Jodie almost died, again

It had been a long time: eleven years.  It had been eleven years since Jodie almost died.

Consider eleven years.  ISIS arose to prominence and to have many of its heads cut off.  Ossama was executed and buried at sea.  Barak Obama served as president between Bush and Trump.  Countless stars fell from their orbits passing into eternity … some at their own hands, others of natural causes.

Jodie finished high school, worked on a guest ranch, dated a few guys, became beautiful, began a career at her dad’s place, and had a profound impact for Christ on many young people passing through her home, her church, and her life.

And I could almost forget.  Forget the doctor’s warning quietly to Greg and Mitz that should Jodie live to age 12, she would have exceeded almost all expectations.

I could almost forget that each sibling and every pet, not to speak of mom and dad arose in the nights at some prodding, to find her cratering at the onslaught of brittle diabetes.

When life is too horrible, when countries fall down insanely seizing and killing any within them, when children enter life addicted to opiates, and other news drones on during CNN; I tend to move on from Jodie, who could simply slip away in a night.

I prayed for her Thursday night before bed, but did not call Mitz and Greg because, I tend to move on from all the hard and frightening things because I cannot hold them all before me all the time, all night, much less all day.

I hate things I cannot fight in this world.  I pray for them, against them, and I feel frustrated that they remind me I don’t have an answer for everything.  I don’t have a solution for everything.  And Jodie or I could either one slip into the night tonight.

So I rely on a bit of forgetfulness.  I rely on a lot of faith to move on, to move forward.  And I must remember, what an astonishing gift every day for Jodie since age 12 has been.  Every hour.  Every minute.  And see?  I seem to have as hard a time holding all that wonder before me all the time as all the unanswerable, frightening things.

So I hold a smaller number of things before me than I pray for in the morning, and make my way through my day with forgetfulness, and faith, and Hope.  All gifts from One with a hole in His hand, as if He knew how few things I can hold in my attention all day and get anything done.

A more complete story

Christopher Nolan should finally get an Academy Award for Dunkirk.  He deserves it for masterfully telling one tiny slice of the overwhelming massive story of hundreds of thousands of British Expeditionary Force (BEF) soldiers stranded on the beaches, hoping against hope for rescue while exposed to Nazi Stuka Dive Bombers and ME 109 Fighters bombing and strafing, seemingly at will.

Kenneth Branagh’s role of hopeless exposure is as skillful as Tom Hardy’s RAF pilot faced with more opportunities to save people than his Spitfire has gas to confront.

“But if not.”  Nolan tells the poignant story of one of 1,200 boats that launched from Britain across the channel to the German controlled beach to possibly survive and bring home soldiers.  The beach was broad and shallow.  Destroyers could not get close and smaller ships got annihilated.  Before the boat can be commandeered by the Navy, they launch to go do what is right.

Nolan does not touch the “Why?”  Why did so many boats go when they were not commandeered?

Evidently a naval officer (like Branagh) facing the horrific waste of 350,000 fighting men, knowing that the British thought they MIGHT rescue 40,000 sent back a cable that “went viral” and it simply had three words, “But if not.”

England was biblically literate.  Schoolboys and girls knew the story of Daniel’s three friends, confronted with a 90 foot tall, gold statue of Nebudchanezzer and a hundred thousand people bending the knee to it, who refused.  They could bow and worship God, but not bow down to a mere man.

Next to the statue,  a furnace awaited any who reused to bow, now heated seven times hotter, so that those who will put these three Jewish men in that furnace all die.  The king knows them.  Respects them.  Is furious with them, furious at the slight.  Think Hitler with the British.

And the Naval Officer says he hopes for rescue, “But if not”.  The three men facing the furious king tell him their God Can save them, rescue even from the maws of the most furious furnace any had ever seen.  “But if not” they would never, could never bow down to the king’s gods or statue.

England caught the resolve.  If not rescued, then the remnants of the BEF would remain, bloody and unbowed.  Then boats headed into the Channel’s choppy waters and loaded, and reloaded, and reloaded with soldiers.  But if not fell to them.

But if not would not be true on their watch.  So, instead of the Navy bringing home 40,000 men, Britain’s boatmen brought home 350,000.

And Hitler, who was already prepping for victory parades over France and Britain, like Nebudchanezzer turned out to be premature, turned out to be dead wrong.

At the core of British resolve, a Naval Officer had only to quote three words from a Biblical story and the effects kept chain reacting through ordinary people, until a pivotal battle ‘s outcome was completely reversed.

See?  A little detail can increase the story’s impact.   Oh, and after throwing in three, the king saw four in the furnace, and when invited out, the three emerged without a singed hair.  Evidently, “but if not” did not fall on God’s deaf ears that day either.

 

Wealth

I’ve flown to Norfolk to perform a wedding for Rachel Reon and Aaron White.  I’m staying at the Hampton in Smithfield and am amazed, again, to drive through towns that smack of history in both the Revolutionary War and Civil War, and that almost all hearken back to England for their original naming.

Don’t miss the five to ten ways I am wealthy in that first paragraph.

This afternoon at two o’clock I walked into the Trinity Methodist sanctuary with Aaron and his best men to watch Rachel and her best girls walk down the aisle.  No bombs.  No sirens.  No flack jackets.  A dress she will hopefully only wear once.  Tuxes.  Flowers.  Food at the reception.  Small jazz group playing at the reception.  People travelling from around the country.  No one detained.  People smiling in photos.  No one imprisoned.  People getting to know strangers.  No one shot.  Multiple ethnic groups sitting together and enjoying each other.

Don’t miss the twenty or so ways we were wealthy in that paragraph when insanity erupted 141 miles away in Charlotesville.

And Rachel, whose parents, and grandparents have all remained married, stood looking up into the intently focused eyes of her Aaron making his promises in front of his parents and grandparents who have all remained faithful and married — and she felt blessed.  In ways she can barely comprehend.  She will return to Illinois to finish her Masters and Aaron will find employment there, and they will pursue God’s will and their careers and family — unbelievably fortunate and blessed.

And we, as Americans must all become more intentional in how we say thanks, in how we become stewards of the astonishing gifts raining down on us.

It was humid outside the church as we exited, and I almost complained as the rain began before Mark and I could get to the car.  I winced.  How quickly I brandish a whine rather than a “hallelujah” in my days.

Sometimes wealth dulls my senses, rather than sharpens my awareness of the otherness, of the other-worldliness of the blessings cascading around me.  That makes me the pauper sitting at the feast, seething at what else I want, rather than kicking back and rejoicing with those around me.

I know.  Silly.

Nabeel, wish you were here

I am the bull pen this weekend.  Rachel Reon hoped to have Nabeel Qureshi do her wedding.  Not many girls can access med school graduates who get hired by Ravi Zacharias as apologetic powerhouses in the face of Muslims who hate him for leaving the faith.  And speaking so well against it.

I am filling in as Nabeel has been in the hospital at MD Anderson for 22 days straight.  Muslims rejoice to point to his stomach cancer as Allah’s judgment, and the doctors pulled him into emergency surgery, again, a few hours ago.

Nabeel, I will perform Rachel and Aaron’s wedding  tomorrow, while you remind us of what’s truest in Christianity.  As you skirt the abyss of death with thousands of people who hate you cheering for your demise, we will see Rachel and Aaron married.  Ever since that first Easter Sunday, out of stunning sadness, and out of the mouth of over-awing defeat God in Christ has snatched victory, snatched hope, and stolen joy for us over, and over, and over again.

So we pray for your healing, continually ask for healing.  We owe you that.  We owe Christ that.  We owe you both the asking when it seems o’erwhelmingly hopeless.  We owe you and Christ the asking for healing especially as your enemies are set for revelry.

And if God relents and lets you expend your last breath praising Him, then we owe Christ and you and your enemies clear testimony.  Beyond fatalism for Allah’s will, Christians dwell in a divergent land of hope inside Jehovah’s sovereign, best choices for us.  We ask, and when He heals you, we praise Him.  We ask, and if He deigns to take you, we mourn and still praise Him.

When you get out of the hospital, promise me a photo with a smarmy script saying “because we asked!” or something else mushy.  Wish you were here to do the ceremony, praying, hoping against hope, cheering for you.

Rachel, by the way, will be amazing, in part, due to your investing in her.  Get well.

Thank you, George

George Whittenburg died yesterday.  His Amarillo memorial is Saturday and twenty churches can’t hold all who thank God for him.  Twenty prison cells can’t hold everyone who will rejoice at his passing.

A family that drowned a young man in an Agatha Christie-esque middle-of-a-huge-lake horror will rejoice in cells.  They fooled Texas Rangers and the F.B.I. but not George.  He spent years taking ’em down.

A lawyer who “won” a paltry verdict for his client and then abused her, will smile from his prison way-station on his way to Dante’s 7th Inferno level.  We can hope.  Again, George spent years, itching to conclude her horror, he strategized with Job’s patience and Machiavelli’s genius to bring her justice.

He loved finding crooked lawyers in his sights, and loved scorching them even more.

Offenders hurt, killed or maimed the wrong people, if victims or surviving kin found George.  It didn’t matter how hopeless survivors found George, he wrangled hope for the hopeless seemingly ex nihilo; spelling doom for those who smugly felt successfully incorrigible.

His full softball team of children, their umpteen grandchildren and great-grand-kids flourished in his and Ann’s high expectations.   Shoot, you’d learn to bear up under great expectations if father and grandfather played on the state’s and nation’s stages.

He read voraciously, pursued ideas assiduously, loved conversation, worshipped deeply, and doted on children while gently, firmly pushing each to some greatness.  The house’s washing machines and driers sat at opposite ends.  “Learn to take care of yourself” was in the blueprints.  The two sets of two hot water tanks were in series, so everyone played sports, showered, attacked evening schedules and studies to be fresh in an early morning.  The sheer scale of life at the home boggled outsiders’ minds.

It was simply Whittenburg if you lived there.

Twenty hours won’t contain half the stories left untold at Saturday’s memorial, but that was George.  He was always more than you could take in, more than you countered, and more than you appreciated in any conversation, kindness or advice.   Complex and nuanced, merciless in logic: sitting in his complete focus spelled hope for many and disaster for fools.

When I was younger and my grandfather died, I felt as if one layer of protection between me and death, between me and disaster had been removed.  I’ve not often felt that since, but George’s passing leaves a layer of protection to be replaced.  If you have ears to hear, fill the layer.

I’ll miss him now, but if his faith’s correctly placed, we’ll continue conversations on writers, actors on the world’s stage, and intriguing ideas on the other side of the River.  Notice I didn’t say “finish”.  George can’t finish his thoughts, again, he enjoyed wrestling with far more than twenty volumes of deep conversations might skim the surface of.