Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Tree Of Life

Job 38:4
Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me if you know so much.

Last night I watched The Tree of Life mainly because it had Brad Pitt and Sean Penn in it, so I figured a little bit of eye-candy dipped with sustenance.   About 20 agonizing minutes into the movie I find myself posting on FaceBook about how stupid and terrible the movie is, just to keep myself awake.  Then came the dinosaurs and I almost sent a bill to Brad Pitt for the cost of the Apple TV rental.  Sometimes it hurts to lose $4.99. 
            You might be asking, Why Dinasours?  If you are you are in the right movie.  The movie is dream-like and confusing to watch to say the least.  The screen is black with one verse from Job layed across it in white letters,
“Where were you when I lay the foundation of the earth”. 
 This movie starts out by showing a family who is hurting from the loss of their 19 year old son and brother.  It is a heavy, grieving 15 minutes of film, which is just slammed into your living room with no introduction.  The main character Jack, played by Sean Penn, is dealing with the monotony of his life as her grieves the anniversary of his younger brothers death.  Then comes the Opus of classical music and stars.  You see the creation of the earth, from the big bang to the very beginning of the first single-celled organism and led straight up to a dinosaur eating in the woods. 
As I am sitting on my couch laughing and taunting how insane this movie is, I find myself unable to walk away from the train-wreck of a movie.  It is so bad, that I have to see the end.  You see, I am notorious for picking bad movies.  I have what some might call a reputation for bad movies, and my pride was at stake once again by my pour choice of movie.  So, my loving husband is sitting on the couch next to me starting his own IV drip of caffeine in order to make it through another “Classic Julia Movie”. 
After the dinosaur scene we are back to our main character, Jack’s memories of growing up in Texas in the 1950’s.  The point of the “flash-back” style movie is show the progression of questioning God and Nature that the main character has gone through his entire life.  He remembers seeing a boy drown at the local swimming pool and he whispers the question to God, “Was he bad?  Is that why he died”?  Then Jack plays with a child who is badly burned by a house fire and the question haunts the Jack’s eyes as he stares at the little boy’s scars.    His father, played by Brad Pitt is demeaning and over-controlling to the family, representing the harshness of Nature.  His mother is the caretaker and caregiver to the children, representing the goodness of God.  She tells them that it is important to forgive, to love, to live by grace. 
Jack finds himself struggling against these two contrasting truths as he enters into his pre-teen years.  He believes and starts to understand that he has lost the innocence of childhood because of the harsh atmosphere that his Father raises the family around. Starring at his father he whispers another question to God, “If you are not good, then why should I be”.   This was a raw moment that left me feeling stripped down to reality.  This question is uttered by so many as they see the world, which is angry, mean, full of hate and in and of itself bad.  So many of us, like Jack misunderstands what we can see for what we cannot.  Instead of asking God, why is the world bad or why are my circumstances or my neighbor’s circumstances bad we associate our “realities” in this world with God.  They are not the same.   We mistake what we can see (life’s circumstances) for what we cannot (God).  Jack begins to rebel and struggle against his life and his parents.  You can literally see the inner war between God and Nature struggling inside of Jack. 
The movie ends with Jack envisioning or dreaming that he is following his younger self through a rocky terrain onto a beautiful sunset lit beach.  All of the people that he saw die, or burned, or hurt throughout his life are there on that beach, walking around.  His parents are there as well.  He father is content, maybe even happy and they are able to walk side by side on the beach.  Jack’s mother joins them as well.  Everyone on the beach is young, the same age they were during the 1950s flashbacks except for Jack.  Jack is still the 40 something year old man.  Finally his brother comes walking up on the beach.  His younger brother who died at 19, but he is also only about 8 years old.  Jack’s mother and father are overcome with relief at holding and touching their dead child.  They cannot stop petting his face, and kissing him.  It is a hard scene to watch because of the depth of emotion that is left in the air.  Jack’s mother pulls back from her son and looks at Jack.  Her expression says what her words never do; she is thanking Jack for bringing his brother onto the beach and is overwhelmed with gratitude for Jack. 
One of the last scenes shows the younger brother walking through a wooden door into the white beauty of nature.  The mother is left with her hands held upwards saying, “I give you my son”.  I have to say I was moved to tears.  The thought of losing a child, dealing with the pain of this world and giving it up to God.  
But with all of the emotion that the movie stirred in me, I was left still feeling the hurt for Jack.   This movie is dealing with the age old questions, “Is there a God, or is there just Nature? and How can there be a God with so much pain in this life? “.  The saddest part of the movie was the ending.  Jack searched for meaning in the pain of his life, and in the end he “reconciled” that pain by making a pretty picture of all the ones hurt in this world and his world on the beach together, happy.  What he didn’t do was reconcile himself to the Lord.  The end of the movie left you with the feeling of “contentment” but not peace and not joy.  The gaping whole were joy and peace should have been was left wide open so that the wounds were left to the wind.  Jack made himself feel better, by reconciling the pain his mother felt with losing a child, with his own issues of losing a brother and with growing up with a harsh father and now working in a monotonous job, but he did not find peace and he did not find joy.  He simply made a pretty picture in his head to cover over the journey of pain and questioning.  Does this movie sound familiar?  Sadly, I believe it happens everyday.  Everyday people look at nature and see what the Lord has created and wonder who he is. 
Romans 1:20
For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.
Everyday people choose to reconcile their hurt and pain to a pretty picture of reasoning instead of allowing Jesus to heal them.   The Tree of Life is Jesus, and he has come to heal all of us. 

(Revelation 22:2 NKJV)  And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Living on a Prayer: My 1/2 Marathon in Munich

This past weekend I ran the Munich ½ Marathon.  I don’t know if I should use the word, “ran” that might be stretching the truth a little.  I think I should say hobbled, shuffled, hopped, stammered, and a quick look at my dictionary tells me I even shambled or waddled like a duck.  This race was going to be my crème de la crème of my previously run ½ marathons.  I had trained hard, I knew what to expect and I knew with certainty I would not die in Munich (a fear I previously held during my earlier races).   The morning of the race I woke up dawned my “cute girl” running tights and headed to the start line smiling at the 32-degree weather.  I felt the peace of the Lord on me and I liked it. 
Starting through the line of people and hearing the cannons fire us to motion made me giddy with excitement for what lay ahead.  13.1 miles of culture and scenery in Munich.  Passing many of the major landmarks, like the Frauenkirche, the Glockenspeil, and ending in the famous Olympic Stadium.   My heart dropped at mile 3.  I felt a strong stab go through my knee like a familiar angry ex-lover it started to rip pain through my body.  I have a reoccurring knee injury that loves to be, well reoccurring.  It hit hard with an angry force like a category 5 hurricane coming for your beach house.  I knew by mile 4 I was in trouble.  I started to pray to the Lord.  Pray that he would touch my knee, that he would heal the pain, that he would let me finish.  I told the Lord that I had trained, that I had prepared and now I needed healing. 
At mile 6 I saw Jeremy standing with the kids smiling and waving by the roadside.  A personal fan club is really very nice.  As soon as I saw them I was forced to fight off the tears and put on the happy mommy face.  Jeremy took one look at me and started asking what was wrong.  I just smiled and kissed the kids and with my big girl voice quivered out, “I don’t know if I’m going to finish”.  He nodded and I hobbled forward reentering the race.  A little after this is when the pain stopped me dead in my tracks.  Now you have to understand that I know, I KNOW that I should stop at this point.  I can practically hear my mother telling me to stop right there, not to go one step further, that this could be the time I damage my knee permanently and never run again.  I know all of that, and trust me I could hear my mother saying that as I stood in the middle of the road fighting back tears and nausea from the pain.  But, I cannot quit. 
It’s not in me.  Don’t get the wrong impression of me.  I am not a competitor.  I am not moved forward by the crowds of people, the other runners passing by me with ease, or the thought of a PB (personal best) time.  Those things truly don’t “do-it” for me.  It’s the knowledge that I quit, the humming sound of failure that drifts through my mind playing its self-deprecating tune of being beaten by lack of drive.  I don’t like that song on my personal radio, so I choose to change the station to the little engine that could, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I…”  You get the picture.  So dragging my left knee in the locked position, with my head held low in a determined stance and whispering prayers of fortitude to the Lord I proceeded to “shamble” for 7 miles through the streets of Munich. 
By the time I reached mile 8 I was a lone wolf accompanied only by the beaten, half-starved, overweight, well-aged, dregs of the ½ Marathon.  It was me and my teammates making up the proud group of last-place finishers.  Seriously, I was trying to just do the airborne shuffle while the 90-year-old woman beside me ate and entire schnitzel and pretzel mit butter, washing it down with a good Munich beer!  Before you ask, she beat me as well (after her lunch on the road). 
During the long minutes that made up the hours of my ½ marathon experience in Munich, I prayed….a lot.  I prayed that the Lord would take the pain and give me a “super-hero” moment.  I picture myself running hair in the wind, legs ripping in front of me, arms wide in exhilaration…and I prayed, “let me be super-women, let the pain go and let me fly”.  Ok, you might think it was dramatic, but I saw it as a simple request from a mediocre mommy of two who happens to attempt ½ marathons.    Then on mile 11 something amazing happened.
The pain got worse.  I only had 2 miles to finish.  The thought of my kids waiting with smiles and hugs for me did help push me forward, but by now I was hurting bad.  I tunneled through the maze into the Olympic Stadium noticing the faces of pity and doubt that passed me from the stands.  All I could think was, one front in front of the other.  I’m almost there; it’s almost over Lord!  Lord, let my knee hold, let me cross that finish line.  And then I did.  And it was over. 

Two days after the half I find myself praying about that experience.  The crying in the car, the icing and elevating, the up-coming doctors appointment for my knee, the smile on Jeremy’s face when I made it.   I asked the Lord, “What was that?”.  He answered, “That was Life”.  Then I saw it. You see, I was praying through out the entire thing, I was praying that I would be superwoman, that the pain would just vanish and I would run like the wind, but the Lord was speaking more than I was praying.  He was teaching me about I Corinthians 9:26, Acts 20:24, Isaiah 40:31 and mostly Hebrews 12:1, “let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”  God did not come down upon a magical glowing cloud and insert a healing potion into my knee.  He did not even take away the pain.  The pain stayed, so I prayed harder, until my last prayer was, “Lord let my knee hold, let me cross the finish line”.  That is how I want to live my life, I am not ignorant to this world.  I know life will hurt, I know trails will come, I do not expect the Lord to magic eraser them away.  I only hope to “run with endurance the race that God has set before me”.  So I will continue to pray that prayer I whispered to my father in Munich as I set my eyes on the finish line, “Lord, let my faith hold, so that I can cross the finish line at the end of this life”. 

Acts 20:24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me--the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.