Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanks be to God...

Thirty-nine years ago, I was twenty years old. I had survived the '60's, virtually unscathed,(not really, as I still attempt to re-educate myself) despite attending a public high school and a liberal liberal-arts college for women in Atlanta and on to another one in Bristol, TN. My parents and grandparents, aunt and other near relations were all public school teachers. Back then, that's all there was, especially in the mountains of Virginia, my home. God graced me with, not only devout Christian parents, but a community and school that honored God. But the greatest blessing of all was the young man who came to be my grandfather's summer assistant in the tiny Presbyterian church in 1965 where Grandpa had pastored since his conversion by a "home" missionary, Thomas Mowbray. He was a South Carolinian with a wooden leg and a heart for God who had led my grandparents to the Lord many years before. Grandpa left the teaching profession, took seminary classes and was ordained to the Gospel ministry under what was called the 'extraordinary clause'. Joe was attending King College in Bristol, TN, at the time a rising junior, when he came to help my Grandpa that summer. That was 43 years ago,if my math and memory serve me right.

I'd never known anyone like him. He was broad shouldered, lanky and tall--almost 6' 5"--and had the manner of another Billy Graham when he preached. His flashing blue eyes could pierce to the core of your being and his booming voice captivated the congregation and his intense love for Christ and desire that all men come to know Him captured my heart. We spent the whole summer together teaching unchurched children in Bible schools--we held sixteen to be exact--all over the beautiful wild mountains of my home in southwestern Virginia. Never had I met anyone who could draw men, women, boys and girls to Jesus like this young man and still have a great sense of humor, a combination of reserve and friendliness that intrigued me, a love of good music, history and storytelling that drew me in... I never wanted to be apart from him.

The rest of our love story will have to wait for the film or historical novel version perhaps. I wanted to take note that tomorrow, November 27th, 2008, is our 39th wedding anniversary! We were married on November 27th, Thanksgiving Day. This year we will spend our anniversary, not with our children and grandchildren, a custom we always anticipate with much joy from year to year in the past and will in the future as well, with God's blessing. But this year the two of us will give thanks for all our blessings and celebrate our devotion and commitment to each other in the hospital in Macon, GA, where Joe will rest for one more day before beginning a grueling re-hab program after knee replacement surgery two days ago. He will learn to walk and do many other things he has almost lost with terrible arthritic pain for several years. We look forward now, with God's blessings, to him regaining use of his limbs and with that a happier, healthier life.

I know that if I must experience traumatic health experiences in the future, he will be there for me, even as he has been in the past. I sit with him today, not wishing we could be somewhere else, but thankful that God is with us where we are. That's what marriage is about: not just wine and roses, laughter and arguments and kissing and making up--that's a big part of it. Marriage is about the journey together, being two who grow more and more into one flesh--struggling together, celebrating life, weeping over losses, hurting and healing together. Married life is hard sometimes, but it's beautiful, too. I wouldn't want to spend my anniversary doing anything else than being with my husband, looking into his eyes and finding a stronger love than I've ever known.

I love you, Joe. More than ever you are my best friend, my mentor, my lover, my hero. Happy anniversary, honey. Next year, let's dance!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Post-Election Anti-Depression Recipe

Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
to the last syllable of recorded time;
and all our yesterdays have lighted fools
the way to dusty death.
Out, out brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player
that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more:

it is a tale told by an idiot,
full of sound and fury,
signifying nothing...

-- Shakespeare, Macbeth, V.v.
(photo of Bothwell Castle, Scotland)

One week ago today, we anticipated election day. Maybe 'anticipated' is the wrong word. When I use that word, I'm normally thinking of something enjoyable like a birthday party, vacation or Christmas. Now Election Day, 2008 has passed. The much anticipated day has come and gone as indeed all things mortal and finite do. They pass away, become history or are simply forgotten.

Thou dost turn man back into dust, and dost say, 'Return, O children of men.' For a thousand years in Thy sight are like yesterday when it passes by, or as a watch in the night. Thou has swept them away like a flood, they fall asleep; in the morning they are like grass which sprouts anew...
(photo of wildflowers growing in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland)

In the morning it flourishes and sprouts anew; toward evening it fades and withers away...For all our days have declined in Thy fury; we have finished our years like a sigh. As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years, yet their pride is but labor and sorrow; for soon it is gone and we fly away...So teach us to number our days, that we may present to Thee a heart of wisdom. --Psalm 90:3-6,10-12

O Lord, what is man that Thou dost take knowledge of him? Or the son of man that Thou dost think of him? Man is like a mere breath; his days are like a passing shadow. --Psalm 144:3,4

(Becky, dreaming as the shadows fall in St. Andrews Cathedral ruins, Scotland, June, 2008)

Minutes and seconds slide into hours and days which quickly mount up on wings like eagles and glide into weeks and months, insistently flying over the horizon into years, heedless of our attempts to call them back. The years drift on, like silent snow, piling up against our windows as we dream, unaware that decades have suddenly written themselves without our cognizance while we busily bustled about, unsuspecting, like children who fall asleep in the car and awaken, snug in bed.

Like sand pouring through the proverbial hour-glass, years crowd into centuries; and, before you can turn around twice, one millenia nudges its way against the second. They push together, surging into the third, then, at break-neck speed, the fourth one skids into line...time is relentless in its onward march. No space left to catch a deep breath...[my photo of ancient monoliths erected in a field in Kilmartin Valley, perhaps earlier than the 9th century, in Scotland]

(painting of The Venerable Bede translating the book of John, by J. D. Penrose, 1902, source, Wikipedia)

The Venerable Bede (A.D. 673-735) wrote to his Anglo-Saxon king:
The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant."
--[from Ecclesiastical History of the English People (731 A.D.) II.xiii.]

Thanks be to God, we know without the least shadow of doubt from whence we have come and where we are going. How unnecessary for the Christian to live in such despair--we are not as sparrows flitting through a warm room into a shroud of blackness. If this picture of life is valid, should we not live for today, warming ourselves as long as we can by the fire, draining the cup of pleasure to the dregs? The non-Christian world lives by this standard. As blood-bought children of God, ransomed from the world, we have been given a different perspective.

We choose to live opposed to the base standards and God-less philosophies of our polluted world. We choose the perception of eternity in our souls that elevates our existence to noble, joyful heights. So many around us agree with John Gay, an early 19th century British playwright, who wrote this epitaph for himself: "Life is a jest, and all things show it, I thought so once, and now I know it." We must realize at the onset that our enemies are not at all as fierce as they seem. In fact, the Bible informs us that their lives are built on shifting sand and will be swept away by the first real storm that falls. Devise a plan to defeat your tendency to fear these straw men and to throttle your tendency towards fear and anxiety.

We must oppose the straw men of our day by, first, refusing to be shaped by current events and the media. Rather, become a serious student of the Bible, its teachings and history and the history of the world, ancient and modern. Immerse yourself, as much as possible, in learning good theology and REAL history. Not edited, revised and supplemented fables fabricated for public school textbooks, much of the history and discovery channel offerings and most ivy league colleges and universities. Go to original sources or those who used them to write their books -- grasp the macro-concepts of each period of history and then put flesh on the bare bones by reading the biographies and autobiographies of each era. Develop a clear and deep understanding of God's Word as well as a solid, bedrock perspective about history and the people and events that make it and you will find yourself better able to correctly interpret current events.

Second, know where you fit into the picture in your moment in history. Our very existence is defined, not by what someone else says about it but by the knowledge that God had a reason for your birth. He knows everything about you and me because He planned for each of us to be here--at this specific point in time and space, and He fills each life with a dynamic sense of meaning as we find our meaning in Him. Macbeth*[see quote above] was wrong. A Christian should never feel that he is "a poor player who struts and frets his hour upon the stage...full of sound and fury, signifying nothing." You are significant because God wants you here to find your rest in Him and to do all His holy will from a grateful heart. Once you've discovered your raison d'etre, passionately devote yourself to living it, every day, with every fiber of your being and every moment of time you are given. Calvin said that truly knowing yourself and God are the necessary ingredients for living a satisfying life. (Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, I,i.ii.)

Third, (or perhaps first in order of importance), believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation and you will never die--you will continue to live beyond the grave. Our bodies will grow weary and sick, although some are taken even before the aging process begins to show; but YOU, your resurrected body and soul, will never, ever, ever die! I find that truth more than comforting. Purpose infuses my days, months and years as I realize that I was created on purpose by the Sovereign God of the universe, the One Who alone keeps the planets from crashing into the sun, Who sustains all that He has created until its appointed time to die, Who has never failed in one promise He ever made, Who has revealed Himself and His holy will in His law/word in the Scriptures and through His only Son, Who daily prays for me and empowers me, by the Holy Spirit Who indwells me, to live and move and have my being in Him.

Hallelujah! Praise Jehovah!
Oh, my soul, Jehovah praise.
I will sing the glorious praises
of my God through all my days.
Put no confidence in princes,
nor for help on man depend.
He shall die, to dust returning,
and his purposes shall end.

Happy is the man that chooses
Israel's God to be his aid.
He is blessed whose hope of blessing
on the Lord his God is stayed.
Heav'n and earth the Lord created,
seas and all that they contain.
He delivers from oppression,
righteousness He will maintain.
--Psalm 146, 1912 Psalter

One week has passed since election day, 2008. Four (or more years) of formidable socialistic, pluralistic, anti-Christian, pro-abortion, pro-homosexual, pro-'everything I'm opposed to' politics seems probable from this vantage point. I cannot change the election results. I tried as best I could to influence anyone who would listen prior to the election. So what now? I could easily choose depression, anxiety and fear as the motivating factors for my attitude and decisions in the days ahead, but to do so would demonstrate a pitiable lack of faith in God's promises.

My reaction as a Christian may only be informed by God's Word. Despite alarming headlines, I must remind myself daily to remember what I know is true: God is still on His throne, therefore, nothing essential has changed in God's universe! I need not live as a sparrow flitting through a warm room to the unknown darkness beyond it. I know something neither the sparrow nor unregenerate man can know--God reigns! Therefore, I will continue to walk down the path the Lord has clearly marked for my life until He welcomes me home, knowing without a doubt that, though trials may lie ahead, "God casues all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose," Romans 8:28. While I remain here, I will endeavor to trust Him, the all-wise Sovereign and Lord of my heart Who is the God of history. My confidence will not rest in princes nor will I fear what they can do to me. My hope rests in the knowledge of His providential care Who does all things well.

This is my recipe for post-election depression: By His grace and in His strength alone, I will nourish my hungry heart on His delicious and satisfying word; I will pray on my face before Him, begging for mercy and cleansing for myself, my dear ones, His bride the church and our poor, deceived nation. I will exercise my faith by working with all my heart in my callings "as unto the Lord." I will worship on His holy hill each Lord's day, drawing comfort and strength as I commune with Him around His table and in fellowship with His people. Finding His mercies new and fresh every morning, I will sing His praises so loudly that the din and confusion of the world will simply fade away to a dull, boring roar, like the droning of a wasp caught in a jar and fear and depression will slink away into the darkness where they belong.

I believe that God is stronger than any double-minded politician. I believe that Good will triumph over evil. I believe that Truth will win over falsehood. The world will be changed in my life-time and in the years to come as it has been in years past, not through the machinations of men and political activists, but through the blessings and curses of a mighty Warrior Who strides over His defeated enemies, the sword of His Word prevailing now as it always has throughout the centuries. Enlist in His army and know that, regardless of election results, sin and even death, the victory has already been won. Praise be to God!

"In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For Thou alone, O LORD, dost make me to dwell in safety." --Psalm 4:8

Saturday, November 1, 2008

While I was sleeping...

How surreal to me that I had posted a blog late last night entitled, Life is Short, without knowing that a precious jewel, Caroline Hartrampf, age 19, would soon thereafter rise to glory to be with the Lord she loved. I've known and loved Caroline's mother since she was 12 years old. Her grandparents are long-time friends in our church. We have rejoiced that Caroline's consistent life of commitment to the Lord was a shining witness for Christ at her school and with all who knew her. And then, in an instant on a country road, she and her boyfriend who had hoped to spend his life ministering in medicine mission work, were killed in a car wreck last night on the way home from a family wedding rehearsal dinner in Greenville, SC. Hopes and plans for their future, her special brand of joy, the smiles, hugs and sweetness--gone from our lives for eternity.

Tomorrow is not promised for you nor me nor for anyone we love. "Life," said Michael Billings, a great young man who left this life last fall also at age 19, also in a car wreck, "is but a vapor." Will we leave behind a solid, substantial testimony of unwavering faithfulness to Christ as these young people did? Or will there be enough evidence to prove we were Christians? Are we spinning spider's webs on the loom of life or leaving an inheritance of solid, substantial, faithful words and deeds for our children and, if we are blessed to live long enough, our grandchildren to hold onto after we are gone?

I urge you, dear friends, to lay aside all that encumbers you--the pursuit of all worthless things, and to press on, advancing the crown rights of King Jesus in every area of life with each breath you are given. Nothing in this life will last--no beauty, no pleasure, no earthly bauble; only what is done for the glory of Christ and the furthrance of His kingdom is worth doing.

You and I will leave a legacy. Will our legacy be that of faith and faithfulness such as Caroline left, a living testimony for the Lord so clear that, "we being dead, yet speak"? Or will those who knew us grieve because we squandered our moment in history.

We mourn with those who mourn--our hearts are broken. But Caroline would not have us grieve as those who have no hope. She would enthusiastically encourage us in Christ's strength, to be up and doing for our Lord. We must not have a faith that wavers: He Who has promised us all good things, will He not also bring it to pass?

Give us grace to believe, Lord. Grant to us a solid, solemn re-commitment to live this day, every day for Jesus until our task is done. I know Jesus welcomed Caroline with open arms, saying, "Well, done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Lord."

Life's too short...

Fox News provides the background noise in the room just now--pundits wagging on about the upcoming election. Thankfully, the echoes in my head are of something far lovelier that has transported me beyond the mundane--Mercy practicing cello in her room. She remarked earlier, "Mom, I'm actually going to practice cello--I have meant to practice all week."

Good intentions. I think of all I've done today, this week, this month, this year, and all I've left undone that I meant to do. The day, the week, the month, the year are drawing to a close. It's Friday, the last day of October with daylight savings time helping us 'fall back' tomorrow night in an effort to give us a little more 'time' each day. Where does time go? It disappears like the mist on the mountains as the sun rises. Now I'm young, anticipating life with its sweet mysteries yet to be unveiled; then, the noonday sun beats down, the middle of life far too busy to count the passage of days; and now I'm old or at least no longer viewing it in the far distance as the sun starts to slip lower on the horizon, still bright but casting long shadows before my dimmed eyes.

There are only two months left of this year. Where did the year go since its first momentous event, that of Joseph Charles Morecraft, V, "Charlie's" birth on his Uncle Grant Scarborough's birthday in January? Suddenly, tomorrow is November. My seventh grandbaby is due in a few days, Joe's knee replacement and recovery for several weeks following which will take us into Christmas or beyond...2008 will be history before we can envision it. We will have a new president, new crises to confront, new prayer requests, new sins to confess, new griefs to confide, new joys to express... life is unalterably short, especially for those of us who are on the downhill slide of the equation.

The Bible has a lot to say about the brevity of life; in particular the verse, "Redeem the time for the days are evil," comes to mind this election season. This verse encourages me to make the most of each day--I can't change one single person I know, but I can change myself where I'm convicted change is needed. Although I am tempted to live in regret for what is left undone, I may not waste valuable energy doing so if I can, but must learn from my sins and mistakes and continue the arduous task of re-prioritizing my time every day.

I pledge tonight, the last day of October, 2008, to try to remember that life is a gift, every second of it. I recommit to arising with a song of praise to God on my lips each morning, asking Him to use me in any way He sees fit to bring Him glory. That's all I need. That's enough...