Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Sometimes you just need your mom

I went to visit my mother last weekend. She lives in a nursing home in Georgia, about three hours from here. Just about the time I drove in to town, the nursing home began a quarantined lock down of the facility. Some kind of bacterial infection was spreading and as a result, no visitors. I spent two nights there, visiting with my sisters waiting for the quarantine to lift. I finally had to head back home. I never got to see my mother.

Mom never knew the difference. The reality is, she probably still wouldn’t have known I was there, even if I had been able to hold her hand and kiss her cheek. Her memory began slipping slowly at first, but not long before my father died in 2011, the descent became significantly steeper and darker. I don’t think she remembers the day he died. It’s hard for my sisters and me, but Mom’s not remembering that he is gone is a blessing. She doesn’t feel the pain of living without him.

Really, the trip to visit my mom was mostly for me, not her. Sometimes you just need to see your mom. You need a reminder that someone really has loved you all your life, even when you’ve not been your best self. You need to look into another face that you see glimpses of when you look in the mirror. It reminds you that you are not the only one. You need to remember because she can’t. You also need to forget some things too.

I have a special memory of my mother that always seems to surface around Mother’s Day. I was a preschooler riding in the front seat on the passenger side of a sedan that my Aunt Alma was driving. This was before car seats and seat belt laws. I was barely tall enough to see out of the window, but I had my head turned towards it as I peered out.

A drunk driver coming from the opposite direction swerved over into our lane and crashed into us head on. I remember the loud noise and how my head bounced back and forth off the window several times. There was a full service gas station nearby that not only pumped gas for you, they also worked on engines and such. As people rushed to help, somebody from that station handed me a greasy red rag filled with ice and told me to hold it on my right eye and not let go. The gasoline smell of that rag almost took my breath away.

I don’t remember how I got to the hospital. I do remember that I didn’t see anyone there that I recognized. The nurses made me lie down on a cold, metal table and they put my head in a green foam form to immobilize it for the x-rays and scans. Once they determined that my greatest injury was just a black eye, they sat me up on a high counter near the reception area. My four-year-old legs dangled over the edge while I sat there alone, just waiting.

From there I could see the ER doors that opened automatically when someone approached. The sun outside was very bright and the light inside was dim, so I couldn’t really see any faces or details of the people coming through those doors. I only saw dark silhouettes. I watched figure after figure pass by. Then, finally, I didn’t have to see her face to know it was her. I recognized my mother as she came through those doors simply by the shadowy outline of her permed hair and the curved shape of her hips. She ran in, put her arms around me and scooped me off that counter. I know I must have ended up with one heck of a headache that day, but I have no recollection of pain. The only physical feeling I remember is finally having my mother’s arms around me.

You forget the pain when you remember the blessing. My mother knew that. Jesus taught us both that.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.” (John 16:20-22)

This article originally posted May 10, 2015 on The Press and Standard website.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Flash the color wheel of love

I love color. I have a bright red accent table in my office. The sofa in my living room is purple.  Depending on my mood, the polish on my fingernails can be anything from turquoise to orange. Each bridesmaid in my wedding wore a different color gown because I couldn’t narrow it down to just one color. There’s no need to ask me which Homer Laughlin Fiestaware colors I have in my kitchen cabinet. I have them all, and not just in my cabinets but all over my house. I have this need to use as many different colors as possible. Shamrock, peacock, sunflower, scarlet, poppy, it goes on and on.

Season after season, people who make, advertise, and sell things like nail polish, bridesmaid gowns, and dishes often get pretty creative in naming the colors. I guess they feel that naming it something other than red year after year gives the impression that there’s something new and exciting about the product. So, basic red becomes something like Fired Up or Cheery Cherry.

Colors are some of the first things we learn to identify even before we can formulate complete sentences.  While at some point in our lives we all have coveted the big Crayola 64-crayon box, it is still hard to outgrow that primary color knowledge. We couldn’t even come up with a better or more accurate color descriptor for a juicy Florida orange than, well, orange. 

Sporty, speedy cars are candy apple red. Tangerine, plum, persimmon, and lemongrass are official Fiestaware colors.  There’s a strawberry blonde bottled hair dye. There is a longstanding association between fruit and color and we are helpless to break it because there simply is not a better alternative. Fruit is color. Color is fruit. If you Google images for fruit the results will be page after page of bright colors. Purple grapes, green kiwis, yellow bananas. Even the blackberries aren’t black. They’re a rich violet color. It’s a very visually stimulating picture. 

When the apostle Paul said, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law,” he was telling the Galatians to look around. You should be able to recognize the people who follow Jesus and are filled with the Spirit. Their true colors will be evident. 

Jesus touched on something similar when he closed his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7). He said, “You will recognize them by their fruits.” Jesus wasn’t telling them to look for bushels of peachy peaches. He was telling them to look for vibrancy in their mission to serve Him. If we’re truly serving Jesus, there will be some visual evidence.  The evidence will be bright enough to be noticeable by others and deliciously intriguing enough for them to want to fill their baskets with it too.

In that sermon Jesus also talks about good fruit and bad fruit.  At our house, my husband likes firm, green bananas. I like them a little soft with just a few brown specs on the peel. When we buy a bunch, he starts eating them right away. I have to wait three or four days. Then practically overnight the last one or two in the bunch become totally brown and neither of us will eat them. We throw those out because nobody wants a banana that’s lost it’s color and flavor.

We use lemons and limes to dilute the taste of fish. We use cherries and grapes to mask the taste of medicine.  The taste of fruit is potent, especially when it’s fresh. Our enemy Satan also knows the power in the alluring color and impressively scrumptious taste of fruit. That’s why it was the very first thing he ever used to tempt a human being.

Satan was trying to use something that wasn’t his to give Eve something she didn’t need. He’s still trying do to that with you and me. However, God is the one that made that fruit and He’s the only one that can fill us with the fruit of His Spirit. Don’t be tempted. Flash that color wheel of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control at Satan. It will make others wonder if you had oatmeal for breakfast. More than likely, though, it was probably a fruit salad and they just might want you to share.

This was originally posted April 5, 2015 on The Press and Standard website:

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Only Jesus Can Give That New Skirt

I stood at the ironing board pressing a multi-colored cotton skirt. The radio was tuned to a station playing Christian music and the song playing was a familiar one. I hummed along moving the steamy iron back and forth in rhythm to the music. I knew the tune but for whatever reason had never really paid much attention to the lyrics. Then, boom, the words suddenly hit me as very unsettling:

“You may be knocked down now but don't forget what He said, He said. I won't give you more, more than you can take and I might let you bend, but I won't let you break and No-o-o-o-o, I'll never ever let you go-o-o-o-o. Don't you forget what He said…”

Did God really say that He won’t give me more than I can take?

Really? Because I think I passed my limit a long time ago.

Here’s what I do actually find in scripture:

“For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.  He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” (2 Corinthians 1:8-10)

Paul’s life was dedicated to living for and like Jesus. Yet, he wrote those words because this life that he had chosen was hard. He felt the despair. He felt like he was dying.

To live like Jesus feels like dying. Living for Jesus feels like dying because that’s exactly what Jesus did, but there was a purpose in it. Paul talked about that too.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.”  (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)

Living like Jesus feels like dying, but it gives us the comfort only God can give us. It is comfort that only God can offer because even if it kills us, He has the power to raise the dead. That’s why we continue to do it. Plus, there are people around us who need to know and experience that comfort and we need to show them.

Here’s the thing. To say God won’t give me more than I can handle is basically saying, “I can handle it myself.” And if I can handle it, then I don’t need God. But I can’t handle it. My track record proves that.

I'm just like the skirt I'm trying to iron. Wrinkled, faded, worn, jostled through a wringer, tumbled around in a hot cylinder, and pressed with a burning, steamy iron, doing everything I can to look brand new. But I am not new. I die a little bit every day. Some days more than others. Some days a lot more than others.

As much as I might want them to, and as much as those who love me may try, there is not a human soul on this earth who can stitch all my torn remnants back together or make the grim reaper stop breathing down my neck. Only the God of all comforts who raises the dead can do that. Jesus is the proof.

Jesus knows what it’s like to be broken. He knows what it’s like to feel death coming.

He's the only one who can make my life feel like I'm wearing a brand new skirt for the first time. A skirt that's never been subject to sweat, dirt, stretching, or harsh cleaning chemicals. Even if I have to wear that new skirt to a funeral.

Yes, to live like Jesus feels like dying and that makes me more alive than anything in this world. 

This was originally posted March 29, 2015 on the Press and Standard website:

Thursday, March 26, 2015

When Jesus calls, the right answer is Yes

My husband, Scott, and I both have vivid memories of the morning we met. We both remember some of the same logistical details, but our sentiments associated with the events are completely different. One glance was all it took for him to jump head first into the deep sea of love. My first sight of him left me just a bit curious about who he was and thinking he had a wonderful smile. I was more comfortable sitting on the edge, just dipping my toes in the water. 

As eager as he was, Scott remained patient yet persistent with me. We went on a few dates. A couple of months later he asked me to marry him. I was fond of him, but turned him down. We continued to date. He proposed again. The second time I couldn’t say no, but I also had a hard time saying yes. I knew I wanted to marry him and felt like his proposal was one of the best things to ever happen to me, but I like to analyze, plan, and prepare. I was uncomfortable handling a significant life decision on short notice. I thought I needed more time.

Scott’s spontaneous and all-in attitude eventually won me over. We met in September, were engaged by Christmas, and married the following June. Scott never had to ask himself the question about whether or not he wanted to marry me. He always knew his answer was yes. It took asking me twice and a good bit of Mexican food before I could finally say yes.  

James and John were all-in men too, only their yes was to Jesus. They were brothers who worked in their father Zebedee’s fishing business. Zebedee was likely proud of the strong, smart men they had become. At this point Zebedee might have begun to scale back on the physically demanding responsibilities, letting James and John do the hard work. He might have had retirement and grandchildren in his sights. Maybe he was ready to sit on the dock, dangle his feet in the water, and wave to his sons as they set sail for a long day of fishing on their own.  

One day, Jesus walked up to their boat and called James and John to follow him. Neither one thought twice or had any hesitation. They both said yes and left. Jesus was already convinced they were the right men for the task of disciple or else he wouldn’t have asked. He didn’t offer them much in the way of persuading words or explicit expectations. Just come, follow. No one had ever been a disciple of the earth-living, oxygen-breathing Son of God before. There was no precedent. Still, their answer was yes. 

They left Zebedee holding the empty nets of the family business. Although it’s not recorded in scripture, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn that Zebedee received some kind of call too. After all, God knew what it was like to have a son leave home on a mission unlike any other in all of eternity. Maybe Zebedee’s comfort came in knowing that his sons were not leaving empty handed. They were taking with them everything he had taught them to be, the kind of men Jesus wanted as disciples. The kind of men who say yes to Jesus.

The story is told in only two verses of Matthew Chapter 4. It’s a short, beautiful story that inspires me to want to be more like that, more ready to say yes the moment I’m asked. What if they had been more like me?  What if they had wanted to ponder and plan first?  What if they had said no? Oh, what they would have missed!

When they dropped their nets and followed Jesus, they didn’t know they would later see him transfigured before their eyes. They didn’t know they would hear the voice of God telling them, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matthew 17:5). John had no idea he would find himself as the only disciple at the foot of the cross at Jesus’ crucifixion. He also didn’t know he would receive a revelation of future events that would become the culmination of the Bible as we know it. 

Don’t miss it. When Jesus calls, the right answer is always yes. Your all-in, absolutely yes response can win other people over. Just ask my husband. 

This was originally posted March 15, 2015 on The Press and Standard's website: