Friday, August 3, 2012

Did He really say that?

It was morning. I was bathed, but not yet dressed, standing at the ironing board pressing the skirt I was going to wear that day. Our stereo rests on a cedar chest that is positioned right next to the ironing board. Mostly, I like quiet in the mornings, but this particular day I felt the need for a little music. I reached over and pressed the buttons on the stereo to power up the radio. I went back to my ironing, moving the steamy iron back and forth in rhythm to the music.

The next song on the playlist was by Group 1 Crew. It was a familiar song, but you know that moment when after humming along for weeks, you finally pay attention to the lyrics? Well, yeah, this was that moment. Here’s what I finally heard:
So your life feels like it don't make sense
And you think to yourself, 'I'm a good person'
So why do these things keep happening?
Why you gotta deal with them?
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…
The title of the song is “He Said.” What struck me that morning in the midst of a mundane task of ironing is, did He really say that? Where does it say that God said that?

I know. I’m beginning to sound just like the serpent in Genesis; “Did God really say…?,” aren’t I?

But really. Did God really say that? Which scripture verse are they referring to? I’m asking because I don’t know. Seriously. Where does it say that He won’t give me more than I can take? If ever I needed that verse, it’s now.

He won’t give me more than I can take?

Really? Because I think I passed my limit about a month ago.

He won’t let me break?

Really? Because there are broken pieces of me strewn up and down the Atlantic coast from Florida to Massachusetts. Some of those pieces I’ll never recover.

Now, I have been wrong before but I can’t find that in my Bible. But here’s what I do find…
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
2 Corinthians 1:8-11
Paul said he was experiencing hardships that were beyond his ability to endure, so much so that he felt that death was imminent.

Life was so hard, it was killing him. He felt like he was dying.

To live like Jesus feels like dying.

I need to tell myself that again. To live like Jesus feels like dying because that’s exactly what Jesus did. And there was a reason for it. Paul talked about that too. He mentioned the reason before he even started talking about life being so hard and feeling death looming.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
2 Corinthians 1:3-7
Here’s the thing. To say God won’t give me more than I can handle is basically saying, “I can handle it.”

And if I can handle it, then I don’t need God.

But I can’t handle it. My track record proves that. I have a million broken pieces of evidence to corroborate it.

I'm just like the skirt I'm trying to iron. Wrinkled, worn, jostled through a wringer, tumbled around in a hot cylinder, and pressed often with a burning, steamy iron to try and make it look like I'm brand new.

I am not new. I die a little bit every day. Some days more than others. Some days a lot more than others.

It’s then than I need the God of all comforts. 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 put all my broken pieces back together or make the grim reaper stop breathing down my neck. Only the God of all comforts can do that.

He 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 dress for the first time. A dress that's never been subject to sweat and dirt and harsh detergents and without a hint of fading. Even if I have to wear that new dress to a funeral.

So, let me tell myself over and over again: To live like Jesus feels like dying.

That makes me feel more alive than anything in this world.

I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. Isaiah 61:10

Thursday, May 10, 2012


No, that's not a real news headline. But it could be.

Dear Chief Public Safety Officer:

I’m writing as a concerned citizen of the city. I have absolute respect for your position as Chief of Police and I am grateful for the officers that are responsible for serving and protecting us. I have never been employed in law enforcement and do not even pretend to claim I know much about what it takes to do it day to day, so this is in no way any kind of an attempt to tell you how your job should be carried out. I fully realize I have no authority there. It is, however, the view from my own eyes and personal experience over the last couple of months, and especially in the last couple of weeks that I want to share with you. I know in my own life sometimes a perspective different than my own is often elusive until I’m prompted or invited to consider it by someone who is not in my regular circle of contacts. That’s mostly what I’d like to do; invite you to stand in my shoes for just a bit. There are a couple of dimensions to it, so please hear me out to the end.

Saturday my husband was outside doing yard work. I was inside the house at the front door, just about to step outside too. We both heard several shots of gunfire and subsequently saw a car speeding down the street. My husband was standing close enough to hear the profanity that one of the men in the car was shouting as they sped by. From where I stood, I saw two different neighbors run from their yards toward their houses as soon the shots were fired. My husband headed to our front door too.

A few minutes later there were patrol cars in the street. We stepped back outside to watch and listen. We heard a couple of reports with a few details about what had taken place. In about an hour, the patrol cars were gone and we and the neighbors went back to our yard work. We went back to our lives as usual, but honestly, it was anything but “usual.” It is far from “normal” to pray prayers of thanksgiving that my husband didn’t catch a stray bullet as he raked leaves.

There was a similar incident two weeks ago in broad daylight on a Sunday afternoon. Shots fired followed by a car speeding by our house. Same house fired on. Different getaway car.

Prior to that there were two (maybe three) other incidents of gunfire also just down the street. I can only assume that maybe the same house was somehow involved. Those were all at night. All of that has taken place in just the last month or two. I can only assume that based on experience that until something changes, it will only happen again.

Adding a second dimension to my issue, let’s go back to this past Saturday. Later that day when we finished up our yard work, we sat on our front porch to relax. The peacefulness was interrupted by extremely loud motorcycles racing down the street that runs behind our house. That happens frequently. Partly in jest and yet with a bit of seriousness, my husband and I both wondered out loud where those patrol cars were now. [Not only is that street often used for a raceway, it is also a thoroughfare and short cut for cars and pedestrians. I do not know any statistics for traffic incidents there, I just know there are a lot of fast moving vehicles, people walking, and children playing. In short, dangerous.]. But alas, the roar of those engines went back and forth for a while and eventually faded out as they drove on.

Seldom do we see patrol car presence on our street until after a 9-1-1 call is made. Which, typically, I suppose is normal. I guess most people would be suspicious and paranoid if they saw a patrol car on their street without some kind of incident going on. The place I do see patrol cars on a regular basis is parked a couple of miles away. I know they’re there to deter the speeders where the speed limit is 30. I travel that road at least twice a day, sometimes 4 to 6 times a day. There is seldom ever more than one other car besides mine on that road at any given time. I see a patrol car parked there about once a week. We saw one there Sunday on our way home from church. It occurred to me then, that since they’re there so often that it must be a police priority. It’s their “normal.” If officers are parked and positioned where it’s highly likely that they will see speeders, why not on the street where I live? Police presence there might also change what’s happening on the street where I live.

From where I stand, seeing what I see, it is my opinion, humble as it may be but still very much carefully considered, that it the ideal would be to have the police “normal” be where law enforcement presence would be more effective in stopping shooters and speeders both. Not just speeders.

The third and possibly more personal-yet-public dimension to all of this is my employment. I work for our county economic development office. It is the responsibility of our office to promote our county to prospective businesses and industries. It is my job to represent all the positive things about our county which, truly, is not a hard thing to do. I must also be able to provide accurate information about the negatives and hopefully provide potential solutions and steps we’re actually taking to work on those negatives. Less than a week ago as part of my job responsibilities, I drove someone around giving them a quick tour of our sites, buildings, and assets. They were from another county in the state. They had heard and read all the bad press about the crime in our city and they asked me about it. They were aware that the press mostly favored headlining bad news and optimistically wanted to know my own personal experience with crime in the city. How do I answer that? While, again thankful to God that I have not been a victim of a crime lately, I have seen it firsthand. On the street where I live. Repeatedly.

While these crimes have not been inflicted on me personally, it still affects me personally. It affects how I live. It affects my work. I know we’ll never be able to eliminate crime completely. I understand the nature of evil in this world. I do, however, believe there must be a way to keep it from happening the same way in the same place over and over again. I also believe in the good that’s in this world too and because of that I’m willing to help. I believe something absolutely needs to change. I just have no idea what to do. What, just what, do I do? ?

Mrs. Does-This-Happen-On-The-Street-Where-YOU-live?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

You Will

Monday night I curled up on the couch to watch a little TV and eventually dozed off. I was there keeping Scott company as he had spent the last five days not being able to stand upright without his head exploding, or at least feeling like it was going to.

He has a bit of a freaky medical history and was having some issues. Five days before, he’d had a medical procedure done as a precautionary test to determine if his recent issues were related to his freaky history, or if they were caused by some new ailment. Or, as he and I have come to classify many things, maybe it was all just a result of THE CURSE. You know, the whole Adam and Eve thing and Satan attempting to destroy everything and the complete downfall of man and all.

Anyway, he had been miserable since the medical procedure.

Not only that, we’d also experienced a considerable bit of difficulty trying to get information from the medical facility and all the lovely people that work there about the test results. Scott called every day for five days and no one would return his calls or respond to his pleas that he wasn’t doing too well. That alone is enough to add to the headache.

He even missed church on Sunday. As a minister, you only get 52 chances a year to do that thing you do. If you factor in 2 weeks for vacation and that some people only come on Christmas and Easter, it’s really even less than that. Skip what you have to through the week, but push through it and show up on Sunday morning. For him to miss a Sunday morning because he wasn’t well meant he REALLY wasn’t well. His lips and cheeks were as pale as his backside that never sees the sun. He spent the rest of the day lying on the couch.

He tried to get up and go Monday, but eventually ended up back in the bed again. When I got home from work we had some dinner and both of us went back to the couch. He finally confessed that he couldn’t go on like this so we made plans to get up in the morning and head to the hospital, the ER if necessary. Since we couldn’t get a doctor to call us, we thought making a personal visit might produce at least a few answers. I made a mental list of things to pack in my oversized handbag (i.e., snacks, dental floss, Sudoku puzzle book, cell phone charger). Waiting rooms are awful without these luxuries.

Later I got up from the couch, moved to the bedroom and crawled into bed. It didn’t take but a minute before I was sound asleep. Scott was just a few minutes behind me in coming to bed. I was already asleep but stirred when I felt him sit down on the bed. He laid his head back on the pillow and spoke a few words to me. I realized then that he was in pain, practically in tears and scared to death that something might be seriously wrong with him. I was no longer asleep. I was awake. Wide awake.

I laid there listening to him breathe until he eventually drifted off to sleep. I laid there with my eyes open wondering what in the world to do for him, for me. Thirty minutes or so went by. I was still awake. He seemed to be resting OK. The phone rang once, which is not long enough for the message system to pick up. Post bedtime ringing phones are a sure sign that I’m not going back to sleep anytime soon, especially if I have no idea who it was or why in the world they dialed my number after midnight. I guess it was just meant for me to be awake. Sleepless nights are a part of The Curse too; just another way to destroy me, because I’m useless without my beauty sleep.

Scott was lying on his side facing the edge of the bed. I put my hand on his back and began to pray. I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t want to leave his side and get out of earshot of his breathing noise. I prayed for forgiveness for being stupid, stubborn, neglectful, and lazy. I knew I needed to confess everything so that I could be certain there was nothing blocking the path of my prayers to God. Then I asked God to heal whatever it was that was making Scott feel this way. I did not pray in statements. I did not say, “Oh, God, please heal Scott.”

Instead, I prayed in questions. “Will You please?” “Will You?” After a long time of asking God that same thing over and over, “Will You?”, the words took on a different perspective.

Will. You. Say them over and over. Will. You. Will. You. Will. You. Will. You. Will. You. Will. You.

After a while, it became a little difficult to tell the beginning from the end. You. Will.

You Will.

Of course. You Will.

My prayer then became merely, “Your Will.” Whatever it may be, God, Your Will is what I want. I know You Will, if it is Your Will.

That’s the last thing I remember praying as I drifted off to sleep.

About 3 hours later my alarm went off. I immediately got up and into my getting ready routine. That’s me. Once I have a plan, let’s get busy. No dilly dallying. No lollygagging. Just do it. I packed my snack bag and my puzzle book and was ready to go to the hospital.

Scott was moving a little slower. I tried to be patient. I just wanted to go. He was taking his time. I kept asking him how he felt. Finally, he asked me if I thought you could scare yourself into wellness.

I understood. He went to sleep scared to death; he woke up without the fear of it.

He also woke up without the headache and all the other ickiness that had sent him to the couch for the past week. I think he felt normal, but maybe a little hesitant to believe it.

He called the doctor’s office one more time, just in case. Wouldn’t you know it, they called him back in about 15 minutes. By now it had been 6 days and they hadn’t called, but now they respond in record time. They finally looked at the test results and saw that it was negative; everything was as it should be. Really, by then Scott didn’t need them to tell him that because he was already feeling normal.

I’m convinced that the reason no one had called us about that test before now was because no one had looked at it. I’m also convinced that the reason no one had looked at it before now was because God was waiting on us to get to the “Your Will, whatever” point. None of us knew the test was clear until Scott had already experienced the healing.

Do I think God Photoshopped the scans? Maybe. Maybe not. But it doesn’t matter. At that point Scott was ready to go on about his day as if it was just another Tuesday, and he did. He packed up his things and headed to work.

I took up the vigil on the couch.

I had not told Scott about my prayers. I had not said a word to him about the “Will You?” question or the “Your Will” answer.

I felt as if I had just experienced God’s glory right there in my own home, right there on my own husband, right there in front of me. It paralyzed me.

I couldn’t move. I couldn’t think. I could hardly speak. All I could do was just sit there.

I know now why God put Moses in a cleft in the rock when He passed by. It was just too much.

How do I live now after experiencing such a thing?

I did not see God’s face, but I felt it. I see the evidence.

People won’t believe me. They will find ways to reason and rationalize the events. Because of that my tendency is to stay in that rock cleft, hide out until no one suspects anything different; sit on the couch until the awe fades away.

But I have lived through such a thing to be able to tell the story. And I will tell it because I have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only , who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. It is the One and Only thing that can and Will stop The Curse.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14

And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” Exodus 33:19-23

Monday, January 9, 2012

Happy Anniversary to my FBC Family

This quote was in our worship order yesterday:
Common belief identifies members of God’s family. And common affection unites them. Paul gives this relationship rule the church: “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love.” The apostle plays the wordsmith here, bookending the verse with fraternal-twin terms. He begins with philostorgos (philos means friendly; storgos means family love) and concludes with Philadelphia (phileo means tender affection; adelphia means brethren). An awkward but accurate translation of the verse might be “Have a friend/family devotion to each other in a friend/family sort of way.” If Paul doesn’t get us with the first adjective, he catches us with the second. In both he reminds us: the church is God’s family.

You didn’t pick me. I didn’t pick you. You may not like me. I may not like you. But since God picked and likes us both, we are family.”

--Max Lucado, Cure for the Common Life.
I already had this kind of thing on my mind before this showed up on my radar. I’ve been thinking about my family a lot lately. Mostly because today is the one year anniversary of the day my Dad took his leave of this world for heaven.

There are many days when there is nothing I want more than to join my Dad. No, I’m not suicidal. I just get tired of keeping up all the requirements necessary to survive and wish somebody else would do them for me for a while and let me coast for a day or two. It’s exhausting to be human, especially one who’s trying to live right on the straight and narrow. Right now Dad’s not worrying about stepping on the scale at the doctor’s office, or the cable bill, or what on earth to cook for dinner that will help me feel better about stepping on the doctor’s scale. I long for days like that when I won’t have to waste a single brain cell on any of those things.

While I no longer have my Dad, or anybody else to do the hard stuff for me, I do still have my family.

And while I still have a mother, a father-in-law, two sisters, one sister-in-law, three brothers-in-law, and several nieces and nephews here on this earth, you, First Baptist Church, are my family too.

I think sometimes my blood relatives don’t get that, that the church is my family.

Sometimes, FBC, I don’t think you understand fully either that YOU are family to me.

When we came to FBC we left everything behind to follow God’s leadership and come here to serve Him and you. We left friends, family, careers, and anything else you can think of. We were hesitant at first. We put the search committee off for six months because we just weren’t sure. But then, once we realized that if we wanted to do the will of God, we had no other choice. If we were going to leave the choice up to God, then this was it. We were all in. And we still are.

That was 15 years ago this week.

The children that were newborns at the time are in high school now. The kids that were in high school then have children of their own now.

On one of our first Sundays here, Scott sang with an accompaniment track. It was uncharted territory for you at the time. It was obvious because even though it was a split track and the demo voice should have been turned down, Scott ended up singing Somebody’s Prayin’ right along with Ricky Scaggs all the way through the song. Two new sound boards later, I think we’ve finally made it over that learning curve. This past Christmas we did a program that involved people from 16 different churches. All the music was on accompaniment tracks and we have DVD video recordings of it!

Not too many Sundays after that Ricky Scaggs sing along, Scott led the choir out of the choir loft and out front on the stage to sing I Will Sing Praises. There was hand-clapping to the beat of the music from the choir, and applause afterwards from the congregation. That made some of you uncomfortable. For some, it was a turning point that led you to go somewhere else to church.

The Beacons Quartet got together and southern gospel music made an emergence at FBC.

We added a projector and a screen to the sanctuary and media presentations in the services. Some of you still aren’t comfortable with that. That’s OK; for those of you who can’t put down the hymnal, we will still give you page numbers.

Every single summer we’ve been on an adventure together. We went on the Good News Stampede, up to Mt. Extreme, down to an Ocean Odyssey, we became Truth Trackers and Amazon Outfitters, investigated a Great Kingdom Caper, took a Rickshaw Rally and a Ramblin’ Road Trip, lived on the Arctic Edge, cheered at Game Day Central, made our way to Outrigger Island, went down under to Boomerang Express, and out west to the Saddle Ridge Ranch. Some of the VBS songs still ring in my head every now and then (“We are Truth Trackers, in search of answers...” Now I’m going to be humming that all day). We weren’t here for 2011 VBS because it was the same week as our 25th wedding anniversary. We are grateful and thankful that you allowed us that respite from VBS. That week changed our lives in more ways than you’ll ever know.

In 2000, we rang in the new millennium together. Remember when you heard the word “Y2K” every single day?

In 2002, you prayed us through an uncertain time and a craniotomy. Later that year, some of our choir members sang for Hollywood in the movie Radio. What a memorable Christmas season that was.

In 2005, you prayed us through another craniotomy. While Scott was home recuperating with a shaved and stapled head, you asked the pastor to leave. You asked a new one to lead you in 2006.

In 2009, um, well. It was one of the toughest years for me personally. A game changer.

In 2010 you asked us to leave. Then you changed your mind and told us not to leave.

In 2011 you buried your minister of education.

In 2012…who knows???

When we first came to FBC, trepid as we were, we thought we’d be lucky to stay 5 years. I have no explanation, except for GOD, as to how that has turned into 15. Looking back, it seems that it only got more difficult with every year, not easier. So, I can only assume that this next year will be no exception.

The one thing I know for sure is that God is faithful. How else could we have made it this long, this far? Maybe “this long” is not what or who you wanted. Maybe we wanted our “this far” to take us somewhere else. Whatever the case, we have made it this far and we are thankful. In these 15 years together, there have been successes and failures. We’ve been blessed by your faithfulness. We beg forgiveness and mercy for our shortcomings, and we offer it to you.

Because God chose you for us, we love you.

Because God picked us for you, we love you.

Because we love God, we love you.

We love you, First Baptist. Here me say it loud and clear. We love you and want what God wants for you.

From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ Acts 17: 26-28