Thursday, December 15, 2011

New Old Story

I grew up in the church – literally, we were there almost every time the doors were open when I was a kid.  There are pictures of me from my very youngest years on up as part of Christmas programs, or dragging my friends to vacation Bible school, or just random Sunday School and Awana photos.  To me, Bible stories have always been part of the regular list of books and bedtime stories that I could recite at any given time.  It’s one of the ways I help my own kiddos get to sleep at night.  

I mean, doesn’t everyone know at least some rendition of Jonah or Moses or Joseph – or Jesus for that matter?  They’ve made movies about them, after all.  Now, sure, we don’t always get all the details right, but for some reason in my head, I thought everyone knew Bible stories.

Then I saw the blank look on the face of one of my friends the other night as we were talking about Passover, in reference to the Israelites and how it began, and the connection to Esther in its timing, etc.  And my friend didn’t know what Passover was, or why it was important.  I tried, rather unsuccessfully, to explain in a shortened version what happened and why (thankfully, one of the other gals there told her the full story, “reads-like-a-novel” version was in Exodus).  She was fascinated, and in the course of the evening admitted that several of the stories – ones that I take for granted – she just didn’t know them.  She is a new follower of Christ, and hasn't had the extreme exposure to all things "Christian" throughout her life.

Now, at first, I just felt like a heel for making assumptions.  Then later, as I thought about it some more, I was entranced.  How marvelous it would be to be able to look at the Bible stories that are so “commonplace” for me as if I’d never seen them before!  To be able to discover the wondrous ways that God connects all the stories in His love letter to us.

I’m sure that once upon a time I had that kind of joy and wonder when I learned all the stories.  And I find myself praying for the return of that, to be able to enjoy the stories again anew and see the wonder in them as I did the first time.  To hear God’s voice clearly in the telling, and know that the grand Story that He began thousands of years ago is just as important to – and for – me today.

I dare you to try it – really read, really pay attention to the age-old stories that you already know.  And see just what God is telling you.  And be fascinated by it!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Masterpieces Under Cover

You know, I work with teenagers.  Don’t have any of my own yet (though the day is fast approaching and it scares me a lot!), but I like to think that I know how to talk to them at least a little bit.  Which is why it’s funny to me to think how shaky I can get talking to ones I don’t know – especially when I’m having to get after them.  

Case in point this afternoon – there is a group of 4 guys on the edge my work property right now, who actually look like pretty accomplished skateboarders.  However, 15 minutes ago they chose to collapse one of our picnic tables and set it up as a ramp.  That irked me just a bit.  Thankfully I had a long walk from my office to where they were to figure out what I was going to say.

I decided to go the calm route.  More flies with honey, right?  I told these guys (well, the 3 that were left after one took off seeing me coming) that I didn’t mind if they hung out, but using the tables the way they were wasn’t cool, and while I figure they’re good at what they do, I didn’t want them hurt.  And then I held my breath for a second. 

I mean, I don’t know these kids from Adam.  And while the teens I work with are a great bunch of kids, I know that not all teenagers are.  Would they cuss me out?  Ignore me?  Threaten? 

What I got was a clear look right into my eyes, and then a “yeah, hey, that’s respectable” – and then they put it all back.  Without my asking, they voluntarily put the table not only back the way it was, but back where it belonged, too.  

I realized that often when we treat people like the human beings and created masterpieces that God made them to be, we discover they are, in fact, precisely that.  Because I was respectful to them, not demanding or scared or angry, they were respectful back.  Because I could see in them the person that God sees – at least a little glimpse – I could treat them the way He does.  They may hide that canvas under tattoos and strategically torn jeans and a don’t-care attitude – but I think I got a little peek at the masterpiece underneath.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This Morning's Coffee

I have a favorite travel coffee cup.  One of my best friends gave it to me for my birthday, and it has one of my favorite verses on it (Proverbs 3:5-6).  And I am one of those people who gets sentimentally attached to things like that.

This morning, I gave it away.

When I pulled into the parking lot at work this morning, I wasn’t thinking about the man I had just let finish crossing the street before turning the corner.  Then I heard him call to me, “Do you have any food for a homeless man?”

Now, most of the time I just refer them to the local office or give them the gift certificates that I keep at my office for just such a time.  But this time, after asking him to wait a few minutes, I grabbed the certificates, and then ransacked my own lunch for the fruit, pizza and cookie that I had packed.  Then I grabbed the coffee cup, which had a yummy pumpkin spice blend in it today, and would have been the precise temperature to be able to drink comfortably.  I’ll admit, I hesitated for a moment.  After all, it was in my favorite cup.

But thankfully, it was only a moment.  Because I quickly remembered that I could get more coffee, and another cup, without too much trouble.  And I just spent a week in a country where I am rich by comparison to their everyday lives, reminding me of others' needs a little more clearly.  And God told me to – enough said.

As I passed over the bag of food and my coffee, he expressed his thanks with bright eyes and a small smile.  I asked his name.

“Emmanuel,” he replied.

Emmanuel.  “God with us.”  How appropriate.    

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

In a Dry and Weary Land...

I live in the desert.  Not the sand-as-far-as-the-eye-can-see kind of desert, but dry, and surprisingly green.  We joke that everything in it either bites you or burns you (hey, have you seen the list of venomous creatures here?).  We also get very little rain.  Sounds like a “duh” concept, but a lot of people don’t realize that when we say it doesn’t rain, we mean we can count on fingers and toes how many days of the year it rains.  No joke.
So for those of you who live in places where rains threatens constantly, it may strike you as a little odd that pretty much no matter the time of day or night, if it rains, we’ll go out and play in it.  Yeah, I know.  When I first moved here, I thought it was weird, too.  Even adults that are too “mature” to play will still nonchalantly make their way outside and enjoy it.  Want to see pure joy?  Check this out:

That’s Joe, running and leaping for all he’s worth in the sunny rain-shower we had a few days ago.  It lasted all of 4.2 minutes, tops.  Last night was better, it sprinkled off and on all night.  But we went out into the dark to play in it for a few minutes before bed.  And it brought on not only a splendid coolness that we’ve all been waiting rather impatiently for, but also the glorious smell of a rain-splashed desert. 
If you’ve never smelled it, you have no idea what I’m talking about.   But we can smell the water in the air miles away, and watch storms build around the mountains with breathless anticipation.  We are happy to call a game or practice for even the possibility of rain, and revel in the instant sheen of green over everything after the slightest moisture.
It’s been reminding me this week of a short story that I read, oh, probably in high school.  It’s called “All Summer in a Day” and is written by Ray Bradbury.  The short synopsis is that it takes place on Venus, where it rains all the time.  One little girl, who has moved there from Earth, remembers the sun – but no one else believes her.  When the one hour out of many years comes that the sun comes out, she has been locked in a closet by her classmates as a nasty prank, and so misses the precious time in the sun.
Now, that story is the opposite of how things are here, and obviously, we don’t literally go for years without rain (though it certainly seems like it sometimes).  But the delight in seeing something that is mighty rare out here is just as real.
I’m going to the obvious connection here – our lives get just as dry and dusty as the desert sometimes.  On the flip side, sometimes they are so saturated with stuff that it’s like the fictional Venus portrayed in the movie.  I’ve had one of those weeks this week that seems very blurred together – and a little over-saturated with lots of stuff to do.  I think our lives end up that way a lot, and I can always here that little voice (um, that would be the Holy Spirit, yup), telling me to slow down, to balance.  God doesn’t want us dry and dusty – He wants to fill us up to overflowing.  But I think He also doesn’t want us so overstuffed with, well, stuff, that we have no room for Him either. 
It’s a hard balance – one that really can only be achieved through His power and grace.  I have to continually ask for help with that, as all my friends know.  Yup, this collected exterior is a nice front, but not always the truth.  I pray that I will not only be filled up with His Spirit, but to find the simple joy in it that I see in my children (okay, and myself) when it rains in a dry land.  How about you?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Little Boy's Heroes

I realize that the last couple of posts were a little bit of a downer – I think sometimes it’s easier to write when you’re down, so I’m making a point this time to write something good.  And today was very good.

Actually, today kind of restored my faith in my fellow man.  Sound silly or overstated?  Well, perhaps.  But it did at least show me the kindness of men who by the world’s standard have every right to ignore a 6-year-old boy – but didn’t.

One of my favorite teams is the Phoenix Coyotes.  They are part of the NHL (that’s hockey) – which a lot of people find ironic, ice hockey in the desert.  For the record, it’s a great way to beat the heat.  But because of my Maine roots, hockey is part of a lot of good memories from the distant and not-so-distant past.  So imagine my delight when a few of my good friends here enjoy hockey as much as I do.  Imagine my greater delight when my husband and boys have discovered how much they like it too!

In fact, I’ve grown to love hockey enough that I let myself be talked into (okay, fine, it might have been my idea) going to “unofficial” practices.  Mostly because I’m a hockey nut and after a long, hot summer, I want my fix.  But a lot because it’s fun and a cool experience to see these nationally-known guys play – and play around – on a smaller rink at a local place with not too many people there watching.

Today we went to a practice - myself, 2 of my friends and one of my children (the other one opted for dove hunting with daddy).  While we were wandering around waiting for practice to start, the captain (!) came walking through, and stopped to talk to us.  He introduced himself (even though we obviously knew who he was), shook our hands, tried to get my little guy to talk, and was generally as nice as could be to a few rather silly-acting women who were a little star-struck.

That would have been enough – after all, he is one of my favorite players on the team, as well as the captain and known as a great guy.  We were all a little giddy, in spite of my husband’s text that he’s “just a man.”  We spent the next hour and half watching some very talented players work together and practice their skills and footwork.  It was a lot of fun, and while my youngest was a little squirrely, he thought it was terribly cool that he could be right up against the glass right next to where the players were.

When practice was done, the players began to filter out – and my son hung right by the railing where they exited the ice.  Honestly, he was just excited that they were going out right next to him (and I thought it was funny when he spooked the goalie going in – made the poor guy jump when he was exclaiming over them passing him).  Then one of the guys stopped, bumped knuckles with him through the wires, and then passed a puck to him.  You would have thought it was made of gold!  My little man played with it and carried it around for the next little while, totally happy with his souvenir.

Then, when nearly everyone was gone, one of the coaches – who was on the opposite side of the ice – waved us back over to the same exit that they had passed the puck through.  Coach had one of the players bring over a stick, an honest-to-goodness Bauer hockey stick that was taped and still wet and cold from being used in practice, and handed it up over the rail to give to Joe.  We were all in shock, and thanked the players and the coach over and over.  And my guy could barely stop jumping up and down, he was so excited!

It’s funny, he wanted immediately to try to play with it.  I have to add a picture of him, so you can see just how much bigger than him the stick is; impossible to play with, at least right now.  But he is so proud of it, I can’t even describe it properly.
Hard to tell, but the puck is in his right hand, and the stick stands at least foot taller than him in his left.  Future enforcer, that one is!

Sorry, letting my mommy pride get in the way.  Point in all this being, that these men, who by all rights didn’t need to pay special attention to us, went out of their way to be kind to a little boy who loves to watch hockey.  And doesn’t mind being dragged to the other end of the valley to watch them play.  But I am glad to know that there are noble-minded men out there that care about the kids that idolize them, and want to do a little something extra for a little boy who wants to be out there doing what they do.

Many thanks to the Coyotes, their captain Shane Doan, the coach whose name I don’t know, and the other players I did not recognize who helped make a little boy’s day – and his mom's, too.