Friday, October 7, 2011

The Year I Lost It: The Budley

This is Part 5 of 5

Part 1 - The Job
Part 2 - The Boss
Part 3 - The Father
Part 4 - The Earring

There was a lot going on in the spring of 2011. The calendar filled up quickly with all kinds of things that kept us busy. Honestly, we needed the activity to distract us from the emotional side of life for a while.

In the midst of all that busyness, we learned that Scott needed eye surgery. It didn’t appear to be serious, but because his problem developed sort of rapidly and rather largely, and because it was on the same side of his head where he’d had some more issues before, we had a little trepidation.

We had to delay the surgery for at least a month because of all the other commitments already on the calendar. By the time we got around to it, it was the end of May.

In anticipation of the eye surgery, I kept remembering scenes from his two previous surgeries. Two craniotomies. What a weird couple of years that was.

I thought about how much he looked like a baseball after the first surgery (2002).

I thought about how he looked like an alien after the second (2005).

I wondered how he would see things after this surgery.

Just being in a healthcare facility with all the scrub uniforms and beeping machines and, um, interesting smells you don’t get anywhere else is definitely a catalyst to make you consider things that you don’t usually give much time to when your calendar is full and your brain is otherwise distracted.

The eye surgery went fine. Once we were on the back side of it some of the anxiety eased, but we both we still left with that feeling that you get when a medical episode, no matter how minor, leaves you contemplating your own mortality.

Scott had a new eye with 20/10 vision, but we both felt the need to take another look at our lives. Our purpose. God’s call. All those things.

Our 25th wedding anniversary was less than a month away. We had been talking about taking a trip to celebrate. We originally had big plans but the cost of the eye surgery forced us to scale back a little. But, given everything that had happened in the last several months, we were GOING to get away for our anniversary. It didn’t really matter where. We just needed the rest.

So, about a month later we set out for a week on the Atlantic coast of south Florida. We didn’t do anything spectacular. No amusement park. No major airports. We just went somewhere else and lived for a week. We did the kind of things we normally do around here, just in a different environment. We went out to eat. We shopped. We went to the movies. We drove around looking at houses we will never be able to afford playing the What-If game.

The Florida coast is a wonderful place. Ahhh…..

It’s interesting how just doing what you normally do, but doing it in somebody’s else world will put things in a new light. It took us only about 24 hours after being there to come to an agreement about something.

That something was this: This is killing us. Living where we’re living, doing what we’re doing the way we’re doing it is killing us.

We kept saying that over and over to each other. It was one of those things neither one of us could really explain. We just knew that something had to change or we were literally going to die. We knew it and we felt it, but we couldn’t explain it. The change that needed to happen wasn’t just a physical thing. It was emotional and mental and spiritual as well. We didn’t know exactly what specifically needed to change, other than EVERYTHING. We just knew we couldn’t go on the way we had been.

We get back home with the new revelation and have no clue where to start. But we still know something’s got to give.

We signed up for Weight Watchers. We decided that maybe if we physically felt better, the less tangible elements would become clearer.

Scott signed up for a year-long leadership program with ministers from around the state, hoping to learn and be changed and challenged to grow.

I started thinking about leading Bible studies again and thinking about getting serious again with some other pursuits. I’m basically a thinker first, so it takes me a little longer to get into action (note to self: this is really a funny story for another day).

We had begun an attempt at change for the betterment of ourselves and those around us.

And then it happened.

Bud Summers, our Minister of Education, dies of a heart attack. Suddenly. We all knew he had health problems, but we were not expecting him to leave this world so soon. He was 56.

I have never been more sobered by my own prophetic words.

“This is killing us.”

Bud was one of us. He and Scott served on staff together along with Randy. Between the three of them, Bud was always the middle ground between the two other extremes.

This changes everything.

It changes the people we love, especially Bud’s wife and children.

It changes the lives of all the church members affected by the loss.

It changes the future of our church. The dynamics of the staff have been forever altered. The void now created in the staff will change how everything else is done.

It changes us.

We came back from our vacation convinced that something needed to change. We felt the urgency to do something immediately. We had no idea that it would start with something beyond our control.

Our hearts are broken, but I guess it takes that to change sometimes.

The transformation is far from being over. Look out. This is just the beginning.

The Spirit of the Lord will come powerfully upon you, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you. 1 Samuel 10:6-7

This is Part 5 of 5

Part 1 - The Job
Part 2 - The Boss
Part 3 - The Father
Part 4 - The Earring

The Year I Lost It - The Earring, with a side of biscuits

This is Part 4 of 5

Part 1 - The Job
Part 2 - The Boss
Part 3 - The Father
Part 5 - The Budley

January 2011 was the month that made me want to eat biscuits. Eating biscuits (or as they’re known around my house – lard sandwiches) is what I do when I’m at the end of everything I know to do and have no clue what to do next or how to handle anything. After getting through the whole Scott-losing-his-job-and getting-it-back-event and the Christmas program that sustained us, my dad died, my boss retired, I had jury duty, and then I got sick with a nasty sinus infection. It took a lot of biscuits to make it to February.

February started with my annual gynecological exam, bone density test, and mammogram. I lost one of my favorite earrings that day in the women’s center. It was one of a pair of tiny silver and red hearts that a friend gave me when we were in college. Her dad was an English professor and had taken a sabbatical in Poland. She took her own sabbatical that semester and went with him. She came back with these precious little earrings for me. I have treasured them all these years.

Of course, I didn’t realize I was one earring short until I got home, an hour away. It was only then that I realized that the little tug I felt on my ear back in the dressing room when I disrobed was not just due to a narrow neck opening in my shirt, it was my earring leaving my ear lobe.

I went back to the women’s center a week later, but not specifically to look for the earring.

I went back because I had to re-do the mammogram.

At my initial appointment, after I’d gotten outfitted in a little pink paper bolero shrug and unknowingly deposited my earring on the floor somewhere, the sweet technician called me in. She got me all pressed down and squeezed in and told me to hold my breath (why do they tell you to hold your breath? It’s not like you can breathe all squished up in that thing anyway). The machine locked up. With me in it. She apologized and finally figured out the code to get it to release me. Whew.

She worked with it a little and then we tried again. Press, squeeze, don’t breathe.

The machine locked up again. Again with me in it.

I had contortioned into a breathless pose two times now but still had no pictures to show for it. At that point we all agreed the best thing to do was reschedule the appointment and call a service technician.

I went through a drive-thru on my way home to order a biscuit. Or twelve.

I went back to the women’s center a week later. No problems with the machine that time, and no sign of the missing earring either.

I celebrated the success with a biscuit. I followed with a chaser biscuit to console my disappointment about the earring loss. Those lard sandwiches are good for just about anything.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

This is Part 4 of 5

Part 1 - The Job
Part 2 - The Boss
Part 3 - The Father
Part 5 - The Budley

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Year I Lost It - The Father

This is Part 3 of 5

Part 1 - The Job
Part 2 - The Boss
Part 4 - The Earring
Part 5 - The Budley

It was just one week and a few days away from Peter’s (my boss) retirement party. I was wrapped up in guest lists and invitations and caterers and venues and collecting decades of memorabilia and old photos. Life interrupted all that party planning. I was busy gearing up for Peter’s departure from our office when my dad departed this world.

We all knew my father’s days were numbered, but I really didn’t realize that a chuckle over the funny papers would be our last laugh together.

The last time my dad and I were alone together, he was sitting in chair with his narrow little reading glasses low on his nose. He held the newspaper up and was reading the comics out loud to me. We both laughed out loud about one that had something to do with lawyers. The frame was something about one of them suing the pants off the other, the retort then was something about needing to check his briefs.

His pastor, Dr. Young, came to visit about that time. I sat in on their visit together, again not realizing it would also be the last time they would see each other either. My dad was a bit talkative, Dr. Young was very attentive. When Dr. Young got ready to leave, my dad told him that he loved him. I was smiling again, but for a different reason. I knew my dad meant what he was saying. How many men do you know that would tell their pastors that?

Hardly even 24 hours later Dad was gone.

I am so thankful that my dad loved to read a daily newspaper and that he like to share what he read. I’m so grateful that he didn’t just stop at the news articles but also took the reading of the funny papers just as seriously. I will always cherish that last laugh.

I will also cherish the fact that one of the last people he said “I love you” to was his pastor. That meant as much to me as when he actually said it to me. My dad understood the ministry. A lot of people not in the ministry think they understand it, but they don’t. Not really. But my dad did. He knew.

I was left with the funny papers and an “I love you” and a retirement party to get on with. I lost my father; I was losing my mentor and boss. The loss was happening around me, but I felt like I was the one that was lost.

So I go through the motions. I show up for the party. I buy newspapers. I read the comics.

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. Philippians 3:7-11

This is Part 3 of 5

Part 1 - The Job
Part 2 - The Boss
Part 4 - The Earring
Part 5 - The Budley

The Year I Lost It - The Boss

This is Part 2 of 5

Part 1 - The Job
Part 3 - The Father
Part 4 - The Earring
Part 5 - The Budley

Peter came to work with me in 2004. It was just to two of us in the office for the next six and a half years. He was the boss. I was the clean up crew and everything else.

When Peter recounted his first few days as director here, he told me he was skeptical about me. He had no idea about my skills. He had no idea whether I was competent or not. With me being the only person in the office, I was all he had to work with. He was stuck with me. Thankfully, I think I was able to meet his challenge.

To be fair, I had my reservations about him at first too. Turns out, he wasn’t the easiest person to work for, but once I learned the dance, I enjoyed it. As the weeks and months went by, our mutual respect for each other grew in spite of the days where days he drove me nuts or I frustrated his patience. We found a great appreciation for each other.

We figured out how to work together. We worked. And it worked.

Peter taught me more about economic development than I ever wanted to know. He helped me gain an appreciation for things that I never knew existed. His standards were high and his professionalism was constant. Being influenced by those character traits made me want to be a better person, even on those days that he drove me crazy being so driven.

In January of this year, I was busy planning Peter’s retirement party. This was his retirement not just from our office, but from work altogether. He was in the business a long time before he ever came to our office. He has a lifetime of friends and associates all over the state and country. It was going to be a bigger party than I had planned in a very long time.

He tried to retire the year before, but then changed his mind after the new resumes came in. When he announced his retirement this time, we teased him about staying still another year, but we all knew this was it.

As his final day approached, the harder it was to make myself go to the office. I was very happy for Peter, but not so happy for myself. Peter accomplished a lot in the few years he was here. He built a strong foundation. For me, there was way more at stake than just who the new boss would be. The whole vision and program of our professional mission would likely change.

Peter was the one who reminded me to leave some things behind. He was the one who motivated us to move forward. Now, he was moving away.

The loss was palpable. How were we going to move forward without the one who had been pushing us in that direction?

I have no idea. But I do know that Peter constantly reminded us all that we could be better than we are.

And I’m going to try.

Realize that wisdom is the same for you. If you find it, you will have a future, and your hope will never fade. Proverbs 24:14

This is Part 2 of 5

Part 1 - The Job
Part 3 - The Father
Part 4 - The Earring
Part 5 - The Budley

The Year I Lost It - The Job

This is PART 1 of 5

Part 2 - The Boss
Part 3 - The Father
Part 4 - The Earring
Part 5 - The Budley
It’s the one year anniversary of my husband receiving a pink slip. At the time, for us, the loss of his job meant moving. We spent the month or so after that day last year cleaning, packing, making plans, and dealing with the loss.
The pink slip was the result of a budget issue. Mostly, anyway. When you work at a church, it’s always more than just the budget because it’s “family”. Not by blood, but in spirit. The letter of explanation regarding his job elimination that was addressed to the entire church membership was signed by members of four different committees, all of which were involved in the decision. I know they agonized and deliberated over it. I’m certain it was not an easy thing to do. I’m also sure they consulted everyone about the decision except the one person whose life it affected the most.

Scott was not oblivious to the budget situation and was very much aware that something needed to be done. He was willing to offer some personal sacrifices to help the situation and make their decision easier had he been included in the process. I know the decision was not his to make, but he does have more insight about his specific responsibilities than anyone else. While Scott was spared any burden from being an actual decision maker, he might have been able to help them make their task a little less daunting. But, alas, the decision was made for us, not with us. We accepted it and saw it as an answer to prayer; not exactly what we were praying for, but an answer nonetheless. We also saw it not just and AN answer, but THE answer.

We had been trying to make a change like this for quite some time. This simply was going to force us to do it and we were grateful the push. We came close to making that change on our own several times before, but in the end there was always something that swiped it from our hands leaving us to wonder again about our discernment and purpose. Even in all the uncertainty, the one thing we did know was that God had placed us where He wanted us. To move us from that place would also be up to Him; not us, not them.

Yes, God gives us a choice. For us, the desire to be in the center of God’s will meant there was no other choice for us but here. The choice God gave us was solely about following Him; not about where He was going, or staying.

This time was no different. Within the month, more meetings and discussions were held that involved the entire church membership (not just the committees) and the result was that Scott’s job was reinstated.

Before that final full-membership decision, I begged one of the committee chairpersons to let their yes be yes and their no be no and to please just let us go. I begged God to just let us go. I just wanted out. I did not want us to be a reason or excuse for such strife.

Then, all the other options were off the table. Staying here is what God had in mind for us.

We accepted that with mixed emotions. We had already begun to work through the loss and once you do that, some of the stuff you deal with is gone forever and you just can’t get it back. Like relationships. It changes them. Some for the better, some not. Some, just different. It is sort of like learning the truth about Santa Claus. Once you know the real story, you can still go through the motions and even enjoy it, but you just don’t love Santa like you used to and you will never be as excited or hopeful about that unknown as you once were. It’s just not the same.

The names at the bottom of that original letter that dismissed Scott were more than just signatures or committee members to us. They were people we live and work with and depend on and are faithful to and are called to serve. In their original decision to eliminate Scott’s job, as difficult as it may or may not have been, they felt like they were making the right decision and we honored that. Then, the greater majority overruled them and told them they were wrong. And we had to honor that.

How do you do that?

How do you leave it up to God only to find that He leaves you stuck in the middle?

Well, I don’t really know but I think it has something to do with forfeiting your option when people are choosing sides. You deliberately elect to take the loss on both sides. Maybe that’s part of what makes the road narrow.

Today, a year later, some people have shown great grace and gratitude for us still being here. They have shown an appreciation for the fact that Scott has hung in there in spite of it all. I’m thankful and grateful for them, also in spite of it all.

There are also some people who still, even a year later, think Scott’s job should no longer be Scott’s job. There are many days I’m inclined to agree with them because sometimes it’s so hard to live without some of what’s been lost. I know it’s hard for them too.

And, it’s that time of year again. I’m not sure the budget situation is any better now. I also don’t think, if we were faced with that situation again, that we would think or feel are react the same as we did last year.

Circumstances like that have a way of affecting you and changing your perspective. Loss does that. You learn to do more with less.

I don’t understand it, but I accept it.

He must become greater; I must become less. John 3:30

This is PART 1 of 5

Part 2 - The Boss
Part 3 - The Father
Part 4 - The Earring
Part 5 - The Budley

Friday, September 9, 2011

How wide and long and high and deep?

From the archives.
This was originally written on September 11, 2001

God is brokenhearted today.

He is brokenhearted because you and I may have at some time in our lives ignored our call to share Christ and to show His love with one of the peopled killed today. We may have been face to face with them, whether we knew their names or not, and perhaps were afraid to speak up. Now, a different kind of fear is spreading.

Maybe we had just put Christ out of our minds at the time. Just what were we thinking? They may have been watching us from a distance at some interstate rest stop or an amusement park or a shopping mall or some other outlet where our paths may have briefly crossed. Had we taken a vacation from our responsibility to Christ as well?

God is brokenhearted over unique pieces of His creation embracing evil. Oh, the blessings He had in store for them. Sadly, their choices just blew them all away. As much as it may have physically hurt to have a Boeing jet crash into your office and land on your desk, as much as it may have hurt to have the temperature register hot enough to melt steel, God’s hurt is even greater; greater now because some of His precious creations are lost. Not in a pile of rubble and debris, but lost eternally.

God is brokenhearted that any of His creation has to needlessly suffer. He, most of all, knows what it means to suffer. But it is suffering that causes us to trust God for who He is, not what He does. And who He is, is bigger.

God is bigger.

As far as the fall was for those who jumped from the buildings, as far beneath the rubble as some were buried, God’s love will go farther.

As long as it takes to search, as long as it take to recover and rebuild, as long as remembrances of these days will be voiced, God’s love will last longer.

As deep as those pictures are ingrained in our minds, as deep as the hurt is, God’s love will always be deeper.

As far across the earth as the repercussions have been felt, as far as those rescue works and relief effort have increased the boundaries of our generosity, God’s love will stretch even wider.

Our God is bigger than any tragedy.

God is in control.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:14-19

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Hello, my name is...

C'mon, admit it. I know you've done it.

It's not a bad thing, really. Depending on your motives.

In fact, the Best Buy Geek Squad probably recommends that you do it occasionally just to be sure there is nothing suspicious out there with your moniker on it.

So, go ahead. Google your own name.

What'd you come up with? Anything interesting?

Recently I Googled images for my name.

A lot of pictures of this lady came up. Her fame came with a different last name, but before she married a president, her last name was Davis. No introductions needed. Here's Nancy Davis Reagan:

The second most popular entry on my Google search results page was for this woman:Maybe she looks familiar to you, maybe not. She made the news circuit back in January 2011 when she was shot and killed in Mexico by drug dealers. Nancy and her husband, Sam, were missionaries in Mexico. They were gunned down at an illegal roadblock set up by drug dealers. The dealers were after the Davis' pick up truck. A bullet came through the rear window of the truck cab, struck Nancy in the head and killed her. Sam survived.

Not far behind her on my search results page was this woman. Again, meet Nancy Davis.Apparently she is a well known philanthropist. Unless your bank account is large and your financial contribution record phenomenal, you likely haven't heard of her. Most of the pictures had celebrities surrounding her. She always seems to be dressed in a formal gown and attends lots of elite social events.

I also found another Nancy Davis.
Isn't she lovely? The link for this picture was on one of those genealogy research sites. I don't think she's related to me in any way, but she looks so much like my dad that it's almost creepy.

Sidebar here...I did a little online research on my family history. I found that my great, great, great, great, grandmother's name was also Nancy Davis. She lived in the same county I live in --which is weird because none of my living family even lives in the same state that I do (I'm the one who moved away). Also, she lived to be 104. Wow.

Back to my google image search page. There were several versions of this too:
Funny thing. Not one single solitary picture of me came up in my Google search.

Oh, Google, where is the real Nancy Davis and what have you done with her??

So often when life gets tough and it gets hard to find the happy, I look around and wonder who's life am I living anyway? I mean, I thought I was doing all the right things and working very hard to avoid all the drama, all the struggles, all the setbacks, all the do-overs. Where did this life I have come from? How did I end up here? With this??

Honestly, what I really think is...who in the world is living the life I'm supposed to have?!

Where's my Presidential china?

Who is wearing my orange designer ball gown?

Why isn't there a framed picture of Paris Hilton on my mantle?

Where is the book written about my heroic martyr's death?

Oh, wait a minute. I'm not dead yet.

Well, then. I have no idea.

I can only hope that 100 years years from now when my own grave marker is overgrown and covered with dirt and mold that somebody finds my picture on a genealogy website and thinks I look like their dad.

I suppose looking like the Father is not such a bad thing.

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat is planted in the soil and dies, it remains alone. But Those who love their life in this world will lose it. Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to be my disciple must follow me, because my servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves me. John 12:24-26

Monday, June 13, 2011

The handwriting on the envelope

We received three high school graduation invitations this year. All of them were from young men. Three different high schools. Three different cities. These three boys don’t know each other. In all three cases, it’s their parents that are our connections with them, but they are all associated with us in different ways.

I noticed something about all three of the invitations as soon as I pulled them out of the mailbox: the handwritten address on the envelope. It’s just so rare to get a piece of mail that has been addressed by hand any more. Technology has made fancy schmancy labeling and printing more accessible to us all and we tend to view it as a time-saving technique as well as good excuse to use a curly script font that mocks actual cursive writing. Email and social networks have also eliminated our need for handwritten invitations, or letters, or any other correspondence for that matter.

I know that high school graduation invitations are not really sent with the intention of having the recipient actually show up at the ceremony. I realize that those programs are usually in gyms or auditoriums that have limited space. All the parents, siblings, grandparents, and step relatives usually take up all the allotted number of tickets per student.

And that’s OK. We love you and are very proud of you and we will be happy to go if you really want us there, but we don’t necessarily have to personally see you and 400 of your closest friends walk one by one across the stage.

Truthfully, unless there is a really awesome, well known speaker giving the commencement address, the ceremony itself it lost on those of us who are not directly involved. If we do go, we sit there remembering our own high school graduations and then we start thinking about the course our lives have taken since then and that leads us to thinking about all the things we need to be sure and tell you before you pack your car for college but, since you’re not our child, it's not really our place to tell you. Then we get overwhelmed by it all and need medication to get over it, so perhaps it’s better if we just stay home anyway.

I also get that a graduation invitation means a gift is in order. I’m totally OK with that. In fact, I kind of like getting a reminder about things like that. As long as the invitation stays on my kitchen counter or tacked to the refrigerator, I know I still need to respond. Without it, I’m likely to forget to acknowledge it at all.

Still, I love to get the invitations. It makes me feel special. It reminds me that we belong in a group of people that wants us to share their joys. I love that.

I especially love it when the invitations have been addressed by hand. That extra effort means something to me. I appreciate the person with the pen in hand actually sharing something of themselves that is so personal: handwriting. Handwriting is very individual and telling enough that the whole science of handwriting analysis was developed. While it may not be an exact science, I do think there’s something to it.

For instance, I knew immediately that two of the graduation invitations we received had been addressed not by the young men, but by their mothers. I could just tell by the handwriting. It was like that old Sesame Street song… “one of these things is not like the other....” Moms 2, Sons 1. Or in my mind, SON WON.

I don’t really know why, but the one that the young man wrote himself made a definite impact on me unlike the other two. I felt like it wasn’t just a proud mom saying look what my son has accomplished (which, of course, there’s nothing wrong with). It was a young man himself saying, “this is important not just to my parents, but to me, and I want to share it with you.” Or maybe he was saying something like, "I have no idea why you care, but am glad you do."

Of course, I don’t know how much his mother had to prompt him to address those envelopes, but nonetheless, his extra effort spoke to me. It was just a personal touch that made me feel like he was actually thinking of us when he wrote our names. At a time when he had every right to be thinking he should be the center of attention, he actually took the time to think about us. A rare thing in today's world.

That was sometime in the last month. I hung onto all three of the invitations for a few days before I responded. I don’t see any of these boys on a regular basis. I bought cards for each of them (spending a good deal of time trying to find just the right card for each individual), added some money, and sent them off.

Last week I got another envelope in the mail. The address was handwritten in familiar penmanship. I opened it to find a thank you note. It’s the only one I’ve received so far (thank you notes are rare these days too, but that's another story). As I already knew, the handwritten message inside was from the same young man that addressed his own invitations. He thanked us for the money, but more than that he mentioned how great his God was. I felt like he was really thanking God for everything that was happening in his life and he was letting me be privy to this personal praise to God.

A handwritten thank you note from a young man I hardly know reminded me that every good and perfect gift comes from above. And for me, this kid and his handwriting is one of those good and perfect gifts to this world.

This kid with his mother’s smile, his father’s stature, and God’s heart gave me hope for the Class of 2011. And for the rest of us.

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Somebody call 911

As if the videos and pictures from the Japan earthquake and tsunami weren’t already stretching the limits of what once was unfathomable in my mind, now the very real surreal has shown up in my own back yard. I’m left wondering about the world we’re living in.

Actually, it was my own front yard.

Coming home from church Sunday afternoon, we turned on to our street to find a whole row of parked law enforcement vehicles greeting us. There were at least 3 city police cars and one county sheriff’s deputy car. One had the warning lights flashing.

As we pulled into our driveway and parked, yet another sheriff’s deputy drove up. He pulled into the rear of the line of cars, which was now right in front of our house. We got out of our car about the same time he did and we headed toward the street to ask about what in the world was going on.

He stepped into our yard of offered the explanation that “one of our neighbors” had shot themselves in the leg and then thrown the gun into the empty, wooded lot that is immediately adjacent to ours.

Yes. Of course. That was exactly what I thought it was.

What? Your neighbors don’t do that kind of thing?

What kind of world do I live in??

He said the law enforcement officers were scouring the lot looking for the gun, hoping to find it before someone else did.

Then he made some witty comment about the city cops being slow and he, a county officer, needed to go help them out.

I am grateful and especially thankful to know that they were looking for just a gun and not some crazed criminal wielding it. I am even more thankful that so many officers were indeed involved in the search.

I’m glad that at least one of the officers felt the need to offer us some kind of explanation for what was happening at our property line. I know he was probably repeating the alleged victim’s testimony, but I don’t believe that’s what really happened.

Who in the world, after shooting themselves, throws the gun away?

Who would tell a police officer that story and expect them to believe it?

What kind of world do I live in?

Later that day, again driving home, I heard sirens and saw a big billow of black smoke beyond the trees not too far away. Less than a mile from our house a field was on fire. FIRE. It was an empty field, but lined by houses and roadways. As I drove by I could see the red flames that were taller than I. There were several big fire trucks, lights flashing. Almost everyone driving by, myself included, slowed down to gawk at the scene. Some even pulled off the road to watch. I probably would have too if I had not been on a time schedule.

While the fire was close enough to home for me to be able to see and smell the smoke from my front porch, it didn’t actually appear to be a threat to me. But it could have been.

By the end of the day I had been inundated with images of threats all around me, near and far, but ultimately I was safe and unharmed.

But not unaffected.

I felt as if my imaginary safety boundaries were shrinking.

What kind of world do I live in and where are those safety boundaries anyway?

I felt it hard to turn away from the images of Japan on my computer screen and TV. The cars and buildings and lives being swept away by the wave are thousands of miles away, but they made me cry right here in my own house.

Standing right here in my own house, I couldn’t stop looking out of my bathroom window at the woods next door. As the wind blew the leaves around, I thought I kept seeing tiny flashes of the sun reflecting on something shiny underneath the leaves. A gun? Maybe. Maybe not.

Standing in my yard, those same leaves blowing across my feet, I felt my face getting hot even though I wasn’t really close enough to those flames to feel the heat.

I have been a victim before, directly and indirectly. I’ve been assaulted, had a gun pointed at my head and been threatened with death. I’ve seen my husband’s office ransacked and the empty space where the computer equipment used to be; the hallways littered with broken glass and splintered wood. My phone has rung in the middle of the night in response to an alarm, after which I sat outside on a bench waiting for the police to return from chasing a robber toting off the stolen goods.

I survived all of that, but not imperviously. The feelings and memories have marked my perspective. I have been influenced by it all.

Yesterday I survived a tsunami, a shooting, and fire. And I am not the same.

What kind of world do I live in?

Maybe the most important words in that sentence are not “what kind of world,” but rather, “I live.”

I live.

I live where there are no real safety boundaries anyway. I live in a place and time that was chosen by a higher power than I. I live, with every breath I take, surviving the trauma and tragedy of this world; being spared some of it; having to taste some of it.

I live affected by it all and it makes me different.

I am left to live so that I can make a difference.

I need to get busy.

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing! Galatians 2:20-21

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Wave

My sisters and I all grew up in the same house. Two of us even shared a corner bedroom. Still, sometimes when the 3 of us get together and talk about something from our childhoods, I almost never remember it the same way the other 2 remember it. I don’t know if they will remember these things the way that I do.

In the house we grew up in, which is the same house our parents lived in for over 40 years, there were two hall closets. The smaller of the two was, I think, by design supposed to be a linen closet because its breadth was narrow and it had shelving from ceiling to floor. As far as I can remember, we never kept sheets or towels in it. The shelves were filled with books. There were two sets of Britannica encyclopedias that took up most of the shelf space. There was also a pencil sharpener that Dad had mounted front and center on the middle shelf, which was most often the reason any of us even opened that closet door.

Near the bottom shelf were a stack of our mother’s yearbooks. Some of those were from her own high school days, others were from the schools where she worked as a bookkeeper. Right next to those was a couple of other tattered, old books with dingy brown covers. The binding on them was worn and frayed. The pages were glossy, but not in color. Each page had two black and white photographs on them. The entire book was nothing but photographs. The only typed print was a couple of caption lines under each photo. There were no descriptive paragraphs, just pictures of war. They were very graphic pictures of Europe during World War I and II. I don’t think I ever opened that closet door specifically looking for those books, but they often sucked me once I was there. The photographic images of extreme devastation and death always left me speechless as a child.

From that perspective, it’s not hard to understand why my dad never talked about it. We have pictures of him in his sailor’s uniform as a young man, but for a very long time that was about the only evidence we knew that showed he had that served in the Navy. He was in his eighties before I ever heard him actually tell the story of being in the English Channel on D-day.

Even though he was a man of few words about his participation on World War II, his patriotism showed throughout his entire life. Today’s evidence of that is the full size flagpole bearing the stars and stripes waving in his front yard. Only today, that flag is at half mast.

The bottom shelf of our hall closet housed books of our mother’s school memories and our dad’s war memories. Those war books were indeed our dad’s yearbooks, because he never finished high school as a boy.

He never said much about that either. But like the pictures of the handsome sailor, there was a little evidence about his education and schooling. In the dining room of that same house was a china cabinet. It was just an ordinary, everyday china cabinet. The top half had about 3 shelves enclosed with glass-paned doors. The bottom half of the cabinet consisted of 3 or 4 drawers. The top drawer was shallow. I think maybe it was designed to put napkins and tablecloths in (come to think of it, I have no recollection of where we kept any kind of linens in our house) but this top drawer was filled with papers. In among all the insurance papers and official looking documents from the Duval County School Board, from where Mom and Dad both eventually retired, there was a folder of papers that always intrigued me. It looked like some kind of standardized test and I remember that there were math equations on it. It was the test our dad took to get the certification he needed to be classified as a high school graduate. I don’t ever remember him taking any kind of class, nor do I remember him actually taking the test. He never really talked about it. He just did what he had to do in whatever way he could get it done.

I did a lot of my own school homework at the dining room table that was positioned right next to that china cabinet. On one occasion, I was in the fourth or fifth grade and we were learning about the 50 states and their capitals. Each student in the class was assigned a state and given the task of making a drawing about the state. In addition to a map of the specific state we were supposed to draw pictures of the state bird, state flower, state seal, and anything else the state was known for. My assignment was Maryland. I tried again and again to draw an outline of the state of Maryland and failed every time. Have you ever tried to draw the Chesapeake Bay? It was my demise. I wadded up several sheets of drawing paper and eventually ended up in tears because I just couldn’t do it.

Dad, always one to rig up something unconventional to make a broken thing work again, stepped in. From his garage where he kept everything but cars, he got a 10 gallon bucket, a small lamp minus the shade, and a large piece of glass. He put it all together to make the most innovative light box ever. He took a map of Maryland from an atlas and put it on the glass top, he then put my drawing paper over that, and turned on the lamp. All I had to do was trace the outline. My assignment and sanity had been rescued. He never finished school himself, but he did everything he could to make sure his three girls finished not only high school but college too.

Once we three girls started college and began leaving home for long periods of time, and eventually getting married and moving away, we developed a little ritual with each of our departures. It’s probably something a lot of people do when family from out of town leaves to go back to their own homes after a visit. We pack up the car, make one last bathroom visit, fill up our cups in the kitchen, and then we all walk outside. Standing in the driveway we hug and kiss. We pile in the car, crank it up, roll down the windows and back out of the driveway onto the street. Mom and Dad stand in the driveway and wave. They continue to stand there and wave until we have driven out of their sight.

This driveway scene has occurred every single time we’ve ever been to visit our parents, no matter where they are. The last time I left Mom at the assisted living facility she lives in now, she insisted on walking me outside and stood there with her walker in the driveway until we had driven out of her sight.

For several years now, I’ve had the very same thought and feeling every time we drove away with Mom and Dad in our rearview mirror standing in the driveway waving.

Grief. I have grieved every single time. I grieve because I think to myself, “Will this be the last time I see them?” With parents in their seventies and eighties and not living nearby, that is what you think when you leave them. So in some way, I have already grieved this passing.

It hasn’t been until now that I have thought about what they must have been thinking as they stood there in the driveway waving goodbye.

For one, longing. Longing for time to stop. Wishing things could just stay the way they were. Wishing we could all just stay together.

The other thing, they must have felt some relief. Relief in not only us taking the chaos of our own lives back to our own homes with us, but also realizing that we have outgrown the little corner bedroom of that house and sensing relief in knowing that we have homes of our own to go to that fit us better now.

I know that, because now it’s us standing the driveway waving goodbye.

We long for time to stop and wish things could stay the way they were and that we could all be together all the time. But today, Daddy, we know your spirit has outgrown this world and the only place that can house you now is a mansion built for you in glory by the King of Kings himself.

Welcome home, Daddy.

Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. 2 Samuel 12:20