Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Weather

"Did you know that it rained at exactly the time you said it would?" The Beve asked me last night. I'd checked Accuweather during the day because weather is important to him this time of year. There are lawns to mow--over 40 of them and only 1 of him--and he's at the mercy of the sky and his schedule every single day. So I checked the weather on my computer and according to the hour-by-hour forecast rain was due to fall between 5 and 6, and that would be it. Sure enough, we had a downpour at 5, and he came in the door with his sweatshirt soaking at 6 pm, having tried to squeeze the last lawn out before the skies dumped.

So last night we debated the value of the various weather forecasters--The Weather Channel, Yahoo Weather, Accuweather--or me just looking out the window. But you know what's ironic? With all those great options, I don't generally take the extra time to consult the experts but instead simply try to guess. He'll call me up in the early afternoon from his windowless office at school and ask, "What's the weather like outside?"
And I'll say, glancing out the window, "Kind of cloudy. Maybe a crack of blue sky to the south."
"Well, I guess I'll try to mow," he'll answer. I might look down at the slate patio to see if it's wet, and mention that, or at the fence across the street, and I'll certainly tell him if it's pouring. But it hasn't been my custom to go to the experts. To find answers from folks who have spent years studying patterns of weather, who actually know what they're talking about.

I think perhaps in the church we're prone toward this as well. We look around and try to figure out what God might be doing and saying, rather than studying others who have more expertise than we do understanding Him. When I say this, I'm thinking of the value of commentaries, the value of scholars who have spent years studying scripture to try make sense of it. One of my favorite books is Eugene Peterson's Take and Read: Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List. I love this book because it gives Peterson's favorite commentaries, classics, books on prayer, the psalms, worship, spiritual formation and direction, etc. When I bought this book (1996) I tried to find every book he had annotated, and read it. I didn't succeed, certainly. But it helped me read more deliberately, more slowly and carefully. Lecto Divino, as monks would call it--Spiritual reading. Reading with an eye to God, reading so I'm paying attention to what He's about, so I'm reading the weather with the experts, not simply looking through my own window and hoping I get it right. My own eyes are not enough.

So, for now, two of my favorite books, one I absolutely must have by my bedside all the time:
Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God by Rainier Maria Rilke
And one of my favorite of his love poems--

I'm too alone in the world, yet not alone enough
to make each hour holy
I'm too small in the world, yet not small enough
to be simply in your presence, like a thing--
just as it is.

I want to know my own will
and to move with it.
And I want, in the hushed moments
when the nameless draws near,
to be among the wise ones---
or alone.

I want to mirror your immensity.
I want never to be too weak or too old
to bear the heavy, lurching image of you.

I want to unfold.
Let no place in me hold itself closed,
for where I am closed, I am false.
I want to stay clear in your sight.

I would describe myself
like a landscape I've studied
at length, in detail;
like a word I'm coming to understand;
like a pitcher I pour from at mealtimes;
like my mother's face;
like a ship that carried me
when the waters raged.

The one other book is Martin Luther's Commentary on Romans. This may not the best commentary written now, but was the first one written and clearly central to our protestant understanding of salvation. I read it first at the behest (nice word, huh?) of the pastor I went to see when a relationship fell apart in college. Odd choice, at first blush, to send a young woman to reading Luther's take on Romans when her engagement has been broken. But it was perfect for me. Like looking up Accuweather for the weather. Back to someone who knows something, rather than just trying to make sense of my world from my own broken position, encouragement to stop staring out my window and trying to figure out what God was doing.

Accuweather and Lecto Divino--funny how these things connect.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A quality of days

I've thought a lot about death today. I met with a medical researcher this morning and within about twenty minutes she'd told me about how her dad died a couple years ago, and I told her about my dad's death. We shared a few tears at the similarity of such loss. And I told her of the 19 year-old-student of the university where SK is also a freshman who died after being taken off life-support. On Saturday morning, the car he was a passenger in swerved into oncoming traffic, to avoid hitting a deer darting across the highway. "You're always told you should just hit the deer," SK told me when I talked to her, "but I'd have done the same thing--tried to avoid it. Anyone would." SK didn't know him well, though she'd met him a few times because he was good friends with her roommate. But still, she's been hit hard with it. They all have, SK and her friends. When I talked to SK yesterday, she and her friends were outside, laying on the grass, barely talking to each other, just looking at the sky.

Anyway, the medical researcher looked at me this morning, and said, "You really like to talk about heavy-duty things, don't you?" I kind of laughed. "I don't live in the shallows, that's for sure," I told her. So she asked me, "OK, then tell me, why did it happen? Because it just makes me so mad." And I nodded, thinking of my conversation with SK yesterday while she stared at the sky.

This is the first time the death of a contemporary has shaken my daughter's world. She's lucky that way, I guess. And she's asking the same question that medical researcher did, "Why?" He was a good kid, she told me. He loved Jesus a lot. At a prayer vigil held the night before he died, when his life was in the balance, other students had spoken of his faith, prayed fervently for the saving of his life. So she's wondering why God didn't do anything to prevent his death, why He let this boy--Dan--die.

I'm not a big fan of the question why, I told SK. There are many unanswerables in life, and SK, Dan's friends and family, the medical researcher--all of us--have run smack dab up against the most fundamental of them. We live and we die, and there's mystery in it. Until we know fully rather than seeing in a mirror dimly, we can't know. That's all there is to it. The Psalms tells us "Our times are in your hands, Lord," and in the end, we have to trust that. I know this sounds trite when I say it, and it barely helps. But I have to say there isn't help in the question of why, because on the other side of the question of why is the question of 'why not?' Why shouldn't we die? Why shouldn't we suffer? We live on this planet where there is sickness and disease and finally death, and we all have to face it, one way or another, at some point in our chronos.

It's hard to say this to a 19-year-old who's hurting, with friends who are grieving a big loss. Death is hard, and I'm not trying to sound cold when I write this way. Shoot, I've done plenty of my own grieving. I know, I know how it hurts. And the death of a healthy 19-year-old is certainly harder to understand and accept than the death of a 66-year-old, even one in such good health, he hadn't even retired yet. But we even put ailing 90-year-olds on church prayer trees. We can't bear to let anyone go--we have to have our white-knuckled-grips pried off the lives of our loved ones, no matter how old and ready for their home-going they might be. I'm telling you when I see that, sometimes I think, there are only two options when it comes to death: now or later. It's not a matter of either or. Not for me is living until I'm old and infirmed--I want to go home sooner than that. Really I do. Some days I can hardly wait, to tell the truth.

But this is not about me. It's about a young man who seemed to have his life ahead of him. Apparently, though, he lived his whole life. It sounds like he lived it well--lived it for Christ. And in the end, isn't that what we most want to have said about us? Not a quantity of days, but a quality? Not the length, but the depth and breadth of them? Isn't it? And in the end--whenever that is--don't we want to go with the Lord, too thankful to be sad?

Don't get me wrong. Grieve long and hard. I'm a believer in grief. Lean into it, I say. Pour your heart into it. Learn, as someone once told me about my dad, 'to live in the presence of his absence.' Take as long as you need to learn what that means. There's no time frame for grief, no matter what a calendar says. Sit shiva as long as you need, SK and friends. And hold onto the quality of days.

The broken road

Every time Beve calls me on my cell phone, what I hear is the voices of my daughters singing a song by Rascal Flats, called "Broken Road." "Every long lost dream led me to where you are...," they sing in their beautiful harmony. "God bless the broken road that led me straight to you." It makes me think of them, obviously. I love hearing them sing together so regularly, even if it is the same song every single time. But it also makes me think of Beve, because a long time ago, a broken road led me to him, and the greatest gift of my life, after salvation itself, is that this was so.

I'm thinking of this today, because my baby brother (though he'll shake his head at me for calling him that when he's a month away from being 37 years old) got engaged over the weekend, and the joy in his voice when he told me made me start humming this song when I got off the phone. There's a broken road he's traveled in the last few years to get here and I've been privileged to walk most of it with him. There was a first marriage that began with so many dreams, then shattered them, for reasons none of us (even him) completely understands. I was there the day that marriage was made legal and the day it was made null and void, and I can tell you I know why God hates divorce--it isn't because He's a legalistic God, but because He loathes to see His children suffer and broken. And I was there many days when he tried to process what had gone wrong. I said goodbye to my brother when he decided to begin a new life on the eastern edge of this country, believing a fresh start where a couple great buddies live would be a better community than living in our house, with only us--as great as we are--to help heal him. It was clearly the best choice for him, God's step in his broken road toward this moment, this woman. There have been missteps--among them, a woman named, of all things (and we'll never forget this!), Soulstice. But that's part of the twists and turns of a broken road, isn't it?

And now there's something in his voice, something I haven't heard in a long time--maybe ever. God has given him something back, something new. And I bless God for that this day. I bless God for this woman, whose broken road (which I know very little about) has also brought her to this place. This woman whom I've not yet met, but already love. And I look forward to knowing her, to hearing about the road they will walk together. I love that God does this. I love that He is the God of new starts, but also the God who walks with us on our broken roads to bring us here.

I love you, little brother (both of you). And, as Jane Austen would say, I wish you joy.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Bargaining

The Old Testament is full of some pretty terrible stories. Murder, incest, drunkenness, rape, mutilation, all kinds of debauchery. It can really turn the stomach, reading of the Israelites--the chosen ones, the ones with whom God made His covenant. They were hard-hearted, turned to idols, constantly complaining, and even when God turned away from them because of it, ultimately--again and again and again--He turned back, because He had made a covenant with them, and He is faithful. God is faithful.

That's quite the lesson, and really perhaps I should leave it there this morning, but I've been mulling over a particular story from Judges today (ch. 11), so wanted to share it. Jepthah--do you know this story?--was a mighty warrior, the illegitimate son of Gilead by a prostitute. When the Ammonites were fighting against Israel, the elders of Gilead came to Jephthah and asked him to command the army. He was resistant--after all, he was the bastard brother who'd been driven out of the house. They didn't apologize, simply said, "Yeah, but we need you now." Once he was convinced he'd be the head of both army and clan, he returned to command the forces. Then "the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah." The Spirit of the Lord. In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit is only given to select individuals to empower them to lead the people, to act or speak with authority. In this case, the Spirit was given to ensure the victory over the Ammonites. Jephthah was empowered by God's Spirit to fight and win. However, as he moved toward the front of the battle, he also made a vow that he'd make a burnt offering to God as a sacrifice of praise, once the battle was won. But here's the catch: Jephthah said, "Whatever comes out the door to my house to meet me when I return from battle, I will sacrifice."

This must have seemed a safe vow to Jephthah. It wasn't like he had a front door like we do. He wasn't talking about a door that needed an opposable thumb to open. It was more like a gate through which sheep, goats, chickens, cows, just about any kind of animal you can imagine wandered day and night. He had nothing to lose and victory to gain.

The Israelites beat the Ammonites. Of course--the Spirit of the Lord had come upon him. And when Jephthah came walking up the road, when he was still a long ways off--a little like the prodigal son, when you think about it!--the first thing out the door was his daughter--his only child. She was dancing in celebration--"My father has returned to me, and he has won the battle," I imagine her singing. And his face. Can you imagine his face? His trembling limbs and heart? He tears his clothes, tells her he's devastated, and practically blames her ("You have brought me down"). In the end, after she goes to the hills for a couple months to mourn the life she won't have, he fulfills his vow. "And she was a virgin."

It's a little reminiscient of the Abraham story, don't you think? I mean, I wonder if Jephthah thought of that when he was tying his only child to the altar, holding the knife over her. Was he looking around hoping for a ram from the thicket and God's voice-over to stop him in the last second? Doesn't happen in this story. Of course it doesn't. But we learn something about faith in both stories. Every step Abraham took was a step of obedience that day. He didn't try to get ahead of himself, didn't try to see the end of the story before he took the next step. He simply walked as God called him to walk. Jephthah, also filled with the Spirit of God, also called by God to a task, did not. He got ahead of himself. He put God to the test, didn't simply trust the Spirit that God had already given him. So he promised something--he bargained with God. And it backfired.

It's a terrible thing to consider that he kept that bargain. Fortunately we don't make blood sacrifices today. But we bargain with God. I know I do. I remember a specific bargain I made with God (though it wasn't my only one, I'm sorry to say). When I was in YWAM in 1983, just when Steve and I realized God had called us together, he got sick. Really sick. We were in India on an outreach at the time, and his joints began to swell--knees, ankles, back, etc. By the time we returned to Holland, where we were based, and he saw a doctor, it looked like he might have rheumatoid arthritis. So I told God that if He kept Steve from having that, I would not go home and marry him, but would go to Thailand to serve Him in a refugee camp. I'd take that as His confirmation of His call to sacrifice Steve. Healing as confirmation--interesting concept, especially since it had been repeatedly confirmed (this is for another day) that God had called Steve and me together to marry. I was edging toward martyrdom, in the most manipulative way, thinking I was being holy (OK, cut me some slack, I was in my 20's). Fortunately, my small group leaders found out about my foolishness. 'Are you out of your cotton-pickin' mind?' was essentially what they said. This is not how God works. Pray for healing, absolutely. But bargain with Him--especially with as clear a call as the call to marry Steve? Bad idea, really bad idea. (Steve didn't have rheumatoid arthritis, by the way. But he did have--he does have--a chronic arthritic condition).

Like Jephthah, the Spirit of God has come upon me. Any of us who has been saved by Christ has been given His Spirit. Jesus promised this. We are empowered, indwelt with that Spirit, and have all the authority to live, walk and do what He calls us to in our lives. But it's so easy to fall into the trap of not quite trusting that, of saying, "If you do this, God, I'll do that." If you make this house sell, we'll use the new one to serve you. If you give me this job, I'll sacrifice my life for it. If you heal my husband, I'll be a more loving wife. If you...and so it goes. The bottom line is we try to manipulate God, when you think about it. How crazy is that? Manipulate that God of the universe? How dare we?

Besides He's already here--already willing, desiring to work His will into my life. And isn't that what I want? Isn't it? I could manipulate Him and end up with a dead child, or be formed by Him and end up being dead to me and alive to Him--more and more and more. You know, I'll take that bargain any day.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

From the comfort of my home

On our way to get coffee this morning, we saw a man pushing all his worldly belongings in a shopping cart. He looked exactly like you'd expect a homeless man to look, with mismatched clothes, and a lot of them (though the day is finally--finally!--warm enough to be called spring), and unkempt hair. But we started talking about the range of homeless people we've known. When my brother died, he'd been homeless for a long time, and had a lot fewer things than that man pushing the shopping cart. All his worldly possessions fit into a gym bag and two small lockers at his job. In that bag was a baggie with a toothbrush, some Q-Tips, a towel, a sack of brand new socks, an extra pair of underwear, one pair of pants, a t-shirt, and a ratty old blanket. But all these things were clean, and indicated personal hygiene. Of course--he was a man without a home, not a man without a job. His job--which he loved--simply didn't pay enough to live.

And the Beve reminded me of all the students he knows who are homeless. They float from friend's house to friend's house because they've made poor choices, or have parents who have. Plenty who are homeless because their parents repeatedly make poor choices, and the kids pay. These are kids who flee, too old for foster care, too young and uneducated to make any kind of wage that would provide housing. They're between the cracks, these kids. Some of them have been beaten one time too many just for asking a question when their parents were wanting it quiet. "I'm never going back," they say, with bruises covering their faces.

Beve buys them clothes sometimes. Buys them meals. And recently I had the privilege of taking an 18 year old girl shopping. She's a very bright young woman, who's been homeless for a long time--living with one friend or another for years. She'd won this amazing scholarship for which she had to go to Washington DC and dress nicely for the whole six days. She was so stressed about the clothing situation, she couldn't even think about the trip. So SK (my youngest) and I took her shopping--five hours of shopping with a purpose. It was just about the best time I've had all year, and I'm not a shopper. We looked for bargains, of course--starting at the consignment shops--but SK and I were determined to make sure she got everything she needed--pants, skirts, shoes, blouses, jackets. We spent more money that day than I've ever laid down in a similar shopping trip for any of my kids--and it was so fun. She couldn't believe we would do it for her, that SK could shop for an entire afternoon without buying a single thing for herself. But SK has a home, she has us all the time. This girl had this one afternoon.

Really, in the end, it doesn't really matter why someone doesn't have a home. Our charge from Christ to care for others isn't predicated on their choices. A valedictorian or the man with the shopping cart, both in need of grace. I admit--to my shame--it's easier to help someone who's in trouble through no fault of their own, than a person who made bad choices. I'm thinking about this as I write this from the comfort of my living room. I don't want to say it. I've been wrestling with how to conclude so I don't have to admit that, don't have to admit my weakness in compassion, my inability to separate sin from sinner, my negligence at extending mercy to those whom Jesus calls me--calls all of us--to extend it to: the poor and the hurting. It weighs heavily on me as I think of that man with the shopping cart, trudging down the street. Hmm, who's the one sinning here? Him or me?

And that's the point, isn't it? That we're all the same. All sinners, all in need of mercy (see Psalm 51). I'm actually trudging down the street with my own shopping cart of crap, right here in my own living room--all those things I mentioned above. Yep, I need to dwell a little with God. Talk to you tomorrow.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Watching the fields

I'm thinking about place this morning, about the places I love. I love the place where we live: our house--the front patio with its western view of the bay and colorful evening skies, the front room where I sit to write, read, pray, be, the backyard where our dogs (both living and dead) have run and chased balls and dug in the dirt (!); our city, which has the best of everything--salt water bay, fresh water lakes, mountains, trees, walking trails (biking for those more able), great coffee and tea shops, art galleries, restaurants...wow, I could be an advertisement, couldn't I?
But I love many other places too. I love my family's property on Whidbey Island--just turning onto the road where it sits fills me with a nostalgic joy, a sense that I am back--back home, back in childhood, back to where I am known. The smells--outdoors, campfires, great food; the sounds--birds, the chopping of wood, laughter (sometimes raised voices and tears as well); the tastes--bread dumplings, salmon off the grill, Joe Froggers, cinnamon yeast coffee cake, BBQ-ed chicken. I love this place.

And the picture in this blog (which my older daughter took)--it's the Palouse last summer during harvest. This is the place for me, the geography of my soul, so to speak. I return there over and over, both physically and spiritually. It's where I was raised, where I came to Christ, and in those fields I took many of my first walks with Him. The horizon is wider there, not hemmed by trees, or buildings, the night skies have brighter stars--they don't compete with man-made city-lights. But I doubt I'll ever live there again, don't even want to. I love where I live and wouldn't change the arc of my life that keeps me here. I miss the Palouse, nonetheless. Part of that is missing what I once could do but can't now--it's not just place, but inclination. I still go often to the Palouse--go 'home,' one might say. And I don't do those things. I no longer ride horses over those fields as I did when I was young, or even walk them--they're much too steep for this old, broken body. But I like to look at them, I love the way the colors change on them--from deep brown to white-with-snow to greenish-brown to green to gold to harvest (and I'm thankful to the farmers--especially the one I know and love--that this should be so!).

Jesus speaks of fields being ripe with harvest. And farmers, who plow, plant, and watch those wheat fields, know exactly--EXACTLY--when they are ripe. They've seen small green plants shoot up, they can tell when the green changes color from shiny to dull,because 'the whiskers are on the beards' as they like to say. The wheat begins to yellow up from the sun (a friend of mine would, at this point, say, 'from the Son,' but I shall resist). Then about the end of July, beginning of August, because they know their work and because they pay attention, the combines are in fields truly almost white with harvest. And it's a gloriously beautiful thing. The fields, the combines, the work...well no, the work is what farmers live for, but it's hard, long and exhausting. Makes the best-tempered of them grumpy. But they give their lives to it, and wouldn't have it any other way, year in and year out.

It isn't rocket-science, getting to where I'm going with this, is it? We talk a lot about sharing the gospel, but I don't know that we wait for the fields through all the seasons. And I don't know if we work like the farmer when the field is ripe--with care, thought and certainty, even when the work is hard. For us, all that means prayer, of course. Prayer for staying power, prayer for sensitivity, and His eyes to see the fields. We don't have combines. But souls can be cut down as easily as wheat stalks before their time, it seems to me. Cut at the knees, and it's a hard job piecing them back together after that. I think of some folks I know who have begun the ministry of weekly sitting with hurting people, listening to their stories. And of my Beve, who does that sitting, listening work every day. They're watching the fields, I think. Waiting for the harvest.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

I think of water

Have you ever been really thirsty? I had a night like that--it was terrible. I woke up every few hours feeling so parched, I thought I wouldn't be able to get my tongue unstuck from the roof of my mouth. I drank about a gallon (so maybe I exaggerate!) of water and it didn't dent the giant need I felt. But this morning it made me think of something I wrote about in my journal a couple months ago, so instead of composing on the spot, as I've always done so far (but who knows, I might be starting a new trend here), I'm going to post that. We'd gone to an all-day Renewal Sunday, where the spotlight was on mission, at the church our friend pastors, and these are from my journal that night.

February 10
Of all the thoughts, images, impressions of this day, what lingers is water. What it is to experience fresh, clear, clean, life-giving water after a history of not knowing what that is. Never knowing, as many Wolof people of Senegal don't, the essence of the thing when it's right beneath the ground, available with the proper equipment. Water--it makes me cry to see again, when I close my eyes:
the first pump of the handle, the first rush out the spout, the clear glass of it spilling into the bowl, and the beautiful little children dipping their hands into the bowl and scooping it up to sip, thrusting fingers through the pouring fountain of it. Life-changing. The metaphor is too obvious to be overlooked, even for those dull-witted (as we are), this is Kingdom work, this amazingly simple gospel work of giving water.

And I write of it with tears and hunger--the Wolof people of Senegal, the least and the poorest in this world, who have scrambled their whole lives in pursuit of water and sustenance. What could I learn from them? I want to sit in their doorway with them, Lord, I want to be taught of the world by them. I want to see what the world looks like through their eyes, hear who you might be to them. My heart is breaking and full all at once, and I think of water.

And how we are so consumed by our consumer mentality and desire for health and perfection that we purify the purist water on earth. And pollute in the process, by the sheer volume of plastic jugs, bottles and containers we use and throw away. Yet there they are pulling up dirty, brown water, drinking it, cooking in it--cooking in mud. Never even knowing what water looks like. We shower, water lawns, wash clean clothes... and there are children (3 in 5) dying from lack of or bad water. No wonder we're fat. Fat and dying. Me as much as anyone.

And I think of water. Jesus' tears for the poor in this world--the poor whose needs I glimpse, and those whose needs I do not. The poor who wait to hear the world has not forgotten them in their plight. He weeps because He called us to be His church in their world, and we worry about what the church can do for us--we think it's here for our sake. He weeps because they will never hear until they survive to hear, and that means those needs, those basic needs, so basic we don't even list them as needs--water, food, clothing, shelter--are cared for. He weeps.

So I think of water. And how thirsty I am for Africa, how that thirst is a Psalm 63 thirst, "my soul longs for you in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water." Africa--exactly! This thirst has grown and grown until I am nearly dehydrated with it and it aches through me. And I thirst for it for them. Water for the land and water for those in the land.
Africa. I think of water.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Libraries

"Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own. They may be beautiful, terrible, awe-inspiring, exhilarating, pathetic, comic or merely piquant. Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom realize the enormous extension of our being that we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk to an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. My own eyes are not enough for me. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee.
In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in a Greek poem, I see with a thousand eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself: and am never more myself than when I do."
CS Lewis

One of my favorite places in the world is the library--any library. It's all about free pleasure. I know, I know, our tax dollars pay for it, but moment by moment, when I enter it, it feels free. It feels like a treasure chest of free jewels just there for the borrowing. You know, like all those million dollar diamonds and rubies celebrities wear to the Oscars and have to return the next day? That's what a library is for me. I've been a frequenter of libraries long before I can remember--certainly even in utero. Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, my mom loaded us up in our Carry-all (they're called Suburbans now), each of us carrying our stacks of books, and we went to the library where we picked out another stack for the week. I read lots of horse books when I was a kid--my all-time favorite was a book called Taffy's Foal, though I read all the Misty books, too. We read the Little House books, the Betsy-Tacy books, lots of biographies. We read and read and read. A big treat at our house was getting to read books at the dinner table--which only happened when Dad was away for an evening or weekend.

There was always this kind of hope associated with entering the door of the library. What great new book would I discover? What new world would open up for me? I remember first walking into the library at the University of Oregon, an old stone building that looks like a castle, and having that same feeling--hope and joy, and longing. Something new is possible here. Some new discovery awaits me. A world not my own.

Over the years I've gone to Africa--many times, actually. But not just the Africa of today, but the Africa of Karen Blixon, David Livingston, and others of the early 1900s. I've raced to the South Pole with Robert Scott--whose doomed trip made me read everything else I could about Antarctica. I've traveled across this continent with Lewis and Clarke and their men (and Sacajawea), looking for the northwest passage. And I've read of places on this earth that only exist in the minds of those who created them.

Today I came across these titles in my walk through the stacks: How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, Perfect Madness, Luminous Emptiness--all of these were on the same shelf, which tells you I'd stumbled onto a new-age pop psychology shelf. I moved quickly on. A row over, I saw The Soul of Politics, which really made me chuckle, next to a book by George McGovern (remember him?) called The Third Freedom, Ending Hunger in Our Time.
I brought home a book called Strong in the Broken Places, among others, about people who are living with chronic or terminal illnesses. And one that had a phrase in the blurb that I'd honestly--on the way to the library--just been thinking about with God, "sometimes the strongest revenge is forgiveness." I couldn't leave the book on the shelf there after that, could I?

But there are libraries, and then there's THE library of scripture. And it hits me that of all the worlds I've visited, all the people I've become as I read, where it starts and ends with me is the world I inhabit when I dwell in the Word. After all, the words we create come from what John says about Jesus in John 1.
"The Word became flesh."
So, here's my favorite Words from the Word (subject to change, though some of these have lasted for 36 years):

1 Corinthian 1: 27--the first scripture I read when I became a Christian at 14
Romans 1 : 16-17--the first verses I memorized
Ephesians 3: 14-21--my favorite of Paul's amazing prayers--we should pray this for each other daily!
Isaiah 54--the entire chapter, meaningful since YWAM days
2 Corinthians 4--very important for anyone with chronic pain (like me)
Romans 5:1-8 (especially 8, which I think is the gospel in a nutshell)
Hebrews 12: 1-2 My goal
Exodus 33: 12-17--I LOVE THIS PASSAGE. It's my heart's desire
Psalm 84
Philippians Yes, the book of Philippians. If I had to pick out a single book to carry with me into captivity, this would be it. I memorized it first of the books I memorized in college, and still know it best. It never ceases to get to me--the Christ hymn in two, his declaration of 'count it all rubbish compared to Christ' of three, the exhortation to pray in four, and the amazing words, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain," of 1:21. I breathe this in and pray they are my words as well.

So what's your list?


Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Torn apart

Parental love is largely unrequited, I was informed (by my dad, of course) when I was twenty-something, questioning the love of some parents toward their wayward son (wait, isn't that a song?). Kids never love their parents as much as parents love them. I laughed that day--didn't get it. But knew the truth the moment I held my first daughter. Then my son, then my youngest daughter. Again and again and again. It's impossible to love this much and not be torn apart by it. I'm a mom.

Well, sometimes I am torn apart by that love. You know, when they're sick, in the hospital, and there's nothing to be done but sit by their bed and pray. I've been torn apart by that. And when they stand on a stage and sing their hearts out, so adorably good (at least in my unbiased eyes), I've been torn apart by that as well. When they play sports (or don't get to), when they're chosen for teams, or aren't--my heart is broken by them, broken for them. When they pack up their cars and drive off into their own lives, leaving the house full of silence. That can tear me apart, too. And when they drive back in the driveway, fling open the door--and the refrigerator--and it's like they never left, that tears me apart in a different way. I'm a mom. I love them.

This morning, the oldest is flying to an event for her internship. The son is holed up in his apartment, sick with the flu. The youngest called last night after 11pm--discouraged. I was sleepless through the night for them. I have the desire to fix their lives for them. To make him well, to not breathe until I hear the plane has landed (ok, so I'm an anxious flyer, what can I say?). And for the discouraged youngest, I wanted to tell God how to make it right for her--exactly what to do to make everything go the way I think it should so she feels better today. The oldest needs a job by the fall, and she's anxious about that. I wanted to tell God to give her the perfect job, preferably within driving distance of us. But-but-but, really what I want for her, what I want for each of them, is that God do not do my will but His for them, and that He keep them in the position that most makes them seek Him--no matter what that is.

The thing is, the one who's more torn apart by their lives than I am is Him. Was literally torn apart that day on the hill outside of Jerusalem, to tell the truth. And that's why I can trust Him with them today. Today when the youngest is crying, the son is sick and the oldest is flying into an unknown future. I trust Him with them today, because, as someone else once said, "Sunday's coming," and that means hope.

Monday, April 21, 2008

To guard you in all your ways

Monks read the Psalms, all 150 of them, as quickly as every week, depending on the monastic tradition. Me? Well, I just read one a day, like taking a vitamin (until I get to 119, then I break it into stanzas), year in and year out--since I was in college. Even in the years I had babies, and had no time for devotions, I at least tried to read my daily Psalm. In those years, the laments carried me far. These days, I simply let the day's Psalm roll around in my day. Though there are Psalms I like, ones I anticipate. I know when they're coming. When I get to Psalm 80, for instance, I instinctively start counting off because I'm only 4 days away from my very favorite, Psalm 84. But 51, when I need to repent (and I always do), is like taking a shower. But I also love 17 and 27. And 34, 37, 63, 72, 86, 88,...Oh, don't get me started.

But today, I've come to 91. I never read Psalm 91 without remembering one particular moment. In 1982, my friend Suzanne and I backpacked through Europe. In late November, we were up in Finland, in a small town, staying with some of her many Finnish relatives. Apparently none of her relatives like each other, because we'd been to three different feasts that day, that for some inexplicable reason all featured the same cake with white icing and fruit on top. It was very late, we were exhausted from the food, and the two saunas we'd taken--well, we had to be polite, after all!--when the grandmother of the family we were staying with(I can't quite figure out how she would be related to Suzanne), via hand-gestures and Finnish, summoned us up to her attic bedroom. She opened her Finnish Bible and spoke vehemently to us, pointing to the text, which was clearly 91:11 (we could read the numbers, of course) in what was clearly the Psalms. Of course, we couldn't understand a single word. She prayed over us, hugged us to her, and patted our faces with arthritic fingers. It was a holy moment to us, like having been prayed over in tongues. Maybe, after all, this is what the gift of tongues really is. We live in a world separated by languages, but, united by faith, the words we might not understand when they flow over us, reach God and we know we are hearing true and earnest prayer on our behalves.

When we went down to our room, we opened our own pocket Bibles, and read the words, which had taken on meaning larger than life. "...He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways." Sat wondering at the words and the moments with her old, wise and prophetic relative and wondering what God meant for us.

The next week, with a Finnish tour group, Suzanne and I traveled into what was then the Soviet Union. We were the only Americans. Can you guess what all that meant?  For one thing, our US passports were instantly suspicious at the border,  where guards spent an inordinate amount of time asking us questions about our purpose in the USSR and searching our luggage. Every single item from my bag was swept onto the floor in a show of force, I suppose. But the peace we felt during their bullying made me certain of those angels that day. And, of course, for the tour, there was a Russian guide with a Finnish translator so we spent the entire time feeling deaf and barely having a having a clue what we were looking at. And you should have seen us when we came out of the Russian ballet--no tour bus and no way to get back to our hotel, because we didn't know the name of it--it had never been spoken in English to us. We stood there simply praying and amazingly (unless you believe in Psalm 91:11) a family from our tour group came up behind us, and helped us get back to our hotel. Angels guarding us? I think so!!!

Two weeks later, we left Finland to travel through Germany, intending to go to Italy. Only we were robbed on the train in northern Germany. It was a very scary thing, involved being taken to a police station holding tank in Bremen--like we were the criminals -- then sent back to the US consul in Frankfurt. However, we felt those angels that day as well, when the consul in Frankfort turned out to be from Suzanne's home town in Montana. I'll never forget sitting on hard wooden chairs in a room full of desks with busy people waiting to see him, when through an open door came a booming voice, "Helena, Montana--come on in here!" Like the sweetest music. Like angels' voices.

One of the things that got stolen on the train that day, was my Bible. My BIBLE!!! It was the hardest, hardest thing for me personally. I could hardly stand it. Yeah, yeah, Suzanne lost her passport, all her money, we were stuck in Germany until she got a new passport, more money wired. But my Bible? How could I live? Yet, all those Psalms, and all those other verses I'd learned since I was a teen were in me. I discovered that and it was a gift. And months later--like three months, I think, at the end of the train line in Paris, our things were found. My Bible was returned to me. Another evidence of being watched over, I thought.

I've seen it many times in the quarter century since--the times my Beve and I, after seeking God, stepped out on a very thin limb of faith, and we were watched over, kept safe. Toting our children behind us. We took these risks--moving without jobs, or homes--because of this sense of being watched, cared for, kept. In proportion to His call, of course. When He calls, He protects, we believe. "It's God's problem," the Beve will say. And angels are part of His solution. It's been our practice to live this way. I don't always remember, don't always do such a good job of trusting, of living like this is true. So I like coming back around to Psalm 91 every 150 days or so, to remember. To be reminded of angels. And His faithfulness--He who sets His angels to guard us.

Suzanne always wondered what her old Finnish relative had said to us, prayed over us. But I've come to realize she wasn't talking to us, she was talking to those angels. And He charged them to listen.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

T2--the ultimate experience

It's been exactly three months today since my brother died. And since then I've been thinking about it--thinking about him. Well, sort of. I've thought about him a lot in the last three months. About the way he died, which is terrible, any way you look at it. Just enjoying a meal during his break on a Sunday afternoon. Choking to death. Choking, and he knew he was in trouble, he knew it from beginning to end. I have to admit, every time we've had meat in the last three months I've thought of him, and have to cut my meat as tiny as a baby's.

Sometimes in the last three months I've pictured him going about his day at Universal Studios Theme Park. It's an odd disconnect to only have been there after his death, to only have walked in his world without him in it. Of course he's not there, but I imagine it anyway, ushering folks to their seats, laughing up at the actors on the stage, playing jokes on co-workers, teasing them in the break-room, taking their picture. I know--I know!--he's left the building--shoot, he left T2 exactly the way every paying guest does, straight down that wide ramp. I guess going there for us was sort of what how T2 is billed, "The ultimate experience," when you think of it. Going to the place where an estranged brother died, to find out what we could about his life and his death? Not many experiences in life measure up, I can tell you!

And since I really can't picture Andrew in a place he no longer exists (I am not, after all, delusional!), I picture all those people we met who told us stories of him.
Tom, his supervisor, who tried to save his life, and kept saying 'lethargic' when he meant 'agitated' about Andrew choking (leave it to me to notice), and gave us umbrellas because it was pouring rain when we left the building.
Diva, the human resource director, younger than her name suggests, who helped so much.
The woman who worked safety with him, who said, "He's my best friend--at work."
the man who said, "I've known him since he first bought a year's pass, 17 years ago."
Mary, who talked about how upset he was about his roommate selling Dad's navy whites
The woman who said our story made her want to reconnect with her sister.
The man who said, sobbing, "I always told him to take smaller bites."

The truth is, I didn't think of him very often in the last decade before he died. Or when I did, it wasn't with kindness. Anger, yes. Resignation, quite often. But not kindness and certainly not with love. But I'm coming to terms with that, to terms with not having been in relationship with him for all those years. When he pulled away, he was making a choice. And when we didn't go after him, we were making one as well. That's the bottom line of it, and though I don't presume to know the reasons for his choice (understanding the workings of Andrew's brain would take skill far beyond this lay-person's!), I know that I couldn't/wouldn't have made any other choice, given what we knew, as we knew it.

So all I can really say is that I wish I could have said good-bye. If I'd known it was going to be good-bye.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Alzheimers

The word of the day is Alzheimers. Not a happy word, of course, but one that figures largely in my life these days. My mom has it. "A little bit of Alzheimers," she's likely to say. But her little bit looms larger and larger over what once was a fairly substantial brain--a brain that taught school for over 30 years, that had a whole lot of education, and could pretty well bury itself in books, anytime, anywhere. The holes in that brain have begun to make it look less like dotted Swiss fabric, tiny and almost cute, and more like Swiss chess, with holes large enough that the mustard squirts onto your shirt.

Conversations with her have also become a bit like having mustard squirted on your shirt--you just never know what unexpected thing is going to come from it. People say to me, 'that must be so hard,' with a sad tone in their voice. Other people say, 'Well, if you don't laugh, you'll cry,' when I tell them some of Mom's more absurd moments (like this week when she told me that she'd never helped dad with the building projects he'd been so fond of because she was so busy cleaning the house. Mom housecleaning?). But here's the truth for me (and my siblings, if I may be so bold as to speak for them), this is hard for her, not for us. See, Mom was a hard person for me--hard as a mom, hard as a person. She was always hard. Not all Alzheimers stories are about losing easy, beloved parents, and grieving that loss. Sometimes they're about having to cope with losing difficult, 'is she crazy?--if she's not, I am'--parents. And yet, we still lose them. We still face the same issues.

She believes we don't call her--and believe me, we call her.
She believes things about herself that just aren't true, were never true--and now she's revising even the oldest of the stories, and we just listen. I just listen. I have been committed to telling her the truth for all of my adult life, even when it made her extremely uncomfortable (and trust me, it did) and now I can't. The time for truth-telling has past with her. And I have to lift my hands away from it and say, 'okay then.'
She believes that she is completely, totally loved. Finally she believes this. For years she didn't but now she does. And this gets to me. Though I have reasons--legitimate reasons--to feel some things I feel about my mother, in the end, I am called to love, and to the extent that I have failed to love her, I have failed to love. Period. It doesn't matter what she has done to me, I have also failed her. And I regret that. My prayer has been--continues to be--that before Mom dies, I will love her. That she will be loved as she wants to be loved, as she now believes she is loved.

Alzheimers has been redemptive in that way for me. I do love her more now. Thankfully. I couldn't have written this a few years ago. No possible way--Mom and love in the same paragraph? No way, no how. But God uses what He will. Mom has asked many times why this had to happen to her--this Alzheimers--and I would never dream of telling her. But I know the answer. So I could learn to love you, Mom.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The dentist

Went to the dentist this afternoon. I learned from an early age that going to the dentist was something to be dreaded at all costs. I remember one time when my big strong dad walked around looking like he had the mumps, because though he could scale mountains, someone coming at his mouth with a tiny needle was a fate worse than death. So every time I have to go, it freaks me out.

Of course, I did have so many teeth pulled as a kid I only have twenty-two teeth now, and once, when I was having a mold made of my teeth , the plaster accidentally spilled back down my throat, and I gagged and gagged while the woman (I don't think they were called hygenists in those days) patted my arm and said, 'just another minute, poor dear.' When she pulled the mold out of my mouth, and with it a perfect mold of the front of my throat, up came the contents of my stomach. She was a little horrified--also a little covered with vomit, poor dear.

Anyway, these days-well, the last thirty years or so--I still get pretty stressed about going to the dentist, enough so that I sit gripping the chair handles so hard my fingers turn white, my shoulders tighten, and I have to remind myself to breathe. It's reflex--like that whole gagging thing. Because the strangest thing is that dentists LOVE my teeth. Seriously. I mean, my whole body is falling apart, except for my teeth. Today my regular dentist wasn't in the office, so his new associate had the privilege of fawning over my 'gorgeous' fillings, "They're so bright and shiny, they look like they were done yesterday"--(these 30-year old silver fillings!), the way the right teeth were pulled to make my mouth the proper shape--"What a well-done job," and the great care I take with my teeth. Only I don't. I mean, my teeth, for which I take only a little credit for, just have the genetic make-up of being strong and healthy. I try not to screw that up, but that's about all.

Anyway, I'm so stressed going in, so tense sitting there, and it's never anything but a glowing experience. Ridiculous. Completely ridiculous. My response to the dentist is not based on reality. Not based on truth.

Pretty much like how we think God is with us a lot of times, it occured to me on the way home. We live our lives, even our lives as His disciples, like we're going to the dentist and are sure to have a million cavities, and must face that odious drill and pick and needle being shoved into our mouth. We imagine pain and torture, which we're so afraid of, as the cost to our screw-ups. We get so stressed, thinking of how we blow it, what we haven't done, what He might think of us.
But, oddly, we get in the chair, He bends over us, and says, "You're perfect. I've already done everything I needed to to make you whole. Just keep yourself clean." The truth is, that filling that looks brand new? That's Christ. Bright and shiny and new every morning--He died and rose and lives to make us new too. Life based on truth.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wednesday morning

It's Wednesday morning. For the last six years I've climbed out of bed, thrown on the first clothes I could lay my hands on to go sit in a tiny room connected to the women's restroom at our church. There I sat in the same spot on the end of a couch with other women who sat in their unassigned same spots, and we talked to God. There was a fluctuating number--from four to fourteen--but week in and week out we sat for an hour in that cell and talked to God. It wasn't a Bible study, wasn't a coffee clutch, we simply prayed--for our children as the original purpose, but also for our spouses, for our church, for our lives. Sometimes we talked a little long at the beginning, but at some point or another, someone said, "Let's dive!" and we did, into the presence of God with a word from scripture or a song or a simple flinging off the glasses and bowing of the head. Sometimes we had visual aids--thank our artist for that, or words He gave us, or corporate prayer. But mostly we prayed, and as we did, we were His Body, His Church, His Bride. We walked through life together--weddings, divorces, babies, graduations, illnesses, job endings--and through it all, we have held each other when we were too weak to pray (the friend on the mat from Mark 2), and we've held each other when the joy overcame us.

I didn't get up this morning to go pray. Haven't recently, and I've been aware of the gap in my week. We've come to the end of that season, for a myriad of reasons both sublime and mundane. God was in that room, I know, and I think He's in the ending of the time as well. But it doesn't mean I don't miss it. I do. I will always look at that hour--a single hour a week to make so profound an impact!!--as the Body in action, the best action. Prayer as the first, best action of my life, our life together.

I'm richer for these women, they've helped me 'walk in a manner worthy of Christ.' And I just wanted to acknowledge them today, say a profound thank you.

Monday, April 14, 2008

And so it continues

Sitting across a table from me is a sullen teenaged boy. Last week I read and gingerly marked (with pencil) the first chapter of what he believes is the next great science fiction novel. Now he's sitting here, clutching his pages, staring at me.
"Criticism is hard for writers," I say finally.
"No," he answers. "Criticism is fine--criticism means all the positive things that can help you get better. But when it's negative--what you did--it's an insult."

I am flabbergasted and think to myself, 'oh you poor boy.' I think of all the pencil-marked pages I have stacked in my bookcase in the corner of my living room, all the slash-marks through whole pages that I wrote with great heart and hope. I think of the years--the almost full decade of this process that has been far more negative than positive, at least from the criticism's point of view, and my heart breaks for him. He doesn't know yet that writing means having to wear a rubberized, fire-proof, bullet-proof suit, so that when the criticism comes, and it pierces, your heart is protected so you aren't killed by it. It means trusting that the person who criticizes knows the difference between your words and your person, and would NEVER equate the two, even if you do. And trusting that their 'help,' even when it hurts so much you think you can't go on, will reap the harvest you desire, and that it will turn you into something--the writer!--you dreamed of being but didn't quite know you could be. He doesn't know this yet.

He thinks that it's supposed to be easy, this writing stuff.

He doesn't know that every time it doesn't go this way, and someone says, "You're still working on that same book?" or"Is the book published yet?"it can stab so much it takes your breath away, because after all, isn't it what I want--what I crave--as much as any dream I've had my whole life, and for all this time, it's been the carrot, just out there, held right out there, but every time I think I get to touch it, I hear, "Not yet, make a few more changes. Take this out, put this in." But I smile and try to answer as if I haven't had to answer forty-thousand other times, because after all, I'm the one 'author' they know, even though I don't dare call myself that--not yet anyway, but please God, soon...

He doesn't know these things. He thinks he can just sit at his computer and write a story, that is, for all that not really a story at all, just a summary of a story. Shoot, I was so gentle with him, I didn't even tell him, I couldn't bear to. He's only a kid, after all. A scared kid with a dream. So, let him write. Let him dream.

When it comes down to it, I'm still just a kid with a dream too. I must be. I still have the dream. And, as someone reminded me last fall when I was in a very low--I'm going to stop!--moment, I still find joy in the writing. And so it continues.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Questions

Tonight I watched CNN's "Compassion Forum" with Obama and Clinton. I spent most of my time answering the questions they were asked, if that makes sense. It's a pretty good exercise of faith, facing these old, familiar questions...
Like Obama being asked about the world being created in six days--what he might tell his daughters who ask such questions. He said he didn't believe in a literal six days, but that he believes in creation. But I wanted to say, 'but Science and Genesis answer different questions.' Science deals with the question of what, when and how. Genesis (and John!) deals with the question of who and why. Science doesn't care about the who--it doesn't look into that, and Genesis--the whole of scripture-- is always, ultimately, concerned about the who! And these differences make all the difference.

And Hillary being asked another old standby of God allowing suffering (How many times did I hear in my youth, "why does God let all those children starve in Africa?" which is a terrible way to put it--'let?'--but especially because the question so often came from someone who was just trying to trip me up!). That's the hardest faith question there is, probably, and yet, the real question is, 'where is God in MY suffering?' That's what people want to know. That's where they live. Cosmic suffering is a mystery we cannot begin to make sense of, but asking where God is in suffering, might get closer to what we need. And that answer is--He is in it with us. He hurts with us. That sounds trite until we place it in the context of the Incarnation, and then it begins to grip. Because there's suffering involved there, too--suffering and death. And that, too, is a difference that makes all the difference.

And I wanted to answer the abortion question, too. "I believe in life--from beginning to end." It starts at God's hand, and ends the same place. I am pro life in every context. And what that means is that I am anti-abortion, anti-capital punishment, assisted suicide, anti-war. Yet, I reach across the aisle, as one might say, to hold hands with plenty--PLENTY--who don't agree with me. With ones I love who love the military, for example. Ones I know who have had abortions (and I hurt with them for what it cost!), ones (like I have) who have watched loved ones die slow, painful deaths. I've had long discussions with many I love who firmly hold their beliefs, sure that God is in them. Just as I firmly believe He is in mine. It comes down to love in the end, doesn't it? That I love them more than I love my positions, and that they are loved by God more than their positions result in death. And that difference makes all the difference...

Frankly, there is just one thing I will go to the mat about, one thing I will not give an inch on, and it's the question Jesus asked, "Who do you say that I Am?" Who is Jesus Christ? Then, if I know who He is, will I live my life so that I extend His Kingdom--may His Kingdom come--in all my words, written, spoken and lived?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

A tradition unlike any other

My dad loved sports. Loved them. He could watch just about any sport that came on TV--football, basketball, baseball, track & field, all the Olympic events, and golf. The other thing Dad loved--Boyscouts--was not something I could share, so I learned at his knee to love sports. I rooted for the New York Yankees when I was four years old and Roger Maris was going for 61 in '61. I rooted for the Boston Celtics because Dad loved Bob Cousy, and later when Larry Bird became his favorite player ("you've gotta cheer for a man who can't jump to save his life"). And I was watching the Oakland Raiders when John Madden was their coach. The first fight song I learned was the University of Washington's--"Bow Down to Washington", where my parents met, but I also sang with gusto, "Hail to the Victors Valiant" to the Wolverines of Michigan when we lived there during Dad's PhD years. And then we moved to Pullman, and "Fight, fight, fight for Washington State" became the song of my childhood. All those college sports, all those hapless Cougar teams (but oh, the sweetness of these last two hoop seasons!). And somewhere along the way, I became a sports fan on my own. Not just to be with my dad, but because the drama--the 'thrill of victory, the agony of defeat'--pulled me in.

Even golf. I know, I know, that might seem like a stretch, but I love golf. I even know when it happened. The Masters 1975, Jack Nicklaus and an amazing 40 foot putt on 16. The breathtaking beauty of Augusta National. Even the horrifically ugly green jacket that every golfer wants to wear. More than any trophy, more than the money, a golfer's aim is to have the previous winner put that jacket on him. I'm sitting here this Saturday afternoon when I could be outside, watching these men walk those greens, cross Hogan's bridge at Amen corner (the 12th green is the most beautiful spot on the course!), compete against the field, but really just against themselves, and it's as pure sport as there is. One must be honest, play the ball where it lies, and be respectful of the others around them. And gets to do so in a beautiful place.

Then the green jacket. You win the Masters, you wear the jacket for life. In the club for life. It's 'a tradition unlike any other,' as the commercials say, and I believe it.

We have our own 'Masters' to play, it turns out. "Run the race in such a way that you win the prize," Paul tells us. "Put on Christ." We put him on, and we're in the club. And what a course we get to walk--and I'm telling you, I'd much rather be wearing the King of glory than that bright green jacket!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Whatever it takes

It's a bad day, on the health front. I got up early, then immediately knew I had to put my left temple back on the pillow until the migraine medication kicked in. I'm not complaining, though. Not today. Yesterday I talked to someone very close to my Beve and me, who has every right to complain. She's had more things go wrong with her body than anyone I know--if I listed them all, you'd think I was making half of them up, because no one could survive everything she's lived through. The latest two things have left her--at least for the foreseeable future--completely dependent on others, this for a fiercely independent, take-charge, I'll serve you, kind of woman, who is, of all things, an RN. Anyway, she's also the most positive, strong, least-complaining person I know, with an great sense of humor--the ability to laugh at herself and her situation, even in the worst of moments. It's no easy thing, and a grace, I know. Yesterday, as she was speaking, just for a second, her voice caught, and in that single sound I heard the real struggle it is for her to live as she does--not only with the health problems, but in the choosing not to let them define her.

I see in her what Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 4: 16-18,"Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal weight of glory that far out weighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is see, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary,but what is unseen is eternal."

So my head pounds today. And I want to complain about it. About the 36 years of migraines, and all the other things that hurt in my body... (whoops, I guess I just veered into a whine!) but to think of this 'eternal weight of glory' reels me in. What does it take in my life for that to be achieved? For some people perhaps it won't take physical pain. But I don't care what it takes, when I get to the right frame of mind--when I fix my eyes on what is unseen!--I want that 'eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all.'

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Lift with your legs

So we're remodeling our bathroom--real DIYers, that's us (Do It Yourself)...and we moved in the vanity last night, so it could be hooked up by the plumbers this morning.
Note: Never do your own plumbing! Note #2: Plumbers always show up at 8:am.

Anyway, I bent down to lift the espresso-colored, all-wood vanity and by the time I'd set my end down in the bathroom, I knew I'd put my back out. My ever-helpful Beve said, "You should have lifted with your legs." Which is all well and good, except that I'd already done the damage. But it got me to thinking. Bending over to lift something is completely instinctive. Why is it that we're made in such ways that what we do without thought can cause harm, and what we must stop and consider, then do, is usually the best course? We are the only creatures on the planet for which this is so, I think. Animals in the wild are the opposite. Instincts carry the day; in fact, instincts are all that animals have. We are stunned when any creature shows a glimmer of high reasoning skills, and we measure them against ourselves. Those who stop to weigh options, who take the time to decide which way to run, for instance, are eaten by their enemies. I've seen it on Planet Earth. Bend at the waist, lift without thinking, hurry, run, press on--those are the only options for survival in the wild.

But we're a counter-intuitive population, all the way around. And if we're made to stop and think as human beings, in the Kingdom we're told to go much, much further. Love your enemies. Forgive those who persecute you. Serve others as the way to be great in the Kingdom. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. These aren't suggestions. We're called to it, forget instinct. Lift with your legs.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A bumper sticker

Pulling up behind an old Subaru the other day, I noticed its bumper sticker: "I love my country, but I think we should start seeing other people." The bearded, paint-spattered driver got out just as I did, and was momentarily startled when I spoke to him, but smiled when I told him I liked the thought. I love those connections, those moments when I look eye to eye with someone and we suddenly both 'get' it, even as a hurrying past world rushes unconsciously by.

So, is it less patriotic to love all the people of this planet? To really believe that the disenfranchised, the lost and hurting in every nation have a right to water and food and health and safety, just as we do? Or do those rights stop at the borders of our country, at the edges of our constitution? In the gospel of Matthew, where I've been dwelling recently, there's that famous sheep and goat passage where Jesus says, "Whatever you sheep did to the least of these, you did to me... and whatever you goats didn't do, you didn't do to me!" And somehow, I have the sinking feeling that this nation, in this last administration with the policies of war and disinterest in helping the poor, is a giant super-goat.

And I can imagine what we could be--how we could spend our wealth for good, to help, to make the world, the earth, the poor, the homeless, the lost healthier; and how we might be 'blessed to be a blessing' as the saying goes, by doing that. How God would honor that, would change this country, this nation by the doing--this is how I dream of being patriotic. But in love with the whole world, too.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Putting on sandals

It's Spring Break for the tall man I live with, and he has so many projects in his head I told him last night this break will have to balloon to 20 days in order for him to do them all. He's a doer--not a contemplative like me. We're kind of like Joseph and Mary, I think. Mary stored all those things up in her heart; she treasured them, thought about them. And we talk endlessly about her faith, trust and obedience. But what of Joseph's? This carpenter was visited by angels, not once, but three times, and each time, no matter how odd or out of his expected course, he got up, and obeyed. "Take this pregnant girl to be your wife! What is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit." 'Right, the Messiah. OK, I'll do it,' he says, putting on his sandals. "Get them out of Bethlehem--all the way to Egypt!" 'Sure thing,' he says, waking a sleeping newborn and piling him with Mary onto a donkey. "Go home now!" 'Glad to,' he smiles, packing up a household after two settled years, to finally go home. And he hops right up out of his warm bed, even in the middle of the night and is off.

This amazing man raised God's son as his own--was so trusted by God as a man--as a father--that he raised the only begotten Son. Can you imagine? Joseph is absent after the temple stoy, but he helped form Jesus. He gave him feet to stand on this earth. And he obeyed instantly, before he knew, when the world was pointing fingers, when it cost. It cost him everything--reputation (for a while at least), his home, his job, his country for a season. And...if it's true that he died while Jesus was young, he never even saw Jesus preach or heal or do a public miracle. Yet still he obeyed.

We're pansies about obedience. We think we have it rough when God asks us to give up something for Lent, or to go on a mission trip, or to pray more, or whatever it is. We know nothing. But Joseph, now there's obedience, when it was hardest.

But he had something easy too. Someone easy. He had Jesus with him. He was ALWAYS considering Jesus. Nothing in his life--from that first dream on--was about himself. Ever after, he lived considering Jesus first.

It's an obvious thing, but it's also why he's a perfect model of discipleship. If we can be Joseph, if we can live, paying attention to angels (and aren't they promised to us?) and considering Him, being His servant, getting up out of the warm, safe bed in our lives, to go where He needs to go, we're in good shape.

Do I wake up in the night when He speaks? Do I listen? Throw back the covers and put on my sandals and go?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

By the numbers

I've been reading a novel this morning about a math prodigy who gets into Oxford. On her first day, she's asked what the purpose of math is, and she answers, "To try to quantify the world."
Now, I keep numbers in my head very easily--telephone numbers, birthdays, dates. They're filed in some kind of archaic cabinet in a shadowy part of my brain to be called up whenever I need them--the birthday of a childhood friend I haven't seen since 7th grade, the date my college boyfriend broke our engagement, my dead grandmother's telephone number--but these are just facts, tools at my disposal, party tricks even. To measure life is to limit life, I think, and that's a whole different matter.

Numbers would say, for instance, that I belong to the demographic that supports a particular democratic candidate. This really annoys me. I do look--outwardly, at least--like that subset of people. I am a woman of a particular age and educational background. However, I am far more than the sum of my parts. I have my own brain, my own heart, my own will. And I have used them to listen, think and respond--by myself. I do not want to be measured by the numbers.

Never have, never will.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Conversation

The idea is to approach this like I do the ubiquitous blue bound books I've been writing in since the age of 14. The reflections of the Word, words, the world the same as always--only now with a delete button. I'm not one of those diarists who gather their diaries in a heap at the end of their lives and light a match to them, afraid of what their children or spouse might discover about them. I'm a writer. I want readers. Always have. From the beginning, in my journals I imagined the person I was addressing my words--the conversation I was having with her on the page. And now I know what she looks like--what they look like--there are three of them, with dark hair, with green and blue and brown eyes. Tall and smart and somewhat mocking, ready to catch me at any inconsistency, keeping me on my toes. Sometimes appreciative, though not nearly as often as I might like. But they might say the same of me.

So I start, not in the beginning, not with a hello or introduction, but already conversing, midstream.

Midlife, so to speak.