Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fast Food and Fish

There she was. After all these years, there she was in MY house, eating MY food, talking to MY family. I took deep breaths, said a prayer, and pasted on a smile as I thanked her for coming. I looked deep into her eyes, searching for any hint of recognition. Did she remember? Had she truly forgotten our paths had crossed years ago, or was she just avoiding the issue?

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 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 prepared.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Close Encounters

My daughter recently got into one of those moods where she had a thousand questions. These questions were more of a personal nature.

"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.