Deliverance

When our family took a trip to Mexico for vacation, our youngest son unexpectantly became sick. My husband Brent—who’s a pediatrician and famously low key—came and found me where I was napping on the beach and said we needed to take Ezra to the hospital and that he may need surgery. I was completely caught off guard. This was our last day of vacation and we were flying home the next day. Ezra had seemed a little off but I had no idea his condition had reached this level.

 

We got a taxi to the hospital and after what felt like forever—if you’ve spent time in the waiting room with a sick loved one you know what that’s like—we got to see a doctor. He examined Ezra and said he needed an ultrasound. We went back to the waiting room and the receptionist called Brent to the desk and said there was no radiologist on duty so we’d have to come back another time. By now, Ezra had thrown up everything he’d ever eaten and was completely miserable. The doctor who’d examined Ezra earlier walked by, and Brent asked him about the ultrasound. He said he’d arrange everything and came back to tell us that a driver had been sent to bring the radiologist to the hospital.

 

Long story short, Ezra was admitted and as I held his face in my hands while they tried unsuccessfully about a dozen times to find a vein to start the IV, he looked up in my eyes through his own tears and said, “Mom, ask the church to pray.” I asked him to tell me who to text (on my phone which was about to die) and he gave me three names. Those women and their families prayed for Ezra. Then they wheeled him into the operating room, still awake.

 

Brent and I took a taxi back to our hotel to tell our big kids what was going on. Brent was going to shower and go back to the hospital for the night. (They only allowed one parent to stay, and it was decided that the one who went to medical school was the best choice), and I prepared our big kids to fly back without us the next day since they were saying Ezra would need to stay 2-3 nights. Before Brent went back to the hospital, the five of us huddled together to pray. Brent tried to start the prayer but his voice failed. He couldn’t get a word out. Instead, our daughter Ella prayed for our little boy who was scared and worried.

 

Brent taxied to the airport. And after a mostly sleepless night, the next morning, they told Ezra he could leave after all. Brent and Ezra made it to the airport just in time for our flight.

 

As we were stopped for a layover, Ezra and I discussed the way we saw God show up during that scary 24-hour period. We retold the story to each other…How the doctor fought for us and the radiologist was available on his day off. How the patient rep who worked at the hospital was Canadian so she could speak English and guide us through what was going on. We talked about the airport employee, appearing out of nowhere with a wheelchair and helping us quickly move through all of the airport hurdles. We talked about Julissa, the woman who worked at our hotel who we had befriended at the beginning of the week who became my contact as I was trying to possibly lengthen our stay if we had had to remain in Mexico, but she turned out to be a fervent prayer warrior and her little church prayed for us. All of God’s provisions laid out like a road map as we named them.

 

It’s our privilege and obligation to stop and remember God’s deliverance. We need to list these moments and remind each other that God was there all along. The Jews understood this better than just about anyone. God commanded that they have festivals and feasts for this very reason—to remember that God sees the Big Picture but He’s also in the little details. And every time we stop and remember what He’s done, we’re compelled to thank Him and worship Him.

Artificial reefs

“They don’t know that it isn’t real.” This was the reply from Rodrigo, the man who took our family snorkeling on his little boat, the ship’s name painted in blue letters on the side: Flaquita. I had asked him about the artificial reefs we’d seen on the ocean floor, dome-like concrete structures covered with round holes where the fish blissfully swam in and out of.

 

We had seen a few natural reefs down there, too, but these concrete versions were all over the place, and I was curious about them. I figured Rodrigo might be able to answer my questions. Short and round and wearing a tank top and shorts, he would slide off the boat and into the water gracefully in spite of those awkward flippers. Then he would dive down deep, his back nearly resting on the sandy ocean floor so that he could take pictures of us as we mostly hovered at the surface with our snorkel staying above the water, each breath coming out forcefully and noisily. Considering the amazing length he could hold his breath, I began to wonder if he was actually part fish.

 

At the end of our underwater adventure, the six of us sat across a makeshift table constructed from a foam boogie board and ate the ceviche prepared by Rodrigo’s friend, the man who drove the boat and therefore was just referred to as Capitán. We drank sugary Mexican sodas and used homemade tortilla chips to scoop up chunks of the tender pieces of Mahi-Mahi cured in lime juice and tossed with cucumbers, red onions, and tomatoes. As we ate, I asked Rodrigo about the artificial reefs. “Do the fish like them right away, do you think? Or do they see them as something that doesn’t belong down there?”

 

“They don’t know that it isn’t real,” he answered. Maybe he thought my question was silly. They’re only fish, after all. One fish identical to the next one, their only goal to survive another day and avoid being a tasty lunch. But we humans at least claim that we crave authenticity. We scorn the pretenders, expose the counterfeit, mock the phonies. I’d like to think that if I were one of those striped beauties swimming in the clear water, I’d see those artificial reefs and know they weren’t the real thing. I’d recognize that they were out of place and go looking for the natural ones not made from concrete. Oh, no. They wouldn’t fool me!

 

With all that’s troubling around us, I think we’re all looking for shelter from something trusted and real. Real relationships. Real information. Something and somebody we can count on and understand when the craziness swimming past us in a blur seems unrecognizable and often pretty scary. The sand is shifting beneath our feet, so we crave something sturdy, something real. At that moment, it’s time to be reminded of our Great God. There’s nothing artificial about Him. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging….The Lord Almighty is with us.” (Psalm 46)

 

Rained out

With all of the rain we’ve had lately, my son Ezra and I have noticed a common sight dotting the sidewalks while we’re on our way to school in the mornings—earthworms. Most have baked into a crispy twig in the hot sun, but a few still have a little wriggle in them. Ezra rescues the live ones by transferring them to the grass and dirt running alongside the sidewalk. (His benevolence to the worms slows down our trek, but I can’t deny him the good feeling of starting a day of 3rd grade knowing you’ve made a difference!)

 

Ezra asked me why we’ve been seeing so many worms. Why do they come out of their safe burrows just to die on the sidewalk? It’s a good question. Other than drying out in the sun, they could also be eaten by birds or stepped on. Why would they risk it? I just had to find out! Google to the rescue!

 

From what I read, it was commonly assumed that worms emerged after a lot of rain because they would drown in their underground tunnels. But more recent science disputes this. Worm scientists (that’s probably a thing) argue that worms are designed in a way that they could stay submerged underwater for days. Back to the worm lab (which is also probably a thing)!

 

One hypothesis speculates that the vibration of the rain dropping above them imitates the sound of a mole or some other worm-eating predator, and the worms crawl away from the anticipated danger. Another idea is that they use the slick, wet environment to migrate. I can just imagine the worms watching the weather forecast to see when the conditions would be favorable to travel so they could make a trip to visit grandma. (Okay, that’s definitely not a thing, even on the internet.) Another idea is that the worms surface to mate, but they (worm scientists) say only a few species do this, and knowing that worm babies don’t just appear out of nowhere but not wanting to google “Where do worm babies come from?” I left that hypothesis off my list for Ezra.

 

Even though a worm has no eyes or ears and a teeny-tiny brain, there are way too many similarities between us and them. We often ignore our protective design and take unnecessary risks. There are many times when we fear the wrong things (or people), and our panic makes everything much, much worse. But, if you’re a lucky earthworm, a sweet 10-year old boy will see that you’re stranded on the concrete, and even though you’re there by your own folly, he’ll lift you to safety.

Take shelter

Have you ever thought about the purpose of a blanket fort? You’ve probably made one before: blankets strewn across chairs and pillows on the floor, like a sheik’s tent nestled by a desert oasis. From an adult’s perspective, it looks like blankets that will have to be refolded and throw pillows not designed for sitting upon and chairs which have been dragged to new locations, leaving scuff marks on the hardwood floor. But to kids it’s a shelter. A warm, shadowed place for them to feel cozy and safe.

 

Our family recently attended a funeral for a dear friend. As the six of us lined up and walked down a church pew, our youngest son was the last of the group to be seated. Not overly pleased to be in “Big Church” on a Thursday, he plopped down with the tall end of the church pew on his left and me on his right. In spite of the loving, celebratory tone for the memorial service, I noticed our son scooting in to the protection of my side. I rested my arm behind him on the back of the pew, and he leaned in. The solid wood on his left and the warmth of his mom on his right was comforting and protective. It was a safe shelter in a stormy place where fathers pass away and people around him cry through several tissues.

 

The Book of Psalms is full of language describing a desire to feel that kind of protection and shelter in moments of sadness and fear.

 

“Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.” Psalm 17 (NIV)

 

“For in the day of trouble he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent and set me high upon a rock.” Psalm 27 (NIV)

 

“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4 (NIV)

 

“I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Psalm 61 (NIV)

 

With 2017 coming to an end, the general consensus is that it’s been a tumultuous year. Floods and fires and fighting in Washington has made me yearn for a safe and protective place. I want the shelter a baby bird feels as he draws in to the soft feathers of his mother, when she pulls her child in close and rests her wing on top of him.

 

I crave the dark, muffled stillness of a blanket fort. Heavy blankets draped across chairs and me cuddled beneath.

 

But most of all, I desire the same thing the Psalmist David did so many thousands of years ago. I crave a refuge, a warm safety, a shelter.

Fire insurance

Several years ago, my family took a trip to Historic Charleston, South Carolina. For those in our family who are history buffs, it was such a treat to walk amongst those buildings and streets, some 300 years old or more.

 

We strolled through downtown and the outdoor market area. We watched artisans diligently working on sweetgrass baskets, a Charleston specialty, although we only bought t-shirts and beef jerky. (We’re not really very good at shopping.)

 

We took a boat tour and saw Fort Sumter, the location for the start of the Civil War. We ate delicious seafood and we stayed in a hotel that was once a military college.

 

It was a fun and memorable vacation. For me, the highlight of our half-week stay was the horse-drawn carriage tour.

 

We boarded a carriage with another family and listened to the tour guide as she told us interesting facts about the city. She pointed out significant spots—churches, mansions, and gardens. She told us about the strict policies present-day homeowners must obey when renovating these historic homes.

 

On several of the oldest homes, she pointed out “Fire Mark Plaques” on the outside, mounted near the front doors. Our tour guide explained that these plaques indicated that these homes were protected by fire insurance.

 

As the story goes, if a house caught fire, the firefighters would arrive and check for one of these plaques. If there was none, they would leave, allowing the fire to destroy the home. (The tour guide explained that this is an urban legend and the firefighters were actually honor bound to put out the fire regardless of the presence of such a plaque.)

 

If the deliverance of one’s home from fire and destruction did rely on insurance such as this, it would sully the honorable name of those who came to rescue it. Instead, we know that firefighters risk it all for the safety of others.

 

Selfless Sacrifice. This is the recipe for superhuman heroism. And this is also the recipe for a God who was willing to sacrifice His Son for humankind. We don’t have to pay Him insurance fees or ransom money for what amounts to a hostage exchange: Me for Christ.

 

God sent His Son to earth to die thousands of years before there was a “me”. Now, I am grateful to spend the rest of my life in obligation to Him who gave it all. I guess, I am insured against fire, after all.