Thursday, November 20, 2008

Having a Good Time

My children are very aware of a strange, but consistent phenomenon that happens around our house in the early morning hours after Halloween. I excitedly race around our house gathering up every vestige of black cats and jack-o-lanterns to quickly replace them with turkeys and pilgrims. True confession – not being a big fan of Halloween, I am in fact a Thanksgiving freak. I just love November. The fall pumpkins are still beautiful, the leaves are falling from the trees and everywhere I see reminders of being thankful (at least in my house – the stores only seems to carry Christmas decorations at this time of the year!).

There is one other key factor that causes my elation each year when the calendar rolls over to display November. I know that it is only a few short weeks until we get to celebrate one of the most special times on our family calendar each year – Dowell Thanksgiving. Twenty-five years ago this year, we began gathering as a family to stay together somewhere in the Southeast and celebrate a week of food and fun. Living in different states across the South, this is the one time each year we are all able to be together. Rob’s mom, who we affectionately call Deedah, her five children, their spouses, their children and now even their grandchildren spend five days and four nights eating and playing. When we began twenty-five years ago, Deedah had three grandchildren. Now she has eight grandchildren and three great grandchildren.

Nobody knows how to have a good time like the Dowell family. It is loud, boisterous and filled with laughter. There are only a couple of hours on the clock each day when the entire house is asleep with teens and twenty-somethings playing games until the wee hours and the forty plus generation rising early to cook breakfast and bang around in the kitchen. Competition is a key component of our time together whether we are screaming at the football game on television or loudly debating any issue one might want to imagine. There are normally 8 to 10 conversations going on at once, even when there are only 6 people in the room. Practical jokes are played, charade and poker games won and lost and more butter consumed than should be eaten by a small nation. The Dowells are just plain fun.

My children have grown up in this tradition. They love it. For one week each year, we have pulled away from the demands of life to enjoy the family God has given us on this earth. Many times I have watched as my three had to do hours of homework and makeup work because of the school time they missed. Often they found themselves trying to explain to angry directors why they were missing so many rehearsals. Yet, if ever questioned about why we were pulling them out for this week, I always replied that my children often learned more in these few days with the Dowells than in a month of school.

I think sometimes, as a generation living in the 21st century, we have forgotten how to have a good time. We are so busy achieving, so busy reaching that next goal, so we can reach the next one and then reach the next one, marching on to a distant imagined prize or outcome. As parents, we often begin building our children’s ladders to success at an early age. We strive to keep them on “the master plan” in order to see that they become all they can be. But what has happened to just plain having a good time?

A time to weep and a time to laugh,
A time to mourn and a time to dance. Ecclesiastes 3:4 (NIV)

It may sound silly, but I like to think that week we spend with the Dowells is kind of like what it might be like in heaven. No, our family is not perfect, nor do we fly around with angel wings. But, the fun, the laughter, the enjoying of food and games together, just fit into my picture of what our eternity will be like with Jesus. A place of love, a place of acceptance, a place removed from the fear and anxiety of this world. A place I want to be. A place Jesus invited all of us to be. A place to have a good time.

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.
Revelation 3:20 (NIV)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The Elastic Den

At the parents’ meeting for the middle school musical Libby was participating in this past winter, the typical volunteer sign-up sheets were touted with the usual “we can’t do this without your help” speech. Knowing my complete lack of sewing talent (thereby eliminating me from the costume crew), my daughter’s desire to not have me backstage during the performances (there goes the stage parent list) and my struggles with even getting my own makeup on correctly (elimination – makeup committee), I signed on quickly to host the cast party. I estimated that at least I knew how to open the front door of my home. Later, it was the look on my husband’s face when I answered his question about the size of the cast (about 70 students) that reminded me that we might have some space issues in our beautiful Northern Virginia home. Being a terrific host and dad, he quickly smiled and assured me it would be fine. After all, they wouldn’t really all show up – would they?

Having raised two other children who had been involved with theatre, we knew that a group of drama kings and queens can rival any sports team with their activity level. Not wanting to see groups of seventh and eighth graders go hang out in our bedrooms for the evening, we realized we needed a plan. Theater kids love few things more than the opportunity to reprise their stage roles. We decided one activity for the evening would be to run a DVD version of the musical the students had just performed. Our 10’ by 15’ den was to be the gathering spot for this particular activity.

As the students began to arrive, it became obvious that watching, laughing and singing along with the DVD was the activity of first choice for the majority of the cast. On a typical evening in our home, you can comfortably seat three to five people in our den. For opening Christmas presents with family, we added chairs from the kitchen and actually squeezed eleven of us in for a brief time. Yet, on the evening of the cast party, teenagers started pouring into our den like ants at a picnic. At one point, Rob counted almost forty of them squeezed into the den which seemed to suddenly have walls of elastic. They laughed, they sang and they had a blast – all sandwiched in on top of one another. If you had told me in advance, I would have sworn the den could never hold so many middle schoolers. But on this night, the walls truly seemed to be made of elastic.

Isn’t that just like God’s love?

Every so often, I seem to pull another stunt which causes me to wonder if I have not finally done it. This time, my mind reasons, I have pushed God’s love right to the edge. I have really messed up. This will be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. Yet that is never the case. Is this true because I am so special, He just continues to love me? No, He continues to love me because He is Love.

God is love.
1 John 4:16b (NIV)

Isn’t that just like God’s truth?

Viewing the Bible as God’s word is a truth that seems to be pushed against from all sides in our culture. Every so often, there is a new scientific discovery which seems to disprove God’s word. Sometimes there are archeological finds that appear to conflict in time with the Bible’s account of events. Each year the bookstore displays work from a new “scholar” who touts the evils of religion noting that God is nothing more than man’s trumped up imagination. Yet for all these occurrences, God’s word never changes. His truth continues to stand – whole and unbent in spite of tidal waves of change in human culture and discovery. Do I know this because I am a Bible scholar? No, it is because He can be trusted. His word is true.

“I the Lord do not change.”
Malachi 3:6a (NIV)

Isn’t that just like God’s relationship with us?

God wants to place elastic in the walls of our relationship with Him. As women, this can be scary as we sometimes envision anyone coming towards us with expansion on their minds as just wanting more of our already stretched time, energy and emotions. It is not our Father’s desire to involve us in more activities for the sake of expansion. He wants to expand our relationship with Him. As we grow closer to Him, He will suddenly expand the room to hold more of Him. Does He do this because I have performed the right number of steps to be promoted? No, He does it because He is a God who actively seeks out each and every one of us.

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.
Luke 19:10 (NIV)

At Libby’s cast party, my den surprised us. It held elastic within its walls I never knew was there. Every day, I love being surprised by the elasticity of God. Just when I think I have reached capacity . . . . .

His love
His truth
His relationship

The elastic appears and they get a little bigger.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Leaf Geeks

The Dowell family would not qualify as early morning people. Libby has to be at the bus every weekday by 6:35am and Rob usually leaves for work around the same time. This not being our preferred hour of the day, we usually all function around the house in silence. A kiss goodbye and “I love you,” are about the best we can manage some mornings. This morning, however, was different. We were all riding in the car together when we began talking about how beautiful the leaves were all around us. Excitedly, we would point out to one another when we spotted a particularly beautiful tree, bush or hillside. The conversation was animated and definitely unusual for our bunch at that hour. Here is the cold hard truth. We are leaf geeks.

Maybe it was the twenty years in Florida without autumn color changes that sealed our fate. Maybe it was Rob and I’s childhood spent in the beautiful state of Tennessee where trees are everywhere. Maybe, we just have nothing better to do. Whatever the reason, we love to gawk and marvel at what happens to trees in the fall.

When I returned home this morning there was a long list of things that needed to be done. After tackling one or two, where did I find myself? I was on the back patio, taking pictures of leaves in our backyard. I know, the geek factor just shot up considerably. Truly, could I not get something accomplished on my list? (Do these voices speak to anyone else but me??) But may I share with you what happened to me in those moments when I was “getting nothing done”?

Suddenly, I found myself weeping. I was just overcome. Here is the truth I do not think my heart will ever understand as I long as I live on this earth. How could a God who created such beauty have any interest whatsoever in me? I mean, these leaves are spectacular. They are so gorgeous. And the reality is that no matter how many new clothes I buy, how much weight I lose or how many cosmetics I buy, I am not. Please do not misunderstand. I am not being falsely modest or lacking in self esteem. I can certainly dress myself up and look perfectly presentable to the world. The thought that made me cry this morning, is that my Father sees deep into my heart. And in there, things are so not pretty.

So why does He love me? Why does He even bother to turn my way? I truly have no clue. The truth I want to hang onto today is – He does. He does love me. He does turn to me.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
I John 4:16a (NIV)

He loves me. He really, really loves me. The Creator of the universe, who made beautiful leaves which change color in the fall, loves me. This is a truth that can change my life. It can change my heart. It can change the way I treat others each day. Rude driver cuts me off – no problem, He loves me. Angry family member – no problem, He loves me. Others making decisions around me which highly impact my life, but over which I have zero control – no problem, He loves me. Concerned about the stock market or the future of our country – no problem, He loves me. If I truly understand the truth that the God who paints beautiful leaves in my backyard also loves me completely, it will change the way I live my daily life. I think that is what John was talking about when he said we know and rely on the love God has for us.

So where is your heart today? Many of you are facing obstacles and challenges that far surpass rude drivers and market volatility. Do you know that the Creator who paints the leaves loves you completely? If you do not, please ask Him to show you. If you maybe had just forgotten in the craziness that is life in the 21st century, please stop for a moment and remember. For today, know and rely on the love He has for you.