Sunday, February 23, 2020

Don't Open the Spine-Chilling-Terrifying Door

Don't Open the Spine-Chilling-Terrifying Door

     Vicki was a widowed bookkeeper.  I knew her from church and had always felt she was one of the sweetest and most-all-together women I'd ever known.  She had met a widower who said he had an in-home business and hired her to do his taxes.  After several meetings going over his taxes he invited her for dinner.

     She described Philip as tall, handsome and very quiet.  In fact she said, "I think he must be an introvert.  A really deep introvert."  After about six months of dating he proposed to her.  She accepted and the church women tried to give her a shower.  But Vicki said they had decided to not have a special service but were going to fly to Reno and get married that weekend.

     That was about three weeks ago.  And already she had made an appointment for counseling.  She was as on edge as any human I've ever known.  She could barely sit still to explain what was going on.  I waited patiently and silently.  I watched her eyes and nervous twitches of her limbs and wondered if she needed to see a Neurologist instead of a Counselor.  But with her rapid speech, darting glances and near hysteria, I chose not to interrupt her and listened intently instead.

     I always pray before a counseling session that the Lord would help me understand the true needs of the person.  Then during the session sometimes when I'm unsure of how to frame the right words to assist someone to make the best decisions for the difficulties they're facing I pray silently asking the Lord to supply the solution.  I learned this early on in my years of counseling hurting hearts.  God always comes through.  But sometimes I get impatient and try it on my own.  Not smart.  Grade me a D- for that.
"God, the one and only -- I’ll wait as long as he says.  Everything I need comes from him, so why not?" (Psalms 62:1, The Message)
     "Wait" in this verse is an unusual original word.  It doesn't mean take a nap or spend several days and then God will give the answer.  It means, "pause for His message."  So I learned to pause with anticipation that the answer would often come before the counseling session was over.

     I could tell Vicki was desperate and my heart really desired to help her.

     She began.  "We never visited his house when we were dating as he was remodeling it.  But when we returned from Reno he said we're moving into the house now.  I was excited and looked forward to it.

     As we started to get out of the car he said, "Vicki...there is something you can not do."


     "You can not go into the garage for any reason.  Promise me you won't."

     She figured he must have his office out there.  Or, maybe he was making her a Christmas present or something.  But she kept her word and never went into the garage. 

     Vicki continued, "He would spend most afternoons in the garage.  In the evenings we would watch TV after dinner and sleep in a Queen bed in a pretty plain looking bedroom.  I saw no indications of a woman's touch anywhere and found the house to be drab and depressing."

     After about a month he told her at dinner, "I have a surprise for you.  I will show it to you in the garage at bedtime." 

     Vicki began shaking uncontrollable as she tried to continue.  But her voice froze as her eyes projected intense fear.  "I...I...I...just didn't..."  Her lips locked tightly.  She couldn't speak.

     "Vicki, I'm here to help you.  I took her hand and whispered, "Try to tell me what was in the garage."

     Wiping her eyes, sighing deeply, she said, "It was dark and I didn't see them until he shined a small flashlight on the first one."

     "The first ... what?"

     "It was a large... wooden rectangular... object." 

     I could see her straining just to speak each word.

     "It was a wooden box I thought.  But then he reached up and tapped the top of the box and a lid slowly opened.  And a soft light came on." 

     Vicki wept and excused herself to go powder her nose.

     Curiosity really held my attention.  I spent the time pleading with the Lord for understanding and that she would be able to recover enough to continue.

     She returned. 

     "Please tell me more, Vicki."

     "He pulled a small stepladder over and told me to step up and look inside."

     "Oh, No, I don't want to do that," I told him.

     He said, "You're my wife and I made this for you."
     Then he lifted me onto the stepladder and before I knew it I was looking down inside that box.

     It wasn't an empty box.  It had a mattress, pillow and blankets and a small light.

     Vicki uttered loudly.  "It was a casket.  And there was another one beside it."

     I screamed at him, "What on earth are you doing?"

     Vicki, "I built these for us so we can sleep in them each night.  Tonight will be our first night."

     I couldn't believe it.  What on earth was going on?  I had never heard of such a thing.  Never.

     "He told me to go get ready for bed and that he would help me get in.  I went back into the house, grabbed my things, put on my coat and drove to a relative's house.  I will never go back." 

     She wanted to move a zillion miles away.  She was terrified.  She was temporarily staying at a relative's house.   But she knew she had a problem... they had gotten married.  How would the Lord accept her for leaving her husband?

     Then... she pondered... and asked if I would go talk to him.  I felt inadequate for the task, but she persisted and I sensed the Lord was telling me to do it. 

     I sure couldn't see what good it would do.  But, Vicki was between a rock and a hard place.  I must try.

     When I phoned he immediately asked if his wife would be coming with me.  I said, "Not today, but let's visit first."  I visited for a few moments with him in the modest-sized living room.  With an indescribable smile he asked me if I'd like to see the whole house.  So he gave me the grand tour.  Yes, the garage also.

     In the daylight I quickly saw the boxes.  Indeed they were caskets.  I knew that Vicki's nightmare was indeed a real-life, bizarre horror event.  I told him I was going to leave and would see myself out.

     As I skipped down the front porch steps a man quickly approached and shoved papers in my face.  "Ha, you can't avoid me forever.  You've been served, Philip."  I glanced at the paper and realized it was a Court Summons for Philip.  In fact there were two summons.  I told the Server, "You've got the wrong man.  I'm not Philip... he's in the garage."  I showed him my driver's license and business card.

     He swore at his difficulty serving Philip.  He said, "He refuses to accept service.  I can see he's home but he won't answer the door."

     I figured the two Summons were for unpaid debts until the Process Server muttered, "Can you believe this creep?  He is a bigamist.  His last two wives have been trying to get their valuables back and he won't accept the divorce papers."

     Mercifully it turned out that he was not a widower as he had claimed but was still married to two other women... whom he had recently tricked and who had fled for their lives and he had never divorced them and refused to accept service of their attorney's papers. 

     I knew then why I had been sent to meet Philip.  He had "married" Vicki fraudulently.  He was still married to two other women whom I suspect had fled for their lives as well.

     You may think this is a vampire fiction tale.  It is not.  It is the true story of one woman's plight when she re-married.  An attorney took care of Vicki's entanglement.  Today she is, once again, the sweetest, most all-together woman I've ever known.

     Displayed above my head in my counseling office is a mounted copy of this painting by the late Harry Anderson which my wife purchased more than 20 years ago.  

     Not only did folks I counseled see it, but it was a continual reminder to me of who the ineffable Great Counselor is. 

Who Am I
Casting Crowns

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Monday, February 17, 2020

King Of The Sandbar

King Of The Sandbar

     Some years back I managed a church camp in south-eastern Missouri.  It was in August and the heat and humidity drove us to daily dips in the cool stream.  When classes ended mid day everyone got their swim suits on.

     The stream was shallow out to a sandbar about 15 feet from shore. Past the sandbar the stream was deep and swift.  The sandbar was just below the surface.  When I stood on it the water was up to my knees.  Somebody said, "Let's play king of the sandbar."  So we did.  I got on the sandbar and groups of the kids would try to knock me over into the deeper part... making a big splash.

     If they knocked me over the king had to start all over again.

     We'd been skirmishing for about 45 minutes when someone screamed, "Snake!  There's a snake in the water!"  And they weren't kidding.  All the kids dashed madly to shore... terrified of the snake.  But I wasn't so fortunate.

     I had just regained my position as king of the sandbar and was about 15 feet from safety.  I looked to my left and saw the gross creature curling it's scales in the water with just its head above the surface.
     That's when I saw it and realized the danger I was in.

     Its head was triangular, its mouth was open and it looked like a giant piece of cotton in its mouth.  It was a water moccasin and it was heading downstream between the shore and me on the sandbar.  Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest I had never seen a venomous snake.  And this one was closing the distance between us too quickly.

     I prayed that it wouldn't come directly at me and strike me.  I felt the Lord telling me to stand absolutely still and trust he'd send the scaly killer past me and on down the stream.   And my prayer was heard.  To this day I can still see that white cottonmouth and wondered how I had been able to not shake like the scared man I was.

     I later learned that the Cottonmouth could sense heat sources and I know the Lord's Angel kept it from sensing me.  Don't try to convince me that our guardian angels don't protect us from water snakes and the great serpent Satan.

     The Bible records a great many references to snakes.  In fact crafty Satan tricked Eve into disobeying God and introduced sin into the world.  For doing so Genesis says: 

     "So the LORD God said to the serpent, "Because you have done this, "Cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals!  You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.  And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel." (Genesis 3:14-15, NIV)

     Crawling on his belly from this moment on was physical punishment that all snakes have because of the great serpent Satan.  But far greater is the spiritual warfare Satan was forced to battle.  In fact he thought he had destroyed the Holy Son of God when he crucified him - the above prophesy predicted, "you will strike his heel.  "But when the Lord Jesus came out of the grave the above prophecy says to Satan, "He will crush your head."  
     Can you picture all of Heaven crying when Jesus was crucified?  It makes me cry just to ponder His death.  But Thanks be to God ~ the Lord's children have an eternal home thanks to Jesus crushing Satan under His heel.  

Ten Thousand Angels Cried
Heritage Singers

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Saturday, February 8, 2020

White or Black Stone

White or Black Stone

     “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose.”  Many of us have heard this silly little cheater’s slogan since early grade school playground days.  You recall it don’t you? It simply meant Only I can win.  You can only lose.  Is this only a childhood slogan, or are we sometimes faced with it as adults?

     The I.R.S., in spite of some noticeable improvements, targets you for an audit.  You take the books all neatly prepared by your former employee only to learn that serious errors had been made.  It dawns upon you, “I thought she knew her stuff.  I wonder what this will set me back?”

     When the auditor shows you their decision you slip back into your chair, shaking, weak and sick to your stomach.  You hear your parched lips saying, “But I paid her good money to keep these records.  I did the best I could.” But, your plea is met by that frozen look of “I’ve heard it all before.” And you realize that even the IRS sometimes utters, “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose.”

     You’re deeply in love with your spouse and discover that an affair has ripped your heart to shreds and blackened your future.  Your food is tasteless.  Beverages are lukewarm.  Your stomach aches and refuses sustenance.  Your mind races or crawls.

     You want someone to talk with, to unload your heavy heart but the words won’t become audible as your tongue thickens in your mouth.  “O’ God", you cry out, "is there no way out of this pain? Will I ever feel OK again?"

     Your spouse has effectively said, “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose.”

     Let me introduce a couple who personifies heads I win, tails you lose.

     Sophia called to make the appointment.  She said she and Wallace were close to splitting up.  But they wanted to try counseling first.

     "Would it be possible for me to come in alone and get some help? I'm sure you'll agree that our marriage is beyond hope."

     "I don't recommend that, Sophia.  When only one spouse comes for counseling then it tends to alienate their partner because they feel the Counselor knows all their dirt and is prejudiced against them."

     "Oh, I never thought of that," she quickly responded.   She continued, "But I think I must tell you the ugly facts.  There's so much you'll need to know."

     "Sophia, I respect your concern but I still insist that I see you both.  I recommend that you tell your husband that the Counselor wants both of you to come for just one session.  Push him a bit if you have to.  This may save your marriage."

     Meeting Wallace and Sophia I guessed they were in their mid-thirties.  Sophia began, "We were High School sweethearts and have been married for 14 years and have two children."

     During that first session I felt like Sophia was steering me to recognize her side of everything they were fighting about.  She seemed to want me to be a judge and slam my gavel and say, " are guilty of causing all of your marital discord!!"

     Wallace spoke only a handful of comments while Sophia devoured the time.

     In addition she displayed a rare clue to where her heart really was.  When I asked a question she played the eye game.  In answering a question truthfully she met my eyes straight on.  But if her answer sounded false her eyes looked just above my head.  Subconsciously that often indicates an intent to deceive.

     I asked each of them if they wanted to keep their marriage together.  Wallace softly said "Yes" looking me right in the eyes.  Sophia said, "Of course...why else would we have come for counseling."

     Oh, and her eyes looked above my head.

     Then I asked, "Do you sleep together?"

     They nodded affirmatively.

     "Do you know the meaning of vulnerability?" But I didn't wait for an answer.  Continuing I said, "Vulnerability is having an argument where you feel you might have gotten hurt or been hurtful and each of you crawling into a king-sized bed...but scooting to the far edges.  You can't sleep.  You lie there without moving an inch, wondering if your partner went to sleep.  Your heart is pounding and it cries out...turn over and apologize and cuddle with your spouse.  But you're unsure what will happen if you attempt it.

     You're wanting desperately to make all OK.  So, after quite a while you quietly turn over and silently reach over and lightly touch your souse's back.  If your spouse turns towards you, healing will begin.  If they scoot farther away or leave the bed your vulnerability was crushed.

     "If you both have tender hearts that reward vulnerability then the Lord will quickly restore your struggling relationship.  If instead that type of sweet love and vulnerability is missing, I'll be giving you homework and, either way we'll need to meet weekly until things improve."

     We closed with prayer and they started to leave.  Sophia trailed a bit behind her hubby and slipped me some papers when he was out the door.  The papers were 6 typed pages with the following heading: "These are the rotten things Wallace did this week."

     Slowly Sophia and Wallace's relationship improved.  Their faith and trust in the Lord stopped the bickering and note taking.  We worked through the love teaching in 1st Corinthians 13:4-7: "Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."

     "Practicing this kind of heavenly, God-sent love will make the most dreary days cheerful.  The most dry deserts an oasis and sprout life from death and decay."

     In our final session I told them I want to tell you a quote from a famous actor and a story of a king who practiced Heads I Win Tails You Lose.

     Clint Eastwood's alleged quote about marriage: "They say marriages are made in Heaven.  But so is thunder and lightning."

     They both chuckled.

     A despotic king had been lusting after wives of his subjects.  He had devised a scheme to where he would win the woman by challenging the husband to a contest.  It wasn't just any was a rigged one.

     One afternoon he challenged the man to the contest.  "If I win, I get your wife.  If you win you keep your wife." The man loved his wife and hated the King for forcing him to win a contest to keep his own wife.

     Nobody had ever won against the king before.

     The king led the man and wife up to the top of a hill.  The king bent and picked up two stones and dropped them into a dark bag.  "All right," the king challenged, "Draw out the white stone and she remains with you.  Draw out the black stone and she’s mine."

     As the king’s words were sinking in, the man’s eyes met the eyes of the king’s advisor.

     The advisor’s eyes warned of deception by the king and his lips were silently mouthing words

     Remembering the King never had lost a contest sweat engulfed the unsure husband.

     As he took the dark bag from the king his love for his wife flooded his mind.  How can I be sure which rock is white? Reaching into the bag the man gripped the two stones, felt their edges and tried to decide which one to pull out.

     All hope seemed lost and then he saw the king's advisor again.   It seemed he was saying.

     Drop the stone.  The advisor's head even slightly nodded downward.

     The man desperately and quickly pulled his hand out and fumbled the rock and it fell from his hand onto the piles of rocks below.  There was no way to ever know which color it was.

     But the king took charge.  He said, It was black.  Your wife is mine.”

     But, then the king’s advisor spoke, “Pardon me your majesty.  Since he dropped the stone the only way we can know for sure which color it was is to look at the other stone…the one still in the bag.”  He continued, “If the stone in the bag is white, then indeed he did draw out the black one and his wife is yours.  However, if the stone in the bag is black, then he must have drawn out the white stone and his wife remains his own.   What color is the stone in the bag?”

     Since the king had lied and placed two black stones and no white stones in the bag he had set up a guaranteed win.  There was no white stone at all.  So, in spite of the king's scheme the man won and kept his wife thanks to the clever wisdom from the advisor, each of us needs to keep our eyes and ears open.  When you face those absolutely, positively, unquestionably, without any doubt un-winnable difficulties remember that old motto “Heads I Win, Tails You Lose” was a lie, is a lie and always will be a lie.  Replace it with, “Really difficult things take a while.  Absolutely impossible just take a little longer.”

     To my knowledge Sophia and Wallace's marriage is still intact.

God Will Make A Way
Don Moen

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