Thursday, November 28, 2013

Taking the Turns Right Alongside Him...

     Poor Phil! :)
     Twenty-seven years ago when we fell in love and decided to get married, we both entered into a major lifestyle change.  However, as I look back over the years, I think he's had more adjustments to make than I.  For example, he likes to joke that when a man marries, all the woman's things eventually find a home around the house while all the man's possessions end up in storage...  Ha!
      Phil's favorite color is brown while mine is yellow....  Right now our kitchen and our bathroom are painted a bright, cheery yellow :)   Phil's not fond of plants all over the house and right now we have Amaryllises blooming on our breakfast bar - five of them to be exact.  (I used to keep them on the kitchen counter and when Phil would enter the kitchen, he would imitate jungle bird calls - and very well, I might add.)  When we started dating, I had a dog and  he had a cat. His whole family are cat lovers.   Right now we have 4 dogs and no cat.
      However, by far and away the biggest adjustment he's ever had to make was when we allowed friends to live with us for a short time.  International students.  The middle school kid next door.  These periods in our married life took Phil so far out of his comfort zone that he basically ended up in the stratosphere before all was said and done!  Wow! What stress he went through as we prepared to move someone into our home!  Why would he even do that?
     Because he loves me.
     Because he loves God.
     Because he made a lifetime commitment when he threw his lot in with me on Nov. 22, 1986.
    When he made that commitment, he knew I was a lot more social than he was and he knew he was signing on for some adjustments. However, in retrospect I think he can honestly say that he had no idea of what it would cost to live with me. Seriously!
      Yet he's never wavered in his commitment to me but  instead  has, as we like to jokingly say, taken all the turns right along with me... (Quote from Driving Miss Daisy)  And there have been a lot of them - trust me on this!
      And this is where I'm going with all this.
      Luke 9:23 personalized:
      "And Jesus is saying to me:  If you, Cathy, wish to come after Me, you will have to deny yourself and carry your cross daily and follow Me..."
      And the key words that struck me today were, "If you, Cathy, wish to come after Me..."
      Do I wish to cast my lot in with Jesus the way Phil cast his lot in with me so many years ago?
      Am I willing to give up some things, not even necessarily bad things - just things that won't fit with loving and living with Jesus (John 15:5) - am I willing to adjust to His lifestyle in order to be with Him?  And since He carried a cross, am I willing to join with Him in that as well?
    As I write this an image comes to mind from the book, Seal of  God.  In it the author, Chad Williams, describes the training he had to endure in order to become a navy seal.  One of the worst exercises that he had to live through was to run back and forth across a wet sandy beach with several other men... while they carried a boat over their heads.  Literally.  For hours. Often In the dead of night. It was brutal and sometimes when the team had been at it for a while and  was beyond exhaustion, one member would try to slack off by acting like he was holding the boat when in reality, he wasn't - his arms would be lifted up but he would no longer be pressing hard against the hull in order to support it, counting on cover of darkness to hide his little respite. At that point, he wasn't a team player; he had lost sight of the goal.  He was no longer carrying his cross and his companions suffered because of it.
      Jesus enjoyed life. He attended weddings and I have no doubt He would be at someone's Thanksgiving feast today.   But He also had a mission which involved carrying a cross.
     If I take the same road that He is taking, if I cast my lot in with Him, if I am so in love with Him that I want to be with Him day by day no matter what I have to do in order to achieve that - then there will be some lifestyle adjustments and there will be some cross-carrying.  There will be times when I have to say no to myself in order to fit in with His plans.  There will be times when I feel pushed to the point of exhaustion as I run in tandem with Him, trying to carry the cross He has for me to carry.
    But, oh, the joy of being with the One I love!
    For me on this  beautiful Thanksgiving morning, it all boils down to one phrase:
    "Cathy, if you wish to come after Me..."
    Do I wish to follow after Him?
     You know, Lord!
    "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name, and leads them out.  When he puts forth all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice."  John 15:5-6
      And if they choose to follow Him, His sheep find peace that is not of this world (John 14:27), abiding love (John 15:9),  the Master's own joy (John 15: 11), truth that is freeing (John 8:31-32), and, yes, also  tribulation  - coupled with the power to overcome it. (John 16:33)

      This Thanksgiving, if you haven't done so already - would you consider an outstanding invitation to routinely sit at the table with Jesus?
       Revelation 3:20  "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him , and will dine with him, and he with Me."



Thursday, November 14, 2013

Some days...

      A couple of weeks ago, I was wowed by who God is.  I saw first hand how He could orchestrate things, bringing random people and events together in a way that no human being could ever do.  I've seen that before but I always tend to qualify it or downplay it as in, I really think that was God... or Isn't that nice? God sure does answer prayer...
     What happened two weeks ago, however, was so random and yet so precise that all I could do was marvel, not just at what God does, but at Who He is, how He can move people and events along the chessboard of life in a way that no human being could ever do. How He transcends time and space.  How He can read the human heart, both good and bad, and yet how He, Almighty God, still bends low to hear  our weak cries and bring  His unlimited power to bear on our infinitesimally puny  needs.
     Yesterday was a different story entirely.   I had a ring-side seat at  a funeral and heard things like:  he was recovering well from surgery and then things suddenly started going downhill... He shouldn't have died... I don't know how I'll live without him... This sucks... And those words, just like the ones I heard two weeks ago, sank down deep into my heart and resonated within me long after the funeral crowd had dispersed to go on about their daily stuff.
   Then, last night some different words,  ancient words, echoed through my mind and this morning they are with me still:  Lord, if You had been here, my brother would  not have died... (John 11:21).
     Lord, if You had been here...
    And I wondered how many times human beings have sat at the graveside of a friend, a relative, a loved one and anguished over that very issue:  Lord, if You had just shown up a week ago, ten days ago, a month ago, then... my loved one would not have died...
    And, yes, I know the rest of the story...
    Jesus, the Son of God, answers his grieving friend with a mind-boggling statement and a direct question:
    "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die.  Do you believe this?"  (John 11:25-26)
     Do I believe this??
     Yes.  And no.
     I mean, Lord, You should have asked me two weeks ago. Then I knew. Now, I'm not so sure.
     I would like to wrap this blog entry up in a bow, all neat and tidy, complete with snappy moral and pithy words of encouragement.  But I can't.
     Because, for me, faith is a real walk in a real world where we are often blinded by "facts" that just don't fit, by a puzzle that seems to have all the pieces one week and then turns up hopelessly missing the crucial center piece the next.
     We walk by faith and not by sight.
     And sometimes sight, as my niece said, really does "inhale swiftly".  I'm sorry - it just does.
     So today I'm just sort of clutching the hem of Jesus' robe, thumb in mouth, afraid to let go, trailing behind in the faith walk thing.
     Do you believe this, Cathy?
     Honestly, all I can say is, "Lord, I'm trying..."
     Some days all I can do is hang onto the edge of His robe.  Yesterday was one of those days and today looks to be more of the same.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Beyond Thanksgiving, All the Way to Joy

      I know what I want to say but I don't know how to say it.
      I suppose I could break out into my own rendition of Julie Andrew's These Are a Few of my Favorite Things... But... I can't sing. Or dance.  And my neighbors aren't always the most stable people on the planet so I don't think I want to do anything to irritate them... So imitating Julie Andrews at 11:30 at night in our front yard is.. just.. not going to happen.
      Jesus said that He came to give us His joy and to make our joy full.
      That full-of-joy feeling is often absent from my life.  Flattened by the earth-shaking machinery of daily life.  Lost somewhere along with the truant socks in the laundry basket of As the World Turns.  (And, seriously, where do all those  missing socks go, both literal and figuratively?)
       And yet, as I've learned from the recent Bible study I  just completed, Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg, there is wonder, joy, and cause for celebration all around us.  Because our God is so much greater than we can imagine and He has not only given us joy, He has also provided moments of wonder all around us to fuel that joy.  Yes, even here in the 'hood. Yes, even here at the threshold of old age.  Yes, even on the days when it's cold and dreary and it seems like every bone in my body from knees down  to my toes aches.
      These are some of the things that have caused me to stop and wonder lately, things that God has used to rekindle joy in my heart at odd moments in the autumn of my life.
      Well-lit rooms and warmth inside our home while outside the world is dark, damp, and cold.  Hot chocolate, warm blankets, and seasonal movies inside juxtaposed against  early nightfall, blustery winds,  and rain that seems to chill right through to the bone outside.
      The occasional laughter of my niece as we home school each morning.   I love to hear her laugh because there is both joy and innocence in it.   I feel privileged to build into her life as she builds into mine.
      The  Amaryllis plants that we "rescue" every year from Walmart's gardening center.  It's a  ritual, filled with anticipation as we watch to see which plants will respond to our care, which ones will go from being half-dead to being alive and laden with lavish blooms in an amazingly short time.

     The joy of watching our son grow into a man.  He's an adult now - not a clone of Phil or I but his own person. One minute he can be talking seriously about his job, the next he can be seen laughing at a Youtube video while his cockatiel sits on his shoulder.  I love that.
      The gentleness and competence of my husband.  Today I was tense over a Bible study of all things - was I doing it right? Should I change how we approached the lessons?  My husband massaged the tense muscles in my neck as he has had to do so many times over our 27 years of marriage and then wisely, quietly said, "Cathy, just let the Bible speak for itself.  Turn the study over to Jesus. It's His anyway."  And I felt wonder at the goodness of God in providing me with such a wise and loving best friend.
     This is the short list. There is a much longer one.
      Because the Creator God planned it that way - giving us multiple opportunities to glimpse His nature and to feel His joy as we journey through life.
      It's November, a time when we find ways to emphasize the giving of thanks.
      I've been challenged by Margaret Feinberg's Bible study to go beyond thanksgiving all the way to praise and  joy.
      I'd like to pass that challenge on to you as well.
      Ask God to show you the wonder around you and as He does, write it down.  If it's a glorious sunset, take a picture and tape it to your work desk. If it's something you've seen a thousand times but suddenly, God enables you to see how precious it is, journal about it.   And, yes, even sing to Him.  (Raindrops and laundry and birds on our shoulders...  Well, not quite Julie Andrews but... close... :)
      There is joy in the journey and this is a great month to look for it, to praise Him for it, and to share the wonder of it with others as well as with Him, the Giver of all good things. (James 1:17)


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Not What but Who...

     This week I "got it"... sort of.
     Not sure if I can hold onto it - at my age holding onto things is harder than you might think :)
     Really, about all I can say is that for the first time in a long time, I lay awake until the wee hours of the morning, unable to sleep not because of stress but because of the wonder of God.
     I lay there pondering a rather remarkable answer to prayer and thinking, "This is not what God does. This is who God is."
     Yes, clearly God orchestrated things in order to answer a heartfelt prayer, many heartfelt prayers.  And He did it in a most unexpected way.  Yes, He did that.
     And really, normally, I stop at the "did that" part as in, "Wow!  Look at how God answered my prayer!"  In other words, I'm really, really thankful, maybe even awed by what I (or someone else) received.  But that is where my thought process stops. A kind of: Look-At-That-Blessing type of deal.
     Then there are other times when I sort of tip my hat to God on a deeper level (is there an oxymoron in there somewhere?) and say, "Wow!  Look at how God answered my prayer!" moving a little further along the learning curve of divine-love-responds-to-helpless-man.
     But the other night, as I contemplated some impossible juxtapositions of divine grace and human need, I suddenly leaped past point A and point B and arrived at point C.  "Wow!  This is Who God is!"
     I just kept thinking about the impossible juxtaposition of man-cries-out-and-impossible-things-happen-in-inexplicable-ways followed by the wide-eyed (mental) exclamation: That's God! That's Who He is!
     It's not so much about what He does as it is about Who He is.
     So who is He?
     He's the One who can transport a Jew named Phillip to meet up with an Ethiopian official who just happens to be reading a passage out of Isaiah that he doesn't understand.  What a coincidence!  Just when this international has a question about Scripture, here comes a Jewish man, a total stranger, who can explain that very  passage. And willingly does so.  And then baptizes him. (Acts 8)
     He's also  the one who can instruct a pagan God-seeker named Cornelius to send his servants to seek out an inferior (rough, crude) member of a subjugated race in order to find out who God is.
    Um, run that by me again?  Is that like a Japanese WWII military commander humbly seeking out a Chinese peasant in order to learn about the one true God? 
    Yeah.  Pretty much.
    But there's more.
    Because while the Roman hot shot is getting ready to contact a lowly fisherman named Peter, that same fisherman is being shocked out of his sandals by a divine directive telling him to reverse all his previous thinking and training about what is clean and unclean, spiritually acceptable and spiritually contaminated. As in, Heads up, Peter!  A despised Roman pagan is about to land on your doorstep (figuratively speaking) and you, Peter, are not only going to associate with him, you are going to welcome him, eat with him, teach him, and lead him to Me.  He's going to become your brother... (Acts 10 - loose interpretation... very loose...)
    And if that last seems a bit complicated to you, it's because... well,  it is. Seriously. That's not a kid's story.
     Two unlikely men whom God brings together; men who  have more barriers between them than say... Jewish Jonah and the bloodthirsty Ninevites?  Or Syrian Naman and his lowly Jewish servant girl? Or maybe Nebuchadnezzar and a captive no-body Jew named, um, Daniel?  Or perhaps a Philippian jailer and a couple of inmates named Paul and Silas?
    And I'm not even talking (yet) about taking a measly bit of bread and a paltry packet of  fish and feeding thousands of people with it.  Right now I'm just talking about how God brings the most unlikely of people together in the most precise timing imaginable in order to meet needs, yes, but also to say, "Woo who!  Did you catch that??  What I just did - um, do you know anybody else who can do that?  No?  Well, that's who I am. And, incidentally, I happen to  love you."
    This week I got that.
     Next week I hope I continue to do the same.