HOW DID WE GET HERE SO SOON?

 

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He was arguably the cutest and most popular boy in the ninth grade. He was one of those guys who was the whole package: good-looking, well liked, really nice, popular, athletic, and a real leader. One of the unattainable boys. He only dated the prettiest and most popular girls, because he could.

 

I went to a different school the next year and really haven’t thought much about him since. We were only casual friends and didn’t stay in touch. I heard he married his high school sweetheart, but other than that I never knew what happened in his life. So why was it such a gut check when I heard he passed away last week?

 

I keep thinking of the lines from the John Donne poem, “…any man’s death diminishes me.” Is that it? Of course any man’s death should diminish me. Really, the death of any creature is sad. I was reading in my quiet time this morning about how God cares for the sparrows and how He knows when even one of them falls to the ground. Jerry and I were pondering over our coffee about whether there will be sparrows in Heaven. I hope so. But I don’t think that is really what is troubling me. It’s the last line of the poem that is bothering me, the line about the bell tolling for me. And it’s not bothering me in the way Donne was intending, that when one of us dies a little piece of each of us dies. No, the part that bothers me is that my day is coming, the day when the bell will actually toll for me. And here is the crux of what bothers me. It feels way too soon!

 

It’s not that I am afraid to die, although I expect that if we are honest all of us are at least a little bit afraid. After all this is uncharted territory. We’ve never done it before. But as a Christian I know that when I die I will go immediately to be with Jesus, and I believe my eternal life will be wonderful beyond comprehension. What bothers me is that I have reached an age where death is not shocking. When one of my peers dies, no one says any more, “Oh she was too young to die.” Death is expected or at least accepted as normal for my age group. Where is the “rage against the dying of the light” that Dylan Thomas wrote about in “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.”

 

Here’s the thing. This time of life has gotten here too soon! Ecclestases 3:2 tells us there is a time to be born and a time to die. I know that God’s timing is perfect but I’m not ready to leave this planet yet. The space between birth and where I am now seems so brief. Twenty years used to seem like a long time but now it goes by in the blink of an eye. Today we are celebrating the 11th birthday of a baby girl who was just born yesterday! Those 11 years went by in a whoosh!

 

How is it that my peers are dying off? My ninth grade memories don’t seem that far distant. I still carry a little of my 14-year old self. I don’t feel all that old! It seems that I hear of the death of a classmate almost every week now. We baby boomers are keeping that tolling bell busy, and that seems like an atrocity to me. I, for one, am raging against it! I’m not going gentle into that good night.

 

 

 

 

BELIEVING LIKE A CHILD

 

We have been blessed with three children and nine grandchildren. One of the joys for us as parents has been providing Christmas for everyone. At our house we enjoyed the fantasy of Santa Claus until our girls grew old enough to know that Mom and Dad are really Santa. And our grandchildren have enjoyed this same magical belief. I understand that not everyone incorporates Santa into their Christmas celebrations, but we have always had fun with it.

A few years ago, when granddaughter Emma was only about five or six years old, she wanted a puppy for Christmas. My daughter and son-in-law were very busy with a young household of four children at the time, and didn’t think they needed the extra work involved with a puppy. A trip to see Santa was coming up so they were trying to prepare Emma for the fact that Santa was NOT going to bring a puppy. “Well, Santa needs to have your parents’ permission for a puppy and besides he may think you are not ready for a puppy.”

Emma seemed to accept this, and told her mom she was going to ask for an American Girl Doll instead. Good choice. What none of us knew was that Emma, who is a really smart little girl, planned an end run around her parents, and was going to wait until she got on Santa’s lap to ask for a puppy. Much to my daughter’s shock and dismay, Santa said yes! “But Santa (wink, wink), don’t you have to talk to Mom and Dad before you agree to a puppy,” my daughter asked. “No. If she wants a puppy she can have a puppy.” All the adults stared at Santa in disbelief. Did he just say she could have a puppy??? Emma left that visit a happy girl, confident that on Christmas morning she would have a puppy. And guess what? She did.

So fast-forward to this year. The grands are all older and we only have one left who still believes, and she believes in a BIG way! We were all together the other night watching football when I heard 7-year old Olivia say she was asking Santa for a Disney cruise for the whole family. Wow! That’s a big ask! Again, I heard my daughter explaining that Santa was probably not going to do that. “But Mom! Why do you have to be so negative? Santa can do this!” Gulp.

Wouldn’t it be great to believe like that? This morning in my quiet time I was reading from A Praying Life, by Paul Miller. In discussing how to talk with our Father, Miller says that we must come to him like a child, confident of His love and power. “We must enter the world of a child, where all things are possible.” We must have the same childlike faith Olivia has.

In my studies on prayer I learned a new word, importunate or importunity. I learned that God loves it when we pray with importunity. Importunate prayers are like the pleas of the persistent widow in Luke 18. She kept coming before the corrupt judge, asking for justice. Eventually she wore him out with her constant pleas. Jesus encourages us to pray like that widow. If an unjust judge will eventually answer a request, how much more willing is a loving and just heavenly Father? Our God is perfect and does not change, nor does He need to change. Importunate prayers change us, they help us grow as Believers.

Occasionally during Christ’s time on earth, He encountered people who had Olivia’s childlike faith, believing that He could do all things, answer all prayers. I’m thinking about the Roman centurion who believed Jesus could heal his servant without even coming to his home. “But say the word and let my servant be healed” (Luke 7:7).   Jesus practically shouts at us to pray like in that way, to pray with importunity, to come to Him believing that all things are possible. I am not suggesting that we should approach God like some cosmic Santa Claus or heavenly ATM machine. But we must come to Him with the faith that He loves us, knows what is best for us, and has the power to do all things.

I have found when I pray with importunity, prayer changes me, not God. I enter my pleas to ask of God, but He invariably asks of me. When I pray with importunity, I get onboard with what God is trying to do in my life and the lives of those I pray for. This morning I have a rare empty schedule. I’m thinking God wants to get my attention about something. So I pray.

 

LESSONS FROM THE LEAVES

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Last fall Jerry and I took an autumn foliage trip in the beautiful Smokey Mountains. We were lucky to go before the devastating and deadly fires destroyed more than 16,000 acres along with the charming bead and breakfast we enjoyed. While we were leaf peeping I think I must have pointed out every tree to Jerry, each one seeming more beautiful than the last. And to his credit, he pulled over and let me take pictures of almost every tree in the forest! It was hard to choose just one of my photos to go with this blog, but I love this one! It’s like God took a paintbrush to the world. The beauty of autumn passes so quickly; if we don’t stop and look, we might miss it. I wanted to take a time out and enjoy the leaves at their peak. I found a quote by gardener Elizabeth Lawrence that expresses my feelings: “Even if something is left undone, everyone must take time to sit still and watch the leaves turn.”

 

I’ve been trying to remind myself of the botany I studied many years ago. I remembered that the changing color of leaves has to do with photosynthesis, chlorophyll, and glucose. During the summer, the trees are working hard converting sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into sugar. The leaves are green because of an abundance of chlorophyll. But as days get shorter and cooler trees begin to store nutrients in their roots so they will be able to leaf out again in the spring. As they store up the last of the chlorophyll, we begin to see the vibrant colors that were present all along.

 

Why are there so many different colors? Each color is a provision from God, protecting its specific type of tree from damage caused by exposure to sunlight while the leaves are breaking down. Even the dead leaves play a roll in autumn’s drama. They fall to the forest floor, decompose, and provide vital nutrients necessary for reforestation. There is no collateral waste in God’s economy.

 

Why is it necessary for leaves to fall? As I looked closely at the leaves that were still on their trees, I could see that most of them were in bad shape. Summer’s heat, storms, and insects had taken a toll. If they remained, the tree would need to use its vital energy store to sustain them. And trees need that energy reserve in order to produce buds next spring. In late fall and early winter, those remaining leaves become little vessels to trap heave wet snow and ice. Even a quarter inch of ice can bring down huge trees.

 

The changing leaves remind us of the changing seasons of our own lives. We will not always be in a season of sowing and reaping, of working and receiving a paycheck. We must store up a savings so that we will be able to survive the winter of our lives. There will not always be time to do those things we are called to do. We must complete our earthly mission while it is still summer. Autumn reminds me that I am running out of options, of do-overs and revisits. And only a finite amount of time remains for that bucket list of mine.

 

But the falling leaves also remind us of the necessity of letting go. In some cases it is merely a matter of accepting the losses we cannot control: our beauty, our youth, and our physical strength. For some autumn brings a loss of health or a loss of memory. We may lose a spouse or another close family member. We will surely lose friends along our autumn journey. There is an anonymous quote about autumn: “The trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let things go.” We need to let go of superfluous things, those things that keep us moored to earth. If our hands are full, how can we receive? And just as trees must release dead leaves, so we must let go of the dead. We must quit using our life-giving resources to dead situations and relationships.

 

During one day of our trip, we were showered with gilded birch leaves, falling from above like golden coins from God. This beautiful day was a perfect gift to me and I will store it in my heart to remember when winter comes.

 

“…Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.”  Jer. 5:24

PLANTING THE FLAG

 

 

Wow! You can’t turn on a sports talk show (Yes, I listen to them!), or read the sports page this week without someone weighing in on Baker Mayfield. As everyone probably knows by now, Oklahoma went on the road and delivered a 31-16 win on No. 2 Ohio State’s home turf. NOBODY thought OU could win this one. It was an emotional win, especially after the embarrassing beat down OU received from Ohio State last year. The most crushing moment for the players came after that game when the Ohio state players sang their alma mater on Owen Field in Norman after routing the Sooners 45-24. Last Saturday the karma train came to Columbus and Baker Mayfield was driving.  After helping deliver a signature win for Lincoln Riley, Baker Mayfield took a victory lap carrying the Sooner flag and planting it in the center of the Ohio state field. Well, you can’t really plant a flag into artificial turf, but the gesture created quite a controversy.

 

Almost everyone has weighed in on this act. Never mind that the country has been dealing with two devastating hurricanes. It was disrespectful and he should apologize (he did). Or, he just plays with emotion and a good-sized chip on his shoulder. He doesn’t need to apologize. That’s what makes him Baker Mayfield.

 

Being a die-hard Sooner fan and one who loves to watch Baker Mayfield play, I didn’t have a problem with it. It was a BIG, exciting win for OU, and Mayfield had a spectacular night. And after all, it IS just football. (I can hardly believe I just wrote those words!) Besides, most of the Ohio State fans had long left the stadium by the end of the game. The apology? No doubt someone older and wiser told him it might be prudent to smooth ruffled feathers. Especially since the two teams might have to play each other again in the playoffs.

 

It seems like a tempest in a teapot to me. But it got me to thinking about flag planting and why we don’t do it more often. What does it mean, to plant a flag? The obvious answer is that the flag represents a victory. I think about the iconic flag that was raised over Iwo Jima, or planting a flag at the summit of a mountain. It also signifies a claim of ownership as when early explorers came to the New World and claimed land for England or Spain. In medieval times, a feudal lord had a flag with his coat of arms. Vassals pledged their loyalty to the lord and swore to fight for him while the lord pledged to protect the vassal. The flag was carried into battle to serve as a rallying point. If a soldier was separated from his fellow soldiers, he could look up and find the flag. And finally, a flag is a symbol of our identity. There are flags to represent countries, cities, faiths, families, and organizations.

 

Sidebar: I’ve thought so much about flags since Saturday I’m beginning to feel like Sheldon Cooper playing Fun With Flags. But I digress.

 

On a serious note, when I think about victory and ownership in my own life, I think of Jesus. In our worship service last Sunday, our pastor kept driving home the point that the battle has already been won. So why don’t we plant the flag? Jesus has won the battle over sin. I can plant the flag on that! The battle has been won over every temptation I will ever face. I need to plant the flag as a reminder to myself. He has defeated death. He is victorious over Satan and every evil of this world. Despots may raise flags but the flag of our Savior is superior. The lyrics of the great hymn Onward Christian Soldiers speak of the royal banners of Christ going before us in battle.  

 

There is a song that has been stuck in my head since Saturday night. It is the song children sing at church. The words go something like this: “Oh there’s a flag flown high o’er the castle of my heart for the king is in residence there.” The flag tells the world, “The king is here.” I hope my flag is raised high for all to see. If it isn’t, the problem is with me. In the UK, Queen Elizabeth’s royal standard is raised over her palace or castle telling the world that she is in residence. Furthermore, I read that the banner of the monarch of England is never at half-mast, because the monarchy continues even after the death of a king.

 

The royal banner of Christ will never be at half-mast. I can plant His flag firmly wherever I am because He is in residence in my heart.

 

GRATEFUL

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I awakened this morning with a heart full of gratitude.  I was immediately grateful when my feet hit the floor.  I wasn’t standing in dirty flood water.  I was grateful there isn’t a Cat 5 hurricane bearing down on me and my family.  Even though we have earthquakes in Oklahoma, I’m grateful we haven’t experienced an 8.1, followed by a tsunami.  I could walk outside in the cool morning air and not smell the smoke from the fires that are destroying our west.  I was grateful that a lunatic in North Korea hasn’t unleashed a hydrogen bomb on humanity.  I was also grateful for the small things.  The air conditioner that ran all night, lights that came on when I hit the switch, a working coffee pot, and dry clothes in my closet.  I was grateful for the food in my refrigerator and the fuel in my gas tank.  Grateful.

Then I immediately prayed.  Prayed for all of those who are suffering and struggling.  I prayed for one sister in Houston who still can’t get to her house except by wading through knee-deep flood waters, and for another sister who is stuck in traffic trying to get out of Florida.  They will be okay, but there are millions of others who are going to be  dealing with these disasters for years.  I think of the people of the Caribbean who live in third world conditions on a good day.  They are devastated.  I think of the people of Texas who live paycheck to paycheck (like most of America).  They need their jobs and might not have a job to go back to.  I pray for those who have lost loved ones, and for those who have lost their houses, cars, possessions, pets, and livestock.  For the school teacher who equipped her classroom at her own expense, and now is starting from nothing.

In spite of all these problems, I’m grateful to be an American.  We have seen the true American spirit in the last days and weeks, and we will see it again in Florida.  People who opened up their homes to strangers, men and women who left the comfort of home to go volunteer.  I’m grateful for the armada of small boats, rafts, and canoes that showed up to help people.  Grateful for the legitimate relief agencies that were all staged and ready to go, and for the overwhelming generosity of the rest of us who feel helpless.  Grateful for the churches that sprang into action.  And I’m so grateful to the people who took pity on the animals that have been affected by these disasters.

Most of all I am grateful for a God who is not caught off guard by any of this.  I can trust that He is a good God, whose purposes toward us are always redemptive.  I can rest in the knowledge that He is orchestrating people and events to bring about His purpose.  He holds the hearts of eveil despots in the palm of his hand.  I’m grateful that He is only a prayer away, that He is never closer than when we are afraid and suffering.I’m grateful that I can rely on His promises in good times and bad.

When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.  Isaiah 43:2

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Jeremiah 29:11