Friday, July 29, 2016

Walking on Water: When We Feel Like We're Up Against Something Impossible

What are you up against right now? Does it seem impossible?

For me, right now, it is fretting about my daughter leaving for college in just a few weeks. I know that she is perfectly capable of college - she is brilliant and funny and friendly and sensible. And I know that saying goodbye on drop-off day will not mean that we will never see one another again. But I also know that we are both stressed out about it.

We did a mall trip - one of our favorite things to do together - and then in the midst of clothes shopping we were sad. Everything we bought reminded us of the upcoming event. Everything. So we ate a jalapeno pretzel with cheese sauce and then got really brutal back massages from the mall kiosk people (remind me not to do that again).

But, for both of us, this whole daunting upcoming thing seems impossible. How will we do it? How will we survive?

So I went for a walk. I do my best thinking while I'm walking on the beach. It was hot out this morning at 7 a.m., but the cool waves were running over my feet, and no matter how stressed or angry or sad I am, the sight and sounds of the ocean make me calm inside.

So I walked, and I muttered. No fancy, articulate prayers here. And I worried out loud about how life was changing with our daughter leaving for college. And, I sighed about politics, and how much I hate those discussions on Facebook, and how my husband is watching way too much political television. And I just let it all out like a trail of worries left in my soggy footsteps.

But in the middle of my prayer-venting, I looked out over the ocean and remembered that time that Jesus asked Peter to walk on water.Well, actually, Peter invited himself. But, Jesus said, "Come along!"

You know, and I know, that walking on water is physically impossible. You might see an illusion like that in Vegas, but not in real life. It's like the time on The Office where Pam decided to walk over coals.

I don't like to attempt the impossible. I like the easy to plan, to schedule, to fulfill. I like my world in order. I like things to be under control. I like to know that I am perfectly capable, and that I will not, can not fail.

But in this story, Peter was being asked to do something impossible. Jesus said, Come to me. Walk on water.

So, Peter did it. He took a step, one big, crazy, impossible step. And, for a moment, it worked.

He was walking . . . on water. He was doing the impossible.

I imagine he kind of freaked out for a moment, and then like a super hero. Wow, am I cool! Look at me - Water Man. I am amazing. I have power over nature. I can do anything!

And then he sank. He walked on water, and then he sank.

If you read the story closely, you'll see that the problem wasn't in Peter's technique. He was walking just fine. It was in his focus.

When he looked at Jesus, when he placed all of his trust in Him, he walked.

But, when he looked at the water, at the high waves, at his feet which were not finned and did not resemble a paddleboard or other flotation device, he immediately began to sink.

It's an easy lesson. I'm sure I don't have to spell it out for you. But, how does that apply to me, to doing things I don't think I can do?

When I was in 7th grade, I was required to walk on a balance beam in gym class. I know. If you know me at all, you are laughing right now. The wooden beam was maybe 2 inches wide . . . maybe. And, it was at least 3 feet in the air. So with fear and trembling, and with a spotter, I walked on it, slowly, my toes curled around it like a terrified reptile.

But then the teacher wanted me to jump . . . jump on the beam . . . like a ballerina. Right!? Are you kidding me? And, it's better, they said, if you don't look at the floor or your feet. Look ahead. Otherwise, you lose your balance.

I never did learn how to walk on the beam, or do that weird backwards somersault thing they made me try. But I did learn a lesson a whole lot like Peter's. You can't do the impossible when you are focused on your limitations. Instead, we need to deliberately place our focus on Jesus, and on what we can do through Him.

If you think that you will fail, you are probably right. You, alone, can't do the impossible. You will sink.

Look to God, and you will walk . . . even on water.

- - -

And, in case you've never read it:  MATTHEW 14:22-33 (TLB)

28 Then Peter called to him: “Sir, if it is really you, tell me to come over to you, walking on the water.”
29 “All right,” the Lord said, “come along!”
So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he looked around at the high waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
31 Instantly Jesus reached out his hand and rescued him. “O man of little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?” 32 And when they had climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped.
33 The others sat there, awestruck. “You really are the Son of God!” they exclaimed.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Old Timey Religion

Nowadays the word "religion" gets a bad rap. 

But add "old-timey" to it, and, well, it just doesn't feel so bad. It's a bit odd that, as a city/suburban girl, I'm often drawn to backwoods expressions of faith.

This morning, I was listening to a rendition of "Build Me a Cabin in Gloryland" by Hank Williams. Its twangy, foot-tapping beat resonate with my soul. I think of the old classics like "I'll Fly Away," "Power in the Blood," and "When the Roll is Called Up Yonder"...

These gospel tunes make me want to attend a little church in the holler where they have wood floors, hard pews, and a preacher that yells a bit too much. I want a choir that is out of tune and a piano player that can hammer on those keys. I want to see the sunlight streaming in a window with just a little bit of dust floating in the air.

I used to watch Little House on the Prairie on television, and I loved when Pa and Ma would load Mary, Laura and little Carrie into the wagon and head to church in Walnut Grove - the church that also served as the schoolhouse. I think one time even grumpy old Mr. Edwards attended.

What is it about those plain, unvarnished days that seems so appealing?

Certainly, the church in those days was filled with characters. Have you seen the movie The Apostle with Robert Duvall? If not, you should. He is rough, messed up, a bit crazy, and totally sold out for God.

He's like a character right out of a Flannery O'Connor's southern short stories. And then, there's the true story a real-life character, Ed Stilley.

Ed lives in Hogscald Hollow, Arkansas (you can't even make a name like that up). He is 90-something years old and has pastored and homesteaded in the hollow all of his life.

But one day, after falling asleep with a gun across his lap, Ed heard the voice of God telling him to make instruments to give to little children. Ed had never made a guitar (pronounced gee-tar) in his life. But he couldn't ignore God, so he went out and cut some lumber and soaked it.

He bent it and began to form crudely shaped guitars. He used whatever he could find - a pork chop bone for a bridge - and carved words of faith on the front. He gave the guitars away for nothing, to children. And they made beautiful music - who says you can't make an instrument from rough wood.

Ed isn't pretty. He isn't polished. His Bible is as ruffled as a wet chicken's feathers after a rain storm. But that's because he's read it . . . a lot.

And maybe that's why Ed represents true religion to me. It is the best kind.

Pure and simple. Listening to God. Doing what He asks (no matter how crazy it may seem). Reading His Word. Being kind and generous . . . even musical.

I think we get it awfully messed up these days. We have made it fancier, more polished and appealing. We've tried hard to be less offensive. But we've also lost the charm and power of the gospel message. So when I hear a story like Ed's, it sticks with me and cuts to my soul.

Take me back to the holler. Give me that old time religion. As the song says, "it's good enough for me."

To read more of Ed's story, go here.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

An Anchor in the Storm

I remember going to the grocery store after my dad died. I was pushing the metal shopping cart from one aisle to the next, but I wasn't really seeing anything. The world was foggy.

As I pushed my cart from aisle 6 to aisle 7 to aisle 8, I eventually ran into someone, rammed my cart smack into their back. The person cried out, and I jumped back, startled. I was so in my own head, in my state of sadness and grief, that the other shopper's reaction came as a surprise.

For a moment, the fog cleared. I looked up and realized where I was. A grocery store. I needed milk, and eggs, and butter. Even when my dad had just died of a massive heart attack.

How do we process grief in the midst of the mundane? How does the shocking exist among the ordinary?

The past three weeks we have been inundated with emotion and horror. Innocent people have been slaughtered. I feel numb, really. I heard the news of 70-something more people killed in Nice, France, and I turned the channel, switching to an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.

I can't bring myself to watch any more. I can't continue to see death. I can't watch news where ambulance lights are flashing and angry politicians are accusing one another, asking, "Who is to blame? What should we do?"

I just can't.

It is so big. It is so stunning. It is so reprehensible. It is so beyond my comprehension, that I find myself shutting down.

How do we comprehend such acts of evil? How do we process this grief?

For tonight, I brushed my teeth. I put on a clean nightgown and sat directly in front of the fan (after all, it is Florida in July). Next, I will go to sleep. And after I sleep, I will get out of bed and drink coffee from my heavy stoneware mug. And I will face another day in this crazy, rampaging world.

One thing I've realized. In the midst of the crazy, we need the ordinary. It anchors us.

I read about a technique for surviving panic attacks. Psychologists call it grounding. When panic sets in, you are supposed to start to name things. First, you name five things you can see. The bedroom lamp. A straw sombrero. My bottle of hairspray. Then, you name five things you can feel. The keys of this laptop. The pillow at my back. You name five things you can smell and hear and so on and so on. With each thing you name, out loud, you force yourself out of your head, out of the madness, and into the present. You anchor yourself in the here and now.

For me, lately, especially the past three weeks, the grounding is in the ordinary acts of life. I don't think we can survive this horrible stuff without them.I baked muffins. I went for a walk. I planted orchid seeds, and tried to remember to water them. I trimmed my dog's unruly fur. I scoured the kitchen counter.

And it helps. It helps to turn off the television. It helps not to overanalyze. For me, it helps to pray, to anchor myself in my faith. I am grounded by reading the words of Scripture and knowing that this seemingly new level of horror is not beyond the scope of God's control.

This grounding is enough for tonight . . . and this anchor will hold tomorrow.

Deep breaths, my friends. Peace to you and yours. May this verse, which I memorized as a little girl, be a comfort to you tonight.

"Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee:
because he trusteth in thee." (Isaiah 26:3)