Bodies, are strong, aren’t they? But, like all armor, they have their weaknesses. It’s what’s inside that matters. Simone Biles’ personal struggle reminded the world of this at the 2020 Olympics.
We protect life at all costs and with all instincts when it is our own. Our defenses become skilled, honed, bolted on. But, I think that is what the irony of the Biblical message is, “How beautiful are the feet of them that bring good news” – because reaching out to help others in need is foot bloodying, callus making, dehydrating, painstaking.
Any Olympian knows those gnarled feet are not that beautiful after the long run. It is the message carried in the soul, or in the outstretched hand, in the much-needed funds or supplies, in the scroll or in the book which is so beautifully life-giving.
When there were no postal services, there were the human runners. To greet such a message bearer at the door, to receive the message or item and offer to wash and bandage those feet, is to tend to them with joy and tears.
Judging fourteen-year-old Quan Hongschen with consistent tens blew the Olympic diving record out of the water today. She didn’t do this so much for herself as for her mother’s life. For her chronically ill mother, the achievement brings crucial medication by allowing Quan to afford to fund her mother’s care in China.
Athing Mu raced like a gazelle to the gold in women’s middle-distance running. She is a record-breaker, a testament to the value of refugees who build America.
It is usually only the recipient of the good news who says, “How beautiful these feet!” “What a sight for sore eyes!” “What a savior, you are!” “Such an answer to prayer!” “Your value is a work of art – apples of gold in settings of silver!” “You have saved my life!”
Beautiful Feet Because of the Beautiful Feat
When the servant at the door loves the master as much as the servant arriving with the message, these are the words of one servant to another. “Let me bring you water. Sit here. Lie down. Oh, your wretched feet! They are so beautiful.”
Words are so powerful, and so are the illustrations of the expression. How many times have I put together a piece of furniture or used a piece of software, or read a book that I would not comprehend but for the illustrations? Maybe this is why I love children’s picture books. Maybe this is why I love to include those few pertinent illustrations in the books we publish at Capture Books.
The irony is lying ill from the wildfires permeating the air we must breathe, and opening a bottle of medicine you can take because someone thought to prepare you with it.
The irony is watching an arrow sink into the opening of someone’s armor, and watching words of life pour out, like butterflies from the soul. Blood – butterflies – words – illustrations – help – honor.
“Well, I wanted to catch you on your morning walk. I woke up wondering whether the chorus of spring peepers was singing around the lake yet.”
“It’s not quite warm enough. It’s only supposed to be 63 degrees in Erie today. Maybe next week.”
“Really? We’re supposed to have another blizzard this weekend.”
“Well, that’s a Rocky Mountain springtime for ya. Once we hear them, we will have three more freezes – then, it’s truly spring!”
“The coming of the peepers foretells three more freezes?”
“Oh yes. There’s the onion leek melt, the sweet pea melt, and one more – I’m having a memory melt right now.”
“Ah, ‘Singing Spring’ comes in notes and melts, like your book.”
“None too soon.” I’m huffing and need to hang up on this conversation in order to accomplish this morning’s walk.
“Hey, I woke up in one of those post-dream phases, the phase where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either.” But, my friend also has to go. We say our ‘goodbyes,’ and my thoughts turn inward, dredging up memories, I mean, really distant memories – from lifetimes ago. Mostly good ones. These memories came from this morning’s dream.
A recent National Geographic study polled people around the world—including more than 600 featured in just one study—who say they experienced a new phenomenon: coronavirus pandemic dreams.
Science has long suggested that dream content and emotions are connected to well-being while we’re awake. Bizarre dreams laden with symbolism allow some dreamers to overcome intense memories or everyday psychological stressors within the safety of their subconscious.
The study concludes,
The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into so many different things.”—Deirdre Barrett, Harvard University
I agree with Deirdre. The virus is invisible, and I think that’s why it’s transformed into affecting our dream state.
I keep hearing about the virus. I have lost friends to it. But, we never really see it, do we? Most of us are prevented from seeing the worst of it, even with our loved ones.
This next season of social isolation comes with a promise of a new vaccine. It’s a trade-up.
So as I was saying, I was dreaming of my childhood lunchtime trade-ups. I was in one of those post-dream phases where you’re not asleep but not quite awake, either: the best time to rein in the edges of your dream and frame it before it is erased by cornflakes and coffee and morning light.
I remained as still as possible to capture the details.
We were all back in elementary school. As dreams rarely make sense, my classmates included pint-sized versions of people I have known throughout my lifetime, even my grandmother.
No matter that she was in grade school a full 60+ years before I was; dreams are like that.
So as dreams go –
We were out on the playground. It was recess and lunchtime and a cluster of us were sitting cross-legged in a circle near the swing set. I remember there was a teeter-totter there, too.
We were trading lunches.
Two Twinkies for a homemade cookie.
Bologna for a PBJ.
An apple for a Hershey Bar … (is that a fair trade, really?)
A kid named Robert was in the circle, and he had a liverwurst sandwich. This detail rang true – there really was a kid named Robert in the first grade whose mom packed a liverwurst sandwich nearly every day. Maybe his mom had told him how the iron in it would make him grow up to be a muscle man, but Robert seemed to like it and rarely traded it out. He probably wouldn’t have very many takers, anyway.
I mean, liverwurst.
It was only a dream, but it had real slices of reality sandwiched in.
Maybe you, too, shared lunchtime negotiations back in the day.
You got rid of those vegetables and Mom was none the wiser.
We are almost always alert to something better out there. Trading.
Those murky-dream-drenched lunch swaps – snippets of real memories rising to greet me during the Great Sequester of 2020 and continuing through the springtime of 2021 with the promise of a trade-up. Is there a better vaccine to conquer our isolating fear of the real thing?
Trading lunch is metaphor-speak for what many of us are actually doing these days.
Opening our lunch pail, assessing the situation, and looking up to see what tastes better on that day. Negotiating a trade, pooling our resources, helping each other survive the “liverwurst” of life.
What if we traded sorrows for singing with a chorus of peeps?
Worry for watching the patterns. What is God doing?
Anxiety for trust in the available flavors and coming flowers.
News grazing for cloud gazing.
Swollen ankles for walking the dog.
Despair for Curiosity.
Trading trauma for a sweet pet whose fur accepts our tears.
These are good swaps, life-giving, even.
Switching out the bologna for iron-rich blood, if not liverwurst, then ribeye; trading the mundane for the moment you will savor and return to for a tasty reminder during a day of scarcity.
There’s a song lyric from a favorite musical that goes like this:
The clouded sun shall brightly rise,
And songs be heard instead of sighs.”
What a glorious swap!
A chorus of songs rising up to conquer the gloom – a goofy, ravaged, joyful mix of imperfect voices rise in natural praises every day.
Gathering momentum, drowning out the cries and making sense of the sighs.
I know the swampy spring peepers will lay bitsy eggs, attaching them to vegetation in shallow waters. They may hatch in four short days. Their dream state will end in an energetic wetland chorus.
I rouse myself from my sleepy knowledge-memories to walk amongst the happy spring peepers, now camouflaged, who are not beleaguered by any virus. Their chorus will come melodiously and noisy overnight, regardless.
Crisp late-winter Lake Erie air has done its job. My lungs are woke. My stomach rumbles.
Do you know that 24 hours before the Spring Peepers are singing under the tell-tale ‘X’ marking on their backs, they are wee black tadpoles swimming underwater? Full metamorphosis takes an uncanny 24 hours!
Oh, Get ready!
We will wake from this dreamlike state one day, looking to each other for guidance into the light of a New Normal. We will add our voices to the chorus frogs.
Pass me the Corn Flakes, I can hardly wait.
Kathy Joy is the author of Singing Spring, one book in the Breath of Joy seasonal coffee-table series. This month, her children’s picture book released to the public, Will You Hold My Story? This Shell Silverstein-esque story features the adult idea of listening to a child’s tales in a Mister Rogers-esque neighborhood.
He felt himself falling, the golden ground beneath his feet becoming as quicksand, swallowing him.
Vitality draining, he imagined fainting would do such a thing. Darkness enveloping, his form growing long and thin and weightless. He gulped.
The strain of taking a single breath, to breathe, crushed his chest, his magnificent breastbone.
His screech, like spewed salt, swept from him involuntarily and swathed the prisms of light with sputum. To some watching, the scream appeared as a passing fog of crystals, a sound taking shape as glints of broken glass propelled, lifting, and disbursed to the outer atmosphere.
Robes flew above him; they were gone with the star in his crown wrapped in their glorious folds. He lashed wildly, out to the darkness for help. He grabbed at the star, brushing at the tail of the robe, to no avail and kept falling.
One boast, voiced?
He felt the arms slip around his body, breaking his fall. Flashes of glittering diamonds, swirling beryl, erupted from the onyx atmosphere to applaud this feat. Fires from the hearth of his heavenly station comforted the writhing spirit in arms, but fire is not a living being in that way. The hearth of belonging could not know.
“How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn!”
One voice murmured the epitaph, yet voices, angelic in their choral waves echoed a harmonic reprise, “How you have fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn!” Wings swept over him. Softly, they touched him, brushed over him, and whooshed away without so much as a bow or an embrace. “Hurled! – Hurled!” They chanted. “Fallen – Fallen!”
His heart pounded. “I’m not dead! – Not extinguished!”
Jasper wings stretched across the expanse glowed like a sunset, the great sea of lapis lazuli and turquoise waves swirled and fluttered. Emerald and gold always blooming about him took flight as twines unraveled the bound gift, the seal of his prominence. He was dropping through these lights, these winged friends and servants. He had no thrust to keep up with the races of color evacuating his presence. Had he broken the seal? Was it possible?
A safe weight of powerful command, a throne of turquoise, a scepter of lapis gave him up as the ignoble traitor is dethroned, and toppled him over as he imagined a demolition of empires might feel. His royal placement, denoted by emerald and gold sparkles of his hands and feet, strident ribbons circling his steps and footprints, dissipated as the arms held him in projection, on course.
“Where are we going?” he murmured as the swirling rainbows lifted from around his presence like a ring lifts from a finger. “Am I still falling?”
“You are. This is the third heaven we are leaving now.” The arm held him close to a thunder of pulse.
A droplet, then another droplet, and more wet his face. He was too angry to weep, rage was all he felt, but the tears kept covering his face as he cried out his angst in rage.
What he had said in his heart, “I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High,” was not voiced! It was a mere passing thought! His lips had never formed the words! Yes, but their memory was seared now, a branded thought, even a dark scar as old as a healed wound, the memory of which lifted itself as a new seal, a new reward. And, the words gutted him instantly for his feet had no springboard to ascend above the clouds at all. How far-flung was his own energy with the dissipation of color and ribbons of light?
In a seize of panic, a thought crossed his consciousness, has my authority fled me? And, how can I escape these arms?
Into a velvet robe of sea, the duo fell through darkness, wailing wings screamed eerily and choirs filled their senses with tragedy. “You had the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were the anointed cherub who covered us in delight and warmth, and I placed you there.” The accusation cracked and broke like a hurricane’s wave against a rocky cliff.
They emerged the black sea into prickles of light, each constellation a field, a layer of lights swimming by in silence and strange introduction to yet a new unknown heaven.
But didn’t I know these names in a previous life? The angel quizzed himself. A vague memory occurred to him. Didn’t I oversee the making of records and maps for these constellations and the paths of these planets? An speck, a growing orb of blue and white appeared in the sea of lights. Earth. They were approaching earth.
“You coveted authority and freedom, more than you were designed for. You were not pleased with your appointed rule over our home and our servants. ‘I will make myself like the Most High,’ you said.” The fallen angel felt his face splashing with tears again and turned his head to view the approaching planet. “So, we have decided. You shall practice all that is in your glorious heart in one place of your own. Let’s see what you can do here, Lucifer.” Hints of wrath mixed all through the tearing lament like a soliloquy of fact and judgment, but was it so bad?
After all, they had given him the beautiful one. The arms carried him through the atmosphere of fissured clouds in the dawn, like a fissured tongue, the new atmosphere lapped at his body, tasting him. Where would they rest?
They were no longer falling but searching.
A sun rose over flat landscapes of sandy pink where a small finger lake with glints of turquoise and swaths of lapis came into view.
Swooping over red outcroppings, the arms carried him quickly between canyon walls. Turning into a narrow arm of a cavern, the arms gently deposited him onto a small soft beach of yellow earth and peach streaks. Hovering over the nearby waterway, the spirit rested and glowered over his sore gift to the earth, watching for signs of the angel’s survival. Never before had an angel fallen so quickly or such a distance.
A rising sun was not yet visible overhead, but a certain light from it blued the sky and emanated into space.
A deep joy welled up in the soul of Lucifer. His own jurisdiction to rule? Earth, of all places?
He closed his eyes with relief and happiness. When he opened them, a study of his surroundings filled his heart with the long-forgotten awe and gratitude he’d felt in his youth. At first glance into the calm liquid, his vision cast through the elements so clear that he could see the bottom of the deep ravine at the other side.
The spirit touched the liquid and poured a palmful of it over Lucifer’s bare body, letting the experience of earth’s liquid seep into his skin. A fine, feint lap-lapping sound spirit fingers flipped and flickered through the liquid. Over the palm of his hand, the spirit felt the temperate chill, and he squeezed its deliciousness into his fist, and splashed again in the liquid for another fistful, spraying it on the face of the naked angel lying nearby.
Up, his eyelids fluttered, the angel’s gaze searched the cavern walls. A precipice on either side leaning this way and opening gracefully that way, coming together at the back end of the cavern, like a cradle, like a nesting place for angels and birds. Then down to the water’s edge, the angel looked. His guts clutched breathless inside him with the wonder of the mirrored image. A gasp of earth’s air filled his lungs, and he began singing an intelligible sound at the ephemeral mirror.
Leaning face forward, he searched. Where did the orange and purple shadows in these depths meet the true walls rising above the watery horizon? Was he seeing the image correctly? Was it possible, being able to view through the clarity of hydrogen atoms and oxygen to the acres of feet below, cavern baileys covered by the incredibly sweet liquid? But he must be inside the castle.
He moved to kneel, intending to rise and walk, explore all that was in his heart. Momentarily, and more, called his superior imagination, but his thighs would not obey the instructions being sent below by his mind.
He tried again, then again, contracting ligaments, tendons, muscles. He noticed a ripple under his skin, yet not enough to move his numb leg. A heavy arm and bicep attempted to move towards his leg to wake it from its slumber, to move his ankle, massage out the numbness. These efforts caused him to sweat with heat of his heavenly made now forced energy on earth. Though, the morning cavern remained crisp, chilled.
“What have you done to me?!” Lucifer roared, heaving and grunting to move any limb toward the water. He turned his attention to the spirit being whose presence was slipping away even as Lucifer’s rage attempted a grasping reach onto the ghostly arms.
“You have what you wanted in your heart of hearts,” said the ghost. “You have a complete rule over of yourself on earth. We have given you a whole world to rule. Ruling your own body will come first, of course. You will need to learn how an angel’s body works here to manage it, to control it, to master it, and to allow it to take you wherever you want to go. But, yes, there are miles of continents to explore here, seas, rivers. And, did I mention time? Lucifer, our gifted, most beautiful angel, you will have so much time on your hands to do whatever you long for.”
“What is time?”
The voice of the spirit, at first enunciating, began to dim in expression and volume. “You will discover time shortly. It will be a blessing and a curse. Things will become sequential, so that what you do at first will influence all that comes after. Be careful, then to choose, wisely, Lucifer.” The spirit looked with such lament into the heart of his old chief, that it should have shaken the angel to the core.
“What did you say?” Lucifer’s heart began to pound. Blood began to pump from his core into his limbs, and the pain he felt there astounded him so that he toppled onto his side shuddering.
“There will come an end to time, by the way,” announced the spirit as he was drifting far above the cavern. “At the end, when your test is finished, by then, we will all know the length, depth, the breath of your spirit’s yearnings. At the end of this test, your reward will come, Lucifer, so be brave and be smart about everything that has been given you before time and also in this new realm which we have lent to you.”
Lucifer, feeling a point like a spear jutting into his spine, rolled forward away from the pain, and managed to roll over his face and onto his other side where he could clearly view the rounded sandstone that had brought the discomfort.
Then, a pain as he had never experienced painted his being in tongues of fire. He was a cord of electric current leaping in dagger stabs. If only he could get to the water’s edge, he thought as he passed out.
Lucifer awakened in the lapping chill of the beach. The destitution of his situation kept him in agony. He hadn’t realized that the loss of the spirit’s presence would matter much. Hadn’t he hoped to reach over the spirit, to push him away – far beneath himself? It had only been a moment, but yes, this desire is exactly what he had imaged the gulf between himself and the Most High might become.
Here was the irony of his punishment.
Now that the arms had released him, the presence of the Most High evaporated from the canyon, from the clouds, from the earth, and all that mattered was from Lucifer himself, with a pain of a thousand pins stabbing his skin, pricking his worldly body.
He looked down at his form and noticed that it was his own scaly skin that had developed sharp nodes of protection from the frigged water pooling over his body, a waterway still and long forgotten inside the brilliantly colored sandstone close, yet he must consider the sharp rays of sun settling against the crevice between the crested heights of canyon walls which threatened to fry him in the same hour.
How could he do anything with the sharp nodes piercing his body? He must learn to flatten out his shields of protection into a manageable skin, one that would not poke him conversely on the inside. Lucifer screamed and rolled in the berth of the soft beach until all of the pricking nodes of angel heat lay down flat as glass against his body. A defense, yes, but the last thing needed in this lonesome age was his own skin piercing him forever. Now, that new glass scales were formed, he began to feel a hope of protection against the loss of the presence. The presence of the spirit had always protected him, as though he needed protection in the sixth heaven, but he hadn’t experience the definition of protection until he found himself alive in an unknown bay of shadows and liquid.
Comfort, all comfort lost, and only beauty remaining, Lucifer finally allowed himself to cry. Tears dropped, a shaking began, and then a wail. “Where are you? Where, where have you gone? Why? Why did you leave me? Wh-wh-why am I here?”
Lucifer shuddered uncontrollably with the pain of his reward.
With each wail, each demand, the profane screeches of his voice echoed back over his head into Lucifer’s ears. A pair of owls, wingspan of six feet each, hooed in a crevice above for their confusion and his. The violence of his situation rolled over an acid spirit, acid from the alienation, burning with humiliating isolation from the one spirit who had carefully created and shaped him, given him his starry life and bestowed over him all that he had found relationally merry and good, he wailed. Angelic tears flowed into the cold bay of Lucifer’s strange new home.
Exhausted, Lucifer noticed a silver crown only a short reach away. “How kind of the Most High.” After he said this, his lower lip jutted out, his thoughts moved quickly thinking it over. Why leave it?
A scaly claw reached out and clutched a stone to pull himself out of the cold bay toward the shapely symbol of his old appointment and new. The crown was his. When he reached it, he turned it over and around. The star had fallen out. It would take some trained strength to place it back upon his head, star or no star, but it was an aim so tangible, so earned, that the prince hardened his heart to the discipline of capturing his headpiece again, no matter what the price.
“She will bring forth a son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for he will save His people from their sins.” Matthew 12:21
Hope to the world began in Bethlehem in a small cave that served as a stable. The Cave is under the oldest church in the world, the Church of the Nativity. Many come to see the cave and the star which marks the birthplace.
A few years ago I was given the opportunity to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. As I descended in the dark narrow stairs which led us into the small stable, I felt a glorious hope from God! As I knelt to touch the star I became overwhelmed with the emotions because the birth of Jesus was the divine will of God to save his people from their sins! To save me from my sins! That first Christmas night, Jesus became personal in Bethlehem! “The word became flesh, and and dwelt among us” ( John 1:14). In Jesus’ birth, God declares the hope of His presence. His presence became flesh, with us. What a divine moment.
The last verse of O Little Town of Bethlehem reads, “O holy child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray! Cast out our sins and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, the great tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel!”
May that holy night of our dear Savior’s birth call you into a personal relationship with him, in living a Holy life before God, seeking quietness and silent nights, intimate moments, and may your soul feel His worth.
Hope is here!
What a wonderful and glorious hope we have because God offers us the gift of living hope to all who seek it!
This advent season has ended now. So, I ask, is Christ real to you?
Has He taken residence in your life?
Let Him be born in your heart today.
Diane Andrews lives in northern Montana near the Canadian border in a reservation town called Wolf Point. She was saved and discipled by mentors in Young Life, a ministry to high school students across America. She became a pastor’s wife and is a down-to-earth speaker on the topics of the women of the Bible and how to find Jesus in your real life. Diane is the founder and director of R&R Retreats. Though Diane is severely dyslexic, she is the author of My Step Journal published by Captured Books.
It’s important, though, to remember the former elements of “normal” are still with us, if we will only take a minute to notice.
Take fireflies for instance. What a wonder a single firefly still is to me!
There’s a quote that’s traveled with me for a long time. It’ on my fridge:
Normal Day, Do not let me pass you by in search of some Rare and Perfect Tomorrow.
Mary Jean Iron
This power-packed memento has been a mainstay through all of life’s seasons. With every move, every new fridge, this little saying has traveled with me as a reminder of the splendor in little moments.
The little ordinary moments are ever-present while we sigh and long for: Brighter tomorrows, better sleep, happier children, perfectly manicured lawns, stronger connections, brighter lighting, exotic destinations, more flawless skin, shinier memories…
Here’s the thing. When we are off chasing after a happier reality, the one we’re IN is quietly passing us by.
I’m not asking you to embrace The Summer of Covid, but I am suggesting you uncover the good stuff inside this interval.
Your “normal” will look different than mine.
Here’s mine. The texture of my kiddo’s voice on the phone; it doesn’t matter what we’re talking about – the sound of her voice is life-affirming.
The smell of towels that have been line-dried in fresh air and sunshine.
Summer kids riding by my window on their bikes and skateboards.
Dandelions gone to seed.
Waking to sunlight,
That first sip of coffee,
the hypnotic hum of a lawnmower,
Old Glory rippling in the breeze.
a real letter in the mail,
my music jam,
fireflies in the whisper of dusk.
Not everything is a joy-bringer; some things are a slog through scary passages. But still – not everything is skewed into some narrow margin of “the New Normal”. We can still count on the ordinary, normal things. And those will sustain us.
Kathy Joy writes for The Daily Jab, for Books for Bonding Hearts, and for her own blog, Coffee with Kathy. You can transition directly from ordinary to extraordinary with her Breath of Joy seasonal coffee table books. Find out more! Sign uphere for inspiring posts from this author!