Thursday, November 6, 2014

Down to a Piece of Paper

I wasn’t expecting. . .and thus I wasn't prepared for the sadness and finality of it.  I pulled close to the ATM machine on this rainy November Pittsburgh morning.  Generally I would have gone inside to make the deposit but the lobby wasn’t open yet; a blessing in retrospect. 

I inserted my card and typed in my PIN like I had 1000 times since I was sixteen but when I went to deposit the check it was as if I was letting go of my Dad on a little piece of paper.  This was the last thing to note Dad is gone.  The last thing to indicate, to cement, to make final that he is not coming back.  I almost didn’t want to make the deposit --as if it’s being sucked into the system somehow was voluntarily saying I willingly agreed with the fact that he was gone. 

In some families this may be thought of as money the individual didn't get.  To others this type of money may seem like  an unexpected windfall.  To me, however, this is unexpectedly more significant.  

I don’t know why I let myself, but I read the accompanying letter once again.  “DEATH BENEFIT STATEMENT” in bold letters across the top in black and white.  Cold and devoid of feeling.  Canada Life Assurance Co. . . .sending a Death benefit--ironic.  Beneficiary-me, a policy number, a claim number.  Insured-my Dad’s name—all spelled out like it never was except in the most legal of documents.  A name nobody probably ever called him except in the most significant of situations. . . a name his parents probably yelled out for emphasis.  And now no more will it ever be uttered that way, spoken sternly or even said. . .because he was gone. . .sucked into an ATM with nothing to show for it but a receipt that would fade within a year. 

What were the thoughts when that policy was first initiated?  No one could have predicted the life. . .or the death. . .or all that happened in between.  Love, babies, betrayal, triumphs, losses, losses, losses.  And now he is my loss.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Forgiveness and Compassion

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. Luke 23:34 (NIV)

As much as I know that we are to stay away from anger and bitterness and forgive everyone “seventy times seven”, this doesn’t come automatically for me; I often have to consciously stop and think about it to make it a reality. While sometimes anger or resentment builds slowly because I have not chosen to rebuke these feelings, there are times when the moment sneaks up on me and I am in a rage before I even know what hit me.

Most of what I call “injustices” in my life, however, are small in the grand scope of things. I let a stray word, harsh text or unreturned phone call ruin a perfect day. I can’t say that I have had an experience anything nearly as severe as the injustices surrounding Jesus’ death--yet even on the cross, watching them divide his garments, he was not only forgiving them, but asking God to forgive them.

Jesus knew that it was Satan in them that was responsible for their ill behavior. He offered them compassion and forgiveness instead of judgment—even in his time of distress. Choosing compassion over judgment is what he calls us to as well.

More often than not, that stray word that almost ruined my day was not intended in a mean way. The abrupt text wasn’t meant to be harsh, but was the byproduct of someone in a hurry. And the person who failed to return the phone call had a perfectly good excuse. By not immediately flying off of the handle and instead seeking to understand. . .which takes a bit more patience. . .the “unjust” action is usually understandable and I am able to approach it with not only understanding, but compassion.

Lord, help me trade my ungodly feelings to compassion for those who hurt me. Help me see them through your eyes and not the jaded eyes of this broken world.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

White Birch Logs

Before I formed you in the womb I knew [and] approved of you [as My chosen instrument], and before you were born I separated and set you apart, consecrating you; [and] I appointed you as a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah 1:5 AMP

Blessings don’t always come in the way you think they will They aren’t always large. . .or profound. . . or public. . .or, sadly, noticed. Yet blessings and miracles are there every day for those willing to look for them.

Robb had suggested two weeks ago that I replace the dusty, crumbling gas “logs” that have been in my fireplace for more than the forty-five years it has been capped off, with white birch logs. I would add it to my list of things that I somehow think are going to miraculously appear which currently includes: living room furniture, dining room chairs, new walls in both my kitchen and spare bedrooms. . .you get the picture.

I would have no idea where to get birch logs. I had never seen birch anywhere in log form outside of Christmas card photos. The fact is, I see very few birch trees alive. And lets just say I happened to run into a fallen birch on one of my travels—what is the likelihood it wouldn’t be damp and full of bugs or that I would have a saw or an axe to cut it up?

The following week I was on a work retreat at a twelve-room bed and Breakfast in Ohio’s Amish country. A fire was set in the fireplace in my room and it wasn’t until it was roaring that I noticed that it was set with white birch logs. Although it was too late to save the burning ones, there were several still wrapped in the canvas carrier on the hearth.

The following day I asked the innkeeper if I could have the ones that were left. He went on to tell me, for no apparent reason, because I surely didn’t ask, about how there was one lone birch tree on the property and that it had died and was cut up for firewood.

Here are the numbers as I see them. One birch on the whole property that died on some date in the past, was cut down, split, dried and out of twelve rooms that checked out the day I arrived, there were an armful of its logs sitting, waiting for me on my hearth.

If we ever think God doesn’t have a plan for us or that life is a random series of events, I just can’t believe that for a moment. Before I was even born God planted a birch tree in Ohio 200 miles from where I live. It grew, died, dried and was cut up and delivered to the room I stayed in on a particular evening in April. I never would have stayed there except for it being a Living Social deal that was about to expire the following week. Me and the tree ended up together one Monday night. Coincidences just aren’t that great. God, however, is. If God cares about our details. . .down to the wood that will never burn in our capped off fireplaces--how much more must he really care about us?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Hands and Feet of Christ

For just as the body is a unity and yet has many parts, and all the parts, though many, form (only) one body, so it is with Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:12 AMP

After my parents were divorced finances were difficult. Fortunately, My Mom, a new Christian, had a group of strong Christian friends who supported her spiritually and helped her grow in Christ through times of praise, study and prayer meetings. I don’t’ see many prayer meetings anymore, but these women prayed together every Thursday.

Each Christmas Eve my Mom, sister and I looked forward to bundling up and walking to church. The sidewalks of our quaint suburban were lined with luminaries made of paper bags, mason jars or milk jugs. There was a certain reverent hush as the candlelight danced on the blanket of snow giving the town a magical, hopeful glow.
The pine scented church was abundantly decorated with green-lit trees. Nestled among a dozen trees in a front alcove was the manger scene--everyone present except Jesus.

Exactly at midnight, the choir director’s wife would begin to sing “Oh, Holy Night”. As the song ambled toward its crescendo, Jesus would be carried slowly down the center aisle and placed in the manger.

It was a time of reverence, wonder and awe. Not because of the gifts we would receive, but because of the gift we already received—Jesus.

The year I turned nine, we walked home from church as usual, basking in the warmth of the music and the enchanting glow of the candlelight. When we reached home and opened the door, each of us, including Mom, was amazed. Pouring across the floor in front of the fireplace was an avalanche of gifts. It was obvious to this nine-year-old and her younger sister that Santa had indeed been there. It was more than we expected; more than we needed. We would have been content to spend the day together with a few gifts from the dollar store, but God and his people had other plans.
My Mom’s prayer group “got it”. Although it didn’t need to be a time of extravagant gift giving, God had given the rather extravagant gift of His son. . .and they, His other children, made in His image, followed suit. Not to impress, not out of obligation, not to have a “good deed at Christmas” crossed off of their to do list; they gave out of His love and extravagance toward them.

Like most Christmases, I can’t remember what I received, but what remains is the memory of friends who not only saw a need, but took time out of their busy holiday schedules to make a plan, meet the need and demonstrate His love. Friends who were truly His hands and feet.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Do You Really Want the Sledgehammer?

The LORD confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. Psalm 25:14

When friends in our life present us a message, they often begin their approach with subtle suggestion. If they notice no change, often they will attempt something a little firmer. A true friend, though, will stick with you on an important issue until you hear; even if it means being so harsh that you feel like you have been beaten with a sledgehammer.

Let us be alert to hear the message when it is subtle and feels more full of grace like a feather. If not, we may find ourselves left bloodied and hurting from the wounds of a sledgehammer.

. . .so it is with my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. Isaiah 55: 11

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life; again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once again. Psalm 71: 20-21

Don't Choose the Field Trip

Learn the lesson in the classroom . . .so that you don’t have to go on the field trip.

I’m thinking now of a friend that does not seem to choose to learn from the wisdom of others. Yes, I understand that the things suggested by the wise or by God-inspired words are not always convenient, not always easy, not always popular and don’t always feel good (see Colossians 2:8 below) . To throw the wisdom away based on any of these superficial reasons is to risk a painful field trip, and perhaps, risk taking innocent bystanders along for the ride.

I listened to a wise man giving advice to a friend. There were many common themes to his message: forgiveness, letting go, moving on. . .but there was one tangible piece of advice that he offered that was unmistakably concrete.

How is it that sometimes you understand the counsel given to others so clearly. . .and the intended party remains oblivious? They rationalize, explain, justify. . . all with no intention to implement. Should we not worry when we work overtime NOT to execute the wisdom bestowed on us or instead asking ourselves “Why do I protest so much?”

After a battle with the warring spirits of rationalization, explanation, and justification, we are left ruffled and uneasy. But when we take in the advice, consider it, and pray over it, even if, afterwards we don’t agree with it, we are left with a sense of peace.

God has blessed me with the opportunity to learn from other people’s experiences many times, but it is up to me to put this learning into use. . .lest, I too, end up on a field trip of my own.

I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees: I will not neglect your word. Proverbs 119:14-16

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. Colossians 2:8

. . .A man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. 2 Peter 2:19b

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Getting Dirty in the Muddy Water

In a home group I am in we are reading Radical-Taking Back Your Faith From The American Dream by David Platt. The first four chapters were. . .radical. By the fifth, though, we were getting to the part where we could begin to see the application of the material. The chapter was about Jesus’s relational model and making disciples. The most uncomfortable part for me was the fact that he “got dirty” with those he was discipling. He did what they did and went where they went. It reminded me of a John Eldredge term “we have to get into the muddy water with them”: the concept always gets to me.

I wonder, based on the conversations at home group, if we aren't already engaged in making disciples? From what I am hearing, most of us are engaged in looking for and acting upon opportunities. I'm not saying that it couldn't be deeper, or that we don't let opportunities slip through the cracks, but we are on the right path.

I remember studying Beth Moore's "Believing God". One of the daily activities was being intentional at recognizing God's hand in our lives. Being intentional really helped me see Him better. I wonder if being challenged to write down our acts of obedience or disciple making wouldn't make our group more intentional garnering us more encouragement to share weekly? So often when God presents a challenge to us he lets it be something easy to get out of. . .to sweep under the rug. . .to forget about. If we approached life more intentionally, I wonder if that little bit of accountability would produce more positive outcomes. . .and hence encouraging testimonies of the fruits of obedience.

During this season of lent when some sectors of religion encourage giving something up, I think, instead, I am going to try to be more available to opportunities. . .and to act on them quickly before the opportunity is lost or forgotten. I am going to record the encounter and the outcome to see the result of obedience. I am going to plant seeds and see if I can’t notice a little growth. . .if not in the others. . .than in myself.