Lisa Joy Samson

A Holy Coveting

Lisa Samson

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.”
A.W. Tozer

I don’t remember the conversation like it was yesterday. I can’t remember the woman’s name who said words that would change my life forever. What I am positive about is that she was the initial human spark compelling enough for me to seek true intimacy with my Creator.

I’m going to call her Mary.

Mary and I were sitting in her kitchen drinking coffee and going over her manuscript. She was a beautiful writer and at the time her words sang in a way mine weren’t quite able to even though I had been published. Around seven books, historical romances and one stand alone contemporary romance, sat in the realm of my writing accomplishments and though I still had so much to learn about virtually everything, Mary deemed my help valuable. The least I could do was show up and pretend to be helpful.

We veered onto the topic of God as always seems to happen around me and in one sentence a whole new world opened up to me. Mary said this.

“I love God so much.”

I’d heard all my life how we are to love God because God first loved us, how Jesus loved God as his Father. But in all my years of growing up in the church I had not once heard anybody express their love for God in such an intimate, heartfelt way.

“I love God so much.”

Right there in a humble kitchen, the aroma of coffee and the everyday hum of the refrigerator, not to mention the sunlight streaming through café curtains over the porcelain sink, heaven burst from inside of her and surrounded me with an almost too-good-to-believe possibility.

Oh, Mary. Such a simple sentence, such a profound expression, one that changed a thirty-something writer forever.

Mary voiced those words like she would have had she been talking about a husband, a mother, a friend, a child. She spoke in her warm and loving tones about Someone who was worthy of that kind of affection. Not trumpets and genuflection and prostration, but affection. I just love you, God. I really just do.

“I love God so much.”

Mary had found her Creator and her heart sang in response. I heard that song and I realized that day it was my song, too. Or rather, it was the only song I actually longed to sing in fullness and in truth. At that point, it wasn’t really true. I loved God because if I didn’t, heads would roll, and that head would be my own.

But now. Twenty years later, that little willingness to understand what Mary was actually saying and why she could has opened a passageway inside my heart.

I love God so much.

In my journey, this desire has been my personal torch that has lit the way through many a dark passage, burned through confusing mists, and continued to help me hang on despite the challenges of learning how to reflect God’s love for me back to the creation God so adores.

I do love because God first loved me. My love for God is my very proof that God loves me. God, I have found, loves to be loved just like we do. And in that simple communion of affection between the Creator and the created ones, lies a love beyond all telling, a love that overflows, spills down the sides, and lights the way. From the love I feel for my Creator, I experience the love God feels for all of Creation. All of it. Because God is All in All.

Love from Love flowing back and forth in and unto Itself.

I can’t explain it for this has nothing to do with apologetics or reason and everything to do with affection, adoration, and trust. Opening my heart to love the Creator as Mary did, changed me forever.

“I love,” is my creed, not “I believe.” For love is what belief aspires to someday become in the hearts that thirst for their Creator.

Thank you, Mary, for opening your heart and showing me that loving God can be as real as loving anything we can see with our eyes or touch with our hands.

There was no embarrassment, no fear in the proclamation of her heart, she was simply telling the truth without shame. I saw a heart that truly loved God, and I wanted in.

I look back on my journey of faith and wonder where the journey truly began when I decided I was all in, no matter what. I thought it was about fifteen years ago. Then about eighteen. But right there in Mary’s kitchen is the new “new beginning” for me. I suspect the beginning will keep moving backward until the day I was born and perhaps before.

God has proven to me over and over again that love isn’t wasted, that when I truly trust and allow my love for God full expression the world changes for I see it more and more as God does, little by little, each foot forward.

I just love you so much, God. Like Mary. And like Mary, I’m so filled with joy that You love me, too.

In kitchens and car rides, sitting alone in chairs or around a table, God shows up to love and be loved because God is love, and wherever love shows up, God is.

The Proof Is in the Peacock

Lisa Samson

“The peacock jumped onto the hood of the Buick and once more spread its tail, sending the flashy Buick into oblivion.”
Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

As a child I loved lying on my bed staring out of the window at the bare tree branches outside, dark extensions pointing to the winter blue sky. Laying my head upon forearms rested on my bedroom window’s sill, I would tilt my eyes to the heavens. Like a lot of children, I loved gazing out of the window, imagining myself flying upward and sitting on solid yet somehow soft-as-feathers clouds. It felt more like home up there. Frequently, birds silhouetted their elegant shapes between myself and the overhead expanse and I would think how lucky they were. Surely sparrows lived without worrying about whether or not there was a Creator God in charge of the universe. Surely not.

  • Omnipotent.
  • Omniscient.
  • Omnipresent.
  • One God, both now and forevermore, amen.
  • Did the birds and the trees just know that?

Though my heart began to thirst for its Maker early on, around the age of eight the resulting whisper of Duality showed up to do its job of making things harder than need be. “If it is possible for there to be a Maker, then is it also possible for there not to be a maker?” Duality asked more in feeling than verbiage. Unfortunately, it sounded plausible.

But a yearning in my soul seemed to prevail in the form of a hard-wired desire. Quite simply, I just wanted to be with God. I just wanted God to be with me. I just wanted to hear my Creator’s voice and feel the touch of the Divine hand. I wanted to know for sure that God was just as real as my mother and father. All this little soul truly longed for was a walk “in the cool of the evening,” to stroll in the purple tones of dusk, hand in hand with God in the garden, chatting about the day that has passed and planning for the day to come.

I didn’t think that was too much to ask, and I still don’t.

God showing up visibly in front of me? Please, God. I want nothing more.

I hear tales of people seeing God’s presence, usually just a portion of it. Many of us were taught as children that Moses watched Yaweh pass in front of him only able to see the back of the Deity that set up pillars of fire and clouds with the same ease a pepper mill is set upon the dinner table.

Where was my pillar of fire, my tower of clouds just showing up and leading the way?

Jesus told me, “Blessed are they who have not seen and yet believe.”

By that criteria, I was radically blessed. Nobody at my church saw visions, dreamed dreams, spoke in tongues or experienced the kiss of the supernatural upon their daily lot. The more overt, charismatic-style spiritual activities, including tongues, was handed over to Satan for credit by those who taught me what and what not constituted the “faith once delivered unto the saints”.

This constricting, limiting criteria of God’s possible workings among humans closed something off in me as a child, depositing a film of distrust over anything experiential yet unverifiable. God was a collection of words in a book. God was cerebral. God could be argued and won. But anything we experienced or felt was completely suspect, so don’t bother with all that “emotional stuff”.

God was so little back then. No wonder I couldn’t believe that a cagey, secretive Being so prickly about every little thing could have possibly thrown The Pleiades onto night’s wing or formed the eye of a baby in its first home of its mother’s body. Saturn spun with rings of ice and rock, comets flared, rivers ran, and trees grew out of sidewalks, but somehow bellicose humans could shake their fists as they marched into hell to defy the ultimate will of the Creator that all should come to reconciliation.

When I began allowing myself to question out loud what I had been taught someone said, “God’s grace sure has a geographical preference,” for according to the teachings of my youth, many would never return to their Creator but burn in eternal torment of flame instead because they had never heard the name of Jesus. Or, let’s face it, even if they had, stealing candy from the cut crystal jar atop the piano could land you there, too. Deep inside me that sounded unfair, over-reactionary, and (may I be honest?) psychopathic. How could clear teachings to forgive others and love our enemies be real if those were things God wasn’t even willing to do?

God sounded unreal.

Finally, I had enough of this whole “Where are you, God?” nonsense. God either had to put up or I was going to shut up, stop asking the branches and the birds and try my best to create a life without a creator that set up an extremely flawed system that, if God was ultimately sovereign, didn’t need to exist in the first place. If God was like the authorities claimed, I might have to take a pass.

And the thought of that broke my heart.

One day, when I was almost twenty seven, I looked at the barren winter branches, silent, flowing upward toward the sky hovering over Fairfax, Virginia. My eldest daughter was playing on the floor our apartment’s living room.

“I can’t take this anymore,” I said to whoever was listening, if there was anybody really listening. “I need a sign. If You are there, God, please show me.”

Not surprisingly, guilt for even asking spread like the blush of embarrassment. I knew the preachers told me that signs are for a perverse generation. Even Jesus said that. But I needed a sign, anyway. I needed God to step up for once in my life in a way that broke through time/space, the spiritual and the material, and make the Divine Presence unmistakably known. At least to me.

Let it stand, Lisa. Let the prayer stand and see what happens.

But I was looking for only one answer, only one answer would suffice.

I needed God to show up. I needed God to come through. I needed God to answer this prayer more than any I had prayed before.

At the time, my then husband, Will, and I were just three years married and living in an apartment complex surrounded by other apartment complexes. Making up the rest of the community of Cardinal Court, tiny postwar saltboxes with snaggle-toothed siding and exhausted gutters squatted in rental-house resignation on quarter acre lots. A block off the tired thoroughfare where tire stores, body shops, dry cleaners, an adult book store, and a Shoney’s provided commerce, our apartment rested at ground level, its boundary fence only ten feet from the back door at our patio. Traffic hummed, people were back-and-forthing all the time, sirens evolved into background noise.

My daughter played dolls on the living room floor as sourdough biscuits baked in the oven, the two inch rise l was so proud of almost complete and ready for lunch. Salmon salad, butter, raspberry jam, or honey if preferred were waiting for Will to spread on his biscuits when he returned home for lunch. For the remaining free time I had decided to hop on Compuserve. Yep, it was that long ago.

The modem screeched and scraped the air signaling with its jarring ring I was now entering the alternate universe of the newly explorable World Wide Web. I checked my AOL email, mindful of the minutes that were racking up a commensurate removal of cash from my bank account. (I’m so glad those days are over, aren’t you?) A movement caught the corner of my eye.

I swiveled around.

Then gasped.

In the small swath of lawn between my patio and the wooden boundary fence the most majestic of all the birds walked as though he was the king of everything. This was no little sparrow that stole my vision from the blue expanse I stared at longing for home. This bird made no sense whatsoever.

His tail, draped like a wedding gown behind him, followed his scaled feet and echoed the colors of his body, his head, and his feathered crown. This peacock was dazzling, yes, but he possessed the air of freedom, of being in charge of his own, precious little life on the outskirts of the District of Colombia. His posture spoke of disdain for things like farms, zoos and fences. His demeanor said beautiful beings should be allowed to go wherever they choose.

An ancient symbol for the resurrection, though I didn’t know it just yet, the peacock was also a symbol of immortality for the ancient Greeks who believed its flesh would not decay. Jesus, who overcame death and showed fearful humans there was nothing to fear about it, became associated with the peacock. It was found in many paintings that depicted the resurrection.

And it just so happened one of these creatures was walking in a ten-foot yard space outside my apartment’s sliders in a tired-out area of Northern Virginia not long after I asked for a sign.

You outdid yourself this time, God.

I stood from my desk, tapped Ty with my index finger to my lips and pointed out the window. If I look back to the one moment my faith became my own and God became a listener as well as a proclaimer, if I hearken to my heart for the watershed moments of my life in the Creator, this was the first moment that I believed without doubt that God was real and loved me. Nothing else God could have sent would have been as perfect. It needed to be a bird for I watched the birds. And the bird needed to come down from the sky for I needed a God who landed in the dust of which I was made. It needed to speak of Jesus and goodness, beauty and a universe where color and composition and light mattered.

“That is the work of an artist,” I said to my daughter, as we stood, stock-still, and watched the solitary parade work its utter miracle in front of us.

That blue. That green. Intense. Moving. Iridescent. Perfection.

But it was the crown that sealed it. “There’s no reason for it,” I whispered. “There’s no need for those little ball thingies.” They vibrated with each step of the clawed feet. They swayed with the proud blue head. They were delightfully silly and the needed balance for a tail that spoke of the cosmos.

I would like to tell you I never doubted the existence of God again for that is exactly what happened. Love came down in the form of a male peacock, who, I found out upon calling animal control, had been on the loose for several years. He traipsed through office lobbies, yards, parking lots, and had eluded rescue so far.

Well, I thought, he has a job to do. That peacock is walking around Fairfax telling people by his mere presence, his beauty and grandness, that a Creator is afoot, and that Creator is, perhaps, a bit of a show-off in design and implementation. And not only does that Creator care, but will show up whenever, wherever, and however an invitation is proffered.

That was twenty-seven years ago and since then not one doubt has crossed my mind. Many people of faith get offended when atheists make fun of them, calling them naïve, stupid, and blind. Not me. People can think whatever they want because I know that in the end God will send them a peacock, too. Maybe not a peacock, but what they need. All they have to do is ask, and my prayer for them is only that someday they will. Not for me. Not for anybody else. But purely for their own knowing that the Divine in and among and through us all loves to make Its presence known. And that presence is Love.

Fifteen years later, I read an article online telling of a peacock’s capture in Northern Virginia. “He just had a lot of people on his list,” I thought at the time.

Hopefully, there’s another one around to take his place for those of us in the world who need a peacock. I can’t believe I’m the only one.

Cigarettes With Jesus

Lisa Samson

“I met the Surgeon General. He offered me a cigarette.”
Rodney Dangerfield

My enchantment with smoking started after my love for Jesus began but not by much.

I asked Jesus into my heart at three, experienced ecstasy at nine although I had no idea what to call that, and first puffed on one of my brother’s Marlboros at ten. Sitting atop the old cedar picnic table, I planted my feet on the bench, struck the match and held it to the end of that Red. I sucked in as though a grape Slurpee pooled on the other end and immediately began hacking, gagging, and gasping. Doubled over, I yanked open the sliding glass door with most of my bodyweight and coughed my way back into the paneled family room. For the next two minutes my brother watched with compassionate knowing as I coughed some more, eyes overflowing with tears.

That was that, I figured. Why would anybody want to do that?

But smoking looked so cool on TV and in the movies. There must have been something to it besides the accoutrement of long cigarette holders, handcrafted table lighters, marble ash trays, feather boas and bejeweled bosoms.

Maybe when I’m older it won’t hurt so much.

Older wasn’t much older. Two years later Salems from the machine up at the grocery store constituted my next experiment, this one with a side of menthol. I pilfered the change in my mother’s purse and walked the mile between our split-level home in suburban Baltimore and the Giant grocery store experiencing a craving I couldn’t explain. Looking both ways, I slid the coins into the slot and jerked the round knob. The green foiled pack slid down to its resting place in the tray. It wasn’t there for long. In fact, it made it into my windbreaker pocket in record time.

Around the side of the store, I settled on the curb, knees high, and fired one up. I was ready this time. I inhaled only slightly. I didn’t cough. I tried it a few more times. It didn’t deliver. I wondered why I wanted one so much. I threw out the pack and walked home with theft on my conscience for having liberated the change from Joy Ebauer’s pocketbook without her blessing.

Jesus must have been with me even then because I asked him along for the ride some years before. Unfortunately, he wasn’t really saying much directly at this time because I knew for sure that any voice inside of me was either my sinful self, the devil tempting me, or the Holy Spirit chastising me. Anything else had to come directly from the Bible because the Bible was the only trustworthy thing on the entire planet for knowing what God thinks. I walked in this darkness, this poverty of soul and spirit not knowing my inheritance as one created and loved by the Creator for many years. Incapable of asking any question outside the realm of acceptability because I was already given the answer by somebody else, somebody in “authority,” I was prey to misinformation and the hunger for power, influence, and fame of others.

Torn apart by the typical image of duality to which even Fred Flintstone wasn’t immune, angel on one side, demon on the other, or more precisely, evil me born depraved or the Holy Spirit who only came around to rebuke, I was deaf to the voice of Jesus speaking to me in tones of understanding, compassion, and love.

As I grew, assuming behaviors with which I would struggle like we all seem to do, smoking jockeyed for position as one of the first in line of “besetting sins”. Smoking graduated from the experimental to the habitual exam week of my final semester in college when I asked for one of my roommate’s Salems. On the back steps of the apartment, the stars of Virginia shining down on a late April night, five years of work coming to a close, I sat by myself. Feeling the nicotine and naughtiness, I decided I liked this! I wouldn’t smoke forever, not even remotely long enough to develop emphysema or cancer, but graduation was a week away and I was ready to live my life on my own terms. This was just the start.

It wasn’t long before buying packs seemed like the thing to do. Benson and Hedges became my first brand because of the classy gold pack. Salems came next because I realized menthols were my jam. After that, Marlboro Light Menthols prevailed for the next twenty years. Cigarettes are like sneakers. You keep trying until you find your brand. Eventually, I was fooled into thinking American Spirits weren’t quite so abominable. They were “natural”.

My smoking became so synonymous with failure it felt like I was walking around with Jesus on one shoulder and a pack of cigarettes on the other.

Jesus said, “Bring the children to me and don’t impede them from God’s kingdom.” My cigarettes said, “Sit the kids in front of the TV and sneak around the side of the house and have a smoke.”

Jesus said, “Go into all the world.” My cigarettes said, “Go to the grocery store for milk you don’t need and have a ciggie along the way.”

I didn’t want to pass along my filthy habit, but like kids do, they eventually realized what was going on and I decided that being open about my smoking was better than trying to deceive them all the time. Due to my upbringing and the Surgeon General, I saw my smoking as spiritual and moral breakdown. Jesus said, “Be Holy like your Father in Heaven is holy,” and I was pretty sure God wasn’t firing up a Lucky when stressed. Wasn’t it better they knew what was really going on? That I wasn’t just trying to get away from them?

I still don’t know the answer to that. The obvious solution was just to quit smoking.

One day, a single sentence changed all that.

Sometimes, when you only allow God to chastise you, the Divine Voice of Grace and Freedom ends up coming out of the mouth of somebody else. But you still know it when you hear it.

Having smoked on and off, but mostly on, for over twenty years, I was bemoaning that fact to my friend Claudia Love Mair, the Ragamuffin Diva, my “me too” friend, soul sister, and the person who believes in God and love and Jesus and hope far more than I was capable of at the time.

We sat on the back deck of my old Victorian home in Lexington, Kentucky, a place stiff in the joints with boundary issues at every window. After listening patiently to my tirade against my own insufficiency and imperfection not to mention willful participation in something clearly terrible for me, she smiled at me. “Why don’t you just invite Jesus to join you?”

I laughed.

“I’m serious!” she cried in a voice more music than speech. “If Jesus won’t join you for a cigarette, he’s not down to be with you in any other struggle you’re facing.”

Claudia knew that Jesus. I was too busy being lashed into shape by his temple whip.

“Seriously?”

“Just give it a try.”

I knew she was right. Jesus would have hung out with the sinners and enjoyed a cigarette from time to time, a glass of wine here and there. He would know how to do the all the fun dances at the wedding receptions.

“But I’m pretty sure,” I said, just to make clear where I really stood, “that Jesus would have bummed cigarettes. He wouldn’t have gone around buying packs.”

I thought about Claudia’s suggestion throughout the day. If a human fundamentally believes in God’s grace, there was nothing about Claudia’s suggestion that didn’t make sense. The next morning, I set up another chair on the back deck facing mine. I lit up My American Spirit and whispered the words, “Okay, Jesus, you’re welcomed to have a seat.”

It felt silly and weird and I really hoped James my next door neighbor wasn’t perchance looking out of his kitchen window, but I said “Yes” despite any of that.

Yes, I am needy.

Yes, I don’t have it figured out like I hoped I would by now.

Yes, you have to take me as I am, Jesus, because I have nothing else to give you. And here it is. The cigarettes are just the starting gun to the mess that is being offered here, you got that? Is this a journey you even want to handle?

It was the first time I allowed myself to glimpse a small portion of the unconditional love of Christ for me, because, of course, God’s grace and mercy applied to all of creation, except for Lisa. She had to earn it by proving herself. And that didn’t seem to lead anywhere. So.

Love me here, Jesus, and if you do, you can have the rest. It isn’t always pretty or nice. It doesn’t always do things cheerfully. It’s as judgmental and self-righteous as it gets. It needs more than dent repair and buffing. It might need a full engine overhaul, but a car can’t fix itself and I have to admit, neither can I.

I’m pretty sure Jesus showed up that day. I had to take that first day, that fresh new chair, on faith. It was scary because it was crazy, but Jesus likes us crazies. He understands what it’s like to be looked at askance, ridiculed and questioned. He was chased, chased down, captured, executed and still maintained love for all. One of his lambs smoking a cigarette?

No big whoop, Lisa.

I lit up, took a sip of my coffee and smoked the entire cigarette. I pictured Jesus across from me, skin of caramel, beard dark and curly. I sat and smoked, wondering why in the world it had to be so hard all the time, why it is we walk around with minds so restless we cannot simply sit, be still, and know the presence of Christ is with us. I knew one thing, though. If the presence of Christ wasn’t with me when I was smoking, when I was exhibiting my inexplicable need to harm myself, it wasn’t with me at all.

In that moment, I knew Jesus had been with me all along. I wasn’t crazy for doing what I was doing. I just needed his company in a way I never had before. In the moment. Being fragile and stupid and reckless. Just as I am.

I know now that the biggest mistake I ever made with Jesus was to think of him as the choosy sort. Jesus has no pride. Jesus possesses only massive amounts of glory he longs to share and unlimited love he’s willing to bestow on anybody who wants it. He will redeem anything and anybody desiring his brand of redemption. Trials into gold. Joy in the morning. The old person into the new. Good common sense into reckless generosity. And a pack of American Spirits into precious communion and loving acceptance.

If I wanted power over other people, to be more correct than loving, or have more abundance than generosity, I needed to find another master, one with flags and bombs, tidy thought systems that didn’t allow for honest questions, the psychological means to make friends enemies, fearful threats and eternal consequences. I needed to stick with the AK47 Jesus, the Jesus who took over governments, the Jesus with muscles, winning arguments, egoic shaming, and tough love. The Jesus whose victories looked suspiciously like those of the establishment, be it the government, the church, or the neighborhood association, would have been more acceptable if I wanted to view my life as a battle to be won. The problem was, I didn’t want any of that anymore. I’d been lulled to sleep by such empty promises most of my life, promises the communists were taking over, the stupid liberals (the filthy liars) hated me and my children, and God was mad and taking names. Don’t be one of those names, Lisa. It felt like suffering, it felt like fear, it felt like smarm. It felt like death.

For most of my life I thought Jesus was the winsome bait designed to lure unsuspecting human beings into relationship with a God who was prickly and narcissistic. Jesus was the older brother who would tell Dad first what you did and take the brunt of the initial reaction. Who was this God? And why did everybody let this God act so terribly against beings that were mere wisps compared to His inherent might, His unspeakable glory?

Jesus told me a different story.

For so long I couldn’t hear him except for some muffled break-throughs due to the sleep of fear that overcame me. But it turned out that for all those years I was only relying on him for willing sacrifice and the occasional first responder to my most urgent prayers, he was busy keeping my parts together for the future when my sleep would abate because of my cry of desperation from dreamland. Jesus told me a different story about God, I realized, because when Jesus said, “If God clothes the lilies, will you not your every need be supplied?” he meant every word. He knew this Loving Creator could be welcomed and assumed into the existence of every part of Creation, including human beings. And when he called God his “Abba,” his Dad, he meant that, too. It changed everything for all who wished to follow him away from the genocidal deity that killed children and kept score like the bitter relative never pleased by anything anyone ever gives her.

What did Jesus know that I didn’t?

God is love.

That’s what he knew. I’m sure of it.

I decided to follow Jesus because his view of God supported my own sneaking suspicions that the Creator’s very nature was beautiful and loving, first and foremost, forever and ever, that the Source of Everything had been maligned since humans were capable of drawing whacked-out conclusions. Jesus said, “God loves the world,” and he meant every word.

I would follow this Jesus to the edge of everything I ever knew and over it if the truth was found in the fall.

For the next couple of years, I had my morning cigarette with Jesus. He came. Each morning, a leaf would be present on his chair. No matter where I was, the back deck, the porch out front, down in the stairwell to the basement of the tea shop I owned at the time, a leaf, sometimes curled and brown, sometimes green, sometimes crimson, awaited me.

In sharing my lack of wisdom, my low-grade addiction, even my enjoyment of the habit with Jesus, he shared himself. I still am in wonder just thinking about grace so beautiful, so real.

In that time of my life, I wasn’t attuned to the inner reality we possess but haven’t been taught or encouraged to access for obvious reasons by those in authority. Jesus didn’t speak back like he does now, but that wasn’t the point. He came until my life began to fall apart and spin. I stopped having my cigarette at the chair. I put my faith in other things, things that were already staples in what I thought would deliver deliverance: more money, more medication, more control. And the leaves from the hands of my first love stopped falling upon deserted chairs. I was heading off on my own.

I thought so, anyway. I should have known the truth, that when Jesus stated, “I am with you always,” he meant it. Falling leaves or no, Jesus always means what he says.

(c)2019 Lisa Joy Samson 
https://lisajoysamson.com