Never Alone (a short story)

Fear gripped the twins like an invisible noose, ever tightening around their hearts. After 40 years of seeking everything they could imagine to get release from this deadening force, the emptiness they experienced was a hole deeper than either could describe. But they did feel it, a silent, weighty darkness that surrounded their life. When not silent, the darkness offered repeated, piercing accusations that came with a vengeance, digging deeper the hole they felt…

“You are not worth it!”

“Who are you to deserve that?”

“No one wants you!”

After each verbal blow, their heart reeled as another piece of hope would be stolen cutting deep wounds. Over time, their own thoughts had become increasingly lifeless and demeaning, darkened also by the incessant messages of religion and those who arrogantly stood on the side of religious rightness. Broken themselves, these “friends” within their own community constantly shared loveless commands of “Believe this more”, “Do that more” and “Perform more”. Believing they owned “THE” truth dominated the motivations behind their actions which in the end, stole again and again the twin’s hope to be held, cared for and loved, in the midst of their broken, empty and pained-filled lives. The constancy of these messages from so early an age had dramatically disfigured the very face of God in their eyes. Even when they chanced a gaze towards heaven, they would wince waiting for another beat down from Him too. Modeling by God’s so-called “people” had done its work – even God could not be trusted, especially when the twins needed Him most. The lie of mistrust had anchored solid.

Lisa and Tony were inseparable the moment they were born. As the first identical twins in their family, they were held early on with a kind of disconnected specialness. Their parents did as best they could, but time and family pressures eventually scarred their hearts with a growing sense that life would have to be lived on their own. Few identified with them, nor took the time to hear and understand. Growing up, Lisa and Tony did have their unique bond and filled their days with child-like joys. But, as the years passed, their time together became less and less, as they embraced their own journeys and dreams. It was a slow drift apart, but one that was deep and tangible. Before long, a nagging splinter made its way into that core place of their hearts where one’s value and worth is meant to grow and enlarge. Painfully and methodically, wounds formed that would only deepen and spread with each day, leaving each of them with a festering notion…

“You…are… alone”.

“Get over it – you’re just a woman”, became a common theme of the words that filled Lisa’s inner world. Written often and at times with great passion from those around her, Lisa’s heart cataloged the countless times she received “encouragements” of this kind. Whether at home, with friends and especially from many in her religious tradition, she was held in that place of “less than.” Each time it came, even without words, the message went deep. Still, her strong heart had felt early in her life a sense of wonder and beauty about her womanhood and of the deep value that came from simply being. While unsure of its source, this awareness was there, taking every step with her. But, like many other life stories around her, Lisa thought less and less of herself over time as disillusionment made its home within her. Relationship strains and breakups, broken attempts to reconnect, and the repeated description of her lessened value damaged her heart profoundly. Trust evaporated, and one bad decision led to another, and another. Soon the years had passed and the 40-year old staring back at her in the mirror this day was a roadmap of painful valleys with few joys along the way. Aloneness crowded her reflection with its own shadow of deep darkness.

Miles away, Tony experienced the same reflected image as he stared into his hotel mirror after another night of trying to desperately find something to fill his own growing heart void. Elevated by family and friends, Tony’s journey had been filled with favor and attention from others simply because he was a man. Never quite at ease with this treatment early on, especially when it affected his sister, he did his best to downplay the disparity. Joking and sarcasm became his practiced deflection.  The older he got, though, the less he could ignore it. Then, at some point, he came to embrace and expect the special treatment. When he didn’t get it, anger became his emotion of choice. The impact led to coldness and intentional separation from anyone who challenged him. Like a self-inflicted disease, he increasingly believed that he indeed deserved this favor. Selfishness marked his intents and soared directly into the lives of those around him, leaving most feeling used and broken. His guilt increased daily, but because he felt so broken himself, stopping seemed unattainable. Into this destructive pattern came scattered and irregular nights when Tony would dream in his troubled sleep. Each dream would be different, but most would have a recurring, unidentifiable figure, who would come to him with arms outstretched in invitation. In these dreams, a hope would spark in Tony’s heart with deep longing – could it be? Does someone want me for me? He would then wake, unfulfilled yet again.

A few days later, after celebrating their birthdays alone, Tony called his sister, something they had not done enough over the past few years. A meet up was planned for a few days later. Their embrace upon meeting this time felt long overdue, but more meaningful. Strapping on their backpacks, they had planned an afternoon of hiking in the beautiful mountains of the Wasatch Front, just east of the Salt Lake Valley. After some personal catch up for the first mile on the trail, they happened upon a small, but scenic mountain lake, tucked away from the valley below. Stopping and settling down on its soft and grassy bank, they took in the scene. Pine trees and coyote willows, along with scattered sagebrush surrounded the lake, while the red sumac contrasted the color of the yellowing quaking aspen, further up the mountain. For a few moments, they sat in silence, taking in the cool, but silent breeze and the quietness that unlocks reflection. Almost on que, they both began tearing up, as years of stored away pain and loss came to the surface. Slowly, but intently, they began to share their stories. As the bygone pictures were painted, each not only felt the release of being supported, but also the beginnings of their hearts intertwining again. Surprised, they discovered that while their roads had been different, their conclusions reflected back in the mirror only days before on their birthday, had been identical.

Taking some moments to consider each other’s exchange and simply embrace, both were taken by surprise when a lone white dove landed at their feet and made its way between them. Spreading its wings to touch both their legs, Tony and Lisa froze. Unable to move or speak, they thought, “What was happening?”.  In the stillness, they watched as the bird switched his gaze between them back and forth. Unexplained peace flooded around them, tangible and real. Ever so softly, they became aware of a voice making its way into their hearts. It was so clear they both looked around to see if someone had joined them. Later confirming the same message, they were arrested by what they heard…

“The scene you are sitting in has always been, even in your absence from it. This mountain, these trees, this lake, and yes, this precious dove are as real today as they were yesterday and before. The same is for your life and heart. You cannot gain, nor earn, what you already have. You were born into center of my surrounding Presence and Goodness that covers the world you walk in, but more importantly, envelopes you as my cherished beloved. You exist within me and there is no canyon to cross to get back to me. Our lives are intertwined from the moment you were conceived, even though you may not see it. You were born into my world more than you were born into yours. Let me show you — Can you look back and see us walking together?

My hands and feet carry the wrinkles and scars of your own journey – because I was there with you.

My heart carries the same pains and losses from your valleys – because I was there with you.

My eyes and ears have seen and heard the assaults from all who live in conditional love — because I was there with you.

I was there because I never leave. I carry what you carry because you are in Me.

As I experience you, I desire you to experience Me. Separation is not a truth of my existence – I have not been separated from anything. Your life exists in the center of my Presence. Only your blindness, created by lies, denies the connection we already have. But even your blindness is weak to my surrounding Presence.

I am Jesus – Immanuel – ALWAYS face to face with you. You are not alone.”

Astonished and overwhelmed, Tony and Lisa slowly look at each other with a foreign gaze of wonderous perplexity. No words are found as silent mystery marks the moment, each holding the echoing words deep in their hearts. Feeling a stir, their eyes again focus on the dove, who folds its wings, and lifts off in flight and out of sight. Lisa reaches for Tony’s hand, and they sit together as cleansing and renewing tears fall from their eyes, revealing the growing life from their returning sight of knowing Jesus sits with them, even here. Unsure, but captivated by what seems to be new insight, their surroundings take on new meaning as shafts of hope’s light interject courage where despair had taken root. Life can now become a daily awakening to what is – they are not alone, and never have been.

— Mark Francis

The Call of the New Year

What is calling to you in this new year of 2018? A fresh start? Perseverance? Reconnection? Or maybe simply to keep taking steps. I find it fascinating how the switch to a new year, over the course of a 24 hour period, can be so impactful for many. The truth is, January 1 represents simply the next day after December 31. What has shifted that causes the impact we witness around us or even in our own heart? Does time or its shifting actually have tangible power?

While I don’t really have an answer, I do know that events associated with time certainly do. Take Jesus’ entrance. The Bible declares that “in the fullness of time”, Jesus came. In other words, there was an appointment where time had to pass including all the events associated with it before He came. I wonder how much that dynamic operates in the kingdom life we all are seeking to live? What things in our life will come to pass only after a “fullness of time”?

You are not alone in your wondering. This question is resonating in my own heart beyond anything I have experienced to date. Which leads me to stop and explore my present journey and God’s presence in it. What is He calling me to? What of my future has a voice above all voices that seeks to captivate my heart, originating from heaven’s King and Father of my life?

As you ask this same question, I bless you with open channels to God’s heart in order to apprehend what is for you in this hour. In your discovery, may fresh courage and boldness fill you, empowering your steps and giving your life sustaining vitality for your journey into 2018.

Needing a drink?

One of the greatest honors I have is to spend time to hear God’s heart for others. His desire to speak hope, courage and life-giving vision marks the core heart He possesses for each of us. And like a river, this encouragement that only He knows flows without interruption.

So I ask…do you need a drink of encouragement from this river today? If so, please reach out. I will share what I receive privately so that you can consider it with the Lord personally.  Hope to hear from you.

Mark

Against the Flow

Daily we all face a similar struggle, likely centered in our heart thoughts. It comes like a voice of authority, bold and loud — “conform” it says, and to what? That screaming tyranny of the moment, demanding obedience to ways of this world and its culture of self-focus. And when we don’t obey its mocking voice of arrogance? It simply takes another form, surrounding us with attack after attack on the life-giving aspects of our journey, seeking to shift us into “survival” mode. We know its taste that lingers in our mouth, one of bitterness, distraction and life-less action that consumes our best energy. Soon, the moments, then days, and months pass with little vision and revelation. Looking back, we are flooded with regret, wondering in truth what we have lost because we were too busy just trying to survive. Sound familiar? Today, and for each of us in this place, I want to plant a flag of “thus far and no more!”. Our journey, no matter the circumstances, is meant to be continuously marked by life that not only releases hope for us, but also for others around us. How do we do this? Simply put…stop, turn and face the onslaught head on. Whatever the flow against you, Jesus is greater. His life proved that no matter what things looked like, there was more to Him than could be anticipated. And so it is with us. With the Holy Spirit within us, as released by Jesus unto all who bend their knee to Him as King, we too possess life from His own that cannot be anticipated. It beats to Heaven’s rhythm, in sync with the Godhead, and with a power source that NEVER diminishes. We were made to not only stand against the flow, but to charge it with greater weapons marked by the character of God — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and so on. So, stand tall and rush forth into the thick of the onslaught. Like the Red Sea before Moses, every lying voice will be silenced and banished when contested by the real truth of Life Eternal within us. You are a warrior…Let’s become the battle to every spiritual power who mocks the life of Jesus within us. All of Heaven is rattling earth with the cry of victory!