Aqua Blue Promises

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

*Note: This is actually an article I wrote years ago for a you'll see, Caleb was only about 4. But I thought of it the other day when I was having coffee with my Salsa sistas. When I re-read it, I got all emotional again, remembering my little guy's tears and thinking about the Aqua Blue promises too many of us forsake. Don't forsake your dream because you're afraid, friend. It's too pretty. Learn to float! I’ve been thinking lately about fear. I know, nice way to start an article. It was prompted by my taking Caleb to swim lessons. Where we live there is a canal that runs right in front of our house, a pond in the back yard, and no fence to speak of, so my boys are not exactly free to roam their property as little boys should be…at least not until they learn to swim. So this year I decided to sign Caleb up for lessons. He breezed through and passed the first class without ever batting an eye. The other moms kept asking me, “Why is he so motivated?” All I could tell them is, “it must be the big pool.” Every day he would ask me, “Mom, I get to go in the big pool next time?” And every day I would tell him, “not yet, but if you keep working hard and listen to your teacher you’ll get to really soon.” On the last day of class they pull out this little red slide and all the kids get to climb up and slide down into the “Big Pool” and the waiting arms of their instructor. Caleb was in his glory that day. And he was fearless. I promptly signed him up for the next class with promises of a special treat at the end once he had learned to float. Floating is a good skill, I think.
All was progressing fairly well, but I started to notice that Caleb wasn’t asking so much about the Big Pool anymore. I would see him look over his shoulder with something akin to longing on his face as we would leave, but he stopped asking about it. I started watching him closely in the water. That’s when I began to see the fear. I don’t know from whence it came, but suddenly there it was. His teacher would ask him to stretch his body out and kick as he was pulled through the water. Instead, Caleb would sort of ball up, muscles tense, and grab white knuckled for any part of the teacher’s body that was within reach. Caleb’s technique, far from being graceful or beautiful in the water, was ineffective, at best. We tried with all the words and coercion we could think of to convince him that his teacher would keep him safe, his teacher wouldn’t let him go, his teacher only wanted to prepare him for the Big Pool. “Trust your teacher and do what he says” I kept telling him, but to no avail.

On the last day, we arrived a few minutes late and Caleb’s class was already sitting on the edge of the Big Pool sporting the cutest little life jackets. Oh! I thought I wouldn’t be able to contain his excitement, but Caleb sort of drug his feet over to the spot and sat down. We helped him into the life jacket and he slid timidly into the pool with his teacher who promptly flipped him onto his back like a turtle in his shell. That’s when the tears came. Once safely on the pool’s edge, life jacket removed, I got down next to him and asked what was wrong. “I’m just a little scared, Mom.” A little later they got that wondrous red slide out and all the kids clamored to get in line. Caleb walked quietly over to the water’s edge and sat down to watch. My mommy heart wanted to flop down right there on the wet cement and cry. Cry for all the hopes and expectations, all the excitement and wonder of the Big Pool that had just melted away into sinking, immobilizing fears.

That’s why I’ve been thinking lately about fear. What I realized is that the driving motivator behind fear is a lack of trust. Caleb’s teacher stood right over him, coaxing, encouraging again and again, “I’ll be right here, I won’t let go of you.” But Caleb couldn’t seem to believe him, he couldn’t bring himself to trust. I remember telling one of the moms next to me, “I want him to learn to trust his teacher because I want him to learn that he can trust God. Isn’t it exactly what we do with God? All of the promises that he wrote down for us, “I will never leave you…”, “Delight yourself in the Lord…”and we can’t seem to bring ourselves to believe them enough to learn to float.

What is your fear? What holds you back from doing what God is asking of you today? It could be something very small. Maybe you don’t like to pray in groups or lift your hands in worship. Are you afraid that God won’t meet you in that place and you’ll be left looking stupid? Perhaps it’s something big, like your life. Maybe you’re afraid to let go of the plans and dreams for yourself that you have carried since your youth because, “what if God doesn’t have anything better and I’m left with nothing?” All the while He’s standing over you saying, “He who loses his life for me will surely find it”… “If you seek me you will find me when you seek me with all your heart.” Oh if only I could have convinced Caleb to do his teacher’s bidding and do it with ALL his heart. He’d be floating…no he’d be in the big pool by now.

Caleb’s little swimming fears look silly to a swimmer. A swimmer knows you have only to stretch out your legs and push your hands forward and the whole pool belongs to you. But they are real to him. There are unknowns for him. There are unknowns to you and I. But our instructor is a swimmer. He knows what we don’t, and if we will just take him at his word then we’ll be swimmers too. That’s what obedience is. It’s “You said it, I don’t get it, but I’m gonna do it anyway because I’ve seen you swim.” That’s what trust is.

Let me tell you something about the Big Pool. The Big Pool has two diving boards, one short and one reeaaaallly tall one. It has a rope swing and lots of kids with floaty toys and balls. It has lots of laughter in it. But there’s more. Just beyond the Big pool is a door that’s always open. If you step out that door you burst into glorious daylight. Sunlight scatters off the aqua blue water like a million tiny lightning bolts, and you have to squint your eyes to look directly at it. There’s another slide out there, a big one, more diving boards, more laughter, and the warmth of the sun on your dripping, golden skin. There are two really tall chairs where the guys with dark skin and red shorts sit holding their whistles. They're there just in case you forget that you know how to float. If the worst happens and your fears come true, they climb down and pull you out of the water. Ahhhh, now those old swimming fears do look silly, don't they?

Caleb is mesmerized by the sparkling Aqua Blue with the slide…as am I. It represents for me all the reasons to learn to float today, all the reasons to obey the instructor today. And so I encourage you. Take a good hard look at the thing you fear. Take a look at it and then fling it all out on Christ. Paul’s words have taken on a new meaning for me, “What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.” Paul knew the enchanting promise of the Aqua Blue. As will you and I, and my sweet Caleb…someday.

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” Phil 3:12-14 (emphasis mine).

Between the Hammer and the Anvil

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I don't own a sword.
I know, huh?
No, really. I don't even own a stylish yet fierce jewel encrusted dagger.
I got skipped over somehow when the elves were crafting and handing out their magical works of art.

I am a fan of swordcraft lore though, having been raised on Tolkein. I like the bit in that last Eragon book where he has to help the Elf master make his own sword and how they go out to that really old tree to ask permission for the metal buried in its roots, because that's really the only metal a Dragon Rider's sword can be made out of. I recently heard a pastor talk in his sermon about swordcraft. I guess it's an ancient Japanese art, and the way he described the craft, it sounded so much like the stories I've read that now I wonder if the Japanese are actually elves in disguise.

This has been on my mind lately, because I found myself saying to Steve the other night, "He's (God's) got me between his hammer and anvil, and I don't really have a choice about any of this, there's not a thing I can do now." So I did what any brave-hearted American girl would do. I cried. Don't judge me. :-) Frankly, it's sort of crummy to suddenly become aware that the hard thing underneath you is an anvil and that dark shadow looming above is a hammer. (And actually, crummy wasn't really the word I was feelin''s just the word I wrote). So there I was, realizing that no matter which direction I turned, I was going to run into...Hard. And that even if I didn't turn either direction, Hard was going to meet hard...with me in the middle.

That's when I started to feel grateful for all the silly fantasy stories I've read, and for elves...who make swords...and encrust them with jewels and engrave them with beautifully scripted runes that weave magical spells when they are read aloud. And they always give them beautiful, powerful names too... (Glamdring is the one that always comes to that Gandalf's sword?)

You see, swordcraft isn't just good fantasy. There was actually a time when people really needed real swords and apparently, this Japanese craft of making a real sword is just like you read in the stories. The metal has to be found to be just right or it can't be used. It gets heated and then cooled and hammered and then heated and then cooled and then hammered and this Japanese craftsman watches it and works it and molds it and sometimes he will get almost to the end and find that it's just no good...the metal isn't doing what it's supposed to do, isn't molding willingly to his intensely skilled handwork. And when that happens...he tosses it out and gets a new piece of metal and starts the process over.

So...then, I guess I'm thinking that if I'm the piece of metal that just got tossed on the scrap heap to be melted down and re-purified, I'm hating life even worse than if I'm the piece of sword between the hammer and the anvil. Thinking about that made me feel really glad to know that I was still between the hammer and the anvil, even though I know Hard is about to meet Hard. It made me more docile and humble. I suppose He could just be making me into a shovel...heehee. That's possible too, but what I really hope is that one day I'll be magical and jewel encrusted ...and maybe even get a really good name that makes people feel shiver when they hear it. Nice.

I know alot of us know what it feels like to be in the middle when Hard meets Hard, and I guess I just want to point out that ...I think it's ok. I don't think it's punishment or anything. Maybe it's swordcraft and we're about to be magical, right?

I'm just Sayin'

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Christ does not need to be defended. He's God.
But just for the record:

Jesus does not destroy relationships nor does he promote the destruction of them.
Christ promotes unity. He requires sacrificial love toward Himself and our neighbor (and gives a broad definition of neighbor to include even a sworn enemy). His character and grand work on this earth are redemptive and reconciliatory in nature, not destructive, and while a person may be able to pull out an individual scripture here or there to support a cutting off of relationship (the one about forsaking father and brother for Christ comes to mind), you cannot twist His character as demonstrated in the whole of scripture into something that would support and perpetuate any destruction of relationships for an individual's or group's personal safety or control. It's just not Him. Sorry. I know it's nice to create safety for ourselves, but He's not like that. And I bring this up simply because I'm tired of "Christian" assertions that He is. Blech!

Jesus does not promote the cutting off of communication as a healthy answer to relational problems.
This does not need to be said, and yet here I am pointing it out. No one promotes the cutting off of communication as a healthy solution to any problem. Furthermore, "waiting" is only a Godly attribute when we are "waiting on God", not when we are refusing to deal with problems we've created. Christ promotes humble repentance. He even says that if we come to Him to serve Him and remember that our brother has something against us, we're to leave and go take care of the brother before we serve Him, not wait until…when? later…? This is a central tennant of Christ's and the apostle's ministries as well as a glaring character trait of Christ's sacrificial love. It can't be avoided. Christ will, of course come and bind up the hearts that we have left to rot in relationships we've refused to attend to, but He is not pleased about it.

And when a heart that has been left to rot by someone acting less then Christ-like is bound up and healed by the Savior, you should expect that heart to protest loudly against false claims about it's Christ.

Be careful what you say "God told you" to do. If you say it and then do it, it better have an uncanny resemblance to the dangerous, generous, kind, selfless to the point of complete sacrifice, life that Christ lived, or you are a false witness. And false witnesses, according to scripture, don't have a bright future.

I'm just sayin'.

...Oh. But I do want to add:
Jesus does promote forgiveness to anyone who will ask
Unconditional, extravagent, irrational forgiveness.
I promote that too, actually.

On Friendships and Writing and Existence

Monday, August 10, 2009

There's this girl I know. She's a writer--a pretty good one. I think she'll be published someday and she thinks so too, but I'm a pretty crummy friend to her. I don't do much to encourage her. She doesn't spend as much time writing as I wish she would, because there is always something to do that seems more getting a real paying job. Or having coffee with that friend who really needs encouragement...or laundry, or dishes, or volunteering with non-profs, or taking children to the river, or cuddling with her husband. So while she's got all these things stirring inside of her that she wants to say, (and I think she could do a really good job of saying them) I, as her wise friend, discourage her from devoting her time to such. I tell her that the people are more important than her blog... (and yes...even the laundry and dishes aren't just chores, they really are acts of love and service to those little people). You agree don't you? The people are more important than the writing...right? I wish I had a good argument for her, because she seems sad and quiet to me lately. I know it's that she wants to write, has things she needs to say, and I'd sure like to hear them, but I'm a realist. If there's not time for it, there's just not time, right?

I visited a girlfriend in the valley this weekend. She told me that her mom has been diagnosed with a lung disease and given 3-5 years to live. I'm friends with her mom...and with her dad, and I don't know quite how to take the news. I haven't cried yet, but I might start now. Is that really how this thing goes? You grow up a pretty girl, fall in love with a funny and tender man, raise beautiful children, work at a little eyeglass shop until retirement and then one day your grown daughter is telling her friend that you only get 3-5 more years. And that family for whom you did all that laundry, took all those trips to the river, set aside all that writing time to cuddle with, will plan a funeral and cry some tears and then carry on without you. I can't quite grasp it. You know how they always say that on your death bed you won't be wishing you had spent more time in the office? Well, I'm sorta wondering this morning if that's wrong. What if I wish I had actually spent more time in the office, at the computer, taking the time to write some of these thoughts and ideas down? Because...that writer friend of mine who has all these things to say and no time to say them...she's me. (Of course you guessed that).

I was trying to put myself in Bonnie's place this morning and imagine what I would be doing and feeling about my remaining 3-5 years (years that will be riddled with coughing and oxygen deprivation). I would accept it for what it is, of course. My faith in the Almighty is not easily shaken, and I can feel a little of the inexpressible joy it would be to have a timeline, a sort of "date" very soon when I would get to see Him. So there's that. And I think it would be easy enough for me to settle into a joyful existence of being with friends and family, listening, loving, playing, immersing myself in just loving them, because I think that's sort of how I live my life already. But there's just this one thing...and it actually makes me sort of teary just thinking about it. I think I would feel a painful regret and sorrow over the things in my heart that I did not write down. What is that?

It's not that I think the things I have to say are so earth-shattering and profound. (That's actually the other part of the equation that keeps me from writing more--too many times I think I'm probably wrong, even if my argument is good). It's more that there is this girl in there...this "other" girl, and I don't honor her. I'm pretty crummy to her, but the truth is that she's better than me in most things (now I sound schizo). She's kinder, smarter, more loving and tender. She's much stronger and more opinionated and sassier and more humble than me too. There's this other girl that no one else knows (except for my dear husby...he likes her...), and while there are parts of me that will go on in my family and friends memories after my time is up, this girl will only ever exist or be remembered if she writes. She won't even exist until she writes. And if I were talking about anyone but myself, I'd give myself a shake and say, "stop being such a crummy friend to her. She deserves to be encouraged and honored and given time just like you'd do for anyone else in your life." But she's just me. And that makes it self-centered. And, like I said, this girl is SO much better than me...she's never self-centered.

Tell me dear reader. Who's right? The girl who knows that the people always come first or the one who thinks the writer should exist too?