Sunday, July 26, 2009

In Sync

I have noticed that sometimes the picture I am seeing and the words that I am hearing can be out of sync. It really is troublesome. Sometimes it is just enough out of sync that I think my hearing is delayed. But upon prolonged exposure, it becomes more apparent that indeed it is out of whack and someone with some technical skills needs to step in and put it back together.

You have probably experienced it in a movie or on television. Whenever it happens, it is annoying enough that you can't really continue to watch it. Especially if it is an important scene, it really messes up the impact due to its distraction. You focus on the timing rather than what is being said. I am quite sure you know exactly of what I speak and have been equally annoyed.
Another occasion that can occur is seeing a picture on a screen and the words ticker along the bottom, but the words seem unrelated to the visual images. For instance, it can be during a romantic comedy like Sleepless in Seattle on a TV network with Meg Ryan saying something funny, but the words across the ticker roll across the bottom of the screen saying, "11 dead in a tornado in Arkansas" or "earthquake rumbles in Indonesia at 5.2 on Rector scale thousands feared dead" or "mudslides in California, kills 4 teens camping on Boy Scout outing". These sorts of words have crossed too many screens, reporting too many tragedies. Those kinds of words suck the air out of any movie, no matter how funny or beautiful the picture above.

It happens not only on a screen but also in real life. It happened to me just last week. It had been a lovely day; the grandbabies were at the house with their moms and dads, and we had all had a delicious dinner together. The little ones had their baths and were all snug in their beds. Things had gone from the chaos of four little ones running and a new puppy chasing them at full throttle to that blissful quiet of each tucked into bed, and a worn out puppy lying at our feet. The sound of adults enjoying one another’s company in late evening chatter, catching up on the happenings of the day and the expectations of tomorrow---all was well; the day was done. We had even made homemade peach ice cream earlier and were about to hit round two in a midnight invasion of the freezer. The scene was good - really good.

I picked up my computer and began the task of catching up on emails after being out of the country. As I maneuvered my way through, the ticker along the bottom of this beautiful scene sucked the air out of me. The eminent death of someone I cared for was on my screen. As I scrolled the words, hurt like deep scratches clawed my heart. It squeezed the air out of me until breath itself was difficult--I hurt for my friends. I imagined their circumstances; I exchanged places in my mind--in a flash I was in ICU--I heard the sounds of the machines, I saw the spaghetti of tubes and IVs. I smelled the sterile environment and felt the chill of the air-conditioned halls. The words I read did not match the comfy, content cathedral of my home and family in which I sat. Through the night, I awoke thinking of them and all they were facing. And although we have been down this road with others, the path to losing a loved one is neither easy nor unfamiliar.

Our visit the next day put further distance between words and worlds in sync in this bubble of pain. The rest the world was gorgeous outside; a beautiful sunset filled the canvas of sky out the windows of the hospital corridor. Magnificent in color, all seemed as if we should be standing on a beach in Key West--not outside the door of death. The same people that had gathered for football games and laughter, Bible studies and church, parties and cookouts, were now gathered in a hospital hallway. The worlds seemed too much in contrast to be on the same page. We hugged, cried with them, and spoke words of comfort. We recalled memories and listened to the pain in their voices as they had reached the time that their loved one would be departing from them. One of the friends gathered mentioned that the “ticker” of the screen of life did not match the picture. It seemed as though once spoken, it identified my angst. That was it; I had only felt it, but could not put my finger on the problem. Once it was stated, it all went back into sync.

For me, my emotions and reality were out of rhythm. My picture can reel ahead, but I need to keep in mind and heart that the King and the Kingdom aren't always apparent. It looks like one thing, but something entirely different may be going on. The disciples had the same looked like a huge storm was about to make them capsize, or the man was yelling too loudly from the crowd, or the children should leave Jesus alone so that He could attend to more important tasks at hand. They thought one thing was the reality, which resulted in their emotions and thoughts carrying out that action they believed, but what they did not see was that Jesus operated in a whole other realm--the Kingdom was about to break into those areas. The winds and the water would obey Him; the blind were about to see, and children were the prizes - not the problem. His actions followed what He believed. They were in sync - He knew the power, the character, and the plan of the Father and because of that, He conducted His life according to the King and the Kingdom.

We are to learn from the disciples, yet not reenact their lack of faith. They had not yet seen the cross. They had not seen the empty tomb yet, and they did not have the Holy Spirit or the entire body of scripture to read in much of what we see in scripture about them. But just after the cross, resurrection, and the Holy Spirit being breathed upon them, Jesus said to Thomas, just after he believed, "Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (John 20:29) All along they had trouble with the words and pictures not matching. They did not understand what Jesus was speaking; they did not understand the Kingdom of which He kept talking about. Many of the other people were expecting Him to be King. Such a great king He would make--true. Talk about solving problems! Healthcare? Solved! He could just heal them! Hunger? Solved! He blessed five loaves and two fish and fed five thousand--He could feed them. Power to rule? Solved! He made even nature obey Him with His words. What they saw was that their world problems could be solved, and they shouted, "Save now!" But what they saw did not fit with His actions. He did not take charge; He did not even stop the arrest. He did not take on the authorities they saw. The crowd yelled, "Crucify Him". He did not do as they expected—so the people just killed Him.

What they did not know is that He had to die to restart, reconcile, and restore what He had made and begun, clear back in the Garden of Eden. For it was there that the picture and the words first got out of sync. It was there that mankind doubted the goodness of their Creator and committed treason against the King. Another world - a world of shame and death began with all its rippling effects. It has so broken the world we still live in. What we believe and what is reality is dramatically out of whack. The King will take back and restore all that seems wrong and lost. But until then, Jesus spoke words like,” Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in Me.” (John 14:1) "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27)." "I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16:33) And "Peace be with you". (John 20:21)

He not only knows that we are out of sync, but He also shows us how to get back and remain in sync. What we believe is what carries out into how we behave. Sin is wrong thinking about God that leads to wrong actions. When we believe rightly we can behave rightly—then we get back into sync. We must know Him, know His character, know His Word and believe it! What we see is not all that is going on-- look further - see Him always a work. Join Him and pray along with Him..."Your kingdom come, Your will be done..." This was not just a model of words, but also of belief. The King will make all things right no matter how messed up they may seem for now. Believe Him; receive peace; act out of that peace - get in sync with the big picture. He is a Master Technician: the words and the picture will all match soon; sight and sound will come together at last! "And I SAW a new heaven and a new earth…and I HEARD a loud voice from the throne.” (Revelation 21:1,3)... Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who sits on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" (Revelation 21:3-5a)

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Face to Face

Every year around this time, I can’t help but remember an experience…

It was in July, about 6 years ago; I found myself trekking 60 miles in the Peruvian Andes; clearly out of my usual comfort zone in which I live. Way out. No roads or road signs, no hustle bustle, let alone any decorated rooms, or fresh sheets washed in Tide and Downy, no feather beds, no hot showers to start and end your day, no cute little capri’s and summer shirts with the matching earrings, bracelets or necklace which of course coordinate with a favorite pair of flip flops—nothing remotely like that! Stark wilderness, snow capped mountains, silent serenity interrupted occasionally only by the sound of an avalanche thundering in the distance. Here and there were faint footpaths. Our gear included muted colored sleeping bags and earthy green, brown and gray tents. Our clothes looked like they were out an REI catalogue shoot—like zip off hiking pants and clunky climbing boots, bandanas, and Patagonia jackets.

Furthermore, I had never camped out in the backyard let alone in high altitudes! I had wondered if I could even “survive”. The whole time I trained prior to our arrival, I would get bouts of fear. But it really surged terror through me when this athletic, young, twenty something cross country marathon runner passed out face first in front of me onto a rocky street while we were just unloading the bus to go into the mission center! Yikes! I am going to die! If she doesn’t make it getting off the bus, how will I ever climb mountains? I have no hope! She is young and fit—ught oh, what does this say for a body with patina, to put it in a nice decorating term? I don’t want to find the ground by planting my nose in it. Help!

That was only the beginning of many similar thoughts throughout the days to follow. Over and over I contemplated death— I knew I was surely going to perish before I got home. In a moment of brilliance, I realized that because I was so green to the whole trekking, backpacking, tent thing, I needed to look for someone who had experience and previous knowledge of survival in such conditions. Out of our team, I, along a handful of others, was by far among the older generation—and I was totally out of my element—did I mention that? Sooooo far out, like another galaxy.

I spotted a young man in his early 30’s (I guessed) that was incredibly kind that obviously had done this hiking thing before. His compassion oozed as I saw him rescue some man that was clearly as much or more of a novice than I—which was hard to imagine. But he didn’t even train or break in his boots before coming. He was wearing brand new boots—another whole story. But just a snip it of it… we had all gotten spaced apart as a group, and I heard someone crying behind me, but no one else was in sight. Just then, over this ridge, this guy (perhaps my age) came into view; he was the one that was crying! Oh great! The only person in sight, and it’s a crying man! This is not good. I am going to have to help him—me, the going to die any minute one!! We glopped through some mud that just about sucked the boots off our feet until finally we came upon the other part of the team, taking a break. So this angel sort of man—Kevin, helps this guy undo his boots and bandages his bloody feet. Okay, I have seen movie heroes, but here was a real life super hero—Kevin was my new best friend.

More than I can write about, I saw Kevin help other team members through all sorts of crisis as the week went on. As much as possible I walked with Kevin. I not only walked with him, I imitated him—when he ate, I ate; when he drank water, I drank water. When he pulled off his jacket, I took mine off—Kevin knew how to make it in this alien world of narrow foot paths, high mountains, and walking 12 miles a day. He knew which rocks to cross a stream on, when to rest, and how to assess the land ahead. I was so glad to be with him—he had done this before; it was second nature to him. No panic, no sniveling, and no tears. We talked endlessly in that week. Mostly he was in front of me and I kept my eyes on his feet as we climbed increasingly higher. When I thought I could not take another step, I would just watch his feet. I would put my foot where his foot just had been. Each step he took gave me strength to step one more. Sometimes I was too tired to talk—that’s really tired for me!
But I got to know him, more than any one else on the team because I stayed with him. I knew I needed him. I had way more questions than we had time or energy to find out while we were trekking. You can imagine my delight to hear that he was going to speak the night we returned to the city. We were all gathered in a huge squished circle in the house where the missionary lived, and Kevin began to tell his story. I was across the circle from him, and as he shared, I realized I was familiar with his voice and some of the story, but not his face. I watched his expressions and his laugh and thought “ Hmmmmm, I didn’t know that is what he looked like when he said those words or laughed; I only know him from behind, only his feet, not his face. That’s funny; I have never met anyone in quite that style. Usually you know someone by their “face first.” I realized I thought I was enjoying his face more than anyone else; I knew him best. I knew a lot of his story already, and now I could see his face. It was so surreal connecting it all and enjoying it so much, him sharing things I had wondered about, but could not ask it all and still walk. I automatically loved his wife and children because that was what he loved, sounds pretty strange, huh?
Minutes later we began to worship, and I heard God begin to speak to my heart. He said. “One day your walk will be over, Jody. One day that trek through hard places will end. You know how it felt foreign and you didn’t know how to do it so well? Well, you will be home and rest will fit you well. The cries, the bloody feet, the fears, the panic will be done. You have walked with Me. You knew you needed Me, I’m so glad you chose to follow Me. My steps showed you where to walk. You saw me lovingly care for others. You imitated Me—you made it! You knew I was the only One that knew these paths, these mountains, and how long each daily journey would be. But Jody, there is one more thing; you have only known My voice and My feet— one day you will know My face. And you will enjoy it so much. You will see my face as I speak your name, you will see My expressions, you will see My face curl with laughter and the lines form around My eyes as I delight in my creation. You will sit with Me as I tell stories and we will enjoy one another fully forever face to face.” Tears filled my eyes; I went upstairs to be alone. I cried uncontrollably until I could cry no more. The sweetness of that thought still overwhelms me years later because it is no less true, in fact, we are that much closer to that moment, and I can hardly wait. He alone knows the way; He’s done all this before. There is nowhere and nothing that throws Him off. There is nothing to fear.

Weary? Afraid? Nothing look familiar? Do you feel out of your element? Do you feel alone or abandoned? Your feet bloodied and your shoes hurt? Are you out of shape for the journey ahead? Is your patina showing? What ever it is, keep your eyes on His feet, listen for His voice, and know one day it will be His face at which you gaze. Our faith will give way to sight! Our journey over and we will be with Him forever—face to face.

Now we see through a glass dimly but then face to face…

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Clutter and Kudzu

“Every rejection we experience, until forgiven and healed, we will project onto another. Such pain and anger has to go somewhere.” How does that sit with you? That hit me like a wrecking ball to my chest—wham! Partly a surprise and partly “That is absolutely true!” Fortunately reading that line only made the huge ruckus inwardly, but if it could have been heard, it would have awakened the dead. Why so much noise? The blow was so great that it rocked through decades of my life. I think it is a statement I have been living out for years. I have made up answers and even “dealt” with it—or so I thought—but what is the answer to this? What do you do with anger, rejection, and pain? It has to go somewhere but—where?

I noticed it years ago in a funny sort of way. I was cleaning and thought about how much I hate clutter. The clutter that just comes with life; the kind that is “Honey…”, or “Hey, Mom…”, where did you put the yellow paper that was lying here last week? I left it right on the table—where did you put it?” I would answer to my husband or kids, “Have you noticed how many meals ago that was, Sweetheart? Last week, that was like a light year ago! No, I am sorry, I don’t know…” That is never where it ended. Clutter seems to grow like kudzu once it takes root—it grows and before long it takes over and covers everything.

So as I thought about clutter around the house, somehow I realized that there is emotional clutter. And just like I hate physical clutter, I hated emotional clutter. I found out that I hid it, stuffed it, or tried to let it go. I noticed it never really went anywhere though, that it either oozed out or fell out or dropped out at the most unwanted times. I spent years memorizing and meditating it away. I think I reduced the size but never got rid of it. I organized it, decorated it, shifted it, and got it out of sight but “it” was still lurking about. Rejection doesn’t go away; I think it may even develop into anger.

I remember Buddy preaching on floating hostility. I thought, “You know, I think I deal with that, I wonder how do I get rid of it?” So I tried harder and harder and harder till it gets really old trying so hard. I think I got so good at getting rid of it that I thought it disappeared when perhaps I only got it out of my sight into some floating balloon that didn’t appear to be there at all, floating higher and higher until you think it is gone it is so high. Until… you go through some low spaces or rough ceilings or storms gather atmospherically and ka-boom! Anger is dripping all over surprising the daylights out of me. I thought it was gone only to find out I tied it to something or another—like an old memory. And when I went through some prickly circumstance the balloon was likely to pop even though I had no idea it was even still out there.

So how do you get rid of it? And not only anger, but also whatever the junk of life that litters your space. Bag it? Then what? It is piles of trash bags. The cure is so simple: it is overlooked and underused. Confess it! That’s it—confess it? Yes, and confession is just saying back to God what you believe to be true that is not necessarily truth. Our feelings feel true, disappointment, worthlessness, abandonment—they may even be true like sadness, but what we believe about it is generally a lie. Whatever lie we believe we act upon—true or not. We begin to live that truth out which may lead to wrong actions because wrong belief leads to wrong actions.

So, to confess it we can sit down, close our eyes and tell God what we believe, even when it is not accurate—it does not surprise Him—He already knows. But as we confess this and give it to Him at the cross, these are the things that He already died for so we did not have to carry them and be filled with the pain and the filth they cause. We give them to Him, and they are GONE. Not rearranged, resorted into a closet or stored in the attic, but removed! That’s when 1 John 1:9 becomes so real—“If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Recently we had to have the roof replaced on the back sun porch area. They brought in a dumpster but only partially filled it so there was all this space left in it. As I looked at the dumpster with space to spare and the potential to remove clutter from the garage into that dumpster, I couldn’t help but start cleaning and cleaning and cleaning some more. I had a hey day throwing things away, which led to doing the same in a half a dozen other places throwing, pitching, removing junk—it was wonderful! It was all hauled away—gone! Not just rearranged or resorted or stashed somewhere else but really cleaned away. Several closets, the storage shed, and the garage are better than new, functional, and a pleasure to be in. It was transforming; the difference was good enough to have been on a television show or a magazine article with the “before” and “after” shots. We can actually park cars in there! Novel idea.

That is what it was made for but not what it was functioning as; I think lives can be that way as well: we are made for God’s pleasure and to fellowship with Him, but we get so much junk and clutter, we can hardly even operate for that which we were made. We need somewhere to get rid of it all. We need to agree with God that we do not want it anymore, that it is garbage, and take it to Him. Give it piece by piece to Him at the cross; then feel the joy of it being removed and that it is no longer yours to manage or carry. Experience the clean. Experience the load lifted. And experience functioning as you were made to be. What joy and delight is yours for the taking, taking it to the cross emptied from you onto Him the One who died so you could live unhindered, fresh and pure. Why would we trade that for filth, junk, and piles of garbage unable to be used for all that we were created to be? Sounds like a no brainer to me.

The day we finished the garage overhaul happened to be the night of two of the grandbabies birthday parties. It was going to be in their backyard, but it was one of those spring days that poured 30 minutes, then the sun shined, poured again, and back to sunshine, being quite unpredictable. One of our adult kids called, “If we could have it out in our yard, we are prepared, but if it is raining at the time of the party, the house would never hold all these folks. Would you consider having it at your house? “Okay, how many are you expecting?” “About 20 something kids from 2-4 and a little more than that in adults.” she said. I told her, “You won’t believe how great a space this newly cleaned area would be for all the kids to play—in the garage! Would you be insulted if we had the party in the garage? It is clean enough to eat off the floor!” With the doors opened it made a perfect place for 23 kids under age 4 to play plus 27 parents to watch as they ran in and out, rode toys in the driveway on their riding cars, scooters and strollers. It was a perfect place for a party—it would have never even been considered before the big redo. It had been too full of other stuff to even be considered.

Could we be missing out on some really great things God wants to do because we have all the junk of life, piling up stuff that only renders us useless compared to what God really intended? Don’t you want to get rid of all that so easily weighs us down?

I think I had a spiritual garage full of clutter; I may have unknowingly kept the clutter of unforgiveness, rejection and hurt. They piled high, and I had nowhere to get it removed, no one seemed to be able to tell me where the dumpster was located; it seemed to return or be stuck. Why was that? Pain varied. Sometimes it was tears, sometimes it was anger, but almost always it hurt. It projected itself onto others and into relationships. Did I want that? No! Did I try to remove or replace it? Yes! Then why was it still there?

Somehow it was still me trying to deal with it, shuffling it around, like trying to make the nut disappear from under the cups by shuffling them faster and faster like spiritual magic. I had always wondered why the cross never really made me cry and why I did not seem to cherish it like some I knew. I believed in it; I believed Jesus died on it; I believed He died in my place—so I could go to heaven. What I seemed to miss is that it is where you dump sin, deposit garbage, and receive new truth for your old bag of lies. It was a place to look at Jesus to see His death, His bloodied body: His pain was for my junk. I could leave it all there. It was not a one-time visit only. It was more than getting the house in heaven; it was the daily way to stay relationally whole. It was part of daily living not just for salvation but a place to be daily freed from the messy, smelly affects of life in this world. Now I LOVE that place! I am so grateful for its power! Ahhhh, the cross. It brings beauty; it is the place to leave all those unwanted pieces of broken life. It is a place to realize He wants to relieve us from it all. He knew how awful this all would feel, so He took it for us and wants to not only carry it for us but also give us truth.