Wednesday, August 3, 2011

But A Vapor

In January of 2008 I dreamt of death--my own. What a rumbling within my heart ensued in the days after that night! To stare into the reality that our days are not without end is unnerving, shocking even. I think of the movie "Bucket List" and songs with lyrics like, "live like you were dying." Their message like strokes of bold red on a white wall scream out the truth of our mortality. Yesterday I had my annual physical. The cholesterol came back good, the blood counts were fine, my foot still involuntarily jolts when my knee is tapped by the rubber mallet thingymajig. My sugar was a touch high, but when the lady asked me if I had a healthy diet, I failed to mention the Chic-Fil-A vanilla milkshake that served as my lunch on the way down. Instead I mentioned my organic garden; she seemed happy. Those organic carrots really raise blood sugar levels, I hear! I walked out of the Dr.'s with an A+ for health and the promise of many more good reports. But what if it had been different? What if, when she listened to my heart she heard a flutter or pause that shouldn't have been? What if when she checked for lumps she had come across one so stationary that she knew it could mean only one thing? What if she looked me square in the eyes and said in a gentle tone, "It isn't good, Sarah." What then? Would anything change? Tomorrow, I will spend time with someone who is in fact dying--shedding that mortal shell that carries our soul for a parenthesis on earth amidst eternity's ceaseless timeline. And I wonder, when she got the news, did anything change? I keep thinking of this lady's life over the years. I remember her since I was about 12. Just shy of 25 years I've watched her be the same--watched her love, watched her pray, watched her encourage, watched her stand beside her husband, watched her touch the lives of those around her, watched her perpetually worship. I'll most remember her as a lady among ladies, and one who loved her God. How would I be remembered? Really? Part of me wants to say, "Wait, I'm still working on that. Don't remember me yet. I need to tweak a few things first." My boys are young, my bill of health is good, my days are filled with schooling, gardening, cooking, neighboring, friending, daughtering, sistering, organizing, planning, laundry ( I should list that twice) dog training, bill paying. Filled. I feel, most of the time, like the carry-on I packed for a trip to Maine a couple years ago that was supposed to hold everything I needed for an entire long weekend. Or like a laundry basket that's been filled with water--it leaks everywhere. There's so much in my little sliver of life that I can barely keep all the ends tied let alone t's crossed and i's dotted. It's a tender time, I think, because my life won't be swollen and full and bulging forever. I'm going to wake up one day to silence in my home instead of the quiet, steady breathing of my early riser patiently waiting for me to greet the sun with him. And his tackling, tumbling brother won't knock me over with surprise jumps onto my back because he'll be grown. The Psalmist must have thought about these things too because he said, "So teach us to number our days, so that we might live wisely." (Psalm 90:12) And I'm left wondering, "If I'm to live like I'm dying--which, in truth I am--than what things should be on my daily bucket list?" There are like two million things and people all lined up, some not so patiently, waiting to make the cut. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your your neighbor as yourself." (Matthew 22) Love God. Love people. Seems so simple. Maybe it is. Maybe every single action I take needs to go through this one filter, "Will I be loving God and loving people as I love myself if I do this thing?" And if I followed that mantra, then maybe my legacy would be tweaked enough. Maybe I would be remembered like this. She loved. She loved. That would be something. So, I know tomorrow isn't promised to me. I'm married to a firefighter. I face the reality of danger every third day when he leaves for his shift and I wonder, Will he come home? But what am I doing with the moments that are given me? What am I doing with the sweet precious mornings when that little rooster patters into my room wide awake and ready to discuss the NFL strike and the other one dives into my bed like it's a swimming pool? What am I doing with the few minutes between when the boys have gone to bed and Jeff is still up before he goes on shift? What am I doing with the people God puts in my life--the junior counselors at camp, the campers, the neighbors, the sisters, the friends, the parents? It is indeed a tender time, a time not to be taken for granted, not to be wasted. It is the allotted time. The bucket list time. Not the bucket list of adventures I want to take, but of seizing the moments that are my present reality and squeezing every ounce of life out of them that I possibly can. Ephesians 5:15 says we are to live carefully "redeeming the time" we are given. That word redeem carries with it the idea of rescuing something from being lost. My youngest son can't keep up with his shoes. He has about five thousand pairs, and none of them are where they are supposed to be at the proper time. When Sunday comes his brown dress shoes are surely down by the creek, and his camouflage boots are the only two matching shoes to be found. Sometimes I pick up his shoes, put them in a pile on top of the dryer, and just wait to see how long it takes him to notice they are all missing. He never has noticed. Not once. What if our minutes and hours were like that? God found them squandered and scattered haphazardly here and there, and He picked them up and placed them altogether for us to see collectively just how many precious moments we lost? I can't imagine what it would be like to really see all of that time together in one lump sum. It's my heart's desire to rescue the time God has given me. James 4:14 says, " are but a vapor, here for a little while and then vanishing." Like an early morning mist that whispers across a sleeping lake, our souls drift through these mortal days, only to return to the arms of eternity. May their journey leave behind the fragrance of God. Pray with me: Lord, I'm humbled that you've given me time. More of it than many. Help me daily to use every single fiber of it for love. Loving others, loving you, loving who you've made me to be. May I be known for love. Amen. Read with me: Ephesians 5:15,16

Monday, August 1, 2011

When the planting is done

Over 400 kids, almost 7000 meals, (eaten by all of us, not just me!) 3 long weeks, and less than 4 hours of sleep per night, the children's Bible camp my family helps with each year has come to a close. Still dizzy from the frenzy of activity, I sat this morning, sipping freshly ground coffee when I read this quote: "Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant." Robert Louis Stevenson. Immediately the three very different weeks of camp came to my mind. Teen week came first with a smorgasbord of cowboy boots, skinny jeans, flip flops, plaids, and diverse backgrounds. From 7 different states these 13-18 year olds walked onto campus, most of them genuinely ready to meet with God in some very real way. 7-9 year old week came next--a hurricane of young ones with energy that, if harnessed, could power our country naturally for quite some time. Many of these were so small, their main purpose was to have fun. Our purpose of course, was to show them God's love while they had fun. Not always easy. Then there were the 10-12 year olds. Wave upon wave of them rolled in, pillows, suitcases, and duffel bags in hand. 170 of them! We were like an anthill that from the outside looks like little people running everywhere, but upon close examination, there is direction and purpose to every step. These were the children who stood at the crossroads ready to make some long term decisions about what they will believe and whom they will serve. Again, our goal was to reveal the love of God and point them in that direction. One Saturday between camps, I ran home and planted some winter squash and pumpkin seeds for fall harvest. The conditions must have been perfect because seeds that normally take 14 or more days to germinate were over an inch tall the following Friday when I returned home. I couldn't believe how quickly they came up this year. That was teen week in a nutshell. We planted, we watered, and we saw growth that very week. Overwhelming growth. Then there was the week of young campers where we slugged it, kissed boo boos, hugged necks, combed hair, wrestled, encouraged the occasional shower,(why do kids hate to shower?) all while constantly pointing with our hearts as loudly as we could, to the love of God. We taught, we shared, we tickled, we prayed, and we prayed again. But the fruit, the harvest is not as evident in these young ones. It isn't that they don't grow, but growth is measured differently at that age, and much of what we are doing then is just laying the foundation. On what will these little ones build their lives? A loving God? A world that offers bigger gaming systems, newer cell phones, and a Justice fall line of clothing just in time for back to school? We pray they left camp with a heart that stands on the love of their Father. And finally we swam in an ocean of 10-12 year olds where one was as distracted as my chocolate lab when a squirrel crosses our path, and the other was as focused as my chocolate lab becomes on said squirrel. One's listening, one's not, and we were just praying, "God let them all hear. Let them understand that we've tried both foundations and yours is better. Yours is greater. Yours is enough." Some of them come to tell you what they learned, but many are quiet and you are left to wonder. Did they hear? Did they understand? Being a dorm mom, I was with the kids constantly. There were many glimpses into the fruit that was ripening in their hearts. One little girl said to me, "I didn't know that God's hand would never be against me. I didn't know He will always love me until I came here." Fruit. Thank you, God. Another little girl after sharing about a life in foster care said, "I think I need to forgive my mom." Amen. But I have to wonder about the kitchen staff--those who labored tirelessly in over 80 degree temperatures, chopping, slicing, stirring, and kneading with little to no interaction with the kids. These were the servants who fed their tummies so others of us could feed their souls. A child with a full belly is in a much better place to feed their soul. But, those who worked in the kitchen didn't get to see any fruit. They just served with a spiritual dot dot dot at the end of each day. Was what they were doing impacting eternity? There were also those who wrote checks and those who planted seeds in a prayer closet somewhere far from the campus. There were the people who showed up weeks before to clear out the cobwebs and prepare the campus. None of them had the privilege of hearing how God had worked in these little ones' hearts. They saw no fruit. But they served. They planted seeds. Without planting of seeds, there is no crop. The last two years my garden has yielded enough cucumbers to make salads and eat with my family. But this year, I've had so many cucumbers that I'm giving away bags full to others, and still have baskets filled all over my house. Here's the interesting part, I've planted the same amount of seeds each year. There's a passage in I Corinthians, "I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused it to grow. So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes the growth." Who can say why one year I have mountains of cucumbers and another I have few? Who can say what the real fruit of Canal Lake Bible Camp really will be? We can count conversions, rededications, callings to ministry--if we like. But, truly it is God who causes growth. I'd rather not try to measure the harvest. Instead, I'd like to find myself content in knowing, I planted. I planted with all my heart. With every ounce of energy and strength I had, I planted. And so did the kitchen workers, the cleaning ladies, the prayer warriors, the board members, and many others. And now, we'll pray to the Lord of the harvest to bring about fruit in all these hearts. Imagine what would happen if all of these over 400 kids chose to continue to seek after the heart of God in their lives! Imagine what would happen in ours schools, in our town, in our state if they chose to build their lives on the truths of Jesus and not worldly wisdom. And I'm praying to that end, but I remember too, the parable of the shepherd who left 99 sheep to find one lost lamb. As a child I loved that story, but as an adult I realize that even if all the fundraisers, all the meals, all the work yielded only one heart turned toward God, it would be worth it. It would. God's not willing that any should perish, and His love knows no bounds. He will reach to the ends of the earth to restore His children to Himself. Pray with me to that end, please. God, we know you were sovereign in each child that attended camp. We know you were sovereign in each adult who helped in some way. We know you have purposes that are far beyond our understanding. God, we've planted with everything in us, will you bring about growth? Will you protect these seeds, bring them warmth, bring them sun, bring them rain and let them take root? Will you bring about a safe environment for them to grow? We trust you with the harvest. Thank you for letting us plant. Amen.