Saturday, March 26, 2016

Caught (Part 2)

Sometimes I’ve wanted God to catch me as quickly as Dad did when I was a child.  

It hasn’t always worked that way. 

Several weeks ago there was a shooting at a factory in the nearby town where I went to high school. The shooting happened just across the street from the middle school, but school was already out for the day. Four people were killed, including the shooter, and fourteen injured. Our community is beginning a long recovery.

On that day I heard and watched the news stories of people who believed themselves to be caught by the hands of God, just like my dad caught us as we flew off the top of the refrigerator. Even as the shots were being fired, phone calls for prayers were being made. As people fell, others came alongside them and offered prayer for them while assisting them to run for safety. Those people who survived have a strong sense of God reaching for them and catching them up.

And there are the other stories, of those who died...those who have a long road to recovery...those who have lost loved ones...children growing up without a parent.

Psalm 103 says that God redeems our life from the pit. In order for that to be true, we have to have actually landed in that pit. I’ve always preferred the rescue to happen before I reach the bottom of the pit, but that only happens some of the time. 

There are a lot of rescue verses in the Bible, and I loved all of them. I also misunderstood them, thinking that God would always rescue me before I was in trouble. Maybe I would see the danger coming, but there would be a gasp, a look of terror, and then relief and laughter, right? It took me a while to become reconciled to the truth that sometimes God picks me up after I’ve fallen hard instead of catching me before I hit the ground. 

And sometimes, God sits with me in the pit.

In Psalm 56, which was the Psalm for the week before Palm Sunday from my devotional book, are these words:

"Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me:
all day long foes oppress me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many fight against me."

and also these words...

"You have kept count of my tossing;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your record?"

There are some pits that are just part of life. Accidents. Illnesses. Deaths of loved ones. Natural disasters. They are things out of our control that shake our lives at their foundations.

There are pits we dig ourselves, sometimes willfully and sometimes in spite of ourselves.

There are pits made by others. Broken relationships. Crime. Abuse.

And there are pits that are part of following God. We follow a crucified Savior, after all. We follow a Savior who spent his last night before his death wide awake, sweating blood, and praying for another way to accomplish his mission besides the one that lay ahead of him. It is easy to forget that giving up your life is part of the deal. Sometimes we want to have only the picture of God catching us before we hit the ground, while ignoring the picture of God who left heaven to accompany us here, in our hard places.

But God IS here with us. Even our tossing and turning is recorded and our tears are collected.

The candles at the front of our sanctuary, lit in honor of those who died or were injured in the shooting. Photo by Joan Entz.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Caught (Part 1)

It was a General Electric refrigerator. Purchased before I was born, it kept its rightful spot in the kitchen of my parents until the day they moved away from their rural home about three years ago. It was gleaming white with chrome accents that at one time seemed very modern. The corners were rounded. It had a small freezer with its own door on top that needed regular defrosting. Underneath was a state of the art (for that era) refrigerator with shelves shaped in half circles that would turn so that items in the back could be found easily. It had crisper drawers and the door shut by itself.

From the time I was old enough to sit steadily, my dad had a game involving that refrigerator. He would perch me up on the top of it and then urge me to jump. His hands were out and his face was laughing. I don’t remember the first time I jumped, but I watched him play the same game with each successive sibling and then each of my children, and nieces and nephews, and finally my grandchildren.

The game would start gently with Dad’s hands outstretched, nearly touching the child who for the first time in their short life, sat higher than all the adults in the room. The baby’s eyes would be big and a little frightened as he or she weighed whether to slip off the edge of that precipice. Dad would put his hands closer if he needed to, in order to offer reassurance, sometimes even still holding on very loosely to the little one while encouraging her to make the choice to leap.  Sometimes it would begin with the child leaning just a little bit, and then a bit more. With a momentary gasp and look of terror, they would slip over the edge and cross that tiny drop between the top of the fridge and Dad’s hands. Instantly relief and laughter replaced the terror as Dad’s strong hands  caught them up and swung them back into the air. Then man and child would laugh together, good hard belly laughs. And before the laughter died away, already the baby would be lifting their arms and leaning toward the refrigerator for another go.

Of course, once confidence was in place, Dad would let the fall extend lower and lower, just barely snatching up the child before they reached the floor. The longer the drop, the louder the laughter. and then the pleas, “Again! Again!”

Dad would continue until his arms were tired, while the happy children still  begged for more. He played that game with us until we were too big to be lifted on the refrigerator. There were times at holidays when there would be a little line of small people waiting their turn to be lifted, eager to jump into the waiting arms of this man who loved them.

A year a half ago, I knew in my heart that Dad was dying, but I was not yet admitting it to my conscious thought. My journal has notes of my observations about my parents, of my concerns for Dad, especially. About a month before he was gone I wrote these words:

“I love that all the little ones got to leap off the top of that old refrigerator into his arms, because for me, that’s my picture of Dad---the safe place to leap toward, knowing I’ll be caught up with love and laughter.”

It's also a picture of God, waiting with arms outstretched, laughter in his eyes.

Deuteronomy 33:27 says “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting  arms.”

This is the actual refrigerator. Picture it with small kids on top.