Sunday, February 26, 2017

Identity Crisis

There's plenty happening in my shoebox world but I just don't feel like writing about that.  I've been up since 3:00 am and as I sit and watch the snow falling I thought I'd take a chance and spout off about my latest struggles.

When David wrote so many of his psalms were they his own personal journals?  I wonder if he realized they'd be read by millions of people centuries later.    If he understood that would it have made him less candid?  I don't know, but I do know many of us find comfort in reading his honest emotions.

I feel raw and vulnerable and I don't know who to tell so why not post it in a blog?  I'm having some sort of identity crisis that makes me cranky and miserable.  Is this spiritual warfare?  Maybe--but that sounds too lofty for my pitiful turmoil.

Day before yesterday the temperature here in Erie, PA reached a record 77 degrees. The sun shone bright and the air oozed with odors of spring. Yesterday the thermometer plummeted to 25 degrees and the snow started again.  Even the weather can't figure out who it is.

I can't figure out where I fit in and it's driving me crazy.  I can't align with Republican conservatives but I can't fully embrace the tenets of a liberal.

Theologically, I'm not fully aligned with Arminianism nor Calvinism.  I'm trying not to be a Pharisee but can't quite make it to whatever the opposite side would be--maybe Christian Libertarian?

And as I scroll down my Facebook newsfeed filled with posts about new makeup products (I don't use any) and stylish leggings (only wear black and only when running) and Pinterest projects (don't get me started) I wonder if I can even identify with the female gender.  I don't carry a purse for cryin' out loud.

But all that aside, what I struggle with most these days is the elemental question: Who is God?  

Whoa.  It's a big question.  I've wrestled for decades to try to comprehend God's love for me.  I mean, I know He has to love me because He says so over and over in Scripture and He wouldn't lie, right?  And, yes, I've tried reading John 3:16 inserting my name in it to make it personal. To be accurate, there have been many, many times when I've experienced God's love but it never seems to be enough.   Like a greedy toddler I want more.

I recently re-read a fiction story I read some years ago--one that moved me to tears as I felt God genuinely revealed His love to me through it.  But as I've tried to share about that I've been gently rebuked by folks who've pointed out the story is actually heresy because it doesn't show the full character of God--not only His love but His holiness, His judgment.  We can all agree God is incomprehensible so where does that leave us?

God reveals Himself in Scripture, but I'm reading the Old Testament right now--Judges and 1 Samuel have had some great examples of God's holiness and love evidenced in smiting large groups of both enemies and Israelites.  Of course, there was a refreshing break from the killing in the book of Ruth as all the characters who died leaving the women widows seemed to do so less violently.

I guess it's time to refresh my memory and get into the gospels again. I know Jesus is "the image of the invisible God" so maybe if I read the account of His life I'll get a better perspective.

Don't get me wrong; I've studied "Knowing God" by J.I. Packer and other books that highlight God's attributes.  Right now it's not academic knowledge I need.

Maybe I'll read some of my old journals and see the highs and lows I've already experienced in this journey, because eventually I always stumble out of the valley.  At least, by God's grace, I always have.

And if I were David, I'd write--God, if You're listening, come and rescue me from myself.  Selah.  

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Counting Miracles--On The Ball from 2004

I'm thinking today about miracles.  I've been packing Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for over 22 years now and in those decades God has performed so many miracles to provide each of the items to fill them.  And I'm sure I don't have an inkling of even a portion of them.

Over a decade ago--before the advent of Facebook and blogging--I wrote some of the stories of those miracles.  A few years ago I unearthed some of them and immortalized them in blog posts here, but it's been some time since I posted one.

The miracles then involved tens or hundreds of items whereas God's miracles now tend to range from the hundreds of items to thousands or even tens of thousands.  But each miracle is a story of God's grace and provision--a proof of His goodness.

This morning I prayed again for God's provision for our 2017 packing party and this afternoon I got a text from my friend Lisa who lives out of state but collects stuffed animals for us here in Erie.  She just got a donation of 500 Beanie Babies!  Yep--another miracle.

So...for all of you Walmart shoppers--here's a miracle from 2004 God used to help us pack a total of 1,780 boxes --

Having A Ball-2004
            “Are you a teacher?” the pleasant woman in the line behind me at Wal-Mart inquires, staring at the 112 boxes of crayons stacked in my shopping cart.
            “No,” I chuckle as I launch into my well-practiced reply, “our church packs shoeboxes full of gifts to send to kids in other countries for Christmas.”   I’m used to getting questions about the contents of my shopping cart.
            “Oh, that’s neat.  I wondered what you were doing with all those.”
            I heft the last carton of twenty-four boxes of crayons onto the counter and watch the cashier gamely count the stacked rows.  Soon she finishes and begins to ring up the purchase on her register.  While the machine tallies my total, she turns and asks, “What kinds of things do you put in the boxes?”
            “Well,” I answer, as I scan my credit card, “school supplies, hygiene items, toys--anything that will fit in a good-sized shoebox, really.”
            “Did you see the baseballs that are on sale?  There’s twelve in a case for a dollar!” she says in an incredulous voice. 
            “No! Do they have any more?  Where are they?”  I’m rapid-firing questions like some police interrogator.
            “I don’t know,” she admits, “but someone came through my line a little bit ago with a pack of them.  I couldn’t believe how cheap they were.” 
            I sign my name on the credit slip and heave the bags into my cart, oblivious to the crayon boxes scattering inside them as I concentrate on this new elusive treasure—twelve baseballs for a dollar!   I turn to the cashier, “Hey, thanks for telling me.  I’m gonna put these in the car and come back in to take a look.”  Then I turn to the woman in line behind me and add, “Thanks for being patient.”
            “No problem,” she smiles with a shake of her head.
            I hustle to the car, dump the crayons in the trunk, and speed-push my cart back through the entrance doors, ignoring the Wal-Mart greeter in my haste.  Breezing to the toy department, I cruise up and down the aisles with my clearance-tag-radar on high alert.  No flashes of red sale tags here.
            Next I beat it over to the sporting goods department.  Let’s see—golf balls, footballs—no baseballs.  Where next?  I round the corner, head into a main thoroughfare and nearly hit a display of bright yellow tennis balls. I glance up to read the price sign—YIKES! $1.00!  I pick up one of the shrink-wrapped packages and my eyes glow when I see that it holds THREE cans and each contains three brand-new, brand-name tennis balls—nine balls for only $1.00! 
            I start to salivate but am careful not to drool as I toss packages into my cart.  Wait a minute.  I need to be more organized or I won’t be able to fit them all in.  With a view toward space utilization, I neatly stack the packages and manage to fit all forty of them into my cart. 
            Now where are the baseballs?
            I use my calf muscles to overcome the heavy cart’s inertia and force it around the next corner.  Aha!  Here, with their red tags gleaming like diamonds in the sun, are a row of shelves full of clearance items.
            And on the second row I see them.  The baseballs.
            Nine packages remain—that’s nine dozen baseballs for only $9.00--and I move fast to balance them on top of Tennis Ball Mountain before someone else sees them and wants to buy a pack. 
            I struggle toward the cash registers, stopping every few feet to re-position my baseball pyramid.  Other shoppers turn to look, but I don’t care.  I won the jackpot.   As I push the cart back into the line of my friendly tip-sharing cashier buddy, a passing shopper comments, “You probably don’t even know how to play the game.”
            “Ha!  You’re right!” I giggle.  I’m not embarrassed.  I’m euphoric.
            Once again I start to toss my bounty onto the counter, and the cashier smiles.  “So, you found them,” she says.
            “Yep, and I found 360 tennis balls, too.  This is just such a blessing and an answer to prayer.  I pray every day to find things to put in these shoeboxes, and because of you, 468 kids will each have a new ball to play with.” 
            Her smile brightens up a few notches, “Well, I’m glad I could help.”
            I smile back. 
            We’re both having a ball.