Monday, April 16, 2007

The Fearsome Foursome Rides Again

The Fearsome Frizzin' Freakin' Foursome rode again recently back in the old hometown for a long overdue reunion. This was the goofy name my three high school bests buds and I coined to describe ourselves back then. It was our collective identity. "Frizzin'" referred to our hairstyles. "Freakin'" had something to do with our crazy teenage antics. "Foursome" was obviously because there were four of us, but I'm not exactly sure why we were "Fearsome." What can I say? It was 1971. I can offer no other explanation. But we were the best of friends and stuck together like white sticks to rice.

We were unlikely candidates for the close friendship we shared, all from different backgrounds and with diverse personalities. There was Geni, the high school beauty queen and debutante, from the "right" family, shy and reserved. Geni was tortured that, in spite of the fact that she had everything going for her, not many boys asked her out. This was a great mystery to us all, until we learned from one of the boys that they all worshiped her from afar, but were too intimidated by her beauty even attempt asking her out for fear of rejection. In addition to her beauty, she possessed a strong moral compass, had more sense than the rest of us and was the only one who was not rebellious and didn't have problems getting along with her parents. I don't think she knew it at the time, but she was our rock. We hung out at her house a lot.

There was Rene, shy, insecure, childlike and delightful. She was the only girl in a dysfunctional family that was not exactly considered A-list in a small fish bowl of a town containing a lot of big fish who thrived on snobbery. She was a year younger than the rest of us. We would never even have met her had not one of my male friends started dating her and asked me to befriend her. My boyfriend and I double-dated with them on their first date. Before that night, I rode by her house one afternoon to see where she lived, and there she was in the front yard, rolling around in the grass with her big shaggy dog. Right then I knew she would be well worth getting to know. She was given to depression then, but also had, and still has, an outrageous sense of humor and fun.

Then there was Charlene, the unfavored (at least in her perception) middle daughter of a bitter divorcee, who valued social status and proper appearances above all, values that Charlene rejected. Her mother disapproved of Rene and I, as we weren't "their kind of people" (although she was always cordial to us), which naturally made Charlene attach to us even more. She also chose a boyfriend who was custom-designed to drive her mother nuts--definitely from the wrong side of the tracks, and not even cute. Despite that one lapse in judgment, Charlene was and remains infinitely kind and loving, a devoted friend, the caregiver and nurturer, and the instigator of fun, insanity and togetherness.

That leaves me, a Yankee transplant in a time when southern kids still argued about who won The War (uh, that would be the Civil War) and chanted playground slogans like, "Save your Dixie cups, for the South shall rise again!" This gave me what was then called an inferiority complex so that I never felt that I quite fit in. Although I was admitted to all the coveted teenage institutions in town, I felt very much like Harold Abrams in the classic movie, Chariots of Fire, talking about the alienation of being Jewish in England when he said, "They lead me to water, but they won't let me drink." I was foolish and silly like all teenage girls, but in some ways wise beyond my years, considered something of a philosopher, and a very loyal friend.

Against the odds, the four of us became fiercely loyal friends to one another. We were all wracked by teenage angst. Except for Geni, we also had problems at home and became a surrogate family for one another. What really drew us together, though, was a shared sense of the intrinsic value of things, unusual in teens, that led us to reject what we felt was the "plastic" lifestyle of the "In Crowd" with their slavish attention to appearances, fashion, and the whim of the moment. We decided to be true to ourselves, to be "real" instead of imitating someone else because he or she was deemed "cool." If that made us cool, great. If not, that was fine, too. Perhaps we can be forgiven if we were a bit self-righteous about it, because at least it kept us from caving to peer pressure to indulge in sex and drugs, if not rock 'n roll.

After high school, our paths diverged greatly. Two summers later, Charlene went to the beach for three weeks and came back married to a guy she met there. They settled in Charleston, she became a nurse, raised two sons, and she and her husband have now been married about 30 years and share a quintessentially Low Country South Carolina life near Charleston.

Rene married a great classmate of mine on her eighteenth birthday, one month before his nineteenth birthday. No sane person would have placed a bet on the success of that marriage, but 30 years later, they are more in love than ever. They have lived all over the world with the U.S. Air Force, raised two children, and lost one tragically, their beautiful 18-year-old daughter, in a car accident a few year ago. Rene recently finished her B.A. in fine arts that she'd worked on through all their moves for over 20 years. They have retired from the Air Force and settled in Arkansas.

Geni also married a promising hometown boy, whom she nearly lost during their engagement to a brain aneurism. He was not expected to survive it, and if he did, doctors predicted it would be in a vegetative state. After many weeks in a coma, faith in God's power to heal and a miracle brought him through. Today he is an OB-GYN who spends his vacations doing medical missions in South America. Geni is an elementary school teacher. They have three kids and live in our hometown.

And me, well, I've led quite an eclectic life. I'm still single, and have done just about everything. For example, I spent nearly ten years in Washington, DC serving senators, a congressman and a vice president, and another ten as a missionary in Latvia. Go figure. Now I live in Atlanta, teaching, writing and serving my church.

So half a lifetime after the Fearsome Freakin' Frizzin' Foursome disbanded, here we were together again. Now we are middle-aged women with bad knees and high blood pressure, and one a breast cancer survivor. Teen angst has been replaced by family and life challenges. But each of us still has all the endearing qualities that made us love each other in the beginning. We spent two all-too-short days in the warm and comforting cocoon of each other's love and companionship. We just picked up where we had left off. It was one of those things that you bask in the afterglow of for days. I drove back to Atlanta feeling full and enriched.

And I learned something that I thought I already knew: Lifelong friendships are too precious to allow to atrophy because life and distance get in the way. Sometimes we have to fight for them, but like anything of value in life, they are worth the fight. After all, wasn't that what we were about as teenagers--what is real and true? When you distill life down to its essence, what is left is our relationships, first with God, and then with family and friends. I intend to hold onto mine.

FYI, we have committed to get together again this summer and a couple of times a year after that for the duration.

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Call to the Church

I’m a news junkie, but my habit is causing me grief and so I may have to give it up. Almost everything I hear or read seems to reinforce one conclusion: Our nation has reached the nadir of her moral strength and leadership in the world. This is a great tragedy, because we have so much to lose.

Our wholesale rebellion against God began some 40 or so years ago, but we have been coasting on the momentum of a better, stronger time since then. Now, however, that borrowed energy has just about run out. As we grind to a halt, we are beginning to feel the full impact of the folly of that rebellion in this generation. Indeed, soon to come of age is the first generation in our history who barely have a nodding acquaintance with even cultural Christianity and who have no knowledge of or respect for God and His ways. Even in the household of God, there is little difference between the churched and the unchurched. It has left us empty, shallow, coarse, cold-hearted, and selfish.

As a result, there are, of course, consequences to be paid as a nation. I could fill a thousand blogs listing them. Suffice it to say that we are left without a moral compass, we are abandoning our God-given destiny and, worst of all, we have dishonored God.

As I was thinking these doleful thoughts this morning, I picked up my Bible, which fell open to Isaiah 54 and 55, and began to read. I know that Isaiah was writing about Israel and not the United States, yet we are so similar to Israel in our cycles of apostasy, and I desperately pray that we would similarly find God’s forgiveness and restoration as expressed in these chapters. I urge you to read and pray Isaiah 54 for the United States. I believe that the generous mercy described there is still available to us today if we will humble ourselves before God and ask for His gift of repentance. I’m encouraged by Chapter 55:1-3 and 6-7:

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David."

"Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon."

Verse 2 sums up what we have done as a people:

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?”

We have spent all we have on self-indulgence, sensuality, lust for money, rebellion, materialism and other worthless sins. Now, our souls are bankrupt, gaunt and starved, and yet we say, “’I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—” (Revelation 3:17) And we continue to look for nourishment everywhere but in God. God, however, in His amazing mercy, still calls to us to return to Him.

As I read this morning, I felt that these words are a clarion call to the Church in this season, right now. God is calling us to “come.” He is calling the unconverted, but He is especially calling His own people who have become apathetic and backslidden and have been seduced by other things that do not satisfy.

God has been speaking to the whole church that the heavens are open in this season and that grace is readily available for every need. He has extended the golden scepter to us and urges, “Ask what you will and I will grant it.” If you are a believer whose heart has become cold, God says, “Come.” Do it now, while he is calling. If you are a Christian walking closely with the Lord, call on Him in a spirit of intercession for others. He WILL hear and answer. He is ready to forgive and restore and even bring us to our finest hour. This is our time. Do it for the honor of God and the advance of His kingdom, and do it for our nation’s future.