I’m Okay with Sinking

Wow. I just got my second wind. And just in the nick of time!

I can play along at fake it ‘til I make it for awhile, but eventually the bottom drops out and right about that time I have to admit that my faith is dwindling away.

Here’s where I’ve been over the months that I’ve neglected—through no fault of my own—this little blog. Last summer we moved, after ten years in Orange, Texas, to a town just outside of Little Rock. It was quite literally the biggest test EVER of my faith to abandon my comfy, predictable life down South for a new beginning in a new state. Not that we didn’t do it for good reason—God called us to Arkansas. My husband, a minister, has thought for years that his ministry would ultimately lead to planting a church. A brand new church. In other words, we didn’t come here with a paying position all set up for Todd. The plan is to transition to bi-vocational ministry, i.e., work a full-time job and also work on the church plant. I won’t bore you with what previous posts can explain. I’m working—teaching—at a Christian school, and I love it. But it’s a part-time job, and without another income, well…you can imagine what the Beasley emotional ride has been like in recent months. It’s not even a roller coaster. It’s one of those bungee things where they pull you down as far as you can go and catapult you into oblivion. Terrifying. But fun, I think. Oh wait, I may throw up…

Not too long before Christmas, my husband applied for a job that he really wanted. He’s applied (is applying) for many positions, but this one in particular interested him. We prayed and prayed through the whole process. And then…what a terrible letdown.

For months we kept reasserting our faith in God’s promises and felt pretty confident that whatever God will do to provide a full-time income is just over the horizon. Then this job went to another candidate just as we were staring Christmas in the face, with a bleak financial landscape to usher in 2013. The gift money and income tax refund we’d been living on was slipping away. It was time for us to begin paying for our own health insurance (thank you FBCO for covering us since August!). Our house in Texas still hasn’t sold. Suddenly, at what is usually the jolliest time of the year, I could not shake any of a sundry of negative emotions: fear, abandonment, hopelessness, anger.

What happened to my faith?

A number of years ago I did a bible study in the book of Matthew. I especially enjoyed the teaching on Jesus walking on water. One question addressed in the study invited us, the learners, to think our way into the story. You know, which character do you most identify with? Are you in the boat, not even asking to hop out and take a stroll on the waves? Are you Peter, braving the waves to walk with the Lord? Are you like Jesus, never flinching in the face of adversity? This question made me laugh. My answer? None of the above. I had to invent a character to identify with.  The scripture says that the disciples had been rowing all night, buffeted by the waves, to get to the other side because Jesus had told them to. During the fourth watch, say about 3 a.m., Jesus walks on the water toward the boat to meet them.

“A GHOST!!!!!!!!” the disciples exclaimed in terror. And pandemonium, no doubt, ensued in the little fishing boat.

Here’s where Katie features in the story. I can just picture myself, engaged in the task–the not at all glamorous, ever so laboriously painful task which God is MAKING ME DO. At certainly not my proudest moment, I bark at the quivering, lily-livered disciples, “HEY!! Quit GAWKING at the ghost! Get over here and help me ROW!”

I had to laugh because back then, it was 100% true. There was work to do, God was making me do it, rarely did it yield any fruit, and faith had very little to do with it.

But not anymore.

What a change God can make! What a hard road He took me down to create in me a clean heart! Friends, I pray your way to obedience is easier than mine! Nevertheless, I made it. I’m here. God’s work is no longer just a task I have to check off my list. It is a great spiritual blessing that He’s imparted to me, that I GET to be a part of what He’s doing. Now, I pray, “God give me work—meaningful work—to do for You!”

But back to the deep despair of Christmas 2012. A week ago, that’s where I found myself, asking, “What happened to my faith?” The last week has been pure drudgery.  This morning, I woke up early and prayed for God to restore my hope, my faith, and my joy.  I’m not sure why I’m so surprised that He answered.

I put myself on a bible reading plan for 2013. This morning I got to read–guess what?–Matthew 14 wherein we find the story of how Jesus walked on water. After reading it twice, to my great relief, something broke in me and I felt a surge of relief and hope.

It came with the realization that I’m no longer the curmudgeon waving the oar at the other disciples. I’ve leaped out of the boat, and guess what?!! I’m sinking!!

But Katie, you’re not supposed to WANT to sink. Peter started sinking and Jesus chided him for doubting and not having enough faith.

Yeah, I’d be all broken up about the failure of my faith if it weren’t for the fact that Jesus is RIGHT THERE, CLOSE ENOUGH TO GRASP MY HAND AND HOLD ME UP ABOVE THE WAVES.

Not too many years ago, I wasn’t near close enough to exercise any faith at all. But today, I’ve leaped off the edge because He told me to and I’ve never been closer to my Savior in all my years.

Praise God. He’s RIGHT THERE.

“Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.”

Truly.

Confessions of a Christmas Junkie…or…Yes, Virginia, I Have Three Christmas Trees

 

The media wants us to be bitter about Christmas. Have you noticed that abrasive tone in commercials and TV shows? It’s like we’re expected to shift gears somewhere—as kids we are encouraged, nay, expected, to lose ourselves in the fantasy and believe. In what, I’m not sure; the media is pretty non-specific on what we’re putting our faith in. But then the brainwashers have us round a corner somewhere (right about the time we graduate college) and it becomes our holiday lot to dread the decorating, crowds, invading in-laws, wrapping gifts. If you’re skeptical about my take on this, check your TV listings. Dora saves Christmas. Two and a Half Men endure it by retelling the same jokes about Santa being a drunk. Or a pervert. Or both.

Me? I’m a Christmas junkie. The only thing I dread about Christmas is the day after—when I have eleven months to wait before I can get away with bringing out my Christmas trees. That’s right I said trees. Plural.

So here’s a little Christmas tale to lighten the hearts of even the Grinchiest Burgermeister.

Let me take you back to the days before Katie knew the truth about the fat bearded guy, when Christmas Eve was the most magical night of the year—the night of sugar plums, George Bailey, Ma in her kerchief, and all that jazz. And threats. Let’s not forget the Christmas threats. In the Prescott house in ’74, it went a little something like this.

“Now, Katherine,” Dad spoke sternly, “you have to go straight to bed and stay there. If you get out of bed and see Santa Claus, he won’t leave you any presents at all. You’ll be the only one with nothing to open.”

Sitting on the hearth dressed in her brand new pink footie jammies, little Katie nodded obediently before tucking her head in the fireplace for a look-see at the chimney innards. There it was—the point of entry. On this very night, Big Red himself would cram in that filthy space, feast on Mom’s famous Pringle cookies and milk, drop a treasure of gifts around our tree, and POOF—off he’ll go to repeat the process all through the neighborhood. All around town. All over the world!

Not that I needed any more convincing, but big brother Travis ratcheted things up a notch by whispering, “Last year, Katie, I actually heard the reindeer of the roof!” We were gazing up the dark chimney together.

I gasped. “Travis, really? You mean it?!”

“Uh-huh, and I heard sleigh bells right above my bedroom!”

Here I should make my apologies to readers who don’t “do” Santa. “Um-hmm. And THAT’S why we don’t do Santa Claus at our house! The lies! They lied to you!” Yes. Yes, they did. I admire you for going against the cultural grain and keeping your Christmas tradition focused solely on Jesus. He’s my very favorite, by the way, and we get and give a healthy dose of Him around our house. But, from a fundamentalist standpoint, this story from days of yore doesn’t improve any from here on, so I understand if you feel there’s more suitable reading material on another blog. Be warned, though. There’s a lot of belly aching out there over having to drag out all the Christmas ornaments, or about the obligatory office Christmas party and forced participation (growl) in the white elephant gift exchange. Or, even better, find one of those posts to give you the play by play on the atheists hell bent to bring down Christmas by asserting their right NOT to see baby Jesus on a courthouse lawn. Oy. Don’t get me wrong, it gets my back up when atheists mess with baby Jesus, and, yes, I feel I should be duly informed.  But for a few brief moments at Christmas, I will have my kerchief and my sugar plums.

Meanwhile, back to the fantasy…

Katie and her brand new Christmas jammies found themselves nestled, all snug in her bed, with echoes of Daddy’s Christmas Eve threat resounding in her head. Actually, to be more accurate, I wasn’t in my bed. Mimi and Poppie, beloved grandparents who had come to visit for Christmas, were in my bed. Anytime we had family in town, I gave up my room and slept in the study, which happened to be closest to the living room (ergo closest to the tree, presents, chimney, et al). This, I’m sure, is the reason why the threat on that Christmas Eve made such an impression.  Putting the four-year-old to sleep just feet away from all the action was risky. Dad was very specific. You are forbidden to see Santa.

I drifted off to sleep with Dad’s Santa sighting protocol mingling uneasily with Travis’ testimony of reindeer and sleigh bells. Something woke me up early the next morning. I’m not talking the typical 6:00 am Christmas morning kind of early. It was more like 3:30 am. I lay perfectly still, straining my ears for any jingling bells. After a few tense moments, I relaxed, convincing myself that it was a branch outside the window or the dog moving around on the patio. No sooner had I drifted off again, the sound jolted me awake once more. This time I sat straight up in bed, terrified. Gathering the covers around me, I listened intently. What IS that???

After a moment, my heart quit pounding so loudly in my ears that I was able to detect a soft droning sound, interrupted here and there by silence and startlingly loud snorts.

Any other night, I’d be reassured and calm. Snoring, that’s all. Someone in the house has a deviated septum. What a shame.

But I was not reassured nor in any way calm, because–like any other brainwashed toddler– I BELIEVED in Christmas. Therefore I KNEW that the only logical explanation was that the most famous overworked fat man in the whole world had succumbed to fatigue and fallen dead asleep in my living room. I mean, who could blame the guy? The whole wide world is a rather big place, and even if he skipped all the Jewish kids, all the fundamentalist humbugs, and Asia, he still had an awful lot of ground to cover in one night.

Woe is me! What do I do?

I remember with astonishing clarity the dilemma I faced as I listened to sawing logs just down the hall. On one hand, I recognized that it was my duty as a citizen of planet Earth to wake him up. Santa was a busy, busy man, and this was the big night! He most certainly had at least half the world left to visit. If he didn’t wake up, all those poor children around the globe would have nothing to open on Christmas day. Leaving him to snooze with his face in a plateful of Pringle cookies would be like wrapping kryptonite in Christmas paper and leaving it under Superman’s tree. On the other hand, if I intervened, as I knew I should, I would SEE Santa. Even though I could SAVE CHRISTMAS for every other boy and girl, my father had delineated the consequences of seeing Santa Claus in the clearest of terms. He won’t leave you any presents at all. You’ll be the only one with nothing to open.

To my great shame, I must admit, I didn’t save Christmas. I lay in bed, quaking in my footies, afraid to do the right thing, ashamed to do the wrong thing. That awful snoring continued—interminably, it seemed. I tossed and turned for an hour or two more, tortured by my misfortune, until my big brother broke through his bedroom door shouting, “It’s Christmas!”

Oh no, I thought somewhat guiltily, he’ll find Santa asleep in the cookies and he’ll lose all his presents. I had bought myself a spot on the naughty list for ‘75.

Sitting up in bed again, I heard the whole house come to life—shuffling, whispers, yawns, good mornings, and Travis’ running footsteps up and down the hall.  I could not face whatever waited for me on the other side of the study door. Someone’s Christmas was ruined, and I knew it should be mine.

About that time, Travis burst through my door, breathless. I fully expected him to announce that Santa was staying for breakfast and maybe we should drum up some carrots for the reindeer, but instead he blurted out, “Why are you still in bed??? It’s Christmas! Let’s go!!”

That’s all the prompting I needed. All must be well! And it was. The stockings were full to overflowing—just like last year and the year before—and toys, glorious toys, sat gleaming under the colored lights.

Years and years later, I pieced it all together. Travis must have clued in about Santa Claus that year. My mother certainly gave him a little pep talk to soothe any disappointment, which probably included the suggestion that he could now play along for Katie’s sake.

The snoring troubled me for years, though.  At one Christmas dinner when I was in my early twenties, my mother mentioned “the Christmas when Mimi and Poppie came to visit.” I remember the gift they gave me that year. It was a doll named Alice Ann that had belonged to my mother. They had gone to a lot of trouble to have the doll restored for me. The day after Christmas they took me shopping to buy some dresses for Alice Ann. It was a very special gift.

Though I vividly remember opening that present, for some reason, I never made the connection that they were in the house that Christmas Eve.  What I had taken for Santa Claus must have been Poppie, whose loud snores are the stuff of family legend. Everybody has at least one relative who snores like a jackhammer, right? Even down the hall and around the corner, he woke me out of a dead sleep.

It’s the day before Christmas Eve, and I’m about to head out to buy the last of the stocking fare and all the fixings for Christmas dinner. I’m undaunted by the crowds—even a Wal-Mart crowd, can you imagine? But I love it. Financially we can’t pull off the kind of Christmas we’ve had in the past, but I still love every bit of it. I love trees and lights, wrapping gifts, and Christmas music. I love little girls squealing with delight. I love cooking and baking everyone’s favorite recipes. It doesn’t bother me one bit to drag out the Christmas ornaments. And don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten for one second that Jesus is the reason for all this hoopla. He died so I could live.  I love Him, too, more than I can say.

So I’m off to finish the last of Santa’s list and spread good cheer. Beware the Scrooges, friends. Merry Christmas!

On disclaimers and death…

The following post requires a disclaimer. It’s not light or humorous commentary on life. Not at all. What follows is an example of why I waited so long to start a blog. I’ve wanted to–and friends have been telling me to–for a few years. When I quit my teaching job, a blog was on the to-do list. But right at the time the job ended, my father was locked in a battle for his life againt leukemia. The week prior to Father’s Day last year was one of the hardest of my life. He was dying and I couldn’t be with him. A week later I was there at his death bed.

For months after he died, I simply didn’t have the emotional energy to write anything that I felt could be published, just lots of personal journal entries. I didn’t want to start a blog and only have gloom and doom to discuss, so I got myself a ways into the grieving process before I started writing with the hopes of getting published. But since Father’s Day is this week, and the first anniversary of his death is approaching, I thought it would be a good idea to talk about where God has taken me in the last eighteen months. It’s actually been very surprising, especially to me. Someone should be able to benefit from what I’ve been through.

What follows is a post I wrote for a fundraising website in fall of last year. When my father was diagnosed, I committed to running a half-marathon with Team in Training to benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. For a while I entertained the fantasy that he would be well enough to cheer me across the finish line. I ran the race in his memory. This was written about six months after his diagnosis.

“I haven’t wanted to update because I haven’t wanted to write. Normally, I enjoy ticking away at the computer, and it’s fun to run across an old picture that I’d forgotten about. Here we have a picture—that I didn’t know existed—of my dad with my now six year old daughter. What a joy to find this little gem buried in my computer files. Yet there’s a terrible sadness I feel looking at it.

It’s very difficult to put into words what this loss is doing to me. Nothing could have prepared me for this. NOTHING. There is no adequate description of grief in this world, I think. If we could describe it, then we might be able to give others a heads-up, and maybe there wouldn’t be this awful shock when a crisis occurs. I didn’t know how hard it was going to be to see my dad—my hero—sick and in pain. More than that, I was completely ignorant of how deeply you ache when you lose someone you love. What a child I’ve been.

Today in church it hit me. I was listening, Mom. In fact the sermon, “What Happens When We Die”, was practically written for me. Barry even mentioned in his introduction that several church members had lost fathers recently. I know what happens when the followers of Jesus Christ die. Thank God for giving me parents that wanted me to know the truth, to know God’s Word, and to have wisdom to turn to it when I need answers about sin, grace , salvation, and eternity.

I haven’t been thrown off so much by what happens when we die, but over why it’s so hard when we’re here. My despairing comment to my husband a few weeks ago was, “The world really is just a giant ant hill, isn’t it?” It feels that way. Just a bunch of insects. Here and there, a few get squashed (or some idiot fourth grader sets a firecracker off in the middle of the mound) and for a short time the rest of the insects go completely bananas. But even then, the chaos is more about getting the rest of the ant hill back to business.

Todd’s response to my ant hill metaphor was spot on. He spoke without hesitation. “Yes. But God chose to redeem the ant hill.” Thank you for agreeing with me but also not letting me get away with it.

It’s all there in scripture, and I periodically turn to descriptions of Heaven so that I can picture my dad, young and healthy, enjoying his reward from a loving Father—our God and our King. Having lost count of exactly how many pregnancies I’ve lost, I especially like to picture my dad playing with the gaggle of grandchildren that are with him in Heaven. Wes Prescott’s suffering is over, and I’m grateful.

But I’m still here. On the ant hill. And I’m in pain.

This morning the revelation was more about what good it does us to be here. God has given us little glimpses of Heaven in life on earth. My relationship with my dad is a perfect example. He was so special. He loved me so much. And being his daughter in that loving relationship gave me so much joy. As I Corinthians 13:12 tells us, “we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face…” There is so much more joy to be had. This loving daddy/daughter relationship is a very, very faint echo of a relationship that cost the Father His Son, and the Son His life. I was bought at an enormously high price, so that I could enter into the joy of my Master at life’s end. In Heaven with God. Where Jesus is. Where my daddy is.

But that’s not all. If we are allowed some shadowy awareness of the joy of Heaven, then certainly God in His wisdom exposes us to a tiny fraction of torment—just a bee sting, really—in comparison to Hell. I could run through a list of all the things that make this life so hard—with disease and loss topping the list. The hardest thing to describe about my grief is how awful it feels to be separated from my father. I’ve told my husband so many times that I just want to be able to make a phone call and hear his voice. The scene that plays over and over in my head is the last time I hugged my dad. It was June 1, 2011. I feared it would be the last time, and I was right. It all came to such an abrupt end. Without the cross, I’d have no hope of seeing him again.

The real lesson for me here is not about my father, but about my Father. If I feel such pain just trudging my way through the grieving process, how would it feel to face death without ever a hope for a hug and “I love you” from the Lord Jesus? If I feel sorrow that drives me to my knees in prayer, then how unspeakably horrible would it be to have no hope of my prayers being heard? If my relationship with my daddy could be so precious to me—as imperfect as we are—how grossly have I underestimated God’s love for me—that He would purchase me from Hell with the life of His only Son? The cross is truly a rescue.

I’m still angry periodically about this whole ant hill thing. Why IS it so hard? I can’t point to a scripture to answer the question, but this seems reasonable. Do you look for healing if you aren’t aware that you’re sick? Would I pay any attention to someone pointing the way home without first knowing how lost I am? And this one’s the kicker: Without sorrow, would I ever crave joy? I’m certain that the answer is no, because I have never hungered for joy like I have in the last six months. I guess you have to have some frame of reference for Hell in order to feel homesick for Heaven.

I ran eight miles last night. There is a song on my iPod—which I’d completely forgotten about—that I kept replaying after listening to the lyrics. It’s a Jars of Clay version of an old German hymn that was translated into English by John Wesley. All of the verses spoke to my heart, but the last verse is my favorite:

Through waves and clouds and storms, He gently clears the way

Wait because in His time, so shall this night

Soon end in joy, soon end in joy

Soon end in joy, soon end in joy

God will lift up your head… “

Come to think of it, I never go gentle into that good night.

Well, here it is. Opportunity knocking.  More like bull-dozing its way into the vestibule of my mid-life. I’ve started this blog because…. (slight pause for a deep breath)…I’m a writer. Gulp. I said it.  There is a big ol’ hairy back story that explains the phobia of declaring my writing intentions, a back story which will no doubt make a fine appearance in this and future posts.

If the About page doesn’t include enough interesting tidbits about me, the following are probably more revealing:

Katie is–

  • A total basket case….a snapshot of this beauty will come frighteningly into focus in future posts. I have some former students who can testify to my inability to make it through a 45 minute class period without becoming emotional about something. Last night, I pleased myself immensely by sitting through an entire graduation ceremony without boo-hooing. Short lived joy, as it were. I cried as I hugged the graduates afterwards then sobbed in the car on the way home because I miss teaching.
  • Forty-two. I could smack people on Facebook who wish you a happy 40th birthday and then tell you that your 40’s are the best decade ever. Puh-lease.  I have not gone gentle into that good night.
  • Married to the world’s nicest guy–you know, heismrbeasley while also able to claim the username heisreverendbeasley. I could fill a book about marriage, and actually I plan to eventually. But for now, I cannot over emphasize this: I love Todd Beasley. Period.
  • A mom to two beautiful girls, a seven year old and four year old.  The story of how I became a mother is also book worthy.  We’re adoptive parents and are grateful to a wise and sovereign God who chose us to suffer through many, many miscarriages so that we could be Mommy and Daddy to Misses Eden and Emma Kate.
  • A laughter hog…I think the hardest I’ve laughed recently was at a Phineas and Ferb episode.  I’m always disappointed when my daughters opt for Spongebob.  The hardest I’ve ever laughed at a movie was Get Him to the Greek.  There’s a 5 minute scene in that movie that’s a from your gut, belly-bustin’, total bladder failure but you don’t care because there’s always Depends laugh.
  • An aspiring people person…The project for my 30’s was to quit trying to overhaul myself into an extrovert.  Today I can say to my husband with only minimal guilt, “I have to get away from you people before I LOSE WHAT’S LEFT OF MY MIND. “ Insert audio of the ubiquitous Spongebob in the background, and some of you can easily relate.
  • A life-long learner plagued with the I can’t ever finish anything disease—which is closely related to the genetic disorder, perfectionism. Someday, SOMEDAY, I will finish a sewing project, and I pray it’s the heirloom Christmas stockings and matching Christmas tree skirt I’ve started over and over and over and over…
  • A chronic over-extender who can’t multi-task to save a life and for this reason I’m also an–
  • On and off again school teacher. The multi-tasking element of teaching combined with self-deprecation brought on by hyper-perfectionism wears me out a bit—which brings me to my career goals…

I made a momentous decision in January 2011: to leave the teaching profession for GOOD. Of course, with the clumsy grace that only a self-proclaimed basket case possesses, I simultaneously:  A.  ground my 13 year career into a powder for the purpose of ceremoniously tossing it off the proverbial small town Texas overpass,  and  B. clung desperately to my lifetime teacher’s certificate, repeating the not even all that comforting mantra, “I can always come back to teaching.”

One other disclaimer before you read on, I’m a bona fide, card carrying Jesus freak. I know what you’re thinking, but when you read that I’m a Christian, kindly refrain from assuming that I’m religious. I didn’t bring it up to make anyone feel threatened or to resurrect some painful memory where the church deeply wounded you.  I simply believe that someone died so that I could live, and I’ve put my faith in Him for salvation.  Because this blog is all about facing down my fears (i.e. writing for public consumption), my faith is on the table. For instance, I wouldn’t be doing this at all if I hadn’t met Holly. She was my roommate when I ran the Savannah Rock-n-Roll half marathon with the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training last November. I’d been praying about how to get started with this new chapter of my life. I didn’t particularly want to share a room with a complete stranger, but she (is awesome, by the way) encouraged me to give blogging a try and also had a number of suggestions for tapping into my creativity. Some would say it was just my good fortune that I met someone who inspired me. Some would say it was coincidence. This Jesus freak says that I prayed some rather desperate prayers for direction and He answered. It’s perfectly okay for us to agree to disagree.

As far as identifying my goals for the future, I don’t even know what to say. It is a lie to say that I don’t feel a tug back toward the classroom, especially after last night. One of the most talented students of my career told me that I was his favorite teacher. I had already given him a hug, congratulated him and told him how proud I was. Ten minutes later as I was leaving, he chased me down to tell me that I was his favorite. Dang it.  I’m tired of rethinking this decision.

One beautiful thing about running everything by God is that the decision isn’t really mine. When He puts me back in the classroom, back to lesson planning I go. For now, I’m sticking with this–

I’m a writer.