A Special Kind Of Believing

Saturday morning, Sean and Antique Daddy sat at the breakfast bar eating breakfast while I played the role of the short order cook.

On the bar was a slip of paper with Sean’s Bible memory for the month of August.  It was James 2:17. With just a little prompting, he was able to recite the verse:  “As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead.”

The slap of high fives and cheers echoed throughout the House of Antique.

AD asked Sean if he understood what the verse meant.

“Sorta,” he said with some uncertainty, then “No. Not really.”

After a long pause he guessed, “If the body doesn’t have a spirit, then it’s dead,” he said with hunched shoulders and palms up.   “And it can’t work? Right?”

“That part is right,” I confirmed.

“Do you know what faith is?” AD asked.

There was a long silence as he considered the question.

“Well faith is what you believe in,” he said slowly.

“That’s true,” I said. “Faith is a sort of believing, but faith is a special kind of believing.”

I picked up the salt shaker off the counter and showed it to him.

“You believe that this is salt, don’t you?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Well how do you know?”

“Well, I can see it,” he said.

“Well, maybe it’s not salt. Maybe it’s something else. How could you find out for sure that it’s salt?”

“I would shake some out and taste it.”

“Very good.  And then you wouldn’t have to have faith. You’d would know for sure, wouldn’t you?”

“So then what is faith?” AD asked again.

Sean looked at AD. AD looked at me. I looked back at Sean.

After a long pause, he shook his head and said, “I’m stumped.”

We all three sighed.

More than one man has been stumped, and stumbled, trying to understand and define the essence of faith.

Faith is a mystery.

He who calls us into a relationship of faith is the very same who set time and eternity into the hearts of men in such a way that we cannot comprehend it. (Ecclesiastes 3:11)

My prayer for Sean this Sunday morning is that the events of his life, both good and bad, will call him to enter into the mystery of faith, to take a running leap across the wide and deep chasm of human understanding towards eternity.

* * * * *

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1

Fear Of Public Speaking – #1 For A Good Reason

Back in the early 80s, when I was about 23, I landed this great job where I traveled around the country about 80% of the time teaching people how to use their new phones.

It was a great job for a young single gal.  I traveled to many of the major companies in most of the major cities, and four times a day, twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon, I gave 30-40 minute presentations on how to use the new phone system.  Basically I worked four hours a day and was done by 3:30. Suh-weeet!

The first time I went on a training trip, I went with this older lady named Connie to a large aerospace concern out on Long Island.  And by older lady, I mean that she was the same age I am now.  That hurt just a little to write that last sentence.

She gave the first two morning presentations while I observed and then I was to give the afternoon presentations.

That afternoon, in my first group were about twelve not easily amused, scowling executives extremely serious about the millions of dollars they had just invested in their new phone system.  And little old blond, wet behind the ears, uneducated me was there to teach them how to use it. I’m sure the sight of me in my $20 polyester business suit inspired all due confidence.

I knew my material. I had it memorized. I knew the phones and I knew the system and how they worked inside and out. Yet I was nervous. Connie told me to relax and take a few deep breaths and that I would do great.

I stood up to make my way to the front of the room.  I turned and looked down at her hoping for something, but I didn’t know what, maybe her calm and poise, maybe that she could somehow gift that to me.  I also hoped that a meteorite might hit the building in the next 5 seconds.  But it didn’t, so I just stood there looking at her.  She looked back at me. And blinked a few times.  Finally she made a sweeping motion with both of her hands. “Go,” she said.

So I turned and I went.

I went to the front of the room.  I stood in front of a dozen scowling Ernest Borgnines, all with their arms crossed across their fat executive bellies, some clenching unlit cigars between their teeth, all waiting for me to confirm for them that they had not wasted their company’s money on my phone system.

I swallowed hard with great difficulty.  I seemed to have no saliva.  I opened my mouth to speak and no words issued forth. Not one.

I opened my mouth again, hoping to hear the sound of my voice, hoping to hear “Hi. My name is…” But all that came out was a sad, pathetically tiny squeak.

I remembered that Connie had told me to take a few deep breaths before I started, so I did. And then I took another.

And then another.

And then I couldn’t stop myself and I began to hyperventilate.  And now instead of making a tiny squeaky kitten sound, I was making an unpleasant sound that I liken to the sound that the last of the water makes as it is being sucked down the bathtub drain.  Not the sound you want to hear in a conference room.

As I’m making the bathtub sucking sound, unhappy, scowling, and now, slightly alarmed executive faces stare back at me.

My heart was beating so hard, I could feel it in my throat.   I looked down and saw my right foot thumping like a rabbit.  My mind sent my foot a message to cut it out, but my heart was in my throat and so the message did not get past my neck.  And the fact that my heart was in my throat was probably all that stood in the way of me throwing up. So I count that as a blessing.

Somehow, I do not know how, I managed to pull it together.  I got through my 30 minute presentation. It was not great, but I got through it without throwing up or fainting and at that point, that was all that mattered.

I’ve always suspected that the executives went home to their wives that night and told them about how in the conference room at work that day was the most ridiculous specimen of a human they ever saw.

After my presentation, I sat down and the first thought I had was, “I can’t WAIT to do that again!”

It was terrifying, but it was also exhilarating to go into that dark tunnel and come out the other side. And I wanted to do it again.

The next time was a little better, I didn’t hyperventilate, as much, and the time after that it was a little better. By the second week, I could give those presentations in my sleep. Over the next several years I went all over the country giving the good news.  You’ve got new phones!  And I’m here to teach you how to use them!

Most of the time, the response was, “I like the old phones. What was wrong with the old phones? I know how to use the old phones. I don’t like the new phones.”

I gave presentations to groups of 3 and groups of 20 and groups of 100 or more.  And I became very comfortable with public speaking.

But that was 20 years ago, and now I’m back to square one again.

This past weekend, I was in North Carolina at the She Speaks conference to relearn how to move through that dark tunnel to square two.

This time around, I’ve got a different kind of good news.

Drop By Drop

Day by day, drop by drop, the world seeps in and crowds us out.

His daddy and I are in a race against the clock to lay a firm and level foundation that will last him a lifetime and withstand any storm.

Because already, there is a storm gathering in the distance.

We see it. We hear it. We know it is coming.

He’s interacting with the world more and more these days, independent of us.

He’s already heard the most corrupting lie ever told:  Everybody does it.

We try to teach him to stand apart with confidence, to not be Everybody.

We try to teach him that it’s better to be wise than smart.

We try to teach him that it’s better to be kind than accepted.

We try to teach him that good choices lead to goodness.

And every day that passes is one less day we have to  shore up the foundation of his life.

Our prayer for him is not wealth, health and happiness.

Our prayer for him is that goodness and mercy follow him all the days of his life.

Good Intentions

I love going to the store early in the morning because there are usually no lines and it’s clean and quiet, plenty of good parking spaces.  Early shoppers know how to grocery shop. They understand and adhere to aisle etiquette. They know what they are doing.  They are my people.

But this is not about grocery store etiquette. This is about how good intentions wear off around 9am.

On a recent early morning shopping trip, I passed through the bakery area where I saw a mom-type person reach into the doughnut case, snag one with the tissue paper and scarf it down in about two bites.  I do not judge her, because who among us has not been overcome with doughnut fumes and passed out in the self-serve case?  She had probably gotten out of bed an hour before with the best of intentions to make it a better day, to do better, to treat her body like the temple that it is.

But by 9:30, the morning sun had scorched her good intentions. Resolve dissolved.  I get that.

Two aisles before I even got to the photo department, I heard a voice – intense and purposeful and rising like a thermometer.  When I turned the corner I saw a harried mom with four kids hanging off the cart. She was trying to work the self-service photo print machine and her four kids were trying to work her last nerve.  And then she lost it.  She bellowed at the source of her exasperation and melted down into a puddle of what appeared to be good intentions.

She had probably gone to bed the night before promising herself that today would be a better day, that today she would do better, today she would be the kind of calm and reasonable mom parenting books promise you can be.

As I was heading towards the checkout with my few things, I met up with a man with sad eyes and a red bulbous drinker’s nose.  He wore a defeated expression.  He bowed awkwardly and kindly waved me into the line ahead of him, although I had several things in my cart whereas he only had a case of beer.

“Thank you so much sir,” I said. I looked into his eyes and what I saw was the cruelest kind of sad – self disappointment.  Had he gotten up a couple of hours earlier with the best intentions to make it a better day, to do better? Yet here he was buying a case of beer at 9:30 in the morning.

Beer is not my thing, but sometimes it’s the doughnut. Or the promise not to yell or be snippy and short with people I love. Or any number of short comings from a long list.

Like those people, I wake up each morning telling myself that today I’ll make it a better day, today I’ll do better. And then the sun rises in the sky.

The early shoppers, the ones with the good grocery store etiquette and a cart full of busted best intentions, they are my people.

Daily, my good intentions fail, but His compassions for me don’t. And therein lies my hope.

* * * *

“Because of the Lord”s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” ~Lamentations 3:22-23

Water

Water.

Every drop as ancient as the earth itself.  Having possessed every form from ice to vapor, every drop has been swirling around and around the earth since before the moon was born.  It is the most corrosive element on the earth.  It will continue to carve and sculpt the rocks and rivers of the world until He sweeps it all away.  It cleanses us, it baptizes us, it is in every cell of our body.  It is our tears and it is the private ocean of the womb where life begins.

Water.

Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. ~ Genesis

The Mourning Dove

Early one morning last week, I glanced out my kitchen window and noticed a mourning dove perched upon the fence.  He paused to look around, as if making sure no one was looking.  He hopped sideways down the fence a few quick steps and then disappeared into an effusion of jasmine.

Dainty yellow buds shivered and fell away to the ground as he rustled around in the thicket. A few seconds later, he popped back up onto the fence, tried to look nonchalant, spread his graceful wings and flew away.

A minute later he was back again.  This time I noticed he had a small twig in his beak.  Once again, he looked around to make sure no one was watching, and once again he plopped down into the jasmine.  After another round of rustling and rummaging, he hopped back up on the fence and was off. Again.

I watched him off and on throughout the morning. He must have made 30 trips back and forth to the jasmine, each time carrying a tiny twig.

Later that afternoon, my curiosity got the better of me.  I had to see what was going on, so I quietly crept down the driveway towards the jasmine to take a look.

This time of year the aroma of Carolina jasmine is so thick and sweet it makes your head hurt and so bright and pretty it makes your heart ache.  I stood on my tiptoes and carefully pulled back a long wayward leafy tendril.  There in the middle of a tangle of vines was a mama dove, almost the exact same shade of gray as the weathered wooden fence.  An eye, perfectly black and round,  stared back at me.  She made no move to send me away, but sat as silent and still as a stone.  I gently let the vine down, as though I were drawing a curtain, and left her to her privacy.

The next several days brought cold, razor sharp rain and whip cracking wind.  After the storms passed, I peeked in on my dove to see how she had fared.  I thought I might find an abandoned nest or worse.  But there she was.  Undaunted, she blinked the rain from her eyes and continued to sit patiently on her nest.  No amount of misery was going to separate her from her eggs.

I let down the vine and left her once again to the business of brooding. As I walked back up the driveway, my mind was filled with the pitiful image of her protecting her beloved eggs with her own body as rain pelted her head and the wind rattled her delicate home of twigs.

I would do the same.  The very same ancient and unseen thing that drives the mourning dove to suffer any discomfort, to bear any burden, to do whatever it takes to see her babies safely out of the nest… drives me too.

Vainly Imagined

Over the weekend, I watched a documentary style news program where Alan Greenspan was waxing philosophic about our current economic condition.

Mr. Greenspan said that our nation didn’t become  great and prosperous because we had more resources than other nations. No, he said we became so great because we are smarter than everyone else.  Of course this is a paraphrase because I wasn’t watching television with a notepad and pen.

I think Mr. Greenspan is a super smart and awesome dude, but I must disagree with him on both points, although clearly America has produced some of the hardest working, most resourceful, best and brightest.

When I was in college, I took two semesters on the history of science and technology and I learned that while England and the Old World had skilled labor, their natural resources were depleted after thousands of years of civilization.  On the other hand, in the New World, we had more resources than we could shake a stick at, but not much in the way of skilled labor to take advantage of it.  So, I think Mr. Greenspan is wrong – we did,  and I think still do,  have more resources than other countries.  It’s anyone’s guess as to how long that will be true.

I also disagree with his point that we got where we are because we are smarter than other nations, and here, I will quote Lincoln who said it better than I ever could.

“But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious Hand which preserved us in peace, and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us; and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own.”

~ Abraham Lincoln