Friday, September 26, 2008
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:22-26
Joy is defined in Webster’s 1828 Dictionary in this way: “To rejoice; to be glad; to exult.” As an example the dictionary quotes Habakkuk 3:18 which exults “…yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation.”
In the Bible wonderful and great events are always greeted with joy. The angels were joyful when they exclaimed, "Glory to God in the highest,” declaring the birth of Jesus in Luke 2:14. The disciples in Luke 24:41 also showed great joy upon seeing their risen Lord.
Good things are almost always a cause for joy, but what about when things don’t go as we planned or something seriously tragic happens? Are we to have joy then? James 1:2-5 tells us to “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."
We are to glory in the Lord and rejoice in our trials. God is great, and whatever else is going on, He is faithful and just. As my mother says, it is in our difficulty that we need joy the most. In Nehemiah 8:10 we are told, “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”
A perfect example of this relates to my mother in September of 1998. Our family had driven four days to make the move from Massachusetts to Oklahoma. It was the worst week of my entire life. We had driven into the wee hours of the morning every day driving an over sized moving truck with a car trailer attached to the back. The contraption would not back up, and it got stuck over and over again. We almost went over a cliff once in the mountains of Kentucky, and multiple problems had arisen. We were relieved when we reached our new home and unloaded our belongings. Only one thing needed to be done to rid ourselves of the gigantic monster. It needed to be driven back to the truck location.
That was easier said than done. My parents were unfamiliar with the neighborhood and so fell into perhaps the worst trap of the entire town. A street around the corner was straight and level before suddenly dropping steeply down to the intersection below. It did not gradually level out again but just as suddenly became level again. It was here that our truck became stuck once more. My mom was upset and discouraged.
A bird was tweeting musically in a tree nearby without a care in the world. Mom was reminded to rejoice in the little pleasures and to enjoy the beauty of the day. She gave thanks to God that we had arrived safely and without any greater mishap than a constantly stuck truck. There is great encouragement in finding the silver lining in our troubles. God is great and worthy to be praised.
The Psalmist gives repeated exclamations of joy and praise to God. Psalm 32:11 is a shining illustration of this. “Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
The second day of our drive from Massachusetts to Oklahoma is burned into my memory. It was challenging to say the least.
It was my turn to ride in the truck with Dad, so that was fun. The truck gave me another perspective of the road. We were so high! Another blessing was being with my father. I felt I had lost him the day before, so it was comforting to be with him all day. Most of the day went alright.
The evening was a different story and had enough unpleasantness to last me my entire life. We had driven late into the night long after we had exceeded our own strength. My mom and dad were affected most. The truck had to be turned in on a certain date, and we were running out of time.
We were all tired and worn out from the day before – mentally, physically, and emotionally. I think both of my parents were at their weakest points that day, and the situation only worsened as the day wore on. Exhaustion and confusion set in; the fruit of the Spirit was not always fully evident. I am thankful that God’s goodness and mercy followed us that Tuesday night. We could not have survived without it.
One problem we struggled with during our trip was the inflexibility of the truck. Our white car was attached to the back of the truck through the use of a trailer. We were incapable of backing up. We always had to know exactly where we were going and if there was enough room to turn around without backing up.
The situation had been annoying when making stops for meals and fuel, but we were in serious trouble in the hills of Kentucky.
We continued our drive until we were too tired to go any further. My dad started keeping an eye out for hotel signs. We drove many miles and eventually spotted a motel sign. As our little caravan exited the highway, we passed what my dad thought was an abandoned or closed motel, believing the real lodge was farther down the road. Instead, we found ourselves traveling deeply into the dark midnight mountains of Kentucky.
Nothing else looked anything like a hotel, however, so we decided to turn around. The road was narrow, and our truck was long. Finding a place to turn around was not an easy feat. We finally spotted what looked like a clearing off the side of the road. Dad turned onto it and tried to turn the truck around. There wasn’t enough room, and we were forced to unhook the car trailer before reversing the truck.
We thought the worst was over, and Dad pulled out of the clearing to turn back onto the road. The truck backed up slowly. I felt a lurch. The wheels lifted off of the ground. We were on the edge of a steep embankment!
It happened so fast. Dad gunned the engine. Mom screamed “JESUS” at the top of her lungs. The wheels jolted back to the ground and grabbed at the ground to pull us back onto level ground.
God was merciful that night. We didn’t deserve to be spared. We hadn’t been acting in a way that glorified God. Our attitudes were not Christ-like. He was merciful, and my family was given another chance. We were blessed with a clearer understanding of how precious and fragile life is and how reliant on Him we must be. We never grow out of needing His help, and we must not let fatigue and exhaustion get in the way of practicing the fruit of the Spirit.
I won’t forget that night. It continues to remind me that God is faithful and just to forgive us of all unrighteousness. He is the loving Father that cared enough about us to chastise us, save us, and show us the way ahead.
Our adventures weren’t over that Tuesday night ten years ago. We still had to get back on the road, reattach the trailer, find lodging, and unpack the luggage. It was a long night, but I know we approached the situation more prayerfully, and we finished the day as a team – a tighter family unit than before.
I remember lying on my sleeping bag that night staring with wide open eyes into the dark as I struggled to go to sleep. It took awhile for me to see past the fear and confusion and recognize God’s goodness in that situation. After all, it wasn’t a good day in the way we usually think of “good” days. It was difficult, unpleasant, and anything but nice. Yet, over time, I have begun to see how God’s hand of mercy was holding us. He got us past that night and gave us a beautiful beginning the next morning.
For he will command his angels concerning youto guard you in all your ways.On their hands they will bear you up,lest you strike your foot against a stone.You will tread on the lion and the adder;the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;I will protect him, because he knows my name.When he calls to me, I will answer him;I will be with him in trouble;I will rescue him and honor him.With long life I will satisfy himand show him my salvation.”Psalm 91:11-16
Monday, September 22, 2008
That bright September day in Massachusetts did not find me so meditative. I wasn’t sad or distraught. Mostly, I was impatient. Weren’t we supposed to have left by now? Oklahoma was waiting! It was time to be off.
Yesterday had been fun and sad at the same time. Our church had hosted a goodbye party for us, and all my friends had been there. I didn’t know when I would see them again, if ever, but I had been able to push those thoughts aside for most of the day. We enjoyed good food, homemade ice cream, photographs, and excellent company. They were all there: Faith, Acacia, Lauren, Kaylie, all of their parents, brothers, and sisters, my babysitter Sophie, little Emily… The list could go on and on.
The fun was over too soon. The goodbyes were said. I remember hugging my friends for the last time. The tears only came after my family had climbed into the van and were on our way down the street – my friends disappearing behind me.
That was the day before. There were no friends to see me off this morning, and I wanted the adventure to begin! Eventually, Mom, Dad, and Susanna came out of the house and closed the red door behind them for the last time. Dad and Susanna climbed up into the big yellow moving truck parked on the street. Mom joined David and me in the van.
We were off. The moment had come.
The drive began easily enough. We traveled through familiar streets that had been my neighborhood for as long as I could remember. Our old neighborhood – Little Italy – was gone. The road was ahead.
Both of my parents were extremely tired by the time we pulled out of town. My mom had cleaned out the attic and basement, sorted through cabinets and dressers, packed boxes, and done who knows what else to prepare for this trip. My dad was putting things in order at the church he had pastored for nine years. My mom and dad were not at their freshest when we pulled out of town to begin what we thought would be a three day drive.
I had it easy. At age nine, I was pleased to have packed all of my own belongings and helped with some of the lighter packing. My biggest grief was leaving behind the largest specimens of my rock collection, but at least I had plenty of sleep and tons of energy. David and I probably kept the drive lively for my mom during those first few hours, but we had some help in that department as well. Our cat Charity lay panting in her pet carrying case in the front passenger seat. Our cockatiel chirped away from the back.
I wanted adventure, but I don’t think I was ready for it when it came.
The long road put me to sleep, and when I awoke, it was to pure chaos. The yellow truck was gone! Where was Dad and Susanna? My mom didn’t know, and she had been awake – just barely.
The story that gradually came out – when my panicked mother could explain – was that she had looked down for a brief moment to get her vitamins. It had only been for a moment. How was she to know that at that exact moment the truck would change lanes? She watched in disbelief as my dad – with very little warning – took an exit ramp. She was stuck in the other lane hedged in by traffic and had no option but to drive on and miss the exit!
Today, a cell phone call would have resolved the issue before it escalated into a problem. In 1998 the situation was more complicated. My mom took the next available exit and circled back. We drove around and around looking for a giant yellow truck. How hard could it be to spot something that big and that yellow?
The truck wasn’t there.
I remember becoming very worried. My active imagination could envision never seeing my dad again. My sister would be lost to me. The rest of my rock collection would be as gone as those left behind at the house.
I started to take mental stock of the things I had with me. I still had Johnny (my stuffed bear), a few car activities, the friendship box Acacia had given me the day before, my brother, my mom, and both of the pets. That was it! I might never see the other half of my family or most of my belongings again. We would be destined to drive around this little exit forever and ever without any way out.
The next few hours were long and unpleasant. I tried to stay optimistic, but this problem was beyond me. I should have remembered that no matter how lost I felt, God knew exactly where we were and exactly where my dad was, and He would take care of us.
My mom found a payphone, and we parked. David and I waited in the car while Mom called a friend of hers, Mrs. Smith, and explained what had happened. While on the phone with her, Mrs. Smith received another call. It was the Reuters, another family from our church that had just recently moved to the same place in Oklahoma we were headed. My Dad had called them! Mrs. Smith was able to give the Reuters the payphone number of where we were at. God made a way!
All we had to do was wait for my dad to call and let us know where he was. It really was a miracle. My dad and sister had taken the exit to refuel the truck. When they didn’t see the van behind them, they assumed we had stayed on the highway. They got back on the highway and kept going in the hopes of seeing us. The truck had traveled for a couple hours before realizing there was a serious problem.
Mom, David, and I got back on the road. We knew where we were going now! It took a couple hours to catch up, but I was more than a little relieved. I would see my dad again!
We caught up to them eventually. There was no time for chat, however, as we were terribly behind schedule and had a long way to go. We would be driving into the late hours that night.
That was the first day of a good trip that went wrong in so many ways. Looking back now, I can see the hand of God protecting and caring for us even when we didn’t have a Plan B or when my parents were sleep deprived and drained of energy.
Even in the worst moments, I knew we were supposed to move to Oklahoma. The getting there was tough, but in the end it all worked out. We have a faithful Heavenly Father who makes the connections when we’ve lost them, has the plan when ours fails, and keeps us going no matter what!
Behold, I will gather them from all the countries to which I drove them in my anger and my wrath and in great indignation. I will bring them back to this place, and I will make them dwell in safety. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God. I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever, for their own good and the good of their children after them. I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.