Sunday, November 30, 2008

Waiting

Thinking of all the things we wait for in life--waiting for graduation from high school or college, waiting for marriage, waiting for the birth of a child.  But think for a moment of Advent, which means waiting.  For thousands of years before the birth of the Messiah, men and women waited for it.  Hebrews speaks of "These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised." (11: 39) All those years, waiting for God to break in, waiting for Him to intervene in the ways of humans.  Yet, all those faithful barely knew what they were waiting for. Though prophecies about the Messiah began in the earliest scripture, those prophecies were, of course, dim. There was mystery about the entrance into humanity by God Himself.

But in His perfect time, God Himself embodied in human form, breathed the air of this world exactly as we do.  "In the beginning God..." Genesis says.  "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word  was God."  Begins John 1.  Between the two are thousands of years of advent, in a way.  Even in the first chapter of Genesis, there is the Word, "Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness..." (Gen. 1:26).  Just as John tells us, He--the Word who became flesh and dwelt among us--is a part of creating us.  When He assumes human nature and flesh, blood and skeleton, He was the very same One who had first created that our form and nature.  I love this--that Jesus, the Son of God and Son of Earth--already knew what it would mean to confine Himself to a human skeleton because He had made us even in our physicality. 

Advent, which we celebrate each December, is our chance to participate in what humans lived all those years on earth.  It's our opportunity to live metaphorically in the absence of Jesus, to live "Before Christ."  To wait, and wait expectantly for God to put Himself into the most fragile and dependent of Creatures, a human baby.  It's true, He didn't simply incarnate Himself as a grown man, who could feed, dress and care for Himself.  This is what we wait for.   We have it easier than those who lived B.C., though.  We know the end of the story before we begin to wait for it each year.  But what if we lived this month in the presence of the absence of Incarnate God?  I've often thought that it's an odd thing that we deprive ourselves from things during Lent, when that's a season (before His passion) that He was living and breathing and walking around in His public ministry.  That feels like a season of Presence to me, not of Absence.  But Advent--the vigil of watching for Him--is the season of absence.  Isn't it?  The story of Jesus on earth is a story populated with real live people who came to faith (or not) without knowing the the full story, the fulfillment of the Promise of Messiah.  Some of them had lived in the emptiness of a world without Him until the very last moment.  Some were mistaken in who they thought was coming, but all of them met this man who was God, and their lives were never the same.

So I propose that together--me writing, you reading, us all listening to Him--we take a walk together through the gospels, visit each day with a person who met and responded to Jesus, one way or another.  Will you? Will you consider with me how His real life as the Man who was also God impacts our living and breathing and walking-around lives?  Live with me in this season, in quiet and darkness, even, as we wait for the Light of the world.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Interruptions

The turkey's been demolished, the stuffing's all gone, and all that's left is sitting around watching movies on this rainy weekend.  We get hooked into these things when SK is home, especially.  "Lord Of the Rings" is playing on some channel for three consecutive nights this weekend, and we're right there with it.  Sure, we've seen them a few times before.  Maybe that adds to our enjoyment, SK calling me from the other end of the house to say, "Your favorite part's on! (In the "Two Towers", that favorite part is when Gandolf comes riding over the crest of the hill at Helm's Deep; and when  the on-fire ent (a giant tree-man) runs into the river and bends over to put out the fire!)"  The magnificance of Tolkien's genius fleshed out in thes movies never fails awe me.  But, with SK, watching one movie isn't enough.  She has to flip to a channel showing "Notting Hill"--because omg, isn't Julia Roberts great?  So back and forth we go, between battle scenes and love scenes, and by the end, I'm feeling a little schizophrenic, and need a drink (of Ginger Ale!). 

When SK isn't around, our television watching is eschewed toward sporting events. The channel-flipping rotates between football and basketball, college and professional. This time of year, it's a smorgasbord of games.  The other morning, though, they were enjoying some national dog show.  Years ago, we turned on the Westminster Dog show and our purebreed Lab, Jemima, marched right up to the TV screen and began barking.  The only other time any of our dogs has even noticed the television is when a doorbell rings on some show.  That sends them running down the hall toward the front door.

Anyway, I was sitting with SK, innocently watching the movie (s) and knitting (various Christmas projects--E calls me ADD when it comes to knitting because I have so many projects going at the same time), when I was interrupted by a phone call from one of my sisters.  So I missed most of the movies I've already seen before.  Rats!

A week with all our kids in the house, though, usually provides all kinds of interruptions. This one's going out, that one needs help with moving, the Beve has made several plans that he usually  remembers to tell me about.  When they were little, interruptions were the norm.  I remember hoping to actually take a complete shower without one of them coming in to talk to me (never mind knocking--they rarely thought of it.  Mama was behind that door, so they just plowed through).  Just now, as I began this post, Beve interrupted me to ask me to help bring some of J's belongings in from the stuffed car. I wasn't very happy with him, I admit.  My initial reaction isn't always, "Thank you for bothering me!"

Interruptions.  For years, as I've prayed for those interrupting children, I've asked God to interrupt them as they're walking down the halls of their schools, or driving across the state.  I've asked Him to stop them dead in their tracks as they're walking through life, so they see Him, to recognize Him in whatever way, at whatever inconvenient moment He steps through their closed door.  And I want that for myself as well.  Let's train our hearts so that nothing is really an interruption, but simply an opportunity to do Kingdom work, extend Kingdom grace, to sit in His presence because we've climbed out of our own lives and into whatever life He wants us to impact.  Interruptions tend to annoy me, but it's all about prespective, isn't it? When I take off my glasses and put on His, nothing is really an interruption, all is a possibility. This moment--this very moment-- might be the one where the person who needs your time, is actually speaking with our Father's voice! 

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A wish

All five of us are sitting here in the family room in front of a football game on TV--Texas vs.Texas A&M.  I got up early this morning to start the cooking, and believe me, it's a labor...of love, yes, but also simply labor.  I'm not an enthusiastic cook, not by a long shot.  But I can roast a passable turkey (the trick is the 48 hours in a brine, which makes it incredibly moist!), a stuffing we all love (well, not J, but he's our finicky eater!), and a family favorite, Raspberry Pretzel salad.  And we manage to eat ourselves silly.  SK had a game plan in order to eat lots--she purposely didn't drink water all afternoon.  At the end of one helping, however, she realized she'd eaten too quickly, and was stuffed.  "A rookie mistake," she lamented.  The rest of us weren't in much better shape.  Beve decided to hold off on the Raspberry salad until later, but immediately finished most of mine for me.  But honestly, none of us can eat with Beve on our best days.  And trust me, when we were first married, I tried. The result was that I gained a lot of weight that I've spent the rest of my life bemoaning!

Football and eating, that's what this day amounts to.  Right?  I sometimes wonder what it really has to do with the feast the pilgrims fixed after their first year of survival on this continent.  We haven't known the cost of such a day.  We haven't survived the cruelties of an ocean voyage in a wooden ship, nor the unexpectedly terrible winter.  We haven't lost a great portion of our company to death.  We don't usually have to rely on the indiginous people to keep us alive.  In fact, by the time we became a nation, we'd shuffled them off to the corners of this land.  Sure the pilgrims thanked God, but they also thanked their neighbors. Wished those neighbors well.

However, I do know that this is the day of the year we set aside to stuff ourselves.  Hopefully, we do it cognizant of what it means, cognizant of how we have been blessed not only by God, but by those who populate our lives.  As believers, we're told repeatedly in scripture to 'be thankful.'  Not just today, but constantly.  Thankfulness is the foundation of prayer; the genesis of it.  Whatever we ask, we ask based on the amazing truth of what we've already been given, what God did, does and will do for us.  Being thankful for Life itself, for the astonishing smorgasbord that is Creation, and the unfathomable gift that is our Salvation.
Whatever good you have--health, family, a job (especially in this economic climate), a place to sleep at night, and food in your cupboard--comes from the outstretched hand of God. 

So today, I wish you thankful hearts, lives that are lived as a sacrifice of thankfulness and praise, that you are as replete with what God has given you as you are from the food you ate.  I wish for such a thankful heart--for all of us--that we are as thankful for the storms as we are for the sun, that we 'don't waste our sorrows' (the title of a book I read in college) by also becoming resentful and angry, but recognize the hand of God is also outstretched in difficulties.  Maybe that hand, that amazing hand of God in our lives, is covered with tears as He wipes them from our eyes, and His own as our Father cries for our pain.

There's a song I learned about 37 years ago that fits these hopes for all of you who read this blog (and you are part of what I'm thankful for today!):

"I could wish you joy and peace
To last your whole life long.
I could wish you sunshine
Or a cheerful little song.
Wish you all the happiness
That this life can bring.
But I wish you Jesus
But I wish you Jesus,
'Cuz when I wish you Jesus,
I've wished you everything!"

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Confession

This will date me, I'm sure, but when I was in my twenties, many people I knew were impacted by something called Basic Youth Institute.  Now I didn't go to Basic Youth (though Beve did, I think...it was in his pre-me life), but I was impacted by it never-the-less.  At some point during a Basic Youth Conference, the conversation turned to Confession.  Attendees were encouraged to call or talk to the people in their lives whom they needed to forgive, or whom they needed forgiveness from.  Sounds like a very wise thing, doesn't it?

Maybe in theory.  I was living in Eugene, Oregon back then, and wasn't in a whole lot of contact with people from high school or my years  at WSU.  Out of the blue one night, I got a phone call from someone I'd known in high school.  He asked for forgiveness for having held some things against me for at least half a dozen years.  I was more than a little startled, but told him I forgave him, and asked him to forgive me for whatever I'd done (he didn't tell me what that was )that had caused his reaction.  Then the next night someone I knew even less called me, to confess that he'd never really liked me while I was at WSU, and he asked me to forgive him for those uncharitable feelings.  The second phone call was even more disconcerting, as you might guess. Of course I told this guy that I forgave him, but for the next several weeks, those two phone calls preyed on my mind.  What kind of person was I to have engendered such strong negative reactions in these two people?  And what about the countless others who might be out there, also holding things against me while I walked blythely through life, assuming others liked me--or at least didn't hate me. 

I've been thinking of this for the last couple of weeks, because at church the sermon series has been about confession.  Owning and confessing our sin to God, and to those we have hurt.  One week, it was about 'forgiving others as Christ forgave you.'  Now I'm a big proponent of forgiveness.  It's paramount in our discipleship with Christ, of course.  And I'm stunned by the enormity of God's forgiveness, which is both thorough and previous.  That is, complete and two thousand years before we even knew we'd need it.

I understand that we have a responsibility in our own forgiveness, we must live in the joy of repentance.  For some people that might sound funny--'the joy of repentance'--but I believe that real repentance reaps a harvest of joy.  Actually facing God, admitting who I am in all my sinfulness (and trust me, I can say with Paul, "Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst." 1 Timothy 1: 15), letting go of that sin to turn, pick up my mat and walk the other way, this brings amazing freedom.

But (so you knew there was a 'but' coming, didn't you?) I think we have to be very careful about calling up virtual strangers in order to confess things they don't actually need to know.  Now certainly we must take responsibility for--confess!--those sins we commit against those people we are actually in relationship with, like the Beve and my kids.  "Don't let the sun go down in your anger," Paul tells us.  I don't always do this, unfortunately.  Beve goes to bed pretty early these days, so I could use that as an excuse, but the truth is, sometimes I hold on to things.  As I said (and I'm not proud of this), I'm chief among sinners.  However, I also know that once I've actually talked to Beve, something loosens in me. And you know the worst thing?  Sometimes, when I'm angry at Beve, he has the gall to ask for forgiveness too soon, when I haven't finished brooding yet.  How annoying is that?

But that's within the community of my marriage, where the most hurts (and the most joy!) tend to reside.  Beyond those walls, however, it's a different story.  We must be cautious about how we approach people.  We must be sure that step is what God wants for us, and won't reap a different harvest than we hope for.
After those two boys confessed to me, I was confused and even hurt.  It took me a while to let go, to actually do what I'd told them I'd do--forgive them.  I haven't forgotten it, obviously, but it's such a powerful lesson to me.  Offer my confession first to the One whom I've really sinned against.  And ultimately, all sin is against Him.  No matter what we call them--mistakes, blunders, errors, bad steps--sin is sin, and we all do it.  "If we say we have no sin, we lie and the truth is not in us." Sin is acting without considering Him. So, confess and repent, and allow His forgiveness to work in and through us.  Pick up your mat and walk without the crippled legs of sin.  How often do we do this?  Well, how often do you sin?  If you're like me, you can't get through an hour without some kind of action that doesn't put Him first.  He'll wash you with hyssop, and make you clean (IIf you have stutter in confession, try reading Psalm 51; it has everything you need to say!).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Counting sheep and other things

I'm an insomniac.  Not by choice, of course.  Who'd actually choose to toss and turn each night, trying to find that one magical position that would allow the body to be comfortable enough to shut down?  For as long as I can remember I've shared a bedroom with someone who could turn out the light, close her/his eyes, and be gone.  I've never been able to understand how the trick to falling asleep as soon as the head hits the pillow.  My sister, L, whom I shared a room with growing up, could actually talk in her sleep, so even when I was still awake and telling her the secrets of my life, she was happily snoozing.  Sometimes I'd tell her she wouldn't remember our conversation the next day (and she didn't!), but most of the time I simply talked to her as she slept.  That was fine with both of us--my secrets were clearly safe with her!

 This didn't quite work once I married the Beve because I actually wanted his attention when I was trying to tell him something.  Odd, huh?  Many times in our early years, I'd ask, "Are you still awake?" and when he didn't answer, feel a little hurt that he could manage to fall asleep when I was pouring my heart out.  Sigh. I no longer try to engage Beve in real conversation when he gets in bed.  And, to his credit, he doesn't try to talk to me when he's bright eyes and raring to go at dawn (Have I said 'thank you' to you lately for this, Beve?) But sometimes I've asked him how to fall asleep quickly, and he says, "Just close your eyes and stop thinking."  STOP THINKING??? How in the world does a person stop thinking?  I don't even know what that means.  My brain runs faster than my fingers on this keyboard, faster than my feet have ever run, jumping higher and wider than Olympic athletes.  There is no off button, as far as I can tell.  And I've tried everything.  Tried thinking of nothing--yes, I mean, literally lying with my eyes closed, thinking, "nothing, nothing, nothing," until I got bored with repeating the same word over and over, and somehow ended up listing all 23 of my grandparents' grandchildren, their children, etc.  Or trying to remember the name of some movie with that doe-eyed boy that had the song, "Me and Bobby McGee" in it.
Or the distance between here and Antarctica...you know, really important things.

You see my problem.  And I'm not one for counting sheep--not that that has ever worked!  What I actually do, when a night is really bad, like last night, when the clock moves ever more exorably toward dawn, is think through the Bible.  Try to think of a verse from every book in the Old Testament, or every chapter of the New.  I've been memorizing scripture for a long time, so it's piled up inside a card catalogue in my head.  Or I try to recite the book of Phillipians or Colossians.  These are good habits for me, they make the Word living and active in me, as Hebrews 4 says, sharper than any two-edged sword...

Last night, at about 2:30 or so, I decided to play the Alphabet game with God's Names and attributes.
A--Almighty, Alpha, Amazing, Awesome
B--Beautiful, Big, Bread of life
C--Creator, Champion
D--Deliverer,
E--Exalted, Eternal
F--Father, Fountain, Fortress
G--Great, Glorious, God
H--Holy, Hallowed
I--Infinite, Intimate, Indescribable (which is pretty funny when you think about it...)
J--Jesus! Just
K--King, Kind
L--Lord, Lovely, Limitless, Lion, Lamb, Love, Life
M--Mighty, Matchless, Majesty
N--New, Near, Name above Names
O--Omniscient, Omnipotent, Omega
P--Powerful, Peace, high Priest
Q--Quiet (okay, so I had trouble with Q)
R--Redeemer, Righteous, Royal, Rock, Resurrected
S--Savior, Strong, Spirit, Shepherd
T--Truth, Trinity, Triumphant
U--Unfathomable,
V--Vine, Victorious
W--Warrior,the Way, living Water
X--eXtraordinary, eXtravagant, eXciting (ok, so I hedged here!)
Y--YHWH
Z--Zealous

It's not exhaustive, my list--either in making me sleepy, or in listing all of what our Matchless, Amazing, Glorious God is.  But I'd rather count Him than sheep any day (er, make that night!).

Monday, November 24, 2008

Refilling the nest

The house will fill tomorrow.  SK's Thanksgiving vacation begins about 10am tomorrow when she packs 4 other students with her in her little Subaru (who she calls Gladys, by the way), and they journey across the state to our northwest corner. And right as we're unbuttoning our jeans after the feast on Thursday, trying to nap through the Cowboys' clobbering of our Seahawks, J will be cleaning out his apartment, and moving his 'stuff' back into the little room he affectionately calls "the cell" across the hall from E's residence in our house. 

Last year, Beve and I had a taste of what it'll be like when we're empty-nesters.  After the first rather miserable weeks, when our conversations revolved around which of our children we'd talked to during the day, we settled into a comfortable routine and discovered, much to our delight, that we really do like each other, that we have plenty to say to each other that doesn't involve our offspring, and this new way of being wasn't half-bad.  Sure, Beve ripped out our bathroom, beginning a remodeling project that took a whole year.  Sure, we still marked time between their visits and between their phone calls, but there was something sweet about our rhythm together.  We didn't have long years of being two before we were three.  We became expectant parents a mere five months after our wedding, and hands-holding-our-first-child parents just two months after our first anniversary (which you surely realized if you can actually do math).  Three children in three and a half years followed, so most of our learning curve in marriage was related to being Mama and Daddy.  There were moments when I wished for time alone with my Beve, moments when I coveted the long pre-children relationships of some of our friends.  But I wouldn't have given up these three children for it. 

But there's no question that I've waited for the time we'd have when our children were raised.  Even as much as I love them, even as much as they're my favorite people on earth, I've imagined the time when we'd be free to travel, to be accountable only to/for each other.  I looked forward to the days when they'd be adults, wise and interesting, and living out the lives God meant for them.  I could hardly wait for what He had for them...

But along came the downturn in the economy--a perfect storm moment for our kids, showing up at exactly the moment E was ready to find her first career job.  Bleakly, she looks at the reduced number of posted jobs in her field and knows she's not quite qualified for any of them. So she hands out her glittering resume to retailers, full of the amazing jobs she's already held in her chosen field, and she discovers that she's also underqualified in sales. She's steady as a person comes, but feels discouraged by the prospects.

And also bleakly, our son faced the reality that with reduced hours at his job, due to the slump in the economy, and his need to save so he can go on to graduate school, he told us he needed to move home. Of course, we told him. He didn't want to, dreads it (Mom knowing all his business?  Of course he shudders at the thought.), but we'll manage.  I'll ask God to help me not provoke my children, and they'll ask God to help them respect us. 

So our empty nest is full again.  And it's not just okay, it's actually good.  The Beve and I will have our days together...but for now, we're the mattress our kids fall back on when the world is expensive and hard to navigate.  As my parents were for me, as the Beve's were for him, we'll open the door, stuff J's stuff in, and welcome them home. And be thankful for our full nest.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Our treasure

Last night on the way home from church, Beve, E, her friend and I got to talking about Beve's mom.  Grammie died when E was just 7 years old, so, although she remembers her, much of what she knows about her Grammie are other people's memories.  And it made me think of what I most remember about Grammie:

Beve's mom was the first person I ever saw die.  Beve and I had taken the night shift that night.  After everyone else went to sleep, Beve sat on the couch next to his mother's hospital bed, and I slouched beside him half dozing, while he channel surfed.  Strange, old movies are shown at 2 am, I do remember that.  About 4 am, Beve's sister, father and Grammie's best friend, Laura, all stumbled out into the family room.  Soon after, Glo said, "This is it," and we gathered around Grammie's bed as she took a breath, seemed to hold it, then took another.  And that was the last breath.  The silence in the room was unnerving for a moment, but I found myself saying, "Thank you, Lord," over and over.  We quickly awakened the other brothers and spouses, and joined hands around the bed to pray.  To pray their mother on her way.  Then Laura broke out some chocolate--Grammie was a chocolate addict!--as a way to celebrate that life even while her body cooled.

Two nights earlier, Grammie had removed her wedding ring and handed it to her husband.  But her watch was still on her wrist, and her clothes still hanging in her closet.  A ham was delivered to the house that day--a honey spiral Virginia ham she'd ordered for a big family gathering.  We laughed through our tears as we ate our feast that night, thinking only Grammie would have the foresight to plan a meal for the day she died. She really was a domestic goddess. 

But what struck me then, in that first Grammie-less day, is the same thing I recognized the day my dad died.  Her toothbrush was still in its holder; Dad's slippers were exactly where he'd kicked them off by his closet.  Grammie took nothing with her when she died.  Nothing.  Dad's desk was covered with unfinished projects.  They even left their bodies in the last bed in which they'd slept. 

I think of this often, really.  Particularly as we begin the wait for the birth of Jesus. The world tells us to grab all we can, to desire more and more and more.  Our culture presses us to accumulate, to believe that bigger is better; tells us that we deserve 'things', that we're worth it--whateve 'it' is.  But you can't stand at the bedside of a person who has just gotten up and left their very body and utter such cultural 'truths'.  Because they just aren't true.  Nothing manmade goes with us when we die.  Nothing made of cotton, metal, or earth.  In fact, the only--ONLY--thing that lasts, that goes to heaven with us is what God has made, what He
indwells.  Not what we can hold in our hands, but what we have in our hearts. 

Eternity within us, this is what last.  Not what education I had, but what wisdom He grows in me.  Not what jewels I wear, but whether I'm becoming a jewel in His crown.  Not what books I've read, but where I fit in His book of Life.  Not what wounds I bear, but what wounds He bore for me.  Not the life I've lived, but His Ressurected Life lived out in me.  Where is your treasure? we're asked by Jesus.  Where is it?  When the last moments come in my earthly life, I want to thrust off this world gladly, certain that I already have the best...the best that is yet to come.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The South Pole

Day two of a migraine. 
I think the problem is that I've spent the last couple of days freezing my extremities.  Down under, way down under.  In Antarctica, actually.  And all without leaving my living room.  Magic, huh?

See, I was at the library the other day, and on a shelf right in front of my eyes was this book--a book I've actually read before.  A book that led me to read everything I could about Antarctica.  The Worst Place on Earth, about the race to the South Pole by Roald Armundsen, a Norwegian, and the Brit, Robert Falcon Scott.  These two men each mounted expeditions in 1910-12 to be the first person to find the Pole.  And I'm telling you the story is gripping.  On one hand, there stood this tall Norwegian who left nothing to chance, studied, researched, plotted and planned, and by the time his team was ready to ski south from the Bay of Whales, where they'd wintered on the iceshelf, the plan was set in place, with every continguency thought of.  They skiied, drove dogs, and were laconic about the cold and other dangers (crevasses, especially).  "Great day of skiing!" was a typical journal entry.  Traveling 1500 kilometers from their winter hut, they reached the South Pole in just over 2 months, on December 19.  Thirty five days ahead of Scott's team!

Robert Falcon Scott was a British navel officer, who 'ruled' his men with intimidation and ill humor.  He did almost no research, believed that simply being British meant his team would succeed, know how to do things they'd never been taught (like driving dogs, taking compass readings, etc). He rejected the idea of dog driving, for the most part because on an earlier trip, he'd had no success with them.  Instead,The man sent to Siberia to buy just three dozen dogs (he was hedging his bets) before the trip, was cabled by Scott to buy white ponies as well--but only white ones, because on a previous trip (by Shackleton), the black ponies had died first.  So obviously white ponies were stronger.  Brilliant deduction, huh?  The white ponies that made the trip began in very bad shape--old and broken down.  A dog person had picked them after all.  And only pointed at their coats when he chose.  (And I'm not even going to tell you about the way they traveled on the ship.  It's really appalling, but you should read it!)

Scott led ineptly, based on appearance, and by force.  For example, in the last minute, he took an extra person along on the assault on the pole simply because this man was built like a brick. This big, brawny man (who probably starved to death) was the first to die on the long way back from the Pole.  By then, they had been 'man-hauling' for weeks, after the motorized vehicles died, the ponies died, and the dog drivers were sent back to base camp.  Every single day on the march, Scott lamented in his journal about their terrible bad luck--the weather was atrocious, apparently.  Imagine that--terrible weather in Antarctica.  Blizzards at the South Pole--who'd have thought? Scott had no contingencies for anything.  He cut it close, hoped for the best, was appalled by his terrible luck, and passed the blame whenever he could.

The sad ending of Scott's trip was that all 5 men died.  They'd been starving for weeks, suffering from scurvy and frostbite and a loss of heart, having lost the race to the Pole.  The last three simply hunkered down in their sleeping bags in a tent, and wrote letters while they waited to die. 

It's quite the story.  Now I've told you more than you were ever interested in knowing about the South Pole.  But it captures my attention, this story.  The differences between these two men, the way they led, the results, the attitudes of the men in their care.  It's remarkable to me that one man made the worst possible decisions, resulting in more hardship, failure and eventual death, while the other, with forethought and planning, had a trip that was something like a long-distance skiing vacation, where no one even got sick, let alone died.

There are many times when I fly by the seat of my pants in life.  I admit that.  I'm not always the best planner (though actually overplanning runs in my birth-family).  I get annoyed by details, assume I'll figure it out as I go.  Fortunately, I'm not battling the elements of the South Pole (so far anyway)!  But the older I get, the more I'm aware that a little planning, a little forethought goes a long ways.  And though this piece of history bears that out in a huge way, it's a lesson I need.  Build on the foundation of those who have gone before me, like Paul and Peter; stand on the shoulders of those ahead, like the many known and unknown saints who are already with Jesus.  This is good advice in Polar Expeditions, but also in my daily, Kingdom-come Life.  I don't have to re-invent the wheel with God.  Ecclesiastes tells me there is nothing new under the sun.  Maybe I should see that as a good thing.  He's already written about whatever I need, whatever You need.  And His plan is good, acceptable and perfect. So, lace up your boots, people, put on your skis, follow the path He's set before us.  We're surrounded by a great crowd of witnesses, egging us on.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

An angel unaware

We had dinner with the Plexes tonight.  You remember our next door neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Plex?  Mrs. Plex told us a story while we ate that I have to pass on.  It's a Holy-Spirit, holy moment, if there ever was one. 

Every Monday night, the Plexes volunteer with a street ministry called Church on The Street.  People walk through the door of this church, every size, shape and color of them, knowing they'll get fed and listened to, hugged a little, helped a lot.  And all these people, many of pushing their lives in a shopping cart, have to do is listen to the gospel.  It's Kingdom extending work the Plexes and their fellow workers do, and sometimes--maybe every week!--the Kingdom is extended to the Plexes from the very people who are hardened by life, a little smelly, and usually without an address (though, oddly, most of them have month by month cell-phones, their lifelines with each other).  Holding out a hand, a hand is also given to them.  I love this.  I love that Christ sits down at the table between them, and miracles happen.

Last Monday a miracle surely did happen.  A man named Dan showed up that night.  He hasn't been around for about six months.  Things are going his way right now.  He has a girlfriend, a baby daughter named Jazz, and they've finally gotten off the street and into an apartment.  Dan doesn't need this ministry the way he used to.  But he came Monday night to show off how big Jazz has gotten, to celebrate that life is better now.  The Plexes and their fellow ministers were glad to hug the baby, and her dad, Dan.  Our friend Mrs, Plex is a baby-magnet extraordinaire--truly, you've never seen the like.  I mean, I think she might be a 'baby whisperer!'  So you can guess she was loving on that baby girl, holding her and talking to Carrie, the wife of the pastor of Church on the Street.

Meanwhile, Dan sat down across the table from a teenaged girl and her boyfriend.  Angel, as she's known on the street, is an 18-year-old runaway, who lives in a tent in the woods with her boyfriend and a couple of other kids. Angel's still very young, has a sweetness about her that hasn't been burned away by the hardness of the streets yet.  She's well mannered, and grateful, and very pretty. She's been coming to Church on the Street for several months now.  But Dan's been gone longer than that, so when he sat down by Angel, they introduced themselves, began talking about their lives.  Angel's boyfriend mentioned her birthday, and Dan asked how old she'll be.  Then said, "I have a daughter your age. Same birthday."  Dan wasn't in contact with his daughter, though.  Angel said she wasn't in contact with her dad, either; but she'd love to see him, if she knew where he was.  She'd been raised by her mom around the Shelton/SW Washington area, since she was five, when her dad went to prison.  Her boyfriend suggested Angel might finally call her mom just to let her know she was ok.  Dan, who'd probably gotten a little quiet, asked, "Is your mom's last name Carpenter?"  The answer was yes.  "Is your real name Amy?"
"Yes," Angel answered.
"I think I'm your dad."

A few minutes later, Dan had brought her up to Mrs. Plex and Carrie, saying, "I want you to meet your sister, Jazz."  An Angel, unaware (as it says in Hebrews 13), was having dinner with her father.  A Dad was finally hugging the daughter he'd been searching for since she was five.  Everyone was crying, everyone was laughing.  God was in it.  Mrs. Plex began to pray, thanking God for mending the broken places. They all felt privileged to be at the intersection of this meeting.  Just standing there while Dan and Amy wept together at the amazing miracle of finding each other.  God reached down and put their hands together, their lives together, in the most unexpected of places.  The Plexes, the pastors, everyone in the room, knew that God alone had orchestrated this meeting.  You know, the woods Angel/Amy and her friends camp in is just two blocks from where Dan lives in the new apartment with little Jazz, Angel's little sister.

Don't you love this?  Doesn't the hair on your arms stand up at the way God works?  14 years later, a dad and a daughter meet, because God was in it. Take off your shoes in the face of such a moment, because the Lord is working in this place.  Mrs. Plex?  After all the tears (and there were more tonight as she told the story), she stands as witness.  It's what she's called to do.  Stand with these people, then stand and tell of the mighty things God is doing.  It's what we're always called to do.  We are His witnesses, after all.  Not about law, program or lists.  We're called to be witness to Him working.  It's not always as miraculous as daughter and dad meeting after so long.  But be on the lookout,  He's here and He isn't silent.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Judy Dunn

In 1982, a college friend and I backpacked through Europe, traveling with our lives on our shoulders, and sleeping bags at our hips. We stayed in Youth Hostels, surrounded by others of our age and ilk.  The hostel near St Paul's Cathedral in London was one of our favorites, with a large dining room that remained open through the day (in those days most hostels were locked up tight during the day, so that travelers' belongings were safe).  On the walls were quotes from many literary travelers.  One rainy day (surprise, Rain in London!) Suzanne and I sat drinking tea, reading and writing all day long, inspired by the words on the wall and the languages across the room.  We met young men from Australia, women from Scotland, many others from North America.  We were young and privileged--we had money enough to put off the cares of adulthood just a little longer. 

Along our route, we sometimes met the same people over and over.  In Stratford, we walked the streets of Shakespeare's youth, had a real English tea in an upstairs shop right next door to the house where he was born, met two old ladies in a park, drinking their tea with their King Charles Spaniels sipping tea and bisquits right on the bench beside them.  At the Youth Hostel that night, we met a young woman from Australia and her companion who had been her English penpal since they were children.  We sat next to them at tea, and they were in the same sleeping quarters with us as we lay out our sleeping bags.  Neither Suzanne nor I remembered their names, but the next morning, as we were getting up, one of them called the other, "Judy Dunn."  So, while we were sweeping the room, washing out the sinks, I said hi to Judy.
"Judy?" she answered.  "Who's that?"
"Your friend called you Judy," I told her. "Judy Dunn."
Both 'Judy' and her friend looked at me, then at each other, and began to laugh. "No," the non-Judy said. "I said, 'did you get your duty done?'"
Judy Dunn--Duty done. Suzanne and I laughed with them.  And for the rest of our trip, whenever we had to clean up something, we called each other "Judy." Whenever we were given a responsibility, asked to help, or even simply opened our journals to write, we were "Judy Dunn."  Doing whatever we did for Him.

Doing your duty--taking care of chores, responsibilities--Being Judy Dunn.  We don't always look at the up side of duty, do we?  Whenever a thing reeks of duty or obligation, we rear back, we 'saved by grace' protestants.  Don't we?  Yet, Paul tells us that in the body of Christ, it's a little like we're in those Youth Hostels--"If you don't work, you don't eat."  He tells us that we are meant to work together, do our chores in order keep the place running.  We're in this thing called the Kingdom together and that comes with responsibilities.  Duties.  Obligations.  I'm not talking about rigid rules, but those disciplines that train us, and expand the Kingdom.

I'm thinking about this today, because I'm in a quieter season of my life than I've ever been.  I have no church responsibilities, am involved in no formal ministries right now, and this is unusual for me.  In fact, I don't think I've had another season like this in my Christian Life.  So I wonder, what is my task, ministry-wise?   Where does He want me to get in and sweep up the place with 'Judy Dunn'? How does He want me to man up and work for the amazing nourishment He gives me daily?

As I write this, I'm conscious that this blog itself is ministry.  I hear from people quite often who have been struck by something written here.  Thank you for that.  But it's Christ, not me.  Just my puny hands tapping the letters, trying to write in the key of Jesus.  Is this all He asks of me?  Just to do this little thing that I love to do?  Yes, I think.  That's the answer.  Our tasks in the Kingdom don't have to be hard.  Duties don't have to hurt or feel pulled from us like a dentist with pliers, yanking out something against our desire or interest.  God gifts us in particular ways.  He expects us to use those gifts to honor Him.  He won't ask me to sing, He won't ask me to keep the books, or administrate, or be a woodworker.  What He asks is that I use what He's given me to glorify Him.  Being Judy Dunn in my writing, being Judy Dunn in my relationships.  Doing my work heartily as unto the Lord, rather than humans.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Extreme Maker, home edition

One of my guilty pleasures happens on Sunday nights on ABC.  I'm talking about "Extreme Makeover, Home Edition."  I really love this show. My girls and I are practically addicts.  I've always loved houses, so that's part of it.  When I was quite young, my dad would sometimes buy me house plan magazines, and I could spend hours staring at them, imagining the life I would lead in each different house, complete with a family I'd made up for the purpose of populating the house plans.  Later I began to design my own homes, though I'm quite a pathetic artist, and math has always been my downfall. So you can see I was fairly successful at this 'hobby.'  My ever helpful dad, though, thought my interest in houses made architecture a perfect fit for me.  He set up a meeting with the chairman of architecture at WSU--whom, of course, Dad already knew well.  Dad was very concerned that my desired areas of study wouldn't actually parlay into a 'living' for me.  He was a smart man, my dad.  I went to that meeting, listened to Dr. Scott encourage and discourage me all at once (the math, of course, and attention to detail--I was/am far too right-brained to manage details most of the time).  Later, I told my dad that it was better that I not attempt what he wanted for me, rather than fail him or myself.  So I carried on in English and Biblical Studies, and left the math to those who can actually do it!

I still like houses, but that's not the real draw of Extreme Home Makeover. Certainly it's not the house that makes me cry every week, though some of them are stunning!  It's not the house that makes me tape the show when I'm going to miss it. I do like much in those houses.  I'm fascinated by some of the gadgets, some amazing designs.  However, sometimes some of those theme rooms of the family's children seem a little too over the top.  Six flatscreen TVs on the wall of the bedroom of a girl who wants to be a news anchor?  Sports themed rooms--every single week, I think!.  Once a college student told the designer that she likes the colors of the ocean, and returned home to a complete beach-themed room, complete with a dock-bed and grass roofed hut in one corner. 

It's the stories that draw me in every week.  Today's family was made up of 11 sons--three biological, five brothers from Haiti and three from Toledo's inner city.  E and I were both crying before the first commercial tonight--about three minutes in.  The mom of this family has a disease which makes her soft tissue rip, and her joints to pop out of joint.  She almost died a while ago (hard to tell the chronology!), but she is very glad the stroke and everything else happened to her, because when she thought she was dying, she had the chance to tell each of her eleven sons exactly how she feels about them, what her hopes and dreams for each of them are.  "Many moms don't have that chance," she said.  "And now, for their whole lives, they'll know how I feel and that, in the last moments of my life, I'll be thinking of them."  Wow!

With tears running down my face, I thought of what I'd say to my kids.  I'd like to think they, too, know what they mean to me, that they know there's absolutely nothing they could do that will change that.  And even, that in my leave-taking from this earth, they will be on my mind. They and Beve and God, to whom I'll be going.  And here's another secret for you, and for them--about eight years ago, when I went to the British Isles for a month, before I left, I deliberately wrote letters for each of my beloveds. I'm such a reluctant flyer (especially then, when they were small, and the losing of a parent would be a blueprint for remodeling everything ever after. And don't tell me how much safer air travel is than car travel.  When a car has engine trouble, you pull off the road.  When a plane does, you fall out of the sky).  I hid those in the top drawer of my dresser.  And they've been there ever since.  I haven't looked at them since I wrote them, but they've been there so long, my dresser would feel empty without those envelopes sitting there.  If/when they're ever opened, my children will discover not who they are to me today, but who they were to me when they actually were children.  They'll see what God and I imagined for their lives. 

But that's not enough.  For any of us.  We should saturate our children with love, with the knowledge that we're in their corner, their headcheerleaders.  Not just by our actions, but by words that they can replay when other messages from the world, from the enemy, shout at them.  I'm crazy about my children.  They're the most amazing humans ever created.  Isn't that the way you feel about yours?  Don't assume they know.  Pretend it's the last night of your life and tell them.

E, J, SK, are you listening?  I love you.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Buy a battery

Have you ever been around a fellow Christian who spends all their time trying to figure out what deep, spiritual thing God is saying? In any and every situation, there's a mystery to be solved, or a supernatural intervention to discover.   I have...the Beve has, I think we all have.  Many years ago Beve was in a men's early morning Bible study.  One morning one of the men was very concerned, needed prayer. You see, he had planned a trip across the mountains for that day, but when he went out to his truck that morning, it wouldn't start.  The way he looked at it, either God didn't want him to go, or the enemy was throwing up a roadblock to keep him home.  Sitting next to Beve that morning was a scientist (our son's fishiing buddy!).  As the troubled man was asking for prayer, "What do you think God is telling me?", the scientist leaned over to Beve and said, "Buy a battery!" 

That phrase has become a standard response between Beve and me.  Whenever we see someone--and that includes either of us!--gyrating to see what obscure, or deeper lesson He's trying to teach us, one of us will murmur it to the other, or at least think it internally,"Buy a battery!"  Buying a battery can be just as spiritual as anything else.  Sometimes--maybe often--the answer is as plain as that.  That obvious.  God, who is a mystery, also tells us ordinary things, obvious thing. He's in it all, isn't He?  Maybe we think too much about the meaning of an event, rather than realizing that He just wants us to take care of business, by buying a battery when we need to start our car. 

Here's another example: a couple of years ago, at the end of the summer, we became infested with fruit flies.  I'm serious, it was a real infestation, so much so that I was vacuuming our windows several times a day, all the while, praying, "Please God, get rid of these dang flies!"  It was truly disgusting.  But day after day, as I cleaned our windows, they continued to appear.  I never seemed to win the battle, and God was alarmingly quiet to my pleas.  I looked up fruit flies on the internet, trying to find a solution, then trying everything every reference suggested.  But I never got to the source of the problem.  Finally, one day, I asked God to 'please help me find them,' and then I stopped looking in obvious places.  And I discovered an old bag of potatoes in a closet that I would never have put produce in.  It was so amazing to find them that I knew it was God.
"Please help me do the work--the search--and fill up what is not in me to do."

See the difference?  Instead of sitting around trying to figure out what God might have wanted me to learn by this event, what spiritual lesson I needed to be taught, just help me use the brain You've given me to do what must be done in this situation.  Buy a battery!  Look first for the obvious answer.

Of course, sometimes it's the enemy. Sometimes it's God saying no...but first, maybe always first, look for the easy answer...Your car won't start?  God is saying, 'buy a battery!'  Maybe the simple answer is actually the miracle.  After that, trust that if He has something more to teach you, something deeper, it's His business, His holy, Kingdom-come business to make that clear as well.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Earn this!

OK, so here's a secret for you--I'm a huge fan of war movies.  I know, strange, right?  Now there are many kinds of movies I really can't stand.  Any movie where the main character (s) go from one little thing not going their way to having a house burn down--these movies make me crazy.  "Meet the Parents" is one such example.  Anything that can go wrong does for poor Ben Stiller.  I don't think it one bit funny!  And, despite the fact that merely mentioning this title will make the Beve laugh and recite certain lines, I don't like the movie "Trains, Planes and Automobiles," either.  Too many improbable catastrophes happen in a row!
Another type of movie I really don't like is one in which I'm compelled to root for the 'bad guy,' or the person breaking the law.  The "Thomas Crown Affair" was a movie like this--thieves as the heroes. So are all those "Ocean" movies.  Yes, they're clever; yes, they have giant stars who aren't hard on the eyes, but I still sit on the edge of my seat, hoping this band of robbers can pull off the heist. When you think about it,  would you ever do this in real life?

But I love war movies.  I'm not really sure why.  They aren't necessarily my very favorite kind--which would be character driven dramas.  But I do love well-made war epics.  J has the "Band of Brothers" DVD set, and I've watched the entire thing more than once.  And Clint Eastwood's "Flags of Our Fathers"?  Loved it!  I sat through "The Deerhunter" with the Beve in Finland, with Finnish subtitled throughout.  And when I was about eight months pregnant with J, we saw "Platoon," and the baby kicked in my stomach at every shot fired--making me experience the movie from the inside out!  But my favorite war movie has to be "Saving Private Ryan."  Yes, I know the first twenty minutes of it are more violent than any movie before or since.  Yes, it made me want to cover my eyes and close my ears.  For all that it was brilliant, combining the feel of war to primarily a character-driven piece. 

And my favorite scene in that movie is very close to the end.  Tom Hanks is sitting on a just-saved bridge, a fatal wound already clouding his vision.  Matt Damon, the saved 'Private Ryan', is standing over him when Hanks beckons him to lean down for what will be the captain's final words.  "Earn this!" the captain tells the private.  Earn this saving of your life, this ticket home.  Earn what had been done for you at so high a price--the deaths of most of the men who came to save you.

Jesus, hanging on the cross, or resurrected and standing among the disciples behind the closed door of the upper room, could be saying those very words.  "It is finished," he cried from the cross.  "Now earn it!" I almost hear Him cry.  Live your life worthy of what I've done for you, worthy of this Incarnate gospel.  "Earn this," he whispers to each of us.
Legally, before the court of God, we have already been saved, already been made perfect by those stripes and nail holes on the body of Christ.  The Father already sees the fulfilment of our holiness.  But on this earth, we must walk daily, must grow up in Him more and more toward that which He's already given us.  It's an odd paradox that we already are what we must become, we already have that for which we aim.  So this moment in "Saving Private Ryan," helps me get it.  Earn this!  Private Ryan cannot turn the clock backwards so he isn't saved, he can only walk into his life, living up to what has been done for him.

Earn this, is the whisper I hear in the dark.  Not earning my right to salvation, not working my way into heaven, but living my LIFE in light of salvation and heaven together. 

Lord, grant us the grace to be worthy of your Name.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A novel trinity

I've been something of a slacker lately--at least in terms of blogging.  Partly this is due to being swamped in work.  I'm trying to get a few chapters of the latest incarnation of my book sent off to my agent in NY, and even when I'm not overtly writing/editing, I'm thinking about it, composing in my head, imagining the twists and turns of these lives.  My editor told me the other day that I needed to draft a backstory for one of the storylines in the book.  "Let them speak to you," she told me. "Let them tell you their story."  And that's exactly what I've been doing. 

For some writers, working with an outline/a map of the story is the best way to approach a novel.  They know the ending before they start the beginning.  These are left-brain writers, people who want to stay in charge of their work.  This is not me. I would feel stymied if I had to write in such a tight manner--like a straight line from beginning to end, staying on track (I know I'm overgeneralizing, but you get the idea). Like CS Lewis says, for me, it begins with 'a lump in my throat.'  I get to know my characters, and let them tell me their story.  Sometimes they don't do what I'd like them to do--once they've begun to have flesh and muscle added to their skeleton, they are who they are, so they get a little messier than I'd like, and I have far less control than I wish.There are unexpected delays, roadblocks, tightrope walks...and sometimes I even write myself into a deadend. See, I didn't know the ending of this novel when I started it.  In fact, all I knew was one scene--I wrote this family's story because I wanted to see what happened to them after that cataclysmic shift in their lives.  I know them so well now, it feels like I could drive up to their big old farmhouse, knock on the door and they'd welcome me in.  I'm not really crazy, I realize they don't really exist--except inside my head and in the words on a page--words I've written down for them.  But those words aren't always ones I hoped they would say. 

I've often thought that as their creator--the one who loves them most--they should at least do me the honor of being who I want them to be--noble, grand, enlightened.  But they aren't.  They stubbornly refuse to fit into the little character sketches I wrote for them in the early days.  This one's too angry, that one has a tendency to flee.  I wrote a mother I always dreamed of, and she turned out to have clay feet as well.  Dang it!

But all this imagining I do, and this being subject to the characters I created has always made me think of the Holy Trinity.  See, I'm the creator, these characters in my story wouldn't exist if I hadn't given them life.  No one else thought them up, no one else gave them life.  And it wasn't an accident--no big bang started this novel.  It was my own imagination, brain and fingers.  And therefore, every character has something of me in them--the Spirit of me, so to speak.  Though it feels like I can't control them, they are also subject to that spirit of me that first invented them and loves them most (even the 'villians' of the piece!).  But in any piece of fiction, there could also be a 'me': the very incarnation of the real self of the author, who speaks and acts exactly as the writer would in those fictional situations within the story.  This is possible, though there is no such 'me' in my novel.  But even now, I could write myself in--if I felt I needed to save the story, if my being present in the novel would make a difference between life and no life for those characters.

See, the Creator, the Incarnate, the Spirit--all the same exact person in mine or any other novel. A novel trinity. And that's the way it is with the actual Holy Trinity.  He is complete: Spirit, Incarnate, Creator--All God almighty.  How novel is that?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Ninety and counting

I haven't posted in a few days.  We spent the weekend out on the penninsula, helping Beve's stepmother celebrate her 90th birthday, which is actually today.  In her ninety years, Thyrza's seen a whole lot of changes in this world.  She was born in a sod hut on the barren prairie of Saskatchewan, where her father trained  wild horses, and tried to make a living eeking out crops on forbidding land.  When the winter snows came, the children (Thyrza is the middle of seven) went sledding off their sod roof, the snow that deep, the cabin itself the only 'hill' on the barren land.  Eventually those crops failed, and the family returned to Michigan via train, where her parents had grown up, met and married.  On the train ride 'home', which happened in the dead of winter, Thyrza and her closest sister stared out the window at the 'sticks' standing up along the train tracks.  They asked their mother who had planted those sticks, and she had to explain that trees lose their leaves in winter. They were amazed--trees! These were the first trees--leaves or not--they'd ever seen.

Thyrza was bent toward education early.  While her sisters and brothers played (a favorite game was re-enacting their train trip on chairs in their parlor), she sat at the table studying.  Thyrza became a teacher (graduating from the teachers' college in Ypsilanti, Michigan--Ypsilanti is part of my history as well.  We lived there for 4 years while my dad got his PhD in Ann Arbor, at the University of Michigan, and my mother took education classes at the same teachers' college Thyrza graduated from).  She met and married her first husband, Alex, who was a language specialist for the army.  During WWII, she stayed in Michigan while Al was off soldiering, but after the war, the family--now with three children--moved to Germany, California, Okinawa, Japan, Maryland, back to California. All along the way (except in Germany) Thyrza taught school.  When Alex finally retired, she did as well, and they moved to Sequim, WA, where she's lived ever since.

I got to know Thyrza before I ever met her, actually. When Beve's parents were thinking of retiring to Sequim, they found a home to housesit in for an extended period over the holidays.  That home was Thyrza and Alex's, who had gone off to Australia.  We celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas in Thyrza's home that year, and I learned a lot about her.  Mulit-leveled, comfortable, easy, with a lot of nooks and crannies where our two-year-old E and her cousin Nico loved to hide.  I enjoyed the books in the room in the basement where we stayed, and the giant green naugahyde 'barcolounger' that had both a heater and a vibrater in it.  That giant chair is now in our basement--Thyrza gave it to my little brother, D, when she was moving from that house, but D, now in Massachusetts, has left it here to grow old with other cast-offs.

Four years after that housesitting stint and their subsequent move to Sequim, Beve's mom died after a year-long battle with cancer.  Two months prior to her death, Thyrza's husband had also died.  That fall, it was natural for Grampie and Thyrza, already good friends, to comfort each other, be companions.  They married the next spring.

I have to admit, it wasn't an easy thing when Grampie told us he was going to marry Thyrza.  Not because of her--whom we all knew and definitely loved--but because it had happened so quickly.  He told us, though, that he'd been mourning Beve's mom for the whole year she was dying.  And Thyrza had been in a similar situation.

Once we got over our shock, it was easy to see that they were a very good match.  In fact, without being disloyal to Grammie, I will say, that in many ways, Grampie and Thyrza's relationship has been healthier.  There aren't the old ways of being that either of them had with their first spouse.  For Thyrza, Grampie is a prince, after something of a difficult first husband (though it's really not in Thyrza to complain--except about her own failing to love and be kind!). Grampie, for his part, calls Thyrza his bride, even after now 15 years of marriage.

Thyrza has been a wonderful grandmother to our children.  When we lived a mile down the road from them, the kids often stayed at their house when they were ill and I had to work.  They were so comfortable in their home, that they'd slip off their shoes right at the door, and climb up onto stools at the counter, waiting for whatever treat Thyrza and Grampie would give them.  Thyrza loved them, treated them as mature adults, even as children, and felt that God had given her this gift of grandchildren because she had lived across the country when her own grandchildren were growing up.

As for me, I love Thyrza.  We have great conversations, good laughs and a true sympathy between us.  These days, she spends most of her days, trying to keep Grampie in line, but still finds time to be the residents' president of the retirement apartments where they live, a member of Presbyterian woman (she makes baby blankets, other things for their projects), and take care of her bonsai. 

Ninety years old--and she's seen a lot of the world, and lived through many adventures.  I'm grateful for her steadying influence on our lives, her innate charity, and positive outlook.  After walking with Jesus a long time, her face and gleaming crown of white hair are illuminated with His Spirit.  I'm better for knowing her, better for her words of wisdom, her gifts of unyielding kindness.  I thank God for her.

So happy Birthday, Thyrza.  It's apt that you were born on Armistice Day.  She's a true veteran of the battle of living, a quiet hero in my life.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The nature of Christ

The other day, I read a quote by George Buttrick: "Jesus laid a constant stress on the act of faith: 'All things, whatever ye ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive.'  In the silence of prayer we say to ourselves that whatever we ask 'in the nature of Christ' is ours, granted only our earnestness in prayer and life." (Emphasis mine.)

For most of my Christian life, I've tooled my prayer with the Name of Jesus.  I've taken seriously His call to pray all things in His Name.  But it's also true that not all of my prayers have resulted in the outcome I was praying for.  As a teen and college student, in my most private prayer times, I prayed for a particular boy to return my feelings.  In college, I stormed heaven on this subject, and for a while, it looked as if my prayers reaped the result I wanted.  But eventually, after giving me a Saul (the king the people wanted because he looked right), God took Him away, thankfully, and replaced him with a David (the unexpected but bent-on-God king).  I don't admit all this easily now, but it's part of my history so there it is.  I was emotional, earnest and honest with God.  And He did not give me what I wanted, no matter how often I 'claimed' my desire in Jesus' Name. But there have also been other things I've prayed for, other more mundane things.  Other more far-reaching ones.  I prayed for Beve's mom to be healed of cancer, for my dad's life not to bleed away inexplicably.  And when God said no to these requests, I said, "Your will be done," through my tears, believing that healing sometimes comes on the other side of earthly mortality.  I do believe this, because I believe fully that life doesn't end with our last breath in these bodies.  And I've prayed for my own healing as well, given up that request, and taken it back again, depending on pain level and ability to cope.

I don't think I'm the only one who has struggled with the idea of praying in His Name.  In fact, I think many of us pepper our prayers with, 'in Jesus' Name' like we're putting our money in a God-sized slot machine, hoping to win a jack-pot with the coinage of the proper phrase. But perhaps we miss what Buttrick means by this evocative 'in the nature of Christ.'

But this phrase opened something up  that I need in my prayers.  In Old Testament times, even in the time of Jesus, a person's name was thought to reveal something about one's character--one's nature. Abram, which means 'exalted father' became Abraham, 'Father of many.' David, 'Beloved of God,' and Jonathan, 'friend,' are a few examples that come to mind.  Those names tell us who those people are, what they are to God. 
So Jesus' name also says something about His Nature.  Praying through Christ's name actually equals, in some profound sense, praying according to the Messiah's character, the Son of God's way.  How powerful this is to consider.  Really.

What if we carefully meditated on what HE wants in a particular situation, what is True of Him in all our desires, and prayed accordingly? What if His nature is the deciding factor of our prayer, our one aim to please that Nature? The Beve often says, when I'm on about one thing or another, "I don't think God cares about that."  It draws me up short, it really does.  In one sense, of course, Beve is entirely wrong, because there is nothing about us that He doesn't care about.  Nothing is too small for His interest in our lives.  But, in some essential way, Beve is completely right.  A friend of ours told me a year or so ago, that he believed that God had called him to a particular profession--teaching and preaching--but not specifically to the university in which he practiced that calling.  This was provoking to me at the time.  I couldn't quite imagine that this successful professor wasn't geographically where God wants him as well.  But I've come to understand it a little better with this idea of Buttrick's.  It's the doing of our call that He cares about, it's the dwelling with Him, wherever we land that He's interested in.  Time and place mean something different to God than they do to us.  All is relative in eternity.

If we pray for a person to come to the call of Christ--the essential call to salvation--we can be certain we are praying in His Name/Nature.  For He wants all to be saved, He tells us.  If we are praying for eyes to be enlightened spiritually, for those we love to grow up in Christ, we are smack dab in the middle of His desire for us.  But outcomes of games, money for a particular vacation, toy, whatever--we must ask ourselves how such things or events, etc--further the Kingdom.  How we can participate in the Kingdom in our praying.

The nature of Christ, first, last and in between, means surrender to the Will of the Father.  And it's there we also must land. His very nature, His very name finally, fully realized by the cross.  In our lives as well.
Amen.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

History

I'm a little giddy tonight, but a little tearful as well.  No matter what a person's bent, it is an historic night. A hundred and fifty years ago we owned slaves in this country.  Half a century ago, African-Americans couldn't vote. I've sometimes wondered about racism, you know.  Growing up in a small college town when I did, there were very few (maybe two) minorities in our high school.  It never occured to me that everyone wasn't exactly the same--after all, we have the same internal organs--the same brain, the same heart, the same soul.

Years later, when I was in India, I experienced firsthand racial bias.  I was a western woman among a very large eastern population. And though there were signs everywhere--on buses, buildings, etc--about not 'teasing' women (that is, not belittling, groping or messing with), I was exempt from that by virtue of my skin color.  I was teased, groped, bumped against in very suggestive and ugly ways.  My skin told these men that I was fair game.  It was shocking to me.  And made me think of what other races have experienced at the hands of people who share my skin tone.  It's abhorrent that it should be so, but it's true.

But I've never actually been a minority. Not here at home. Well, maybe as a woman...but the truth is, if we divide the pie into the various pieces that separate us, the only non-minority people in this country are white men.  Right? But the reality is that they are not the largest group in this nation.  In reality, they too are a minority.

So I admit that sometimes I've thought, "Again with the race card? Can't we just get beyond this?"  Can't we just rejoice in the variety of God's human creation?  Not all flowers are the same color, nor all trees but we glory in those differences.  We see the many splendored colors of the non-human living creatures we share this planet with, and are awed by the breadth of God's work, the depth of diversity.  But among the talking Image-of God folks, we feel suspicious of those differences.

But tonight, after long election lines, and a interminably long campaign, I watched people cry at the news that a man of color will be the next president. It's that kind of historic night where you remember where you were when you heard the news.  That's how I felt, anyway.  Yes, I've been a supporter of the man.  Yes, I began to believe he could be our next president from the first time I heard him speak.  At least I wanted him to be.  But tonight, it isn't about what I believed, what I wanted.  Tonight it's only to acknowledge that this moment came, and what it must mean to people who continue to feel disenfranchised in our country.  I wish they didn't feel disenfranchised, want to pretend it isn't so, but it is.  So tonight, I rejoice with them that this day finally came.  That they can tell their children that anything's possible, even the highest office in the land.  They can tell their children and grandchildren they were alive to see this day come.  We all can.  What's good for minorities must be good for all of us tonight.

And I'm glad about it.  I want to rejoice with those who rejoice.  And to weep with those who weep tonight.  McCain's concession speech was very gracious.  Beautiful, actually.  E and I, listening to him, thought that if he'd spoken with that tone and graciousness through out this fall, rather than with anger and hostility, it might have been a different story tonight.  Shoot, if he had shown the brilliant humor I heard from him at a fundraiser a couple of weeks ago, and in his Saturday night Live stint last weekend, I know the race would have been closer. 

But now it's over, and Barack Obama is the President-elect.  There will be children in the White House again.  Children and a brand new puppy, apparently.  I like the idea of children there, of a family.  I like the idea that this family seems so healthy and in love--yes, the whole family.  Loving each other, loving their children.

So I'm glad tonight, glad that our country went to the voting booths, and did our jobs. Our one job as citizen. It's what we do.  And it's good.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Almost over

It's almost over.  And I have mixed feelings about it.  I'm talking about the hideously long Presidential campaign.  The longest of my life time.  I know lots of people probably started tuning out at least six months ago, already sick of it.  Some were undoubtedly horrified that these ambitious men and women threw their hats in the ring over two years before November 4, 2008.  I just read this morning that for all intents and purposes, John Edward, for instance, never really stopped campaigning after the 2004 election.  That is, until he actually started losing in the primaries...a couple of 400$ haircuts slicing through his campaign of being all about helping the most needy.  We're not fond of outed hypocrites in this country...

For me, however, my attention has been captured by the stories of this campaign--the amazing primary season of the Democrats, where two minorities were the last 'men' standing.  When it was through, the black man beat the woman, but how historic, how great for our country, that it lasted until the last primary ended.  On the other side, stands a bonafide war hero, who wears his personal history on strong shoulders that he cannot even lift.  Every time he points, lifts and arm, gives an awkward hug, I am reminded of those five years lost in captivity.  Five years--can you imagine?  Seriously, can you fathom surviving that?  I can't.

So every day, after my time with the Lord, I open my laptop to spend time in politics.  Some days, I admit, I've been sickened by what promises they broke about making this a different kind of campaign, a more positive one.  I've wondered how they expect such dishonorable ads and 'talking points' to sway voters--but some of them have worked.  Some of those TV spots had the exact effect a candidate was hoping for: like Hillary Clinton's "3 am" ad, aired just before the Texas primary, which effectively scared enough people enough to win the primary. 

But there have been some great moments, too.  The powerful speech Obama gave on race in Philadelphia in March.  Everyone should read a transcript of his words, uttered in a public, yet smallish setting.  Whether one agrees with him, votes for him, or not, his words about race are important.  A friend told me, "Only if he wins!" when I suggested the historic nature of that speech, but I don't agree.  We need to change how we feel about each other, we need to open our fists and lift up our palms across racial lines--our palms, which all the same color!

There have been gaffes, jokes and a better SNL season than I can remember.  I have to say, I LOVE Tina Fey!  I almost hope for a McCain presidency just so she can continue to portray Sarah Palin (Yes, I said almost).

So it's almost over. I mailed off my ballot last week--hoping to avoid the holiday rush (just kidding!).  And tomorrow I'll have the television on all afternoon and evening.  It is like a holiday for me.  High drama, waiting it out.  Usually these races are over long before the polls even close in our state.  In fact, in 2000, I waited until after 7 pm to go vote. That year, I told J that I'd vote for his choice--GW Bush--if the networks had called the race by then.  And sure enough, just after 7, NBC's Tom Brokaw and Tim Russert called it for Al Gore. Florida had pushed him over the 277 electoral votes needed to win.  So off I went, marked my ballot for W, in spite of my personal feelings.  And drove home, to discover that they'd taken Florida away from Gore and un-called the race.  The rest, as you know, is history!

Tomorrow is almost here.  A new season is almost upon us, one way or the other.  An old war hero or a young man (the first person I've ever voted for who is younger than me!) will begin the transition to the White House.  And for all their differences, and all their differences from the current resident, the transition will go smoothly, our nation will not falter or miss steps during the next almost three months.  I like that about our process. I like that things move along, that, for most of us, we'll go about our business the same on January 20th as we do on the 19th. 
I just have one question--what the heck am I going to do with myself on Wednesday?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

All Saints Day

Today, the day after Halloween, is a day we should pay attention to.  It's All Saints Day.  It's been the practice of Western Christianity to honor saints on this day since the 8th century--though generally in the protestant tradition we aren't accustomed to thinking of 'saints' in the same way as Roman Catholics, who have endowed sainthood on a plethora of worthy people--at least one for every day of the year.
However, I think for most of us, there are saints in our lives--people who we've rubbed shoulders with whose lives speak devotion in their every action, every thought, every word.  I think saints come in all sizes, shapes and colors.  I think there are some who are public figures, but more who dwell quietly in the background, doing their work as unto Christ, rather than men.  And since last Friday when my friend--surely the definition of a saint--died, I've been thinking about saints; so here are a few I'd like to share with you:

When we lived in Tacoma, there was an elderly woman who lived in a retirement home, almost completely blind, hard-of-hearing, and barely ambulatory.  Her name was Mrs. Kosher and she'd outlived almost everyone in her family--husband, siblings, children.  She suffered more in her long life than most, but always had the sweet scent of Jesus about her.  She discipled young women who came to her rooms and simply sat at her footstool, listening to the wisdom she'd gleaned from years of walking with Christ.  She never lost her joy in the great gift of new life He'd given her, and though she longed, increasingly with each year, each new infirmity, to be at home with Christ, she was also content to be His ambassador to all she encountered.  Her face shone, I tell you; it had the light of heaven in it.

She's an obvious one, of course, but there have been others--far more subtle, but just as compelling.  In Sequim, we had a septic system, and before we moved to Whatcom County, we had to have it pumped, in readying our home for renters.  The man who came to do the job was named, somewhat appropriately, Dale Brown, and he was king of septic pumping, I tell you.  Now you might think he would loathe his job, find it as distasteful as I did, as you do now, but he actually loved it.  He came knocking on my backdoor that afternoon, and pretty well pulled me out to look into the hole.  We had a perfect crust, and beautiful tank, he told me.  I stood many feet away, barely glimpsing that filth before having to run back into the house. But he took seriously the words of Paul, "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."  (Col. 3:17)  He was proud to honor Christ in his work, saw every circumstance as a way to please Him.  I was cowed by his attitude, I have to say.  So often I begrudge tasks that seem demeaning in my eyes.  Mr. Brown's sainthood, in my book, didn't come from his willingness to do such yucky work, but from glorifying God in even the humblest task. 

My maternal grandmother is another kind of saint.  I've written of her here before.  Written of her praying through the night, listening to scripture on the record player because she'd lost her sight.  But there are other things.  A couple of years ago, my mom gave me a box full of my grandfather's letters to her.  Chief, as we called him, was a career navy man for his first career.  A chief warrent/petty (I don't know the difference and have heard him called both), who worked in communications/radio aboard his various ships, Chief met my grandmother in Los Angeles, where she'd gone from her Kansas home to visit a friend.  It seems that they quickly fell in love, and fairly quickly married (though I don't actually know the time elapsed between meeting and marrying). My grandmother was a strong Christian even then, but Chief was a hard-living naval man, who smoked and drank and got rowdy in every port.  But my grandmother had a huge influence on him.  A life-changing influence.  Knowing her, I find it hard to believe she 'witnessed' to him by word.  Her every action was a witness, however.  Within the first decade of their marriage, he was writing a letter to Grandmom's sister, Sadie, speaking directly to what he knew was her family's concern about him.  He'd become a Christian, and wanted Sadie to know how it happened, how Grandmom had impacted his life.  He had always wanted to be worthy of Grandmom, but he hadn't become a Christian for her, but because of her.  His life changed on a dime when he met Christ--the smoking stopped, the drinking to excess stopped, and he became a new man.  My grandmother hadn't pushed (though from the tone of his letter to Aunt Sadie, I'd guess that the rest of her family had exerted some pressure, or maybe just censure!), but her whole life, top to bottom, had been about pleasing Christ first.

But here's the truth: my grandfather was as much a saint as my grandmother.  From the moment Christ came into it, Chief's new name was not only Christian but Saint.  The Word repeatedly reminds us of this.  All those who belong to Christ are saints.  Though the Catholic church defines a saint as someone of exceptional holiness, virtue and benevolence, worthy of canonization, the New Testament makes no such destinction. In Romans, we're told that the Holy Spirit 'intercedes for the saints [God's people] (8:29);' Ephesians 1:18 and Colossians 1:12 speak of 'the glorious inheritance of all the saints;' and Paul tells Philemon that he has heard of Philemon's 'love for all His saints."  All His Saints.  You and me and everyone else who calls Jesus Lord, who 'seeks to please Him rather than men.'  So even if you're a saint with clay feet, who stumbles and falls and sins (which, of course, we all are; which, of course, even the most venerated of Catholic Saints is), you are a saint.  In His eyes, exceptional, in His eyes the most holy of creatures--His beloved child.  So, Happy Day, all you saints.  God love you all.