Sunday, June 28, 2009

Destruction and Blessing

I love to camp. It's something I hadn't realized until adulthood. As a child, my family took a handful of camping trips, but they were always in a small camper and always with electricity. I went to a girl scout campout once as a child, too, and stayed in what I think was a canvas tent with some other girls, but had never really camped out in a tent other than that until after my husband and I had our son and he was a few years old. We camped out a few times on sites with electricity, but in 2007 we took a different kind of camping trip. We bought a new, smaller tent than we'd had in the past (a three-dome tent) and went to Tennessee for a cob building workshop, held on the side of a mountain. No electricity there! We stayed about eight days. It was in April, so the weather was cooler than when we'd camped before. And... I absolutely loved it! Even though we were sleeping on an air mattress, my back didn't bother me. I could've just stayed there. I was up every morning just before daybreak, took a walk, listened to the birds... It was heavenly. Last year at campmeeting time, my son and I camped out all week. The weather was fantastic for June, the meetings were wonderful, and I really enjoyed the time we spent there, wishing only that Tim could've been there all week, too.

Now that I've prefaced this, you can understand how excited I was to go to campmeeting this year. Unfortunately, I'm going to need all my paid time off to use when we drive to California (will explain in a later post) in a few weeks, so I knew I was going to have to work from camp. I bought a laptop, which I had planned to do before the California trip anyway, and some friends of ours were going to take their camper and I knew I could power up at their site. No problem, I thought - the camp has WiFi. I should always stop and reevaluate things when that "no problem" thought comes to mind. Someday I'll learn my lesson. Monday and Tuesday I had a terrible time getting my work done. I'd start in at about 6 a.m. and not be able to get finished until bedtime. I missed all the meetings on Sunday and Monday and only got to hear the last one on Tuesday night. I couldn't get a WiFi signal anywhere I had a plug-in, and anywhere I could get the WiFi signal there was no plug-in. It was very frustrating trying to work eight hours by working a couple, recharging, working a couple, recharging... You get the picture. On Wednesday I realized that underneath the second-story deck on the patio of the lodge, there were outdoor outlets. So, I took my camping chair and my laptop and "set up shop." Aside from a couple of curious passersby, work went well and I was done in the early afternoon. I watched Ethan go tubing for the first time, and Tim was there in time for the evening meeting, so we got to attend together.

We had already had rain on Tuesday and our tent leaked and was wet, so I had stayed in the camper with our friends and Ethan had stayed in their son's tent. We knew more rain was coming Wednesday night, but Tim wanted to stay in our tent anyway since he had dried it out. He also didn't want to impose on our friends by staying in their camper, but finally I convinced him that I didn't want to make a midnight mad dash to the van from our tent if we started to get wet. So, Tim and I stayed in the camper and Ethan stayed with Tristin in his tent about 10 feet away from the back of the camper. I'm not sure what time it was, but I was awakened by thunder. A lot of thunder. And it multiplied. Then there were a few rain drops... for about a minute... before it started to pour buckets! The storm increased in strength VERY fast. The lightning was almost constant and so was the thunder. The rain pounded and the wind was horrible. I had already begun to pray for the boys as I laid there, knowing Ethan is afraid of storms. I had thought I heard a scream, but Tim didn't. I thought surely the boys would be coming to the camper, and actually I thought they would've come already. I couldn't imagine why they would be waiting. I wanted to go and get them, but Tristin is older than Ethan, 14, and I knew he would make the decision. Finally I sat up in bed. I could no longer lay there as I prayed. I faced the door of the camper and waited and prayed some more.

Finally I saw Ethan's flashlight shine against the frosted window of the door and heard the boys running. I sprang up and jerked open the door. Ethan came through it first and grabbed onto me around my stomach - hard. The first thing he said was, "Did you hear me scream?" I admitted I had and that I had been praying for him. He held onto me for the longest time, not really crying, but whimpering. I just wanted to hold onto him and let him know everything was okay now. I finally got him to lay down with Tim, but the storm wasn't over yet. It continued for quite a while longer, and I then turned my prayers to the other campers, their belongings, and the camp itself.

After a while I, too, laid down, but couldn't sleep. The storm was starting to let up and I dwelt on what had happened with Ethan. That's when God spoke to my heart. He let me know that the feelings I'd had toward Ethan are the same that He has toward His children. He sees the world in the state that it's in, the troubles we face, and He waits for us to come to Him. He is not idle while he waits, though. He waits, thinking 'surely they'll come to Me, surely they're frightened, when will they come?!' Then, when He sees the first sign of us coming to Him, He throws open the door and holds His arms wide! All He wants as our Father is to grab us and hold us tight and say 'it's okay now... I'm sorry you had to go through all that.' He can't wait for the day when He can tell us nothing like that will ever happen to us again. We need to see God not as a stoic, distant father figure, but as a tender, loving Daddy. That in itself should change how we relate to Him. I hope you will look forward with me to the day when we can wrap our arms around His waist, hold on, and say, "Thank you, Daddy, for saving me... and Jesus, I knew You'd come for me!"

Praise the Lord He speaks to us in all kinds of situations. I hope I can always be as good a listener as I was that night.

P.S. There were miracles realized all over the camp the next morning. Trees were snapped off, branches were strewn everywhere, the site where the kindergarten and primary kids met was demolished, but no one was hurt. Tents were ripped and an RV awning or two were mangled. Trees and branches lay all around the cars, but only one car received a dent about the size of a softball from a branch. The power was out and eventually campmeeting was cancelled and the camp lost a lot of food in the freezers, but the main surprise was that nothing big was damanged and no one was hurt. Praise God He heard many, many prayers that night.

Copywrite June 28, 2009, by Shannon Stambaugh. If you wish to use any of my writing in part or in total, you must request permission.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Know Thyself

I've been wanting to do some writing about the book I've been reading, Searching for a God to Love, for quite some time now. I've actually put the book aside so that I could let some of my ideas ferment.

Chapter 1 was interesting, but I was waiting to see where the author, Chris Blake, was going. When I got into chapter 2, however, I was hooked and deep in thought over some of the points he was making. One thing in particular has stuck with me for the last month or so. Let me start by quoting him from page 29. He is here referring to a book that followed nationwide surveys asking people to "tell the truth" on various subjects - no white lies.

"Among the disturbing findings in The Day America Told the Truth is that nearly half the population honestly feel nobody knows them. Furthermore, one in four among us answered 'nobody' to the question, 'Who's for real?'"

This really struck a chord with me. I started a sort of self-evaluation. Who really knows me, if anyone? I mean the real me - the me I am on the inside, with all the thoughts I never speak and all the feelings I never voice. Does my best friend, my mother... my husband? I have to answer no to all three. If I'm being honest with myself, I have to say no. And that's painful. There's always something of myself I hold back, and most of it is not on purpose really.

The purposeful parts I hold back I guess I've labeled as self-control, but perhaps it's more of a kind of self-preservation in a reputation-sparing sort of way. If I withhold an inappropriate or untimely comment, I don't seem like a rude or thoughtless person to others, but if I'm still thinking it to myself, am I really any better a person than if I said it aloud for all to hear?

Then there are the desires of my heart that I don't express, and the fears that grip my heart and threaten to squeeze the life out of me, even the casual desires of day to day life that I don't feel are worth words. I keep all these things locked up inside my mind, then complain to myself because I feel alone! I know I should share these things with my husband. Why don't I? I don't know.

What I find interesting is that I'm certainly not alone in this. Nearly half the population does the same thing. We are a nation of self-isolating people, but why? Technology doesn't really help us here, either. We have all kinds of gadgets to help us 'stay connected,' but all it really does is make sure we don't take the time or make the effort to have the closeness we need with other people. It's artificial. There are too many things in the way. Most of America is craving relationships - true-blue friendships and loving marriages - where they can be themselves... only they don't know who they are to begin with. We spend so much time practicing to be what we're expected to be that we forget who we are at the core.

I think one of the first steps to healing this chasm between who we are on the outside and on the inside is to try and make personal connection with those around us, with a conscious effort to be real. Remember that statistic about 25% of us saying we think no one is for real? I'll bet a lot of those people are the same ones who say no one knows them. Don't get me wrong - I'm not saying it's just that easy. A lot of us have either been hurt or didn't grow up with a lived-out example of a relationship built on trust and companionship in the first place. Speaking for myself, I've had several friendships where I was wounded by the other person, either by their breech of confidentiality or some other hurtful act or words. Especially in the last few years, I find it harder and harder to recover when something like that happens. I draw back like a child who touched a hot oven, determined not to burn my finger ever again. Eventually I do try to stop sucking on my finger and tear down the wall I've built bit by bit, but it hardly ever feels natural. The memory of that burn is always in my mind and sometimes I live in nagging anticipation of that oven being on again. However, we can't let that deter us from 'being real.' That doesn't mean we need to share our hopes and dreams with the lady ahead of us at the checkout counter at the store, but that does mean sharing
with your spouse, fiancee, or sibling the things that are meant to be intimately shared among people who love each other. And, that does mean that we need to put considerable effort into forging meaningful friendships, and hopefully, by being real ourselves and investing time in getting to know a person, we'll help someone else who's wondering if anybody is real anymore, or someone who feels like no one knows them.

It's easy to see why depression runs rampant in our society. From time to time in my work I have an interesting insight into a specific person's mental health. Just last week I had the experience of reading a teenage boy's entire suicide note (he lived). My heart just ached for this kid. I could tell he felt that no one knew him. He had even asked his pastor if God could save him if he killed himself. If that wasn't a red light I don't know what is! All this turmoil was going on inside him and he either felt he couldn't share it with certain people or the one he could, didn't care. So distressed was he that, thinking he would surely go to hell, he still attempted suicide.

I guess I'm just asking that in this world where few people even know their next-door neighbor anymore, you reach out - whether it's for yourself or for someone else. You never know the difference you can make in your life or theirs. I hope you'll take a look inside yourself and then determine to make a change. There's a man I know of, Todd Wilson, who has a ministry called Familyman Ministries, and his motto is 'Be real.' I pray that each of us will make that our motto, too, and live it out.

By the way, if you're feeling that no one knows you, find comfort in Psalm 139. People may let you down (we're just human after all and are capable of hurting others even when it's the furthest thing from our minds), but God will always be there. What's scariest of all is that no matter what kind of person you try to portray yourself to be in front of the public, at home, or even to yourself, God knows the REAL you and me. We can't put on a smiling facade for Him. He sees the inward pain, the grudges we hold, the maliciousness we think towards our enemies, the lust we think we hide, and the true condition of our souls. And, HE STILL LOVES US!

Life really is all about relationships.

Copywrite June 2, 2009, by Shannon Stambaugh. If you wish to use any of my writing in part or in total, you must request permission.