Monday, December 5, 2011

Shot Through The Heart

I had a very bad dream the other night. It was one of those that wakes you up and you don’t really want to go back to sleep, and the images stay with you for quite some time.

I’m not courageous. I don’t have a job where I risk my life, I didn’t grow up around guns, and I love shows like Castle or The Closer, but would never actually want a lifestyle that frequently incorporated life-or-death scenarios on purpose.  That being said, this dream really went deep down, touching on those Issues that impact your daily life in big and small ways. What happened? In the short version, I was in a situation where someone had a gun and was threatening a friend of mine, and then shot her through the top of the knee, down into her calf, and through her foot. Quite unpleasant, as an understatement.

In both the long and short versions of the dream, I hid as best I could, even closing my eyes to avoid any kind of eye contact, even when I saw the antagonist aiming, with that very set look in her eyes, her jaw hard and stubborn, full of hate and anger for anyone who had more than she did.

What was weird was then right as the gun went off, everything froze, and rewound into a second ending, kind of like the end of the movie Clue, where they go through two or three different endings that Could Have Been What Really Happened.

And in this second chance, I knew the outcome, and instead of closing my eyes, I said, “Wait. You don’t have to do that.” And then she turned to me. It was at this point in the world in between waking and sleeping where I felt a very real, comforting presence. I don’t know that I would say God was “speaking to me” but the scene turned into a lesson that really made me think, and had quite the lasting impression on how I’ve been seeing life in general.

It reminded me of this one time on choir tour when we were singing a song called, “The Peace That Passes Understanding.” We were, I guess, in a lower income housing complex, it’s sad I don’t remember things from high school, but I was kind of a hormonal zombie during that time, and right in the middle of the song, we heard shots ring out and everyone in the large room was instructed to duck down to the floor. Once on the floor, I chuckled. And several someones next to me looked on with disdain, saying, “This isn’t funny, Sara!” But come on, that’s irony for you.

And ironically enough, this morning and as of late, Peace has been the subject of thought, conversations, and church discussion. We see a lot of hurt, we know a lot of difficulty, and every day has its frustrations, even for the most peaceful of us all. Tires go flat, potty training happens, medical emergencies stop us in our tracks, and we wonder where the sunshine went. Sometimes we can choose to be calm, sometimes we just have to bear the burdens or the heartache, or yell at the stupidity going on around us. There are different ways to escape the pressure of Life, which is different than what we all thought it was going to be when we were kids, or even just a few years younger. But it never ends. We expect the rain to let up, or that something will just work out right, and when we can’t see beyond the darkness in which we sit, the weariness starts to settle in. See, movies and tv shows and best sellers all have a similar plot structure, that there is a building of action, a climactic rising of action, subplots, twists and turns, and then, just when it seems there should be success in sight, another plot twist occurs and the character experiences The Big Gloom right before a final change of heart and victory. The Big Gloom is when the character hits “rock bottom.” Usually this is where it is raining in a movie. It’s when you quit your job, climb back into bed, your insurance expires, you eat that third…or fourth… chocolate chip cookie, or throw the computer against the wall.

You know, I’m always amused at how real life really does follow plot structure sometimes, and it’s funny. One of my screenwriting books discusses structure and outlines the rise, fall, and creation of a hero. The hero is introduced, a catalyst sets the story into motion, the character is called to face numerous training and obstacle points, sees a certain amount of success, faces nearly insurmountable failure and then overcomes it, changed into a new person, and as my book put it, “Resurrected into a new life.” See, we wouldn’t really care as much if Luke Skywalker was still a whiney teenager at the end of the series, or if the coach decided to pick up trash instead of deal with The Not-So-Mighty-Ducks, or if Edward chose to stay away. I mean, what if Indiana Jones decided to just stay in the classroom, if Harry stayed in his closet, or if Dorothy hadn’t cared too much about Toto and handed him over to her neighbor? For some of us, though, life doesn’t seem anything like a top producing movie. But really, we all face our own fair share of conflict. We all distinctly lack a perceivable happy ending. Or at least, a not-so-impossible mission.

And I see it so much, especially at this time of year. One article today named the top ten most shoplifted items of the season, items including those of filet mignon, Axe body spray, the iPhone, razors, cologne, Nikes, and the newest Elmo moves-and-laughs-annoyingly toy. The article said, “Ad Week reports that one in every 11 people walks out the door with at least one item they didn’t pay for,” and that, “75 percent of shoplifters are adults, most of whom have jobs.”

I read a book recently, by Dee Henderson, about a woman who witnessed a murder and gained possession of a record book, implicating and exposing a mob boss. She had to live on the run, changing cities, jobs, identities every few months for over 10 years. She met a police officer who befriended her, who asked her how she dealt with such a hard life. She replied that she had learned to deal with it by expecting to face challenges instead of easiness. That when she expected conflict to arise she was prepared for it; instead of expecting every day to be sunshine and laughter, and being disappointed when it didn’t happen, to appreciate any good thing that came by with full gratitude, but to always be prepared for trouble.

When I read that, I thought, “Man, that is totally depressing. What a downer of an outlook.” But honestly, I think there is some truth to it. Expectations really can be a stumbling block. During counseling before getting married, we discussed our expectations of our roles, our lives, and our goals. It’s a pretty good thing we did that, and it cleared up several problems that would have occurred in the not too distant past. Very often when my expectations are not met, or are completely the opposite of what happens, I have a lot of trouble acting like a daughter of the King. I’m learning, still, always learning. And so I’m learning how to affect and adapt my expectations.

Disney is amazing, but it sets false expectations for real life. I expected white Christmases, happy endings, a house full of giggling children, and a family band that played a wide variety of musical scores together. After several Christmases that are separate epic failures, being hit in the face with a football countless times, a baby story that rivals most of TLC’s episodes, having an indoor wedding after planning for an outdoor one, and getting lost 75% of the time I go visit my sister half a state away, I have learned to plan for the worst. Usually. And so when we go out to a special restaurant to have a nice dinner and the restaurant is closed, we usually laugh and say, “Yeah….” and then find another place to eat. You might say, “Well, you could have planned ahead and looked up the restaurant hours.” Well yes, but you can’t change what might have been. You are in the moment, and you must react accordingly. Do you act in peace or do you throw a Big Mac sized tantrum and break something? Do you panic when you don’t know how you’re going to pay for ______? Does your soul grow increasingly tense, or do you lean on a Father whose arms are so big, he’s holding you close in every moment, even the silly ones?

I don’t say all this, and mention all these challenges, to reign in your imagination on how bad the world is. However, I do think that on the flip side of it, there is a greater Good than any of us ordinarily grasp, and it’s so much better than all the bad.

The topic at church yesterday was Peace. The four Sundays before Christmas are held as Advent, a time of thoughtful anticipation on the coming of the Messiah. We don’t use that word a lot, do we? Messiah: Our Savior, the one who raises us from the depths, the creator of the universe and all that is in it; the promised and expected Deliverer.

We wait for him to return again, but for an even longer time before us, they waited for him for the first time. He was promised to the world in Isaiah, as God looked across the blue water and the dying grasses, long before we thought about Ozone issues or the value of the dollar. Stick with me here and read this. It explains mankind’s plight pretty well:

Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken lies,  and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice; no one pleads his case with integrity… So justice is far from us, and righteousness does not reach us. We look for light, but all is darkness; for brightness, but we walk in deep shadows. Like the blind we grope along the wall, feeling our way like men without eyes…
The LORD looked and was displeased that there was no justice.  He saw that there was no one, he was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak…”The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins,” declares the LORD.
Isaiah 59:1-4; 9-10; 15b-17; 20

What really struck me in this passage was the fact that God had pity on these creatures who could not save themselves. And so instead of giving up or wiping them out, he took it upon himself to put light where there was only darkness. He came in love, in humility, but with strong purpose, to bring peace between people and their one true God.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in [Jesus], 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.
Colossians 1:19-20

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:13-14

God provided peace. He provided a way out, a shoulder to rest upon, a firm foundation, should man choose to accept the option. We aren’t guaranteed peaceful days, we aren’t guaranteed an easy road, but we are guaranteed peace between us and God. Which makes everything else quite a bit easier.

Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who were in distress… The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
Isaiah 9:1-2; 6-7

The heavy burdens many of us carry, the weight of an unknown future and a shifting world, is not what we are asked to bear. Yes we each have our own calling, bent towards a great variety of tasks, but in it we are given peace and strength to journey onward, and provision for each occasion. And even the difficulties and the stupid frustrations that are totally ridiculous can be kind of a great story afterward.
What’s even better is that the fullness and the bigness of God’s presence is with us, if only we accept it and dwell in it.

Romans 5:1-5
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

We have been given the opportunity to be justified, to receive justice, and have access to faith in a God who took it upon himself to help us. Let’s walk outside of the gloom and breathe in the deep, fresh air. See, in that crazy dream, in Round Two, there was a deep calm that I had nothing to worry about. For my fears were of an earthly nature, where I was bound by what I could see, imagine, and worry about. I didn’t want to be hurt, I couldn’t afford medical bills to repair what damage could possibly be done, and the thought of being away from my daughter for either of our lives nearly rips my heart to pieces. But is that how we live our lives – do we live in fear or move forward in faith?

The “heroes” of the Bible acted more out of faith than they did by what they thought they would get out of it. “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better….The world was not worthy of them.” (Hebrew 11:39,40a, 38a) There is more than what we can see right now. Our time here is only a finger snap in the span of eternity. We may not see our hopes met here on earth. We may not get to see births of our grandchildren, or marriages or birthdays, we may not see salvation for others or even the next breath. But that’s not what this life is about. There is so much more to it than that, and we can only trust our Father has a plan of hope and of a good future that he can see and has always known.

I don’t mean to be preachy or anything. And I’m not saying that if this were a real situation I would have acted in the right way or even known what the right thing to do would have been. But moving forward in faith happens in many ways; it is making a new friend, listening to that whisper in your heart, or just not yelling when you really dang want to even though you just stepped in pee for the fourth time that day and you just want her to go IN the potty and nowhere else.

This topic has really been on my mind and my heart lately, and sometimes I get an answer and want to share it with others that may also be searching for similar answers. I mean, let’s face it, how often do we act in peace when the traffic is bad, the eggs burn, or the heater breaks? It’s hard. It’s not our first instinct. So that’s the work, to practice and share peace and calm, regardless of the obstacle, because we’re not working on our own time or with our own power.  I’d rather face life standing in the shadow of my creator rather than have, “a form of godliness but denying its power” (2 Timothy 3:5a). On a normal day I do things wrong the first time, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Maybe it’s time to use that outrageous Good and quit complaining. God’s got some great works for us to do; time to step up, open our eyes, and without trembling say, “Wait. You don’t have to do that.”

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