Tuesday, February 10, 2009

...And Beauty Fills My Soul

Eight years ago my life was a mess. I had just returned from an unsuccessful teaching job in the Persian Gulf area, my home in Florida was still under rental contract, and it was mid-Fall term for my high schooler, Dixie. My elder daughter, April, was pregnant out of wedlock, and I was trying desperately to get full-time work at a college or university. State budget cut-backs left the market lean in North Carolina where my younger daughter and I moved from overseas to be near April and to welcome my first grandchild into the world.

Dixie and I moved into a moderately sized ranch home for rent with a garage for the new US car I had just bought. I was blessed by God to get some adjunct work at the local community college for the Spring Term during mostly day-time hours so I could be home for Dixie to make a good dinner.

Our overseas shipment from the Middle East took 4 months to arrive by ship and required a rental truck and a trip to Charlotte to pick it up and bring it back to central North Carolina. When we first got to the US and rented the house, we made a mad dash with a friend, his truck, and rented trailer to get beds and basics from Florida storage until the shipped goods arrived. For the first few months, it was the bleakest home I had lived in for 25 years.

During that brief period of about 8 months in North Carolina, my granddaughter arrived early by one month and needed Neonatal Intensive Care at Chapel Hill. The paramedic drove Ashton by ambulance over an hour from where I and my daughters were living. It was a bittersweet blessing, for little Ashton was bound to be adopted out from birth.

April, Dixie, and I were able to visit her over 10 days while she was still in the hospital. It was just enough time to fall in love with the little baby, pray her into good health, and then give her to her adoptive parents living somewhere in the North Carolina Piedmont. We had a little "handing over" ceremony in the hospital's chapel that broke a number of hearts, not the least of which was April's.

Two years later, April was again far along into another pregnancy with the same man, but did not live to give birth to her little girl. She was murdered on Valentine's Day by her live-in of the last three years. I would find out at the trial over 2 years later it was a brutal murder, dismemberment, and a horrible burial in a trash can underwater--she was missing for over two months before she and the baby girl inside her were found on Easter Monday washed ashore after God's excessive Spring rains.

I yearned to have contact with Ashton during this belated trial and hold on to something good and real from April's life. One day during the two months of an excrutiating and exhausting murder trial, I received my first letter from Ashton's adoptive parents. I read it over and over. I wept over and over. The last living link to my deceased daughter was out of my reach for no less than sixteen more years and there was nothing I could do but pray and keep sending gifts and letters through the adoption agency.

As a grandmother to Ashton, I did pray. I prayed her life would turn out so much better and brighter and happier than her mother's life. I prayed she would receive the Lord early in her life, and He would help her to navigate through the dangers and pitfalls of this world. I prayed for her parents to love and discipline her with fairness and kindness. But part of my prayers were always a little selfish. I prayed that God would break the wall of silence that fell between me and Ashton's parents.

Four years later, God who is "my rock and my fortress and my deliverer"(Psalms 18:2) was able to break that wall, and I now have in my possession a second letter thanking me for the Christmas gifts from this past year. There were many details about Ashton and her personality and spiritual gifts. Beauty filled my soul with joyful elation as I read the letter. I kept whispering "Thank you, Jesus; thank you, Jesus; thank you, Jesus..."

The beautiful smile on my face was from thankful heartbeats of a grandmother who had seen God be my rock when I doubted I would ever hear about Ashton again. It was on my face from protective heartbeats of a grandmother who prayed for God's fortress to surround Ashton and her new family. It was on my face from knowing Ashton had been delivered by her own profession of faith in July, 2008. Ashton was seven years old then and I realized April also gave her life to Jesus when she was seven--a divine coincidence of mother and child.

Even if I never see her physically this side of eternity, I will see Ashton forever and ever in heaven. "Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; Sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow." I am striving evermore eagerly to be nearer to God and farther from the hollowness of this world.

What beauty has filled your soul recently? Sing praises to God for He is our rock, our fortress, and our deliverer!

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Yoke of Faith or Frustration?

In the closing verses of Matthew Chapter 11, Christ tells us to take His yoke because it is easy and His burden is light. How many of us on a daily basis can say we feel unburdened and lighthearted? It all depends on our perspective, doesn't it?

Take for example the people of Zimbabwe. Recently our church hosted several missionaries home on furlough to assist in our Global Missions emphasis. My Sunday School class was honored with our key speaker for Sunday worship and also for a cozy Saturday evening potluck where we could converse with Greg about his mission home, Zimbabwe.

Greg and his wife have been on mission to see lives given to Christ in Zimbabwe for 21 years, but Greg also grew up in the country with his missionary parents. He speaks the native tongue perfectly. I am sure that Zimbabwe feels more like home to him than anywhere in the US.

I learned from Greg how burdensome survival has become in the past 8 years for the people of Zimbabwe. A very corrupt and selfish regime has been in control and has stripped the country of its resources and money to the point where only the most powerful people live well. Most of the energy of the population is spent in survival mode.

Four million Zimbabwe residents have moved out of the country to neighboring countries to have a better life and to send money back to relatives still caught in a pathetic and poverty stricken lifestyle. The currency in Zimbabwe is worthless and inflation is 1600% compared to the years of prosperity in the 1990's. White farmers have been driven out of their working farms and homes to sate the greed of the militia involved in the overthrow of the last government. Now the farms across the country produce nothing and are in shambles.

And yet, God has seen fit to bless the native people with missionaries who bring people out of the bondage of Satan and his crafty and wicked ways. Hundreds have given up up the idol worship of the ancestral ways. Greg testified to some very dramatic conversions where the presence of evil spirits in a person were driven out and the freedom felt by the new believer was exhilarating and cause for joyous song and dance for all the witnesses.

What can we glean from such circumstances? On the one hand, the outward Yoke of life has not changed one iota, but inwardly in the spirit their is the beginning of "a future with hope" as it says in Jeremiah, Chapter 29:11. Every believer can view the world as it is or the world as it will become under Christ's Lordship. In the former you will only have a heavy yoke of frustration, but in the latter your heartbeat will be light and easy.