Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How far ahead does God plan?

So how far ahead does God plan for us? When a pioneer family found shelter in a 400-year-old hollow sycamore, had God planned to have that available for them? When old acquaintances have a chance meeting and one ends up working for the other, did God plan that detour one made that day? When the young Manuel Noriega wrote a complimentary letter to some American missionaries, was that so they could produce it and be allowed to stay when they were told to leave Panama? When I left my Bible and planner at the church building on Sunday, was that so I’d go there at an unexpected time today? I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. I know I believe that God works in our lives, and on this earth we will not know the breadth and depth and width of his plans for us.

Sunday I was busy taking an extra bag to my car and helping Tina, who recently had surgery and was riding with us. In all the bustle, I left my Bible and daily planner on the shelf above the coat rack.

I was greatly aggravated once I arrived home and realized what I’d done. We are only 13 miles from the church building, but that's far for a non-crucial trip. I knew I could pick it up Wednesday evening.

This morning as I was praying while on the #$%$# treadmill, I realized that the church building was in the general vicinity of my writers’ group. I decided that I’d stop there en route back home.

But as I was getting dressed, I felt an urgency to get my books on my way to the meeting, so I hurried and left in barely enough time to make the stop. When I arrived, there in her car sat Valerie, who cooks for the daycare housed on the church property. I didn’t realize at first that there was someone in the car, but she got out to speak to me and I saw that she’d been crying. I hugged her, asked what was wrong, and told her my errand. She just said it was already a bad day.

Together, we read a vulgar message written on the door in lipstick. While I got my books, Valerie got paper towels and was vigorously cleaning it off when I came back out. I could see that she was welcoming the chance to work out her frustrations.

My first inclination was to jump in my car and take off. After all, I had a schedule to stick to. But the priorities here were obvious even to my tunnel vision, so I hugged her and said, “I can see you’re hurting. What can I pray for you?”

Then it all came out—the news, after a previous surgery and weeks of testing, that she has cancer both in her liver and in her small intestine, and it’s two different kinds of cancer, so the treatment is tricky. She poured out her anxiety and frustration and the difficulty of the complicated decision. As I wrapped my arms around her, I prayed for her peace and wisdom and healing.

She said, “I’ve looked for scriptures on healing, and so far I’ve found over forty. Isn’t that amazing?” Her children tell me she reads her Bible a lot, and I encouraged her that she is turned in the right direction. I told her we would bring a group over to pray with her soon.

I hated to leave her there, but she had a job to do also. So I’ve continued to pray for her throughout the day, and to thank God that I forgot my books on Sunday.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How can we ever know?

How can we ever in this life know when God is working something out and when He’s simply allowing something to happen?

Steve and I flew to Key West, Florida, Thursday evening. Shortly after our connecting flight left Atlanta and we arrived in Key West, we heard about the blizzard that paralyzed Hartsfield International Airport. Some passengers were stranded there for two days. We felt relieved and blessed to be enjoying the Key West sunshine.

On Sunday afternoon, I logged on to Delta to check in and be sure all was in order to fly home Monday at 12:50. The screen instead showed a large sign reading “There has been a flight cancellation affecting your trip to Atlanta, GA (ATL) on 15 Feb 2010. But don't worry, we'll help you get to your destination with as little inconvenience as possible.” There was a prompt to “click here for alternate flights.” The response on that page was “Sorry. There are no alternate flights. Please call your Delta agent." Which I did.

I was told they could get us home on Wednesday rather than Monday. That was unacceptable because Steve teaches university classes all day on Tuesday, and they had already missed last Tuesday due to a snowstorm. The person at Delta said there was NO WAY to get to Cincinnati from Key West without going through Atlanta. He said he lives in Ft Lauderdale and has to fly to Atlanta to get to Tampa. Foolishly, I believed him.

So I went online to Travelocity and found a Continental flight from Key West to Fort Lauderdale airport, then a Delta flight from Fort Lauderdale to Cincinnati. Yes—Delta DOES go to Cincinnati from Florida without going through Atlanta! Seems that he would know that, living in Ft Lauderdale as he does….

So then—should we rent a car and drive the four hours to Ft Lauderdale, or take the Continental flight and pay exorbitantly to get home? Looking at the seating plan, I realized that there were only two seats left on each flight, so I bought them.

It worked beautifully. Our little prop plane to FLL was an adventure, and we had ample time to catch our Delta flight home. I knew that Cincinnati was predicted to get 6-10 inches of snow that day, so I held my breath that our flight would not be canceled. It was not, and we landed at the Greater Cincinnati International Airport with snow pouring from the skies and at least six new inches on top of last week’s snow.

The drive home was hazardous, to say the least. Even the interstates were snow-covered, with traffic moving very slowly. But we are home, safe and sound. We are grateful for four-wheel drive.

I don’t know how many times I said, “Thank you, Lord!” for helping us negotiate all that was involved in getting home. But now here we are, surrounded by 15 inches of snow, and all the university classes are canceled. Steve laughed and said, “So we could have stayed till Wednesday!”

And he’s right! So did God get us into the last two seats on each plane so we’d get home, or did He give the opportunity for two more sunny days and we rejected it? There is no way to know. All I can do it turn it over to God and work with what He sends my way. Whichever it is, I lean on Romans 8:28, as I learned it in childhood: “For we know that all things work together for good for them who love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thin Places: Perception

As I help my mother get dressed, I look at her misshapen body, thinking, That’s what I’ll look like in twenty-two years. It is not an encouraging thought. I’m disappointed enough with my 60-year-old body now.

“I’m so ashamed that you have to help me like this,” she says, adding, “I don’t know what women do without a daughter.”

Lord, please take me quickly when you’re ready and don’t let me ever get like this, I pray.

I think it’s an unselfish prayer, but maybe not. One thing is sure—I do feel valuable to her. She’s right—she couldn’t do this alone.

In that thin place I see a reason the elderly are still with us, unable to care for themselves, and babies are born in need of special care, and young men become paraplegic in their twenties. They are sacrifices to our needs to grow as individuals. They bring us out of ourselves, so that we become much more than we ever thought we could be. They learn humility through their situations; we learn humility through our service.

I am truly grateful that my career schedule has freed me to help my children and my mother. Maybe wanting to die quickly would rob my family of what I am gaining through these experiences. Or is that in itself a selfish justification for holding onto life? I love my life, but I’ve never wanted to cling to life regardless of my capabilities. I want to live fully and die boldly, but gain perception daily, as at this moment.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Memories of Mother and Aunt Fannie

I just finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett, a fascinating story of race relations in Jackson, Mississippi, from 1962-1964. Reading about the Southern women and their African-American maids brought back memories of our family friend, Aunt Fannie. Though some might see calling her “aunt” as a derogatory term, it was not that to us. My mother’s closest friends I always called with that familiar term; Aunt Beck and Aunt Mildred were beloved to me. Besides, Aunt Fannie would have had a fit if we’d called her Miz Goins, and Mother would never have tolerated any of us simply calling her by her first name.

The only time I ever heard her last name was when my mother would introduce her to a visitor. If someone stopped by when Aunt Fannie was there, she’d say, “I want you to meet my friend, Fannie Goins.”

As I was growing up, about three or four times a year my mother would go to Scattersville, the local primarily black neighborhood, and get Aunt Fannie to come work for her. They would spend the day cleaning house from top to bottom and Aunt Fannie would catch up on all Mother’s ironing.

They would talk on and off, but when they weren’t talking, Aunt Fannie was singing hymns. She had no idea, I’m sure, that we could hear her so clearly and enjoyed it so much.

The lunch routine was always the same. Mother would say, “Aunt Fannie, I have lunch prepared. You can stop what you’re doing and come eat with us.”

“Oh, no, ma’am,” Aunt Fannie would answer. “I’m goin’ to finish this up. You just go ahead and eat.” And nothing would budge her from that resolve. After we’d finished, she would take her plate outside or to the basement and eat.

Mother and I were dismayed by this, and Mother, never one to hold back, confronted Aunt Fannie. “Why won’t you eat lunch with us? I fix a nice lunch and I think we can sit and chat while we eat and then you won’t sit down with us. Why not?”

“It not be right, for me to eat with white folks,” Aunt Fannie explained, as though to a child who didn’t understand what everyone else knew. And though Mother argued, Aunt Fannie stood firm. She “knew her place.”

When Mother got Aunt Fannie to come help clean the house to host the reception when Steve and I got married, they worked hard for two days solid. When Mother picked her up the second day, she gave Mother an envelope containing cash.

“I wants you to buy Lanita a nice weddin’ present from me,” she said. “Get her something for the kitchen.” And I still treasure the little saucepan that Mother bought with Aunt Fannie’s money.

Long after all of us were gone from home, Mother heard that Aunt Fannie was in the hospital, so she went to visit. She sat by the bed and held her hand, prayed with her, and talked about their families. Aunt Fannie was moving around a lot and couldn’t seem to settle in the bed. Mother asked what was so uncomfortable.

“My feet are burnin’ like fire,” she said. “I keep rubbin’ them against the sheets to cool ‘em off and stop that burnin’.”

“Well, I can do something about that!” Mother responded. She knew enough about hospital supplies to know there was always a bottle of lotion in a nearby drawer. She got it out, pulled up the sheet from the foot of the bed, and started massaging Aunt Fannie’s feet with the lotion.

Aunt Fannie started to protest, but she could see that this battle was already lost. She laid back and enjoyed the cool, soothing lotion rubbed on by loving hands. Mother could feel her relax and “get easy” in her bed.

“I’ll be back tomorrow to rub your feet again,” Mother told her as she left.

“Miss Mary,” Aunt Fannie said, shaking her white head, “you is the nicest white lady I ever knew, and I mean that for sure!”

Mother just laughed, delighted at such a compliment, and especially delighted that she finally could convince Aunt Fannie that there was neither “Greek or Jew, male or female,” black or white, “but we are all one in Christ Jesus.”