Monday, July 26, 2010

Mama's Books

It's funny the things you remember. As we sorted through my Mama's diverse library following her passing, I was surprised at how attached my emotions were to books. As I handled the well worn pages of book after book, I found it almost impossible to part with some of these old friends. In fact I carefully tucked the tattered copy of Uncle Remus along with several others in my box of things that I 'just couldn't part with'. One look at this book and I am launched back into another time and place.

I mostly remember Uncle Remus from a habit my Mama developed on warm summer days when the afternoon thunderstorms rolled over the Blue Ridge mountains and threatened us with ferocious displays of wind and light. My Mama, terrified of thunderstorms, would gather my brother and myself and run for the innermost bedroom of our Carolina home. It was then that she would pull out Uncle Remus or some other delightful world of fantasy and began to read in her deep melodious southern voice. As the lightening popped and the thunder roared, we soon found ourselves laughing at the antics of Brer Fox, Brer Rabbit and the Tar Baby. Laughing so hard she could hardly read, Mama soon forgot the perilous winds that howled just outside our doors and so did we. In fact, I came to love the sound of thunder in the distance, knowing what fun lay in store for us should the storm head in our direction.

My Mama had a gift. I don't think she was really aware of it, but when she began to read out loud, she would enter the 'make believe' world of the story she was reading and take you with her. A teacher for some thirty years, it was not uncommon for former students to approach us in stores or restaurants and the story would often be the same, "You were my favorite teacher" and "I loved how you always read to us on rainy days and after lunch". Her contagious love of books transferred to the many lives she touched.

When I think of my childhood, books were a big part of my relationship with my Mama. At the earliest age we made trips together to the little village library and sometimes spent several hours pouring over the books. I can picture it well, and can still hear the sound of the screen door slamming each time someone entered. I remember the delicious smell of the pages of the books and the skillful hands of the librarian as she methodically stamped the books. I secretly longed to have one of those "stampers" myself.

It was there that Mama introduced me to some of my childhood favorites, The Secret Garden, Heidi, Anne of Green Gables, and The Boxcar Children. Armed with a stack of books almost as big as the little girl who carried them, we would leave our little library full of anticipation and wonder at what new adventures lay ahead. What a deep satisfaction she must have felt that I loved these books just as much as she.

Of course, the book she loved most of all was the Bible. A lifelong student of the Word, she never stopped learning and studying with youthful enthusiasm and interest. It was with a little New Testament that she knelt down beside my bed on a Saturday evening when I was just 8 years old. I was to be baptized the next day and she wanted to make completely sure that I knew what I was doing. So while my brother slept in a nearby bed, my Mama whispered me through the plan of salvation. I was baptized the next day, and so began the journey that continues to this day.

During her last few weeks of life, she didn't feel much like reading, which said a whole lot about just how bad she felt. But her Bible was still among the few things on her bedside table, and as she called out favorite passages I would turn to them and read. Just one day before she passed away we read together Psalm 23,..."though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil". I'm not sure who received the most comfort from those words, for I was walking through that valley with her.

I'm so glad I got a chance to sort through the books, and especially glad that I got to take some of the ones that are filled with memories. Next time there's a good thunderstorm, I may just pull out good old Uncle Remus.

I know that Jesus talks about 'going to prepare a place for us' and He even mentions the 'mansions' in His Father's house. I have a good feeling about the place that He prepared for Mama, and I won't be surprised at all if it's filled with books.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Reality Training

I recently came in the room to find my husband watching "Rocky" on TV. We couldn't help but laugh together at this over-the-top 'testosterone laden' creation by Sylvester Stallone that first aired in 1976. It is hard not to get caught up in this 'underdog makes it big' film and like everyone else, I was ready to down a few raw eggs as the theme from Rocky starts to play and the Italian Stallion courageously goes into his season of training.

I couldn't help but think how different it is for us as believers as we enter our seasons of training. There usually is no motivational music playing and it would seem no one to cheer us on in our preparation. But, Holy Spirit is a great cheerleader and never tires or gives up on urging us toward maturity. In fact, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit orchestrate many of our battles so we can try out our skill at using the weapons He has given us.

This is a really different thought for me. In the past I never related much to the "warrior" terminology and usually ran from anything looking like a fight. But we are told to "fight the good fight of faith".

After a while it becomes obvious that God seems to like using "battle" terminology and it becomes even more obvious that the battle is real. As children we could call "time out" if we became tired of the game or found ourselves on the losing side, but there is no "time out" in real life.

Thankfully, Father left us anything but defenseless, and much of life is about discovering who we are and discovering our weapons and learning to use them. Many times we find ourselves pushed back into the "game" before we feel ready, but it is in the struggle that we find that Father has been training us all along for the battle in which we find ourselves.

Like Neo in "The Matrix", as we learn and grow in our true identity, our confidence grows to pick up our weapons and skillfully use them to execute vengeance on the enemies of the Kingdom of God. Romans 8:19 says "the creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed". Later in vs. 22 it says that "the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth...."

All of this waiting, expectation, and groaning is calling up something deep within us as the sons and daughters of God. As deep cries out to deep, we find ourselves awakening to the glory that Father placed within each one of us. Before our rebirth we had 'fallen short of the glory', but since we have been made 'new creations' the glory has been restored to those who are in Christ. We have been made in the image of the Glorious One.

We are also finding that the battle is very different than we first believed and is more about being than doing, and more about knowing than learning. The weapons we have been given many times seem foolish at first glance, and it is the childlike and humble of heart who will learn to use them. The sword in our hand is much lighter than we thought and rises and falls as it is carried by the very breath of Holy Spirit. Our mouths are called to decree, agree, shout, proclaim, or laugh in sync with Him. Our feet have learned to dance on injustice, release joy into the atmosphere, or bring the Gospel of peace.

Again in "The Matrix", Neo was offered two pills. The blue pill would allow him to stay in his comfort zone and a blissful ignorance to accept the reality that he saw all around him. The red pill would lead him into truth and a reality that would require risk and the ability to operate in a realm not yet known to him. We are very much like Neo, and faced with a choice to accept this natural realm as our reality, or see with our eyes of faith the reality of the Kingdom of God all around us and in us. Our training is really "reality training" as we learn to see, sense, perceive, and hear from a different realm. We have been invited into an adventure of epic porportions. As the writer of Psalms 149 so aptly describes it, "this is the glory of all His saints".

"The Kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, 'Here it is', or 'There it is', because the Kingdom of God is within you."
Luke 17:20-21