Monday, July 28, 2008

Putting off the honeymoon

A last post about D's wedding, though now we're nine days beyond it, and the newlyweds are firmly ensconced back home surrounded by her family...at least for this week.

Surrounded by family--that's what they were last week-end. Hers, his, descending from all corners of this country. Her aunt came from Florida, my sister came from Southern California, her brother from Michigan, E from Colorado, the rest of our family tumbling in from D's home state of Washington. That reminds me, I was at a store in Plymouth, MA, buying J a belt to go with his kilt, and cashier asked where I was from. When I said, "The state of Washington," she told me she has a cousin who also lives in DC. I politely (though I might have been rolling my eyes inside) explained the difference--"The state is on the other side of the country from DC." "Oh,"she said. "It's right by California, right?" It was easier to say yes than find a map, but with my assent, I allowed Oregon, which has done me no harm and did give me two college degrees, to fall into the Pacific Ocean. But, as usual, I digress.

So there we all were from the far-flung parts of this country, with only a few days together, even fewer days with DCC and EAC (their initials are soo alphabetical--for people who like patterns, they sure have one using the first five letters, clumped at the middle one as they do), if they escaped us for that most intimate of all rituals--the Honeymoon. But they didn't escape us. Embracing what we brought them--weirdness, wit and all our other peccadillos-- the newlyweds decided it was more important to spend time with us than to leave immediately following the reception. After all, when would that many birds of our unique feather flock together back their way again? Not in their lifetimes, probably, and you sure don't get to enjoy your family when they've flown in for your own funeral, more's the pity. So DC & EC put off the honeymoon until the last of us left for the airport, two days later. They spent time and energy with us, and showed us their town, gave us the time to get to know them as a couple--as a family with EC's two wonderful sons. It was quite the sacrifice in one sense. I know they were anxious to be alone, but they were also so glad to be with everyone, to enjoy the best that our particular brand of family has to offer. They didn't have to have done it. Most couples drive away from the party and don't look back. When we got married, Beve's brother flew in all the way from Finland and that didn't hold us up any, even if we hadn't seen him in a couple years. Sorry to say. We had our eyes firmly fixed on each other. I remember the regret that we'd be missing time with him, but it didn't change our plans.

But this putting off of the honeymoon is a lot like how we live with Christ. He told his disciples that they couldn't follow Him, but that He'd be back for them. The Father was building a mansion for us all. In the meantime, we were given a Comforter to live with us--in us--and we were given each other. The whole family doing life together, being the Body together. Putting off the honeymoon, where we get to be in His presence, gaze to our heart's content at our Beloved, the one we're all in this together for, anyway. Jesus. His very name is beloved. Isn't it? I sometimes picture that day, seeing Him face to face, what I only see by faith now. To tell the truth, sometimes I get really impatient for it. But He asked us to put off the honeymoon, in fellowship with each other and impacting the world. So we live this way, between wedding--the moment we pledge our lives to Him-- and honeymoon--the moment we enter His throneroom--all of our lives. It's not such a bad way to live, after all. All that anticipation, all that hope of heaven. And these days between have much to offer, after all. I can wait for it.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Freedom






A wedding post:
One of the enduring images from last week-end is that we got to see the knees of Beve, J, and two of my nephews. Yeah, I know we see their knees all the time. J lives in shorts, practically all year round. But somehow last week, those knees looked different. Those men looked different. They were dressed in kilts.

Kilts have made their appearance at family events before. When I was in high school, Mom went to the British Isles one summer and brought the Dump and me back fabric to make our own kilts. They were our family's plaids--Dump's was the beautiful ancient dress plaid, mine was the hunting--dingy grey and brown together. At 17, I couldn't imagine making that kilt, much less ever wearing it. It sat around in my bedroom for years--long after I'd vacated the space for an adult life. I have no idea whatever happened to it--maybe Mom threw it out with my wedding dress. Then, about eight years ago, my mom, sisters and I took a trip together to the same Island, and while my sisters and I took the train south to meet some seminary friends of mine, see a castle, the place where Robert Burns lived and wrote his haunting poetry, Mom was left to her own devices in Glasgow. And Mom left to her own devices has always meant one thing: spending money! She bought an entire kilt outfit for little brother, complete with tiny sword, and purse (I know, I know, those aren't the proper names for them, but that's what they look like, right?). And who knew it would be D's favorite gift since he got his LA Rams helmet when he was about 5 years old?! From that point on, that kilt was brought out/worn on every occasion one can imagine, and plenty more besides. Family wedding? Check. Dress up dinner? Hosting fancy dinners? Double check. E's volleyball matches? Of course. There is no occasion for which a kilt is unsuitable in D's mind. Shoot, I think he'd have worn it riding in the combine on the farm, or on one of the horses, if those dang farmers weren't such sticks in the mud (No, I'm just kidding! My brother-in-law has been known to give the Beve a run for his money in the silliness department when we get together--ask them about the Christmas Beve gave the farmer an extension cord...).

Ok, before I get completely sidetracked...
It didn't take much to decide that the only suitable dress for the Beve and the boys was kilts. The Dump and I found some lightweight ones, picked out a few (though NOT that one I found so hideous in my youth--it's still not very appealing to me), and I convinced Beve (an easy task) and J (the very opposite of easy!) that this was a great way to surprise D, who wouldn't be wearing one.
The most amazing thing happened when they put on those kilts, though. J, who'd been reluctant, put on that kilt and looked great (he's the one with the black shirt!), seriously great. They all did, actually. About as far from cross-dressing as one can get, they looked completely masculine and immediately conjured "Braveheart," and William Wallace, and Robert the Bruce. The strains of Scotland the Brave or Loch Lomond are running through my head as I think about even now.

D was surprised, glad--wishing he was wearing his. And those kilt-dressed men of mine (I'll claim them all) made a big hit at D's wedding reception. Now Beve's quite the tease, willing to be silly, make a splash when the occasion arises, but those three cousins are the quieter part of our rather loud family. J would rather read and talk about it than be the center of attention. But at that wedding, those kilt-dressed men kicked up their heels and had a great time. There was something about being together in it that gave them freedom, perhaps. Or maybe it's the ghost of Mel Gibson yelling "Freedom" that runs through the veins of every man comfortable enough with themselves to put one on. Whatever it was, they got outside of themselves that day, and did it together, and it was impressive. What a sight to see them dancing their version of a round dance together, kilts flying, heads thrown back, laughing. D loved it, his wife, EC, loved it, and I loved it.

There's something about dressing in costume, so to speak, that makes us get outside of ourselves. Or outside of the particular self we usually want to convey to the world. Perhaps those kilts gave them a chance to be more themselves, more like kids, just enjoying the moment, being together in it. That's what I saw. I saw a J I haven't seen since he was a little boy, giddy with the wonder of just plain fun. Dancing without thought to whether he looked foolish, free and enjoying the dance.

David danced when the ark was brought back to Jerusalem, "dancing before the Lord with all His might," according to 2 Samuel 6:14, wearing no more than his underwear. Unabashedly glad in the moment--this best of all his long life of great moments--when he brought God home-- in a sense. We're just so staid most of the time. We wear our clothes like shields, I think. We put them on, and keep our real emotions inside. Now I'm not suggesting that we tear them off, and dance in our underwear. But it seems to me that no matter what else we're wearing, we, who are His, are clothed in Him. And that means FREEDOM. And that's the word for the day.
Paul says in Galatians 5:1 "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery." Do you feel constricted? Laced into your life and behavior so much you cannot breathe? Or do you understand how free you are to dance?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

A downed tree

Life's in an uproar here at the duplex. We don't literally live in a duplex, but our closest neighbors are also some of our closest friends (the friendship preceded and abetted our moving into this house) so other friends began calling us 'the du-plex (we're the Du, they're the Plex).' We're so close in proximity that when they have steaks, Jackson stands at the retaining wall-- nine of ten times there's a bone in his immediate future. We've shared carpenter ants (they moved into the neighborhood via our tent-trailer), lawn waste, such loud parties we've had post-midnight phone conferences about who should call the police first, the smoke of marijuana floating from some house behind them, and of course, kids. Their daughters are some of E's closest friends, and when those 'plex' girls married within 4 months of each other, E was pretty in pink, then purple, attending those brides. We've laughed together: The Beve and Mr. Plex share a lot in common, like the propensity to strike up conversations with anyone, an amazing power to get distracted, and the uncommon but aimed for, ability to laugh at situations and themselves--to not take life too seriously. Mrs. Plex and I envision calling each other in our dotage, looking for two tall men wandering the streets in their robes. We've cried together too--over kids, the church, jobs, our own hopes and failings. We live Body life around here, especially in the summer when we're all outside within shouting distance.

But now we've been struck with another kafuffle. A woman owning the house behind the Plexes has been increasingly insistent that they let her cut down their giant Douglas fir in the corner of their backyard. This tree has cast so much shade into our yard that I've planted an entire shade garden beneath it. It's loomed so broad between us, we never saw the houses on the street behind us. But for them, it's more than the shade for their garden, it's history--their daughters planting it, playing around it. Trees are alive, and sometimes, what they bring into our lives is life as well. Finally, however, after much negotiation, the Plexes gave in, and yesterday we were roused early to the sound of chain saws. By the time I got out there, the trunk was entirely denuded. The Beve said, "I didn't notice the tree, but someone built two houses while we were sleeping!" I was on the other side of the fence (to be punny) from his cheerful attitude. And my good friend,Mrs. Plex? She was all the way over in the sobbing-her-heart-out pasture, calling her husband to "Come fix this!"

Unfortunately, as you know, cut down trees cannot be put back up. We looked at the damage from their yard and ours, cried a little more. Then we talked about how to fill in the gap, how to recreate something that would bring life to that gaping corner of our yards.

But it made me think about all the decisions we make for which there are no 'take-backs' and 'do-overs.' We simply have to live with the consequences. Did the Plexes repent of that decision? Feel real remorse? Absolutely. And God can heal their regrets. But He didn't magically regrow the tree. All the time we do things that are like cutting down this tree. We say things to hurt others, we do something to offend our neighbor. And God forgives us for those things. All the filth within me, He forgives. That's what the cross is about. But sometimes there are cut-down trees that must simply be carted away or made into firewood. Consequences. While we're in this skin, in this world, we have to live with them. I guess the trick is to ask Him to also help us create something new in those gaping corners--to re-shade the garden in a different way. Thankfully He's about this as well.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The river

My mom and I both have memory problems. She can't remember enough, and I remember too much. Phone numbers--all the way back to middle school. Dates? Easy. I remember when things happened, how they happened, who was there...Test me. Really. My closest friends here? I first talked to M in the basket aisle at Joanne Fabrics, where she was just checking out the selection because she likes to keep a stash on hand for gift baskets (she's organized like that!). R? I first watched her sketch during a sermon at church, then afterwards, on our way to our cars, the Beve introduced us. Beve was her daughter's counselor. R said, "Maybe we can get together sometime," and I answered flippantly, "Let's do lunch." We didn't have that lunch for another two years. And K was the children's ministry director--we talked in the hallway about 3rd grader SK's Sunday school teacher. She told me SK would love her, even if she was the only girl in a class of boys.

The point is I remember. So on a day such as this, a date with a history, the river goes back a long ways--about 23 years wide and deep as one young woman's life. See, today is E's birthday. And I remember the whole river of it: the birth-day, which I'd been waiting for, longing for, for not merely nine months, but especially the 3 extra weeks, particularly the 36 sweaty hours working to meet her. I remember her first birthday, on the patio of the college dorm where we lived. E, surrounded by friends and family, dipped her chubby fist into that chocolate cake and didn't come up until there was nothing but crumbs. I remember the little family parties, and the big ones with friends. Shoot, there are 23,000--23,000,000 memories in my head about her right this moment. Moms are the keepers of their children's lives in a way. All these events--her first day of pre-school, her first haircut (though that's actually memory for her Grammie, were she still alive to tell it--but I've gotten over it, really I have.), her first bus ride (I packed her a snack for the long ride home and she got in trouble for eating on the bus! And E--more than anything--hates getting in trouble!), her learning to play the clarinet, the piano, drive the car (wreck the car!), and all--ALL--those sports she played, from T-ball to basketball. It's a running film through my head--all the way to this last weekend when she and SK sang at D's wedding. What a moment to add to the river.

But what I know most is that through all those moments, E was herself. That's the river--that she is who she is in the midst of every experience. That's' what's in my head. Of course we all are, in a way. But she really was. See, there were no bumps in the road with E. If she'd had voice to speak on her birth-day, the tone would have been steady and calm. Glad to be here, certain of life. Yes, that's it--confident. Unfailingly confident, actually. Like the Beve. Her river just moves steadily through the hills and valleys without any tumultuous water. Seeing things from others' points of view, avoiding the waves of conflict. Me? Shoot, I'm a roller coaster in comparison. J & SK? Cut from my cloth--our boats are always rocking. But E, at 2, was managed by a pointed finger and a head nod. And E at 23, manages her own life exactly that way--trusting, believing, waiting. Making lists, being organized, doing the job.

I get overwhelmed by all the memories in my head at times. But then I think--there He is, the keeper of all our memories. The keeper of our lives. He gave me E, gave me her life to enjoy and remember. And He knows it--knows her, me, all of us--better than I do. Whether one remembers it well (like me), or not at all (like my mom), our lives are safely in His hands. Your life, E, your future is safely in His hands. It's the same river, after all. And that's a pretty good birthday gift--every year!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Holding up



This is my favorite photograph from my brother's wedding reception. Baby brother, all hulking 6'3" athlete of him, is hoisted over the heads of his four closest friends. (Just so you know, they'd just finished giving him a wedgie, but still!) See how D is just lying there completely relaxed? How every bit of his weight rests on the outstretched hands of his buddies? These four men have seen him through the best and worst times of his life. One of them he's known since he graduated from college a decade and a half ago. He flew across the country to hold up D's ankles Saturday. The other three are true Nor'easterners, complete with accent. Two of them, the ones holding knees and shoulders, also held his hand (along with the ankle-gripper) when D's first marriage ended so disasterously a few years ago. These two men had a sense that their community was right for D, their friendship could help heal him, and God would meet him there. So D gave up everything (read that to mean us!)and crossed the country again to Massachusetts. The tallest, the one bearing most of the weight, is the Johnnie-come-lately to his circle of friends, but no less valuable for that. He has spoken wisdom and extended love to D. Ministered to him in countless ways.

These men hoisted D so easily, it took my breath away. This is it, I thought. This is Mark chapter 2, when the men dug a hole in the roof to lower their friend down to Jesus. These men would lower my brother to Jesus in an instant. They already have. In the last two and half years since D flew away from here, he has been met by God, a community, and the love of his life. And Jesus healed him. Really and truly. This is "Bear with one another." This is "Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things." This is "Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends." This is a living expression of the Body of Christ.

And you know what gets to me? There's no difference between being held up, and doing the holding for these five men. Sure, there's more work in the holding up, but those men are all loving it. They're all absolutely glad to be doing what they're doing. Given over to it. That's what it's about. In real friendship, the doing for or the being done for make not a whit of difference. Baby brother isn't apologizing because he's so heavy, and the others aren't fighting over who has to do the most work. It's just joy to be in it together. Being the body together. Some other time, D would put all his rather daunting muscle into it(and trust me, he has more than the others combined!), and he'd do his share of the heavy lifting! They all know it. But for this day, this day--they will hold him up, and rejoice in it.

And I love that this picture was taken at the best of times. We always think we only need to hold each other up when times are rough. Then we let go. We go it alone. But this picture is my aim--to never, ever go it alone.

I think--No, I know--that this is what Jesus was talking about when He told us to "love one another as I have loved you." Grab some feet, people, take hold of someone's backside. Lift them up, I say. Carry them with you.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Guideless in Boston

Back in the day(as my kids would say), at the small Christian college where I studied, across the street from the large liberal arts university where I also raced to class, occasionally a class was moved from one room from another. When this happened, we'd grab our books, and tromp down (or up) the stairs in mass. Invariably, as our feet pounded the stairs together, one person, then another, would make a low sound and soon we were all mooing in unison--a herd of cattle. This weekend, when no less than 10, and up to 17, of my extended family marched around Plymouth and Boston together we were definitely a herd of cattle. Or maybe a flock of birds--Crains, to be precise.

Let me tell you what it's like to travel en mass with a flock of my family. Sure, you've all tried to sightsee with large tours, right? Generally speaking there is one thing in common in every tour--a tour guide. This is the one thing we didn't have. Not only didn't we have a tour guide, but generally speaking, we don't like them if we have them. No, we are smug enough to think we can do it better than guides. Now I've been on tours before. As I've blogged before, I was on a Finnish tour in the USSR, where everything was translated from Russian to Finnish and I was left in the dark for 4 solid days and nights. That just about put the nail in my coffin in terms of enjoying guided tours. And I had the privilege and headache of being the director of a choir tour of about 50 kids and adults in So CA in the mid 90s. We sang at Robert Schueller's Crystal Cathedral (and boy do I have opinions about that place, and remind me to tell you that story sometime!), were at Disneyland on the 4th of July (wow, I have a GREAT story about the Indiana Jones ride too!)...and I spent my entire time with a clipboard, counting kids. It wasn't a job for the faint of heart. Not for someone like me. But, as E would say, I'm not 'uncapable.'

However, on this trip, there wasn't a single tour guide in the bunch. Plus, there were only two children. But the very worst of it is that we we're all cut from the same tree--our family tree. That is to say, we all have above average IQs, strong opinions, know what we want, how we want it, and which way to do it. It took more time to decide on every single activity than to actually do said activity. You know the expression "Too many chiefs spoil the pot"? Try that with my dad's kids and grandkids. And I'm the worst. Really truly. See, I'm the oldest sister. I have an older brother, but I got used to my role from a very early age, which some less kind people would call bossy. I prefer to think of myself as helpful--taking care of younger siblings, just as my parents asked me. But apparently it doesn't always come across well. I don't know what their problem is--don't they all know I know what's best for everyone? That my way is always the best way? That my plan is good, acceptable, PERFECT?

The thing is, we all had agendas, I think. My daughters and their cousin wanted to go to the beach. My brother really wanted us to see his lake house. J wanted far more time walking around Boston. My youngest sister wanted to get the photos printed before she left so she could work on them on the plane. My middle sister wanted to walk to Boston Common. And the Beve? He was glad to be along for the ride. Gosh, I love the Beve.

In the end, we had a great time...tour or not. Maybe we didn't see enough. We walked through the city in a downpour, standing beneath the square glass arches of the Halocaust memorial for long silent moments as the thunder and lightning echoed around us and we read the inscriptions. We were warm and chilled at once. We ate at Fanueil Hall, then, breathing a sigh of relief, separated for a few hours. Then at sunset, we had a great Duck Tour, complete with tour guide. He was funny, irreverent, told us lots of history we wouldn't have gleaned on our own, all about the 'the Big Dig', drove the 'Duck' into the Charles River, even let a couple of us drive it, including SK. It was quite a great ending. Then nephew K and his wife C led us a long way around past the Old North Church to a wonderful restaurant in Little Italy. My middle sister, E and SK shared a 2 lb bowl of seafood pasta between them.

The thing is--all that herding like cattle? Like a flock of cranes? Crains? It actually works better with a guide. Without it, there's a whole lot of standing around and wasting time. Trying to decide on direction. Making up our minds. But the thing is, we do this ALL THE TIME. Don't we? Don't we? Isn't that what we do as believers? In the church? When we're trying to make a decision, instead of actually paying attention to the guide who is actually in place in our lives, we convene a committee and talk about it. We waste a whole lot of time talking about various options. We keep our heads up, looking around, trying to figure out the best possible course of action. Instead, we could do one of two things (which are actually the same thing): We could put our heads down, and wait until He speaks. Not walk until He speaks. Then we could look up at the Guide, see where He's pointing, and walk that way. One of my favorite chapters in Isaiah speaks of this:

"The Lord will guide you always;
He will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail." Isaiah 58: 11

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sweating

There are a week of posts about my Massachusetts trip, so let me get right at it. Baby brother got married Saturday in a lovely garden at Plimoth Plantation, though I was barely looking around. I was too busy wiping the sweat off my face. I have never dripped so profusely--it was ridiculous. And I was sitting in the shade! The day before, while walking at the harbor, when my sister-in-law saw me, she said, 'you're looking pretty red,' and I answered, 'maybe, but it'll turn to tan in no time.' I honestly thought it was merely sunburn.' But by the time we got back to the motel, I'd stopped sweating, and was more bright red in the face than I have ever been in my entire life, and suffering from heat exhaustion. Beve and older brother insisted I take a shower and lie down, my sister pumped me with H2O until I started peeing like a race-horse, (which took an inordinate amount of time) and I lay on my bed, dizzy every time I tried to stand up. So much for seeing the Mayflower or the Plantation. Fortunately all was not lost, it did allow our daughters, niece & sister-in-law the opportunity to shoe-shop!

And Saturday was even hotter. 102 degrees in the shade, where I was sitting. And now my body'd remembered how to sweat. Maybe making up for lost time. Sweating all the sweat from a life-time. And baby-brother in his suit (thankfully, not a tux, but just barely better in a navy blazer!) stood in the brilliant 110 degree sun sweating like a hog. My siblings and I sat and watched the drops on the back of his khaki pants. Poor guy. When he got to the air-conditioned reception (well, poorly air-conditioned, I should admit--the unit just wasn't built to cool weather so hot, with such terrible--60%--humidity), and took off his jacket, his royal blue shirt was completely dark with suit. Poor guy!

The wedding was beautiful. The setting was pastoral, elegiac. The words of the pastor were wise. The community was supportive--they were surrounded by family who absolutely love them (I am one of them who am always on their side), friends who will be in relationship with them through the agonies and ecstasies, and children who will delight and stretch them. And God above them who blesses them.

But that weather. Seriously. We think that if the sun shines all is well. "Happy is the bride that the sun shines on," is the old saying, right? But heat can kill you just as easily as extreme cold, snow or even thunder storms. We had thunder storms every night we were there and one night, our son and my brother were about two feet away from being hit by lightning, which, when you think about it, would have been quite a bummer for both my new sister-in-law and me!

The reality is that that heat on their wedding week-end might just be a good metaphor for living life together. There's a whole lot of heat when two people come together...and I'm not talking about the heat of passion. Okay people, get your minds out of the gutter! These two people who married on Saturday, they aren't people of snow, of coolness and ice. They are warm--thankfully. I like this about them. I love it about them. But it can get them into trouble. Shoot, I'm a person of summer myself. But God made them, like he did the Beve and me, with two different ways of doing life, two different mind-sets, two different wills that must surrender--first to God, then to each other. They have to learn to travel in the summer sun of life together, battle through the heat of what is sure to come. Sweat through it together. And know God is in it all. God married them on the hottest day of the year, and He saw that it was good. And it is good.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Two are better than one

We're on our way to Boston in the morning. Little brother is getting married Saturday. Exciting times. Because I don't imagine I'll be blogging much in the next several days, I thought I'd post a poem I wrote for a wedding of some very close friends about four years ago. Last month when D and E (his wife-to-be) came to visit, I gave it to them. So, in honor of them (and, by extension, all marriages), I give it to you (the ubiquitious, unknown you):

Marriage
The magnificance of
wine-colored sunsets,
moonlit whispered promises
A long flowing white dress and dark tuxedo
in a flower-scented church full of friends
Romance,
Breath-held joy
All just an instant
The length of a camera's click,
In a life-time of two-becoming-one

Then,
Ordinary, braided strands of corded new life
Working side-by-side to build the walls,
laboring together to create a space within
Accumulating moments, days and years of working
to know each other, to grow, to become
Rehearsing in private: "This is who I really am,"
Face to face in the loving mirrored eyes of the other
who also speaks, "This is who I really am."
To say in public,
outside those walls, "This is who we are."

Ordinary, twined cords
sometimes fraying a bit,
or a lot
Falling down, one or the other,
In anger or pain,
"Why are you like that?"
Cried a thousand times
a thousand ways.
Letting the sun go down on anger
Because it set before the anger died
But the other, in such otherness, still reaches out
To grasp, to pull, to tease, to lift.
Forgiving, accepting, loving
The cord firm, tight, binding

Ordinary, safe, loving strands
Intimacy, nakedness
a knowing and unclothing
A stripping away of expectations,
old clothes of former selves, and
"That's not the way my parents did it!"
To be covered by the blanket of new dreams,
new goals and "This is what we will choose to be."
A cord to stretch across a lifetime of
letting go of the me
and a picking up of the us.

But this is no ordinary cord
Two are better than one
But braided through this two
is a strand made from stone
Hewn from the rock
of creation and tombs and foundations solid,
This third strand,
inside your two-become-one, the-Cross-between-the-two,
three-strand-cord,
Stands firm,
not quickly broken,
and
Belongs to Him.

Ecclesiastes 4: 9-12

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

New glasses

The Beve's a pretty blind man. He's one of those people who actually needs to put on his glasses in order to find his glasses, if you know what I mean. He doesn't take a step from bed without his spectacles in place. I wear glasses as well, but my eye problems are different--as unique as I am. With one near-sighted and one far-sighted, my eyes have always been at war with each other. They simply refuse to work together, which causes no end of problems--and headaches. However, I barely notice if I have my glasses on or not. Sometimes I have to put my finger up to my face to determine if the lenses are where they should be before I leave the house. More than once I've been out and about wondering why the day's so hazy, then realize it's because I've forgotten my glasses. But close one eye, and I can read every street sign. Close the other eye, and every book is clear. In fact, my whole life, I've read with one eye closed--even now with the fancy prism & progressive lenses the ophthalmologist said would change my life!

And we've made sure our kids have had routine eye exams, of course. E's worn glasses for years. E takes after her dad--puts on her glasses before she gets out of bed. And SK got glasses and braces the same year: in third grade. Of course, she still hardly ever wears them. Don't ask me why. We all know she needs them for her astigmatism. But she's used to her eyes being what they are, I guess. (As I write this, however, she's at the eye doctor, so maybe this is the year she'll actually put them on once and for all...!) Then there's J--perfect teeth, perfect eyes. He got glasses a year ago, just so he could see signs at night--but they made his eyes 20/15. Poor thing.

Why am I talking about this? Well, I took V to pick up her glasses yesterday. At her exam a few weeks ago, it was discovered what she'd long suspected: she is significantly near-sighted. She has to sit close to the television to see it clearly, she squints to read the computer screen. So we picked out some pretty hip frames and waited. And finally yesterday was the day. And wow, am I glad I was there when she put them on for the first time. Everyone should have that kind of experience in their life.

V lifted them to her face, and the woman fitter told her to look around for a moment. A startled expression came over V's face, a smile broke out, and she said, "I can see a license plate. I can read your license plate across the parking lot!" She began to giggle. Then she couldn't stop giggling. The woman said, "There's nothing like the first time someone really sees!" We were all laughing as V pointed out things around the room. And all the way home she read signs to me. "Is this what it's supposed to be like, C?" she asked me at one point. "Is this what I've been missing?"
"Yes, V," I said. "You should be able to read those signs."
I take it for granted--being able to see whatever I want. I don't even think about it. Big signs on buildings, street signs, highway signs. It doesn't occur to me that it's a gift, this ability to see.

An interesting thing has already happened to V, in just 24 hours. Without her glasses on, her eyes hurt and the world is blurry. She can't bear it. She simply must wear them. Sure, she thinks she looks a little nerdy, but being able to see is more important than how she looks. She was that blind.

It makes me wonder about the eyes of my heart--my spiritual eyes. I think that perhaps I try to look at the world without the spectacles of the Holy Spirit helping me to read the signs clearly. It doesn't have to be blurry but it is because I don't ask Him to be the lens through which I focus. Right now, right within me, He wants to be my glasses. He wants every single thing, every single person with whom I come in contact with to be clearly seen as HE sees it/them. "This I pray, that the eyes of your heart be enlightened..." Paul says in his prayers for the Philippians. Paul understood this. Do we? Do we go into situations asking for His Holy Spirit eye-glasses to be firmly on our human eyes, so that we see things as He does, respond to the world as He does? Just think of how much pain and sin we could avoid--for ourselves and others--if we did.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Elephants

I woke up this morning thinking about elephants. And I'm not talking the cute little figurines that people have been prone to buy for me because I've indicated an interest. I'm not talking Dumbo, either. No, I refer to the enormous mammals that actually live, breath and struggle for life along with us on this planet. Elephants have been a passion of mine since many years ago when I watched a National Geographic video about a certain family of African elephants, labeled by researchers the E family. Who knows what elephants name themselves--they haven't bothered to tell us--but those who study elephants name them, both in family groups and individually. So this program I saw was about a baby male elephant who was born with a disability: his front feet curled under so when he walked (which took him a much longer time than normal), he walked on what would be our ankles. But walk he did, and increasingly quickly too. Soon he was almost keeping up with the rest of the family. And the older members of the clan accepted him as a full member in good standing, so to speak.

It was a profound documentary and led me (as many subjects have in my life) to further research about these magnificent creatures. Over the years, I've read everything I can find about African elephants and have learned that they are an almost utopic kind of society. More than any other mammals, even the vaulted dolphins we consider our intellectual equals, elephants live in community. They care for each other's calves, help each other in illness, midwife for each other--it's incredible how they get on each side of a female in labor to hold her up until the last moments of birthing. Their 'voices' are used in different ways for different situations--there is a long low blast (so low it cannot be heard by a naked human ear, but has been discovered via sound equipment) used to call between clans from as far away as several miles. Researchers believe this call is meant to help tribes of families march toward each other, relay information about water holes, etc. When families meet in the savanna, they trumpet, a joyous sound that is as welcoming as any human greeting. And when they are in trouble their trumpet is a a different noise altogether.
And elephants always--always--recognize the bones of their own kind. They can walk right over other kinds of bones in the plains, but elephant bones make them stop, paw the bones, and make a long keening sound. Even more interesting--compelling-- they differentiate between the bones of an unknown elephant and one of their own family. The cries they make when they come across their own is heartwrenching.

Needless to say, I have fallen in love with these giants of the plains of Africa (I am less drawn to Asian elephants--I just don't know as much about them), these creatures of the enormous trunks, feet, and ears that are--did you know this?--shaped exactly like the continent on which they roam. My interest in them has made me long to see them, though, unfortunately, there are fewer and fewer elephants roaming the savannas. Drought and humans have depleted their number from the tens of thousands that used to dwell on the grasslands of Africa.

The more I've learned of them, the more I've imagined what it would be like if the church of Jesus Christ lived and breathed and had its being in the kind of community elephants have. OK, there are some pitfalls to this dream, most significant that male elephants, beyond puberty, are expelled from the clan to make their way alone. Full-grown bull elephants have one purpose, to expand the family. Only when a cow elephant is in heat is a bull accepted, and even then, it's a temporary and uncomfortable acceptance, never by the entire matriarchal community. Sure, in my worst moments, I find even this somewhat appealing--but those are only in the heat of battle, so to speak. Really, what would I do without the Beve--and my now full-grown son--in my daily life? Actually, I can't imagine living in a world in which he lives but isn't my Beve.
But other than this small thing (smile!), elephant community has much to teach me about what God wants for His bride. Involved in all the important events in life, helping, encouraging, accepting the weaker members and making concessions for them. Even taking time to mourn the dead as often as we think of them. Perhaps there are gossips among elephants, perhaps some cows are critical and pessimistic. But from the outside, without knowing their language, this is hard to see. So walking with the elephants, walking like the elephants has been a giant-sized illustration of walking in a manner worthy of Christ (have you noticed how this is a recurrent theme on this blog--an in my life?).

"As a prisoner of the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle, be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Ephesians 4: 1-3

P.S. There are other pictures out there, I think. God populated this planet with all kinds of animal pictures for us to learn of Kingdom life. All those who mate for life like wolves and swans (and lobsters, as SK points out!), for instance. Maybe to balance exclusion of male elephants illustration, I should learn about them--for Beve's sake...and my own. Hmm, stay posted.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

At arm's length

Remember junior high dances? Ours were most often held downtown at the Youth Center. Music played in a darkened room, and often--most of the time--there was more standing around than dancing. The girls would line the walls in clumps, waiting for a boy to come ask. But the boys, who were still so-o-o young, kind of goofy, and shorter than the girls (well, not me, but I was remarkably small in those days), couldn't quite make it across the great expanse of floor alone. Not when those girls traveled in packs, and turned their faces to giggle every time a boy approached. The ping-pong table out in the hallway held far more appeal. One knew the rules, playing ping-pong. The Beve reminds me that he spent all his junior high dances in the hallway, beating other comers at table tennis. Too bad too, because tall (!), 'cute,' athletic Beve was a catch in our junior high. I know plenty of girls who would have been glad to dance with him--including me, and I certainly didn't have my eyes trained toward the not-yet-the-Beve in those days.

My friends usually all ended up on the dance floor closer to the beginning than the end of the dance, dancing with some gangly romeo, while the adult supervisors came around to keep them at arm's length,--a literal ruler was used measure that they stood 6" apart from each other during slow dances. That's just who my friends were--pretty, popular, with something in them that drew boys. But I didn't get asked to dance much. If I did, it was usually by some boy I really didn't want to talk to, let alone dance with. Whatever my friends had, I didn't. Being left on the edges of the room was humiliating and, to be honest, boring. It didn't take too many brains for me to decide staying home was preferable.

But the experience of those dances taught me something. In fact, all of junior high, with its inexplicable pairings (why did that smart girl like that ridiculous boy? And how could that really cool boy, so witty and fun, like that silly girl? And why--yes, the ultimate why in those days--didn't any of those boys I liked look beyond the surface to discover my worth?) helped this education: No one would be attracted to me by my looks alone. By my looks at all, I thought then. I had to find another path to relationships. Any relationship. I determined that I couldn't bear to to dismissed by something as superficial as the way I looked. If I was to be disgarded, it had to be because I was known. Really known. And that meant opening my mouth and being transparent. By the revelation of my self. Judge me on the basis of my real self, and if you don't like me, fine. And I meant to do the same with others. Get to know the truth of them, not pay attention to what the outside looked like.

This has caused me to become what the Beve calls, "A compulsive communicator." An open book about my life, and drawn to real communication in every conversation. When I was a young mother, surrounded by our chublets all day long, I'd sometimes get together with other young moms and their kids. But many times the conversations would be about sewing curtains, craft projects, recipes, fashion. And I could only tolerate a certain amount of it. I'm a fairly good seamstress, have made a craft or dozen along the way, including more curtains than could cover the windows in this well-windowed house, but I get impatient with conversations about them. "Don't talk about it, just do it," my 'other mother' (the Beve's mom) used to say, and that's how I feel about such things. That is, I don't want to dwell in the shallows. I want to know and be known by others. I want my relationships to be Kingdom-centered, or Kingdom-bound. One way or another.

But here's a secret: By being this way, this open, and committed to revelation, I get to hold certain things completely to myself. No one thinks to look further than I'm willing to share, because I share so much. And this is like having it all, I think. I can have my privacy, and still have the kind of relationships I believe in. Secret places, where I am completely safe. It's like a carefully crafted arm's length.

But that's the rub, isn't it? There really are no secret places. Not really. God knows exactly who I am, what I am. Before a word is on my tongue--before I open my mouth to reveal whatever it is I have chosen to share, He knows the whole story. He knows what I say, and what I don't. I can't keep Him at the carefully crafted arm's length where I keep others. Even if I refuse to tell him, HE knows:

"You have searched me and you know me," begins Psalm 139. "You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue, You, Lord, know it completely...my frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place."

Friday, July 11, 2008

In the muck

So I've been thinking a lot about lies lately. See, we're enmeshed in this situation where people are lying to us. Lying to protect themselves, lying to get things they want, lying just for the heck of it, maybe. I don't know. I'm not very used to lying anymore. I live with the Beve, who is committed to truth in the innermost parts. And I live in my own skin.

See, I was quite the liar when I was a child. Seriously, I told some whoppers. And once I learned what 'fiction' meant--telling stories that one made up--I told my mother "I'm not lying, I'm telling fiction." Oddly, that only made her more angry. However, it didn't stop me from handing out 'whoppers,' if I thought I could avoid punishment by them. One big one was when I'd just started third grade and cut up my mother's very first paycheck when she started teaching. I was just messing around at my dad's desk, and there was a pair of scissors and what looked like scratch paper (or maybe it didn't, I don't know anymore!). I just started snipping, and before long, there was a pile of tiny scraps on the desk. When my parents found it, I lied. Through and through. I remember sitting on the stairs with my brother and sisters, talking about it. I said it couldn't have been me because I'm left-handed and could hardly cut with those right-handed scissors. I even proved it by making a hash of a cutting job on some actual scratch paper. My parents never managed to find out which of us cut up that check. Go figure! But later, it came back to haunt me. Once someone ate a piece of chocolate cake before it was frosted that Mom had made for a birthday, and I was blamed for it. I was indignant about it because I've never even liked chocolate. But that's what lying gets you. I obviously hadn't fooled my parents at all.

In middle school once a parent of one of my sister's friends saw me walking down the street with someone smoking. 7th grade and on the way to bigger problems. She told my parents, and I lied about it. They didn't quite believe me when I told them it hadn't been me, but they wanted to trust me. And somehow I was pretty overcome with guilt about the whole incident--and those friends.

A couple years later, I met Jesus, fell in love with Him, and wanted my life to be different. Surrendered. I asked Him to make it so that I was caught in any lies I might instinctively speak, and He was faithful. But it wasn't an easy lesson to learn. The critical moment was actually a backwards lie. With one of those friends from middle school, I was in a store one day, and she wanted a purse. Notice, not 'to buy a purse' but just 'she wanted it.' Her coat was too tight against her to take it herself, so she talked me into stealing it for her. Right outside the store's door, we ran into one of our Young Life leaders. I was horrified, felt like that purse was glowing through my coat and the shame visible on my face. We raced off to my friend's house, where she took the purse and I hurried home. I felt so convicted, however, that the next day I went to that same store with 8$ (things were cheaper then!) from my lunch-money,and bought another purse identical to the first, then took it from my bag and placed it back on the shelf.
However, a few weeks later, a second friend ran away from home, and when she was recovered, all sorts of misbehaviors were exposed--including my shoplifting adventure. My parents didn't believe me when I told them what I'd done. The purse was evidence of my guilt. So I was hauled up to that store again, made to confess to stealing the purse, and had to pay another 8$ for it, thereby having paid double for a purse I never owned.

But it taught me. Truth in my inmost being. And since then, I've been a truth-lover, truth-teller. Sometimes to the dismay of my parents or others but I just can't abide lies anymore. It just seems to me that we can always survive the truth, but lies will kill us in the end. And by the time we had our children, I was much better at truth. And very good at seeing the difference in them. That's the thing about parents--if we want to, we can see truth in our children's eyes.

And now here we are, in the middle of a web of lies that we don't have any control over. They aren't our lies, or our lives, but we've been thrust into them, and have to wade around in that muck. And I am certain Satan is having a hay-day with it all. I look at these people, listen to their stories and don't have a clue what is real and what is 'fiction.' And bit by bit, I'm losing my trust in them and find it harder to like them. A relationship not built on truth has a way of crumbling. It's like we have slime all over us all the time.

So where is God in it? "Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior." Psalm 25:5

That's all there is to it--the world and its master (the enemy of truth) is all about distortion and lies, but He who is the Truth is also the Way and the Life. It's not about truth as an abstraction, but Truth as a Person. The Person. It's the only answer. It was for me--knowing Him, loving Him, wanting to become like Him--it was the only way to truth in my words and deeds. And so I press on from here, not praying that they will tell truth, but that they will know Him who is Truth.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The main thing

The Beve, SK and I went to a memorial service yesterday. The wife of the minister of congregational care of the church we went to for 10 years died unexpectedly last week. She was 75, loved Christ and His church, loved her husband and family, and was an inimitable personality around our church. She left her mark on the kitchen, in Bible Studies, and, among a host of other things, organized an amazing pickle party every summer--the best pickles I've ever tasted came out of the jars made with her recipe.

Personally, we got to know her because we lived within walking distance of her house for six years. And she took a great interest in E. She would have been a scholastic athlete if such things had been possible when she was young, so E's sports drew her. She and her husband came to watch E play high school volleyball and basketball several times over E's high school career. And when E left for college, she wrote or emailed E often. When I heard the news that she'd died, I called E before I called the Beve, in fact. I liked this relationship E had with Phyllis. It's always meant a lot to me that she cared so much, that she was also a voice of God in E's life. And E always made sure she talked to Phyllis when she came home. E was sad to hear the news, and sad to be so far away she couldn't join us in honoring Phyllis.

So we went to church, sat down in a crowded sanctuary, and listened to people speak of her impact on their lives. She lived a Kingdom-life, from beginning to end. And the stories told about her never deviated from acknowledging that. Phyllis had the same kind of spice and vinegar as her pickles (and I'm not talking sweet pickles), a dry wit and an unfailing eye for what didn't please her, as well as what did. She liked things to be a certain way--like the church's kitchen where everything had its place, and the punch for every function at the church, which is always made with white grape juice and ginger ale, because it doesn't stain carpets--and she wasn't afraid to tell people what she thought, good, bad or ugly. She was a real person, is what I'm saying. And in her strengths as well as her weaknesses, God used her mightily. He took her as she was and used her.

Anyway, sitting there, singing those wonderful old hymns she loved, listening to her nephews sing in Swedish, hearing the stories of her faithful service, I was deeply moved. It was definitely a celebration, not merely of a life, but, as her brother said, "of Christ's work through His servant, Phyllis."

Afterwards I heard several people say it made them wonder what would be said of them at their memorial service. It's the question begging to be asked, I suppose. And her example is hard to stand up to. What has my life been about? When all is said and done, will those I've been rubbing shoulders with in this world testify to Christ as the thing my life has been about? The one thing? Thirty years ago, I heard a pastor say, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." I've taken these words seriously, said them to others countless times. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. That's what Phyllis did--keeping Christ first, keeping her eyes on Him. And it's my goal as well. When I'm flying to Jesus, finally, I don't want anything to be left undone that should have been done, or done badly that I haven't reconciled.

I like her example because she wasn't simply a sweet old lady. But being herself was what God used. Sure, she ruffled feathers. But I know me, I'm not all that 'sweet' either. I'm built in the mold of Phyllis, I guess. Pretty opinionated, certain that I'm right, sure of how things should be...and yet, God uses me. Thankfully, that's what He wants to use. Not me trying to be as sweet as my favorite aunt, or as girly-girl as my youngest child. With all my warts and flaws--He both loves and uses me. Just as I am. Just as He did Phyllis. Thank God.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

All things weedy

Spent the day in the garden, pulling weeds. There are people who love their gardens, who spend every waking minute pulling weeds, deadheading plants, snipping off a little here and there to continually create the look they're after. I am not one of these. I'm a garden lover, true. But taking the time to keep it in shape is over my head. No matter what I try, the weeds get away from me. For the last couple of years, since we've had this more extensive garden, I learned that. In the beginning, I spent hours and hours keeping the tiniest unsightly weed from grabbing a roothold between the plants. I weeded so much that first year, I actually had a dream one night that I had weeds growing on my legs. I woke up in a sweat and went back out to the garden. But I didn't enjoy it--certainly not the nightmare, but also not the weeding.

I've hated weeding from my childhood when my parents would ask, demand, threaten and even bribe us to weed their yard and enormous bank of junipers all along one side of our property. Maybe it was the junipers that did it--I mean, who likes to stick their hands between such prickly bushes to pull weeds, all while keeping one's balance on the side of a steep hill?

When our children were small, the Beve and I lived on property large enough for a vegetable garden. We worked hard in those years, cultivating, pulling weeds, dragging long hoses out to the garden which stood in the far back of our acre lot. I kept thinking that if I kept at it long enough, I'd grow to like the work. The potatoes, the carrots, the zucchini (why don't those plants come with warning labels? "Never, ever plant nine zucchini plants, unless you're feeding a school!"), the WallaWalla sweet onions, the tomatoes...ah, yes, I loved the tomatoes--fresh, bright red, sweet and juicy tomatoes~ and the fresh salsa I learned to make that simply can't be duplicated with anemic grocery store varieties!

But now we have flowers, and a few herbs--there's nothing like walking out to the garden in the dead of winter to snip rosemary or thyme. And we're cultivating weeds. Apparently that's our main crop. I'm a lot less able to get out on my knees, use my flawed left hand to pull up weeds on a daily basis. So this beautifully planted garden suffers. I know how I want it to look, but the image in my head never matches what is beyond my window. And I only have myself to blame.

Results is what I'm after. And no hard work to get there. Certainly nothing that will cause me pain, as gardening does these days. I'm a wimp, I admit. But Paul says, "Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters." (Colossians 3:23) I think it's easy for me to think of myself--only what's easy for me. Gardening is no longer easy--not that it ever really was--so I don't want to do it. And I think we're like this about a lot of things in life --in our Kingdom lives. It's hard to pull the weeds out of our hearts or to allow God to. But a beautiful garden, and a life that empty of the things that choke out growth--it's worth the work.

This 4th, for example, I let weeds multiply in my heart. I got really angry that day. And though I'm not going to tell you what it was about, I will say that it was based on being disrespected in my home, having my word count for nothing, and feeling like I was a hostage to others' wants, despite my misgivings. It affected the dogs, almost got a child hurt, and I got stinkin' mad. So mad that the stress from it caused physical symptoms in my already easily weak body. So mad that I couldn't set my mind on anything--not God, not my work, not a blog entry that would be hypocritical to how I felt. Inside I was using words like, "Never again," and "I can't stand them."

But it occurs to me that weeds grow from such things. That unchecked anger within can strangle many of the beautiful flowers I want my life to be about. And even if it was justified, that anger ultimately hurts me much more than those at whom I directed my anger. My life is already being choked by those weeds. So what do I do? There is only one solution. Forgiveness. No matter how hard that work, no matter what it costs me, I must forgive those who hurt me and mine. Even if they don't recognize that their actions were wrong, even if they never ask, I must forgive. It's like pulling weeds to do it, like dragging out vines that grow from one sin to the next, covering the earth of my heart with such ugliness. I must ask for forgiveness too--for holding this thing against them, for letting it take root in me. Ask God for a hand in digging out those roots. All things weedy--I want them gone.

How is your garden?

Saturday, July 5, 2008

In the circus

It's Saturday night at the Beve's house, and these are the kind of things you'll find inside our front door. Grampie has just convened a meeting with the two sons, talking about wills, trusts and codicils. That was after we got the rest of his trip figured out, which took several phone calls, calendars and lists. I knew I should have become a secretary.
Jackson, of the sensitive ears, is struggling through the night after the 4th fireworks. He isn't barking with quite the same frequency or pitch that he was yesterday, but if he was being tested for the Olympics right now, it might be fair to assume he'd be stripped of any medal, due to doping. Last night during the mother lode of fireworks that somehow what Independence Day has come to mean in our country, he went so ballistic, we even drugged Jamaica because he was scaring her.
SK and V have had their head buried in books today, barely coming up for air, unless the phone rings for V, which is does with great frequency now. Remember being 15, and not having a cell-phone? Well, that is, they started reading after V's two-year old sister went home. Can I just say--she is absolutely adorable. If V had her way, little A would be here fulltime, and I can see why. But we were good and let her go home, just as we promised. Right, V?
V and SK, and their books, move from front room to TV room, depending on the conversation around them--trying to avoid us as much as possible. And the b-i-l (Finnish brother-in-law) volunteered to undergo a third-degree interrogation by the Beve and me. Beve and I are nothing if not interested in his life across the ocean, and we jumped at the opportunity. At his offer, I suggested we serve 'tea and transparency' or 'coffee and candor' with our pie, and he was a very good sport about it. He survived our questions and is now listening to Grampie explain things I'm not quite following.
This was all after we found Beve, who's taken to wandering over to the neighbors' every half hour or so--all day long, taking them tool after tool as they try to destroy their front deck. Beve's fond of tools that destroy! Now he says he thinks he's given them everything they need--for tonight at least.
Then SK came out of the bathroom door, frantically calling for her dad because water was poring from the toilet all the way out the door and into the hallway. The 'river' must have spilled its banks several hours earlier to cause such a flood. Beve barked at SK for not telling him sooner, but she said, "I was stark naked when I noticed, Dad." He calmed down after that, but I'm telling you it was a stressful moment. No one likes to disappoint her dad. It took us a washing machine-sized pile of towels to mop up the mess, but hopefully it was an acute, not chronic, flooding, if you know what I mean.

When we finally came back into the living room and plopped down, sighing, Grampie started laughing. He's been here a week now and has had a bird's eye view of life at the Beve's. "You people have more going on than anyone I know." If by more, he means overflowing toilets, dogs barking at fireworks, and the Beve disappearing, I suppose he's right. I spent the whole year--our first empty-nest year--alone with these dogs, and silence in every room, until Beve came home and then there were two of us. But these days, if you gave me a top hat and microphone, I'd be the ring-master of a three-ring circus. Maybe a juggler with plates in the air...

The thing is, many of us have lives like this, you know--where there's always--always something going on. Not just one night, or a couple of weeks with back-to-back guests (all of whom we love, really we do!). But lives that just don't seem to stop, no matter what. I was so tired yesterday, after a large family get-together, and more tension than my body can handle, that I wanted to take the day off today. And I know--I KNOW--the world is full of people who feel this way all the time. And then it hits me that tomorrow is Sunday.
For us, we who call Christ LORD, that means Sabbath. Rest. A laying down of all the labor of the week (well, I guess if a toilet overflows on the Sabbath, it's okay to fix it!), and a settling into the presence of the Lord. The day in the week to set aside the troubles, the concerns, the weeds of our lives, and focus on Him. Not a day off, I think though, but a day to concentrate, be more intentional with Him and with His people. How we choose to spend our Sabbaths says something about what is most important to us.

When I was in college, my friends and I used to talk about being the Body of Christ, and what that meant practically. A girl said once, "We're not bowling, we're having church." And that caught on. Everything thing we did, "We're not driving, we're having church." Or eating together or driving or whatever it was--we were having church. Whenever two or more are gathered, there He is. So when we walk out the doors of whatever church building we go to, we don't stop. Not with our Sabbath, and not with 'being' the church. Let's have a great Sabbath, being the church together. Whether watching a Tiger-less golf tournament, a baseball game, or playing a sport yourself--be the church. Just taking a walk--invite Him along. It's His day, after all. Put down your plates, take off the circus clothes for this day He invites us into, and I'll do the same. Let's remember the Sabbath together. Keep it holy, wholly His.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Proud

Years ago the Beve and I took our three wee ones to a baseball field in the middle of the small town where we lived. We laid our blankets out with hundreds of other good folks, ate our picnic dinner and waited for the sun to go down. When the sky turned black, the rockets' red flare began; red, blue, green, yellow, purple--you know, every color of the rainbow burst into the sky, like it always does at such moments. Familiar music played behind every shot into the sky, the crowd made appropriate noises at appropriate intervals. And at the end when the music lifted along with the fireworks, and the song, "I'm proud to be an American," roared from the giant speakers, the sky was covered with light, and my heart beat loudly in my chest. I was proud to be an American that night, I felt. At that moment, in that place, with those small town people surrounded by the smell of fried chicken and potato salad, and ice-cream melting in small children's hands, I was more proud than I had ever been. The fireworks had done their job!

Those emotional moments--how patriotic we think them. Standing on the side of streets waving flags at parades, or in the crowd when a great orator speaks, or when the electronic flag flies on a score board at a ballgame, and we sing our anthem in harmony--a harmony of voices trained, untrained, some that shouldn't sing at all. These are the moments we're raised to recognize as patriotic.

But what about the moment in a voting booth, or the ones that precede it reading the voters' pamphlet? Or perhaps exercizing the right NOT to do either of these things? There is the moment a child decides to join the military, or also decides he will never fight, no matter what. Our country was founded on the amazing principle of personal freedom, individual rights, with the hope (ah, the great hope of those men who signed that document that sweltering day in Philadelphia!) that all those who followed would choose well, exercising those freedoms. It's not an emotional thing, though I'm as passionate and emotional as anyone. It's about choice.

So I wade into this public debate that has taken place in our media about the wife of one of the candidates to say that I can understand being more proud this year. There are more people, more interested, more involved, more engaged in being part of the process--registering to vote, debating about candidates, issues (the earth, the war, the economy) than I can remember. We are seeing our country work as those men dreamed it would July 4, 1776. If that's not patriotic, I don't know what is. Like Michelle Obama, I'm more proud than I have ever been...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Ah, rats!

We were sitting in our backyard in the late afternoon sun, throwing a tennis ball for Jamaica when the Beve said, "A rat just ran across the top of the back fence."
"A rat?" I said, shaking my head. "It was a squirrel." We have lots of squirrels in our neighborhood. They run with abandon around the perimeter of our yard, scurrying up trees when the dogs come near, chattering down at Jackson as he stands on his hind legs, barking. They like to tease him, knowing he can't reach them. They run straight up the trunk of the Douglas fir, get just above his jumping heighth, then turn around and face him, somehow holding on to the tree vertically while he goes ballistic with the desire to catch them. It's tormenting to him that he never wins this game. He goes for birds with the same fervor, though a few weeks ago, a crow made the mistake of landing in the flower bed just as he wandered into it, and he captured it. I was sitting out in the sun at the time, and my instinct was to scream, "No Jackson, no!"--every bit the pacifist, even then. He was only doing what he'd been created to do, after all. It was me who couldn't handle all that squawking and feathers flying. But really, can you blame me? I yelled loud enough that the Beve came running, and yanked Jackson off the crow and into the house where we closed the dog door and let the bird get a headstart getting away. I'm not a big crow-lover, but the end of the story would have been him bringing it into the house. I know, he's done it before, and then who has to remove the offering of a dead bird from the kitchen floor? I'll give you one guess!!

But rats--that's another story altogether. And I shiver to think of it. I refused to admit the Beve might have seen what he thought he saw. But then while I was down the hall, but everyone else was at the table for dinner, SK looked out and gave a little shriek. The Beve said, "Saw a rat?" "On to top of the fence."
"It couldn't be," I said, a little sick to my stomach.
"Unless a squirrel got a hair cut, shaved its tail, and began sprinting instead of hurdling, it was a rat!" Beve answered, seemingly unperturbed (but then very little perturbs him. Honestly, that man!).
Are you kidding me? Rats. The back corners of the yards behind us are very overgrown--easy enough for a den, I suppose. We have a wood pile in that same corner, but ours is accessible to us. You couldn't get into the others unless you had a scythe, I think. Maybe some rat killer now. So it all makes sense...but YUCK! So now what? How do we go about killing these things, without also killing our dogs who like to investigate smells and strange new tastes? It's hard, in fact, for me to imagine that there are rats in that corner of our yard without Jackson having been over there hunting for them all the time? You know? Or maybe I'm just trying to convince myself. Give myself hope.

Why is it that some animals give us the heeby-jeebies? Rats are incredibly close to humans in many ways--they must be or they wouldn't be used for so many different kinds of experiments regarding cancer and other diseases. Rats and pigs, right? And we generally have disregard for both of them. Don't you find it odd how we can loathe the kinds of things that are most like us? Yes, they're dirty, carry diseases (the plague was no small thing), but...so do we. Yes, so do we. All sorts of diseases. And I'm not simply talking about the physical ones. Rats are scavangers, thieves, mean and ugly. Hmm, sound familiar? In scripture, from beginning to end, sin and disease are linked. Jesus repeatedly forgives sin, then heals bodies. Now I'm not implying (as many have) that a specific sin caused a specific disease. However, we live in a world where of sin and disease, and we are tainted by both. Need healing from both, saving from both.

"Praise the Lord, oh my soul,
and forget not His benefits--
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion." Psalm 103:2-4

Just so you know, I'm not about to be Jesus to these rats running across our back fence. One way or another--however the experts say will do the job--they are not long for this world. But I thank God that He looked at the rat in me and saw that I was made in His image, and worth the life of His SON.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Mountain

First of all, a word of caution to my brother--this is the one you were either dreading or looking forward to, depending on your mood! At least you knew it would be today...

I say that because today, after all these months of sideways comments, implications, under- and over-stating, I'm staring straight at the hero of my life, the hero of my siblings' life. Why? Because today is July 2nd, my father's 77th birthday. I'd like to say we'd be celebrating, if he'd have lived to see it. But we wouldn't be, because he wasn't much for celebrating something for which he had no hand in. To him, it would be just a day like any other day. But to me, especially in these last 11 years since he died, it's been fraught with meaning, like everything about my father.

So how do I talk about him? I've been trying to think. Do I tell you that he was the best father anyone ever had? He was, you know. I really believe that. I know, my kids think that Beve is. And I want them to. I thank God they do think so. Many of my friends have Dads or husbands who fit that bill as well, and fine, they can have a share in this pie. But for me, it was Dad. He was brilliant, witty, encouraging, a servant, my brother in Christ (Hallelujah!!!), stubborn, wise, loyal, had honor and integrity like a man should...
But I wanted to tell one story that would say something about him, and as I've been ruminating about it the last few days, it came to me what story that should be. This happened a decade before I was born, so I don't feature in it, but in a way, it's a lamp post, pointing to so many things about the man he would become, the father he'd be, that it says everything.

When Dad was 18 years old, he and 3 other buddies climbed Mt. Saint Helens. Dad was the most experienced climber--he'd already climbed Rainier, Adams, and been a part of a climbing club for a while. Shoot, Dad has a 4 digit REI membership number. He became a member back in the '40s when REI was a fledgling operation, housed in an old warehouse. Anyway, in 1949, Dad and these friends climbed St Helens on a clear spring morning, got all the way to the top, looked down on the whole world, looked down on their whole lives and saw that it was good, and started back down with hope and joy. They weren't roped up as they crossed a gently sloped ice-field, but Dad was still slightly leading. The next boy, Art, didn't follow Dad's tracks, but walked beside him, and in an instant, fell through the snow and into a deep crevasse, breaking both legs in the fall. And he had the rope with him! So two of the boys skied down the mountain as fast as their legs could carry them. And my 18-year-old pre-father dad sat on that mountain for hours, talking to Art, listening to him. Both of them knew by the end that help would not come in time, so Art told my dad messages for his parents, siblings and friends. When Art's voice finally petered out, and Dad couldn't do anything else for him--and when the sun was going down so Dad himself was also in danger--he left his axe and shovel shaped in an X, and skied down the mountain alone in the twilight. Hearing Art's voice in his head. The next morning the ski patrol brought Art's cold and broken body down the mountain.

Dad told me once that when he was in the navy and had the midnight watch out at sea, he would stand on the ship and look at the ocean, and could hear Art's voice echoing in the postmid-night hours. I wrote a poem about it in college that won rave reviews "Two bells" (I wish I could find it now). He never told me what Art said to him in all those hours, but it changed his life to have lived through it with him. It made Dad more intentional with us, I think. Able to listen to us, to fully engage. He didn't take things for granted, told us often and with sincerity, that he loved us, was proud of us, that he wanted us to grow up to do better, to be stronger, to be who he saw we could be. He was paying attention--even in the busyness of his own very demanding work, and very compelling avocation of the out-of-doors. Sure, he had his strong sense of right and wrong and the Boy Scout Law to guide him, but there was also something about those hours on the mountain that spurred him on.

Dad towered like Mt Saint Helens over our lives. In so many ways. He was the strong sturdy back we climbed, and the place we went to play. He led, and we followed. Or, he went behind, letting the slowest set the pace--so we stayed together. He was the place we went again and again, to relearn, to find out new things, to laugh, to cry, to simply be. He taught us everything --literally everything--he knew about surviving life on the mountain. About being safe, and about loving it. And didn't we all love being on the mountain?

When Mt Saint Helens blew, my Dad--generally a lover of all nature--said, "Nothing good ever came from that mountain." I think he was glad to see that mountain disappear.
And when he died, it was like a mountain had blown up in our lives. Ash rained down on us for months from the pain of Dad's death. Ash lingers in the crevasses still. There's a different shape to it now--the place where that mountain was is a crater. And though I've gotten used to how the crater looks, what it feels like to live with that crater in view, I miss the mountain. I will always miss him. He thought nothing good came from it. But I'm here to tell you, Dad did, and he was the best that mountain had to offer!

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Errands with the boys

What a day! I spent it driving around our beautiful city with my father-in-law and brother-in-law. Taking them on their errands. We spent an hour at an oversized bookstore where Grampie, who had told me he was simply going to sit and enjoy his coffee, wasn't where I left him. I panicked--who knows where he might have wandered to. When I found him, he was picking through books on blogging, of all things, and bought "The Idiot's Guide to..." I helped him decide on it--it was the only book that had a chance in the world of making sense to him, and even that seemed iffy. In the meantime, my brother-in-law (b-i-l) was finding books to take back to Finland for his English classes. He loads himself up with teaching materials every time he's in the States. This 5 minute stop turned into an hour wait: if you look up the word deliberate in the dictionary, I'm fairly certain my brother-in-law's name will show up in the definition.

After using a shoe horn to fit the giants into my Matrix in a different configuration, we moved on to the Sports Card shop, where b-i-l wanted to buy some hockey cards. Waiting in the car, I surprised Grampie by opening the sunroof--"Oh for pete's sake," he said. "That's not too shabby." (That's pretty high praise for him!) We waited long enough that Grampie wondered if b-i-l was negotiating for the sale of the whole shop. As I said, deliberate. Then it was on to the Family Christian Bookstore, where Grampie decided again to wait in the car, once he determined, to his disappointment, that he couldn't buy extra large athletic socks inside. At Fred Meyer, we hooked his cane in a shopping cart and were off to order photos from three different jump drives. Let me just say, it would have been complicated for me on a good day... B-i-l, in the meantime, was finding the socks, but I had to race off to retrieve him when Grampie realized he'd misplaced his wallet somewhere and was practically out the door and caning across the busy parking lot by himself.

At the bank across the street, Grampie stopped to bend all the way to the ground to pick up a penny. I was certain we'd be calling 911 because he wouldn't be able to get back up--but he's surprisingly flexible. And on the way out the door, 20 minutes later, the two boys selling raffle tickets had tossed a nickel and another penny on the ground just to watch him bend over again. B-i-l tried to say he'd get it, but Grampie's a stubborn old coot and wouldn't hear of it. The boys were howling at the sight until their mother gave them the business for teasing a grumpie old man like that.

Shoe-horned back in the car, we drove back up the hill to our house where I took a deep breath. I needed a nap. But Grampie's photos had to be retrieved. "It would be my honor to go with you to get them," he said. Honor? Maybe the service of my day to let him. I helped him back down the steps and into the car, and we were off.