Thursday, April 2, 2009

Good Byes and Bumper Stickers

This morning I dropped off Sarah at the airport so that she could attend a friends wedding.  It will be the first time in more than a year and a half that we've been separated for more than a day.

We seem to have an uncanny knack for staying up until midnight the night before traveling, especially when we have to wake up at 4:30AM.  Last night was no exception.  Most of it, I'm sure, is apprehension.  I know that, under my calm demeanor, I was bottling up worry for her safety.  So we stayed up last night talking and eating ice cream, joking and fiddling with all the details of her itinerary and the contents of her suitcase, making sure everything was in its place.

We woke at 4:30 this morning (well, 4:30ish) and brewed a pot of coffee.  Neither of us are big coffee drinkers.  I can't stand more than a cup, two if I'm lucky, before my bowels begin to feel unsteady and I get a slight headache.  Sarah's the same.  Nevertheless, since we had a 50 minute drive to the airport and I had a 50 minute drive back, and because we'd stayed up so late, we brewed just enough for a travel mug for each of us.  Then we took one last look around the apartment, stepped into our shoes and headed out the door.

The drive to the airport went too quickly.  We talked the entire way and the 50 minutes sped by like a bullet train.  All too soon we were at the exit for the Philadelphia airport.  Both of our stomachs were queasy and we joked that we weren't sure if it was the coffee or our nerves.  Then we arrived at the departure terminal, hugged and kissed and promised to be safe.  She clutched her bags and walked into the terminal.  I got back into the car.

Now, if you don't know me that well, you perhaps don't know that I am a worrier.  I actually have an award statue for it.  Seriously.  It's sitting on my mantel next to my perfectionist certificate.  When I was young I had was plagued nightly by the fear that I would wake up to find my parents dead.  Oftentimes I snuck to their bed at night to make sure they were safe; most nights I ended up crawling into bed with them.  I knew the route from my bedroom through the kitchen to their bedroom so well that I was like Indiana Jones stepping from tile to tile in the Last Crusade, marking the name of Jehovah with my steps and trying not to make the floorboards creak.  I've overcome those fears--mostly--but every now and then, especially when someone in my family is traveling, the fears seize up on me again.

So, my stomach in knots, I sat back down in the car, turned on my turn signal, and prepared to move back into the already cramped airport traffic.  As I waited for an entrance, a car moved past and slowed down to let someone off just long enough for me to see its bumper sticker.  "Relax, God is in Charge."

Now, this can be a problematic phrase.  What does it really mean that God's in charge?  Does it mean that God causes everything?  Even the bad things?  Or less stiffly, does God at least ordain or allow bad things to happen?  This phrase can be troublesome for many people.  And it can be hard to believe, too.  Is God really in charge?  What about Hurricane Katrina?  What about 9/11?  What about the babies who die and the women and men and children in Africa with AIDS?  What about murder and hunger and genocide?  How can God be in charge if all of these things happen?

These are questions I wrestle with.  I know many people do.  Yet, my wrestling is often overbalanced by the good I see in the world.  People escape from death just as much as they succumb to it.  People of faith have been the ones who stayed down in the Gulf, long after everyone else had left and stopped helping.  Even now the Church where I'm working is planning a trip to Louisiana to continue the good work of cleaning up and rebuilding.  It is often people inspired by the love of God in their lives who are doing things about AIDS in Africa.  It is a stark reminder to me that (fortunately or unfortunately) God is certainly in charge, but God is big and loving enough to also put things in our hands.  Certainly people of faith have done horrible things as well (let's not even get into that list), but I truly believe that even then, those who loved God and who were loved by God were working to make things right.

Derek Webb has two beautiful songs, one called "This Too Shall Be Made Right" and the other "A Love That's Stronger Than Our Fear."  They express that duality of our need to do good in the world and the promise of God that, eventually, all our tears will be dried and sorrow and crying and fear will be no more.  That perfect love drives out fear.  Here are the lyrics.

This Too Shall Be Made Right
people love you the most for the things you hate

and hate you for loving the things that you cannot keep straight
people judge you on a curve
and tell you you’re getting what you deserve
this too shall be made right

children cannot learn when children cannot eat
stack them like lumber when children cannot sleep
children dream of wishing wells
whose waters quench all the fires of Hell
this too shall be made right

the earth and the sky and the sea are all holding their breath
wars and abuses have nature groaning with death
we say we’re just trying to stay alive
but it looks so much more like a way to die
this too shall be made right

there’s a time for peace and there is a time for war
a time to forgive and a time to settle the score
a time for babies to lose their lives
a time for hunger and genocide
this too shall be made right

I don’t know the suffering of people outside my front door
I join the oppressors of those who i choose to ignore
I’m trading comfort for human life
and that’s not just murder it’s suicide
this too shall be made right

A Love That's Stronger Than Our Fear

what would you do
if someone put a gun to your head
and ask you to tell them a lie
what would you say
if you were pushed that way
to betray yourself to keep yourself alive
is life worth so much

there’s got to be a love that’s stronger than our fear
of everything being out of control
everything being out of control

what would you do
if someone would tell you the truth
but only if you torture them half to death
tell me since when do the means justify the ends
and you build the kingdom using the devil’s tools
can time be so short


there is a day that’s been inaugurated but has not yet come
that we can proclaim by showing that there’s a better way

Though there are arguments on both sides for what it means that God is in Charge, I do find comfort in the phrase.  Some do not.  But I do.  I find peace knowing that God is working in ways I cannot imagine, and at the same time God is working through me.  God trusts me enough to do good in the world.  Can I trust God enough to do the same?

Thanks for sticking with me, faithful reader.


katiemac said...

1. You have inspired me to perhaps blog for the first time since check it out later.

2. I too have the same statue on my desk--and I think that is a large part of my stomach problems...

3. Although I hate uncertainty, sometimes it is in the uncertainty where I find solace.

4. Ellen Davis once gave a great OT lecture on fear. I imagine th fear of the prophets, or rather the confidence they have/had in God's sustaining love.

5. I miss you and Sarah everyday and I don't even drive you to the airport.

6. You both are absolutely beautiful people. Phil 4: 6-7 says nothing about everything "working out" the way we see fit, but instead offers us the opportunity to present our requests to God. I am sure that both of you think of this often.

One day our traveling salvation show will take flight...and then you and Sarah won't ever have to be apart!

Q said...

Thanks for the post, Marc. It's a great reminder for me, especially coming toward the end of the semester and my tendency to over-worry.

I pray that Sarah is kept safe during her trip, and that you will find comfort in your temporary separation.

banananibor said...

Dude, Sarah will be totally fine. I'm not even sure traveling is any riskier than daily life. She's a big girl and I'm pretty sure she's been on an airplane before... :)

Marc said...

Oh I'm sure Sarah will be fine. She can take care of herself. It's all of the other people out there that I worry about. (I never said my fears were rational!!!) It's really more the idea of control. If she's here and something happens, I'm close by and can be there by her side immediately, etc. If she's 3000 miles away or so and something happens, I may not hear about it until a day later, or may not be able to get there. Not saying that anything will happen (again, my fear ain't rational). Just like the odds of my parents being murdered by a robber were probably not great considering the part of the city in which we lived and its absurdly low crime rate, but that didn't stop me worrying then. Like I said, I'm a worry wart! But I have gotten better!

Marc said...

Thanks for the kind words and thoughts, Jeff. Three weeks til the end of the semester! Gah!