Monday, June 16, 2008

A Tale of Two Trees

I have found through my life that God speaks to me through images. Sometimes they are profound, other times simple. And sometimes they just help me clarify the way that I am feeling at a given moment. This morning was one of those.

I was driving from the farm (where my kids are while I'm working - that's a story for another time) to my office this morning, and I saw the strangest and most beautiful tree. It was fascinating! It had two different types of leaves, two different textures of branches! I was so amazed that I slowed down to take a better look.

And that's when I realized that I was actually looking at two trees, grown so closely together that they had intertwined to form a single 'tree'. From a distance, you saw a beautiful, fascinating sculpture. Up close, you saw the intricacy of nature at work. Two separate trunks, about 3 feet apart, that had grown into a massive and beautifully combined structure. An evergreen and a deciduous tree, in perfect harmony. And as I looked at it, I marvelled at God's creation once again, and I realized something very important about myself.

I married very young, and in the haste of what was once called puppy love. By the one-week anniversary of the union, I regretted the choice. But I viewed (and still view) the vow as sacred, and I did my best to make the marriage work. It was never happy, and I never found the comfort in the relationship that I heard other people describe; but, there was contentment in obedience to God's word. I would never have ended the marriage of my own accord - simply because it went against my principles - but when the dust settled from my rather humiliating abandonment, I found myself keeping company with an emotion that would be considered odd for an abandoned woman: relief. Home became a refuge - a place of peace, rather than strife. Yes, I was relieved and thankful. Growing alone - an independent tree - was much better than being joined to a kudzu vine, so determined to dominate that it would choke the life out of its host without thought or compunction.

But back to the trees . . .

What I realized in that moment was that - should God ever will that singleness is not the state He wishes me to occupy - I want to be like those trees. An independent soul, with my own identity, who finds a way to perfectly meld, mesh and intertwine the aspects of my life with that of another. Not to lose who I am - but to fully and completely complement someone else in such a way that we together are more than we were apart. From a distance, a wondrous and lovely entity. Up close, two distinct identities formed together by the hands of a Creator who is never far away. Cooperative. Cohesive. Beautiful. Whole.

Sound like a fairy tale? Maybe. But wasn't it God who formed man from dust and woman from a rib? Seems like He specializes in fairy tales. And until then? I stand thankful that He takes care of His own.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

I Woke Up This Morning With My Mind . . . Stayed on Jesus

Anyone who has ever been a parent - or just been around a child for any length of time - will tell you that they teach you far more than you will ever teach them . . .

A couple of weeks ago, my son - the smartest, handsomest, cutest, happiest and most loving little boy on the planet (Who me, biased?) - learned a new "trick". He's 14 months old, and new tricks are a specialty with him. He's very talented, and one his most amazing abilities involves his skill as a human alarm clock . . .

Promptly at 4:45 am, he woke up his Mama. As I dragged myself bleary-eyed to a sitting position, he began a very odd ritual. He clapped his hands, threw them up into the air and began to yell "Day-zoo! Day-zoo! Day-zoo!"

Day zoo. ?

My mind started working overtime. Since Pimsleur languages has yet to offer a course in toddler, I was on my own trying to translate this bit of communication. Well, he'd been to the zoo recently. Did he want to spend the day at the zoo?

So, brightly and happily, Mama says, "Oh yes, David Earl. One day soon we will spend a day at the zoo."

Blank stare.

Ok, I'll try again. "Day at the zoo! Monkeys - screech, ooh-ooh, ah-ah. Day at the zoo!"

He's laughing at me, thinking, silly woman. You are SO wrong.

So, I pick him up and we do our daily hug-and-kiss fest before his six year old sister comes in and gets jealous. And I forget about Day-zoo, in more ways than one.

The ritual repeats itself over the next several mornings. Clap-clap-clap. Wave-wave-wave. "Day-zoo! Day-zoo! Day-zoo!" And I am still utterly clueless. Until Sunday morning.

We go to church, drop Noelle off at Sunday school and take our usual pew. I put him down beside me. And then I see it.

Clap-clap-clap. Wave-wave-wave. And with the biggest grin I have EVER seen . . . "Day-zoo! Day-zoo! Day-zoo!" My, my. How foolish am I? Day-zoo is toddler for Je-Sus. And I laughed. And others laughed. And we all thought it was cute. And I missed the point for yet another morning.

Until Monday. 4:45 a.m. I'm still asleep, but I hear it. Clap-clap-clap. Wave-wave-wave. "Day-zoo! Day-zoo! Day-zoo!" And then the Lord speaks to me in that strange way that He will sometimes. The old song began to play in my mind:

I woke up this morning with my mind . . . staid on Jesus
I woke up this morning with my mind . .. staid on Jesus

And as the melody played on in my brain, this question came with it: How many times have you sung that song? Did you ever REALLY mean it? Did you ever REALLY wake up and think of Me?

And as I watched my sweet baby son, I realized he is a whole lot smarter than I am. He's still a baby who needs assistance to do . . . everything . . . but he's learned the most important lesson of all. Where his first priority should be.

Clap-clap-clap. Wave-wave-wave. Day-zoo! Day-zoo!

I may be a slow-learner, but I know when the Master is teaching me a lesson. So I lifted my hands, and joined my son.

Clap-clap-clap. Wave-wave-wave. Day-zoo! Jesus! THIS is the way to start the day!

Four hands, two voices. One Father, watching over us both. Thank you, my son. You have this day made your mother proud, and wiser too.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Of Human Bondage . . . and Tahitian Pork Roast

We are all bound by our expectations. We anticipate that things will go a certain way, and when they don't - we become frustrated and angry. We expect God to answer our prayers OUR way, and when He doesn't . . .

I purchase food through a food co-op - you pay for a box, and they fill it up. In that box are many things - things that must be cooked. And things that offer occasions for frustration.

So - I'm sure you're wondering where this is going - in the box of food, there was a pork roast. Very nice cut. Just perfect for one can of mushroom soup, some potatoes and some carrots. Traditional meat and potatoes. I was SO ready to get it going and then . . .

I checked the cupboards. No soup. No regular potatoes. Just a can of pineapple chunks in juice and a sweet potato. It was catastrophe. It was horror. It was unimaginable. OH THE HUMANITY . . . Roast can't be cooked any other way, can it?

Hardly realizing what I was doing, I opened the pineapples and dumped them in. Well, I was committed, might as well finish it . . . I peeled the potato, chopped it and put it in there too. And then the frenzy began. What other strange things could I put in with that roast? Two oranges, an onion, the left-overs of a bottle of barbeque sauce, honey, lemon pepper, spices, salt, pepper . . .

Well, I had done it - but how would it taste? I decided that, if I liked it, I'd name it Tahitian Pork Roast, and if I didn't, I'd tell myself that the pineapples just FELL in there. Eight hours later, my kids and I ate the best pork roast that has ever been prepared within the walls of my kitchen. Tahitian Pork Roast. Which led me to the question . . .

What do we miss when we are bound up in our expectations? When we as so caught up in our expectations of what SHOULD BE, do we miss what COULD BE if only we would let go of the reins - just a little?

I suppose I could have re-wrapped that pork roast and saved it for another day. I'm sure it would have been a good pork roast in the traditional sense. But I'm glad I didn't wait. I'm glad I took the plunge.

We aren't always promised and safe and smooth voyage. And we are not always promised that we will have the ending we expect. Sometimes, you just have to take the plunge.

Tahitian Pork Roast, anyone?

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Ending One Dream . . . and Beginning Another

I can distinctly remember the day 3 years and 11 months ago that I signed the papers purchasing my home. It was sunny, and I knew there was a busy afternoon of moving ahead of us. I had just completed my first year of full-time teaching. My daughter was 2. And I was idly dreaming - with every box packed, with every wall painted - of the life we would build within those walls.

Fast forward - 3 years and 11 months later . . .

Those dreams are gone. They have been mourned. But it is time to move on. To new dreams . . .

Today, I signed the papers for my house again. The weather is just as sunny, but there is no busy moving ahead (though I do need to clean up the toys in the living room and call the plumber to work on the back bathroom). I now work as a paralegal part-time and a teacher part-time. My teaching contract has renewed! My daughter is 6, and my son is 13 months. And I'm idly dreaming again, but much differently this time . . .

I know that I'm expected to feel sadness - or at the least, melancholy - about this event. I know that because each time I share my news, people tell me how sorry they are - and I'm taken aback a moment before I respond to their sympathy. I know why they are acknowledging the sadness in the moment, but I'm not feeling sadness. Or bitterness or anger, or melancholy.

Instead, I'm relieved. I'm hopeful. I'm happy. When the world fell apart, I didn't believe that there was any way my children and I would still have a home when the dust settled - but look what God has done! It's a miracle! When the world fell apart, God was STILL THERE! And I just cannot honestly say that it leaves me with anything but . . . wonder, joy and hope. It's the ultimate miracle - the one that Christ performs in every life - when He takes the broken things and makes them better than they were before they were broken! And I rejoice at what He has done!

If He has ordered my steps through the minefield of the past few years, what more do I have to fear? He will order my steps through everything else as well. And I can be nothing but thankful for the new dreams - and the plans that He has for me.

So my daydreaming this time is much more general, because I have no idea what God has planned. I only know that He is good and will walk with me through every plan He has made. Whatever they might be . . .

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A Mississippi Interfaith Prayer Meeting

My daughter attends the same school I teach at. It's a secular private school that is based on Christian principals. That basically means that prayer is okay within the class, they have devotionals, and faith can be discussed openly. But it's not corporate. And there are a good many non-Christian students.

Noelle is in K5, and her best buddies are Navarn and Tanya, children of Indian immigrants, and Wondeful, a Chinese immigrant. They are Hindu and Buddhist respectively. We were having a discussion this morning on prayer, and Noelle informed me that she, Wondeful, Navarn and Tanya had a prayer meeting on the playground yesterday, and that they have prayer every day at lunch. I was curious and asked her to explain:

At lunch, Noelle apparently blesses her food every day and ends her prayer with the phrase, "and don't let me throw up in Jesus name." Her friends have noticed the prayer, and since she has never thrown up after lunch, they decided to pray it too. (I have no idea why any of them expect to throw up.)

They gained such faith by the evidence of not throwing up after lunch, that when a caterpillar crisis erupted yesterday on the playground, they had a plan. One of the other children, Thomas Daniel, had thrown a handful of caterpillars he had collected into a puddle, and said caterpillars were struggling for survival. Noelle and her friends "rescued" them from the puddle, but apparently, they thought the caterpillars were still in distress. So, Noelle led them in prayer for the lives of the caterpillars - she pled the blood of Jesus over the puddle-drenched caterpillars. And pretty soon, Nevarn, Tanya and Wondeful were pleading the blood of Jesus too.

I had to try really hard, but I didn't laugh when my daughter told this story, because she was wonderfully serious about the whole thing. The caterpillars survived, and she's convinced it was the blood of Jesus that did it. I'm not sure if Jesus' blood literally saved the caterpillars, but I know that it left an impression on four little girls praying on the playground.

And for one moment in the world, in Central Mississippi, there was a prayer meeting of one Apostolic, one Buddhist and two Hindus where all four were pleading the blood of Jesus. My own prayer? That it will be a seed in the hearts of those children that God will nurture into something bigger than we can imagine.

Sometimes God can use foolish things to confound we who feel so wise . . .

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Dear Lord,

I received that call again today - the one that has come one time too many. My sister, your child, is still on the path of the prodigal, and she's found herself in the pigpen again. Lord, I don't have the strength to walk this path.

I've learned the hard way that I can fix it. I've tried. I've failed miserably. I've learned the hard way that my humanity fails every time. As much as I love her, I cannot 'fix' it. I can do nothing. I am powerless, and I don't like that feeling.

You are an all-seeing, all-powerful God. You see exactly where she is this morning, and you will know her steps this evening. Several months ago, I took this situation, and I placed it on the altar of faith. I began to trust that YOU were the author and finisher of my faith, even on this most difficult path. And now God, as I am tempted to grab my telephone and start making futile attempts to "fix" it, I will instead remind myself that this is no longer my problem. It is YOURS.

Into Your capable hands, I commended her soul, and her life. And I will renew that again this moment - today, this day, I once again hand this mess over to You. Take my mustard seed of faith and multiply as only You can!

She was dedicated to you as a baby. She has experienced the power of Your Holy Spirit taking hold of her life. You know how to draw her near, though I do not. You are an omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent Father, and You know just what it will take to bring her back to the Father's house. I trust You to do it.

Two thousand years ago, there was another dark moment when hope died. The Messiah lay in a tomb, and Hell rejoiced. But how wrong they were! Peter's faith collapsed. I can't blame him - mine probably would have too. But he simply couldn't see your plan - it felt like failure because it didn't look like he thought it should. BUT YOU WERE STILL GOD. YOU WERE STILL IN CONTROL. And Hell had to take a step back just a few days later, when deliverance arrived in a most unexpected way! You conquered death and the grave. And you did it for me. And you did it for my sister.

And as doubt whispers in my ear that I need to get up and fight the battle, I know that the battle was over long ago. I can't say that I see or understand Your plan in all of this, but I know what the end will be! The victory is mine - and hers - if I will just get out of the way. Satan can rage - he is defeated anyway. Tempest in a teapot . . .

So in this dark moment, I will rejoice. I will sing your praises. Here in my living room, I will dance before you. For victory is mine. Though I can't yet see the plan, You can. And that's enough. You are in the pigpen with her, and You know the way out.

So I will praise your name. You are God. You are good. I choose to trust. It is enough.

Amen

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

On the Road One Morning . . .

On my way to work this morning, my mind was wandering . . . always a dangerous thing! I've been employed by the same law firm for almost 10 years. It's a 1 mile commute from my home, and I am, shall we say, intimately familiar with the route.

Not much has changed in 10 years. Sure a few houses have changed ownership, new plants have been planted - but I have basically been waving at the same people on my "commute" for the past ten years.

Graduating college, through my pregnancies, the births of my children, buying a new home, the collapse of my marriage, turning 30, so many important milestones, marked right here, on this road . . .

Then my mind proceeded into sci-fi mode (told you that it was dangerous when my mind wanders), and I began to wonder what would happen if time itself dissolved, and I could meet myself on this same road 10 years ago. What would I say to myself? What wisdom would I impart? Would I warn myself about impending doom? Would I remind myself that I should take joy in EVERY moment?

And the answer came, sweet and soft. There is only one message that I would need to give my old "self", should sci-fi world ever come to pass. For all the "flights of fancy" advice I can think of, there is only ONE piece of wisdom that I would give a younger me:

Jesus is everything. Keep your eyes on Him. And don't worry, He is in control.

Sitting here at my keyboard, I am reminded that He has been SO faithful to me. I am safe and secure and am providing a safe and stable home for my children. I am a member of a loving family and church family. I am now 9 months cancer-free. He is SO GOOD. I would change nothing - not one thing - for He has walked with me, carrying me through it all. And I have learned after 32 years what it means to rest in the shadow of his wings.

I've been humming the old hymn I Know Who Holds Tomorrow all day. If I have Him, what else could I possibly need? What more could I possibly wish to know? It's ALL in Him.

Many things about tomorrow
I don't seem to understand
But I know who holds tomorrow
AND I KNOW HE HOLDS MY HAND

Thank you, Father, for holding my hand through it all.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Dear God, How Do I Answer Her Questions?

This has just been one of those days. Everyday I wake up thankful to be alive, but then there are those moments . . .

My daughter is 6. She's what was once called precocious. This week, she's been telling people that she is suffering from summer pollen. Thursday, she looked at me and said, in the most somber voice, "Momma, is Nationwide really on our side?" She tells her brother (he's a year old) on a daily basis that he needs to grow up, but not too fast. Normally, it's just great entertainment to listen to what she comes up with, but tonight in the bath tub she blindsided me.

"Momma, I want to make sure I pick the right husband when I grow up."

I was not quite sure where she was going with that. So I replied, "Sweetie, if you talk to Jesus about it, and always remember to seek Him first no matter what, I'm sure that won't be a problem." End of discussion - I hoped. Wrong.

"Momma, was Daddy the right husband for you?"

Yikes. Difficult, but not impossible. "Yes, sweetie, I think God brought us together. He gave us you and David, and we both love you."

"If Daddy was the right husband, why doesn't he live here anymore? Why doesn't he love you? Momma, I'm just so sad."

There are no right answers then. Only pain in a tiny heart. Only pain in my heart too. How do I tell her that I prayed every day, for many years, that God would change her Daddy's heart. How can I tell her that I was SO SURE I was in His plan, but sometimes now I wonder? I don't want her to know what Daddy has done. I want . . . so many things. But now, God, I need an answer, because she's waiting for me to give her one.

So, since I didn't have one, we prayed. Yep, with her in the bathtub, and David saying, "Duck . . .quack" in baby voice. There was no revelation, but she eventually stopped crying and we went to watch an episode of *Little House on the Prairie*. I'm still waiting for the lightning and thunder - the answer to her question.

Because I want the answer too.

I don't know the answers or the reasons why. I only know that He who made heaven and earth is looking after us both. For me, it's enough. For her, I think it will be too. He is faithful, even when others are not. He is God. He took away the pain in my heart when I asked Him to, instantly. I pray that He will do the same for my baby. Please Jesus, heal her heart.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Death of a Marriage: May 21, 1994 - March 20, 2008

The call came at around 2:00 this afternoon. The judge had signed my final divorce decree, and my marriage was over. Thirteen years, 9 months, 29 days from the day it began, it was over.

I wasn't quite sure how I would feel when it was final - oh, I had ideas, but nothing definite. Having had approximately nine hours to reflect, this is as good as it gets:

1) I am relieved. My marriage became a lie a long time before I was willing to admit it. I was working, giving, loving, and trying, while my partner - my husband who had promised to love and cherish me - was constantly pursuing his own interests and excluding the family we had created. My custody order is in place. I have primary custody of my children, and I am able to make most decisions concerning their care.

2) I am sad. It is a death. I had many dreams on the day I married. I had many dreams, not even very long ago, about what marriage meant. The dreams are officially dead today. And I'm okay with that. It was time. Yet I am still sad.

There are benchmark moments in this life. Our births are celebrated each year. Later anniversaries. We know exactly where we were the moment we found out our first child was coming into the world. We remember the moment we looked into that tiny face and saw the mystery of creation and the glory of God reflected in this tiny human face. Everyone remembers where they were when they heard the towers had been hit by airplanes. We remember our wedding day . . .

And I will choose to remember this day as the end of the beginning of my life. I am no longer naive. No longer a child. I know who I am, why I am on this planet, and what I must do. I will walk forward and do it.

And never again will I settle for anything less than everything that I deserve from someone who claims to love me. This is the lesson I have learned.