"Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home." - C. S. Lewis

Friday, October 18, 2013

A Hero Is...

Have you ever thought about your heroes?  Who they are, why you chose them, what it is about them that you find heroic?  There's no question that we have them.  But why do we choose them?

What makes a hero a hero?

Recently my family and I spent an afternoon with my grandmother, a couple of aunts and uncles, and several cousins.  Due to the miles between us, it is rare for so many of us to be in one place, and we all jumped at the chance to catch up on each other's lives.  At one point, my aunt shared a story from her work as a chaplain in a children's hospital.

There was a little girl in my aunt's wing of the hospital.  "A precious baby," my aunt said.  She was there because her father shook her "until her brain turned to jello."  The baby's foster parents had two adult biological children, two adopted tweens, and this little girl was their thirty-sixth foster child.  "She knew she was taking her in to die," my aunt said of the foster mom and the baby.  "She was giving her a place to die."

The week we were visiting, the little girl's health had declined, and a meeting was held with the doctors, biological mother, and foster mother.  The child's biological mother was obviously struggling with the painful situation.  As hard as it was, she made the best - and most difficult - decision for her child's care, and then broke down.  The baby's foster mother, no doubt struggling with the situation as well, went over to the baby's birthmom and hugged her.  "You will always be her mother, no matter what," she told her.

Sometimes the heroes we choose have epic stories.  Just think of Captain America, Batman, or Superman.  Even when we choose actual people as heroes, we tend to exalt those like Gabby Douglas, Amelia Earhart, or George Washington.  People we have never met (and never will).  People who have performed amazing deeds, accomplished incredible feats, changed the world.  Their unforgettable stories stick with us, lodging in our minds and coming back to us even years later.  Are these people inspiring?  Yes.  Should we know about their lives and contributions to the world?  Sure.  But does a hero always have to be larger-than-life?  Could a hero be someone...normal?

"A hero is someone who excels in what we prize," I recently heard someone explain.  Remember that, I told myself.  It sounded profound.

"A hero is someone who excels in what we prize."

We pick our heroes because of what we want our lives to look like.  Whether our hero is Captain America, George Washington, or LarryBoy, we look to these figures for inspiration or even guidance as we go about our lives.  We think that, as we look to our heroes, we will somehow become better individuals.  Who we choose as heroes says a lot about who we are - and who we are becoming.

My aunt ended her story as she told how the foster mother loved the baby and the biological mother - reaching out to both in their time of need.  "I have a new hero, I guess," she finished quietly.

It is a story my aunt will always remember.  I know I will, too.  Heroes are usually hard to forget.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Even in the Storm

It was the second-wettest August on record when my dad asked my four-year-old brother to pray before the meal.  "Dear God, thank you for the rain," he began.  "We don't like the thunder.  Please make the thunder quiet.  Amen."

I understand where he was coming from.  Who among us doesn't remember hiding under the sheets or hurrying to our parents' room as soon as we heard the distant rolls of thunder?  I remember how terrified I sometimes felt as I ran to find my parents.

It's amazing to think that the thunder that so scared me is fully and completely controlled by God.  I never saw this illustrated so vividly as I did during a long car ride when I was about eight years old.  There were storms in the distance, so it was a dark, cloudy, dismal day as we drove along, listening to a Rich Mullins CD.  As Rich Mullins sang "Awesome God," there were lightning flashes at appropriate points in the song.  My dad even replayed the song and the lightning and thunder still seemed as if it were coordinated with the music.  My eight-year-old mind was boggled at the thought that our awesome God was truly synchronizing a lights-and-sound show to "Awesome God."

"When He rolls up His sleeves 
He ain't just putting on the ritz
(Our God is an awesome God)
thunder in His footsteps
lightning in His fists
(Our God is an awesome God)...

Our God is an awesome God
He reigns from heaven above
With wisdom, power, and love 
Our God is an awesome God" ("Awesome God," emphases added).

But the storms aren't always so welcome.  Sometimes they ruin our plans or damage something we hold dear.  Sometimes we face lightning and thunder when we long for clear blue skies.  Sometimes we get storms when we have prayed for sunny days.

But you know what?  The lightning and thunder are still in His hand.

"His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet" (Nahum 1:3b).

"He it is who makes the clouds rise at the end of the earth, who makes lightnings for the rain and brings forth the wind from his storehouses" (Psalm 135:7).

The expectant parents who receive a devastating prenatal diagnosis.  The couple who faces mounting mortgage payments and overdue bills on top of looming layoffs.  The man unjustly accused.  The woman enduring gossips, rumors, and tell-tale glares.  The family in relational turmoil.

Where is God in the midst of these storms?  I've come to believe that's exactly where He is: in the midst of the storm.

"For you have been...a stronghold to the needy in his distress, a shelter from the storm..." (Isaiah 25:4).

"Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge; in the shadow of your wings I will take refuge, till the storms of destruction pass by." (Psalm 57:1).

How do we react when the storms come our way?  Instead of seeking out the One who controls the thunder and gives protection from its terror, how often do we feel the biting wind and the relentless rain and beg, "Please make the thunder quiet"?

Dreams crushed.  Hopes dashed.  Plans destroyed.  This life isn't going to be all we want it to be - ever. Even when things seem to be going well, we will never be at a place where we can truthfully say that everything is going exactly the way we would like.  Because it won't.

But in the midst of that dreadful realization, we can take comfort in the fact that the God who holds the lightning bolts in His hand just as assuredly holds us, too.  No matter how the storm swirls and crashes around us, there is no safer place for us to be than in His hand.

Thunder is supposed to be loud.  Storms are supposed to push us out of our comfort zone, out of our comfortable reliance on ourselves, and into the only fortress where we can truly find rest - even in the storm.

"The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe" (Proverbs 18:10).  Even in the storm.

Image courtesy of Suvro Datta/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net