Friday, February 15, 2013

Lessons from a Glass Jar

One of my earliest experiences in prayer occurred fifty years ago today and includes the governor’s mansion, Miss America, and a mason jar.

February was Heart Fund month, and the race was on all over Mississippi to see who could raise the most money for the heart association. Each of the girls—first grade through high school--had a jar to collect donations.  If you grew up in a small town, you may remember the sight: mayonnaise and mason jars adorned with valentines and photos of the girls placed alongside the cash registers in the Western Auto, drug store and grocery stores – prime real estate! I was only in the third grade, but I launched my campaign to win.

 My parents would not let me put out my jar in town much to my dismay; I was left to earn money from chores and to collect spare change at the end of the day. The teacher tallied totals on the blackboard daily, and the handwriting on the wall told me I was in trouble.

As February 14 drew near, my anxiety grew. The prize was to be Queen of
the Class. The Overall Heart Fund Queen for the town received the grand prize: a trip to the
Governor’s Mansion in Jackson where all the statewide queens would gather for lunch. The rumor spread quickly that they had a solid gold bathroom.

How significant was this dream to be queen? Princess costumes still sell wildly today, but this was back in 1963. Mary Ann Mobley and Linda Lee Mead had won back-to-back Miss America as Miss Mississippi. Even as a third grader, I was impressed. To add fuel to the queenly fire, I had just been on the front page of The Daily Mississippian seated in the lap of my aunt who had been crowned Miss University. I was star struck among those glamorous girls. Surely there was a crown in my future!

On February 13, I had assessed the class totals and knew that--barring a miracle--I would not win. The night before the big day I prayed my little seven-year-old heart out, asking God to please let my daddy put a twenty dollar bill in that jar before morning. Nobody would come close to that. I knew he could do it. I believed.

I awoke the next morning with eager anticipation, and there sat my jar: no twenty. Didn’t my parents want me to win? It was within their power to make it happen. It would have been so easy, I thought.

No, I didn’t win--not even the top of my little third grade class.

 At the end of the day, however, I do remember how pleased my father was to learn that Lucy, a high school senior had won. Lucy was one of his favorite patients, an irrepressible young woman stricken with polio who moved through the halls of the school with her aluminum crutches.

When I voiced my disappointment – okay, I was seven - my father put his arms around me and hugged me close offering both comfort and wisdom I was unable to perceive then. He had a different perspective and helped me frame the disappointing experience: “Marita, you’ll have many chances to go to Jackson in your life, and you'll see the governor’s mansion; but Lucy never dreamed she’d have a day like this.”

The town of Monticello proclaimed a day for Queen Lucy with her picture on the front page of The Lawrence County Press.

I have reflected on what I saw as unanswered prayer and learned a lesson from that little heart fund jar. Sometimes our prayers are like my childhood prayer:  “God, you can do this! It is not too hard for you.”

In some ways we still ask for the thing we think would put us over the top. It may not be “please put a twenty in the heart fund jar”, but fill in the blank for our own personal crisis. We tell God precisely how to fix a person or situation. And just like my lesson 50 years ago, we still don’t get what we ask for.

Does that mean we didn’t ask with the correct incantation to make our prayer acceptable to God? Perhaps proper verbal tweaking likely was not and is not the missing link. Sometimes what we desire just does not come to pass.   Prayer is one of life’s mysteries.

 From my limited point of view, the answer looked easy; but my parents had a different perspective--a bigger picture in mind--and the quick fix I wanted was not the best for me.

When we are in the midst of true disappointment now as adults, facing times of real anxiety, we implore God through prayer. We give thanks for what we call answered prayer when what we seek comes to pass, but the place of anguish is when we do not get what we want. We may not see a way out barring a miracle, so we ask God in the only way we know how: pouring our hearts out earnestly and sometimes begging for the solution we seek. God is big enough to take it all and sift it lovingly. Our God remains steadfast to meet our deepest needs, though help may come in times and ways we cannot anticipate. Yet, God is trustworthy.

And my father was right, as always.

Several parents who heard this story recently said indignantly, “I can’t believe your parents did not let you win! What was wrong with them?” I think that is another difference in parenting in the sixties and today, but that is another topic.

We have taught our children what might be dubbed the gospel according to the Rolling Stones:
“You can’t always get what you want….but you get what you need.”  Put another way, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Dream Again and Deeper

"For broken dreams, the cure is dream again...and deeper."  ~ C.S. Lewis

Some would tell us that dreaming is idle; dreaming is wasting time.

"Stop daydreaming," we hear from a distant classroom memory as the teacher scolded disengaged students. Yet, dreaming has a hallowed place among the mature and serious just the same. Dreaming  generates within us a quickness, a lightness of spirit in spite of age or infirmity. There can be an invisible quality to dreaming that greatly enhances our days.

"We are such stuff as dreams are made on..." Shakespeare wrote on The Tempest.

Never stop dreaming.

Wake up a tired dream. Dust off an old one. Seek a fresh vision for this present season of life and pray for an ability to imagine our lives invigorated by a dream. Let it bubble up. Watch it intersect our lives from unexpected places. Seek it diligently. Prepare to see something new, and give thanks.

Never stop dreaming.

Nunquam subsisto somniare

Jamais arrêter de rêver

Mai smettere di sognare

никогда не прекращайте мечтать

Anyway you say it, the key is to keep a dream alive.

Stay plugged into a source that feeds us with life-giving energy when much of the world around us would drain us and leave us aching for more. More stuff. More time. More money. More influence. More and enough to stockpile, if we could, but we cannot. Time is like manna: we only have enough for this day to use wisely.

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. James 1:5

 photo credit: Prentice Stabler