Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Did You Hear of the City on a Hill?

I was at my local Publix on Saturday, foolishly thinking that would be the last time I had to go to the grocery store before Thanksgiving. (HA! I've since been twice more...) But on that particular day, I was feeling very accomplished. My house was clean and organized. I was way ahead on all my business projects. And I had just filled my cart with all the things I needed for my Thanksgiving food "assignments".  It was crowded and crazy, but I managed to slip into one of the checkout lanes and survey my purchases once more to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything. I was good. Ah, it was a good day.

Suddenly there was a bit of a ruckus two lanes over, and I glanced over to see what the issue was. I saw a woman with two small children in her cart, a woman I had passed earlier in one of the aisles. When I had passed her before, I had then noticed that she looked rather frazzled. She had a small boy in the seat of her cart (he looked about 2 or 3) and was clutching the hand of a beautiful curly-blonde-haired girl, who was about 6 or 7. What had struck me then was that the little girl was terrified. I didn't understand the panic on her face until I looked at her once more, and I realized that she was autistic. Upon another glance at the sweet little boy, I realized that he was, too. I had smiled at the woman, who wearily smiled back at me, and thought to myself, "Wow, she's a superwoman. Grocery shopping on a Saturday in Publix in this busy area of town? With two small autistic kids? Wow."

So it was this same woman I observed in the checkout lane two slots over from me. But the noise I heard was coming from the little girl.

Remember I said that she looked terrified when I passed her in the aisle? Well, that would be an understatement at this point. She was so terrified she was frozen in one of those open-mouthed-cries, tears streaming down, unable to breathe, and when she was able to catch a breath it was deep and rasping. She finally began to wail, darting glances from side to side as if something was after her, and begging to go home.

My heart broke. This was not a child who didn't get her choice of cereal and was pitching a fit. This was not a child who was promised a balloon and was told she wasn't good, so no balloon. This was a clearly disturbed child who was very overwhelmed by all of the noise and chaos around her. And it hurt my heart to see her.

As she continued to wail, loudly and pitifully, her mother wrapped her arms around her and tried to comfort her, to no avail. She only grew louder and more afraid. And people began to stare.

My first instinct was to get over there and at least put the poor woman's groceries on the belt for her so she could comfort her daughter. The poor woman who was now apologizing to everyone around her for the commotion, who had lines furrowing deeper through her forehead every second, and was biting her lip frantically as she tried to calm her daughter. But I was stuck. I couldn't move forward, because there was a very large woman in front of me, and there was no sliding around her. I couldn't move backwards, because there was an elderly couple behind me with two carts who had already loaded half of the first one onto the belt after my purchases. I was stuck.

And then the woman behind me began to talk. She said things like, "Can't anyone control their children anymore?" and "A little discipline goes a long way." I bit my tongue for as long as I could stand to, but she took it too far when she sniffed out "Spare the rod, spoil the child!" I let out a breath and turned around.

"Ma'am, that little girl over there is autistic. She's having a hard time because it's too loud and crowded in here today, and she's terrified. She's expressing herself in the only way she knows how to. And her poor momma is doing her best to get out of the store, but you know what? Autistic kids have to eat, too!" Her eyes grew wider with each word I said, and I wondered if I'd gone too far.

I turned back around again, trembling. I half-expected the woman to tap me on my shoulder and give me a piece of her mind, but she didn't. In fact, she didn't say anything else.

Goodness, it felt like forever I had been standing in this line. I needed it to move! I felt helpless, wanting to do something for the poor mom, but completely powerless and just plain stuck!

But then something amazing happened. The manager of the store walked over to the mother, whispered something in her ear, and the mother's face completely changed. She smiled, sighed and nodded, and the manager scooped up the little girl. The child had no idea who had her, but she covered her head with her arms and buried her face in the managers chest. And then...she was quiet. As I watched the manager held the little girl tightly, and then walked alongside the mother, carrying her daughter out to the car...arms still tightly covering her head.

Walking to my car, I was fighting back the tears. I felt so sad for that mom, and wondered what it was like to have two special needs children. I wondered what SHE felt like there in the store that afternoon. I wonder if that was how she felt often. I wondered when was the last time that she was able to go shopping alone, or even have her nails done, or get a cup of coffee from Starbucks. It made me and my "small" agenda feel pretty silly.

And it made me think of the song that Casting Crowns sings, City on a Hill. Have you heard it?

Did you hear of the city on a hill?
Said one old man to the other
It once shined bright and it would be shining still
But they all started turning on each other
You see, the poets thought the dancers were shallow
And the soldiers thought the poets were weak
And the elders saw the young ones as foolish
And the rich man never heard the poor man speak

How often do we, maybe without even realizing it, see someone else who seems to us to be shallow, weak or foolish? And how do we treat those people? Do we talk about them behind their backs? Do we discount others because they don't have what we do? Or because they don't act as we think they should act?

And one by one, they ran away
With their made up minds, to leave it all behind
And the light began to fade, in the city on a hill...
Each one thought that they knew better
That they were different by design
Instead of standing strong together
They let their differences divide

This is what amazes me about the human race: we have the potential to do SO much good - but we get caught up in ourselves and what WE thing is best. Instead of celebrating our differences, and the way we each have been gifted or designed, we group everyone into their own little categories. And by all means, don't mess with the categories.

But it was the rhythm of the dancers
That gave the poets life
It was the spirit of the poets
That gave the soldiers strength to fight
It was the fire of the young ones
It was the wisdom of the old
It was the story of the poor man
That needed to be told

That small autistic child touched me in a way no teacher, no preacher, no scholar or instructor ever could. And I submit this: that it doesn't matter your age, your size, your talent, your handicap, your race, your IQ, your gifting, your shortcomings or your strengths! It doesn't matter whether your house is always clean or it's always dirty! It doesn't matter whether you're done with all your shopping a week before the event, or you have to travel back to the store multiple times!

Celebrate the differences. Celebrate the dancers, the poets, the soldiers, the young and old, the poor and the rich. Look for opportunities to be changed for good by those around you. Don't you think life would be better for it?

Come home
And the Father's calling still
Come home
To the city on the hill
Come home

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011


Ahhh, fall. (Well, in Florida we're lucky to get a 3-day "cold" front and then head right back for the 80-degree temperature range, but it's fall nonetheless.) My favorite season, and it always has been. I love the way the sky looks extra crisp-blue instead of muted, the clouds wisp gently through the sky instead of marching by in a rolling boil, and the few maple trees that we have are actually changing their colors NOW, rather than in January like everything else does around here.

Plus, it's almost time for Thanksgiving. My most favorite holiday!

I'm not sure exactly why I ended up with this particular holiday as my favorite, I just know I love it. The wonderful smells of fall food, a good parade, a good football game, a loud family and SO much to be thankful for. Well, I guess those are my reasons.

Like most everyone out there, I've noticed some Christmas decorations in stores around town, and I've even looked at some of it, however, I have been standing by my "I will not decorate for Christmas until the day after Thanksgiving" tradition. I just don't want to skip over my favorite holiday in anticipation Christmas.

Except this year...well...I'm just a tad bit disturbed.

I heard on the news last week that several of the nation's largest retailers had decided to, instead of the usual Black Friday madness, open their doors on Thanksgiving evening. Hmmm. Well, whatever, I thought to myself. I certainly WILL NOT participate in the craziness on the day after Thanksgiving. I'll be home cleaning up the previous day's aftermath and putting up all my Christmas decor!

But then yesterday I got into my car after work, and three radio stations in a row were playing Christmas music. Um, what? We still have over a month until Christmas, people! Heck, we still have over a week until Thanksgiving!

Yeah, Thanksgiving! Remember Thanksgiving???

That's the problem. I don't think we remember. In fact, I think this nation as a collective whole has one of the shortest memories anywhere on earth.

Thanksgiving was originally celebrated on account of a good harvest. A good harvest for a people who had literally been through hell. They had been persecuted in their native land. They had made a long and arduous journey to a new place where they felt they could begin again. Many of these Pilgrims had died during this process; even more had become so ill that their lives would never be the same. And before they experienced friendship with the Indians, they lived in immense fear of them. But just as they thought they could not go on, the harvest came. It probably wasn't a bountiful one, one that we Americans would look at today and be in awe of. In fact, it probably wouldn't have looked like much at all to the overindulgent race we have now become. BUT THEY WERE THANKFUL. They were so thankful they stopped everything they were doing and celebrated. And we carry on that tradition today.

Or do we?

I imagine that, even though the economy is a negative on the "good-o-meter" right now, they had it worse. In fact I know they did. When was the last time someone has threatened YOUR life because of what you believe in? When was the last time YOU uprooted your family and moved to a completely different country because you had nothing left at your home? When was the last time your entire family was so plagued with illness that the majority of them died, and the rest of them were so weak they weren't even the people you had known since you were born?

But we whine because all our investments are gone.
We have a job, but we hate it and curse it whenever we get the chance.
We're upset because our house is worth nothing.
We moan at the price of gas, the price of food, the price of going to the movies.
We protest in the streets over the unfairness of life in general.
We cheer when bad people are murdered...unless we're busy rioting when they're set free.
We pitch a fit over not having any money, but we run people down in the stores in our greedy rush to spend everything we have...on a day that we should be THANKFUL.

We forget from whence we've come. We forget how blessed we really are. We've forgotten far too much, I fear.

It's time to remember.
It's time to be humble.
It's time to put away the negativity.
It's time to cease the slander.
It's time to flee from greed.
It's time to be at peace.
It's time to give grace to others.

It's time to be THANKFUL.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Like a Child

Another day filled with time frames, to-do lists and appointments. I wondered how I suddenly had so much to do? Funny how one day you just wake up and realize, oh my gosh, I'm an adult. Adult responsibilities, adult expectations, adult everything...I always thought it was so far away, so out of reach. Yet, there I was. There were things to be accomplished, and most importantly, on that day, errands to run.

As I maneuvered smoothly into the parking spot closest to the door, I checked the clock and smiled in utter satisfaction. Seven a.m. sharp. Perfect. I would be one of the first customers in the store. I assumed the product I was after would be to the far left and almost on the back wall. No problem. I would breeze in and out in absolutely no more than five minutes.

These thoughts marched orderly through my mind as I placed the vehicle in park, grabbed my keys and purse and exited the car. Closing the door behind me with appropriate force, I trotted (which, to my embarrassment, I've come to realize I do when my brain gets ahead of my short legs) towards the store entrance, raising my arm up and behind me as I pressed the key to activate the locks. A small beep followed me as I neared the door. As I glanced up at the sky, my plans began to shift in my mind. It will be raining any minute now, and I have no umbrella. Was it at all possible to be in and out in two minutes flat? My pace quickened.

The automatic doors slid open and I slid through, re-adjusting my purse on my shoulder with a firm grip and looking warily around for anyone with the intention to slow my progress. "Hi, welcome!" an elderly gentleman smiled and nodded at me. "Anything I can help you find?" "No, thanks, I know exactly what I need!" I called over my shoulder with a smile. Straight down the center aisle I moved, then side-stepped left before merging with the sales staff at the back counter; that in itself would be a definite guarantee for a time delay. "Ma'am, do you need help with anything?" a young girl who looked as if she should be in school at this time of the morning called. "No, thanks!" I responded, giving her a smile, still moving down the aisle at a pace level slightly higher than brisk.

My prize in view, I procured two cans from the shelf, turning a full ninety degrees and heading back towards the front of the store, all in the same movement. My eyes trained to the glass doors, and my invincible attitude swelled as I realized that the rain had not yet begun...and that I was in clear view of the checkout counter. I resisted the urge to laugh with pure glee as I realized that there were no groups of slow-moving elderly women to hinder my progression down the aisle.

Up at the counter then, and not a soul in front of me. "Is this all for you today?" the clerk questioned, picking up my purchases and sliding them over the sensor. "That's it, thanks!" I replied hurriedly. She bagged the items, stated my total, and my beloved debit card was out of my pocket, slid through the sometimes annoying/sometimes convenient machine, and placed back into my pocket with no hang-ups on wrinkles, shirt or belt loop on the way. "Would you like your receipt with you or in the bag?" "Just in the bag, yes, thanks so much." "Have a nice day!" she called after me, and I gave a slight absent-minded wave as I continued on.

I rounded the corner and was two feet from the door, but, oh no. Rain is starting. But just a few drops. I'll make it if I run, I've got good running shoes on, and my hair is up. I stepped just outside the door, grabbed my keys from my purse and clutched all my belongings as close to my body as humanly possible. Ready or not...

But what was that sound? A sound of pleasure...where...who...?

My curiosity overwhelmed my need for the perfect schedule. I looked to the right...nothing. Then to the left. At first, again nothing, and, disappointed, I began to gather myself together once more. Then, sudden movement. I turned again to the left.

A large wooden porch swing stood in front of the store. It was made up of two wooden benches which faced each other, with a foot rest in between and a latticed roof above. And it was moving, slowly yet surely, back and forth.

I could see the figure of a man on one side of the swing. He seemed to be in his late 30's. He wore a navy baseball cap over his cropped hair, glasses, a long-sleeved plaid shirt covered by a navy jacket, brown belt, jeans and a worn yet unsoiled pair of tennis shoes. He seemed quite clean, and very well-put-together; almost like when you were younger and your mother dressed you for school, making sure that everything was matching and well-tucked-in.

I studied him for a moment, watching as he slowly leaned forward and backward in rhythm with the swing. As he turned slightly towards me, I caught my breath in the sudden realization that he had some form of mental handicap. So where were his parents? I half-glanced back at the store...they must be inside, attempting to achieve a quicker shopping trip without having him tagging along. Smart. I'd do the same thing.

His laugh drew my gaze back to the swing. He had gotten quite a rhythm going, and in celebration he leaned his head back, face turned upward to the sky. Eyes and mouth wide open, he accepted the now furiously-falling raindrops as they cascaded through the lattice and rested on his hat, his glasses and his face. Lifting his hands with palms raised towards the sky, as if to check and make sure that it was, indeed, still raining, he leaned his head back even farther and laughed a laugh that sounded as if it came from the very depths of his soul.

By that point, I was wet. Hopelessly wet. My hair that had been so perfectly pulled up was stringy, and falling down in various places. My makeup was slightly streaked from the raindrops, I knew. My bag and purse had each accumulated a heavy layer of moisture, as had pretty much the rest of my body, yet somehow, it didn't seem to matter much to me anymore. I humbly began my short walk to the car, not even noticing the curtains of rain which continued to fall, having completely forsaken my original time-table for the day. I had hardly reached the car before the tears came.

After fumbling with the wet keys and dropping my belongings on the floorboard as I closed the door behind me, I covered my already-wet face and let the tears overcome me.

Maybe it was the sight of the man on the swing, and his pure joy at the rain, the rain that I had labeled inconvenient. Maybe it was the pressure of work, home, expectations of others, and just life in general. But I was suddenly faced with a jarring realization. In my hurry to accomplish my goals, I had forgotten His goals. Always busy, always rushing to be somewhere and pushing to make a deadline. Is that what He wanted?

A sudden remembrance of a long-ago-learned Bible verse came to my mind: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, 'Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?' He called a little child and had him stand among them. And He said: 'I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heave. And whoever welcomes a little child like this in My name welcomes Me.'" (Matthew 18:1-5, NIV)

Sighing and wiping the moisture from my face, I made the choice to remind myself of that man, the man who took time to take pleasure in the rain as any little child would do, who jolted me out of myself and caused me to renew a resolve to live my life as a His child.

Backing out of my parking space with a slight smile, I turned to give one last glance to the man on the swing.

He was gone.