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Tonight we put up our Christmas tree, the first Ravella/Gilbert tree. Actually we have two trees. One is artificial. It is perfect. It has p...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Social Security

There, I just recited it silently in my head and got it right this time - Jim's social security number. If you are a military spouse you understand the vast importance of having these nine little numbers memorized. They are the proverbial magical key to unlock every single door you walk through in the armed forces. It's how you are identified as the serviceman or his family so you'd better lock this one in your memory early on. When Troy and I first married and he joined the AF, I rebelled against the system on needing i.d. cards and his social security number to access everything but quickly I gave in realizing that was just the way things were! For 13 years I knew Troy's social better than my own phone number. Now suddenly it has become Jim's I must memorize. I admit it has taken me months to do so. Teaching this old dog new tricks takes longer now. The AF is so accustomed to spouses easily stating their sponsor's socials that they look at me like I must have the IQ of a 4 year-old when I start digging around in my wallet looking for my ID just to make sure I am giving them the right one. This all got me to thinking about the term "social security". Beyond the government's numerical identification system. More along the lines of our own personal identification system. Are we as hyumans secure because we are socially connected to other humans? As for me personally, I do find much security in having a husband, parents, kids and good friends. When I lost Troy, the first on that list, I grew very insecure. Who was I now? What was my identity? Where would my security lie now?

Troy was always a provider. I knew we would never go hungry or without a decent roof over our heads because he was a hard worker and totally committed to taking care of me and our kids. I knew I would never quesitons his devotion or faithfulness to me because he loved me more than himself. He would never leave me for someone else. What I never considered was the possibility of him leaving me for Jesus.

When Troy died the social security "benefits" (they always use the term death benefits as if you are actually benefitting in some way from total devastation) checks started coming in. I thought the first time I would see these would be after retirement.

Fear gripped my soul. That fear had a name - insecurity. I just couldn't fathom that an unseen God could replace Troy's warm embrace and protective covering over our family. Shortly after he died my friend hung a placque in my home that said "Christ is the head of this home. The unseen guest at every meal." It served as a constant and much-needed reminder to me that just because I lost Troy I did not lose my God too. I continued to have His covering over me and our household. I believe, whether all women will admit it or not, we have an innate need for the security a man in the home offers. Equally as much as men need us as helpmates and companions.

Genesis 2:18

The Lord God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him."

I now know so many women who have lost their husbands and must dig deep to see themselves and God in an accurate light. I continue to be one of those women. In fact, all of us who have lost someone or something precious to us. Someone or something that made us who we are. Or, in the case of my many girlfriends who have suffered infertility, who we so desperately want to be? Once that bubble is burst our souls are just laid right out there in the open for some major self-evaluation. Is our security purely social, purely dependent on our title as wife, mom, daughter, friend or is it eternal?

I have recently joined the Facebook phenomenon. I can pretty much guarantee all that I will not devote much of my scarce spare time to logging into it. But is has proven quiet fascinating to me to observe the desire we all have to feel connected to others. Facebook proves more than anything I have ever seen, that we have a desire to be surrounded by some type of social security. Okay maybe it is a little bit of that nosy voyeursim thing too! :)

I believe God created us with the undeniable need for relationship. With Him first. Then others second. We just often reverse the order. He knew Adam needed Eve. He knew Abraham needed Sarah and Isaac needed Rebekkah. He knew Naomi needed Ruth. He knew Mary needed Joseph. He knew Jesus needed John. He knew we needed a Savior.

My question is when the human connection is broken, especially in death, what do we do then? Even if that person was just as I described Troy: devoted, hard-working, committed, faithful and loving, they will still eventually leave us or us them. Who is the one we can depend upon?

Psa 61:3-5

"From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings."

I recently found two journals. Both dated back to November 1996. One written by Troy and one by me. We were stationed in England at the time and went to a "Marriage Encounter" weekend. These are popular in the States because I think as a whole we are a touchy-feely, communication-driven culture of people who thrive on introspective thinking and digging deep within ourselves. We like Dr. Phil. We buy self-help and relationship books by the hundreds of thousands every year. We like to express our feelings. I think this might be one of the reasons why we are so annoying to other cultures. Anyway, the Brits (generally speaking) tend to be a bit more proper or stoic with showing their emotions and deeply personal sides. Troy and I were the only Americans in the place. We giggled at how uncomfortable many of the other couples seemed to be with this very-American-based approach to marriage enrichment. Lots of talking. Lots of hugging. Lots of writing. Today, I couldn't be more thankful for that weekend of writing. While Jim has lots of Andrea's journals full of her her most-treasured thoughts and expressions penned in her own hand, I have very little from Troy. He liked to write me cards but didn't journal his feelings often. That weekend in the English countryside he did. I will cherish that little blue notebook. I was also interested to see what I wrote. I didn't do much of that kind of thing either at the time.

As I read over the words I had written I found answers to an interesting couple of questions the leader had asked us to write to our spouse about. The first was to list the reasons we wanted to go on living and the second was to list the reasons we wanted to go living together as a couple. Seemed a strange question to have asked as I never thought I would not want to go on living at any point in my life. However I did write on the subject at length and in the last paragraph. I think I almost touched on the one thing that would make me lose that desire for life. My words to Troy were:

"In conclusion, I want to go on living with you is because I belong with you. I envision we are like a little chain of paperdolls. We were being cut out so that when we were opened we were connected. To cut those paperdolls in half we would not be complete - something from one of us would be missing. That's how I would feel without you connected to me, like some part of me was missing."

Those words, ironically, rang painfully true. My fears of loss then were validated exactly 10 years and 10 days later. Now I face them daily. I need Jim just as much as I ever needed Troy. He completes me now in the same way Troy completed then. The question is what do I do with the fear? In whom shall I place my trust?

Psalm 27:1

The LORD [is] my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? the LORD [is] the strength of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

Psalm 112:7

He will have no fear of bad news; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.

Psalm 118:8

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man. (our spouses)

Psalm 118:9

It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. (our president and world leaders)

Jer 17:7-8

"But blessed are those who trust in the LORD and have made the LORD their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they go right on producing delicious fruit."

Therein lies the challenge and why we all need the Lord so desperately in times of suffering: how are we to go right on producing delicious fruit (living with purpose) after losing the will to do so? Only by His might, His strength, His stamina, His gifts, His mercy, His purpose, His grace, His unfailing and unending love. As Jim always says, "Christ willingly laid down on the cross. Sometimes, without explanation, He asks us to do the same." I had never thought before that Christ had to first lay down on that rough and splintered wooden cross before they nailed His hands and feet. What an act of submission to God! Though He was part God, He was part human so you know that was the last thing in the world He wanted to do. Christ asked me to lay down my identity and my security in being Troy's wife. As a woman married all her life, I would say, there is almost nothing more difficult to be asked of her than that.

While in the middle of writing this blog, Jim and I went back to Phoenix for the weekend to visit my adopted parents, Faye and Lin. They are the most endearing and lovely black (Faye says I can say that instead of African-American and she's the expert on everything! Aren't you Faye?:)) couple from our church out there. There will be a future blog about them. There is just too much to say about these two precious people. In short, Faye is very sick. She has cancer, MS, connective tissue disease, sick cell anemia and a host of other illnesses. Faye is the single most remarkable person I have ever known. Lin is kind and patient and handsome and has lovingly stood by her side for 40 years. Faye has never had riches, power or fame but she has the grand stature of a queen because she is confident of who she is Christ. Not who she is as Lin's wife. Not who she is as a healthy woman who should be in the prime years of her life enjoying retirement, travel, good food and the comforts of life. At the moment she is unable to chew anything that is not finely mashed and rarely leaves her home except for the endless trips to the doctor. She has been confined to her home these last 6 weeks because the doctors fear she is too weak and cannot catch any type of cold or flu. Faye is a social butterfly. Her illnesses have clipped her wings so often. Yet she can still find the humor in many situations and always makes others feel as if they matter more than anyone. She is on a campaign right now to help the nurse that draws her blood each week. She wants to go on a mission trip so Faye agreed, from the recent confines of her home, to help her get support. She and Lin live in a tiny house in a neighborhood that has seen much decline and crime in the last 20 years. Yet I would have rather been standing in her kitchen drinking smoothies with her, like I did this past Saturday, than at the finest banquet in the world. I want a bit of her to rub off on me. Just so I can, too, stand in great stature and be known as a woman who still praised God when she had every reason to curse Him, just like Faye.

I found myself feeling wrapped in the secure blanket of a loving friendship by just being with Faye and Lin this weekend. As I held her crippled hand to pray at dinner, my mind could not help but wander to what would I possibly do if I lost Faye? Was the security I have in her friendship meaning I wasn't depending on God enough? Was the security I had in Troy and now have in Jim standing in the way of my confidence in knowing I am God's child first? I think the answer is possibly no but probably yes. This embodies the mind-blowing concept that this life is but a teeny tiny snippet on the timeline. It's our two-world view struggle. We must keep our lives and our eyes fixated on Him. On the eternal not the temporal. And then be utterly thankful and rejoice when He sends a bit of Himself (the Troys and Andreas and Fayes in our lives) to keep us company while we wait for our entrance into eternity. I do believe God loves us enough to understand we need to have people on this earth with whose hearts we can intertwine. We just still have to remember when those hearts are no longer with us, He still is.

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