Thursday, October 29, 2009

Walking through the Storm

Confession: I am a total geek for musicals. Most of the time, the older the musical, the better I like it. Drag out the Lerner and Lowe, the Irving Berlin and especially the Rodgers and Hammerstein. I love watching characters walk around through the most dire or joyful of life circumstances and at the most improbable possible moments bursting into song. How totally unrealistic, escapist and just plain marvelous.

One of my favorite scenes in the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical “Carousel” is when a pregnant young wife named Julie (played by Shirley Jones) is comforted by her cousin Nettie after the unexpected, tragic death of her husband. Nettie sings the famous song to Julie, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”* Meant as words of encouragement for this young grieving woman unsure of what her future now holds, the song speaks these words to her grief:

“When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark.
At the end of the storm is a golden sky and the sweet silver song of a lark.
Walk on through the wind, walk on through the rain,
Though your dreams be tossed and blown.
Walk on, walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone. You’ll never walk alone.”
*music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II (1945)

So lately, whether it is due to the rainstorms of our Virginia fall weather, or just observing the storms that come into life, this song has been on my mind. With all due respect to Rodgers and Hammerstein and great musical theatre, may I make an assertation? For a child of God, this song is pretty much bunk. Yet the words of it speak strongly to what is a common default mode for myself and, I believe, many of us as women.

Life is hard. Maybe in small ways, maybe in large ways. The baby will not sleep at night, the grade school child is struggling, the teenager seems like an alien who has inhabited the body of the sweet child you once knew, the adult child makes choices you cannot understand, the medical report does not bring good news, the mailbox brings unexpected bills, the phone rings with words you never wanted to hear, the military orders are not what you wanted to see, the job takes an unexpected turn, the marriage is not what you thought it would be, the nursing home calls with yet another problem with your elderly loved one – have I hit everyone somewhere in their life yet??

As women, so many of us respond with a Rodgers and Hammerstein mentality. Hold your head up high, don’t be afraid of the dark (or at least don’t even think about admitting you are afraid of the dark), and walk on. Walk on. Sounds very good on the surface. Sounds very American. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps and all of that good stuff. But, wow, how truly very dangerous.

God has graciously shown me there is only one place I need to be when the storms of life hit, small or large. And it is not with my head held high. I need to be face down on the ground before Him. Mentally, emotionally and sometimes even physically in a position of submission. This is not where my default mode takes me. Frankly, this is also not always a particularly comfortable way to handle the storms of life. When I am face down, I have to admit several things that do not roll easily off my independent minded tongue. Like the fact that I need help. That I cannot make it on my own. That my storms, no matter how small they may appear to another, are more than I can manage. It involves a lot of humility which is not a very fun place to be.

So where is the good news in this? I thought you would never ask. :)

"Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
When I said, 'My foot is slipping,' your love, O Lord, supported me.
When anxiety was great within me, your consolation, brought joy to my soul."
Psalm 94:17-19 (NIV)

Notice, the psalmist does not say that his circumstances have resolved themselves for a storybook happy ending. He simply says that when he admitted that his foot was slipping, God’s love and consolation brought joy to his soul. As difficult as it is to fall facedown in my heart and admit my inability to deal with my storm, when I do, God is so faithful to bring joy to my soul. Sometimes instantaneously, sometimes not. Sometimes the healing is painful, long and slow. Sometimes my circumstances reverse themselves. Many times, they do not. But the change in my heart from a soul in the storm struggling to hold its head up high to a humble submission of slipping feet is astounding.

So how about you? What is the storm in your life today? Are you, like most of us tend to do as women, struggling to hold your head up high? Why not stop right now and ask the God of the universe, who is in total control of your situation, sees your situation and knows your inability to walk on, to give you a hand? Can you right now go facedown in your heart instead of walking with your head held high? The storm and winds may contain to rage, but God is willing to bring joy to your soul in their midst.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

All the Wrong Places

As a young mom raising two active preschool boys, most days were filled with drama with a little d. Arguments, rambunctious activity that caused injuries or spills to be cleaned, tears, and various other dramatic scenes played themselves out during the days when our boys were young. On a few days however, we encountered drama with a large D. This was one of those days.

One of the Saturday morning activities we enjoyed from time to time was going to garage sales. The boys loved having a dollar that would bring them home some of the most interesting loot. On this particular Saturday, I had loaded up David to go with me while leaving Mark home with Rob. We had recently returned from a Tennessee visit with Rob’s family where I had contracted a nasty case of poison ivy which had required medical intervention in the form of steroids. Little d drama. As we were out shopping, I began to realize that the rising heat and humidity of Florida were not helping my poison ivy, so I decided it was time for David and me to head back home to Rob, Mark and some air conditioning. When I went to start my car, it was completely dead. Little d drama. This was in the days before we were all using cell phones, so I had to approach the home where we were shopping and ask to use their phone. Little d drama. I called Rob and asked him to pack up Mark and come and get us. When Rob arrived, he looked over the car and felt our own only option was to call a tow truck. Little d drama. When I tried to reassure him that this would work out okay and commented on his countenance looking like someone had just died, he looked me in the eyes and said, “My father did.” Now drama had a large D.

We returned home and began to make plans for going to Tennessee. Since we had just returned from a week there, we were unsure about the wisdom of packing up our preschool boys and returning with them to assist Rob’s mom and attend a funeral. Having no family living in Orlando, several members of our Sunday school class offered to share childcare for the boys so Rob and I could attend the funeral and be of some help to the family. The difficulty was that none of these families were well known to our boys or had ever kept them before. One family had no children and the other one had only one baby girl. How would they adapt to our rambunctious preschoolers? And how would the boys feel being left with these families for a week? To add to the confusion, it was the day before Mother’s day. This preschool mom did not relish the idea of spending Mother’s day without the two people who had made her a mother. What were we to do?

As Rob and I ran around the house doing laundry, trying to pack some suitcases, stopping the paper and all the other chores a family needs to complete before travel, I pleaded with God to give me wisdom about our choice. Should we leave the boys or should they stay? What was the right thing to do?

I called my mom who offered to have her and Dad meet us in Knoxville and take the boys home with them. I called some friends and asked their opinion. I asked Rob more times than he could count, “What are we going to do?” I was looking hard for wisdom, but was I looking in the right places?

By late afternoon, we had not reached a decision and our window was rapidly closing. A tad bit put out, I reminded the Lord that I had asked Him multiple times for an answer and He had obviously not given me one yet. “Lord, have you seen what time it is? I need to know something here.” Graciously and patiently, He reminded me that I had not opened His word that day. How was I to hear Him speak if I kept doing all of the talking, but none of the listening???

I knelt down by my son’s bed with my Bible. I reminded the Lord again that time was of the essence. Can you just picture Him laughing? I can. I prayed something along these lines. “Lord, I know you do not having anything in the Bible about a father’s funeral and burial, but if you could be really specific here, my addled brain would greatly appreciate it.” I opened my Bible to where I had been studying and read the next passage. Here were the words He gave to me.

Joseph threw himself upon his father and wept over him and kissed him. Then Joseph directed the physicians in his service to embalm his father Israel . . When the days of mourning had passed, Joseph said . . . . “Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.”

Pharaoh said, “Go up and bury your father, as he made you swear to do.”

So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him-the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt-besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Only their children and their flocks and herds were left in Goshen.
Genesis 50: 1-2a, 4a, 5c-8 (NIV)

I came running out of the bedroom yelling at Rob, “We’re leaving the kids in Orlando!” and we began to make the necessary preparations. The boys had a wonderful week staying with friends and Rob and I were able to do what we needed to do with his family.

Though this was not the first time or the last time God has directly answered my prayers for wisdom in His word, it was one of the more dramatic times. In fact, it happened again this morning. I pleaded for answers to my little d drama only to go to His word and have Him meet me right there. So what distracts me down from going there first? Why do I tend to look in all the wrong places for answers before looking to Him? Do you struggle like I do?

I am not sure it is as important to answer why I make incorrect choices as it is to understand how I need to grasp truth that will guide me to make the correct choices. If I truly understand how completely in control God is – then I can look in the right places. If I wrap my brain around the fact that God chooses most frequently today to speak to us through the Bible, His word – then I can look in the right places. If I trust that God is a loving Father who cares more about me than I cared for those little boys around my ankle years ago – then I can look in the right places.

What do truth do you need to grasp today to help you stop looking in all the wrong places?