Monday, October 15, 2007

Giving Honor To Whom Honor Is Due

I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to the everyday heroes in my life. Perhaps God has opened my eyes to see the worth of these individuals to keep me from despairing over the burgeoning number of ignoble people whose actions I see trumpeted on the news constantly. Maybe there are actually more bad guys these days, or maybe it’s just a phenomenon of 24-hour news. Regardless, day after day news broadcasts dish up politicians who dodge and weave around accusations of sexual or financial scandal and celebrity “pop tarts” and the misdeeds of their out-of-control, debauched lives. We see our national leaders, like chameleons, change their policies and promises with public opinion and wage war against each other instead of our common problems. Reports of school shootings and child abductions make us wonder if our kids are safe anywhere. It all gives us a gnawing sense that our nation is sinking into its own “Dark Ages.”

Yet while all this is going on, there are honorable individuals who plod unnoticed through their daily lives, doggedly working to make the world a better place as they go. Those I’m speaking of appear to be average people, but they are not, for they serve a purpose bigger than themselves. They live by rock-solid convictions and not the whim or appetite or fashion of the moment. They are not motivated by money or recognition, but by a desire to do what is right and constructive. With a vision of a more just, righteous and enlightened world, they sow their very lives into pursuits that will probably never make them rich or famous, but will pass that vision on to the next generation and give them the tools to live it out. They live with eternity in view. These are the true heroes, and that’s not just a euphemism to make ordinary people feel better about themselves. It’s actually true.

High on this list of heroes are home school mothers who daily trade material gain and more glamorous careers in the bigger world to build children strong in character, wisdom and knowledge, who will become worthy citizens in a nation that sorely needs men and women of character. Add to the list those husbands who remain faithful to their wives in this sex-crazed culture where every temptation is readily available for the taking, because they love their wives and children more than that. Or it might be those husbands and working wives who sacrifice promotions and the accompanying material benefits if that will mean more time at home to enjoy and engage with their kids. Think of scientific researchers who work year in and year out, hidden from the public eye, to find cures for cancer and other diseases. We should even include that young person who takes their first job at McDonald’s or Wal-Mart who takes pride in his or her work and does the job with excellence and a desire to serve people.

I could go on and on. However, as I’ve been pondering all these thoughts, I came across a teaching by a minister who posed the following question: Do you currently owe a debt of honor to anyone? Do you need to show favor to anyone? My answer is emphatically, “Yes.” My life is full of such unsung heroes, and I want to use this forum to honor some of them in the next few days. In the meantime, I encourage you to consider the heroes that touch your life and to thank them for what they do. You have no idea what this could mean to someone. I remember once when I lived in Latvia, a fellow missionary told me that she and a couple of Latvian friends went to the local police station and thanked the officers there for the job they do. They wept. Let’s give honor where honor is due. In a world that has confused celebrity with greatness, it’s up to us who know the difference to thank those who deserve our thanks.

Monday, October 01, 2007

The Story of My Fifty-Third Birthday

September 19, 2007, was my fifty-third birthday. The day had a somewhat scary and lonely beginning and a rich and happy ending, with the metamorphosis and attending lessons provided by God.

The day was preceded by a wonderful, uplifting weekend at a C.S. Lewis Institute conference at Belmont University in Nashville, which is important to mention because it provides the backdrop for what happened on my birthday. A speaker there urged us to read G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, which I eagerly placed on my mental “to purchase” list. Remember this title. Also recommended, naturally, were a number of C.S. Lewis books, which I also purposed to get because my reading is sorely deficient in Lewis’s works. My budget is equally deficient at present, so these book purchases were set aside for later. Remember all this.

Now to September 19. I woke up with chest pain and considerable fatigue, and decided to call my cardiologist. His nurse, on hearing my symptoms, told me to go to the emergency room immediately. Great. I called a few close friends and asked for prayer and canceled my birthday dinner plans for that evening, thinking I’d surely be in the hospital, and headed out. I broke a cardinal rule that you never drive yourself if you are having chest pains, but didn’t know what else to do. A friend had offered to drive me, but she was a home-schooling Mom whose husband was out of town and I knew it would disrupt her entire day, so I foolishly declined her offer to help.

Things continued in an unpromising direction. On the seemingly interminable drive to the hospital, I ended up stopped on a railroad track behind some other cars at a stoplight. I was subsequently pulled over by a nearly abusive police officer, who yelled and flailed and accused me of everything from stupidity to flouting the law until he decided to believe my tearful story that I was driving myself to the emergency room due to chest pain and had committed the crime out of stress, and finally let me go.

As I drove on, I suddenly felt very, very alone in the uncertainty of what awaited me that day. I thought, “No one should have to go to the emergency room alone.” My usual sanguine attitude toward being single evaporated into a mist of loneliness as I struggled to keep my composure. (Never mind that I didn’t HAVE to be alone because someone had offered to drive me, and I had many friends who I know would have dropped everything to help me, but such is the nature of self-pity.)

I finally arrived at the hospital and things began to improve. I easily found a parking space and the ER was nearly empty at 8:45 on a Wednesday morning. A bored admitting clerk absentmindedly muttered, “Can I help you?” and I explained my presence. She robotically droned on with the usual questions. When she got to, “Date of birth?” and realized it was my birthday, she perked up and announced the news to the whole ER. Then, in a rather surreal departure from the usual cold and impersonal atmosphere of the ER, several staff people gathered around and sang a robust rendition of “Happy Birthday” to me. I laughed and cried, knowing I had just received a gift from God with a gift tag reading, “You are not alone.”

Things continued to get better as, after laying on a gurney in a hospital gown, freezing and undergoing tests for 4 hours, I was released with the happy and somewhat embarrassing news that my trouble was due to acid reflux disease. What a load off! On the drive home I called my friend Sarah to reinstate our evening birthday dinner plans.

I got home and checked my mail on the way into the house to find a couple of birthday cards and a package from an old friend whom I had recently reconnected with but hadn’t seen in years. I was surprised, as I had no idea she knew when my birthday was. Actually, she didn’t, and herein lay the miracle of the day, possibly of the year. Inside this friend’s package was a card with a note saying that she had vaguely recalled that my birthday was sometime in September and decided to send the card and enclosed gifts, which she had already selected for me, because “God had put you on my heart.” And what do you suppose were the gifts she sent? None other than G. K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man and C.S. Lewis’s The Weight of Glory! And they arrived right on my birthday. She had no idea that I had been to the Lewis conference or was planning to buy those books. This was my second gift from God, sent again with a loud message saying, “You are NOT alone.”

The day concluded with an early dinner with two friends, made more special because one is moving away soon and the other I haven’t seen in many months. We followed dinner with an impromptu visit to another dear friend, spending the rest of the evening in a festive mood, talking and laughing with her and rejoicing that I was not in the hospital having a heart attack. The evening’s events weren’t unusual or spectacular, but were simply filled with the kind of rich, warm fellowship you have once in a while that leaves you with a pleasant afterglow that lingers for several days. The day’s earlier confrontation with my own mortality really served to enhance the sweetness of the evening and my grasp of just how precious our friendships and times together really are.

I went to sleep on September 19 at home in my own bed with a smile on my face and peace in my heart. God gave me a special gift on my fifty-third birthday. He went to great lengths to show me that I am not alone and that I am greatly loved.

And you are not alone. If you feel alone, ask Him to give you a special gift, too, to show you just how much He and others love you and how much He cares for the smallest details of your life. I am praying that He will do that for you.