Saturday, March 22, 2008

The Homecoming

During the first year of our marriage, Rob was assigned to a naval ship based in Jacksonville, Florida. I enrolled at the University of North Florida while Rob began the long hours of a shipboard officer. Two days after our first anniversary, we kissed goodbye as Rob boarded the ship for a six month deployment. As a twenty-one year old newlywed who was crazy in love, the months loomed seemingly endlessly before me. These were the days before cell phones and emails. I could look forward to receiving a letter, usually one to two weeks old when it arrived, or an occasional phone call when the ship made port. Rob’s particular vessel had few breakdowns that deployment which meant very few ports of call. It was not unusual to go two months without hearing his voice.
Needless to say, when it came time for the ship to come home, families were ecstatic. As young wives, my friends and I worked on losing those last couple of pounds (those were the days!), shopping for a new outfit for the big day and buying every conceivable food and beverage we thought our sweeties would enjoy. The house was scrubbed from top to bottom, I had my hair cut and nails polished, made welcome home signs and spent a sleepless night waiting for the morning to arrive. At last, the big day was here.
As we crowded around the pier, someone spotted the ship crossing the horizon. Slowly the ship came into view with the crew lined up on deck in their best uniforms. It was a sight to behold. My eyes continued to search though. For there was only one sight I wanted to see – Ensign Robert C. Dowell. Homecoming is a wonderful time.
Flash forward over twenty years. Rob was deployed to Bosnia for eight months. Everything was very different. We were able to talk on the phone once a week. We exchanged emails every day. The ensign had become a commander. The newlyweds had become parents. Some of our offspring were even taller than either one of us. There were three more hearts very much involved in this difficult process called separation. Each of them handled the deployment differently, but all sorely missed this man who was and is a rock in their lives.
As homecoming time draws near, some of the same rituals appear. New clothes, cleaning the house, laying in the food are all repeated much as they were in those early years, just on a larger scale. This time the scene is an airport. There are four of us, scanning the horizon, waiting for his face. But the tears and the joy are very much the same.
So why are my thoughts reminiscing this Easter about these special days? Our homecomings so remind me of another, a concept which simply blows my mind. Sure, it makes sense that a young newlywed would excitedly prepare for her husband’s return or that children of a beloved father would anxiously watch for their father, but the Creator of the universe looking for me?

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.”
Luke 15:20b (NIV)

Seriously, Jesus is laying in the groceries for me? Cleaning the house for me?

“In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
John 14:2-3 (NIV)

Amazing. But how do I find my way home? How do I know He is preparing this place for me?

“You know the way to the place I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
John 14:4-6 (NIV)

To paraphrase Charles Schulz, that’s what Easter is all about, Charlie Brown. Jesus came, died to pay the debt for my sins, so I could be in a personal relationship with Him. When I accept Him as the way, turn my life over to Him in exchange for wiping my dirty slate clean (repeatedly), He starts preparing for my homecoming. Cleaning the house, laying in the food. I have beautiful memories of very special homecomings. Days are locked in my memory that mean more to me than I can adequately express in words. I still tear up over almost every military homecoming I see in the news. Here is what boggles my mind. Quite frankly, I have not seen anything . . . . . . . yet.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Humility is:
-dying to self
-living a life like Christ
-giving up "my rights"
-giving up control
-giving up protecting myself and those I love through my control
-trusting God
-being obedient
-in the small things
-will show itself glaringly (either present or lack thereof) in my relationship with my spouse and children
-making myself nothing
-starts in the heart; translates to the mind (attitude)
-letting someone else be first
-the opposite of self focus
-foot washin'

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man He humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Philippians 2:5-11

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Invitation

Okay, so here is my dream . . . .

I go to the mailbox one day to find a beautifully engraved invitation. Yes, it is finally here. Someone at last informed George and Laura that Rob and I, like they, are Southerners transplanted into the crazy world that is greater Washington, D.C. Naturally, they decide they simply must have us over for dinner.
After calling Rob and screaming my excitement in the phone, I quickly RSVP a “yes” to the White House invitation. I clear my calendar to open up room for a hair appointment, a manicure, a pedicure, and shopping time with a girlfriend to find the perfect dress, shoes, jewelry, etc.
On the big day, I spend hours primping and preparing. My appointments and shopping all behind me, my head filled with the latest news talking points (“So, Mr. President, how will NATO deal with those protestors in Belgrade?”), Rob and I head off to the White House. After clearing security, we finally enter the doors of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. How do I feel at this particular moment? I am a nervous wreck.
At this stage in my life there is probably not enough preparation, money or coaching to have me mentally approach a visit to the White House without nerves. Will I look okay? Will I say the right thing? Will I fall on my face? Questions of insecurity would pummel my brain.
Yet, almost everyday, in some form or fashion – long or short, drop-in or sit down chat – I walk into the throne room of almighty God. The Sovereign Creator of the universe. The Alpha and the Omega. The Great I Am.
How do I dress for this auspicious occasion? Seriously, you would not want to see me. Usually, no makeup, frequently sweaty in my old t-shirt and shorts I wear to ride my stationary bike, sometimes even pajamas. Very often, I have not had my shower, combed my hair or even brushed my teeth. Yuck. Sometimes I might be cleaned, dressed and made up, but I buzz in and out of the throne room in thirty seconds or less. Zoom in the door, speak and take off again.
My security clearance for these meetings? No problem, I just buzz right in the door. Through a process which is at the same time simple and yet far beyond my understanding, the guards immediately see I am one of the family, covered in Jesus blood. I am ushered into the presence of the Master of the universe.
So what’s the difference? Why am I a nervous wreck over even an imaginary White House invitation, but do not hesitate to sail into the throne room of God? The answer lies partially in the limitations of my own mind. I probably will not in this lifetime completely comprehend what it means when I – yes, sinful, messed up, broken me- walk into God’s throne room. The Bible says even angels long to look into these things. How in the world did I end up with access to God’s throne? It is so simple, yet so profound. Jesus gave His blood to be my “fast pass” through security. When I turned my life over to Him, I became one of the family. I simply said yes to an invitation that is open to each and every one of us.
The other part of the answer involves my heart. Somewhere, deep inside, Jesus finally seems to be reaching the little girl in me. He whispers to her of perfect love. He lets her heart know she is completely safe, completely welcomed and completely loved. He tells her of how she is His princess. The little girl in me buys into His words one hundred percent. Jesus is so convincing, so alluring, and so safe. The grown woman my struggle with fears, doubts and insecurities, but the little girl waltzes into the throne room, showing her daddy how she can twirl in her skirt - or her p.j.’s or even her sweaty shorts.
So for today, I want to think on these things. If I would be nervous about a White House visit, how amazing is it that I get into the ultimate executive mansion anytime I want? The ruler of the world invites me in with no hair appointment, no manicure, and no pedicure. He just issues an invitation.
”Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence. “
Hebrews 4:16a (NIV)