We Ritzes are stepping into the new normal this week.
College for Tim.
An empty nest for Jason and me.
On Sunday, Tim loaded up his car with all of his belongings and after church we all made the 7-1/2 hour drive down to Southern California - him in his car and Jason and I in ours. We had a family dinner together at an Italian restaurant and went back to our hotel to sleep. On Monday morning we drove to the campus of The Master's University. It was Tim's third time there and our first. As we turned onto the road leading to campus there were students lining the entry holding welcome signs and shouting their greetings to us. That's when a few tears threatened to leak out; for me, anyway. It is pretty simple to get me to cry these days, really - just love my kid. That's it. A pretty straightforward equation. The tears nearly started in earnest the morning before when I arrived at church and was greeted by our "Grammy Hill." She hugged me tight and asked when Tim would arrive because she had baked him cookies to take with him to school. (cue misty eyes) Later another young lady, whose family we love and have vacationed with in the past, came up and gave him even more home-baked cookies. (sniffle)
As we drove onto the campus, we saw many more groups of current Master's students smiling and cheering every new student and every parent on as we arrived. When we pulled into the parking area, another young man from our small town who is starting his sophomore year was there holding a welcome sign and he yelled out, "Hey, Tim!" in excitement. It nearly did me in. How many freshmen get welcomed onto their college campus by name before they ever get out of their car? God's grace knows the way to a mother's heart. The morning went by in a blur of activity - standing in a few lines, getting his dorm key, moving his things into his new room, finding his mailbox and figuring out how to open it, eating lunch - they keep you busy so you won't spend too much time thinking about the goodbye to come.
Even so, the goodbye came. I only shed a few tears as we prayed for our son, hugged him and walked away. That was it. The day that we had been counting down toward for months (let's be honest, years) with equal parts excitement and nerves... It came and it went. Jason and I got into our car and sat still for a few minutes, in a bit of a state of shock. Not sad, not frightened, not overjoyed, just stunned. My best friend texted and said, "I've got a coffee suggestion!" Perfect timing. She sent us to a local coffee shop not too far from campus to be able to catch our breath and process the emotions that were just beneath the surface.
We ordered our iced coffee/lattes and just sat and let our thoughts settle and our body temperatures return to normal (College move-in day is hot!). We didn't say much. We just stared at each other with wide eyes, shaking our heads. It is a lot to take in, this transition from actively parenting a child in your home to dropping off that child, turned young adult, at college... and driving away. A lot to take in.
Tim texted us later that night at 11:45pm: "First day of college a success. Plenty of friends and good times!"
Jason and I spent the next two days in a small, one-bedroom cabin in Twin Peaks, near Lake Arrowhead, before heading back home to our waiting empty nest in Northern CA. That mini-vacation was a very good decision. While we are home now and settling in to our quieter, emptier house, having that buffer was a true blessing.
On the first morning that we woke up in the cabin, I made coffee and we sat in the rocking chairs on the back deck and talked while we stared up at the beautiful tall trees. After our conversation grew quiet, I looked down on the deck and noticed an acorn lying there. I smiled, picked it up, and asked Jason to indulge me and take a photo of that acorn resting in our hands. "Large oaks from tiny acorns grow." Our precious (tiny) baby boy grew up, in the blink of an eye, into a wonderful (tall) young man. Only God can grow an oak tree from an acorn and only God can grow an infant into a man after His own heart. What a blessing to get to be a part of the growth process, while continuing to grow ourselves.
Now we move forward with the next phase of life. Time to see what God grows in each of our lives in the new normal.
Today over lunch, I sat with a friend who is grieving the loss of a family member and I was reminded of an account in the Old Testament that I had shared with an old friend several years ago after reading it and being struck by it. That old friend had also been grieving a loss at the time and when I shared the story with her it brought her tremendous encouragement, so I shared it today with my new friend and it encouraged her as well. So I'm going to share it here now so that I never forget it and so that it is here if when you or I ever need it.
In the Bible, we find an account of a man by the name of Elijah, who was a prophet of God from 871-854 BC. He was bold and the stories about his life detailed in the text are dramatic, to say the least. (I would encourage you to check it out.) Elijah had a protege with a similar name: Elisha. When the time was near for Elijah to depart this life and move on to the next, he knew it was coming and so did Elisha... and so did many others. The text said that as Elijah traveled (and Elisha refused to leave his side) other prophets in both Bethel and Jericho commented to Elisha, "Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master from you today?" To which Elisha responded, "Shut up!" Okay, perhaps the wording in the Bible is closer to, "Yes, I know. Be quiet!" Elisha, it seems, was grieved and panicked. He didn't want Elijah to leave him and he wasn't sure if he could fill his (very big) shoes.
Here is the account that I want to remember from the second chapter of 2 Kings:
6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; the Lord has sent me to the Jordan.”
And he replied, “As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them walked on.
7 Fifty men from the company of the prophets went and stood at a distance, facing the place where Elijah and Elisha had stopped at the Jordan. 8 Elijah took his cloak, rolled it up and struck the water with it. The water divided to the right and to the left, and the two of them crossed over on dry ground.
9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me, what can I do for you before I am taken from you?”
“Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit,” Elisha replied.
10 “You have asked a difficult thing,” Elijah said, “yet if you see me when I am taken from you, it will be yours—otherwise, it will not.”
11 As they were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind. 12 Elisha saw this and cried out, “My father! My father! The chariots and horsemen of Israel!” And Elisha saw him no more. Then he took hold of his garment and tore it in two.
13 Elisha then picked up Elijah’s cloak that had fallen from him and went back and stood on the bank of the Jordan. 14 He took the cloak that had fallen from Elijah and struck the water with it. “Where now is the Lord, the God of Elijah?” he asked. When he struck the water, it divided to the right and to the left, and he crossed over.
15 The company of the prophets from Jericho, who were watching, said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” And they went to meet him and bowed to the ground before him.
That might seem like a strange story to share in a time of grief, but here is why it should bring encouragement. This story reminds me that I do not own any other person on this earth - their physical presence is not mine to control, demand, or cling to. What I do own, is what they leave behind in my heart, mind and soul. Their "cloak."
When someone we love or admire departs this life for the next before we do, it becomes painfully clear that we have no claim on their physical presence with us. But no one can take away what they left behind for us...
Elisha was left with Elijah's cloak.
And God used it to encourage and empower him to do what came next. He used it to assure him that he wasn't alone. He used it to confirm to others that Elisha had, indeed, received a great and powerful gift by being close to his mentor.
When we are left with the "cloak" of another, may God help us to recognize it and accept it for the powerful gift it is. May God, by his grace, use it to encourage and empower us to do what comes next. May God use it to reassure us that we are not alone. May God use it as a testimony to others. And May God use it to continue the impact and legacy of the one we dearly love.
The flipside of this lesson for me is to be aware of the "cloak" that I am daily fashioning to leave behind for others. How can I live to intentionally weave a cloak that will last and bring encouragement and comfort even when I have moved on? May we regularly ask ourselves that question and may it spur us on to deeper relationships, higher character, and contagious joy and faith.
Dedicated to the "cloak" of Bryce Alexander Hill. He wasn't ours to keep. But he left us so much that no one can take away.
noun, a particular right of possession or privilege one has from birth
In my last blog post I used the word birthright in reference to our God-given privilege and equipping to love others, even strangers, in a neighborly way. The next day I used the same word in a Facebook comment stating that "beauty from ashes" is our birthright. Having not used that word in many years and then using it twice in two days...it has my attention.
Right off the bat it reminds me of the first time I heard the word... as a child in Sunday School. The account of the lives of Isaac and Rebekah's sons, Jacob and Esau, in Genesis is one that I heard many times in my childhood growing up in church. Jacob took advantage of Esau's exhaustion and hunger after a day working outdoors and asked for his birthright in exchange for a bowl of stew. Like a poster-child for the word "hangry," Esau foolishly agreed. The privileges that were Esau's simply for being the twin who came out of his mother's womb first were transferred to Jacob. Turns out, that was a really big deal.
A birthright has to do with both position and inheritance. As children of God, when we are reborn into His family by grace through faith, we are automatically recipients of both position and inheritance. Positionally in Christ, we are:
The way the story of Esau reads, it hammers home the point that Esau "despised" his birthright.
“Esau said, ‘I am about to die; of what use is a birthright to me?’ Jacob said, ‘Swear to me now.’ So he swore to him and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew, and he ate and drank and rose and went his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright” (Gen. 25:32-34).
Commentaries on this describe that expression as meaning that Esau allowed his immediate discomfort (legitimate short-term hunger and exhaustion) to become more important to him than his long-term position and inheritance...to the extent that he might as well have despised it... it was just getting in his way of having what he really wanted in that moment. The life lesson for us comes when we look over the list above and reflect on how rich our inheritance is and how privileged our position and then examine the ways we've "despised" one or both by satisfying immediate, temporary cravings instead of walking by faith.
Thankfully, our birthright as children of God isn't up for grabs based on our whims or failings, but even though it is secure, the love of God compels us to want to live worthy of the position and the inheritance that are ours.
For more information about a Believer's position in Christ including all of the scripture references for the lists above: www.cru.org/us/en/train-and-grow/spiritual-growth/core-christian-beliefs/the-believers-position-in-christ.html
I read the story of "The Good Samaritan" a couple of days ago and I can't stop thinking about it. The story of the good Samaritan in the Bible isn't something that actually happened, it is an example, an allegory, a parable that Jesus made up on the spot to try to uncover the motivations of "an expert in the law" who was testing him. First the lawyer asked Jesus, what he must to do inherit eternal life. Jesus responded by asking him to answer his own question by reflecting on what he was an expert at - the law. The man responded, "To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself," (Luke 10:27). And Jesus confirms that the man clearly already knew the truth and that now he just needed to live it out. Then came the beginnings of heart revelation...
"But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus 'And who is my neighbor?'"
The story of the good Samaritan was told by Jesus, not to answer the man's actual question, but to address the motivations of his heart. The law expert wanted to justify himself; he didn't really want to know who his neighbor was. So Jesus told a story about a robbed and injured man on the side of a road in desperate need who couldn't save himself, and of three other men who "happened to be going down the same road." Two of the men, religious by profession, did not stop - in fact, they actively avoided the man in need. The Samaritan, someone who the lawyer would have considered beneath him, went above and beyond to care for the man at great personal cost to himself. At the end of the story, Jesus did NOT say, "Do you think that the man in the ditch should have been considered a neighbor?" Instead, he said to the lawyer:
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36)
The man wanting to justify himself, wanted clarification on who precisely he was required to love and serve. Jesus, instead, showed him what it looked like to be a neighbor. The implication is that we are called to be neighborly and merciful to anyone and everyone we happen to be going down the same road with in life. That we GET to do that. It isn't a task to be checked off a list to make ourselves feel better (justified). Showing mercy and loving others in such a way that strangers feel like neighbors is our birthright.
Being loved without limits by God as our father, opens the door wide for us to be loving to whoever happens to be going down the same road we are. The destination is certain, our safe arrival there is guaranteed. We don't have to be in a rush to "get there," We get to embrace the journey; to open our eyes to others on the road and introduce them to the one who paved it and help them get back up on their feet and walk in freedom too.
A neighbor is not the people who live next door to us, or a list of people we really should love if we want to be considered good people.
A neighbor is who we get to be.
This morning, as the coffee machine beeps and I shuffle toward it, I see a flash of orange on the counter. It's the bracelet that I asked Tim to buy for me at his school yesterday. The one that says, "Team Amelia KHS Loves You!" I open the package and slip it on my wrist and look around the kitchen and smile. "Team." I get to be part of the team.
As I reach for a coffee cup in the cupboard, my hand goes toward the shiny white mug with the picture of an old fashioned camera and the word, "Smile," in black, and I do. I smile and I think about the friend who gave it (and so much more) to me. I am on her team and she is on mine.
I pour the rich, dark coffee and I pray, once again, for the family that particular brand of coffee reminds me of, the ones who live over the hill and down the street who are like parents and dear friends all rolled into one for me and mine (and for so many others). I am on their team and they are on mine.
As I move toward the living room, coffee in hand, I see a jar of rice left there by the young man who is sharing our home with us for a few months, as several dear ones have done before him. I remember each one who has slept down the hall from us and our son and filled our home with laughter and younger, fresher ways of thinking and I grin. I am on their team and they are on mine.
I sit on the sofa and out of the corner of my eye I see a card, mailed to my husband by a member of our church, with cursive handwriting (and stickers) thanking him for his recent message and his service. This church of ours - We are on their team and they are on ours.
I sip my coffee and open up a workbook for a study on the topic of "Living Beyond Yourself," the author of which I have never met, but whose words have sunk deep into my soul for decades. I breathe out gratitude for her many gifts. She is on my team and I am on hers.
I take my pen in hand and remember that the reason I am going through this particular workbook at this season of life is because I am doing so in tandem with a new friend. Someone who entered my life in an unexpected way as our circles of friends rotated around one another for months before we finally collided. It was meant to be. I am on her team and she is on mine.
I open Facebook on my laptop and see so many faces and words from those who have crossed my path over the last 43 years. Several brave women with beautiful bald heads tackling cancer one day at a time. Babies galore, captured by their moms and dads, laughing, eating, babbling and reaching milestones one by one. Friends, young and old, commenting from overseas, from Arizona, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Virginia, Washington DC, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Idaho, Texas, Georgia, Massachusetts, Florida, Oklahoma, Montana, Indiana, Washington State, Nevada, Utah, Minnesota, Michigan... I'm starting to think it would be easier to note where they are NOT from. You are on my team and I am on yours.
I close my computer and head downstairs to rotate the laundry from the washer to the dryer and I glance at photos of our around-the-corner neighbors taped to our wall. Each face reminding me how glad I am that they are there, so very close by and that they hold the spare key - to our home and to our hearts. They are on our team and we are on theirs.
As my hands reach for the laundry I see that flash of orange again and I join with Team Amelia and pray that the cancer in her body dies - quickly and fully. I thank God that I get to be on her team and that she and her family are very much on mine.
It's all team work.
I took this picture this morning on our back deck. Isn't it lovely? Our family is so blessed to live in this home and to have this gorgeous view to wake up to each and every morning. But here's the thing... We've lived here for a full year and I just started sitting on the deck and enjoying the view four days ago. WHY? Why did I wait an entire year? Believe me, I've been asking myself that question all week. The answer is a lifelong lesson in the making for me. Bear with me as I bring you up to speed...
When Jason and I met, I was living in my first ever apartment in Southern California. I'd gone from sharing a dorm room in college in Tucson - to sharing a tent in Yosemite, the summer after graduation - to sharing a 100 year old house with seven other women during an internship in Connecticut - to having that two bedroom, two bath apartment with cathedral ceilings and a little balcony all to myself. With all of that space to live in and enjoy, with no one to compromise with and no one else's decorating opinions to consider, you'd think I would have gone wild with personal expression and creativity, but I didn't. In fact, I didn't do much of anything with that space beyond fill it with a few pieces of hand-me-down furniture. After Jason and I got married, less than a year later, he moved into the apartment with me and everything changed. The day he moved in, I had a single solitary item hanging on those soaring white walls - a plain white plastic clock the size of a dinner plate. Jason called it sparse. I called it minimalist.
Within a few weeks I agreed to hang a few pieces of his art and some photos on the wall. The next thing I knew he had a hodgepodge of hang-able things spread out on the floor and sofa putting them together into an arrangement to hang on the wall. There were at least 12 things. TWELVE THINGS ON ONE WALL. I almost had to leave the apartment. Not because I don't like tasteful collections of beautiful things on display... I really, really do. They make a house a home. But I don't know how to put them together and make them look good and I panicked that it would look an awful mess when all was said and done. Jason kept asking my opinion..."Should this go here or here? Do you like this better or this?" To which I would stare, furrow my brow, squirm and frantically say, "I DON'T KNOW!" I finally had to leave the apartment because the process was stressing me out so much. (That is embarrassing for me to admit.) When I came back, he had a tasteful collage of pictures and other decor hanging on the wall and I sighed in relief.
Why did that selective process bother me so much? Because I couldn't guarantee that it would look good in the end... I couldn't guarantee the outcome would be appealing because I don't have confidence in my artistic eye. I would rather live in a white walled wasteland than second guess my decisions or risk a less than perfect result. It should be perfect. I thought. Or not at all.
Fast forward 19 years to last summer. We bought a lovely home on a hill overlooking a beautiful valley and lake in the shadow of an inactive volcano in Northern California. TO DIE FOR. I love it and enjoy it so much. The best part of the house is the view through the windows and from the deck. You would think priority number one after moving in would be finding deck furniture, right? I've never bought outdoor furniture before. I immediately went into over-analysis mode at the thought and couldn't choose. I've tried to purchase a couple of simple wicker or metal chairs with cushions on more than one occasion, but I couldn't bear to spend the money not knowing if they would look 100% perfect on our deck or if they would be comfortable enough or durable enough or the right size, etc. So we've spent a year of sunrises and sunsets inside.
Last weekend, my guys left on an epic road trip adventure and I was in Target alone shopping for myself...splurging a bit. A new water bottle, a new pair of pajamas, a book. While I was in that mindset of thinking about simple things that I would enjoy while I was on my own I came across the aisle filled with things hopeful high school grads buy for their dorm rooms. There was a black, overstuffed folding chair that caught my attention right away. I pulled it into the center of the aisle and unfolded it and sat down. HUH. It was actually comfortable. It was small, but cozy and I could pull my feet up in it and be quite relaxed. My mind immediately went to our deck and without allowing my brain to begin listing all the reasons that this was NOT the perfect choice for our deck (It really, really isn't) I picked it up and put it in the cart and sped down the aisle toward the registers before I could talk sense into myself.
When I got home, I vowed that now that I had a chair to sit in outside, I would set my alarm 12 minutes earlier each day and get up and spend time reading and drinking my morning coffee on the deck while the sun rose over the lake. The first morning I was nervous. This was not the perfect deck furniture and there are loud barky dogs next door and sometimes there is bird poop on the deck or the railing and how dressed for the day does one have to be to sit on their back deck when their neighbors could potentially see them (are pajama pants and tank tops acceptable?). There were so many unknowns and imperfections about this. But I took my new chair, my coffee and my book, and a pen and my phone (in case the sunrise was too stunning not to document... see above) and I went out on the deck at 6:10 a.m.
I've been out there every morning since and heaven help anyone who tries to get between me and that deck in the mornings from here on out! Best. Part. Of. The. Day. Hands down.
All those wasted mornings not feeling the cool morning air on my skin, not being dazzled by the first bright rays of light coming up over the mountains, not thoroughly enjoying the gift God had given me. Why? Because I couldn't make it "perfect." As if the most expensive, "appropriate" outdoor patio set could improve that stunning view and the way that it makes me feel in the slightest bit!
Well let me show you what perfect looks like to me now: A $30 folding chair from Target and my son's old bathmat to rest my feet on.
There it is folks. Absolute perfection. Every single morning. That impractical, inexpensive chair is my happy place and my latest lesson learned.
I will no longer settle for putting off the enjoyment of a gift until everything is just so and the situation feels worthy and appropriate. A gift is a gift and it is meant to be enjoyed.
Now... to hang something on these walls.
In 2016 I didn't type a single word into this blog space. Not one. I didn't share wisdom or laughter or random thoughts. I was running on empty quite a bit and nothing seemed certain or steady, so sharing felt risky. I usually sit down in front of this screen and I don't actually know what I'm going to write about until the blog post is finished and then I sit back and go, "Huh. I didn't realize that was in my head/heart." So when I suspect that what is in my head/heart is muddled and off kilter... I am prone to avoid writing altogether because I'm afraid of what I might learn.
I'm sitting here now, nearly halfway through 2017, and I am ready to start again. This space has never been a traditional "blog" to me. I don't promote it or use search engine optimization or pay a bit of attention to the stats. I think I tried to once or twice because it felt like I was "supposed to," but once I turned 40 those sorts of life rules didn't have the same claim on me as they once did. (There are benefits to aging!) Are other people reading this? I have no idea. But I know that when I take the time to write, I'm better off for it. My head is clearer. My life makes more sense. I'm grounded. How strange to be grounded in cyberspace.
So what needs to come out of my head/heart now and onto this "page?" Let's find out... I'm just as curious as you are.
I've been sick with a nasty cold for the past few days and my plans have been turned upside down. Instead of parties and trips (planned), it has been bathrobe and bed and tissues and medicine (unplanned). As I now stare down the beginning of another week and the need to return to work and a normal schedule, I'm somehow grateful for the last five days of interrupted plans.
There is nothing like an interruption to get my attention. As I plan and prepare (constantly) and expect things to go a certain way, I inadvertently stop paying close attention to the here and now. And I miss opportunities to be grateful. To be blessed. I allow striving and a heart discontent with the myriad of minor interruptions that accumulate along the way threaten my peace and my sense of purpose. I find myself restless and unsettled, but unsure as to why. <Insert a major multi-day plan-interrupter here.> I always hate major disruptions at the outset, but somewhere deep inside, I also feel relief. Does that make sense? I never want to be sick or to have an accident or crisis. Never. I actively try to avoid all of these things. And yet, these are the things (sickness, accidents, crises) that give me societal permission to stop striving. So somewhere in my soul I welcome them and heave a strange sigh of relief when they do their priority-clarifying work.
I realize that this is an unhealthy way to go through life. It sometimes takes physical illness to reveal soul sickness. In the early days of 2017, I claimed the word "SERVE" as my motto for the year. I imagined a year full of pouring myself out, unselfishly, to my family and friends. I am now reminded, almost mid-way through the year, that when a pitcher is full, it doesn't have to be turned upside down in order to pour out, only slightly tilted. The emptier I allow my spirit to become (through striving and pushing and making constant preparations), the more upside down and out of balance I feel when I try to serve... to pour out. Living - alive and awake - in the moment, holding my plans loosely, seeking the face of God daily and trusting Him with all things is filling. These practices are mine to embrace or ignore, but they are what will fill me up. And life wasn't meant to run on empty.
"...Be still (cease striving), and know that I am God..." - Psalm 46:10
Earlier this week I clicked on an article on the Washington Post website about the newly designed office space at the Facebook headquarters. We recently went through a remodel at my own office and the whole concept of an open-office was a hotly debated topic during the planning process. The Facebook headquarters workspace is basically a (VERY) large open warehouse with desks, chairs, filing cabinets, and meeting rooms. Everyone can see what everyone else is up to. There is very little privacy. Even the CEO and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, does not have an office! I was mentally shaking my head at this concept... there is a reason for offices, a reason for privacy in the workplace; do we really need to add a new, cool, hipster vibe to something that is working well already? As I flipped through the pictures and imagined myself trying to work in that type of environment, I came across a quote from Lori Goler, Facebook's vice president of people. She said this of the open, rough-edged environment, "It's intended to be a symbol of what we believe at Facebook, which is that our work is unfinished."
The look of the facility was meant to demonstrate one of their core values, that their work is undone, that it will always be undone. That there are always ways to improve and add more value to the service they provide to the world. That made me pause.
I spend much of my life trying to "be done" or at least APPEAR done. To have it all together. Do I really believe that is an achievable goal? No, not really. I wish it were. Yet, I fashion my life and my outward representation of it in order for it to have a look of "doneness" about it. Just like a big company that has made lots of money and uses a portion of it to install marble floors and a mahogany receptionist desk, valuable artwork and high-end furniture to show people that they can be trusted, because, clearly they've done something right in the past to arrive at this current state of glory.
"It's intended to be a symbol of what we believe at Facebook, which is that our work is unfinished." I think I need to find ways to incorporate symbols of this belief in my own life... to remind myself and others that I have not arrived and I don't believe I ever will, that I am a work in progress, that I am striving toward something greater than myself and it is worth the effort. My life should not resemble a highly polished memorial to all I've accomplished, it should look like a beehive of activity where each new day brings the opportunity to step out and attempt one more time to live what I believe in new ways and see how God uses that to impact the world.
PS - I still don't want to work in an open office environment.
When the weather is nice, not too hot and not too cold, and not particularly windy, rainy or snowy, I get off the bus several stops early on my way to work and walk the rest of the way to the office. I pass by the headquarters of the American Red Cross and then I walk across 17th Street and hang a left. That intersection serves as an entrance to the White House and there are always Secret Service agents manning the gate. Typically, I simply nod and smile or say good morning and they return the greeting. One day last week, however, our interaction was a bit different and I can't stop thinking about it.
After I crossed 17th street, I needed to walk in front of the guard shack that leads to the White House entrance, but a series of black SUV's with tinted windows were pulling through the gate one after another. I stood still, waiting, not sure whether to cross in between the vehicles or wait. I eventually took a tentative step forward and the young Secret Service agent who was standing outside the guard shack looked me square in the eye, smiled and said, "Go right ahead. Don't worry; I'll keep you safe." He wasn't being patronizing and he certainly wasn't flirting. He was 100% sincere. He saw my apprehension and he reassured me. And I believed him. I stepped into the fray and crossed as he kept a watchful eye and the SUVs at bay. I walked the rest of the way to work that day with a lightness that I hadn't felt previously. It is reassuring to know that there are people who will stand in the gap for you, stare down the danger and take it on for you so that you can get where you need to go safely. It made me grateful for public servants of all kinds: police officers, military personnel, firefighters, and the like. More than that, it made me thankful for my God.
If someone wanted to run me down in their car that day, they could have. I don't know if the Secret Service agent could have stopped them or not, but he was willing to take responsibility for getting me safely from where I was to where I was headed and that is a very God-like thing to do. "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend," John 15:13 KJV. He was willing to take the burden of my safety upon himself, assuring that I would get to the other side in one piece, and I let him.
Meanwhile, my God offers to take the responsibility for the eternal safety of my soul upon Himself and when I let Him, no one and nothing can ever harm me... not the real me, not the eternal me. I will most assuredly reach my final destination. "And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one." John 10:28-30 KJV. That sounds an awful lot to me like the ultimate, "Don't worry; I'll keep you safe." And I believe Him.
When our wants are polar opposite, our hearts are divided. The resulting heart-strain is inevitable and it cannot go on forever. One desire has to win out over the other, or both must be released for the sake of something greater. This morning I read Psalm 86:11, "Teach me Thy way O Lord; I will walk in Thy truth. Unite my heart to fear Thy name."
Unite my heart to fear Thy name. In those situations when our heart is divided - we want THIS, but find ourselves doing THAT, or we want THING A when we are in SETTING A, but when we find ourselves in SETTING B we couldn't care less about THING A - those are the times we need a spiritual reality check. A house divided against itself cannot stand - That isn't just an Abraham Lincoln quote, it is a Jesus Christ quote.
Not only can a divided heart not persist, but a divided church cannot either. Charles Spurgeon described it this way in his sermon on September 25, 1859, "It is one grand and grievous fault with the church of Christ at the present day, that it is not merely divided somewhat in its creed, and somewhat also in its practice of the ordinances, but alas, it is also somewhat divided in heart. When the differences are of such a character, that as people of God we can still love each other, and still unite in the common battle against the cause of evil and in the common end of building up the church, then there is but little that is faulty. But when our doctrinal divisions grow to so great a head that we cease to co-operate; when our opinions upon mere ordinances become so acid towards each other, that we can no longer extend the right hand of fellowship to those who differ from us, then indeed is the church of God found faulty."
So what is the cure for division? Whether it is within our own hearts or within the collective heart of a people? God is our only hope. We are naturally bent toward division and it is the Holy Spirit of God alone who can reconcile. This prayer of David, "Unite my heart to fear Thy name," can be our guide as we pray. The goal of a unified heart isn't to alleviate pain, it is to see proper function and prosperity restored. When the pieces of a machine work against each other rather than with each other in harmony, the machine breaks down and no profitable work is accomplished. The same is true in our hearts and amongst us. We are capable of bringing about amazing good in the world when unity is restored. God is the only force in the world that can completely control us without destroying us. To give way to any other thing that promises unity or a higher purpose for our actions is to open the door to eventual pain and a further dividing of our hearts. The cure for a divided heart begins with a prayer that puts the warring desires on the table before a God worthy of praise, adoration, and devotion, seeing each desire as subservient to Him and His purposes. Then, to stand back and see what He does with them and with us. Rest assured. It's gonna be good.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!