Saturday, November 15, 2008

The Guide

Ron and I had the marvelous privilege of chaperoning 200 high school band/choir students to New York City last April. Our five coach buses emerged from the Lincoln Tunnel filled with wide-eyed tourists ready to see the sights and procure vast amounts of street-vended merchandise. Our seasoned guide permitted us as much liberty to explore Manhattan in small groups as he deemed safe but, the balance of the time, we moved from place to place in a solid block of humanity six deep and spanning an entire city block easily identifiable as out-of-towners by our lavish “I <3 NY” attire. At those times, our only goal was to keep our eye on the guide’s umbrella waving overhead through the sea of people and stay with our group.

On Day 3, we trooped across Brooklyn Bridge en masse and headed for the 911 memorial at Ground Zero. The mood was both somber and eager as we anticipated visiting such a meaningful place. With admonitions of proper protocol ringing in our ears, we trooped behind the bobbing umbrella. A few blocks from our destination, our guiding icon did a strange thing. It weaved across a street, with our large entourage stopping traffic in both directions, then re-crossed the same street half a block later. Then the umbrella stopped. We couldn’t see the guide under the umbrella and, at times, we couldn’t see even his umbrella. People began to complain, sitting on curbs and leaning against buildings to wait. Some were hot. Some had blisters on their feet. Some were hungry. Some worried we wouldn’t make the next engagement on our agenda in time. When we resumed walking, we crossed the same street for the third time, turned around, and went back the way we’d come. Even the highest of spirits had crumbled by now and sincere grumbling broke out in the ranks. What are we doing? Is he crazy? Why are we going back and forth across this same stupid street? You can imagine.

As it turns out, our guide knew stuff we didn’t. Leading our entourage, he came to a road that was blocked by police security and had to make a sudden change of plans. He couldn’t stop and explain his actions to our satisfaction until later. He wasn’t able to take a poll to see how we all felt about the situation or have us vote on what we thought was the best course of action. He just had to act. And those of us in the back who couldn’t see what was going on quickly became frustrated. We doubted the guide’s intelligence, his kindness, his sanity.

As I recall that experience with the NYC tour guide, I realize that I often respond like that to God’s guidance. He sees the whole picture that is my life from beginning to end—and not just my own personal life but with intricate wisdom understands how my brief existence interconnects with other people both dead and living and yet to live—in one seamless continuum. Many times it seems God is taking me on senseless detours and I rant: Why are we turning around? Why can’t I go there? We aren’t supposed to end up here, it’s not on my itinerary! This doesn’t make any sense! I grit my teeth, seething and incensed, though I am unable to see above my own head or the crowd pressing around me. Somehow, I feel I am in a position to judge Him who sees and knows all, to counsel the loving Father who is responsible and trustworthy from generation to generation. Humbly, I am reminded of the Proverb, “Trust the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” Do I, with my limited knowledge, foresight, and vision really want to chart my own path? I think not.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pennies on a Rug; Reflections on Living and Dying

I've given considerable thought about dying in recent months as I pray for a friend who is terminally ill. This past summer, my daughter Amy lost a young friend in a hiking accident that left us all stunned and bewildered. And though I realize it is hard to die, it is also really hard to LIVE in light of the inevitable end of life as we know it. And I’m painfully aware of the fact that how we die is often a reflection of the life we have lived.

I often find it hard to focus on the life to come. Amy and I were recently contemplating the brevity of this life and I told her, "We don't really live like we believe in heaven. We're like a child sitting on a rug playing with our piggy bank and our few grimy pennies. What difference does it make if we have 9 pennies or 29 or 79? It is a pittance. Our heavenly Father stands holding out handfuls of precious jewels and pure gold--eternal riches--yet we obsess over the sticky pennies in our hands because it's all we know. To lose those pennies is an unthinkable tragedy to us because we don't really believe that there is so much more.”

My pennies might look a little different than yours. I believe that each of us has a Theme Trial in life. For some, it is finances—real pennies on a larger scale. For others, it might be health or broken relationships. Yet the common denominator is every one of these things is temporal. Because anything that we can lose--a business, our health, the life of a loved one--is an insecure anchor, pennies on a rug. We need to learn to set our eyes on the riches that await us in order to have any purpose or joy in this present life.

Every day I struggle with what I have lost of my vision--choosing to ignore what is literally in front of me 24/7. Every day I am tempted to worry about losing more. Nerve damage has occurred in my retinas that will not be restored in this lifetime and I mourn what is lost. This is as good as it gets for me, visually, this side of heaven. The realization of this fact is a continual mental battle. If I don't remind myself that something better is ahead, it makes successful living today impossible.

One day, I was sitting in [yet another] surgeon's exam room having just shown her pictures of our new grandson. She said, "You have a beautiful family." And I replied, "I am very blessed. This stuff with my eyes is just sand in my shoes in comparison." This woman knows that I have been through. She has performed two of my last five eye surgeries and is well aware of my uncertain prognosis. But what I am trying to relay to her, and more to myself, is the importance of Perspective: I have been blessed beyond anything I deserve just in this life. How much more does God have waiting for me? More than I can dream. So every day, I do what I can do, then rest. I know that God cares more about me than I can possibly know. The protector of my life is never tired and never sleeps. He is paying attention to every detail that concerns me and nothing can touch me outside of His control. He continues to hold me in His hand and has me exactly where He wants me--having to depend on Him. It is a good place to be; living this life in abundance and looking forward to the day where every tear will be wiped from my eyes, I will see His face clearly, and know Him as He already knows me. Now that is good news!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Elegant Dinner In

Ron and I were treated to an elegant dinner IN tonight. Our 11 year old and her friend, Annie, escorted us from our living room to the dining room where they had taped one of the lace dining room sheers to obscure our view of the kitchen. We were handed menus handwritten in crayon from a music stand/hostess station. I started with the Iceberg Lettuce &[unpeeled] Chopped Carrot Salad. Ron had the Nacho Platter (chips with leftover beans I had meant to throw out earlier this week, and melted cheese.) The main entree was Tuna Helper, which was only a little gritty because the chefs forgot to add the seasoning packet until after the pasta was cooked. The vegetable du jour was corn--boiled over and burned onto the ceramic stovetop. Dessert was chocolate pudding served in our fancy dessert dishes and we ate it with rubber covered baby spoons for a very special effect. There were only a few powdery lumps in the pudding. Only one dish got broken. The waitresses/chefs seemed happy with the dollar tip we left each of them.