Who Are You Watching?

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Saul was very angry;this refrain displeased him greatly. “They have credited David with tens of thousands,” he thought, “but me with only thousands. What more can he get but the kingdom?” And from that time on Saul kept a close eye on David.

1 Samuel 18:8-9

     Who is keeping a close eye on you, would probably be a more comfortable question for you to answer. However, who are you keeping an eye on, is a question that may make you feel a little more uncomfortable. It is easier for us to locate the enemy who is against us than it is to look at ourselves and admit that we are or have been the enemy some time in our lives. We would like to think we are like David, anointed by God to run a kingdom, but if in fact, we discover we are Saul, we have to ask ourselves a question. Why am I keeping an eye on David?

     If we are watching someone closely and we are not FBI agents, private investigators, or members of the CIA, we may be jealous, and that should alarm us because jealousy is not fleeting or innocuous.  Jealousy is an uncontrollable, raging beast who has an insatiable desire to destroy David. David is the person we keep tabs on to make sure he does not replace us or get something we feel we are entitled to.

     David, in the bible, is the young shepherd and musician from Bethlehem.  Unbeknownst to Saul, God told Samuel to anoint David, so David could eventually replace Saul as the next king of Israel.  Saul, not privy to this information, was so pleased with David that he made him his armor bearer (1 Samuel 16:21-22). Shortly thereafter, David killed a giant Philistine named Goliath, so Saul asked David to lead his army. David proved to be an amazing warrior who defeated the Philistines.  As such, he was beloved by the people and Saul became jealous (18:8).  In fact, Saul was so jealous that he plotted to kill David several times (19:1-15).

  We have to ask ourselves if we are like Saul. Now, we may or may not have plotted to kill anyone, but what are our thoughts toward people who are well-liked and admired?  After awhile, do we tire of hearing their good news, and do we rejoice secretly when we hear something has gone wrong in their lives? If we get enjoyment out of someone else’s discontent, the raging beast inside of us needs to be annihilated. Even when it is not in active pursuit of someone, it’s dangerous.  It never rests. It’s a killer, and as long as we posses it, we are its prey. And as long as it preys on us, we will never have peace.

     It’s impossible to have peace if we constantly worry about what someone else is doing.  Time spent stalking and pursuing someone else can be made more valuable if we use that same amount of time to improve our own character.  When we stop prowling around for people on social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, we will be forced to function within our physical surroundings. We may even become more productive and introspective.

     Perhaps you now have a modern day picture of David and Saul.  If  you are Saul, and “your David” has become clear to you, pray.  Don’t waste your time chasing David. Besides, David will eventually have his own struggles. We all do, but jealousy only wants you to see the anointing on David’s life,  but you don’t have to be jealous of that anointing.  God isn’t low on stock.

     God wants to anoint us, too, but sometimes we are so preoccupied with someone else’s life that we fail to see what God is trying to do in our lives. We don’t have to compare victories and defeats, and we can be genuinely happy for someone else when they receive a blessing.  It is wonderful that God blesses other people, and do you know what is also wonderful?  You do not have to compete for God’s blessings.  They never run out.

     Dear God, teach me to focus on You and better my life through You.  When I have the desire to hunt and prowl around, direct me to Your word. Also, when You bless and anoint others, fill my heart with joy for them.  Teach me to be a blessing to others as you continually bless me.  Amen.

By Shawn R. Jones

 website: www.shawnrjones.com

Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames   http://t.co/BxiNwWRG

and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain, 

http://www.amazon.com/Womb-Rain-New-Womens-Voices/dp/1599242699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337717218&sr=8-1

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The First Time I had ever been Frisked

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God is love.

-1 John 4:8

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      It was the first time I had ever been frisked.   My husband was next.  Neither of us said anything.  Then about fifty of us were jammed into a small area where guards, holding semi-automatic weapons, stood above us on a balcony. I would call the area a room, but it didn’t have a ceiling, just the blue sky, which would have been nice just about anywhere else in the world.  At first, there were three walls, battleship gray.  Then the fourth wall, a steel door, came thundering down, “SHUMP!”  I jumped, grabbed the right side of my neck, and scanned the crowd.  The other visitors looked angry, but not afraid.  It was definitely a part of their routine. 

     Glaring down at us, the guards bellowed, “Tighten up! Tighten up and be quiet!” We got as close as we could get to each other.   

     To my surprise, my husband yelled back at the armed guards, “You can’t talk to us like that!  We’re visitors! We’re not prisoners!”

     I was trying to blend in with the crowd.  I thought that would be easy since most of us were minorities, but once my husband spoke, I knew he would give us away.  Even though we were from the city, neither of us had a strong urban dialect.  I squeezed his hand, signaling him to be quiet.  I was shocked by what happened next. 

     The other visitors cheered my husband on.  He had become their spokesperson.  Tattoos, gaudy jewelry, gold teeth, and tight clothes stood in agreement with him, and even though the bible says, “Do not judge or you, too, will be judged” (Matthew 7:1), I judged them for what they had on and how they cussed. Notice I wrote, “how” they cussed because I cussed, too, but with less passion and bass.  It is interesting how we can sometimes judge people who commit the same sins we commit, as if we are somehow sinning more elegantly, but there is nothing elegant about sin.  Sin is always ugly, but I couldn’t see that at the time. 

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     While I continued to be afraid of the other visitors who had much more in common with me than I realized, my husband was holding lengthy conversations with them. 

     “They don’t want you to come here,” my husband explained, “so they want to make it as unpleasant of a visit as possible.  This is absolutely-“

     My husband’s words became less audible as the guards bellowed more commands. I grew increasingly nervous. I turned my rings around and pulled nervously on my string of secondhand pearls.  I should not have worn any jewelry, especially not pearls.  No other piece of jewelry could say, “I have lost touch,” more clearly than a string of pearls on a brown neck, but ironically, I wanted to make a good impression on an incarcerated cousin I had not seen in twenty years. 

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     In my memory, he was the cousin who took me to his clubhouse with his group of “cool” friends.  It was an abandoned house that smelled like a combination of soot and urine.  Yet, I felt special being there, climbing broken steps to the top floor and kicking through bits and pieces of someone else’s past.   At seven-years old, I was a tomboy who just wanted to fit in.  There were no adults around to draw the line between danger and fun. So when the cops came and my cousin helped me escape from the second floor window onto a dirty mattress, I thought that was fun, and when he whizzed me home on the handle bars of his bike, I thought that was fun, too.    He was my cousin who introduced me to the streets of Atlantic City before mischief became murder. 

We were from the same place and the same family, but when my mother and I moved out of the housing projects to the suburbs, my cousin and I didn’t see each other as often.  He and I lived drastically different lives, but my affection for him never changed.  I couldn’t love him any less or anymore.  I knew him long before he had become tainted by his environment, and I witnessed the abuse of his household.  I also knew him before he drank hard, smoked marijuana, and shot heroin.  He was the quiet little boy with the cute smile, wide eyes and good grades, and he would forever be the cousin who reached for me when I leapt from the window.  I really didn’t know the man I was visiting in a maximum security prison with a 30 year sentence. So when he walked into the sunlit prison yard, bright orange and strong, I hugged the little boy who once held out his arms for me. 

     The love I feel for my cousin is stronger than the disdain I feel for his crimes.  Can I claim that I feel that way about everybody?  Of course I can’t because I don’t feel that kind of love for everyone I pass on the street.  We, as humans, are limited in who we love and how much we love.  There are people we love unconditionally, yet fragmentally, because human love, as intense as it may seem, is just a fragment of God’s divine love.  However, God, unlike us, loves everyone unconditionally and wholeheartedly.   There is nothing fragmented about His love.  His arms are always held out for you, no matter who you are, and He couldn’t love you any more or less than He does at this very moment. 

     If you and I can love someone pass their faults, than how deeply does God love? 

     He is love (1 John 4:8).  He is not like love, just in favor of love, or just a supporter of love.  God is love. Why wouldn’t we want to have a relationship with someone like that, knowing we can’t have a relationship that deep with anyone else in the world.  When I think of how profound that is, I ask myself, “Why don’t I read my bible more?  Why don’t I pray more?”  While God consistently has His arms reaching towards me, why do I sometimes run in the other direction? Maybe you do that, too, but does it make sense? Even if you are skeptical, do you really want to walk away and take a chance on being separated from God’s divine love?

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     We have to learn to stay as close to God as we possibly can, relaxing in His embrace as the world twists and turns around us.  Sometimes we may be a little uncomfortable, wiggling like a toddler in our Father’s arms, but it is crucial that we stay there with His word in our hearts.  It is crucial that we stay, so we can love others who feel unloved and so we can face the challenges of our own lives without falling apart. It is crucial that we stay, so we can experience the totality of His love.

     Dear Lord, I know that if my cousin has a strand of heartbreaking stories behind him, then the rest of the prison population and many of their visitors also have a strand of equally distressing stories.  Please remind me that I am not more special or better than anyone else because I have had fewer tragedies in my life. Please teach me to love others unconditionally with this in the forefront of my mind. Amen.

 

By Shawn R. Jones

 website: www.shawnrjones.com

Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames   http://t.co/BxiNwWRG

and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain, 

http://www.amazon.com/Womb-Rain-New-Womens-Voices/dp/1599242699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337717218&sr=8-1

  

Trapped in Your Basement

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Trapped in Your Basement 

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

– Philippians 4:6

“I forgot my keys.  Wait right here.”  My feet pounded down the basement steps.  Midway, I heard the door slam behind me and lock!  I had no idea my two-and a half-year-old knew how to lock the bottom lock on the basement door. I ran back up the basement steps and told my daughter to unlock the door.

“Mommy, I can’t.”

“Yes…you can.  You locked it, so just slide it back the other way.”

“I can’t. It stuck.”  I knew she couldn’t because I could barely unlock it myself half the time.

I heard my daughter crying softly.

“It’s okay.  Mommy will get out,” I assured her, even though I had no idea how I was going to get out.  There was no other door, and there was just a very small tightly sealed window that led to an alleyway between row homes.

Just when I thought, it’s a good thing she’s a very calm child, I heard her little footsteps run back and forth across the living room floor in a panic.  Then, I started to panic because I remembered the gas fireplace was still on in the living room.  I instructed my daughter to stop running and sit down by the basement door.

“Jade,” I talked to her through the door, “don’t move.”  I decided not to mention the fire.  “Mommy’s going to get out through the window.”

I walked in the basement bathroom and stared up at the small window that was blocked by a piece of wood.  I thought, You‘d have to be anorexic or on crack to fit through that window. Still, I unhooked the alarm wires, moved the slab of wood and yanked and pulled on the mesh screen. It would not budge.  In between pushing and pulling, I ran up the basement steps to reassure my daughter that I was okay and would be out very soon.  The more I pushed and pulled the more discouraged I became, thinking, I’m going to be trapped in this basement until my husband comes home from work, and there is no way my daughter is going to stay in one spot for hours.

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I began to pray, “God, you have to get me out of this basement.”  I knew it was more a command than a request, but I was terrified, even though God’s word says, “Be strong and courageous.  Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).  At the time, I didn’t mediate on that verse.  My heart beat wildly in my chest, and I just did not know what to do.  I knew there were many scriptures where God promises to help you in your time of trouble, but I didn’t know any of them off the top of my head.  The only thing I knew was that I needed God’s help before my curious toddler found something harmfully interesting to do, like examine the blaze in the front room.

Suddenly, I got an idea to get out of the window by cutting through the mesh.  I put my keys in the pocket of my sweatpants, so I would have them to unlock the front door once I got out.  I ran to the back of the basement and got a hammer out of my husband’s toolbox. I ran back to the window, stood on the toilet seat and started tearing the mesh apart wildly with the back of the hammer.  I worked insanely; there was no time to be cute about things.

I finally made a hole just big enough to get my shoulders through.  I hiked myself up on the ledge and wiggled through the small window.  Mesh scratched at my shoulders, but I didn’t care; I was almost out.  Then, I got stuck.  I cut the hole just big enough to squeeze my shoulders through but it was still too small to squeeze my bottom through.

I struggled, grunting, groaning, and wiggling.  I knew if I really forced my way out, the mesh would tear into the skin on my behind, but what other choice did I have?  My toddler was upstairs alone.  With my hands on the red brick ground of the alleyway, I scooted my lower body through the window. By that time, my sweatpants were down by my ankles!  They had gotten caught on the mesh.  I laid on the dirty brick ground of the alleyway in a t-shirt and drawers with my sweats scrunched up by my ankles, praying my neighbors were not looking out their windows.

I laid there in shock a few seconds before pulling my pants up.  As I pulled them up, I noticed my legs were scratched and bloody.  I laughed and exhaled, thinking, This is unbelievable. I ran to the back of my yard and climbed over our brick wall.  I felt like a stray cat, scaling walls, dodging trashcans and running down alleyways.

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When I finally reached my front door, I jammed my key in the hole.  When I ran in the house, my daughter was still sitting at the door of the basement.  When she saw me, she jumped up, still in a panic. “Mommy! You haf to get youself out the basement!”

I asked, “What? What do you mean?”

“Mommy, hurry up!  You haf to get youself out the basement!”

“Jade, Mommy is out of the basement, I’m right here,” I said, pointing to myself.

“No…” she cried, “You haf to get youself out the basement!”

“Fine, fine,” I gave in, thinking, she can’t be this dumb.  I wish I could say those were not my exact thoughts at the time, but they were.

I unlocked the basement door and walked down the steps.  Then I had a scary thought.  I yelled up to my daughter, “Do not shut the door!”

“Mom, you get youself out?”  My daughter whined from upstairs.

“Yes.  Yes, I am getting my-self out!”  I walked up the basement steps, hoping she didn’t expect to see two of me. “See,” I smiled at her, “I got myself out the basement.”  She smiled back.

During that time in my life, I was filled with more anxiety than word.  I wish I could have recited a verse back then that would have kept me calm, but I didn’t know one.  I only knew bits and pieces of verses.  However, today, I have a verse that may keep you calm when you are locked in a situation that doesn’t have an easy way out.  Isaiah 41:13 states, “For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.”

Every now and then, you may find yourself locked in your own basement.  Sometimes it is a comfortable area. Other times it is dark and dingy.  Either way, it’s your basement—a place that is familiar to you, and as long as you can come and go in and out of it at your leisure, you’re okay being there.  However, when you least expect it, you may get trapped in a familiar place you no longer want to be.  In those times, if you pray and study God’s word, He will help you get out of a seemingly impossible situation even if it is not the same way you came in.  However, don’t get discouraged if you get a few scratches and expose yourself along the way.  Pull your pants up, climb over brick walls and “run with perseverance” (Hebrews 12:1) because the door you need to go through is just around the corner.

Dear Lord, I can look back now and see how blessed I am to have made it out of so many difficult situations.  I am certainly grateful for the number of holes I have had to crawl out of in order to appreciate the blessings on the other side of the door.  

580255_10200497831313680_1355160852_nMy daughter and I in NY  (Summer of 2013)

By Shawn R. Jones

 website: www.shawnrjones.com

Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames   http://t.co/BxiNwWRG

and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain, 

http://www.amazon.com/Womb-Rain-New-Womens-Voices/dp/1599242699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337717218&sr=8-1

No Blessings are Small

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“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’

Matthew 25:23

“When I was little, I thought it was cool to live next door to an abandoned house,” my son smiled across the dining room table.

Every Sunday my husband and I have the family over for dinner after church.  I particularly enjoy it as we get closer to the holidays.  The house is decorated with red poinsettias in large vases and the wooden banisters are lined with pine garland, pinecones, and red berries. Laughter and holiday music travel from floor to floor, wood hisses in the brick fireplace, and balsam-scented candles burn in every bathroom. Outside is quiet, and the red metal sleigh and six reindeer light up our front lawn like noon. There are no sidewalks, the streets are wide, and our neighbors are not close enough to hear our private conversations. Things are so different than they were decades before.

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Early in our marriage we did not have as much as we have now, but we loved each other deeply, trusted God completely, and took care of our “small” blessings. And even though there was a row of abandoned houses to the right of us, we took care of our brownstone like it was a palace.

My son didn’t mind living next door to an abandoned house because he imagined he was Batman, hiding out in Wayne Manor. Besides, my husband and I often glorified our town, saying some of the greatest people in the world lived there, he and his sister, and we made life as enjoyable as we could for them in the place my son often called “Gotham City.”

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When a developer came in and finally restored the abandoned properties, my son thought it was an adventure when displaced rodents escaped to our house for shelter. It was a very interesting time in our lives, but I definitely would not describe it as “cool.”

Earlier on, I set the scene for how we live now because it is relevant for you to know how different it was in the early years of our family. There is a glaring contrast that is important to note, especially if your present situation at all resembles the scene I am about to describe.  If it does,  reread the beginning of this devotion and ask yourself if it is possible for your current situation to lead you to a better place.

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Our first home in “Gotham”

My husband and I were in our twenties. We owned our inner-city home and took great pride in it, but since it was over one hundred years old and next door to a row of abandoned houses, there were sometimes problems.

One night, I woke up because my husband had gotten up to go to the bathroom.  Our bedroom door was cracked, so there was enough light from the hallway to create shadows on the walls.  While in bed,  I saw something circling around the ceiling. In my delirium, I thought it was the shadow of a rat that was running around on the floor.

After my eyes focused, I realized something flying.   Of course, I thought it was a bird because I really wanted it to be a bird.  I gasped and pulled the covers up around my mouth and nose before I screamed, “Honey, there is something flying in our room!”

My husband ran from the bathroom and turned on the bedroom light.  It was a bat!  I had never said so many expletives in one sentence in my life!  I screamed, twisting and turning under the covers.  I figured the bat would have a more difficult time attacking a moving target. Every now and then I peeked out of the covers. It was no longer circling the room smoothly.  Its wings hit the walls, sounding like someone smacking leather gloves together erratically.

My husband was telling me to calm down, but I couldn’t hear him over my own cries. He eventually fetched me from the covers and guided me out the room as I screamed with a blanket over my head.  Once I was on the other side of the door I thought of every horror movie I had seen with bats attacking humans. I asked my husband if he were okay.

“Get me a towel!” He yelled. “Hurry Up!”

I opened the door just enough to squeeze the towel through.  A few seconds later, I heard my husband whipping the towel through the air. I envisioned him in his blue-stripped pajama pants, jumping on the bed and holding the fluffy lasso angrily with one hand. Every now and then, I would hear a crash.  It sounded as if he were in a battle with Goliath (1 Samuel 17), someone much bigger than he.  The last crash I heard was the lamp being whipped from the nightstand onto the floor. There was silence.

“Oh God!  Are you okay?  You didn’t let him bite you, did you?” I had visions of black and white movies from my childhood with handsome vampires, wearing black capes.

“I’m fine, Dear.  I got him.”

I opened the bedroom door cautiously just as my husband was opening the towel. He looked into the bat’s face.  His leathery wings were still.  I had a moment of remorse.

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You think we would have moved after that ordeal, but we didn’t.  Instead, we lived through similar nightmares.  Not long after we got rid of the bat, there was a sewer rat in our upstairs bathroom.  We caught him sleeping in the wall behind the toilet.  He had eaten the paint and plaster.  Thankfully he couldn’t eat through the steel mesh that trapped him inside the wall like a cage.

Every night for a few days, I heard the rat chew through the wall.  I had no idea what it was at the time.  It sounded like a couple men trying to break in the house.  I only heard the sound at night when my husband went to work.  On the third night, my husband’s night off, the sound seemed to get louder and closer.  We walked in the bathroom, trying to determine where the sound was coming from.  We peered behind the toilet.  Its thick body slept exhaustively with its tan, black, and gray fur rising up and down between the mesh with each breath.  I was both sick and astounded.  Suddenly, it got up and stared at us with its fingers wrapped around the steel wire. I could not speak, and I struggled to digest my dinner.

“That thing is huge!” My husband yelled, noticing it was the size of a fat house cat. “Hurry up and get me the uh- Raid!”

I remember thinking, Raid is for ants, but okay

My husband shook the can of Raid a few times before removing its red plastic lid. He sprayed the creature in its face, thinking it would run back through its tunnel in the wall.  Instead, it clawed at the steal and showed its teeth. We both cussed like two teenagers discovering new words.

Convinced that we could not scare the rat off, we called my father-in-law.  Now, my father-in-law was not an exterminator, but he did have a gun. Unfortunately, we later discovered there were hundreds of rodents, looking for shelter.  To solve the problem, we would have had to shoot them all, so we eventually, called an exterminator.

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1994

You have probably surmised that “Gotham” was not a safe place to live, but we were blessed there; God was doing great things for us (Proverbs 20:27). We didn’t have a ton of money, but we were able to save and take our children on trips because our mortgage was only $393 a month. We were not perfect, cussing and fussing under stress, but as contradictory as it may seem, most times we were joyful because God was with us then, just like He is with us now (Hewbrews 13:5). We didn’t feel that our lives were any less valuable because we lived in a depressed area. We knew God examined our hearts (1 Samuel 16:7) and not our finances.  He is not like people who determine your value based on your material wealth (Luke 16:15). God values you and loves you unconditionally.

No matter where you live or how you live, do not determine your worth based on your bank account.  Instead, ask yourself if you have the capacity to love.  Love is what is most important when you consider the quality of your life, so trust God, and do not fret about your “small” blessings. If you take care of them, bigger ones will follow (Matthew 6:33). However, bigger blessings are not always material.

You may be blessed with immeasurable things like freedom, peace, wisdom, and love.  If that does not excite you and you would much prefer huge houses and fancy cars, remember, those things are temporal (2 Corinthians 4:18). The danger in desiring worldly riches above everything else, is the danger of rejecting  Godly love. If money is your heart’s desire, you may turn people away who can only afford to give you love.  To turn them away would rejecting  love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7), the greatest gift of all.

When I met my husband, he had more love in his heart than he had money in the bank. Had I rejected him when he told me I was going to be his wife, I would have missed out on a multitude of immeasurable blessings. Yes, we had to contend with rats, bats, and even more incredulous adversaries, but we had an unceasing love for each other and God, and I am grateful He has blessed our faithfulness.

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By Shawn R. Jones

 website: www.shawnrjones.com

Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames   http://t.co/BxiNwWRG

and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain, 

http://www.amazon.com/Womb-Rain-New-Womens-Voices/dp/1599242699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337717218&sr=8-1

 

Joyous Christmas

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Joyous Christmas

 

The tree is tall and bent and green like spring

with golden balls that hang like bows on braids

and shiny tinsel raining gold and jade.

Angelic wings flap as the children sing,

“The baby born is Christ, Our Lord and King…”

Small arms rise slowly as the music fades.

The audience breaks in most joyful praise.

Discouraged hearts are now able to dream.

 

Shawn R. Jones

*I am hoping to finish this sonnet someday : )

“We Thinking”

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“We Thinking”

By Shawn R. Jones

             That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Genesis 2:24

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 If you were to peek through my windows tonight, you would find me tapping lightly on the computer keys in a huge chair by the fire with a knitted white blanket across my feet.  My husband would be sitting a few feet away from me, flipping through Hemmings Motor News, occasionally adjusting his bronze-framed glasses.  If you were to listen closely enough, perhaps you would hear the jittery fire sizzle, pop, and crackle within its brick walls, and maybe you would even hear our black pit-bull’s teeth scratch across her large bone. There are no other sounds in the house, and it looks as if things have always gone smoothly for us.  Looking through our windows tonight, you only see the benefits of our investments. There is no hint of struggle.

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Oh, but there was struggle of multiple kinds and varying degrees.  We did not always live where we live and how we live, and we did not always think the thoughts we now think (Romans 12:2) and speak the words we now speak. When you look through our windows tonight, you are looking at a couple who gradually learned to depend on God for everything and believe in His goodness regardless of their personal circumstances and the world’s condition. Tonight, for the most part, everything appears as it seems.  Because we trust God, joy fills our hearts and our home (Romans 15:13) even though we still have problems and the world’s condition has not improved. Although it took some time, we now realize we cannot allow our human perspective to weaken our faith. Our circumstances are not always going to be good, and there is nothing characteristically human about maintaining a positive attitude in difficult times, but since God is good all the time, hope, joy, and peace are always attainable (Romans 15:13). Like the Apostle Paul, we “have learned to be content” despite our challenges (Philippians 4:11), but there were moments in our marriage when contentment was not easily accessible.

Our first few years of marriage, my husband and I fought like toddlers throwing temper tantrums, physically destroying items that were within our reach, like plates, chairs, clocks, vases, and wall thermometers.  The only positive things about our arguments were that we only had them a couple times a year, and we never hit each other (mostly because I had a bad aim).  However, our tone and our language made up for six months of peace. Had we been two Hulks, we would have turned from brown to grass green in a matter of seconds.  I cannot imagine how we would have reacted had we had serious issues to fight over because we had full blown arguments over insignificant things, like dust, unwashed dishes, cluttered tables, and dirty laundry.

In actuality, we were just learning how to consider someone else other than ourselves.  It is not easy to transition from “me thinking” to “we thinking,” but decades later, I am grateful that we figured it out. If you were to look through our windows now, you would find it very difficult to believe that we are the same couple who once rattled the walls on Washington Street.  Becoming “we thinkers” took a long time.  It was an on-going process, but we relied on God completely, and there were a couple tough incidents that helped get us there.

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My husband and I would probably agree that the most difficult situation we have had to deal with in our marriage was our child’s illness.  Over the years, our daughter has had several appointments with pediatric specialists and a couple surgeries at Children’s Hospital.  At first we tried to tackle the situation separately, coping with the stress in unhealthy ways; I ate less and he ate more. However, what saved us both was my husband’s faith. I trusted God less and less with each unanswered prayer, and my husband trusted Him more.

At first, I didn’t understand my husband’s perspective, and I became angry with both him and God.  At the time, I felt that neither of them could have possibly loved my daughter as much as I did.  I figured (Proverbs 3:5-6), if God had loved her as much as I, He would have healed her, and if my husband had loved her as much as I, he would have cursed God for not healing her.  That was exactly how I felt until my husband convinced me that no matter what happened, we were living in God’s perfect will for our lives. He told me we had to be a team and remain a team whether our daughter lived or died. I wanted to hit him for thinking I could ever be part of anyone’s team if such a horrific event had occurred, but I also wanted to hug him because I realized I would never be alone in any situation, unless I chose to be.  I had him, and I had God, and the only one isolating me from my support system was myself.  Upon realizing this, I allowed the situation to make me, my marriage, and my relationship with God stronger. It was the strength of those relationships that got us through.

Prior to my daughter’s birth, there was another event that called for great strength, my father’s horrific death.  My father died when I was two months pregnant with my daughter. The circumstances around his death made me more vulnerable, not vulnerable to my dealings with others, but vulnerable to my own thoughts about death, unfairness, and God.  I was twenty-three when my father died from a drug overdose, and even though I knew he was addicted to heroin, at twenty-three, I still believed in happy endings.

After his death, my husband and I both had to deal with my guilt, depression, and dwindling faith.  I felt guilty because I couldn’t save my dad and depressed because he had lost his battle against his addiction.  In turn, I lost faith in God because I trusted that, after much prayer, God would deliver him. It took some time for me to realize that he was delivered.  When my father died, so did his addiction.

Ironically, there are situations that are much worse than death, like the excruciating pain of withdraw that makes an addict steal from his children, beat his loved ones, and harm whoever comes between him and his next hit.  Indeed, my father was delivered.  In fact, we were all delivered.  His addiction had put unbearable stress on our family, and after he died, God was there to help us deal with the aftershock and devastating residual effects of the tragedy.

Looking through my windows tonight, you do not see the weight of the burdens we have carried.  You only see the strength that is the result of carrying those weights and the relief we now feel after giving each burden to God.  My husband and I are not more or less human than anyone else.  We are no better or worse than any other couple God has put together. However, in order to make your relationship work, you have to pray consistently, together and separately. And most importantly, you have to be deeply committed to God and each other.

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Dear Lord, please allow us to be positive role models for other couples.  Through us, I pray they will see the beauty of the institution of marriage and build their lives together with you at the center of their relationships.  Thank you so much for your guidance and unconditional love. Amen.

By Shawn R. Jones

 website: www.shawnrjones.com

Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames   http://t.co/BxiNwWRG

and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain, 

http://www.amazon.com/Womb-Rain-New-Womens-Voices/dp/1599242699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337717218&sr=8-1

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Fall 2013

Bent and Broken

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      Bent and broken, I crawled out of bed, making my way to the faucet.  I knew cold water would only snap me out of it a few seconds, but I needed to feel something other than despair.  I felt a little relief going to the bathroom. It was proof that something in my body was working correctly, and I needed to know that because my mind was failing me. I had been depressed for six months. My mind could no longer jumpstart itself without delay.  After three tragic experiences, I did not know how to relate to the world.  I could no longer identify with the carefree person I used to be.  I had become the victim of my tragic circumstances.  I was still the daughter crying on the soil of her father’s grave,  the mother who collapsed on the tile floor at Children’s Hospital, and the patient, twisting in pain with an oxygen mask covering her nose and mouth.  I was the despair of those three women and nothing more.

    I prayed occasionally and went to church most Sundays, but I still could not separate myself from my experiences.   Then one day, while washing dishes, I wailed like someone had stolen one of my children.  My despair was so great, I could not stand. My failed mind was winning.  I was losing control.

     At that moment, I cried, “If you are real, Jesus, why won’t you help me?!”

     I prayed and asked God to please help me come back to Him.  The next day, while walking through a parking lot, I found a tattered book on the asphalt.  The back of the book read, This book will teach you how to come back to God.  In awe, I flipped it over with my foot, read the title, and slipped it in my purse.   I read it in a matter of days, and I also read the Bible daily and prayed consistently.  During that time, God revealed Himself to me in so many different ways; I could not deny His presence in my life.

     God helped me take my focus off of myself by placing people in my life who were justifiably depressed.   I am not saying that I was depressed without reason, but I realized there would always be someone else who needed more help than I did.  God introduced me to those people. The more I helped them and talked to them about Christ, the better I felt and the closer I got to God.  So, even if you are a little sad, a little worried, or a little dissatisfied, focus on someone other than yourself.  God is with you and you will see better days if you do not give up. Stand tall.

By Shawn R. Jones,

Author of the devotional book, Pictures in Glass Frames   http://t.co/BxiNwWRG

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and the poetry chapbook, Womb Rain, 

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http://www.amazon.com/Womb-Rain-New-Womens-Voices/dp/1599242699/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1337717218&sr=8-1