Thursday, June 16, 2011

A Tribute to Theresa Desmond-Chiarello

First published in the monthly newsletter of St. Mark's UMC of Daleville, VA in the summer of 2010. Over at the Daily Fast Fuel, I've been writing and thinking about how service has affected my life. My musings have brought Terry to mind this week. Reprinted here to honor the memory of my dear friend.

It's been almost a year and I still think about you all the time.

I miss you, gal.

Terry died on July 4th, Independence Day. She was my friend. We usually caught up with each other one or two times a week. Sometimes we’d just chat about our days. Sometimes we’d share photos, she of her family, and me of mine. Terry was one of the first people to know I was pregnant. She fawned over my ultrasound photos and looked forward to meeting my new son. She prayed for my husband, Phillip, when she learned that his cancer had returned. I prayed for her when she struggled with health problems of her own. Sometimes she and I would talk over food. The last time I saw her, we shared a big bowl of watermelon. Sometimes we’d watch T.V. and try to guess “whodunit” on “Law and Order” or gab about the latest celebrity on “Oprah”. Other times we’d just talk…laughing about the silly things in life, sharing our individual struggles and challenges, and even pondering together God’s purpose for our lives. Terry was my dear friend and I’m still trying to adjust to the idea that she’s gone.

You might be surprised to learn that while Terry was such a dear friend, we never spoke on the phone – not even once. We never texted or emailed each other. She was not my “friend” on Facebook or Myspace. We never caught a movie together or went out to eat. I never had her over to my house, and she never had me over to hers.

I met Terry on December 24, 2009 as I was delivering Christmas gifts from St. Mark’s Youth Ministry to a rehab facility in Fincastle. Terry was a 50-year-old resident who had a tragic fall down a flight of stairs about a year and a half ago, and was paralyzed from the neck down, breathing only with the help of a ventilator. Though by the time I met her, Terry’s body was failing her in many ways, her mind was just fine. She had been a talented nurse before her accident. For reasons I think only God can explain, I felt drawn to get to know her.

What began as a simple visitation became a friendship with a closeness that seems to have defied the circumstances. Our first meeting was certainly fun, seeing as how it involved presents! However, the next three or four visits were rather uncomfortable. I often found Terry crying, missing her family, or enduring great pain and calling for a nurse. Then, as if those things weren’t challenging enough, there was the issue of reading her lips to communicate. The ventilator prevented most of the sound from coming out of her throat when she spoke. Not to mention that when Terry tried to speak for long periods of time it became difficult for her to breathe because of the phlegm that would build up in her ventilator. Early on, it wasn’t unusual for Terry to cut our visits quite short by telling me she was “tired and needed to rest” but, “oh, by the way, can you turn the T.V. up on your way out?”

Awkward situations and the fear that I was intruding in her world were tempting reasons for me to discontinue my visits to Terry. After all, I could hardly understand what she said to me anyway. Then somehow, slowly, something changed. I can’t put my finger on what. One day, Terry didn’t hint for me to leave so soon. I began to read her lips more effectively. She smiled as she told me about her life and her family. I think we shared a joke or two. And after a few more visits like that, occasionally an hour and a half or more would go by before I realized how long I’d been there. She began to ask me to wake her up if I came by to visit and found her sleeping. She didn’t want to miss our time together. She told me she loved me. And I discovered I had grown to love her too. Ultimately over time, when I visited Terry and we talked so easily together, it was as if the ventilator had disappeared and her body wasn’t broken and immobile. We were just two friends who cared deeply for each other, lost in a world of our own conversation.

I never dreamed when I delivered gifts to Terry back in December what a gift she would ultimately be to me. And in her death, Terry gives to me still. Through the process of mourning her death, it has occurred to me that hers is not the first friendship I’ve had of it’s kind. I can think of another friend who I seemed drawn to but with whom, given the circumstances, it seemed impossible to connect. I can’t call or spend time with Him like I can my other friends. But given time, persistence and faith, I have come to love my friend, Jesus. Just like with Terry, I found that Love crept up on me and surprised me with its power.

Spiritual skeptics often ask, “How can you believe in and love a God you can’t see or hear?” I don’t have an easy answer for that. Nor can I easily explain the gift Terry’s friendship was to my life. The only answer I can provide is this: Love often comes unbidden… and in unexpected places. It doesn’t follow worldly expectations. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Love never fails… And God is Love. Praise be to God. Amen.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Reflections on God and Suffering from Cathy Benson...a woman who has seen both.

Today's post is from another voice gathered around the Firelight, guest contributor, Cathy Benson. Cathy is a writer for the Botetourt View in Daleville, Virginia, a United Methodist Youth Director at Fincastle UMC and my dear friend. Knowing a little bit about Cathy's story, I asked her to respond to the following question:

“If we believe we worship the One who can calm a storm with a word (Matthew 8:23-27), then how are we to respond when it seems He allows the storm to rage?”

I pray you will be blessed by her courage and the journey she shares with us today. Thank you, my friend.

* * *

I became a widow at 33. Bobby drove out of my life on a January Tuesday morning at 8:15 a.m. He was killed in a car crash at 1:20 p.m. I never saw him again. My boss was a preacher’s wife named Betty and her husband Gene went to the hospital to identify the remains. What a tough job a pastor can have on oh so many levels.

Gene came back to my living room and cried. We had a closed casket as I could not bear to remember Bobby as anything but how he was vibrantly alive. Gene helped with the funeral service as did our pastor Arthur and my father’s pastor Ron. All three knew Bobby well.

I told my three- year- old daughter Brittany that her Daddy had died and we wouldn’t see him anymore and I assured her that Jesus would fix him in heaven. She said “Why can’t Jesus just send us a new Daddy?” My son Brian was only 15 months old. Six months after Bobby died Brian asked me, “Who is that man in the picture?” What a travesty the bad times in life are for a child.

Faith got me through. I have been A Christian since I w as 14—40 years this summer! Life goes on. I remarried. I had two more kids and my husband George was a good father and step father as the four have grown up. I have every faith that Jesus did heal Bobby in heaven.

Yet we have to be careful as Christians. Bobby had been mistreated by church members when he was a child – his mother was not married to his father and he had a dark birth mark on his leg. The church ladies treated him as a dirty little boy during a bible school week at a country church. He didn’t believe in God for years after that. I think all of us should examine our “holier than though ways” whether that is dealing with the gay issue, the racial issue or other denominations within our own Christian religion. Too many people are spinning the hate of God rather than the love of God and it can have long term unintended results.

Bobby was baptized in the United Methodist Church two years before he died on a confession of faith. We were married for 11 years. We dated for 4 years prior, before I ever got Bobby inside a church and that was for our wedding. Thankfully, the Lord surrounded him with Christian friends in Texas and Virginia and our bout with infertility took me back to church with him kicking and screaming in tow. But the Lord had a plan for him and it was for him to be saved and a member of the Kingdom of God.

I will always be sad about his death and I will miss him until the day I die. I will always praise God for saving him. After Bobby’s death, I tried my best to fill in, as did George. It was not until this Christmas that my older two children, Bobby’s daughter and son said how rough it was not to have your own father. That George was good, but like Splenda—sweet-- but you can’t replace the taste of real sugar. I was sad, very sad but over the past couple of months have pondered a response.

Jesus said life would be hard. He never promised that following him would be easy—look what happened to the disciples, but his Word carried on. It has for over 2,000 years carried by many who suffered, but all who have His love. Jesus is the single most important character in religion or history. He was the love of God on Earth sacrificed for our sins. Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 14:6

I argue that the love of God will get us through anything and pray one day they will see that HE loves them unconditionally. He has always been there to love them for their missing earthly father and has guided them through a step father. No, they didn’t get the best start, but many have it far worse and in the end, if you believe that Jesus Christ offered Himself for all of us that no matter the disease, car crash or just old age, you too will be healed in the Kingdom of God. That is what the love of God does for us. It offers each of us a place in eternity with those we love who have gone on before and to wait for those we left behind. It offers each of us on earth a refuge from the bad days, a leg up on the worst day because of the promise of tomorrow—sheltered in love. Most importantly, one day I will join Bobby and all of my kin in heaven-- singing and praising the Holy name of God the Father, God the Son and the Holy Spirit. Eternity with God is the place to be and I have my eye on the prize! Amen

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thoughts on God and Suffering from Banda, Aceh Indonesia

Speaking with us 'round the Firelight today is Megan King. Megan, 35, is the Head of Mission for Caritas in Banda Aceh. Aceh is a region on the north tip of the island of Sumatra, Indonesia. Banda was the epicenter for the South Asian earthquake of 2004. The tsunami, which followed the earthquake, killed 200,000 people and destroyed the entire west coast.

The main focus of Megan’s role with Caritas is to work with NGOs that support democratic transformation by trade. In briefly describing Banda, post tsunami, Megan says this: “The city was entirely rebuilt. Everyone in Banda Aceh lost part of his or her family. Many lost almost everyone.”

Megan describes herself as more of a philosophical Christian than a religious one. She’s a fan of Jesus, though. When she examines ancient cultures who seem to embrace the idea of a wrathful God, Megan says, “suddenly, smack dab in the middle is some hippie in the desert telling everyone to stop worrying about life, relax and be good to one another. Maniac. Somewhere in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew is the passage about the sparrow [Matt.6:25-34]. Jesus, in a shocking precursor to Bobby McFarren, gives us ‘don’t worry, be happy’. If God has designed a system so perfect that it provides for the simplest creatures, ie the birds, then of course he is going to provide for something much more complex like humans. Of course the Bible passage does not talk about simple or complex life forms, it talks about the love that God has for man.”

Katie: How do you respond to the following question: “If we believe we worship the One who can calm a storm with a word (Matthew 8:23-27), then how are we to respond when it seems He allows the storm to rage?”

Megan: The earthquake in Japan, and before in Aceh, was not the act of a vengeful God. Many in Aceh thought that was the case. They thought that the Aceheneese had moved too far from Islam, causing God to destroy the coast and kill hundreds of thousands of people.

God, in my humble opinion, did not destroy the coast of Aceh because teenagers were going on dates or every once in a while someone was getting drunk or having an affair. God caused the earthquake in Aceh because the pacific tectonic plate had built up too much pressure that had to be released. God was following through on his perfect design of this planet of ours that requires such releases of tension from time to time. The core of our planet is heated and alive, and so are we as a result.

The down side of that is that from time to time, earthquakes will happen and natural disasters will be a dramatic and horrible reality to people in certain areas. It is the consequence of life and the constant renewal of the planet. If we hold tight to our ego and believe that God only cares for humans, or cares the most for humans, it becomes a horrible act of punishment. If we let go of the ego and realize that disasters like the quake in Japan are the consequence for so much beauty on this wonderful planet called earth it makes it easier to understand and to relate to. Earthquakes suck. Tsunamis suck. A cold lifeless Earth sucks more.

Knowing that disasters are part of life, I believe that someone who works to live his or her life according to the teaching found in the new Testament prepares for them if he/ she lives in a disaster zone, and reacts to aid victims when disasters happen. A Christian in a disaster tries to stay calm and not let fear overwhelm the desire to be compassionate. A Christian works hard to hold on to empathy in disasters. A Christian acts out of love not out of terror. A Christian knows that he/ she can live in the Kingdom of Heaven at the same moment that others are living in hell.

The empathy and compassion that Jesus teaches also applies to people on the other side of the planet. If you want to live according to the teachings, you cannot turn off the TV because you have seen too much and want to think about something else. Someone trying to “do what Jesus would do” puts themselves in that position and asks “what would I want someone on the other side of the planet to do.” The answer might be as simple as just keep the victims in mind and don’t forget them. Pray for them, in other words. Or maybe, keep the victims in mind and act with more love on the other side of the world. Be better to friends and family. Stand up for someone in need. Go out on a limb to help someone. Send love into the universe by living more fully in the Kingdom no matter where you are.

Katie: What words of hope do you have for the people of Japan?

Megan: I don’t think words help. They'll see hope or they won't. Some people don't come back from that kind of trauma; the vast majority does. It happens as they start to rebuild. The thing that we, who are not in the area, can do is impact how we respond. What we do and think. This is the best advice on giving that you could find: It is an article by Annie Lowery from Slate Magazine, “Japanese Tsunami: If you donate money to help the recovery, let the aid groups decide how to spend it.” I think it is spot on.

* * *

I would agree, Megan. Giving indiscriminately so that others can move forward into a new life…that sounds just like something that little hippie in the desert would say.

Thanks old friend, for sharing with all of us around the firelight.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I say to God my Rock,
“Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”
My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

Why, my soul, are you downcast?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.
-Psalm 42:9-11

When I began this blog, I cast a
vision that was two-fold. Part of that vision was about the power and the strength of God. The other part was about the vital nature of community. God’s tribe is gathered around the warmth of His fire. And as most of us have experienced, when you’ve been sitting around a firelight long enough, people begin to tell their stories. There is blessing in this, because when we hear from other believers, our view and understanding of God is enhanced and our heritage as His people is enriched. Storytelling is a part of us.

And so it is that this week we will hear from several voices gathered around the firelight. A shocked world has watched the events unfold in Japan over the last few days. Pain of this magnitude is heartbreaking and begs the question: “If we believe we worship the One who can calm a storm with a word (Matthew 8:23-27), then how are we to respond when it seems He allows the storm to rage?”

The voices you will hear from this week have seen some storms. They have survived with their faith intact. It is my prayer that you will find your faith enriched as you discover how and why.

Please come, sit by the firelight and listen. Let us learn together.


Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Key to the City

And lo, as I walk through the pearly gates, I can see clearly a great street, lined with free Blue Collar Joe’s doughnuts. There is a whole booth for each of my favorites…the Botetourt Bog, the Blueberry Pancake Breakfast (with smoke bacon dust), the OBX with all its yummy sugary sprinkles. I inherently know, somehow, that I may eat as many as I want, feel renewed and light, and will never see the evidence of them on my hips. It’s heavenly! And it oughta be considering the locale…

There’s some confessional honesty for you! There is a part of me that, when I dream of heaven, dreams of an image like this. There are a couple of reasons for my imagined “Rue de Doughnuts”. One, my husband and I just left the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia and relocated to Houston, Texas. Blue Collar Joe’s doesn’t have a Texas branch (yet). I don’t know when I’ll have another Blueberry Pancake Breakfast all packed into yummy doughnut goodness. And two, a heaven full of mouth-watering food sounds downright dreamy to someone who loves food like I do.

I’ve been dwelling a great deal on that lately – my love of food. See, my relationship with all things tasty has unfortunately had an ill effect on my health. After years of investing too heartily in a relationship with food, I am now considered obese and at risk for any number of health issues. Fortunately, I have made great strides in the exercise department, making that a daily routine. The nutrition department is, however, another story. I struggle. A lot. But I struggle less so ever since I have had an interesting revelation. Wondering what my beef is (no pun intended) with food, I asked myself the hard question: Why IS it that I eat more than I should, or eat what I shouldn’t…especially when I am educated enough to know the consequences of such actions?

I knew what the answer couldn’t be. It couldn’t be as simple as “because it tastes good.” I have held on to a weight problem for too many years for that to be the defining problem. Nothing tastes that good. My recent introspection revealed as much, showing me a problem much deeper, and with many implications: Fear.

I harbor a fear that I won’t be comforted.

Perhaps a lot of us do.

I think many of us allow our desire for comfort to blanket the consequences of our choices; especially when we long for relief from life's challenges. But choices motivated by fear are not choices befitting one who has been set free. (Romans 8:21)

It’s a good thing, then, that I was recently reminded, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4) As I have been writing for weeks, God is coming to all of our senses, calling us to belong to Him. There is freedom in belonging. This week, God is appealing to my taste buds. I have uncovered the truth which fear plays in my culinary decisions. Digging further still, my excavation reminds me that at the deepest core of my being, there lives an appetite for that which has nothing to do with raw calories. The truth is, if am to be comforted, I need to spend more of my energy heartily investing in a relationship with a different kind of food: Bread...the kind that nourishes not the body, but the heart.

“I am the Bread of Life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

Perhaps then, as my relationship deepens, I’ll begin to envision walking through the pearly gates into a city in which the aroma of freshly baked "bread” awakens and delights the appetite of my soul. I will find that the key to the City, then, has nothing to do with dark chocolate. It has everything to do with a taste of the Divine.

The best part? The comfort of heaven doesn’t have to wait until we walk through the pearly gates. The Kingdom begins now. Go ahead, take a bite. I know you’re hungry.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Love That Lingers

“I love that after I spend the day with you, I can still smell your perfume on my clothes.” That’s Harry discovering, after twelve years of friendship, the fragrance of something more powerful than perfume lingers with him when he spends time with Sally. Classic movie.

When we are exposed to love, evidence of it lingers in our lives like an aroma. Its fragrance is so powerful, it permeates everything in and around us. Like a scent, it cannot be avoided and its presence is undeniable. The more powerful the love, the more powerfully it lingers with us.

I think that’s where God’s lessons were headed when he began instructing Moses on how to build His tabernacle. In the desert, God was beginning an education that endures today – that we are his people and He is our God. God would dwell with his tribe in His Tabernacle. And in the building of that holy place of God’s presence, there was a lesson in every direction, every design and every detail. In Exodus 30, God instructs Moses to build an altar of incense. It was to be placed just before THE curtain that enclosed the Ark of the Covenant. It was here that God would meet with Moses. The incense, God said, must burn continually before the Lord for generations to come.

So what’s the unwritten implication here? If one stands immediately before the Lord, the aroma of incense will be on, in and around them. And with the aroma of incense lingering with them, everyone who encounters that person will know that they have been before the presence of the Lord. They will know because the aroma of incense cannot be avoided, and its distinct scent is undeniable. Thus the assurance of the presence of the Lord is carried to all people.

The cool thing is, that the incense, the aroma of the love of God, does burn continually before the Lord for generations. It burns even for those of us who never followed the Tabernacle in the desert.

Fast-forward a few generations to a few unfortunate Hebrews living in exile, for example. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were ordered to be thrown into a blazing furnace for the offense of refusing to bow to a false god. They were indeed thrown in, but they believed that God would save them from the flames. And when these guys walked out, unscathed, from this impossible situation, they did so apparently with “no smell of fire on them” (Daniel 3:27). They didn’t carry the aroma of death. They were in the presence of life. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego walked out with the aroma of life - the assurance of the presence of the Lord – lingering with them.

Fast-forward a few generations more when God sends us His Son. The sovereignty of this Son cannot be missed when incense is delivered to his presence as a child, poured over his feet as a man, and brought to his tomb when he was thought defeated by death. But Jesus defeated death. And by the power of His love on the cross, he established a new Tabernacle. Remember, the more powerful the love, the more powerfully it lingers with us.

We are the new Tabernacle. The presence of the Lord, the Holy Spirit, now lives within the hearts of those who believe. Our faith is the incense before the presence of the Lord burning continually for the benefit of generations to come. And as we embrace our place in the tribe, giving sovereignty to the Lord over our hearts, we will carry with us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22). The aroma of God will be lingering on us, continually reminding us, and all those we encounter, of the assurance of His Love now and forevermore.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”
2 Corinthians 2:14

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

S'mores from the Firelight: God, You Smell!

Crunchy on the outside, yummy on the inside. That’s one of the first things that comes to mind when I see this picture. Seeing a photo of toasted marshmallows can evoke any number of mental images for me. But, smelling the aroma of freshly toasted marshmallows…that evokes endless emotional images for me. In that case, the smell and sound of the fire come to mind too, and I begin to see the faces and hear the voices of my old youth group – the last crowd who joined me around a fire with s’mores. Great memories of worship and shenanigans flood my mind.

Interesting isn’t it? How much more powerful a scent can be than a sight? There is a reason for that. Here is your science lesson for the day: the region of your brain which allows you to perceive a smell is located in the same region which allows you to perceive emotions. Emotional memories are tucked away right there with your personal index of smells.

That’s why when I detect the aroma of Ralph Lauren’s Romance perfume; I am transported back to my first date with my husband. The whole emotion of that evening comes to me so vividly, my heart picks up its pace and I remember what it was like to fall in love.

When I detect the aroma of pine in the fresh air, I am transported to Durango, Colorado and countless hiking adventures in the San Juan Mountains with my family. My heart is at peace as I remember the grandeur of God’s creation and the comfort of my childhood “home”.

When I detect the aroma of mothballs, I am at my grandma’s side. (Funny, but true!) It matters not that this grandmother has been gone from my life for over a decade. She is inspiring me with her knowledge of Shakespeare. We are talking about theatre and costuming, her two passions. Yes, all that from mothballs!

So when I read in the Psalms that my prayers to God rise up to Him like incense (Psalms 141:2), I indulge my imagination as I wonder:

How does God’s heart respond when His throne room is filled with the aroma of my prayers?

Sunday, February 27, 2011

An Impression of Depression: Let’s Shed Some Light On it

You’ve been robbed. In the darkness of night, a thief has come into your home and taken things of value to you. In fact, he’s been coming every night. And each night you are left with fewer and fewer things to cherish. You can’t keep the thief out and you can’t protect your valuables. Time will pass and eventually all will be lost.

That’s what depression feels like. It feels like things go wrong, then they get harder and harder still until, finally, it seems everything is upsetting, unfair, tragic and none of it can be made right – ever. In the worst-case scenario, depression tells the lie that there is only one way out. That is true tragedy. That is true darkness. And that’s what it’s like when all light is blocked out and you can’t see God.

I bring this up because, as I’ve been writing for a couple of weeks, God is always trying to appeal to our senses – all of our senses – to show us His love. If we’re blind, spiritually speaking, we’ve got big problems. There are powerful implications not just to our life, but also to the greater community of humanity when we cannot see God working in, through and around us. When all we can see is a future that appears to have no redeemable choices, our spirits may be crushed within us and the possibilities of the Kingdom are stunted. There are powerful implications when God’s message of love is eclipsed.

The thief knows all of this. He does everything he can to block out the Light in our lives. The thief a putz. (John 10:10)

The reason I highlight depression in this conversation is two-fold. Firstly, while many folks have moments in which things get cloudy and God gets hazy…folks with depression have chronic “vision” problems. And secondly, I feel a divine obligation to reach out to others who can’t see the Kingdom through the darkness. You see I struggle with depression. Present tense. I know, as a default, my “eyesight” ain’t great. And while I’m in a good place right now, I know that if I don’t proactively keep my depression in check, I’ll be robbed blind.

So what can I reveal about how to shed some Light on a darkened life? Well, with regard to depression, I can tell you that my first hard-earned victory was accepting that I had poor vision. I had to learn that when my world seemed overwhelmingly upsetting, unfair and tragic, there was more going on than what I could see. That meant there were things to hope for that I couldn't perceive of. I learned that in the midst of darkness, what I saw (or didn’t see, for that matter) was not reality. And that was GOOD news. I took medicine. (Depression IS biological. Look it up.) I sought counseling. Great counseling. (Thank you, my friend.) I admitted to close family and friends that I was struggling. They prayed for me and gave me grace. I learned that depression is effected by nutrition and exercise so now I fight daily to keep healthy habits a priority. And I discovered that I needed to train myself to focus on whatever is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy…so that the Peace of God will be with me. (Philippians 4:8,9) For me, writing this blog is a part of that commitment.

Light is pouring into my life where darkness once reigned. And just like Monet discovered, as he painted over thirty views of the Rouen Cathedral, a little light can reveal a spectrum of beauty. My days of limited vision are over. Hope is illuminated all around me and I can SEE God reaching out to me in love.

So listen up, little thief. Be warned. Your days are numbered. The people living in darkness have seen a Great Light. He will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Are you shuddering? Or should I say, “shuttering”? I know it’s getting Mighty bright out there…

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Firelight S'mores: Tales from the Dark Side

PARENTS: Kids tucked in? Check! Lights out? Check! Door closed? Check! Quiet evening? Check!
KIDS: Hallway clear? Check! Nightlight on? Check! Door closed? Check! Stage ready? Check!!

And thus began the “after hours” entertainment in the kids’ room at my Nana’s house. All we needed were active imaginations, darkness, a nightlight and a storyteller who also happened to be a talented shadow puppeteer. I loved those nights. You wouldn’t believe some of the elaborate and animated dramas that took place on the ceiling of that room! There were horror stories and funny tales involving any manner of creature we could create with our little grade-school-sized hands and one ordinary nightlight. Unfortunately, these off-off-Broadway productions were so good that they inevitably resulted either in screams of terror or peals of laughter. And before we knew it, we would forget our checklist “numero uno”. Hallway clear? Um…not anymore!

It’s amazing how much difference just a little light can make. And when you live in a dark world, as we do, the presence of His light can be a brilliant contrast to the darkness around it. Makes a great environment for telling a story, in my opinion.

As His light shines on you, what story does your life tell?

Here’s a good one: Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Do You Hear What I Hear?

My husband would be the first to tell you that I claim I need a hearing aid. I’ve said it countless times. Do I have a genuine problem with my hearing? Oh, probably not. The PJ’s (Pickard “juniors”) have the ability to fill a room (and my head) with their volume. I miss things, to be sure. Though, my lack of auditory connection is not entirely the PJ’s fault. Sometimes, I must confess, I choose not to hear things too. When I’m at the “whodunit” part of a good book, time’s almost up on my online Boggle game, or I’m trying not to screw up my eye makeup application…I’ve thrown an “uh-huh” and an “okay” out there in response to questions I’ve “heard”. (Don’t judge…you know what they say about glass houses.)

The thing is, when I think about the times I’ve found it difficult to hear God, I’ve often discovered that the “mute” button on the Almighty has been pushed for one of those two reasons: Either life is too loud (kids, TV, computer, busyness)…or my own sense of self-importance is.
Quieting my life is the easy part – naptime for the PJ’s, turn off the TV, get off the computer, etc. Quieting my own sense of self-importance? That takes muscle…a muscle which, I’ve discovered, atrophies quickly if I don’t pay attention. The voice of God – the one that is so powerful it can break cedars (Psalm 29:5), heal illnesses (Matthew 8:13), raise people from the dead (John 11:43), and, oh yeah, create everything (Genesis 1:3) – can, to me, be rather effortlessly muffled or silenced. Did you know that? All I have to do is live my life as if I’ve forgotten that I belong to Him. Show me a season of my life in which I strained to hear a “silent” God and I will show you a season in which I spent a lot of energy wondering why I wasn’t getting what I wanted.

Thankfully, I do not worship a silent God. The voice of God is always creating, guiding, leading, loving. And if I’m strong enough to overthrow my own self-importance, I can hear Him. Every day. If I remember to whom I belong, I begin to live life as if God and I are in constant conversation.

When I wake up to the sound of family laughing around the breakfast table, I hear God teaching me about unity. When I hear my child cry, I hear God teaching me about His desire to provide for His children. When I appreciate the harmony of talented musicians, I hear God reminding me that we are created in His image – the image of the first artist. When I listen to my own thoughts, worrying about the future, I quickly hear God calming me with HIS thoughts about my future. When I wonder how to put into words what I feel like He wants me to say when I write, I hear a chorus from the radio: “Come, let us sing a song! A song declaring we belong to Jesus…He’s all we need.”

I hear Him. He hears me. We belong to each other. And when “that muscle” starts to get weak, God’s got Grace enough to wait me out until I can remember that there’s a reason I think I need a hearing aid:

“Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say…He who belongs to God hears what God says.” John 8:43,47

How ‘bout you? Do you hear what I hear?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Firelight Snack: Do You Hear What I Hear?

This guy named John concluded the book he wrote about Jesus’ life by reflecting that Jesus did so many memorable things, that if every one of them had been written down, even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written. (John 21:25) I like to think John’s words suggest that each detail included in the Bible about Jesus’ life is purposeful and fully intentional for those of us reading about Him today. That having been said, consider this:

The last act of healing Jesus fulfilled before he was crucified was to heal the ear of an enemy. (Luke 22:51)

The book of John even mentions the healed man’s name: Malchus. Not everyone in the Bible gets a name-mention, you know.

This leads me to wonder…One, how did a Jesus-following Gospel-writer come to know the name of a random high priest’s servant? And two, why the occurrence of this simple, individual healing a mere hours before the single, most all-encompassing act of healing time has ever seen?

“He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:9)

(Those who have means to type, let them type.)

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Be Mine

A delicious dinner, a swing around the dance floor while listening to my favorite music (think Glenn Miller’s “Moonlight Serenade”), gorgeous red roses (that actually smell like roses), and taking in a beautiful sunset on the beach or a breath-taking mountain vista while wrapped in the arms of the man I love…It wouldn’t take much. A Valentine’s Day overture like that – one that appeals to all my senses – would definitely get my attention. I think any fella who goes to that much trouble might just win the heart of the woman he loves. My fella did. But I’m not writing today to talk about that fella. I’m writing to talk about my other Fella (capital “F”); the One who makes overtures Every Day to get my attention.

There have been times when God’s overtures were not so obvious to me. That’s why I find the story of Exodus so captivating. Can you imagine what it would have been like to be rescued from slavery by a God who was so unquestionably present that your every sense knew He was there? In the brilliance of the light, the roar of the fire, the heat of the flame, the aroma of the burn, God in the form of a pillar of fire (Exodus 13:22) was no idol of wood or stone…He was (and is) an all-consuming Living Presence who could be seen, heard, felt, and even smelled. Can you imagine how life changing it would be to experience God in such an undeniable way? This distinct expression of God’s presence was so amazing, later reflections in the scriptures even marvel of it: “Has anything so great as this ever happened, or has anything like it ever been heard of? Has any other people heard the voice of God speaking out of fire, as you have, and lived?” (Deut. 4:32,33)

What’s so amazing about this story to me is that God did not become so powerfully present to His people because the Hebrews finally came to their senses and decided to follow Him obediently, thus securing their freedom from slavery. What’s so amazing to me is that God became powerfully present to His people because HE came to their senses – in every way – pursuing them, protecting them, providing for them, loving them faithfully, hoping to win their hearts, thus securing their freedom from slavery…forever.

I invite you to stick with me for a few weeks as I share my reflections on how God is still pursuing His people today with an undeniable presence. His presence may not be so obvious to the blind eye and the deaf ear, but if your Fella is deeply in Love and trying to win your heart, you may discover that you are being enticed down a path of healing by a powerful Physician. How would your life change if your eyes and ears were fully opened, every sense hightened, and you met each day expectantly looking for evidence of God's love extended to you? How would you respond if your heart began to burn within you, and you recognized that He’s coming to your senses, every day, making overtures to get your attention, in order to ask you one simple question…“Be Mine?”

Next Week: Do You Hear What I Hear?

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

See You In the Funny Papers!

“See you in the funny papers!” I can still see the grin on her face as she slowly closed the door behind her. This was my nightly evening farewell from Nana. It’s also one of countless heart-warming memories I have of my dad’s mom who recently went to be with the Lord. Nana knew hundreds of songs for kids like, “Skinnamarink" and “Oh Susanna”. She played the guitar for us. She had the most beautiful whistle you ever heard and often whistled familiar hymns while she worked in the kitchen. She made amazing fudge. Oh! And homemade strawberry jam…oh. my. word. She had an infectious laugh and seemed to believe it her life’s purpose to make all those around her find their smile…even if they were perfect strangers. It didn’t matter who you were. Nana would hold up a line at the fancy Petroleum Club buffet just as easily as the check-out line at Piggly Wiggly to make you break into a grin. No one was safe.

Nana loved her family and taught us to do the same. She had a family “photo wall” and passed down stories of folks in our family we’d never met but look forward to someday. Nana showed us that when it came to spending time with family, the venue was of little importance. In fact, while we did spend time eating out at the likes of Antoine’s in New Orleans, we felt equally at home eating on paper plates bolstered by wicker plate holders and drinking iced tea out of plastic cups inscribed with our names in “Sharpie”. Nana taught us what was important – simply put: how much fun we had with each other and how much love we had for each other.

Nana had an undeniable passion for the Lord. She also had a humbling openness about her ignorance of Him. She always said that when she died she would be holding up the line in heaven as she asked Jesus all her questions. I’m sure the line is backing up as we speak.

These memories are priceless treasures to me. And as I grieve Nana’s death, I harbor a fear that these gifts of her life to mine will fade over time. More than that, I am saddened at the thought that my kids will never know her.

And so it is that I am compelled to something profound. In order to remember Nana, and help my kids to know her, I must honor her life by fervently living out her values. I will certainly tell my kids stories of her, just like Nana told us stories of her grandparents. But I will also try to live out each day emulating the loving, joyful and easy-going nature of her character that I so treasure. I will try to do these things to remember her. I will do these things in remembrance of her.

Seems I’ve heard that turn of phrase somewhere before…

I guess that’s what you do when you love someone so deeply. When you meet someone who so completely touches and transforms your heart, and then you lose them, you cannot help but respond in such a way that you pick up the torch for them. The light of their life has made such an impact on you that you must tell others of its beauty in the hopes that they too will respond in remembrance of the One you love. Thanks to about twelve fellas some years ago who did just that, we are still picking up the torch of the One today. Thanks to those fellas writing down and telling their stories in remembrance of Him, I know that Nana is no longer suffering, but celebrating. Thanks to those fellas helping generations to remember and know the One, I have faith that we will see Nana again someday face-to-face. And I know that because of the things I do in remembrance of her, my family - including my boys - will recognize her when we do.

Until then, Nana my love, we’ll see you in the funny papers.

**The launch of this blog, “Faith by Firelight” is dedicated in the loving memory of my Nana, Catherine Stewart Rust, one of my most favorite story-tellers.