A Day of Awe

Birth and Death are common to us all and yet they never cease to amaze me. Today is the day a friend of mine went to be with the Lord. Today, for another friend, is the due date for the birth of her sixth child. And both experiences leave me awed. Is that the right word for it? Awed? Yes, I think it is.

My friend not only fought cancer valiantly she spent the time from her diagnosis living valiantly. She spent her time living! Life did not get swallowed up into the expected: all about her and her fight with cancer. She chose to continue to serve and actively love others. Awesome.

Last week when she was told death was near she let a wide circle of friends know she wanted to see them. When I visited her on Friday I learned 12 friends had shown up throughout the day on Thursday. My thoughts were mixed. “Wow, that’s exhausting. I hope they had the courtesy to call before they came,” and “Wow, that’s a lot of loving in action. She deserves to see the impact she’s had on all of us”. My thoughts were mixed up all right. God knew what was needed.

One of the ways she chose to live life to it’s fullest was to be in contact with many of the young women in our church. I learned that her eyes lit up when a young gal visited her last night. Our pastor’s wife summed it up beautifully, “She was ministering to the end”. Young women need to be seen for the treasures they are. My friend made sure this gal knew she was seen. That kindness, selflessness and faith produces awe for those of us who were so honored to be witnesses. Just a few weeks ago she served as a greeter at our Sunday morning worship service. Our greeters do double duty and collect the offering. When she was passing the offering plate she was offering herself. The entire congregation sat in awe.

As I wait to hear that my other friend is in labor I’m not in the stereotypical state of the “circle of life” mentality. The state of awe is filling my heart and mind. It doesn’t matter that babies are born every minute. It doesn’t matter that we all came into this world the same way. It doesn’t matter that this is her sixth child. This little girl’s coming is an event that stirs up an awe in me over the common.

Why do so many of us find our hands have magnets that reach out for the magnet in a pregnant woman’s belly? Why do we pray when we hear someone is in labor? Why do we expect to hear the baby’s height and weight and how the mother’s labor progressed?  Because the word common is not married to the word blasé.  Miracles are common.

Why does it still stun me that one moment someone is living among us and the next she is in heaven and I can’t see her? Because the word common is not married to the word acceptable. We were not created to die. That’s why Jesus had to come in the first place.  Death may be common but what we feel every time it occurs is uniquely painful.  When we read in the Bible “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”, we are being told that for those who put their faith in Jesus, death on earth is not the end of life.  The sting of death here on earth however, is real and it will never feel right.  But today it is felt alongside the joy of knowing my friend is in the very presence of Jesus.  Awesome.

That we are born and die is common. But how we live and die is uncommon.

The life and death of my friend who has left us today brings tears and great sorrow. Tears and joy. Tears, joy, sorrow, hope and awe.

The birth of this girl will bring tears of joy. Joy and labor. Joy, tears, labor, hope and awe.

Today I’m anticipating seeing my friend again and I’m anticipating seeing this new little darlin’ for the first time. Today, I am in awe.

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JUST CAN’T STOP LAUGHING

I was driving and chatting with my friend Brenda, when there was a sudden break in the conversation as she stuttered and turned her body fully toward me. I looked over at her and she seemed to be trying to block the sun from blinding me by tilting her head side to side. But there were no rays of sun hitting me. I was completely confused. (Later I would learn she could see the bewilderment in my eye. Note: eye, not eyes). I turned my head directly looking at her and sputtered, “What?” as she broke into laughter and pointed at my left eye. I turned back to put full attention on the road and lifted my finger to my left eye. I was wearing sunglasses but my finger kept going straight through and I actually poked myself in the eye! I then began to laugh hysterically. I was missing the left lens of my sunglasses. Brenda was bent over laughing and I would have been except I needed to keep control of the car. I kept saying over and over, like someone in shock, “I just poked my own eye, I just poked my own eye…”

We couldn’t stop laughing. By the time we calmed down Brenda had come up with a strange (some might say morbid) request. (As if it wasn’t strange enough that I had driven oblivious to the fact that I was wearing half of a pair of sunglasses.) “You’ve got to keep those glasses so you can wear them when I’m dying and you come to visit me”.   Brenda is not ill.  And she’s younger than me and dearly loved by me, so I prefer I die before she does; but I love that her thought processes are as utterly strange as mine. If I don’t die suddenly, I definitely want friends who will find reasons to laugh with me as I am in the process of dying.

As much as the laughter, the glee in her request has set the mood of this memory. This memory could have been one of embarrassment and fear over me being so unobservant that I drove to her house, picked her up and then drove a number of blocks without the slightest inkling that I was missing a lens in my sunglasses. But instead this memory will be forever marked by the healing joy of shared laughter. We both commented that we hadn’t laughed that hard in a long time. Brenda said it was good medicine. I’ll be saving this cheap pair of glasses for years to come as a symbol of a friendship that promises laughter in good and bad times.

Proverbs 17:22

A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

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Longing for Stars Hollow

Our town could be described as a bedroom community. At least I think it still falls under that description. I’m not sure if the fact that we have a Target and Kohl’s disqualifies us. Albertson’s grocery store, the Do It Center and Big Lots have all had to close. And that wasn’t in the 2009 economy; we’ve lost those stores in the past year. And even though our population is over 34,000, (small by southern California standards), our restaurant options are extremely limited and it does appear that the sidewalks have been rolled up by 8:00o’clock every night.

This morning I met a friend at a little cafe called “Disgustingly Delicious”. Only a few other customers came in during the hour we were there and I find myself concerned for the owner and his employees. I don’t know them but they clearly help fill a desperate need for ambiance in our suburb. Their food and coffee are really good too. And my concern is magnified because they are in the same location of a former cafe called “Kate’s”. Will they have the same fate as Kate’s?

I’ve read numerous books and watched a number of television shows that take place in quaint villages and all of them have homey little hangouts for their characters. Stars Hollow on “Gilmore Girls” boasted at least 3 such meeting places serving coffee and camaraderie. (Obviously none rivaled “Luke’s”). Our neighborhoods don’t resemble the charm of Stars Hollow in the least. However, our town does have its own cast of caring characters.

We need a place for our own characters to stay in touch before, during and after the PTA/ AYSO/Little League/Booster years. Some of our characters never had children attending our schools in the first place:  think Babette and Morey – where will we see their likeness?!

I use to believe suburbs were places to build a sense of community whereas cities were lonely places to live. As I get older I realize cities have their various communities where it’s easier to feel a sense of belonging because everything is in walking distance and driving is more of a nuisance. Suburbs have the open the garage door, enter, close the garage door, lifestyle that isolates us from one another.

So back to my concern over “Disgustingly Delicious”: this charming café is in a corner of a strip mall, out of sight from the cars driving down the busiest street in town. There are a number of reasons “Gilmore Girls” was such a hit. For many of us, it is that we would like that sense of belonging that takes no more effort than walking out your front door, turning right off your street and walking by charming shops, a dance studio with its barn doors wide open and children inside dressed as turnips practicing their arabesque, as we wave at neighbors sitting by the town center gazebo.

Okay, I’m not solely concerned for the owner of my local café and his employees. I’m concerned for my chance at a little Gilmore Girls we-take-care-of-our-own citizenry. (Wait, I might be mixing that up with the Mitford book series.)

I do get more than a taste of community as a member of my church. My church is a cast of caring characters. But there’s not a quaint set where I can walk out my door, turn right and enter into their company on any given day. To get that sense of community and avoid isolation I have to schedule appointments. Sigh. Oh well, I guess Kirk would be far less humorous and far more alarming in person on a daily basis.

Captive Thoughts

My thoughts can be as sneaky as an enemy soldier overcoming me in the dark and taking me captive. I walk myself, battered and bruised, into a windowless prison and obsess over an issue or an object. I leave the powerful weapons of good that Jesus has given me to take my thoughts captive, in an open but forgotten cell next to the hovel where I’ve taken residence.

Instead, something as superficial as the well-worn state of my kitchen and bathrooms become a source of self-contempt; every real or imagined misspent dollar a verdict on whether I have lived well or not. Or, in a more devastating direction of obsessing, every possible mistake I’ve made in parenting becomes a puzzle on my dining room table that I bend over for hours trying to piece together. I keep looking for a missing piece and get sucked away from any other uplifting, profitable activity around me. The reading glasses I’m wearing to see the puzzle make my sight blurry when people approach me. And it feels like such a monumental effort to take the glasses off and make other people the focus of that day.

Sometimes the thoughts that take me captive are not micro thoughts of my story in this world. Sometimes they are macro thoughts, such as man’s cruelty to his fellow man. I went to see the movie Unbroken last week. I read the book soon after it was published so the story wasn’t new to me. But the punch in the gut horror of the story still took the breath out of me. And my thoughts were turned toward the suffering of all mankind. And where does God fit in all of this? Louie Zamperini came out of his post traumatic state of mind by putting his faith in Jesus and by using the weapon Jesus had given him to hold his own thoughts captive: forgiveness.

But when faced with suffering my thoughts of God can easily go in another direction. For example, why didn’t God use well placed lightening when Louie’s captors continued to torture him and the other prisoners? I know the book of Job. I know I wasn’t there when God made the heavens and the earth. I know I don’t have the mind of God. I know man has free will. Yet the lightening scenario popped into my thoughts during the movie and sounded rather justified and brilliant.

I really need to reacquaint myself with the weapons Jesus has gifted to me; and stop trying to come up with weapons for Him. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.” To hold my thoughts captive I need to choose to live closely with Jesus. I need to know his character, not obsess over the character of men who are not captive to the character of God; men who are not captive to love.

1 Corinthians 13 is a well-known chapter in the Bible about love. But well known doesn’t mean oft remembered (unless a wedding is being planned). The chapter ends with this: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

A feeling or a memory that abides continues without fading or being lost. The word abide is derived from Old English words that mean ‘wait’ and ‘onward’. My thoughts can be held captive by faith, hope and love. I can abide with beautiful thoughts that are truer than the sufferings of this world, as I wait to move onward to the place God has lovingly prepared for me.

Pain is a powerful enemy. But greater is He who is in me than the pain of this world. What or who will I choose to give my thoughts to today? I know who wins. It makes sense to give my thoughts to the winner. Still, it is not an easy choice. Pain is a brutal and persistent enemy. I’m not advocating denying the reality of pain. I’m choosing to abide in the love of Jesus. Love moves us onward.