Thanksgiving was always my favorite holiday growing up. I have endless memories of times with family; cooking and watching football all day, to then gather around the table and say Grace: thanking God for another holiday together, another year of good health and good times.
No matter what that year held, nothing compared to this moment of Thanksgiving Day.
I spent Thanksgiving of 2017 in California, as usual. I remember being thankful that year, for Tacoma truly felt like home. I was thankful for my sorority sisters, my Young Life family, my classmates, my professors, and of course, my church. Discovery rooted me in Tacoma in more ways than I ever fathomed to be possible.
I left my home in Ventura after that holiday weekend and I didn’t know that when I walked out of that front door that Sunday morning to travel to Tacoma that it would be the last time I would step out of my home. We lost our home in the Thomas Fire just a few weeks later. My entire neighborhood, my entire town, even the whole county was demolished by flame. We lost everything that day and any sense of normalcy. This season of my life was a true test of my faith. I felt so vulnerable, so alone, and so unstable that I truly did not see how it was possible to wake up each day and continue on. But I did. Truly, by the Grace of God.
It took a while, but I eventually found my way back to Ventura this summer even when I thought it was the last place I wanted to be. Truth be told, it was exactly where I needed to be. It was hard coming back to an empty lot that once held my home and to the burnt hillsides that once held so much Ventura pride, but it was so good to come home to my family, friends, and my community. It was so good to go back to my home church, to my work place, and to Borderline: my line dancing hall.
Borderline is a special place in Ventura county. It is not just a place to dance, it is a second home. It is where my best friend met her fiancé. It is where I went to dance and escape my reality of grief and sorrow for a few hours a night, a few nights a week. My Borderline family and I were there three nights a week, every single week, without a doubt.
Borderline was home while home was being rebuilt.
It happens to all of us. Yep, you and me, and anyone else who is a Christian. When things are going well in our lives, we have everything figured out. Life is smooth ride and all we need to do is sit back and take it all in. No need to wonder how we got there or if the God of the universe might have had something to do with it. We have everything under control.
We say, “Jesus, I’ll drive.”
Then the storm comes.
I’m not sure about you, but it seems that fear is a pretty big issue these days. We are surrounded by people telling us what we should be afraid of and why. The Christian radio is singing about fear not owning us, as if breaking up with fear is that easy.
And Scripture is constantly telling us to not be afraid. God says this to both Moses and Joshua multiple times. The angel says it to Mary. Jesus tells it to his followers. Do not be afraid.
So clearly, it is not a new issue. But simply saying “do not be afraid” doesn’t give us much to work with.
How do we go about overcoming fear in our lives?
The focus of our attention indicates who and what we will become—both as an individual and as a people. Reflecting on the monuments of our past, then — monuments of both good and of evil — can build in us resolve and direction for the character of our future. And for the follower of Jesus, these monuments serve also to build in us gratitude and confidence in the activity of God — as well as to build a horror of the ways that the ‘normal’ sins of pride and self-indulgence and mindless conformity inevitably work to compound into monstrosity. We do not look back to become mired in the past — we look back to build into ourselves character that propels us forward.
This weekend, Americans celebrate a magnificent monument of our past — a monument that reminds us both of the haunting expanse of evil and of the brilliant momentum of good. For much of my life, I missed what that meant, and, aside from an obligatory school assembly, I gave little thought to the significance of the Martin Luther King, Jr holiday.
The result of my white privilege? Absolutely. Of the self-centeredness of my youth? Yeah… that too.
A number of years ago, however, I began to recognize an opportunity — the opportunity to honor a noble man, certainly, and thereby to honor and strengthen the values for which he stood … and in doing so, to build for myself and my family a forward-propelling character.
Here are some ideas, from my family to yours, for honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr — and perhaps, for gleaning some of his character to build into your own:
Rounding the turn on Highway 16 on my way to work each morning, past Cheney Stadium, then a quarter mile more and, on a clear day, I’m struck by the towering presence of Mount Rainier. Her prominent position immediately demands attention, lifting my eyes upward to glorious heights.
Sometimes the Mountain is shrouded in misty, low lying fog, only her peak showing. Sometimes she’s capped by soft curving clouds, shaped by the wind that sweeps up and over. And sometimes the sun shines unhindered on white slopes and craggy outcroppings, revealing all her beauty, yet leaving the mystery of grinding glaciers and deep crevasses to the imagination. At this distance it is not a terrible or dangerous beauty laid bare before me; yet I know she is not a gentle hill. A heart of fire beats within her, and though I cannot see the fearful power in her grandeur from behind the wheel of my Toyota, I know it’s there.
Almost daily I lift up my eyes to that mountain. For a moment my thoughts are stilled and I remember – I am small.
The wind was howling. Rain pelted their faces like cast iron BB’s. His soaked cloths clung to his body, wrapping him in cold chill. He looked around the small 20 foot boat and all he could see was terror. Ankle deep water sloshed around his ankles. The other men in the boat reflected the same terror that filled him. Hours ago, in the middle of this, the worst night of his life, he had reconciled himself to his pending death. Just hours ago all of them had witnessed their friend Jesus making food from nothing to feed thousands. And now, this. He shook it off and pulled the oar again.
The Sea of Galilee was a terrible mistress. One flip of the shekel gave them sustenance and employment. The other side, the dark side, brought the terror that filed him now. It was the worst storm that he could recall in this 20 plus years as a fisherman on these waters. It was unrelenting and sure to be his last.
His arms ached as he pulled his oar with the others. The distant shore could have been miles or yards, he wasn’t sure. He couldn’t see a thing. He peered intently into the inky blackness looking for hope in the wretched storm. A rock, a jetty, anything…
Several years ago while living in Los Angeles, some friends and I left the urban wilds of the city behind and headed into the mountains to the northeast for the weekend. Once there I hoped to surround myself by trees actually native to the state and experience weather more reminiscent of a Washington summer. I’d […]
I often hear people talk about their life verse. I honestly don’t have one yet – because there are quite a few in the running. I’d like to share one with you today. It has meant the world to me over the years. And again today, sustains me. Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand […]