Monday, March 22, 2010

A Homecoming Story

It had been a long deployment for us. My pre-Sept. 11th military reserve children were not in any way accustomed to Dad being sent to the other side of the world for eight months of duty in a combat zone. Rob was very involved in all aspects of their life and his absence had left a tremendous hole. And of the three of them, none had seemed to take it harder than Daddy’s princess.

As their separation began, none of us really knew how nine turning ten year old Libby would react to the deployment. Yes, there had been tears shed at the time of goodbye, but what coping skills would she develop to wrap her brain around the absence of her dad? It didn’t take us long to find out.

Rob was able to find a connection, when he was settled in country, and call us on the phone about once a week. (This was long before the days of anything called Skype.) We began to notice that Libby would be conveniently busy or somewhere else when we would try to track her down to talk to Rob on the phone. After some intense discussions with her, her brothers and I realized she had decided to cope with Rob’s absence by largely pretending that he was not gone. Any phone calls would quickly erase her pretensions, so she avoided them like the plague. Though she did not slog through her days in constant tears or depression, there was no doubt this deployment was talking its toll on her.

When it was time for Rob to return, we excitedly packed up and headed to the airport in another city to await his arrival. Because Rob was an IA (Individual Augmentee – he deployed alone instead of with a unit), he was scheduled to fly home on a commercial airline. When I arrived at the airport with my children, we requested a gate pass so we could greet him as soon as the plane landed. We excitedly thanked the ticket agent and headed out to the terminal where his flight was due to arrive.

As we arrived at Rob’s gate, we began to scan the tarmac for any sign of the arrival of Rob’s plane. What we did not know was that Rob’s plane had arrived early. He had worn civilian clothes on the flight, but had gone into a restroom directly behind where we were standing to change into his uniform before greeting us on the other side of security, or so he thought. As we stared out the window, I suddenly realized that Libby was no longer standing with us. When the boys and I starting looking for her, we turned around to see a sight that I will never forget. Libby had turned around and seen her Daddy coming out of the restroom. Without a sound, she had run across the terminal and knocked him flat on the floor. There he lay, on his back in the terminal, with the little girl in the pink dress spread eagle across the top of him sobbing her lungs out. It was if eight months of fear, hurt, pain and sorrow all spilled out onto her Daddy.

The boys and I just stood around them for a few minutes. You could hear her all over the terminal. People walked by who didn’t even know us and wiped their eyes. It was an amazing sight.

I don’t know what kind of relationship you have with your earthly father, but please hear today that you have a Heavenly Father who loves you even more than Rob loves Libby. And He is not far away. You do not have to wait for Him to come home to you. It is His heart’s desire that today you would turn and run to Him. Stop pretending about your pain and let go of the deep, dark places inside of you. He longs for you to drape yourself across Him and pour out the deepest hurts, fears, sorrows and needs of your heart.

God did this so that men would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us.
Acts 17:27 (NIV)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cold, Hard and Unforgiving

It has been three weeks since the last accumulating snowfall hit the mid-Atlantic. Yet, everywhere you turn, you can still see snow. Temperatures have stayed well below seasonal averages, the sun has refused to shine many days and the large volume of snow which has accumulated means that although some melting has occurred, there is still no end to the sight of snow at every turn.

I love snow. I love watching it fall, seeing it pile up and playing in it. I love the way snow trumps almost every agenda in Washington, D.C. and brings life to a screeching halt. I love having my family home together enjoying sitting by the fire and drinking hot chocolate in our pajamas – at two o’clock in the afternoon. Beautiful white fluffy snow cleans the world better than Clorox on the stained shirt of a little boy.

As much as I love beautiful white, clean snow, I have an almost equal distaste for dirty snow. What is left in Washington is no longer the clean beautiful snow that had fallen weeks before on our landscape. What is now piled on the side of the road, in the medians and in virtual mini-mountains in parking lots is dirty snow. Though it had started out beautiful and white as it fell to the ground, the snow has been plowed, pushed aside and covered with dirt from vehicles flying by. It is the kind of snow only man, vehicles and lots of nasty chemicals can create. Due to the large nature of some of the piles, it is just not going away. Snow in the grass has melted in the warmth of the sun, but the dirty snow is cold, hard and very unforgiving. Weeks after it fell, it sits seemingly immovable and covered in dirt. Most unattractive.

This is where the lesson turned very personal and very painful for me. God showed me how closely my speech lately had become to that large pile of dirty snow. Cold, hard and very unforgiving. In an attempt to “always be direct with people,” my speech had become something that served only me and whatever selfish desires I had at a particular given moment. Why, of course, didn’t others need to hear my opinion on a certain subject? Weren’t they just dying to know what I thought? Besides, maybe they needed my “help” in the form of unsolicited advice. After all, didn’t I really have more experience and know better? Ouch. It is painful to even type such ugly thoughts that my selfish heart has been busy justifying. Listen to what Jesus says about the words my mouth speaks.

“For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.”
Matthew 12:34b (NIV)

So, if I do not like the words I hear coming out of my mouth, the first place I have to look is my heart. When had I decided that my personal opinion was gospel the world needed to hear? Though God had given me the blessing of having some experiences I had learned from through the years, were not those lessons designed to keep me humble rather than making me arrogant? Where were the concepts of grace and forgiveness in my heart and speech, especially with those I love the most?

I do not like dirty snow. But even more important, God wants me to not like a dirty heart. When I allow myself to be deluded into believing the importance of the words I have to share, I will become just as cold, hard and unforgiving as the dirty snow on the side of the road. Precious Father, today could you please make my thoughts and words clean and refreshing? I want the things that come out of my heart and mouth to be as beautiful and pure as your clean, white snow.