Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Eyeing the Storm

A young girl walks along a sidewalk when a police officer suddenly flies into her from behind, knocking her off her feet with such force that she slams into the wall beside her and falls to the ground. Stunned or perhaps momentarily unconscious, she lies there motionless while he quickly handcuffs her arms behind her back.

That video clip on the morning news was a lead-in to a discussion on possible excessive force used by the police department. I didn’t wait to hear the details but turned off the TV, aware that I’d seen the clip in response to a question I’d been asking God about a coworker of mine.

“How are you today?” he mutters, his face and voice directed at the floor rather than toward the customers he is required to address. Needless to say, they often don’t even hear him speak. Unsure if the question is directed to them when they do, they fail to answer. Met with only silence in response, he asks the question again but in the same way, netting the same silence in return. When he poses the question a third time I want to break the awkward silence by telling him to simply look up at the person he’s speaking to.

But that’s the issue. He won’t look anyone in the eye. Raising his arm to cover his face from view, he peers under it to analyze the groceries coming down the belt towards him, mentally grouping the items that should be bagged together before they reach him. He bags them with his head down and answers any questions the same way. When forced to speak, he lifts the neck of his shirt to cover his mouth. Everything about him indicates a desire to be invisible. It’s an obvious struggle for him to fulfill the requirements of a job that forces him to deal with the public on a daily basis.

His attitude frustrates coworkers and confuses the shoppers. Some mock him, but most people just look at him in bewilderment and then grant him the solitude he craves. Others try to speak to him kindly and draw him out, but he keeps himself hidden behind doors he has shut to his inner being. I’ve noticed that his supervisors are unusually patient with him and am surprised that they tolerate his many quirks. But perhaps it’s because they know his history that they cut him a little extra slack.

I’ve heard that he hasn’t always been this way. Apparently he is very bright, went to college and excelled in his studies. But just as his future was opening before him, an altercation with a family member (or so the story goes) knocked him down emotionally and severely damaged him, handcuffing his ability to function normally. Now even an entry-level position in a grocery store is frequently more than his fragile psyche can handle.

Some of us have likewise been blindsided in life by circumstances that have knocked us completely off course. While recovering and moving on as best we can, we remain handicapped by that incident and live lives far below the level that God intended. Those around us become confused and then frustrated at our inability to overcome the trial and begin to abandon us, accelerating our descent into isolation and despair.

What we need is an intervention, and thankfully God has provided One. Thinking about this coworker one day at work as he bagged groceries at the end of my lane, I pictured Jesus walking up to him, pulling that arm down from across his face, lifting his head up with his finger and gently turning his head with his hand, forcing him to look Him in the eye. There he would find the love and acceptance he so desperately needed, as well as freedom from his shackles, the regaining of the hope he lost, and the opening once more of the future that was taken from him.

For some of us the pain is compounded by the fact that it is the religious system itself that has failed and wounded us, making us reluctant to trust spiritual advisors of any kind. Yet we err when we confuse the fallible institutions of man with the unerring love of a merciful and loving God. How it must frustrate the heart of God when such situations keep us away from the help, healing and wholeness that are found in a true relationship with Him!

We need to lift our eyes off the situations that are dragging us down and direct our gaze onto the face of the One who has defeated the very things we fear. Truly Jesus is the eye of the storm so to speak, the place of calm in the midst of chaotic events swirling around us. In Him we find the peace and strength we need to confront the situations that threaten us and the key that unlocks the handcuffs holding us back from the future awaiting us. Once we are settled in Him, we can look our storms in the eye and speak His word of victory over our situations, even as the wind blows around us and the rain pelts us in the face.

Elizabeth Smart did just that recently. You may remember her as the young girl who was kidnapped several years ago and held captive for nine months by a criminal who was just recently sentenced to life in prison. When given the opportunity to face him in court and to speak her mind, she spoke of the beautiful life she has now and told him that he no longer has the power to affect her existence in any way.

It’s important to remember that “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). We, too, need to face our adversary and speak our confidence that his influence over our lives has been defeated by the power, grace and glory of Jesus Christ, who rules and reigns in us.

When we look to Jesus in our storms, we find the courage to look our accuser in the face… and the love and confidence within us to look others in the eye, as well.

“…He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm.” (Luke 8:24 NIV)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Love Letters

I’d finally reached the end of a late-night shift made even longer by the need to do my own grocery shopping at the end of it, and headed out to the far corner of the parking lot where I’d left my car many hours earlier. Wearily I popped open the trunk and loaded the grocery bags into the back of the vehicle, slamming the lid down when I was through. My eyes lifted to the back window of the car and then I literally jumped in surprise! The words “Love you” were written across the glass in white shoe polish! Alone in the dark with nobody but God to see or hear me, I suddenly smiled and even laughed out loud as the midnight sunlight of a friend’s thoughtfulness broke through the gloomy fog surrounding me. Happy once more, I began texting my thanks to her almost before even closing the car door.

It got me to thinking about what messages we spell out with the letters we’ve been given.

Just days earlier my son had purchased a Samsung Galaxy Tab and invited me to play the Words With Friends application, which is the game of Scrabble in tablet form. I was to start the game off and waited expectantly for the seven letters I would be given to work with to pop up on the screen. When they did so my eyebrows rose in surprise, as spelled out perfectly in the middle of the group of tiles was a four-letter word that I wouldn’t let come out of my mouth, much less set down on a game board!

I wish I could say that I didn’t first tally up the points I could’ve accumulated from using it before discarding the notion completely. And suddenly it occurred to me that we do the exactly the same thing in life. Almost unconsciously we weigh our options in delivering our messages. Too often we exaggerate the details slightly to make a better story, lower our standards slightly to raise our standing in someone‘s sight… in short, ignore our convictions somewhat in order to score a little higher in the game of life. There’s a ten-letter word for that, and it’s spelled compromise. God would so much rather that we choose to play well than that we come out on top.

Choices matter in the area of communication because we carry the words we’ve been given around with us. They have the power to bless us or curse us for years after they’ve been delivered. I was grateful that the rain had stopped long enough for me to see message on my car before it got washed away, and I carefully parked it in the garage when I got home to preserve its presence for as long as I could. The next day as I drove around town I would smile all over again each time I looked in the rear-view mirror and saw love beaming back at me from the back window. I’ve tucked similar messages in the pages of my journal to bless me all over again when I look back on them at some later date. But too often we carry the destructive messages that have been communicated to us around with us as well, reliving the hurt of those moments each time we look back in time.

It’s amazing to consider that we can make a difference in this world, one word at a time. So it’s important what words we choose to use. As I was considering my options in the opening word of my game with my son, I realized that I held another letter in my hand that would change the four-letter word I wouldn’t say into a five-letter word that I could play. One letter made the unacceptable suddenly acceptable.

One sacrifice did the same for me spiritually. And now the life that Jesus gave on my behalf influences the choices I make towards others…especially in the area of verbal communication. I have received love; surely now I ought to give love away. Suddenly the message on my car that was originally just a kind thought from a friend became a directive from God.

Yet surely we can go beyond simply being verbally kind to one another. There’s no greater way to spell out a message of blessing than to tell somebody about the love of God that has made hope and help and Heaven available to them once more.

My friend told me later that she almost changed her mind about writing on my car because she thought I might be angry. And sometimes we are hesitant to share what’s in our hearts for that very reason. We fear rejection. Yet we never know who may desperately need to receive a “love you” message from God at any moment in time.

One letter. One Life. One Love.
Pass it on.

“’Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’ Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”
(Isaiah 6:5-6 NIV)

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