Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Light in the Tunnel

Today was my first experience getting an MRI. 
In the course of the last year, I've developed a type of neurological condition that has grown worse with time. I've gradually felt the weight of much distress due to the pain and debilitating symptoms associated with this; 
but today, I experienced peace 
in an unexpected place. 
Having no initial fear of being enclosed in that huge, spaceship of a machine, as Joe (the MRI Technician) prepared me for the exam, I continued to lay smiling and talking to him as he asked a few questions. Next, he gave me some directions regarding what would be happening over the next 30 minutes. 

“I’m going to give you a pair of headphones to wear while your exam is underway, would you like a particular station?”

“No preference.” I stated, remembering the gentle words of a friend preparing me to be ready for the machine to produce a very loud sound, mostly drowning out the sound of the music. 

However, I thought for a quick second, and changed my mind.

“Actually, I’d really like 90.3, please. Family Life Radio.”

“You got it.” He said.

The DJ’s familiar voices were now ringing quietly in each ear.

“Are you ready to get started?” Joe said, smiling over me.

“Yep, all set.” I responded.

“Now remember, I won’t be able to hear you, so if anything happens and you need to come out, this little device acts as a panic button; squeeze it, and I’ll pull you out.” He handed me a little green oval-shaped ball. 

Just then, a metal mask was placed over my face, and he briefly explained that having it there would help quicken the length of the test. Just then, an unsettling feeling came over me, as now this big, cage-like face cover, separated him and I. He slowly began to push me inside, seeing nothing but the bore wall immediately above my face.  My heart began to race out of my chest. I knew what was happening deep within my mind, and I did everything I could to hold it back; yet I was completely overwhelmed with fear and claustrophobia. 
“You’re trapped.” 
Is all that my mind would hold onto. 
I remember thinking to myself. 
"This feels like what hell might feel like."

Before I could say a word, I felt an uncontrollable stream of tears pour from my eyes. I was pulled out immediately, and the mask pulled away from my face. I was literally shaking, and even the thought of being put back into the machine caused my breaths to shorten.

The technician said nothing, but put his hand on my shoulder. I looked up at him as I wiped my tears, 

“How often does this happen?” 
I asked, as I continued to wipe the tears from my eyes.

“At least once a day.” He said honestly.

He leaned in a little closer: “Considering you’re one of my first patients, today looks like it will probably happen at least a couple of times.” His tone and demeanor wasn’t at all offensive, but honest. 

When I asked him what people do in this situation, he let me know that I’d most likely need to go to my doctor and get some kind of sedative to take before getting the exam.

My heart sank. Enduring this condition for almost a full year, not 100% sure how bad the possible damage in my cervical spine could be, being warned of paralysis, 3 different doctors, up in the middle of the night in waves of shocking pain... 

“I have to do this” I said. 

Tears welled after I made that statement. 

“I’ve been doing this for a lot of years, and there’s a very good chance you won’t get through the whole exam. You most likely won’t do it.”
Again, his words didn’t feel offensive; they felt true in the gentle way he posed other options for me. 

I was assured, apart from God-given peace, there was no way I could do this.

I closed my eyes for a few moments.

“Does the music go any louder than this?” 
I asked Joe, who was still standing patiently over me.

“It does.” He said as he turned it up.

“Louder?” I asked.

“Yep…” And he turned it up as loud as it would go.

I listened to the familiar voices of the DJ’s, and heard the tail end of a conversation involving orphans in Africa. Just then, a song came on that spoke sweetly of the unending love and grace of our Father in Heaven.

And suddenly, my anxious heart found rest. Joe spoke over the music asking if I wanted to give it another try. I kept my eyes closed as I shook my head up and down. I placed my hands on my chest, my panic button tucked neatly underneath them.

He slowly pushed me inside, and I stayed focused on nothing but the words of the song. I could hear Joe's voice again, but this time he spoke from an outside room a few feet away. If I looked up I would no longer see his face; it was replaced once again with only the thick, bleak, and lifeless walls that enclosed me. 
I kept my eyes closed.

“Ok Mia, this first test will be about a minute and a half. You’ll hear the loud noise we talked about, but when it’s done you’ll hear my voice again. It won’t be long.”

His voice subsided and I could hear more talk about things much bigger than my situation. As the music began to play again, I was flooded with peace and joy; I almost couldn’t believe it. I wanted to belt out the words as they rang in my ears and penetrated my heart:

“Come set our hearts ablaze with hope

Like wildfire in our very souls

Holy Spirit, come invade us now!

We are your church

We need your power

In us...

To see the captive hearts released

The hurt; the sick; the poor at peace

We lay down our lives for Heaven’s cause!

We are your church…

We pray revive

this Earth.

Build your Kingdom here

Let the darkness fear…”

..But I remembered Joe reminding me that any kind of grand movement would cause a glitch in the test, and we would have to start over; I assumed that if I started shimmy shaking and singing, that most likely would constitute a “start over,” so I smiled to myself and thanked God for the miracle He worked in setting my fear to rest.

"Have I not commanded you? 

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
j o s h u a 1:9

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Swing low, sweet chariot- For Oklahoma.

As we drove straight on the 40, I dove into Blue Like Jazz like it was the sweet candy apple that got me lost in Disneyworld. I suppose this deserves an explanation: you see, the candy apple I was given in the world of wonder was so delicious that I simply couldn’t peel my eyes away from it. I walked amidst the sea of faces and stared at nothing but the round ball of caramel coated goodness. So enamored I was, that when my family turned left, I continued to trek forward, until the temporary satisfaction left my belly and I looked up to find no familiar face. I remember that fear greatly, but I also remember how great the apple. In any case, Donald Miller’s narrative hit my soul in this way. 
Reading about faith that comes alive when we choose to allow God to help us write our life stories, made the drive that much sweeter. 
I have felt the weight of stagnation in recent months, 
so it was nice to be trekking forward. 
We left in faith, without an official call for our spot to volunteer with Samaritan’s Purse, but we continued to move in faith. We got the call as we drove through Texas several hours later; we set our course and God ordered our steps. 
We drove that 16 hours not knowing what was ahead, but knowing whatever it was, it wouldn't leave us the same.

An eerie feeling came upon me as we arrived in Moore, and began to drive the roads that had recently become all too familiar to this E-5 tornado.
"Wait, was this massive pile of debris once a neighborhood? 
Is that even possible?" 
 Thoughts raced quickly as my eyes scanned the piles and piles of what used to be homes, and playgrounds, and trees. 
"God is Good," I read upon a big piece of wood that topped one of the massive debris piles.

It was a short drive through a small section of Moore to reach Emmaus Baptist Church where we were set to retrieve our order and mission from Samaritan’s Purse. In arriving, we were greeted by a fun and alive bunch of SP leaders. I felt eager to begin our work, eager to find out if I was actually just dreaming all of this.

There’s just something about faith community, that something being the image of God. The following morning, to see people gathered from all over the country to be a light in what had become a very dark place, was breathtaking. I pictured the night sky, and what it would be without the light of the stars and the moon- and I realized all the more that God really does know what He’s doing. We met our team, gathered equipment, prayed over the day, and left unknowing once more of the encounters we would face.

As we made our way into the most devastated area of town, it was like getting front row tickets to walk the set of a film; either Twister, or Saving Private Ryan. Just destruction. I knew very quickly that a tornado shows no partiality. Our hearts wrenched to see the magnitude of the loss.

I suddenly recalled the Lord's voice from a familiar loss that Luke spoke of in his Gospel: 
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you no. .. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them - do you think they were more guilty than the others living in Jeruselum? I tell you, no!” (Luke 13:2-5)
Jesus then goes on to point them to themselves. To ask them if they have repented, almost as to stand before the inescapable death that faces us all and to say, 
"Don’t worry so much about them, what about you? Where is your heart? Have you chosen to live for what is greater?"

I had been wanting a good cup of coffee ever since our departure, having no luck thus far on the trip. So when my friend and teammate, Jaclyn, called me into the little house for a cup of coffee, I happily accepted. Our teams had been working outside of these houses, picking up debris, sweeping, raking, helping in any way possible to put back together a puzzle without many of the pieces. I peaked over as another volunteer had come across a piece of paper which held a contract between a mom and her son. His chores were listed and he consented with a signature - blown for what could have been hundreds of miles. I watched as it was placed in a pile with many pictures that were also found and scattered from tree, to dirt, to pavement, to grass. I felt like I was peeking in on peoples lives, their houses had been turned inside out, literally. 

“Yes! Come on in!” A sweet southern voice trailed from inside of the living room of house #120. “Yes, my granddaughter bought me one of them Kuerig machines and I have no idea how to use it, but she’s here- Lynette can you show this young lady that machine! Yes, please have some coffee."
We had been given an update that this woman was disabled and unable to do much these days. We also heard that she missed having company more often, she loved company. 
"Ya’ll are miracle workers you know, just showin up here out of no where.” As she spoke I looked around at her home, thankful it was still standing. Many pictures and plaques lined her walls, most of which pointed to someone much bigger than herself. My eyes would flash to words like “faith” “My Lord” “His Greatness” “All things being made new.” A simple plaque in the kitchen read: “Martha don’t live here, and that’s a good thing.” I remember Jesus talking about two beloved women who both longed to serve, but one chose the better way of service, by simply sitting at his feet.

And having this same attitude, Jaclyn and I sat for hours at the feet of of this beautiful 79-year-old woman, as she shared her life with us. It was true, both types of work needed to be done this day, a physical labor of love to serve the inflicted, but also a listening ear. Her story is for another time, bringing both rolling laughter and welled tears. To picture this frail woman, huddled in her closet, as she prayed to the Lord for protection. 
"It's just like they say it is, ya know. Sounds like a freight train coming right for you. Real loud whistling and rumbling; and as soon as it came it was dark, and then it was gone. God sure kept me alive, and now here ya'll are! I hope it's not a sin to be sayin' this, but I'm sort of happy for that tornado, just to be able to sit here with you."
 I knew now we had come to this place, if not for more than for the divine meeting with Shirley. 

As we gathered for the close of our day, enjoying time together in the church, eating dinner and sharing stories and testimonies of God’s faithfulness throughout our encounters, I knew there were so many other divine appointments that came from this storm. We went to bed to wake for another day of, well, only God knew what. 

On Sunday we walked the streets in the part of town that stained our memory with homelessness, only a different picture of homelessness now filled my mind. Each “X” that marked what was left at each property that afternoon, helped me to recollect on how little we should hold onto in this life. Including our very life. 

"All people are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field. 
The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever."(1Peter1:24,25)

We met Bruce, who said that prayer came easy, as he held onto his banister for dear life with his motorcycle helmet to protect him when the winds tore almost every other house on his street to pieces. 
And then there was the school.
Just next door to Bruce's home was the land that once housed many students of Plaza Towers Elementary. To look at the remains was unlike anything I have seen with my eyes. 
"Where is it?" Is all my mind could think. 
"I can't." Is all I could mutter. "I just can't." 
"I just can't believe it."

As I sit here in Starbucks recalling the trip, I hear Johnny Cash playing above my head. I remembered this most famous man, not for his familiar "Walk the Line," although it's simply a song hard to not sing along to. Rather, I remembered hearing the hymns that I knew he would both sing and write. As I searched my computer to find some of them, I heard  "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot." I searched to find the original history behind this well acquainted tune, and i am shocked upon what I find.

"Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" was written by Wallis Willis.. near the County seat of Hugo, Oklahoma sometime before 1862. He was inspired by the Red River, which reminded him of the Jordan River and of the Prophet Elijah's being taken to heaven by a chariot (2 Kings 2:11)... Oklahoma State Senator, Judy Eason McIntyre proposed a bill nominating "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" as the Oklahoma State official gospel song in 2011.. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin signed the bill into law on May 5, 2011 ...
 making the song the official Oklahoma State Gospel Song.

The words ringing now more beautifully than before, 
I listened carefully to the lyrics. 
I closed my eyes and pictured a line of people holding hands together, staring at the dark funnel hovering before them, smiling. The dark cloud had turned into a band of angels, and suddenly they knew that what was to come, would be far greater
 than anything left behind.

Swing low, sweet chariot
Coming for to carry me home,
Swing low, sweet chariot,
Coming for to carry me home.

I looked over Jordan, and what did I see

Coming for to carry me home?
A band of angels coming after me,
Coming for to carry me home.

Sometimes I'm up, and sometimes I'm down,
(Coming for to carry me home)
But still my soul feels heavenly bound.
(Coming for to carry me home)

The brightest day that I can say,
(Coming for to carry me home)
When Jesus washed my sins away.
(Coming for to carry me home)
If I get there before you do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
I'll cut a hole and pull you through.
(Coming for to carry me home)

If you get there before I do,
(Coming for to carry me home)
Tell all my friends I'm coming too.
(Coming for to carry me home).

Saturday, October 6, 2012

A Thirst To Be Quenched

This view.
How do you do it?
In Your infinite creativity
You gave me breath
and here you go
 taking it away.

And rightly so.

I've heard it said..
"The Lord 
and the Lord 
takes away."

This day
The magnificent view 
did just that. 

I thought we might reach the heavens;
as we climbed toward our destination
 -this flat rock above-
that hovered over the earth below.
I imagined us meeting Mufasa and Simba
This tiny Lion cub to follow his Father's steps
as King
I know this story well.

And so I thought of Your Son.
The One in whom all of Your Fullness
was glad to dwell.
The heart of a Great Father.

My lips grew parched as we continued on
and the last droplet of water nestled it's way
into my thirsty bones
with so much time to go

And again, I thought of Your Son.

I climbed these unknown heights 

on this unknown path
and I remembered Him washing 
a woman unclean
with water that he was sure 
would quench her every thirst.
A craving much deeper than 
the walls of her mouth 

He promised her in truth that as the water
from this well would quench her temporary thirst
there would again come a time 
in which she would be 
in need;
His Voice echoed through the cracks
of my dried lips:

"If anyone thirsts 
let him come to Me
and drink."

He offered the simplest
and gave the grandest.

My prayer in the desert was answered 
in the finding of
another great mystery of the most Creative One of all,
A mystery hidden between
my waterless lips
her dried soul
and his Great Promise.
Yes, a simple 
and yet life-saving 

So Come, Lord. 
Fill us to overflowing;
from the inside 

".. Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again

but whoever drinks the water I give him 
will never thirst 
Indeed the water I give them will become in them
a spring of water welling up to eternal life .."

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Tribute to September 23rd

For 1 year I've stared at an enveloped entitled;

"All I need,
                is you."

In 1 year of time - life happens.

Each moment, of each day, life happens. 
This little envelope mirrored this truth as it was shuffled, dropped, moved -place to place- over the course of 365 days. 

However, for the last few months it has found its home propped upon my bookshelf at level eyesight as I lay my head down each night.

These are often the last words that I read each night before bed, and I find comfort in their truth:


 "All I need,

        is you."

Today marked the start of a new season, and as I laid on my bed to rest, my eyes began to browse the bookshelf. My eyes stopped, as they always do, on the little envelope propped neatly in front of "Walking in the Way" and "The Hiding Place." I  looked at the calendar, and back at the envelope. I quickly realized what the backside read, and I rushed to open it. 

"Written on 9/23/11 
           .. Open on 9/23/12."

It was a letter .. from me. A letter in which the voice of my Lord spoke loudly.

Words penned exactly 1 year ago today that have been shut and sealed for the past 365 days. 

Reading it now, exactly 1 year later,
I am reminded not to worry.

As though the Lord himself was speaking .. He reminds me:
Mia, don't think about who you will marry, think of me. There is no other He, that took you from darkness into light. Read my Word to you - it's always right. Take delight in me, Mia. I am for you. Keep your lips from evil, and let me use you.

I'm thankful for many things today; 

this sweet year-old letter, 
is one of them. 

This year has gently (and sometimes not so gently) pounded 1 simple truth into the confines of my heart, soul, and mind:

God is the only constant

Amidst heartbreak, tears, victory, let downs, marriage, heights, depths, and sweet laughter, laughter, laughter
     .. One thing remains. 
And it's the only thing that ever was
                                               ever is 
                                        ever will be.

Thank you Jesus, that you speak clearly when we tune our ears to your voice.
Thank you that in a world that will never be what I can hold on to ..

All I need,
  is you. 

"O to grace how great a debtor
                                                               Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above."