Coal under pressure

Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head;

And this our life, exempt from public haunt,
Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
Sermons in stones, and good in every thing.  As You Like It Act 2, by Shakespeare


Exhaling between her teeth, Joanna ticked off the list she was studying. It was a real eye opener when she got to the part that dealt with stress.

They were given a weighted list of all the things that caused stress; separation or divorce, moving house, death, relationship problems. It was part of a compulsory paper she had to study at college called ‘Interpersonal Skills’.

The stress wasn’t over. She had gone through hell this past year, and there seemed to be no end to the grief. She was still dealing with relationship problems from Silver-tongue with his nastiness, her ex-husband with his blame game, and her mother with her regular bi-polar craziness. Divorce and another house move loomed big on the horizon.

Her only escape was study, and the joy she got from her children. The princess was studying part time for a career she planned once the children were at school.  The qualification she aimed for formed the first year of a degree in Computer Science. The thought of a career in her chosen field brought hope for the future.

Silver-tongue enrolled in the same courses.  He kept a jealous eye on her, making caustic remarks if she chatted to any of the men at break time while they watched the second year students play hacky-sack.  One of the second year students was a lean man in his thirties with a handsome, boyish face and greying hair.  He was in the background.  Silver-tongue took all of her attention.

The next day she told her friend princess Eve, an attractive and graceful blonde about the stress list. They were feeding the deer at the Deer Park, over the road from where Eve lived. Princess Eve found it interesting as she was going through her own trials. She listened as she stuck some bread through the fence, then turning to Joanna she said “You know, coal under pressure forms a diamond.”

Joanna grinned wryly. “It had better be a pretty big diamond!”

The King heard her.  He would see what He could do.  Silver, gold and jewels were good but in His Kingdom, wisdom was foremost.

Blessed are those who find wisdom,
those who gain understanding,
 for she is more profitable than silver
and yields better returns than gold.

She is more precious than rubies;
nothing you desire can compare with her.
 Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
 Her ways are pleasant ways,
and all her paths are peace.  Proverbs 3:13-17

The Pits

Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.  Proverbs 27:6

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with such people.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth.  Timothy 3:1-9

Joanna was caught in a trap with Hugh, the man she named “Silver-Tongue”.  He was a ferocious wolf who wormed his way into her home disguised as a handsome, charming man. 

Naive and trusting, Joanna fell for him, without realising the nastiness that lurked just under the charm.  Her desire was for a man who would put her first in his life.  This did not seem to be an evil desire, but without wisdom it would prove to be her downfall.

A violent man entices his neighbour, and leads him in a way that is not good. Proverbs 16:29. 

As time went on, she knew something was wrong.  In the outside world, Silver-Tongue ate with his family, visited her at night, and slept at his parent’s house.  He’d created a triangle for himself that she hated being part of.  She couldn’t figure out when and how she had even agreed to it.

She tried counseling, but was no match for Silver-Tongue, who could bend and twist things out of shape. He could alter a word, a sentence, or an entire phrase, so that the original meaning was lost or changed in his favour.  He would throw words back at her to challenge her.  He altered agreements, conversations, and events, to make her appear wrong, or stupid, or crazy.  “I never said that” was a favourite statement of his.  She would end up in tears. Forced to defend herself, nothing got resolved.

The counselor did not see the contempt on his face, the curl of his lip, or the sneering look. She saw a caring, understanding, reasonable man who cared deeply for an angry, tearful woman who wasn’t making any sense.

Joanna could see she wasn’t being listened to. In a final appeal, she angrily drew the triangle she had been manipulated into on the whiteboard. “Is this reasonable, sane or normal? What woman would put up with this? I need to know!” She gave up on being heard after the counselor dismissed her, telling her to “swap seats with him.”

Joanna could not understand it. When she had first seen the counselor alone, the woman had been on her side!  She had been shown a circle that showed domestic violence, and given some sound advice. Relieved at being heard at last, she believed there would be a way out.  Her relief had been short lived. After meeting Silver-Tongue alone, the counselor’s attitude towards her changed in his favour.  What on earth had he said?

Joanna gave up, after telling Silver-Tongue to go away. After waiting for a few days, Silver-Tongue manipulated her into trying a different counselor, with promises he would change.  She did not know the counselor he found was from a mental health agency. Silver-Tongue used the grief from her father’s illness and death to convince the first counselor she was mentally ill.

The counselor believed him and without her knowledge or consent, conspired with Silver-Tongue to recommend the mental health agency behind her back.  The counselor sided with the abuser, becoming her judge, never seeing how they had been lied to, conned, manipulated and tricked.  Silver-Tongue was pleased.  He had won.

Silver-tongue earned his name from the phrase “Silver-Tongued Devil”. His silvery words were wrapped in deceit and broken promises.

Fervent lips with a wicked heart are like earthenware covered with silver dross.” Proverbs 26:23

Silver-Tongue was an excellent player of the blame game.  He tried very hard to get Joanna to accept that she was the source of the problems, and for a while he succeeded, because she had not been heard or believed by the first counselor. It made her doubt herself.  Perhaps she was wrong.

Should she have put herself in his place?  What if he was right and he really was God’s gift to her?   Not realising how she had been knifed in the back and abused by both Silver-tongue and their former counselor, she carried on in a futile quest to try and win back his approval.  She tried to change.  To begin with she moved from the two storied house to a cottage in a much quieter area.  Perhaps life would get better there.

Joanna dubbed the new counselor “the Riddler” as he spoke in riddles.  When she told the Riddler she wasn’t being heard, he encouraged her to “tell a story, and then explain.”

In the telling of her first story about a dragon, a Prince, and a King, she had suddenly found herself in another world. She had come into it after writing about going through a dragon’s cave.  Looking around her, she could not see very far. It was foggy, the land shrouded in mist.

Remembering that the King had told her to put up road signs and guideposts, and take note of the highway, she decided to continue with the story. It would be useful for recording the signs and guideposts, and she could use it as a map to follow the road.

This is her story.

Seek ye first; The Kingdom of God, and His righteousness… Matthew 6:33


The word at the levelled hill

Now that she had contact with the King, she read the King’s word with new eyes.  It became personal.  

He promised “I myself will prepare your way, levelling mountains and hills. I will break down bronze gates and smash their iron bars.” Isaiah 45:2

Mt Kakepuku

On a hot summer evening in January, Joanna stopped for the night at her Aunt’s farm, on her way back home from her Gran’s 90th birthday in Northland.

After tea they stood on the balcony overlooking the farmland of the King Country, where the rolling hills sprawled out towards Otorohanga and the old volcanic cone of Mount Kakepuku.

The land had its secret places for underneath the hills were caves that the Maori called ‘tomo’.  As they watched the early evening sun fold into the land, they talked of the farm.

“You see that hill over there?”  Her aunt, the one who had read the bed time stories about the King to her as a child, pointed to a flat hill.  “We weren’t able to make the track over it, or around it, so we levelled the hill top.”

Joanna remembered what the King promised and was thoughtful.

Later, she came into His presence. “You saw it, didn’t you?” the King asked.

“Yes,” she replied, “I noticed the sign.  I am glad that you are going before me, preparing my way, levelling hills.  Where do I go from here?” she asked.

The King replied;  “See, the former things have taken place, and new things I declare; before they spring into being I announce them to you.”  Isaiah 42:9

Then he gave her directions.

“Set up road signs; put up guideposts.
Take note of the highway, the road that you take.

Return, O Virgin Israel, return to the town you left.
How long will you wander, faithless daughter?
The LORD will create a new thing on earth—
a woman will encircle a man.” Jeremiah 31:21-22

His directions were mysterious as the road.  What did He mean by “return to the town she had left?”  Was it Sydney, Wanganui or even Napier?   What was meant by the words “a woman will circle a man?”  Baffled, she decided she would set up signs, take note of road, and figure the rest out later.

Driving home through the King country, she thought about what the King had said.  He was telling her something ahead of time – something she had to watch for.  She had to take note of the highway.  Signs could be seen on that road, signs that the King needed her to be alert to and take notice of.  The other roads had no signs.

She wondered if she would travel the road alone.

“Will Hugh find the highway?” she asked.

“The road is narrow and difficult to find.  Only those that seek the Kingdom of God find it” the Lord answered.

A highway shall be there, and a road,
And it shall be called the Highway of Holiness.
The unclean shall not pass over it,
But it shall be for others.
Whoever walks the road, although a fool,
Shall not go astray.  Isaiah 35:8

Joanna was glad at the King’s promise that she would no longer lose her way, for she had been a fool and gone astray.  She had not even been able to see the road.  The King promised her that she would find others on the road who would guide her at different places.  She was glad she would no longer be traveling the road alone.

 “Although the Lord gives you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, your teachers will be hidden no more; with your own eyes you will see them. Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”  Isaiah 30:20-21  

First contact

“As I have loved you” by Jean Keaton of Keaton Art.

In a time of great darkness, fear and uncertainty Joanna reached out to the King she had turned away from years ago.  After the death of her brother it had hurt too much to believe in Him. 

Her sister who had come to the Lord after their brother’s death had sent her a Bible, and a book of daily readings.  On the day after New Year’s she sat upstairs with the books on her bed feeling wretched and alone.  In desperation she cried out to the King.

He had been waiting for her to turn to Him, and spoke to her very softly, in the stillness.  She heard the words “turn off the radio.”  Even though she believed that the voice was her own, she did as she was told.  She wished with all her heart that He was a God who could talk to her.

The words began; “Fear not. I am here with you” and stopped as a picture came into her mind of a Father, looking down at his baby.  He wore a look of deep tenderness, as He held the baby against his cheek. The words began again.   “Child, do you see that baby the Father is holding?   Although he is holding her, she cannot see him, for her eyes cannot yet focus.  You are the baby. There are so many things I want to show you, but you cannot yet see.

She sighed.  Was that really Him, or was she just trying to comfort herself?  Wondering at the powerful vision she had just received, she opened up the Bible reading for the day.  Tears blurred her eyes as the words poured off the page; “A father tenderly looks at his baby, holds her to his cheek, and bends down to feed her.   The love that God the Father has is like the love of this Father for his child ….  Even when we turn away from God the Father, He never stops loving us in His Father’s heart.”

The word was based on a book in the Bible called Hosea.

The Lord says,
When Israel was a child, I loved her
And called her out

“For such is the Kingdom” by Jean Keaton of Keaton Art.

of Egypt as my daughter
But the more I called to her,
The more she turned away from me
My people sacrificed to Baal;
They burned incense to idols.

Yet I was the one who taught Israel to walk.
I took my people up in their arms,
But they did not acknowledge that I took care of them.

I drew them to me with affection and love.
I picked them up and held them to my cheek;
I bent down to them and fed them.

How can I give you up, Israel?
How can I abandon you?
My heart will not let me do it!
My love for you is too strong.”  Hosea 11:1-9

She wiped her eyes and raised her head, a changed woman.  A feeling of joy ran with the grief.  “I can hear you!”

Being able to speak with the King changed everything.  The next day as she read the Bible, Joanna received her first promise; “When you call, I will answer, I will show you great and marvellous things of which you know not.” Jeremiah 33:3

For such is the Kingdom

For such is the Kingdom

But Jesus said, Suffer little children, and forbid them not, to come unto me: for of such is the Kingdom of heaven. Matthew 19:14

Sitting cross legged on the floor of her Aunt’s cottage, the child pulled out the first book from the set of children’s bibles on the bookshelf.  The night before her Aunt had read them a story from one of those books.  She was curious about the one written of in the stories.

The inside cover showed him wearing a white robe standing in a green field.  He looked so kind, and there were a lot of children gathered around Him.   She wanted to know Him, but did not know how to come to Him.

After she was dedicated to the King when she was a baby, as was the custom, He was forgotten.  All she knew was that He lived in Heaven.  She was told that only good children would go to Heaven, and then she would be told that she was bad.  If she did try to come to Him, would He make her go away?

Sometimes she would sing Him a song with a wish in her heart.   Later that summer evening as she waited for sleep to come, she thought of him in that green field.  She approached Him in her mind, but a dark presence kept her from coming closer, telling her that “only good children could go to him”.  She stood there uncertainly, not knowing He was holding out His arms to her as He dropped to His knees calling her name.

The angel who had been appointed from birth to be her guardian watched her.  Seeing she had come alone, the angel asked the King if there was not some way to be found to reach the little girl.  The angel stood between the hesitant child and the dark one.  The King roared like a lion at the dark one saying “forbid her not to come to me: for of such is the Kingdom of heaven”.

The child approached the King with longing, fearful she would be rejected.  Shyly she touched His hand, pleading “Jesus, I believe in you.  Please, I know that I am not good enough, but I want to come to you, and live in Heaven one day.  Will you let me come?”

The roar subsided as the child approached.  The face of the King softened as the lion turned into a lamb.  He held her as she was welcomed into His Kingdom.  The child could only perceive Him dimly.  Unseen her angel responded with great joy and shouts of gladness.  The joy was tinged with grief, for many of the children of Adam who came to Him alone were dispossessed and orphaned, many of them clad in filthy rags, not knowing who they really were.  If only they could see, if only they could know who they were born to be.  The greatest in His kingdom were those who were like children.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3

This nine year old child was clad in green checked shorty pyjamas that had the motif “my heart belongs to Daddy” embroidered on the front, which brought a smile to His face.  Those who wanted to enter His kingdom had to come to Him in belief like this child.  Unheard by the girl He said “Child, the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to you.”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.  Matthew 18:2

Later on in life the King told her how she had met Him wearing those pyjamas.  She asked her mother if she had been given clothing like that.  Her mother replied that indeed she had, for she had sewn them for her holiday.

Children came to Him very easily, but unless the parents knew Him the child got left in the wilderness.  This child would not be trained in the way she should go.  She would be travelling alone to start with.  Unguided, she would eat the bread of adversity and drink the water of tears. 

It was crucial that the children were shown the way to Him.  It is written;

“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”  Proverbs 22:6.

Encounter in the valley

The road leading to the farm was a narrow gravel road that few bothered with unless they had a reason to travel it. 

The farm

‘Mount Zion,’ a neighbouring farm lay further up the road.  In the Kingdom of God, Mount Zion is both the city of David and the city of God, “the Jerusalem above that is free.”  Galatians 4:26

The farm lay in a lovely valley.  It was hard hill country, a land of rugged slopes crowned with flat topped hills.

Joanna’s favourite place on her farm was a field named ‘Swamp.’  It lay at the bottom of the hill, over the fence from the wool shed and the farm cottage they called the ‘Whare’.  Swamp was bordered by a willow lined creek on one boundary, and a narrow poplar lined gravel road on the other.

Kapok and elm trees grew by the bridge.  The Kaukatea creek ran into a silent pool which the sun drew pictures on with its fingers.

She liked it there because it was very green, even in summer, and the voice of the water was easy on her ears.  The shadows and rustle of leaves through the Kapok trees made it a quiet, soothing place.  Purple Pukeka birds with their bright orange beaks liked it there too, making their homes in the rushes.

The King chose that quiet place by the creek for their first real meeting.

Joanna was at work helping her father move some sheep, positioned to head them off by the gate.  It took a long time for the sheep to move her way.  Waiting, she stood idle in the sun.  Lulled by the birds and the gurgle of the creek, she leaned on her crook and thought about nothing, until He came.

His warm presence added to the peace and felt like sunlight, filling the pleasant and soothing place where she stood.  She felt totally safe with him.

Afterwards she recalled the words having a feeling attached to them, although she could not remember exactly what was said.  He talked about growing up – she remembered that, and he talked about women.  It was almost like having a talk with a really loving mother, except this was a ‘He’.  She didn’t know who it was.

By the time she heard the dogs and the sheep coming, she had begged him to stay.  She never told her parents – they would have scoffed at her and her ‘big imagination’, but she did tell my younger brother and sisters about it.

They didn’t know who he was either.  “Perhaps it was Mother Mary?” one of her sisters said.  They weren’t Catholic; it was just that the song “Let It Be” by the Beatles was popular at that time.  “No, He just spoke like I imagine a loving mother would” she replied.  Who was He?  It would be years before she found out.