Playing Hooky – Isaiah 53:5

9 04 2013

 

gravestoneangel

I was never much for rocking the boat when I was in high school.  By the time I’d survived long enough to get to my sophomore year (1983-4) all I wanted to do was to stave off boredom while still keeping up my GPA.  Keeping up my GPA wasn’t much of a challenge, but staving off boredom was quite another issue.  I do have to admit to reading every single issue of  Mad and National Lampoon from 1982-86, as well as a stunning selection of $1.35 each coverless books from the cigar store that were as tasteless as they were coverless, along with the works of George Orwell, Ayn Rand, and JRR Tolkien, a somewhat extensive collection of the classics- including Dante’s Divine Comedy, many of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as a fair number of scientific publications,  and a plethora of non-fiction historical works on WWII.  I may not have had too many challenging classes in high school- with the exceptions of AP English and  AP music theory, but I did some major reading, mostly for my own edification and recreation.  Being a geek had some advantages, namely that on the rare occasion that I considered bending the rules, I was usually able to do it under the radar and beyond suspicion.  I got away with murder (in a figurative way, of course) when I wanted to- quietly and covertly.

maranathabaptist

Since Mom is and was very much a practicing, old-school Catholic, every year on Good Friday, since the powers that ran the school system didn’t really care if Spring Break coincided with Holy Week or not, Mom wrote us an excuse to skip the afternoon so that we could go to the Good Friday service at church that generally lasted from about 1PM-4PM.  No, it is not Mass- the one day in the Catholic calendar that Mass is NOT celebrated is Good Friday.  The service that is held in lieu of Mass on Good Friday is called Tenebrae service, which means “service of shadows.”  The Tenebrae service is also observed in the Lutheran tradition, and includes the reading of the Passion of Christ, and reflections upon His death.  Heavy, heavy somber stuff, as it should be on Good Friday.

“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.- Isaiah 53:5 (NIV)”

We- meaning my sisters and I- were well acquainted with the Good Friday service, but being both teenaged and very much disinclined toward Catholic religious observances in varying degrees, decided that we would spend the afternoon not in the shadows, but in the bright April sunshine.  We just didn’t have the somber thing going on that day.

That particular Good Friday was very good indeed, weather in the low seventies, bright sunshine without a cloud in the sky, and just a hint of  a light breeze.  Perfect weather in April in Ohio is almost unheard of. My oldest sister (who happened to be driving that day) wasn’t about to spend such a glorious day inside.  The only problem with not going to church was that her car- a bright orange ’71 VW- was readily visible.  We couldn’t hang around in town.

1972superbeetle

My sister was not as good a navigator of the back roads in Marion County as I came to be. I liked to sneak cigarettes out where I knew no one would see me, which meant I took a lot of excursions all over creation to sneak smokes.  Gasoline was about $1 a gallon, and smokes were about $1 a pack, so my smoke-n-drive habit wasn’t terribly expensive.  I miss the random drive for the just the sake of driving, (gasoline is too expensive for that) but I have to admit that back then it wasn’t as much about the scenery as the nicotine.

Even though she didn’t know all the funky hideaways I ended up finding, she did find one of my favorite places- the railroad trestle bridge.  It’s long since been torn down and scrapped for whatever the steel was worth, but in 1984, though the line was dead and the tracks torn up, the bridge was still lingering over the river, a monument to obsolescence, a shadow still standing from a long-ago sphere.

bridge

It’s hard to describe the serenity I found that day.  Even my sisters left me alone for awhile and didn’t threaten to knock me off the bridge where I would surely be sucked into the brackish water and unspeakable muck below.  I would never recommend swimming, wading or touching the water in that part of the Scioto River today (and certainly not back then) but sitting about 30 feet above the river on the trestle bridge listening to the soft breeze and the running water is hard to describe.  It was as if I was everywhere and nowhere at the same time (all points converge here) and I never wanted to leave.  All the things that weighed so heavily on my shoulders were gone (including the paranoia should our hooky-playing be discovered) and for if only a brief moment, I was free.

The world has moved on since then.  Places like that old trestle bridge, those happenstance cathedrals that occur in spite of the crushing hammer of entropy, and  in defiance of conscious efforts to unmake them, are harder and harder to find in a world where the new mantra is structure and order.  Even small children have every minute of their days scheduled and dedicated to a specific purpose.  I know all too well what it is to be locked into the whirlwind of busy- going everywhere and getting nowhere.

busy drug

It’s hard for me to wrap my head around the grace of God.  As much as I should, at the very least, have been in that service of shadows, I was in reality sitting on a railroad bridge without a care in the world.  It’s not so much that dropping out and going to sit on the bridge and watch the world go around is a bad thing, it’s more that everything has a price.  It’s easy for us to say we want to walk with Jesus- until it’s shadow time.  History gives the apostle Peter a bad rap for denying Jesus three times, but isn’t that we humans in our weakness and fallenness do?

One of the beauties of the grace of God is that He knows our weakness.  He knows that our bodies are weak and our moral constitutions even weaker.  Although we are also called to carry the cross, like as not we end up playing hooky instead, spending our lives blissfully unaware and disconnected from the suffering our Savior bore in our place.

The good news is that even when we are faithless He is faithful.  He offers us His grace, purchased with His blood and suffering and tears.  He is the Reason why I can have peace and freedom and serenity, because He took the punishment that I deserved.





Matthew 6:19-21 Eternal Treasures

16 03 2013

 Jesus

(Jesus said:)

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:19-21 (NRSV)

Today’s question:

What is your “investment strategy” for investing in things that are eternal?

I am not a wealthy woman, at least not in material things, according to the standards of my community.   According to the rest of the world though, I am better off than most.  I have food and clothing, a car to drive, reasonable access to medical care and shelter including indoor plumbing and central heating and air conditioning.  Even though I do not live in poverty today, I do struggle with a deeply ingrained scarcity mentality that began in my youth.

When I got clothing (with few exceptions) it had already been through both older sisters, and it was generally ill-fitting and threadbare by the time it was passed down to me.  I was sickly and weak and sometimes my parents couldn’t afford appropriate medical care or glasses.  There were times that my parents had to make a choice between food and/or scripts or keeping the utilities and mortgage paid.  Everything was always hard won and acquired at the last minute, and even if it was “essential,” you might still have to go without.

poor child

Poverty sucks.  Believe that.

Growing up with scarcity taught me that I didn’t care for going without.  It gave me an intense drive to achieve, to never run out, and to be able to provide myself all the things I could not have as a child.

I came to a point where not only did I earn enough to be able to have the “essentials” (at least most of the time), but to feed my own ego, I had to be the biggest, baddest one around professionally.  It wasn’t even so much about money as it was credibility and prestige.  I wanted to be taken seriously instead of being mocked for being an awkward, badly dressed geek.

The problem with my quest for prestige and professional achievement was that in that pursuit I became cut-throat and ruthless.  I didn’t care about anything but professional success.  I worked 60-80 hours a week.  I did everything I could to make money for my employer as well as I did everything I could to advance myself.

celica

I had a Celica like this at one time.  It was a tasty car.

I didn’t care about anything except professional success- until I had a series of catastrophic health failures.

I have essential hypertension- a severe and pernicious form of high blood pressure that is inherited and extremely difficult to keep controlled.  By age 29 my blood pressure was so out of control (despite being on multiple medications at ridiculously high doses) that I was having bleeds into the scleras of both eyes- where the whites of my eyes would suddenly become blood red.  I also had two incidences of phlebitis in my right leg that were associated  with my uncontrolled blood pressure.  I had severe and constant sinus infections and bronchitis from chain smoking.

sclera bleed

Gross, but this was happening to my eyes pretty regularly from out of control blood pressure.

My health got to a point where at age 30 my family doctor warned me: Change your lifestyle and your outlook and most importantly, your job, or you won’t live to see age 35.

That warning was the tipping point.  I was killing myself- physically, emotionally and spiritually- over what?

By the grace of God He brought me to a realization of what I was doing to myself and to those around me.  I found a different job where it wasn’t necessary for me to be there so many hours, and where I didn’t have the stress of managing employees and dealing with customers face to face all day long.  I suddenly had the time to stop and examine what was really important, and God dealt with me over it.  I knew that after seven years of pig pen living I needed to run back to the Father’s house, including getting back to involvement a Christian community.

Slowly and eventually God brought me to my church.  He led me to become free of a long standing addiction to cigarettes.  He got me to the point where I wasn’t so obsessed with work. My health improved, but more importantly my focus changed.

It’s not about my personal status or my personal ability to provide for myself.  I have to be reminded every day that my provision comes from God and that my purpose (whatever that specific purpose- and I truly wonder about that sometimes) is to glorify God.  She with the most toys doesn’t necessarily win, and acquiring toys that I can’t take with me is pretty much pointless anyway.

I still have issues with scarcity mentality.  Sometimes I get so worried and afraid about what I can’t do, instead of trusting what God will do through me if I simply surrender and let Him.

By the grace of God I’ve come a long way with my priorities and in keeping my life more balanced.   I have a long way to go in surrendering my scarcity mentality and trusting God for my provision, but He Who has started a good work in me will finish it.

Love God, love other people, and love myself.  It sounds easy in theory, but in practice I can only do these things by the grace of God.

love of god