Monday, June 24, 2013

Walk The Wire

It’s been one year.  
A whole year since we sat mesmerized in his room, watching on television as his neighbor did the unthinkable and walked a two-inch cable across Niagara Falls.  The Wallendas are a circus family and live in Sarasota, Florida, where Rob grew up and his family still lives. Everyone in Sarasota knows who the Wallendas are.
What I didn’t know until that night is that the Wallendas are followers of Jesus Christ. Nik Wallenda was interviewed just before he took his first step on that journey 150 feet in the air above the thick mist, roaring water and swirling wind of the largest waterfall in North America.
What do you do to prepare yourself for something like this, the reporter wanted to know. Meditate, practice mind control, center yourself?
“No,” Nik replied, “you know, I’m the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. I focus on reaching the other side.”
Captivated by his dependency on Jesus to see him safely across, we heard him say a lot during that 45 minute walk, “Thank you, Jesus. You are mighty. I praise you, Jesus.”
I’m not surprised by that kind of reliance. Jesus is mighty and is more than able to keep a man stable on a dangerous wire. No, what really caught my attention were the things the media were saying as they watched his incredible feat.
“He’s so alone out there,” one said. “He’s keeping his eyes on the prize,” said another. And finally, just as the swirling mist enveloped Nik and concealed him from our view, I heard this profound statement broadcast across the air,
“He’s anxious to run into the arms of his family who wait for him on the other side.”
The comparison was not lost on me, sitting next to the bed of my dying father-in-law. With every step Nik took away from the family who wished him well on the American side of the Falls, our view of him grew smaller while he came closer to triumph at the end. It was so much like the fading moments that pulled our dad from us.
And I wept. I wept for our temporary loss which cloaked Dad’s final joy, kept from our view by the swirling mist of our blinding grief.
Then last night Nik did it again. This time he walked the wire in my home state, Arizona, fifteen hundred feet above the floor of the Grand Canyon. And this year it was me who fought a battle with cancer. It was an opportunity for fear. If I’ve learned anything in these fifty-five years of my life, it is this—fear never misses an opportunity.
But in the crazy desert wind high above the Colorado River Gorge, Nik Wallenda put one foot in front of the other on a slippery cable, voiced his confidence in his Savior, and let faith overrule the temptation to panic. As the cables swayed beneath his feet and competed in his vision with the goal on the horizon, Nik told his father it was an optical illusion—not fun, he said—but  kept walking.
“Thank you Jesus, for this beautiful view,” we heard him say. “Lord, help this cable calm down. God, you’re so good.  Lord, help me to relax, Father. You are my king. Oh, Lord, peace.”
He walked the wire, one foot in front of the other, all the way to victory.
Rob’s father walked the wire, too, right into the arms of Jesus. And I walked the wire this year in a different place with a different outcome. Last week we learned I am cancer free.
We each walk the wire in our lives. More than once and in dangerous places. Despite an audience of many, we walk it on our own. But I know the One Who can be depended on to keep my feet steady and my heart calm even if fear distorts the horizon with optical illusions.
Some called it a daredevil stunt. But I think it's the best picture of peace in our dangerous journey through life as there could possibly be. Whether I balance above the blinding mist of a roaring waterfall or in the hot, dry winds of a desert gorge, Jesus is the One Who has my back, Who holds me up, and Who carries me safely to the other side.
“I will never leave you,” He said.  “I will not, I will not, I will not relax My hold on you, nor let you down.”
Thank you, Jesus. You are mighty.


Friday, June 21, 2013

Key Lime Pie

Some people call me The Pie Lady. Not because pies are my favorite dessert— that would be chocolate cake with white buttercream icing, please—but because they’re my husband’s favorite dessert. Actually, his Granny’s guava cobbler might be his first choice, but she didn’t pass the recipe down so now he likes pies.
What is guava cobbler anyway?
I was just a kid when we got married—eighteen and head over heels. Two weeks after our Arizona wedding, Rob “drug me off to the Florida swamps”, as he calls it, and once I realized there were no mountains on the Gulf Coast, homesickness set in like an Everglades fog.
So I started baking.
Since Rob isn’t fond of chocolate or cake, I learned to make pies.  Here’s what I discovered about them—they’re forgiving. Even if the crust is inedible, at least it did its job of protecting the filling, and you can always spoon that hot stuff over vanilla ice cream. Just try that with a ruined cake sometime. Cakes are persnickety.
My mother-in-law doesn’t enjoy cooking, but she still has some stellar recipes up her sleeve and pulls them out if I whine nicely or her boys are around. Finally one day, after I mastered the art of a homemade pie crust, she shared her recipe for Key Lime Pie and we made one together.
Oh.My.Goodness.
It was years before I realized it was a version of the recipe concocted in the Florida Keys about 150 years ago. But this one should have taken top billing from the get-go. JoAnn’s pie elevates key limes so they become the pale green star of the show, held up by a supporting cast of whipped cream and egg whites. Chiffon Key Lime Pie—it’s only the nectar of the gods.
So I squirreled away that priceless formula—which, by the way, never turns out as well as JoAnn’s because the main ingredient is patience and I’m a bit short on that—and it became my very own Favorite Pie.
Skip ahead fifteen years. This time it was me who dragged my husband and our kids away from the Florida swamps, back to the desert and the mountains I missed. And one afternoon I delivered five of my best pies to a local lunch café in search of a pie baker.
As the owner stood at the counter sampling my wares, a friend of hers—a pastry aficionado (in her mind)—pointed at the green chiffon masterpiece JoAnn would have been proud of and decreed,
“That’s not a Key Lime Pie.”
Now correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s how the War Between The States got started. And it was about to get all stoked up again.
“It most certainly is,” I told her. “My mother-in-law has lived in Florida her whole life and she gave me this recipe which she makes with key limes from a tree in her very own yard so that  makes it a real Key Lime Pie,” I ended smugly.
Guess I told you, I wanted to add. But having lived in Florida for ten years, I’m a bit Southern myself now, so I just smiled politely. Right after I determined she was definitely a Yankee.
In the end I was hired but my Key Lime Pie was not. I couldn’t understand it. What was this pretender pie that robbed my heirloom recipe of stardom? Didn’t the café owner realize she could have been famous? And more importantly, do all Arizonans take advice from Northerners?
I went on a mission to prove that JoAnn’s recipe was indeed the genuine article, the real McCoy, and the rightful owner of the name Key Lime Pie.
I found out I was wrong.
I hate it when that happens.
Turns out the original Key Lime Pie was a variation of a lemon icebox pie, and was invented by a cook down in the Florida Keys who was too lazy to find lemons one afternoon and substituted key limes. It’s a flat, tart cheesecake-ish kind of dessert and has none of the richness or class of my mother-in-law’s version. It’s not even green.
So that little café eventually went out of business, never reaching its potential for fame. All because, I’m convinced, no one recognized the genius of fluffing up a Key Lime Pie filling and caressing it with gobs of whipped cream.
It’s understandable, though. I think they missed the memo about making lemonade when life hands you lemons. And if life hands you limes, find a better recipe than the one everyone else uses.
You can quote me on that. Southerners like me don’t mind.


Photo courtesy of Adam Fagen's photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/51035749109@N01/2267586185

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Ding Dong

I’m not that good at being logical.  A friend told me once that if you worry about what could happen and then it doesn’t happen, you worried for nothing. But even if it does happen, then you suffered twice.  I looked at her like she was speaking Cantonese.
It’s hard to reform a worrier.
All those ‘what ifs’ that fly around over my head like juggler’s plates—I’ve gotta keep ‘em spinning, you know, or they all come crashing . . . . DOWN!!
Somebody distracted me. Barely  a week after Nathan dropped by. Suddenly I was really down. Inconsolable again. And then . . .
Oh, you guessed it, didn’t you?
The doorbell rang. At night. In the heat. For the third time.
Did you know God often does things in three’s? To make a point? To prove that He’s the One with His finger on the doorbell?
Well, I wasn’t about to answer it. I didn’t look any better this night than the last time a stranger interrupted my tears.
So Rob did.
“If it’s another bug guy, ask him what his name is!” I shouted after him, still sobbing into my Kleenex.
Well, I may be afraid but I still have instincts.
He was gone a long time. I could hear him talking with the man at the door, asking questions like he always does, playing cat and mouse with salesmen so they’ll think he just might buy whatever they’re selling. Finally, the guy at the door got tired of the game, and asked to come inside to use our bathroom.
Rob showed him the way, and then walked through the family room where I was mopping up mascara on the sofa and whispered in my ear,
“It’s another bug guy and his name is Chase.”
Well—I may not have remembered who Caleb was, but I was pretty sure Chase is neither Hebrew nor Biblical.
Figures, I thought.  And I could have really used some Holy Raid tonight. The devil was bugging me big time.
A few minutes later Rob showed the guy to the door and came back to sit beside me on the couch.
“Well,” he asked, “did you look it up?”
“There’s no Chase in the Bible!” I said in exasperation.
“How do you know?” he retorted.
“So, what should I google? Chase and the Bible?”
Oh me of little faith.
Chase shows up a lot in the Bible. That’s because ‘chase’ is a verb. Sometimes it’s a command. And the Bible is full of stories about people like me who were always being ‘chased’ by some scary somebody or other.
But this is the verse God chased me into reading:
“But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword.”  Leviticus 26:7
Yes, indeed. By a tiny little sword in the hands of a surgeon with the last name CHASE who had removed the cancer in my uterus a few days earlier and told me yesterday that she got it all.
God kept telling me. Again and again He told me to take courage and expect Him to show up.
I’d like to tell you I’m a reformed worrier, but in all honesty I can’t. So instead, I’ll tell you this—God keeps His promises and goes out of His way to comfort the hearts of people like me.
I’d also like to thank the inventor of the doorbell. The house may disintegrate around me, but I will always make sure the doorbell works. And there will never be a "No Solicitors" sign on our door.  They're welcome here anytime.

Especially bug guys.

Wait and hope for and expect the Lord; be brave and of good courage and let your heart be stout and enduring. Yes, wait for and hope for and expect the Lord. Psalm 27:14

Photo courtesy of neosnaps' photostream at http://www.flickr.com/photos/29674401@N00/2574417351

Monday, June 17, 2013

Bug Busters

I started thinking there must be a huge neon-flashing cockroach on our roof.
A week after Caleb introduced himself through the screen door, Rob and I sat on the sofa eating dinner, watching TV and talking about my fear of an approaching hysterectomy as treatment for uterine cancer.  
Now, I need to mention that I hadn’t had any significant surgery since I had my tonsils out when I was four. And, while it hardly made up for the killer sore throat I woke up with, I did remember that was some pretty good ice cream they gave me once I stopped crying.
Jump ahead fifty years. Big jump. So now, even though I managed to hang on to my reproductive system until they could remove it laparascopically and robotically—thus speeding up my recovery time—I hadn’t had knock-me-out surgery since that ice cream incident. Nor had I spent the night in a hospital since I delivered each of my two babies. That was a happier reason for lingering than this visit would give me.
Appetite fading, I began to worry. And right on cue, the doorbell rang. This time Rob got up and opened the front door to a stranger who stood outside in the evening heat.  He’s so much more willing to listen to sales pitches than I am that his dinner got cold and I finished watching House Hunters before he returned with a smirk on his face.
“It was another bug guy,” he told me, and handed me the calling card of tonight’s angel in disguise.
Blue Sky Pest Control?” I read incredulously.  “Are you kidding?!”
Rob just grinned.
“Look at his name,” he answered.
Nathan. Nathan from Blue Sky Pest Control. God wasn’t even hiding with this one.
I remembered a little more about Nathan than I had about Caleb. Nathan was the prophet and BFF who confronted King David about his murderous/adulterous/just plain inappropriate relationship with Bathsheba.  Wow. It’s a tough job to be friend to a king. Glad I’m just a peasant.
That didn’t seem like enough information, though, so I pulled out my laptop and googled Nathan. Nathan was God’s spokesman to David. He was his friend and counselor, and even saved his life once. His name means Gift of God, but he was best known for being fearless.
Fearless. That’s been the word of the week.
I can’t say that I’ll be best remembered for being fearless.
It’s kind of embarrassing to be a child of God who struggles with fear. For some reason I assume that because I belong to Jesus I’m not supposed to be afraid of anything or anyone. Just in case you’re believing the same lie, let me clear this all up for you. It doesn’t freak Jesus out when I’m afraid. The important thing is that He’s not afraid.
The day before Fearless Nathan showed up offering to squash more bugs in my life, I went through a ring of index cards full of scriptural promises God has been giving me since April’s round of doctor visits began.  I noted recurring words in all of them—eighty promises at that point—and the phrase repeated most often was don’t be afraid.
I heard one time—and checked it out just to make sure—that the instruction God repeats most often in the Bible has nothing to do with money or sex or the nasty nine or dirty dozen. The thing He tells us again and again is this: “Do not be afraid.”
Guess I’m not the only cowardly lion in the pack.
I wish I was more courageous. But if I was, would I depend on God less? Maybe. Who knows. Right now, the only thing I can say for sure is that when fear attacks, I know where to hide - safe in the arms of Jesus. The Guy Who isn’t afraid of cancer or doctors or the future. There isn’t a bug alive who can escape His big feet.
I needed eighty promises because that’s how fear-full I can be. And if I need more promises, I know He’ll keep them coming. He doesn’t mind.
Look how he keeps sending bug guys to our door. 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of sympathy, pity and mercy and the God Who is the Source of every comfort, consolation and encouragement.  2 Cor. 1:3


Sunday, June 16, 2013

Bugged

“Please help me, God,” I wept. And then I wondered if anyone has ever dehydrated after three hours of crying. I’ll have to google that sometime. I knew any number of people would want me to call them if they knew how low I felt, but how many of them could actually listen in tongues to a blubbering woman on a cell phone? I knew God was my only hope. He’s bilingual.

Suddenly the doorbell rang.

Wonderful. My makeup had melted strategically into all the lifelines on my face, my eyes were strangely swollen and shrunken at the same time, and I wasn’t exactly dressed for company. Maybe if I hold my breath they’ll go away, I thought.

The doorbell rang again. I squinted through the peep hole in the front door at a hot, tired man who wouldn’t take silence for an answer. I knew I could outlast him—I was on the lock side, after all. But what if my front lawn had blown up and he was just trying to check for survivors? I guessed I really did need to know if there was a gaping hole in my grass. For some reason.

Knowing he couldn’t see through our security screen door at how terrible I looked, I finally spoke to the persistent ringer on the other side of the steel mesh divider. “My name is Caleb,” he began, and then he tried to sell me exterminator service. But there was no way I was gonna sign on his dotted line—I’d have to open the door, and that wasn’t gonna happen.

His interruption worked, though. The tears had stopped, and as I locked the front door again, I returned to the living room and turned my attention back to Jesus.

“Really, God?” I accused. “I ask you for help and you send a bug guy?”

“Yeah,” He said to my soggy heart. “But what was his name?”

Caleb. Somebody important in the Bible was named Caleb, but that’s all my parched brain could come up with.

“Look it up,” God pushed. I can take a hint. I sniffed a final sniff and did what He said.

So. Caleb. Did you know you can google anything and get answers almost as fast as a cry to heaven? Turns out Caleb was one of the two full-of-faith spies who believed God at the entrance to the Promised Land. Twelve men spent forty days on a recon mission, and when they returned six weeks later laden with grapes as large as their heads, Joshua and Caleb told the children of Israel, “We can do this! We can take this land and win this battle over our enemies!”

The other ten spies disagreed. Despite surviving forty days undetected by giant adversaries, they now stood shaking in their sandals at the prospect of posting foreclosure notices on the pagan squatters. Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Bad press is powerful. That whole mass of Hebrew humanity nearly rioted in the streets after hearing the pessimistic perspective of those ten scaredy cats. Suddenly their audience wished they’d never heard of Moses or God, preferring to have died in the desert—or even in Egypt—and tried to stage a deadly coup right on the spot.

But it was Caleb, whose name means whole hearted, who appealed to their senses.

“Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it. . . . And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will devour them. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them.” Numbers 13:30; 14:9

Do not be afraid. It was eight days since I got the call no one ever wants to get. Forty-eight hours after my D&C, the doctor’s office called and asked me to come in right away. Twenty minutes later the compassionate woman told me they found cancer in my uterus. And once that sunk in for a few seconds, she followed up by saying, “But it’s the best kind of cancer to get.” Slow growing, very common, usually discovered early because it’s the only female cancer with symptoms. Highly survivable. But all I heard was cancer.

And God. I heard God, Who said again and again and again to me as I plunged into the paradoxical depths of both fear and His Word, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid of the people of the land because they are bread to us—we will swallow them up. . . I Am the Lord Who says to you, Fear not, I will help you! Fear not, there is nothing to fear.”

And I stood at the entrance of the Promised Land trying to decide Who to believe—the scaredy cats who looked a lot like me, or the courageous voices who believed God, the One Who never lies.

I chose to believe God.

But I had to ask Him again, “Really, Jesus? A bug guy?”

“Well,” He responded with amusement in my spirit, “the devil was bugging you. And it was time to squash him.”

I love His perspective.