Tuesday, June 28, 2011

My Power Ballad

Does anyone remember the song “Winds of Change” by the German band, Scorpions?  I know I’m appealing to a certain age demographic when I refer to this song…but, for those of you reading who were steeped in the big-haired power ballads of the early 90’s…you now have the awesome whistling intro stuck in your head, don’t you?  Heh…you’re welcome.  (For everyone else reading this blog who have NO idea what I’m talking about…click here for a YouTube preview).  Man, I loved that song.  In high school I used to sway…head back and eyes closed…because I thought it was just super that the “children of tomorrow could dream away in the winds of change.”  Bless my heart.  
May 22, 2011 literally brought gale force winds of change to Joplin, Missouri.  200+ mile and hour… winds of change.  It was the most catastrophic renovation most of us will ever experience in this lifetime and what’s worse…we only had 17 minutes to prepare for it.   
I know there are some of you reading this blog who aren’t in Joplin…and I really want you to taste the acuity of gale force change.  So, let’s try something...ok?  I want you to picture the most populated area of your city.  Businesses and homes all kind of jammed together on street after street in the city center.  Can you see it?  Is it in your mind?  Are you picturing it?  Ok, good…now set your mental odometer and drive 12 miles.  Got it?  Are you behind the wheel?  Passing the Walmart on your left…and the AT&T store on your right?   Now imagine that …POOF…everything is gone.  The grocery store where you used to shop…your dentist…your church…your school…your bank…everything in those 12 miles reduced to rubble in a matter of minutes.   500 businesses.  8,000 dwellings.  18,000 cars.  All destroyed. And now you’re standing in the middle of a once familiar street…spinning in a circle…and you don’t even recognize your own home.  That’s the reality of our winds of change…
It’s been a month now…the news cameras have retreated, most flags are at full mast, relief tents are disappearing and Joplin’s infamous tornado no longer fills headlines.  But …friends…the enormity of change is just now beginning to settle on this beloved city.  I knew it was going to happen…I braced myself for it.  And yet…I’m daily surprised by how and where it surfaces. 
The change that has crept into my life is more than just having to drive out of my way to get fresh produce…it’s more than the inconvenience of a transformed landscape.  I know that we have all experienced this storm in different ways, and I would never presume to speak for everyone….but I can speak for myself.   So, here goes…here are some personal glimpses into the winds of my change:
1.  I now prefer to turn left out of my driveway.  Turning right still makes me sick to my stomach…but not because I’m sickened by the rubble.  No…my stomach churns because the site of devastation is becoming my new normal.

2.  For the first time in years…I feel single.  I’ve never really felt single before…and that’s saying something considering that I’m a 34 year old woman living in the Marriage Capital of the Universe.  And yet…other than the occasional (cyclical) lament…I’ve sincerely enjoyed being footloose and fancy free.  In fact, I felt a sense of PURPOSE in being a joyful single female in a marriage-happy culture.  But now…now the desire for love and marriage feels like it’s on the surface of my skin.  I feel an unfamiliar urgency to have someone hold my hand. 

3.  I used to have this secret little ritual…where every time I heard a siren, I would stop and pray for whoever that siren was intended.  I just figured that no matter the severity…if there was a siren…there was strife.   So, for years and years…no matter where I was or what I was doing…if I heard the familiar sound of wailing, I’d pause and talk to God about it.  But now…well, now my blood freezes and I get a giant lump in my throat.   When it comes to sirens, my prayers have turned to whimpers…

4.  Living an abundant life now includes a beautiful, rich subtext.  I can’t really explain this change…other than to say…it’s almost like I was given another level of awareness.  Even in the midst of such profound disruption…I’m getting a very tangible taste of peace beyond my understanding.

5.  Status quo?  What’s that?  My life changed with only 17 minutes of warning.  And strangely,…there’s something very liberating about that.  I now have undeniable proof that things are superfluous…and healthy relationships are pure sustenance. 

6.  These days, my roommates and I often wander into conversations about restoration.  We talk about how we now live in a city that reminds us daily that no matter how many trucks or man power you throw at something…restoration takes time.  What a great picture of life down here. 

7.  A few days ago I got online and intentionally looked up pictures of Japan’s tsunami.  Empathy is a powerful thing, friends.  Powerful.  And although I wouldn’t wish this level of empathy on my worst enemy…I also see it as a precious gift. 

8.  And maybe the strangest change of all… I now share very personal thoughts and feelings in an open-access online medium.  Holy cow.
You know…even as I’m typing this, I pause to wonder WHY in the world I’m all of the sudden willing and eager to open the hatches of my mind and heart to a veritable gaggle of friends, family, and complete strangers.  Well, I guess it’s because I assume if you’re reading this blog…then you too have known the winds of change.  And if sharing bits and pieces of my life causes you to dream and long more acutely for the Rock of Ages…well then, by golly…keep dreaming, children of tomorrow…keep dreaming. 
(cue “Winds of Change” whistling intro)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Birth Announcements

Confession? I’ve checked the “stats” on my blog with almost shameful regularity…yep, sad…but true.  People from around the world have read my account of May 22nd.  All I have to say about that is…Holy Toledo, Batman.  Seriously though, I find that fact deeply humbling…and, in the last week, it also weighs heavily on my heart.  I am acutely aware that I am a very small window into an entire community of changed lives. 
A community…where the death toll is still rising.  I hate that term, by the way.  Death toll.  These were real people…with stories of love and life.  They were husbands, wives,  fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, children, and friends…all cherished by someone who no longer gets to hug them or laugh at their silly jokes.  These people affected the very fabric of our lives…and now the world sees them as a number.   One lost life is intensely tragic…a ‘death toll’ is unimaginable.  And although I’ve been profoundly affected by the events of May 22nd…my immediate friends and family are all safe.  I still have my home.  My dog still snores in bed next to me.  My paycheck still comes with blissful regularity.  And my little Honda Civic is as hearty and gas-conscious as ever.   So, I have another confession.  When it comes to the significance of my voice in this community of survivors…I’ve had moments of penetrating doubt. Who am I? Who am I to write about the goodness of God when by comparison,  I’ve lost so little? 
But here’s the thing…I’ve been praying for years that Abba would reawaken my desire to write. Because years ago I had sealed my passion for writing in a mausoleum of doubt and insecurities.   And now…thanks to an EF5 Tornado…that desire is literally spilling out of my fingers.  If that’s not an example of God’s goodness…then, folks, I don’t know what is. 
So, this is what I’ve been chewing on this week:  Yes, tragedy steals love and life…but…it also gives birth to the healing fury of God’s goodness.  And as so many friends and neighbors grieve and lament the things and people that were ruthlessly ripped from their lives…I’ve been gifted with the honor of recording His Divine birth announcements.  
Here are a few glorious examples of complete strangers giving birth:

1. Strangers on a Roadtrip: http://www.joplinglobe.com/tornadomay2011/x1478025531/Virginia-volunteers-collect-Joplin-support-on-the-road
2. Strangers in the Body (my brother-in-law): http://www.joplinglobe.com/tornadomay2011/x1478023801/Thanks-to-strangers-kindness-daughter-reunited-with-father-s-Bible
3. Strangers in Motion: http://www.joplinglobe.com/tornadomay2011/x2088985499/Hundreds-clear-debris-in-lieu-of-annual-race

Friends...this world reminds us with dogged regularity that life really does suck…but...He is still good.  Yes, He is still good.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Watch for Red Scooters

Yes, I know...it's been a few days since you've heard from me.  And I sincerely thank you for noticing!  As promised, I've been working on a piece about the Little Family.  Good news! Jennifer Little is considering writing her own first-hand account of their story.  Get stoked, friends...Jen is a fabulous writer and she's got a story FULL of God's goodness. 

Meanwhile, I thought I'd share a piece with you that I plagiarized from a blog I wrote several years ago (wait, is it plagiary if you steal it from yourself?)  Whoa...it's so interesting reading my thoughts from 5 years ago.  And I'm so relieved to report that I still feel the same way today...even more so.  I've changed the intro a little bit to make more contextual sense in this blog...but here she blows:  

"I like scooters...a lot.  They're like a motorcycle...with more whimsy.  They say, "hey, fancy motorcycle...I know you're tough and fast but I'm cute and zippy, so take that."  Granted, I've never ridden on one...but I sure do like them.  Besides, I'm thinking you don't have to ride something to truly appreciate it, right?  I mean...I've never ridden an elephant and I sure do like them a lot too.  I plan on riding a scooter and an elephant very soon.  But scooters will always have a place in my heart.  Because, well...simply put...one of my best "God Moments" happened because of a one. 

Have you ever had a God moment where even the keenest over-thought can't manufacture a logical explanation? The moments where you find yourself looking up and winking...or giving the thumb's up sign...or whispering "Holy Crap!" (ok, maybe that's just me). I've had my share of these moments, but there is one in particular that shall always remain paramount in my journey Story? Ok, settle in...

Several years ago (before I was broken enough to wallow in the ridiculousness of Grace), I spent great time and energy feeling sorry for myself. The "moment" was on one such day...yet another monotonous work day in a long string of cloudy, cold, boring, lonely monotonous work days. I was driving, destination unknown...minding my own business, grumpy, self-consumed...when I happened to glance over into the left lane. There He was, in all His glory...black leather vest, skull cap, over lapping belly, leather chaps, fingerless gloves, dark shades, unkempt beard, and most-importantly - the mandatory "Easy Rider" scowl. Only...His muscle machine was a very small, red...scooter. This man had clearly lost a bet. I laughed until I cried...and then when I realized what Abba was saying to me, His petulant Daughter...I cried until I laughed.

Since that day, I have had an all-consuming love of the "Ridiculous." It's how my Father speaks to me...pokes me...refines me...laughs with me...cries with me...and delights in me. It reminds me of a Saviour who entered the world in a stable...who dined with prostitutes, befriended tax collectors, turned water into wine, fed thousands with mere scraps, walked on water, rebuked law-makers, raised the dead, cast demons into swine...a Saviour who endured bone-deep lashings, a crown of thorns, ridicule, pain...so much pain...and death. And every time I experience the absurd, the inappropriate, the fanciful, the over-the-top, or the ridiculous...it reminds me of a God who speaks through burning bushes, makes 90 year old women pregnant, defeats political super powers with locusts and frogs, creates the world in only 7 days, destroys impenetrable walls with marching and trumpets, parts seas, calms ferocious lions, suspends death in a fiery furnace, and sends His only son to die for a world...for a woman...that doesn't deserve it. So, these moments give birth to wonder and awe...and nurture confidence in my complete helplessness. That is what the scooter tells me...and that is where I am daily flabbergasted by the profoundly RIDICULOUS Love of my Saviour.

So, you see...I figure if God can use a talking ass to get someones attention...a little red scooter certainly qualifies."

I read this blog post from years ago and I sighed aloud.  I look around today and so many familiar things are now completely unrecognizable.  The street where I saw the fellow on his scooter...is now surrounded by rubble. I find myself holding my breath every time I leave my driveway because I have to brace myself for  ruins.  I hear about a friend who attended 3 funerals in one weekend and my heart does back flips.  People lost pets, jobs, homes, and loved ones. Pain is everywhere.  But then...then...I see a sign that someone has spray painted on a a piece of plywood that reads "have water, need beer"...and it makes me smile. As chains saws buzz in the background and dump trucks haul away rubble, I sit in a kiddie pool with my two nieces as they  use me as a human play toy.  Despite the ruins, two blond baby girls can still make me belly laugh.  Good looking cops with khaki pants and guns give rise to daily jokes among my single girlfriends. Yes, pain is everywhere...but so is joy. 

Keep your eyes open, friends.  Wherever you are in the world...no matter how much your heart aches...keep your eyes open.  I beg you.  God is the God of comfort...and He longs for you to laugh again.  I'm praying that Abba fills your life with little red scooters...so that we may know a love that surpasses understanding.  Because if I've learned one thing in the last two weeks it's this:  when everything is in ruins...and familiar things are unrecognizable...the red scooter is much easier to see.