Thursday, October 30, 2008

Ask Me what you will

A couple nights ago, after 11pm, SK called me.  She's on the worship team for the student-led worship at Whitworth University, and it had been a surprisingly emotional night for her.  As one student prayed, SK began to cry.  Her tears came because she was struck with the realization that Jesus had died for her--for HER--and she couldn't even relinquish control of her life to Him.  The truth of His sacrifice and her ungratefulness, her inability to focus on Him hit her squarely between the eyes.  It was a brand new experience, to be so overwhelmed by His great gift to her, to feel His presence in this way. And it shook her a little that she would cry so hard (and still be wiping her nose on her sleeve when she had to get up and sing the closing choruses).  So she called me.

And I was actually thrilled about her experience.  I've sat where she did that night.  For an entire year, a couple of years ago, every time I heard the name of Jesus in a worship service, tears sprang to my eyes.  There is something about His name, I came to see. It was both beautiful and slightly unnerving to experience that. And I think most of the time, a supernatural sense of Him comes with tears.  I don't exactly know why this is--maybe because an awareness of His presence also leads us to sense our own sinfulness. But for that whole year, I lived in the presence of God in a new way, was more focused on Him, more aware of Him than I'd been before or have been since.  It was a grace--a gift. And I think, in SK's tears, there was an implied question--"How much do you want me? Ask me what you will, and I will do it..."

The truth is, such moments--such favor from Him--don't seem to last and not because He changes. Life gets in the way.  Shoot, I get in the way, more often than not.  But I hunger for that kind of living with Him, that awareness of Him.

Last night, while reading Brother Lawrence, the profound monk from the 17th century who wrote The Practice of the Presence of God, I was struck again by his simple desire--to always concentrate on God's presence in His life and to "drive away from [his] mind everything that was capable of interrupting [his] thought of God." Just that, no more and no less.  No matter what he did, he was also constantly in conversation with the Lord.  Washing dishes in the abbey's kitchen--do so with God.  Cutting vegetables for soup? Ask God to be real in the chopping.  No task was too menial for Brother Lawrence because, for him, everything had the scent of God, was a chance to glorify Him.
This was his desire, his sole aim: "To become wholly God's... to give my all for God's all."

It got me to thinking about what I want most from God.  One way or another, I believe God asks each one of us this question: "What do you want me to do for you?"  Of course, He's already done everything, when you think about it.  Our salvation at the cost of Jesus' life is the only real thing, isn't it?  What else is there? If He never did anything else for you, what He did on the cross is enough--as I think SK realized for at least a moment the other night (this we have to learn again and again).  Yet, I think He wants to do more for us, just as we long to do for our beloved children.  So I got to thinking about what I'd say if He asked me.  The truth is, not once but several times in the course of my life with Christ, I've felt the whispered question, "What do you desire? Ask me what you will, and I will do it."  God asked Solomon this, and Solomon asked Him for wisdom with which to judge the people. 

What I want is what Lawrence had.  In Exodus 33, Moses has a conversation with a heavenly being; his words are the cry of my heart, "If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you...If Your presence doesn't go with us, do not send us up from here." And this is also my desire: If His presence doesn't go with me, I don't want to go.  I don't want to get out of this chair, take a step into my day.  I want to know Him--simply to know Him more and more and more.  Everything else--or nothing else!--comes after that, and is His pleasure to give.  Does this make sense?

Like a verse in my favorite hymn "Be thou my vision"--
"Riches I heed not nor man's empty praise;
 Thou mine inheritance, now and always.
Thou and thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my treasure thou art."

So what do you want from Him?  What is the deep desire of your heart? Think about it--He wants to give to you.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The death of a saint

Yesterday was the memorial service of an old friend.  She's been battling cancer for years, and finally let go of her ravaged body and this old earth last Friday.  One of her daughters has been keeping us in the loop for the last week, so I've been thinking about her a lot.  And thinking of her five daughters, three grandchildren, husband, parents, siblings and especially her youngest sister, Karen, who was my college roommate.  I've known the whole family a very long time.  In fact, after my own family, I send more Christmas cards to the Barnes family than any other.  I've been in relationship with one or more of the them since I was twenty years old, and have even had Joanne's niece and nephew live with us (separately) for a season over the years.

Joanne I met many years ago, when Karen and I drove down to the family home in San Jose for spring break my first year at college in Eugene.  Joanne was also staying with her parents while her husband was away...serving a year-long prison sentence, actually.  Joanne had two daughters then, dark-haired four-year-old Ginny and the bright-red-haired baby Aimee, who was absolutely adorable!  I enjoyed Joanne, her calmness, her great sense of humor, her quiet love of Christ. Her certainty that God was in this trouble she had, that He would redeem it, somehow.  I was instantly awed by that faith, that love of Christ.

Then years later, when the Beve and I moved our family to Sequim, there was Joanne and her now larger family, going to the church we chose, living next door to her parents, who had retired there.  By then Joanne had five girls and the youngest two were the same ages as E and SK, so we had an instant connection.  Joanne invited me to a women's Bible Study she was starting on Wednesday mornings, which we quickly named "WOW" or Women on Wednesdays.  For the next five years, we met weekly through the school year to study and pray.  Joanne played worship choruses on the piano (until a real pianist joined our group), plunking out simple melodies while we praised.  Our children--E started Kindergarten that fall, and the other two were younger--were cared for in the nursery(well, when they weren't causing havoc around the building--there was the time when one of them climbed up the cement fountain in the church's courtyard, and broke it! Like every other mom in the room, I was sure it was one of my children who'd done it--J, to be exact--but fortunately it wasn't!). And we spent the morning together, discovering what God might have to say through our communal prayers, and our deep desires in knowing Him through His word.  Joanne was the defacto leader of our group in the early years.  She had older children, she had a sense of God's presence, she was absolutely in love with Jesus.  And it was all very appealing, contagious.  We sat around the table with God and Joanne, and soaked up what she had to teach us. 

A couple years later, I asked Joanne's mom, Ruth, if she'd disciple me, so another morning a week I went to their geodesic dome house where Joanne joined us in more directed prayer.  Those were sweet hours, listening to the wisdom of such Godly women.  I felt blessed to be with them, and humbled by both Ruth's and Joanne's deep, honest praying.  It taught me a lot about how to approach the throne of grace confidently--without religious words or mere platitudes.  I was changed by those hours sitting in the dome's large living room, just as I was around the table with Joanne at church.

Joanne didn't have an easy life, nor an easy marriage.  But no matter what struggle she faced, she never seemed to lose her calm certainty of God's provision and real presence in her life.  It was often a struggle for me to understand how she could maintain such equilibrium in the face of difficulties which would surely destroy me, but she was a witness to me of God's faithfulness in whatever fire slammed through her life.
I remember driving somewhere with her, and her confiding that she'd been told she would probably get breast cancer, given what she was already dealing with.  It surprised me how nonchalant she seemed about it, how unafraid she was to face cancer, and even death. 
Soon after that she moved away, and by the time she moved back to Sequim, the Beve and I were pulling up stakes and moving across the sound to where we now live.  I saw her a few times after that, but we were always rushing out of church to see Beve's dad, or she was on her way somewhere.

The last time I saw Joanne was at the wedding of her nephew, about two years ago.  By then, she'd been living with cancer for several years, and wasn't recognizable to me because steroids and other drugs she was on had ballooned her slight frame.  Karen got up from where we'd been visiting, walked over to a rather large woman, and hugged her.  After the woman left the reception, Karen sat back down, and told me it was Joanne.  I would have walked past her on the street.  And didn't have a chance to speak to her. 

I'm feeling sad about that today.  I was sad yesterday when I realized it wasn't practical for me to try to get to the memorial service.  But I know what that service was about.  I know what was said.  Joanne had gone home, was receiving a hero's welcome within the gates of heaven.  The father knows her name, knows her heart, and was glad to have her home.  And I know that, for all the sadness of that loss--for Ginny, Aimee, Ruthie, Brooke and Brittany, for Manuel, her husband who she remained faithful to for so many years, for her parents, Ruth and Bob, her siblings, especially Karen--there was also a true sense of celebration.  "Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints," says the Psalmist, and Joanne was absolutely one of His saints.  Her witness, her story, is as complicated as anyone's, but never did she falter, never was she anything but in love with Christ.  Even in the bleakest moments, she held on (sometimes by her fingernails!), and I know He's honoring that now.  I know there are balloons (metaphorically) and cake and homemade icecream at the party going on in heaven, celebrating a life well-lived, a life honoring Him.

I'm sorry not to have been in that company yesterday, but not sad for Joanne.  For her, she finally is where she's longed to be--face to face with her Beloved.  Hallelujah!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Swimming

Do you remember learning to swim?  I do.  Not the first day in the water, but the Saturday mornings I spent at Bohler Gym, struggling to learn new strokes, tread water for 10 minutes, dive off the side of the pool and then the diving board.  I passed junior lifesaving when I was too young to be certified, and senior lifesaving a couple years later. I was a good swimmer, though not an athlete, and swimming was my 'sport' in those days. In junior high I began synchronized swimming, after an instructor told me it would be a shame to destroy my pretty breast stroke by racing.  I loved synchronized swimming (though I really loathe the over-the-top makeup and costumes now seen in the Olympics. There was something about all those tricks and flips in the water--feet pointed straight in the air while upside-down--that really appealed to me.  Even now when I get in the water, I love to practice them, though a chubby 50-year-old really has no business sticking her bum in the air! In college, I got my WSI (Water Safety Instructor) and began working as a lifeguard and swimming instructor.  Holding slick little bodies, I helped them get over fear, put their heads in the water, swim back to the wall from an increasing distance. Yep, I've been a water person all my life--it's my natural habitat, I've sometimes thought, just as the basketball court is the Beve's.

Most of my swimming experience was in pools where I could open my eyes and watch where I was going.  But in the summers, at our family's cabin on Whidbey Island, I swam in Deer Lake--and always kept my eyes firmly shut.  At Girl Scout and Campfire Girls Camp, I also swam in lakes, once even across the large bay of Cour de 'Alene Lake. The Beve doesn't like lake swimming at all.  He has an irrational fear of something lurking in the depths, something that might reach out and bite him.  (We all have irrational fears--I'm terrified of high, windy mountain roads--though I don't usually admit that fear is anything but a natural consequence of a scary situation!).  But I'll swim anywhere, any way.  Even when the water's frigid, full of waves and salt.

I've been thinking this morning about how the life of a disciple is like learning to swim--particularly in a dark and deep lake.  There's a whole school of thought that one should throw a small child into water and they'll learn to swim--one way or another.  But I don't buy this.  I don't actually believe there are shortcuts to learning how to stay safe and alive in the water.  How to become good at it.  And so it is as a disciple.
"The trouble is is that in the spiritual life there are no tricks and shortcuts."  Thomas Merton

There's no diving into the deep end without learning how to swim to shore.  We have to start at the beginning.  We have to learn to breath.  In fact, I'm not sure there actually is such a thing as being an expert in this life of faith.  We're all Beginners, as those first learning to swim are called.  The thing is, the lake that is God is immeasurably deep--deeper than Crater Lake, which is the deepest lake I know.  God is unfathomably deep, and what we see of Him, get to know of Him will never come close to plummeting those depths. What we can see of Him is far less than what He is. We simply have to swim where we are, learning to be okay with never touching the bottom.  Lean back and float in the lake--the ocean--that is Him, trusting that what we can't see is safe and free from monsters.  In fact, aren't the best treasures beneath the surface?  There's a whole world to see--He's a great lake, the very ocean itself, our God is, and I want to see what there is to see--as far as I can see.  Let me--let us!--learn to open our eyes in the water. 

We can spend all our lives, swimming by faith, and still only be beginners. "We do not want to be beginners.  But let us be convinced of the fact that we'll never be anything else but beginners." Thomas Merton

Learn your strokes, learn how to breath, tread water, then plug your nose and dive in--there aren't monsters, but treasures in the water that is our God.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Home

This was my day yesterday: I left my sister's house at 8:30 am.  Then I had...
A car-ride: 1.5 hours
An airport wait: 1 hour
A wait on a tarmack: 1 hour
A plane trip: 1 hour, 10 minutes
An airport wait: 1 hour
A shuttle bus ride: 2.5 hours
A car ride: 3 minutes
And at 5:35 pm, I finally got home! 
It would have been faster to drive.  But perhaps not nearly as 'fun'!

I'm always so glad to get home at the end of a trip.  Whether I've been gone overnight or away for several weeks, I grow increasingly impatient as I approach our house.  Sure, the dogs will bark, jump at my face(which is a little disconcerting!) but their excitement at having part of their pack home mirrors how I feel.  Yes, there's a stack of mail to go through (our ballots arrived while I was gone, as well as two books I'd ordered from Amazon), and my bag full of dirty laundry has to be unpacked, the wash begun.  There's catching up to do with the Beve (I always miss him a lot, particularly after a grueling week with Mom). But at the end of the evening, there's a bath to be had in my very own bathtub, and my wide bed to fall into!  My own bed.  Ahhh, there's nothing like it.

A couple of days ago, I took Mom on a drive around my hometown.  We drove past all four of our residences (three rentals and one owned), and she remembered something about each one.  At the first one--which I'm pretty sure hasn't been painted since we lived there in 1965--she remembered my little sister going to a babysitter's on the next street over: "That Mrs. Pike saved my life those first few years," she said.  As we turned the corner by the second house, she said, "That was the one that had burned just before we moved in." "Yes!" I told her, surprised she recognized it--it looks a whole lot different to me! There was the house on College hill, once white with red trim, now painted a dull beige, where she remembered having broken her leg while Dad was away at his summer job, and having no one home to help with the kids.  But the house she lived in longest, the one the architect designed especially for our family (the one across the street from where Beve grew up), she looked at quizzically, and wondered why the new owner had added the high windows above the roof. 
"They've always been there," I told her, surprised that this was the house that looked most unfamiliar.
"No," she said, a little sadly. "I'd have noticed them."  That house was home for 32 years.  We moved in before it was completed, living in two bedrooms and the utility room in the basement, while the upstairs living areas were finished.  She doesn't have it firmly in her patchwork brain, but that house is the one I think of when I think of my childhood/youth.  That afternoon we drove past the school where Mom taught for most of her teaching career, past Sloan Hall on campus where Dad had his office for his entire career at WSU.  Past the swimming pools on campus where we took lessons and swam on Friday nights and Sunday afternoons.  Past the church I was raised and married in, where Dad's packed memorial service was held.  Past the high school all Mom's kids, and three of her grandchildren graduated.

Finally, after traversing the town several times, Mom said there was one more place we wanted to go.  So we drove out of town and up the hill to the city cemetary, wound around the gravel road among the tall trees and cement gravestones, and I hoped I'd find the right place.  As a teenager and college student, my friends and I used to go out there late at night, play hide-n-seek among those stones, and I always made them part next to my grandparents' memorial stones set on the ground.  So Mom and drove slowly up the road, and I finally saw the landmark I was looking for.  There's a cube-shaped stone, set up one one corner of the cube, so it looks like a dice ready to spin.  When I saw that, I knew we were close.  We stopped the car, and I began looking for my grandparents plots.  Then, there they were, side-by-side, my 'Chief', as we called Mom's dad, and Grandmom.  I yelled at Mom, and she came over and knelt beside her father's stone, carefully wiping the fallen leaves from its face.  Then she traced the words on her mother's, patting them slowly. I looked out across the fields toward town, thinking it a funny thing that this was the final home for their ashes.  Just their ashes lay there, not their true selves.  They'd long since made the final trip home, Chief in 1972, Grandmom in 1986.  My grandparents looked homeward toward heaven my whole life--and their heaven-looking selves is part of the reason I look home to Him as well.

It was a good afternoon, seeing the old places in my hometown, reminding Mom of a past that is fading from her brain.  But as true as those places are, as shaping as they've been in my life, they are as empty as the graveyard for me now.  I no longer live there, it's only my shell that has connection.  For me, home is here--in this house, with this Beve, with this family.  And even this is merely temporary.  All the time, I'm pressing onward, upward.  Awaiting my true Home.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The love due her

Just got off the phone with Mom and once again today she was hysterical.  See, she came out to dinner here at my sister's last night, and though I sat beside her for almost two hours beforehand, drinking our glasses of wine, chatting about puppies, the election, the small things of her life, once the house filled, she was mostly alone in a chair.  Now she feels none spoke to her the entire night, and she was only happy for the five minutes she held a squirming puppy in her arms.

Now I know, I KNOW, that isn't true. But I also know it's easy to overlook her in a crowded room.  The banter flies at a rapid pace, and she can't keep up.  But what am I saying?  We've had the propensity of ignoring her for much longer than she's been in the grip of this disease.  She's difficult and abrasive and, for years, whatever we gave her wasn't enough, didn't fill her up.  She was always on the lookout for the more we gave someone else, the slights she perceived, and what it said about her worthiness.

And the more she required and demanded, the more I resisted.  I admit this.  There was NEVER a way to satisfy, so why try?  This morning the petulance was just what it's always been, exactly that offended, that hurt, that lost.  Even now, it seems, she only holds in her brain what hasn't been done for her, not what has.  The truth is, I don't know how to please my mother.  I've never know.  I can spend hour upon hour with her and that doesn't do it.  I call her daily and that can't help.  I sit quietly besider her as she watches a program on TV because she simply has to watch it, and when I leave or hang up the phone, she says, "You never talk to me, you didn't hug me enough, you don't love me..."  The scales never balance, let alone tip toward good.

In King Lear, when the king asks his daughters how much they love him, Regan and Goneril exaggerate with overwrought, flowery phrases that simply can't be true.  They aim to be first, the heir, gain the riches, so their loving words have motive.  But Lear's favorite, Cornelia, tells him, "I love you as is your due."  Just that--she gives him the love that is due a father, but not the love due a lover.  All she has for him, but not what she keeps for loving others--this is the love Cornelia has for her father.  And in his great, gaping need, it's not enough, so she is cast out. 

Mom is King Lear, and I am only Cornelia.  As is her due...and she'll never know, can't possibly understand, what it's cost to get me to this place.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Lost and gone forever

It's windy in the Palouse today.  Out here at my sister's, it's whistling around the trees, slamming so hard into the house that the windows are bouncing.  In a few minutes I'll brave it out to the car, try to keep the door open long enough to slip in, and be off to town where my sister and I will look at a group home in which we might place our mother in the long dive into dementia. 

Mom's definitely worse than the last time I saw her.  I spent a few hours with her yesterday afternoon, and at one point she began a long explanation of what I thought was the remodeling project in the assisted living apartments where she now lives.  A couple of paragraphs into that story, while I was nodding and assenting to the garble coming from her, she finally tried to say Barack Obama and I realized I'd completely missed the left turn into politics.  Later, my sister told me every conversation with her ends up at the election. 

The election is significant to Mom because she no longer reads and can only figure out how to turn on and off the TV but not change the channel.  So it's permanently stuck on CNN.  I thought of changing it to something she might be able to follow better, but she told me she likes being with those people every day--well, except for the ones who get in the way and try to make her buy things she doesn't need.  When that happens she goes into the other room, but they continue to talk to her.  Can you believe the audacity?!  Oddly, her entire life she's hated commercials, though it's a quite recent development to believe they're somehow actually engaged in a personal conversation with her!  And how sad that she spends her days so alone that newscasters on television are her only friends...

Later:
Today when my sister and I got there, she was a mess because I'd been in town all this time and hadn't talked to her.  Clearly she didn't remember the entire afternoon I'd spent with her yesterday.  This falling-apart stuff isn't new, either.  More often than I can count, I've walked into her house to find her falling apart over some offense I didn't know I'd committed.  And in those days, one could never predict what would set her off, and usually only Dad could really calm her down.  Deep sigh.

But we'll survive this, all of us.  After all, I've already handled fifty + years of her.  What is odd now, though, is that though I remember the facts of who she was, what she was like, this more recent mother is heavily layered on top of those older memories. The mother who yelled and argued with us--this one is gone.  The one who uttered incredibly hurtful words, then followed them with, "I was only kidding!"--that mother is gone as well.  The mom who laced her conversation with sarcasm and nuances--the woman who dwells in two small rooms bears nothing to resemble that mom.  She is lost and gone forever...Clementine!  Now when she pouts or cries or whines, I let her.  I comfort her.

 It's harder to see the world through His eyes when I'm so busy trying to see it through Mom's demented ones.  But maybe, just maybe that's the connection.  It took me almost fifty years to see the world through my mother's eyes.  And maybe there's no greater evidence in my life that He is looking through my corneas, speaking through my vocal cords.  I couldn't do this myself--I am well-aquainted with who I really am.  No, it's the Father who loves my mother, it's His son who gave her life and life again, and it's His Holy Spirit who expresses that love, that life for her through me.  Whenever I find myself loving and accepting where my all-too-human self struggles, there He is.  Wherever I reach out a hand to help (even until it hurts), the hand outstretched at the end of my wrist has nail holes in it.  Any time, any place I open a door and let another have the right-of-way (and I'm speaking literally and metaphorically), the stepping back and giving preference is done by Him.  Whatever good I do, whatever good I am, is Him.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A surfeit of riches

What a great day it's been. The Beve and I had a surfeit of riches this weekend with SK, her friends and some of our very favorite friends.  We watched SK in the musical "A Cradle Will Rock," saw her rehearse a theater senior project in which she plays a pregnant woman whose water breaks, listened to her sing with Whitworth Choir.  It was all a window into the craziness that is her life--and we were glad to bump along at her crazy pace for a couple of days.  In between, we had significant conversations with the friends we carpooled east with, and those whose home we stayed in.  And this morning we gathered around a pan of Beve's famous cinnamon rolls, all six of us together talked deeply about how we are made, what is life-giving to us in the actual lives we live.  We spoke of learning to be empty-nesters after years of kids' schedules driving our lives.  It was rich, indeed, sharing deeply with people we would love to do life with if we were fortunate enough to live as neighbors.  It's a pipe dream we bring out every time we're together.  And the really great thing is that our old friends--he from elementary school--and our best friends/traveling companions have become friends themselves because of us.  I love that. 

After church, back at the house, ten of us gathered around a table of sub-sandwichs, and we talked and laughed together.  And somehow as the talk wound around, the Beve and I ended up telling the "Widest Street in the World" story of our romance.  I told the story, Beve provided comic editorial comments along the way, and we all traveled from the Palouse to Finland to The Netherlands to India and back.  I could practically feel the backpack on my back, smell the curry cooking over the fire in the village in India where the Beve heard God tell him to marry me.  Around the table, there was laughter and maybe even a tear or two, and it was sweet to rehearse that story again. Even SK, who's heard it a time or two, enjoyed the telling. 

Then we said goodbye, thankful for the time we'd shared.  SK and I hopped in her little "Gladys" (as she calls her Subaru), and we tooled down the road between the hills.  Halfway down the road toward my hometown, we reached a rest area, transferred my belongings from SK's car to my sister's, I hugged my baby Bug goodbye, and  my youngest sister and I drove through the Palouse to her house among the wheatfields, where I'll be for the next few days.  At dinner I sat at my sister's table with eight other people and we laughed heartily as we passed the food around.  Grown children, significant others, and other friends are welcome through the doors of this house. Welcome at the table.  And the steak wasn't the only meat we shared together. 

I'm happy with my lot today, happy with the life it's been my privilege to live. Often in the quiet of my living room, I forget to say thank-you to God for that life.  I get so caught up in what there is to do, what I have to learn, where He's calling me to minister, that I forget to simply breathe in His goodness.  The Beve is very good at simply enjoying the moments with people, doing what he calls, "Stepping into their lives and walking around with them." He always remembers that this walking around with people is a great honor and gift.  And I need him around to remind me sometimes.  Today, which has been so full of holy moments, I remember.  And am glad.

What has He given you--this day--that you can thank Him for?  Just thank Him. There's an old meal-time grace we said at dinners when I was a child: God is great, God is good, and I thank Him for my food. Today I'm grateful for the meaty, filling food of the Spirit.  Amen.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Eastward-bound

We're driving south tonight, so we can make a left-turn east tomorrow.  Over the mountains and through the hills (once you get over the mountains, there aren't any woods going east from here) to see our youngest daughter.  Parents' weekend at her University.  We'll descend with other parents of these kids shelling out big bucks to attend this private university, practically crowding the kids out of the place.  Not surprising, when you think about it, if every student has two parents--why, we could stage a coup!

SK has been counting the hours 'til she sees us.  It's been a hard fall so far--she's too busy, too stressed, too...well, everything.  To her, there's no such word as 'no!', so everything she's asked to do, she tries to do, and plenty more besides.  There have been times in the past when this has led to an all-out panic attack, when she gets so overwhelmed she stops being able to breathe.  So far, she's avoided that this autumn, but a weekend with Mama and Daddy will hopefully alleviate some of her stress.  She does have obligations both nights of the weekend, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning--so we'll either be following her around, or simply have a great weekend by ourselves in a town where we once lived (and our oldest child was born).

We know a whole lot of people in Spokane, where SK studies.  Professors (an old friend from high school, former Young Life leader), the VP of Parent and Alumni relations (also a YL leader, my first Campaigners leader) at the university.  Just a couple short blocks from campus lives a very good friend of the Beve's (they worked for a Sports camp organization together the first year we were married), and not far from them, live four of my closest high school girlfriends. The church SK's been attending turns out to be one another old friend of Beve started.  This pastor is part of one of my favorite stories about hs Beve.  Beve was something of a stud on the basketball court, a necessary ingredient for the team.  But one night, he got to a town north of Spokane, and discovered he'd forgotten his shoes.  Sounds just like the Beve I know and love...Anyway, the coach wasn't very happy, as you can imagine, and they went searching for someone who might possibly lend Beve hoop shoes.  They didn't find anyone who had feet big enough, but this guy--now the pastor of the church SK attends--wore a size smaller and said Beve could use them.  Beve squashed his feet into size 13s, and promptly went out and anhilated the poor team (and someday pastor).  One shining moment, indeed.

We might just see that pastor this weekend, we might catch up with some or all of those old friends.  But mostly, we'll be hugging the Bug, as we've always called her.  Being home to her for whatever moments have. And when she's off to whatever events she has, we'll be SK stalkers!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Purrky

My mother called me tonight.  She wasn't sure who she was calling, exactly.  Either me or that other girl who doesn't live where she does (which would be my sister in Ventura).  She hardly remembers how to use the phone now, and even when I call her, she answers as if she isn't sure she should have, isn't sure what exactly that ringing sound meant.  And every conversation is labored and confusing, because her words are disappearing.  So she'll speak a sentence like, "It won't go that way, but only the other. Back there." I haven't any idea what 'it' is, and if I try to guess, I'm wrong more often than not now.  Just a few months ago, when she was only dropping a word here or there, it was a fairly simple thing to guess the missing word from the context. And if I miss, it only frustrates her.  Makes her cry, and say she's stupid.  It's agonizing to hear, hard enough that it's easier than ever not to call her.  Tonight, I apologized for not having called her this week, and she said, "But you did."  So I take advantage, I'm sorry to say, of the fact that she no longer keeps lists in her brain--and trust me, it used to be a long, long list--who called her, when, how long they talked, etc.  I could trust her to tell me how often others in the family had called her since I last had.  We used to laugh about it, my siblings and I, laugh about how she didn't really want to talk, she just wanted to count us.  Really quite sad, though, now that I've written that out so baldly.

But she was very distraught on the phone this evening.  She has to get rid of her cat, you see. Her cat she named Purrky--"you know for the way it purrs" That's also the name of the first cat Mom ever owned, when she was about 5 years old.  When she got the cat, she remembered that. She can't remember how to tell time, but could  (a year ago or more) remember clearly the calico cat she had as a little girl.  This Purrky, also a calico, has been making messes on the carpet, and Mom can't take care of it any longer.  Probably the litter box isn't as clean as Mom thinks it is.  Anyway, Mom's incredibly upset.  She thinks the cat is the only thing she has to love, the only thing who loves her.  "She's been with me the whole time," she said, the whole time meaning since she moved into the assisted living complex last spring.  I told her it was okay to feel sad about the cat, and reminded her of how much I grieved when my dog, Jemima, died.  But she thinks she's bad to feel so about a cat.  I told her that the cat isn't all she has, that I love her too, but it didn't make much of a dent.  I'm not in her daily life, after all.  And for her, out of sight is increasingly out of mind.  And this cat is right there, sitting on her lap, nuzzling into her head as she sleeps.  Something to love, for my little-girl mother.

This long slow fade toward death feels a little like the moments before sleep.  She's just drifting away.  I can hardly remember what she was like now--both the good and the bad.  Maybe that's a good thing.  But it's hard to watch, to try to listen to.  Harder still is my own ambivalence about her.  The way I have to work to remember to call her.  But as bad as she is now, I know worse is coming.  There will be days ahead when she won't know us at all.  Days ahead when she'll have to be cared for more practically--even bathed and clothed.  It's hard to imagine.

But for now, it's just about a little girl losing her cat.  And that's hard enough.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Wish Book

When I was a child, we had a Wish Book in our house.  It was a medium-sized, blue, loose-leaf notebook, with the word 'WISH BOOK' written on the cover in my mother's perfect penmanship.  Inside it had colored dividers, with a name of one family member on each divider.  And each section was filled with a list of 'wants'.  From those lists, my mother bought our Christmas and birthday gifts.  Or some of them...

I still remember some of my list.  At the top was "Baby brother."  For much of my childhood, it was what I truly wanted most.  I was twelve-years-old when that got checked off my list, and I'm almost certain that it was only because I had it on my wish list that our family grew to six children from four, with not one, but two, baby brothers.

Next on my list was "horse." Yes, I was completely horse-crazy as a girl. I collected horse figurines in all colors and sizes, my most cherished one an antique china shiny brown horse that stood proudly on my cluttered dresser--until the child of my brothers' daily babysitter got into my room and broke it.  I was heartbroken, and immediately after that, my dad put a high lock on our bedroom door. But these figurines weren't what I had on my wishlist, no matter how often my mom bought them for me. And,fortunately, by middle school, I had friends who owned horses, and was able to ride often.  But there was no way my parents were going to buy me a horse.  Instead, they tried to placate me with other pets.  I had a couple of turtles for a while.  I don't remember liking them very much, and maybe that accounts for the shortness of their lives, because I only have one memory of even caring for them.  I also had a guinea pig, inexplicably named Parcheesi after the game.  It lived in my bedroom, but I took it out sometimes to stroke and let run around.  It expired soon after one of these adventures, when our dog scared it under the furniture.  When I picked it up, it was shaking like autumn leaves.  I think it died from fright, frankly.  Poor thing. We also had a series of cats (all with names starting with the letter O--Oscar, Olive, Onyx), and a Norwegian Elkhound, named 'Brandstock's Silver Mist, and called Misty. I liked the cats, loved the dogs, none of them alleviated the desire for a horse.

Also on my list was 'desk, make-up (with the editorial comment, 'I know you probably won't get me this' written in my childish hand), books, and a variety of clothing items, which got checked off as they appeared in my life.

I'm thinking about this this morning because it's just about the time of year when Beve and I ask our own children for Christmas lists.  The girls are always more than equal to the task.  J, on the other hand, rarely has anything he really wants.  Last night he told me that what he wants for Christmas is underwear and a sweatshirt--his are old and worn.  J hates to 'want' things.  He really feels like he has more than he needs.  So we usually end up in default mode with him--giving him books to add to his overflowing library.

So what do I want? What do you? If I had to make a list, (and my kids wouldn't mind!), I don't know what would be on it.  Not much that one could buy in stores, anyway.  It isn't that I don't like material things--of course I do.  But less than I used to--which is the only direction this road should go.  Now, more than ever, it's Kingdom-come things I want.
 
"I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through Christ who gives me strength." Philippians 4:12-13

Contentment.  The secret of being content?  Of not having a long list of wants? Christ's strength.  Not on our own, but through Him.  When my body is swamped with pain?  Content in Him.  When I'm overwhelmed with gifts?  Content because of His strength, not those things.  In all things, all situations, content in Him.  Are you content?  I think He longs to give us contentment, longs to help us feel at peace with our lot.  Not satisfied with the world, not placated by gifts that aren't His, but internally content as we face what He asks us to do, or what the enemy tries to throw at us. We can do this, through Christ who gives us strength.

The older and more mature I grow in Him, the more I want what only comes from His hands.  Starting with contentment, the to the marrow of my bones sense that He is over all and in all in my life. Christ's strength=our contentment.  What more could we wish for?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sunday night

Sunday night.  Remember?  I do.  Even now, Sunday nights have a different feel than any other time of the week.  When I was a child, Sundays were big deals.  Mornings at church, followed by sports on TV, and a roast for dinner.  Some Sundays, my dad took the kids up to WSU to Smith gym where the swimming pool was open to the public.  We were great swimmers in our family--my youngest sister learned to swim before she learned to read, before she ever set a foot inside a school.  In fact, my mom went to bat for her to get to take lessons--when she was too small to even touch the bottom of the pool.  But she was fearless...

Anyway, by the time we got home, still wet-headed and smelling like chlorine, the Sunday dinner was hot and smelling far better than we were.  Roast, potatoes, the ubiquitous frozen vegetable--spinach, broccoli, or (please, say it isn't so!!) peas--either on their own or with carrots.  Many a time I had to flush down peas with my milk, or try to spread them around on my plate in order to make it look like I'd actually eaten more than I had. It wasn't a very successful tactic, but I wasn't a quick learner when it came to peas.  And  far too often I was still at the table staring at those awful green pebbles after everyone else had left.

Later, Dad would pop popcorn, Mom would slice some apples, and we'd settle down in front of the television in our pjs to watch Wide World of Disney.  It was practically the only TV show all week that was actually for children--at least that's what my memory tells me.  And it was 'must-see' TV in our house. 

All of these things were part of the magic of childhood for me.  But Sunday nights, even after a great day, had a unique feel.  A feeling of dread.  Friday and Saturday nights we got to stay up a little later, but Sunday night was a school night.  A school night, with all the dread I'd ignored all weekend piling up as I tried to sleep.  I loved school, I really did, but that dread was real too.  Remember?  I suppose it was the sense that I wasn't free to do whatever I wanted to, was on someone else's timeline, had responsibilities (to get my work done, not talk to my neighbor, color within the lines, keep my desk clean).

But also a feeling of hope.  The chances ahead.  Playing with friends I hardly saw over the weekend, maybe finally doing two whole twirls around the bare on the playground or a flip over the horse in gym.  Getting to the next chapter in the book a teacher was reading--Johnny Tremaine, Charlotte's Web.  There was always something ahead to look forward to, and always a feeling that I couldn't wait.

When my children were little I used to tell them that school was their job.  That they were learning things in school that would serve them all through their working lives.  I didn't mean the actual education...I meant things like respect for authority, working hard--doing their best, being fair and kind to other students--fellow employees--no matter how they were treated.  Learning to act justly and lovingly early on would impact how they'd be in out in the workforce. 

They dreaded Sunday nights, too, of course.  And because Beve is an educator, and I was too, we still live in that rhythm.  Staying up a little later Friday and Saturday, but back in the rhythm Sunday evening. Beve's often exhausted Sundays from all that he's tried to pack into the weekend.  This one, for instance, he did some weeding, and mowed several lawns.  And while he was up on a metal step-stool, painting trim around the windows out back, he lost his footing and fell right into the stool, then down onto the sidewalk. When he came into the house, he said, "I think I broke some ribs."  By the look of the horrible bruise on his belly, I wouldn't be a bit surprised, though, of course, he didn't get it checked out. I mean, what would they do for him, anyway--besides give him pain meds! He just walked around all weekend, gritting his teeth against the pain, barely able to sleep last night.  So tonight, Sunday night, he's even more exhausted--and gets to face the week this way.  Ah, Beve.

So Sunday night: facing the week. All the hopes and possibilities. All the fear and dread.  We never know where the week will take us, do we?  Beve never knows who will walk through his office door, sit down and spill their guts.  But there's so much out there just waiting. And after all, we don't walk alone into the dreadful Monday. Just imagine where He might put you tomorrow.  Maybe it'll be the day I finally make it three circles over that bar.  Maybe I'll get to go home with someone for lunch.  Maybe someone will tell me a story that I can hardly wait to hear.  So happy Sunday night.  Have a hope-filled Monday.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Worry

The truth of what it means to be a mom has hit me the last couple of days.  See, E left her car across the Rockies when her internship with USA wrestling in Colorado Springs ended the last of August.  She flew home, hoping that by the end of September there would be a job for her back in the Springs.  However, with the downturn...er, make that crash, of our economy, there was not the typical movement in the USOC.  In fact, there were no job openings at all.  So Monday, E flew back to Colorado to retrieve her car and other belongings.

And Thursday she began the drive home.  In theory, when she told us she'd decided to do this trip alone, rather than taking someone with her, it sounded reasonable.  She wanted to take her time, stop and see friends, etc.  But once she started on the road, all that theory was blasted out my window.  My true maternal colors spread like autumn in the leaves.  And every hour, I worried.  Seriously, what was I thinking to allow a three day drive all by herself?  What if she got tired? What if she blew a tire?  What if her engine broke down out in the middle of Wyoming, and she was stranded on the side of an empty interstate?  I have a vivid imagination, after all.  And it has been my downfall more than once...

She made it to Jackson, Wyoming the first night without a single glitch.  Called me many times along the way, just checking in, just easing my unease.  She knows me.  Plus, she was a little bored driving, and I was someone to pass the time with.  Her phone is hooked up (magically, it seems to me) into her stereo system, so she doesn't have to hold it to her ear, just looks like she's talking to the air as she drives.  Quite a bit like me, come to think of it--I talk to God a lot while I'm driving alone.  Only He knows what it looks like to occupants of other cars.

But Thursday night, from her motel room, she called the Beve.  Beve's E's default person, her 911.  She told him that the forecast for Friday, through Montana and Wyoming was for snow.  October 10, and the first significant storm of the season.  "Was she anxious?" I asked him after he'd told her to just take her time, or even stay in Jackson another day or two, if it was really bad when she awoke in the morning.  E drives a little Honda Civic Hybrid--really nice car, but not exactly an all-terrain vehicle.  Beve told her to check in with me when she got up and going.

Okay, so maybe that news made me sleepless Thursday night.  Maybe I began imagining her spinning off a high mountain pass road, straight into a deep ravine, where no one would know she'd even landed, the road being so lonely and all.  Barely anyone with any sense driving in such a blizzard.  That's right, my mind went straight to blizzard.  I could picture her with cell-phone still working, calling me...and me unable to help.  I went through how I'd find state patrol for Montana, getting them on my land line, while trying to talk to a dying daughter on my cell.  Yes, 2 am awake dreams are always a little hysterical--and I don't mean I was laughing!

After my short post-midnight nap, which started about the time the Beve left for work at 6am, my phone rang. E!  She was almost to Idaho Falls, and hadn't seen a flake of snow yet.  North of her, the clouds looked a little ominous, but so far, so good.  And all through the day, she kept me in the loop.  She ran into the storm south of Billings, but just kept driving. Ran out of it before she got to Missoula, where she turned west toward Spokane, her destination for the weekend.  As she drove through Spokane, she called me one last time, glad it was over, gleeful that she'd made the trip an hour shorter than she'd expected.

Worry, like a cape, had settled on my shoulders, and in that moment, I threw it off and began to breathe more easily.  Yes, I know I'm a little hyper about these things, I know worry lives in me at the cell-level, but... most of us, even if we aren't mothers, struggle with worry one way or another.  Life at the moment is a rather worrisome thing in our country.  Money--or lack of it--often creates worry for us. Housing prices, employment rates, they all hit us where we live.  I know--I KNOW--what Jesus says about worry.  How He compares us to the birds of the air, the flowers in the field. How He tells us not to worry about food, drink, clothing... Of course, I know these words, I can cite chapter and verse for them, even the summation that follows in Matthew 6.  "Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own."

Hmm, think about that with me for a minute.  I wonder, after all those words about what we shouldn't worry about, if Jesus wasn't also admitting that worry is part of daily life.  I mean, He says that each day has its trouble, has things that cause concern.  He knows this. He knows who we are, how we're made.  It's natural to be concerned about our children, natural to worry about them, even. But what will I do with that worry?  Will I let it consume me--like it did for that sleepless night when I imagined the worst?  Or will it be cause for prayer and ultimately, surrender.  That is where I got to the other night.  What helped me to sleep finally was the revelation (one I constantly have to relearn, but is also always new) that my children--and their times--are in His hands.  The safest thing in life is knowing that nothing will happen to them that is outside of His rule, outside of His hands.  They will not die one moment before He wills...nor will you or I.  God is Sovereign.  And my holding worry is the opposite of faith in that truth.  So, as often as I get bogged down in it, that often I have to learn to lift my clenched fingers from their lives, and my grip on my own desires for them.  He is sovereign.  Amen.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The cross-shaped yoke

The title of this post is a quote by Dallas Willard in the devotional I've been using lately.  Such an evocative phrase, don't you think?  I mean, most of us have struggled to understand what Jesus meant by, "My yoke is easy and my burden is light," when He also said, "Anyone who wants to be my disciple must take up the cross daily and follow me." How do these two things complement each other?  Haven't you wondered this a time or two?  Sure, there's the idea that His yoke is easy--as yokes go. That is, by definition a yoke isn't easy.  It implies a weight.  But this idea of a cross-shaped yoke helps me out.

The thing is, we are meant not merely to be Christians, but disciples.  We are meant to become more than ourselves, more than simply people who have affirmed that Jesus is the Christ, the son of God.  We are meant to be changed by Him, transformed into His likeness.  Jesus made disciples, not just believers.  That was what He was all about with the twelve, teaching them to obey, and teaching them to teach others how to obey.  It's the single goal of evangelism--not simply proclamation, but obedience. 

I fall short of this, both for myself, and in praying for others.  That is, it's easy (well, comparatively easy) to tell people that all they have to do is believe and they will be saved.  I've said these words before.  And yet, I know folks who live their whole lives, claiming to be Christian, without any evidence of discipleship to back up that claim.  I've wondered a time or two whether a certain person is, in fact, a Christian.  Haven't you?  I admit that sometimes I look at someone and think their life doesn't match what they say--when they're mean-spirited, self-involved, critical and uninterested in spiritual things--the things of the Kingdom. Then I back away from such thoughts, because I'm 'judging.' But Christ's aim is to make us 'little Christs'--Christ, 'who by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body--so perhaps this is a question we need to ask.  Not only about others, but with the lens of Christ firmly on ourselves as well.  Are we becoming more like Him, more radiant with His glory, on our physicality, our behavior, or everything?

I turn to one of my dead heroes, CS Lewis.  In Mere Christianity (I just pulled out my copy, which I first read when I was a sophomore in high school.  It's peppered with pink and yellow highlight, and blue ink, with words in the margins like, "Far out!" and "great!" and "Yey, Lord!".  Pretty amusing from the vantage point of my advanced age now), CS Lewis says, "If conversion to Christianity make no improvement in a man's outward actions--if he continues to be just as snobbish or spiteful or envious or ambitious as he was before--then I think we must suspect that his conversion' was largely imaginative; and after one's original conversion, every time one thinks one has made an advance that is the test to apply.  Fine feelings, new insights, greater interest in 'religion' mean nothing unless they make our actual behavior better...when we Christians behave badly, or fail to behave well, we are making Christianity unbelievable to the outside world." (175-176)

The cross-shaped yoke, the burden of His death laid on our backs, makes a dent in the way we live,  carving a new life in right in the very backbone of our lives.  I don't want to be the same as I was before I knew Him; shoot, I don't want to be the same tonight as I was when I woke up this morning.  I want to move every day closer to the Perfection He desires--no, demands!--for me.  And yet, sitting here, I understand that I cannot do this by my will, my work, my desire.  Only He who demands it, can help me achieve it.  This too is the cross-shaped yoke: that I must die so that He can live in me.  Surrender to the death of myself so that from glory to glory, my life is Him.  So that everyday, I'm more Him than I am me.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A question, if you please

So I watched the debate last night.  In the CNN pre-game show, one of the pundits, in explaining the format of the supposed townhall event (It didn't really seem very townhallish to me--too much pontificating rather than simply engaging in a back and forth with the citizens, for all that they leaned in, thanked them by name, called them--as nauseum--"my friends."  But then I haven't actually ever been to a townhall meeting, so who knows what goes on there.), said that something like 6 million people had sent in email questions.  Boy, did I feel out of it--I didn't even know it was an option to send in a question.  And I have one.  A question for both candidates.  And I think it's a salient one.  So I thought I'd just get it off my chest, and hope that someone out there actually has an answer.

Why don't you--either of you--trust me, us, the American people, to cast our votes based on the issues?  Why do you continually reduce yourselves--and us!--by running an ugly, mudslinging, character-assassinating campaign? It is NOT well-done of you.  You should be above this. I expect you to be.  Don't tell me it's the only way, don't tell me it's the way it's always been done.  If the way it's always been done is the only way, count me out.  I'll never approve. And you're both doing it.  Don't you realize how important the job is?  We're banking (to be punny) on you to make a difference in our lives, after all.  And we're anxious to respect you.  And frankly, at the moment, we're only disappointed by the mean-spirit between you.  Each of you, at one point or another, claimed you weren't going to do this, and now, because you want to win, you are.  You, Barack Obama, told us months ago that you wouldn't bring up the Keating Loan scandal because it wasn't germaine to the presidential race.  It was old news. But here you are, making it part of the equation.  And you, John McCain, I liked you better when you were sticking it to Washington instead of your opponent, when you weren't sending out your pet barracuda to bald-face lie about him "palling around with terrorists." Shame on you both.


See, I have a stake in this election.  I want my own life to be easier.  I want this country to survive the current crisis that has left us having to work until we're in our nineties.  I want things to be better for my children, for my unborn grandchildren.  And I believe--honestly I do--that the office of President is larger than a person.  It's a sacred trust we give when we cast our votes, a trust that whoever holds that office will care more about us than he (and it's still he) does himself, to quote the movie "Dave."  You have forgotten this, I think, in the blindness of your ambition.

Jesus tells us to render to Caesar--and the President is the closest thing we have to such a person--the things that are his.  He was talking about money, of course. But also whatever else is due him--respect, honor, our prayers (!).  And Paul confirms this in Romans when he tells us to respect those in authority.  And I want to.  After the last eight years, it's no easy task.  There was much I haven't been able to respect lately.  I'm sitting here, poised to do that.  I want to believe that whoever holds this office will be a person of integrity.  Don't you know this?  Don't you understand that this is what we want most?  Unfortunately, I've always had the feeling that the very best people to lead this country never actually apply for the job.  These people don't have what it takes--the stomach for dirt--to survive a campaign.  People like the Beve, like my father and father-in-law, my brothers (and my sisters, for that matter).  People like my son.  People like this wouldn't dream of entering the political arena because they're too humble--servants who want to make a difference by teaching, serving, telling the truth.  And, tell me this, why is it that many of those who do run seem to become better people after leaving office, or losing it, or losing the campaign?  Jimmy Carter, for instance, and Al Gore? Is it something about the job itself that brings out the worst in you--something about the blindness of your ambition?  I had high hopes that this time--this time--with your noted pasts and soaring rhetoric, that maybe, just maybe, you would be some of the 'very best' this country has to offer.  But now I'm just not sure.

There's less than a month to go now.  You could still redeem yourselves. Wouldn't you like to sleep better in all those hotel rooms?  Wouldn't you like to look us in the eye without feeling ashamed?  Can't you trust us to make an informed, reasonable choice?  Give us the benefit of the doubt that we're equal to this task.  At this moment, I think we care too much to be as stupid as you seem to think we are. I want to believe so, anyway.  And I want you to believe it as well. After all, it's our lives you're holding, our livelihoods here, and for some, our very lives themselves.  I'm going to vote, of course.  I'm ready to.  But please, give me a chance to vote for you at your best, not your worst.

"Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened." ~ Winston Churchill

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The dogwood

Looking out my front window just now, I realize that autumn is landing in our garden.  The hydrangeas' leaves are just starting to turn, the maple's are already orange, and the dogwood tree's almond-shaped leaves are varigated: from still-green to tinged with pink to completely crimson. We've only had the dogwood about 4 years; this was only the third year it bloomed at all.  What a glorious surprise it was that first spring--covered with snowy white blossoms.  That first blooming was beautiful, but since then, it's been spectacular as more and more flowers appear.  And it's just as gorgeous in the fall, its leaves a brilliant scarlet as they begin to tumble to the ground. 

Some people don't like deciduous trees--the mess of dead leaves is such a hassle, after all.  When I was growing up, my grandparents had many deciduous trees in their backyard.  I remember raking them one fall with my brother and sister, then climbing into an old sturdy apple tree and jumping into into the pile of leaves beneath.  We didn't have such trees at our newly built house across the state from them, so I loved it--the raking and especially the jumping. 

During the summer, when the leaves are just an uninteresting green, I don't pay too much attention to the dogwood.  But beneath the surface, the roots are digging deep. They're spreading and growing and creating a tree that bears such flowers, and turn out such brilliant red leaves as they die.  In the winter, there's little to commend this tree.  The skeleton isn't very appealing to me--it looks a little like a denuded umbrella. Even then, however, when the rains come and the fierce wind blows from the southwest, it stands against the elements, because of what is happening beneath the surface.

We're like the dogwood, aren't we? There are such seasons in our lives, seasons of blooming, seasons where our leaves seem to be dying and dropping to the ground, seasons of feeling denuded and dead. (I was once even decked out in flowers--in the springtime of my life, covered in white as I walked down an aisle toward my life.) It's a part of the cycle, perhaps--even the dead times!  Maybe instead of worrying about the 'autumns' in our lives, when everything feels like it's dying, we should simply trust that it's a season, that new life will come.  If our roots are deep and our limbs are raised, we can survive autumn, we can withstand winter storms.  It's our roots we have to worry about.

"...If the root is holy, so are the branches." Romans 11:16  "...you do not support the root, but the root supports you." Romans 11:18b. 
That's it, of course. The roots are Christ.  Christ in me.  So no matter what the topside looks like--feels like--the root keeps me strong...grounded.  "Christ in me, the hope of glory," says Colossians 1:27.  The hope of glorious springtime flowers.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Tolerance

Tolerance: "a fair, objective and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, nationality, religion, etc. differ from one's own. Freedom from bigotry."

The other day, J got into a discussion with some co-workers/friends about the issue of abortion.  Now my son doesn't back away from arguments very often, even when he's in the minority.  And in this group, he was definitely in the minority.  The question, he said, is based on when life begins. Then he talked about what churches believe.  And a girl interrupted him to say, "This has nothing to do with church."  She was angry, which made J very frustrated.  He told us, "She tried to tell me that Christians are intolerant, but she was far less tolerant than I was."  I've had this same kind of experience--being accused, without any evidence, of being narrow-minded simply because I profess Jesus as Lord.  These accusations have come from people, who, in my mind, are exhibiting the very intolerance of which they accuse Christians.

A couple days later, after a small incident at school, Beve told me he had a great sharing question for his early morning 'coffee klatch,' a group of teachers who congregate in his office an hour or more before school starts.  These teachers always have lively discussions as they sit on Beve's couch and get energized.  It's Beve's favorite part of the day.  I've often wanted to stop by, just to join the conversation, but 6:00 am is far too early for me to be coherent.  Anyway, his conversation starter was, "In what ways are you intolerant?"

Wow, what a great question, I think.  And, I knew instantly where my biggest biases lie.  It has to do with education.  Specifically, I have an instinctive reaction to people who do not speak correctly, because it sounds like a lack of education, as well as simple laziness. I'm not talking about accents, because different parts of the country also use words differently.  But using improper grammar, sounding 'folksy' and peppering one's conversation with idioms and slang (not to mention curse words) annoys me deeply.  In fact, it bothers me so much that I instinctively tune out the speaker, and stop taking them seriously.  And I was struck by this propensity of mine to judge a person by their ability to speak the other night during the VP debate.  The folksy, downhome way the Alaskan governor spoke increasingly annoyed me as I listened to her.  After a while, I stopped being able to hear the content of her words because I was so aware of how she drops final consonant sounds, how she uses 'Yeah,' and 'you know,' and said, "Joe six-pack" as a way to describe middle-class men.  And said, "Say it ain't so, Joe," to Joe Biden... It made her seem hickish to me.  Based on nothing more than language.  To be completely transparent, I always think I'm smarter than such a person...

Admitting this doesn't mean I'm liable to change very easily.  I was raised in a rather cerebral, academic family.  In my family, education is prime.  Both of my grandfathers were college profs, as well as my dad (and father-in-law). My mom was a teacher.  I remember conversations with my parents when I was a long ways away from marriage that it would be difficult for them if we married people who hadn't gone to college.  It was taken for granted that we would be college graduates ourselves. And I'm not talking about community college, either.  No, a 4-year liberal arts university was the only option for my parents' children.

Six years ago when E was a high school senior, she dutifully applied to six or so (I honestly can't remember now) different colleges.  She was accepted into every place she applied.  But after looking at these schools, making a tentative plan, she found out she could play basketball for our local community college. And suddenly everything changed.  The chance to play a couple years longer--it was like a dream come true. 
When she told us it was what she wanted to do, the Beve, a college hoopster as well, was instantly supportive.  I, on the other hand, was quite conflicted about it.  It was easy to understand why she'd want to go that route.  Athletic careers end all too soon for most people.  The opportunity to extend it was very appealing.  But, it was community college.  And in my family, not quite acceptable.
During that same spring, Beve was interviewed by our local paper about educational options after high school, the fall E started at the community college.  He told the interviewer that to my family--my mom, particularly--it was like we'd allowed E to go into prostitution.  Oddly (or maybe not), that quote made the paper. 

Looking back, I can see clearly how it was the right decision for E in every way. Her career choice changed as a result of the leadership opportunities she had at WCC, her athletic career ended gracefully, and she learned many intangibles in those two years.  Plus, it cost her nothing--NOTHING--to go to community college, after all her talent awards were given.

The thing about intolerance is that we close our minds to any way but the one we know.  We become smaller and smaller.  It's like Jesus eating with the tax-collector.  The masses couldn't believe He would associate with such a sinner.  But that tax-collector not only gave his life to following Jesus, but was used by Him to write down the story of Jesus' life and ministry.  The amazingly learned gospel of Matthew, written by one who had walked with Jesus, been saved by Him, and understood how the scriptures had been fulfilled by Him.  He was used by God, Matthew was.

And who knows who God will use in my life?  Who knows what it takes for any person to be His instrument?  When I hear Christ's voice in my head, He speaks in English, with perfect diction. Pretty ridiculous, when I stop to think about it.  Jesus spoke aramaic. He certainly didn't go to university.  Perhaps, though I hate to admit it, I'd be put off by His language as well. 

Perhaps I am so busy listening to the way people speak that I don't listen to what they have to say.  So busy cringing, correcting, judging, I miss something far more important, like truth.  It's possible.
Change my heart, oh God. Let me overcome my own heritage, my own biases. Overpower my weakness in this area. Please, Lord.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Pascal and Puddleglum

I've been thinking about the Narnia Chronicles a lot lately.  About how those books clarify our situation as believers, about the theology submerged in story that works in us as we read.  Today the episode that is working in me, illuminating my day, is contained in The Silver Chair. One of my favorite Narnians is Puddleglum, a marshwiggle--which is a creature with "very long legs and arms...fingers that are webbed like a frog...hair, if it could be called that, which hung over his ears, [that] was greeny-grey, and each lock was flat rather than round so that they were like tiny reeds."  Puddleglum is the ultimate pessimist, always certain that even if it's nice weather today, a rainshower is right over the horizon, that every choice made will result in catastrophe.  But for all that, he's a champion of Narnia, and is the true hero of this story. 

Puddleglum, and two children, Eustace and Jill, are given the charge (by a lion Jill meets but doesn't recognize) to find the kidnapped Narnian prince, Rilian.  Many wrong turns, poor choices and misreading of signs dog their steps, but ultimately, they find themselves far under the earth, in a place called Underland, facing the tyrant witch holding the prince hostage, whom they rescue from the witch's enchantment. The witch is cunning and manipulative, and the children and Puddleglum are practically sucked in.  But Puddleglum, in the last moment, steps on fire--gives himself a jolt of pain, in order to think clearly,  "There's nothing like a good shock of pain for dissolving certain kinds of magic," Lewis says.

The fire--and resulting pain--allows Puddleglum to know exactly what he really believes:
"All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder.  I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it...But there's one thing more to be said, even so.  Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself.  Suppose we have.  Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones.  Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world.  Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.  And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it.  We're just babies playing a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow.  That's why I'm going ot stand by the play world.  I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it.  I'm going to live like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So...we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for [it]." 

Profound.  What Lewis is getting to here is Blaise Pascal's wager:
"You must wager; it is not optional...Let us weigh the gain and loss in wagering that God exists...If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager then, without hesitation, that he exists." 

Sometimes, in our darkest hours, it feels like we're in the Underland, a world where there is no light, no joy, only drudgery and dullness.  And in truth, this earth on which we live, has elements of such a place.  Enemy-territory, in fact.  And our faith gets dull as well. Until fire hurts us and we have a moment of truth. Interesting, isn't it, that pain is the vehicle through which clarity comes.  I have often found this to be the case.  Pain in this life makes us recognize that we aren't completely at home here. As the  writer of Hebrews tells us: we are living in a country not our own, looking all the time for our true home.  Our heavenly home. The 'Overland', as Lewis calls it.

Pascal and Puddleglum remind me to choose.  Remind me that living like a disciple of Jesus gives me nothing to lose and everything to gain. So, even doubt-laced, I make the choice, again and again, to live like a citizen of Heaven.  I make the choice for Jesus Christ.  I will live this life staked on His promise.  Because my life is more plumb, more square, more true, for living this way.  Living as a slave to righteousness, in enemy-held territory.

Once such words of Faith are spoken, I feel a clearing of the cobwebs, a lightening of the weight of doubt.  He is.  HE is. HE IS..

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Jumping off bridges

I've been thinking lately about doubt--about the fact that none of us, on the earthside of eternity, are immune from it. We live in human skin, after all, and not until we're in our new unblemished bodies will we see face to face.  And only then.  Lately, there's been a dryness in my soul that is the breeding ground for doubt. From little ones to more ontological ones. God seems distant, silent, perhaps uninterested in my puny life.  And my life has taught me that these periods are far more difficult that seasons of suffering.  It's always been true for me that during real struggle, He adds a measure of grace.  But these moments, when my prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling, His absence is like an open wound.

It makes me think of a conversation I had with my mother the spring before my dad died.  He hadn't been feeling well, but despite test after test, nothing had been discovered to account for it.  My dad wasn't a person who complained often or easily, so it was taken seriously that he felt weak and sickly.  My mother, of course, was VERY worried.  One day when I was talking to her on the phone, I asked her, "What's the worst thing that could happen?" She was hesitant to voice 'the worst thing', but I pressed her until she said, "He could die." 
"Yes," I said.  "Then you'd be separated for a little while--him in heaven, you here on earth. But after that, you'd both be with God. Can you handle that?"
She answered that she thought she could.
Later that day, my dad called to thank me for helping Mom feel better.  I asked if she'd told him what I'd made her admit, and she hadn't.  So I told him.  We had a good conversation about him dying, though I'm sure neither of us actually thought he would--at least not in the immediate future.
Three months later, however, he lay in a hospital bed in ICU, with his death a very real probability.  I asked him if I could pray with him, and he said, "Oh yes!"  After we prayed, I told him I thought Mom was being very strong (a surprising thing to me, actually...).
"She'll be fine until it's over," Dad answered.

"What do you mean?" I asked, though I knew and he knew I knew as I backed away from the bed.
He looked at me carefully for a moment, his blue eyes clear and very much alive.  Then he said gently, "I mean when I'm better, she'll fall apart."
 It wasn't what he meant to say, what he wanted to say.  He expected me to be able to talk about his death, given our conversation three months earlier, but I couldn't bear it.  My fear overwhelmed my faith--for him and for myself. 

I've kicked myself often for pulling away from that conversation.  The reality is that he was afraid as well, but was still being my dad and protecting me from my own fear.  My own doubts.  And trust me, despite my love of Jesus, my surrender to Him as Lord of my life, in that moment, I wasn't sure what I believed about death.  Not when it came to the death of my dad. 

He died the next morning, never having had the chance to talk about what was coming.  He died with the window shade wide open to a sunny day on earth.  And my biggest regret was that I didn't talk with him about the Son shining where He was going.  I can tell you, I'll never back away from such a moment again.

The thing is, we were created with gravity in place.  Our feet are held firmly to earth. And this planet is all we actually know.  I cannot remember before my life, my sight isn't clear enough to see ahead to heaven.  What I have is now. Every moment as it comes. I think if it was otherwise, if we really grasped what it will be like to be in the Throne room of the King, in the Father's house where there are many rooms for us, we'd be jumping off bridges to get there.  He meant it to be a mystery, to be what we know by faith and not by sight.

My life is based on the faith that Jesus of Nazareth was telling the truth.  That's it.  If He was telling the truth, if He was who He claimed to be, then I am secure--in this life, and in the life I'm waiting for.  If He was telling the truth, there is hope.  If He was a liar, there is none.  And put that baldly, it's a tremendous risk, this life of faith I live. Trusting the word of a man who lived 2000 years ago, who claimed to be God.  But I do believe Him. And even when doubts rear their ugly heads, I still them with His name.  I don't live easily with my doubts--with the absence that seems more real than His presence-- but I do live with them.  And say, as the man who wanted Jesus to heal his son, "I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief."

"Do not be deceived, Wormwood.  Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's will, looks round upon a univers from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys."
                                         CS Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, ch. 8