Monday, August 23, 2010

From Then Til Now

Today, Monday morning, early, I sat down with one of my colleagues to discuss themes for the year. We chatted back and forth a bit about the new schedule and then Cathy informed me, "You have a new student coming in from West Africa. She speaks French and very little English, but you need to check with Lydia in the office because look at her birthday. She's young so they may put her in second grade instead."

"Yay! Love new students. I wonder what part of West Africa if she speaks French," I responded.

"I think Lydia put the paperwork in your mailbox," Cathy added.

"OK, I'll run down and check now," I said

I was excited! That made three new students coming in for this year. I began to wonder if the girl was from Burkina Faso, being she spoke French. Wouldn't that be something?

I had travelled to Burkina over 15 years ago with a youth mission team after graduating college and just last year knew of a couple who travelled there for the first time, themselves. One is never the same upon doing so. The country is extremely poor, but certainly not in hospitality. The people are so warm, welcoming, and generous with faith as strong as steel. They gave us their best wherever we went.

Lydia was on the phone when I walked into the brightly lit office, so I went straight to my mail box. Scholastic News, a few book clubs, and upcoming conference materials, but no new student info. I strolled out of the copy room, but Lydia was still on the phone, so I headed back up to finish meeting with Cathy.

"There was nothing about the new student," I said.

"Well, they may have sent it over to the other side of the building," Cathy replied.

Knowing I'd be headed over there when we were finished, I responded, "I'll get it when I go over in awhile."

Cathy and I finished chatting about the curriculum and themes for the year and I walked over to the primary side of the building. A bit anxious, I stepped up my pace to enter their office and find the paperwork I anticipated. It was folded in half and stapled. I gave the sides a quick tug to open it and discover the student was indeed from Burkina Faso, West Africa.

"Aaghhh!!! Yes!! What are the chances?," I blurted out. I rushed up to my classroom to call Cathy.

"Cathy, you're not going to believe this! The new student is from the same country I visited in Africa!," I exuberantly carried on.

As Cathy and I chatted about the African theme unit she planned way before we ever knew of this new student coming, I envisioned Burkina's black night sky lit up with a zillion bright, white stars. I remembered the beating of the African drums across the land. Land that was clothed with red dirt and mango trees. Land that is inhabited by some of the warmest people I have ever met.

Burkina was now coming back to me, flooding my mind and senses with everything it entailed, but now through the gift of a newly arrived student.

Isaiah 46:10 reads, "I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come."

Psalm 139:16 reads, "All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be."

Surely, the Father knew that when I made my trip to Burkina over 15 years ago, that today a newly arrived student would enter my classroom from the same distant land I travelled to so many years ago. Yes, most assuredly, He knew. I am anxious to see what He has in store next.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Too Ashamed?

I just finished watching an old episode of The Little Rascals entitled "Teacher's Pet". What a great lesson it had!

A little boy named, Jack gets a ride to school from a beautiful young lady driving an old Ford convertible with the top off. He begins to carry on and on about the new teacher coming to school that day. He even showed her the scary picture he drew of this lady named, Miss Crabtree. He continued on with telling her about all the tricks his friends were going to play on her that day as well.

Boy was he in for a surprise when he walked into the one room school house and found the lady, who gave him a ride that morning, to be the Miss Crabtree. She smiled and asked Jack to come to the front and held up the picture he drew. The class giggled while poor Jack wanted nothing less than to hide under a chair somewhere.

Shortly after that, she asked Jack's friends to bring forth their little surprises-a bottle of ants, sneeze powder, and an old matchbox containing a live, white mouse. It wasn't long before Dorothy and Weezer, two younger children, came into inform Miss Crabtree that Jack and his friends, Chubby and Furinia, needed to rush home because their parents desperately needed their help. In reality, it was only so the boys could play hookey and enjoy some swimming in the pond nearby. All of this right before Miss Crabtree had boxes of cake and huge barrels of vanilla and chocolate icecream delivered.

Cake and icecream or swimming hole? Well naturally, Miss Crabtree played along and said, "Come now boys, you need to get going. Your parents are waiting for you." She practically had to help escort them out the door with her arm around Furinia's shoulder.

Upon sitting on the school steps, Furinia chided Jack, "Some friend you are! You snitch!"

Jack answered back, "How was I supposed to know she was the teacher? She didn't have a sign on her when she picked me up."

Furinia declared, "Well I'm going in there and fess up, so I don't miss out on that ice cream! What about you?"

Jack began to sob, "I can't! I'm too ashamed!" Furinia and Chubby turned to get up and walked back in the school house. Miss Crabtree welcomed them and piled on the cake and icecream. Jack was laying down under a Maple tree sobbing. He would've missed out had Miss Crabtree not been so gracious. She walked out to him and sat 2 plates in from of him on the ground. Jack looked at the huge pile of vanilla icecream on one plate and the hunk of chocolate cake on the other and with tears streaming down his face, confessed to Miss Crabtree, "You are the most beautiful teacher and as nice as Miss McGuilicuddy was. You're even nicer."

1 John 1:9 reads "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

Let's not miss out because we're too ashamed. There's always more than enough icecream and grace to go around.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Another Voice, Another Victory

As I think back on the past eight months of this year, 2010, I realize, I have been most inspired to write about the people I know or have read about. They are ordinary people we may pass on the street and never give a second thought or glance. Yet they shine in spite of horrendous obstacles.

Just this past week, I was introduced to another. Norma Hotaling (1951-2008)who formed a non profit organization called SAGE (Standing Against Global Exploitation project). Below is a link to the article about her own struggle and victory over a life of drugs and prostitution. What an amazing woman!

Upon reading the article myself, a burst of energy shot through me. Although she died at the age of 57, I dare say she lived more fully and accomplished her purpose in serving others and paving the way for them to be set free. May we all be inspired to do likewise.

Enjoy the read!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Just to Be With Her....

"So has Doug arrived?," I inquired of my friend.

"He has. Came in yesterday," she responded.

"Does he like the apartment?" I probed further.

"It's a house. He has the whole house to himself for a few weeks," she answered.

Doug, is Lisa's beau. Twenty one years old, no job, and no guarantee that this move from his hometown in the state of Washington to Virginia will win him the true desire of his heart, but romantic and courageous as ever. He reminds me a bit of my dad, Guy.

When my mom and dad were dating, my dad wrote her a letter every day. Then, every chance he had, he would drive eight hours from Buffalo to Rhinebeck, spend the weekend with her, and at 10:00 p.m. on Sunday night climb back in his car to drive the eight hours back to Buffalo. On July 30th, they were married 43 years.

Doug has been dating Lisa for over a year now and not unlike some couples in this day and age, they met online. They have emailed back and forth, talked on the phone, and visited for brief periods, but this week he took the plunge. He moved to Virginia.

How precious! How courageous! How incredibly romantic! Doug simply loves this young twenty one year old woman. He is no doubt enthralled with her beauty, her mystery, and all the wonder that makes up this twenty one year old named Lisa. Thus, he has given up everything familiar, comfortable, and safe. He has travelled across the country just to be with her.

It reminds me of The Love Song sung by Third Day. It reads:

I've heard it said that a man would climb a mountain
Just to be with the one he loves
How many times has he broken that promise
It has never been done.
I've never climbed the highest mountain
But I walked the hill of Calvary

Just to be with you, I'd do anything
There's no price I would not pay
Just to be with you, I'd give anything
I would give my life away.

I've heard it said that a man would swim the ocean
Just to be with the one he loves
How may times has he broken that promise
It can never be done
I've never swam the deepest ocean
But I walked upon the raging sea

[Repeat chorus]

I know that you don't understand
the fullness of My love
How I died upon the cross for your sins
And I know that you don't realize
how much that I gave you
But I promise, I would do it all again.
Just to be with you, I've done everything
There's no price I did not pay
Just to be with you, I gave everything
Yes, I gave my life away.

It's amazing. The thought of it literally takes my breath away. To know there are men who will sacrifice everything just to be with the woman they truly love and adore sweeps me off my feet.

Even more so, to know that's what God has already done for you and me. Just to be with her! Just to be with you! Just to be with me! Pure romance doesn't get any better than that!

I commend young men like Doug and I am so appreciative of knowing the stories behind my mom and dad's own great romance. They are a shadow and token of the Great One's love and sacrifice on Calvary.

To Doug and Lisa, I wish you nothing but the best.

To Guy and Linda, my mom and dad, keep enjoying the romance and Happy Belated Anniversary!

To Jesus, there are not enough words to thank you for choosing to love and come for me.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Shack, Stream, or Basement

After hearing much adieu, I finally decided to pick up The Shack by William P. Young. I started reading it Friday night and finished it this morning. Thought provoking, heart warming, and like a large wooden spoon, it stirred and swirled many fragments brewing within me. Like many, I chuckled, cried, and ached for the characters affected. I even wanted to know more about what would happen to each of those involved after the story ended. I was simply captivated.

It caused me to ponder my own struggles. Will I find resolution? Will I, like the protagonist, Mackenzie Allen Philips, find healing, along with my own unending questions answered? When? What will God do? What now or what next?

In the story,the shack serves as a metaphor for a place we get stuck and can't seem to move beyond. It is usually a place of great loss or pain. Where is God in all this chaos and havoc and where do we go from here? A shack is commonly defined as "a roughly built hut or cabin". To me this implies it is not meant to be a place of permanence, but something fashioned together quickly for the sole purpose of shelter from severe weather.

Last month, I had a dream. I awoke somewhat stunned with numerous questions. I was at some type of church function where everyone was smiling, dancing, and having a real good time. Everyone but me, that is. In spite of many of my friends being there, I did not feel comfortable. I became increasingly anxious and walked out into a dark corridor. With eyes fixed upon the ceiling, I cried out, "God, I'm stuck in the basement! Can't you just beam me up?" Although, I may have been hoping for something of a Star Trek experience and being instantly transported, it wasn't quite like that. I glanced to my left and saw a doorway with lot's of green trees or bushes just on the other side of it. I moved towards it and found myself not only out the door, but flying over tree tops, ever so high, up to clouds comprised of the most beautiful flowers, blue, pink, silver, and white. They were mostly roses or hydrangeas. I loved them! Instantly, I began to walk barefoot upon them, so as to feel the softness of the petals beneath my feet. I gathered bouquets in my hands, lifting them up to my nose to inhale their scent. There was much more after this, all so vivid and somewhat puzzling, but I was indeed, no longer stuck in the basement. Upon talking with my friend, Shari, she encouraged me, that the frustrations I have been wrestling with, would soon come to an end. I would be lifted up and out. She believed it was a promise from God that there would be healing.

In The Shack, Mackenzie found healing, but it meant travelling to a place of great pain once again. In addition, he had choices to make while he was there. It kind of reminded me of a scene from C.S Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In it, Lucy, a young girl, comes upon Aslan, the great lion and metaphor for Jesus. She is dying of thirst and so desperately wants to cross in order to drink from the stream he is resting in front of. She probes him with questions like, "Do you eat little girls? Is it safe? Is there another stream?" His responses were anything but comforting, yet most truthful. To the second question he said,"I make no promises." and to the last, he replied, "There is no other stream."

It was not until I was in my mid thirties, that I finally could smile broadly and unashamed of my teeth. For many years, they were crooked, and a sight I hid from others. Due to many circumstances beyond my control, I did not have the opportunity to get braces for a long time. Furthermore, I assumed I would never be able to afford it. However, my dentist was persistent in broaching the subject each time I went in for a cleaning. He was most assured that the orthodontist would work with me and I would be able to do it. I'm glad he did not give up.

At 33 years old, I finally took the plunge and went for a consultation with the orthodontist my dentist recommended. I explained to him how Dr. Naglieri kept persisting that I come. His response somewhat surprised me, but has always stuck out in my mind like a neon sign lit up in a dark window. He asked me, "Are you ready to do this?"

In conclusion, whether it's a shack to revisit, an old basement we're trapped in, or the stream we seek refreshment from, are we ready to do it? Are we ready to do what needs to be done, to gain freedom and beauty? Am I ready? What is it that holds us back from flying?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Death & Life

I didn't know her personally, but I do remember seeing her sit beside her mom in church about three weeks ago. A woman with long, blond flowing hair, a radiant smile, and fit as can be. She and her mom, Inger could almost pass as sisters. Her name was Allisyn. She was only a year younger than I and died while doing what she loved, base jumping.

Just a few days after the news, I saw her dad, Ralph in church. Both of his hands were outstretched. While standing over six feet tall, he worshipped to the song of "Amazing Grace" Like the blooming cacti in the desert, Ralph stood strong and tall, vibrant as ever. This in spite of such fiery heat. One might ask, 'Why? How can he do that?"

After hugging his wife, Inger, she said to me with tears in her eyes, "When I heard the song, 'Oh, how He loves us' I just wished those kids were here to experience this." She, as her husband, Ralph, clings to that priceless truth. They both know God loves them. Although they grieve the loss of their sweet Allisyn, they also celebrate her life. A life that was undoubtedly lived out with great passion and zest. I am told she knew God. It is evident from the stories and photos shared, that she relentlessly and fearlessly pursued her dreams. She was not afraid to live. She was not afraid to die. Thus, she inspired many.

This past Sunday, we had a guest speaker. Larry, one of the missionaries we support in Ecuador, explained that if we focus on the here and now, we can miss eternity. There are days he and his wife, Susan would like to cash it in and just come home to the States, but they don't. Again, one might question, "Why not?" Their response? They know in their hearts that what they are doing is making a difference for eternity. They may or may not see the fruit of their labor, but they trust God to do something with it. They are utterly convinced of a divine purpose.

I am humbled and inspired by all of these people. I do not have such faith made of steel. Like many, I like to see and know something is working and how. I am reminded of a poem by Alexander Pope. It is entitled, "The Dying Christian To His Soul"

Vital spark of heav’nly flame!
Quit, O quit this mortal frame:
Trembling, hoping, ling’ring, flying,
O the pain, the bliss of dying!
Cease, fond Nature, cease thy strife,
And let me languish into life.

Hark! they whisper; angels say,
Sister Spirit, come away!
What is this absorbs me quite?
Steals my senses, shuts my sight,
Drowns my spirits, draws my breath?
Tell me, my soul, can this be death?

The world recedes; it disappears!
Heav’n opens on my eyes! my ears
With sounds seraphic ring!
Lend, lend your wings! I mount! I fly!
O Grave! where is thy victory?
O Death! where is thy sting?

When we each meet that inevitable appointment with death, may it be only after we have lived so passionately, doing that it is, which we were divinely called and gifted to do in the first place. May our own deaths and lives, inspire others to reach for their dreams and LIVE! Until then, may our faith be strengthened as we consider both death and life.