Monday, December 20, 2010

God and Gatsby playing ball

It's almost time... I've been counting down since my mom's visit in October. And finally, it's almost here- it's time to go home for Christmas! I've been singing my own personalized version of "Over the River and Through the Woods" which includes stanzas about the Cocker Spaniels and Christmas treats and friends and family that are waiting for us! I've got the presents wrapped and the budget tweaked and the refrigerator empty of anything perishable. It's almost time to go.

But since two people and two doggies will be traveling together for almost 21 hours in the car, I have some serious plans for my canines today. This is the first time Andy and I have done a long distance trip together with the doggies. The other trips we've made, we've been in separate vehicles, and we each take a Cocker for company. We're looking forward to getting to ride together, but the doggies are going to be a little less happy about not getting to ride shotgun the entire trip. Since they'll be cooped up in the backseat for two days, I decided to let Gatsby and Daisy get some good exercise this morning, so I took them out to the vacant lot adjacent to our apartment complex.

I take the dogs out to the vacant lot on a fairly regular basis. I cut back in the summer because I was afraid of rattle snakes. The lot is overgrown with all sorts of Texas grasses and scrubby plants- there are even cacti out there! But Gats loves to go out there and play ball. I'll throw his ball and he will bounce all around like he's jumping on invisible little trampolines hidden under the grass while he searches with his nose.

This morning, after playing ball for about five minutes, I chucked the ball rather absentmindedly- I was thinking about packing lists and laundry loads and road trip snacks- I didn't see where the ball landed exactly, and neither did Gatsby. I watched Gats bounce around looking and sniffing for several minutes to no avail. Then I decided I better get in on the search or we would be out in the field all morning. I started walking through the grass and brambles in the general vicinity where I thought the ball had landed. I saw nothing- not even a hint of red rubber. Gats wasn't having any luck either.

After several minutes, I decided it was time to ask Abba. I called Gats over and said, "Do you want to ask Abba about it?" I've done this with Gats before when I couldn't find a toy of his- brought Gats over and prayed, asking Abba to tell Gatsby where the ball is. Inevitably, he returns with the ball within minutes, even after he and I have searched fruitlessly for long periods of time. So I knelt down by Gatsby and held his collar and asked God to tell Gats where his ball went.

I was a little discouraged to see Gats run off in the complete opposite direction from where I knew the ball had been thrown. A minute passed and I started to walk through the grass again, feeling silly. I began to sing the words to the song, "God of Wonders" in my head- they say, "God of Wonders beyond our galaxy, You are Holy, Holy. The Universe declares your majesty. You are Holy, Holy." God speaks galaxies into existences. He knits human beings together inside of women's wombs. He makes snowflakes that never look like one another. And I was asking Him to tell my dog where his ball was.

I think about Gideon a lot in moments like those- how he asked God to perform some tricks on that fleece- and God didn't seem to mind. But I bet Gideon would have still gone out and fought all those Midianites- even if that fleece had been bone dry. In his heart, I think he was already a believer, I think it was interaction and confirmation that he craved. I was thinking about that as I was walking, my back turned to Gats beginning to think we'd lost the ball, about how it wouldn't really make much difference if that ball never showed up again, but that I just like to think about God interacting with me and Gatsby out in the vacant lot. It's just nice to think that He would want to play with us. Just then, I turned around and looked in a direction much farther than I thought the ball could have gone- to see Gatsy emerging from the thick grass with a red ball in his mouth.

I'm sure there are people out there who would argue that God has much better things to do than play ball with me and Gatsby in the vacant lot the day before our Christmas trip. But I know that God liked to walk with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day. And that Jesus died so that we could do that sort of thing again. There are battles with Midianites and there are moments when we have to choose between life or death for the sake of Jesus Christ. There are moments when our faith is all we have and God seems a million miles away. But those are places we visit as we run the race. The goal is fellowship with God Himself, and I think that there are some moments when we catch glimpses of what that will look like in Forever. Today, when Gats came prancing out of the weeds with that ball in his mouth, I was certain that we'd all been playing together- me, Gats and the God of Wonders- and that that is how it should be.

"Thank you, Abba." I said. And threw the ball again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Baby Boy

I got to hold a baby boy in my arms today. Carter Starnes is the newest member of my Austin Stone family, and I got to hang out with him while his very tired mommy got some much needed rest this afternoon.

There's a lot that goes through your mind when you look down at someone brand new- how people can deny God exists while holding a newborn I cannot understand- I can't help myself from contemplating the miracle of creation, life, salvation, the whole nine yards when I see someone only a few days old. It blows my mind.

But Carter got me thinking about something that not only blows my mind but makes my heart want to completely burst. A few days ago, Andy and I got to bring dinner over to Carter's proud parents and hear the story of his birth. I love to hear birth stories- especially from new moms. It's thrilling to watch them tell the account of the miracle God allowed them to play the leading role in. I also think I'm partial to birth stories because my mom tells me mine every year. Even twenty-eight years after it happened, I sat on the curb of my apartment complex parking lot on October 20th this year and listened to a mother tell her miracle story- one that I got to play a role in too.

And it's the season for birth stories, isn't it? Carter's story fits right into this month's mood, so maybe that's why I was inspired to do something this year that I've never done before. I decided to tell Jesus His birth story. Not tell someone else His story, or read His story for myself out of the Bible. I told it back to Him, with Him as the primary audience, the way my mom tells me about my birth every year, the way Valerie will tell Carter about his one day. While riding in the car through the Texas hill country on Friday, I took some time and told my Savior about the night He was born, in Bethlehem, with a wiped out mom and no nurses and swaddling clothes and shepherds and a daddy who believed an angel who told him the craziest thing he'd ever heard. And, you know what? I think He liked it. I know I liked it. Jesus isn't a baby anymore, but what a precious moment it was talking to Him about when He was. Isn't that amazing? Isn't it incredible that one of the things that we have in common with GOD is a birth story? We all get to hear about the night that we were born. We get to hear about our moms pushing and our dads waiting and our lungs filling with air- you, me, Carter and Jesus Christ.

Carter looked up at me today with a hungry baby face, his tiny mouth opening and closing, desiring something I couldn't give him. Can you imagine Jesus that way? Looking up at the faces of men and women, soft and vulnerable, dependent on people so limited in heart, soul, mind and body- and seeking what He needed to survive? It blows my mind. And it reminds me of an incredible truth- He loved me then. As a baby, which I cannot understand but it doesn't matter, I believe and marvel. He loved me then. How is it that Someone so Pure and so Deserving should become something so humble for me? Because He loves me. And because He loves you.

Oh, sweet Baby Boy. You are so deserving of my adoration, my deep, devoted, heart-felt love- love that is only possible because you loved me first, with the love that saved the world. Love born in Bethlehem on a night when the angels shouted for joy and the shepherds left their flocks behind and your mom pushed and you screamed your way into a world that was dying without You.

If you're reading this, try it out- tell Jesus about His birthday. Make some time, just the two of you, and tell Him what you've been told about the day He came to save you. And may your heart be swollen with love. :)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Balance Beam

Last week, Lauro shared a YouTube video with our small group. I can't get the video to link to this blog, and I don't know why, so if you're game- copy and paste this URL and watch Francis.

I never did gymnastics. I wasn't interested in it when I was little mainly because it scared me. I didn't like the idea of somersaults because that would mean that I would have to turn upside down. I didn't like upside down when I was a kid and I don't like upside down much as an adult either. But life has a tendency to go in that direction. No amount of spirituality or devotion can keep things even all of the time. Holly said this week something that I've been aching in my heart to hear confirmed- a thought that has been deep within me for months and months- "Peace is not the absence of conflict. It's seeking God through His Word through life's trials." But I could run away from conflict. I could "drop it" when people sin. I could ignore it when people are suffering. I could run away from what makes me uncomfortable. I could be like Francis on that balance beam.

But is He at all impressed when I cling to the comforts of life and do nothing in faith? Would He still love me? Absolutely. Would I still go to heaven? Sure. Would I suffer less? Probably. Would people like me more? I guarantee they would. But what about Him? What would He think? What would He think if I cowered in fear? If I continued in hatred? If I refused to forgive?

All I have is one chance on this balance beam of life. One chance to show Him that belief is bigger than what I can see and feel and hear. The belief that when I am despised and rejected, I am like Him. Belief that to die means that I really live. Belief that my treasure really is in heaven and that all of my tears really will be wiped away.

I don't think that good deeds earn anybody anything in God's eyes, but I know that faith impressed Jesus when He walked on the face of the Earth. The challenge of my life this year has been turning to Jesus, looking in His eye and walking, head up, heart aching, while life's judges criticize my performance. Do I want to kneel down and cling to the safe stuff? Sure. Am I going to stay there? No. I won't stay there. I only have one shot at this.

Righteous Judge, grant me the courage to walk where You have chosen for me to walk, in the way that You demonstrated while You were here, through the power of Your Holy Spirit, for You alone.