Sunday, November 19, 2006

Mediocre at Two Score

"Speech! Speech!" they cried at my surprise 40th birthday party. Actually not. It was a good party put together by my wife, Lois. My brother spent hours putting together a great video slideshow of my life. However, none vied for a word of wit or wisdom from the birthday boy. Ahh... but what would I have said if asked? I do have some two score worth of reflections and predictions. I offer them forthwith as though I actually did say something at my surprise birthday party:

English translations of the Bible represent two Greek verbs, "agapao" and "phileo", by the same word, "love". "Agape" is the noun form of "agapao" that many are more familiar with. "Phileo" has no noun form that I know of except that is is turned into a prefix to form a noun referring to a particular type of love, i.e. philadelphia: city of brotherly love. There is a debate over whehther the two Greek words mean something slightly different, or if they can be used interchangeably. There are places in the Bible where the two appear to be used interchangeably. However, they are not necessarily mutually exclusive. For example, I can say "A quarter is round," and "A quarter is silver," but this doesn't make "round" and "silver" interchangeable. It is my observation that perhaps the Bible itself defines these terms. John quotes Jesus in chapter 15 of his Greek gospel saying that "Greater love [agape] has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends." A few verses later He says "If you were of the world, the world would love [phileo] it's own..." The difference in meaning is given by contrast in the context of the passage. The ultimate "agape", therefore, is to understand it as being sacrificial. Stemming from God's eternally cohesive nature, "agape" love was demonstrated on the cross by Christ Himself through His self-sacrifice.

When Lois and I were married, I requested a reading from Ephesians 5. Paul's admonition to wives and husbands seems an apropos solution to God's 'curse' spoken to Adam and Eve at the fall. Paul tells husbands to "love [agapao] your wives as Christ also loved [agapao, aorist tense] the church and gave Himself up for her." Once again we see the pattern of sacrifice in agape love as defined by the Bible. At the time, sacrifice was a matter of principle. At some point along the way, this sacrifice has become a reality. There was a little sacrifice here and a little sacrifice there. As the sacrifices pile up, so does my obedient love for my wife. I wear my heart on my sleeve and love each one of you dearly, although this "love" may be properly categorized as something other than "agapao" as such is tempered sacrificially in favor of my wife. (I note also here that Lois demonstrated her obedience to the Ephesians passage by honoring me with a surprise party. Thanks, Hon.)

In my childhood, as I contemplated the unforseen future, I could not have imagined all that I have accomplished to date. As I look back on these past forty years, I regret all that I have not accomplished. Just as the sacrifice of love for my wife grew from a mere matter of principle to a very real thing, likewise my youthful awe at adulthood at some point grew into disappointment with myself. God has been kind in His gifts to me. He has given me exceptional intelligence and musical talent to be sure which I have applied to many endeavors. He has not, however, given me the one gift that would make these gifts most effective.

Ted Haggard has been found most recently to be unfit for Christian leadership. I would argue that his fall happened long ago and God has allowed him to continue in his position of leadership in such a state. God has His purposes. It's not unlike David who sinned most grievously and remained king. I don't recommend that Ted Haggard be reinstated, but I make the point that all this time living in sin he remained a most effective leader.

The President of Iran, as evil as his rhetoric is, nevertheless has Iran's best interests in mind. I'm convinced of this. He is threatened not by the US as much as he is threatened by some factions of his own people. His rhetoric and actions seem well designed to keep these factions at bay as well as keep the US out of his country. God has gifted with the leadership to make the decisions that will lead his country according to his purposes.

Dan Brown, author of "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons", has used the Pope (and the Roman Catholic Church) as a straw man to attack all of Christendom. Why? God has gifted the Pope with the leadership necessary to fulfill His purposes for the Roman Catholic Church.

I have the intelligence to lead like Ted Haggard. I certainly have the presence of mind to surround myself with people to hold me accountable against the temptations to sin to which he succumbed. I could arguably make better decisions for Iran given the international political climate and the nature of Islam. When put in a leadership position in the Marines, I demonstrated my ability by leading my new tank crew to take high score in the company on the tank tables in Twentynine Palms, CA. Of course, these men had no choice but to follow my lead. Such is the nature of the military. With civilians, I get whining and complaining. I can make a perfect argument to support my case and my decisions are still challenged. Apparently, I lack the charisma to sell myself as a leader. So when I lead, people tend not to follow. It's an important factor in leadership that people be willing to follow. People faced with the option to offer me positions of leadership sense this and rightly pass me over for leadership.

How has this affected my opportunities? Let's look at some of the things I have not accomplished:

I would like to start a series of profitable companies through which people of third world countries can be trained in business principles. An analysis of political, cultural and natural resources in their area being made, a system of locally owned and run businesses could be established that could generate wealth and make these areas self-sufficient. This would help bring people out of poverty through local means taking the burden off of international support. It could also go a long way to quelling hotbeds of violence that threaten the international community.

Okay, let me back off the ambition a notch. I'd like to be a professional Christian musician. Being exceptionally intelligent doesn't mean I know everything. One of the simplest things I don't know is how to simultaneously build a program and get myself booked somewhere. First of all, I have no idea how to get booked somewhere (it's that sales thing). Second is the conundrum of building a program without knowing my audience while getting booked without first having a program. The answer completely escapes me. Third, I don't have the capital to purchase necessary equipment. This is handled by the general concept to start small and build. I can develop a program that can utilize equipment normally found in churches and adapt. However, not knowing the congregation up front, I don't know what type of music would best minister to them. There are many different types of churches and not all are open to different types of music.

Another direction I have a heart for is missions. I would like to be a full-time missionary. I have two strikes against me, however. First, reputable mission boards require college degrees. It's not the I don't have a college education. I have more than enough hours for a degree or two. I just have never completed the requirements for a specific course of study. At this point, I've taught myself more than I ever learned in college. To go back to college is to waste thousands of dollars (as well as time needed to support my family) only to be taught that which I already know. Second is that missionaries often must raise their own support, usually by making presentations at various churches. (Here's that sales thing again.) I can raise money like a torpedo can raise the Titanic. Furthermore, missionaries must ideally be leaders. Well, that really nails the coffin shut on this goal.

This all begs the question, "Why would God so equip me with gifts and not provide the means to use them to their fullest potential?" This sounds like I have sour grapes with God. Actually, no. The burden of effectiveness is on God. I can only do as God has prescribed with the understanding that my goal is to glorify Him and Him alone. Sure, it's frustrating to possess unused abilities. And should I be satisfied with mediocrity? What is mediocrity, after all? We value strength and power. Nevertheless, has God not mercifully withheld His power to condemn us eternally? God is the God of the mediocre. Who asked for a King but the Hebrews. God warned them against a King. The strength of the Hebrews was in the promise of God, not in a King. They wanted power among the nations. God wanted his people to glorify him.

I'm reminded of Moses, another leader. I'm the same age Moses was when he utterly failed in his attempted leadership by murdering an Egyptian and fleeing Egypt into the wilderness. He came back only after God had called him and was successful in leading an entire nation out of another against one of the strongest rulers in the known world. This, after 40 years in exile as a goat herder when he had all the education of a member of Pharaoh's household - surely less than mediocre in our eyes.

To take leadership outside of God's sovereign direction is to fail. In the next 40 years, I could see a burning bush and be called to astonishing ministry that fully utilizes the gifts that God has given me. More likely, however, I will continue in my God-given gift of apparent mediocrity. After all, it's really not about me. To God alone be the glory.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Other Veterans

This is a couple of days late, but it's still worth poting.

I'm a veteran. I wasn't married when I was deployed to the Middle East for Desert Shield / Desert Storm. However, there are military spouses that have been in harm's way just as much as their GI mates. One example is my grandmother and infant aunt (my dad wasn't born yet) during the attack on Pearl Harbor. My grandfather was a CPO aboard a Naval transport that was operating out of Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. It was not in port and missed the bulk of the action. His ship did find itself in a confrontation with nearby Japanese ships, but escaped outgunned.

My grandmother saw strafing fire in the front yard of their base housing just before she and my aunt were evacuated to a safe location. I submit her account to you here as she wrote it in 1975:

December 7, 1941 – Attack On Pearl Harbor
By Reba Pemberton – May 19, 1975

And as for Pearl Harbor….. Mart had left Norfolk, Va. In June, 1940 on the ship “William Ward Burrows”, nick-named ‘The Willie”. Mart was lucky enough to get an apartment in the new Navy housing that was just completed in the spring of 1941. (Mart was a career man and served 20 years in the Navy.) He notified me that he had the apartment and the Navy sent me my railroad fare, the name of the ship I was to sail on, and the date I was to sail. Our oldest child Ruth Ann was to be 2 years old on Nov 1. We arrived in Honolulu the 10th day of July 1941. Mart couldn’t meet me, but the Navy sent cars to take the women and children to the YMCA and Mart met us there. We stayed there about two days and then Mart got leave from the ship and we went shopping for furniture, moved into our house and began to live like people. The house we lived in had six apartments. Ours was second from the south end. Mart would be gone to sea a week at a time and I’d take the baby and go visit friends and their husbands were on the same ship, or go shopping down in Honolulu. And then….on that week when Mart had been gone to sea, I got up early that Sunday morning but hadn’t dressed. I had dressed Ruth Ann and fed her breakfast. I turned the radio on and was getting some Hawaiian music when all at once it got dark and I thought we were going to have rain. I picked up the baby and went out the front door and the sky was black with airplanes, and the noise was deafening. My neighbor and his wife was out on their upstairs porch watching the planes. I said “What is this?!” Mr. Bond said it was just maneuvers, but I could see our ships burning and about that time the radio blared out and said “This is War! All women and children get inside and all men back to your base and ships.” That message was repeated over and over. I went inside and got dressed, but didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t sit down and I couldn’t put Ruth Ann down to play. I held her in my arms and went out the back door. Our neighbor behind us said for us to stay inside. I went back in the house and upstairs and out on our upstairs porch and saw the ships being bombed and burning in the harbor. I saw some planes coming down in flames and I though they were ours. I learned later they were the Jap planes, but I could see the high altitude planes dropping bombs and watched them hit our ships. Suddenly, the bullets were kicking up dust in our front lawn so I got back inside. Two bullets went through two apartments and out buildings but not in ours. A Marine knocked at the door and said to take some things and be ready for a bus was coming to take everybody away from the harbor. I went next door to the Moody’s and Mrs. Moody said she was staying in the apartment. A few minutes later another Marine came and said for us to be ready to get out. Another lady (Kay) came in and said she was going. She took my baby and headed for the bus which had just stopped in front of our building. I ran in our house and up the stairs and grabbed the baby some clothes and myself a jacket and got to the bus as Kay was getting on with the baby. We were taken to the YMCA in Honolulu and stayed there that night. Everything was dark for no light was to be seen from the building. If anyone was to go to the bathroom, we had to call for the guard out in the hall. He had a flashlight with a blue bulb to help us see. In the room where I was there were six ladies and their children. No one slept except the children and they were all on the one bed that was there. We got to go back home the next afternoon and I could see the airplanes and hangers in Hickum Field still burning. I didn’t see any dead people, but was told the Air Force men that was on the field had been blown to pieces. Hickum Field was across the highway and railroad from our housing. We were not allowed to have any lights at night and had to be cautious about prowlers – not to open our doors to anyone we didn’t know. I didn’t know where Mart was. I didn’t know if he was alive or not and I lived in fear for two weeks – wondering, not sleeping, or eating right. It’s a wonder I had sense enough to feed the baby. We had to get permission from the Marines on the streets to go to the store, or to go into town. We were lucky the Japs didn’t come back the next day. If they had, we would have all been killed, or taken prisoner.
On a Saturday morning two weeks later, Mrs. Bond knocked at my back door and said she had a dream that Mart would be home that day. Several people had told me during that two weeks that I’d better stay home that he would be home, but I couldn’t believe them. Alta Brewers husband was on the same ship with Mart and she and I stayed on the base around the harbors and the piers waiting for some word, but no one would tell us anything. I did believe Mrs. Bond when she said she dreamed that “The Willie” would be in that afternoon. I had dinner, cleaned the house, dressed the baby and myself, and sat down to wait. About 4 o’clock this friend Kay knocked on my door and when I looked up to see who it was – I saw Mart coming down the street. I guess I almost knocked Kay down as I went out the door. I cried with joy that he was alive and unhurt. Alta Brewer was down on the pier when the ship came in. She had parked her car on the pier and a Marine ordered her to move it. She said, “If you want it moved, you move it yourself, for that ship coming in out there is The Willie and my husband is on it.” She said the Marine turned his back and walked away. She told Mart we were safe. Mart had to stay on the islands, and the baby and me were sent back in January. I left the house as it was and went aboard ship at the time it was to sail for the USA. I didn’t know what would happen to our furniture, but Mart signed for the Navy to send it here. In May our furniture was delivered to my mother’s house by Bekings Trucking Co. It was a long time before I could stand to hear an airplane, or a door slam, or a shot. My nerves were really in a mess. After the attack I couldn’t get word to my parents that we were still alive. Daddy took to his bed from worry and Momma wasn’t much better. I had done a lot of praying and I knew all my friends and relatives were praying for me, and God answered those prayers. I feel He really was watching over us, and I can praise Him forever more.
This is my story of and true experience of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. I’ll never get through thanking my Jesus for what He did for me and the baby as well as for what He did for Mart. Mart has had some narrow escapes, but came through it with the help of the Lord. He is now preaching the Word of God to a small church. He’s an ordained minister and lives it every day. I know God saved my soul a long time ago and He does answer my prayers. I know when I leave this world I’ll have a better home to go to, and I do have a wonderful home here on this earth.
Pardon me for preaching but I do feel so wonderful yet about how good the Lord was to me and my little family. I took strep throat in Feb. after I cam back to the states and Mart got leave to come home in June of 1942. Our son Martin Jr. was on the way after that and at the present time he’s a doctor’s assistant in Ohio. He and his family live in Greenville, Ohio. They have two little boys. Our daughter, Ruth Ann, lives in Louisville, Ky. She and Eddie have a teenage son and a daughter.

Note: Reba Pemberton is the daughter of Fleming Marshall Lovitt.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Manhattan Transfer

I had a hankering the other day to hear some Manhattan Transfer. I have several of their albums that I have collected over the years, but they're all in cassette tape format and I don't really have a decent player anymore. I looked up their website and discovered some treats. There are some fun videos of studio sessions. Ahhh, to hear lyrics like, "I'll never cheat on my sugar, 'cause I'm so sweet on my sugar." Or "Hotter than a hundred'n ten in the middle of July. We're sayin' it's hotter than Tobasco or Jamaican fry. If you say that you'll be true; if you say you love me too... if you say you cannot live without me: Nothin', Baby, could be hotter than that."

However, they don't seem to have a snippet of my favorite of theirs. They did an a cappella arrangement of "A nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square" that is perhaps my favorite romantic song. I was fortunate to be able to perform the bass line of this arrangement with TMT's well-known close harmonies in a quartet in college some 21 years ago. Here are the lyrics I remember for any who don't yet know this chart:

A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square

That certain night,
The night we met,
There was magic abroad in the air.
There were angels dining at the Ritz,
And a nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

It may be right,
It may be wrong,
But I'm perfectly willing to swear:
That when you turned and smiled at me
A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

The moon that lingered over London town:
Poor puzzled moon, he wore a frown.
How could he know we two were so in love,
The whole wide world seemed upside down?

The streets of town
Were paved with stars;
It was such a romantic affair;
And when we kissed and said goodbye,
A nightingale sang in Berkeley Square.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Collecting Tears in a Bottle

This is the first mirror post with my newer blog called Locution.

I spent the weekend at Lake Junaluska at a Cantamos Choir retreat. Cantamos Choir is an outreach ministry of the Western North Carolina Via De Cristo. Sunday morning we had a worship service. I accompanied the singing since our accompanist had to leave early to play at the church where she ministers. Jane Caldwell gave a devotional message. Jane calls herself our "token Methodist". I'm one of two Southern Baptists (both conservative at that). The rest of the members are Lutherans of either the ELCA or LCMS flavors. Jane is an exceptional devotional speaker and made a good lesson on sorrow from Psalm 56, centering on verse 8. The following is her transcript:

I doubt that there are many places on the face of the earth that are as beautiful as the North Carolina mountains in autumn. What a joy and a blessing it is to be here at this time of year. As a member of Cantamos, I am delighted that we’ve held our retreat in such a lovely place. And as the group’s token Methodist, I am so glad that you’ve spent this weekend here at OUR wonderful retreat center. Please do come back again soon.

During one of our previous retreats here, our Sunday morning worship service focused on the horrible events of September 11, 2001 and how those events changed all of us. We emphasized the joy that believers can experience even in the midst of such horror, and we concluded that the joy of the Lord never ends.

Now, before I go any further, let me assure you that I still believe in that joy – more than that, I cling to that joy, and I am convinced that I could not survive without it. But during the past year or so, I’ve been looking at this issue of tragedy and joy a little differently, and I’d like to share with you some of what the Lord has shown me.

Let us begin where everything should begin: in the Word of God. Some of you have been given a card with a verse of Scripture printed on it. Beginning here on the front row, I’d like to ask each of you to read aloud the verse you have, including the citation. All readings are from The New Living Translation, unless noted.

{Group members will read} [several passages pertaining to sorrow were read]

Does it suddenly seem a little darker in here? The phrase “gloom and doom” comes to mind, doesn’t it? According to Strong’s Concordance, there are nearly 600 references in the Bible to words like sorrow, sadness, suffering, tribulation, mourning, grief, anguish, and their variations. Obviously, those emotions are common to all people, in all places, and in all times. And just as obviously, our Lord not only acknowledges those emotions but has quite a lot to say about them.

There is much sorrow in the world today. Some days, it seems to overwhelm us. During the past few years, sorrow has come calling in all of our homes. Sometimes the visit was a short one, while other visits seem to drag on and on. For some of us, it may seem as though sorrow has moved in as a permanent resident.

As citizens of the world, we are deeply saddened by the genocide taking place in Darfur, and by the deaths of our military men and women on the other side of the world. As citizens of this nation, we are troubled by the scandals and illegal activities involving so many of our political, social, and even religious leaders. As members of the body of Christ, we feel great sorrow because of the many arguments and divisions between denominations and even within denominations. We suffer through the disagreements that tear our local churches and congregations apart, sometimes even dividing families in the process. As parents and grandparents, we are horrified and anguished by the abductions, molestations, rapes, and murders of our children on an almost daily basis.

Within our own group here, we have suffered loss and bereavement as we watched dear family members and friends become sick or injured, and we’ve buried too many of our loved ones. And we have mourned the loss of our sweet Richard, saddened not only by his too-early death, but by the way his illness took him away from us before his death did. Just as a room grows dark when a light in it is extinguished, so our lives have new shadows and dark corners now that Richard has traveled on to heaven while leaving us here on earth.

In the midst of all of this, there is, of course, that miraculous joy that we’ve so often talked about, and I do not intend to belittle that joy at all. But lately, I’ve found myself considering that maybe we’re not paying enough attention to the sorrow, to the grief, to the anguish in our mad rush to get to the joy.

I want to make sure that you understand what I mean by this. I’m not proposing that we become permanently immersed in sadness. I’m not suggesting that we turn away from the joy of the Lord in order to conduct ourselves in dreary, somber ways, nor that we wallow in self-pity and grief. But I am suggesting that it is possible that we aren’t getting everything out of our sorrow that God intended for us to have.

It’s been my experience in life that we learn our most difficult and necessary lessons in the hard times, not in the good times. Noted Christian writer David Roper puts it this way: “Jesus teaches us to measure our lives by losses rather than by gains, by sacrifices rather than by self-preservation.” And my favorite Christian writer, Oswald Chambers, had a lot to say on this subject: “When God gets us alone through suffering, heartbreak, temptation, disappointment, sickness, or by thwarted desires or a broken friendship – when He gets us absolutely alone, and we are totally speechless, unable to ask even one question, then He begins to teach us.”

Well, surely the Creator of the universe could teach us during happy times only, couldn’t He? If He truly meant for us to cast all our cares upon Him and feel great joy, then why should we have to deal with all of this tribulation in the first place? Dr. Chambers addresses that idea as well: “We say that there ought to be no sorrow, but there is sorrow, and we have to accept and receive ourselves in its fire. If we try to evade sorrow, refusing to deal with it, we are foolish. Sorrow is one of the biggest facts in life, and there is no use in saying that it should not be. Sin, sorrow, and suffering are, and it is not for us to say that God has made a mistake in allowing them.”

Strong words indeed – but true ones. And it seems to me that we’re shortchanging ourselves – and the world – by denying sorrow its proper place in our lives. Again, I’m not arguing that we should go through life refusing to smile, playing only sad music, and acting deeply depressed – although I must admit to having pointed out on occasion that when Cantamos members descend on restaurants in a black-draped herd, we do look for all the world like a troupe of professional mourners searching for a funeral to attend. It is true that we can create an atmosphere of gloom and doom that will discourage unbelievers from getting any closer to God, but I believe that it is also possible that we create an artificial atmosphere of happiness and glee that will also act as a deterrent to unbelievers. When we refuse to actually feel and show our sorrow, when we slap a fake smile across our faces, when we admonish others to be brave and dry-eyed in the face of tragedy because “That’s the Christian way to act”, I think we’re doing a disservice to those who mourn. And to our Lord. And to ourselves. And we are certainly not demonstrating sympathy that might make an unbeliever want to know more.

You see, I’ve come to believe with all my heart and soul that every time I cry, my Lord is weeping with me. Yes, He comes to wipe away my tears, but I believe that He wipes away His own tears as well. That nail-scarred hand is also tear-stained, and many of those tears are my tears. I am convinced that they are mingled with His tears – mingled so completely that they can never be separated. And while I want – and need – a God Who is a mighty warrior and an eternal Savior, I would not want a god who could not and would not cry, who could not and would not feel and understand sorrow, who could not and would not mourn and grieve. Such a god as that would be too far-removed from his creation to truly be our Savior, too far-removed from me to truly be my friend. I need a Savior Who weeps.

How important are tears to our Lord? Think back to our Scripture reading this morning, Psalm 56, specifically verse 8: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in Your bottle. You have recorded each one in Your book.” Did you know that “tear bottles” actually existed? They were tiny bottles with flared rims that were placed under the eye to catch tears as they were shed. The bottle, when filled, was corked and either stored away or tied with a leather thong and worn around the neck of the mourner, a sign that the person for whom those tears were shed would never be forgotten.

Some Bible scholars believe that the woman who washed Jesus’ feet at the house of Simon used the tears stored in her bottle, perhaps to show that the Lord’s teaching had so changed her life that she no longer needed to save the tears and pain of the past. Some say that the tears Jesus observed when He spoke to Mary and Martha after the death of Lazarus may have been those that filled their tear bottles, and that the “cup” that our Lord prayed about in the Garden of Gethsemane may have been a cup of tears, symbolizing His profound sorrow and anguish. Whether or not these theories are correct, God’s Word does show that He acknowledges and cherishes our tears. If God cares enough about us to keep a record of our human suffering, how dare we turn away from it as if it were nothing but an embarrassment and a sign of weakness?

Instead of allowing ourselves only a pre-determined and very short period of mourning, I suggest that we allow ourselves to truly feel our grief, for as long as our Lord allows us to, and that we trust that He will let us know when that time has ended. For some of us, this may be a new experience. God has allowed sorrow, grief, tribulation, and anguish to be a part of our lives, so He must think them to be important and worthy of consideration. He was the original creator of all emotions, so He must intend for us to use them wisely and well.

So how does one use sorrow wisely and well? And how do we help others to do the same? There is a wonderful Jewish tradition called “sitting Shiva.” There are many customs attached to “Shiva”, and not every Jewish family follows the same practice, but basically, the tradition is to “sit Shiva” for seven days following the death of a close relative, during which time a candle is left shining day and night, and round foods are eaten, which symbolize the cycle of life. Visitors come to call and here is where one of the most important traditions comes into play: visitors must refrain from speaking until the bereaved initiates conversation. Sound familiar? It should – in the book of Job, following the calamities that befell him; his three best friends come to console him. And they did that by sitting on the ground next to him, not uttering a word for a full seven days and nights. They simply sat and probably wept with Job. We could learn a few lessons on mourning from the Jewish people. Sometimes all we need to do is weep with those who are crying. Words may not be needed.

In closing, I’d like to tell you a story about Joni Eareckson Tada, who broke her neck as a teenager and is still confined to a wheelchair nearly 40 years later. Already a Christian when she became paralyzed, she never lost her faith but she was very sad and angry with God and felt frustrated about expressing those feelings. Two years after her accident, she met Steve Estes, a 16-year-old Christian and she startled him by asking, “Do you think God had anything to do with my breaking my neck?” After a few minutes that included a quick prayer, this is the answer he gave her: “God put you in that chair, Joni. I don’t know why, but if you’ll trust Him instead of fighting Him, you’ll find out why – if not in this life, then in the next. He let you break your neck because He loves you.”

“He let you break your neck because He loves you.” A love like that is impossible to completely comprehend, but understanding might be a little easier if we can learn to let go of that stiff upper lip and fully embrace our pain, our anger, our anguish and grief. If we can allow ourselves to get to that sacred place where we share our sorrow with the Creator of the universe, where we can literally feel His arms encircling us, we will hear Him whispering in our ear: “Oh, My child, My little one, climb up on My lap. Lay your head on My chest and listen to the heart that beats just for you. Let your tears flow and know that Mine are flowing too. Whatever your pain, I know it. Whatever your suffering, I feel it. I won’t scold you for feeling whatever anguish may be battering your soul at this moment. You are Mine and I have collected every one of your tears since the first one rolled down your baby cheeks. I carry them with Me always, close to My heart – just as you are close to My heart. Let Me carry you, child, and know that you can always, always trust Me to do just that.” Amen.