Sunday, April 26, 2009

She Sees God in Butterflies

She was a silent savior the first time I met my friend Debby. There I was, facing the ultimate terror- a room full of rowdy Sunday school children. A former high school teacher, the task of wiping noses and wrangling four-year-olds is unnatural at best. That day, pulling hair and snatching toys seemed to be sport to one in particular. The last thing I remember is the boy scaling a moveable chalkboard. I’d never seen a kid wreck a Sunday school room! We were at his mercy…or so I thought. Debby assessed the damage and expertly took command. In mere seconds, she pushed the chalkboard to the hallway, scooped up our small renegade and admonished him with an excellent mixture of soft and firm verbiage. This same phrasing she used when his parents returned to collect their little angel. While I stood frozen, Debby personified true grace in arbitration.

I continue to live in awe of my friend, but it isn’t because she’s perfect. In fact, after years of fumbling through friendships, I have learned that outward perfection sometimes hides an empty heart. So, I seek the heart of a person first, and what I have found in Debby’s is exceptional and overflowing. Deb is always looking for an opportunity to give…and to give BIG. A household, full-time job, a husband and twin boys to manage, she is able to do amazing things with little time and resources. In the few years I’ve known her, I’ve watched her organize secret appreciation functions, manage weekly ministry dinners, deliver coffee to those stuck in hospital waiting rooms, serve lunch to construction workers, become transparent to others seeking advice, take lonely elderly ladies to dinner, lead support groups and even give away her very possessions while expecting nothing in return. In fact, that’s how she prefers things. Seriously, it’s amazing to watch her work. Her humility and selfless giving never ends, and I believe God has given her a unique gift to be able to clearly see the needs around her. Also, He lovingly provides her the means to fulfill them. That seems to be Debby’s job, her purpose, and she absolutely glows when God is using her for His mission.

Watching Debby is a gift in itself, but being her friend is even more priceless. Friendship is where we get the good stuff, if we truly let others in. The behind-the-scenes-Debby is even better than the one out front. I love it because I am privy to her motives, and believe me, they are rare! Once, I saw Debby take off a pair of earrings and hand them to an admiring friend. The woman was taken aback and felt embarrassed at Debby’s offer. I love the next part. Debby leaned in and whispered, “It’s just stuff. Please bless me by enjoying them.” The friend still hesitant, Debby revealed, “Look, God is working on my want of material things, and it is a lesson for me to be able to give you something you would enjoy even more than I would. Plus, they’re just earrings!” Mind-blowing humility, I know! Folks sometimes don’t know how to take her, and a few might even argue that it’s excessive people-pleasing. Contrarily, I think it’s fantastic, Jesus-worthy stuff, and I just want to cheer when I see Debby in action.

I know how she does it all. Debby’s relationship with Jesus is her driving force, and it has a magnetic effect. Emerging from a monstrous past, her survival skills are literally (and unfortunately) perfected. Notice I didn’t say punctuality, a sense of fashion, or even organization are her strong points. Not that they are terribly weak, but a life of “just figure out what really matters and get it done” is still lingering for her. I happen to believe the imperfections make her even more amazing. She’s real. She doesn’t control life. Controlling life is simply too exhausting, and she has found a better way. She continues to give God the reins and is a model of humble endurance. I could hear her tell her story a hundred times and never tire of it, her story of sobbing uncontrollably in her car one day- of crying out to Jesus. How she received His undeniable answer is one of the most beautiful accounts I’ve ever heard.

Now, Debby says she sees God in butterflies. I have witnessed her exchange with Him on several occasions. She simply smiles and points, and I know to where her hand extends…always a Monarch in the window or the image of a winged thing in a book or a passing sign. God is never in the figure itself but in the timing instead. That’s how she knows it’s Him. She sees God in other things, but His “I Love You” to Debby is always delivered with precision and written in butterflies. That’s why I love being around her. There’s no pretention, no judgment, but plenty of spirit-filled experience and real wisdom.

Most recently, Debby is teaching me about marriage. Many would argue that if seeking a marriage mentor, find the perfect couple and ask them a thing or two. I disagree. I want to know what it’s like for people in the trenches, I want to hear from those who have been through struggles and are enduring them despite the odds. Those people remain vigilant, and I value their experience. Debby’s opinion on marriage is priceless, and because she never loses hope, I am beginning to think it is attainable. She says, “I intentionally try to be the wife Jesus would want me to be.” Debby is simply trying to be Jesus to the person He has placed closest in proximity to her. Sound flippant and easy? Oh, how it isn’t! While remaining one of God’s most remarkable gifts, marriage can get bumpy at times when in the throes of parenthood, financial struggles or when juggling life’s curveballs. Committed marriage requires patience, compromise and lots of gut-wrenching prayer. But, if I can see my husband as Jesus does, (not as I do, or even as he does, but as JESUS does) and act accordingly, I am well on my way to living a married life with few regrets. If I can become the wife with the right balance, a balance of firm and soft, of Debby-like grace in arbitration, I will have succeeded.

In the summer, our families gather at Debby’s house. She has the most amazing back porch. Oddly enough, I consider it my personal haven. Sure, the outdoors and country air are appealing, but I think I love it for much more than that. I love it because I can enjoy those things while being me…completely me… all at the same time. I could sit for hours watching the kids run around, laughing with Debby while our husbands debate classic rock or whether God has a conscience. That’s the beauty of life, when all the right things come together, even if it’s just for a warm summer evening. Debby’s porch is surely what heaven will be like for me, a place with untamed nature, unpretentious surroundings, unbelieveable peace…and butterflies. I hope there are lots and lots of butterflies.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Angels in My Infield

It’s so easy for some of our species. To be charming. To be beautiful. To manage life. To command respect. To know just when to be submissive and when to wield power. To know when to step in or when to gracefully bow out. To know how to say, “I’m sorry,” and really mean it. And even to know where all of those secret places are where a girl can simply cry in peace.

Womanhood is at times a complete mystery to me. Yet, I am in awe of those who wear it well. I’m not sorry I feel this way, only sorry that I may have missed an opportunity or two. Being more comfortable hanging out with the guys is definitely overrated. For me, it was simply an opportunity to hide. To remain one chromosome removed from ever having to really know someone.

Perhaps this is why I am so comfortable with Jesus. He’s a guy. He doesn’t scare me as much as a 5’2” chick in heels with a color-coded day planner does. I’m 5’11” and at age 39, I’ve finally admitted that writing reminder notes on my hand is as close as I’ll come to conquering a palm-pilot. In fact, it feels good to admit things, to really accept them as they are.

That’s the only fault I’ve found with our gender. The word “accept” isn’t easily verbalized, or swallowed. Change! Do! Overcome! These are all feminine word-weapons if you ask me. Killer verbs dripping with perfume. If you don’t believe me, try instead dropping the “a” word at a tea party and listen to the silver spoons clatter to the floor. No, we like to fix people instead. Or at least attempt to love them into compliance. It’s our codependent MO, I’m afraid.

On the other hand, Jesus’ modus operandi isn’t like most guys I know. Instead of allowing me to remain at gender distance, He lays the very thing I need on my pillow every morning. Like a gentlemen, He whispers, “Accept. Endure. Carry On.” I am so in love with Him. He is poetry, and because of Him, I remain in motion.

No woman wants to hear those words except for me. At least that’s how it seems. But, my Jesus is full of soothing surprises. Just this year he has led me to the ironically impossible. Yet again, He has deemed it time to remove an element of blindness and to have me see.
What do I see? I see butterflies and Shakespeare. Bell-bottom pants and clouds of chalk dust. I see Fire’s Creek, red plum trees and hay bales. I hear the din on a school bus. I feel an unexpected embrace. I open crumpled letters. I see eyes ringed with wisdom and smiles laced with understanding. I sense endless patience, and I taste the purity of mountain water. He is holding my hand all the way. He is intentional, leading me backwards down a path of distant familiarity. A path where the non-sensical weaves together in a way only He could have possibly commanded.

I was blind before, but I see them now. I see the women in my life, but this time they have wings. They are not convoluted cherubs, but gritty-real, hanging on to halos with bare hands. They walk labyrinths, draw out-of-bounds plays and deliver sermons- the best kind- those without words. I never knew women could be so stunning. This series is dedicated to them, to those beauties that fear made me miss, or dismiss. Thank you, Jesus, for providing me a vehicle for proper thanks.

(Stay tuned for a gratitude series on the women who-with God’s help-have shaped this lump of clay I call “me” into something useful.)