Saturday, January 5, 2013

Upside-Down Kingdom....

So...if you read my first 2013 post, you'll know that I've dusted off this blog and am writing again...after I let "life" detour me for a couple of years.

Back when I first started writing here, I explained why I gave this blog such an incredibly-long-hard-to-remember name. Honestly--true confession time--I don't remember which came first--my reading the following words from C.S. or my thinking of these words to describe to myself this journey of following Jesus through this kingdom that so, so often feels "upside down"...and then underlining, highlighting and circling those words...(many times)...when I found them in his writings.'ll just share his much more beautiful way of conveying this truth:
"It is only in our 'hours-off,' only in our moments of permitted festivity that we find an analogy (of Heaven). Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for "down here" is not their natural place. Here they are a moment's rest from the life we were placed here to live. But in this world everything is upside down. That which, if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven." (C.S. Lewis, "Letters to Malcolm)

And...every time I read his word, "Joy is the serious business of heaven," I'm reminded of my dear, beautiful childhood friend with the name that fit her perfectly--Joy.

So, this morning, because I want those of you who haven't "met" her to be blessed my doing so, I decided to re-run parts and pieces of a couple of the first posts to this blog . The first story will tell you about a wedding we once sang at. (Joy and I had earned the reputation of being pretty good and definitely cheap "wedding singers.")

"....As I said earlier, "We could sing!" One wedding we sang at required that Jeff (pianist extraordinaire), Joy and I rehearse on a Wednesday night at an even smaller Pentecostal church than the one we called home. This little church had prayer meeting every Wednesday night, which...unfortunately...we weren't late enough to miss. As soon as we came through the doors, the pray-ers invited--make that insisted--that we come join the prayer circle.
Well, chicken that I am, I got right in the middle of Jeff and Joy and grabbed their hands, leaving them to grab the hands of praying strangers. (A prior experience at a nursing home had left me a reluctant hand-grabber. But that's another story for another time.)
So...Jeff reaches for the hand of the man standing next to him, only to jerk around and look at me with THE MOST SURPRISED, PERPLEXED LOOK"What do I do now?" So I look over and realize that man doesn't have a hand...or an arm, for that matter!
But before either of us could say a word, the man literally hollers to Jeff, "Just grab the nub, brother, just grab the nub!" can you pray after something like that? Unless you count under-our-breath-body-shaking-unable-to-stop-laughing as prayer.
Come to think of it...maybe God times, anyway. After all, I LOVE hearing my children...and nephews...and token beautiful niece...when they're really laughing....And, He's a much better parent than I feel sure He loves his children's laughter....Who knows, maybe He laughs with us every time we remember the night of the nub."

This next post tells about one summer when Joy had talked chubby me into going with her to Alabama Church of God Youth Camp (which seemed like a good idea at the time.)

"So, we get there, find our cabin, and start unpacking our culottes. And, I look over in Joy's suitcase, and its halfway-filled with toilet paper. Well...I panicked! I had not brought any toilet paper! So, I say, "Joy, were we supposed to bring our own toilet paper?!?" To which she replied, "The list said we were supposed to bring toiletries."
I doubled over laughing--mainly from relief that I wouldn't have to go around borrowing toilet paper all week. But I did have to wear the same maxi-length dress to church every night. (Who knew that "camp" involved nightly church services?)
Later that week, Joy had this great idea that we should take a canoe out on the camp "lake" (which was really just a small, muddy pond). I should probably point out that neither of us had ever held an oar.
As you might expect, our paddling only managed to make our little boat keep going around in circles. But, somehow, those circles took us out to the middle of the "lake"...just in time for a thunderstorm!
Lightning is popping down everywhere, and campers are headed for the hills. This man (who eventually ended up being our youth pastor) is standing on the dock shouting through a bullhorn, "Girls, come in NOW!"
Like we WANTED to be in the middle of a "lake" in a lightning storm. Well, Joy is crying. I'm crying. Counselors are gathering on the dock trying to decide if these chubby, sobbing, uncoordinated girls are worth getting struck by lightning.
And...just like that...Joy JUMPS OUT OF THE BOAT. I can't tell if she's swimming or walking on water. (Keep in mind she's doing all this while dressed in soaking-wet culottes.)
When she reaches the bank, she never looks back. She just kept running up that stupid, pine-straw-covered hill. And, the whole time (while still madly rowing) I'm screaming, "JOY, COME BACK HERE!!!"....(I AM SO MAD AT HER.)
So, now, I'm sitting ALONE in that stupid boat, trying to figure out how to use that stupid oar....I know how I wanted to use it....(By the way, Joy has taken her oar WITH HER.)
At this point, with all those stupid counselors staring at me, a lightning bolt was looking dadgum good.
But, the counselor who ended up becoming our youth pastor must have realized that lightning-fried campers don't look good on a ministry resume, so he paddles out and rescues me....which is no easy thing. Have you ever seen a chubby girl, with soaking-wet-down-to-her-hips-hair, in rain-streaked-COCOLA-bottle-thick-glasses, wearing wet-knee-length culottes TRY to go from one boat to another in the middle of a "lake" in a lighting storm?
When I FINALLY did get back to that dock, I had one single, solitary thought:
But...when I....finally...made our...stupid...cabin....Well, she's so pitiful sitting on that cot...I couldn't do it. She looks up at me with those blue, tear-filled eyes and says, "I'm sorry. I was just SO SCARED. I thought you'd jump out with me."
She had a point. I had always jumped when she jumped. Got into trouble when she got into trouble. Laughed when she laughed. Sought the Holy Ghost when she sought the Holy Ghost.
So, we hugged...and changed into dry culottes.
Joy died...more than 20 years ago now. She didn't realize a train was coming.
I still remember hearing those choked-up words from my Daddy. "Joy is dead, baby."
How could that be? I'd promised I would come see her and her beautiful baby girl the next time I was home....
So I went Joy's funeral...which was packed with all the students whose lives had been touched by her teaching and laughter....
After her funeral, I drove back to mine and Kev's dark little apartment in Knoxville. I remember walking in, laying on the couch, and just feeling so... empty... alone... miserable...when the words of a song that Joy and I had sung together in our little church came flooding in:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ the solid Rock I stand,
All other ground is sinking sand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

So...when I read C. S. Lewis' words: "Joy is the serious business of heaven," of course they make me think of that ultimate, eternal Joy we are traveling toward through this upside-down Kingdom. But, they also make me think of my Joy...our Joy. Her bubbly laughter must certainly add to heaven's joy. I can't wait to hear it again.

"Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy and singing."
(Psalm 126:5, Amplified Bible)

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