Saturday, February 9, 2008

An Unexpected Valentine Gift

I just received in the mail an unexpected Valentine from my mom. The instruction on her card reads, "To put toward your car repair." While the gift shuffles like paper and promises to pay out cash, something greater lies beyond the evident. In the corner of that promissory note, Mom had written: ImageBearer Mission. 

Those words summoned my tender heart. Yes, I'm called to be the face (and hands, and feet) of God. To reflect toward others his heart for them. Called. It's my mission, my name, my identity. 

While Mom may not always "get" the choices I've made in the past several months to sell my stuff (after selling my house a couple of years ago), leave my decent and steady income, insurance, family, friends, nephew, a name attached to a position to move to a land faraway (Ohio to Florida!) — she sees that I'm called. And in the calling, God has given me a new name. Somehow, some way, she sees. 

In her uncertain, but loving way, Mom sees me a little more today for who I am. . . . and she wanted me to know. I love her for that. Receiving such an acknowledgement, especially from Mom, makes this calling, this name, this identity for me more real. It validates. It embraces. 

It's like hearing a friend call you by name in the middle of a crowded airport after you've just landed from a very long trip — someone you haven't seen in a long time. Yet she still recognizes you. No, she knows you. And she states that she knows you in the very way she says your name. You hear her voice amidst the chaos. It reminds you that you're known — and loved — and everything's going to be all right.

Now THAT Valentine gift won't just sit somewhere on a shelf or simply pay for a shiny new crankshaft pulley.

Thank you, Mom, for loving me enough to share your resources and your heart. Happy Valentine's Day.

But now, this is what the LORD says—he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: "Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine." Isaiah 43:1 NIV

My Protector - He's at it again!

The pesky noises plaguing my car for the past several months finally culminated in a grind-grind-clunk double-twist combo last weekend. The effect, as I flipped the first U-ie to park in front of the house, sent percussive breaths shooting from my lungs. A second U-ie confirmed the clunk and drained every bit of confidence I had taken away after the previous week's oil change. "There's nothing to worry about," the garage manager assured me. "We heard nothing out of place."

But there I was — out of place and out of sorts. 

So I pulled up to the curb, cranked back the brake, and sat. The opposing silence created plenty of space for me to consider an appropriate response. I considered some more — and, yes, cried just a little — before emerging to inspect the street for any clunky, fallen engine parts. When I found nothing, I simply walked into the house, put away my groceries, and went on with my much-anticipated, quiet evening. What else could I do on a Saturday night? 

Funny, isn't it, how ignoring a half ton, broken down vehicle can make it disappear — or at least sit, undistinguished, in the background. 

After more than two days of denial passed, I finally braved the drive back to the garage. A quick turn of the ignition sobered the manager's otherwise cheery outlook. "This isn't good," he uttered, his head turning my direction from under the hood. Hmmm . . . not a pleasant way to begin a conversation. It turns out that a pulley broke clean off from the crank shaft, leaving the belt to waggle and the gadgets to sputter! 

I sputtered too. My bank account cannot afford such nonsense! The manager, seeing and feeling my pain, began to call associates to track down parts, ahead of giving me a preliminary estimate. The result? Around $340. With screaming out of the question, I went about the business of fussing, trying desperately to anticipate whether I should take the car home, borrow a friend's car, and leave the cash in my account for "such time as it would be needed for something more important." In my old manner, I wanted to see what only God can see: the future!

A couple of phone calls later, and a reminder from the manager that my car wasn't driveable, I indicated the go-ahead with a less than enthusiastic thumbs up. "Take care of what's in front of you," I kept telling myself. "Worry about what's to come when it comes." Easy to say, but walking the way seemed beyond my ability. . . . 

And, that's when I began to recognize the long armed anticipation of the One who promises to Protect. It hit me smack dab in the middle of my mess. In a few weeks, I'll be driving across the state to teach at the Florida Christian Writer's Conference. Not a terribly long drive, but what if that pulley had held on, lulling me into a false sense of security until — BAM! It snapped somewhere along I-4, sending me to a spinning, grinding halt with no immediate resources, suspended between Florida coasts?

What if . . . 

Those words haunt me at times, do they you? They leave me suspended — not between Florida coasts, but between heaven and earth. Between lies and Truth. The lie? I'm responsible to provide for every aspect of my life on earth.  And money's often the root of my fear for provision. In my singleness, I've tended toward self-sufficiency. Not asking for help — at times not even knowing I have need, and certainly not being able to name the need so that I know what to ask for (hint: that's called denial, ya know!).

So, yay for me that I called my friend's husband to talk over my dilemma with a fellow talker — because I know I will drive myself crazy trying to internalize an answer. And then — I let him come and pick me up! I knew that something in me had shifted when I responded to a "how ARE you?" question with "God protected me today. That pulley could have broken off any time, anywhere, and left me stranded." But I have a Protector whose unfailing love I can trust — and His timing is perfect. And since, out of that perfect love, He provides for my needs today, I can trust Him to provide for the needs that arise tomorrow — when tomorrow comes.

In your strength I can crush an army; with my God I can scale any wall. God’s way is perfect. All the Lord’s promises prove true. He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. For who is God except the Lord?
Who but our God is a solid rock?
  Psalm 18:29-31 NLT

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Compassion without limits

Wow, what a day. Every part rich with take away! 

A sermon about God being my breath, a tea party presented with poise and flair by Jennie's 11-year old daughter who wanted family time (complete with chapter books to read aloud!), the film August Rush (which left me undone for several reasons), and then reading a few blogs before bed. Aaron Chambers' warning against apathy ( brought together some of the day's loosely strewn threads. Do I carry compassion for people in need (or who aren't like me), or am I too often content to turn my head with an apathetic sigh? 

While I recognize my compassion toward many in varying circumstances, it sometimes falls short. I see that when I'm uncertain I can contain the depth of ache that fills me, I turn my head. I put my arm out as a stop stick when approached by someone who wants something from me I'm not willing to give. They invade my space. Or I'm afraid that if I give a little, more will be required. Then what? What if I don't have anything else to give? Or I can't figure out what's needed. . . . Or I'm so desperate to help, I feel helpless in my smallness — and I do nothing.

It's as if I stand in to protect myself when God clearly names his Son my guardian. Crazy as it sounds, when I let him, Christ's guardianship supplies all the security I need to open my heart toward fallen humanity — and I have more than enough to give.  

So, with Christ as my Protector, God as my breath, and with friends to walk beside me, I can risk laying bare my heart, giving from the Spirit within me. And maybe, just maybe, when I turn myself outward and away from my own desires or insecurities, I'll be open to the same compassion Jesus showed — without limits.