Friday, November 25, 2011

Narrow Escapes and Rescues

Narrow escapes, ever had one? On October 17, a pleasant Monday, Dave and I traveled toward New Mexico in the Peterbilt tractor, pulling a load of pipe. The fresh plowed fields near I-20 in West Texas and blustery wind had already gritted the air, but that dust was minimum, compared to what we experienced after dark.

            A cold front had moved into North Texas, a 75 mph dust storm, called a “haboob,” tossing tons of dirt into the air. “Haboob” is an Arabic word for a massive sand storm, usually occurring only in North African deserts. The storm hit Lubbock during daylight hours, however, by the time it reached our location on I-20, between Abilene and Big Springs, it was after nine o’clock and very dark.     

            Dave said, “It looks like black smoke ahead,” just as a Cadillac in front of us braked suddenly. Dave pulled into the fast lane to avoid hitting them, and that’s when we ran into the wall of black swirling dirt. It obliterated the road. We could barely see a faint glow of the headlights, but no visible road. The high winds sandblasted the truck, and all Dave could do was steer, step on brakes, and start gearing down.

            Then we felt the truck leave the interstate, our direction unknown. We sensed going down an embankment and up again and crossing different levels of ground. We felt as if we hit 50 things before our 80,000-pound rig and load finally stopped. I was on the phone with our daughter, Sheryle, during our entire wild ride.

            Right before all this happened I told her, “We’re hitting some fierce wind.” She went on the scary ride with us via her cell phone. I'm sure it was very frightening for her as I said, "Oh God, we've left the road. We're having a wreck."

            "Mom, what's happening? Are you okay?"

            "I don't know. We’re still having the wreck...Okay we’ve stopped. We’re okay. I’ll call you back.” I asked Dave, "Where are we?”        "I don't know. I think we hit a bridge."

            He grabbed a flashlight and jumped out to check the truck, having no idea where we were. He later told me he thought we were in the median, partially in oncoming traffic. We actually had missed any surrounding vehicles, crossed in front of the Cadillac and traveled down and off the roadway. We then went up another embankment, crossed the feeder road and ended up in the ditch next to a plowed field. I couldn't even open the door of the truck the wind was pushing so hard. Dirt blew perpendicular to the ground.

            The husband and wife in the Cadillac stopped high above us on the shoulder of the interstate, and the wife braved stinging dirt to check on us. Dave still couldn’t tell where we were, but she told us we were to the right of the feeder going west. By then Dave had inspected his load. No pipe had shifted. We had not blown any tires. Not one scratch on the truck or us, and we were especially relieved that the folk in the Cadillac were okay.

            We counted our blessings, and Dave eased the truck back onto the feeder where we drove several miles until the initial brunt of the swirling darkness died down. Sheryle later texted: “The minute you said you were getting into high wind, I said a quick prayer, “Lord, protect them.”

            Emily, a young mother, related her harrowing close call to me: Her husband and children were meeting family at their farm. Five-month-old daughter, Kaitlyn, had a cough, so Emily took a hot bath, and sat Kaitlyn in her car seat beside the tub, hoping the steam would ease her breathing.

            Emily heard a loud bang and saw pieces of the wall in her bath water. After looking around, the family found a small hole in the wall behind Emily’s back and a hole in an opposite cabinet -- lodged inside a bullet, possibly from illegal hog hunters in the area. The bullet holes were just inches from where little Kaitlin sat and where Emily had bathed. Emily said, “I am so thankful that Kaitlyn and I weren't hurt. God was watching over us.” When rescues happen, we take comfort in knowing God has his eyes on sparrows, paths of big trucks, windstorms, paths of bullets, and us.

            Close calls can leave one trembling. God’s miraculous sparings, through his power and his angels, remind us of at least two things: First, God keeps track of where we are and what’s happening in our lives. Second, if we’re still on Earth, he designated that we have more days. Have you had any narrow escapes this year or in the past?

             On this Thanksgiving in the year of our Lord 2011, knowing that God will protect us until it’s time for him to welcome us home – now that’s delicious food for thought!

            Index card verse for week 47: “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14).


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Linger, Remain, Stay, Delay and Dawdle--November 18

I’m in love with the word “linger.” Actually, I’m in love with the essence of that word. I’m not talking about forgetful lingering such as when you’re sitting at a red light and you forget to drive when the light turns green. That’s simply not paying attention. I have in mind, a purposed time of taking longer than usual with things of importance, things that sometimes are rushed.

            You’re familiar with the fourteen “time” passages in Ecclesiastes 3, presented as opposites. There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, . . . a time to be silent and a time to speak.”

            Let’s focus on “there is a time to be silent and a time to speak.” What I’m suggesting for this next week of rushed schedules, family gatherings, and baking and eating is to spend some time lingering. Lingering will boost your joy quotient in ways that busyness will not.

            Lingering involves calming and quieting. Quieting means disconnecting from whatever worries assault you at present, giving the mind an okay signal to vacation from your worries for a few minutes.  First, quiet your body. Be still. Halt the noise of your surroundings. Don’t shoot the cheery mockingbird outside your window, but do turn off the television, telephone, and the sound on the internet. Don’t let any pings, rings, or knocks disturb your settling down to relax.

            That’s the easy part. Now try to quiet the noise behind your eyebrows. Turn off the list of stuff that you want to do. Turn off doubts. Turn off questions. Turn off negative thoughts, and practice Paul’s recipe for cleansing the inner person: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable -- if anything is excellent or praiseworthy -- think about such things” (Philippians 4:8). A few minutes of quiet lingering can restore your focus, energy, and enthusiasm for life.

            Having practiced stopping and quieting yourself, then carry that spirit of lingering into your noisy, always-on-the-move world. What will “lingering” look like there? It will be time to hold a granddaughter an extra five minutes as you read her favorite book. It will mean taking a deep breath and sitting longer with your hands wrapped around a mug of hot coffee. It means making time to sit by your spouse, hold hands, and simply be, even lingering over a kiss between you.

            It will mean not entertaining regrets about spending extra time with people instead of trimming the hedges, dusting, cooking, making out a job bid, or cleaning out the gutters. On autumn days when David and I were newlyweds, he would ask me to go for a walk on our wooded acreage. Sometimes his invitation would come just as we finished supper and before I’d cleaned the kitchen. After declining his invitation a few times, he eventually said, “I don’t mind that the kitchen sink has a few dirty dishes in it. I’d rather have you with me, holding hands, and walking along the creek.” I learned to grab my flannel shirt and his warm hand and go for walks with my beloved.

            Along these thoughts of lingering, I also have in mind a purposeful waiting on the Lord in silence. Again, prepare that sound barrier so you can linger over a psalm, pray, and wait for an answer. A peace beyond comprehension comes from such a meeting between the Lord and you. The Lord counseled hasty, out-of-sorts, and sinning Israel, “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it (Isaiah 30:15).

            Want to have the best Thanksgiving ever?  Quiet your body. Be still. Halt the noise. Linger with a friend over lunch. Take a refreshing nap. Look long into the eyes of the person you love. Postpone an activity in favor of quietness and rest. Remain, delay, stay behind, dawdle, postpone, or reschedule. Take the time to linger. I imagine that you too may fall in love with the essence of the word linger.

            Index card words for week 46: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1:3).


Friday, November 11, 2011

Soldiers and the Arm that Guides the Starrry Host

In the winter of 1777-1778, the Continental Army suffered months of hardship from lack of food, clothing, and proper shoes to keep their feet from freezing. The encampment at times housed as many as 12,000 soldiers. "An army of skeletons appeared before our eyes naked, starved, and sick and discouraged," wrote New York's Gouverneur Morris of the Continental Congress.

            The army’s wintering took place near Valley Forge, so named by a forge owned by the brother of Isaac Potts, a Quaker.  Even though Isaac Potts opposed the war, as most Quakers did, Potts’ family history claims that 26-year-old Isaac lived at the Forge during the winter with his wife to oversee the grinding of the grain that George Washington commissioned from the surrounding farmers to feed his starving army.

            Several who lived during that time wrote accounts of Isaac Potts traveling on foot through a wooded area near the encampment when he heard the voice of one in devotion.  As he drew closer, he heard and saw the commander-in-chief of the armies of the United Colonies, George Washington, kneeling in prayer. Although several men claim to have written what Potts told them about Washington’s prayer, the most accurate account seems to come from a signed, handwritten document by Isaac Potts’ daughter, Ruth-Anna, written later in life at her father’s direction.  

            These excerpts are from what she recorded from her father:  After returning home, he sat beside his wife, and she asked with tenderness, “Heigh! Isaac, thee seems agitated; what’s the matter?”

            “Indeed, my dear, if I appear agitated ‘tis no more than what I am. I have seen this day what I shall never forget.” Her father said that Washington was “interceding for his beloved country . . . With tones of gratitude that labored for adequate expression.” He expressed adoration to God for lifting him to lead a great nation, who fought at “fearful odds for all the world holds dear.” Isaac Potts said Washington “disclaimed all ability of his own for this arduous conflict; he wept at the thought of that irretrievable ruin which his mistakes might bring on his country.”  He pleaded a patriot’s despair mentioning “the interest of unborn millions before the eye of Eternal Mercy.” He then implored the “aid of that arm which guides the starry host.”

            Isaac Potts continued, “Till now I have thought that a Christian and a soldier were characters incompatible; but if George Washington be not a man of God, I am mistaken.” Potts concluded: “And still more shall I be disappointed if God do not through him perform some great thing for this country.”

            Today is Veteran’s Day, when we honor those who place themselves in harm’s way to defend our freedoms. On my Facebook page a few weeks ago, my friend posted photos in her album titled, “My Son’s Military Funeral.” God forbid that any mother should have to remember her son through photos. Her highly decorated son (who helped to recue Jessica Lynch), Army Ranger Kristoffer B. Domeij (Doe-May) lost his life October 21 on his 14th deployment to a combat zone. He served in both Iraq and Afghanistan, his life ending in Afghanistan when a roadside bomb detonated. He left behind a wife and two young daughters, his mother, and brother, and many other family and friends. He had enlisted shortly after September 11. 2001.

            His mother shared a post from her son’s Facebook page, written on September 24: “Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Then I said, "Here am I. Send me!" - Isaiah 6:8; Thank you for all the love. If I don't get back to you anytime soon....sorry.”

            Whenever you see military personnel, but don’t quite know how to express your thanks, you might adopt the hand signal from : Place your hand over your heart and move it away from you, palm up, toward the man or woman in uniform. Many also mouth the words, “Thank you,” during the gesture.

            In the Hallmark movie, “Winter’s End” (“Sarah Plain and Tall” series), a doctor who awaited his son’s return from WWI, made a statement appropriate for days when all is well, and for those days when a knock on the door changes your life, “We’re in God’s hand on every side.”

            Index card for week 45: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone” (Titus 3:1-2).


Sunday, November 06, 2011

Billow Toss

            Okay, who really knows what “billows” are? For many years, Christians have sung words from the count-your-many-blessings hymn: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed, when you are discouraged thinking all is lost.” We may not understand the meaning of that phrase if a wicked wave has never thrown us overboard.  

            The word “billows” isn’t an everyday word. These examples should make the meaning clearer: Billows shoved the cruise ship around, or the salty sailor said, “The frothy billows prove this is a bad day for fishing.” The billows splashed into the leaky Johnboat causing the anglers to bail with vigor.

            “Billows” means waves, usually roiling and rolling ones. Life-billows must mean huge happenings that could cause drowning of the human spirit. We know that seawater can cause harm or good. The sea supports its world and inhabitants, but humans, alien to life in the water, have been lost at sea. Humans can float on the sea, gather food from it, or drown in it.

            What can we do if we are tempest tossed? I’ve heard folks say that when bad times assault them, they can’t seem to pray. I’ve experienced that.  

            Others have told me, whenever pain, loss or devastation comes along, they find reading their Bible difficult. I’ve experienced that fogging of the brain, when I turned Bible pages, and read passages, but my despairing mind blocked out the words of God. They remained holed up, bound in leather, not penetrating my heart or consciousness.  

            What do you do when the presence of God seems far away? For Jesus and his disciples, when life got crowded, dangerous, or overwhelming that was when they fled to be alone for a day or night -- alone with God. Jesus sought a quiet place with God when he heard about the beheading of John the Baptist. He “withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place” (Matthew 14:13).

            Oswald Chambers said when “God gets us alone,” that’s when his most effective teaching occurs. When Jesus walked this earth, he and his disciples were surrounded by the problems of others, what Robert J. Wicks calls, secondary stress in his book “Crossing the Desert.”

            After a few intense days of serving and seeing so much suffering,  Jesus would call his learners to him and say, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31). When the disciples were finally alone with Jesus, they asked many questions. Isn’t that what we do when something distressful happens? We give voice to many whys, whats, and what-ifs.

            Next time billows toss you around, the lesson from Jesus and the disciples is to make time to be alone with God. Ask God your questions -- that’s praying, just look at the questions within the psalms. After inquiring of God, then it’s time to discipline ourselves to listen and wait for understanding or the strength to go on even though we don’t have answers. When we present ourselves to listen, that’s where rescue and survival from billows take place.  

            Index card verse for week 44: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and self-discipline” (2 Timothy 1:7).