Tuesday, February 22, 2011
“Honey, I don’t know how to say this….I don’t want to pay the tithe anymore,” I said to my husband on Sunday night. Now, wait! Don’t panic ladies; I haven’t fallen off the wagon on the way to the storehouse. Let’s just say the wagon had to make a few extra stops on the way. It all started, when my husband, the financial manager in the family, placed in my hands the grocery money, and the tithe money, informing me I was to pay both. The Lord’s money in one hand, Wal-mart’s in the other. Up till this point, my husband has faithfully tithed, placing that check in the offering plate, while I have looked on with admiration for my godly husband. Apparently there is also a great responsibility that comes with paying tithe, and my husband wanted his poorer half to share in the blessing and responsibility. He overestimated his other half, well more like his one fourth.
All was well as I paid for my groceries at Save-A-Lot, and continued on to Wal-Mart to buy the name brand products I can’t live without-Miracle Whip, Heinz Ketchup, and a few dozen others. We, the kids and I, walked down every aisle, some a couple of times, gathering all the snacks and products that allow our home to run smoothly, or at least give us something good to eat when things get a little rough. As we proceeded to check out, with exhausted kids hanging all over the buggy, I found I had made a mathematical error, thirty dollars over. With a line behind me of other exhausted people,(I wonder if they looked that way before they got in line behind my kids), and not having any idea where in the buggy the $20.00 ink refill was for my computer printer, and not really remembering what all I had bought that could wait until next time, I reached into the sacred pocket of my wallet. As lightening and clouds formed around my hand I removed the required bills. Trembling I handed the Lord’s money to the clerk, and silently prayed a prayer you will not find in the Bible, or any devotional, “Lord, would you bless me so I can give you your money back?”
As I left the store, I pictured two large, Italian looking angels wearing black leather jackets, gold chains, rings, and brass knuckles following me to make sure I covered the stupid bet I’d made. “Please, just give me until Sunday morning! I promise I’ll get you your money,” I yelled towards the sky, as I heard door locks clicking on surrounding vehicles in the parking lot. I know the Bible says He loves a cheerful giver, but He never mentioned the fearful borrower.
The drive home was a long one. I felt like a get away car driver after a bank robbery. I wondered if the satellite had picked us up yet. I was afraid to look in the rear view mirror, and maybe see a trail of glorious blue light flashing chariots as they pursued me. I felt as obvious as a white bronco on the LA freeway. When I passed the interstate off ramp, I had an inspiring idea. I could stand on the corner with my “Will Work For Tithe Sign”. I might even make enough for an extra love offering! But I knew what would happen. People would offer to buy me a meal instead. I have groceries, I need more tithe! As I got home and unloaded groceries, I started forming a pile of possible returns I could make so my heavenly account wouldn’t be overdrawn. I pictured a cloud, with “Curse” written on it, hovering over Monday on the calendar, and it had no silver lining.
As I continued unloading groceries, another problem arose. Panic. I started yelling at the kids, “Don’t open those cookies, we might not keep them!”
“Why are you taking back my cookies, what about Rachael’s?”
“Mom, we have to have toilet paper!”
“Here, take the vegetables back!”
I did find the printer ink, and realized if the Italian angels broke my fingers I wouldn’t have anything to print off anyway. That left ten dollars. Then I remembered a source of income that had provided me gas money on many a day as a teenager. Loose change!
I found almost $10.00 in loose change in my purse! Oh.no! It was 8:00 on a Saturday night. All the banks were closed. I don’t think the tithe envelopes are made for $10.00 in change. (At least not one I want to put my husband’s name on.) I realized that there was no law that said tithe had to be paid on Sunday morning. I could go to the Coin Star (where you turn your change into cash) machine at Kroger’s before church on Sunday night. That led to another problem. How do I get my husband to stop at Kroger’s on the way, without telling him why? Problem solved itself. “I can’t tell you why…”
“Is it something personal you need?”
Paying the tithe was my personal responsibility, and I’m sure I would be held personally responsible if it didn’t get paid. Yes, I would say it was a personal need.
My husband decided to drive on his own so he wouldn’t have to leave early. (Not to mention I needed to stop at Wal-Mart, to have the wagon full to bring to the storehouse that night.) So I returned my printer ink, cashed in my change and………
“Oh, come on God, couldn’t you cut me a break!” The change machine kept a dollar as a fee for using it. I was a dollar short! Have you ever noticed they are no envelopes at church for IOU’s? I did see some envelopes for missionary contributions. I thought about putting my name on one, and the tithe in it, so that when Chris found out and I fled to Africa I’d have funds to buy a spear and hut.
I thought back to when I was a kid, and my mom and dad made my brother and I tithe our allowance and extra money. My brother borrowed about two dollars from me every Sunday to pay his tithe. I could borrow a dollar. I looked down the pew at my kids and my father-in-law and mother-in-law at the other end. I couldn’t ask to borrow dollar from my in-laws….(I don’t know though, I have kind of felt like they’ve owed me since August 30th almost nine years ago.) I could get Rachael to ask. No she knows too much.
(Subtleness is not in Rachael’s vocabulary.) I’ll just have to pay what I’ve got. I felt a little embarrassed when I filled the tithe envelope. My husband uses larger, crisp bills so the envelope fills nicely and is easy to lick. I had ones, fives, tens, and a few receipts that got stuck in my hurry to fill the envelope. The envelope barely closed, and I’m now missing my Social Security Card.
When my husband arrived at church after the offering was taken up, I was so relieved I told him the story. Turns out, with all the extra gas it took running my extra errands, and having to drive two vehicles to church, He could have paid the missing tithe.
I look back on all that energy and effort it took to pay that tithe, and I know why I did it. It wasn’t out off fear of God’s wrath; it was because I realized all that my husband went through when he paid the tithe. All the decisions he had to make about what to spend, what to wait on, yet he has consistently made the right decision to obey God, and our family has been blessed because of it.
In Leviticus 9 verse 6, when the people were bringing their offerings to God, it reads , “And Moses said, This is the thing that the Lord commanded that ye should do: and the glory of the Lord shall appear unto you.” When I think of Chris tithing, I see the Glory of the Lord. I see an Almighty God ruling and reigning in the Priest of our home. There was a time when we didn’t tithe consistently. So I see the Glory of God in that he dealt with and changed my husband’s heart. If He can do that, what else can God’s Glory do in our home? If all I could see was God’s glory revealed in the Sun, that would be enough to believe He could make thousands of lights called stars to light up the night sky. God’s glory changes our mundane existence day after day, by revealing to us the supernatural at work behind the veil of our flesh and carnality. God’s Glory, is what escapes the wonder of Heaven breaking through the barriers of blinded eyes, prison walls, bound souls, and weak wills to reveal the greater power beyond, and even more glorious, proclaiming that that power is available to us, to work in us and through that we may all become windows that the Glory of God can revealed in. God’s Glory prompts our Spirit man to look beyond what we can see, and believe what we’ve only dreamed, or never believed was possible.
After this whole experience, I realize why God said to give our first fruits. When you give your first fruits, you cut a lot of hassle out. You give God His portion first, and the rest of your decisions are clear cut. When you wait, every decision is laborious as you struggle to work it all out to make room for Him. I think of the first fruits of my day. Psalms 63:1-2 says, “ O God thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is. To see thy power and thy glory , so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.” Giving God the first fruits of my day, can produce and reveal His Glory. Instead, I have been giving my children my first fruits, (getting up when they do), and have spent the remainder of the day giving to them. But to seek Him first, I would have the remainder of the day to enjoy His blessing on my day, rather that wearing myself out all day trying to pursue Him to give Him the fruit already wilted from the days struggles. First fruits, are fresh fruits. They give the receiver the honor of being the one worth the labor it took to produce the fruit. Bellsouth, Cumberland Valley Electric, Whitley Water, and Wal-Mart, are not worth the labor to be presented with our families first fruits, and they certainly will not turn around and bless us for paying them first. Nor will my children ever come to know Christ as Lord, as long as they find me always serving them at the table, and not first serving Christ. Not only that, I rob them of seeing God’s Glory revealed in me as I am obedient, and I rob myself of seeing God’s Glory in them as I train them to take their tender, delicate first fruits to Him. For after all, it is Christ that gives the increase, in all areas of our lives, and He should be allowed to savor the fruit of His vineyards first.
So, “Honey I don’t want to pay tithe anymore. You do it, and I’ll try to be more supportive, and not complain so much about where all the apples went. And on your next trip to the storehouse, would you care to take an extra apple? I was a little short this trip.”
Sunday, February 20, 2011
As the ceremony began, I watched Leah, Bree's mommy, who it seemed like only yesterday was a young teenager desperate to be allowed in the youth group, confidently carry her daughter to the alter to be dedicated to God. She was the ONLY teenager my husband and I have ever trusted to watch our three children. Our only regret is that we didn't start using her sooner. Leah has that rare quality of fun that is tempered with responsibility. She has the gift of being able to get on a child's level with creative imaginative play while never losing her authority as the adult. She was a skilled babysitter, but that was just how God allowed her to use her gifts until it was time for her true calling- Motherhood. I always knew this was Leah's destiny, but watching it unfold has been a precious journey. She approached the Pastor, no longer a little girl, but a woman on a mission, unwavering at the task before her, uneffected by the mass of people behind her.
And then came the second half of this parenting team. Daddy Alex followed, taking his place. As he stood opposite Leah, facing her as the Pastor read the responsibilities of a parent, it was so obvious the speech was a needless part of the ceremony. These two knew their responsibilities long before they entered the sanctuary that morning. They knew long before they said, "I Do." But the value of the ceremony was not in what was heard, but what I saw.
I watched Alex's face transfixed by what I saw. It was the one moment that will forever define him in my eyes. He will never fall or excel beyond what I saw in him this morning. If Leah or Bree were ever to come to me voicing their displeasure in their husband or daddy, I will remember this moment, take a deep breath, and valiantly defend this man. I saw his heart.
I watched Alex's face as he found himself in a dilemma. His heart of so full, his eyes couldn't keep up with his emotions. He would look at Bree, his eyes tender, as if to say, "Wow, that's my daughter." But then his eyes would quickly travel upward locking eyes with Leah, and his eyes would radiate as if to say in awe, "Wow. She's my wife." Then he would look back at Bree, as if to say, "She's beautiful". Quickly, his eyes found Leah's face, again, as if to say, "Of course, she's pretty. Look at her mama." His eyes darted back and forth, as if his eyes lingering on one of his girls too long, made him miss his other girl. It was clearly not just Bree's day. Alex was as proud of his wife as he was his daughter. Leah was not replaced by this tiny new little female who joined their still new nest. She had been elevated to a new level in Alex's heart reserved only for the love of his life, the most priceless of his treasures.
And then came yet another moment that brought the tears streaming down my cheeks. As the Pastor asked them to face him so they could take their vows, Alex placed his arm around Leah and gently placed his hand at the small of her back. I know, you're thinking, "You Sap! What is the big deal!" Well, here's the big deal. That small gesture spoke volumes. I have been to MANY baby dedications and if you review the tapes, you will find very few where there is any physical contact between the parents. Usually one parent holds the baby. The other parent stands by in case the baby gets fussy and needs to change parents. This was different. Alex wasn't concerned about the congregation knowing he meant what he said. He wasn't worried about the Pastor believing he meant his vows. Before God, his gesture spoke louder than his words. Alex was saying, "We will do it, God. We will do it together, Leah. I will be here for both of you through every step. " He made his vows this morning not just to Bree before God. Alex renewed his vows to Leah before God.
Bree may have her daddy wrapped around her little finger, but the ring on Alex's hand that glistened against the fabric of Leah's shirt as he held her close, declared his life was wrapped around another beautiful woman's life first and foremost- his wife Leah. Bree was tenderly knit together in her mother's womb by God, but that fabric is only made stronger by her two parents who have allowed God to knit them together as one first.
If you're reading this, and you're thinking, "How Sweet", or "I wish I could have someone look at me that way,", I want you to know, you do. You are the Apple of God's Eye. The love I saw in Alex's eyes this morning was boundless by man's standards. Yet it was limited by Heaven's standard because he is still a mortal man unable to love anyone as much as God does. If you could catch one glimpse of the Father's eyes as He looks at you, you would forever be unsatisfied with only the love any mortal could give. Your heavenly Father loves you, adores you, and desires you. His vows of dedication to you are written in His Word. His love for you cannot be wrapped around your little finger....His love is measured by the hands of His son as they stretched from East to West as His love for you was wrapped around a cross.
I think I would have been stunned this morning had Leah pulled away from Alex's embrace, or refused to look at him, especially after I had seen the love on his face for her. If you are not saved, everyday you are shrugging off the arms of God that only want to embrace you. You are turning your back on the one whose back was scarred for you as he was whipped beyond recognition. And through every shrug, act of defiance, rebellion, and rejection, His unfailing and unfaltering love for you has not changed. And on the day you accept Him as Savior, you are born again. You become an infant in the arms of Jesus and He presents you to the Father. You begin again, a clean slate, a fresh start with a Father who beams and proclaims to all of Heaven, "This is MY child in whom I am well pleased." Alex was a wonderful picture of Christ this morning.
Maybe you were there, and you're thinking. "I didn't see all that." Yeah, well, you didn't have my seat. And I might add if you choose to criticize this couple from your seat, as we sometimes do out of ignorance or a false security in our own knowledge, on their decisions, or parenting choices, and try to shake the confidance they have in God and one another right now, you might find God telling you, "Hush..You don't have MY seat. From here, I am well pleased in what I see in my son and daughter." And if I were to discover anyone discouraging, judging, or hindering this little family in their pursuit of building a godly home, I just might have to eject you from your seat, and I can't promise you'll see any love in my eyes when I do it.
I had the best seat in the house this morning, and it didn't cost me anything, but what I saw was priceless.
Thursday, February 17, 2011
I once turned a three hour trip to Cincinatti from Kentucky, into a nine hour tour blissfully lost in Indiana.
I once removed a burned out headlight from my car by cutting the wire attached to it. Apparently, they simply unplug.
I once put all the wrong checks in the uitility bills' envelopes, delivered them all, forcing a spur of the moment summit meeting of representatives of each company to meet to exchange the checks.
I once nearly wrecked flashing my lights at an oncoming motorcycle that refused to dim his brights. Turns out it was an oncoming train running on a track parallel to the road.
For my latest stunt, I decided to do my husband a wonderful favor, and mow the yard. We have a zero turn mower, and after a quick demostration by my husband before he headed to work, I felt equipped to handle the job. I mowed for 3 hours straight zipping around trees and poles, excited to to show off my accomplishment to my husband. Mowing a couple of acres is no small task. As he got out of his truck at about midnight, (he worked second shift), he eyed the yard suspiciously. I quickly mentioned I missed a few spots, but I would get them the next day so he wouldn't feel the need to point them out.
The bewildered look on his face didn't go away. I'm sort of used to him looking at me that way, but I usually know why. I didn't have a clue what the issue was this time.
He walked around the yard , in the dark for a few minutes, then asked to see the mower. I was quite proud to show him I had maneuvered and parked the mower exactly where he always does. My pride took a quick nose dive when he looked at the mower, looked at the yard, looked at me, and then a light seemed to spark in his eyes, while I was still very much in the dark.
"Didn't you notice you had two flat tires?"
I really despise techinical questions- such as "Didn't you notice the red light on the dash?", "Didn't you smell the smoke?" or my favorite, "Didn't you hear that noise?".
No, I did not smell, hear, or see anything.
In my usual non-committal voice, I replied, "You mean on the mower?".
"Yes, on the mower."
Now here is where I get confused. If there are two flat tires on a vehicle, technically it should not be able to move. As long as movement is possible nothing is broke( or does that just apply to bones.)
Apparently, the two flat tires were on the same side. Now, this still meant nothing to me. Some of you have already figured out the problem. My husband than took me under the flood light in the yard so I could get a better look at my handiwork. The entire yard looked like a bad haircut. The mower had leaned to the flat side, cutting each row at an angle, with a difference of about 4 inches from side to side of each row.
Of course the most disturbing part of the whole situation- I didn't notice.
I didn't notice I was personally leaning to one side. I didn't notice the yard wasn't even. I didn't notice I was having difficulty steering the mower. And honestly, if every man who worked for us hadn't pointed it out this week, I'm not sure I would have ever noticed. I only looked at my effort, not the result.
I have struggled to find the REAL spiritual meaning in this event. I truly believe there is always something to be learned. My first thought was, "I'll never do another one of my husband's chores again. That'll show him!" But alas, while my flesh cheers at my new decree, my heart knows that is truly the easy way out. My non-existant common sense tells me to air up the tires on the flat side, and flatten the tires on the opposite side, and mow again thereby evening out the yard. But again, there is this rather faint voice in my head saying, "That only makes sense in your world, where all logical thinking has been suspended in order to ensure that your days are filled with laughter."
And so I step up to the looking glass, where I look upon myself through the purest light of God's Word, and find the error of my ways. Much to my surprise, not really, the error had little to do with flat tires. I realized that if I had not been so caught up in making myself look good, I would have been more focused on making my husband look good. I wanted him to come home and ramble on and on about what a wonderful wife he had. I wanted all the farm workers and visitors to the farm to see me mowing with that big commercial piece of equipment and marvel at the man that was able to "snag her as a wife". I wanted my husband to tell me I didn't have to cook and we'd order in because I was surely exhausted from all my hard work. I wanted him to overlook all the dirty laundry, dirty dishes, dust, and unmade beds, because I had SACRIFICED to do something significant for him.
Now we come to the heart of the matter. I had rejected all the tasks given to me by God and my husband in order to do something a little more exciting and noticable by the world. In the mirror of my heart I see I Samuel 15:22 shimmering on the glass, "to obey is better than sacrifice...". My husband would have been more pleased with me, if he had returned home to a clean house, a clean towel to use when he showered, a hot meal, and an end table that his glass of soda didn't stick to while he watched the news. Instead he had none of those things, and still had to mow the yard again.
Motive is EVERYTHING, when in service for our King. We can be doing seemingly great things for the King in the world's eyes, but still be disobediant by not doing what he asked. The greatest sacrifice is striving to do more AFTER you have exhausted yourself doing all He asked. Then all of our efforts become focused on Him, because our heart cry becomes, "I have little left to give, but all I have left is Yours." How much sweeter sacrifice becomes after obediance.
I may never again mow a yard, in this life or the next-(God has informed me the cattle on the thousand hills keep them looking nicely so He has no need of my services there either.) I do know that I will strive to obey, keeping more air in my tires and less air in my head.
Thursday, September 10, 2009
I knew this day would eventually come. I remember the day my husband's family brought up her name in conversation. My ears became red, and my blood pressure sky rocketed as I bellowed out.....
"How do YOU know HER?!!"
"She's my aunt," my husband calmly replied..."but I don't see her often.."
I felt some relief that our paths might not cross as often as I dreaded. But destiny could not be delayed forever. We were meant to once again meet-and today was the day. A family fish fry at our home was the appointed time, the appointed place.
I made small talk with her, and actually found her to be pleasant, and humorous. She hugged me after seeing the farm and house, telling me how proud she was of us. As her arms held me in a genuine hug, I realized- she had no idea who I was, or the history we shared. I relived the moment briefly as she gave me what would probably be her last hug with me.
It was a foggy, December morning as I headed to work at JC Penney's. I was an 18 year old with her whole life ahead of her, and a day without conflict laying before me. But conflict was quickly positioning itself in my path, as it had a habit of doing. I commandeered my mode of transportation-a Plymouth Horizon, adjusted the broken side view mirror (the entire mirror and casing hung from a wire, long story-big tree), where at least for a few moments, it would hang so I could view vehicles at the rear of my car. I then did my preflight checklist. CD player velcroed to dash-check. Headlight on-(yes, that is supposed to be a singular light)check. Purse resting on paint stained carpet (Note-always make sure paint transported in your vehicle is tightly sealed) check. Windshield wiper secured (after losing the other one, I was faithfully monitoring this one) check. Rock in floorboard for beating car battery when it doesn't start-check. This is not a list you will find in a driver's training manual, but to each his own. A fellow employee at Penney's once told me when I got married I needed to register at Advance Auto Parts. I told him my goal was to marry a car dealership owner.
I pulled out from our driveway and waved to my neighbor as she threw herself in front of her car in the driveway, (I backed into her car once pulling out of my driveway, and she was still paranoid, but at 95 years old she would soon have to let it go- she couldn't take it with her.)
On my way to work I decided to stop at Arby's for breakfast. Some people have a hard and fast rule about not eating in their cars- I decided to focus more on rules like, "Don't hit trees, or old ladies' cars." When you have to leave a sign on your car in the parking lot at work that says, " 'Persecuted but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.' Don't tow, it's my ride home,' " ketchup stains on the interior are the least of your problems. I stopped at the marquee displaying all the Arby greats in bright lights, and placed my order. After the voice in the box declared my total and asked me to pull up, I eased up behind the white car in front of me. I pulled out my money organizer and opened the cash compartment where my bills were organized from the smallest denomination to the greatest, ...
OK I can't even type that with a straight face. If you know me at all, I am not organized. To organize denominations to me means to put all the Baptists together, all the Pentecostals, together, and separate the "loose change", leftovers from who knows what denomination.
No, the truth is I began to dig in my purse, pulling out handfuls of receipts, wadded Kleenex (remnants of good church services), highlighters, pens, makeup, travel size hairspray, Tylenol,........BAMMMMM! My body lurched forward ramming the steering wheel into my stomach! I had been hit! I flung the contents of my purse on the passenger seat, and jerked my head around to see the culprit. He was gone! Hit and run that fast?!!! Then as I turned back around and looked through the windshield, I saw that the white car had backed up to get a better look at the accident....no she was still at the window....... how did I get so close to her car? We were so close I could read her odometer and hear her radio. Her angry face staring back at me said it all. I had hit her. My foot had eased off the brake just enough to roll into the back of her car.
I sprung into action. I put my car into reverse, backed up, saw no damage on her car, gave her the thumbs up sign that all was well, and ordered another biscuit, ready to put the whole incident behind me. Some people really can't move on as quickly as I would like.
I saw her motioning frantically to the cashier, and I hoped it was because she needed extra napkins or more honey mustard sauce. When the cashier reached for the phone, I hoped she was calling to check on the next delivery of Roast Beef. When I saw the flashing lights, I hoped I was already dead and that it was County Coroner. When I saw the badge, I wondered how in world I was going to find my license in all the confetti of papers that had been sent airborne after the BIG BANG.
I cried and cried never leaving the car. The officer told me he saw no damage, and not to worry. I tried to tell him I was a careful driver, but my car wasn't the best witness to call to the stand. The Arby's manager brought my "Breakfast of Champions" to me in the car, free of charge. Apparently, gawkers and nosy people get really hungry while on the job and I had attracted quite a bit of business. The officer, again, told me forget about it, it wasn't even a fender bender, it was just a bump with no damage. That all sounded good, but the paper he kept writing on, made me worry. I parted ways with the other driver, with neither of us ever exiting our vehicles to meet face to face.
Days later, I found out the name of the driver and tried to repeatedly call her to tell her I would pay for any damage personally, not to run it through her insurance. I called and called, left message after message, drove by her house, and left notes at her house. I made it my personal mission to stop her from contacting my insurance. Why? Because that was my third accident in 6 months. Three accidents that all listed me as the at fault driver. The insurance company had me on probation, under surveillance, and made me attend mandatory AAA meetings. "Hi, my name is Jennifer, and I couldn't drive any worse if I were an alcoholic."
After weeks with no response, my dad said, "Let it go. If she was going to turn it in, she would have done it by now."
Right....Eight weeks later, my dad received a call from the insurance company, about a claim filed on me. One week later my dad received the new quote on our family insurance in the mail. Before the mailman had pulled out of our driveway, my dad had me standing in the Department of Motor Vehicles, watching my license be shredded before my eyes. Apparently, if I wasn't a licensed driver, my dad's insurance couldn't increase.
How odd it was to see my life ending in the very room it all began. I had spent many a Friday morning there registering for my driver's tests. Unfortunately, that is meant to be plural. After my parents used up their vacation days taking off work to run me to the courthouse for me to try "one more time" to pass, they recruited a lady from church that I babysat for ,to take over driving the shuttle bus. Every time I failed, she and her 3 year old son, Daniel, would take me to Shoney's for the breakfast buffet. I remember the morning I finally passed. Daniel didn't look so happy. She asked what was wrong. Daniel replied, "Do we still get to go to Shoney's?" Oh yes, that morning we shared the "Breakfast of Champions".
As I watched my license fall into the garbage can, I promised myself, I would be back.
For a year I walked to college, work, the bank, and.....Arby's. Eventually, the wrecks faded into oblivion on my driving record, and my insurance premiums no longer rivaled the national debt. I was once again a licensed driver. Aren't y'all thrilled to know I'm back on the road?
And now, sixteen years later, this woman, who had to have an entire bumper replaced 2 months after the accident was standing in my living room. Not only was she there, she was now related to me.
I can't help but wonder, if God wasn't giggling that fateful morning in Arby's. Looking into the future as only He can do, He connected two lives by what I thought was yellow police tape, but He saw as a tender thread that He would weave stronger throughout the years, as He wove into my life my husband and his family. But I don't think the thread was intended to join two lives as much as it was intended to join a past failure with present day grace. So many times relationships are the catalysts God uses to mold us, change us, teach us, grow us, bless us, guide us, and yes, break us. It was the experience that He wanted that thread to keep me connected with.
If I have learned anything in my life, I have learned this-God doesn't waste a single experience. Every moment of your life bears His fingerprint if we will look for it. The truth was, I was blaming her for my own irresponsibility. My wreck with her may have been the straw that broke the camel's back, but I had been sowing the seed that straw was harvested from for a long time. I wanted to blame others for my own mistakes. I was the one who drove too fast in the rain and hit the tree. I was the one who backed out of my driveway angrily, and hit the neighbor. I was the one who was careless and allowed my car to "embrace" the other in a morning hug. Yet, God was not upset with the accidents, he was concerned with my inability to accept responsibility, my resistance to heeding warnings about my driving, and my blindness to my own need to ask forgiveness, accept His grace, and move on.
I can think of someone else in the Bible who had three incidents God wanted to address. I am reminded of Peter fishing once again for fish, instead of men after his ministry took a nose dive from his three "accidents" or denials of Christ. After Christ's death, and the agonizing pain of his failures, Peter abandoned the call on his life, and once again chose his pre-ministry career- fishing. After an unsuccessful first day at his old job, a stranger from the shore gave some advice that yielded quite a catch. The stranger then invited Peter to the shore for a breakfast of fish. When Peter saw the stranger was Jesus, he dove into the water, unwilling to wait for the boat ride, and hauled the net of fish to shore himself.
Jesus could have seen Peter's desire to please, and let the past failures slide, but Jesus will never sweep anything under the rug. He will either cast it into the sea of forgetfulness or it will set before His eyes. He has no lost files, no unsolved cases. He wants to deal with it and remove it.
Peter is confronted by the Master. Not for what he did, but for how he handled it.
Peter had a choice. He could have blamed the three people who accused him of following Jesus...but they were right! He could have blamed the owner of the rooster, for not keeping him quiet when people were trying to sleep. He could have made excuses. He could have spent the rest of his life on a boat, fishing, his aged and weathered hands repairing nets, simply because he was too stubborn to admit he needed repairing, and that without it he would be useless to the Kingdom.
But Christ's love for Peter, you, and me will not allow us to remain crippled by unconfessed sin, when a moment of brokenness and conviction can repair and heal so quickly and efficiently. Three times Christ asks Peter questions dealing with his love for Christ, and re-iterating the call that Christ had placed on Peter's life.
Christ was asking Him, are you going to be made better by this, or crippled by this. It's not about what happened but where are we going from here. For 16 years I had a deep buried resentment towards this woman-so deep I had forgotten. But Christ saw it, and dealt with it, calling me to join Him at a fish fry, where I prepared the fish and He brought a surprise guest.
So as I said goodbye to her tonight, I let it all go. Like Peter, I chose the relationship over the crippling shackles of wounded pride and self-defeating bitterness. But just in case there were any grudges on her part, I whispered to my husband..."You better move my car."
My advice to you, check the Spiritual menu. If fish is on it....be prepared.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
"Mommy, did you date anyone before daddy?"
A thousand, (ok six) stale memories flooded my mind as I made a mental note of every dating type situation I had encountered before meeting my husband. Sadly, I have to say I never dated...I had more of what you would call "close encounters". Here's the list. You be the judge.
1. I once fell in love with a seminary student. We worked together and took a drama class together. We were assigned a play to attend at a school an hour away. He asked me if I wanted to go with him. Date? I thought so. Turns out he forgot his wallet. I paid for tickets, gas, and food. Then on the way home he told me he was struggling with "feelings" he had for the same sex. I am not sure if that struggle started before or after he met me. If you have to convince a boy he should like girls, it's probably not a date.
2. I fell in love with another seminary student. I was at a youth activity where I was asked what I was looking for in a man. I said, "Blond, blue eyes, tall, and called to preach." He walked in and said, "Here I am." His mother suggested we go bowling. While we bowled I kept envisioning an aisle, alter, and 10 groomsman wearing white every time I looked down the alley at the pins. Everything was swell. He had money with him. He expressed no feelings for my brother or other males. All was well, until he told me of his struggles with pot, and the seminary's lack of support for such behavior. Apparently, he thought it would help him relate better to the youth once he was a youth pastor. Right.......I suggested that made as much sense as him trying to go through menopause so he could relate to women when he was a pastor.
3. I was once on a blind date with a boy just back from the Persian Gulf War. We were at a young married couple's gathering. It was very awkward. I didn't think it went too bad until I asked a mutual friend about him after not hearing from him for over a week. He re-enlisted for another tour of duty overseas. Again, I don't know if he made that decision before or after meeting me. If a man thinks the heat of battle on another continent is more enticing than another date with you, you may need to reevaluate your dating strategy.
4. I once had a youth pastor ask me out. It was the strangest invitation I ever received. He asked while I was at work at JC Penney's in the shoe department. In front of customers and co-workers He opened his wallet and showed me all of his ex-girlfriends pictures, along with a short description of their virtues, and failures. It was as if he was as if he was presenting a job description, telling me what would be required. "If you can sing like Debbie, but not nag like Peggy, dress like Sarah, but not laugh like Becky then I might consider making you the next member of my hall of fame!" I doubt Debbie, Becky, Peggy, and Sarah were carrying around pictures of him. Little did he know he had just joined a hall of fame of mine.
5. I once fell in love with a Mormon. I convinced myself it WAS possible that God had another book that He had Joseph Smith to dig up. God has a lot on his mind, surely He misplaces things from time to time. It was during this "close encounter" my dad, the preacher, nearly lost his mind. Turns out I wasn't a date to this boy, I was a new recruit for the Latter Day Saints. He became a Former Day Dud to me. It dawned on me later that if God couldn't keep up with His own book He wrote, and accidentally buried it, how in the world could He keep up with me? The answer-it wasn't His book to begin with! (So yes, let me re-itirate I only believe in ONE Holy Bible that is God's Word, the other is just....well....muddy.)
6. I once had a blind date with a boy my friend fixed me up with. He picked me up in his truck right after a big snow. As I went to pull myself up in the truck, I slammed my head into the door frame. I had blurred vision most of the night. When we arrived at the house, I stepped out of the truck into snow that looked about three inches deep. It was 3 feet deep. I fell, with my feet and torso sliding under the truck. Surprisingly, he called for a second date, which resulted in him being pulled over by the police for expired tags, expired license, and no insurance. Being the only licensed driver in the vehicle I had to drive the truck which was a standard. I had never driven a standard. We compromised with me steering and him shifting. On our third date, he ran out out of gas. On Valentines Day, he told me he loved me, and then said, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to say that... I take it back." On August 30, I married him.
Needless to say I don't have a treasure box of mementos from all my suitors. All my notes, dried flowers, and pictures are from the only man I've ever kissed, or held hands with-my husband. But truthfully, those mementos would mean nothing without having a loving relationship with him.
Can I ask you something? Do you have a loving relationship with Jesus Christ, or just a lot of close encounters? Do you describe your ties with in Him in past tense, or as a daily, ongoing experience? Zaccheus could describe watching Jesus from a tree and having dinner with Him. Mary could describe Jesus' back and belly as she remembers bathing Him as a baby. The blind man could describe Jesus' face as he first saw Him through healed eyes. Mary could describe Jesus' feet as she remembers her tears running down his ankle and trickling between His toes. The Roman soldier could describe Jesus' hands as he remembers driving the nails through them. But these are all just close encounters. If there was no relationship formed, friendship forged, eternal connection made, or blood applied, these moments have no value.
Christ is not looking to be an entry in my journal occasionally, an event on my calendar a few Sundays a month, an emergency number on my fridge when things get too tough, or even the main character in a little anecdote I share with friends or my Sunday School Class. He came to earth to get up close and personal with His creation. He was up and close and personal with Adam and Eve before the Fall. He longs and desires for an intimate, daily, loving relationship with us. When we are living in that closeness with Him, we find mementos of His love all around us-a colorful sunset, a cool breeze, a child's laughter, a favorite song on the radio-they all become love messages from our Creator to His Bride. All reminders of His thoughts toward us that outnumber the sands on the seas.
If God were to be asked, "Did you love anyone else before Jennifer?" His answer would be, "No. It was not love at first sight, but love at first thought. I have loved her for as long as I can remember, since the foundation of the world! I planned our moments together before I formed her. I poured out my love for her on the cross, before she drew her first breath. I began preparing her mansion before she said, 'Amen' at the end of her sinner's prayer. She's doesn't even realize all the ways I daily intervene in her life, showing my love through my provision, protection, and preparations I make for her. My love can be seen as a constant thread woven into her life moment by moment. "
Can my love for Him be seen as thread woven through my life moment by moment? Sadly, no. When the tapestry of my life is over, inevitably there be will be spots bare where I failed to contribute anything to the fabric of my relationship with Christ. Just because He will always love me, and never look for another more willing and able to reciprocate His love, does not mean I should take advantage of Him. For, truthfully, when we neglect Him, it is we who lose.
So, no Rachael, I didn't date before Daddy. But I did have a Secret Admirer who pursued me until I was nine years old before revealing Himself to me in alter of prayer. Now, I hope to spend the rest of my life pursuing Him, catching Him daily in close encounters.
Thursday, July 9, 2009
"a thousand to fall at my side" would somehow not come near our home. But my faith was not strong enough, my prayers not powerful enough. We were destined to become like almost every other married couple I knew. It does indeed rain on the just and the unjust.
I can remember the night well, that our home was invaded. As a newlywed, I was pouring my heart out to my husband as he watched TV to keep from being overwhelmed with emotion at the details of my story. Then as I allowed the usual moment of hesitation in my monologue, where he would normally enter the conversation with compassion, wisdom, and understanding, there was silence. I remember waiting, thinking, "Wow! He is so touched with my outpouring, he cannot speak." The silence continued...and then the scene that has been rerun in our home more times than Andy Griffith played out.
"Honey? Honey? Are you listening??......HONEY! ARE YOU LISTENING?"
His armor still shown brightly, as it rested against the blue denim background of the recliner. His shield still rested against the left side of the chair, and his sword against the right side, ready to defend me in a heartbeat, but something was still wrong. I then ran to my knight in shining armor's side convinced some thing was terribly wrong. Finally after struggling to shake that massive amount of shining metal and getting no response, denting the chest plate as I enthusiastically performed CPR attempting to revive him, I flipped open his face guard, only to find a some cob webs and a note, "Gone to get a sandwich, keep talking."
The glazed look in his eyes as he returned from the kitchen, wearing his ragged white t-shirt and jeans, said it all. (Do Knights always dress that tacky under their armor?)Not only did he not have anything to say about my vocal offerings, not only did he not hear them, he did not know I was in the room. The winds of selective hearing had blown into our home. I thought my man would be different than so many of my friends' husbands. It was a sad day, for both of us. I would now talk twice as much since he could only absorb half as much. The half he did absorb would be confused with the the half he didn't hear. The half he didn't get would be the whole juxt of the conversation.
I have come to accept my husband's late onset hearing disability, although I think it would make it easier to deal with if I could receive a monthly disability check to compensate me for the inconvenience his hearing loss has caused me. Of, course I would have more information to share with him when I came back from shopping which would only make the situation more unbearable for both of us.
The new tragedy? Our home has been struck again. My 10 year old son started exhibiting the same symptoms of this disability. I was devastated. He is only 10. He's too young for a grown man's disease. I cried out to God in desperation, "Please don't take my son from me! I still have so much to share with him! Please God, 6 months! Give me 6 months to say goodbye, before his eyes glaze over, and communication is forever limited to commercial breaks and the time it takes to fix him a sandwich!" But I did not pray through and his hearing got worse.I would frequently be giving directions in his general direction in the living room. I would wait on some sort of acknowledgment that my words had been received and processed. Moment's later, still no response. I cannot count the times I have given reminders as we walked out the door, of items he needed to grab, only to arrive at our destination "itemless". I found myself addressing him like he was 90 years old and living in a rest home.
"IT'S TIME FOR YOUR BATH!"
"NOT MATH! YOUR BBBBBBAAAAATH!"
And with the absolute sincerest look on his face, he would say, "Mom, I'm sorry, I didn't hear you."
Well, this mom got tired of apologies. I decided to take Nathan to our Ear, Nose, and Throat Specialist. We drove an hour and a half, in hopes of a miracle procedure to restore sanity to our home.
We arrived, and I informed the doctor of my dilemma. "My son is turning into his father at age 10. This should concern all parties involved. " He didn't seem to realize what a state of national emergency this was. I told him of Nathan's hearing loss, his constant misunderstandings, and the all annoying phrase repeated throughout the day, "What?".
The doctor laughed and informed me, that he has numerous wives drag their husbands into his office to get their hearing checked, only to find their husbands can hear fine, it's the high frequency of their wives' voices that they cannot hear. I cracked up laughing, assuming that was some sort of audiologist' joke, but he assured me it was true. I felt pity for those wives, but knew God could move in my situation. Apparently God moved all right- right out of that doctor's office. They performed the tests on Nathan's ears. I was shocked by the results- as I usually am when told I am the one with the problem. Apparently the high frequency of my voice does not always register in Nathan's ears. The more frustrated I get, the higher my voice goes, decreasing my chances of being heard. I am raising a 10 year old, with the hearing of a 60 year old. The doctor suggested he marry a woman with a deep voice. He did give me some pointers to making sure I am heard- make him look me in the eyes when I am giving him direction. Make him repeat the directions back to me. Minimize distractions during important conversations. He said I could also try them on my son if they worked on my husband.
Then as we were leaving, the doctor told Nathan, "Nathan, it was good to see you again."
Nathan replied, "Again, what does he mean again?"
"Nathan, he was the doctor that took your tonsils out."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot."
With his memory following so closely on the departure on his hearing, we decided to go straight to the Social Security Office and get his paperwork started. Wanted: A godly woman with a low voice, a good memory, and patience to marry my son.
As we prepared to leave the office though, the doctor looked into Nathan's eyes and gave him a clear instruction. "Don't tell your mother anymore you can't hear. You need to be honest and say, "I wasn't listening."
Well, about that time, God stepped back into the office, and convicted me of my listening skills.
"My sheep know my voice.....
I know His voice well. I can recognize Him in a crowd. I can hear Him in the crashing waves, or a gentle brook. And I know when to pretend I didn't hear Him- when He asks for more than I am willing to give. I can hear Him calling my name, when I want just 30 minutes to sleep. When He calls me from my gentle cruise to leave the boat and walk on the water, I sometimes find myself in more of a hearing mood than listening one. We as His sheep know His voice, but are we always listening? To hear is to simply acknowledge the sound, to listen is to hear the sound and process the information. So many times, I am comforted by hearing His voice, because it means He is still near. It also somehow leads me to believe that as long as I am close enough to still hear His voice, than I can hone in and listen more closely when I feel like "listening."
The sad issue is this- it we who miss out when we don't listen. When I try to tune out the noise of my kids each day, I miss out on on conversations I want to join, games I want to play, jokes when I really need a laugh, and joy and chaos I will someday miss and long to hear. Sometimes we are tuning out an invitation from God to draw closer, go deeper, soar higher, or even rest longer. We tend to always try to remember that we will not have our kids forever and time is precious with them. If only we could grasp that concept with God. Though God is eternal, the time He would share with us today under these circumstances in our lives, may never happen again. It is the changes in us that will hinder the effectiveness and impact of time spent with Him, not Him. If God calls you today, it is because He knew something of your present circumstances or tomorrow's events that makes this moment in time the perfect moment to speak to you. What if what He wants to impart to you today, will be too late to receive tomorrow? We treat God's continual presence and activity in our lives too lightly. We take for granted our God who never sleeps nor slumbers, assuming we will always another time to meet.
When the same voice that spoke light into existence, calls unto our inner man to come and dine, it is not an invitation to be taken lightly. Just as he tried to instill in the Israelites with their daily ration of manna, there is daily provision from Him available to us each day. Tomorrow's will not be available today, and today's will not sustain through tomorrow. Just as I long for Nathan to treat every word I speak to Him as significant and meaningful, how much more so should the words of our Good Shepherd be heeded and internalized.
As Dr. Schultz gently reprimanded Nathan, I too, received the rebuke to be honest-"Father, I will not say I did not hear you, but rather I was not listening. " How ridiculous to ever think God would speak too low for me to hear.
I paid a $35.00 co-pay for that rebuke. Of course, I saved $35.00 when I cancelled the appointment I had made for my husband.
Monday, July 6, 2009
Such was the case this week.
In preparation for the company this weekend, I was fulfilling my job duties as "Keeper of the Cement Pond." I was skimming, chlorinating, vacuuming, and sweating. When I clean the pool, I usually dress in my oldest, tattered, faded clothes because I am notorious for getting chlorine on them and fading them. That day was no different. In addition to bumming down, I will neglect to apply makeup or style my hair. Why apply what is going to be sweated off into the pool water anyway, and then require more treatment to remove?
As this Beverly Hillbilly 90210 pool gal worked her magic clearing up the water, in a manner only Moses and his staff could rival, a predicament arose. In the bottom of the 10 foot deep end, garbage had become trapped in the drain preventing the water to flow properly through the pump. On any other given day in the summer, there would have been short elves and dwarfs in the water who would have been thrilled with the task of diving down and cleaning the drain. On this such day, no one under 5' 4" was present. Desperately needing to get the pool cleaned, I decided to take action. I would dive down and retrieve the garbage. Since I have not invested in my own pool accessories, I decided to borrow from the kids treasure box of gear. Digging through the jumbled mess, I found a pair of goggles I needed to be able to see the drain clearly under water. As I stretched the goggles over my head, I realized my head is considerably larger than a 7 year olds. I adjusted the goggles to as large as possible, and then wedged them over my head. Instead of holding all my hair down under the band, it somehow managed to redirect my hair upward, giving the appearance of a hairpiece perched upon my head ready to be released with the next good breeze. That, however, was minor to the change the goggles made to my face. I apparently have quite a bit more facial fat than a 7 year old also. The goggles had the opposite effect of a face lift. Every ounce of fat on my face was pulled down into the goggles. I was struggling to see through the two slits where the cheek fat met my eyes in each lens. Because of the immense pressure of the goggles on my face, every bit of skin out side the goggles was red and every bit of skin in the goggles was white. I looked like a homeless diver, who had been stung by a bee and was awaiting the Jaws of Life to remove me from my entrapment.
It was uncomfortable, yet I knew the sooner I got it over with, the sooner I could move on to another project. I slid into the water, and prepared to submerge beneath the surface. If submerge gives you the mental image of a submarine diving towards the depths, good. That's the only image that can come close to describing this amount of flesh entering the water.
I bobbed in the deep end for a few minutes, practicing holding my breath, and situated myself against the wall to be able to effectively push off the side and gain momentum for the journey down.I was beginning to feel like I belonged in a Jacques Cousteau documentary. " Watch as the massive creature circles her prey, preparing to lunge in for the kill," He might would say in hushed tones. I was finally ready to pursue the drain. Deep breath, solid push against the wall, and I am under. I t is really hard to judge distance under the water. I overshot the drain and tried to turn mid glide and swim back toward the drain. But a new problem arose. When shorts get wet, and when they are loose anyway, they tend to not stay put. Every time I moved forward, my shorts tried to stay stationary in the water. I developed a new stroke. I would use both hands to glide forward, then both hands to grab the shorts. I looked like a jellyfish, where the legs move first, then the head has to catch up. I repeated this stroke across the pool. Glide with arms, grab shorts. Glide with arms, grab shorts.
Finally I was back over the drain, and already exhausted with my new synchronized swimming routine. I rose to the surface, gagging and choking as I held my shorts with one hand and tried to remain afloat with the other, took a deep breath, and plunged back into the water. I managed to get to the drain and grab a huge handful of leaves. I kicked for all I was worth trying to hold onto the garbage and my shorts. I broke through the service again, gagging and coughing, as I doggy paddled my way to the shore to deposit my garbage on the concrete. Unable to use my arms, I decided to flip on my back and float to shore. I held the handful of leaves straight up in the hair like the Liberty Torch, and kicked and splashed my way to the side of the pool. When the side was in reach, I slapped those leaves on the pavement, just as the goggles slid up pulling my hair into a tight pony tail on top of my head, while the bottle of the goggles caught on the tip of my nose, pulling it straight up in "pig like" appearance. Unable to fix the goggles, hold the shorts, release my hair, and stay afloat, I just bobbed and gagged for a moment to catch my breath. It was then I noticed two boots attached to brown pants standing 12 inches from me. I looked up into the very disturbed and shocked face of the UPS man.
It was obvious by his stunned face, and perched stance, he had been standing there a while. I don't know if he was more afraid of me coming out of the water, or of possibly having to go in after me. I am not sure he wanted to hang around for either possibility.
"Hi," I blubbered.
"I...I... have a package for you," he stuttered.
"OK. Just leave it on the porch, " I said in a tone of voice that I hope resembled that of an efficient secretary and not that of a beached whale.
" I will. Are you gonna be alright?"
What a loaded question. I have never been "alright". I am an accident waiting to happen, and a candid camera's dream. I felt, however, that I needed to re-assure this man so he would not worry about me on the remainder of his route.
So what could I say, that would ease his mind and yet explain my behavior. With a contorted, red face, I gave my explanation.
"You know how rodeos have clowns? Sea World is going to try the same concept in the Shamu show. Water clowns. I'm trying out."
Without a moment's hesitation, he replied, "You're ready,"with a twinkle in his eye, as he backed the big brown van down the drive-way.
I was embarrassed, and yet it was an obvious reminder- you never know who is watching you. You may work diligently to portray to others exactly what you want them to see and perceive about you, but what you truly are will eventually shine through. Sometimes the only catalyst needed to bring out our hidden nature is a forbidden fruit tree, a bathing maiden on a roof top, a crowing rooster, or even suffering. We may be observed in the fiery furnace like the three Hebrew boys. We may be observed in our slavery like Joseph. We may be observed in our power and authority like King Saul. We may even be observed in our death like Stephen. How will we do? Will the true nature of Christ shine through us? Will we be able to draw on the unending source of strength and power in our lives, or will the emptiness of our spiritual tank become obvious to all. So many times we feel we are inadequate to be used for the kingdom. We do not realize we are daily a testimony to the world. Every action is documented by a lost world and a knowing family. It is the difference bewteen carrying the cross and wearing the cross. One strives to make a statement with no sacrifice involved, the other seeks to protray the sacrifice that requires no further statement- an innocent King on a guilty man's cross-my cross. The true measure of a Christian's commitment is not what he does with the cross, but what the cross does to him. The world will not be reached by viewing our religious jewlry and wearing our catch phrase T-shirts, if underneath we do not also bear the marks of the cross on our back and His Word on our lips. Someone is watching and a world is waiting.
Don't be caught with garbage in your hand and holding up your britches. A lost world is not drawn in by that image, only UPS drivers.