31 May, 2010

Hemmed In

The first time I took my daughter, Sarah, to camp it was the summer before her third grade year. The weeks leading up to camp were a delight and she was so excited. Camp day came and she wasn’t so excited anymore. After we set up her bunk area it was time for me to leave. As we kissed, hugged and said our goodbye she whispered, “please mama, take me home.” So I lingered at bit longer wanting her to get comfortable. The tears came and the whisper continued, “I want to go home.” I kissed her and reassured her. Her counselor finally came to me and said it was time. One last kiss and I reluctantly walked to my car. Was it easy? No, but I knew my girl was in a good, safe place, being cared for…..I like to think that she was hemmed in.

Do you know this term ? It’s what we are, hemmed in. Psalms 139:5 reads,

Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.

The New American Standard version reads, You have enclosed me behind and before…

How precious is that assurance to each of us? He has gone before us and behind us. It is the Lord who has hemmed us in. He’s has hemmed us in protection, in love, in joy, in pain, in doubt, in fear, in the future, in the past, in today, in tomorrow, in our dreams, in our sorrow, in our disappointment. We are hemmed in…behind and before. I literally think of a hem when I say these words out loud. The hem actually makes a small space, a little tunnel in your pant leg or the hem on your dress. It’s a protected space. I like that thought. I am comforted knowing that God has His protective hem around me.

He hems us in AND we reach out to touch His hem.

And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. Matthew 9:20-22 (King James Version)

This woman KNEW that she just needed to touch the hem of His garment to be made whole.

Last week, as I entered the hospital I remembered other times I had been here seeing my daddy and my mama. It seems like this hospital is a part of my very being, so very familiar to me, so very present in my memories over the last 25 years. But today, while my daddy has gone ahead into Glory, my mama struggles here. It was a freak car accident that landed her in this place we know as ICU. She’s 86 and the strongest woman I know. For over 20 years, my mama has suffered with pain. Pain that has been relentless at times. Pain that few of us know. Yet here she lies in ICU asking me how my family is getting along…asking my niece if her new job came through, telling us to go home and get rest. Mama has always focused more on others than herself. She has hemmed us in with her love and care.

Then a few minutes later something changes in her countenance and she begins to whisper, “I want to go home”, “I want to go home”, “I want to go home”. Standing there, I just knew she wasn’t talking about a physical address.

Just like my daughter, Sarah, just like me and you, my mama is hemmed in. God has gone before her and is going after her. She’s reaching for the hem of His garment. She WILL be made whole. He has hemmed her in.

24 May, 2010

A Treasured Life

Recently I was in Memphis, Tennessee with a small group and we decided to visit the home of Elvis Presley, Graceland Mansion. As we pulled up to park, the parking security guard asked me for the password. He had a certain twinkle in his eye so being a good Tuscaloosa girl, I replied, “Roll Tide”! “That’s the word”, he exclaimed, “I’m a University of Alabama fan. Welcome to Graceland”!

Wow, even Elvis loves the Crimson Tide!

As we entered the ticketing area, I suddenly realized that this tour idea might not have been too keen. There were lines of people waiting for tickets, taking photos, buying souvenirs and waiting to tour. We had to decide between the Graceland Mansion Tour, the Graceland Platinum Tour, or the Graceland Elvis Entourage VIP Tour. I suddenly understood that Elvis is the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll”!

We got to the Mansion and began the tour. It was an interesting and fun experience. We saw custom room designs, custom-made clothing, and vintage pieces from Elvis’ life. We saw photos of him as a child, a young man, in his first movie, with his parents, on his wedding day, with his daughter, on stage. There was tons of amazing memorabilia of the life of Elvis Presley. There is an entire section of the tour dedicated exclusively to display his awards: Gold records, Platinum records, Grammy Awards, and on and on. What a gift this man was given in his music. I wish my words could express how overwhelming his career achievements felt to me that day.

Near the end of two hours, we had come to the end of the tour but were now going to see the racquetball court on the property. I walked into that room and literally my mouth dropped open. Here in this space, were more and more and more and more awards. I thought we had just seen every award possible in the main house but yet here were thousands more….the scene was just startling to me. Amazing, Elvis Presley.

That night in my bed, my head began to hear a whisper, “what is your treasure? What are your trophies? What plaques hang on the walls of your soul?”

But, I love you Lord, I thought.

“What treasures, Kat?”

I don’t have treasures Lord.

“What treasures, daughter?”

My Ray, I treasure. My Nick and my Sarah, I treasure. My protected middle-class life, I treasure. The comfort of my friends and my church, I treasure. My lifestyle, I treasure. The ability to do and go, I treasure. The independence of my choices, I treasure. My living a christian life, I treasure.

Do you notice: my, my, my? Certainly, all of these are blessings from the Lord. They each are gifts and given to me in love. But I realized that day that I hang these treasures on the walls of my heart. My eyes see them everyday and suddenly I can see nothing else. The treasures get dusty and begin to show their wear. The room they hang in becomes my entire world. The room becomes my entire focus. There are other rooms that beg for attention. Does one live in only one room?

I felt Him look at me and love me and whisper, “do you love me”, “sell it all for me and come follow me.”

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"

…. You know the commandments: 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.' "

"Teacher," he declared, "all these I have kept since I was a boy."

Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." Mark 10: 17-21

17 May, 2010

Po' Boys

I had lunch with a friend today. He’s a 29-year-old Biostatistics student working toward a PhD degree. He is brilliant and far above my intellectual ability. He’s also young but not quite young enough to be my son. Yet when he told me of his news of marriage I found myself overwhelmed and in tears of joy. For this young man has become like a son to me.

I met him two years ago in a coffee shop on the University of Alabama campus. We met through a mutual friend. Since that time I have seen him periodically and in the last year we’ve met on a weekly basis in an English class. But today our visit was about him and his future.

We grabbed lunch at an outdoor café. Poboys and Cokes, the perfect outdoor meal. As we ate, he shared the story of his engagement, the wedding plans, and his hopes for the future. He talked about his bride and her personality and their road to engagement. Sometime during this hour together I noticed my friend was not eating. He had so much to share.

When the hour passed and we were leaving my PoBoy was half eaten and his had not been touched. We bundled them up to take with us. As we drove off, my friend said, “Will you eat these later or will they spoil? I don’t want to offend you but I want to say something”. Uh, oh I thought. But said, “Of course, go ahead”.

While living here I’ve noticed that Americans waste a lot of food. (Did I mention that my friend is from a small village in China?) I immediately agreed with him wholeheartedly. We certainly do waste a lot of food, I said. Proud to be forward thinking in my concern for world hunger! I was in my American bubble of safety, house beautiful, food-filled, anything-I-want world of thinking.

My friend continued, “When I was growing up we ate mostly corn. We only had meat about once a week. In fact, that’s still the way life is in my village. It’s a very small place, only about 20 to 30 thousand people. Meat is unavailable to most people because it is very expensive. Actually, my father makes the equivalent of about $1 a day and some days less. But my mom works too so they have enough. They are very proud of me being in school in the US. Neither of them ever completed elementary school. But I am encouraged; my mom is now a Believer. I hope one day, my father will trust in Jesus too. But it has been a good year for them.”

This highly educated, brilliant mathematician, this adopted son of mine from China was God’s voice to me today. I felt God saying, "People are hurting; the world is hungry both physically and spiritually. You, my precious daughter, you have been so very blessed to have been born and raised in the United States. You have been so blessed to always have a full stomach, a full experience in a Christian environment. This is My gift to you. I love you.

I ask you now, Will you follow Me into the world? The harvest is ripe and the workers are few."

10 May, 2010

Graduation

Graduation. Commencement ceremonies. I’ve attended a lot of these in my lifetime but there are several I'd like to mention.

Once I attended a kindergarten graduation. It was precious. All the little graduates in their white robes, grinning from ear to ear, and looking for mama and daddy. Then, seeing the parents look at their child with such hope for their futures.

Another memory I have was the day my nephew graduated from college. His heart of love is what makes him special. He is the giver of great hugs! However, this young man struggled with school. The years of ups and downs seemed endless. His preferred major was one of the most difficult – he struggled more. He persevered. The day he walked across the stage at graduation we all cried. This precious man had achieved his goal.

When we lived in Texas, the graduation ceremonies were fantastic. There was loud cheering from the audience! It was like an athletic event in some ways. The joy was palpable. The celebrations were extravagant. For you see, many of the students who graduated were the very first college graduates in their family.

Last year, I attended a graduation that I’ll never forget. A friend of mine was graduating from a master’s program at the University of Alabama. Her family could not attend so I was her mom that day. It seemed she beamed from the moment she entered the coliseum. I was sure that everyone noticed her amongst the thousands gathered. How could you not? She was beaming with joy and pride. She finally walked across the stage, was handed her diploma, shook hands with the Dean and the President, and then received an unexpected hug from Ray as he was seated on the podium with the university officials.

Afterwards, this reserved woman was crying in joy. Crying tears that her goal had been achieved. Can you imagine moving to a new country, learning the language, applying to a university, being accepted and finally receiving your degree? What a journey this Asian woman had endured.

I imagine the great cloud of witnesses written about in Hebrews.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Hebrews 12: 1

Let’s run the race. Not the race for human achievement but the race He has marked out for us. There is glorious freedom in those words for me. I am not responsible for mapping out my own path; I am responsible for running the race that has been marked out for me. I don’t see in those words where the race will be easy or always fun. But I do see that He has marked my path. Whether I’m graduating from kindergarten, whether I’m a young man just starting my career, whether I’m from China and just hearing the name Jesus for the first time….He has marked my path and urges me to run towards Him.

03 May, 2010

Laryngitis?

Have you ever experienced Laryngitis? That’s right, the illness that affects your vocal cords and you lose your voice. A few years ago, I had just returned from a mission trip to China and developed a severe case of laryngitis. I had a house full of company, people I dearly loved and hadn’t seen in months yet I could hardly communicate with them. I had words I wanted to express but no voice box with which to speak. Thoughts, joys, hard aches trapped inside me. Strangely enough, I find myself with spiritual laryngitis today, feelings, words, emotions, and thoughts trapped inside me and looking for a way out. I know Jesus is King, I know He is alive, I know He walks before us, and He hems us in. I believe. But yet…

When the believers were gathered in the upper room after Jesus’ death and after the women discovered that He had risen, they too may have developed a type of laryngitis. Perhaps it was some type of frozen state where their minds and words just shut down but then something happened, Jesus appeared to them. He reassured them, “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things”. Luke 24:45-48.

My spiritual laryngitis hurts the world I live in. When I “lose my voice” the world is deprived of His victory. The good news of Jesus has been delivered to the front door of my life since I was a little girl; therefore, for 50 odd years I’ve heard the message of salvation. This news of a living Christ who redeems the world is still true, isn’t it? The late, Mike Yaconelli once wrote that for many Christians, ‘the GOOD NEWS has just become OK News’. We’re not excited; our hearts are not burning within us, racing from the tomb to tell the news.

Do you know that there are people in my sphere of influence who are living life without knowledge of a personal Saviour? The Good news has not been delivered to their front door. They do not know this name, Jesus. They live with spiritual laryngitis and believe there is no cure other than themselves, their achievements, their family, and their next job? Shouldn’t I tell them the News?

What do I do with the command, “You are witnesses of these things”