Monday, April 30, 2012

Waiting Tables

This week I had the privilege of spending time with one of my best friends. When we met, I was 20, and she had two girls, ages 4 and 2.  Today, one of her daughters is in college (somewhere were they whoop, so I hear) and her other will be in college soon.  And I have kids close the age hers were when we met.

Today, we realized, we are old. Actually, we realized our kids are old. We are timeless.

I consider her one my most trusted confidants and wise council. And I never would have met her if it wasn't for the only college class I took just for fun; a singing class my sophomore year at UNT.  D didn't go to UNT, she was, is, and will always be a Baylor Bear.

However, that class led me to see a flyer for the Off Broadway Restaurant. A week later I was a singing waitress in Dallas.

D had never heard of the place, much less eaten there.

But her boss did, once. We happened to be doing the worst show ever, and I only had one mediocre song, which is probably why only one table filled that night. They weren't even my table, but I wandered over (mostly out of boredom) and the following conversation occurred.

I kid you not, this is how it went.

"Do you go to school?"
"Yes sir, I'm getting my degree in communications."
"How would you like an internship?"
*shocked and awed* "Absolutely."
"Here is my card. My director of communications' name is on the back. Come in next week and tell her I hired you."
*now shock, awe, and disbelief "Thank you so much."

The next week I walked into her office decked out in my $23 suit from Ross. She had no idea who I was, if I had any skills, or if I was a complete moron. But her boss hired me, so she was stuck with me.

Over the next five years, she taught me so much. She taught me about PR, writing, graphic design, media relations (i.e. how never to make an enemy of Becky Oliver), and crisis management. But she also taught me about having a successful marriage, parenting, conflict resolution, putting family first, loving God, and how to get a baby to sleep through the night.

I wasn't married at the time, and kids were the farthest thing from my mind, but her stories and those lessons stayed with me. During my most frustrating parenting moments, I often pull one of her stories out of my memory file and think of how I used to laugh at how she stressed over whether her daughter's bow matched her shoes. Knowing that the things that stress me out today (like the boy child dumping four bottles of sprinkles all over the pantry floor), will be the funny stories tomorrow.

There are people I have known my entire life with whom I share no deep personal relationship.  And then there are those people that God specifically brings about via your singing waitress job that completely change the course of your life.

D is one of those people in my life. One of those rare individuals with whom I can be totally open and vunerable, because we know too much about each other to ever consider passing judgement on the other. We can go nine months without talking and as soon as we sit down (always over food) it is like no time was lost.

D isn't the only friend that came about through strange circumstances.  I can say the same for most of my closest friends. Plans went wrong, things didn't turn out like I wanted them to, and sometimes somethig literally blew up in my life, and somehow I ended up with an amazing person in my life who never would have showed up if things went according to my plan.

I'm sure there are people in your life like that. Maybe you ran into your future husband in the dairy section, even though he is lactose intolerant. Maybe you met your best friend on a misfit bowling team in the third grade.

It is these "chance" meetings, these precious friendships, that remind me that God sees the entire picture of our life, beginning to end. With that vision, He knows exactly who we need in our lives and the exact moment we need them to show up.

I have a lot of casual friends, but very few of what I consider deep, authentic friends. You know, the kind you don't have to vacuum for when they are coming over. The kind that know you are slightly neurotic but love you just the same. Scratch that, they love you because you are slightly neurotic.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You are Where You Wait

If the saying "you are what you eat" rings true, then by the end of the week I will resemble the Cadbury bunny.  But I've been pondering a different saying the last few days. 

"You are where you wait."

Since it takes a while for new sayings to catch on, I will provide a few illustrations.
  •  Everyone waiting for the first pitch since the last pitch was thrown in October, are baseball fans. If they are smart, they are Rangers fans, but that is a different post.
  • From the moment two lines show up on the little stick as she waits for ten months to hear the first cry of her new baby, a woman is pregnant.  
  • Those long stressful months while they wait from the moment the question is popped  until they say "I do," that man and woman are defined by being engaged.  
  • All of you who spent the last two years waiting to see what District 12 looked like on the big screen are Hunger Games fanatics.
BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 15:  A patient loo...I, myself, spend a tremendous amount of time waiting in actual waiting rooms.  Doctor's offices mostly, but sometimes I throw in an occasional ER or hospital stay for good measure.  I've often joked that if I could log the hours I spend in doctor's offices, I would be halfway to a medical degree. When I'm not in a waiting room, I find myself waiting for doctors or nurses to call with test results, waiting on the pharmacy to fill a prescription, or waiting on Web MD to self diagnose what all those doctors missed.  

So if I am where I wait, then I am sick.

And that is how I feel.  Even on days where I am not in physical pain, I still feel sick. Mostly because I know that tomorrow there is a good chance I won't be able to get out of bed, will discover the exciting side effects of some new medication, or will be in yet another waiting room.  As much as I try to enjoy the good days, I find myself waiting for the return of the bad days.

On Easter Sunday, our pastor preached the story of Lazarus.  I've heard the story dozens of times and probably read it a dozen more, but I hadn't thought about it in the context of this particular sermon.  Our pastor asserted that Jesus could have healed Lazarus.  Biblical precedents tell us he could have healed him long distance or he could have made the journey to his friend immediately instead of choosing to wait two days, in which time Lazarus died.  If we are throwing out options, he could have chosen not to let Lazarus get sick in the first place.  The scripture is clear that Jesus loved Lazarus.  But Jesus chose to let Lazarus die so that God could be glorified.  In this case He was glorified as a group of people watched a man who had been dead for four days walk out of the grave. 

He could have healed Lazarus, but God, our pastor asserted, had a better plan. 

Our pastor went on to say that if he were Lazarus, he would have chosen God's plan over immediate healing.  People get better all the time.  What they don't do, is walk out of the grave. The impact of raising a man from the dead, especially in front of the very people who were persecuting him, proved again that Jesus was the son of God, and indeed God himself.

I've been thinking a lot about that sermon this week.  When you have a chronic illness, or lose a job, or lose a loved one people often tell you "God has a better plan."  But in the moment when you are in the midst of crippling pain, the dept collector is at the door, or so grief stricken you can't get out of bed, those words often ring hollow. 

I don't think it is coincidental that when Jesus told them to move the stone from Lazarus' grave, his sister Martha said, “But, Lord, by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”* 

I don't know about you, but I think waiting to see God's plan is a lot like those four days Lazarus spent in the grave;  it stinks.  It isn't that I don't believe God is big enough, powerful enough, or that he doesn't love me enough.  He has proved time and time again that He is and He does.

It still stinks. 

When we are waiting for the doctors to diagnose or treat us.  When they tell us there is nothing they can do. 

When we are living paycheck to paycheck.  When the paychecks stop.

When our marriage hits rock bottom.  When it falls apart completely.

It stinks. 

And in the middle of the stink, while we are waiting, it is hard to comprehend that our pain and suffering is part of God's plan. I am guessing that while he was sick Lazarus wasn't counting on Jesus raising him from the dead.  He knew Jesus could heal him, and if I were a betting man, I'd bet that is what he was hoping for. What he was praying for. The grief of his sisters is apparent in scripture, with both of them blaming Jesus for their brother's death.  Knowing that he could have healed Lazarus, that he loved Lazarus,  but still, he chose to let him die.

It's hard for us not to feel the same way as we wait.  Wondering if God is there.  If He understands the depth of our pain.  If He even cares.  Wondering why, if He is all powerful and all good, why, if he loves us that we are still sick, why our bank accounts are empty, why our husband walked out.

The truth is, I don't know.  I've spent a lot of time waiting and God has yet to let me in on His exact plan for my life. 

But I am trusting that there is one. And I am trusting that His plan is better than the plan I had for myself.

Because if I don't believe He has a better plan, then I'm just a girl stuck in a grave with no hope of walking out.

*John 11:38 - NIV version
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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Lessons from the Other Cross

On Easter, especially, we take time to reflect on the cross where Jesus died.  As I lay in a hospital bed last month, weeping in despair, I realized the lesson I needed to learn was actually from the other cross.

In Luke 23:40-43 we read, "But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, 'Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.'  Jesus answered him, 'Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.'”

It is a safe assumption that the two thieves in the Easter story were just that, thieves. One admitted as much. And although the “good thief" asked Jesus to remember him in his kingdom, it struck me that he didn't ask for Jesus to save him from his cross. No last minute appeal from death row,  just a cry for mercy. And it is mercy that Jesus granted him. Of course Jesus could have saved the thief from his earthly consequences.  Instead he promised eternal salvation.

So often I find myself on a cross my own making. I battle the sins that plague my human nature and lose more times than I win. The result of my sin frequently leads to deep suffering and sorrow,  feeling abandoned by God, hopeless, and ultimately in despair. It is at exactly this time that I must remember that while Jesus sometimes saves me from myself, there are consequences for my actions here on earth. That doesn't mean God has abandoned me, but instead that He loves me so much more. Instead of a quick fix to my temporal problems, He offers me eternal redemption.

This Easter, take a moment to focus not just on Christ's resurrection, but on the thief who rose with him to glory. Both died that day, but Christ's death overcame sin once for all. And in the end, that is the better story.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:  Earthly circumstances are small relative to the enormity of our salvation through Christ.

PRAYER: Heavenly Father, you love me with a love that is difficult for me to comprehend. A love that doesn’t remove me from my circumstances, but instead loves me regardless of my circumstances. Help me truly understand that the gift of your Son is better than sanctuary from any earthly pain, sorrow, or even discipline. When I struggle, help me remember the best part of the story, that someday I will be with you in paradise. Amen.

(Photo credit: fiftypercentchanceofrain)