Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Radiant Like a Rock Star

Heaven on Earth
A Lazy River on a Spring Day
April 2011

Ezekiel 43:2 NIV
"And I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory."

On my first visit to Turkmenistan in 2004, my two colleagues from the states and I visited a school in Ashgabat, the capital. We were to be entertained by students, who had memorized passages to recite for us from their book, the Ruhnama.

On our way there, we picked up Turkish pizzas and bottles of soda to feed the students. We were going to have lunch with them and answer questions about American culture.

When our car pulled onto their gated property, I was stunned to see dozens of school girls and boys rush out of the dilapidated two-story building to greet us. They cheered and ran alongside us as the driver wove in and out among them to deliver us closer to the entrance. When we finally disembarked from the vehicle, the children hugged us and presented us with flowers. They cheered and led us by the hands into the school.

I was surprised by our reception, which made me feel like a million bucks. I was certain no Hollywood rockstar had ever received such a welcome.  

After we served the kids lunch and they had recited for us, they had a chance to ask us questions that ranged in scope from how many people were in our family to whom we were going to vote for in the upcoming presidential election.

We handed out American flags and posed for photos with the children. They asked us for our autographs. All the students, from primary to secondary, wanted to speak to us.

One day, I will see God. Rejoicing with God will far surpass the few hours I had in Turkmenistan with the children, but that experience gave me a minuscule understanding of what joy and celebrating for its own sake can feel like. The children made us feel special and welcome; they honored us.

God honors those who have been faithful to Him. They will radiate in His glory. I can't imagine the joy and happiness that surround those who are in the presence of the Lord.

In the meantime, I appreciate the "Heaven on Earth" moments He shares with me in life. The birth of my children. Making John laugh so hard he cries. Christmas Eve after the presents have all been put out and the kids are in bed, and I am awake alone listening to Christmas music as the lights on the tree twinkle in anticipation of the morning. An orange sunrise over the marsh. A kiss on the cheek from my cat when I am sad. A clear view of Orion, the Hunter, in the night sky. These are some moments that can take my breath away.

God doesn't make us wait until we die to experience glory with Him. He presents us with moments while we are alive to hold on to that reveal the radiance yet to come.
Lord, thank you for moments in life where I have experienced "Heaven on Earth". I have treasured them all.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Examples as Clear as the Setting Sun

Sun Setting over the Atlantic Ocean
April 2010

1 Timothy 4:12 NIV
"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity."

Teri and I lay side by side on my top bunk. We took turns looking out the rear window of our bedroom through a pair of cheap binoculars we owned. 

We were around six and eight years old, so our after hours activity exhilarated us. The trick was to whisper and giggle quietly so our folks didn't hear us. If they returned to see what we were up to, I think spankings might have been in our future.

Once our parents tucked us in and gave us a kiss for the night, Teri climbed from her bed onto mine, and we became secret agents, spying on anyone we could out back our house.  

Although it'd be several years before I'd watch Jimmy Stewart's famous movie, Rear Window, Teri and I acted the role of his character. We observed the world outside our window through the binoculars.

We longed to escape our prison of a room and explore what we witnessed, but we couldn't. Instead, we became nocturnal secret agent voyeurs.

We never once considered our actions an invasion of privacy, and truth be told, we rarely saw anything except passing cars on the road behind our house. We simply played a game. The only concern we had was being discovered by our parents up past our bedtime.

This story reminds me someone is always potentially watching me. I need to be aware of my conduct. If I present myself as a Christian role model, then I need to live this role all the time. I don't want to present myself as a hypocrite.  

I know with certainty God watches me all the time, and He also has the additional insight of hearing my thoughts.

For me, I think that is toughest--controlling my thoughts. It's easy to get down in the dumps on the inside. I can talk a good game to others, but as for myself, my "Thought Closet," as Jennifer Rothschild calls it, still needs work.

I am too quick to be self-critical. At times I hold myself to impossible standards. I have to learn to let God take control of my negative attitudes.

I also need to consider my actions so those who observe me can immediately discern what I stand for in life.

They shouldn't need binoculars, either. My actions should speak as clearly as a setting sun over the Atlantic ocean on a spring day.
Lord, I want the world to know I am your child in my thoughts, words, and actions.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Pop Tarts, Tears, a Train's Whistle

It's Been a Long Time Since a Train Traveled on this Track
Woodbine, Georgia
1 May 2011

Joshua 24:17 NIV
"It was the LORD our God himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we traveled."

Since childhood, when I spent time at my grandparents' house in Farmersburg, Indiana, I've always been emotionally reassured by the blast of a train whistle, which has always been symbolic for me of my family's love.

At night in Farmersburg, as my family were sleeping in rooms throughout the house, I'd hear the rumble of the train and the mournful call of the whistle and dream of far away places I could travel. At the same time, I always felt warm, loved and secure in my grandparents' modest home.

My emotional attachment to a train's blast has not eased through the decades. No matter what I'm doing, when I hear the call of a train, I'm soothed and comforted.

This meant the most to me after my folks deposited me at my dorm room as a freshman in college.

I had signed up to play trombone in marching band, which meant I arrived a week before the regular students to attend band camp. 

Mom and dad had bravely made the drive from Cincinnati to Richmond, Kentucky with me, their eldest, and if they were sad to leave me, they put on a good act for me. I tried to hide my emotions as well.

They helped me place snack items in my closet shelves and made sure I had everything out of the trunk and back seat of the car. Once they said goodbye and left, I wanted to hurry after them, though, because I suddenly panicked and felt quite alone and unsure of myself.

To perk myself up, I left the room to explore campus, which was eerily empty, like a ghost town. When I returned to my room, I reached for the only food I knew how to cook, a box of pop tarts. I had already opened an envelope, so I reached for the remaining pop tart, nibbled on it, and simultaneously dropped it and screamed.

Crawling on the pop tart, my hand, the floor, my bed, and making a path up the wall into my closet was an army of black ants.  I had drawn them in by leaving the envelope of pop tarts open.

I found bug spray and killed all I could. Next, I lay down on my bed and cried. I asked God what I had gotten myself into.  I pleaded to go back home. I told him I missed my mom and dad and didn't think I could do this on my own.

As I was immersed in my pity party, I heard a sound I knew well: A blast of a train whistle cutting through the evening. I don't believe in coincidences. God knew I needed a hug right then. I calmed down immediately.

I brushed myself off, cleaned my room, checked for ants and made sure all my food was closed tightly.  I went out of my dorm this time to find people so I wouldn't be alone.

I wandered toward the fountain near the chapel. If nothing else, I could continue to pray. As I neared the fountain, I heard two guitars playing softly from a distance. I followed their siren song and met two seniors, Rick and Tom. I discovered what was to be a wonderful weekend routine.

Rick and Tom sang at the fountain for those of us who could not go home on weekends. They were my first friends at Eastern. 

A small group of band members joined around them that night, and I met friends I would spend the year with. 

God worked a miracle on my attitude and helped me make it through my first night at college with the blast of a train whistle.
Lord, thank you for the signs you send me to help me through difficult times.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Lean Upon the Everlasting Arms

A Statue of a Man Who Leaned on the Lord
St. Francis of Assisi

Psalm 57:10 NIV
"For great is your love, reaching to the heavens; your faithfulness reaches to the skies."

My family in the Midwest have so far escaped the deadly tornadoes and floods that the spring season has delivered. None-the-less, these storms have been close enough they have spent many hours in their basements in Missouri.

In fact, my cousin photographed a funnel cloud drifting by her house much to the dismay of her daughter and husband huddling in the basement yelling for her to join them.

I have followed stories reported from many towns across the country impacted by the horrific weather this spring and have seen one common bond in all towns: people leaning upon others for support. 

As I witness these images of family and community support, I recall the old gospel hymn, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms". 

More than ever, family and friends in devastated communities need to rely not only on each other, but also on the Lord to rebuild their lives, homes, and neighborhoods.

And if you suffer today, I offer this old hymn as a reminder God is with you. Lean on Him as much as you can. He alone can transform your life.

Although Elisha A. Hoffman published these insightful words in 1887, I'll link the title to a 2010 version of the song to the movie, True Grit, sung tenderly by Iris DeMent. 

What a fellowship, what a joy divine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
What a blessedness, what a peace is mine,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

Oh, how sweet to walk in this pilgrim way,
Leaning on the everlasting arms;
Oh, how bright the path grows from day to day,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.

What have I to dread, what have I to fear,
Leaning on the everlasting arms?
I have blessed peace with my Lord so near,
Leaning on the everlasting arms.

Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms;
Leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.
Dear Lord, be with those who call upon you. Give them peace as they realize you are with them and they can lean their troubles upon you.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Hey! Stop! We Lost Another One!

Indiana Woods.
Thick Like the Red River Gorge.

John 14:6  NIV
“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me."

My first two years at Eastern Kentucky University were spent completing required courses, including an introductory ecology class.

Towards the end of the semester, an all-day field trip to Red River Gorge inside the Daniel Boone National Forest near Winchester, Kentucky, was planned for all sections of the course. All the professors who taught the course would accompany us.

Among the professors was a PH. D. new to EKU from a college out west. She led my group of students. 

The October sky was a radiant egg-shell blue as the sun filled the cloudless sky. A wide variety of trees were already immersed in full color change. If Tinker Bell were real, she had already sprinkled pixie dust here. Every rock, creek, blade of grass and tree shimmered and glowed.

Our prof was prepared for the elements. She wore hiking boots, field clothes, and a fancy outdoor hat to battle the sun. We were typical students. Some of the boys, who had grown up in these mountains, wore hiking boots, but most of us girls were under-dressed for a hike. In fact, some fashion conscious co-eds wore sandals.

However, we'd follow marked trails, and the prof would be our leader. We didn't need to think for ourselves--we just needed to follow.  

So all the groups split up. 

Our prof had never been to the gorge before, but she looked dashing in her clothes.  She trotted off at a gallop with full confidence, and we fell in step behind her.

The trail paralleled the Red River, which was thankfully not deep.  Occasionally she would pause to point out specific trees and plants that only grew in the Red River basin. 

There were probably twenty-five students among us, but she didn't make a great effort to wait on all of us to arrive to the trees or plants before she started talking about them. When we asked questions, she wasn't patient as she answered us. She thought we should know the answers already. Some boys behind me began to grumble and hurl insults up to her.

She quickened her pace, and, before I knew it, I had to duck under tree branches and climb over small boulders. Soon, I tiptoed sideways along the edge of the trail, holding onto tree branches, to keep from falling into the river.

By now, the boys figured out she was lost. They unleashed their torment on her and picked up boulders from the trail, which they tossed into the river.


"Hey!" they hollered up front to her. "Stop! We lost one!"

The prof kept plodding forward through the underbrush until there was no trail at all.  We now walked beside the river; we were actually two steps away from the water.


I turned around to look.

"Hey! Stop up there!  We lost another one!"

The boys laughed  I felt bad for the prof, but she had set herself up for this. She had presented herself as a know-it-all since we first started the hike, and now the boys tried to break her.

When she finally found her way out of the maze of the gorge, we joined our friends and returned home.

I learned a lesson that day. It doesn't matter if a person looks the part, or if she presents herself as an expert, she can still lead me down the wrong path.

Instead of checking my brain at the door to blindly follow someone else's will that day, I should have paid attention and realized I was on the wrong path.

I have to be careful who I follow in life. Seems like on every street corner there are charlatans looking to confuse people and spin our heads with their false promises.

Instead of listening to others tell me they can think for me, I need to think for myself. I can read the Bible for myself. I can attend study groups to discuss it.

I need to take ownership for my spiritual path, and not hand my brain and path over to someone else.

I followed the wrong person on my science field trip.

I sure plan on following the right person for my soul's sake.
Lord, lead me all the days of my life.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Give 'er Gas!

These Camels Could Run Faster than Mom and Dad's Station Wagon!
Jebel, Turkmenistan 2004

Psalm 27:8 NIV
My heart says of you, "Seek his face!" Your face, LORD, I will seek.

My parents owned a lime-green station wagon in the late 1970s. I'm not sure where they found it, but I can say with full confidence it was the only lime-green station wagon in Forest Park, Ohio, where I lived.

Teenagers are easily embarrassed about all aspects of their lives, especially when seen driving their parents' lime-green station wagon.

I would have ducked underneath the steering wheel had that been an option when I drove past my friends, but getting into an accident would have been even more humiliating.

My friend, Elaine, and I cruised in my parents' station wagon. We lived near Winton Woods, and one night we discovered a pasttime to keep us entertained.

Since the statute of limitations has expired, and since I am the author of this memoir, I will lay all blame for this prank at Elaine's feet.

It was her idea for us to find amorous "parkers" in their cars in the woods, turn off our headlights, pull up behind them, and then voilĂ , we turned on our headlights, backed out real fast and sped away before any harm befell us.

Well, that was our plan. Had we owned a lime-green corvette or a lime-green lamborghini that might have worked. However, we were in a station wagon that had no "get-up-and-go".

On our very first try, after I turned on the lights to reveal ourselves, my jaw dropped when I saw a brand new red mustang in front of us, and the occupants were not pleased with our game.

Talk about picking the wrong car to sneak up on!

Elaine screamed at me, "Give 'er gas, Lori! Give 'er gas!!! Get out of here!" 

She didn't have to tell me twice. Problem was, I had the accelerator to the floor. The station wagon was currently engaged in a committee meeting trying to decide if "Reverse" was the appropriate gear for us to travel in or not.

By now we could have jumped out of the car and raced it through the woods as it was moving so slowly.  I believe Elaine was in a fetal position by now anxiously glancing behind us as the mustang turned around and started to gain ground on us.

We headed up a STEEEEEP hill that led us out of the park into safety.  Elaine beat the side of the car as if she were whipping a horse to coax it to gallop faster up the hill. She hollered, "Give her gas! Give her gas! GO! GO! GO!!!"  

I prayed we would get the station wagon up the hill before the mustang caught us. 

Just as our doom seemed imminent, the station wagon's committee meeting ended. The consensus seemed to be that we should live to see another day. A burst of gasoline hit the fuel lines, arrived at the engine, and we sped up the hill far from the angry driver of the mustang.

Not surprisingly, that night put an end to our game at Winton Woods.

Throughout my life, there have been times when I haven't had the burst of energy I needed for God. Like the station wagon, I have put him into my mental committee meetings. I've debated myself about Him every which way.  I've justified my actions based on what I thought I knew about Him.

"After all," I've told myself, "God is love. He'll love me even after I do this!" I didn't get it! I didn't understand I was supposed to be "firing all my cylinders" once I accepted God. I wasn't supposed to be doing wrong and justifying those actions looking for His forgiveness later.

At school we teachers have an unofficial policy of doing something first and asking forgiveness later. It's the only way around red tape. God doesn't operate by this principle.

I'm sure there are times I thought I was giving God all my energy, but in reality, I might have had the accelerator down and nothing was actually firing inside of me.

I need to keep a close watch on myself and monitor how much energy I put into my relationship with God.
Lord, first, thank you for watching over Elaine and me that night. Also, help me keep my energy focused daily on you.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Ultimate Home Run Hitter

The Infamous Softball

Philippians 4:13 International Standard Version
"I can do all things through him who strengthens me."

A forty-year old softball leans on my fireplace mantel. Its softened leather hide peels back, revealing the ball's woven guts. It has looked this way since I received it in the 1970s. However, minutes before I became its owner, it was brand new and blemish free.

When I first encountered the softball, I was about four feet tall and wore a gray t-shirt with a red number stenciled on my back that matched my red shorts. I leaned over homeplate, twitched my bat, and waited for an  underhanded slow pitch I could punch into the outfield.

For a ten-year old, I had excellent upper arm strength, so I often played outfield because of my strong throwing arm. However, most coaches in the league knew me because of my ability to wallop balls into the outfield for home runs.

I wasn't a fast base runner, so if I were to score, I needed to make sure I hit the ball far enough away from the infield to give me time. This strategy worked. Whenever coaches saw me approach the plate, they automatically waved their girls back, so they'd have a better chance to run in to catch my fly balls.

This summer evening was no different.

I waited for pitches to fall in my favorite location just outside the plate and shoulder high. I loved to hit balls that fell in this "sweet spot," so I was selective. 

Pitches there hung high and, if hit, the balls carried as far as the wind would take them. I allowed a couple pitches to pass by me before I was rewarded for my patience. One headed directly into the zone I loved. Here was my chance; I put every ounce of energy into that swing. I could tell by the sound the ball made when it left my bat I had hit a solid home run.

The ball field sat atop a hill behind an elementary school. As I ran to first base, I watched the ball sail on the fly over the hill, landing near the bottom. It rolled down the incline to the school's boundaries. Outfielders carefully chased behind it. They didn't want to fall down the hill. 

I rounded toward second; I couldn't believe my eyes. I saw a couple girls climb over a fence into the backyard of one of the houses that bordered the school. Somehow the ball found a hole in the fence and rolled into the yard.

As I turned toward third, my coach, who was my dad, waved me home; I ran as fast as I could. I had a brief glance of a stunned opposing coach squinting to see his girls as they finally picked up the ball and carried it up the hill. I wondered why they carried the ball and didn't try to throw me out.

When I reached home, I stood there, panting, waiting for the ball to return to us.

When the opposing team's coach brought the ball to the ump, they both looked at me in awe.

"I've never seen anything like this," the coach mumbled as he shook his head in disbelief. The ump took the ball from the coach's hand and showed it to me. I had split the leather off the ball. String dangled from it.

I have thought about this ball many years and have decided it's a metaphor for my life that God blessed me with. 

God let me knock the cover off that ball for a reminder to myself that with God's help, I can do anything I set my mind to.

God is a mover and shaker. He's the ultimate "home run hitter". He's the one who causes miracles to happen. 

I only have to embrace His promises to me and claim them as my own.

One day, I hope to humbly stand before God. 

I wonder if He'll scratch His head, shake it, and sigh, "Lorraine, I haven't seen anyone like you before!"
Lord, Thank you for making me a unique creation. Help me step up to the plate and not only embrace the promises you have made me, but to hit home runs as I work on them for your glory.

Hope in the Hospital

 In the Fog of Ignorance and the Forest of Fears, God's Rainbow Offers Hope
20 May 2011

Matthew 4:23 NIV
"Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people."

A curly-haired blonde with sky blue eyes waddled by us this morning. She babbled to us as John, Russell, Allison and I sat in stiff-backed chairs in a freezing, surgical waiting room. She was dressed only in socks, a diaper, and a traditional hospital gown that opened in the back.

We smiled, said "hi" to her, and waved. She sauntered toward her parents, who were leaning forward on the edge of their seats, but she kept her head turned so her gaze fixed on us. She probably had the same question on her mind that I had on mine, "What are you doing here?"

Allison is 14, which is in the upper age bracket of being treated at Wolfson's Children's Hospital, but it's a blessing because this is one of the best hospitals in our area for children.  We don't have answers yet about her condition.

The doctor performed an endoscopy and took some tissue samples for a biopsy, so we'll know more in a week's time when results are back.

As we waited for her procedure to end, a family next to us received wonderful news. As the doctor spoke to them, they began to cry uncontrollably and praise Jesus' name. I resisted my temptation to congratulate them on their news. I wanted to ask, "Why are you here?" but some questions are too forward and personal.

However, I believe those stories are the ones that inspire others facing a similar battle.

When Allison woke up in the recovery room, the little blonde was lying near her. I'm sure her parents also shed a tear or two of relief and joy when she returned to them.    

God is faithful in all areas of life. I'm constantly reminded of this fact.

When I spotted the rainbow in the fog as the sharp morning rays of the sun cut through the pines last week, I knew God was with me. He spoke to me more directly later that morning.

God walks with us and sits with us and holds us up when we think we can't walk another wavering step. I can't think of a place where this is better demonstrated than in a hospital.

I spent most of this morning talking to Him, not just about Allison, but also for other children and their families whom I encountered because, as concerned as I am about her, what I witnessed in others alarmed me.

Thank God for doctors who fight medical conditions so children can have hope to lead more normal lives.
Thank you, Lord, for walking the halls of hospitals and holding hands with the patients. Thank you for supporting and lifting up their families and friends through the tough times.

Monday, May 23, 2011

You Can't Afford Me

How Much is a Worker Bee Worth?

John 3:16 NIV
 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

How much is an individual worth?

Recently a friend was asked by a business how much she was worth per hour to perform contract work. She had a difficult time answering the question.

I've often heard people complain they're not paid what they're worth. I know I'm not because for the last five years my salary has gone backwards due to legislative action or budget cuts. 

It's easy to wrap my sense of identity around the size of my paycheck, but the past few years, I've had to scale back my ego and just thank God that in this economy I have a job at all.

And, of course, my definition of self worth is not the same as God's.

He values me so much He sent His only Son to redeem my sins on the cross. He didn't make the decision to send His Son to Earth lightly, but Jesus' sacrifice was the only way to bridge the chasm of my sinful state and God's holy existence.

Without Christ's willingness to lay down his life for me, I'd still be separated from God by my sins.

God's overwhelming love for me and His desire to build a relationship with me, demonstrate I have self worth. I don't need possessions or money in my life to prove that point.

Besides, Jesus commanded me to give everything away to the poor and follow Him. So why would I want material goods anyway? 

The only solution is I need a new perspective toward myself--God's.

Based on His pay scale, if anyone ever asks me how much I'm worth per hour, I'll simply smile and answer, "You can't afford me."
Thank you, Lord, for valuing me. Let me see myself through your eyes.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Listen to Him

Have You Ever Felt Like You Were Talking to Stone?
Marble Statue Outside the Gates of Ashgabat, Turkmenistan
June 2009

1 Samuel 15:22 (The Message)
"Then Samuel said, Do you think all God wants are sacrifices - empty rituals just for show? He wants you to listen to him! Plain listening is the thing, not staging a lavish religious production."

1 Samuel 15:22 KJV
"And Samuel said, Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."

Students gathered in my room early in the morning before school to talk to me. I was usually rushed to start computers, but in the process, I listened to them and assessed the information they revealed to me.

If the conversation became serious, I closed the door to give us privacy, stopped my daily set-up routine, and sat down with the child to listen with both ears as I leaned forward in my seat to study the student. 

At that point, I could completely focus on body language, voice tone, pitch, eye contact, and twitches or any other signs of stress that would indicate if I should refer the student to guidance for a follow-up visit later in the day.

Listening isn't a passive encounter among individuals. It's active and involves energy and empathic listening skills. 

While not every piece of information I receive is serious, I have upon occasion received disturbing news that required help. Many years ago, I reported information to a school's guidance office, which ended up being forwarded to the Department of Family and Children Services. 

God would also like me to reveal all to Him. He already knows my secrets, so no sense trying to run and hide under a tree or bush like Adam and Eve. I might as well discuss my faults with him. He knows me better than anyone.

I'm pretty good at speaking, and I think I'm improving with my conversations with God, but listening is another matter.

I'm still a strong-willed, hard-headed, put my head down and forge forward type of gal. I expect others to see the wisdom in my path, but I'm not consistent checking in with God to see if this is the path He approves of. I need to listen before I blaze trails.

So this is my recipe for improving my relationship with God for the rest of my life:

Listen. Talk. Listen. Listen. Talk. Listen. Listen Listen. Talk. Listen. Listen Listen. Listen. Talk. Listen. Listen Listen. Listen. Listen. Talk. Repeat.

Well, something like that. I'm still a work in progress, after all.  :)
Thank you, Lord, as you help me grow in my spiritual walk.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Commencement All Over Again

The Sun Rises on a Beautiful Commencement Day
20 May 2011

Proverbs 23:25 NIV
"May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!"

I marched behind my colleagues last night to the driving rhythm of Pomp and Circumstance at our high school graduation.  The faculty always strikes an imposing picture in their black gowns and regalia.

We entered the football field in front of the Class of 2011 who waited nervously for us to pass by. Girls clutched the class flower, a long-stemmed lily, and made last minute touch ups to their hair, while boys adjusted mortarboards until their cue to enter the field to celebratory cheers from their families. 

This year our school introduced a new procedure for seating the faculty and graduates at the graduation ceremony. Rather than separating us from the students as had been the policy in the past, we were included in the seating chart interspersed among graduates: two rows of graduates; a row of faculty. 

At first, my traditional brain was opposed to this idea, but as the night progressed, I enjoyed being among the students.

The nervous energy of these young people was electric and contagious. They cheered their friends. They encouraged each other. I looked around and was proud to see students whom I had taught or tutored.

One of the "tough" kids who had been a handful in class was now doubled over behind me as the Junior Marshall approached his row to indicate it would be time for them to walk to the stage to receive their diplomas.

I asked a girl  behind me if he were okay. She leaned over and asked if he were going to throw up. He laughed and looked at us like a chagrined child caught stealing a cookie from the cookie jar.

"I feel like I'm going to pee my pants!" He smiled, focused on the ground, and hoped his nerves would calm down. I never would have seen this side to him if we had been separated from the graduates.

I looked behind me on the other side of the row and spotted a girl who had passed the Georgia Writing and Language Arts tests after going through a two-weeks' tutoring session with me. 

She had taken and failed the graduation tests four times before I was assigned to work with her. She was down to her last chance to pass before graduation.  

I was determined to help her. Unfortunately, the last week before the tests, her grandfather became seriously ill, and she had to go out of town to be with him. As a result, she missed a few sessions with me. I didn't know if what I had taught her would be enough or not.

However, when we received her test results, she had passed. Now I was proudly sitting near her and able to shake her hand when she returned to her seat with her diploma.

A special education student sat in front of us. He didn't understand exactly what he had accomplished by receiving his diploma, but he knew it was important. He leapt, weightless, high in the air all the way back to his seat, but he missed his row and tried to climb in with us.

We helped him return to his proper seat. Then he opened his diploma and held it up for the world to see. A guttural roar rose forth from his soul. His body shook like an agitated washer for nearly the rest of the ceremony, while occassional roars sounded forth. I lost count how many times he hugged the diploma and held it up.

I also lost track of how many tears welled up in my eyes as I watched him. 

The camaraderie I felt sitting among the graduates surprised me. Of course, we were placed there to encourage them to be on their best behavior. What ended up happening was they asked us questions about the ceremony. To them, we were still their teachers and advisers. They didn't resent us for sitting among them and seemed to appreciate our being there.

When the final student's name was called, they stood and cheered. I also felt a sense of exhilaration I hadn't felt in years at a graduation. As their caps flew high in the air, I wished I also had one to throw.

Graduation was a proud moment for all the graduates and their families, and for the first time in many years, I actually enjoyed graduation duty.

I also learned I needed to give a new idea a chance before I shot it down.

Once more, God worked on my attitude and showed me I don't know everything. He is patiently working on me.

I hope one day, if I study hard, I will finally reach His goal for me and graduate from this lesson I need to learn in life.

I wonder if God throws graduation caps in Heaven?
Thank you Lord for teaching me about my attitude once more. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

A Letter from God

Ephesians 6:18 NIV
"And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints."

I drove into the fog of Honeycreek to find clarity.

Fog on the Road to the Episcopal Conference Center at Honeycreek
20 May 2011

I awakened this morning to a beautiful sunrise masked by thick fog. As I sped south on I-95 toward my last day at school, an overwhelming urge inside my soul caused me to exit the interstate and drive to my religious sanctuary at Honeycreek chapel beside the river.

Sunrise Over the Golden Isles
20 May 2011

I could no more fight the force inside me than iron can resist the pull of a magnet.  In fact, as I drove eastward, I heard myself humming the old gospel hymn, "He Leadeth Me." 

I strained my neck to look at the sun through the fog over marsh and through oak and pine dripping with Spanish moss.  An occasional burst of sun rays cut through tree branches as I headed deeper into the woods toward the river.

At the river, I witnessed a tremendous yellow sunrise. Birds chirped. A woodpecker rhythmically tapped. The river flowed calmly. God's world unfolded in a song, breeze and color. I needed to witness this.

As I returned to the car, I passed the wooden bench, where I had spent time in prayer before. Work called. However, I turned on my heels, returned to the bench, sat down and bowed my head. I needed to talk to God this morning more than I needed to get to work on time.

I prayed for my friends and family who have loved ones in the hospital. I prayed for my friends who are carrying enormous burdens. I prayed for doors to open for my future, and then, I prayed for our exchange student, Teo.

God clearly spoke to John and me in September about her. He directly spoke to John and told him to bring her into our home. John had never heard the voice of God before, but he recognized God's command to take Teo into our home as soon as he heard “The Voice”.

Now she is soon returning home. I told God we had done our best for her. We had taken her in as He asked, and I hoped we had been good host parents.

I lingered a little more in silence and reverence at that holy spot and then returned to the car with a much lighter heart.

I sang "He Leadeth Me" as I maneuvered the winding curves of the road toward the interstate.  I was happy and ready to face whatever the day brought me as I got onto I-95.

I had barely been on the interstate five minutes when I pulled behind a tractor trailer. Its serial number was painted in all capital black letters about three feet high on the back of the truck: 33 MTEO 38.

I stared in disbelief at the letters. Teo? My Teo?  What about those threes. Holy numbers?

Oh and also--if I add them up individually, they equal 17, which will be her age on July 2nd, her birthday.

As I passed the truck on the left, I saw written on the driver's door of the cab this address: Cincinnati, Ohio.

My hometown.

Additionally the type of service provider was identified on the cab as well: It was a U.S. mail contractor.

I had just received a letter from God acknowledging receipt of my prayer!
Lord, Thank you for taking time out of your busy day to acknowledge my concerns.  You are truly an amazing God. I am humbled by your attention to details.

Honeycreek Chapel
The River that Flows Beside the Chapel

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Sweet Grass Basket Maker

Spring Sunset
April 2010

Genesis 1:31
"God saw all that he had made, and it was very good."

I met Martha, my colleague from the museum, at the Meridian Dock, where we boarded the Sapelo Queen and headed toward our 45-minute commute to Sapelo Island to interview and photograph the legendary Sweet Grass Basket Maker, Allen Green.

I had volunteered during the summer of 1990 as a freelance writer for the Coastal Georgia Historical Museum. The job had introduced me to cultural icons from around Georgia. I helped promote the Sea Island Singers on a local morning television show, and I had written text for an art show by a prominent artist whose works were on display in the museum.

Martha and I had now been commissioned to interview and photograph Mr. Green, who was approaching the end of his life.  We talked to him about the process he used to make baskets, a skill he was taught in childhood as he was raised in the Hog Hammock community on Sapelo Island, a coastal barrier island populated by the descendants of slaves from the African nation of Sierra Leone.

Mr. Green was teaching others that morning how to make sweet grass baskets so the tradition would carry on after his death. Both men and women sat at his feet to learn his secrets.

He selected two strands of sweet grass and began to twist them masterfully together. Before long, he added a third strand to the first two. His fingers flew. He didn't think; he felt his way through the process. Finally a small basket took shape before our eyes.

I thought, God is like this. He's a master craftsman. He creates at ease.

I wonder what He thought as He fiddled in the mud and clay and molded and shaped Adam.? Did he dabble around with the nose some?  Did He think about giving him a short stubby one like mine, or did Adam get a classic Roman nose--straight as an arrow?

What emotions welled up inside of God as He saw Adam begin to breathe and move on his own?  Did He feel like crying in joy for the birth of this child? His newest creation?

All we see in the Bible is His assessment of His work. That the end result is "good."  But still, I wonder, what did it feel like to create a masterpiece and step back and let it make its own decisions. And then, how sad and painful to become separated from those whom you love through sin.

In 1990 I watched how tenderly a master basket maker made a sweet grass basket. 

I can only imagine how tenderly God created man and woman. How much He truly loves them then and now.
Lord, thank you for creating me in your image and for the love and tenderness you show me everyday.
Here is a link to the Sapelo Island Sweet Grass Baskets, with a photo of Allen Green.

Sapelo Island Sweet Grass Baskets

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Purple Hands? Seriously?

This is a Solid Brick Wall
No Breaking this on My Own

Psalm 31:3 NIV
"Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me."

After a long day of classes, I rushed to my college dorm room only to enter a dark cave. Window blinds were drawn tight, lights off; no hint of joy emanated from the room to match my sunny mood.

I sighed, flipped on the lights, walked around the mass lying on the middle of the floor, and raised the blinds to let Indian Summer light stream into our ground floor room.

The iron bars attached to the outside of our window to keep thieves from breaking in (or us from sneaking out, alluding the watchful eye of our house mother, Mrs. McCrackin) cast parallel shadows, like prison bars, on the floor across the mattress and blankets covering my roommate with the hangover. 

Shelia slept on the floor because there were three of us in a room designed for two. She had arrived last, so she had no bed. We found a mattress and blankets and spread her out as best we could.

"Shelia! Shelia!" I urged, as I gently rocked her shoulder with my hand. I had to be careful as Shelia packed a powerful punch.

She was tough as nails and had won many bar fights when she was drunker than a skunk. This was the age before Tonya Harding, but she could have been a raven-haired cousin to her.

"Shelia! Wake up. It's almost 4:00.  You don't want to miss dinner like you did your classes today. By the way, do you remember how you got home from the Family Dog last night?"

She began to groan and grab her stomach. At first I thought she was going to throw up, but the nausea abated some. 

As she leaned on her elbow and pulled herself up, I noticed her face and hands. They were purple and rapidly turning black.

"Shelia! What happened to you? Did somebody do this to you?"

"Nah--I got into a fight with the wall at Sutter's Mill and the wall won. That's why my hands are bruised."

"But what about your head? What happened to it?" 

"I had a headache, and it wouldn't go away, so I tried banging my head on the frig to see if that would help."

I looked at our mini-frig, no bigger than three feet high and wondered who could intentionally bang their head on the side of this thing?  For one of the first times since I had met her, I began to feel sorry for her.

Shelia ended up not being invited back to college after Christmas, so my other roommate and I had more space to spread out in our cramped room.

My freshman year taught me many lessons, but Shelia introduced me to an important one: the evils of alcoholism.

I never heard from her afterwards and have no way to trace her.  I often wonder what became of her, but I have my suspicions.  Knowing the hills she was returning to, without a strong role model to guide her through her alcoholism, she would be destined to face a path of self-destruction.

Many people try to fill up holes in their lives with alcohol, drugs or other compulsive behaviors. They run away from the One who can help them most.

Shelia is not alone in her fight with the wall. I also fight and punch and kick and try to knock my walls down all the time, rather than surrendering my battles to God and letting him lead the way through the barriers.

I'm getting quicker at passing problems over to Him, but I still have ownership issues.

I'm working on this problem this year, and I see some progress, but who doesn't like a good fight with a wall now and then? 

Poor God. I know he sighs all the time, and thinks, "Seriously, Lori? You still want purple hands?"
Dear Lord, help me conquer walls with your strength, not my own.

Monday, May 16, 2011

A Galactic Explosion of Hope!

R2D2 a Rebel Hero
Bringing Hope to his Galaxy

Mark 13:32 NIV
"No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."

I tiptoed into the dark theater, eased into an empty seat, and leaned forward in anticipation. As a member of the custodial staff, we often sneaked into the end of movies until our third shift hours began.

I had witnessed this climatic conclusion of Star Wars, Episode IV at least thirty times, yet the explosion of the Galactic Empire's Death Star never ceased to amaze me.

Luke Skywalker (Red 5) was about to adjust his computer instruments to make his approach with his friends as they tried to disable the deadly weapon before it destroyed the rebels' outpost.
I kept my eyes on the screen. I was as mesmerized as I had been the first time I had seen it. The squadron of X-wings maneuvered into formation.
The leader commanded: All wings report in. 
The squad sounded off:
          Red 10 standing by. 
         Red 7 standing by.     
        Red 3 standing by.      
       Red 6 standing by. 
      Red 9 standing by. 
     Red 2 standing by.                                
    Red 11 standing by. 
   Red 5 standing by.
There was no trace of fear in their voices as they approached imminent death from the Emperor's forces.
Luke witnessed the squadron face a series of misfortunes, so he resolved to make a last-ditch effort to protect the weakening rebel alliance.
As he raced toward the vulnerability in the Death Star, he was protected as long as possible by his comrades.
Eventually on his own, he warded off Darth Vader while attempting to complete his mission.
As he gazed into his targeting computer, the voice of his mentor, Obi-Wan Kenobi, filled his head, urging him to let go of the computer and trust his instincts. 
Confused, but willing to follow the voice of his familiar guide, he let go of science and trusted the mysterious force that surrounded his universe. 

This act led to his successful destruction of the Death Star with the unexpected assistance of his friend, Han Solo.
The moment the Death Star erupted, my jaw dropped in awe and amazement. I'd never seen such a large explosion on the big screen before.
Good had triumphed over evil. Celebrations sprang forth among the rebel forces.
In the end, Luke received a medal and kiss on the cheek from the lovely Princess Leia, who I later discovered was his twin sister. But that's another story.
The destruction of the world (or a Death Star) has often captured the imagination of Science Fiction (or Science Fantasy) writers since the genre began. 
Currently, my students are obsessed with the movie 2012, which predicts the world as we know it will end at that time.
I'm amazed at how many students allude to 2012 in journal responses to world catastrophes such as flooding in the Midwest, earthquakes around the world, or melting glaciers.

I sigh and write positive messages in the margin of their negative papers.
There are some who make a living predicting the end of the world and then revising their predictions when they're wrong. I just read an article about a man who sold all his possessions in anticipation of the world ending on 21 May 2011.  How sad.
Ever since Christ's death, people have looked for His return. We're promised He will return, but we are also told no one knows the day or time of His return. 

I whole-heartedly wish rather than worrying about the day the world ends, people would do what they could to improve the world we live in.

There is so much work to be done here and now for those trying to live, not die.

As exciting as an explosion of a Death Star might be on a movie screen, it is much more exciting to offer hope to the world.

God's love offers that hope to a dying world. An explosion of hope of Galactic proportions here on Earth--now that would be totally awesome. 

Imagine the reverberations that would be created if the wave of energy caught everyone in its wake!

I'd certainly get out of my chair and onto my feet screaming for an encore!
Lord, let me offer hope to those around me who are without hope.