Thursday, November 23, 2006

Sacrificial Thanksgiving

It really is true what they say about holidays: it can be the best time of the year for some people and the absolute worst for others. Images - of Easter dresses and frilly socks, cornucopia center pieces and hands held around the table in prayer, reading the passage out of Luke in the family room while the smell of pine fills the air from both the fireplace and the sap dripping onto the ornaments - images that either dance around the dreams and memories of those who know them well or that torment the imaginations of those who are left without.

But there's also a middle road - a road where those images are taunting but only because the dance is so beautiful yet temporarily unattainable. Homesickness if you will, felt by those who do not disdain the images themselves but only the fact that they exist merely in dreams and memories and not in an immediate reality.

"We love you," they say. "We miss you and really wish you were here." The words snap at me like a snake, but one with a honey-venom. Comforting in their own rite, but piercing and painful nonetheless.

"God, why do you tease me like this? Are you just trying to show me everything I had to give up to be here? Don't you see what I had? But you made me leave it there, so why do you keep bringing it up? I don't need to remember everything I sacrificed..."

Then Truth whispers, "Exactly."

15 months ago I was driving through the barren wasteland of Arkansas in tears, thinking of everything I was leaving behind to go somewhere nothing in me wanted to go. I left my family, my home, my friends, my church, my park, my ______, my _______, my ________ ... for Texas. "God," I cried, "I hope you know how much I don't want to do this. I hope you see how much this hurts." But then the words pierced the air and just hung in my ears -

I will not forget You are my God, my King
and with a thankful heart I bring my offering
and my sacrifice is not what You can give
but what I alone can give to You
a grateful heart I give
a thankful prayer I pray
~Enter the Worship Circle, "I will not forget You"

In that moment Truth whispered, just as he has so many times since, "Exactly."

I'm reminded today that I view love in terms of sacrifice. The greater the sacrifice, the deeper the love, and that thought digs into my heart. Of course He knew how much I didn't want to do this. Of course He saw how much it hurt. Of course He wants me to remember my sacrifice. Of course He wants me to remember just how much I love Him.

And my sacrifice is not what You can give
but what I alone can give to You

And today I bring a sacrifice of thanksgiving that, even though the honey-tongued viper has struck, I will remember how good You are, I will remember why I'm here, I will remember how much I love You...because You first loved me. I am so thankful for the sacrifice You made to show me that love.

To You I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the LORD.
~Psalm 116:17

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Lord is my...

We were studying the Psalms, and when it came to Psalm 23 I was set. I knew this one by heart. David wrote it about how God always took care of him and refreshed him, dot dot dot. But then it hit me: David was a shepherd himself. Big deal. No no no, what I mean is he KNEW what he was saying about God...and himself.

He knew what sheep were like. He knew how stupid they could be, he knew how weak and helpless they were, he knew that they were easily distracted and painfully stubborn, remarkably silly and horribly unassuming. He saw daily the incessant shortcomings of the sheep he faithfully tended, and in those long days on the hillside he saw something of himself in his flock. He saw his weaknesses, his stubbornness, his utter stupidity sometimes...and he saw his desperate need for the Shepherd's crook to be a guide, a protection, and a comfort.

As I thought about David and his absolute humility in writing this psalm, I looked for a parallel in my own life. This is what I found.

...preschool teacher
based on Ms. Wauer's 2-year-old class at Shenandoah Valley Early Learning Center

Kiaya: the rebel - she bit, she hit, she stripped her clothes off every chance she got, and she climbed the playground fences in multiple escape attempts

Tyler: the absolutely precious-looking and completely misleading little hellian - always willing to disobey as long as someone was doing it with her

Chase: the unruly biter of the group, hitting and throwing himself down and banging his head on the concrete floor in tantrums, but would always look ashamed and remorseful after the fact

Nathaniel: the loner - he wanted to do everything his own way and would keep his eyes intently on you while he disobeyed to see how far he could get before being stopped

Jessica: the three-year-old who was still in the class because she couldn't quite speak the language yet (she was from Mexico) - sweet girl, but if there was trouble happening, she was very involved. she didn't want to be left out of the fun

Gia: the phenomenally articulate (she spoke even better than the 3's) and exceptionally strong little booger - she could not sit still and would not obey if her life depended on it - but she always ended her shenanigans with "Sorry, Teacher."

Justin: the one who was desperate for affirmation that he was doing it "right" - "You all need to sit down and be quiet." "Teacher, am I sitting down and being quiet?"

Grace: the aptly named little baby doll - she was quiet but giggly, was willing to play alone but would ask for some company, ate her lunch, took her naps, actually remembered the purpose of the bathroom, and LOVED storytime

The Lord is my preschool teacher. He watches me bite and kick the other kids. He stands over me when I refuse to lie down for rest, when I try to escape, when I constantly try to strip off my righteousness, when I disobey as much as possible before getting caught. Although I'm an "older" believer I still don't really know how to speak rightly, and I'm in constant and selfish need of affirmation. I know how to talk the talk, but I can't sit still for my life and when all is said and done I always rely on "Sorry, Teacher." I have my tantrums and I'm perfectly willing to get into trouble as long as I'm not alone in it. *sigh* To be like Grace.

But His patience never fails. His punishments are well-deserved but always loving. After all the fits and battles and bruises He always says, "I love you, I'll see you tomorrow."

"The Lord is My Preschool Teacher"
The Lord is my preschool teacher, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down and rest,
he keeps me from danger with rules and boundaries,
he restores my soul.
He teaches me new ideas and songs for His Name's sake.
Even though everyone I love leaves me alone,
I will not be afraid, because You never leave me;
Your voice and Your hands, they comfort me.

The Lord is my preschool teacher. Who is God to you?