By: Ali ElizabethTurner
Studying people trends and history has always been something I have enjoyed, and it is an odd sensation indeed to have become old enough to have a long look back and understand in a whole new way that Solomon was right when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” My specific reference is to the lethal unrest in places like Charlottesville, and their accompanying ability to keep us riveted to the screen in passive helplessness.

I endured the ‘60s as a young, idealistic socialist radical, and things like Charlottesville were, for a period of about seven years, nearly an everyday occurrence. And trust me, we would have laughed “snowflakes” to scorn for expressing the need for “safe places” if someone dared to disagreed with us. In my day, the Occupy Wall Street types of events of just a few years back were not accompanied by catered organic chicken dinners and time planned in to the digital protest planner to check to see if you were trending on Facebook. There was no bottled water, and you were on your own for food. We bounced along on hard wooden floors in the back of Ryder trucks, and once there was one twin mattress to sit on with which my keister never made contact. If I say much more I am going to sound like a Monty Python movie clip that starts with “We had it tough,” and that is not my point. In spite of Charlottesville and the president daring to say that there was wrong on both sides, I actually am full of hope because of what I know about history in this country.

Before I get to that, I do need to talk about what happened during the ‘60s for a minute in order to give some perspective. Beginning in August of 1965, major riots like what we saw in Ferguson began to occur seemingly back to back, and they were with regard to all manner of subjects. They centered around race relations, the Vietnam War, feminism, generalized rebellion; we were against anything and everything we called “Establishment.” We rejected our parents’ morals, work ethic, hygiene, and faith. Some of us became violent lunatics when the prevailing slogan was “Make love, not war.” It was utter madness.

The Watts riot was in August of 1965, 34 people died, $40 million dollars of damage. Newark, New Jersey was in July of 1967, and 26 people died. Also in July of 1967 was the Detroit riot; 43 dead, over 2,000 buildings destroyed. The 1968 Democratic Party National Convention had violent demonstrations. 1970 was Kent State, 4 died, 1970 and ’71 were the D.C. demonstrations, and I have two friends who were there, one of whom at that point was a friend of Bill Ayers of the SDS, and is now a Christian and a conservative publisher of books, films, and a global internet news service.

Then, something happened. Parents began to pray, and God began to hear. There was something called the Jesus People Movement, and it began in the midst of the utter emptiness of hippie hedonism. On the beach, people were having genuine encounters with their Savior, sometimes even while they were still stoned. Just like in the book of Acts, there were visions and dreams, and by the droves brand new baby believers began to tell others. Was it messy? Sure. I don’t think many preachers here in Athens would be comfortable with someone’s witnessing technique starting off with “Dude, Jesus can get you higher than whatever it is you are smokin’ right now,” and I get that.

But it grew, and it was powerful. Billy Graham knew it was God, David Wilkerson and Chuck Smith did, too, and by 1973 there were over 40,000 kids in Texas Stadium praising God at an event called Explo ’73, and it didn’t stop there. I believe that the prayers of desperate parents rescued a generation, and I believe it is going to happen again, and soon. If you look at the history of revival in America, the darkest times of unrest are what cause it to be birthed. I wish it were not so, but typically people only look upward when everything is falling apart, or seems to be. So, you have a choice. You can wring your hands, or you can hit your knees. Whatever your choice, get ready, because we are ripe for revival, and revival can be downright restive.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
There is a bit of history that has long been used to illustrate being totally committed to either a cause or a crew, and it centers around the tale of the explorer Hernán Cortés de Monroy y Pizarro Altamirano, Marquis of the Valley of Oaxaca. You might know him by some version of the name Hernando Cortez. When he and the ships he commanded landed in Mexico in 1519, Cortez had all of the ships destroyed except one. Ostensibly, that ship would have been saved only for the one in command if he decided to return to Spain, and the scenario had the potential for being one of the biggest games of “Lifeboat” ever played. The uncertainty of their fate would have loomed before the crew, and cause certain unrest. Who would have been worthy to go back and face the sting of failure before the king of Spain, and who would have been chosen to stay and hopefully survive? Thankfully that is something no one had to face.

It is thought that the confusion over whether or not Cortez actually commanded the ships to be burned, as opposed to being dismantled, interestingly comes from the Spanish language itself, as well as the legibility of his handwriting as he recorded the incident in his letters. The word for “burn” is quemando, and the word for “break” or “dismantle” is quebrando. It is easy to see how the legend took on a life of its own with respect to how one interpreted Cortez’s cursive.

Well, now that history has been corrected, we can get back to what has been a powerful phrase used in sermons, songs, motivational speeches and pep talks. Burn the ships! Can you feel the angst surrounding destroying your very source of safety, or in current vernacular, your Plan B? Can you feel the virtual heat as the flames consumed their security? Conversely, can you imagine the sense of adventure that was available in those challenging circumstances?

There was a time in our lives, only a few years after we moved to Alabama from Mexico, when we were potentially facing homelessness. We had to burn some things in preparation for the possibility of living in the 15-passenger van we had purchased to haul around the kids from the Arbol de Vida orphanage where we worked in Ciudad Juarez. One of the things that had to go was my grandmother’s antique tea table, and as I watched it go up in flames, I had to remind myself, as a person of faith, that at some point everything is going to burn up. Not at all one of my most pleasant memories, but I have to ask myself, “What would have happened if in that moment the tea table had been more important than trusting my Maker with my whole life?” That hot, testing fire came to a quick end, and thankfully we did not have to call our van (which we nicknamed “Chester”) our home.

I was reminded the other day of Steven Curtis Chapman’s song Burn The Ships. I put it on, cranked it up, and danced around my living room in worship. While I danced, I thought about some places in my life where I had felt “stuck,” and I realized that in subtle ways I hadn’t been willing to burn the ship in order to get the results I desired and needed. I also became aware of the fact that I was wasting a great deal of precious energy by being in a place of indecision, and blaming my exhaustion on the arduousness of the task rather than the fact that I was at best stalled out, and at worst sabotaging my own efforts. So, dear readers, I leave you with the chorus of Mr. Chapman’s ballad Burn The Ships.

“Burn the ships, we’re here to stay
There’s no way we could go back
Now that we’ve come this far by faith
Burn the ships, we’ve passed the point of no return
Our life is here, so let the ships burn”

My life is here in Athens, Alabama, and if the cost of the blessing of being here was Mimi’s tea wagon, it was a bargain, and I made out like a bandit.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner
It was ten years ago this month that Wayne and Deborah Huff started Athens Now: information & inspiration, and I have had the adventure of a lifetime being a part of it since 2010. It is actually Jerry Barksdale’s fault that I got started with the paper, and I will cheerfully and forever always hold that over his head. Wayne and Deborah had contacted him about doing some front cover advertorial writing, and his reply was, “I can’t, but I think I know someone who would be good at it.” That led to my having a lively breakfast meeting with Wayne at Cracker Barrel that lasted for hours, and an observer of our meeting, who is also a friend, said with a laugh, “You guys were clearly discussing something important, so I thought it best not to interrupt.” That “something important” would eventually serve to radically alter the course of my whole life and career.

For a year I wrote for Wayne and Deborah, enjoying their family, being treated like family, and then in 2011 they decided to sell the paper. My adventuresome husband Steve felt that it would be a good idea for us to buy it, and I did too, but boy, was I scared. Besides writing A Ballad For Baghdad, which certainly was a challenge in its own right, the sum total of my experience with anything remotely resembling producing a publication was when I was on yearbook staff during my junior year in high school, and that was during the Ice Age.

The day “the deal” went down, we met at Jack’s on Highway 31 in Athens, and on the hood of the car Steve counted out the many bills it took to make Athens Now ours, which Wayne then put in his pocket. Wayne and Steve laughed over the fact that it looked like a drug deal. Steve has always been way more comfortable with carrying cash than have I, and most of the time I am glad that he is that kind of guy. However, if I had been a police officer watching this transaction, I would have had cause to think that perhaps something nefarious was occurring, and probably at the very least would have flashed some lights and asked to see some ID.

So, the deal was done, the handshakes were made, the copies of the contracts were signed and dispensed, and I was essentially tossed in the pool of production and told to swim. I don’t think I was as scared to go to Iraq as I was to entering the world of community newspapers!

Thankfully, I had my Heavenly Father; the Huffs; Steve; and my uber-talented, kind, patience-of-Job production guy Jonathan Hamilton to give me ballast. Ever so slowly I got to the place where I didn’t feel like I was going to throw up on Publication Day, which is the first and third Wednesday of every month. They believed in me when I had little reason to believe in myself, and just thinking about it as I write this puts a knot in my throat. I also have had an amazing crew that has worked hard to provide articles, do the editing, the website, help with delivery, and more. You know who you are, and that is why I thank you from the bottom of my heart every time we publish a new edition.

Clients have become comrades-at-arms, and have cheered me on. They have also stretched and challenged me to grow on the inside in any number of ways, and I am deeply grateful. Because of their investment in Athens Now, in an era when newspapers are dying, we are not. Our plucky little paper is defying the odds, and I remain stunned. We are now read all over the US and even the world, and no one could have anticipated that the antics of folks in Athens, AL would go global.
Speaking of “throat knots,” the “repeat offenders” who create that chronic condition in my upper alimentary canal, are the many people, oftentimes complete strangers, who come up to me on the street or in the grocery store and say things like, “You’re the Athens Now lady! I read your paper from cover to cover every time it comes out!” It never fails to floor me, especially when I get mail that accuses me of denying the Holocaust or producing trash. You have no idea what your support has meant to me, to us, especially during the times I have hit the wall and wondered, “Why was it we decided to do this, again?”

And so, my dear, dear readers, please know that my heart is full, my eyes are moist, and it’s all your fault. Thank you again, and here’s to another ten years!

A few years ago, I was attending an international Juice Plus convention in Phoenix, Arizona and I heard a presentation by an award-winning teacher from the Bronx who had revolutionized the lives of the kids in his classroom as well as their families by teaching them how to garden. Many had never seen live produce, let alone had had the chance to eat it. What became known as the Green Bronx Machine started a ripple effect which has now been felt around the world. The teacher’s name is Stephen Ritz, and hands down he is the most passionate educational presenter I have ever heard. His energy is boundless, he refuses to accept that things cannot be changed, and he has even lost close to 50 pounds since he started urban gardening in the New York City public schools. His battle cry is “Si, se puede,” which in Spanish literally means, “Yes, it can be done.” He had all 7,000 of us on our feet and hollering his battle cry.

What is it that he claims can be done? The areas known as “food deserts,” which are a component of urban blight in large cities can in fact be overturned. The result is healthier kids, better grades, healthier families, educational opportunities, business opportunities, and the chance to get a literal tiny taste of the pleasure Adam must have felt in the Garden.

Stephen makes indoor wall gardens, tears up streets in the Bronx to make raised bed gardens, and makes extensive use of the Tower Garden to power his Green Bronx Machine. He has even gotten Tower Gardens into the White House, has been commended by the Pope, has been the subject of several TV shows and interviews, and gives one of the best Ted Talks ever.

On the other coast of America in Los Angeles, Ron Finley heads up the Ron Finley Project. He shares the same passion as Stephen, with a slightly more artistic and philosophical approach. He says he has started what he calls a “horti-cultural revolution,” and has had particularly good success with gang members. He calls his kids “gangsta gardeners,” and they are bringing the revolution in a way that is providing food and building community.

Ron “envisions a world where gardening is gangsta, where cool kids know their nutrition, and where communities embrace the act of growing, knowing, and sharing the best of the earth’s fresh-grown food.” He plans to turn “food deserts into food forests,” garnering a number of positive spin offs in the process. Communities are built and healed when they come together to grow produce and work with the land and each other. Finley also sees gardening as an art form. He is not interested in telling people what they should plant. Instead, he recently said in an interview conducted by Dr. Caroline Leaf that he tells prospective gangsta gardeners “That plant is going to be purple and 12 feet tall. You are going to see it every day, so make sure it is something that you are going to enjoy.” He is a firm believer that you can have beauty and bounty in the same space.

Gardening is what we were made to do, and we have allowed ourselves to get disconnected from our original assignment: “to tend and keep” gardens. There’s a whole lot of healing in horticulture, and good stuff in gardens. Recently it was discovered that soil has substances in it that function as anti-depressants without all the side effects. It builds bodies, minds, and communities, and it’s an idea whose time has indeed come again.

Wednesday was Flag Day, and as they have for the past few years, Athens State University graciously hosted a program that included music and speeches to commemorate “The Grand Old Flag” and all that it symbolizes. To the dismay of some present at the ceremony, it was estimated that almost half of those gathered in the ASU Ballroom did not place their hand over their hearts during our national anthem. Why that was the case, I have no idea, but it made me curious as to the history of the hand-over-heart tradition.

So, I looked into it, and found that many of our traditions regarding flag etiquette go back to 1942, when we as a nation, as well as the rest of the free world, were in the fight of our lives. There became what was known as the U.S. Flag Code, which was written in 1942, and it has never been adjusted, amended or retired. It spelled out the protocol for how one interacts with the flag, others, and music in public settings where we say the Pledge of Allegiance and sing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Interestingly, what we now think of as the proper way to salute the flag was not adopted until 1942, when it was apparent that we needed to abandon what was known as “the Bellamy Pledge.” The Bellamy pledge started in the late 19th century, and unfortunately was a dead ringer for the same motion used by Nazis to show their allegiance to the Fuhrer. Removing one’s hat and placing one’s hand over one’s heart (or a standard military salute for currently serving or former military personnel) quickly became our symbol of appreciation for the flag and all “for which it stands.” When it came to women, back in the day they were not required to remove their hats, due to the fact that hat pins were still in use. These days Emily Post says that women should remove hats if they resemble baseball caps, otherwise other types of hats may stay put if you are a gal.

There was a time in my life when I mirrored the actions of a former U.S. president during public ceremonies involving flags, and stood with my hands folded in front of me during the Pledge or the national anthem. I “abstained due to conscience,” and I understandably as well as rightfully made a lot of people mad. I was the Associated Student Body President at my Left Coast high school, and had been radicalized to the point that I was deeply ashamed of my country. I used such words as “sick” to refer to America, and would have actually been thrilled if it had been destroyed. Then I had a transformational experience with our Savior, and one of the things that took awhile to bloom was a sense of love for my country, the Constitution, and those who shed their blood for me. They died so that I could be an idiot if I chose to, and it was one of the most profound privileges of my life to live amongst them in Baghdad for three years in order to begin to say “Thank you.”

I imagine that some of the reason that a significant amount of people present on Flag Day didn’t put their hand over their heart was due to oversight or ignorance. One older vet at the Museum maintains that “[t]hey are just not taught to anymore.” That could very well be true, but here is my request for anyone who even marginally loves the Stars and Stripes: take a moment to learn how and why we touch our hearts when we collectively speak to a piece of cloth that once upon a time I would have rather burned. I think you might find that you will stand taller and your shoulders will be more squared away, and that is always a good thing.

By: Ali Elizabeth Turner.
About a week ago, my family and I had a chance to see “The Lion,” a remarkable true story about a young Indian boy who was separated from his family, adopted by loving Australian parents, grows up on Tasmania, and then 25 years later miraculously finds his family of origin. His name is Saroo Brierley, and he was 5 when he became lost in the subcontinent of India in the middle of nearly a billion people. He did not know his mother’s first or last name, (other than “Ammi,” a Hindi term of endearment), he mispronounced the name of his town to the point that no one recognized it, and Saroo was utterly vulnerable. He spent two days on the train and ended up in Calcutta, lived on the streets, was nearly sold into sexual slavery, but managed to escape. Before you say, “Look, there’s enough ugly stuff in the world, I think I’ll pass,” I am going to be the spoiler and let you know that it has a real-life happy ending, and Saroo has two families today who love him desperately. It’s also not a chick flick. My husband’s protective “guy heart” was so stirred he could hardly finish the film. I saw that same heart every day when we lived at an orphanage in Mexico, and it is not that of a wimp.

The journey from lost little boy to greatly loved adoptee to a wild searcher/seeker, to a finder and lover of two utterly disparate families is compelling, and worth the ride. Any parent will want to hug their kids and hold them tight, no matter how old they are. It is a gorgeous film, and for the life of me, I have no idea how they got Sunny Pawar, who plays young Saroo to portray a lost little kid in such a convincing manner. His performance was heartbreakingly real, as was that of Dev Patel, who played the adult Saroo. Dev was introduced to the west as the lead actor in Slumdog Millionaire.

So, what are the lessons? What first comes to mind is the powerful role of fathers, in this case, fathers who choose to adopt. Adoptive moms get a lot of press, adoptive dads not so much, and this dad is a true hero. David Wenham, who plays the part of John Brierley, Saroo’s Australian dad, absolutely nails his performance. His understated but obviously deep love for both of the boys that they got from India is like a quiet, nourishing river. What made the Brierley’s situation even more challenging was that Mantosh, who was adopted after Saroo, had even deeper issues, including self-battering which I believe is still a problem, as well as substance abuse. John Brierley was most definitely “there” for his kids, and while he couldn’t heal their torment, I have no doubt that his love and influence was and is their rock.

Secondly, the “lioness” heart of a mom, that of birth moms and adoptive ones is not to be trifled with, and never gives up. Saroo’s Indian mom, who was single, illiterate, and supported her kids by carrying rocks, looked for him literally for years with no resources for the search. Sue Brierley, who is played by Nicole Kidman, is one remarkable mom, fighting for her sons, wanting them close while letting them go. It’s every mom’s journey, adoptive or not. The film shows the moment in real life when the two moms met for the first time, and I am having a hard time seeing my computer screen as I type, just thinking about it.

The quest for finding one’s family against all odds is as epic as Homer’s Illiad and Odyssey. While it consumes the adult Saroo nearly to the point of a complete nervous breakdown, the prize of perseverance and the resolution of his “root” questions inspire one to “dig deep” when it comes to tackling the impossible in other arenas.

Most importantly, The Lion is about the power of love. Love that would cause adults to take on two utterly traumatized kids and raise them well, irrespective of the cost. Love that is insistent upon the truth, no matter how shattering it might be. Love that transcends culture, illiteracy, poverty, comfort and trauma,that is what The Lion is. Rent it and happily bring Kleenex. You are going to need it.

Most of the time I am pretty much death on what comes out of vending machines, with possibly the exception of water. This is because the stuff in them has been relegated through uber-processing to what famed neuroscientist Dr. Caroline Leaf calls “food-like substances,” and rightfully deserves the title of “junk.” However, my heart leapt with joy when I learned that on Saturday, May 20 at 2 p.m. in Tanner, there will be an unveiling of what is fair to say a “vending machine with virtue,” at least potentially.

I suppose the virtuous vending machine could also be looked upon as an ATM of sorts, except that instead of money, you will be able to check out something even more priceless, books from our library! Its official title is a “book lending machine” and it is the first one in the entire state of Alabama. Paula Laurita, the Executive Director for the Athens-Limestone Public Library told a crowd at the Chamber of Commerce about how the community had come together to make this happen through a project called Branching Out. The machine is located in the strip mall in Tanner on Swanner Blvd, safely tucked away from the elements under an awning between Tanner Medical Clinic and Mighty Warrior Church. The address is 20104 Swanner Blvd, and there will be refreshments as well other giveaways, including gift cards.

Here’s how it works: You swipe your library card to get in, and then access the machine’s computer to see if the book you desire is in there. Books will be rotated in and out, and there will be hardbacks, paperbacks, audiobooks, as well as DVDs. In addition, you will be able to return items to the machine, somewhat like taking DVDs back to any Redbox irrespective of the location of the original machine. Some of you who grew up in cities remember the Bookmobiles that would come to the neighborhood grocery store parking lot on Saturdays. You climbed the steps to the bus, walked through and looked at what was displayed on the shelves, checked them out with your paper library card from a human seated at a desk, (who was also the bus driver) and then exited the bus. This is fancier, and there are no humans involved, but it’s the same idea. Paula told me, “This is not meant to replace the library; it is to add convenience and increase service in the county, especially to people who have limited transportation.” She chuckled as she also referred to it as “bite-sized reading.”

Humans will be on the premises for the ribbon cutting on May 20 beginning at 2 p.m., and if you don’t have a library card, you can apply for one. And, speaking of humans, many such beings worked together to make this happen – Steelcase, BBVA/Compass Bank, Brad Stovall, Tanner Medical Clinic, Southside Pharmacy, CR Mechanical Construction, and the Athens Limestone Library Foundation, to name a few.

So, why is this such a big deal? Because literacy and a love of reading more than text snippets is what keeps people sharp and free. When Steve and I were running a school at an orphanage in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, I met a man who was an expert educator as well as someone who had done research on the impact of literacy in contemporary culture. You know what he told me? That the one thing gangs have in common, irrespective of their race, location, ethnic background, or “mission statement” is a disproportionately high rate of illiteracy. In addition, the leaders of the gangs typically are the ones who can read and write. In a word, leaders are readers, and hopefully this little vending machine will be able to inspire some who might not darken a library door to check out a book under cover of night. Many thanks to all who have made this possible, and may it be the first of many in our county, and the rest of the state.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner

I am the unashamed and self-proclaimed Queen of the self-help book industry. If you come to my house, you’ll find that typically I am reading about four books at once on any number of topics, but there is always one in the mix that has to do with getting better….at something. This is a good thing; it beats what my husband calls “lying around on the couch in your bathrobe, eating bon bons, and watching soaps.” Unfortunately, it can also be the creator of clutter if left unchecked. I have such choice titles as Success For Dummies, Your Perfect Weight, Fifty And Fabulous (except now I am in my 60s), and of course, there is a whole section on beating clutter, including the Don Aslett classic, Clutter’s Last Stand. The problem is, that particular section in my personal library to which I am referring is, er, cluttered. Truth be told, I make great strides, and then I backslide.

However, today I learned something about my dilemma that just may prove to be of help, and it’s called the “broken window theory.” I realize we can get fed up mighty quick with feeling like we are at the continual mercy of psychologists and social scientists who have garnered yet more grant money to study God knows what, and then apply their findings to humans. And, from where I perch, humans are fabulous, flawed, they are redeemable if they are willing, and are created in the image and likeness of an amazing Creator.

The “broken window theory” was a concept that was first advanced from a field experiment that placed a seemingly ownerless, vulnerable, abandoned car in a not-so-great New York City neighborhood in order to see how quickly it would get stripped or vandalized. The theory morphed into a much debated criminological premise and of course became politicized, then rejected, and finally re-embraced on a modified basis. In simpler terms, the idea is that if you have a window that has one pane broken out and don’t fix it right away, it won’t be long till that one broken place seems to attract more breakage, and before you know it, someone has taken out all the windows. The broken window theory is touted as one of the keys to urban decay as well as urban renewal, and I think it has some definite weight.

I know that if I plop my purse, keys and other work-related schmutz on the dining room table rather than put it away when I walk in the door, in a maddeningly short amount of time there are piles everywhere, and I get tempted to go put on my bathrobe and collapse onto the couch because it’s so overwhelming. Then there’s the obligatory shame-and-blame-fest, and finally I get fed up enough to do something about it, although not as a very happy camper. However, I happen to believe that God cares about little things like this, and I am fully aware such a concept is annoying to many people of faith. They think that He is only engaged in the big stuff, and you are on your own for the rest. I don’t have the strength to debate that here at this Point, all I know is that I have been praying about my own inner and outer “broken windows,” and BOOM! I came across this stuff today right in the middle of putting the paper together.

Could it really be that simple, that the tiny things add up and compound at the speed of light? It makes sense, and Lord knows, I am ready for a change. The proof will be in the pudding, my dears, and by grace I am purposing to put the bowl used to make that symbolic pudding straight into the dishwasher from here on out, no excuses. Join me?

We have just finished celebrating Passover and the Resurrection, both being the proof of unmerited, wholesale, supernatural deliverance from death. We know from history that not long after Yeshua was raised from the dead, intense persecution began at the hands of the Romans. We also know that it is the mystery of persecution that causes people to either run straight to faith, or speedily away from it. The term “being fed to the lions” has become part of our modern day cultural idiom and is used to describe many other things besides not denying the Savior, including having a rough day at the office, or giving a presentation where there was some push back.

But what if actual lions turn the tables and become the deliverers? In a report that just came out from an outfit that has been smuggling Bibles in the Middle East for 40 years, that is exactly what happened this past Easter Sunday. The story is told by Paul Ciniraj, director of Bibles for Mideast. Paul was raised as a Muslim and became a believer in Christ around 40 years ago. His organization preaches the gospel as well as establishes nondenominational house churches known as Assembly of Loving God, and they live under the continual threat of death. Paul has also triumphed over leukemia. In addition, he reports what many have been saying for the last ten years, and that is, while Islam is most definitely the dominant religion in the region, thousands and thousands of Muslims are converting to Christianity. It is also commonly known that these conversions often come about as the result of visions and dreams, something I discovered when I was in Iraq. Anyone experiencing this type of conversion knows that death could spring at any point from any place, and it makes “Whether we live we are the Lord’s, whether we die we are the Lord’s,” take on a reality that so far in the States we have not had to face.

Paul had himself been attacked by jihadists, and was being cared for in the home of some friends living in a forested area. His group had also been working in the area to spread the Gospel. In the home where he was recuperating, there were also several other believers, including preschoolers under the age of four, a woman who was seven months pregnant, and an elderly woman of 80. Paul reported to World Net Daily, “Suddenly, a group of militants reached the house, armed with steel bars and other weapons.” They all thought, “This is it.” Paul puts it this way: “Losing all hope, we thought for sure this was our last day,” and they began to pray together one last time before death surely came.

Then, what can only be described as a miracle happened.

“Completely unexpectedly, a lion ran from the forest, leapt toward the militants, and seized one by the neck. When other combatants tried to attack the lion, two other lions bounded toward them. The terrified militants fled the site, and the lions left us completely alone,” Paul said.

“Equally astonishing, records show no lions are supposed to live in that forest,” Paul stated.

This story gives me chill bumps, and I have no reason to doubt its veracity. It is a fresh reminder that we need to find a way to live life with this kind of sharply-honed spiritual readiness within, even though we live in one of the safest counties in Alabama. As for me, I am reminded that it’s time for spring cleaning, and I do mean more than my garage.

What if we were having coffee and I looked across the table and said to you, “What are you missing?” Your first instinct might be to panic and think that you’ve misplaced your cell phone. Or, you may think that this is some new, trendy joke, and you haven’t seen enough memes on Facebook, which is resulting in the false dilemma that somehow you aren’t “in the know.” What I would propose is that what you are missing, or may have temporarily misplaced is your “garment of praise.” I know that I certainly do from time to time, and the result is needless stress and being a self-piteous sour puss.

What is a “garment of praise,” and where can I get one? As is so often the case with the Hebrew language, the concept is,( and please forgive the pun), “layered.” The word for “garment” is pretty straight forward. It just is a “wrap or mantle.” Ahhh, but the word for “praise” is a veritable feast. It is tehillah, and don’t get mad at me that it rhymes with “tequila.” I didn’t come up with this stuff! The first layer is that it means “to shine.”

Do you know any “shiny” people? I can think of some, and they are not bliss ninnies, choosing to exude an artificial joy. To the man or woman, they have had great sorrow in their lives, and by the grace of God they have chosen to exchange their “spirit of heaviness” for the “garment of praise.” These are the people that have discovered a great secret, which is, no matter what horrible or exhausting thing is going on, somewhere in all the poo there is a real live pony, and they won’t stop until they find it, train it, and ride it! And, their joy is so inarguably genuine while doing so that they don’t set your teeth on edge.

Halal, the word from which tehillah is derived, also means “to flash forth light.” I think of a lighthouse, something whose sole purpose is to illuminate the rocks that want to destroy your ship, and to bring you home safely. People who have chosen to wear the garment of praise are not only “shiny,” they are safe people to be around. They’ve got your back, and they’ve got your front. Are you one of them?

The rest of the “word layers” have to do with music, being a boaster, (obviously not about yourself), and for those of you who might just have too much starch in your collar, “to be a fool,” or, my personal favorite, “to act like a mad man.” Notice that we never have any problem at all acting like fools or mad men at the Iron Bowl, but the idea of getting that way over all the blessings of life, the privilege of being free, and lavishing our Maker with unabashed, deeply grateful love for being undeservedly forgiven somehow seems beneath us. What are we missing? In this season of renewal, where we celebrate the passing over of the death angel and the triumph of the Resurrection, my assertion is that you need to toss back enough tehillah to make you shine, and wrap yourself up in a garment that will never go out of style.