Saturday, May 31, 2008

Castles in the desert

My great-grandfather, Mat Roy Thompson, built a castle in a desert. It's very famous--you might have heard of it. It's called Scotty's Castle, and it's a spectacular place, as is the land on which it sits: Death Valley. My great-grandfather was the engineer who oversaw the construction of the castle for the very wealthy couple, named Johnson, who were having it built. This is a story of ill health, thwarted love, dreams unrealized--all desert kind of experiences. And you might have noticed that neither my grandfather nor those Chicagoan millionaires were the Scotty of Scotty's Castle. No, Scotty was the name of the old prospector who'd sold the rights to a non-existent gold mine to these fancy-folks. In the end, even when the gold didn't pan out, so to speak, they found the air amenable to their health and built their home/ castle anyway. But guess who ended up living there? Not my great-grandfather, whose designs had changed the style from a square shapeless structure to a one-of-a-kind desert hacienda that can withstand heat and cold and everything else, and still be beautiful. Not the money bags--they both died before it was actually completed. It was Scotty who lived out his days in the Castle. Scotty, the old prospector, who'd duped the folks once, then somehow outlasted them, and lived to enjoy the spoils. (By the way, I should give a shout out to Mat Roy Thompson's entry on wikapedia for all the helpful information.)

We often think of deserts as hostile places, barren places to barely survive. They're metaphors for the worst of what life throws at us, for the times when God seems far away, when we can neither see, feel nor even know how to reach Him. But long ago, the desert called the most devout of our faith. The desert fathers and mothers, they were called. Those who purposed went out to the harshest terrain to discover God, to strip away all else in order to meet Him and only Him. They made their homes in caves and under rocks, and asked Him to meet them, to see what there was to see. And we have some of the richest, most beautiful words ever written as a result. What we can learn from them--why it's like finding a castle in the desert. Like this one:

If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If
you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent.
If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent.
And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies
down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will
appear; and what energy!
St. Feofil, the Fool for Christ

Or this:
Every day you provide your bodies with good to keep them from
failing. In the same way your good works should be the daily
nourishment of your hearts. Your bodies are fed with food and your
spirits with good works. You aren't to deny your soul, which is
going to live forever, what you grant to your body, which is going to die.
St. Gregory the Great
There are thousands, literally thousands, of these writings that make me realize that maybe we're on the wrong track when we loathe the desert and think it to be avoided at all costs. Instead, perhaps there's something the desert offers that we can't find anywhere else. Something beautiful. So maybe when we find ourselves in the heat of a desert, in a dry and weary land where there is no water--and we all will sooner or later--maybe instead of simply trying to figure out how to get out of there, and praying for rain, we might think of building a a place to seek God. Build a castle so that we can hear God from that barren place that we couldn't hear in our lush garden. What is your desert? Loneliness? Dryness of spirit and desire? Build something there. Lean in, listen. He is God and He is not silent. He also created the desert.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Eating humble pie

I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror yesterday afternoon and wanted to turn away. But let me tell you, when the world outside the church of Jesus Christ points and says, "But they're just all a bunch of hypocrites," I must answer, "Of course, we are." At least I am. And though I hate admitting it, I would hate even more not to. So I take a big gulp, swallow my infernal (because of course it is infernal in the truest sense of that word) pride, and here goes:

More than once in our long life together, the Beve and I have opened our home to others. We've had friends, family, and even almost friends stay with us for extended periods. Once, we even had a family of four, all their belongings plus a cat, move in with us for three months, displacing two children, our dogs, and at times, causing all five of us (and two dogs) to hole up in our bedroom while they had the run of the place. It was hard on all of us, and hard on them...I went to Great Britain at the end of that time, and the Beve practically lost his mind. The point is, we've practiced hospitality.

The thing is, hospitality isn't really a talent with me. Not even close. For the most part, it stresses me out. For all my pretty words yesterday about living life in the front yard, in the village, I'm more of a pull up the drawbridge and make sure there's a large moat around the castle kind of person, if left to myself. I love people, but crave, the way one craves breath, my solitude. It really is the air I need to be right with God and humans alike. I am used to my people, of course. I like the unfolded way one can be at home, with one's own people--in pajamas, and slicked back hair. Fortunately, God doesn't leave me to myself...He gave me the Beve, who is all about hospitality. Created in his inmost being with a heart to serve, entertain, minister in practical ways to people, by feeding, housing, and generally loving them in our home (as well as everywhere else).

So when the Beve asked me two nights ago--the first night E got in for a VERY short trip from Colorado-- about taking in a girl for a few days, I wasn't enthusiastic. It's really a complicated time anyway, with E's visit, not to mention my book and all. (And now I'm trying to justify this...) So he said he'd keep looking for another placement, though his instinct was that we'd be the best place for her. But yesterday afternoon, after he figured it wasn't happening after all and went off to mow with SK, I got a call from a woman who had this girl with her, asking for directions to our house, and for all our information so background checks could be done on us. And every fiber of my being was crying, "NO!" But I gave her directions, hung up the phone--then felt really mad at the Beve for a few minutes. Then I looked in the mirror.

Did I dare refuse what God might be asking of me, of us? Would I be selfish when a life was at stake? For all my words here, all my words other places, I would risk refusing? Obedience. It came down to obedience. Being who I say I am, doing what I claim is right. Kingdom work--in my home. I cried a few more tears, letting go, asked God to make it right inside of me, and called a friend to pray that same prayer with me. Then went to figure out what the sleeping arrangements might be while E was home.
And there was E, calmly cleaning the remodeling tools out of J's room so we could make up his bed for the girl coming to our home. E's lived in this family, she's seen us do this again and again. She took it for granted that we would gladly welcome this new friend. I looked at my daughter and relearned what I'd taught her. Thanked God for her.

Ten minutes later, a lovely 15 year-old girl with big brown eyes and a solemn face walked into our home. I heard something in her voice so asked where she was from and she said, "Well, originally from Zaire."
What a God we have--to bring us a new friend from Africa! Can you believe it? She's delightful. By the time we finished dinner, and E finished telling us about her trip to the dentist (E has TERRIBLE teeth!), V was laughing--we all were--and I think she felt okay about us. This is a good thing, as things tend to be when God works. I should have known.

I look forward to learning V's stories, to becoming family with her, as we much as we can. I don't know how long she'll be with us--maybe two weeks, maybe a month. It doesn't matter. I'll learn to be my unfolded self with her. It took me about two minutes to know that it part of God's intention here. The Beve knows what it costs me to do this and thanked me last night, but I have much to thank him for as well. After all, it's good to eat humble pie now and then.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A whole village

"It takes a village..."--isn't that how the saying goes? The song? "...a whole village to raise a child." I've heard the African Children's Choir singing this song. Oh wait a second, I'm going to cue them up on my computer and listen while I write this (isn't technology great?). Such wisdom tells us we're all involved the growing up of our families. But think of real villages, the ones of this song, the ones featuring huts with no glass in their windows, or solid roofs. Remote villages where more life is lived under the sky than under roofs, and doors don't close with locks and bolts, if there are doors at all. Living in each other's front yards, so to speak.

Growing up their children is a community job in such places. Not done behind closed doors, in front of such things as TVs, video games, computers. Children in these villages have no such luxuries. In fact, without wells, these children don't even have schools. Funny, that, huh? But if a child has to walk miles a day to the nearest dirty well to collect buckets of water, there's no time for anything else. No school, no play, nothing. Just carrying water. Chattering together as they walk. Making up stories along the way. I can imagine that. I think there's always time for imagination, even when there's time for little else. Still, it takes a whole village for the water-gathering, too.

And it takes a whole village for the planting of food. Together. Sometimes folks have their own farms, but often villages have collective fields. They're in this life together. Family. And it's the women who do the planting, you know. It's not men's work. Tell that to the farmers you know in the states who work from dawn to midnight. African men see it differently. And the women do the water-work as well. Come to think of it, the women do most of the physical labor...as far as I can tell. But maybe I have it wrong. Anyway, whoever does it, it's done together. Not me and mine, only on my property, and good luck to you. And if someone new comes to the village? Welcome, join us, become part of us. We'll feed you from our little, and put up a house for you over there, if there isn't an empty one left by someone who went to the city. It takes a full village.

A village that one can become a part of. Born into, marry into, or wander into, I think. Or, in the case of my friends' church, adopt. I was thinking about how one village--their church--can become part of another village. A church is like a village, isn't it? And by adopting this specific village, Diagle, Senegal, this church is saying, "We're going to live our lives in the front yard with you." Plant with you, fetch water with you, help raise your children, sit in your doorways and eat with you. All the things it means to be a village together. Adoption--becoming as truly part of this people, as if they'd been born there. Not just the big, different, know-it-all Americans. Probably more like the just-born-little-brothers-and-sisters who have much to learn about what life is like in this place, with this new family, in this new home. It will take a whole village to raise this new child--this church--to know, become part of it. Giving on both sides. Adoption does involve both sides, doesn't it?

It's a breath-taking challenge, don't you think? Becoming part of someone--someones--so different than oneself. I am excited, from my tree-lined, rain drenched world, to see what becomes of all of them--the church and the Diaglers-- in the process. There is change in the wind. God is in it-- creating a whole village between them!

But it leads me to wonder what I/we can learn, even here from living life in the village. We come into our homes, shut the doors, and breathe a sigh of relief. Home, free, able to take off the cares of the day and relax. But what if we lived that way--that open, that honest, that true to God--in front of people. What if our public selves and our private selves had no distinctions? What if you lived a seamless life, so that everything you did--whether at home or at work, or at play, was about Christ? Always in the village. Isn't this what it means to "live lives worthy of the gospel and please Him in every way?"

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Famine

Have you ever been hungry? If you're reading this blog from the comfort of your home or place of work, I'm guessing the answer is probably not. Not really. Sure you've missed a meal now and then, had a few smaller portions than your stomach was hoping for---and you 'suffered' for it the rest of the night, or until you got home and found a snack. But your cupboard, my cupboard, they've never really been empty. Not famine empty, not day after day until your stomach is distended, eyes dulled, can't get up off your mat, empty. Not hungry like that. None of us. We have no idea.

I"ll tell you a story of who I think we westerners are (OK, so it's a generalization, but it's convicting, even for me): I stood at Costco the other day and watched cart after cart filled with those giant bags with rice fly out of there. "What the heck?" I asked my son, who works there. "There's a four bag limit," he said. "But the rice shortage is making people panic."
I thought, 'you have got to be kidding me.' Now my family eats a lot of rice; for the average family, we really do. But we only go through one of those overgrown restaurant-sized bags about once a year. You can't tell me all these people really need all this rice. No way, no how. But that's how we are, we Americans. We think we need our food. We need it. But across the world are those who would give their lives--literally--for a single cup of rice to share with their children. The thing is, my cupboards are full, too. I want to make that clear. I could eat for months on what's in my cupboards--you should see them...no, on second thought, I'd rather you didn't.

But famine is part of life in Africa. To spend life scratching for food in an inhospitable land where droughts come and crops fail and still sing.
To spend life in dust and hunger and still dance and share with guests.
To spend life bearing children into this world and crying as they die from starvation and lack of medicine and yet still--OF COURSE!!-- long for them.
To spend life in hope of better crops, more rain, a little food, a healthy child.
To dream what I dream, the very same dreams. Life, food, children, HOPE.

Jesus looked at the people and saw that they were hungry. And He fed them. He took what had been rounded up--a few fish, a couple of loaves--and He fed them first. He saw the look in their eyes that was only about food, and He looked back, straight into that hunger first. Do we look at that hunger first? Or do we get so busy thinking about how to share 'the gospel' that we don't actually share His gospel, if you know what I mean. Meeting hunger--real human hunger--is Kingdom work, gospel work. Do I do it?

But here's the spiritual connection: We can also live in spiritual famine--starvation mode in the Kingdom. And I'm thinking of that this morning as well. And though we might have full cupboards materially, I think it's easy for us to be starving for Jesus. In fact, many of us are only fed once a week. Only when we walk through the doors of church. People die only eating once a week. But we eat at His table Sunday mornings and call it good. And we're starving to death. And the really sad thing is, He's holding out food for us every single day of the week--every minute, if we simply reach out and take it. It's right there.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The baobab tree

Our closest friends are traveling to Senegal in a few weeks, to spend a week in a Wolof village adopted by their church family here in Washington--It's an amazing Kingdom work, I think, this joining of a small, needy village with a church family. The beginning of a relationship that will last, longer than a week or a year. I love this being together they are doing, the family they are creating together across the world, to share and share alike. The church here will send people, and they will go to sit with those in the village, and see what they might do to participate in life there, and also to simply learn from them. Kingdom work, for sure, this going and sitting and learning. And I'm envious of what they are doing. I admit that straight out. Half my heart is in Africa at times, I think. So when my friend asked me if I would think with her about some of the images of Senegal, and write of them, I gladly said I'd dwell in that land any way I could. I'd walk it, and see what God might say to us together. So for the next several days, come with me to Africa-- walk with us, will you?

When one comes from a land populated by more trees than people, one can overlook them. Pay them no mind, or even grouse about the needles that fall on our roofs, decks and obscure our views. But in Senegal—in all of Africa—where trees are fewer, and the horizon wider (I dream of it, I know it must be, though my brain tells me horizons are actually always the same distance!), reigns most miraculous of all trees. Usually it stands alone on a grassy plain, monstrously wide, its trunk gray and wrinkled like the giant elephants that wander the continent, its limbs spreading crooked clumpy claws across the horizon. The baobab tree.

There’s something amazing about this tree—a giver of life in every form. Such trees are landmarks for travelers, visible from car, camel, horse and foot. And shelter—homes, even businesses have been built in baobab trees, carving out a broad place, and the living tree keeps growing up around it. Imagine that! Imagine living out your life in the center of a breathing tree. Its bark is used for rope, its wood makes the most beautiful of musical instruments, the shell of its fruit bowls. Every bit of the tree--fruit, leaves, sap, bark, roots—has genuine medicinal qualities in it. Every single part. And every part people use for food as well. This tree, in a land where food and medicine is hard to come by, stands tall and alone. And its trunk can hold water, just like the elephant it looks like, up to 12,000 liters, which is why it can grow strong and sturdy in drought and desert. Why, this tree makes our tall majestic evergreens look merely ornamental. Yes, it's a miracle, indeed.

And though the baobab tree sometimes has leaves all year round, it only blossoms once a year, one single night in the late spring. Blink and those precious blossoms are gone. The baobab is the stuff of poetry and legends, of rites and devoutness. One tree on the long, bleak landscape of the African heat. One tree that lives longer than any other tree on this earth—over a thousand years. One tree that gives home and sustanence and hope and signposts, and very life to those who live beneath its branches.

Again and again and again those who live in its shadow are drawn to its not very pretty appearance—because they find life there.

Just like we do, finding life where: “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him.” (Isaiah 53: 2) Isn't this amazing? I was awestruck when I read of this tree, a metaphor for the One who gives us Life. We also have that baobab tree, standing high across the landscape of our lives. Don’t we? We can make our homes in Him, while He grows up around us and continues to breathe. The landmark when we need to point others to the Way. Health in Him. Sustenance, hope, poetry. Rope when we need to pull someone along, or hang on ourselves. We have it all in Christ.

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God, does not have life.” 1 John 5:12

Monday, May 26, 2008

The whole ball of wax

OK, so I missed my little brother's birthday the other day. Didn't call him or anything. My only excuse is that I didn't write the date the whole entire day. If I had, I'd have known. I remember things like that. But in some ways, my brother has two birthdays for me--the day he was born, and the day he became part of my family, and if truth be told (and I'm all about truth-telling) there's much to be said about both days.

We took a drive up the long highway of Whidbey Island in Puget Sound, and turned on a road I promise you I could find to this day, into a sub-division, where a ranch house sat amid other houses very like it. This was the early 70s, so you can imagine the houses, imagine the woman who opened the door, with her hair starched high on top of her head, and her teenaged daughters behind her, with their head-banded hair long and straight, wearing in bell-bottom jeans. They took my parents, my siblings and me into their dark-paneled living room, and there in an infant-seat sat a chubby, round-cheeked, dark-haired baby they called Jake. He was the 10th foster baby they'd cared for, and they were naming their babies in alphabetical order. He was four-weeks old. I remember the multi-colored afghan on their couch, and the blue pajamas he was wearing as if it was yesterday. And I remember his huge blue eyes when he gazed around the room. He was a big baby--as big as I was at birth, as big as my own first baby. We held him, cooed over him, and gave the foster mom clothes to dress him in, and a new name to call him--the name we'd voted and chosen--the name of the Beloved of God and of us--David. But after about an hour, we climbed back into our car and had to drive away. Back down the island and away from our baby. What a hard drive that was...

You see, my mother was taking a class at the University of Washington that summer, and had a week to finish. So we left our baby for another week, while we--my sisters and I (maybe my brothers, though I don't remember clearly where they were)--played with our cousins in the sun at our family's cabin at the other end of the island. There he was, waiting for us, and we had to leave him. There was injustice in that, I remember thinking, in my almost 14-year-old brain (I was a month away from that milestone). But a week is a short time in the long length of a life, and before we knew it, Mom and Dad were climbing out of our car with a basket full of baby, and setting it on the green meadow of our property. Once again cooed over, held, and now we didn't have to say goodbye--ever. It was July 2nd, my dad's 40th birthday.

I love this brother. More than it's possible to express. Adoption. Ephesians 1 tells us that "in love, He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will--to the praise of His glorious grace." Just like my brother was chosen, by the agency, by us, by God, to be adopted into our family--to be my father's son. To be my father's son!!--so we have been chosen. Just exactly this same way.

Stop a moment and think about that with me.

We are adopted with exactly the same rights and privileges of the Son born of flesh and blood. In our family, my dad--well, not one of us--never made any distinctions between his children, and watch out if someone did. (In fact, about the only time I ever heard him really, really angry directly to his mother was when she made a comment about his adopted sons.) All the rights and privileges of Sonship belong to all of us. All the love and grace are exactly the same. Suffering too, but that's part of being in a family. I guess in the end, being adopted into His family means the whole ball of wax, so to speak.

But I wouldn't have it any other way. I wouldn't have missed it with my brother. Not in a million years. My life is richer, broader and deeper for him. And his? Well, we'll never know what his might have been if some other family had been given the gift we were given. Thank God. Sure, there's been pain. Every life has its cross. That's my point. That's my point!! But in the end, there is love between us. And when our lives are in the family of God--which is a far different thing than merely being cast into the flawed, messy net of a human adoptive family--we get this: "The amazing proof of God's love is this: that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." And that makes all the difference.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Rotting walls

There have been many times when I've awakened with an idea for a novel, a new scene, the dialogue that just didn't work the day before, things like that; but today was the first day I woke up already writing my blog. Though I'm sure it won't be the last time, I am always obedient to these thoughts that come in my pre-waking moments. I've learned that God speaks to me then--when I can't second-guess and answer back.

So, though there are a few reasons I'm hesitant to write about this (not the least of which is that I'm pointing more than one finger at myself, but there are also other reasons that I won't share in such a public forum), here goes, straight from the Holy Spirit's mouth, so to speak.
We began attending a church eleven years ago on its inaugural Sunday in a brand new building. Brand-spanking new, actually. It still had that just painted & new carpet smell in all the rooms, and though most of its members had been there all summer, there were plenty of us that week who needed maps to get through the seemingly impossible maze of rooms, all named for trees in the promised land (which I've never kept straight to tell you the truth, even after all this time!)--cedar, olive, elm, etc. Yep, brand new, new carpet, lights, walls--well, you get the picture.

Now it's eleven years later, and all the plants on the property have grown luscious and tall, the walls have been painted again (color has been added, which looks wonderful, if you ask me), and from the outside, the building looks to be in perfect condition. Oh, it's had its share of break-ins--it sits in a neighborhood where this can be expected--and a couple of bee hives, busted pipes, and birds' nests. It's a big building, after all. But all in all, it looks pretty good. If you don't look too closely.

But take a closer look with me. If you do, like the facilities committee did last year, you'd discover that the walls are falling down on the inside. You can't see it from without--paint hides a multitude of sins, after all--but mold, mildew, and the wrong kind of everything has created a hideous mess inside every wall in this huge, almost new, gorgeous building. This place where people come to worship, play, pray, talk together, be the body of Christ together. It's falling apart. And it gets to me. I mean, eleven years. There are churches around the world that have stood for hundreds, thousands of years even, with only a stone or two crumbling.

But the Holy Spirit woke me saying this: we're like this building. Or we can be. Each of us. And our corporate bodies can be like it as well. We take so much care of our external walls, our physical selves. We wash them, clothe them, cover them with paint and beauty (one way or another, men!), and the inside can still rot. It can. He can rot inside of us if we don't pay attention to Him. Isn't that sickening to think of? The Temple of the Holy Spirit is each of us, and us collectively, and we let the walls rot. How do we do this? By not devoting ourselves to Him first, of course. That's the obvious thing. Living lives that pay attention to ourselves and our needs before Him and His. Worrying about how we look to the world more than who we are in Him. His Word not hidden in our hearts. Joyless lives together, that's another. Critical spirits is another way to call that. I can think of a lot of ways our walls rot, now that I'm thinking of it. It makes me pretty sad, because, after all, it doesn't have to be this way.

At the church, it turns out, there was blame. Of course. People culpable for those walls. Now I'm not on the inside, so I don't know where all that blame lies. But I don't have to know. That's not the point. In our lives, yours and mine, our rotting walls have only ourselves to blame. It's our sin. Don't try to point the finger outside yourself. Christ is in you. Christ is in me. If I'm not glad, living a jumping for joy life, and wanting to know Him, it's about me I need to point a finger. And when I do, when I point that finger at me, and talk to God about it--that's repentance. Repentance is about turning around and walking a different way than the crooked, rotten way we've been walking. And that, that, my friends, is the very best, best thing in the world. "I'm sorry, I want to change, I want to turn around and be different. Help me. Change me, I can't do it myself." And you know why it's so great? Because He actually does. He actually wants to change us. It's what He wants more than He wants to do anything else on earth. Repentance--I love it. I really love it.

These rotting walls of ours--whatever they are--what are we going to do about them? What are you going to do?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Work and Calling

A conversation with some friends the other night has led me to ponder the question of work and calling. We were sitting in their living room, enjoying a beautiful sunset over an evergreen-lined bay, when the Beve began speaking of how exhausted he's been this year. Now the Beve, I could easily make the case, is a man who takes his job very seriously. Seriously enough that exhaustion is a natural byproduct. He puts in many, many extra hours. Up at the crack of dawn hours to get all his work done hours. He does this because he feels called to his job, literally called to it, certain that it's the ministry God has for him, with his daily interactions with the shattered kids of this town, the broken families they come from, the splintered teachers who try to teach them, the hurting staff who aid the process. No one is whole in this world after all, and practically everyone in the school finds the Beve to talk to (he's an oddly healthy man)--one way or another. And he loves, truly loves, the conversations he has with all these people, from the teens to the janitors, when they dig into something real, and pull out something that challenges and moves both Beve and the other person to a new place. Beve lives for these conversations. He was called to them!

Unfortunately, there are increasing portions of his 'calling' that do not involve these kinds of conversations. Paperwork swamps him, the tasks have been laid on him by the school, district, state and even national legislation --some he even questions--he has no recourse but to comply with it, or the kids he serve will be the ones who suffer. And as he is toppled beneath these growing requirements, the profound sense of calling wavers, and he begins to feel like he has merely a job. Merely work.

Many of us get here, don't we? We begin our careers with high expectations. A sense that we were made for this. We study, plan and proceed out into the field of our dreams, knowing all's right with the world, if we're doing what God created us to do. And then we discover, to our secret--or verbal--dismay, that our calling is work. Labor. A job. That much of it is boring, distasteful and nothing to write home about, thank you very much. And before you know it, we're living for the week-ends, and counting the days until vacation, and then until retirement. I have to admit, it's like this for me. Now I know, some of you reading this--those of you who know me very well--are saying, 'but she doesn't even have a job.' But I do, you know. And it's been stinkin' boring the last few years, and trust me, I've wanted to throw in the towel more times than I've wanted to keep doing it, and there hasn't even been a paycheck as reward for my toil. What kind of idiot would continue to do this, I ask you? Seriously, I ask you.
One who remembers, that's who. One who remembers the moment I knew it was a calling. And remembers enough of the joy to keep going when it's boring. And then there's this:

The other night when we were talking, it hit me again that calling and work are always inexorably linked. Aren't they? Think about it. Even when God called Adam to his work--it was work. There is always an element of labor in it. Our friend said, "There are some people who enjoy what they do, day after day." "Yes," I said. Maybe. But there's still always an element of having to do it, day after day. "For six days you shall labor, but remember the Sabbath and keep it holy." Work and calling--God meant it to be this way, I think. Tied together. Maybe He meant there to be some element of work--some earning it, to put it in Old Testament terms--in your calling. Participation in His Kingdom, working out your calling with fear and trembling...there are truly lots of verses that come to mind about this. It's an encouragement, really it is. Your job, your calling. Good things together. What did He call you to? Work at it with all your heart.

PS. The Beve just walked in, and I have to quote him because it's a window into the man I live with.
"You want to know the key to finding a bungy cord? You have to think like a bungy cord.
I come back to hit myself all the time."

Yep, that's my Beve.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Tubs of grass water

Our dogs stink this morning, that's all there is to it. They stunk last night, too, actually. SK and I were innocently trying to watch Grey's Anatomy and they came bursting in from the backyard and stunk up the place. "What the heck is that?" SK asked me, covering her nose with her sweatshirt. I hadn't the faintest idea. Beve yelled from the bedroom, "They discovered that the tub of grass clippings had rain water in it." Yuck! And like moths to flame, like--well, like hound dogs to water, they just had to drink that brackish stuff. And it just about killed us, though apparently not them.

This morning, the minute they were up, their scent had returned to normal--and our dogs are generally pretty nice smelling dogs, as far as that goes (unless a gland gets stopped up or something...oh, but that's too much information for you, isn't it?). But, as usual, they were out the door like a shot, but who can blame them? I'm pretty much the same way about my morning routine, so I didn't think a thing about it, except that they didn't race each other back through the flapping door, wagging stump and crescent tails, eager for my attention. No, this morning, they stayed outside for an exceedingly long time, and finally, when they drug themselves in, they drug that foul odor with them, stinking up the whole house, thank you very much. And I wanted to lit into them, the Beve, whoever else might be responsible for not dumping the water, for making it so they'd be drawn to something so odious that by their ingestion of it, my entire house reeks of it now. So I did what any logical human being would do, right? I gave them dog biscuits for their stinky breaths, and closed the dog door so they can't get out to it. (I know what you're thinking--why doesn't she just go dump it? Don't worry, I'll get to it, but I'm queen of the expedient, which may be one of my tubs...)

It, of course, led me to think about the things we're drawn to that foul up our lives. Neither grass nor water by themselves are bad, certainly. In fact, I'm a fan of both of them (though I am allergic to grass...). I love the smell of grass, the look of it, the feel of it on bare feet. And water! The older I grow, the more I realize how perfect water is. How it's one of the important gifts God gave us for our bodies. When I was young and thought it didn't taste very well, I missed the point of our absolute need of it. But without it, we die. The end, we die. That might be said of grass as well, you know, if you stretch and think of what happened in the 1930s Dust Bowl on the Great Plains when the farmers plowed grass off the earth for years at a time. Dust came, rain stopped, and the top layer of the planet blew into everything--every crack of every person, animal, building, book. But I digress. The point is, these two things, water and grass, on their own, in their own place, are very good. Made for us. But together, allowed to sit and ferment, so to speak, they putrify. Stink up the place.

I think there's a whole lot of sin in our lives just like that. Things just like the mixing of these two things. There are things in my life that on their own are perhaps good, but allowed to sit and ferment, they stink up my life. Things I don't deal with with people, the way I instinctively respond in certain situations. How I speak to the Beve when he's late. All tubs of grass water. Here's one personal. Books. Reading, I know, is good. But what kinds of books I choose to read, and how often I read, can distort a good thing into something less good. That 'how often' is pretty large for me--probably larger than most of you can imagine--but there's a line, even for me. And I guess my point is, we all have these things. Don't we? It isn't just the big things that stink up our lives. Maybe it isn't primarily the big things. Maybe it's just a little tub of grass water we're drawn to again and again and again.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Energy Crisis

There are currently two cars sitting in our driveway. But it wasn't so long ago that more cars than drivers huddled in front of our house. I don't say this with any sort of pride. Far from it. It's been a source of pain for me that we've accumulated vehicles, that we're 'that kind of people.' You know, the house that looks like it's running a used auto lot right from its front door. Counting the cars our kids drive, I figure we've owned upwards of 26 cars since we've been married--that's more than one a year. None of these cars has been a hot rod, and many have been very small indeed--like the Ford Festiva that Beve called "The Red Misquito"--and actually fit in! But we have had more than one gas guzzler over the years; our biggest was a conversion van, complete with sink, closet, and bed, which our kids loved. Once at a basketball tournament, E locked the keys in it, and Beve shoved 5th grader SK through the skinny sideways window over the bed. I couldn't believe she was small enough to fit, but she didn't even have to wiggle her non-existent hips, just turned her head and slid onto the bed.

These cars have used a whole lot of energy, I'm sorry to say. But we're consummate recyclers in every other way, really, we are. We even moved into town so the Beve wouldn't spend as much gas or time on the road. We've been using those curly light-bulbs since they first came on the market, buy the most energy-efficient appliances every time our old garage-sale ones fall apart. Our recycling bins overflow every week. I'm practically allergic to throwing away even the smallest piece of paper anymore. Not to defend us, or anything, I'm just saying, this is just the way we live. A few months ago, I heard a woman on some talk show say that the world could save a whole lot of paper if everyone just used one fewer paper napkins a day. I began shouting at the television. "Are you kidding me? Have you ever heard of cloth?" I mean, I grew up with cloth napkins, and my own carved napkin holder shaped like my initial. Used it every single meal. Still have it. We still use cloth. Actually, I don't see what the big deal is about it. It doesn't even seem like saving energy to me, but now that the world's all about saving energy, worried about power, I feel like a radical because we're so ahead of the curve to use cloth napkins. But these cars...they've burned a whole lot of energy over the years, and I feel badly about how we contributed to the energy crisis in this world.

But I think there's an opposite energy crisis in the Kingdom. I was reading the first chapter of 1Thessalonians this morning and came to these words: "For we know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that He has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit..." (1:4-5) The gospel comes with power and the Holy Spirit. When He comes, there's power. We can't be energy-savers, leave it for another day, 'quench the fire of the Holy Spirit.' He comes with power, and our lives are flooded with it. Paul is all about this power, I've become increasingly aware. In Ephesians 1:19, he tells us that the power available to us is the very power that raised Jesus from the dead. Seriously. Don't just take my word for it. Check it out. That's power like this world has never seen before or since, and it's ours for the taking. Stop a moment an imagine this power. The power that pulled Jesus, who died for our sins and went to hell with all those sins laid on His back, straight back into life--that very power is OURS, who belong to Christ. Can you breathe? I honestly can't quite breathe, thinking of this. I can't possibly just continue to sit here, write this blog, get up and finish the laundry, get to work on my revisions if this is true. Can I? The world, the whole world, was turned on its head by that power. What am I doing, sitting here in my robe?

But we live meager, energy-saving lives, and our faith is anemic as a result. It's like we turn off the power strip and then try to live for Him. The operative word in that last sentence is 'try'. That's how we know our power strip has been turned off. The Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, who came in flame and lives in power inside of you, longs to fill you up, and all you're doing is 'trying' to do what He wants. Like we're all just sitting here in our robes, metaphorically.

Across the world are people who have nothing. No cars, no running water, very few earthly possessions. But those among them who love Jesus also take Him at His Word. They get down on their knees to pray. When He says, "Whatever you ask in my name, I will do," they believe it. Paul says, "I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in you hearts through faith. And I pray that you may have power, together with all the Lord's people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ and to Know the Love that surpasses knowledge--that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." And they pray for this. They pray, with power, together, and they love each other. And what we could learn from them--what we CAN learn from them could change our world. We can't--we absolutely cannot conserve the power of the Holy Spirit. Get up with me. Let's take off our robes, take Him at His word. there's power to be spent here, people. What does God have for you today? Use up His power--there's a never-ending supply.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Embodied in flesh

It might not be a surprise to anyone that I love Jesus. I make no bones about that--neither here, nor anywhere else, to tell the truth. Now, I'm not one of those in-your-face evangelists. Don't have to be. It seems to me that Jesus is peeking in the door, so to speak, of every conversation I ever have. You know why? I'm not sure I have the skill to explain it--certainly not the skill to explain it that John has. After all, he began His gospel with this prologue: "In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it...The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."

The word incarnate means to be embodied in flesh. That word, Incarnate, isn't even in scripture, but it's my favorite holy word, and what John is talking about here. That the Word-- God!--is embodied in flesh and bone and blood and came to dwell in the dirty, stinky, reality of this planet, that He was confined in a body with the same functions that you and I have, had to eat and sleep on a 24-hour cycle just like we do, and manage this life--this very life--I can hardly write it without tears pooling at the corners of my eyes. And always with a steely-glinted eye on the bloody cross-shaped prize that claimed His life to save your life and mine. Can you believe it? Seriously, how can it not make us weep every single day of our lives? This is the Incarnation--that God Himself lived and walked and slept and did His business and then did all the business of Heaven for our sake. This God we call Jesus (or whose nickname is Jesus, as my children once called it, when they were young and trying to understand the mystery of the trinity).

And now, every time the words of God become flesh and dwell between us, we are living Incarnately. We let Him in. Every time. He is always there. He promised this would be so, you know. His Holy Spirit is made flesh in us. This now is how Jesus--the Word, the Spirit--becomes flesh and makes His dwelling among us. Really. Really! And yesterday was a day full of incarnation for me. And I'm telling you, it just about blasted my socks right off my feet.
Three examples:

  • The Beve, SK (who is home from college for the summer!!!) and I saw a friend and began a conversation, and one thing led to another, and pretty soon this friend was pouring out his heart about a difficult co-worker, competition in the workplace, his own frustration, his desire to give God the glory which wars with his own stubborn pride. It was raw and real and all of a sudden there He was, sitting at that table with us. God and man at table had sat down, and it was good, because we were seeking Him. Simultaneously, the Beve and I said, "I think we should pray," and that was even better--I love it when the Beve prays. He sets an elbow on the table, his chin on his hand and his heart on things above where Christ is. I swear, I could listen to him all day. Afterwards, this man's burden was lifted. We were allowed to carry it with him, and what a privilege!
  • Later, I got a phone call from a one of my favorite engineers. He's been reading this blog and we got to talking about it. (Odd to think that I'm actually talking to you here, RWC!) Anyway, he was talking about how we are so different, and suddenly, right there in my backyard, as I was throwing for the puppy with one arm and holding the phone with the other, there was Jesus, crackling through the phone line. Did you sense it? Incarnation. The words between us becoming flesh--taking on meaning bigger than ourselves. We're talking about how words on a page make us think and grow, become convicted, wonder about how we live, get outside ourselves, and right there in that moment, there is Jesus, working on us, in us, speaking, standing/sitting with us saying, "You can change. This is the moment. I am in this!" Holy moments, I like to call them. But they really are about Incarnation--His Incarnation.
  • And the third conversation was another phone call. I picked up the phone to my editor's voice yesterday morning. She said, "I heard from J (my agent--wow, there are a lot of people with names that start with J) and I'm singing Hallelujahs!" Good news from far away, right? I've been waiting for a very long time to hear that my book, or any part of it, is 'done.' And now the first 3 chapters are. If that's not Jesus, I don't know what is. Really. A Holy moment. Will you take a moment and give Him glory with me? Even if you haven't a clue what the climb's been--how long and hard and how many blisters I have on my feet and hands, how often I almost fell from the rope? I'm not at the summit yet...but I can see it in the distance. And that's good enough for this day. The word made flesh.

I don't know how He incarnates Himself in your life, but I believe--which I've always said was stronger than knowing, because after all, it's the very "substance of things hoped for"--that He does, in conversations, both large and small, trivial and significant. You think you're talking about the weather, your shared job, a frustrating boss, and suddenly, with a whisper, there He is, and you aren't alone. Suddenly, whatever it is you are talking about, you're also talking with Him, and that changes everything. God right within you, embodied in your flesh. Lean in. Can't you hear Him? How cool is that?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Jake and Make

While I was in the hot, sunny wilds of eastern Washington, the Beve was spending 13 hours a day behind his favorite power tool--a commercial lawn mower. Oh wait, I mean, one of his commercial lawn mowers. He has something like 6 of them. I'm not going out behind the house to check the current number--it's as fluctuating as the democratic delegate count! Anyway, what this means is that our dogs spent an inordinate amount of time alone.

Now this is not a problem for our giant middle-aged yellow lab, whom I've recently begun calling 'Big Jake', though his name is Jackson. Big Jake has been glued to the couch in the back room for approximately 18 months, which is when our other lab Jemima died. Big Jake slithers off the couch to do his business, eat and sometimes lay in the sun on the living room rug--just for a change in scenery--but I've come to the conclusion that he doesn't actually like the feel of grass on his feet. You remember the song by the screechy, ukelele-playing singer, Tiny Tim, "Tip-toe through the tulips?" Well, that's what Big Jake does in grass--especially wet grass (scrunching his shoulders against the pure agony!)--he tiptoes! And won't play ball unless he's forced, and he'll go for a walk, but never a run anymore. Doesn't like to engage with other dogs. At dog parks he stands around while all these little ones (he's 110lbs of pure yellow muscle--oh, maybe not!) come and dance around him. So hanging out alone for a few days is not a huge problem for our huge dog. If the Beve comes in at the end of the day, feeds him, pets and talks to him, Jackson's crescent tail goes up, there's a definite grin on that big mug, and all is well in his world. I kid you not about the grin, by the way. I've never seen a dog grin the way Jackson can at the Beve. (And you should see him when my little brother comes to visit--he not only grins, but jumps over D's 6'2" head!)

But then there's Jamaica. Maica, or Little Make, as I've taken to calling her. Little Make is our year-old Springer Spaniel. She's a people person, our velcro puppy. She doesn't like to be left alone. Not for an hour, definitely not for a day. If I don't take her with me when I leave the house, she climbs on top of the love-seat in the back room and presses her nose to the window, staring mournfully as I drive away. And half the day, she watches out the front window for Beve to come home. She's practically always on the watch, now that I think of it. She loves Big Jake, fortunately. When we do get home, she greets us by twirling madly, then pouncing on him! Yep, just about any big event in life--food, balls, treats, getting let out of her kennel in the morning--results in her pouncing on him. He just stands there while she paws at him with her front feet and practically climbs on his back. I'm always happy I've come home so Maica can be excited to see Jackson! She loves being outside, no matter what the weather, just nosing around, digging and checking out whatever there is to see. She's terrified of the lawn-mower, Jackson barking at birds and squirrels, or any other loud, unexpected noise, so comes tearing through the dog-door and sits on my feet, trembling when she hears such things. Oddly, I find her fear adorable. And she's become a tennis ball fetching fool! I hated throwing for her for the longest time because she'd never drop for me, but then my friend J told me how to use treats to get her to drop, and now she'll play for hours. Literally, I could throw a ball for her until my arms fall off and she's tongue-hanging-to-the-grass-panting and still the silly fool will keep fetching that ball.

But she doesn't like being left alone. So she waits for the master's return. No matter what else she's doing, she's waiting. They both are, in their inimitable ways, Big Jake asleep on the couch, Little Make staring out the window, watching. They know for whom they wait. They know the sound of the Beve's truck. When they hear it, well before I do, Jackson's wide-awake and at the door, barking, and Maica begins to howl and I'm telling you the racket just about wakes the dead. They don't know how long he's been gone. They probably knew it'd been a long time alone over the weekend, but they just watched and waited. And then they told the world he was finally back.

You know where I'm going with this, don't you? "I wait for the Lord," says the Psalmist. "My whole being waits." (130:5) We don't live waiting, it seems to me. We go through our days, sleeping like Jackson, or doing a million other things, like Jamaica, but don't keep our ears cocked for the Master's return. How do we live our lives with one ear cocked? With our noses pressed to the window of heaven, watching for Him? Will we know His truck when He pulls in to meet us? Do we know Him well enough to grin for Him when He walks through our door--as He most certainly does--in hidden ways--every single day? I want to get off the couch of my life and greet Him when He comes. Shoot, I hope I howl, and bark, and claw at the door when He comes into my daily life. Bounce at His head in joy when I see Him. Don't you?

Monday, May 19, 2008

Family tree

Home from the Palouse. I was there to celebrate my mom's birthday, and to celebrate with my family the accomplishments of my youngest sister's children. And those three kids are accomplished, let me tell you. These are kids who have a strong rope tying them to the Palouse, not simply a thread like I have. They were raised right in the middle of a wheat field, rode horses before they could walk and tractors before they went to school, by a dad who lives with soil beneath his fingernails in the summer and cow dung under his boots in the winter on their wheat and cattle ranch, and they all learned those ropes that tie them as soon as they were house-broke, as they follow the footsteps of their father just like he's followed the footsteps of his.

But they were also raised by a mother who drives into a university town every single day, to the university where she's followed the footsteps of her father, for years even working in the same building. She is, as he was, committed to seeing students excel in college, and succeed in the world beyond. She's good at what she does--as good at what she does as her dad was before her. My sister keeps more plates in the air than anyone I know--a whole china cabinet of china, actually, and it baffles me how she does it, but there's always room for one more with her. One more person in her house, one more place set at the table, one more barbeque on the front patio. Just pull up a chair and a cold one and make yourself at home, and while you're at it, I'd be glad to sew you up a quilt or two for your baby, make a dress for your wedding, knit a sweater, a hat, a bag...Not to mention, shoulder the mostly unbearable job of caring for our mother.

These those young-adult children of hers are tied by a thick rope to my sister's world as well. They're all busy, plates-in-the-air kind of people, yes. But mostly they're tied by their investment in academia. By that genetic pool, and a whole lot of talking from their earliest age that made them determined to study and study well. Just this weekend, we celebrated the Master's Degree of my oldest niece from Kansas State University. I can't begin to tell you the title of her thesis--it's so far over my head, I couldn't even follow the abstract. About cows--er, beef--and a tracking system, and machines--that's about the best I can do, and now I'm showing off my ignorance. But it reminds me that she is a perfect blend of her family tree. She is wedded to the ranch, but is a very capable academician--and her maternal granddad would be every bit as proud as all those farmers sitting around her parents' patio yesterday, drinking beer.

And the second daughter, who's been my daughter's roommate for a couple years? She's working dawn up to midnight to finish university early. Early!!! That's the kind of student she is. She's always been so. Every thing she puts her hand to, she does with grace and beauty, whether it's sitting a horse or the fancy cake decorating she's so talented at. She's taking a class right now that could kill me. Literally kill me, I'm sure. But she stripped it (well, not completely) off for a while to help at the farm, to celebrate her brother and sister, to be her mom's greatest champion. To be my daughter's friend (well, both my daughters').

And the son stood up in front of over 3000 people, mostly his peers, Saturday night and gave a speech. I have to admit, when I walked into that convention Thursday night, I thought I'd taken a left turn into a foreign country. Surrounded by teens in blue corduroy jackets and black bottoms, all cheering and screaming, it seemed a little cult-like, to tell you the truth. But FFA is does some good things. OK, some great things. They're learning how to speak, and take care of the earth, and animals, and each other. Anyway, my nephew has been a state officer for the year so had to speak to the convention. Give an address. And I'm here to tell you, in my completely unbiased opinion, he wowed them. There were girls screaming that they loved him even!!! (OK, to be honest, SK started it, but that just took the finger out of the dike, so to speak.) The cool thing was, though, at one moment in the middle, when he was talking about how he was kind of dork when he was a little kid, his middle sister said, "I love you, M!" and he answered, without missing a beat, "Thanks, L!" That might have been my favorite moment. That she chose that moment to say those words, to reassure him, that he knew her voice. And it was a very good speech. (Well, I'd also liked it a couple nights before when he noticed that my son, the closest thing he has to a brother, was there. We got there a day early, and he was thrilled to see J!) This nephew loves the land. Loves farming, can spend all day alone in a field, but with equal joy, and ease, can hold a crowd of thousands in his hand. Pretty remarkable.

So these kids. They're impressive. All three of them. They didn't get that way on their own. They're branches on a family tree. And both sides has a hand in them, and equal hand. I saw that as clearly as I've ever seen it in them this week end. God knew what He was doing when He married the farm and the university. And He saw that it was good.

Friday, May 16, 2008

A drive

My son and I drove across the state today. Yep, from the northwest corner to the eastern border, we drove a route I've been traveling most of my life. I could drive it in my sleep, practically. At least I know where the cops like to linger just up the hill from Vantage toward Royal City, just about where we enter the no-cell-phone coverage area. I know when to look up from my book in time to spot the "Go Cougs!" sign on the side of the barn outside of Othello, and when to put my shoes on for the last rest area before we get to Pullman (unless one is desperate and counts the one at Dusty, but trust me, that barely counts!). Yep, it's a road I've been on a time or two.

I rode on it in a car loaded with my brother and sisters, mom and dad, when we all got sick, and I threw up on our dog right in the middle of the Vantage bridge over the Columbia River. A couple of holiday trips it took something like 13 hours to make the trip home from Seattle because of the snow. My mom would be so mad at my dad and brother on those trips--she had to manage three girls' toilet needs, while they just stepped outside and aimed. Years later, the Beve and I drove that road to visit our families, with our wee children, also in bad weather, also stopping on the side of the road at times, and I have to say, as he and the son stood pointing away from the car, I understood exactly how my mother felt. Oh, the injustice of being female! I asked our pediatrician once about managing long car trips with children, and he said, "Wait for the first sniffle, then give them all Dimetapp." Mind you, we had three children in three and a half years so there was always a sniffle in the car. And miraculously, those children always slept their way across the state. Ah the things we'll do to make the trip easier...

There's something about a road we've traveled so many times that makes us that way--makes us lazy, you know? We think we know everything there is to know about it. Exactly what lies ahead, how to drive it. We stop paying attention, don't enjoy it. But it also makes us hurry, this drive we're so used to. We know exactly how long it should take, and we're marking time, that's for sure. It's only about getting there. Just the other day, the Beve and I went for a drive to a place we'd never been before. And for that whole drive, I couldn't get over how pretty it was, how much there was to see. I just loved that drive. And it made me think of the way my family took drives when I was a little kid--just out wandering the countryside, to see what there was to see. A brand new world to see.

It feels like all of life can be like this drive I've taken a thousand times. Doesn't it? Doing your life over and over and over. My writing life has certainly felt that way the last few years. Just trying to get there, doing the work, the same work that I did yesterday, that I might have to do tomorrow. And sometimes it's as boring as that drive. I get to the end of the road, then turn around and drive it again. And yet today as we drove it, the sky was blue and the sun shone and I was with my son, and it was good. And my life, the work, the same work I've done over and over and over? The clouds are parting there as well. And I think, I hope, I believe, I am about to get off this road. So maybe, just maybe I'll pay attention to whatever there is to see here before, like Robert Frost, I don't pass this way again.

Maybe you're lucky enough never to feel this way about your life. But maybe like me, you realize you could never be a long-term trucker on the same patch of concrete. And it's time to find few new roads to travel. This blog? It's that new road for me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Find a pool

It's a whole new season for us as parents. I'm not talking about just Beve and me, though we're certainly included in that, but for many our age. We all have kids graduating into the great unknown of their lives, kids who don't have one whit of an idea of what God has in store for them. All these young adults who have had every year planned for them for the last 22 or so, are now suddenly at the edge of this Grand Canyon-sized precipice--and it's terrifying. Maybe a little exhilarating. Maybe both at once.

Frankly, I don't know if I'm talking about them or us. Some of them have plans. Or half a plan, or a bit of a dream. They're piling things in a backpack and taking off for the wildly-colored map of the world before they settle down to this thing we call adulthood. They're going to plug their noses and dive off the high dive of adventure first, and far be it for us to stop them, though our hearts stop at the thought. Seriously stop. I know what it feels like to be one of those kids--I joined them with my bulging pack, a Eur-rail pass, a dream and a sense that God would ride those trains with me. My parents didn't know that. Six weeks later when I got around to calling, my mother answered the phone, heard my voice and wept. I didn't get it then but I sure do now--and we even have cell-phones!

Others have spent so much time and money on just the right paper for their resume, just the proper wording for those cover letters that they send to all the organizations and companies they're applying for, they're doing their English teachers proud. Dang proud, I tell you! And they're losing sleep. Wondering what else they can do, what they've missed--what they aren't that they should have been. It's a terrible thing to be 22, 23 years old, and be out of the cocoon, proving oneself. Trying so hard. Questioning every little thing about oneself as if one was back in middle school trying out for the basketball team. And what about the jobs one doesn't get, the demoralizing that is. Just like having someone say--I don't like you, you're a wrong person.

Yes, for the first time, this is real life, and there's no mattress of school in the fall to fall back on. And it's scary and properly so. I hear it in the voice of my oldest, always confident child. In the emails I get from my niece and nephew. I hear it from friends who have children facing this. And when I wake up in the middle of the night, thinking about all these young people, all these thoughtful, well-educated young people, standing there, I worry too. We all try to trust, to believe that the right job, the right future, the right life is out there, waiting for us. We try to believe that everything will turn out fine, and that God won't let us down. That He is as trustworthy as we have been taught He is.

When E admitted to me yesterday how stressed she feels about this, but how much she's trying to trust, I realized that a precipice is the wrong thing to stand on the side of, so said to her, "Find a pool, E."
"What?" she asked.
"I mean it. Find a swimming pool, stand on the edge and fall in. It's like that old Nestea commercial--what a wonderful feeling to fall in, to have that water hit you, but hold you. Sure, you sink a little. But then you're safe, and you float. Safe in the water, and it's clean and pure and fresh. Fall into the water."
"Well, it's pretty cool here right now..." she said. "But I get your point. Let go."
"Yes!"
Let Go. Stop trying so hard. Do the work, of course. But stop trying to trust, and fall into the pool. Stop trying to figure it out, and trust God to do that. Your times--your very life--are in His hands. Safely in the pool. God will be there to hold you up and help you to float.
And the Beve would say, she only needs one job. They all do. My niece. My nephew's fiancee, my friend's daughter, my daughter's roommate...one job a piece. Not a pile of job offers. Just the one that God has for them. And if they decide a different future? If they run off and join the circus for a year or so? Well, maybe that's why we, their parents, need to find a pool, too. Find a pool and fall in. God will be in the water.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In it with them

My politically-inclined nephew asked me a question last night. Not surprisingly, we were talking about the democratic presidential candidates, and how the media helps shape, as it often does, what we feel about them. I read a very good editorial about this the other day, about how the media has become the wall, rather than the fly on the wall. How instead of simply being the camera lens, media has now molded and changed what we see and know about candidates, what we believe to be true about them. And that led my nephew to say, "I've been wanting to ask you what you think about Obama and his pastor." I wasn't surprised by the question, certainly. This nephew of mine is an agnostic at best, and I'm probably the closest person to a pastor (though I'm not) that he knows, since I went to seminary and all. That indefinite 'and all' does get to me--someday I'd really like to know what all is contained in all. In any case, I'm certainly the most 'religious' person in his immediate world--a word I also have a whole lot of words about, and might post those someday...

So what I told my nephew, with whom I share so many common opinions, actually, that sometimes talking to him is like talking to myself, is that I thought, "Here we go." When I first heard the story about Rev. Wright, it felt and sounded undeniably familiar. That is, there have so often been these somethings, some ghost or other, that rise up and bite a candidate, that the media create mountains from. We've seen it a thousand times, really. Haven't we? And I thought this might be that mountain for this candidate I've liked since the convention when I first heard him open his mouth and take my breath away with his rhetoric.

But it also made me think of how we think of our pastors, whether that 'we' is within the church or not. We somehow think they belong to us, that we belong to them and what they say, how they say it, what they do, all of that, reflects on us, is ours to criticize, or embrace, right down to their attire, their families, etc. In short, we own our pastors. Isn't this true? We look at pastors in an entirely different way than any other profession in the entire world. And a different calling, too, that it isn't just one part of the lists from Ephesians and 1 Corinthians, and wherever else that I can't remember now. But guess what, we're in it with them. We're called to this thing called the Body of Christ with them, with our own gifts, with our own talents, to make the church be the church.

Unfortunately, most of the time, the pastor is the mouth of the Body. Now Obama's Rev. Wright, I think he was really the mouth of that church. And he opened it. Sometimes his tongue got away with him. But I bet there are lots of other times when it didn't. When it inspired, and was inspired, and I am certain-- certain-- there were times the Body around him filled up the gaps where he blew it. At least that's what I hope was true. I hope that this is true in churches where the preacher who's the mouth gets off track, and those who sit, open-mouthed, can hardly believe their truth-loving, Jesus-loving ears. I believe it. I believe those holy ones, who call on the Holy One, start standing in the gap right then and there in their seats, and working in the background, and God intervenes. God always steps in the way of the most misguided of mouths when we pray. Now I'm not saying this man should have said the things he did. By no means. That would be ridiculous. I know from completely personal experience what it is to find the words of preachers abhorrant. To hear them say things that I regard as heretical. Yes. Does this shock you? So why, you might ask, does a person stay in a church in that situation? Or allow a preacher to stay? People stay because the Body fills up the gaps, floods the broken places. Or prays to.

But sometimes the broken places are too shattered, too deep. I admit that too, I'm sorry to say, downright broken hearted to say, to tell you the truth. And it's still hard to leave. It should be. It should be the hardest thing we ever do--leaving a church, or getting rid of a pastor. Not done lightly or gladly because we are part of the Body of Christ. THE BODY OF CHRIST!!! As such, we belong for life. Bought with blood. In community. And we should bleed about leaving. But God knows all this too. He's in this blood too.

So I didn't find it odd that Obama loved a man he disagreed with. And I didn't find it hard to imagine how painful he found it to have to finally denounce that man with whom he'd broken bread, and by whom he'd been baptized, married, been ministered. It should have been hard. It should be hard for us. We don't own our pastors. Thank God. They belong to God. We're in this thing--this Kingdom life--together. Act accordingly.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The daily grind

This morning the Beve left for work at the usual time of half past who knows when, when I was still, as I always am, deep in some dream or other. And two hours later, when I was still sleeping, while it was still pretty stinkin' early, if you ask me, he walked back into the house. Both dogs started barking, and my heart pounded right out my chest wall. The dogs recognized his little pick-up and were sure they'd slept through the whole day, but I knew exactly what time it was and was certain the Beve had come home with a Meniere's attack, dizzy and light-headed. It's not far-fetched, and is not a pretty sight, my friends, trust me on that one. I've seen him knock down towel racks, and practically bust out a glass shower door when he gets to spinning. And I'm asking, if a big man falls in our bathroom, is a small (ish) woman able to help? That's not rhetorical, by the way... So it was only natural that I be slightly anxious--OK, downright panicked--to see him walking in the house at 7:30 on a Monday morning. But he said, "I decided to take the day off." And then I remembered. It was just too early, that's my only excuse. I knew all day yesterday what today would bring.

24 years: that's what today brought. Our anniversary. Twenty-four years ago this afternoon, the Beve and I stood up in front of God and about 450 people and made a whole lot of promises, ones we'd written ourselves for the occasion. We had no idea what we were pledging to each other. People rarely do on their wedding days, I think. It takes living out those vows to discover you mean them, and only then with the grace of God. We begin in earnest pagentry, and practice in the daily grind of life. Later that evening my dad told me that the Beve had really painted himself into a corner with those vows of his, hadn't given himself any room to manuever but I was much too white-dressed twitterpated to understand what Dad meant. However, this morning, as we were sitting in front of the fire--it's a whole lot cooler here today than it was on that sunny day in the Palouse--I told Beve I could only remember one thing he'd said to me that day. He'd said he would always ask for forgiveness, and would always forgive me, even before I asked for it.

I've been thinking about that one line from his much longer vow. The Beve has kept that promise, you know. And sometimes, I have to be honest, I've been a little miffed that he's forgiven me so quickly. And more importantly, that he's asked for it so fast. There have been times when I've wanted to be mad at him. I've wanted to stew about things in the last 24 years--because I was right. I wanted to hold things against him, when he'd wronged me. But I remember the moment--yes, the exact moment--when I realized that I absolutely couldn't hold things against him. It was our second year of marriage and we were living in a dorm at Pacific Lutheran University. I was standing in our bedroom, which was just one of three rooms in a row that comprised the hall-director's apartment. And I was spitting fire, I was so mad at him. Standing there, I wondered how long I could hold onto that anger before it took hold of me. Could I hold it overnight? A couple of days, maybe? A week? I wanted to hold it just as long as I possibly could--because I felt justified in it!!--but not so long that it would stick within me.

And that was the moment--a holy, Holy Spirit moment, where God met me and said, "Not a single instant." If I held on to that offense for any time at all, it'd stick in my heart, like balls to a velcro wall, and the next one I'd hold on to for a bit longer, and the next longer still, and by 24 years later, all we'd have between us would be my long list of offenses against him. And you know, I remember with crystal clarity that moment, but have no clue what the offense was. I have learned to forgive. Slowly. With mis-steps. He always asks pretty quickly. I'd always rather brood a little first, talk through whatever it is that has happened. Just last night I got pretty mad at him when we were changing the sheets on our bed. He had more sheet on his side, and I wanted him to come look at my side so he'd see my point. He just wanted me to pull the sheet over, which was reasonable. But instead I got mad. He didn't want to do it my way. You'd think we hadn't made our king-sized bed together twice a week for the last 24 years (I LOVE clean sheets!). I walked away. But about thirty seconds later, I walked back in the room, and collapsed on the bed, laughing. And the Beve laughed with me. But then he said, "Marriages fall apart over things like this." And it's probably, sadly true. But I can't bear to hold on. I can't take the chance of holding something against him, even trivial things like him not making the bed the way I would, because maybe this would be the one that sticks--that starts that odious list.

Maybe this is a funny thing to write about on our anniversary. But then again, maybe, just maybe it's the secret to these 24 years. I think my dad had it right--there was only a tiny space to maneuver in those vows of my earnest young husband's. But that space has been all we've needed. Forgiveness.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

JESK

Who do I honor on this day? My mother, who sits alone in an assisted living unit, diminished by Alzheimers enough that my love is true, but is neither easily come by, nor related to her being my mother? But I will call her, and she will feel honored, and that is well enough, I suppose.

Or perhaps I honor the man who made me a mother. He shares the burden of parenting, and makes me--easily--a better mother. When our children were young, and I was frazzled so that my hair was standing on end every day, and my temper standing beyond that, he soothed us all daily. As we all grew up, I calmed and that was very good--for all of us. So happy Mother's day to you, Beve.

But really, it's about the three--J, E, SK--who have honored me. Honored me by facts of their beings, from the first suspicions--unexpected (yes, for us, each time!) but by the time I felt them, a great delight. A kick within and the press of my hand to search for it, the sense that this--those pokes and jabs a real human being!--might be the very definition of joy. God was working, creating--their 'frames not hidden from God when they were made in that that secret place.' That place the Psalmist was talking about, that womb, was mine. Could there be anything bigger than this? But there was bigger joy--and it was in the meeting of them, the getting to know them. The knowing, and holding and loving them. If I lean back this morning, I can remember how their scalps felt in the palm of my hand, and how, when I held them up against my shoulder, I could smell their fresh, unused baby scent. Then they'd let out a milky breath against my neck, and I'd close my eyes and breath it in. I remember that. And I remember when they screamed for no apparent reason, or when they hit each other, and said 'no' all the time. The first time I said no to E, when she sat in her high chair holding a tipping cup, and I just knew she was going to tip it over, and even when I said no, she did. I remember when J dumped his bear out of his crib over and over, and how he bit SK on the head. I remember SK with a thumb in her mouth and a hand on her blankie--the blankie that was supposed to be for her doll, but never got there. I remember days when I was so tired of being alone with them, with no time for anything but them, that I felt like crying. And I remember knowing SK would be our last, and how she charmed even the nurses in the hospital by her tiny beauty, and later by her curly smiles. How J told everyone in the world exactly what he thought about whatever it was he thought--and we should have guessed he'd always be that way. How E always had a list in her head of the things we'd mentioned during the day, things that she took to be plans--"We didn't go to the library!" How J liked machines, and SK liked dolls and E liked numbers and patterns. How they always had more energy than me, and I was ganged up on more than once, I swear I was.

All these days we've lived together on this earth--I treasure them like Mary, hold them in my heart. How precious they are to me, how thoroughly unexpected. That E is just like Beve, steady and confident--I should have seen that in her chubby, adorable baby face. That J is cerebral and a truth-teller--it was there, hidden in his cuddles and open smile. And that SK delights in being on stage, acting and singing her heart out, but also singing to Jesus--that was right beneath the curls on her tiny heart-shaped head. Everything they are today was there all along, ready to be discovered. And my job--this most-called, most-desired, most-thankful-for job of my life (with the giant they call Dad or Daddy, depending on their mood and need), was to train them in those things/ those ways they already were going, how God had already created them to be. And to stay out of their way so we wouldn't mess up His plan for their life. But I always said, we weren't raising children, we were raising adults. We haven't always been successful--we're human, after all. But today is not about the tally (they have plenty of time to go to therapy about me!). Today is about being grateful. And so I say, thank-you. To God, for His exceedingly marvelous gift of children. And for my children, for the exceedingly wonderful gift of themselves. For what you've brought to my life. For what you will bring, for how you challenge, stimulate, confront and never let me get away with anything. To turn the tables, on this day, when none of you is home (for the first time!), Happy Mother's Day.
I love you all.

Uruapan

When we moved to the town we now call home, we bellied up to a church, pulled up a pew and sat ourselves down. Joined the ranks, so to speak. Didn't look around with a checklist or a single 'what can you do for me' notion in our heads. We just hauled our kids in and there we were. It was a substantial transition--death, job change, me back in school. You name it, we were doing it. But God was there and we were in it together, so what else counts, when you think about it?

So a few years and one Masters degree later, not to mention a turn as an elder, which wasn't nearly the spiritual, New Testament kind of leadership I'd imagined but more like a business meeting once (or more) a month--ah, the meetings!, and somehow, in the way, the very way of God, just like Him, if you know what I mean, I was part of the leadership team for a mission trip to the little town of Uruapan, Mexico, south of Ensenada. OK, so I was the lead-dog for a brand new kind of trip, a multi-generational trip. Our church hadn't done such a thing before, with children and teens, and adults all having a hand in it, all carrying the load, the vision and, in the process, seeing the Kingdom come, His very Kingdom come in and through and sometimes inspite of all of us together. But if you've been reading these blogs you'll have noticed that this wasn't a new thing to me. God is like that. He uses our lives to prepare us for--well, for our lives, actually. So those trips to Alaska with our 5 and 7 and 9 year olds, those three years of trips just the Genesis for these trips with children. And that first year the youngest was--yep, you guessed it--5 years old! The oldest, 70, and come to think of it, we took some retired folks with us to Alaska a couple years too. I just plain love God, don't you?

So there we were planning this trip, and I knew, I just knew it would work, that we could do it, didn't need some outside mission organization to help us, send us a packet of advice, or shopping lists, or devotional material, or whatever else we could generate ourselves. Seriously, we had the Beve, Mr. Shopper-extra-ordinaire, who'd shopped for 46 people one year in Alaska, and loves it! We were only taking 50 to Mexico. We had a couple great people those first years who were so gifted organizationally they'd put anyone to shame, and should be hired out, I'm telling you. In fact, the walls of the church could fall down, but you lose one of them--A, I'll call her-- and you've lost the real structure! And if we prayed, prayed, and prayed some more, God would give us everything else we needed.

And I took on the devotional. Felt the press of God to do so. And felt the press of Him to get out of the way as I did, if that makes sense. It was an amazing journey for me, creating it, studying for it, trusting God for the spiritual health of our team, especially that first year. We didn't know what we were jumping into. What it would mean for us, only that it would change us as we did the work. The building work and the relational work.

I only went on the first two trips to Uruapan. But I'm telling you, a person packs her bag here, thinking she's on her way to roughing it in a third world country, and drives down the dirt road to Bethesda Mission about 12 hours later (and that's after flying, waiting and driving), walks through the square brick building and out onto the veranda where the valley is spread out below, and it's paradise. My breath was literally knocked from my body the first time I walked through that door. Right at sunset, the towering cacti and rocks framing the picture, a lovely breeze that comes up only at the edges of the day, it was like God's grace. You know, we think we're going to suffer to do His work, but instead, He says, "I love you, I give to you--see how much more I give to you!" Yes, we worked. Some of us worked very, very hard indeed. (I merely lost my voice that first year!) But what I think happened, what has happened every year at Bethesda, is that in the work, in the sleeping and eating and sitting around the tables together, in the worship together each evening, and the campfires and small groups, and all the ordinary moments between, is that we--whoever the we is that week--become the church. We are the living, breathing Bride of Jesus Christ, in our sweaty clothes and wet hair.

And it's changed me to have been a part of it. My conviction that multigenerational mission can and should work--that was profound, from God, I believe. If you could see, as I did, what those children have brought to these trips. God's purpose in their presence. Why, there are children living at the mission--and they were stunned that first year that we had children with us. It was a God-thing, as a friend of mine likes to say. This thing I fought for, a God-thing. Of course it was. And that I was privileged to lead those first couple years, to help start this thing on its course--that changed me. And those devotionals, the thinking through those passages--the Beatitudes, the "I Am's", Colossians 3, The Lord's Prayer--as contexts not simply for study, but for daily life--that has changed how this church does these trips. Not just work and play, but never, ever forgetting the rhythm of Christ in it all. For me, every time I come to any of these passages in my own devotional life, I'm swept back to which ever trip it's connected to. I like that too. It reminds me of those people, to pray for those people.

I don't know that I'll ever go to Uruapan, Mexico again. But I'm glad--abundantly glad--that there is a team going this summer, praying their way toward whatever God will have them do--whatever building they will do, whatever VBS they will lead, whatever children they will hold, whatever church they will become. God's Kingdom will come through them, in them, and, in some ways, at some moments, in spite of them once again this summer. I feel connected to that. I always will, I think. It was church and ministry and mission all at once. That's just the way it should be, thank God very much.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Egging me on

When I was a twenty-three-year-old graduate student in English, my father took me out to lunch one day and told me he thought I really should be going to seminary. Maybe that lunch is where this story begins. Or maybe it was 15 years later when J (see yesterday's blog) first told me about Regent College. It might have been the summer after that when Beve, the children and I spent two weeks in Olds, Alberta at a basketball camp, and I spent the entire time with my head in books, while my children bounced balls in gyms and the Beve coached. During that time, I read a book that I'd found on the discount table at the tiny Christian bookstore in the sleepy town of Olds, called Spiritual Pathways, delineating nine different spiritual temperaments and giving clear, simple suggestions for each to enhance the devotional life of such a temperament. It confirmed that I'm a contemplative scholar. And suggested study. Surprise, surprise. Specifically, Regent College as one. Regent College, in Vancouver, BC. Just a three or four hour drive (by ferry and car) from where we lived. Maybe this story starts the day I received the catalogue from Regent that I'd sent for. I sat down in my family room, started looking at the course descriptions, and began to cry. That there is such a place in the world, that there might be such classes--Christianity and Fiction, The Christian Imagination, The Christian Life--I would be a fish in water there. Any of these are the beginning of the story. Or they all are.

But the story isn't about going to Regent, though the getting there is a story of itself--an Abrahamic leaving of a job, a home, a life, and a setting out on this call and trusting that God would provide for all those things for us. My Dad believed Regent was right for me. He believed it enough to give me money for my first laptop. I get a little teary when I think of that this afternoon. That old, heavy laptop that he was so glad to give me, because he was so glad to see me do what I was doing--even if it was a risk. And the story today isn't really about how God met us as every turn--though He did, with a job for the Beve, and a house, and a landing on our feet just in the nick of time, just before school started for the kids, for Steve, for me. Just before Dad died. And that isn't even the story either--that Dad died the first day I should have been at Regent. Though it colored every bit of my Regent story (well, every bit of my life's story, from there on out).

This is about the most important part of Regent for me. The most important who, I should say. I showed up to Regent a week late, on a Tuesday morning in time for chapel. And the class I most wanted to take that fall was full, a seminar class, called Christianity and Fiction. But I decided to talk to the professor--whom I only knew by his picture. But who could mistake him? No one in the whole world looks like him--like he's straight out of a fairy tale of the best kind. I found him after chapel, and pleaded my case. He wasn't encouraging, but told me to come to the seminar and we'd see. It was standing room only in the seminar that Thursday afternoon by the time everyone he told 'we'd see' had shown up. And we had to go around the room and tell why we wanted to take the class, what our background with reading was. Some of the students in that room said, "I needed a seminar;" or "I haven't read fiction since I was in third grade;" things like that. I was one of the last people to speak. Was probably a little passionate. I do remember that I said I'd read all but two of the books on the syllabus, and couldn't wait to reread the old ones and was looking forward to the new ones. That my degree was in Literature. You know, stuff like that. About halfway through that first class, there was a ten minute break, and as the prof walked past me, he said quietly, "You're in."

That was an amazing class. And it began a remarkable relationship with this professor. He's a profound reader, thinker and challenged me to be more than I knew I could be--to be the scholar I dreamed of being. He is incredibly kind and giving, has a hard time saying no to people, which gets him in trouble and makes him have a hard time completing his grading, because he cannot bear to do anything half-way. At Regent, students tend to gravitate toward certain professors, depending on that student's personality and bent, and I am proud to say I was an Interdisciplinary Studies student, one of Loren's. Sometimes people told me they were intimidated by him because he was so quiet. They'd go to see him, he'd look out the window for a while as they spoke, and they didn't know what he was thinking. I never found him so. But right from the beginning--from the very first day, he was familiar to me--Quiet, yes. But eerily (in the best way!) like my own quiet dad. And I knew exactly how to talk to such a man. We were talking one day about students who talk too much in class--you know the kind who raise their hands for every question, suck all the air out of the room, and make the rest of the students slide down in the chairs until their heads are resting on their elbows? "I tend to talk a lot, too," I said. And he gave me my all-time favorite compliment--"Yes, but unlike most people, you tend to have something to say."

The first spring I attended, I took Christian Imagination, and the culmination of the class was a trip to his home out on one of the Gulf Islands--a beautiful home with wide windows facing the water, and every inside wall floor to ceiling filled with bookcases, and a large garden out back where I once picked under-ripened onions instead of leeks for our breakfast and no one, not even Loren, realized the difference--where we presented our projects, while his wife fed us great meals. The Beve, as per usual, jumped in and assisted her in the kitchen so ably, that we were asked back for many years after that simply to be kitchen help. We became their real friends as a result of those weekends. I'm sad that Loren's stopped teaching that class because we havent' been out there in a few years now. I miss them. I miss going out the night before the students and eating a meal Loren threw together while drinking wine and talking books and theology and the world. I miss working hard for two days with MR and the Beve, while the students were in the living room presenting music, stories or artwork, some quite spectacular (though none as brilliant as the art/poetry Linda Bergwall created the year I was in the class--I'm telling you, that should be in a museum somewhere!!!). And I miss the students leaving and debriefing with Loren and MR, with the leftovers and more great wine, watching Loren fall asleep at the table.

The biggest contribution of Loren in my life, though, was something else. He was there the day my writing became real. The moment God slammed me on the head and said, "YES!" Loren's voice was one of those I heard when God spoke that day, when I first read the story that had come to me in a dream, fully given, names and all. I read the first thirty pages--a scene that has hardly changed, for everything else that has morphed in this thing-- and there was silence in that room. Silence. And then I realized they were crying. A room full of very, very talented people--people whose talent I could not hope to tie--and Loren was first among them. He was there, egging me on--no, determined that I tell the whole story--when I barely knew what the story was. All that year, he sat tipped back in his chair, asking the first questions, when I thought I was making sense, and he said I wasn't. He was the first one to read the first draft, and say, "You have something here." And even though the present story bears little resembles to the one he read, I credit him with more than I can say.

And, of course, it was in his home (his and MR's), at one of those weekend's, that I met my editor, who introduced me to my agent, and--well, these things are not accidental, are they? The hand of God. Regent College. Loren. I'm still waiting to see what becomes of it in the end. There's still a story to be finished. But he gave me the courage to take the risk. And in so doing, he's impacted this life I'm living as much as anyone outside of my own family, which might seem like a funny thing to say. But when it comes to my writing-- it's true. Everyone should have a teacher who believes in them as much as Loren believed in me, who taught me, then became my friend. It's one of God's great gifts in life.



Thursday, May 8, 2008

The same-sized hearts

We've had many great friends in our lives. Are you kidding? We went to high school together, and still claim as friends those we knew and loved then. We can sit down with those who knew us in elementary school and not come up for air for three days, talking & laughing about everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. And everywhere we've lived, we've picked up friends like adding jewels to our crowns. OK, so we're hoarders that way. We like adding them and can't bear to let any of them go--you should see our Christmas list. But if you asked us our 911--who we'd call when a true emergency happens, or simply when the chips are down and we can't play another hand and have to have someone simply be with us for a minute while we catch our breath, these are the friends.

J and K. Our-friends-the-M--s. That's what my youngest brother calls them: "You're going with the "Our-friends-the-M--s." I guess I've referred to them that way once too many times over the years. Sorry about that. Well, not really. We became friends over chips and salsa & sour cream and doing youth ministry together 15 years ago. Facing outward away from each other, which, CS Lewis would say, is the best, the only way to become real friends. Sometime in that first year, J, the actual youth director at the church where Beve and I were volunteers, asked how many of our family might go on the high school mission trip. I told him, "Either 5 or none." From that moment on, the M--s were committed to 5 in their family as well, so 5 of them and 5 of us, and 30 high schoolers went to SE Alaska for two weeks. It was on that first trip that we became real friends. Our kids sitting out front of the little church in Hoonah with their candy (OK, smoking those old candy cigarettes like pros!), us leading separate small groups of unbelievably damaged high school students (this was NOT your average church group), my husband, who can be physically imposing, getting into K's personal space (Q-Tips, anyone?) more ways than one, and all the while talking and singing and praying with those teenagers, and becoming just short of family, the ten of us. One night we had a family meeting, talked of discipline for our little ones and theirs. Our youngest, SK, was only 5 years old at the time, and their oldest, B, was maybe 11, and the other 4 were matched pairs between. It was remarkable. What we realized that night was that the four of us have the same-sized hearts, even if Beve is a legal giant and K is a foot and a half shorter.

I've counted 8 different trips we've taken with them over the years, and that doesn't include all the nights we've just spent together under their roof or ours. One incredibly memorable camping trip to Ashland where there was a thunderstorm while we were at a play and the lights went out, while the kids were back in the tentrailers, scared silly. We sat in the dark, thinking we had the worst of it, but they really had the story to tell--lightning and thunder on the metal roof, 'abandoned' by their parents. That B, she can spin a yarn, I'm telling you. And there was the trip to Palm Springs in July. Yes, I know. July. We really all do have college degrees, advanced degrees even. Just none in weather. It didn't matter. I think it was our all-time favorite trip. The Lawrence Welk resort. Those kids were in their suits so fast you'd have thought the pool was about to dry up. OK, so K and I weren't that far behind them. J, K and I were sitting in the shallows watching the six kids when the Beve walked out a door with 4 glasses of champagne. Are you kidding me? Could there be a better life than that? We drove all the way to Tijuana one day and wandered far into the city (far enough that everyone but Beve felt uncomfortable) just so Beve and K could find some cheap vanilla.

We camped along the Trans-Canada highway the summer J's dad died--that was a hard trip. He was on auto-pilot, and hardly knew it. Ended up at Glacier Park in Montana where I climbed into the back of our van and hid my head driving up the Highway to the Sun, or whatever it's called--I block those things out of my memory. Nothing like a road where you can fall a thousand feet or more and people find it beautiful. Not me, thank you very much. If it hadn't been about 100 miles long, I would have walked back down. We did have a great day at Eugene and Jan's on Flathead Lake, but I won't put his last name, so no one thinks I'm a name dropper. I drank a little too much that day--he just kept pouring, I just kept drinking. But oh, what a time. A never to be forgotten day. I'm so glad we shared it.

I've loved the trips. Sure, I have. I've loved that we find ways to talk meaningfully at every turn, that we don't settle for superficiality. I love who they make Beve and me be. I love thinking of the times we've been there for them as well. Our-friends-the-M--s are a whole lot different than us. That's what makes it work, I think. They're phenomenally talented musically. And us? Well, we're pretty good at listening to music. The Beve's an athlete, and K? Well, she likes to keep in shape. J? He's a pastor, a preacher. And me? Just give me a pulpit...Smile! Beve and K have gifts of hospitality--it shows every time we are together. They are the ones who do the shopping, think through the menus for our vacations. J and I? He and I have to be reminded to help--unless it's barbequing, then he hops right up. So we're different from each other. Not made in the same mold. But we're in this thing together. Doing this life together for the long haul. We talk about retiring together, living in a duplex side-by-side. I can see it really. I know what it would be like. How we'd spend our days. They'd make me get up and do, I'd make them slow down and think. It'd work, I know it would.

The day my father died, they called while my siblings and I were sitting in my childhood home, talking. J asked what they could do to help. I asked, "Would you sing?" And they said they would. My sister wanted a particular song that was pretty popular then--"Wind Beneath My Wings." It wasn't exactly the kind of song K usually sings. But of course they said they'd sing it. Without a moment's hesitation. They knew who my dad was to me. That's who they are to us.

A couple years ago, on a veranda of a restaurant on the Baja penninsula, we sat with them and watched the sunset. It had been a wonderful week, and that sunset was a blaze of glowing color. That whole week, one of J's goals had been to see the green flash. The last moment the sun hits the horizon, there is a flash of green light, and it's brilliant and breath-taking and most people never see it. You have to watch and watch and then if you blink your eye you'll miss it. So as we drove, we stared at the Pacific horizon, K and I (as we'd been the entire week) from the back seat of our rental car. And suddenly, we saw it, K and I. And it was glorious. It was a flash that flooded the ocean, then was gone. But neither Beve, who was driving, nor J had seen it. Then K said, "J, you'd never be able to see it." J, you see is color blind. He can't see the color green. But I'm here to tell you, he has seen it. Our friendship, it's been like that green flash, rare, brilliant and breath-taking, and coloring the whole horizon of our lives. Worth waiting for.