Monday, December 14, 2015

The Breaking of the Morning

Grabbing her nude lipstick, she looked at herself in the mirror and suddenly realized, "I look like I'm on a date with Jackson, not a business meeting!" Her cheeks flushed and heart began pounding out of her chest.
"What am I going to do? This isn't a date, and he's not Jackson!"

Emily, held back the tears that threatened to streak her makeup as she threw the lipstick back in her purse.
His voice echoed in her mind as she stared at the old, worn out tube. "I love that shade on your lips. It gives them life but doesn't take away from their natural beauty. It just makes me want to lose myself in your kisses."

A few tears breached through their prison door. Most days she could hold them back, but not today.

"Jackson is gone," she repeated her mantra out loud to remind herself of the reality.

"Jackson died 10 months ago. He is not meeting me here. Declan is here and this is not a date. This is a planning meeting, not a date. Now pull yourself together Emily!"
Declan had already texted  her, "I am a running a little early. If you want to tell me what you like, I'll have your coffee waiting here for you."

Thoughtful. Declan was more than thoughtful. He was a gentleman, the kind women can only hope for. The kind that would have been the epitome of chivalry at King Arthur's Knights of the Round Table. It only took one evening at a friend's party last week to remember that much about him. The summer they spent together almost two decades ago had confirmed to her that true gentlemen were out there, although a severely endangered species.
This morning she guessed he wasn't just "running" early, but made a point to be there early, probably to have an excuse to buy her coffee so there would be no back and forth about who will or won't buy.

Reaching back in her purse, she grabbed the red lipstick she wore more often now that Jackson was gone. She couldn't bear the thought of running out of that nude lipstick, the one that made her late husband swoon over her. Over the last 10 months, she hadn't even considered wearing it until today; she knew why she wanted to wear it today, to this meeting, but she was unwilling to allow herself to feel hopeful, especially in love again.

It was too late to change out of her current outfit that consisted of one of Jackson's favorite blouses, but she could choose a different shade of lipstick.

Walking to the door of the coffee house, Emily was surprised as the door swung open and  to reveal Declan, waiting at the door for her.

"Oh, wow. Now that's front door service," she laughed nervously, trying to sound light-hearted and pleasant.

"I, uh, saw you drive in." Declan smiled.

Emily felt her heart sink as she stepped inside the coffee shop. "So, did you see my little breakdown in there? I'm sorry. It's just that..."

"It's okay, Em. If this is a bad time, we can reschedule, or I can just find someone else."

"No. No. I mean, I want to do this; I like the distraction, and it's just one of those days. It's only been 10 months since Jackson died and I still have bad days where something hits me unexpectedly. Today is one of those days."

"I'm sorry."  His voice was low and uncertain. Emily hated these awkward conversations followed by an even more awkward silence.
"I know this is probably a stupid question, and one you get asked all the time, but is there anything I can do to help?"

It was trite. No one could truly help. What she needed was Jackson. No one could help her unless they could bring Jackson back somehow, or make the pain and emptiness magically disappear. It was a useless question.
Before she could give her polite, "No, I'm fine, really," answer, Declan's eyes got wide as he handed her the biggest mocha she'd ever seen. .

"Never mind, that was stupid of me. I have an idea. Are you up for a little road trip?"

"I hope it will require lots of activity, because if I drink all this I will be bouncing off the walls." She stared wide eyed at the gallon of coffee in her hand.

"Sorry," he unknowingly gave her that smoldering smile she had imprinted on her brain all week. "I wasn't sure what size you'd want so I figured you could drink what you want, instead of wishing for more."

Thoughtful indeed.

"Actually it's just the opposite, it's a peaceful place. I think you'll like it."

Declan pulled into the lake campground a few minutes later, making Emily a little uneasy.

"I hate to break it to you Declan, but I'm wearing a skirt and heels. Hiking, boating, or swimming isn't really what I was planning for a business meeting this morning." She couldn't help but poke fun at him for his location choice.

"It's okay, I have some spare swim suits in the trunk. It'll be fine." He was stone faced and completely serious. Emily's smile faded fast.
"I'm not wearing a bathing suit in front of this guy!" she thought.

"I'm just kidding! Don't worry! You look like you're going to punch me or something."

Thoughtful, funny, and witty.

"You had me. I was trying to think of an excuse! I was just going to go with, 'No! Way!" Emily no longer worried about letting hope in. It was the furthest thing from her mind. She was laughing for the first time in months, without forcing it, or feeling the tight grip of guilt for being happy without Jackson.

"See that bench over there? That's where we're going." It was early and the sunrise was just kicking off it's morning show with bright colors and orange clouds streaking across the sky. It was breathtaking.

Declan sat a good distance from Emily on the bench, turning his body in her direction he began. "This is where I go when I just need..." he let out a sigh as if he was trying to find the right word. "rest. When I feel like I'm drowning in worries and anxiety, I come here and watch the sun rise. It makes me think of Lamentations, 'His mercies are new every morning,' and then I feel at peace again. I thought maybe it might do the same for you."

Declan then just sat silent, not saying anything, while Emily watched the sunrise colors morph into a bright morning sun, glistening off the placid lake. A few more tears escaped their iron clad prison again, but Declan pretended not to notice.
"Thank you." she forced the words out of her clenched throat through a whisper. His arm was stretched across the back of the bench. Without turning toward her, he moved his hand to her shoulder. She patted his hand to say "thanks". Without even thinking, she picked up his arm, moving her body closer to his and placing his arm around her shoulders. She felt the comfort of his warm body close to her, dispelling the emptiness that had become familiar as she watched the sun warm the cold, empty surface of the land, bringing light and  life to all that lived there. Declan didn't protest or move a muscle, but watched the day come alive beside her, in silence.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Let It Be

This is absolutely, beyond a doubt, my favorite picture as a mother for more reasons than you might think.

 I remember this day so well. I remember how tired and wore out I had become. My hormones were crazy, I was getting little to no sleep, and I had four other children that needed attention, food, schooling, and refereeing in addition to the consistently needy newborn. I was barely hanging on.
My mom set up this photo session at her house. The photographer was a friend to her and wanted to give this to my mother as a gift. Truly I was the one who received the gift. It was God's provision because had it not been offered and planned by an outside party, I would have none of these precious memories preserved. Over the following year my body gave up on me. My thyroid and multiple essential processes for life began to shut down and I found myself unable to get out of bed in the morning. I have little to no memories, but I have these pictures.

Most people look at this picture and see that angelic baby face and a mama in love with her new son. When I peel my eyes away from the angel baby, I see black eyes, hair that's not fixed, and a mama just trying to do her best with what she was given.

That morning, I did my best to dress my children for their pictures and make the memory of them from this day look worthy to be digitally embedded for eternity. It was all I could muster. It wasn't much. I wanted to be in the picture, but I could hardly make myself look acceptable. I wore very little makeup, a T-shirt and some athletic pants. My hair needed fixing. I sometimes wonder if the photographer didn't take one look at me and think, "No way am I going to be able to make these pictures work with her looking like that."

But she did. Honestly, I think it was all those factors that make this picture so perfect. I don't take good pictures... ever. Not even the most talented photographers have been able to capture good pictures of me. I have seen the look on their face over and over again after snapping that camera, wondering why I look so awkward or unnatural. They've tried to coach me and help me, but it always turns out the same. My mouth turns down naturally which makes me appear as if I'm frowning, unless I have a big smile on my face. I feel uncomfortable on display, which is translated and exaggerated by a camera lens.

This day, I didn't try. I just was. I reconciled myself to this bland version of me, knowing it couldn't be any worse than all those times I actually tried.

It was in the giving up of trying to capture the perfect image that allowed me to have this honest image. This is me. My mouth may turn down naturally and make it difficult to capture a good smile, but it doesn't matter here. My eyes may have been black from exhaustion and illness, but it doesn't matter here. It's me.
Turns out the honest, raw version of myself is the one I like the most. Of course, the baby helps an awful lot too since I can't take my eyes off him.

Four years later I am so grateful I allowed this to happen despite my lack of preparation. I am so grateful I didn't obsess over not having everything perfect. I'm so thankful I just let it be. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

American Heroes and God's Heroes

My Love and I went out to see American Sniper the other night. I have been fascinated by this man's story for the last two years, since I watched his wife give his eulogy at his funeral. This was a well-known warrior, but I had never heard his name until that day I saw his casket placed perfectly over the Dallas Cowboys' star. I was suddenly filled with sorrow that I had never known who he was in life.

The book was always on my "to read" list, but with a household to care for and five kids to homeschool, a home-based business, and an obsession with writing, reading hasn't been priority lately.

But then there was the movie. I had to see it. I needed to see it. I don't know why. I don't like war movies.

Maybe it was because the thought of standing and speaking about my just-murdered husband to thousands, or millions of people, with the strength and courage I saw his wife speak that day, inspires me to face what scares me most. Maybe it's because I want to know what kind of man could have touched so many lives that his funeral should be held in the largest building I have ever seen. Maybe it was that he was Texan, and no matter how much I joke about or make fun of Texans, I know that Texas is still so much of who I am, so I feel a connection to a fallen Texan hero.

I didn't know why, but I had to see the movie.

Honestly, there was a one-dimensionality about his character in the movie, but it was that vacuum I felt in watching it, that drew me in even more, recognizing that that was just a cover for something so much more complicated hiding behind his simplicity. Something about him, was familiar. Something about who he was, what he believed, why he did what he did, the way he loved his wife and his kids, and that "thing" that drove him to be the hero that he lived to be, was so familiar... in my husband.

I still couldn't figure it out. My husband is not a fighter, or a warrior. If you pick a fight with him, he'll most likely walk away or take it without hitting back, not that he couldn't. Given the right circumstances, like someone hurting one of his kids or me, he could do some real damage to someone's face.But he's not the hero type that runs into a burning building. He's not the kind of guy that faces a threat with his own gun. No, he just gives them what he wants and prays he can walk away unharmed. So why in the world would this legendary hero make me think of my gentle husband?

Then it struck me, he is the same kind of hero, in a different realm.

Chris Kyle killed physical enemies from a rooftop, to protect his boys. He went into buildings ahead of them to make sure they stayed safe.

Kyle was driven by his loyalty to his country, and his value and his morals and his beliefs.

Kyle was even driven by his love for his wife and kids, his brother and parents, and all people.

Kyle struggled between his loyalty and love for his wife and kids and his loyalty and love for his country and the soldiers out there fighting.

Even greater, Kyle was driven not just by the love for his fellow Americans, but by a love for all people, especially the innocent, the oppressed and even those related to the enemy trying to kill him.

My husband, a pastor by calling, is a warrior just like Kyle except the enemy he is fighting is in the spiritual world.

When my husband is acting as a pastor, he is fighting and running down enemies in the spiritual world, enemies no one can see, to protect the church, the believers, and his family.

He is driven by his loyalty to the Lord, by his values and morals and his beliefs.

He is driven by his love for me, and the kids and his parents and all people, especially the lost or oppressed.

He struggles daily between his loyalty and love for me and the kids and his loyalty and love for the Lord and the ministry to which he has been called. He struggles because if he drops the ball and doesn't reach that person, they don't just lose their life, they lose their soul.

Just like Kyle, my husband isn't just driven by the ones in his church or other good looking, nice Christians. It's the hard cases that he loves. He once found out a friend had been hurt by the church and no longer attended. His response was so classic as a pastor, "Oh good! I can do something about that!"

He sits on rooftops, shooting those enemies before they can reach the ones he is called to protect. He does it with the Word of God, with teaching the Word of God, and with prayers. Sometimes, he does it with just time or a hug.

When he was a children's pastor, he had an afterschool program at the church where the kids could just come and hang out and play games. There were some little girls that would just wrap their arms around him and not let go. He told me once, "I may be the only man in their life that loves them." He stood between the enemy and that little girl, with a hug. It doesn't seem like much, but in the world today, a man who just hugs a little girl, could be called something ugly, ruining not just his reputation but his life. But he hugged her anyway.
 Sometimes, he stands between the enemy and its target, taking a beating or a shot or two, without anyone ever being the wiser. Most of the time, those beatings come in order to protect his family. One of the worst beatings he ever endured lasted not days, not weeks and not months, but over a year. He took it for our son's sake. He was mistreated, abused mentally and emotionally, bullied and slandered, in order that we might do what was best for our son. But that's what good soldiers do, protect the people silently and without recognition.

You see Kyle didn't shoot down the guy that was aiming the bazooka at the US troops doing their job on the street, and then holler out, "Hey Guys! I got one! Look, right there! I took care of you!"

It was just understood.

In the movie an officer tells Kyle that those boys feel invincible knowing he is on the roof watching out for them. They can't see him, they don't know what it is that he does up there, but they know he's there watching over them and protecting them from the unseen enemy.

A pastor is the same. He doesn't stand in the pulpit and say, "Look at this enemy I destroyed for you, and the injury I sustained while battling him." But almost daily and weekly, a pastor is facing the unseen enemy and protecting his people. It may come in the form of a disgruntled member or something far worse like a flirtatious woman or even the temptation of pornography. He faces it with courage because he knows who is fighting the battle for him. It's when they face those enemies without the Lord being the one fighting the battle for them, when the pastor thinks he can extinguish the enemy all himself, that he loses.

When you watch the movie and you see The Butcher drilling a hole into the head of a child, Kyle trying desperately to get a shot at the monster but finding it impossible while yet another enemy is firing continually at him, you'll cringe. Imagine if you were the pastor, watching as the enemy drills a hole into the soul of a child, but you can't reach him in time because the enemy is firing rampantly at you from another direction. Now imagine you are that shooter, with your complaints and your dislikes and your threats. You are the enemy, preventing your pastor from doing his job because he can't get around you to help the others.

Most offenses people take in the church are stupid. They are.

Very few offenses on which people take action against their pastor are legitimate. Most revolve around something that starts out with "I don't like...." Guess what, a good pastor doesn't make decisions based on what he thinks you will like. He is only interested in pleasing the Lord, and willing to take the shots from people in order to please the Lord.

Most of the battles a pastor faces, are not with unbelievers. It is not a battle between whether or not homosexuality is okay with God. In fact, most unbelievers couldn't care less about what pastors think.

The majority of battles a pastor will face come from his own people, the very people he serves. Imagine if Kyle was trying to save that little boy, but it was his own men firing away at him. Imagine if while Kyle was trying to shoot that man with the Bazooka, the soldier the bazooka was aimed at was firing at Kyle. His job would be impossible. He would probably give up, go home and try to forget about protecting them.

This is happening every single day, every week.

Here is one example from the book Toxic Church.

"One of the greatest pains that wounded pastors have shared is how good friends and godly individuals within the congregation stood by and did nothing to stop the carnage" 

Do you know that most pastors want to quit? Hundreds of pastors choose to leave ministry every week, not because of unbelievers, liberals, democrats, homosexuals, pro-choicers, or any of those people. They leave the ministry because of Christians.

Now imagine, fighting that kind of battle against your very own people, the ones that you thought you were going to protect when you signed on the dotted line. Imagine if there was a scene in the movie where Kyle goes to shoot a bad guy with a bomb, and it is close to one of his soldiers. When the soldier realizes how close he was to the shot Kyle took, despite the fact that it was to protect his life, the soldier becomes angry and starts shooting back at Kyle. Now Kyle is being attacked by his own man and he can't just shoot him down. Not only that, but that soldier gets more soldiers riled up that starting firing away too. Now all a soldier can do is hide behind the wall from the onslaught of gunfire, talking on his walkie to the Commander, asking teh Commander to talk to the guys and get them to stop shooting at him. Meanwhile, the enemies are sitting by laughing at how the US soldiers are killing each other. All they have to do is just sit back and watch.

This is the current state of the American church in more cases than not. The pastor is being attacked by his own people, sometimes by other pastors.

And imagine, after finally escaping your ally that was shooting at you, going home to a wife and children who so desperately want more of you, but the battle has beat you down. Every time you sit down to have dinner, you get a call that someone else's child needs you right then or someone drops by and just wants a minute to talk with the pastor.

There were nights my kids missed out on time with their dad because he was expected to be at other kids' ball games. There were evenings he didn't spend with his children because another parent needed him to talk to their kid about salvation. There were days when he was supposed to be on vacation, but daily the calls came in wanting to know this or that. 
There were even times my kids made comments about how they wished their dad didn't have to spend so much time at the church and with other people so they could see him for a little while. 

When I watched that movie, I could relate to his wife so well. The desire to have my husband home with me, not at the ball game. The desire to go out on a date without having to do visitation first. The desire to let my kids be kids without judgement, or to make decisions for our family without having to get permission from people who care so little about us that they will take a shot to wound every chance they get.

I understood what it was to have my husband home, but not really, because his mind was still "there". I know what it is like to watch his personality disappear into oblivion, wondering how it would change my children and our marriage. I also know what it is like to have him give up the fight for a while, come home and come back to us. 

At the end of the movie, Kyle is caught in the middle of a huge fire fight. In order to take out the enemy that had been taking out many of their men, he reveals their presence on the rooftop of a building when he shoots and kills the enemy. As soon as he fires, extinguishing the enemy with a single bullet, hundreds more descend upon the building, thirsty for blood. This is the life of a pastor. Distinguishing an enemy doesn't bring rest and peace, it reveals your location to the enemy who descends upon you with terror in tow. This is how lives are destroyed. Sometimes he comes out alive, sometimes the whole family goes down in flames. I have seen it first hand more than once, unfortunately.

I am guilty of complaining and starting a sentence with "I don't like..." but the older I get the more I pray and beg God to keep me from being the enemy to my pastor and our church.

 Pray for your pastor the way you pray for our soldiers. God made warriors to fight wars and protect us from enemies. But He also set apart an entire tribe of people to be the spiritual warriors. Pray that God will equip them, strengthen them, and make his arrow true. Pray that God will fill him with courage, and despite whatever enemy he faces, may he never give up fighting for the ones for whom he has been ordained to protect, teach and lead. Pray that he is given adequate time with his wife and kids to lead them as a man of God should.

There is a scene in the movie when Kyle says something like, I wonder why I am here at home, perfectly capable, when there so many more out there that need me. That is the constant struggle of a pastor as well. "My family is home, with the knowledge of Jesus Christ, but there are so many out there that need the Gospel and I have it!"

The fact of the matter is, Kyle seemed to be something beyond human,or a modern day superhero, but he wasn't. He was just man with an extraordinary love for his country and his people. He made mistakes just like you and me. He bled, he got angry, he loved, and he could be hurt.

This is the quandary of a pastor too. The fight is difficult, but it is that question, "I am capable. I am available. How can I just ignore the need. If not me, who will go?" 

Pastors sometimes seem to be spiritual superheros, but they aren't. They are just men and women with an extraordinary love for the Lord and for His people.
Stand by him and pray for him. Love his wife and his children as if they are your own family. Give them grace, even if they don't deserve it. And remember, they are just people too, just like you and me. 

Don't forget all our heroes from military, to pastors, to our first responders and our police officers.They all need our prayers.