name='verify-v1'/> Big God - little d: November 2009

Monday, November 30, 2009


Tuesday - Back in my room, I remember that I was going to look up the Scripture from morning Chapel. Sitting down at the desk, I open my Bible to Luke 17. Jesus is having a conversation with the disciples about sin, faith and duty.

"So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'" Luke 17:10

We have only done our duty.

Something about those particular words grabs my attention. After waiting for further enlightenment and receiving none, I write the words down in my journal. I check in with God about "the book" again.

So, Lord, what about this book? Will You tell me anything else about it?

"There is more than one."

I am not surprised by this news. How odd to be overwhelmed over the prospect of writing one book and yet remain perfectly calm at this particular revelation. It helps explain why I feel torn in different directions whenever I think about writing. There is more than one book in me. Hmmm.

The dinner bell signals the evening meal. While making my way down the stairs I meet up with Father Kelly. I request an appointment for spiritual direction and he promises to get back to me with a time.

I eat my dinner slowly; tasting, chewing, swallowing with heightened awareness. I am mindful of how fast I eat at little I taste what I eat...and how much I take food and its availability for granted.

Thank you, Lord, for nourishment.

Father Kelly stops me as I leave the dining room and asks if tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. will work. I nod in agreement and am instantly aware of the conflicting emotions inside of me: excitement and apprehension.

When I reach my room it is dark and I fumble around for a light switch. A bare light bulb makes a feeble attempt to light up the large room. I switch on the desk lamp and wince at its harsh, artificial glare. My journals sit in a pile on the desk but I cannot bring myself to open them.

I am so tired. I glance at the clock and am shocked to see that it is only 7:30! Way too early to go to bed. I take a shower in an effort to stay awake but my body and my brain are not cooperating. By 8:00 p.m. I crawl under the covers and call it a day.

5 a.m. Wednesday - somewhere off in the distance the coyotes begin their serenade. While I lie there listening I realize that something feels different about my face. After a few moments, I realize that my jaw is moving with a freedom I haven't experienced in a long, long time. (The week before my dentist had expressed concern over the tension in my jaw and face. She was shocked that I wasn't in constant pain.)

So that is how its supposed to move! Thank You, God. I feel great!

As I get up and get dressed the day's agenda is clear: Today is about healing. Today, we (God and me) review the events of these past few years and the emotions that came with them. We acknowledge it, celebrate it and heal where healing is needed.

The sun is preparing to rise. I step out onto the dark veranda as the sky hints of pink and orange. Two owls with deep voices call back and forth among the palm trees. A dog barks in the distance. Bats finish up their evening meal and scatter as daylight approaches. The birds are waking up.

Good morning, Lord! Let's get started!

He confirms my agenda during Morning Chapel. The second reading is from Luke 17:11-19. It is the story of the ten lepers who are healed by Jesus. Only one of them returns to give thanks.

"Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then he said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well.'" Luke 17:17-19

The Spirit reminds me that when we take the time to give thanks we receive even more from our Savior. Father Kelly shares that the Hebrew word for thanks actually has three meanings: thanks, praise, bless.

Healing and thanksgiving... This should be quite a day.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Tuesday - After lunch I fill up my water bottle and head towards a trail located a quarter of a mile or so beyond the boundaries of the camp. It is known as Derek Ba-Midbar or A Way in the Wilderness. I am going to walk this trail not because I want to but because I must.

This path and I have a history. It has become a part of my retreat experience. My previous experiences on this trail have tested my courage in unexpected ways. I can't help but wonder if round three will be more of the same. I am more than a little apprehensive as I prepare to be tested again.

I follow the paved road until I see a familiar cattle gate to my left. Stepping into the grass, I focus all of my attention on the placement of my feet. There are huge red ants everywhere! They look like the kind that would happily carry off your picnic lunch while you took a nap on the blanket. Their super highways criss-cross all over the sandy turf. I carefully step over their roads and steer clear of the holes in the ground where they congregate in large numbers.

A simple wooden signpost marks the path. It is called A Way in the Wilderness for a reason. There is something very primitive and wild about this area. The path is layed out like a large jagged loop with so many twists and turns that north-south-east-and-west no longer apply. Once you begin walking there are only two options: move forward or retreat backward.

I take a deep breath and begin the journey.

You wouldn't know it by looking at it but walking this path is labor intensive. The ground is predominantly sand which makes it difficult to get any traction. In places it reminds me of the sand at the beach...where the boardwalk ends...soft, dry and hot...the stuff that sends everyone scrambling for the cool water-packed sand near the ocean's edge. Ugh.

The small tufts of grass and native plants that dot the trail become my best friends. I find myself stepping from one tuft to the next to keep my feet from sinking into the soft earth. Walking too quickly just causes my feet to dig more deeply into the sand. Slow is definitely better.

After a while, I settle into a rhythm with my feet which enables me to take a better look at my surroundings. There are all kinds of animal tracks in the sand: turkey, lizard, deer, cow, and coyote. My nose warns me of the scat piles before I see them. Many of them are huge in size and seem to be a combination of a large community dumping ground and impossible to miss territory markers.

My mind is surprisingly blank. I do not feel the need to pray or ask questions or examine my life. My goal is to complete the path.

I spy a deer on an intersecting path. She spies me, as well, and freezes while I walk past. Her companions watch from a safer distance.

Much of the walk unfolds in the same way: A turn in the path leads me to an open meadow where the wind blows freely and the wildflowers brighten the view. Minutes later, I round a bend and find myself in a shady wooded area where the air is stagnant and mysterious sounds come from the tall brush bordering both sides of the path. My heart pounds in response to the sound of large animals crashing through the woods. I am glad to hear them moving in the opposite direction.

About 45 minutes into my walk, I stop and sit down on a bench. The combination of walking and increased adrenaline flow has taken its toll. I am tired. In submission, I ask the question I don't really want to ask,

Should I wait here, God? Is there something You want to ask me or show me?

"Just sit until you catch your breath."

With those words He releases me. There is no need to stay. There is no need to have another face-to-face encounter with a javelina. No need to walk a path while the watchful eyes of a wild animal stare at you from the brush. No need to stare down another overprotective cow and her calf. No need to answer questions that pierce my soul. (All experiences from my last two adventures.) No more tests. Not this time.

There are still fifteen minutes or so of walking ahead of me. I leave the bench and continue along the path with renewed purpose. I am amazed that the mosquitoes haven't found me. The gnats that keep landing on my arms are annoying but harmless.

I turn a corner and stop at the sight of a very large, black cow on the path. I am still quite a distance from him. He doesn't know I am there because he is busy gnawing his side. I wait for him to register my presence all the while thinking the cows here are a lot taller and beefier than the Missouri dairy cows I saw as a youngster. There is something intimidating about being on the same side of the fence as him. When he does look up and realize he is not alone, his eyes widen and his nostrils flare in alarm. Luckily, he turns around and bolts from my presence.

I hope he tells his friends to stay away.

I round the last bend and find myself back at the cattle gate. After locking it behind me, I take one last glance at the path. I am relieved beyond belief. My time in the wilderness is complete.

"See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the desert
and streams in the wasteland." -- Isaiah 43:19

Thursday, November 19, 2009


"While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, 'Peace be with you."' --Luke 24:36

Tuesday - A handful of retreat participants file into the small sanctuary. We stand as Father Kelly enters the room. After he steps behind the altar, he takes the time to make eye contact with each of us. And then he speaks,

"Peace be with you."

The words wash over me in an undeniable movement of the Spirit. The peace of Christ penetrates my entire being. I close my eyes and breathe deeply, welcoming God's tangible presence.

Each service is structured in the same way: two readings, a brief moment for reflection and sharing, and then communion. Everything is done slowly and with great deliberation. It is powerful in its simplicity.

Today, the second reading is from Luke 17:7-10. A servant should not expect to be thanked for doing his job. I don't know why the Lord is pointing this out to me but I plan to go back to this Scripture, later, in the privacy of my room. Perhaps He will reveal something more.

I spend the remainder of the morning reading through my journals from the last two years, searching for something without knowing what I am looking for. I alternate my time between the desk in my room and the rocking chair on the veranda. The vultures are soaring everywhere; too numerous to count.

My reading is interrupted by the long, slow ringing of a bell. The sound comes from a large bell mounted on the grounds behind the Big House. Each day someone faithfully pulls on the rope to signal the call to morning Chapel, lunch, or dinner. These regularly scheduled moments are the only time when the silence of each day is deliberately broken.

I stop to count the number of times the bell is rung. Three times - pause - three times - pause - three times - pause - nine times. I wonder about the significance of this set of numbers. No matter, it is time for lunch.

Mealtimes are interesting in this place. Men and women silently file into the dining room located in the basement of the Big House. Each person serves themselves from a large table where the simple food is set up buffet style. Once you select your food and a drink, you are free to sit at any of the four large tables provided. The only sound is that of knives and forks moving across plates.

For me, the first meal or two are always awkward. It is strange to share a meal with another human being without talking or making eye contact. Eventually, though, my curiosity subsides and even my meals become a time set apart with God.

As I prepare to leave the dining room, Father Kelly steps into my path. He quietly asks if I am okay. While he whispers his question he is studying me...checking on me...looking to see if I am indeed okay. I smile, gently touch his arm, and say, "Yes."

But something about the encounter causes me to ask myself the same question as I head upstairs to my room.

Am I okay?

Truthfully, the answer is both yes and no. There are spiritual matters which I do not understand. And there is the matter of my fear. I decide to schedule an appointment with Father Kelly for some spiritual direction. As soon as I make the decision I am, once again, at peace.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Monday - Back in my room, I sit down at the desk and pull out a small plastic tub that holds my journals from the past few years. I have come to this place seeking discernment for the book that I am to write. I set out my pens and highlighters and prepare to work.

As I stare at the notebooks, I am overwhelmed with the thought of the task ahead - a book. <Sigh> I have no idea where to start. <Sigh> In fact, I don't even feel compelled to start. That tells me something.

This doesn't seem to be where You want me to focus, Lord. Now what?

Silence wraps itself around my question. I head back to the veranda for some more rocking chair therapy. Before long the Lord's question from earlier in the day comes to me again,

"Do you want to fly, Denise?"

This time there are no tears or hesitation as I answer,

Yes, Lord, I want to fly.

I continue rocking and watch as the sky slowly fills with soaring vultures and turkey vultures. Say what you will about these scavenger birds, in this place, in this setting, they are simply God's magnificent creatures. Their outstretched wings easily span a distance of five to six feet. I marvel as they catch the unseen wind currents and float effortlessly in long, lazy spirals. More and more birds join the flying celebration. I try to count them but lose track after I reach thirty.

I go to bed that evening with flying on my mind. Around 4 a.m. the mournful, frenzied sound of howling coyotes pulls me from my dreams. Rolling over, I manage to fall back to sleep until 5 a.m. and then I am up for the day.

Tuesday - By 6:30 a.m. I leave the Big House and walk towards the Chapel in the gray shadows where the dawn chases away the dark. Bats dart back and forth in the sky. No wonder there aren't many mosquitoes here. I see two rabbits chasing each other in the grass. Hello there. My eyes widen as I approach and then pass an 8 pt. buck grazing not more than ten feet away. He didn't even flinch when I walked by!

The wonder of this place is hard to describe. Each time I visit I am delighted anew. I have tried and failed to explain it to my family and friends. The animals who live here are not tame and yet they are not afraid. They have learned to coexist with the humans who are here. Peaceful silence and holy prayers have bathed this place for decades. God is here and the animals know it and live in the sanctuary of His presence.

I am early for the morning Communion service so I take a seat and wait. The wall behind the simple altar is covered in a massive, primitive looking cross made from beautifully aged wood. It demands my attention and I study it in detail. After five minutes or so, He asks,

"Do you want to fly?"

He knows the answer and so He continues,

"Open your hands. Spread your arms wide."

I am looking at the cross as He speaks to me. His intention is clear and I make the connection immediately.

The posture of flying is the posture of dying.

If I open up my hands and let go of all that I am holding...if I spread my arms wide in order to sail on the wind...then I am saying, "yes" to dying on the cross. Tears roll down my cheeks at the simplicity and the weight of His words.

The posture of flying is the posture of dying on the cross.
They are one and the same.

My heart breaks with an understanding that is beyond my human brain. I cannot take my eyes off of the cross. Something deep inside my soul has been touched and I can do nothing but cry in quiet response. He is calling me to a deeper place, a deeper commitment, where flying with Christ and dying with Christ will be closely intertwined.

"Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." --Hebrews 12:2

Flying and and the same.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Talking Trees

"But the LORD is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him."
--Habakkuk 2:20

Monday - It is only mid-afternoon and I am already exhausted. I take refuge on my bed and fall into a troubled sleep. Thirty or forty minutes later I wake up knowing something isn't right. Something has disturbed me but what?

It takes me a few minutes to get my bearings and remember where I am. And that is when I hear a sound so strange that everything in me protests its is the sound of a human voice.

It isn't that people never talk in this place, they just do so with hushed reverence. There are only a few designated places on the grounds where people are free to speak but they are out-of-the way places. The silence here is makes room for the praises of His provides sanctuary for searching souls.

Who would dare to break such a thing?

I listen more carefully. Yes, I can clearly distinguish the voice of a man. Still in bed, I roll onto my back and stare at the ceiling. My irritation increases when a second voice joins the first.

It occurs to me that there is nothing charitable or Christian about how I feel in that moment. I don't care. My solitude, THE solitude has been broken. I want it back.

I consider my options: go find someone in charge? Go knock on the door of the offender(s)? Write a note and stick it under their door? I even go so far as to pen the words to the note (all in my head).

In the end, I do none of these things. Instead, I get out of bed and step out onto the veranda. As I take a deep breath the voices begin, again. They are coming from somewhere above my head. The third floor perhaps? But when I trace the sound's path with my eyes, I am looking out over the large expanse of the tree covered front lawn of the Big House.

The sound is coming from the treetops?

And there they are; two men clinging to the tops of different palm trees. Day laborers. With sharp knives/machetes they are chopping down the dead and dying undergrowth at the top of the trees. Every branch they cut loose is sent crashing to the ground. In between their efforts they call back and forth to one another.

I still wish they would stop speaking but my anger evaporates as I watch them work. In fascination, I take a seat in the rocking chair and study their movements. After removing the branches they spend time cutting away the fibrous undergrowth. The evidence of their work piles up on the ground below. When they are finished they scale down the trees with ease and move on to the next.

The newly trimmed palms look healthier, greener, and more beautiful without the weight of their old branches.

I am here so that God can do the same for me.

Monday, November 16, 2009


"All my longings lie open before you, O Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you." --Psalm 38:9

Last week, I travelled to a remote part of Texas for some much anticipated solitude.
Monday - Three hours south of San Antonio, I turn off the main highway onto the non-descript road that will lead me to my destination. My foot eases off the gas as I take in a large black Labrador Retriever standing in the middle of the pavement. His mouth is open in what seems to be a smile. His tail sweeps back and forth in a friendly hello. As silly as this might sound, he looks like he has been waiting for me.

I pull off the road to text my husband that I have arrived safely. When I look up, the dog is gone. Easing the car back onto the asphalt, I glance at the farm road to my right. There is the Labrador, again in the middle of the road, watching me as I drive past. I grin back at him.

Thank you, Lord, for the special welcome.

This next part of the trip is always the same: I lower the windows of my car and slow my vehicle to a mere idle and crawl along the quiet road. It takes a while to cover the last six miles at this pace but it is always worth it. Everything in me begins to shift gears. My breathing slows down. My senses are sharpened as I take in the wild, untamed vegetation and catch the first faint taste of salt in the air.

I'm coming Lord. I'm almost there.

To my left, a pair of large birds roosts in a tree. They remind me of eagles. A bit farther down the road a startled pair of javelinas and their young take off from the roadside and head under an opening in the wire fence. Butterflies, dragonflies, countless birds, white tail deer, and even a turkey are all part of the welcoming committee.

Your creation is magnificent, Lord.

When I reach the retreat center I head to the Big House to find out where I am staying. I've been assigned to "Ruth" for my stay. I am delighted. It is a large room on the second floor of the main building with access to the veranda that faces the cool breezes blowing in from the bay.

After unloading my possessions I park my car in a remote, out-of-the-way location and walk back towards the Big House. I stop to watch the tiny woodpeckers who are working overtime on the knotted gnarled tree branches nearby. They see me but they aren't concerned about me. Then I look up into the clear blue sky as a shadow crosses my path.

A turkey buzzard soars directly overhead. He glides effortlessly on the wind current. A thought voices itself in my head,

He doesn't have to work at it. He just opens his wings and the wind does the rest.

My longing and envy catch me by surprise. Just as surprising is the immediate response from the Lord.

"You can do the same thing, Denise. Just open your heart and let me do the rest."

I am startled. I hadn't expected to hear Him so clearly, so soon in my visit. His words linger in my heart as I head towards my room to get situated.

After lunch I step out onto the veranda and make myself comfortable in a rocking chair. I am still trying to acclimate myself to the slower pace. The knowledge of days of silence stretching before me causes an anxiety I can't seem to stifle. My thoughts rush and jumble themselves into bunches and knots. My prayers stop and start. I keep reminding myself to just breathe and relax.

The steady motion of the rocking chair begins to work its rhythm into my soul. I become aware of the wind as it rustles the leaves of the palm trees. It is continuous. The trees give witness to the way it ebbs and flows but is never completely still.

Breath of God always with me.

And then He whispers to me...

"Do you want to fly, Denise?"

The question hangs in the air for a moment.

"Do you want to fly, Denise?"

Yes, but I'm afraid. Why am I always afraid?

The truth of my confession slowly sinks in. Tears roll unbidden down my cheeks as my spirit waits for my brain to catch up. I am afraid...

I rock and cry and slowly accept the truth as I feel the breeze blow softly on my face - God with me.

I don't feel the need to explore the details of why...not yet. For now, the fact that I am afraid is enough.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

A Listening Heart

Q: How exactly does one go about writing a book?
A: One word at a time.

Q: Which words are the right words?
A: I don't have a clue.

A few weeks ago, the Lord revealed to me that He and I were going to write a book. Now that the initial shock has worn off I am ready for more details. What I have realized is that my day-to-day routine makes it impossible to be still enough to listen.

"But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer." Luke 5:16

Jesus retreated from the world in order to be with the Father. It is no different for me.

On November 9-14th, I am returning to a beloved place, Lebh Shomea House of Prayer, where the silence is indescribable and the presence of God - undeniable. It is a desert retreat center located south of Corpus Christi, TX. No internet service. No cell phone coverage. No tv.

This will be my third visit. Each time I have visited Lebh Shomea (pronounced lev show-mae-a) I have encountered the Lord in ways both reassuring and unsettling. While there I have experienced His peace which is beyond understanding (Philippians 4:7). I have also reeled from the questions He has set before me (Job 38:2-3).

There is no hiding from God in this place. It is a place where God insists on honesty and vulnerability; offers opportunities for repentance and healing; and in return, bestows forgiveness, blessing and direction.

So, in a few days, I will go seeking direction for the book that has yet to take shape. I brace myself for His questions that are certain to come.

I have heard You call and I am coming. I cannot wait to pull off the highway and into the sanctuary of Lebh Shomea. Soon, Lord, very soon I will be saying, "Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening." Thank you, Jesus, that it will be so. In Your holy name, Amen.