Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Washing us clean

Once the topic of deer hunting comes up, it doesn’t take long for people to ask, “You’re not from around here, are you?” It is obvious that I have absolutely nothing to contribute to that conversation. I do, however, listen to the stories and look at pictures shared by proud hunters.

There is one kind of photograph that always makes me a little squeamish. It’s the evidence of a ritual surrounding the first time a young hunter kills a deer. The blood from the animal is smeared on the face of the hunter. For a non-hunter like me, it seems a little gruesome. I’m just grateful they wash it off before they go out in public. I’m not sure what I would do if someone walked into my office with dried blood on their face from a previous hunting excursion.

No, I’m not from around here. I’m from the big city of Jacksonville, Florida. When Scott and I were young newlyweds, we lived in an apartment there on the St. Johns River. We dealt with big city traffic, bright lights, hustle, bustle, and crime. One weekend we both had separate events to attend. I returned to our apartment in the early evening. Scott called and said he would be late. Our favorite BBQ restaurant would have been closed by the time he got back into town, so I agreed to head on over there and get a take-out order, then we could eat as soon as he got home.

I returned to our apartment complex and parked my car. I gathered up my purse, keys, and bags of BBQ. As soon as I stepped out of my car and shut the door, someone grabbed me from behind. I struggled and fought my way from the driver’s side door to the front bumper. I felt a forceful thump on my head that knocked me down, but not out. Falling to the ground freed me from my attacker’s grasp so I jumped up and ran towards the gate of the nearby privacy fence. I looked over my shoulder and saw that he was not following me, but he was aiming a gun at me and screaming that he was going to kill me. I realized then that the gun was what he had used to whack me on the head.

Thankfully, I made it through the gate and in to our apartment alone, with my keys and purse. Unfortunately, the BBQ was left scattered on the sidewalk. Once inside, I called 911 and soon police and EMS arrived. I answered questions from the police officer while the EMS technician addressed my head wound. Scott was still traveling so the officer asked if I had any other family nearby. I called my parents. I didn’t tell them what happened, I just told them I needed them to come. The officer encouraged me to change my clothes before my mother arrived, pointing out that my white sweatshirt was covered in blood. Apparently even small head wounds bleed profusely. He explained that the first thing my mother needed to see when she came through the door was some evidence that I was physically okay, not her child covered in blood. I changed my clothes. I washed the blood off my face.

We are that way about blood, aren’t we? Regardless of how we get it on us, whether it’s ours or not, washing it off becomes a priority before we do anything else, for our own sake as well as others. Humans have been that way for a long time. In the Bible, Leviticus 16 details instructions for the priest regarding sacrifices for the Day of Atonement. Those instructions include specifics about the priest bathing and changing clothes after he sacrifices an animal and sprinkles its blood on the altar, or the mercy seat.  What I find interesting is that there are no instructions to clean the mercy seat. Every time a priest sprinkled the sacrificial blood, the drops fell on dried blood from all the previous sacrifices. The spilt blood remained, but the priest walked away clean.

Jesus’ life brought new meaning to those rituals of sacrifice. In the end, it was His blood that was actually spilt as the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus overcame death and rose from the grave so that we could have what is only His to give. Hebrews 9 explains that you can’t receive an inheritance unless the owner dies. Verse 22 says “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” Forgiveness is what was left for us when His blood was spilt. Just like the blood of bulls and goats sprinkled on the mercy seat by the Old Testament priests, the blood of Jesus never goes away. That takes us out of the crosshairs and makes us the ones that get to walk away clean. Now that’s good news worth of sharing.
This was originally post Sunday, October 18, 2015 on the Press and Standard website:

Monday, October 5, 2015

Speaking His word out loud

Typically, I’m the person who is always ready to leave the party simply because it’s past my bed time. I would always go to bed early if there weren’t so many things that needed to be done before the sun rises again.  I am also, however, a light sleeper. If the noise, light, and temperature conditions are not just right, I struggle. Those are the nights that I lie in bed and think. My analytical tendencies take over and I start to plan conversations in my head. That’s when I come up with what I wish I had said in real conversations previously held with real people. I formulate what I might say if the subject comes up again. Of course, these conversations are one-sided so it is always only my side of the story. The more I think, the more worked up I become. The more mentally stimulated I am, the more sleep will be nothing but a pipe dream.

These only-in-my-head conversations increase as my stress level increases. Instead of containing them to just lying in bed at night, they also get up with me. Morning comes, with or without sleep, and I make my way to the shower. The noise of the water flow and the running fan, while everyone else is still asleep, add to my sense of solitude and security behind the shower curtain. It feels like a safe environment for these questionable one-sided conversations, so I actually talk them out, speaking softly but still out loud. That is when I have the best rehearsals for conversations that will probably never actually take place.

Recently we experienced a couple of difficult weeks at our house. Simultaneously, we all suffered with a nasty cold, I was preparing for a big annual event at work, there were several concurrent deadlines on our calendars at church and at work, my husband had to be out of town which always alters my schedule, we had issues with our washer and dryer so I had to go to the laundromat instead of multitasking at home. Those were just some of the external things beyond our normal daily routines. All of these things along with my emotional state over them gave me significant fodder for my insomnia and the subsequent analytical one-sided conversations.

I have a special friend, Ginger Walker, who for years has given me unwavering support and tender  encouragement regardless of any circumstance. Those difficult weeks we recently experienced were no exception. She encouraged me to meet with her so that we could pray together and talk about what God is doing through it all. She also encouraged me to work more on some scripture memorization. We chose a few Bible verses, gave ourselves a week to work on it, then recited them to each other the next time we met together. One of the scriptures that Ginger and I have been working on is Psalm 119: 11, which says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”

It’s fascinating to me how Bible verses we commit to memory somehow become timely and relevant to what is currently going on in my life. I wouldn’t know that if we had not made the effort to learn the verses. Without God’s words, I would still be trying to respond to people and circumstances with the only other thing that occupies my mind, which would be my own over analyzed and well-rehearsed words.

God said “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11).

What I’ve discovered in trying to memorize scripture is that speaking God’s word out loud is indeed returning it to Him. I also don’t have to wait to see what it will do. The emptiness that is immediately filled is inside of me. I have His word in my heart. Now that’s an accomplishment!

There are over 31,000 verses in the Bible so I still have some work to do in replacing my words with His. I am inclined to believe, however, that every word of God’s that is stored in my heart is one less of my own that I have to rehearse. One of the benefits of that will finally be a good night’s sleep. I know that because His words say so, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

This was originally posted Sunday, October 4, 2015 on The Press and Standard website: www.colletontoday.com