Monday, December 24, 2012

Believe


Children sleeping, snow is softly falling
Dreams are calling like bells in the distance
We were dreamers not so long ago
But one by one we all had to grow up
When it seems the magic's slipped away
We find it all again on Christmas day...

                Yesterday at church a lady teasingly asked me if Santa was coming to see me. I told her of course-since I’m married to Santa! She replied that she is married to the Grinch. I hope this is not true. I know how blessed I am to be married to a guy who loves Christmas at least as much as Clark Griswold does and maybe more, a guy who has a  lot of George Bailey and the Old Man from A Christmas Story in him. A man who, like me, has never really outgrown the magic. Whatever our circumstances may be-and some years have been better than others, financially and in other ways-we always seek to make Christmas special. Last year’s great and shining moment was, of course, presenting Raina with her horse. This year, we took a day trip to Montgomery to see the Alabama Shakespeare Festival’s fine production of A Christmas Carol. It was our big family gift to each other, and it did not disappoint. We had been before, several times, but it had been about five years and so it all seemed new again-and besides, that is a story that never ever grows old.

                In the book The Polar Express, there is a bell that can only be heard by children-children who Believe. As they grow up ,the sound of the bell fades away. “At one time, most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed, it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I've grown old, the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.” Personally, I hope to be one of the ones for whom the bell continues to ring. I do not ever want to lose my sense of wonder nor my idealism to the bitter cynicism that at times threatens to crowd out my joy and steal it from me. I do not want to be one who says that the story of Ebenezer Scrooge’s reclamation is only fantasy, that people never change, that Scrooge’s newfound salvation would have ultimately been shallow and fake, a mere emotional response.

                I know that Love is real. If I look closely for signs of it, I see it everywhere. I see goodness and truth in the everyday, the mundane, the ordinary-if I am actually seeking it, if I want to see it. We really can choose to See. And so I decided prior to our Montgomery trip that I was not going to let anything that happened spoil the joy of that day, and that, furthermore, I was going to try to notice things, because our days on this earth are short at best. It was indeed a blessed trip, the worst thing that happened being some spilled hot chocolate on Alyssa’s dress-but even that did not occur until we were almost home. There was no fighting. There were no car problems. We were afraid we were running late, but it turned out that we actually had time to spare, so we were able to thoroughly enjoy our dinner and then peruse the gift shop at our leisure.

                Before we went to dinner, we strolled down to the park area to watch the ducks and geese on the pond. In the fading light, I gazed at my children and realized that they are now all three almost the same height. I remembered the last time we went to the play, when Alyssa was seven and Raina was ten and Tony thirteen. They were so small. Where did the time go? My vision blurred as I tried to fill up my eyes and heart with the sight of them standing there by the water. Then I glanced to my right and saw another family-a young couple, an older man, a boy of about four, and a big chocolate Lab. The grandpa was pointing upward and I saw that he was showing the little boy a small flock of Canada geese flying overhead. The boy, perched on his grandpa’s shoulders, laughed with delight. The family slowly made its way across the park, tossing a ball for the dog who would chase it eagerly and bring it back, a huge doggy grin on his lovable face. They were happy and relaxed. The boy was obviously thrilled to be with his grandpa, and the parents were holding hands and smiling. It was Real.

                After dinner, which was Cornish hen and other delightful things, we purchased some small items in the gift shop and then sat in the lobby and waited. I watched the people coming in, families who, like us, had obviously been looking forward to this special outing. One little girl who looked to be five or six was wearing a pink dress and pink boots. I saw her tug on her daddy’s sleeve and say something to him-and then they began to dance. There were people all over the lobby, smiling, talking, and laughing. The door kept opening and closing, letting in the bitter cold. But this little girl and her daddy danced together as though they were alone in the room. He twirled and spun and dipped her, and then lifted her into his arms. She giggled and put her small hands on his face and they looked deep into each other’s eyes. It was Real. I know it was, because my daddy used to dance with me like that.

                Earlier in the evening, when we first arrived at the Festival site, we had seen a dog jetting across the parking lot with its owner, a college-age girl, running in fruitless pursuit. Tony took off running, headed the dog off at the pass, and returned her to her grateful and tearful owner. “Thank you, thank you so much,“ she kept saying. ‘I don’t know how she slipped out of her harness.” I wonder if this girl lives on her own. The dog may be all she has. It was a mixed-breed dog, exceptionally ordinary in appearance. Yet the love the girl has for her dog is Real. I could hear it in the panicked voice .We were in the right place at the right time, and my son is very quick on his feet and he knows how he would feel if he lost his very ordinary-looking dog. His simple act of kindness may have made all the difference for this one young lady.

                Everyone knows the story of Ebenezer Scrooge, of course. We own nearly every movie version ever made and we watch several of them every Christmas, my personal favorite being the George C.Scott version while my family likes the Patrick Stewart one just a bit better. We can recite the dialogue word for word. When I teach the book to my English classes they are amazed at how I can go on for several sentences without glancing down at the text. It is not surprising, since some of my earliest Christmas memories involve hearing A Christmas Carol read aloud, and I have read it countless times since, and my children, too, can quote from it. Nevertheless, seeing it on the stage from our front-row seats was a dazzling experience. We laughed and we cried, and we rejoiced when Scrooge went first to his knees, and then to beg forgiveness of his nephew Fred. We lived the story once again, as did the rest of the audience. And when Bob Cratchit placed his hand over his face and sobbed, “My little, little child!” there were more than a few sobs from those watching. Perhaps they were thinking of the little murdered innocents in Connecticut. I know I was. Or perhaps some of them have children who are ill, or are in some kind of trouble. Everyone has a story, and can relate in some way to that anguished, heartfelt, and very Real cry of sorrow.

                There was a purpose, you see ,for Jesus to come as He did, not as a king, but as a helpless baby, a baby born into poverty, a baby whose mother was probably shunned and outcast and whose foster father was made a laughingstock. He came so could he know our pain, feel it for Himself and be able thusly to put His arms around us and whisper, “I know what you mean.” He lived His Story so that He could know ours in a way that is Real. Scrooge’s hard heart melted in the Hand of the One Who knows, and is, the Past, Present, and Future. I love Christmas because it reminds us of the Gift, but it should not be a thing we remember just once a year. It should be Real every day that He gives us. If we can remember that, then we will never stop hearing the sound of the bell. If we just Believe in something finer, stronger, and greater than our finite minds can comprehend, and are willing to give ourselves completely to the One who spoke Creation into being, then we can know beyond all doubt that everything will, in the end, be all right. The Story is unfolding. Choose to SEE. Choose to Believe.

                                                                Merry Christmas.

Believe in what your heart is saying
Hear the melody that's playing
There's no time to waste
There's so much to celebrate
Believe in what you feel inside
And give your dreams the wings to fly
You have everything you need
If you just believe.

               

Saturday, December 15, 2012

At Least I Bring You Hope


If I cannot bring you comfort
Then at least I bring you hope
For nothing is more precious
Than the time we have and so
We all must learn from small misfortune
Count the blessings that are real
Let the bells ring out for Christmas
At the closing of the year...

            Yesterday afternoon as I sat at my desk stapling papers during my planning block-stapling those last tests and exams that must be given and graded next week before school is dismissed for the holidays-I decided to check my Internet news feed to get a look at the weather forecast and see what was happening in the world. Most days I go from one class to another so quickly that I hardly have time to notice anything, and yesterday was no exception. Breaking down Julius Caesar for the tenth grade so they could prepare for Monday’s test, having a deep and serious discussion on The Screwtape Letters with the seniors, and then reading an abridged script of A Christmas Carol with the ninth graders that ended in great hilarity and delight, I was having a normal, albeit it rather noisy, school day. And then after lunch, after the usual banter with my students over chicken sandwiches and applesauce, I went back to my room to face the paperwork. Really, checking the weather was an excuse to procrastinate for five minutes. That was when I read about it-the horrible tragedy in Connecticut. A shooting at an elementary school that left 28 dead, including twenty children.

            There are no words, really, to describe how I felt. Sickened, dismayed, horrified, heartbroken-none of them seem adequate. I sent an email to my fellow teachers because, as busy as we all are, I didn’t know if any of them had heard about it yet. By the time the final bell rang an hour and a half later, many of the students had heard about it. They came by my room to talk to me and ask if I knew any details, which I didn’t. Their big question was, of course, why. Why would someone do such a horrible thing? I had no answer. I still don’t. And, while I know that this tragedy is going to open up a storm of debate about things like gun control and video games and the disintegration of the American family, all of which are valid concerns, I cannot think of much other than the human side.  

            I saw Barack Obama, admittedly not my favorite president, struggle to maintain his composure as he spoke about what had happened. He is, after all, a daddy. He loves his children. He is human .In times like these, it is our humanity that unites us .I do not know any of these families. I don’t know their names or their religious preferences or their nationalities or their political views. I don’t know if those children were well-behaved or drove their teachers crazy, whether their parents disciplined them or were permissive, whether they colored inside the lines or scribbled. I don’t know if they were rich or poor or in between, from traditional or non-traditional families, whether they had buckteeth or were chubby or wore glasses or had a penchant for stirring up a little mischief in the classroom. None of this matters, none of it matters at all. The one thing I am sure they all had in common...is that they were loved.

            Maybe they were loved by a mom and dad who were still together and had never experienced the heartache of a broken home. Maybe they were loved by foster or adoptive parents, or struggling single moms, or grandparents who had been forced by bad circumstances to take on the raising of a grandchild. Maybe they had siblings who looked up to them if they were older, or who teased and protected them if they were younger. Maybe they had dogs and cats at home, or bunny rabbits, or hamsters. Maybe there were already lots of presents already bought for them, waiting to be placed under the tree or wrapped and sitting there tantalizingly. Or maybe Mom and Dad were waiting until another paycheck came, or hoping for a Christmas miracle if they were out of work. Perhaps some of them had new bikes and sleds and skates hidden away in a shed or garage or attic. I cannot know.

            Perhaps yesterday morning before school, some of them had to be sternly told to hurry up and finish breakfast and get dressed. Somebody probably spilled his milk and somebody probably complained about having to wear that ugly sweater and somebody probably just lost a tooth, or was about to lose one. And as they left, as they got onto the school bus or were dropped off by Mom or Dad or Grandma at the school doors, no one knew that that hasty hug, that “Have a good day; behave yourself”- that those would be the last things, the very last. Because the truth is that we never do know, that we never can know, and if we realized this every day, maybe we would be better to one another. Last night as I was grumbling about the horrible tangle of shoes and sweaters and schoolbooks thrown onto the dining room floor, I was struck by how I would feel if there was no chance of that mess being there again, ever. What if I got up in the night to look in on my children and then I remembered that those beds were now empty- carefully, perfectly made, every item in the room in place, never again to be used, worn, played with by those three irreplaceable pieces of my heart?

            Last night my girls sang so beautifully in the school choir, and I couldn’t look at them enough. This morning they are earning Christmas money by taking on the enormous task of cleaning the front room (if you could see our front room, you would understand why we consider this a task worthy of actual financial compensation).In this process, they will get mad at each other and their brother will have to put in his two cents and then they’ll get mad at him. Tomorrow we will be in a rush to get to Sunday school and I will probably yell at someone to hurry up, and at least one girl will be frustrated over her hair and I will become exasperated. But through it all we will still be a family, and we will not stay mad at each other. One of our household rules is that no one goes to bed angry or leaves the house angry .When I hear about things like yesterday’s nightmare, I am reminded of why we have that rule. I am also reminded of why those “small misfortunes” must be learned from and taken in stride. Our time is indeed precious.

            Christmas is ten days away. I pray for those families who will have an empty place at the table, presents that will never be opened by tiny eager hands, a hole in their lives now that makes the world seem a dark and empty place. In ten more days anything can happen, and I tell myself this not to be morbid or fearful, but to remind myself to be a little nicer, a little more forgiving, a little less easily frustrated. I remind myself to “count the blessings that are real” as I ask that God’s peace and comfort fill the hearts of those who have suffered a loss that I cannot fathom. I remind myself that “charity, forbearance, mercy”- all of these are “my business” and I best get on with it. And finally, I remind myself that we should always be as united in our humanity as we are when tragedy strikes-that, as a nation, even as a world created by God, we should be there to pray for and comfort one another, forgetting our differences and remembering only that we are all, at the heart of it, just people after all. Broken, hurting, needy people.

God bless the folks of Newtown, Connecticut-and God bless us all.

“We’ve endured too many of these tragedies in the past few years and each time I learn the news, I react not as a president, but as anybody else would, as a parent, and that was especially true today. I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do.”- President Barack Obama

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Toys


 “Little cars that contained a flywheel in the center. You fed in what looks like today's zip cord, then you yanked it out hard and turned the car loose. They were pretty fast; mine usually zoomed under the sofa or some other inconvenient spot.”-quote from a website about vintage toys, referring to the SST racers

"Marvel the Mustang, he's almost for real, saddle him up, with spurs on your heels. No winding! No Batteries! Marvel the Mustang, we love you.” –yes, real lyrics from the commercial!

            As a child, I think the one think even better than Christmas…was looking forward to Christmas. Perhaps because we were not children who were handed toys every time we turned around, the anticipation of receiving all the toys one could dream of was incredibly delightful. In reality, we probably received five or six toys apiece, with a couple of particularly prosperous years being the exceptions, but it always seemed like a glorious abundance. Having had our family gift exchange the night before, where we opened things like socks and underwear and sweaters and always several books (we were appropriately grateful for these things, I might add), we would dive into bed, shivering with excitement. In the morning, there would be “Santa toys” under the tree, unwrapped, ready to be played with, and stockings filled with small trinkets and pencils and crayons and always a giant chocolate Santa and an even more giant candy cane. While Mom and Dad slumbered, having been up until four A.M. assembling bikes and dollhouses and such, we played and played. When they at last came down to make breakfast, they would sit for awhile and just watch us, and I never really understood the exchange of smiles and the way they almost seemed to be crying-until my own kids came. Now I get it.

            You see, it’s not about the toys themselves. Toys get broken and lost eventually, and even those dearly cherished and carefully kept ultimately wear out. It’s not the toys- it’s the love. It’s knowing that you were able to fulfill some small, yet important wish, some little dream that your child had stored in her heart and mind and was almost afraid to utter for fear it might never come true. When I was little, my brother and I would sprawl out on the floor in front of the fireplace, heads close together, and pore over The Wish Book. Remember those? They were the Christmas catalogs sent in the mail by JC Penney and Sears, and the first section was very boring because it was all clothes, but then you got to the toy part and wow! A feast for the eyes and imagination was there in living color on those glossy pages, and you could begin hoping. We were allowed to make a list but I realize now that most of what we wrote down was disregarded, our parents focusing on the two or three things we mentioned most often and then throwing in a few surprises they knew we’d like.

            For those who might ask if the real meaning of Christmas ever got lost in all of this, the answer is a resounding no. We fully understood that we were commemorating the birth of Christ, and that the gifts we gave each other were only tokens that could never surpass the real Gift. I’m not sure if I ever really believed in Santa, but I pretended I did for a long time, just because it was fun. And then I came to understand that the spirit of Saint Nicholas is a spirit of giving , that this saint who loved children really got it, and that being Santa Claus for other people is a great source of joy. Once I had children of my own, this became even more clear and real to me.

            Two of the Christmas toys I remember best are one I wasn’t expecting and one that I obsessed over for months. The unexpected one was my SST racer, actually purchased as an afterthought by my mother who realized that it was too cool to pass up, and that if my brother got one and I didn’t, I would be sad. My brother was the closest sibling to me in age and we played cars and other boy things together a lot, which was fine with me because I wasn’t especially girly. My SST racer was red and my brother’s was blue, and in my mind their awesomeness has never faded. We had a recreation room that had once been a basement, and we would race our cars in there on rainy days and they would get stuck under the furniture. On nice days we would race them down the sloping driveway, amazed at their lightning speed. Of course they were really kind of junky, but we didn’t know that and wouldn’t have cared if we had.

            Then there was Marvel the Mustang. I think I was three that Christmas, or maybe four. In any case, he rode from wherever we were living at the time, either New Jersey or Indiana, all the way to Jacksonville, Florida where we were spending Christmas with our grandparents. I did not know that my noble steed was hidden under the tarp up there on top of the car. I had wanted him for so long, months and months, that I had begun to doubt I would actually get him. When I did, along with a red cowboy hat, boots, and a holster with capguns, I was stunned. I rode him all Christmas Day, my imagination taking me to a thousand places. I rode him for years afterward, even after I got real ponies and even after I got way too old and too big. Marvel traveled with us when we moved from Indiana to Texas, from Texas to Alabama, from our house in Spanish Fort to a storage building while we spent a year in a condo and finally to the house on Calverdale Circle, where he was ultimately lost in the fire. He was ridden by nieces and nephews and neighborhood kids and then set aside but never given up completely until that fateful day. It wasn’t the toy, you know. It was the memories he represented-and those can never be lost.Never.

            I remember that amid the festivities, amid the cooking baking and choir practices and singing carols around the piano and the chaos of opening gifts, there were moments of quietness where I would gaze at the star, the really ugly multicolored light-up star on top of our haphazardly decorated tree, with a sense of wonder. I would think of the first Christmas and the Baby in the manger, with all of the animals gathered around (our Nativity scene had a bunny and a fawn added by me-I figured all of Creation must have come to see Him), and I would think of how it must have been for Him to give up all His glory and come down and live like one of us, going to school and work and eating meatloaf, just so he could know what it was like to be us, to feel what we felt-and then to die for us, knowing how terrible human beings could be.

            These deep and profound thoughts didn’t come to me all at once, but over time, as Christmas after Christmas was celebrated with exceeding great joy and Daddy reading A Christmas Carol  in his best Scrooge voice and reading Luke 2 while snow fell outside, or, after we moved down South, maybe some rain was pouring down or maybe it was eighty degrees, but the magic never stopped. I thought it would, after Dad’s great heart ceased to beat and his earthly voice was stilled. I have only a vague memory of that first Christmas without him, when all I could do was wish with all my heart that he could be there, and know for certain that this wish could never be. But then, as the years passed and Christmas came just the same, I realized that he was still there, enjoying it with us. And after my kids came and I stayed up until midnight putting together two wagons and a Barbie dollhouse, I came to understand that he lives, not only just beyond that veil between us and eternity, but in me and in my children. I married a man much like my father, so much so that when he refers to “Little Fairy on the Prairie” just to bug me, or reads passages from Carol in a gruff and scary voice, I experience an odd sensation that is probably as close to time travel as one can get.

            Last year when we gave Raina her horse, something that she never thought would actually happen, I understood why my parents looked like they were almost crying on those noisy, chaotic, beautiful Christmas mornings. There is an arriving full circle when you see your kids all wrapped up in wishes fulfilled. For my kids, of course, the first wish fulfilled was us-their “real, true, forever family”. Everything after that was pretty much gravy. I felt the same. That first year, that first crazy Christmas that the big yellow house on the hill was finally full, my husband asked me what I wanted. I couldn’t think of a thing, and have no clue what I actually ended up getting. I just recall squeals and shouts and two little girls and a medium-sized boy in pajamas, with remnants of chocolate Santas on their faces, celebrating Christmas, actual Christmas, for the first time in their lives. To this day they wonder: how did we get that giant Barbie house into the bedroom without them seeing? Magic, my children. Christmas magic.

            It’s not the toys, you know.

 

Did my sister get her baby doll? Did my brother get his bike?
Did I get that red wagon the kind that makes you fly?
Oh I hope there'll be peace on earth
I know there's good will toward men
On account of that Baby born in Bethlehem

Mom and Daddy stayed up too late last night
Oh I guess they got carried away in the Christmas candlelight
And you gotta get up ~ you gotta get up ~ you gotta get up
It's Christmas morning! –Rich Mullins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Ten Thousand Reasons


You're rich in love, and You're slow to anger
Your name is great, and Your heart is kind
For all Your goodness I will keep on singing
Ten thousand reasons for my heart to find...

                The lyrics of Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons” make me think of how rarely we actually take the time to consider the goodness of God-to count our blessings, so to speak. There is so much in this life that we take for granted. We are not promised tomorrow. Every breath I take is by the grace of God alone. In the words of Psalm 100:”It is He that has made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, the sheep of His pasture.” The idea of belonging to Someone greater may be what causes many people to shy away from God-after all, we are supposed to be independent, aren’t we? That way of thinking led to the first sin-the notion that we, in our smallness, can know better than God. Rather than accept and cherish the security and peace he gives, we want instead to do our own thing, have things the way we think they ought to be. In so doing, we disregard the manifold blessings He bestows.

                As an assignment last week, my husband had his creative writing students list one hundred things for which they were thankful. They could even list individual people, individual food, etc. The point was to get into a mode of gratitude. It’s a great idea, and it got me thinking about the fact that were I to do that, there would not be enough paper or ink. So I have chosen here to name and expound a little upon ten things, in no particular order except the first one, lest I get caught up in the frenzy and mania that begins the day after Thanksgiving. It’s called Black Friday, and, while I do not participate in the insanity because I really hate shopping anyway, it does get me thinking about things I want. Ultimately, I convince myself that some of these are things I actually need, and thus I find myself surfing the Internet, cyber-shopping, when I really ought to be doing something else-probably praising God or spending time with people.

                1.God. This may be a no-brainer, but I list Him first because He should always be first. He is, after all, my Creator and the Author of all that I have. While I was as offended as anybody by the President’s “You didn’t build that” comment, in truth none of us would have anything without God. Mr.Obama did not intend this to be a spiritual statement, but an economic one. Apart from politics, though, there is inherent truth in it .God provides the intelligence, the right circumstances, and the drive to work hard and make our dreams a reality. Even those who deny His existence get their determination from Somewhere, and He is the Where, even when unacknowledged .Without Him, I am nothing.

                2.Family. it occurs to me that many people grew up without one. Many people are alone for much of their lives. I was blessed with two incredible parents who taught me right from wrong, loved me, disciplined me when necessary and allowed me to discover my gifts and be an individual. They also provided me with the beginnings of an understanding of what it meant to live the Christian life, to walk in relationship with Christ. Then there were my siblings, who made my life both a joy and a torment, depending upon the day. I would not be who I am without them. There was extended family, grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins, and, later, in-laws and nieces and nephews. Now I have the most wonderful husband and my three children, who are a blessing to me every day. God built our family in His own way and His own time. It is uniquely ours.

                3.Friends. I have so many friends, friends I have made over forty-six years of living. Because of social networking, I have been able to reconnect with old friends and even make some new ones. There are friends at work, friends at church, and friends for life. I cherish each one. It’s not easy to live this life; we all need a little Fellowship to help see us through.

                4.Food. Although over the years I have had a love-hate relationship with food, it is a blessing that sustains life. I am married to a man who can cook magnificently, which is good because I can’t boil water. No, I really can’t-I once put on some for tea and forgot about it and burned a hole in the pot. Food is connected with memories, fond and happy memories. It is a way that people show that they care, as evidenced when there is sickness or death and people bring in food by the ton. It was once my nemesis but now that it no longer controls me, I can enjoy it the way it was intended. Meals shared with family and friends have a special warmth and are filling in a way that goes beyond the physical.

                5.Books. To say I love to read is inaccurate. Reading is not a hobby or a pastime for me; rather it is life. It is through books that I find comfort and peace. I encounter God through the pages of literature. Forty-three years of reading has been a true gift. I have lived thousands of lives and my head is stuffed with words and thoughts and ideas that I return to time and again. I cannot begin to describe what books are to me-friends ,portals to wonder and delight-nothing can really explain it, and I wish everyone felt about reading as I do.

                6.Animals. I love our dogs and horse and other pets, but I am in general astounded by God’s diversity in Creation. It is another of the ways in which I experience Him and feel a true connection. I have been fond of and fascinated with animals all my life. When I was younger I found much solace in the fact that there were beings in this world who didn’t judge you but only loved you. My childhood pets were not just animals, they were family. Today, I have a dog who I am firmly convinced is God’s emissary. She came to me at a time when I desperately needed her, and she has been an essential part of my son’s healing. Like books, animals have also been such a natural part of my life that I cannot imagine things any other way. God made them for us to care for and love and enjoy. There are many that He made for food and to serve in other ways, but I believe that some were created for the sole purpose of companionship, and I see dogs and horses as being very different from other kinds of animals as far as the way they relate to humans. I think that was intentional, a part of God’s great plan.

                7.Music. Another consistent element in my life, music has been ever in the background. I have particular songs that I think of as part of “the soundtrack of my life”. They define me and who I am. I am as eclectic in my musical tastes as I am with books and food. I love everything from classical to jazz to folk to country to Christian contemporary and pretty much everything in between. Songs evoke memories, bring joy, and sometimes move me to tears. It is an expression of the human condition, in all its comedy and tragedy.

                8. My students. I could say my job, and I do love my job, but it could not be what it is without my students .Their energy and life, their humor and compassion, their emerging sense of self, their sometimes surprisingly mature insights, all make my teaching worthwhile. Even on the bad days, I remind myself of how blessed I am to be a part of their lives. No two days are alike, and I never know what someone might say or write to make me laugh or cry or think. I hope I inspire them, but how much more they inspire me.

                9.Toys. Yes, I still love toys. I love puppets and stuffed animals and games of all kinds. I like to build with Legos and Tinkertoys, color with markers and crayons, and play boardgames with my family and friends. It is good sometimes to just play, to be a child and have fun, to create something from Playdough or paint and revel in it.When my kids were younger I relished those times of play with them. They have outgrown some things now, but we still play all kinds of games together and sometimes we draw and color and, every now and then, break out the Tinkertoys and wooden blocks and toy animals and build something. Then there is the Wii. I am a beast at the trivia games, but still have not mastered MarioKart or Wipeout. Nevertheless, it’s amusing to try.

                10. Movies. From the first movie I saw, which was Mary Poppins, I was hooked on the magic of films. They aren’t usually as good as books, but they are still stories to be experienced. Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang, Doctor Dolittle, The Sound of Music, Oliver!,Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, a thousand others that I saw with my family as a child. When I go to the movies now, I still experience a little of that childhood excitement, especially when the film is something much-anticipated, like the Narnia or Lord of the Rings films and the upcoming Hobbit movie. Plays are wonderful, too, but I haven’t seen as many of those since they aren’t as affordable. In my house, movie viewing is rarely a solitary activity-we watch together. We watch, and we talk, and we share. Occasionally, though, I will watch a Netflix movie on my Kindle Fire, usually because it is something so terribly lame that I know no one else wants to see it, but it’s generally some kind of nostalgia thing that I alone understand. Each season has its particular movies-in the summer we watch superhero films and comedies and musicals and magical things. In the fall we pull out the thrillers followed by a multitude of Christmas movies. At some point every year we do a Lord of the Rings marathon. These are not just movie nights, they are family nights, and they are becoming rarer the older and busier my kids get. Thus, they are all the more precious and sweet.

                Can one find God in all the things I have listed above? Absolutely. One of the many things I love about my church is the variety of people and personalities. There is an innate understanding that, while Jesus is the only path to God, there are many different paths we take to find Jesus, to experience Him fully and completely. In my church I feel accepted, and I know that, as long as we agree on the majors, we can respectfully and lovingly agree to disagree on the minors. The picture of Christianity I get from my friends, family, church family, and others around me is something akin to a collage or a very beautiful mosaic. We all are thankful for God’s blessings, but some may regard football as a blessing while others are more intrigued by the ballet and others by intellectual pursuits. He speaks to us all in different ways, but it’s okay as long as we hear Him.

                So, I am very thankful today, for ten thousand reasons (at least), and among them for you who read this blog. I hope it ministers to you, and that, if your heart is hurting , the things I write about will make you smile and maybe even seek the Source of all that is good. Happy Thanksgiving, and love to all!

And on that day when my strength is failing
The end draws near and my time has come
Still my soul will sing Your praise unending
Ten thousand years and then forevermore.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Dream


Just because everything's changing
Doesn't mean it's never been this way before
All you can do is try to know who your friends are
As you head off to the war
Pick a star on the dark horizon and follow the light
You'll come back when it's over
No need to say goodbye
You'll come back when it's over
No need to say goodbye. –Regina Spektor

                I have a lot of strange dreams. Sometimes they are awesome; sometimes they are terrifying. Often they are hysterically, ridiculously funny or totally random and make about as much sense as your average Adventure Time episode. Considering that my brain is stuffed with years of literature and movies and simple everyday experiences, plus a few major events that range from glorious to comic to tragic, I suppose the overflow into my unconscious mind is to be expected. Thus, I don’t spend a lot of time trying to figure most of  my dreams out.But on Thursday night I had one that seemed...different. One of the few dreams I have had where I felt that God may have been trying to tell me Something.

                It began with a newscast on television, an announcement that a storm of Biblical proportions was coming. With one week at the most to prepare, scientists and engineers were frantically trying to design a vehicle that could convert from a car/bus/truck/trailer to a sort of ship or boat. This would, they hoped, save thousands, perhaps millions of lives. With dark warnings that people needed to gather up “every living creature” along with their most prized possessions and enough food and water to last several months, the newscasters told us to purchase these vehicles as soon as they were perfected. My husband bought one big enough for the five of us, plus my mom and sisters and some friends. His brother bought one also and so did most of our friends and neighbors. Some, however, refused to believe it was really going to happen, despite our desperate attempts to convince them.

                Soon a caravan was assembled, with our vehicle in the lead, my brother-in-law’s just behind and three more behind his, filled with various people dear to us. Everyone had their pets and their family photos and the other little things that we cherish and deem irreplaceable. Our bus, and one other, had horse trailers attached which would also float. Legend and his pasture mate, Ghost, were safely stowed in the trailer with their hay and feed and water, and Alyssa had carefully arranged the cages and aquariums that house our rabbits, guinea pig, rat, turtle, and fish. Of course all of the dogs, six to be exact, and my mother’s Siamese CAT were on the bus with us. As we prepared to pull out, our pastor leaned in the window and said, “If you need me, I’ll come alongside.” His vehicle was, of course, filled with his own family and many church members and a menagerie of animals. It was so comforting to know that our spiritual shepherd was there for his flock.

                As we started on the journey to an unknown destination-we had just been told to “Head north”- we stayed in contact via cell phone. But then the predicted rain started to fall, and within hours it was bucketing down and rising on all sides. We converted our vehicle to ship mode as did the others in our convoy, and soon we were cut off from all communication with them as one by one cell phone towers were knocked out. I, in the meantime, was looking frantically for Tony. “Mom, I’m here,” a young man kept insisting-but he didn’t look like Tony. Finally my husband reassured me that it was indeed Tony, and I believed him, but I could not figure out why I didn’t recognize my own son. As we fought to stay on course amid the rough waters, I suddenly heard a voice. It sounded like my dad, but I knew it was the voice of God. “It’s going to be rough in places, “ He said, “but don’t worry. I’m here with you.”

                In the final scene of this dream, which seemed to go on for hours but was probably only ten minutes or so, Raina came to the front of the bus and said, “Dad, I need some help with the horses.” He turned to me and said, “I’ll only be gone for a little while; you take over.” My first response was, “I can’t; I can’t do this,” but he left anyway and I was steering on my own. Only-I wasn’t on my own. The voice spoke again, my dad’s voice that was really my Heavenly Father, and He said, “Just stay strong and keep going straight. Don’t go to the left or the right. Keep looking ahead.” In the next moment, I saw in the sky the face of a huge lion, and then there was a brilliant flash of light and someone gasped, “There He is!” and I woke up with tears on my face.

                So what does this mean? Maybe nothing. Maybe it only represents my hopes and my secret fears. Maybe I’ve read too many fantasy novels and mixed them all up with the Bible. There are five different interpretations of the book of Revelation that are generally accepted as being possibly correct, and all of my life I have heard the story of Noah’s Ark and heard terms like “the Rapture” and “The Second Coming.” My beloved childhood preacher, Pierre Burns, held to the same philosophy about Revelation that my father did. “All I know,” he said, “is that the good guys win.” I’ve read the wonderful novels of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne and of course I am a rabid fan of C.S.Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien. Add in a dose of good old hellfire and brimstone preaching from my very earliest memories in the Baptist church, mix in some “Star Trek”, a lot of imagination, and plenty of philosophical discussions with family and friends and students that include time travel, the nature of reality, etc., and yeah, the mind can come up with some pretty cool stuff that manifests in dreams.

                A couple of details stood out to me, though, that are significant on a personal level. First there is the voice. My idea of God for my whole life has been that he was just like my daddy, only lots bigger. This is a perception that I have not truly outgrown, although I know now that he He is much bigger in other ways besides the physical. But I also know that my dad is more alive now than ever, in that heavenly realm that is much closer than we think. I am still guided many times by his wisdom, by the things that I recall him saying or the way he handled particular situations. Maybe I need to go back and think about what he would have said or done more often than I actually do, along with asking what Jesus/God says about things through the Scriptures. Maybe I am in danger of straying from the course He has set out for me.

                A second thing was my failure to recognize my child. This has bothered me since I awoke from the dream but I think that perhaps it is because the Tony I know now is not the Tony he will become. I have watched for eight years this child’s struggles and triumphs and I know that ultimately he will have the victory, because he loves God. Maybe his choices do not always show this, but I know it to be real and true. Thus, the Tony I saw in my dream was the REAL one, the one who has overcome it all.

                Thirdly, there was this whole idea of going it alone, without my husband. That scared me, but I need not read anything dark into it. I believe that God is telling me, not that something WILL happen, but that I could handle it if it DID happen. I could handle it because God would still be there and I would never be alone. I need to know that. I worry too much about possibilities and what-ifs. I need to relax. My God is in control and he will NEVER leave or forsake me.

                The final thing that really stood out was the idea that Pastor Jesse can be trusted to come alongside. He is not perfect because he is human. I know not to trust in any man the way I trust in God, but since the Great Betrayal several years ago I have become at best skeptical and at worst cynical regarding the integrity of pastors and clergy. What God is saying is this: most of them are men of God who do their best. Don’t worship them, but at least give them some of your trust. Even those who have wronged others probably started out with the best of intentions and need to be, yes, forgiven.

                On the apocalyptic nature of the dream, I can only speculate. I doubt that it was prophetic in the sense of there being some cataclysmic event; God promised that He would never send another actual global flood. I think it was simply a metaphor for my journey through this earthly life, with the promise of Something Grand at the end. The face of the Lion in the sky worked for me because I knew him to be Aslan and I know Aslan by his other Name. I do not love Aslan more than I love Jesus, because to love Aslan is to love Jesus, the Lion of Judah.The floating ship that was weathering the storm symbolizes that I and those I love will be kept safe until He calls us Home, whenever and and however that happens. And then we will ALL be known by our true Names, the Names he gave us.

                I could be overthinking this. Maybe it was just a crazy dream brought on my overindulgence in books. I am, like Jo March, too fond of books, and it has turned my head. Still, God speaks to me through those books, all kinds of books, and through movies, too, and through art and music and children and animals and trees and flowers and rivers. He speaks to me through my friends and my daily joys and struggles-so why not in a dream?  Our lives are made up of so many things, and God uses these things to help us make some kind of sense out of our lives. My life is not, as poor guilt-ridden Macbeth said, simply a tale full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Our lives are about Something. They mean Something. The dream is mine, and I may figure out more of its importance in days to come. In the meantime, go on and dream-and follow the Light.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.” –J.K.Rowling

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
William Shakespeare, Hamlet
“And the ship went out into the High Sea and passed into the West, until at last on a night of rain Frodo smelled a sweet fragrance on the air and heard the sound of singing that came over the water. And then it seemed to him that as in his dream in the house of Bombadil, the grey rain-curtain turned all to silver glass and was rolled back, and he beheld white shores and beyond them a far green country under a swift sunrise.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

Saturday, October 27, 2012

And Having Done Everything, To Stand


10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

                In Stephen King’s novel The Stand, forces of good and evil are pitted against one another in the wake of a “superflu” that wipes out 99 percent of the world’s population.  The leader of the good side is an ancient, wise black woman named Abigail Freemantle (aka Mother Abigail). Mother Abigail speaks to her God as though He is right there in the same room. She seeks His will in all decisions as one by one, led by their dreams, those who would choose good over evil come to her. Meanwhile, Randall Flagg, aka The Dark Man, is gathering his own forces together in preparation for the ultimate showdown.  Mother’s prayer is, “Lord, help us to stand.”

                I’m not sure what Stephen King’s religious beliefs are, although I think I recall reading somewhere that he refers to himself as “a fallen-away Methodist”. Whatever the case, like most people, he has an innate sense of the struggle that has existed since the beginning of Time, and even before that, when Lucifer fell and took a third of the angels with him. It has not ended and we continue every day to fight against the “powers of this dark world.” For someone who hates confrontation as much as I do, this is a daunting thought. One thing I have learned, though, is to recognize the attacks for what they are. I know that the enemy is wily and deceitful. I don’t freak out about Halloween or Harry Potter; I am far more concerned with people. While the real struggle is not against flesh and blood, Satan uses our relationships with others to cause division and strife. His goal is to divide humanity and ultimately conquer. Of course, he was defeated already, two thousand years ago when Love paid the price for our sins. However, like anyone else who suffers from insanity, The Old Deluder won’t acknowledge the truth. He continues to steal, kill, and destroy, and he uses human beings to help him accomplish his evil schemes.

                Those who are used of the enemy are, more often than not, used unwittingly. Despite the decline in my idealism over the past ten years, despite all that I have been through, I still do believe that very few people are truly evil. A lot of people are confused and deceived, often because of their own hurt, but utter depravity is a rare thing. Mental illness, a sad result of our sinful, fallen world, accounts for many things that occur, and I am not sure that this aspect of our society is dealt with as well as it should be. But what is certainly not addressed most of the time is the multitudes who live in utter despair because they have been rejected and feel they have nowhere to turn. These are the souls who slip in and out of our lives virtually unnoticed until the headlines shriek of some new horror, and we are dumbfounded. I have heard stories of people whose primary emotional wounds were received, not at home, not at school, but guess where? Believe it or not, in church. Trying to convince these people that it was human beings who hurt them, not God, is a difficult task. The really horrible part is that the wounding was often done with the best of intentions. Of course, we all know where “good intentions” often lead.

                A person who is overweight does not need a pastor to tell him so, nor a fellow parishioner to outline exactly what formula to follow to eliminate the sin of overeating and thus set the person free from bad things happening, ever again. A woman who has had seven miscarriages is not helped by her church family telling her that this agony is because of some unconfessed sin in her life. People who don’t regard little kids going door to door yelling “Trick or Treat” as an evil thing do not need to be handed the tract about a child who goes out on Halloween night and is hit by a car and goes to Hell. And I doubt very much that anyone has been saved as a result of being screamed at by people in a van with REPENT OR BURN IN HELL painted on the side. I hate these things  with a perfect hatred, because these people are calling themselves Christians while driving others AWAY from the Kingdom. They are not standing where they should be. They are,albeit completely unaware for the most part, standing WITH the enemy, helping him spread the lie that no one is worthy anyway, no one can possibly measure up to God’s standard, so why try?

                I don’t mean to sound like I am being judgmental, but perhaps I am. I know a lot of Christians who mishandle situations and have deep regret. I have done it myself. I am not talking about that. I am talking about people who hurt our cause by hurting other human beings on a regular basis. I am talking about the ones who have put God into a little box, gotten in there with him, and have a smug sense of their own righteousness. They are in the God Box and they are nice and safe in there, safe enough to judge everyone on the outside. For those of us who are willing to step outside the box and stand for what is truly right, there is swift and severe retribution. I have warned my daughter about this, because twice this past week she has stood up for herself and for others. The first time she found her gym bag on the locker room floor with its contents spilled everywhere-and no one did it. Who knows what the next move will be in the little game of middle school power play?  She has a choice to make. She will be making it every day for the rest of her life. Sit by and do nothing, or make a stand and face the consequences.

                Right now I am facing the possibility of a confrontation with someone, and it is making me sick. I am afraid of what the consequences may be. I am worried about saying the wrong thing and creating a situation that will lead to more damage and not to the restoration for which I am praying. The truth sets us free, but only when spoken in love. Even then, it can be hard to deal with, and people don’t always accept it gracefully. When a situation has existed for a long time and you have just allowed it to continue in the interest of keeping the peace even though people are being hurt by it, you are guilty of wrongdoing. Fear kills truth, and then restoration doesn’t happen. At least if you do what is right, there is a chance for a good result. Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird understood that. It is better to stand that to sit passively. People can be really mean and nasty and say horrible things to you and about you. The Bible reminds us, though, that really, what can man do to us if we are walking with God? 

                As I write this I am trying to talk myself either into or out of what I know must be done. I keep getting affirmation from God, through events and through other people, that it MUST be done. Yet still I am afraid. It’s okay. Fear is not the opposite of courage. Because Jesus was fully human as well as fully divine, He must have felt fear as He prayed in the garden, as He stood before Pilate, as He walked to the Cross. William Wilberforce, William Wallace, George Washington, Martin Luther, Rosa Parks, Moses, Daniel, David, Esther- all of them must have experienced fear. They just didn’t let it stop them. Frodo and Sam were afraid, but the quest had to be completed for the good of all. They had to stand. I have to stand. Crucial things are at stake. Maybe not as crucial as, say, saving the world, but we never know how one small event will affect everything else. It’s called the butterfly effect-if someone kills a butterfly, according to Ray Bradbury, it could change everything. Everything. And so…it’s time to stand. Please pray for me.

18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 19 Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Do What You Can


“While He was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on His head. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. 6“Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to Me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have Me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for My burial. 9 I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

            This week I attended a conference for Christian teachers. The final speaker on Thursday has written a book entitled She Did What She Could, inspired by this beautiful story of a woman, probably Mary Magdalene, who anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume-and then had to deal with the judgment and criticism of those around her. One can’t help seeing their reaction as so typical of human nature. Either we aren’t doing enough, or we aren’t doing in correctly, or we are doing it for the wrong reasons, or myriad other things that people tell us to make us feel unworthy and inadequate. But the truth is that Jesus wants our hearts and He honors our efforts. I often wonder if I am getting things “right”. I have lived a lifetime of stress and worry, seeking that perfection that always seems to elude me. I am haunted by mistakes and shortcomings, always seeking a better way. I forget that, in the words of the Song of Solomon, I am “dark but lovely.” In other words I am scarred, blemished, wounded, sick, and sinful-yet dearly beloved by my Father God.

            There are so many things I wish I could do that I simply cannot. Some things I never could do, like play volleyball or paint a picture that actually looks like something real or perform breathtaking gymnastics feats or figure out complex algebraic equations. Some things I used to be able to do but cannot anymore, like drive long distances, do hard physical labor, walk a long way without suffering great pain or having my heart race, run, dance, stand long enough to sing an entire cantata with a choir, or wear cute shoes. I miss those things. I want those abilities back. Someday I may eventually be able to do some of them again; some are gone forever. I waste far too much time on wishing and denial, though. The focus needs to be on doing what we CAN.

            I remember a dear lady, Mrs. Fenters, who is forever one of my heroes. Wheelchair bound, she smilingly came up to our school four days a week to read with the little children. On Wednesdays she spent all day preparing something special for the church potluck in the evening. She kept the church accounts in perfect order. During Vacation Bible School, she would be there every day, serving snacks. She would often say, “I can’t do much, but I’ll do what I can!” Always in pain that she masked with a bright and very real smile, she did what she could. When she went to be with the Lord, all I could think of was that she was now free to do anything she wanted. Anything. But while here on this earth, in a body that limited her abilities, she found so many ways to serve her God.

            The problem of unwanted and orphaned children is so massive that there is no way for one person to solve it. But what if we all did what we could? What if everyone who was able took in a child? What if adoption was made easier for people who have the desire but not a lot of money? And how about the problem of homelessness? Statistics show that if every CHURCH took in one homeless PERSON, guess what? There would be no more homeless people. Wow. And what if we lack the physical or monetary ability to help in a big way, but simply give what we have, like food or clothing? Isn’t that doing what we can? I think that we fear not doing enough, and thus we are paralyzed and do not act at all. At school I have a box in my classroom to collect food for the needy. It doesn’t have much in it, but I don’t really believe my students are apathetic. I just think they believe that a couple of cans won’t matter and so they aren’t doing what they can. I explained to them that they don’t have to go buy anything; almost everyone has an extra can or two in the pantry and that WILL make a difference. In this country many people don’t vote because they think their votes don’t count-but they do. Whatever we do matters, to someone, somewhere, somehow. Mostly, it all matters to God.

            I have been asked to sponsor the Scholars’ Bowl team and the Media Club at school. I am delighted to do these things-because I can. These ministry opportunities are just as real as coaching one of the ball teams or planning and carrying out a retreat or Christmas program. They are things that I am able to do. Last spring at our service retreat, I went with a group to Mobile Baykeepers and spent the day clipping and sorting newspaper articles, and the people there were grateful for our help. Sure, I would rather have been out helping paint a house or planting sea oats , but my reality is that I can’t, so I did the thing I could, and I was good at it, too. I can read a lot of information very quickly and I print neatly and cut fairly straight. Small abilities, but useful in that particular capacity. I did what I could.

            Sometimes people simply need someone to talk to, someone who will listen and not judge.I am good at that. English teachers need to be able to read and write and understand grammar and impart that knowledge to their students. I can do that. As a parent, I have never been able to play ball with my children or climb on the monkeybars with them, but I have sat and watched and cheered them on. I have been able to play boardgames and Wii games and do art projects with them, and read to them and watch movies with them and talk to them about all kinds of things. We have painted and played with Play-Dough and decorated cookies with them. We have never had the money to take a real vacation as a family, but we have gone on day trips to the beach and the zoo and the Exploreum, and we have gone on picnics and to plays and concerts and to many dinners at Wendy’s or the Chinese restaurant. We have done what we could. My desire was to adopt more, but obviously God sees our quiver as full and I have accepted that.

            In all that I do, I have always wanted to do my very best. Teachers are world-changers and so are parents, even if the world never notices. The mistakes that I have made in my teaching and in the raising of my children have been human and forgivable. I know that in my head, but my heart is slow to catch up.  To quote Emily Dickinson:

 If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Unto his nest again,
I shall not live in vain.

God sees things very differently than the world does. He notices and He cares. What little I can do, I want to do to His glory. His eye is on the sparrow, and if I help even that little sparrow, I have done something. To save three children out of so many in need does not seem like much in the grand scheme of things. There are seven billion people in the world. Seven billion aching, hungry, hurting souls. What can I do? Only what I can. My friends who have adopted one child, if they listened to God’s call, have done just as much as I, just as much as others I know who have adopted ten or twelve. It is not the amount we give; it is the heart with which we do it. The Word tells us that if we give so much as a cup of cold water to a brother in His name, we have done as He commands.

            Next month is Adoption Awareness Month. I urge everyone who has even had a fleeting thought regarding adoption to seek God’s will through prayer. Maybe He is calling you. Or maybe not. Maybe your calling is something else entirely. But whatever you feel He has given you to do, go out and, in His power, do it! There is some gift He has given you; use it! Do what you can. You will be more blessed than you can imagine.

 

“If there are millions
Down on their knees
Among the many
Can you still hear me

Hear me asking
Where do I belong?
Is there a vision
That I can call my own?

Show me, I'm
Looking for a reason
Roamin' through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world
Not a lot to lean on
I need your light to help me find
My place in this world
My place in this world…” –Michael W.Smith


 

 

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Come To My Rescue


I need You Jesus to come to my rescue
Where else can I go?
There's no other Name by which I am saved
Capture me with grace
I will follow You…


                My sister Jackie has a dog named Elias-a dog who was rescued from an unspeakable horror. Having suffered so terribly, you would think he would never be willing to trust anyone again. Yet he does. With steadfast devotion, he follows Jackie and my mother all around the house. He watches them with adoring eyes, desiring nothing more than to be near them. He is a dog, yet somehow he knows that they saved him, and now the only thing he wants to do for the rest of his life is whatever pleases them.

                If only we were like that with God.

                I was very young the first time Jesus came to my rescue. I may have been five, or slightly older. I don’t really recall the exact moment when I owned my salvation. I was always profoundly aware of some greater Presence. From my parents and Sunday school teachers, I learned his Name. My younger daughter came to Him in much the same way, his Name not being revealed to her until she came to live with us. Yet she always knew Who He was. For me, I sensed Him in all that I saw and touched and heard as I lay in the grass and stared up at the clouds. I found out that His Name was Jesus, and that He died so that I could be set free. I have loved Him all of my life. When I was seven, I remember whispering a prayer just to confirm that I was His, and to let Him know that I wanted to serve Him forever.

                On my fifteenth birthday I was at a youth conference in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The theme was “A Walk With Christ to the Cross”. As the details of His suffering were brought home to me, I fell to my knees, overwhelmed by a new awareness of just how much He was willing to go through that I might be saved. As the picture of His sacrifice unfolded, I had a renewed sense of purpose. I stood that night with many others and rededicated my life to Him and to Christian service, never dreaming of where that commitment would lead me. The one thing I knew for certain was that my service to Him would require the surrender of my shyness and timidity, so when choosing classes for the following school year, I signed up for public speaking, a choice I have never regretted. I turned out to be actually quite good at making speeches, and I made an A in the class, but the ultimate purpose God had in mind was to place yet another brick in the foundation of His plan for me.

                Jesus came to my rescue again about five years later. During my last year of high school, I got into some dangerous territory and began experimenting with things I knew were completely stupid. I started hanging around with the wrong people, angry at God because my dad had lost his job and things were not going the way I wanted them to. I never completely gave up my faith, but I began to feel and express doubt. I stiff-armed my Savior because deep down, I knew I was sinking and in my pride I wanted to save myself. But at night I was tormented by oppression and voices that relentlessly told me lies. After I graduated from high school I continued to lead a double life, clever enough to maintain the fa├žade, hold down a job and even show up at church on Sunday morning.

                Then God spoke in a way I could not ignore.

                I had been sick off and on for a couple of months and thought it was simply stomach viruses picked up from the small children I taught. I went to the doctor when it got really bad and he told me it was a parasite I had gotten from my new puppy, gave me antibiotics and sent me home. That night, I woke up in unbearable pain, crawled into my parents’ room and told them I needed to go the hospital. It turned out that I had acute appendicitis. I almost died. I was in the hospital for a week and then had to stay home from work for another month. This gave me plenty of time to think, to pray, and to re-evaluate my life. I decided that God had given me another chance and I wasn’t about to throw it away. I got my life back on track, joined the Young Singles group at church, and enrolled in college. I was twenty years old.

                One year later, my father died from an aortic aneurism. Of course this was no surprise to God. He had been preparing me for it for a long time and, though my heart was broken, I was strong enough now to take it, to move on and do what had to be done, hanging on to my faith with all I had. We were grimly determined to survive and survive we did. In fact, I think the ten years between the loss of my father and the day I got married were the years during which I learned the most about truly living. When there is nowhere else to go, you either die or run to the Father. I chose Him. I chose to live.

                Since that time I have faced many other trials, significant losses and staggering betrayals, personal struggles, and dreams deferred. The theme of our school retreat this year was SURRENDER, and I realized that there are still things I need to surrender, people I need to forgive, habits I need to break. And then, right on the heels of this revelation came yet another crisis. As I write this, I am exhausted and drained, sleep-deprived, and somewhat at a loss as to where to go from here. I am greatly disappointed and tempted to give up hope. But, in the words of Jeremy Riddle:

“His love is deep, His love is wide
And it covers us
His love is fierce, His love is strong
It is furious…”

            Yes, there is that. And if there were only that to count on in this life, it would be enough. But I have seen the goodness of God in the land of the living, and I know that morning is coming. In Narnia, it was always winter, but never Christmas…and then Aslan came bounding back in, and all was done…even though it was harder than they thought. Bilbo Baggins made the journey he thought he could never make, and the dragon was defeated. The little hobbit became a hero, and in the end had all the treasure he could carry. So will we…someday…and maybe a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to remind us He is near.

 “When it’s always winter but never Christmas, sometimes we think that You’re not with us, but deep inside our hearts we know, that You are here, and we will not lose hope.” –Relient K