Getting in the Boat

Have you heard the one about the Christian fundamentalist and the approaching hurricane? Well, if you have, you’ll just have to bite your lip and think about something else like grilled cheese sandwiches or the steps involved in mitosis because it’s the controlling metaphor for this blog post, and I can’t start without telling it. So here we go….

Hurricane Klaus is approaching the south Florida coast, and the flood waters are rising. A man is sitting on his front porch when some friends come by in a Jon boat to offer him a ride to safety.

“No thanks,” he tells them. “God will save me.”

Several hours later, the water has risen to such an extent that he’s been forced to sit on the roof of his house for safety. However, this time, a boat from the National Guard comes by and offers to rescue him.

“No thanks,” he says again. “God will save me.”

Finally, when there’s nothing left but the rapidly dwindling ridge to stand on, a rescue helicopter comes by, drops a line down, and offers to pluck him, like Moses, from soon to be biblically epic waters. His answer? It’s the same as before.

The Christian fundamentalist drowns, takes the HOV lane to heaven, and when he stands before his Maker, asks, “God, why didn’t you save me?”

The Father’s reply? “I sent two boats and a helicopter. What else were you expecting?”

How could he resist such a SWEET ride!?

The joke is unrealistic (for the most part), but it does make me think of people who pursue a “prayer only” method for healing and reject any and all medical avenues for curing an illness. Am I saying that prayer is powerless? Nope. If you or someone you love is ill, you pray fervently, expecting that God has already provided the solution (See James 5:14-16, Psalm 5:3, and Mark 11:22-24.) However, you should also visit doctors because God’s solutions are sometimes more cerebral and less, shall we say, celestial in nature. It’s not that miraculous healing doesn’t happen nowadays; if the Creator of the universe wants to do it that way, He will. However, He usually has other plans in mind.

For example, I have a friend in his late twenties who was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer less than a year ago. Doctors weren’t sure about his prospects, and after an exploratory surgery where it was decided they could not remove his lung, he was put on a very aggressive regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. He has spent more days than not feeling like the floor of a New York taxi cab, but he has continued to trust God and to be his beautiful, ebullient self through it all.

Many people around him have witnessed God’s unbelievable goodness because of what he has endured, and through it, his faith has been strengthened ten-fold. He’s been able to witness to people who might otherwise never have heard the good news of Jesus Christ. And I think that’s what God had in mind all along. By the way, his doctors have found that the tumor has shrunk dramatically, and in another month or so, he will be reevaluated. Don’t tell me miracles don’t happen.

The truth is that God doesn’t need all the attention and hubbub a display a healing like that would produce to get the results He wants. I think He’s benevolent and chooses instead to use us instead to carry out His plans, to be His hands and His feet.

These “get in the boat” moments aren’t only reserved for big ticket life events either. I recently had one myself that was job related. One of my tasks at work is to write articles for In Touch Magazine, which is both exhilarating and terrifying. Why? Well, writing is like walking a very taut high wire. One wrong word can throw off the flow of a sentence, and one unclear idea can mar the meaning of an entire piece. Writing is a lengthy process of moving words and phrases around until only the best ones remain in the perfect order. It’s very easy to miss the mark, and more often than not, it is also very lonely work.

When I struggle with a piece, I have to remind myself that I don’t have to work in my own strength. I can rely on the Holy Spirit to put the words He would have me say onto the page. But how does one do that exactly? Do I simply sit there and take divine dictation in a psychography session with my heavenly Father?

I think, once again, God’s way is simpler than that. I only need to be sensitive to what He wants and use the spiritual gifts He’s blessed me with to make it happen. Instead of twiddling my thumbs waiting for inspiration, I must constantly seek God’s will and search for the answers He has provided both in the Word and in the world around me. If I can always be cognizant of His presence, what I say and write will be directed by Him in a way that feels effortless.

Take the men who wrote the Bible for example. Those sixty-six books were penned by different people from all walks of life, but each word was inspired by God. That’s why there are no mistakes in it and why so many books, chapters, and verses written centuries apart are intricately interconnected. (One has only to look at the four gospels, portions of Isaiah, and Psalm 22 to see evidence of this.)

However, despite the fact that God provided the information, I can still see each writer’s personality and tendencies in their books. Each book is a beautiful marriage of the Almighty and a mortal scribe who was blessed to capture His truth. That’s why, as a former doctor, Luke’s contributions (Luke and Acts) are highly logical and rational and why David’s passion for God fill each and every psalm he penned. Likewise, Paul’s personality is also very obvious in each of His letters. For instance, he consistently uses questions and answers them with the phrase, “Certainly not!” His thoughts are deep and dense–full of information and written using the rhetorical methods he learned as a Pharisee.

All of my official training until now has been in academic writing and fiction/poetry. I have crafted a few non-fiction pieces in the past, but my body of work is limited. I also have little to no experience in journalism. Simply put, I have the passion, but I need practice—time behind the keyboard if you will— to get my writing chops in better shape. For awhile, I hemmed and hawed about what to do, thinking that if I simply waited on God to provide the right words, my writing would improve without any outside effort on my part. However, I came to realize that’s the literary equivalent of passing on the Jon boat.

That’s why I enrolled in a creative non-fiction certificate program at Emory University that began this week and will take me a year or so to complete. I believe working with an instructor and other writers who offer constructive feedback will help strengthen my skills, tell better stories, and write more compelling prose. I’ve gone into this grand experiment with the mindset that, in the end, I will be a more effective servant having honed my talent using the whetstone He’s provided. Rather than doing this to be famous or make a ton of money (which is highly unlikely given my choice of career field), I’m attempting to follow Paul’s advice to Timothy—“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

Just as the hurricane of stress appeared on the horizon, the pieces of the solution fell into place. To me, that’s the kind of everyday miracle only God can provide, and I am grateful to serve a King of such flawless wisdom and perfect judgment.

I’m Still Not Buying Stock in Kleenex

I hate to say it, but he's right...

Because of Tom Hanks’ inspired performance as Jimmy Dugan, we all know without a doubt that there is  “No crying in baseball!” However, that same statement can be made about every aspect of my life. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I hate…no wait, detest…crying. I don’t know what to do around people who are weeping, and I would pretty much rather eat sixteen tons of Lutefisk than sob in front of another living, breathing person.

It’s not vanity. Granted, I don’t relish the idea of wiping snot from my nose with the back of my hand or blowing it out into a tissue offered up by a friend or loved one, but it’s not the Lake Lachrymose aspect of it that bothers me.

No. It’s something more deeply rooted in me than that. I don’t think I’m comfortable with deep emotions period. I’ve never been the type to jump up and down with glee, to cover my mouth with my hands like a winning beauty queen, or to pump my fist in the air a la John Bender at the end of The Breakfast Club (though I do adore that film!)

How could I ever forget about you, Judd Nelson?

Maybe I’m secretly Vulcan. Maybe, for me, emotions are something that I feel compromises my ability to think logically or rationally. However, seeing as how I do things that are highly illogical, even for a human, and that, when it comes to mathematics or any of the “hard sciences,” I am about as likely to succeed as a gerbil would be at explaining String Theory. Nope, no pointy ears or awesome split fingered gestures for me.

Live long and prosper, my friends.

I have always had, however, a passion for knowledge. Some of the happiest days of my adult life have been spent deep in “The Stacks,” the endless rows of journals usually on the bottom floors of libraries. With iPod (and before them CD player…yowza, I’m old!) in my back pocket, a pencil stuck through my ponytail, and a list of topics to research, I would happily search through archives— pulling volumes from shelves, reading countless pages in my search for the right quotes and evidence to back up my own theories about literature, and generally feasting on all the wisdom before me. I’d only emerge when I was either done copying and filing away the pages I was taking with me or when I was about to faint from hunger. I actually fell asleep standing up, well leaning against a wall, one night during a particuarly tricky search for information pertaining to Christine de Pizan. I never slept better.

It’s also why I look up words like antediluvian, know the stories behind phrases like “A Good Rule of Thumb,” and generally rock at trivia as long as it doesn’t involve Seinfeld, Friends, hockey, or Reality TV. I love the thrill that comes when someone mentions something they think is esoteric in the extreme, and I can say, “Why, yes, I actually did know that Benjamin Franklin wore a fur hat in Paris! However, did you know he did so because he wanted to conform to the Parisian’s concept of ‘the natural man’ and that ladies fell in love with him and styled their hair to match that aforementioned article of clothing?”

That’s why I’ve been enjoying reading about Solomon as much as or even more so than his father, David. David was the “man after God’s own heart” and who was willing to express himself through dance and vivid displays of emotion. His anointed son, however, is more well known for his wisdom than anything else, but that wisdom did not come from his own diligent searching or study. Instead, he was granted it by God. He asked:

Therefore give to Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people, that I may discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours? — (1 Kings 3:9)

Solomon’s request pleased God because he asked neither for wealth nor long life. He didn’t ask for the destruction of his enemies or make a self-serving request, he was granted all those things in addition to his wisdom. Because of this, he is able to build a temple for the ark, provide peace and prosperity for his people and for his neighbors, and manage Israel well. In chapter four of the same book, after Solomon’s administrative staff is listed and the prosperity he provided are listed, the author states:

And God gave Solomon wisdom and exceedingly great understanding, and largeness of heart like the sand on the seashore — (1 Kings 4:29).

What, what, what!? When did “largeness of heart” enter into it? Since when is Solomon known for his kindness in addition to his other cerebral accolades? And you’ll notice that it doesn’t just say that he was kind or that he was generous and patient with the people. No, no. He had a heart that was like “sand on the seashore,” a simile that pretty much tells me his heart’s capacity was infinite.

It stands to reason, then, that he wanted to weep with joy when the mother of the disputed child was willing to allow it to be taken by another woman, to put the baby’s needs before her own. But, even more importantly, He took great joy from the house of the Lord he was constructing and rejoiced when the Shekinah Glory was made manifest. This is simply because our greatest love should be our love for God, and all other love comes out of that great well. As it is written in the Gospel of John (4:15-21):

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us. If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from Him, that the one who loves God should love his brother also.

Can I love as God instructs me to without being able to work comfortably with emotions? Can I ever exercise perfect wisdom without them? They are unreliable things, which is one of the reasons I often eschew them in favor of rational thinking and planning, but they are so gosh-darned human. They are what we use for the matrix of all the relationships we build, and without a love for God and a love for our fellow men, all our acts of service will truly ring hollow.

I came across an interesting post akin to the topic yesterday titled “Perverted Love,” and in it, the blogger states that Christian service, if it’s done because you love people but not the Creator, music but not the Concert Master, or the vista without the Architect, you’re utterly lost and without focus. He’s absolutely correct! We can love because God first loved us, and we must always express our adoration directly to Him in all things rather than only loving (worshiping) the people or things He’s created. Serving cannot be a purely physical thing, and worshiping God cannot be totally cerebral either. It’s to be done with the whole self–mind, spirit, and heart. So, yes, I still have some work to do when it comes to love and how I express it towards my Heavenly Father and those wonderful things and people He’s placed in my life. I’ve asked Him for it, to enlarge my faith and my sensitivity towards others no matter how uncomfortable it may make me.

I know I’m going to bite my lip a lot, clear my throat often, and pretend to have something in my eye on more than one occasion. I have a feeling my eyeliner and mascara’s days are numbered. However, if a little awkwardness and a smudge or two are all that is required of me to grow closer to God and to be conformed to the image of Jesus, I’m ready for it.

That being said, I refuse to cry over chick flicks, ASPCA advertisements, or anything other vapid plea designed using only pathos-driven appeals. In that regard, my heart will remain like the Grinch’s originally was—two sizes too small.