Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A warrant-less world...

    Life is busy.
    But it doesn't come with a warranty.
    Perhaps, since my husband is a mechanic, after 25 years of marriage I'm finally beginning to think in terms of cams, hams, and yams - as he often teases me when I try to parrot the little mechanic-ese that comes so naturally to him.  Which I don't do very often, trust me!  I know that when I start slinging words around like "piston", "camshaft", and "rotors" I'm just throwing foreign terms out into  the ether. If anyone called my hand on those terms and tried to actually discuss them with me, I would soon have to admit my ignorance!
    But "warranty" - ah!  There's a word I can grasp!
    This wasn't always true. When I bought my first used car, a Volkswagon Super Beetle, I saw a sign on the wall behind the salesman's desk and naively wondered what on earth it meant.  The sign said, "A warranty on a used vehicle is about as useful as a dead cockroach."  I found out what it meant when I proudly drove my first vehicle home and just a few blocks from our house, the horn started honking on it's own and refused to stop!
     A few years later, when I bought my first new car, I was a lot more savvy!  I knew about warranties and asked about the fine print. It all looked good to me.  Until the valves on my car went out, exactly one month after the warranty on my car expired.
    Warranties are of limited value and no warranty is, of course, of no value.
    Our bodies come with no warranties.     I've been reminded of this several times this week.
    Sometimes I think that we kid ourselves into thinking, well our health is good for at least 20, maybe 30 years.  We may not put that into words but  we do say things jokingly like, "After thirty (or forty or fifty or sixty), it's all down hill." Which implies that up until 30 or so, our bodies should function well.
    But I follow the story of a little girl, someone who truly deserves the word "hero" - a word that I think is bandied about all too easily in our society and that I do not use lightly- and she's only a third grader - almost. Yet Haley is fighting cancer with an aplomb that amazes me. Really. Sometimes the things she draws and the hilarious videos that she makes leave me laughing and crying at the same time.  She honestly astounds me - another word I don't use lightly.
   Still, when I see her spunky smile and her beautiful face, I can't help but  wish that our bodies did come with warranties.
   They don't.  But our souls do.
   If we belong to Jesus, then our soul has a pretty nice warranty - good for the next eternal gazillion miles or so.  Basically an unlimited guarantee that all the parts that don't work here, will work there. And since Heaven is so much greater than earth, we will function so much better than we've ever done here on earth.  Those who are blind now, will see there.  And what they will see!!!  The Bible says that God has prepared things for us that no eye has seen and no ear has heard.  (I Cor. 2:9)
   Someday, we will all see.  And it will be as if we had never seen before.
   Someday the lame will walk, the sick will be whole, the deaf will hear... on and on it goes.  Our soul warranty is literally, out of this world.
   But in the meantime, since there are no warranties here on earth for our physical bodies, maybe we should make the most of the warrant-less time that we have down here.
   By that I mean, hugs are good.  Smiles, too. And a listening ear.   All those things that don't make  money or get "the job done" but show, by their existence, that yes, we know there are no guarantees in this life and yes,  we'll make the most of the time we have with each other now, while we have the chance.
   There used to be a beer commercial that said essentially: this drink's for you.
    I'm afraid this blog is not for you but rather for me.
    Hoping I'll be more tuned into others and less tuned in to self as I walk through this warrant-less world.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

In the night seasons and all through the day

      Last night I couldn't sleep but I could pray.  As I lay there in the dark in the wee hours of the morning, bits of Scripture began to weave through my homespun prayers, words taking the form of light and praise. Ancient words from the poet warrior King David and more recent but still old-beyond-imagining phrases from the apostle John and the prolific writer/saint/missionary/complicit murderer, Paul.
     Their words became stepping stones  in the stillness of the  night, taking me from the cares and worries of the day - into the very  presence of God where I found rest - a  different rest.  A rest that was so sweet I didn't want it to come to an end.
     Yesterday I thought I heard our international student say, "My mom..."  Since this was out of any context I could perceive, I quickly decided I had heard wrong and put my own logical spin on what he had said.  Later I understood that I did hear correctly the first time and that he was referring to me.  That he was calling me mom. No strings attached. Just "mom".
      When I realized that, I felt a warmth shoot arrow-like through  my heart and mind and  instantly I  wanted to do whatever I could for him.  Past irritations due to cultural differences melted away because he was not just a student, he was my son.  I wanted to take away any worries or problems that he might have, just as  I want to do the same for our biological son.
     However, I can't.
     Still, I can love.
     And the word "mom" definitely tapped into an unknown reservoir within my own being.
     And if words - phrases of praise, terms of endearment - can have such a transforming impact on my own sinful, selfish heart, in the stifling blackness of night as well as  in the still, clear light of day - then... I wonder...  How much more do words from the heart touch my Heavenly Father?
   I mean... when I come to him and call Him Abba with no strings attached... just praise Him, love Him, pour out His own words back to Him out of the confusion  of my life - not asking Him to fix or give or do.   Simply loving Him, naming Him, claiming Him  and His ancient words as my own songs in the night... How does that affect Him?
    Does it  make His eternal heart sing and also move Him to hover over me with a fierce yet tender, protective  father-love that is perfect and far from powerless?  I don't know, of course.
    I do know He has an unconditional agape type of love that is new every single morning, waiting for me and for all of us.  But I once heard a preacher say that after studying the Bible for years, he thought that God might reserve phileo (brotherly, emotional, warm) love for those who choose to  walk the closest with Him.
   And I think about what James wrote in chapter 2:22-23    "... faith was perfected and the Scripture was fulfilled which says 'And Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness and he was called the friend of God.' "
   To be called "mom"  unexpectedly by an international student is  sweet and definitely a memory I will cherish.
    But to have God, the creator of the universe, whisper "friend" and "daughter" in the night seasons of my life...
     Mind boggling...
     Beyond sweet...
     And that's where I am today, that's what I'm journeying toward. And I hope you will journey with me.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

52 Pick Up Pasta...

Some weeks, I just need for God to put everything back in the box for me because my life is like uncooked pasta escaping from the package. (See picture below...:)  
Some weeks, I wonder why He puts up with any of us down here when He's in Heaven and He doesn't have to.  If I were in Heaven, I don't think I'd do it :)

Today our international student had his first US routine eye exam.  The assistant pointed to the wall chart and said, "Tell me what you see."  He responded with a perfectly logical, accurate answer.  However, his answer had nothing to do with the eye chart!  When she asked him again to tell what he had seen, he responded accurately once again - this time with the very polite response, "I can see all."  He was making perfect sense but, for some reason  she still  wasn't satisfied.    When she repeated the instructions again, I wonder if  he began to silently question her expertise.  However, his face never showed that and within a minute or so, he understood what she wanted and was reading  each individual letter without any problems whatsoever, flawlessly.  When they were on the second part of the exam, he apparently wondered why his eyesight was still an issue  and sweetly, reasonably said, "But I tell you, I can see all. I don't like small letters but I can see."

Sometimes I do that with God.  When the pasta of my life is all over the floor and the current test I'm going through makes no sense, I try to respond to the best of my ability. But I just don't always get it because I don't see the big picture.  I see what's going on around me but I don't know what's going on beyond me and I finally end up saying, "But God, I am telling You, I can see all. I don't like the fine print in my life, the pasta  on the floor,  but I can see."  And I can see. Just not enough. So He patiently continues to work with me while I wonder why we're still going over the same drill and why we aren't moving on.

I'm glad He's patient.

Hoping everyone's pasta this week stays in the box.  
Remembering that we walk by faith, not by sight. 

Saturday, July 14, 2012

From Arkansas by way of Missouri...:)

As many of you know, we have an international student with us for the summer. He is brilliant - much smarter than I'll ever be!  He comes from a Third World nation and plans to go back, after earning at least two, possibly three degrees and we have no trouble believing he will achieve this goal.  His dream is to eventually go back to his country and use his knowledge to help bring his nation out of poverty and I often look at him and think: someday he may be running his country... for real.

During this summer, we have learned that he does like pork but.. he doesn't  :)  Let me explain.  He likes the taste of it but he is afraid to eat it.  In his lifetime he (and all the students who come from his country apparently) have seen for their own eyes that eating pork is not always safe. They know first hand that  some foods are likely to  make you sick. And they are serious about their summer studies so the last thing they want is to miss school because of food poisoning.

Phil and I, based on our lifetime of experiences, know that pork is about as safe as any other meat in this country, which is fairly safe.  Even beyond that, we know that pork and chicken (another iffy item in their eyes) are processed in a totally different way here than they would be in a third world country.

But how do you explain that to someone who:    A) is brilliant,  B) has 23 years of tangible experience to back up his beliefs,  C) doesn't speak our language well,  and D) has gotten to the top of his entire nation academically by relying on his own determination, decision-making ability and intelligence?   Well, the answer to that question is:  right now we just don't eat a whole lot of pork or chicken around here... :) In other words, sometimes we are tempted to say that our student came to us from Africa by way of Missouri and we can't always figure out how to show him that what we are saying is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

And sometimes this frustrates me. I want to say, "Haven't we proven by our words and our actions that we are committed to your well-being? Do you really think that we would encourage you to do anything  we felt was full of unnecessary risk?"

But then I saw myself. And Jesus.  Sparing over issues that He has tried to show me again and again  by His words and His actions - things He has tried to tell me through His word. However, the fact is that what He says often just doesn't jive with my 57 years of experience.  And I didn't make it through an entire career by being stupid.  And... well, you get the picture - on and on it goes....

Sometimes I have to wonder, does He get frustrated with me?  Does He want to reach down, tap me on the shoulder, and say, "Hellloooo!  You hoo!   Cathie.. um.. look up!  Haven't I proven by my life and by my  death that I am totally trustworthy, that I'm committed to your well-being?  More than that, haven't I answered prayers for you, walked with you through dark valleys and brought you out on the other side when it didn't look possible? Do you really think I would encourage you to do anything that I felt was ultimately detrimental to your well-being?"

Clearly,  Phil and I know that there is a whole 21st century world out there full of advances that our student has yet to glimpse.  So... how much more of a world is  out there that Jesus fully understands but Phil and I  have yet to glimpse?

So if He says that the abundant life, which He came to bring us,  can be found by extending love to our enemies as He did, then maybe it can?
And if He says that He has prepared a place for us which we will absolutely love, then maybe we will?

Just thinking about my own spiritual journey. I'm from Arkansas, by way of Missouri, but still.. Heaven bound:)

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?  Romans 8:32

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Neither for us or for our adversaries...

   Most of my blogs are lacking in controversy and most of my life is the same. Frankly, I like it that way. But every once in a while, I feel like I have to say something no matter how unpopular it may be.
Holding the keys 
     First, please understand: I love my country. I taught history for 31 years and while I know our country isn't perfect, I value our heritage, enjoy our freedoms and am blessed by our prosperity.  Even as I acknowledged the things that we have done wrong over the centuries, I always felt pride when teaching about  the many things that we've done well.  Honestly, there is no place else where I would want to live.
    Having said that, I must say this.
    In Joshua 5:13-15, the Israelite leader came upon a man who was standing opposite to him, with a drawn sword.  A stranger posed to block his way.  Joshua met this challenge with a challenge of his own:  "Are you for us or for our adversaries?" he demanded.
    The answer to that question left him flat out, face down on the ground.
    The imposing stranger didn't take sides. Instead, he let Joshua know that his was the only "side" that mattered, the only real game in town.  
     He replied, "No, rather I indeed come now as captain of the host of the Lord."
     Today, instead of worrying about our country's future (which I admit that I do), I wonder if our proper response would be to fall to the ground and declare our allegiance to God's  "side", whatever that might be.
    As these unwelcome thoughts intruded on my mind, I realized I was passing a house that is sort of the bane of our existence. Not the building itself, of course. But the people inside. Two young men who love expensive "toys". A race car that used to roar down our street, neck and neck with others, at high speed. Until theirs crashed.  Now, two very expensive motorcycles that I know must have awakened the dead at 3 in the morning on occasion, they are that loud!
   We know from sporadic chats with these guys that God is nowhere on their radar screen.    Work, money, women and thrills seem to fill the deepest desires of their hearts.
   So how to pray for them?   The usual prayers of Bless them and Draw them to Yourself don't seem to have been working. In frustration, I asked God to show me what to pray and immediately, I had a picture of these somewhat wild, reckless guys as being insulated from God, wrapped in a false security blanket as it were and unable to feel their need for the  One who loves them, who created them and who wants to never leave them.  So I asked that God would remove anything that is insulating them from finding the only true security that there is.
    And I realized that affluence can be (isn't always but can be) a form of spiritual insulation or, maybe a better word would be, encapsulation.  And I wondered about our nation as a whole, one of the richest nations on the earth.
   And how we use our wealth.
   And how our wealth affects our walk with God.
   Then I remembered hearing someone say that the Western world and America in particular, plays a huge part in the sex trade.  That many children, born in third world countries to prostitutes or just into dire poverty, are never even "on the grid" and that these children, because they legally don't even exist, are often sold as toddlers  into the sex trade and that here in places like Las Vegas, there are men who wait in hotel rooms right now as you read this, having paid large sums of money - men  waiting  for their young boys to arrive. (By the way, Las Vegas is one of the 14 child sex trade capitals in the world and it's unfortunately not the only city in America that deals in that type of  trafficking, by any means.)
   And I found myself praying, somewhat to  my dismay,  "Lord, if it would help to destroy the sex trafficking industry, please let our country "fall", meaning: remove our sense of invincibility, of our feeling  that we will always, regardless of how we may struggle from time to time, ultimately  have pretty much everything we need as a nation and more - without obedience to You.   Let the things that need to be shaken, be shaken, so that what remains is rock solid - so that what remains  is You.  (Hebrews 12:27-29)
    And the prayers that I didn't  want to pray kept coming.
   "Lord, if it would bring more people to feel their need of You, please let our country "fall".
   "Lord, if it would help to stop the drug trafficking from Latin America, please let our country "fall".
   "Lord, if it would help destroy the porn industry, please let our country "fall".
   Honestly, I hope we as a nation won't ever have to "go there".  Don't get me wrong, I want these evil systems to be, at the very least, severely weakened and ultimately totally destroyed. They ruin lives every single day - both the lives of the victims and oppressors - because sin simply kills everything it infiltrates like a deadly type of poison.   However, as an American, I don't want to see our country - my country - "fall", ever.  Yet, still, I found myself praying  "If it would ... then please let..." as I finished my walk home last night.  In other words, I want America to repent just as I want the guys with the motorcycles to repent from their unbelief and find blessing.  But if it's not going to happen that way and it can happen another way, then, please, for their good, for our good, let it happen.
   Is it even right to pray that way?  I don't know.
   However, I did remember something I read a long time ago - in a biography of Watchman Nee, a great Chinese evangelist.
   I read  that during WWII, a group of dedicated Chinese Christians prayed, not that  their country would be spared but that God would do whatever it took to bring the Chinese to Himself  even if that included defeat. God allowed them to experience years of  defeat as the Japanese "ran over" most of China, occupied it,  and caused unspeakable suffering to many natives. Then, after the war, more bad news!  The Chinese communists took over and brutally tried to eradicate Christianity from off their map. They were so effective that when I did post graduate work at Fayetteville in 1984, our professor, who was an expert on China and Russia, told us that there were  underground churches in the Soviet Union but absolutely none in China - that viable  Christianity had been, for all practical purposes, obliterated in the People's Democratic Republic of China.
    I believed the statistics as he did. But we were both wrong.  Somehow, through this double whammy of WWII and the communist takeover, the Chinese church emerged millions strong decades later, purified by fire and ready to do whatever it takes to get the gospel to closed countries. (Their own country, ironically, is hardly "open"). They have even started a movement to take the Gospel all the way from China, across the dangerous  10-40 "window", until they reach Jerusalem. They know that most of the countries between China and Israel are very hostile to Christianity. But they've been tortured and beaten in their own prisons back home so they don't fear being beaten, tortured or even killed in foreign countries. They simply want to take the Gospel where ever it is needed.
     Tonight I have an image of a man, a warrior, standing strong, mute, and with drawn sword, facing the country I love.
     And I think it's time for us to get on our face and declare ourselves to be on His side, regardless of where the chips may fall. Hopefully, He will lead us  as a people to repentance and further blessing.  (II Chronicles 7:14)  But if God's will can only come through adversity, then, still, I am on the Lord's side. It is, in fact, the only right place and ultimately the only safe place to be.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Receiving... :)


      Today was oh so random and oh so sweet.
      I was at church this morning when I heard singing in the sanctuary and I thought that was odd because usually on Mondays I just hear a vacuum cleaner. Then I realized it was a song I hadn't heard in a long time:
       Oh Lord my God
When I in awesome wonder
Consider all the worldsThy hands have made
I see the stars
I hear the rolling thunder
Thy power throughout
The universe displayed
  As I listened to the music,  I realized  there was a funeral going on and I thought about the man whose life was being celebrated. I had only met the man once or twice but I knew he had a sweetness and light about him whenever he walked into a room.   So I began to think about his entrance into Heaven and I knew, really knew, that he was enjoying Heaven in a way that I could not imagine.  I mean surely if you have a capacity to enjoy life here, in spite of aging and disabilities and all the problems we face on earth, then how much more would you have the ability to enjoy Heaven with no age problems and no disabilities?

   And then I wondered, since joy is not an overriding characteristic of my life - I can pick up on negatives like the lint filter in our dryer picks up  lint -  at any rate, if joy does not characterize me now, when will it?    Is our capacity to enjoy Jesus and Heaven rooted in our capacity to experience joy here?  Probably not, but still...I wondered.

   And then a storm came through and I just stood on the mezzanine level of the lobby and watched the whole thing sweep through, following the freeway, moving from sudden cloudburst to a force that could bend tree limbs right down to  the ground and cause large vehicles hurtling down the freeway to simply vanish  from sight, totally hidden in a  canopy of grey/black rain.  It was awesome - for me, a God moment.  As the rain swept in, before it got so dense and wild, I could see variations of color in the watery scrim before me - changing momentarily from dark to grey, dark to grey - like folds in a curtain reaching from the clouds to the ground. and I'm nearly 60 years old yet I don't think I've ever seen patterns like that in a storm before. And I realized it's probably because I've never really stood in a place where I had such a large, safe vista from which to watch the majesty of God pass by.

   And then I went to a meeting tonight that I really didn't want to attend.  God moment over...   Storm long since passed.  Basically I had to attend  a monthly civic meeting because I'm the secretary.  A few neighbors get together  and discuss issues such as local crime (too much of it) and an upcoming neighborhood yard sale (sounds like fun). It's a good thing but I just didn't want to go tonight - I wanted to be somewhere else.  

   So we came to the meeting with our quirky personalities and our different agendas and moved through the items on the list fairly fast.  While  I'm taking notes yet still wishing I was somewhere else.  And then the meeting adjourns and somehow, I end up talking to two other ladies and, to my total surprise, another God moment arrives. One of the ladies mentions something about how she feels time is short as she's about retirement age and then, she doesn't follow that up with comments about annuities or health insurance changes (as I always did the year I was trying to decide about retirement) but instead, she simply says, "I don't have that much time left to serve the Lord and I really want to know what His purpose is for me. Because time is short and I know that what He asks me to do, He'll give me the strength and the wisdom to do it."  

   This so echoed what's been going on in my mind lately that I felt an instant bond with her and I just knew deep down inside, we're not just acquaintances, we're sisters in Christ and we're traveling parallel paths right now.  I don't know why that warmed my heart so, but it did. To find a kindred spirit. To know that God has brought someone along side of you who has the same yearnings and the same questions.  For me, that is a God moment.

   As I drove away, one of her statements stayed with me. While we had visited with each other on the parking lot, we could hear thunder in the distance and we all commented on how we longed for more rain.  This lady laughed and said that when she woke up this morning, there were drops of water - sprinkles on her car and sidewalk. Her granddaughter asked her if she had been using a sprinkler system in the night and she said,"No, she didn't have a sprinkler system."  Her granddaughter replied, "Well, that's odd. There's water on your sidewalk and car but everyone else around you - their yard is dry."

   She said she just smiled and said, "Whatever God sends, I'll just receive it."

   Snatches of a hymn leading to thoughts on the joy of Heaven...  God passing by on the winds of  a storm while I am blessed with a safe yet "front row" seat...  Then a sudden, totally unexpected connection with a fellow "traveler" and once again, I know I've just received a blessing in the most mundane of places.

   And I'm learning.
        Whatever He sends, 
                    I just need to receive it.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Something valuable...

     I instinctively don't like  a sense of entitlement.  People who try to rip off others. People who demand things without ever giving in return.
     A hypothetical example:    a neighbor is sick and you offer to keep her child for the day.  She accepts without a thank-you and brings over her dirty laundry for you as well, giving detailed instructions on how she wants it done.  To me, that's an attitude of entitlement.
    We see it in regard to the government every day.
    We see it in regard to family relationships.
    We see it in the market place and at work.
    We even see it in church.
    I'm aware of all that and can "sniff" out entitlement issues a mile away.
    Except when it comes to God. And me.
    Tonight, after listening to the straight-forward, well-spoken, often humorous testimony from a woman who was dying (she shared her testimony in March of 09 and she died of cancer in July of 09), I realized that I also have an entitlement problem.
    Like... God owes me.
    Like I'm not always (umm.. maybe... ever) grateful that I can simply get in my car and drive to Sonic for a large drink during Happy Hour because - that's my right.  And it's not much.      It's not like I'm asking for the moon or anything - just a 55 cent glass of large ice water (our ice maker died an untimely death a while back) that is on sale every day between the hours of 2 and 4 for half price. 
    Like when I have a kick-posterior head cold, I have the, um, right, to turn up my toes, go to bed, and leave my husband (and the rest of the world) with extra things to do because I'm napping or reading or reading or napping, whichever comes first...   As in, I don't feel like cooking but I may, when push comes to shove, feel like picking up pizza.  Come again???
    Like when I have something worse than a strong head cold, I may.. (ha!) be irritable.  As in: this shouldn't be happening to me.  And now, after listening to Rachel's testimony, I wonder: why do I ever think that way.  And yet, I do.
   And if it's something serious that requires more than a quick visit to the doctor and a couple of prescriptions -  if it's something scary even - then maybe it boils down to, in my mind: God, this shouldn't be happening to me.  You shouldn't have allowed this. And if I'm really honest, it may boil down to:  God, who are You to allow this to happen to me?   I may not put it into words but still, it may well be there.
   The certainty that  I am entitled.
   Sometimes, when things go wrong, I am the neighbor who brings over the kids and the load of dirty laundry without so much as a thank-you, leaving a trail of complaints in my wake. And God is the One who gets the laundry, the kids, and the complaints without so much as a thank-you.
   If you can identify, I would strongly recommend that you listen to this testimony.
   In our modern world, we often avoid the dying, gathering around their bedside only  when the doctor says it is time but not with any hopes of anything good coming from the deathbed experience.  And so often, nothing good does come of it. That we can see.
   But the Puritans used to want to sit by the bed of a dying saint, a true Christ-follower, hoping that they would get a glimpse of the next world as this child of God transitioned from one world to the next.  I don't think we really have that concept in our modern, secular society or at least, I haven't come across it.
   But still, I think that we do understand that death has a way of cutting to the chase. That a dying person sees clearly things that we, in the midst of a busy life, can't see.  Things, perhaps, that when it's our time to go Home, we might wish we had seen more clearly back when we had more options.
   Rachel was dying  when she made this speech but her voice was clear, her appearance pleasing, her thoughts clear and well-defined, her sense of humor totally intact, and her sense of entitlement, totally at abeyance.
   I strongly recommend it.