Saturday, December 15, 2012

Letter to Lilia

Dear Peanut,

There's a song by Keith Green to his son, and in it he sings, "Well if I could I would protect you from what you will see.  This world promised love and beauty, but it lied to me."  That is how I feel tonight.  I want to protect you, shield you, spare you (if I could) from the evil you will see in this broken, fallen world.  I want to keep you safe from it, like a mother bird fiercely guarding her nest from predators. 

Today, as I read the horrible news of precious little ones, not much older than you, whose lives were violently ended by evil, you were playing lightheartedly near me.  I asked you to come sit on my lap, just so I could hold you and have you near, smell your hair and feel your little hands on my arms.  And then I cried for nearly a solid half hour.  You comforted me by bringing me your "beebee."  How precious is your little life to me, Lilia.

I'm not really sure how to trust God with your future, how to let Him have the reigns.  How do I wake up each day and relinquish your care to His hands, when I love you so fiercely?  How could I endure the kind of anguish that so many parents are feeling tonight over the loss of their precious children? Oh Lilia, how could I endure that pain?  It would utterly break me. 

But Keith Green also sings in the same song, "Oh what a strong Shepherd holds you in His arms,"  and I remember this painting I have of Jesus holding a little lamb in His strong, wide arms.  So tender, yet so strong.  He loves that little lamb, and He is such a strong Shepherd, so much stronger than your feeble mommy and daddy, love you though we do.  We cannot protect you, not really.  Not ultimately.  Only God can do that.

The really hard part for me to swallow, Lilia, is that God doesn't promise me that He will always keep you safe from evil or from the danger of life.  I want Him to promise me that as I pray and beg Him to spare you... but He does not.  All creation groans under the weight of sin, all suffer. 

This is what He does promise:  To be the strong Shepherd holding you in His arms, whatever wolves assail and cliffs draw near.  It means that there will be danger, of some form or another, present.  But the Shepherd will be present, too, and He can hold you so much more strongly and gently than I ever could, whether here or in eternity.

I will do whatever is in my weak, frail, death-bound power to protect you, Peanut.  By the grace God has given, I will do it.  But ultimately, I must leave you to His care, knowing He loves you even more than I do.  And I will also pray:

"The Lord bless you and keep you, Lilia.  The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you.  The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, Lilia, and give you peace.... May the Lord bless you with long life, little Peanut, and show you His salvation."

I love you,

Thursday, December 6, 2012

It's a Lonely, Lonely, Lonely, Lonely World

I read a very sad and very insightful article this week.  The article, entitled "Cell Phones Do Not Make Good Friends," chronicled how our culture's compulsive use of digital technology (namely, cell phones) is eroding our personal relationships. In other words, people are more lonely nowadays, and they have fewer friends, and this corresponds in part to how obsessed our brains have become with techno-gadgets.

I sometimes yearn, I must admit, for an iPhone.  I usually do not, but sometimes I do.  When Jerry and I are on one of our crazy long road trips to Kentucky, for example, and Lilia is quickly reaching meltdown mode in her car seat, and we LONG to know where is the closest McDonald's with a play land -- THAT is when I yearn for one.  I fully realize the abundance of neato features inherent in the little gizmos.  I applaud Steve Jobs for his creatively brilliant brain.  And they can be covered in some cutesy little jackets and things to reflect one's personal taste.  They have their uses, and yes, I sometimes yearn for one.

But usually I do not.

I'll tell you what I do yearn for:  Friendship.

I'm going to be embarrassingly vulnerable:  I'm desperately lonely for friends.  Aside from my precious hubby, who is my dearest friend (as he should be), I have very few friends these days.  That is not to say that I do not have ANY friends.  I do, and some of them are exceedingly dear to my heart.  But the friend that one can label as a true friend, the kind of friend who loves dearer than a brother, is practically non-existent.

I don't think I remember a time of longing so desperately for a friend.  (See, I told you I was going to be embarrassingly vulnerable.)  I'm so lonely for a friend.

Which is why I find myself lately doing two things:  1. Abhorring more than ever the impersonal nature of our culture; and 2. Remembering dear friends of the past and present.

As far as Number One is concerned:  To be quite frank, I wish people would get off their cell phones.  I wish that they would stop checking texts when they are talking to me.  I wish they would turn off their cell phone when sitting at the dinner table with me.  I wish they would stop pulling out their phones to entertain my daughter and instead (here's a thought!) TALK to her.  Sing to her.  Play with her.  Read to her.

I don't say this to be cruel, and I fully realize that I check my own cell phone (old school model that it is) far too often.  Facebook beckons me too frequently.  In other words, I'm guilty, too.  But I've so far been able to avoid becoming one of those people who sits with a "friend" for two straight hours and never exchanges so much as a nod while I scroll through three gazillion posts and text messages.  No wonder people are lonely!

On to Number Two:  Dear friends of the past and present.  I consider myself blessed beyond words to have had some of the dearest, truest friends a girl could hope to have...

Molly, for example.  Though I see her hardly ever these days, and though we only occasionally email a friendly greeting and update, I will always treasure this friend found in second grade.  I remember all of our rambles as we rode "doubles" on her ten speed through alleyways and neighborhood streets at the risk of our lives, laughing the whole way.

And Missy (thank you, Mr. Varner!).  She always remembered to bake chocolate chip bar cookies for me before I came to her house (doughy and gooey in the center).  I love her no-nonsense, down to earth nature, and her faith inspires me and spurns me forward.

Melanie... we only just started becoming friends before she and her husband left town, yet somehow it seemed as if I had found a real sister.  I can share my heart over email with Melanie, and she "gets it."  She should, I guess, since she's practically my emotional, intellectual, and psychological clone.

Jenny.  What do I say about Jenny?  Frasier, fingernail-biting, eharmony, Matlock, and cross country road trips, for starters.  There is a verse in Proverbs:  "There is a friend who loves closer than a brother."  THAT is Jenny.

And there are others whom I remember with teary-eyed fondness:  Tara, whose beauty and laughter attract all in her path; Hilary, a lovely mix of goofiness and intellectual sophistication; Leslie, whose nutty humor was a carbon copy of my own, even if others questioned our "mental health;" and Emily, who roamed with me through high school hallways during lunch breaks and was my faithful "partner in crime" as we toilet papered the boys' homes. 

These are the kind of friends whose faces stay with you in the desert places of life.  Their voices and and smiles, the memories you share, do not fade away over miles and years.  They remain.  The friendship slackens through distance and time, perhaps, but the heart is somehow permanently knit.  Oh, how I miss these friends.

My husband is teaching through Proverbs in our Sunday School class, and he taught last week on the recurring theme of friendship.  Since my husband is a "data head," his lesson involved statistics -- lots of them.  Most of the statistics convey, like the article I recently read, the general and deepening loneliness of individuals.  We're speaking less.  We're watching TV more.  We're lonelier than ever.

There's a children's book by Eric Carle called, "Will You Be My Friend?"  In it, a mouse approaches many different animals (all bigger than him) and asks, "Will you be my friend?"  Of course the mouse is very small and vulnerable, and he takes great risks in approaching the other animals and asking them to be his friend.  Most of the animals sadly say "no" (even though they are not on cell phones). 

That is how I feel these days.  I feel like that little mouse asking people to be my friend.  They don't say 'no' but they don't say 'yes,' either.  Sometimes they never reply.  But there are some little sparks of hope here and there, when someone is willing to give it a shot and willing to start investing the time to become friends.  That, at least, is encouraging to my heart.

I don't know when, if ever, I will make another true friend.  I don't know when I'll have that kindred spirit with whom to regularly meet over coffee, girl talk, and prayer.  But I guess I'll keep trying, even though discouragement has overwhelmed me.  It is taking everything I have, but I guess I will keep trying and risking, like that little mouse in the silly children's book.  I will keep asking, "Will you be my friend?"

And maybe after some time, little or long, I will find.... another Jenny.  Another Melanie.  Another Molly or Missy or Tara.

In the meantime, I will ask the Lord to help me become the kind of friend that these have been to me, and I will thank Him that I have dear friends in memory, if not in presence.