Monday, September 29, 2008

Liberal/Conservative

In light of the big event of this season--about 37 or so days off now--I've been sleepless tonight thinking about the words liberal and conservative.  I read an article earlier that claimed that 60% of Americans call themselves conservative.  I am not one of them.  But it made me really begin to think about those words.  I'm not talking merely talking about the political definitions of these words, though I did look them up just now to make sure I understand them.  I was surprised by what I discovered.  One of the hallmarks of liberalism (which makes sense, when I think about it) is that it places the highest importance on the freedom of the individual, whereas conservatism, while valuing person freedom, tends to believe that belonging to some social order, community, etc is more important than the liberty of the individual.  And you know, I totally believe this.  That is, I am more importantly part of the Kingdom of God, and subject to His rule, than I am free to choose whatever I want. To tell the truth, I'm not altogether sure what freedom actually is.  That is, from His point of view, am I free?  No longer a slave to the law, aren't I now a slave to righteousness?  That's what Paul said in Romans, anyway.  So I suppose I'm far more conservative than I imagine.  Except that I'm pretty sure that most conservatives actually do put a pretty high stock in personal freedom.  It is, after all, the word we most often bandy about when we talk about this country and democracy (though not always accurately, as my son would tell me). I mean, they certainly want the right of free speech, freedom of religion, and the freedom to carry arms. And I fall on the side of real conservatives when it comes to some of these, the abortion issue, especially.  But I'm not what you'd call part of the religious right.  Don't even get it, frankly.

Mostly, I line up with the liberals.  When I say this, I realize that I am a minority among evangelicals. And many might rear back in horror to hear me say such a thing, because, for some reason, these words are tainted words.  But I am not proud to be an American first, worried about keeping us safe against all enemies.  I am a pacifist through and through.  And I frankly think it's possible that we've come to the end of our Supremacy in the world, and that's all as it should be.  Super powers through history--the Greeks, the Romans, the Spanish, the British--all tend to last about 250 years, and we're just about at the end of that.  This is the way of things of humans.  Only the reign of God lasts. So, to be liberal--in the Kingdom--might just mean something else.  And maybe, just maybe what I should concentrate on is the words themselves, not the political definitions.  And I think Christ uses them alot...er, liberally:

We are told to give liberally, love liberally, forgive liberally.  To go the extra mile in serving and caring for each other.  Liberally.  I want to be liberal with my hope, my faith, my witness for Christ.  I want to be as liberal as Christ was--giving even my very life, if He asks.  And I'm not sure what He tells us to do conservatively.  Sin maybe?  No, Paul even said, "Sin boldly that grace may abound." Oh yeah, I remember--it's about judging. Be conservative in our judging, in our condemnation, in our pointing fingers at others.  Hmm. 

In the end, I thank God that these labels are only human deep.  They don't really mean anything in the Kingdom.  Thank God I can sit down with folks with whom I disagree politically and still come together under the banner of God.  Thank God that I am not measured in His eyes by who I vote for in this or any election. The water of political labels is so blasted murky, I'll just wade out of it. And make it my aim (as I've said a time or two before) to live worthy of His name, pleasing Him in every respect.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Dragon skin

I wrestled an alligator this morning.  Right in my own bathtub.  At least it felt that way. My own little squirmy, stinky, paint-spattered black and white furred alligator.  And we both came out of it with water covering us from head to tail...not to mention hairy with dog fur.

During the house painting extravaganza that's been going on around here in fits and starts (depending on the weather and busy schedules), Jamaica has grown increasingly buff-colored on top of her long hair.  She just can't manage to stay away from the walls, the paint can, the roller.  A couple days ago, E made the brilliant decision to empty some painty water onto the back grass, right off the patio where both dogs tend to step.  Now our bruiser, Jackson, who always watches where he walks, cut a wide swath around that puddle, but Maica bounced right into it without a thought.  It was paw-painting after that, with the lawn as her canvas. 

Anyway, needless to say, she's really needed a bath. It, of course, wasn't her first bath.  That one was quite a memorable one.  When she was tiny, I bathed her in our deep kitchen sink, but finally the day came when she was too big to fit, so I filled the bathtub and set her in it.  What made it interesting was that Jackson, the Big Lug, was deeply engaged in the process, leaning over the tub beside me to try to understand what this new game was.  We've never bathed Jackson.  At least not in the house.  We hose him off out back, when we have to, but even that doesn't happen very often.  He's too finicky to get very dirty most of the time.  But that day, when I got Jamaica out of the tub, and dried her off, Jackson stood beside me, whining.  Finally I said, "OK, go ahead," and he stepped right into the tub, and plopped into a 'sit'.  So I gave him his first shampoo.  And his last!  Ever since then, he's shown no interest in the procedure.  He'd found out all he needed to know. 

But Jamaica just can't keep herself clean on her own.  She needs me to scrub her.  As I was bathing her this morning, I thought of one of my favorite passages in the Narnia Chronicles.  It's in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  The boy Eustace--a really swarmy, boy of whom CS Lewis says in the opening sentence of the book, "There was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it."--has become a dragon because of his greed.  He's stolen a bracelet from a dragon's lair and put it on his arm.  The next day, he awakens to discover he's become a dragon himself, and the bracelet is pinching his arm terribly.  It gets worse and worse--the pain, the sense of isolation, his desire to be a better boy--until he meets a lion who leads him to a pool, or bath, as he calls it.  Looking at the pool, he imagines how much better he might feel if the water can soothe his arm.  But the lion 'tells' him he must undress first, by which Eustace realizes means to de-scale his skin.  He manages to get a whole layer of scales off--like a snake-skin--but there are more scales beneath, and more beneath that layer, and more, and more...Finally, the lion tells him that he--the lion--must undress him. In Eustace's desperation, he allows this, even knowing how terrible the lion's claws might be.  So the dragon-boy lies down on the grass and lets the lion have his way with him.
"The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.  ANd when he began pullingthte skin off, it hurt worse than anything I've ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was just the pleasure of feeling that stuff peel off...
"Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off--...and there I was as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been.  THen he caught hold of me--I didn't like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I'd no skin on--and threw me into the water.  It smarted like anything but only for a moment.  After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming I found that all the pain had gone from my arm...I'd turned into a boy again."

I love this.  Because I've been covered with my own dragon skins once or twice...or make that too often to count.  I've done things, or haven't done things, so greedy, so selfish, so sinful, that my own human skin gets covered with hard ridges of scales.  And no matter what I do to try and rip those scales off, I can't.  I don't have the right claws for the job.  That moment when Eustace lies down, that surrender?  It's called repentance.  "Change me into what you made me to be.  Remove this skin--this sin--from me."  It's easy to say, "I'm sorry."  It's a whole lot harder to say, "Change me. Remake me into what I'm supposed to be."  It takes Him to do it.  Our own lion of Judah.  It takes him to throw us into a bath and make us clean and fresh and newly human.  And the pain we feel in confessing our sin, and asking Him to forgive us--and I honestly believe with real repentance, there is pain--is good.  It cost Him a lot to make us new, and, as Deitrich Bonhoeffer famously said, "What costs God much cannot be cheap to us." 

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

My best thing (s)

The other day SK told me about her university choir retreat she'd participated in Sunday.  At one point in the afternoon, the choristers were divided into 'Home Groups', as the group within the group whom they would share with more personally.  She obviously goes to a Christian University, where even in academic or artistic settings, professors are concerned about emotional and spiritual well-being, not just (in this case) musical ability and corporate sound.  Every time she turns around, she's a part of another group who want to get to know her, be community with her.  And she's bouncing with it.  But then, SK's always been the one alight with joy in our family.  She came to love life, I've always said, and to help the rest of us enjoy it with her.

So in this 'home group' on Sunday, each student introduced themselves.  Typical for these kinds of groups.  I've been in community groups where it took the entire year, practically, for everyone to have their chance to tell their own stories.  Being a story-teller myself, I love that kind of thing, love hearing who people are, what they believe about themselves, their past, how it plays into who they are becoming in Christ. But often those introductions are short, and pointed.  SK and her cronies were given specific questions to answer to help facilitate their introductions.  I've played these games before--too many times to recount here. 'Something people in the group would be surprised to learn about you,' is one favorite query, or 'tell your most embarrassing moment' (my 'most' is not something I would ever share on first meetings, to tell the truth.  It's just too dang embarrassing.  Fortunately, I have a whole storehouse of embarrassing moments to choose from.  I'm just that clutzy...and given to speaking without thinking, as well). 

What SK's choir was asked was, "Tell about your best thing ever!"
"Wow," I said. "That's pretty general."  Not to mention, pretty hard for someone like SK, for whom everything from a new pair of shoes to Cold Stone icecream could be the 'best ever!'  She tends to abound with superlatives, one way or another.  She agreed that it was very difficult, but she finally decided to talk about two different places in the world that have had a certain quality for her--a sense of how beautiful, how perfect, how diverse God's creation is. One is at the Mission in Uruapan, Mexico where she's gone four different summers.  Sitting on the rocks overlooking the valley, especially at sunset, floods her with a sense of rightness, joy and peace.  The other is in the steep canyons above the Snake River where my brother-in-law's cattle graze for most of the year. Those canyons are only accessible on horseback, and SK (and E) have spent many days riding with their cousins, either helping round up cattle, or simply enjoying the part of the world few humans ever see.

What would it be for me?  My best thing ever, that is.  If I eliminate talking about the Lord, Beve or my children, which go without saying and aren't 'things', anyway, what would I say?  I decided one thing was too hard, so made list.  I think I did this once in grad school for a class called, "Christian Imagination."
Anyway, here's a list off the top of my head:
New pens
A well-written sentence (I mean, sprung from my own imagination)
A stack of books by my bed
The smell of fresh mowed grass
Clean sheets
A new journal
Tea and scones
The ringtones on my cell-phone (songs sung by my daughters)
The sound of Beve's pick-up in the driveway (this is actually the dogs' ONE best thing ever)
Baths (especially now in our new tub!)
The Word of God--

The Word of God.  Ultimately, it really is my best thing ever.  In fact, to tell the truth, sometimes I wonder about heaven.  I mean, will we still need the Bible when we see Him face to face?  Probably not.  And oddly, this sometimes makes me a little sad.  I know, I know, I won't care then, but for now, this is how I best know the One whom I love.  I measure my life against it, open myself up to be changed by it every single day.  I love the physical feel of a Bible in my hands--the smell of brand new leather when I get a new one, the crinkle of the thin, silver or gold edged pages, the weight of the Words I will discover, but also love how my oldest, worn-in, taped together Bible, how I can find a verse I'm looking for because I know where it sits on a page, how those shiny pages have been worn dull and the leather made pliable because my hands have opened it so often.  But I mostly love how even passages I've read a thousand times before can feel fresh and new when He reveals Himself to me through them. How by His Spirit something springs off the page I hadn't understood.  How these truths convict, work in, mold me.  How they light my life.  Every day.

"Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path." Psalm 119:105

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fitting into a new suit

I probably haven't mentioned lately that E is home.  She has unpacked, settled in and even--magically!--sifted through the closet in her bedroom where she's had her unneeded life stored for the last several years while she lived across the state and across the Rocky Mountains.  And I have to say, it's been a joy having her home.  I was never one for helping my kids move out the day they turn 18, then repainting and using their bedrooms for something else.  The older my kids get the more I enjoy them. And rightly so.

However, this adult, college-graduated daughter back in our home has brought some challenges, for me especially.  Actually, they're the same challenges I noticed with SK after just one year of being away at college.  See, these kids walk back into my house and before I've even finished hugging them, I start being the mom.  They've lived independently for a year--or four--but somehow, I can't keep from telling them to take their dishes to the kitchen, or ask when why their hair looks so messy, or if they're really going to wear that.  It's a knee-jerk reaction built from twenty-three+ years of taking care of their needs--nursing their hurts, being their mom.  And, though they're mostly good sports about it, it grates on them after a while.

For example, E and I were running errands the other day, with the dogs in the car with us.  E had rolled down the windows for them, and Jamaica, as usual, was sticking her head out.  Well, from my point of view, she had more than half her body out the window.  So I said, perhaps a little sharply, "Roll up that window a little. I never have it down all the way." 
We then had a bit of a disagreement about how far up I meant, and whether Jamaica would actually fall from the car.  I'm always cautious, I know that.  But I like it so she can just barely squeeze her head out the top.  It just seems safer.
"Listen, Mom," E finally said, not annoyed yet but on the way to it, "When you drive, you can do it your way, and when I drive, I'll do it mine."

And I realized those words had far bigger import than about a rolled down window. She's used to making decisions about everything from windows to finances to what walking by faith means in her lived-out life.  And far be it for me to treat her like she's my little girl any longer. Becoming an adult is easier for her than it is for me.  Even when she's in my house, I have to remember that.  What she chooses to reveal, to discuss with us (and we're actually lucky because our kids love talking over their lives with us) it's up to them.  The more I push, the more they'll back away.  I know this--I did it myself with my own mother who was still telling me how to do things when I was in my forties (she only doesn't now because she can't remember how). As recently as half-a-dozen years ago she'd sometimes brush her hand across my face to try to wipe what she thought was too much blush from my cheeks or walk into my bedroom while I was changing. "Mom," I'd say. "What?  I'm your mother!"  And I'd flinch from her touch. I remember how that felt, take it as a warning.

It's a stretching thing, this letting go stuff, like trying to fit into a suit that's a little too small or constricting. I'm just not comfortable yet.  But that old larger suit--of being Mommy--has ragged edges, maybe even pins sticking out that will wound us. If I continue to treat them like they're my children, I'm liable to hurt all of us badly.  After all, they never were, my children, that is. Not really. They're His.  Besides, I always said that I wasn't raising children, I was raising adults.  And guess what?  They are, all three of them.  And good ones.

Now it's time for me to grow up.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Dreams

I awakened this morning after a raucous night of dreams. None of them are worth the telling here, but they did keep tossing and turning on a very rolling sea of sleep, keeping slumber from refreshing me.  The Beve never remembers his dreams, but I have a catalog of them in my head from as far back as elementary school years.  Really, I only remember one from that long ago, but it was a doozy!--about a giant tree eating our brand new pound puppy, Prince, who was the first of the black and white dogs who have populated my life.  Anyway, I woke up in a fright after that dream.  I remember that, and rushing to find him where he slept near the kitchen in our house in Michigan.  That was a long time, and about a million dreams, ago. 

Once in high school, I dreamed that I married the boy across the street.  The wedding was right in our own house, where I had to walk up the stairs for the ceremony and the house across the street where my would-be groom lived was decorated with pink and blue balloons in their tree in their front yard.  I woke up from that dream and thought it utterly ridiculous--that I would ever cast my eyes, even asleep, in the direction of that tall, pidgeon-toed classmate.  I remember that dream especially well because ten years later I was tempted to ask the Beve's mom to tie balloons in their tree on our May wedding day (but I restrained myself), and thought my dream rather stunningly prophetic, at least in terms of groom.

When my children were little, my dreams were flooded with worries, from fire in our house (because they slept on the second floor, and I was on the first...) to the actual end of the world where I was responsible for seeing them to the safety of eternity while Beve was out fighting on the front lines in the army of God.  Seriously, I had dreams like this, swhich probably just show that I took my spiritual role as their mother very seriously.

After my dad died, I had many dreams about him but one particularly powerful.  In fact, to tell the truth, I've never been quite convinced that it was just a dream.  One morning I dreamed that my family was driving on a road in a large car--likely a Suburban, like the ones we always owned--my mother at the wheel.  On a gravel road, in a fairly desolate landscape stood a tree--a eucalyptus tree, to be precise-- like a sentinel overlooking the rough hills.  Beneath it sat my dad.  It wasn't a dreamlike dad, but my very real dad, dressed in his familiar sneakers, red and white striped polo shirt and faded blue corduroy pants.  And when he saw our vehicle, he walked up to it, and stuck his hand through the open window where I sat, and he grasped my hand, the glint of his familiar watch shining in the sun, his strong wide fingers gripping mine firmly.  He said, "I'm fine, and you'll be fine too.  But you have to go now."  Then he pulled his hand from mine and backed away.  My fingers stretched out toward him as Mom, who hadn't once looked at us, drove away.  I woke from that dream, already crying, and Beve, who was dressing for work, came over to my side of the bed and asked me what was wrong. "I saw my dad," I said.  That's really how it felt--that I'd seen him and he'd said those words. 

A couple years after that, I dreamed about a farm family in the Palouse--none of whom I knew.  When I awakened from that dream, I knew I had to write their story, to discover what happened to them after those moments that I watched in my dream.  It was the genesis for my October Afternoon, which I'm still revising.
A powerful moment, and a powerful way to get an idea.  Ever since, when I'm really struggling with a scene, I let it go, go to sleep, and often when I awaken, I've worked out the difficulty and can write the scene well.  It isn't that I've ever dreamed of them again, but somehow, my subconscious--and God!--are working while I sleep.

Dreams.  I know there are people who place great importance on them.  And others who think that every dream is simply the result of something one ate the night before, or whatever else is going on, with no meaning whatsoever.  But I've had too many dreams that have counted in my life, and I've learned that sometimes God speaks when I'm sleeping.  After all, He tells us He will.  Scripture is full of dreams--both awake and asleep. Joseph in the Old Testament was a revealer of such dreams to the men he was in prison with.  And another Joseph dreamed himself of becoming Jesus' earthly father, and of how to care for Him. 

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people,
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams.
Your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days..."  Joel 2:28

I expect the Spirit to work in any way He wishes--in my awake life and in my sleeping one.  It isn't that I think every dream means something.  A giant tree never ate my dog, after all.  And sometimes, they really just are indigestion. But that dream about my dad?  I believe God let him speak to me, tell me something I really needed to hear.  To comfort, but also push me on my way toward healing from the deep cut of losing him. So I believe in dreams. There's a certain quality, at least for me, when He is present, and has something to say.  After all, who am I to limit the way He reveals Himself--to me or anyone else?

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Bring it on

The last couple of weeks have been pretty difficult for me physically.  Because of this, I've also felt increasingly discouraged.  I was trying to remember the last time I simply woke up in the morning and just sprang out of bed, certain my legs, feet, back wouldn't protest.  It was about a decade ago, I realized with more than a little dismay.  Probably my trip down memory lane to find these particulars about my life shouldn't have been undertaken while pain is the overarching theme at the moment.  It did me no good whatsoever to think of who I used to be, what I once could do instinctively.  Things like helping E paint the house, as she's been doing this week--Beve and I used to be great painting partners and now I can hardly hold a brush, let alone a roller.  I used to take long walks with my small children, dogs, Beve.  At the moment, walking down the bowling lane that is the hallway through our house is a fairly arduous task and leaves me gasping. 

But during this week, in my New Testament reading, I've been living with the Corinthians, reading Paul's second letter to them.  And from where I sit, Paul's on about one thing (as my Australian New Testament prof at Regent College would have said).  He begins the letter talking about the Father being the God of comfort and compassion who comforts us in all our troubles.  This alone is good news.  For one thing, it takes for granted that we have troubles.  And this is fair warning, because Paul spends the next several chapters (ok, I've only gotten through chapter 6, and know there's plenty more ahead of me--great stuff in there, too) talking about those troubles.

In 3:17, it says, "And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory."    Being transformed into His image.  That's His goal for us, and what a goal it is.  Alright then, I think.  Bring it on, however you will, Father. Whatever it takes, as I've said before.  Really.  Whatever it takes to make me reflect you, whatever it takes to make me transformed into the Image of your Son, the image I was actually created in.  Be ruthless with me, I pray sometimes.  Not for me is Him being gentle and easy with me--I want whatever it takes to make my life more Christ than me.

And Paul is pretty clear that what it takes is equal parts His power and our human difficulties, according to 4: 7, "We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." The end of the chapter tells us that our afflictions produce 'an eternal weight of glory that far outweighs them all.'  These words radiate power for me.  They help pull me out of bed when I'm feeling that 'run over by a mac truck' pain day after day.  And eternal weight of Glory.  I WANT this.  I am every bit this hungry, covetous, needy.  I want everything He offers.

And then in chapter 6 there is a tremendous passage where Paul actually lists those things that help achieve that eternal glory.  Paul commends himself to the Corinthians with a list of 37 things.  When I listed them this morning I discovered that exactly half are 'troubles'--things like beatings, imprisonments, hunger, sleepless nights, being regarded as imposters, having nothing.  When I read through it, I realized that though most of us don't experience those severe hardships, there is something for every one of us on that list--troubles, hardships, distresses, to quote him.  And as those things are worked into our lives, as the Holy Spirit works His eternal glory into us through them, we also learn the other half of the list: Purity, understanding, patience, kindness, sincere love.  

Light and momentary afflictions.  I dwell with them.  Learn to trust them to do the work that a mere healthy body and easy road cannot do for me.  For others, there are different kinds of hardships, but these are mine.  And I rejoice in them.  Because here's the bottom line:  My utter weakness reveals the all-surpassing and total power of God.  It's worth it, every bit of pain, every hard step. Bring it on, I say to this diseased world.  Bring it on, I say to Satan who wants my weakness to be my undoing. There's purpose here, there's eternal glory at stake. So bring it on, and Father, glorify yourself in my life.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Computer

A quick post this morning.  When we got home from the Portland area Sunday night, my AC adaptor was waiting for me.  Thrilled to be back up and running, I plugged it in and discovered that in our absence (or maybe even in the few days while it was sitting idle) my computer must have been stepped on.  The screen had a large crack all the way through it, with a black blob obscuring a significant part of the screen.  I think I screamed.  I know I cried.  Then I cried some more when we determined that it would be prohibitively expensive to replace the screen.  The only appalling solution was to buy a new laptop for me.

So last night the Beve and E came in from mowing and said they'd found a great buy.  Leave it to the Beve to be shopping while I thought he was mowing.  Two days ago, they walked in carrying a new set of sheets.  That's how it works with the Beve--he's a little distractable!  Anyway, I pulled myself out of my stupor, put on some shorts while they checked on Consumer Reports for this particular model, and when it turned out to be a CR 'Best Buy', we ran down the hill and plopped down our money.  You know, all those extra hundred dollars we have lying around in case a computer gets stepped on.  It's the same endless supply of money we have for car repairs, cell phones that go out--things like that.  It's always something when you own a home, car, life so that money better be endless, right?  If only.

Anyway, now I'm sitting back in my usual spot, drinking my tea and learning the ropes of this new machine.  I barely felt like I understood the last one.  I liked it, the old model, I wasn't ready to heave it into the great pile of used computers that clog up some great unknown landfill...
This is my fourth laptop--er, notebook.  I got the first one back in 1997 when I was contemplating going to grad school.  My dad helped pay for that one, as his way of encouraging me that my path was one he approved of.  I hated to see that computer die, even though it was as heavy as a large boulder, and cumbersome to carry in my satchel up and down the long hill from car to school in Vancouver, BC.  It served its purpose, though, and helped me get my Masters' degree from Regent College.

And now, three removed from that dinosaur, I'm ready to move my files, help this become personal, and get back to work.  But first I have to call and add accidental insurance on it--I'm not taking any chances this time.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A slideshow

During the wedding reception Saturday, the bride's sister, for her toast, had set up a slideshow.  She said it was memories from the past, present and hope for the future.  In the past few years most of the weddings Beve and I have been to have had similar kinds of slide shows, complete with music people can hum (or in SK's case, sing harmony to). People watch and say 'aww' at the photos of the babies, laugh at the silly ones, and get a sense of who these people are.  I like these power point shows, I like learning about the people who are so earnestly pledging their lives to each other.

But the show on Saturday was different.  Yes, it had baby pictures, pictures with siblings, pictures of childhood activities and teenaged friends.  But these pictures were all of the bride.  The only time the groom showed up in the 15 minutes worth of photographs, was when he actually showed up in her chronology--about a year ago.
Now, as always, I loved what I learned about the bride.  I saw what a great fit she is for my nephew, at least in terms of activities.  Does she golf? Check.  Ski?  Double check.  Like athletic pursuits of all kinds? Again, she's good to go.  Sure, this is a superficial way to determine compatibility, but I'm here to tell you, liking the same kinds of things definitely helps, especially since they're certain to discover how different they really are beneath the skin once they're back from the honeymoon, trying to fit all their clothes into the same closet and all their very selves into the same space for 'as long as you both shall live.'

But to be honest, I spent much of that slideshow waiting for pictures of my nephew.  Watching for a glimpse of the little blond boy I remember, the soccer-kicking, baseball-hitting, golfing fiend.  The one who grew up to be kind, open and desiring to please God in his inimitable easy-going, don't-make-waves way.  All of his family was watching for him, I think.  Finally, when I was growing restless and antsy because there'd only been about half a dozen pictures of him in the whole batch, I glanced over at him.  And he was grinning at the screen.  Entranced by the images, one after another, of his bride.  He could have sat there all day.

The whole thing gave me pause, though.  As I stood watching for a glimpse of my nephew in the long history of the bride's life, I imagined a slide show of my own life playing.  How many images of of the Bridegroom would there be?  Where does He engage with my history to make His presence the central picture the world sees?  Is He visible at all?  Or are my words merely words, without ever becoming technicolor (or whatever it is now) in the life I actually live?  I think there are moments when He's in the corner of my portraits, and sometimes when He's standing beside me, and every now and then, when I've really taken the Kingdom seriously, let the cross have its way with me, He is the Only Person in the picture.  There are such moments in my life--but not often enough.  And probably those moments aren't even the ones I think they are.  I mean, maybe I think He's front and center in the picture when I'm giving a sermon, or writing devotionals for a retreat, something 'overtly' Kingdom-coming.  But maybe it's those times when I'm least conscious of what I'm doing, when a friend asks me to pray with them, and there He is between us and I didn't even think about it--maybe it's then that He's the only One in the picture.
But my heart's cry is to find Him more.  And to have my neighbors (near and far), when they watch my life, see only Him.

By the way, I have a feeling, that like my nephew, when God watches our slideshows, He gazes with adoration at our faces.  He is, after all, the Bridegroom, and in love with us.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A new name

There's a moment at the end of every wedding ceremony where the couple turns around and the minister says, "It's my pleasure to introduce Mr. and Mrs. Jamal Jones." Or "Jamal and Ginger Jones." It's the couple's first acknowledgment of being one, having the same name, being together in this life from now on.  Beve and I always bet on whether they'll go with the Mrs. Jamal or give her first name. To tell the truth, I've never liked being called Mrs. the Beve (or his actual name, even) W.  I grew up with the Beve, of course.  Mrs. W meant one person to me in my childhood--Beve's very tall (6'1"), stately, somewhat intimidating mother, who didn't have to speak loudly to get her point (and she definitely had one!) across.  No, I couldn't imagine myself filling those shoes, even if my feet had been large enough (which would have looked pretty dang funny at the bottom of this stubby 5'5" person!).  And though we share the same last name, the Beve and me, I'm not Mrs. the Beve any more than he's Mr. me. The truth is somewhere between, where we share this name we took on that long ago May afternoon.  I'm not submerged in his name, but walk with him, beside him.  Sure, sometimes, he overwhelms me--his 14 inches on me can be pretty large, especially when he's blocking the way at the kitchen sink.  On the other hand, those 14 inches come in mighty handy when it comes to changing overhead lightbulbs and reaching things in the far reaches of the top shelves.  You know, for the Beve, the top of the refrigerator has always been like a shelf.  For years it was where he stuck his wallet and keys.  I can't come close to seeing that surface, let alone think to put my wallet up there, but it's about eye level to him.  And the towel racks and windows we put in our new bathroom are so high (not to mention the shower head that the short plumber could hardly believe I was serious about!) that I have to stand on tiptoe to reach them.  Hmm, guess I'm only a W by name when it comes to that.   But then again, you should see him try to get something off the bottom shelves, out of bottom drawers. And though I've digressed here, in the end, our name together is what we've made of it for the last quarter of a century.  A partnership.

The point is, most people--though not every one--walk out of their weddings with a new name. Even if one is a man and hasn't had to go down to the courthouse to change it, having someone suddenly, in the space of a kiss, take on the one he's carried around all his life slightly heavier, more important.  Two of us under its covering, rather than just one.  And for a woman, even if she's been practicing for months (years?) to write the new one, there's still a certain hitch in the signature for the first little while, as the thrill runs from the heart to the pen.  'I am no longer who I was, I am now someone completely new--different.  Part of something bigger than myself.'

I'm reading 2 Chronicles right now, and came to this in 7:14--"If my people, who are called by my Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn away from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and I will forgive their sins and heal their land."  

Being called by His Name--that's what we are, isn't it?  The people of God with His covenant were, but we who are believers actually bear the Name of the Incarnate.  Christ--one.  A little Christ.  That's what we are.  The moment we say yes to Him, we are 'kissed' by the Holy Spirit, spun around and begin our new life with a new identity, never to be the same again.

Sometimes we get caught up in all the differences in what each of us believe--and we label ourselves by those differences.  Denominations, ways of responding.  Charismatic, evangelical, conservative, fundamentalist, presbyterian, anglican, the list could go on interminably.  But if I confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead, I will be saved.  That's it. And everyone, according to the text of Romans 10: 9-10 who believes and confesses likewise is also saved.  We're all in this together--we all share the same Name.  If you think about it, we're all married to the same Groom.  Aren't we?  Together.
A people for His name--holy and beloved.  Christian.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Prelude

Every family is weird, of course. And ours is no exception.  We can walk into a place and take it over, because we aren't what you'd call 'shrinking violets'.  We dropped our bags in my friends' house, took it over this week-end--all 15 of us!  We walked into the foyer of that wedding chapel, and took it over--all 15 of us.  Dressed up in kilts (again!), fancy dresses, spit-shined and polished, we were ready to celebrate, wish the groom (one of us) and bride (about to pledge her troth to become one of us) well, and just plain make a grand old day of it. A day none of us would forget.  We'd all come a long way for it--from Boston, Southern California, Eastern Washington and up the I-5 corridor.  So we put on our party togs, and there we were: three rows strong, bearing witness to this holy moment.

It was a beautiful day--beautiful outside, beautiful within. A lovely bride, a handsome groom, a crowd of loved ones celebrating the two-becoming-one who'd been waiting for this day almost since the day they met, I think.  Amazing how that can happen, how people can know so instantly, as they did a year ago.  We didn't have much time with them--but then, they barely had eyes for anyone but each other, I think. And we were with our people, and it was all very good.

I have a feeling even if the other folks at that wedding didn't know us, they'll remember we were there.  And, as the Beve would say, "All without alcohol!"  We just know how to enjoy ourselves.  Soccer jerseys on all ten cousins to honor the groom who's played since he was walking, making go-tunnels through which all comers had to walk through (whether they wanted to or not...poor things) Taking pictures, laughing at inside jokes, catching up.  It was a great day. 

But I was reminded by my nephew, the groom's older (married) brother and best man, of how weddings are just the prelude.  A bride dresses up, looks gorgeous, the groom amazing and everything is perfect...but it's just one day. It might have been a big deal to get to this day--pretty stressful, nerve-wracking, maybe the biggest risk one takes, to pledge to love this one person, to be committed to this one person forever.  K made the toast at the reception, and challenged his brother and new wife to take the same kind of risk every day in their marriage that they were taking that day, to continue to risk themselves to love more, reveal more, grow more every day of their marriage.  They were good words, not just for the bride and groom, but for all of us.  Take off our wedding garb, put away the finery--then start risking!  That's when the true work begins.  The wedding, as beautiful as it is, is only prelude in a long marriage.

Kind of like life on earth...only prelude.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ten thousand places

The family heads south tomorrow.  And west and north, depending on the starting point.  Converging for another family wedding.  My nephew's.  And all my parents' children, all their grandchildren will be in attendence.  That's quite a feat in this busy world.  When I found out the location of the nuptials, I called an old friend to ask if we could crash at their house.  I wrote about that phone call--the one where I ended up talking to a different old friend unexpectedly.  Anyway, Mandy and Scott have been our friends since E and their daughter were infants--three weeks and three months old, respectively.  We learned the ropes of parenting together, pulled our hair out when our babies wouldn't sleep through the night, when they were teething, talking, potty-training, and teening.  Yep, we've about done it all with them, even though, for most of our friendship we haven't lived in the same state.

But we're the kind of friends who can call up and say we're passing through and five minutes later, there'll be be beds ready for us. And they know we'll pull out a bunk for them any time as well.  We've taken advantage of this in the best possible way over the years. I'm deeply thankful for that.  Though I really love them, these friends of ours are as different from us as lemon is from chocolate (my favorite flavor and the Beve's--just in case you were wondering).  Our friendship was born in a common experience twenty-four years ago, forged in education and living, but not common faith.  To give them as much credit as I can, I would call Mandy an agnostic--maybe.  Scott is the disenchanted son of lifelong African missionaries who was sent away to boarding school at 5, suffering from homesickness then the greater loss of his mother in his teens. There's pain associated with faith for him.  For all this, they are good people who love each other, their children and the world.  They really do love the inhabitants of the earth, and the earth itself.  Sometimes I've wondered what motivates such great passion in them, in others like them.  Don't you ever wonder how people behave ethically, respond in justice, live with eternal values when eternity isn't in their eyes?

A couple of days ago, Mandy called me up to settle when we were coming tomorrow, then said, "We have plenty of beds, you know.  Your whole family can stay here." 
I was shocked into silence for a moment.  "Seriously?" I finally asked. "That could be up to 14 people."
"That's fine," she answered.  "Our kids are all gone for the week.  We'll change all the beds, and make breakfast for you, then Scott and I will get out of your hair."
"Are you sure?  It would be really fun for us, but it's a lot.  Other people's families can be pretty wierd."
"I like wierd," she said.  "I mean it."
"Okay," I told her. 
Then she called back three times to tell me they have pillows, pads, not to forget our swimming suits for their hot tub. 

My sisters were overwhelmed with the kindness of it.  I told them that this is who they are.  They practice hospitality, and love a party. Mandy is honest to a fault and wouldn't ask if she didn't mean it, and will lavish us with grace. 

I've known others like her, others who don't know Chirist but whom Christ works through.  Have you met them?  Or do you think Him so small that He only works through those who call Him Lord?  Not me.  I have sat down in too many places with too many people who have extended grace to me and others.  That grace cannot be extended, that love cannot be shown where He is not.  I know Who Love is.  Even though I can imagine how much more lavish that hospitality might be if she/ they did know Christ themselves, doesn't diminish that He lives and breathes and moves in their unknowing service.

One of my favorite poems speaks of this. It's by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
'As kingfishers catchfire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that which being indoors each one dwells:
Selves--goes itself;  myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eyes what in God's eye he is--
Christ--for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

Read that second stanza again--and again and again.  And look around and tell me, don't you see Him everywhere you look? Lovely in limbs and lovely in eyes not His...the lovely limbs of the friends who helped paint our house this afternoon.  The lovely voice of my excited daughter on the other end of the phone.  The lovely eyes of my Beve, tired at the end of the day.  And our friends offering hospitality to a family not their own-- To the Father through the features of these very human faces.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Computers and stuff

I'm sitting at the desk in our family room, in front of the desktop computer.  My notebook is temporarily dead.  At least the AC adaptor is.  And let me tell you, it has been an exercise in futility trying to get someone at Toshiba to help me with the problem.  Let me say upfront that I am not a techno-nerd of any sort--not even close. But I'm smart enough to know that when the plug-in thingy makes a high-pitched whirr sound, but actually doesn't show up on the icon on my screen as being plugged in that there's a problem.  But this is the second AC adaptor I've bought since February, so this one is still under warranty...so I should be able to get someone to help me, right?  Someone on this continent, I mean.  But apparently not.  I did get four different 800 numbers, gave out my model number four different times, my name (which was immediately mispronounced as Willie!) the same number, but every time was told to call someone else.  And all the while, my computer, which is my lifeline and livelihood, was dying.  And is now dead until the umbilical cord of power can be replaced.  And I'm stuck sitting at this desk, in a chair that isn't very comfortable, fingering keys that aren't as comfortable as mine...

I'm a creature of habit when it comes to writing.  I like things to be just so.  I like my computer, my seat, my entire environment to be exactly the same every single day.  Many writers are like me.  We line up our colored pens in exactly the same order (seriously I do this) get everything set just so and just so...and that gets thrown off, it throws everything off.

And I'm telling you right now, I'm out of sorts and those disembodied voices at the other end of the phone line don't help a whit.  Humorless, compassionless, robotlike. And in India.  India, of all places.  It's nuts.  I just need one live human being down the street to help me get one little cord to plug into the wall and make my computer work. Why on earth do I dial the phone and end up talking to someone half way around the world who should be sound asleep anyway?  Why has life gotten this complicated?  Have you ever called and had to use those voice activated systems?  Sometimes they actually make me start laughing hysterically.  "I"m sorry, I didn't understand you," the computer says, about eighty % of the time, I swear.  It drives me crazy. 

So after about 4 hours of this, I gave up today.  I'll try again tomorrow.  Or maybe I'll get one of my children--who are far more comfortable navigating this world than I am--to help me. 

I'm much better at sitting in my chair and praying.  Or just writing with my colored pens and journal.  Sometimes this world we live in seems too complicated to me. 

Sunday, September 7, 2008

The mercy rule

My favorite sports season started yesterday. Yes, that's right, I love football!  So I plopped down in front of the TV to watch my favorite college team take on one of its Pac-10 opponents and, within the first two minutes, my poor, beleagured Cougars were down by two touchdowns, and on their way to a 66-3 scalping.  It was a terrible afternoon on the Palouse.  Beautiful blue skies, a crowd of crimson ready to cheer and nothing--nothing!--to cheer about. Before halftime, the score was 42-3.  Halftime!  Yep, it was quite the rout.  I was glad to be home where I could turn the channel to other games (my family doesn't call me a fair weather fan for nothing!).

I kept thinking about little league games where the mercy rule is put into effect so scores can't be run up so high.  After ten runs, I think it is, in little league baseball, the game is called, and the kids go out for ice-cream.  It keeps little ones from feeling demoralized.  Keeps first year coaches from sleepless nights, spent wondering if they'll survive the year or maybe should just chuck it all and become shoe-salesmen.  Keeps wives, mothers, fans from hiding their heads, gripping their hair, trying to find words of comfort for inconsolable players who feel demoralized. But no such luck for these people trying to find answers in what they did wrong, in their terrible loss; in high school games, college games, pro games there is no such thing as mercy.

When our kids were little, every now and then--not all the time, but every now and then--Beve and I would decide to not punish them for the offense they had committed.  We sat them down in front of us, spoke to them very seriously and then said, "We are going to show you mercy, just the way God does." Not giving them what they deserved. Grace is giving us something we don't deserve, mercy is not giving us something we do.  God gives us both. We wanted them to understand this part of God's character, to experience it just as we experience it--because it's real and changes eternity for all of us.

Only with God is there this amazing mercy.  "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never fail.  They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness."  (Lamentations 3:22-23) His mercy never fails.  This is a powerful word today.  Whatever we're facing, however far behind we feel, God shows mercy.  He doesn't give us the whomping we deserve. He looks at us, and tells us He loves us, He pours compassion on us in the form of Jesus' redemptive work on the cross, and the Holy Spirit's presence in our very lives. Do you feel it? Lean in--really, lean in.  If you don't feel His mercy today, I'll tell you the truth, it's the enemy lying to you. Because whether or not you feel it--God extends it. Take that to the bank.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Consequential moments

Beve was supposed to go to Seattle this morning with a friend, but when he got out of bed, he said, "I feel a little light-headed." A moment later, he practically crashed into his dresser, then sat abruptly on the end of the bed and began sweating profusely, in a complete spin.  I raced to the bathroom for his medication and he curled onto his side.  We've been down this road a time or two, though not for quite a while now (thankfully!).  It's called Meneire's Syndrome, an inner ear condition which affects his left ear, causing constant ringing and severe bouts of vertigo.  It's hard to watch him sweat and and vomit and just plain suffer for hour after hour.  To watch and be unable to do anything to alleviate his suffering. I used to hover, but that doesn't help either one of us.  Now I bring him a bowl, hope the medicine kicks in, stays down, makes him sleep it off.  This morning it worked.  I left him in bed, the dogs sleeping beside him, and went down to the living room to read...and pray for him.

I got my favorite periodical in the mail yesterday (trust me, this does connect).  It's called Books and Culture. It's a quarterly Christian book review.  I look forward to it, read it cover to cover, including every letter, the editor's note, and all advertisements, which are for Christian universities, seminars, new publications by Christian publishers, and the like.  I especially look for the ad for my alma mater, Regent College, just to see what's going on up there this quarter (The Living Lecture Series on October 8 & 9 with Walter Bruggeman called "The Church in Joyous Obedience."  Sounds like a great event).  So I made my way through it this morning, with half an ear open for Beve's voice.  One of the first reviews was for a book called Culture Making by Andy Crouch, which will immediately go on my list.  E was sitting in the living room with me, trying to read her own book, but I kept interrupting her to read from this review.  I won't try to recount the review here, but in the middle was a line I simply have to quote (which is a quote from the book and unfortunately I don't have the page number, sorry to say):
"The strangest and most wonderful paradox of the biblical story is that its most consequential moment is not an action but a passion--not a doing but a suffering."

All the work, the action of Jesus led up to the suffering of the cross.  And that's exactly the opposite of how we think about our own lives. Isn't it?  We look at doing as the most important thing about ourselves--what defines us, what we're called to.  And we look at suffering as suffering as what we endure, what we get through in order to do what we're called to do. But maybe we have it wrong.  Maybe our suffering is the most important thing we ever do, the way in which we are most like Christ.  It isn't that His public ministry wasn't important, of course.  And certainly our work--our doing--is.  But our suffering--Beve's lying on his ringing ear, staring at a fixed point on the wall, for example--aren't blips and bumps but consequential moments where the passion and suffering of the cross is worked out in us.

And if that's true, then we should really, as James says, "Count it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith producese perseverance." 
After all, "Blessed are those who persevere under trial, because when they have stood the test, they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him."

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Drowning babies

Half a dozen years ago or more, in one of my ubiquitous reading-becomes-fixations phases, I read every book Jane Goodall ever wrote about chimpanzees, living at Gombe, and her work.  They're fascinating creatures, chimps are--even in the wild, they use tools (grass reeds which help them pick up ants to eat), they live in both family groups and a larger community.  But there's a hierarchy--certainly a survival of the fittest mentality among them.  A weak, sick, dying chimp is not cared for by the group.  One chimp I read about who was strickened with polio and paralyzed from the waist down, was set completely apart.  Others in the community would come close enough to smell him, but ignored his most basic needs, like water and food.  He lived and died in isolation.
 
So I started reading about gorillas, orangutans, monkeys.  Like I say, once I get started, I have a tendency to go overboard.  And among my reading I came across an article in Smithsonian magazine called, "Monkey Wrench," which has the supheading, "An American couple's ingenious research challenges the popular notion that baboons and other monkeys are almost human."  In the article are these two paragraphs, which I'll quote verbatim:
"What's even more shocking, since social intelligence is their specialty, is how little the baboons seemed to know about one another's minds.  One morning, after a languid session of sundbathing at the Termite Mound Spa, the troop moved off in a desultory fashion.  As they speread out through the woods and randomly foraged, baboons on one side or the other gave 'contact' or 'lost' calls.  For humans, it was natural to assume that the baboons were exchanging barks as a way of signaling, 'Hey, I'm over here. Where are you?'
But when Cheney and Seyfarth tested this idea using playbacks, the baboons almost never barked in reply--unless they happened to be lost themselves.  It was as if the monkeys did not realize they could use vocalizations to inform or influence the beliefs of their fellow monekys.  They barked not to say, 'Hey, we're over this way,' but merely to lament their own sorry state of being lost.  And it only worked as a contact call because, in the course of any move, several baboons on different sides of the troop tended to announce that they were lost at the same time.
Cheney and Seyfarth have gradually come to the conclusion that monkeys don't actually recognize that other monkeys have minds.  They feel grief themselves, for instance, but almost never comfort other monkeys who happen to be grieving.  They do not seem to be able to put themselves in another monkey's place.  Sylvia (a monkey), for instance, once made a long water crossing with her baby clinging to her belly.  Since Sylvia herself could breathe, it did not dawn on her that her submerged baby couldn't, and as a result, it drowned at her breast." (Oct. 2001, p. 102)

This article came back to mind recently, especially the horrifying story of the mama monkey allowing her baby to drown, simply because she didn't recognize its separate-from-her needs.  There have been many times in my life as a mom (which my kids will confirm) when I've looked at my child and said, "I'm cold, go put on a sweater."  Literally, I've said that sentence.  Or when I'm having a hot flash, look over at them in a sweatshirt and say, "How can you stand to wear that?"  Projecting my needs--my body temperature!--on them.  And I've often wanted them to do, say, be, perform something for me.  Trotting them out like they were little extensions of me.  This is not, as Jane Austen might say, well done of me.  Because I'm not a monkey.  I've been made in the image of God to know, think, discern the difference between my needs and the needs of my children--and to know when my needs get in the way of theirs.  The minute they were put in my arms, I instinctively wrapped my arms and heart around them, and, without having to stand in front a single witness but God, made the commitment to put them first.

I don't know if you're following where I'm going but the truth is, I'm concerned by the idea that it's legitimate to consider children a gift from God, to believe wholly that they have the right to life, but once alive, to simply see them as appendages to our lives.  The vice presidential candidate for the republican party has spoken plainly that she believes in the right of every child to be born, that they are gifts from God.  She sees her own youngest son as that, as unexpected and special as he is. In his birth email to her state, she made it clear what an unfathomably blessing he was for their lives.

But then she went back to work three days after his birth. And is on the campaign trail when he's only  five months old.  This child, who will be more needy than most needy children, hasn't been put first, as far as I can tell. This worries me. What this child, this amazing, purposeful gift from God, needs  is his parents--his mother!--in the first years of his life.  In fact, to tell you the truth, I don't quite know when they stop needing us.  And I'm absolutely not implying that it's impossible to work and be a mom--trust me, I'm not saying that.  It's just that somehow, the picture I see of her holding him reminds me a little of that mother monkey crossing the water, his head pressed to the belly of her ambition and drive.  It isn't that she doesn't feel him next to her, it's that she doesn't recognize his need as separate from her own.

I wouldn't dare to point this finger without also admitting my own struggle.  Asking us all to consider how we listen to and care for those around us.  Are we so busy calling out our needs that we don't answer theirs?  Are we pressing our children to us, carting them after us as we live our lives? I'm just saying, let's try not to drown our babies.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

A peek

We've exchanged one daughter for the other here--not that they're interchangable by any means. In fact, I notice the differences a whole lot more when they aren't home at the same time. It's easy to tell, for example, that E's lived on her own for the last several years. There's just an air of adulthood about her. Oh wait a minute, I think our oldest child had that same air when she was four years old, trying to outdo me for 'mother-of-the-year' with her two younger siblings. She's just always been mature. And SK, who is catching up, even as we speak, is, of course, the baby. And has loved it.

SK's back in Spokane, enjoying 'Camp Whitworth,' which seems to run the week before University classes start each fall. Her rather breathless conversations involve all sorts of activities, who she's seen, what crazy thing she's in the middle of doing. Not for her is rolling in at midnight the last night of summer, just in time to unpack one bag, pull out a notebook and stumble to class. She's back with her people, and wants to suck the marrow out of the bone of that fun before she has to crack a book.

Actually, the reason she had to be on campus early is that she's on the worship team for the student-led worship service on campus for the year. One of the student leaders of the team is a young woman whose last name I recognized right away. Her uncle was my closest friend in high school and beyond (see my post from May 5). And because of that, I knew her father very well too. I even knew her mother from working at a job after college. Yeah, plenty of connections to Katherine's family. But though I've seen Katherine's uncle myriad times over the years, I haven't seen her father since right after his wedding. So after SK told Katherine I knew her dad/family, she asked her father whether he remembered me. He told her that not only did he remember me, but that I'd been instrumental in his becoming a Christian and growing as a believer. Wow, I thought, when SK told me. I remember plenty of conversations with Alan, but had no idea.

But then that's the case most of the time, isn't it? If we're living our lives for Christ, intent on 'pleasing Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strenghtened with all power according to His glorious might...and giving thanks to the Father..." (Colossians 1: 10- 12), then we won't be looking around to see if we are making a difference. We hear--shoot, I say--all the time, "It's not about me, it's all about you, Lord." And sometimes I get tired of these words that sound so overused, except that they're true. What we do--even in ministry, even for the Kingdom--is not about us, not about earning honor, glory, hearing praises ring in our names. It's a wonderful, deeply satisfying feeling to know that Alan's life was impacted by the Holy Spirit in me, and that now he has a daughter whose life is also bent on following Christ. It's a thrill to get a peek into eternity and see what God has done when I wasn't looking, even through me. And I thank God for the privilege of being His servant in those moments that touched a life that touched a life to make this family belong to Him (if that makes sense). I rejoice, thank God and really, really love hearing this.

And I've had the opportunity to speak at retreats--and I relish every chance I get. There have been responses from women that I cherish, precious times that have touched all of us, that I've felt awed to have been part. But I leave those retreats and must retreat, to tell the truth, because those responses can become quite dangerous. I get easily swept up in them--begin to think I'm something. I come home and settle back into my life and, unless I return them to Him, my life could become claustrophobic, too small for who I think I am, for what I believe I can do for the Kingdom. But there are too many 'I's in that sentence, and none of Him.

Use me as You will, Lord. Show me how to be faithful, obedient in this life I live, not in the glorious, famous life I imagine I could have--even for you, whatever that involves. Retreats/ speaking, sometimes; writing, often; but mostly, just alone in my room, praying. This is the right-sized life for one like me, hidden and small. Doing what He asks, learning not to look in the mirror as it's done.

A peek in the window of someone's life--far down the road--that's treasure enough.