Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ransomed

Most of us feel trapped by something.  Pressed down, threatened, punished... the word may be different depending on your personality, your belief system or your circumstances, but deep down, few of us are truly free.  Some of us are better at hiding it than others, even from ourselves.  Denial may be Satan's most dangerous weapon.  We tell ourselves we’re fine, in full control of our own lives and destinies, but in reality, we’re powerless, and deep down, we know it. 

Deep down, we’re imprisoned... Imprisoned by our insecurities, wracked with guilt for past mistakes, and overwhelmed with doubt that we’ll ever be good enough to truly be set free.  Deep down, we’re scared… Scared when we look at the world around us, scared when we realize we can’t always protect our loved ones, scared when we consider the future…the known challenges and even more so, the unknown ones.  Scared of what happens next…

The hard part is knowing there’s nothing we can do about it.  This world will hurt us; there’s no escaping that.  There’s no way to be smart enough, rich enough, quick enough, strong enough, brave enough, or good enough to remain unscathed.  It doesn’t matter how alert we are, how much we prepare and train, how much we WANT to be in charge of our lives…in reality, we simply aren’t.  We’re all trapped, and this prison will be our home forever if we so choose.  
There is no one righteous, not even one.” –Romans 3:10

The good news of Easter is that we do have a choice.  We are trapped, but Jesus paid the ransom.  Some would say all we have to do is accept that gift, and I’d agree that’s THE most important part.  But I realize now that it’s just as important to take the next step and rise up out of our captivity, changing our perspective, our view of what matters and what is real.  I’ve heard of kidnapping victims learning to trust their captors and staying with them even after they’ve been set free.  Let’s not be that foolish, comfortable in our own prison. Sometimes we convince ourselves it’s easier to stay where we (falsely) feel like we’re in control, where we know what to expect, even if those expectations bring misery, shame, and uncertainty.  But God wants so much more for us.  
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” –Galations 5:1   


Let’s remember this Easter why Jesus did what He did.  It was for the same reason that a person offers ransom for a kidnapped love one.  It wasn’t for the fame or because He had to. It was because He LOVES us enough to want better for us. 

It’s up to us to want better for ourselves too. 

"...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, 
and to give His life as a ransom for many." -Matthew 20:28


Thursday, April 10, 2014

God Blessed Texas (and NCAA Basketball)

A few months ago, my mom posed a question to me and Brent, my sister and her husband: “Would you all be interested in going to the NCAA Championship games in Dallas next spring?”  Three of us immediately said YES, with no hesitation. 

I raised an eyebrow and started to protest, but as soon as I saw the look on Brent’s face, I knew it was over.  We were going to the 2014 Final Four, even though there wouldn’t be the slightest hope of Wake Forest being there.  Despite the fact that my mom works for the athletic director at Wake Forest (who was chairperson of this year’s NCAA basketball tournament, hence the connection), Brent is a closet Duke fan.  Actually, he’s a loud and proud Duke fan, but I’m always trying to stuff his enthusiasm in the closet (without much success).

The rest of my family had that same enthusiasm for going to the Final Four, no matter what teams were going to be there, and pretty soon, even I caught the excitement.  I’d never been to Texas and I DO love college basketball (I can fill out a bracket with the best of them).  What did I have to lose?

Even though Brent’s beloved Blue Devils somehow lost out in the first round, NO team from North Carolina made the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1979 (before I was born!), and the ACC was COMPLETELY absent from the Final Four festivities, it was still by far the most exciting sporting event I’ve ever attended.  AT&T Stadium (a.k.a. Dallas Cowboys Stadium) was packed out, setting an attendance record for both games, topping out at nearly 80,000 people per night.  Brent, Brendan, and my dad even spotted a few famous people; by famous, I mean, athletes that I’ve never heard of BUT there were some other well-known sightings on the big screen.  



Perhaps the most exciting part was getting TO the event.  We were lucky enough to be included on a charter bus shuttle from the hotel to the stadium, complete with police escort!  Having motorcycle police officers clear the highway for our arrival definitely made for a memorable life moment. 




Thanks to the opporutnity to purchase tickets from my mom’s boss’ allotment, we also had awesome seats.  And we decided that it wasn’t SO bad having no one to cheer for, because there wasn’t any need to get nervous about the outcome.  We cheered when we felt like it, sat when we felt like it, and mostly watched other fans who were totally freaking out the way we would’ve been had an ACC school made it. 




In addition to the games, we visited a fan event called Bracket Town on Sunday, complete with an afternoon performance with the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.  I was excited to spot Judy from the CMT show Making the Team and Brent was glad to see the cheerleaders, for the obvious reasons PLUS the fact that he’s ALSO a closet Dallas Cowboys fan (Brendan’s the only one trying to keep that closet door closed). 



The trip wasn’t all fun and games.  On Saturday, we visited The Sixth Floor Museum, which is located on the sixth floor of the Texas Book Depository from where it is believed that Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shot that killed President Kennedy.  We were all really impressed by the museum and we learned a lot.




As a teacher tip, a few years ago, I started a new tradition in gift shops when we travel.  I try to find a book that suits the reading level of my students for my classroom library.  When I return, I either read it out loud or tell the students about it and encourage them to read it.  This was my classroom find for this trip:

  

On Sunday night, we planned to celebrate Donnay’s birthday since we’d be flying home on the actual  day.  We picked a restaurant on Open Table (I highly recommend this website and/or app when you’re out of town).   We ended up about a ten-minute drive away from downtown, and we all enjoyed the modern d├ęcor, quiet atmosphere, friendly waitstaff and delicious food at DISH.


We had some free time on Monday when my parents went to visit Southfork Ranch, where they filmed the TV show Dallas.   I said I just wanted to do something that made me feel like I had been to Texas, not just any big city, so Donnay and I picked out Fort Worth Stockyards, about half an hour away… think Old Salem, but for cowboys. 

   

Mom and Dad reportedly had a great time too…


Rounding out the weekend was the awesome hotel we stayed in, Omni Dallas.  It had a view of Reunion Park, which hosted concerts all weekend that we could hear in our rooms (such as Jason Aldean, Fun, and Bruce Springsteen) as well as fireworks on Sunday night (which were pretty cool from my parents’ 21st floor room).  To top it off, there was a TV IN the bathroom mirror.  The only disappointment for me was that there was no CMT…even though we were in Texas?!?


The hotel also had a restaurant with one of the best breakfast buffets we'd ever had, complete with Texas-shaped waffles and a waiter who found me a Mountain Dew in the bar AND brought me an extra plus a to-go cup.  He must be an addict too.  :)



Overall, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I’d do it all again in a heartbeat given the opportunity.  Hopefully, with Wake Forest there next time…go Deacs!