Wednesday, June 16, 2010

15 Things

If any of you are counting, I have four daughters.

My two oldest daughters’ birthdays were in the spring (21 Things and 22 Things), and my third in September, so there is another post (17 Things) coming in the fall.

Today is my youngest daughter’s fifteenth birthday

One night last week I was rummaging through the junk cabinet to find a jar with a lid. Of course I didn’t have one, so I created a makeshift jar and my youngest daughter and I went out to catch fireflies. We followed their trailing lights all over the yard. We were participating in a silent dance at dusk. Few words were spoken and the choreography was determined by the creatures we were chasing.

Once the fireflies were caught we carefully dropped them into the container and quickly put the lid back. I am not sure who caught more.

The fireflies were delightful to watch, but my daughter stole the show—she was so intent, focused and aware. I loved watching her face—illuminated in the faint dark by the street lights and then by the incandescent glow of the fireflies cupped in her hands.

She has absolutely no idea how beautiful she is and how lovely she is becoming.

Happy birthday, beautiful Abby!

15 Things I love about Abby—

Her love of reading
She cuts through the nonsense
Her uncanny discernment concerning people’s character (or lack of)
Her firm reliability
Her diligent, inward motivation
Her hunger to participate in true worship
Her deep and genuine compassion for the hurt and the wounded
Her love for her sisters
Her love of order
She’s the baby, but she remains unspoiled
Her affection for her family
Her tears—they are rare and unsentimental
Her incredible hugs and her laughter
Her maturing spirit—she grows more tender toward the Spirit daily
The simplicity of her soul

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Unexpected Events--Caney Creek

Well, we have had a revival and we have had a wedding. The story doesn’t end with those events. Of course the story will never end; there will just be the ends and beginnings of other chapters. This chapter cannot be finished without this story.

The six people who decided that following Jesus was the thing to do decided to be baptized—on the same day, same place and same time. Steve, my younger two daughters and I planned to be there.

We went to Christ Church that morning. As soon as church was over, we got in the car and started to my dad’s—an hour and twenty minute drive. Part of the drive is highway—a stretch of interstate through the rolling, blue-green hills of Kentucky. The other part of the drive is through and across a narrow, steep road that winds, descends and ascends landscape that is quite beautiful and picturesque in its simpleness.

We arrived at my Dad’s, and what I didn’t know was God was about to show me something.

Revelation was coming.

Everyone piled in their cars and drove to the baptism site. My dad had told me it was Caney Creek and was just down the road—just a few minutes drive. We followed Dad which took concentration and effort since he knows the roads so well.

Quite a few people were there when we arrived. The introductions and hugging began. A constant flow of people navigated the steep hill, walking sideways down the gravel road. Just a few weeks before the flooding had brought the stream’s level up fifteen to twenty feet. The asphalt of the lower parking lot was covered in the silt the flooding left behind.

I got out of the car and looked around and then I began to walk toward the creek.

And the reminder came.

A gentle, easy breeze of memory sifted and tumbled over me.

Caney Creek. Ahhhhhh, Caney Creek.

Recognition surged through me.

The place looked like a foggy, dirty mirror surrounded by trees.

The murky water lapped against the concrete loading dock. Children rolled up their pants legs and waded knee-deep and the mud and silt eddied to the surface.

For a few brief moments I didn’t see the children or the crowd that continued to grow. I stood watching the rippling and lapping of the water as it rolled and moved against the rocky bank.

In that instant, I saw me, twenty-four years younger, standing in the water. This is the place I was baptized. I had forgotten—not my baptism, but the place.

God knows place is important to us. He knows we need visual reminders of the wonders he has accomplished in us.

Here was my Jordan. Not a river, but a stream. Twenty-four years ago I had died at this spot and had been raised to new life. The stream had carried my sins and iniquities away—all the way to the sea. And that is where God left them.

I came back to the present as the minister of my dad’s church began to speak. Strange how God often brings things full circle because when I was young this was my minister too. He asked the six if they believed that Jesus was the Son of God and if they accepted him as their Lord and Savior—the Good Confession. My dad’s voice was the loudest.

Way out in the water people stood up in their boats to see what was happening. Someone began to pray and his voice boomed out over the waters. An old high school friend of mine began to sing We Shall Gather at the River. Everyone joined her.

Shall we gather at the river,
where bright angel feet have trod,
with its crystal tide forever
flowing by the throne of God?

Yes, we'll gather at the river,
the beautiful, the beautiful river;
gather with the saints at the river
that flows by the throne of God.

Robert Lowery

Time stood still. For how long I am not sure.

Four men moved out into the water. They stood waist deep and Charles, the Harley-riding, revival-speaking, Jesus-loving preacher was among them.

And two by two they began to wade in the water.

My dad and Brenda led the way—seems this is the pattern. Often they forge the trail. My dad was holding tightly to my step-mother—guarding her steps. They turned to face us and Charles held his hand toward heaven.

Backwards they fell. And their bodies plunged into the murky water of Caney Creek. I made myself not even blink. I did not take my eyes off of this beloved pair as their faces disappeared under the water.

Then suddenly up they came. And my dad came up shouting. Hands flung to heaven. Joy splattered all over his face. He turned to my step-mother and kissed her and then wrapped his arms around her and practically lifted her up out of the water.

I was clapping. And a shout left my lips before I had time to consider it.

I held the towels and met them at the edge. My dad wrapped his arms around me and held me and we cried. Glory, how we cried. We said things to each other that should have been said years ago. Brenda stood close; in her wonderful wisdom she was giving a father and daughter a special moment. Then I hugged her and she spoke words that I will never forget, “You and the girls are part of the most important part of our lives and don’t you forget it. We love you.”

Two more times couples (Marce and Tammy included) went into the water to be buried and raised in Christ.

My clothes were wet by the time I had hugged them all. Everyone began to make their way back toward the parking lot and the road. I stood and gazed at the waters of Caney Creek.

I turned to Steve, who was filming, and a butterfly lit on his arm.

Delight and awe bubbled up in me.

Slowly I put my left hand to his arm—just under the butterfly. I thought it would fly away. Instead it hopped to my finger and remained. I was so elated.

Jesus had a dove; and Dad and the others had a butterfly.

God’s visual.

I walked toward Dad and Charles and held out my hand. Charles looked at me, and then we both looked at my dad.

Often butterflies are a symbol of new life.

That’s what happened at Caney Creek that day and the day twenty-four years before.

Seven people died and were raised to new life.

Metamorphosis

We were changed in the twinkling of an eye.

God does not want us to forget.

And he will bring us full circle so that we will remember.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Unexpected Events--The Fish Fry

The same weekend we went to church with my dad we also had a fish fry at my cousin’s house. My cousin, Marce (pronounced Mar-sss), opened his home and thirty or more people gathered.

Some mingled on the front porch chattering. I had a hard time following any one conversation because they all crossed over the other. Several people played corn hole, and you could hear the thump of the corn bags on the boards. There was a rhythmic thwack of a baseball hitting someone’s glove and the swoosh of a basketball in the hoop.

It was one of the leisurely, lazy days of the beginning of summer. The colors of the grass and sky were brilliant. The air was muggy; you could see the heat waves rising. The dogs lay sprawled on their sides on the cool dirt. The little boys chased the crawdads through the creek and finally caught one. Their little green net would swirl around in the bottom of the five gallon bucket trying to find him. They would lift him out of the murky water for all of us to see, and we would oohh and ahhh.

My cousins were inside frying fish: one at the stove with two very hot iron skillets and one with a deep-fryer. As we helped with other tasks and chores in the kitchen we sampled the fish. Fresh perch and catfish. I liked the Cajun perch the best and ate far more than I should have—stealing very hot pieces as they came out of the skillet. My tongue was scorched, but like a child I didn’t care.

There was food and fellowship in abundance.

When everything was prepared Marce gathered everyone. He began to talk. He is such a friendly, jolly guy. He has a deep raspy voice and laughs easily and often. He loves to pull pranks and tell jokes. And he has a heart the size of Texas.

He thanked everyone and then he paused. He explained that before we started eating there was something that needed to be done. The entire group was silent.

Hushed. This was an extraordinary task for such a rambunctious group.

His raspy voice grew shaky. I noticed his girlfriend was fidgety. Nervous. We love her. She is such a beautiful woman. If Marce’s heart is the size of Texas then Tammy’s is the size of Alaska.

Marce took advantage of the silence.

“Today Tammy and I are getting married. This is something we have been wanting and needing to do for a long time. Tammy has put up with me for a lot of years, and I guess she’s going to put up with me some more. This is not for a year, but for forever.”

Charles, the Harley-riding, horse-riding, preacher was present.

Very few were aware that a wedding had been planned. The group’s silence became a buzz of whispering.

The couple descended the stairs of the porch and stood side by side in the yard. The small wedding party gathered around them—a brother and sister-in-law to stand up with them and Tammy’s son, and Marce’s son and daughter. Some of us poured into the yard too.

I wanted to be where I could hear and see their faces.

Cameras began to snap and people were shifting in the yard to get the best view to record the event. Some people remained on the porch leaning over the rails and standing on the steps—arms crossed and hats removed.

Marce and Tammy were surrounded—encircled by people they loved and who loved them.

The Hebrews writer would have been pleased with this great cloud of witnesses.

This was a surreal moment.

Charles began to talk. And Marce and Tammy began to cry.

This wedding moved me.

Its simplicity, its sincerity, its intensity pierced my heart.

We witnessed a union borne out of love and the desire to do good and right.

This moment became a thin place. The veil between the spiritual and the natural was so thin you could feel God’s presence.

And it was beautiful. Utterly beautiful.

Not because of the bride’s dress—she wore short jeans and a sleeveless shirt.

Not because of the flowers—the only flowers were the ones growing wild on the edge of the creek and the flower beds.

Not because of the elaborate reception decorations—the outdoors and the family were the only decorations.

Not because of the music or the typical traditions—there was no bridal bouquet, no garter, no wedding march.

I don’t remember exactly what time the wedding began. I don’t even remember everything that was said.

I do remember the reading of Scripture. I do remember my Dad crying on the porch. I remember the strength and passion in Marce’s voice when he looked Tammy in the eye and spoke his vows. I remember the tenderness and sweetness in Tammy’s when she looked at him.

Standing there that day in the hot sun, the sweat rolling down the middle of my back, in that thin place I recognized that I was participating in something incredibly pleasing to our Father.

Unexpected events.

I have a responsibility to Marce and Tammy. I witnessed their covenant. As Samuel said in I Samuel 12:23: As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by failing to pray for you.

Far be it from me if I fail to pray for Marce and Tammy.

God created us to want community and to desire intimacy. There is a void when we do not.

We were meant to do life together.

My path won’t cross Marce and Tammy’s on a daily basis, but I will do life with them, because I will pray for them—often.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Unexpected Events—Revival

The last few weeks have been eventful. Joyous, unexpected events—one right after another.

Several times I have written entries about my dad, A Man in His Element and Happily Ever After. Today I write about him again.

A few weeks ago I woke up one Monday morning and realized that during the busy, crazy weekend I hadn’t talked with my dad. On my drive home that night I called him. I told him I had a busy weekend and had missed talking with him. He told me he had a busy weekend too. The way he said this, I was intrigued. I asked what he had been doing knowing that it could have been anything. My dad and step-mother go all over the state trail riding. If they decide they want to go to a cattle auction, they go. If they decide they want to go on a trip, they go. They are adventurous people.

“I’ve been to church.” he informed me. I was stunned.
“Really. Really?” I know the tone of my voice must have been slathered with incredulity.

“And guess what happened to me yesterday!”

“What?”

“I got saved!” his voice was almost at shouting level.

Driving on a road known for treacherous curves—narrow and winding—I started crying. Sobbing, actually. The road blurred. This was an unexpected turn of events.

For years I had prayed for my dad. Religion was avoided even more than politics. My dad’s father had been a Baptist preacher, and so Dad had grown up hearing about salvation and Jesus and the church. People, however, do not always walk as they talk. We do not always live what we preach. And my dad is a stubborn man by his own admission. Combine all those elements and a person quickly becomes disillusioned with the organized church. They become embittered and hardened to the things of the Spirit.

To remain disillusioned with Jesus is hard. The Jesus of the gospels is irresistible. The Jesus of Sunday School, the frail,soft and flaxen-haired man, is often forgettable or dismissible.

The disillusionment and bitterness were absent from his voice. Joy reverberated as he shared with me what had happened. One of Dad’s best friends, a Harley-riding, Jesus-loving preacher, had been holding a revival at little Stark United Methodist Church down the road.

We don’t hear about revivals anymore. They are not a part of the stream-line church anymore—they have been replaced with retreats, conventions and events. Revivals tend to be a little too undignified.

The Holy Spirit, however, is not bound by fashion or methodology or convention. The Spirit moves where the Spirit wills. And He was moving in this tiny little congregation.

I continued to cry as Dad shared with me the events of the storm that blew through that tiny church. I later learned that my Dad stood up from his seat and walked forward with his arms and hands thrown upward shouting, “Thank you. Thank you for showing me the way.”

Dad ended the conversation because they were going back to church that night.
All I could say and breathe was, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.” I didn’t know what else to say.

Was there anything else to say?

Later I spoke with Dad again. He shared more details. My cousin and his girlfriend had walked down that same aisle. My dad’s sister-in-law had walked it too.

I asked about my step-mother; he commented that she had a whole lot of questions.

How I love her for having a whole lot of questions and not being afraid to ask them.

Charles, the Harley-riding, revival-preaching preacher, sat down with her and let her ask anything she wanted. He explained that some questions just don’t have answers yet.

How I love him for being so forthright and candid. There was no attempt to give canned, rote or pat answers. Some questions just don’t have answers—yet.

Tuesday night I was unloading the dishwasher and my cell phone rang. Looking at the clock I knew church must be over and Dad was calling. I answered.

“Hey, Dad! How are you?” I asked as I angled plates in the bottom rack.

“I am the happiest man on earth!” He shouted. I took a deep breath.

“Brenda was saved tonight!”

Our kitchen became a hub-bub. I was trying to hear Dad talk and my youngest daughter was asking questions. Steve was smiling.

Prayers answered.

Now, for many this is old-fashioned, religious jargon. Today it is far more vogue to say someone decided to become a Christ-follower or made a decision or is seeking. Gone now are the old phrases and language—replaced by more urban and politically correct terminology.

But, the fact of the matter is, my dad and step-mother were saved. Yes, saved.

This is what salvation is: to be saved from ourselves, from the world and from the enemy.

When you are hanging on the edge of a cliff and a helicopter comes flying by and scoops you up and you find yourself sitting in the hull of that great bird—you have been saved.

Since then we have spent some time with them. Their excitement is contagious, but it is more. It is deeper than mere excitement.

We went to visit that weekend and Dad wanted us to go to church with them. I asked what I needed to wear.

“Wear your blue jeans. We don’t dress to look pretty; we are just there to worship God.”

I jarred awake. I felt like I had been reading a good book and my head had nodded. I had been dozing with the book still open in my hands.

This was Dad talking.

That night we drove up a steep and dangerous road to Stark Church. I heard Dad sing. And I sang—such old hymns that I was surprised I remembered the words. No piano, no organ. Just someone starting the song and everyone joining. Charles preached about the old man of God (Elijah) and the fire. I heard Dad say amen.

Suddenly I was very awake.

I had forgotten what it felt like to be saved. Temporarily I had forgotten the deep and residing power of this great salvation we have entered. Through Dad and Brenda’s decisions I am reminded of its glory and purpose.

The revival spread beyond the county boundaries—stretched miles and miles and found me.

My own faith is revived.

The old-fashioned revival was scheduled to last three days. It lasted eight. Seven people were saved. Six of them, in some way, related to me.

The Spirit blows where he wills.