Victory on the Vine, The Burial Pt. 3

This is the final installment of the Burial section in the multi-part series, “From Resurrection to Renaissance.” “The Burial, Pt. 3” is the longest segment in this section. However, I hope you will enjoy it.

As I stated in my last post, the burial season was a very sobering time. I spent the earlier part of this season in deep depression, as I tried to figure our how to reconstruct my life.
The bricks that once defined me were now buried under the wreckage.

Where are the bricks for my marital status?  Where are the stones of my ministryWho took the cement of faith that held everything together? I’d ponder daily.

Unbeknownst to me, everything was under my Co-laborer’s supervision.

One muggy Sunday morning, I decided to visit a church I had passed several times. I’d grown accustomed to visiting small, out-of-the-way ministries where I was certain I wouldn’t run into anybody. It was a quaint little fellowship that met in a commercial property off the main road.

I sat comfortably in the back and enjoyed the praise and worship music. I didn’t know any of the songs, making it difficult for me to sing along. Instead I nestled in and was refreshed by the unique sound of the racially blended chorus. All eyes were on me that day, as visitors to congregations of this size would clearly become targets. Ordinarily, I’d be uncomfortable with this; however, during this season my self consciousness was rapidly waning.

As the service drew to a close, a matronly usher came back to where I was sitting, “Come, let Pastor pray for you,” she said waving her hand as if she was sweeping me forward.

I stood stoically at that altar, as the pastor, his wife and staff minister surrounded me. “The Lord says, he knows where all the pieces are,” said the pastor as he gazed empathetically at me. I peered back at him, as the word of knowledge now had my full attention. I hadn’t heard anything like that since my troubles began. The pastor said some other things that day about me being in ministry. I only remember hearing them vaguely.

By this time I had gone into a daydream where I saw tiny, microscopic pieces of glass that sparkled as the sun shined on them. The particles were too small and numerous to count but somehow He knew how many pieces there were and where they all belonged.

I snapped out of my daydream just in time to hear the second minister say something about a man that God was sending to my life. She said he would be God’s good and perfect gift for me, as she expounded on James 1:17. Interesting, I thought as I gazed back at them through my tears. Still, my mind kept drifting back to the vision of the shattered glass.

Then the third minister spoke. “And the Lord said that this is a good church and you are supposed to be right here!” she said practically yelling.I don’t know about all that, I thought as I dried my tears. She continued with her exhortation, which suggested to me that she wasn’t as discerning as the other two. Most of what she said that day, in her harangue, gave me the impression that she thought I was a baby Christian. I nodded politely as I returned to my seat, vowing to pray about it all.

During the drive home, I couldn’t help but think about the last word I received in the service. What was that all about, Lord? I wondered, perplexed.

“When you don’t know who you are, there are people waiting to assign you an identity.” The Lord replied. He assured me that the only thing I had to do was focus on who I was in Him and He would take care of the rest.

I felt comfortable and peaceful that day, knowing my Co-laborer would reconstruct my life.

FAITH APHARESIS

My peaceful state was short-lived. It seemed like in a matter of months, I started becoming more anxious than usual. What is happening to me? I wondered one day as I paced back in forth in my kitchen during my devotional time. The enemy was trying to bombard my mind constantly. I kept thinking about the onset of my troubles and how they seemed to come out of nowhere. What else could happen like that? Something could happen today! I thought as my mind and heart were starting to race again. I would doubt and ponder over the smallest decisions, as though I had no faith. My cares were closing in on me, causing me to be gripped with crippling anxiety. This seemed to go on for months.

Where is my faithWhy am I having a hard time believing God? I felt ashamed.

Galatians 5:6 says:For in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love.

Luke 22: 31-32 says: And the Lord said, Simon, Simon behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Our love for God is supposed to ignite, catapult and energize our faith. Anybody you love, you should have no trouble believing. Love believeth all things (1 Cor 13:7). Any time we are struggling in our faith, we have to go back to the foundation of worship. It’s faith’s launching pad. I knew these things very well, as this was my practice over the years. Still there was a struggle to believe.

“I have taken your faith from you,” the Lord said one day as I sat down at the dining room table on the brink of tears. He told me that he was giving my faith an apharesis.

Before being in full time ministry, I had worked for several years in the medical field. I would hear of certain symptoms and procedures during that time and never understand why the information would leave an imprint on my spirit, causing me to never forget the definition. Over the years the Lord would use this information to cause me to see the parallel between the natural body and the Body of Christ.

An apharesis is a medical procedure where a centerfuge (an instrument) was used to extract the blood from a patient or donor to remove plasma or cells then infusing the blood back into the body. The Greek word for apharesis is aphaeresis, which means a taking away.

“I am removing impurities from your faith and returning it to you,” He continued. I sobbed tears of joy that day, reflecting on how much love and care He was giving me. From that day my faith grew stronger and more alive than it had ever been.

I wondered then if this is what God did for Peter when Satan set out to annihilate him.

FURLOUGH

There were some refreshing times during my burial season. During this time, I had secured a work-from-home, part-time position, which would fly its employees to various cities around the country for training. We’d go to cities like Marina del Ray, CA, or Houston, TX, and stay in four-star hotels for up to ten days. Training was a very exciting time that I looked forward to.

I praised God so much for the opportunity to work from home, as this work never interfered with ministry functions. The down side to the job was there were lots of lay offs which would last sometimes as long as eight months.

I had also purchased a new car. My miracle car, the Subaru, was on its last leg. I worried at times it would break down, leaving me stranded in one of the rural communities that my employer occasionally sent me to.

Using my recently purified faith, I drove my car over to a dealership, telling the sales manager, who I had actually seen on several of the dealership’s TV commercials ,that I had no money but would pay him something in a couple of weeks when some money came in. I stayed there from noon until early evening as I waited on him to decide. I spent the time praying and witnessing to a young salesman they assigned to me.

Around 8 pm, the business manager finally came and approached the cubicle looking apprehensive. “You promise to come back with some money?” he said, now looking scared. “Yep,” I replied. He reluctantly handed the young salesman the keys and said, “Go fill up her tank.”

Once outside, I looked back at my old Subaru. I had named her Crystal Blue. She looked old and worn and if she could talk, she’d have a story to tell. She had been my prayer and bible study room. There were times she had even been my bedroom, during the dark years of my marriage when I could not sleep in the house. She was also a taxi to strangers. Crystal Blue had picked up old ladies, carrying groceries home in the scorching heat; teen mothers carrying their babies home in the rain; and women with so many children, some had to sit on the floor. She had heard my many sobs and supplications. Now she was being laid to rest.

Eager to put my new ride on the road, I drove home to Michigan one summer for a vacation which would wind up being one of my most memorable. There was a family picnic scheduled and I had planned to see as many friends during this trip as I could.

The picnic was held at a cousin’s home who lived the next street over from my grandmother. Coming from a very large extended family, we had to always find some place to gather to accommodate our growing clan.

This would be one of the last picnics my grandmother would attend. I watched her that day, dressed as if she was going to her missionary meeting and not an outdoor event. She sat calmly, scrutinizing the many members laughing, snacking and frolicking in the yard. There was something different about her that day. She seemed to say more with her eyes than her mouth.

“Grandma wants you to bless the food,” a cousin came over to me and said. My other cousin, the hostess, wanted to play a song from one of the Tyler Perry plays before blessing the food.
Oh, good, I thought. This will give me time to talk to God beforehand. I had learned over the years to read my grandmother’s eyes, I knew that day she wanted more than one of those, Lord-we-thank-you-for-the-food-for-the-nourishment-of-our-bodies type of prayers.

She wanted her children ministered to.

What would you have me to say, Lord? I whispered as I meditated.

“Gather them all in a circle; have them hold hands” He replied soberly. When it was time for the prayer, I instructed everyone to hold hands. I could feel my body trembling as I walked to the center of the circle. It was the largest circle I had ever been a part of. I wondered if my voice would carry over the sound of the passing cars.

“A family is only as strong as its weakest member,” I began. I told them about the life and death that was in the power of the tongue and how some family members could not rise above what had been spoken over them. I turned around and around slowly within the circle, looking into the faces of those clutching the hands of their loved ones. I looked in the faces of those who seemed wilted from years of hard living and hurt feelings. There were others who would not look back at me, knowing that in some way they contributed to their loved ones’ pain.

As I continued to speak, the power of God fell in the yard. Some ran up the street sobbing and weeping under the anointing, some slumped back in their lawn chairs, with tears streaming down their cheeks.

I looked over at my grandmother, who was overseeing it all. Her facial expression never changed, her piercing brown eyes continued to search. The family continued to disband, some hugging and crying, others walking to their car for a cigarette as they pondered the prayer.

My grandmother, still sitting in her lawn chair, beckoned for me to come over to her. “When are you going to minister to the family?” she said as I knelt beside her.

“I don’t know, Grandma; that’s hard to do,” I said as I searched for excuses. I knew I would meet much opposition, as there are several who would be bitterly resistant to such a thing.

“When?” she continued pressing me for an answer. “I’ll try,” I said in an attempt to appease her.

“Soon!” she urged.

She died the following year.

Later that evening, with a tank full of gas, I decided to head across town to visit some old classmates. I stopped at one classmate’s house to take her for a ride. “Wanna go by Lisa’s?” she suggested. “Oh yeah!” I replied. Lisa (not her real name) had recently moved back to town. After raising two of her incarcerated sister’s children while pursuing a career in the nursing field, she was now married with a preschool aged daughter of her own. With a string of recent hardships, her family had now wound up in public housing.

We pulled up in front of Lisa’s place. Several of her family members were over, visiting. She was also outside, dispensing some of her homespun wisdom. Lisa was the life of the party. She hadn’t noticed us yet as she stood outside of her place, holding court. Still a golden-colored beauty, I could tell that her recent setbacks had started to age her.

Her sister Barbara noticed us first. “She doesn’t even know you’re here!” she said, laughing and looking back at Lisa who stood there flat-footed on the pavement, telling it like it was.

“Well, don’t tell her I’ll just get out and walk up on her,” I said, as I parallel parked.

I got out and walked towards Lisa. She peered at me, looking me up and down. “Who is that?” I heard her say, in her gruff sounding voice. Her body had now taken a defensive posture. “OOOhhh!” She said letting out a hoarse yell. We laughed and hugged tightly out there with others laughing behind us. Lisa was truly surprised to see me.

She waved her hand, gesturing for us to follow her inside. Once inside, I met her young daughter. “Yeah, this is her,” Lisa said shaking her head. “I shouldn’t have had a child so late in life. She gets on my nerves,” she said giving her pretty little daughter the side eye, as she playfully danced around the room. I knew Lisa had her hands full with her. Her daughter had already discovered how to outwit her mother.

We sat there laughing and catching up on news until it had turned dark. Several of Lisa’s family members had stopped by during our visit. She told one of them to go get Karen. Karen was another classmate who was apart of our circle. She was the one I called the survivor.

After spending a couple of years in and out of the hospital after a childhood accident, her physical condition would eventually heal, though leaving many scars, but not her emotions. Karen suffered years of drug and alcohol dependency that had now left her with serious physical ailments. She had recently conquered her crack cocaine addiction; now she was struggling with alcohol and a series of health ailments.

Someone found her. I was so glad to see her but not in that condition. Years of drug abuse had ravished her beauty but not her shapely figure or her memory.

That night we roared with laughter as we recalled some of our teenage antics. “Remember when Lisa invented that dance called the WALK and had everybody at the party that night doing the dance before the night ended?” someone said.  “Yeah!” we all yelled in unison, as we watched Lisa get up to demonstrate as her young daughter stood behind her, mocking.

Karen had the best memory of us all. She recalled what we had on, what month it was, etc. We all marveled at this, as she was apparently under the influence.

We all needed to laugh that night. None of us discussed our recent hardships, only our childhood happiness.

We recounted the many weekends when several of the girls would come up to visit me, as I had recently moved to another town about 35 miles away. We’d party all weekend, hitting party after party at Michigan State, sometimes sneaking into parties held at local halls by much older crowds.

“Your mom never told us no.” Karen recalled. “I don’t know how she fed us all, and put up with all the noise” she continued shaking her head.

“Lisa, you remember when you made out with Byron?” I said giggling. “Who?” she said, as she blew cigarette smoke in our direction, quickly fanning it away.

“You remember Byron,” I continued describing him and one of her many stories she would tell us during one of our weekend slumber parties.

“Aw heck, I was probably lyin,” Lisa replied in her hoarse, keeping it real way. We howled with laughter clapping our hands and throwing our heads back. I looked up toward the ceiling, wishing the night could last forever.

A couple of others had now joined us and as they chattered with the person sitting next to them, Karen leaned over and whispered, “I hear you’re in the ministry now… That’s beautiful…. Just beautiful” she said. Her eyes had now  become tiny slits that she could barely keep open.

I paused for a minute as I recalled Karen’s many struggles with rehab and redemption. The Lord would show me over the years how He had kept his hand on her, how He had given her great faith and wanted to prove His love to her.

Her great faith was now being put to good use, as she was now on the list to receive a transplant.

Though careful not to discuss our troubles, our conversation grew serious at times. We discussed our cardinal sins, sins that we had been taught to believe were more paramount than others.

“Well, I believe it’s a sin to have a baby and not be married,” Lisa said boldly. “I could never bring myself to do anything like that.” She’d come from a family of traditional values that numbered in the teens.

We listened respectfully to each other, as we waited our turn to reveal our own convictions.

“I could never go with a married man or live with a man and not be married,” I said, when it was my turn.

I thought about the two times that I had dated legally separated men. Both incidents occurred in my early twenties. I was set up with one on a blind date and never informed of his marital status. The first day I met the other, I was so smitten, I never bothered to ask. Once I found out their status: ones divorce was pending, the other hadn’t filed yet. I ran in the opposite direction, telling them to call me when their business was finished.

We took a moment to glance at one another, knowing that we had all, at some point, committed each others sin.

It was now 2:30 in the morning. Karen’s husband had come to get her, saying he didn’t care who was in town; it was time for her to come home. I thought it was nice that she had someone who watched over her. Lisa was nervously emptying ashtrays and straightening up for the night, giving us our cue that it was time to leave. Her chubby little daughter was still up, too delirious with excitement to settle into sleep.

We all got up to leave, recalling what a great night it was.

After dropping one of the ladies off at home, I headed back toward the east side of town. I thought about how much they were a part of my heart and my soul and how much I loved them.

I smiled, like a child does, tasting the sweetness of her favorite candy, thinking about how great it was that we could still have so much fun together, after all these years. As I crossed the train tracks that divided the sides of town, I looked toward heaven and thanked God for the night that He allowed me to be sixteen again.

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2 thoughts on “Victory on the Vine, The Burial Pt. 3

  1. I love your writing style. Because we’re from the same hometown, I can almost visualize the people and places you write about. I feel as though I’m a part of the gathering; I can smell the cigarette, see the faces and I too, am laughing. It took me back to a moment in time.

  2. Lori,

    Thanks so much for the compliment! This blog entry was fun to write. I smiled tonight as I could still hear my mother yelling over her shoulder as we left the house to go to a party, “AND STAY OFF RIVER STREET!!” Soon as we would get in the car we would say, “Where y’all wanna go?” RIVER STREET!! we would all say at the same time.

    Those were special times, still I thank God for His mercy….:)

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