Jelly Toast, Coffee, and Humility

Jelly Toast, Coffee, and Humility

  I have Bible study tonight.  It’s something I started with some of my neighborhood friends three years ago, and it’s still going strong. We meet once a month to discuss different books, each with a faith-based plot.  Anyway, I’m feeling a little sluggish, and I know I have a long night ahead, so a cup of coffee sounds perfect.  As I’m waiting for it to brew, I reach instinctively for the bread.  As I get ready to make a piece of jelly toast to accompany my coffee, a memory resurfaces.  I’m standing again with my Daddy, waiting for the toast to pop up. I’m almost nine months pregnant.  Mason will be here in a matter of weeks, and I am suffering through the worst cold of my life.  I’m about 8 days into a virus which is depriving me of the one thing I need the most:  sleep.  When I lay down, the drainage down the back of my throat begins and so does the coughing.  I swallow over and over, trying to prevent it, but that only exasperates the heartburn I’ve had this entire pregnancy.  Chest on fire, flames climbing up your esophagus heartburn.  If the old wives tale is true, this baby will have a full head of hair. In an effort to stop the coughing and ease the heartburn, I sit up.  It helps with the cold symptoms, but it does nothing for my exhaustion. I’m alone downstairs.  I’ve moved from my bed, to the recliner, to the couch, hoping to find a place where sleep will meet me.  I’m feeling miserable.  I’m feeling pitiful.  I’m feeling angry.  I’m feeling like a big ol’ hormonal, sleep-deprived cry. I hear footsteps and the small light above the stove goes on in the kitchen.  I wait to see who else is seeking the elusive peace of a good night’s sleep.  My Daddy steps into the light.  I watch him for a minute.  He doesn’t know I’m there; the darkness of the living room conceals me.  I try to take in every nuance of his movements.  I try to memorize the expression on his face during this rare, unguarded moment.  I try, as I have for the past eight months, to cram as many memories of this man into my mind as I can.  As he shuffles around the kitchen, getting what he needs to start a pot of coffee, I know what keeps his sleep at bay.  I know why he’s making coffee at 3 o’clock in the morning. I speak to him. “Hey Daddy.” He startles for a moment, then that warm, ever-welcoming smile breaks through the worry I saw on his face moments before. “Well, hey girl.” “Well, hey girl,”  an expression my daddy’s said to me forever.  A short, three word phrase which has come to hold so much meaning over the years. Well, hey girl……interpretation, I’m happy to see you. Well, hey girl…..interpretation, this is a welcome surprise. Well, hey girl….interpretation, it’s about time.  It’s been too long. Well, hey girl….interpretation, welcome home, I’ve missed you. Well, hey girl….interpretation, you’re still my little girl and I love you. So when Daddy said, “Well, hey girl,” to me there in the kitchen, he didn’t have to say anything else.  I got up and went to him, walking into his open arms and placing my head below his shoulder, letting it rest just above his heart.  Feeling his warm hug, my emotions broke, and I began to cry.  I cried a big, blubbering, hormonal cry while Daddy just patted my back and asked what was the matter. And here’s the thing, I wasn’t crying about my stupid cold and my annoying heartburn.  I was crying because the shame I felt in that moment was overwhelming.  While I wallowed in my own self-pity about a cold which would heal eventually, my dad stood before me with a terminal cancer diagnosis.  While I tossed and turned, unable to sleep due to a simple virus, my daddy tossed and turned because a life-taking mass had returned eight months earlier.  As he held me, as my nose ran and my tears fell onto his shirt, recurrent pancreatic cancer waged war inside my daddy’s body. Daddy knew why I cried.  He knew my tears were for him.  He knew and I knew that this moment and moments like it were numbered.  That knowledge caused us to hold on just a little bit longer, squeeze just a little bit tighter than we normally would.  When the tears stopped, Daddy gave my back one more pat and moved on to the one form of comfort every southerner...

Light, Let Us Be Light

Light, Let Us Be Light

We don’t draw people to Christ by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it. (Madeleine L’Engle)  Did you know the word “light” is used over 200 times in the Bible? I think the symbolism of light in the Gospel is so spot on, so representative of Christ’s walk and teachings, that to use His word as anything other than a beacon is wrong.  Yep, I said it.  Wrong. It is wrong to shine a disparaging light on others simply because we feel we’ve got this whole Christian walk figured out.  Like a hunter waiting camouflaged in the woods, some Christians look for that lost deer to walk across their path.  When it does, on goes the light, blinding the deer, leaving it frozen and afraid.  The onslaught begins and Biblical bullets rain down, injuring the deer and ultimately causing it to run for its life in the opposite direction. I remember vividly the first time I witnessed Christians spotlighting an unsuspecting deer.  It was in my high school Biology class, during those last few minutes before the bell.  The teacher sat at her desk grading papers while the students chatted freely until dismissal.  Two boys in my class, one a pastor’s son, the other his best friend, discovered another classmate’s Catholic background. For days, the two boys questioned our classmate’s faith.  They believed so strongly in the “rightness” of their own religion that they viewed all aspects of his as wrong.  They readied their verses, and they fired.  Again and again. As a bystander, I wanted nothing more than to rescue the deer.  To get him out of there. To get him to safety.  My feet finally moved when the hunters began to assure their prey of his eternal damnation to Hell.  I spoke up, as did others.  Sadly, though, our words had little effect. Unfortunately, divisive light shines brightly in the Church today.  Christians spotlight Christians. Believers spotlight unbelievers. The real danger lurks beneath the surface of a genuine belief that these types of behaviors are justified.  Many turn to verses which speak to the believer’s responsibility to confront sin.  Please hear me…I absolutely feel when we see someone we love falling into the deep crevices of sin and immorality, we should reach out to the loved one.  We should fall on our bellies and extend our hands down into the cold depths, begging those we love to grab hold. Notice I said “reach out.”  Reaching out is the Biblical model. Reaching out requires relationship. Jesus reached out! He didn’t spotlight; He didn’t gossip; He didn’t finger-point; He didn’t demean; He didn’t seek self-righteous elevation by shining His holy light on the sinful for all the world to see. No, Jesus reached out to those who needed Him the most.  He dined with them.  He sat with them.  He walked with them. He touched them. He conversed with them.  He healed them. He saved them. He loved them. While Jesus reached out to the sinful, he berated the hypocritical.  He took hold of the hunters’ flashlights and turned the rays back into their faces.  Matthew 23 depicts Jesus’ disgust with religious hypocrisy.  His anger is tangible.  His message is clear.  The religious cared more about saving face than saving a soul.  More about self-promotion than self-sacrifice.  More about legalism than virtue.  They climbed up on their seemingly perfect, self-elevating walls, spotlights in hand, and waited to shine the beams on anyone who broke the law.  Do you know how Jesus addressed these people?  Woe to you.  Over and over, woe to you. And I say, woe to those who use the Bible as a weapon against people who’ve been caught unknowingly in the glare of their judgmental light. Woe to those who gather evidence and proof, hanging God’s word like a chain around the necks of their targets. Woe to those who taint the gospel by weaving slurs and hate-language into God’s word. Woe to those who are so busy shining the light on others, they fail to search the shadows of their own hearts for the imperfections which hide there. Jesus calls for us to be a light in this dark world. I love Isaiah 58: 9-10: “Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. ‘If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves...

Exhilaration and Exhaustion

Exhilaration and Exhaustion

My son Matthew and I started a special way of swinging when he was around two.  It was late spring; I remember the leaves in the big maples had almost completely returned.  The canopy created by a large gum tree offered much needed shade from the hot afternoon sun.  We often retreated to the back yard during this time of the day.  Refreshed from his afternoon nap, Matthew was always ready to get outside and play. After a few trips down the slide, Matthew pointed to the swing and asked me sit down.  I knew he was ready for our special swing.  I settled into the curved plastic seat and held out my arms to him.  He climbed up, facing me, and placed his little legs on each side of my hips.  Grasping the blue, plastic- covered chains, he happily said, “Ready Mama!”  With that, I walked backwards a few paces and began the count down.  Three, two, one, blast off!  We soared forward, and Matthew’s happy squeals joined the loud chirping sounds of the birds around us.  I stretched my legs forward, pumping us higher and higher.  As I did, Matthew was lifted up into the air, hovering over me for a few seconds before the swing moved back again, lifting me into the air.  His hands squeezed tighter as he shifted down and back a little, looking up at me.  Back and forth, up and down, our own little version of a teeter-totter. The special swing was a mixture of exhilaration and exhaustion.  The speed of the swing, the heights we reached were exhilarating.  The sight of his happy face, the sound of his bubbling laughter, they were exhilarating. Holding on as the swing dipped down and maintaining the back-and-forth movement were exhausting.  My arms burned.  My hands ached. After a few minutes, Matthew became tired too and let go of the chains.  He collapsed against me.  Placing his little head on my chest, wrapping his arms tightly around my sides, he rested for a bit while I let the swing slow to a gentle sway. I often think the ups and downs of the swing, the exhilaration and the exhaustion which accompany this childhood past time, mirror our journeys as mommies.  Those first days and weeks after finding out you’re pregnant are exhilarating.  Knowing a new little life is beginning to grow is unlike anything else.  It’s miraculous; it’s momentous; it’s mind-blowing.  We long for the little bump, the first sign of the baby’s growth.  We anxiously await the first ripples of movement.  We cry with an abundance of joy as we listen to the first heartbeat and see the first peanut-shaped images of our baby on the sonogram.  It’s the exhilaration that moves us forward through the next few months. But as we near the end, as we tick off those last days before our due date, exhaustion begins to set in.  It’s impossible to find a comfortable way to sleep, so we toss and turn, moving our huge bellies from one uncomfortable position to another.  Our walk becomes a waddle.  Our breathing is labored because our lungs have been shoved up and squished to allow for the baby’s final growth spurt.  We huff and puff after a short walk to the milk case at the back of the store.  We’re exhausted! And then we go into labor.  For some, the water breaks. For others, contractions begin.  For a few, an induction is scheduled.  Regardless of the path which gets each of us there, those first moments in the delivery room bring back the exhilaration.  We’re on the upswing. The baby we’ve grown to love, the little person we’ve seen a thousand times in our dreams is almost a reality.  We’re pumped.  We’re ready.  We’re running on a mixture of adrenaline and fear.  Following every instruction, we feel empowered.  We’re ready to get it done. Ten hours pass, then eleven, then thirteen.  And the exhaustion begins to set in.  We’re dipping low on the swing, holding on as tightly as we can.  Every body part hurts. We push and breath and push and breath.  As we work to bring this baby out of our bodies and into the world, we begin to feel like it’s an impossible feat.  Just as we’re about to give in to the fatigue, the doctor asks for one more big push.  We summon all of our energy and PUSH.  There’s a release, and we collapse back against the pillows, giving in to the exhaustion. But the exhaustion only lasts for a moment.  The upswing begins again.  The baby’s first cry pierces the air, clearing the...

My Soul Settles Here

My Soul Settles Here

“The sea is emotion incarnate.  It loves, hates, and weeps.  It defies all attempts to capture it with words and rejects all shackles.  No matter what you say about it, there is always that which you can’t.” (Christopher Paolini) The beach is many things to me. It’s an escape.  The place where my family disconnects and reconnects for awhile. It’s a refuge.  The place where my thoughts quiet and my worries cease. It’s a retreat.  The place where God’s voice goes from a whisper to a roar. It’s a haven.  The place where the sea lulls my soul into a serene stillness, leading me to tell my husband on every trip, “I love the beach because my soul settles here.” Of course the beach hasn’t always produced meditative effects.  As a child, my first visit to the ocean invoked awe.  As I stood on the sand, I felt tiny.  I was in awe of the ocean’s vastness.  As I moved closer to the white foam, I felt scared.  I was in awe of the ocean’s power.  As the sand moved beneath my feet, causing me to lose my balance, I felt intrigued.  I was in awe of the ocean’s constant movement.  Even as a small child, I recognized the magic of the sea.  I fell under its spell, longing to return when that first trip came to an end. As a teenager, the ocean’s beauty and lure were underappreciated and often unnoticed.  My teenage world lacked room for a reflective recognition of God’s natural creations.  My self-focused, surface level existence during those adolescent years shifted my focus away from the sea and to the seductive powers of other types of beach scenery.  As a teenager, the beach was the place where I could get a great tan and check out hot guys.  It was about bikinis and boys, Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil and the perfect pair of shades.  It was about walking at least 50 feet in front of my parents, testing my independence and spreading my wings for a bit.  It was about exhilarating rides at the pavilion, ski ball in the game rooms, and bungee jumping from sky-high platforms.  It was all loud music and cruisin’ the main strip, neon lights and flirting.  Yes, during my teenage years, the ocean faded into the background of the beach’s social scenery. As an adult, the magic returned.  Many special things have happened for me at the beach.  Mike proposed to me there after a moonlit walk.  Just as the chorus to one of our favorite Tim McGraw songs began, he stopped singing and began talking.  As I tried to wrap my mind around his words, he brought out a tiny, white box.  With the moon above us, the breeze around us, and the ocean in front of us, I said yes to the man God had placed in my life a year before.  Following my tearful, whispered “yes,” he placed a beautiful ring on my finger.  As Mike held me in his arms, my eyes were drawn away from the ring to the wonder of God’s creation.  The moon’s light danced over the ocean’s surface, creating silver ribbons of light.  Clouds moved across the night’s sky in a game of hide-and-seek with the moon.  The rhythm of the ocean’s waves crashing on the shore matched the beating of my heart.  A warm breeze blew, billowing the blanket at our feet.  In that moment, I was once again reminded of the greatness of our God.  His hand set all of nature into motion. The same hand lifted me up when I stumbled.  The same hand redirected my path when I went astray.  Physically, I still felt small compared to the vastness of the ocean and sand, yet an adult perspective helped me realize my spiritual significance as a creation of God.  If I can see the beauty and glory in the things of His world, then He sees the beauty in me.  Every question about my self-worth washed away, every mistake and misstep dissolved beneath the waves of God’s pure love.  Just as each imprint on the sand is wiped clean by the waves coming onto the shore, I was made anew in the eyes of Christ when I rededicated my life to Him. I am a beautiful creation of God. He loves my inquisitive mind; He values my strong personality; He glories in my compassionate nature.  As Mike and I walked down the beach, I looked behind us.  The sand was smooth except for the faint impression of our footsteps.  As we walked forward, on a new path designed by God, I knew we didn’t...

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