Of course coming to a place I’d never really known, save the few visits I had as a kid and knowing enough people to count on one hand leaves a lot of room for God to fill. And He has. With people, places, experiences… so many good things. Sure, trials too, but even in those God has proven Himself faithful.
For me, I am beginning to trust more. Trust God and even people. I am beginning to blossom into the lily of the field that God is providing for, without my scheming, without my worrying. My journey has just begun and I can say for the first time in a long time that I feel a light brimming inside my soul that has not seen a dawning in many a fort-night, but it is churning. The inside is turning outward and all that was will be remade within, like a caterpillar regurgitating itself from the inside out.