Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared. (Hermann Hesse)

A wonderful friend of mine paid me the nicest compliment the other day. She said that I was the "happiest person she'd ever known." It reminds me of a study that I read a while ago. The researchers wanted to know who the happiest people on the earth were. After exhaustive studies, they found the happiest people on earth were the Danish. When they announced their findings to the Danes, everyone they spoke to in Denmark said, to a man, "We're not happy!" The researchers said, "Yes, you ARE!" The people each said, "Well, I'm not THAT happy!" The researchers responded, "YES, YOU ARE! NOW SHUT UP, AND KEEP BEING HAPPY!" ...or words to that effect... 

 I haven't thought about my being happy, or not, for a long time... but I do know that I AM actually happy, most of the time!  It wasn't like that for the first 40 years of my life, though. There were happy times here and there, of course, just like everyone else has, but no one ever paid me that kind of compliment. I guess because I wasn't happy!

Here's what happened, though...

I'd gone to church since I was a little kid. I'd wondered about God and who He was. I thought I knew Him. He was a HUGE FATHER who sat up in Heaven warning me about what I was doing wrong, and making sure I would apologize for it and not go out and do it ever again. I tried hard to please him, but I failed every time. I could never make my FATHER happy! :\

My own Dad wasn't like that too much... well, maybe a little. But he loved me, and I hated letting him down. I would sass my Mom, though, when I was a teenager, and my Mom would get angry and yell at me. But I had that under control. Like many teenage girls then, I'd sigh heavily, roll my eyes, sigh again, and then say something rude. Mom would send me to my room, and that was how much of my school homework got finished when I was a teenager, up in my room, waiting for my Mom to relent. It was kind of a trade-off.

Once I said to my Mom, "Shut up!" She sent me to my room, and I did my homework, diligently. She'd added, though, "Wait 'til your Father gets home!" And then he did...

When he walked in the front door, Mom told him what I'd said to her. Dad said, "Terry! Come down here!" He didn't yell. There was a note of sadness in his voice, instead. 

I came out of my room and tip-toed down the stairs, and Dad said, "Terry Kingston! Did you REALLY tell your Mother to 'Shut up?"'

"Yes," I said through my sniffling.

"Come here!" Dad smacked me once, hard, on my 13-year-old-blue-jean-covered-behind. "Go up stairs and don't come out of your room until tomorrow morning! NO dinner for you! And don't you EVER say that to your Mother again! Do you hear me?" I heard... I definitely heard him.

That was the worst punishment I ever had as a kid. Dad's handprint was glowing in red on my backside, and I remember thinking what if it doesn't ever go away? How will I explain my hand-printed bottom to my husband when I get married? Most of all, I cried all night because my Dad was angry with me. I even snuck down the stairs to apologize to my Mom, but Dad would have none of it. "Go back to your room, and don't come out until morning!" 

Time passed..............................................years and years, in fact!

I was a junior high school English teacher and the English department chair, and I was shy. I loved my students. I loved teaching. I loved life as soon as I closed my classroom door. But I was scared of most adults, except for my wonderful husband, of course, and a few close friends.

One day, I decided that I'd had enough of this "shy" thing! Other people didn't seem to worry all the time about what others thought of them. They just seemed to live life easier than I did. How could I change this... hmmmmmmm....

And then the person who scared me the most in the entire school - a certain science teacher -drove into the school parking lot as I was sitting there, stewing. He arrived every day at the same time I did, and every day I'd wait in my car 'til he walked across the parking lot and into the office. Then I'd get out of my car and go to work. 

Well, NOT TODAY! I figured, What's the worst that could happen if I said "Good Morning" to him... He might give me a dirty look and keep walking... I could survive that... maybe. No more thinking, I thought. Do it! JUST DO IT! So I did.

He said, "Good morning, Terry," and kept on walking. Nothing happened! There was no earthquake! No lightning flashed! It didn't faze him at all. And why should it? 

We went on like that every morning for a quarter of the year. Sometimes, he even smiled when he said, "Good morning." Then, at the semester, there were some schedule changes, and I found myself with the same teacher "conference period" as the "scary science teacher." We both gravitated to the library during that daily period, and eventually we started to talk to one another at the table behind the librarian's long desk. He had been a Navy pilot, flying off of aircraft carriers before he became a teacher, and he told me stories about that dangerous profession. (Yikes! If you're reading this, and that's your dream, PULEEZ talk to a pilot first, and see if this is REALLY what you think you ought to do with your life!)

One day he told me that he was a Christian, and I said so was I... but was I? He seemed to know a lot more about God that I did! I'd ask him questions about what he believed, I'd challenge him about what he answered, I'd poo-poo what he said, and all the time he'd give me rational answers.  And then I could hardly wait for my conference period every day! I'd think up questions that I had never asked anyone before, and he'd answer them, and those answers sounded awfully right to me.  

One day he said to me, "I think it's time for you to say the "Sinner's Prayer."

"What's that?'

"Let's go to my science room, and I'll explain it to you," and he turned and walked to his room across the way.

What to do? Well, like a cat, I've always been curious. So I followed, sniffing the wind as I went.

He said, "You need to kneel." So I did. But inside I was thinking, What is this? No one at my church ever knelt down on the floor. I guess it won't kill me to be polite, but this is silly. I won't tell a soul about this..."

"Repeat after me: 'Father, I'm a sinner, and I know it. I'm sorry for all my sins. Please forgive me. Father, please come into my heart.'"

I did it. I said those words after he spoke them. Inside, though, I felt a little foolish. I kept thinking, That's all there is????? Then I got up off the science room floor...

When I stood up, I felt like I was going to keep rising up and up and up! What had happened? Then, right then, I knew! A TON had just been lifted off of my shoulders! I was light as a feather, and I couldn't stop grinning! He was beaming at me, and the bell rang for class.

I tell you, I FLOATED all the way to my classroom, grinning like a silly woman. I taught that period with such joy inside that all the kids in my junior high class seemed to be happy, too!

When the 5-minute passing bell rang, I raced back to the science room, and I told that science teacher/pilot that something had happened to me! I was light! I was happy! I was... I don't know... I was something...

The thing is that it's never left me, that feeling of joy! Joy isn't the same as happiness, you know. Happiness comes and goes, it can even be a cyclical thing. But joy is soooo deep that even in sorrow, it's the bedrock beneath that holds you up. I was changed completely in that moment of time, and when I stood up... all I can tell you is that I was a new person! I didn't even look quite the same. I guess when you are smiling and happy, people see a different person from the one you were before.

Every single morning of my life since that day, I get up early to take my bath and read the Bible. I've read it cover-to-cover at least 25 times. I LOVE the Bible. You should see what sitting on the side of the bathtub for so many years has done to it! The bathwater's moisture must float up to it and thicken each of those tissue-paper pages. My Bible lies there, nearly completely forced open by that moisture, all ready for reading every morning.

People just don't scare me since that day, either. Now, don't get me wrong... you can see a lot in people's eyes, and I'm not stupid. There are people, and there people, after all. But I keep thinking that the Father of us all loves EACH one of us. The guy who cuts me off in traffic, the woman who gives me a dirty look and darts in front of me in the supermarket check-out line (like yesterday), the vagrant huddled behind a tree on the street, and the politician that makes me see red... He loves us all! Only GOD could do that! Only Jesus says that all sin is sin, and whoever is without sin can cast the first stone. Well, that sure wouldn't be yours truly... FOR SURE! Who do you know who would die in your place? Don't look at me... The Lord is with me, and He's not leaving me any time soon... and I'm joyful about it ALL.   

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