Monday, April 30, 2012

Call them forth to dance...

I didn't walk into that nursing home intending to come out blessed.

However, God had other ideas. He always does.

This was going to be the part of my day that I really wouldnt've minded skipping. I was home, I'd surprised my family and friends, gone to church and eaten potluck, and I was ready to go walking. Not go sing at a nursing home with a few elderly folks who were...well, different from most people. They were old. Not like me.

Or so I thought.

I sat against the wall in a chair, more bored than anything else. My voice started to wear out, I was getting impatient for the time to be up. I didn't want to help my friends sing the special music, so I sat where I was and listened.

After the girls sang their song, one of the daughters of a lady who lived there at the nursing home said that maybe in a little bit she could sing Amazing Grace for us. This suggestion was loudly supported by most of those in our group. I, however, said nothing.

Honestly, how could someone do that? That just seems a little vain to me.

After a little bit, the lady got up, and with the other girls as harmony, sang Amazing Grace. It really was very nice, but I still wasn't impressed. It seemed stuck up to my dulled perception.

We sang a little bit more, and then the lady who sang Amazing Grace suggested that Alice, a very elderly black lady in a wheelchair, sing a song for us. She seemed a little embarassed, but said she would, but she didn't know what to sing. One of the other ladies in the room called out, "Oh yes, Alice! Sing that song that I like so much."

Alice seemed to consider the request, and turned a little in her chair to look at the lady behind her. "You mean His Eye is on the Sparrow?" Somehow, her dark eyes, elderly bearing, and her soft African-American drawl intrigued me, and I sat up a little more.

"Yes, that's the one!" The lady behind her seemed pleased. "Sing it for us, Alice!"

Alice thought for a moment, and then looked up at the ceiling. "Try B flat."

I was surprised. B flat? This lady knew her notes better than I'd guessed. Jaime played the chord on the piano, and Alice shook her head. "That's too high. I don't think that'll work."

The thought of Alice singing had nearly died out when Jaime triumphantly held up a music book. "I've got that song in here! Let's see if it's in the right key."

Opening the book, Jaime played the first chord, and Alice hummed it under her breath before nodding. "Yes, I think I can do that."

After a very short intro, Jaime looked across the room at Alice. "Ready?"

As Jaime began to play the song, Alice began. She was quiet at first, and it was as if she was struggling. But the farther she got, the more confident she became. She closed her eyes, singing the words that were obviously so familiar to her in a soft, humble way that I'd never heard the song sung before.

I found tears filling my eyes. My thoughts of vain display were gone; all I could see now was Alice, as she must have once been.

"I sing because I'm happy...I sing because I'm free..." As Alice got into the chorus, her right hand came up, and, with her eyes still closed, conducted the music in a way that spoke of the glory of what had been years before. Her voice became stronger, louder, and she filled that room with the melody of her past. "For His eye is on the sparrow...and I know He watches me..."

The song swelled with that wonderful voice, the wind behind its sails: Alice giving it her own special variations to the tune that were so unique and yet so characteristic of African-American singing. I could see her, about 40 years younger, in a little white-washed church beside a dusty country road, dressed in a white choir gown and conducting an energetic group of black men and women singing the very same song that now rang in my ears from her voice. I could see her admonishing them to put power into their singing... "Sing it out like you mean it!"... I could see it.

And then it ended. From the heights of melodious song, Alice came down to softly land at the wrap up, as gently and quietly as she'd begun. The chords from the piano died out, and a sudden storm of applause took its place, accompanied by the gentle patter of awed "Amens" from every corner of the room. Alice's eyes opened again, and she looked as if she'd never given such a stunning performance in her life. Mike stood to his feet and made his way to the front of the room, almost shocked. "That was awesome, Alice!"

"It sure was! Alice, you're a wonderful singer!" The lady who'd sung Amazing Grace for us piped in with her encouragement.

Alice only shook her grey head slowly, looking absently at the table top. "My voice is gone now."

"No it isn't! Not at all!" The chorus of the aforesaid denunciation of her statement vibrated through the room, but I knew what she meant. The voice that she'd once had...the voice that had been the real Alice all those years ago... was no more. I found myself wishing that I could've heard her sing in her day of glory...and that as I walked out the door.

I was later told by one of the other members of our group that they had commended her on her singing, and asked her a little about if she used to sing when she was younger. I imagine she must've smiled before responding. "Oh, they once kicked me out of the church choir cuz I was overpowerin' the rest of the singers." I wasn't at all surprised.

Somehow, my perspective changed. I wasn't aware that a blessing was in store for me at that place where everyone wasn't like me.

Alice changed my mind.

Somehow, somewhere down inside each one of those elderly people, is someone just like me.

There's a song by Michael Card called Underneath the Door that I only recently discovered. The lyrics go something like this....

My father was a doctor, who would come home late at night
With a soul so bruised and bleeding from his unending faithful fight
To keep a hold of kindness in a world that isn’t kind
To hold out the hope of healing to his hurting humankind

And he’d flee back to his study, to his bookish quiet place
With notes and books and journals, to all in his special space
Then he’d lock the door from things that cannot be locked out
And his youngest son would starve for what he would always do without

But it was meant to make me who I am and for all these many years
Till the little boy down on his knees full of hope and full of fear
Calling underneath the door, “This is me, it’s who I am”
For we love the best by listening, when we try to understand

Desperate stubby fingers pushing pictures neath the door
And longing to be listened to, by the man that I adored
Inside someone who needed me just as much as I did him
Still unable to unlock the door that stayed closed inside of him

And it’s strange the way we tend to flee from what we need the most
That a father would lock out his son when his heart would hold him close
But our wounds are part of who we are and there’s nothing left to chance
And pain’s the pen that writes the songs and they call us forth to dance

It's those last two lines that really make me think about Alice...and all the others like her.

Our wounds are apart of who we are, true.

And no, nothing is left to chance.

Pain is the pen that writes the best songs, undoubtedly...

And it's the songs that are written...or pain that call us forth to dance with joy unspeakable. It's the memories that produce things worth having and recreating. 

Take a look at your life. Are you living in the shattered fragments of what once was, like Alice? Are you chasing rainbows and waiting for lightning? Have you ceased to remember what has gone by? Have you lost the dance inside you?

Listen to the song that God's singing to you.

He's calling you out from amid the broken dance. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Falling in love

Some days you just have to wonder about yourself.

You wake up in the morning, to a bright sunny day shining through the window, casting shadows on your pillow; to the birdsongs ringing through the spring air; to a life ready to be lived. Your feet hit the floor, and there's no turning back.

Breakfast is every man for himself, and then comes bread-making. Pounding the dough, letting it rise... Knowing that you're making something that the rest of your family will benefit from. Something that will give life and strength to those close to you--those you love. It's a good feeling.

Then you tie a bandana on your head, put your hair in braids and head outside to work in the garden with your favorite friends. (Actually, any friend is a favorite, aren't they?) You get delegated to finding stakes for the garden beds, and off you go, whistling "There is Sunshine in my Soul Today" into oblivion and beyond.

Eventually you end up on your knees in a garden bed, digging rocks out and tossing them over your shoulder, amid the golden beauty of the day and with those you care about. Digging that bed up is a challenge, but it's like finding buried treasure; and you know that once its done, you'll be able to bury treasure within the soft, turned-up earth: seeds that contain within them a little spark of life that will explode not to long from now. When you stand to your feet, there's dirt on your knees and hands, a twig hanging from your hair and a smudge of dirt on your cheek, and a radiant smile on your face. You take a deep breath...and remember the bread. Inside you go.

The bread gets put in pans and as it raises again, you dump a lot of assorted fruit and a good dose of soymilk into the blender and let it go. The rest of your family comes inside, and you all collapse on the furniture with a glass of cold smoothie and a happy sigh.

The bread comes out a little later, and the golden loaves are cooling on the rack at home as I speak.

Some days, you just have to wonder about yourself.

There's no reason for me to be so happy. No reason for this morning to have been so beautiful; no reason for this afternoon to be so full of promise of more beauty still. No reason...

Or is there?

I look back at this morning with satisfaction, with a full heart...and something else. Something deeper.

I think I'm falling in love.

Nothing could be more beautiful than summer as it tiptoes in on golden slippers. Nothing could be more full of joy and fulfillment than knowing that you're doing good, even in the midst of beauty. Nothing could've been more spine-tingling than realizing that I was apart of the beauty surrounding me...and I started to fall in love. With summer. With the beauty around me. With being needed and doing something useful.

And, most importantly, with the Creator of it all.

Today has been one big splash of beauty...and it's not over yet.

How about you?

Yes, some days you just have to wonder about yourself.

But it's the days when you wonder whether you're insane or falling in love that are the most fulfilling.

Are you falling in love? Have you fallen in love yet; with the beauty, the sunshine, the warmth, the summer.....

....and the God whose hands lovingly formed it all?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Seasons of Life

The Seasons of Life
   by BJ Morbitzer

“There was a man who had four sons
He wanted his sons to learn
Not to judge things too quickly. 
So he sent them each on a quest,
in turn, to go and look at a pear tree
that was a great distance away.

The first son went in the winter,
the second in the spring,
the third in the summer,
and the youngest son in the fall.

When they had all gone and returned
he called them together
to describe what they had seen.

The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted.
The second son said it was covered with buds and full of promise.
The third son disagreed: he said it was laden with blossoms
that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful,
it was the most graceful thing he had ever seen.
The last son disagreed with all of them: he said it was ripe and 
drooping with fruit full of life and fulfillment.

The man then explained to his sons
that they were all right, because they
had seen only one season in the tree's life.

He told them that you cannot judge a tree, 
or a person, by only one season.
That the essence of who they are,
and the pleasure, joy, and love
that comes from that life,
can only be measured at the end,
when all the seasons are up.

If you give up when it's winter
you will miss the promise of your spring,
the beauty of your summer, and the fulfillment of your fall.

Don't let the pain of one season destroy the joy of all the rest.

Persevere through the difficult patches,
And better times are sure to come in time.”

I read that this morning, and it was possibly the biggest reproof I've been given in awhile. "If you give up when it's winter, you will miss...." 

How many times have I given up when it was still winter?

Often I've seen spring and summer come and go...even fall...and then, like a slap of hard reality, winter comes. And all I think there is left is a dead tree. So I turn, and walk away... And leave the tree in winter's icy grip, never thinking or suspecting or even daring to hope that spring might be right around the corner.

In fact, right now, I'm in the grip of winter. Oh yes, it's sunny and warm; spring and summer and autumn all have places in my life. But deep down inside, there's places of my heart that are frozen solid: locked in ice. There's places that I can even recall that are winter for me...places and people that I have walked away from. 

Walked away from? Why?

Because winter came. 

And my heart and eyes told me that spring...summer...and autumn...were gone forever.

I remember when I welcomed spring with open arms. I danced through summer's beauty, holding a friendly hand. I picked ripe fruit in the autumn, the cool breeze making my eyes snap. And then I was suddenly left alone; no friendly hand to hold. It was gone. The cool breeze, that once had so refreshed me was gone--in it's place, a chilling, icy, frigid wind that cut me to the heart. No flowers, no sunshine, no laughter. It was all gone.

What to do? Only hug myself to try to keep out the cold, let the tears freeze on my cheeks, and walk away, convinced that summer, spring and autumn would never come back. 

But when I walked away, what did I do? 

I left a tree locked in winter. I left what once was a flourishing, beautiful, promising friendship--because I was convinced it never would come back. Suppose spring returns? Suppose summer once more glows over it's branches? What if autumn comes and the fulfillment of harvest is a reality once more? Where will I be? 

I won't be there. 

I'll be gone. 

Perhaps the one whose hand I held in friendship will look for me there. And if they do, what will happen when I'm not to be found? Will they even see me as worthy of having their love anymore? Will I be counted as a trusted friend, when I couldn't endure winter; when it was only a brief blink in time? 

Am I a coward? Am I afraid of winter's breeze? 

Unfortunately, I was forced to admit that I was afraid. Afraid of the cold, afraid of the pain, afraid of...everything. I automatically assumed that because winter had come, that what once was there was gone. 

But even when a tree is held in winter's grip, the promise of spring is still within. Inside that dormant tree lies the current of life that will spring forth as soon as a warm wind takes the chill from the air. Spring buds the branches, summer blossoms them, and autumn brings forth fruit. But it came from winter. 

And I have run away from the winter surrounding my tree. 

Didn't Jesus bear the icy wind for me? Didn't He take it upon Himself to bear the winters that every one of us go through? And didn't His patience...His sacrifice...and His love--that love that wouldn't let go--bring about spring...and summer...and autumn... and the hope of all of those hereafter? Can I not do the same?

There's a tree on a distant hill. Over there: if you shade your eyes, you can probably pick it out. It's covered with snow and icicles; seemingly dead and forlorn in winter's grip. 

I'm headed for that tree. It's time I returned and made it my own once more. Winter, spring, summer, or autumn... I'll be there. And I'll go through every season just in order to call it my own. 

After all, my God went through every season to make me His own. 

I can do the same.

It's winter right now... But who knows? Spring may be just around the corner. 

Thursday, April 12, 2012

My prayer

I pray You'll be my Guide,
and show me where to go.
And help me to be wise,
in times when I don't know.
Lord, this is my prayer--
don't let me lose my way.
Lead me to my place,
guide me with your grace, 
to the place You have for me.

I pray You'll be my Light,
and hold me in Your heart.
Father, show me what is right;
take me anywhere You are.
Lord, this is my prayer--
You can take me far away.
Only lead me to a place
where I'll be guided by Your grace, 
to the place You've saved for me.

I ask You'll make me kind;
trace my course out from above.
Let broken people find
in me the light of Your true love. 
Lord, this is my prayer--
I'll pray it every day.

Lead me to the place
where I'll lead others to Your grace;
a place where they'll be truly free.

Near or far away;
tomorrow or today...

Only lead me to my place--
Father, guide me by Your grace...
To the place You've made for me.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Hallway of Bookcases---an allegory

It's a long hallway. When you stand at the head of it, it stretches back as far as you can see. There are windows lining the top of the hallway; sometimes it's bright in here, and sometimes it's dark. But, light or dark, it's still my hallway.
            Lining the inside of the hallway are bookcases. Massive bookcases that touch the ceiling. Within each of these bookcases are shelves- so many shelves that you couldn't even begin to count them all. And each one is different. The make, style, type of wood...and the things that I have placed on them. Each one differs from the next.
            If you were to go to the very back of the hall, and look at the bookcases there, most of the shelves you will see are dusty, and full of old, dusty things. I seldom go back there. But, every once in awhile, there are shelves that I go back to look at. Shelves that contain some very precious books and things- things that I, out of habit, go back to lovingly review. But the majority of those shelves are never touched anymore.
            As you get closer to the head of the hall, the bookcases get less dusty and more used. Or so it seems. A good many of the shelves are empty.
            The shelves that are empty are empty simply because they never caught my attention as shelves worthy of being used as safe places for my precious things. And so they remain empty.
            There are quite a few shelves that have a few things on them; insignificant and seemingly unimportant things. A small trinket here, a little piece of paper there...some are even apparently full. The vast portion of those shelves though, are filled with cotton and dandelion fluff; things that are fun to play with and bring temporary joy, but have no solidness to them. Such is the nature of the better percentage of my shelves.
            There is a bookcase that I move along the hall each year that passes, It has many, many shelves and each one is special. Each one has a good number of things on it, and I see most of them daily. All except those that are too high for me to reach.
            I would like to tell you the history of three of the shelves in my hall. Each one is located at a different place in the hall, and each one in a different bookcase; and yet I see or think of each one every day. Thus, I begin my narrative.
            The first shelf I will tell you of is on the right hand side of the hall, the third bookcase down and about two-thirds of the way up on the case. The first time I saw this particular shelf, I chafed. The very sight of it made me sick. It was a light-colored wood-honey colored- and the protruding edge of the shelf was scalloped and daintily cut to make it look pretty. The shelf itself was thin and from where I stood I couldn't see that it would hold anything substantial. So I walked on past it, and promptly forgot about it's existence.      
            Some time later, I walked past the shelf again, and again, I noticed the scalloped edge. Like before, I turned my nose up and walked away.
            Then came the fateful day that I was forced to walk to the shelf that I despised so much and stare straight at it. I had no choice; it simply had to be done. As I stood there, my eyes boring holes into the wood, I suddenly realized that maybe that scalloped edge wasn't so bad after all. In fact, it was kind of cute on that particular shelf. Perhaps it wouldn't be quite so terrible to use it for some things. And so I set my first object, a bead in the shape of two hands, on the scalloped shelf. No sooner had I done that then the shelf that I had so despised transformed the bead. The wood underneath the crystal clear of the bead made it shine and sparkle and glow like I had never before seen. I smiled at the shelf for the first time.
            As the months passed, I found that the shelf was capable of holding more than it appeared it could've. I was pleasantly surprised, and soon the shelf was loaded with many precious and sacred objects. It never seemed to fill up; there was always room for more, and I was so thankful that I had decided to use that shelf.
            The second shelf I would like to tell you about is also on the right side of the hall, the fourth bookcase down, and about halfway up on the case. The first time I saw this shelf, it caught my eye. It was a thick, strong shelf, made of dark, mahogany colored wood that glowed in the light from the window opposite the hall from it. It was beautiful, and I at once wished to place things on it. However, this particular shelf was so low to the ground, and I was so tall, that I surely would've had to bend over to reach it, and bending over hurts my back. So I turned away, however sadly, from this shelf.
            Not long after I found myself near the shelf again. This time it glowed so fiercely that I simply was compelled; I had to try and place things on it regardless of if it hurt my back or no. Then a thought occurred to me; suppose I knelt down in front of the shelf. I would be able to reach the shelf so much easier, and perhaps that wouldn't hurt as badly. So I knelt, and to my joy found no pain whatever in kneeling. So I began placing things on the shelf, and soon, it too looked like the first: full, and yet never full.
            The third shelf I would like to tell you about is on the left side of the hall, the third bookcase down, about three-fourths of the way up on the case. The first time I noticed this shelf, all I could see was the very edge of it. It appeared to be a very dark wood, and rock hard at that. But, the only piece of it that I could see was the very edge of the shelf, mind you...that and the dark, black space above it. I decided that first off, that shelf was far too dark and frightening a place for me to ever put anything, and secondly, that it was too high for me to reach anyways. I left the shelf alone.
            Yet why was it that that shelf came to mind so often? So often it crept into my thoughts; the rock hardness of it, and the blackness above it. It seemed a mystery to me, and one day I found myself back in front of that shelf, looking up at it. Strange, how it seemed closer than it had before. Almost as though it were within reach. On an impulse, I decided to try and put something on the shelf. I had with me a glass bottle, and taking it in hand, I stretched as far as I could to place it on the shelf. I had just got it resting on the lip of the shelf when it fell to the floor and shattered into hundreds of shimmering pieces. I looked at the bottle in disappointment. I had rather liked the bottle, but it was too late now to do anything about it. I picked up the pieces, and, having nowhere else to put them, tossed them up onto that black shelf, where they stayed.
            Still, the shelf returned to my mind. Again and again. I simply couldn't forget it. Days would come, and I would try to place other things on the shelf. But each one, like the first would fall and crash on the floor, and shatter at my feet. And each time, I would pick up the pieces and toss them up onto the shelf where they couldn't be seen.
            After so many times of doing this, I began to realize that there were scratches on my hands. From whence they had come, I had no idea, but they puzzled me greatly. They didn't appear to be causing much problem or pain, and so I ignored them.
            Then came the day that I walked past the shelf, and happened to look at it. I looked in amazement. It wasn't near as dark as it had been before, and I was surprised at how much of the shelf I could see. But, along with the space of shelf that I could see, I could also see a pile of glittering glass. And I knew, at that moment, that I had to clean that glass off that shelf.
            As I stood there looking at this shelf in wonder, my Father happened by. “My child,” He said, “what are you staring at in such wonder?” I told Him how I had found the shelf, and all the things that had preceded this happening. He seemed to already know about it, but He nodded and replied, “And now you want to clean it off.”
            “I do, I do,” I answered, with tears in my eyes. “But Father, I don't think I could clean it off without hurting myself.” He looked down at me and smiled tenderly.
            “I'll stand here with you and make sure you don't hurt yourself,” He said. “And I'll help you when you need Me.”
            So He did. I began picking pieces of glass off the shelf and throwing them in the trash. The first ones were easy, and I began to think that they would all be like this. But no sooner did I think that then I picked up a larger piece of glass, this one stained with blood. I suddenly very vividly recalled cutting myself on this piece of glass. I deliberated for a fatal moment, looking at the glass and remembering the pain it caused. Just then, my Father spoke.
            “My child, let it go.” I looked down into His compassionate eyes, and slowly released the glass to fall into the trash.
            Each one after that was a struggle. When I finally got to the last piece of glass, I was in tears. As I picked up the last, and largest piece of glass that was covered completely in blood, I looked down through pain-filled eyes at my Father.
            “I can't do it,” I whispered in agony. “Father, help me.” He stood, and reached up and put His hands around mine. Then, taking my hands, He moved them over the trash and said, “Now you must open your hands.” Tears of bitter anguish rolled down my face, and I finally, slowly opened my fingers and let the glass drop to rest in the pile of glass at the bottom of the trash can. Relief such as I had never before felt swept over my soul and I fell into my Father's arms, thanking Him profusely. He kissed the top of my head and said, “Now, my child, now we must dust the shelf off and clean it up so that you can use it.” I nodded into His shoulder.
            “Look,” He whispered. I lifted my tear-stained face and my gaze was directed to the shelf. I now could see farther into the shelf than I had ever before been able to, and it didn't seem half so dark. In fact, the wood was a lovely color; nothing like what I had originally thought it to be. I smiled at the shelf for the first time.
            In no time at all, my Father and I had cleaned off the shelf: dusted and cleaned and wiped and polished it. It was simply beautiful. “Thank you,” I said. “Thank you!” My Father smiled.
            Soon, I had tested the strength of the shelf to the utmost, and found that it was one of the most capable and wonderful shelves on the left side of the hall that I had ever found. And so life continued on.
            Not a long while later, I decided to place another article on the second shelf; the small, dark colored one I told you about. So I took my object, and went to the shelf and knelt down in front of it. I placed my object on the shelf, and no sooner had I done so than a miscellaneous object came hurtling off the shelf and struck me in the face. I sat there, stunned. My cheek grew red and hurt badly. Tears welled up in my eyes, and I just knelt there before the shelf, weeping. Soon, though, I heard a soft footfall in the hall and looked up. There was my Father. He always seemed to know when something went wrong. He came over to me, knelt down beside me, put His strong arm around me and asked, “My child, what happened?” I told Him all of what happened, and as I did, I saw a tear glisten in His eye and fall to stain his shirt with a little wet spot. He said nothing until I had finished talking.
            “My child,” He finally said, “pick it up, and place it back on the shelf. It was an accident. Forget and forgive. “ I sniffed.
            “I want to,” I said. “But I don't want to be hurt again.” My Father laid His cheek on my hair.
            “Yes, my child, I know. But pain is a part of life. I know that kind of pain, too, you see. This kind of pain burns like fire for a small amount of time, and soon dissipates. But here”-and He lifted the object off the floor-”place it back on the shelf. Your shelf is still your shelf, and it still has many years of good service in it.” I nodded, and though my cheek still burned, I placed the object back on the shelf. As soon as I had done so, the pain in my cheek went away, and I smiled up at my Father. And He smiled back at me.
            Not such a long time after this, I was thinking about my other shelf; the scalloped one. And I decided that I was going to go and reminisce over the things I had placed on it. I set off down the hall towards my shelf. No sooner had I got there, however, than I saw in horror that everything I had so carefully placed and arranged on that shelf had been thrown out and into the hall. Nothing was left on the shelf; not even a piece of string. None of the things were broken, but some were dented and I found myself growing angry. Anger built in me 'til I turned on my heel and left the shelf and the mess in the hall.   
            Soon, though I had returned, but this time I was carrying an axe with me. I was going to destroy the shelf and never think of it again. As I stood before the shelf and looked down on it in fury, I raised the axe high above my head. Just as I was about to bring it down and forever terminate the shelf, I noticed something. At the back of the shelf, in a corner that people seldom saw, the shelf was broken. Simply broken. Then I realized that I had neglected to keep this shelf in repair. The reason it had fallen had been partially my fault. I dropped the axe; it clattered to the floor. I hung my head, buried it in my hands, and began to weep. Remorse now took the place of anger in my heart, and I stood there feeling ashamed of my hasty actions.
            As I stood thus, I felt a hand on my shoulder. Without looking, I knew Who it was. And yet I felt ashamed of myself, so I didn't look up. We stood there thus for a short time, and then...
            “My child.” That was all He said. I instantly felt a wave of sorrow and bitter remorse sweep over me.
            “Why are you standing here?” He asked. I lifted my head and in broken-hearted whispers told Him the entire story. He nodded sympathetically.
            “Why exactly do you stand here and weep so, though, my child?” He further pressed. “It seems to me that you did the right thing in not striking the shelf and destroying it.”
            “Oh, but Father,” I whispered tremblingly, “I am weeping because I nearly destroyed something You made for me; and when I was partly to blame at that!” He smiled now, though it was through tears.
            “You are truly sorry. My child, there is no shortage of forgiveness with Me. True, you did think to demolish the shelf, but you see the wrong in it and now you are forgiven. If you will ask Me, I can help you rebuild that broken corner, and ensure that it will never give way again.” I nodded, and said, “Please, Father, help me fix it.”
            He took me out to His workshop, where He had lovingly handcrafted each shelf and bookcase. He went about the room, picking up tools and materials until He had all that we would need. Taking my hand in His, we returned to the shelf and reinforced it. And true to His word, the shelf was stronger than it had ever been. I placed all my things back on it, smiling the entire time. When I turned to look up at my Father, He had gone. But I whispered in my heart, “Thank you Father. Thank you....”
            It's a long hallway. It stretches back as far as you can see. There are shelves in it that I see each day, and some I never notice. But each one was put there for a purpose; and I know that my Father placed each shelf within each case, and each case within my hallway that I might have life, and have it more abundantly.
            Take a look at your hallway. How far back does it go? How many bookcases are in it? How many shelves? What is on each shelf?
            And, more importantly, Who is your Father?                                                                                  


            The shadows steal up the long hallway, and cast darkness round about the bookcases lining the walls. I’m standing at the head of my long hall, looking down at the shelves I’d loved so well: each one, having endured so much, and borne so much for me. I’d come to a door; I’d moved my fixed bookcase behind it and was ready to close the door forever on that end of the hallway. As my hand tightened on the door handle, the key clasped in my other hand, tears flowed down my face and I couldn’t move; couldn’t bear to close the door on those shelves and all that was on them. I couldn’t do it…
            And then I felt a hand on my shoulder. Looking up through tear blinded eyes, I see the sympathetic smile of my Father once again.
            “Why do you cry, my Child?” He asks, gently placing a hand on my head. I swallow a sob and whisper brokenly, “Father, I can’t close this door; I just can’t.”
            “But you need to,” He reminds me. “Remember all that awaits you on the other side of the door, and close this chapter of your life.” More tears spring to my eyes and course down my cheeks.
            “But I can’t…” I falter. The look in my Father’s eyes, however, tells me I must. “Help me…” I whisper.
            My Father comes to stand beside me and puts His scarred hand over mine on the doorknob, and His other hand over the one clasping the key.
            “I will be the force that guides you, but you must put forth the effort,” He says softly. Sobbing as though my heart would break, I close the door and lock it, my Father’s hands guiding my every move. Once I finish, I collapse in His arms, weeping. He holds me tenderly against His heart and when I’ve cried away all the tears I have inside me, He lifts my face up to His and says softly, “Now, on to the next hallway. It may be frightening, and it may be new… And yes, you have closed that hallway forever. But I have more shelves for you to discover—more lessons for you to learn. Be strong my Child.” I nod, and my Father disappears from sight.
            I turn, the key to the door tightly clenched in my hand, and look at the door behind which now lies locked forever the precious memories I’d treasured. Swallowing determinedly, I step forward and hang the key around the door knob, and then my steps fade into the distance. The key hangs on the door, waiting to be unlocked, but none will ever return there. It is forever lost.
            The shadows lengthen in the long hall, and the darkness swallows the visible shelves, the last ones to disappear from sight being three special shelves, still loaded with precious memories and trusts. And night falls.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

I'm giving for you...

Almost sounds pompous, doesn't it?

I'm giving for you... It could sound stuck up if said in the wrong way. But I doubt if you've really caught on to what I mean.

I'm giving for you. Giving for... Get it yet?

Try rearranging a little------I'm forgiving you.

You probably never saw that before did you? I never had, til one of my friends pointed it out at our youth meeting. It struck me in a way that I have never been struck before: not as relates to forgiveness, anyway.

Forgiveness is something that we all struggle with. Oh, I won't deny that there are a few people who it comes easy to. I don't happen to be one of them; which is something that I've learned the hard way over the last few years.

Forgiving is hard. It really is. When someone has promised to be there, and suddenly are no longer there, it hurts. You don't feel like forgiving them. When someone has wounded you beyond repair...when you've been left alone, abandoned, unloved, unappreciated, taken for granted,  it's hard to want to forgive. When a friend has turned their back on you...when you've been betrayed. Forgiving is hard.

But do we have a right conception of what forgiving really is? What it means, both to you as the forgiver and the one being forgiven? Do we really know?

I know that until the other night, at the youth meeting, I hadn't thought of things in the correct light.

Really, when you forgive someone, what are you doing?

You're releasing them.

Releasing? No way....

Yes. Honest. Think about it.

You're releasing them from the anger and hurt you've experienced. You're releasing them from the responsibility of what they did. Don't take me wrong on that one: alot of the time, they will still have to deal with the results of their actions. But as far as you can and are concerned, the situation never happened. It's forgetting.

But forgiving and forgetting doesn't really work. You can't forgive and forget.

Can you?

In the situations that I have experienced in my life, I have run across one very pointed truth about forgiveness: the only kind of forgiveness worth having remembers without pain. Without anger. Without resentment or a grudge. It can remember---without reliving and re-enflaming the moment. Forgiveness remembers.

But it also forgets.

Forgiveness forgets the pain, forgets the hurt, the anger, the situation. Forgiveness takes all of that onto itself.

But wait, you may be saying. There's no way I could take something that someone else did and put it on myself.

Why not?

That's the only reason that we have even a chance at eternal life, you know. Because the Son of God took the results of what we did and died that we might have life, and that more abundantly. Jesus will forever bear the scars of His ordeal as a testament of His love... For us. And we have been called to be like Jesus....

Can we not do the same?

The most poignant stories of forgiveness and mercy are those that tell of this simple truth. Of taking someone else's terrible results from a wrong decision--especially as it relates to you--and bearing it with and for them.

Imagine with me for a moment. You've hurt a friend terribly, and they're gone. No longer "travelling" with you, as it were. You're with some others, and you're walking through a dark forest. It's kinda scary, but you know you have to walk through. It just must be done. There's no way to avoid it.

As you walk, the darkness falls heavier and heavier until you can barely see a thing. And then, to add to all of that, it begins to rain. You realize you're lost. You have no idea of which way to go. You sit down on a log and let your head fall into your hands--you're alone, with the knowledge of having done something terrible to someone you loved not so long before.

The group you were with melts away--looking for the right trail, huddling together, trying to keep warm. You're left alone on your log, rain soaking into your clothes and mingling with the tears that are by now on your cheeks.

Then you feel a hand on your shoulder and a warm being next to you. Someone sits down beside you on the log and wraps an arm around you and you feel another head touch yours. You're surprised, but you think it to be one of the group who finally felt sorry for you. Thankful for the companionship, you huddle next to them for awhile before looking up to see who it was that finally had compassion on you.

How surprised would you be to see that other friend; the one that you had wounded; sitting beside you? Rain soaking into their clothes as well. They're in the dark just like you, in the same miserable condition as you... But they've suddenly appeared from almost nowhere. They have no reason whatsoever to be here. What would you think? What would you say?

Perhaps you'd burst into tears. Maybe you'd be shocked. "What are you doing here!"

Imagine their response, said with a gentle smile... "I came after you. I forgive you....I'm giving for you..."

What would you do? How would that friendship be after the fact?

Isn't that what Jesus did? He came through our dark forest, even after we had sinned against Him and His law, and not only comforted us in the rain; sat beside us and loved us; He gave Himself for us... He died, that we might have a way to escape the dark forest of sin. He gave it all....

Jesus is our example.

We are called to be like Him.

Have you ever gone after a friend into the forest? Have you ever had a friend come after you?

Are you giving for those around you? ...especially those who have hurt you? Are you searching for opportunities to be all that you can be to those in need?

Are you forgiving? Are you releasing? Forgetting? and remembering? Are you giving for...?

So, my friend... I'm giving for you. Not because I have to, but because I want to. You know who you are.

I'm forgiving you...

Don't give up... by God's grace and direction, I'll find you in this dark forest somehow.