Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Lottery


Dedicated to RJL (Barbling #2) who's lovely innocence inspired me.

Eight years ago, I went to a King Arthur Flour baking demonstration with my friend Brenda and her three daughters, who I lovingly refer to as my Barblings.  Upon registering, we all were given tickets for door prizes that were to be drawn at the end of the class.  Each of the Barblings was given her ticket to hold.  Barbling #2 clung to hers as if it were gold and asked me when the prizes would be given.  I told her she had to wait until the end.  She said ok and took her seat next to me. 

While her sisters colored and drew pictures, Barbling #2 sat attentively, tightly gripping her ticket between her thumb and forefinger, quietly reading off the numbers to herself and watching the clock.  Her childhood excitement pinged my heart and I said a quick prayer that God would fulfill this wish of hers to win a prize.

Periodically, she would turn to me and asked how much longer it would be until the drawings.  I checked the agenda and gave her a rough estimate of when I thought the raffle would begin.  She then turned back in her seat, still grasping her ticket, a look of anticipation on her face that only one so young and inexperienced in disappointment could display.

This happened a few times throughout the show.  While her sisters played and mom and I casually remarked on some newly learned dough fact, Barbling #2 sat there waiting quietly with anxious patience.

Finally!  The demonstration had ended and the time for the door prizes to be awarded arrived.  We all pulled out our tickets with some degree of wishful hope that we might win some trinket or maybe even the grand prize, a highly treasured King Arthur Flour cookbook.

Ticket #1 was drawn.  They read off the number and everyone checked their tickets.  And…Barbling #3 won!  Her prize was a baseball cap and a dough scraper.  All the audience members clapped and congratulated her on her good fortune.  Many even cooed over her cherubic six-year-old glee.  Then everyone’s attention returned to the remaining drawings.  More tickets were pulled, more numbers read off.  All the while, Barbling #2 silently checked her ticket, carefully listening as the numbers were read off.  She followed along on her ticket as each number was called; double checking, though by this time she had to have had the numbers memorized.

A few prizes later, Barbling #1’s number was called (she won a dough wand).  Mom and I looked at each other with surprise and happiness on our good luck.  Two of the kids had won!  Just as quickly, though, dismay registered on our faces as we realized, “Oh.  Two of the three kids had won.” While people were congratulating #1 on her prize I was quickly composing some consoling words that I could say to #2 when she was let down.  I’m willing to bet mom was as well.

After congratulating #1, #2 again turned forward in her seat, still clutching her ticket, that same look of wishfulness on her innocent face.

That face radiated such hope and excitement. There was a brightness that comes from childlike simplicity.  At seven, she didn’t have frown lines or wrinkles.  Furrows were not etched in her forehead from the plows of sadness.  She was beautiful, and her lovely innocence frightened me.  I was worried about how her mother would pick up the pieces when disillusionment crashed down on her.  I was scared for her, how she would handle the disappointment.  My heart ached for her naiveté and I wanted to cry then for the pain she was going to have to endure shortly.  She would be left out of the winner’s circle – the circle in which her sisters were welcomed in to that day.  I was powerless to protect her and I could not think of any words of comfort that would soothe her pain.  So I just sat there preparing for the tears that would flow.  Or at least I hoped there would be tears.  Silent disappointment would be worse.  Tears can be wiped away.  I didn’t have access to comfort her bruised heart and aching soul.

The time came for the grand prize to be drawn.  The excitement in the room could be felt.  The announcer slowly and clearly read each number on the ticket as audience members checked their tickets.  Barbling #2 followed along.  When the final number was read we saw that she had won!  The excitement she expressed was akin to that normally reserved for birthdays and Christmas.  She shook with excitement.  And so did I.  I remember feeling such joy for her and gratitude to God for answering that prayer.

I have a ticket to which I’ve been clinging for 51 years.  I grip the ticket so hard my fingers ache along with my heart. I was raised with the notion that the prize was pretty much guaranteed.  Well-meaning friends have told me for years to be patient, my time would come.  I’ve sat by as family and friends around me have had their numbers called.  I watched them march down the aisle to be awarded their prizes (some more than once) while I still wait.  Now as their children are starting to have their numbers called, it’s getting harder to  share their joy.  I wonder if maybe my ticket expired, maybe my part in the drawing ended and I don’t know it.  Still, I hang on to the ticket.  It’s worn, its numbers are faded; it’s tear-stained.  But I still have it.

I’ve thought of just tossing the ticket in the trash and getting on with my life.  Then I hear of someone in similar straits as me whose ticket has been called.  I hear one or two numbers called that happen to be on my ticket and I get my hopes up again.  There’s no expiration date on the ticket that I can see.  If I hang on to it just one more day, just one more drawing, then maybe my number will come in.  My heart is still beating, so the raffle is still active, isn’t it? 

I don’t know why I’ve had to wait so long when so many others have won, some more than once.  I’ve seen people who stole their prizes, who didn’t wait their turn for their number to be called.  Why were they able to “win” when I’ve had to wait?  Why was I even given a ticket in the first place if there was never any chance it would be redeemed?  Why do I have to be disappointed over and over again—what purpose does it serve?  I have no answer to these questions.

But…
The same God who bestowed that gift on Barbling #2 is the same one who gave me my ticket 51 years ago.  But He gave me another ticket as well; one whose reward is not determined by chance or some random sweepstakes.  This ticket is really an engraved invitation; its ink is the blood of Jesus.  Possession of this ticket grants me eternal life and entrance to God’s royal throne room.  But I’ve mishandled it and taken it for granted way too often.  Instead of clinging to it, I’ve tossed it in my purse or on my desk, forgetting it existed until I’m in some desperate straits.  Then I find myself tearing through the house on a frantic, anxious search for peace.  I see the invitation, wrinkled, curled, torn in spots.  But that doesn’t matter to God.  He still accepts my invitation and I’m given passage not only into the throne room, but also access to Him who sits at the throne.

Despite possession of this invitation, I still would like to be able to cash in this raffle ticket”.  In the event that number is never called, though, I know Jesus has a “prize package” awaiting me in heaven that more than makes up for not winning this earthly lottery.  It will satisfy the longings I feel.  It will heal the many hurts I’ve endured.  I need only wait with the same patience and faith that Barbling #2 exhibited eight years ago.
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