Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pills, not pillows

A little non-sequiter from my Lord's prayer posts because Beve and I spent 24 hours out on the Olympic Pennisula in the retirement home with his dad and step-mom.  And let me tell you, an excursion to the land of walkers is nothing if not full of non-sequiters!  See, Grampie's wife lay down for a nap last Monday, and when she woke up, she was in a different world, one in which she barely recognized the three room apartment they've lived in for over three years, couldn't summon the names of her grandchildren, nor even find the words for simple concepts.  To say the least, this unexpected turn in her brain scared her husband, not to mention herself.

It was a TIA, whatever that means--kind of like a miniature stroke, from what I can glean--or maybe more than one.  So Beve and I drove out there, to lend a hand, get a real feel for the situation for the rest of the family (her daughter lives all the way across the country, so I was her eyes today!).

And this is what we found:  my lovely mother-in-law speaks more deliberately, has long pauses between words, and...knows she isn't herself. That's the hard part for me--that she knows and is trying so hard to get back to where she was.  But something's skipping in her head, like a record with a scratch in it.  For example, last night I told her I wanted to check her pills, to make sure she was taking what the doctor had prescribed (her daughter asked me to do this--I wasn't just trying to be nosy).  Thyrza looked at me quizzically, then smiled and nodded.  She carefully led me into her bedroom, where she pulled back the covers on her bed, and said, "This is the one I sleep on, and I use this one with it, when I read."  She was holding up her pillows.  "Oh Thryza," I said, "Pills, not pillows!" 

Meanwhile, Grampie was sleeping in his chair, then awakening in a start to grab his cane and walk out of his apartment--off on some errand without explaining to anyone.  "Where did he go?" Beve asked Thyrza. She simply shrugged.  Off on some non-sequiter.

This morning, Beve took Grampie to run some important errands--take a list of Christmas decorations to their storage, stop at the bank, put gas in our car, and go to Grampie's favorite store:  STAPLES.  Last summer, when Grampie was here for a week, he was overwrought for days because we don't have a STAPLES anywhere in our county.  He can barely get through a week without needing to put his 25 cents in the slot and ride the bus out to the store where everybody knows his name.  There are always sales going on, you know.  Today he brought me a plastic container shaped like a Beagle that is full of paper clips, push pins and rubber bands--he bought it for a quarter!  I'm telling you, I don't know how I lived without this plastic puppy holding office supplies!  And, of course, they had to make a few copies.  Of some clipping, old picture, his own indecipherable handwriting.  Last week, he told Beve, he'd made 18 copies of a picture of Thyrza and himself.  "Best thing I ever did," he said.  As Beve put it, "Give Grampie a copy machine, and he's set for life!"

Meanwhile, I was trying to get Thyrza to eat breakfast and work through her pill (I mean meds) situation.  Turns out she'd taken the morning pills last night (maybe I confused her...), and had completely missed the two meds just prescribed after this event.  By the time Grampie and Beve got back, I'd talked to the pharmicist twice, the answering service for the doctor, the doctor herself, as well as Thyrza's daughter...and we were looking for the pill cutter. Grampie claimed it was in a certain drawer, and kept shuffling through it--over and over and over.  No wonder it takes so long to find anything.  "Maybe it's out in the front room," I suggested. "No, it's in this drawer." About 30 seconds later, Beve found it--out in the front room. 

By the time we left (after taking them out for lunch), we were all exhausted.  We'd taken pictures (always the most important part of a visit for Grampie), worked through some organizational options (which they might forget!), and I left a lengthy list about meds, the doctor, etc.  It was hard to leave them, knowing that a week ago, Thyrza was the care-taker in their relationship, making up for Grampie's memory-gaps.  Just a week, later, he's the one with the sharper memory.  As Beve said, "That's a scary thought."


This may not be the last quick trip over there this spring.  It's what we do.  It's loving our parents.  When I was a young parent, and my parents helped us out, I used to ask, "How will we ever repay you?"  My dad's answer was, "Take care of your kids."  But now I know how we repay our  parents for all they've done and are to us--by actually taking care of them.  Parenting our parents--it's a weird thing, but we all get there.  And it's a ministry I wouldn't miss for anything.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Exactly

E and I had tea today with her best friend and her mom, who is a good friend of mine.  Tea at our favorite, little British-style tea room, complete with personal pots, tea-sandwiches, pasties (not pastries), and scones with devonshire cream.  Ah, the luxury of such moments.

We talked this afternoon about children.  Our very obedient, compliant, discipline with one cocked finger, first children were sitting there, but we have other children.  Dramatic ones, stubborn ones, ones who wanted their will more than ours.  My son was such a rascal, I was saying this afternoon, he constantly kept us on our toes.  The thing is, he wasn't a stubborn kid, just one who only obeyed the rules he knew.  For example, I told him not to write on the walls, but inexplicably, I never bothered to tell him not to write on the floor.  So one day, after putting the baby down for a nap, I came back down the stairs, and he'd drawn a "Duck, Duck, Goose" circle on our brand new carpet--in permanent marker.  Another day he came running down the stairs, jumping in glee, saying, "I got my raisin man back!"  "Where was it?" I asked. "On the roof."  He'd climbed out the window of E's room onto the lower half of the roof.  One slip and he would have hit the cement driveway two stories down!  These are both incidents from when he was no older than 3.  That boy...

The thing is, he wasn't stubborn.  He didn't throw tantrums, didn't rebel against correction, he simply had ideas in his head and went about doing them--without thinking what mom and dad might want him to do. 

Kind of--or exactly--the way we all are.  It's the human condition to go our own way, do what we want, without considering God.  So, it's not at all surprising that Jesus, in giving his disciples the 'model' of prayer, at the exact center of it, speaks to this.  "May Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."  This phrase is so important, we should write it on our foreheads (as the Israelites were told to do with God's commands--see Deuteronomy 6). 

To start with, we must look at how Jesus modeled these words, "Your will be done."  From the beginning of His ministry he talks about how doing His Father's will is food to Him (John 4: 31-34).  In Hebrews 10:7 it says bluntly that Jesus came to do God's will.  That was the very purpose of His Incarnation.  This of this--there was NO will of Jesus that was not the Father's.  Not a step taken, not a word spoken, not a person healed or even, anger expressed.  Nothing Jesus did was outside of God's will.

And in the darkest moment of His human life, which was the night before He died, I think, not the dark morning when He was nailed to the cross, He came to the heart of the matter by admitting that it was a terrible, difficult thing He was facing.  He prayed for the cup of suffering to pass from Himself, but before the words had died on His lips, He was already praying, "But not My will, but Yours be done."  The submission to the Father's will is the most significant thing about that moment in Gethsemane.  Here's the raw truth of that moment--Jesus surrendered in pain so great, He sweated blood, and God answered.  And God's answer was No!  The cup did not pass from Jesus.  Thankfully, gloriously, perfectly, that suffering did not pass from Jesus.  There was pain and death in God's no, just as Jesus knew there would be.  But there was also glory--and, of course, the salvation of the world in God's will being done.

This is the thing about praying for His will to be done--we must recognize that this prayer (the whole of it!) is about achieving God's will and purposes for the world, not our own.  It's a dangerous thing to pray, but there is nothing less.

And it's the only place to start.  Surrender.  This word has seen the screen of this blog myriad times.  And because it's the core of the life I write about, the life I'm praying to live, it will always be but one word away from every other aspect of life. It's what Jesus did, and what we must do.  Not half-hearted, not superficial, but all-in, even if it kills me!, surrender.
And I don't know if you've noticed, but so far, nothing in the prayer Jesus taught His disciples even had to do with them yet.  The first three petitions are only about God--His Name be honored, His Kingdom coming, His will being done on earth.  This means that before we ask for a single thing for ourselves, we surrender.

And we DESIRE His will, His Kingdom, His Name. The truth is--and I know you've done this, I've done it my entire Christian life!--we usually pray for something, then tack on the caveat, "if it's your will, Lord," at the end.  But if we read and follow the Lord's will, that order is backwards.  What I--we--have to learn is to pray for a hunger, a deep, deep hunger, for His will, the ears that listen to Him tell us what that will is, and a heart to surrender to that...and then pray for that thing which we've discovered is already His will.  Then, with this stronger desire for His will, a stronger sense of what that will is, I can pray more effectively, more assertively--more certain!

Think about the second half of this sentence--"on earth as it is in heaven!"  Can you imagine how God's will is done in heaven?  Can you imagine the speed, the joy, the all in, "I'm your obedient servant" of those who populate His heaven?  Not begrudgingly, not resignedly, not dragging our feet but at a run simply because it's the Father Himself who wills it!  When I pray this prayer now, I always add the word exactly to this phrase.  "...your will be done on earth exactly as it's done in heaven." 

That's how I want His will to be done in my life, how I want to participate in His will being done--joyfully, instantly, at a run.  Exactly!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Kingdom-come moments

We spent this evening with some good friends.  One of them stood at his dad's bedside a week ago and watched him slowly take his final breaths on this earth.  Tonight we sat in our friends' living room, and listened to a 53-year-old man talk about his dad's dying and his living and the immense privilege it has been to be the son of such a man as his father's.  As Beve asked gentle but probing questions, I thought of what a privilege it is to share in such moments--listening to this friend, listening to his wife (also, of course, deeply involved and moved by the death of this father).  These kinds of conversations, this sitting together with others as they hurt, or when they rejoice--these are "Thy Kingdom come" moments.

"Thy Kingdom come," Jesus tells us to pray.  When we pray this, we are asking to participate in the most important thing Jesus came to earth to bring, according to Matthew, the Kingdom of God.  I might well say, the most important thing Jesus came to BE.  In Mark, Jesus tells us, "The Kingdom of God is near," (1: 15), and what He's talking about is Himself.  Jesus is, in a very real sense, synonymous with the Kingdom.  Wherever Jesus is, there is the Kingdom of God. What that means here and now, is that wherever His is in us, there is the Kingdom.  Are two believers together?  There is the Kingdom.  When we are working together (building houses in Mexico, or cooking for a neighbor here at home) we are working fro the Kingdom. When we teach Sunday School, we are extending the Kingdom, as well as when we extend a helping hand.  This is the great Commission we were given in Matthew 28--to go into all the world, to extend the Kingdom of God to the whole earth.  And if we sit quietly together in front of a fire, listening to a person's giref, this is the best of Kingdom work.

Look around you--wherever the church gathers, there is the Kingdom.  I'm not talking about only Sunday mornings, I'm talking about at the nearest coffee shop, or on street corners, or in the middle of the produce aisle at Safeway. The Kingdom we are called to invite into our lives, comes when every day, in myriad moments.  When you're quietly praying with someone, certainly there is the Kingdom, but when you're washing dishes beside someone who dries them, you are also extending the Kingdom.

Why is this? Because the Kingdom of God resides within us who are filled with the Holy Spirit of the King.  We who have been saved by the Incarnate, are now the Incarnation of that Kingdom.  We are the Kingdom that the world sees. The Kingdom of God is substantially different from the Kingdoms of this world, so if we pray this petition, we must be prepared to live as the Kingdom life He intends.  The Kingdom's goal is redemption of the world, the reconciliation of all people to God and to each other.  Can you hear this behind the words of "May your Kingdom come"?  Can you pray for these things for all people, even those you find difficult (or maybe particularly those you find difficult)?  May His Kingdom come---to me, in me, through me.  That's what I pray when I pray these words.

However, we must also understand that the great celebration of the Kingdom has not yet come.  It will, and all of creation holds its breath for that great and glorious day when the great banquet begins.  We live in the balance of these truths:that the Kingdom came with Jesus, it exists and is extended through us, and will be fulfilled in Glory when God finally chooses.  And as we pray these words, we are also praying in full-throated hope for that Day of all Days.  The King will return, and we will dance.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wholly Holy

I've been thinking a lot about this post this afternoon. Earlier today, I read a blog written by a friend. I've known her since she was in elementary school, and the little girl I loved has also become a woman I admire, a fellow 'being saved one' who is also one of the most creative people I've ever met. So creative she sometimes doesn't walk straight, but that's to be expected for such an artistic soul. Anyway, E was sitting beside me on the couch this afternoon and said, "You might want to read Little Birdie Storybook's blog today (well, she actually called her by name, but...)." Within the first sentence, I knew B was writing about me. And the things she said were so complimentary, so encouraging, I was crying by the end, and feeling wholly humbled. Though it's unlikely (I do know myself, after all!) that I am anywhere close to what she thinks I am, I also recognize that I want to be. I want to be that amazing, want to be that inspiring, want to be...well, glorified in someone's life, so to speak--and I'm very grateful that she thinks, and would say, such amazing things about me. (In fact, I am adding her blog to my blog list, because she's really worth reading and, after all, because...well, you know.)

But....the very first petition in the Lord's prayer addresses this. "Hallowed be your name." Hallow means to keep holy. So this petition is our asking Him to keep Himself holy. But God already is Holy. Are we asking Him to make Himself what He already is? Would Jesus be that redundant? Not exactly. At least not for His sake. This petition is asking Him to make Himself first and Holy in our lives. The first of the 10 commandments says, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me," and Jesus reinforces this first command by telling us to pray for Him to do what He commands of us. "Father, be God in my life." That's what this is saying.

There are many times when I am so overwhelmed by great needs, my own or others, that I lose sight of who God is. And times, like today, when it's easy to think I'm better, more important, more amazing than I really am. So this petition first of all, is asking Him to keep me from those things that do not glorify Him. It's in direct contrast to the world's notion of 'I'm so great.' We live in a world that tells us that we have the right to be glorified, famous, honored for ourselves. But Jesus tells us to ask God, "Hallowed be YOUR Name, Father." We are called to die to ourselves. This doesn't mean that we aren't thankful for words, like the words of my friend. But it definitely means putting those words into perspective, recognizing that the good that we do is not ourselves, but Him. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God--not by works, so that no one can boast. We are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2: 9-10

This petition is also about Us, not just me. What I mean that together we ask God to glorify Himself in our midst. The Lord's prayer begins "Our Father," not "My Father." Anything we pray should--ought to--have communal consequences. If He is to be honored in me, He must also be honored in the community. Any good that I do--His Spirit in me--has implications for the rest of the Body. So, be Holy in me, and Holy in us. Wholly Holy.

Monday, January 26, 2009

His real Name

One of my least favorite things in the world is soliciters calling on our phone.  And I love that we now have caller ID so I don't have to answer if I see American Mortage or Northwest Auto Glass or something like that. But sometimes I answer without thinking. If there's a momentary delay and click, I hang up before the spiel starts.  Other times, the person on the other end of the line mispronounces our last name, a dead give away that I need to get off the line!  But if it's an actual human who calls me by my name, and sounds personable, I tend to believe they actually know me, and I respond.  I can't help it--I automatically answer to my real name.

"This is how you should pray," Jesus said. "Our Father..." Stop for a moment.  Do you know how radical those words sounded to His disciples?  To call God Father was unheard of in that day.  Yes, in the Old Testament, God is sometimes referred to as a father (see Psalm 68:5), but NEVER addressed in so familiar a fashion.  When God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, Moses asked, "Who should I tell the people you are?"--what shall I call you?"--and God said, "I AM THAT I AM." Or YHWH in the Hebrew. The tetagrammaton (which simply means '4 letters'), those 4 Hebrew letters are called, and though Christians have turned that name into the word Yahweh, and use it easily, no Jew would dare pronounce those sounds, speak the Name of Almighty God.  Once when my sister-in-law was in a hospital, he doctor was an orthodox Jew, and I asked Him about the tetragrammaton and though he had been eagerly talking with me about the Hebrew alphabet just seconds before, the moment I mentioned, "The Name of God," he visibly started and backed away.  To him--to Jews throughout history--these four letters must not be spoken for fear of blasphemy.  His Name is that Holy, that Other.

But when the disciples (all Jews by birth) asked Jesus how to pray, He said, "start like this, 'Our Father!'" He had already been calling God Father when He spoke of Him, but with this prayer, invited all of us into that relationship.  Father and Son, Father and children.  We don't have to approach Him fearfully, afraid of offending (by simply saying His Name), we can call Him Father. 

WIth the Incarnation, our relationship with God is changed--that's what Jesus was saying here.  In His words, "Father in Heaven," He was anticipating what He would do to draw us into that personal, intimate relationship.  Anticipating the cross.  Yes, God is Mighty God, Lord, Creator, but He is also everlasting Father.  Father in Heaven becomes His preferred role in our lives.  See how this changes everything?  Paul takes Jesus' words a step farther in Romans 8:15 when he calls God, "Abba"--Daddy.  Because of Jesus and His work, we have become part of the very family of God.  We who were far off, only able to see His back side, if we were lucky, are now His children, and like the begotten Son, free to call Him Daddy. All because of the saving work of Jesus on the cross.

Our prayer life must begin with this.  We must have our start and end and very being in our salvation in Jesus Christ.  And, because of it, with the breathtaking knowledge that He is our Father in Heaven.  There's a boldness to calling the God of creation, the King of Kings Father/Daddy.  Almost a disrespect, if He hadn't told us we could.  He's saying, "Yes, He is YHWH, but to you, His real name is 'Father.'"   When we call Him this--when we get this close--we have to be ready to DO what He asks.  We are His children, fellow-heirs with Jesus Himself.  And we know His real name.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Fifty-seven words

One of the results of my recent writing woes is that I'm less creative when it comes to this blog.  I'm just not living wide-eyed toward the invisible within the visible lately.  Not seeing God around every corner.  When these kind of dark days come, it has always helped me to rehearse the things I know to be true, the ways God has spoken to me in the past, both privately and in community.  Today, as I considered this, and thought of difficult it's been to write here, I thought of the devotions I've written in the past, the ways I had to dig into scripture, dig into prayer in order to be His vehicle for a group, for a specific time. For four years running, I wrote devotionals for mission trips our church took to Mexico.  And God revealed new things to me in the writing, in the praying, in the thinking intently about these scriptures--The Beatitudes;seven "I Am's" of John;  Colossians 3; the Lord's Prayer.  So I thought that for the next week, I'd stroll down memory lane by way of the study I wrote in 2007-- what author Darrell Johnson calls, "Fifty-Seven words that changed the world."

You know, Jesus' teaching on prayer, (found in both Luke 11: 2-4 and Matthew 6: 9-13) comes as a result of the disciples asking.  "Teach us to pray," they say.  It's a profound request.  They followers of Jesus saw Him do mighty acts of power--calming storms, walking on water--they've seen Him heal the sick, feed the multitudes,.  And they watched Him go off to the hills to pray, lift His voice boldly in thanks before meals, work or in the middle of teaching.  They even saw Him pray in such ways that His words sounded angry, and firm. Everything He did was marinated in prayer.  So it is only natural that they want to 'get it', get this thing that Jesus did so effectively, with such blazing results.

The truth is, one way or another, we all want to be taught this.  Trying to understand how to communicate with God is perhaps the question of humans (even those folks who only have a vague hunch that a 'Higher Power' even exists).  Almost every time I've participated in a small group or Bible study, when the participants have gone around the room to say what each wishes to study, prayer in on the list--maybe at the top of the list (except for teenage girls, who always want to talk about relationships!).  Somehow, we have the idea in our head--because we're 21st century people--that if we just learn the proper way to do it, the right words to plug in (like our computer into a power strip), life will be powered up and the 'right' answer will result.  We're result-looking people, we humans, we Christians, and we want ten easy steps as much as we want anything.  Just make it work, tell us how to do it, and we'll put it to work.  And it's possible--probable--that the disciples were the same way.

And so Jesus answered them.  But what He answered was completely unexpected.  Only we don't quite understand that. The problem with the Lord's Prayer is that we know it too well,  Most of us (even many, many non-believers) can say it by rote.  I almost said, 'say it by heart,' but it isn't by heart, really.  It's not that deep, not that transforming. I've sat in a whole lot of different churches, heard these 57 words spoken in the same cadence everywhere.  A monotone clip with eight different phrases, and a lift just before each breath. 
But hopefully this week, we'll look at these words in a new way, with a slower cadence and more intentionality to the phrases. The reality is, when Jesus spoke these words, they revolutionized the listeners.  From the first words--Our Father!--to the last Amen, Jesus was speaking a new thing.  Maybe it was an outline of what He spoke when He went out to lonely places to be with that Father.  Perhaps it's an exact replica.  Isn't it amazing to think He might have said these exact words, expectantly, hopefully, firmly.  We so often pray, 'keep me safe,' 'heal my disease,' 'expand my tents and make me prosper.'  In truth, though, this prayer is far more about God and His Kingdom than about me and mine.  How do we into that Kingdom, how we participate in what He's bringing into the world--the Kingdom that came into the world through Jesus, and continues to live in the lives of believers? This is what this prayer helps us to pray--it helps us change our priorities, to see the world through His lens, to make His concerns ours.  This prayer, in changing the world, as Johnson says, is also about (maybe primarily about) changing us.

So take off your shoes, settle onto your mat, join me, as we sit at His feet, and listen to the Teacher answer our deep request: "Lord, teach us to pray!"

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Second generation disciples

Over the course of my married life--my mothering life--I've been involved in myriad Bible Studies, prayer groups for women.  And though the specific aim of each group varied, there were several universal themes (or 'core values', one would say in today's parlance).  The first, obviously, was the desire to glorify God collectively, to pursue Him in Word, and words (spoken to Him and/or each other).  Beneath that, however, we have always spent time praying for our kids.

I've sat in small, hidden rooms, listening to women pour out their hearts for their children, sobbing with the ache that comes when a child isn't following hard after Jesus, weeping when one turns her/his life around and takes a step toward the Kingdom, crying when one is so on fire that the world is lit up by their every touch.  I've heard them pray for their children's spouses, in-laws, spouses to be, and not yet known significant others.  Those heart-felt, hard-prayed words have deeply impacted how I've talked to God about my children's lives and futures. 

When they were young, my prayers were pleas for physical protection and spiritual growth.  "Please, do whatever it takes, short of death, to make them yours," I'd say.  "I don't want to raise 'second-generation' disciples." See, our kids grew up with the gospel such a given in our home, it was like gravity, keeping them grounded without them even understanding or thinking about it.  So I prayed for them to have pilgrimages of their own, to take the walk of faith in truth, not just to please us, but because they were convinced.

And...they have done this.  These three kids are very different from each other.  As such, their journeys have looked very different.  Our oldest, calm and steady, has a faith to match, one centered on service, on community. Our youngest has responded to the call of Christ with a heart full of song, a desire to make ministry her career. The girls both love Jesus, His body, and worship.

And our son...well, our son is on a more convoluted journey.  He, who lives so fully in his head, who reads, thinks and looks at the world critically (one might even say cynically), also questions.  Fundamental questions about the nature of God, suffering, humanity.  At times, during these last few years of his fluxuating uncertainties, I have been very concerned.  Of course.  I want him to take that step across the chasm of doubt to the side of Faith that I live on.  Of course I want this.  It's THE desire of my heart for all three of them that they will grow up in Christ.  And yet, there's something so incredibly honest about J's journey, about the way in which he's not willing to conform to the pressures of such a heritage.  He has been tearfully honest as he's talked with us at times, wanting so much to please us, wanting to believe as well...but not quite.  And it's that honesty, the earnestness with which he approaches all of life, that gives me the greatest hope.  God is a rewarder of those who seek Him, the Word tells us.  And I believe it will be true for J as well. 

It's not easy for a mom to admit this.  We often try to hide from the reality that our kids aren't quite where we wish them to be.  Yet, I am compelled to pray for who he really is, not who I'd like him to be. And I know--I KNOW--that he will never be simply a second generation disciple.  When he chooses, it'll burn as brightly as everything else does in this man, not based on us, but based on Him.  And it'll rock the world.

The other thing I learned long ago, is to pray for those who surround him...for the influences in his life outside my door--the person each chooses to date, the people with whom they spend their time.  I began praying for my children's someday significant others when they weren't even old enough to tie their shoes, let alone date (and, because of our convictions--that each child should be able to tell us what God's goal in dating is, and how the person they are interested in met those goals-- our kids haven't dated...until the last couple of months, actually). I trust Him with my children's choices, both vertically and horizontally.  But I like to tell Him now and then (HA!) what I think those choices should be.  I can't help it, I'm a mother.  But, their daily lives, their significant others, their careers and especially their eternity, is in His hands.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Weight

I've been thinking about losing weight lately--and trust me, I have some pounds (or 30) to shed.  Well,that 'lately' is misleading, because I'm always thinking about losing weight.  It's one of the battles of my life.  And the history of that battle contains some pretty uglycatfights. 

I was a thin child.  Not just slender, but tipped over into skinny, and, in fact, because I got sick with regularity, my deepset eyes often looked like sunken holes in my head, with such dark half-circles beneath them that I was routinely asked (even into college!) who punched me to give me those black eyes.  Long, skinny face, long skinny hair--oh man, was I ever a beauty! And so skinny compared to my siblings that in pictures I sometimes looked like I'd been kept in a closet, starving.

However, in childhood, the only starving I did was when my mom set oatmeal on the breakfast table, or peas on my dinner plate. And I'm not one of those 'live to eat' people who populate this planet and my own life.  The Beve? He lives to eat every moment of the day.  Though he has strong will power, and can go long hours without eating, he's always thinking about it.  It used to drive me crazy--he'd call me up while I was still trying to feed to kids breakfast to ask what I had in mind for dinner.  To be clear, I NEVER had anything in mind at 7 in the morning.  Shoot, my brain was barely working yet.

The truth is, I eat to live, just to keep myself alive.  And that hasn't always even been a sure thing.  When I was in college, my then-fiance told me I was fat, apparently just trying 'to help.'  As my mother would have said, "You need help like that like you need a hole in the head."  In fact, he said he'd give me a hundred dollars if I lost 15 pounds before our wedding.  Imagine that kind of support the rest of our lives!  (Have I said recently how grateful I am NOT to have that man in my life?) Trust me, I wasn't fat. However, a couple of months later, I'd hit on the perfect diet plan.  Heartbreak!  That broken engagement sent me spiralling into dieting.  Not just dieting, like I was picking and choosing what to eat--more like starvation. For weeks and weeks I literally ate nothing.  I'd try, but couldn't make myself swallow.  I know that some people eat for comfort, but my body ties itself up in such knots, eating is anathema to me.  Before long--back there in the early 80s--I'd starved myself right into an eating disorder.  For a couple of years, I was in a terrible rhythm of only eating one week a month, the week I'd get a headache if I didn't.  Or if I was forced by family or circumstance, I always had a stash of laxatives at the ready, not to mention a handy finger or two if absolutely necessary (though, I really hate vomiting, so rarely made myself do it).

Let me tell you, I got pretty dang skinny in those days.  Startlingly skinny to folks who hadn't seen me in a while.  I didn't notice it myself--I mean, like all girls with eating disorders, I continued to think I had more weight to lose.  104 lbs made me want to get below 100.  But I could never seem to crash that barrier (thank God).

What pulled me out of it wasn't an intervention by friends or parents.  It was merely circumstance (a typical way for the Spirit to work, in my experience).  I had plans to go to Europe, and decided I wanted to eat all kinds of interesting cusines.  Bread (which I loved but hadn't put in my mouth in years!), cheese, all kinds of desserts. So I went to Europe and ate.  Sure, I panicked about how 'fat' my hips were getting (I think I wore a size six in those days!), and often on that trip I'd pinch the skin below my ribs and wonder how much weight I'd gained. As I say, it was always, always a battle.

OK, so it still is.  Obviously I am not skin and bones any more.  A doctor told me many years ago when I was bemoaning my inability to lose weight, that eating disorders tend to completely destroy people's metabolism.  He called what I had by then, "a negative metabolism".  My body turns even good nutrients into fat because it has the memory of being starved.

That memory?  It's still in my psyche as well.  But unfortunately, it's not the negative memory it should be.  That is, it's still in me to want to starve myself, to punish myself for failures, for pain, by equating the emptiness with an empty gut.  As I said, it's a lifelong battle.  You wouldn't look at me and think I do without food, not even close.  But honestly, I can't really tell how overweight I really am.  To me, it's like I should be a contestant on "Big Loser!"  That obese.  It's just that I can't see myself clearly.

I still starve myself when the chips are down.  When my dad died, all I ate were cucumbers and yogurt for about two months.  Anything else made me sick.  And I felt the ease with which I could actually give up food altogether.  I still feel it--whenever I fast for the right reasons, it's easy to tip over into a physiological one. 

I am revealing a pretty bleak side of myself today.  The demon that lives at the back of the closet whispering lies to me.  Because it's not food that's the enemy, any more than it's the things that haunt you.  And it's not even the size or shape of my body that is 'wrong.'  It's the world, it's my own human eyes, that looks at the outward appearances.  God judges the heart.  And when I get discouraged about my weight (or about the fact that I've fallen into starving--again!), I think of this. I pray for a large, malleable heart, one that is controlled by, driven by, swallowed up in the inhabiting Holy Spirit.  I pray for an inner diet of holiness, an Godly inner nutrition that will far outlast this ridiculous--but God-given!--body.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Following hard

What do you do when you feel like the world as you've come to expect it has ended?  What happens when every dream you ever had goes up in flames...or at least morphs in such a way that you don't quite know what to do with the new?  I realize it sounds like I'm talking about myself, and my recent 'setbacks', but I'm not quite, or not exactly, except as I'm talking about all of us, and all the ways we fail, or lose, or find life different than we thought.

Maybe, just maybe what you do is...go fishing.  That's what the disciples did.  When the world tipped over, when they up and ran off out of fear, then watched (only one of them) or heard that their Teacher-Master-Lord had been tortured, nailed to a tree and died.  The next week, miraculously, He appeared in their locked room with them, but I'm here to tell you, nothing had gone the way they'd expected when they signed up for this.  They'd left everything for this man and now...well, the whole thing was pretty confusing. He came and went, told them not to touch him, and really didn't give them the game plan any reasonable person would have been hoping for.  So Peter, impatient, brash, the vocal leader, says, "I'm going fishing.  Who's with me?"

So off they go-- Seven of them. Trying to do something they actually felt capable of doing.  After all, before they were fishers of men, they'd been fishers of fish. So being out in that boat might make them feel like successes rather than the failures they'd felt since last Friday.  Yep, fishing was just the ticket.
Except that their nets floated aimlessly, emptily in the water, bearing nothing. The one thing they--Peter, his brother, John and his--were good at, they were failing at.  Imagine that.  Imagine the desultory conversation, the annoyance creeping into their voices as they tried to tell each other how to fix what seemed broken. All stinkin' night...all for nothing.

But in the morning, a voice called across the water, telling them where to cast their nets.  And when the nets break, they realize who'd called them.  Again, called to them in their boat.

After Peter (who had to get dressed before he leapt out of the boat to swim ashore--was he fishing in his underwear?) jumped out of the boat and swam ashore, and the others brought in the haul and the boat, had another tasty meal served by the Man Himself, Jesus takes Peter for a walk.  And though it would be good to sit a few moments with the beginning of that conversation, the re-instatement of Peter, who has to answer the same question three times, "Do you love me?" I am more compelled by what happens after those questions.  Peter, more than a little flustered, has told Jesus, once for each of his denials, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  'Leave the fish," Jesus is telling him.  "Once and for all, be a fisher of men.  I've given you every fish I'm going to give you (all 153 of them--don't you love that John is this definite?  It has the ring of truth that he knows the exact number.  Me?  I'd be rounding up, for sure!) and now it's time to feed my sheep with what I've given you."  Then He tells Peter that this life of people-fishing won't always be easy, that Peter won't always be able to do, and go and even wear what he wants by himself.  He's under command of God, and will be so, even when he's old and infirmed. 

"But what about him?" Peter asks, motioning to the young man following them, the one who recorded this scene for us.  John, the Beloved.  And this is the moment for me.  When Jesus says, "It doesn't matter what I do with him, even if I keep him alive until I return.  YOU follow me."

This is the moment we have to get to.  Past the failures of our lives, past lost dreams and empty nets.  We have to take that walk on the beach with Jesus and hear Him say to us, "Don't pay attention to what I ask of others.  Don't even look at them.  YOU follow me."  Obey His call to us, not His call to those around us.  However counterintuitive it might be, it's just that simple.  Follow Him.  And it doesn't matter what the road looks like, how far away from where you thought you were going.  It doesn't matter what is going on around us, what the world looks like...Follow and follow and follow hard.  And no matter what, keep on following.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Very present

Twenty years ago today, our last baby was born, on a cold, frosty morning in Tacoma, WA (It even snowed later that night). I had had the kind of  pregnancy that made my obstetrician ask, in the final weeks I carried the baby, what we were going to do to ensure we'd never have another (Dr. Lee actually thought both Beve and I should be 'fixed' just to play it safe!).  And that morning things didn't go very well, either, and by the time she was born, I was pretty much out of it, in deep shock, and could barely hear anyone talk. Later, when I watched the tape, I heard Beve's delighted voice telling me "It's a girl!" but my first memory of SK was when Beve brought her into my room.  I was still, because of the shock, too cold to even lift my arms out of the swath of warm blankets, but our tiniest, swaddled baby had her eyes wide open (shaped exactly like my beloved father's!) and her mouth formed a perfect O, like she was singing without words.  She was beautiful--even the much more objective nurses in the hospital told us that--"The most beautiful baby we've seen in a long time!"  My first instinct was that SK was very present, with a certain quality of life in her, like she was bursting with the notion of  " I came to be born, I was always meant to be. And now I'm HERE, I'm finally here!" 

The sense of her very present-ness, if that makes sense, has never left. When she's in a room, the room is more alive, she just brings something to a moment that makes the moment bigger--I once told her I wanted a tape of her laugh, because I need it in my life, even when she's gone.  Sure, part of it's because she's dramatic and passionate, but even when she needed the long hours of playing quietly alone, her play and imagination were soaring and compelling.  This is a child who could create families of pebbles, who watched movies so she could act out every part sometimes with costume and make-up (and can still quote lines after one viewing that I couldn't remember if I watched something dozens of times), whose way of looking at the world was full of metaphor and imagery. When she sat on her feet and they fell asleep, she'd say, "My feet fell like pinecones."  When snow dusted the mountains, she talked about God's baby powder.  She wondered why people called it 'raining cats and dogs' (though she looked for dogs falling from the sky).  To her, rain was sobbing angels, and a crying God.

One day, when she was in first grade, she stood outside the glass doors to the sanctuary at our church, looking in at the cross.  She turned to me and said, "I feel so bad that Jesus had to die alone.  He did it for us, and but we leave Him alone. I don't want to do that,, so I asked Him to come and live in me."  No prompting, no 4 spiritual laws, just God touching SK in a way as unique as she is.  And I don't think she's ever lost that sense of His presence in her as something for Him as well as for her.  They're in it together, Jesus and SK, doing life.

She has grown up with her expressive eyes still open in interest about everything in life, and her mouth always singing.  The drama we saw when she was still in diapers has played out on many stages.  She has been one of Cinderella's step-sister(how memorable that was to everyone who saw her dance on top of the ballroom stairs!), a Spider mother, and a queen. She's been a fishmonger and a flapper, an appleseed and a chinese poker player.  Whatever she puts her heart in, she becomes. 

Actually, whatever she puts her heart is, she does to the glory of God.  This is a young woman whose life verse is, "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do all to the glory of God."  She worries--yes, she's a worry-wart--about relationships, about classes, about all her abundant extra activities, but mostly that she tries to live her own life, rather than giving God control.  It's the lesson she always feels she's learning.  Come to think of it, it's the lesson we're all always learning.  She's a thoughtful, tolerant friend, a person who once told me I was being insensitive because, in trying to figure out which of her classmates she was talking about, I asked her, "Is he the fat boy?"  Yes, I've been chastised by her many times, because she doesn't like gossip, doesn't do slander, is, in sooo many ways, a better person than I am.

It's clear, I suppose, that I'm proud of her.  Of all three of them, obviously.  It's pretty hard to take credit for the great person SK is.  She came that way, and I've spent my life trying to stay out of God's way as He molds her into who He intends her to be.  From the beginning, this muscial, theatrical  child, so different from the athletic, sports-minded other two, completed our family, rounded us out, made us broader than we might have been.  And I will never cease thanking God for that--for her.

So happy golden birthday, SK. 20 on the 20th.  I love you.

Goodness

A warning.  I'm going to post twice today...I can feel it already.  E and I have been cuddled under blankets in front of the TV for the last 2.5 hours (we don't turn heat on at this end of the house...we like to live the way the pioneers did--other than the whole HD TV, of course!),  As always, I've been completely caught up in the pagentry, the collegiality of the participants.  Gracious, though at moments also pointed, toward the former President, President Obama, with his Kenyan relatives, his Indonesian sister, his black family surrounding him, first took a rather bungled oath (the chief justice, who really should know it by heart, mis-ordered the first phrase.  I mean, even I know it's 'faithfully execute the office of President of the United States,' not 'execute the office...faithfully!').  Then our 44th president spoke to the massive crowd of this massively important moment.  Not simply the historic nature of his asendency, of this turbulent storm our country is trying to raft through.  When he listed everything that comprises that storm, it sounded tsumani-like.  Impossible to come out the other side of, but somehow the very presence of those millions of people (J who's there, thinks there are many more than the 4 million predicted.  He couldn't even get close to the mall, sadly.) made me feel the hope everyone is talking about.  One man alone standing on the capital steps can't change direction for an entire country.  It's those standing shoulder to shoulder in the cold, those sitting in coliseums watching jumbo-trans, it's kids in classrooms (SK at her university, Beve in a history class at the high school), their classes suspended for this moment, people in restaurants, people home alone, cuddled under down comforters! 

The other day I had a conversation with my sister about the impulse to do good, to live ethically, to serve one's community and country.  For me, those impulses are founded on my faith, my sense that we were created by and belong to God, who is essentially good. Our goodness as response to the Good He is and does.  But my life experience tells me that there are many, many people--including my sister--who are moved to good without an eternal perspective.  Benjamin Franklin (I'm reading one of his biographies at the moment) believed that God--whatever God that might be to a person--was best served by doing good works and helping people.  "His morality was build on a sincere belief in leading a virtuous life, serving the country he loved, and hoping to achieve salvation through good works...a belief in the link between private virtue and civic virtue...and led him to suspect that these earthly virtues were linked to heavenly ones as well."

This view falls short, in my mind, because discounts the cornerstone of good works, "Without faith, good works is dead," Paul tells us.  But to be fair, today it feels like all those who who bend with MLK's 'arc toward justice,' will participate in a sea change for this country, for this world.  It is true that God uses the righteous and the unrighteous, and, in this moment, I stand with all those--within the Kingdom, and without--to see a better world.  Yes, evil is always with us, the enemy has not been defeated, but He is not the last word, and I love that.  I love that God uses even those who think they are the authors of their own lives.  And I believe that this goodness of all people, the impulse to do justly, can (will!) lead people to THE Good.  And this is my hope today--that goodness, that good works will be a pulley, in this country and this world, to THE good that is God.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

People group

When I was a student at the small Christian college where I got one of my semi-useless degrees (at least in terms of marketability), I took a great class on missions.  You know it's a great class when you learn something you've carried as part of your foundational theologies everafter.There are three ways of doing evangelism, I was taught (explained succinctly): proclamation--in which the gospel is simply proclaimed vocally to the lost; presentation, where the gospel is lived out in front of those one is trying to evangelize with the hope that the lost will see the difference; and participation, where a person marries the Word proclaimed to involvement in the lives around them, to reveal God's love by sharing and speaking it. 

I also learned about people groups, about the myriad people groups in the world who didn't know Christ.  And  I realized exactly who my 'people group' was--teenagers!  From the time that I was a teenager myself, I was drawn to people of those years.  As soon as I graduated from high school I became a Young Life leader, and that first year, more than a few of my 'kids' were actually older than I was.  I was a YL leader on and off for about 5 years, spent more time with teenage girls in those years than I did with my college-peers.  Loved every dramatic moment of their lives, every trauma and boy-crisis, every sports high, and every earnest question.

After Beve and I married, we continued to work with teenagers.  In fact, we lived with hundreds of them in a dorm at Pacific Lutheran University. We had a real open-door policy in the dorm.  There were always students hanging around, and many nights we told them to turn out the lights of our apartment on their way out because, as new sleep-deprived parents, we'd taken our exhaustion to bed well ahead of them. 

After that, we were Sunday school teachers of teenagers, youth group leaders, youth elders (at different times), led mission trips of them, and...had our own, of course.  Though I wasn't an amazing mom of toddlers, about the time they passed from elementary school to middle school, started growing hair and attitudes, parenting got a whole lot easier.  And more fun!  I know this flies in the face of conventional feelings about teenagers, especially those whose hormones are in overdrive, but it was true for me.  The thing is, children are so irrational.  Really.  "Why did you hit your sister?" I'd ask.  And all he'd do was shrug.  "Don't drag the baby up the stairs.  She doesn't want to go!" I told them.  With a completely bland look, they'd say, "But I want her to."  "Who wrote on this wall?"  And they'd just look at me as if I was speaking French.  I'm telling you, they made me crazy when they were little.  The older they got, the more interesting they became.  Even when they were disobeying me, we could talk about it, and I actually understood what they were saying.  Sure, sometimes they seemed a little irrational, but then, so am I.


The point is, for the last 38 years, I've either been or have been surrounded by adolescents.  That's a stinkin' long time with any people group.  And perhaps my longevity with them is why I did better with my own children.  But now, I'm sitting at the cusp of living a teenager-less life.  Our youngest, SK, turns 20 years old on Inauguration Day (she was born about 15 minutes after the "Thousand Points of Light" George Bush was sworn in!, and every four years, the nation celebrates her birthday with a big, well-heeled party, unfortunately, without inviting her!).  As Barack Obama takes the oath of office, SK will be closing the page on those 'tumultuous' teenage years, and beginning her 'roaring' twenties! 

So I'm thinking I need to find a new people group.  Start expanding my horizons.  Maybe the Wolof people of Africa, for example.  There's just so much turnover among teenagers, for one thing. They only last so long.  And, let's face it, I'm getting a little long in the tooth to relate to them, anyway (don't tell Beve, though.  He's older than me and not only works with them everyday still, but has a decade left to 'relate' to them!). 

With so much ending right now (and as you know, I'm not just talking about the teenage years!), a new people group is only part of the new thing I need. So who will God point me to next? What direction will He send me in?  With the last chapter closing in my life, just the way SK's is, what will my new 'roaring' chapter be?  Because I know God, I am certain something lies ahead, something that will extend the Kingdom, broaden out the rough places in my own life, and stir my always-willing-to-be-stirred passions!  This is what He's about, this is always His master plan--to use us for His purposes, to build us up as He does.  So though one decade is ending, and my people group changing, may the next be better than I can imagine.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

J's adventure

As I write this, J is winging his way across this country to join one cousin and 4 million of his closest friends on the Mall in Washington (that's DC) on Tuesday for the Inauguration.  This trip, with my 18-year-old politically interested nephew, has been planned for almost a year--far longer than we've known which person would take the oath of office, or that half the known world (or so it seems) would also crowd the streets of our capital to witness it.  J's very engaged in the political process, and, even though he didn't vote for the new president (nor the other guy, for that matter--he was far too disappointed by the timbre of the campaign by the end), he didn't actually care.  To see an Inauguration, to witness the smooth transfer of power and the pagentry with which it's done, all this appeals to my son who would love to be involved in politics, one way or another, someday.  And my nephew is even more engaged in the political conversation, if possible.  Though these young men haven't ever spent any time alone together (they have danced in kilts together at a wedding or two in the last year, so I'm not implying they're strangers), they have a lot in common--both well read, both VERY opinionated, both eager to learn. 

The difficulties of this particular moment, however, are not small.  With so many people thronging the city, cell-phone towers will be overrun, so people are encouraged to text, rather than call, causing my very techno-retarded sister to learn to text (I'm an old hand in comparison, even have a keyboard on my phone, thank God!).  We thought about roping the boys up so they wouldn't lose each other in the crowd, but somehow, they weren't fans of this idea.  Go figure!  Hotel rooms filled up quickly, too, so they only have a room for tonight and tomorrow.  After that, they're on their own...just kidding!  I called Beve's step-sister, and they're going to bunk at her house in Columbia, Maryland, for a couple nights, adding a commute among the millions to the complications of the week.

All in all, it isn't an optimal first unsupervised trip, at least from a semi-worried mother's point of view.  J has done some traveling by himself, but not across the country, and not trying to navigate a strange city with all those people.  Once again I'm faced with the cords that stretch only one way with my children.  They don't see them, know that they're connected to my heart by rope.  J will call me along the way--he's well-trained, after all--but he has repeatedly told me the last few days, when I've worried about his money, outerwear, maps of the metro, and all things between, that he'll be fine.  He'll be fine...me?  I'm not so sure. 

I know, I know, friends of mine have had kids go off on much bigger, less safe adventures than this.  Shoot, I plugged my nose and dove into Europe when I was just older than J, and didn't even call my parents for six weeks!  But, worry, like pain, is relative.  By that I mean it doesn't matter what other people experience, we live within our own bodies, and have to live through our stuff, not theirs.  It may be that one person has to go to bed for a week with a hangnail, while another walks around without noticing a broken ankle.  The point is, we are who we are.  We bear what we bear, not what others do.  Comparisons are odious (I can't remember who said that, but have learned the truth of it repeatedly!). 

So I will be equal parts worry and excitement for my son and nephew.  Pray for traveling mercies for them as they fly, and even more as they walk around Washington.  Pray for a good spot in which to glimpse history, standing shoulder to shoulder with others who made the same pilgrimage. 

Thursday, January 15, 2009

To sleep or not to sleep

I don't sleep.  That simple declarative statement has far-reaching impacts on my health, my relationships, my attitude, my everything.  For years, the Beve has encouraged me to at least talk to a doctor about this inability to close my eyes and turn off the world, the inability to relax enough to get refreshed daily.  Refreshed daily--just imagine such a concept!

So finally, this week, Beve made me promise to make a doctor's appointment.  It might not be too surprising that I'm sleeping even less right now than usual, and trust me, that's saying a lot.  My environment must be perfect in order to slip into Orpheus' arms, and currently my internal environment is pretty hostile to sleep.  So, because I'm the obedient little wife that I am, of course, I immediately called the doctor. Well, maybe I'm not that obedient generally speacking...

And I saw the doc this afternoon.  Now, I don't usually think of myself as old...Oh, okay, maybe I do, but I'm pretty sure this doctor is young enough to be my child.   And he's certainly skinny enough that even a wimp like me could throw him across the room, if, for example, I got too tired and took everything he said personally.  But I restrained myself, you'll be happy to know.  Even when I had to get weighed (as if simply not sleeping wasn't torturous enough!), I just gritted my teeth and and acted pleased as punch to participate in such a brutal practice.  Seriously, what does my weight have to do with not sleeping? 

It was literally the shortest doctor's visit I've had in years. Yep, five minutes, and I was walking away with a perscription for Ambian (apparently a wonder drug I don't want to take for more than a couple of days!), and a referral to another torture rack:  a sleep study.  The doc listened to me for no more than 30 seconds before telling me that my problem was much too large to simply give me a pill and send me on my way.  Thanks, anyway.  Beve's been pressing for this sleep study idea for years as well--since, apparently I hold my breath at night (seriously, isn't breathing overrated, anyway?), and sometimes wake up feeling like I'm about to die, which the doctor said actually doesn't mean I'm crazy, but is an actual symptom.

So, great, a sleep study.  What happens, I asked, if I don't manage to fall asleep the entire time?  Without a doubt, I can see that happening.  The problem is that they hook a person up to all these wires, make her try to sleep in a strange room, in a strange, probably hard, bed.  Did I say how important my own space is for real sleep?  And the idea that people are actually evaluating something I'm so terrible at?  This does not bode well for sleeping.  Why on earth do you think I haven't been sleeping this week?  You'd think I'd be a pro at external evaulations of my abilities, but clearly I'm not.  I can hardly bear to have people read over my shoulder, let alone stare at me while I'm sleeping.  Sigh.

The things we do, the things we attempt, in order to make our lives easier.  Or to make our spouses' lives easier, or both.  But, stay tuned, I'll let you know how this journey ends (PLEASE, not with one of those blasted machines!  I couldn't bear sleeping with something on my face!)!  After all, how much sleep does a person need, anyway?  Maybe I'll just give it up for good.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Distracted

I've been distracted lately, and though it isn't all that surprising, it is somewhat annoying.  One of the things that is usually true about me is that I can concentrate.  When I was a little girl, my parents once took me to a hearing specialist at the University of Michigan (where my dad was getting his PhD). They thought I was hard of hearing because I could sit for long periods staring at something, and not answer even when they were a foot or two away, calling my name.  It turns out that my hearing was fine.  I simply wasn't listening.

And my kids will tell you of the times they've tried talking to me and I do no more than grunt back at them.  I can get completely caught up in books, movies, what's outside my window, but mostly my own brain.

So it's not surprising that I might be concentrating at the moment.  Unfortunately, most of that concentration is a negative.  That is, I'm working hard not to think.  At least not to think about the one thing I'm wholly fixated on.  Trying not to pray about it, not to worry about it, not to...well, just not to!  However, the reality is, that this is what my life's about at the moment.  This thing--the ending of this thing--is the most important thing in my life. 

CS Lewis says, in his Letters to Malcolm, Chiefly on Prayer:" It is no use to ask God with factitious earnestness for A when our whole mind is, in reality, filled with the desire for B.  We must lay before Him what is in us, not what ought to be in us."

This is my exact situation.  What I want to be able to pray is that I can--with grace, peace and ease--stop thinking about, stop desiring my book to have a future.  But what I really want is that future.  No matter how often I tell God, and myself, that I surrender it to Him, it's different actually doing the thing of which I speak.  But it teaches me the truth of Lewis' words.  God doesn't want me to go through the motions of surrender, of giving my life to Him.  He didn't die on that dark/good Friday so that I could pay lipservice to Him.  It cost Him sweat, blood and His very breath to die for me.  And even though it was God's plan from Genesis, that pain still had to be borne. Those flogging cuts on His back were sticky with real blood.  The nails in His hands and feet caused scars that lasted into resurrection. 

And so it is with me--with any of us--when a dream or hope or desire has to be put to death.  Sweat and blood and my very breath.  "What cost God much cannot be cheap to us," Deitrich Bonhoeffer said.  And what, after all, do I really want?  When everything is stripped away, when I'm down to my skin and holding nothing in my hands, what I really want is Him.  Not my silly (I know it's not really silly, it's just in relation to the ultimate desire that all human things are foolish) book, my little dream of holding a book of my own making in my hands.  Yes, I want that.  I really want it.  But I also want Him.  So which is object A?  And which is object B?  If it's either/or, I'll tell you this.  I can live without my book, I cannot live without Him.  Now I know you're wondering why it has to be either/or.  I don't have an answer for that--not one that makes sense in the eyes of the world. I just know that for today, for this season, it is.  And I choose Him. Again.

But the battle is long inside, the desire doesn't go gently into that good night.  Maybe, therefore, I must hold them both in my hands--Please God, resurrect this!; Please God, help me let go of it!--then open my fists and allow Him to be God.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Driving my own life

So I got one of those phone calls today.  A phone call from my son.  You know the kind of phone call I'm talking about, where the very fact of the call reveals a problem.  As soon as I saw his name on the screen of my cell-phone, I knew.  If you're as old as me, you remember the whole life we lived before not only cell phones but caller IDs, answering machines, texts, etc.  It's pretty phenomenal how much the world has changed during my children's lifetimes.  Anyway, J called to tell me he'd hit another car with his, right in the parking lot where he works.  He had about thirty seconds to tell me because he didn't want to be late.  Afterwards, I called the Beve to tell him, but had so little information Beve wondered why I'd bothered to call him at all. 

I've received car accident phone calls before.  Beve once T-boned a car a block away from his job, just about the first week we lived in that town.  He'd run a stop sign without knowing it, and an older woman was just then driving across his path.  Actually this is almost what J did today--T-boned a car, causing more damage to his own car--the flimsy little thing--than to the other.  The person J hit is a retired or off-duty cop (I told you I don't have the whole story!), and, because it was in a parking lot, no tickets were issued.  We've lived through that kind of thing before as well.

When E was a junior in high school, she was driving in a parking lot, and bent down to change a music CD, accidentally turning the wheel as she did.  Her wheel drove straight up a turned out wheel of a parked car, flipping E's car onto its back.  Ten miles an hour and she flips a car.  She would have to graduate from stunt-driving school to manage that feat again!  She called me, and had an oddly cheerful lilt in her voice, "Hi Mom, I flipped the car!"  She's always been a positive person, it's true, but that was ridiculous.  My blood pressure sky-rocketed as she told me, but she was fine.  After all, how much damage could she do to herself at ten milies an hour?  By the time I got there, a fire truck and a couple of police cars were already on the scene.  From inside a building, someone had seen what she'd done and called 911.  Then a tow truck came, flipped the car back over, and pulled it away forever.  It was obviously totalled, especially since the tow-er tipped it onto its only good side in order to right it on its wheels.  The process seemed wrong to me--why not tip it back the way it'd come so at least half of it would be fine?  But what do I know?  I sure liked that car, though.  Sigh.

Today, I was much calmer.  I didn't go racing to the scene.  Haven't seen the car yet, as a matter of fact.  I don't know if it's because he's older, or because I am, but I'm less apt to freak out now.  About most things my kids do.  When the youngest is 20, it's easier to sleep nights.  J, however, locked his key in the car in the midst of his adrenalin rush, then when he got his spare out of his wallet, he locked both the wallet and the spare key in the car as well.  So, even though I didn't freak out, it wasn't nearly as stress-free for him, obviously.  Then Beve took him another Toyota key, so he could drive home from work, but it turns out, that key was a spare to my car, not J's.  He had to leave his banged-up car and hitch a ride home with a friend.

Ah, the messes we make in life.  We all do it, don't we?  I've been responsible for a car accident before (right on I-5 near the Tacoma Dome, with 14 month old Stephanie in the car!), I understand the adrenalin, the stress, the worry.  And I've driven past accidents before as well.  Yes, I've pressed my face against the window of my car, slowed down to a crawl in order to stare at a crash site.  I've been the one to make the traffic bottle neck, or at least didn't keep that bottle neck from happening.  I wonder what it is that makes us want to witness the traumas of others?  Are we just curious?  Simply gawking so we'll have a great story to tell?  Gossips? 

When I see an accident, hear about a calamity on the news, something in me that thinks, "There but by the grace of God go I."  I know the messes that I'm capable of making.  Especially in a car, I know them.  Some folks are proud of what good drivers they are.  Not me.  I know I'm not a great driver.  I get caught up in conversation and my foot speeds up or slows down with the cadence of my words.  I get lost in a dream or a prayer, and the next thing I know I've slowed traffic because I'm going 50 on the freeway, or have missed my turn and try to make a run for it anyway.  I'm not so bad that your life would be in danger by riding with me, but not good enough that I'd be able to drive school bus for a living.  I've had a brush or two with near misses as a result.  I'm not happy to say this, but it's true.  There's just so much to think about, or talk about, and mundane things, like driving carefully, get lost in the shuffle.

Even as a metaphor, this is true: I'm not a very good driver of my own life.  I tend to make messes easily, hit things I wouldn't if I only looked where I was going.  In our insurance, there's a deductible we have to pay when we get into an accident.  In my life, I think there's something of a deductible as well.  There are natural consequences to whatever mess I make.  This doesn't mean that it's unfixable, that I can be made as good as new, but...but a rebuilt car isn't the same as a sparkling new one.  And I think this is true when I sin, when I try to drive my own life.  There's redemption, recovery, being made new again.  But wouldn't it be better--infinitely better--not to have made that mess?  Not to have T-boned that other person? Obviously.  And hopefully, the older I get, the less I try to drive my own life, therefore, the fewer crashes I have.  

It's a life-long lesson to learn, though, because I'm sin-trained to take the wheel of myself.  Giving up the key and getting into the passenger seat--that's the only way.  Do I sound like a broken record?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The sculpting of a person

Friday was my older brother's birthday, but with the stress of that day--this week--I failed to acknowledge it.  And since I know he's a steadfast reader of this blog, I thought I'd redeem myself by writing about him.

R and I are the closest siblings in age in our family.  When we were children, there were several times when we even shared a bedroom.  One of my most significant memories is sleeping in a twin bed next to his, in the house we rented that still smelled of smoke from a fire the previous year. One night I'd stayed up writing a story--yes, I was writing even then.  I don't remember much of that story, except that it began, "Cathy was so excited she almost belched."  Seriously.  I think I was working hard not to say anything that would offend my mother--which vomiting, peeing or farting would definitely have done (though belching was also appalling to her!).  Anyway, when I turned out the light, I tossed the papers to the floor.  In the middle of the night, R woke up sick, and promptly vomited (for real!) right on my story.

Despite that, R and I generally got along pretty well.  By high school, he was often the taxi-driver of choice for my non-driving friends and I.  R knew all the streets/roads in our area where he could get air beneath the tires if he drove fast enough, and believe me, he was willing to drive fast enough.  And I remember one summer afternoon when a whole crowd of us piled in the Carry-all and drove around a gravel parking lot on campus just to watch the odometer turn 100,000 miles.  Two years ahead of me in school, R was friends with the guy I had a three-year unrequited crush on.  I appreciated that sometimes that boy would show up at our house, and I was actually the one to open the door and let him in..sigh!  Nothing like a brother who can be so helpful.

R married early--I think he was only 20.  And a year later, he moved across the Rockie mountains for about a dozen years.  We weren't very close during that time.  He, as inevitably happens, was involved in his job and own family.  He missed my wedding, wasn't around for the birth of my kids.  During those years, I didn't feel like I knew him very well.  He stopped into our lives now and then, but not often.

Then they moved back to the northwest.  We lived close enough that we saw them frequently.  He's a great guy--loves Christ, his family, sports--we had a lot in common.  He helped with a couple of building projects, Beve helped him build a deck. But I don't think we really became close again until our dad died.  Something changed in R when Dad died.  I don't think he'd ever lost before--not really, anyway (Grandparents don't count).  And Dad's death threw him.  He was surprised with the depth of pain he felt, the crying startled him, the way he thought of Dad every day for that season.  All those emotions were less surprising for me, I have to admit.  I'm pretty emotional, anyway, and had known my share of loss.  Anyway, that year, R started calling me more often--shoot, maybe he started calling me for the first time in our lives.  Our conversations changed--deepened.  After that, he worked away from home for a couple years, and would call me on the road.  Those conversations always had the tint of eternity to them. He was in leadership at his church, led worship, sometimes preached.  I liked who he was becoming, the growing up in Christ. 

It's a truth of the Christian life that suffering is necessary in order for us to be transformed.  It's like Michelangelo sculpting the David.  It wasn't a perfect piece of marble that he used.  There was a large blemish in it.  But what Michelangelo did was, in his words, 'carve away everything that wasn't David.' He chiseled away the blemish until what was left is perfect and whole.  I think that's what God has been doing in my brother's life.  We all have blemishes, and he's no exception.  But there's a chisel in God's hand that is constantly working to cut away those flaws; in fact, to carve off everything that isn't the essential self of R, the Image-of-God self that God intends him to be. Sometimes that 'sculpting' takes a large toll on a person, comes only with suffering. But after all, as I've said repeatedly, whatever it takes to make us whole--that's what I want for R.  Good, bad, and in between, let God do what He will to make R His perfect sculpture.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Paint

Picking the perfect paint for a room is always an iffy proposition.  Standing in front of those walls of paint chips, where every color seems to have 40,000 variations.  It's not easy, I'm telling you.  I come home with a dozen tiny pieces of paint and lay them on the counter for Beve to look and and help me decide.  Say  I want our kitchen to be red.  It takes 14 trips to the paint stores, many changes of my quixotic mind, and finally we bring home our gallons of paint.  And then, when we begin painting, I have buyer's remorse like you can't believe.

The first summer we moved into this house, while I was in eastern Washington, Beve picked out and painted our TV room a porcelain blue.  It was wonderful that he would take that initiative; however, I was never really satisfied with the color.  OK, I admit, I'm not really a blue person, though he is.  He really is--enough that when we were engaged and I was working hard to please him, I chose blue for my bridesmaids' dresses.  A sky blue...and I was such a wimp that I let my grandmother pick out the pattern for the dresses.  They were surely the most ridiculous dresses you've ever seen (and I've felt I should issue a general apology to my sisters and friends ever since).  They had so much fabric, we had to buy hoop skirts to wear beneath them, making the women look a whole lot like Little Bo Peep...searching for those dang sheep.  I really am sorry.  On the up side, I think they probably made really good costumes back in the day.

Anyway--anyway!--I'm more of an orange, brown and yellow person myself.  Warm colors.  So almost immediately after the room was painted that lovely blue (hmm, come to think of it, it was just about the same color as those silly bridesmaids' dresses!), I began collecting paint swatches for the color the room really needed to be.  Just so you know, we are not afraid of color around here.  I love all the possibilities of color.  And best of all is Pumpkin (the flavor is pretty wonderful too)!  Now I know many of you out there would no more dream of painting a room pumpkin than you would smearing those walls with pumpkin, but I like it.  And it's my room, after all.  I even bought the paint--probably within the first two months after the blue. 

But that was five and a half years ago--five and a half years in which we lived with the blue room.  It's made this room quite dark, because there's no direct sunlight in these windows.  But we don't move on such things quickly.  It took a while to talk Beve into changing the color, and by then, the list of home projects was quite long.  We've had to work through that list--you know, new floor in the kitchen, remodeled bathroom, exterior painting, cleaning out the carport (which involved selling the old tent-trailer!!!!) dealing with a flood in the basement.  Well, the list is still unbearably long, but today Beve and E began painting this room. 

And it just plain makes me soooo happy.  I really love orange, I have to tell you.  It's such a sunny, warm color.  I already feel like there's more hope in this room.  And today I really, really needed that.

Isn't it amazing how something as prosaic as paint on some walls can help with one's attitude.  It's true, I really love the fact that the world we live in is full of color, that the Creator gave us such variation, and that we get to bring it inside where it brightens up our home.

And even Beve feels okay about my pumpkin room.  Thankfully.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Death of a vision

I've been trying not to write this post for a week now.  Actually trying my hardest not to even think about it, but with more news this afternoon, there's nothing to be done but dive in, admit the truth, write this post in a rush without thinking.  Then begin to move on.  See, I've been flirting with the hope that my manuscript, drafted so long ago (eight years maybe), revised within an inch of its life, has really been almost finished, that the copy I sent to my agent in New York would receive her rubber stamp of approval and be moved on to a publishing company.  I've been holding my breath for weeks.

A week ago I finally heard...and the news was crushing.  There are several issues, external to my writing, that have combined to prevent my book from being published.  The publishing industry, like every thing else, is suffering in this recessed economy (doesn't that word, recessed, make you think of a break...a recess? like any time now the bell might ring and we'll all be back in business?).  Companies are folding right and left, and publishers have now put a moratorium on receiving new books--even from established authors--until at least the middle of 2009.  For new writers, the outlook is bleak.  And this afternoon, I received another email from my would-be agent, and her words were fatal wounds to my hopes. My book, which is 'quiet', in publishing parlance, as well as being somewhat dark, is not a good prospect.  Women's fiction (which mine is), in this climate, needs to be much more uplifting and hopeful than a novel about suicide and death.  So, I have a couple of choices here:

I can completely rewrite it so that the deaths are merely sidebars, not the main subject.  I can try my hand at finding some one willing to publish it as is (though this sounds quite impossible at the moment), or I can simply shelve it for the time being.

As you might guess, none of these options are very promising.  To have put my heart and soul into this for so long, not to mention my family's belief in me in such practical ways as living in a much reduced state while I've worked on it, makes it all very difficult to contemplate.  But there it is. But I think I've come to a decision: for the foreseeable future, I will lay my story down.  I think the fat lady is singing, and even though it's a sad song, I can hear her loud and clear. Feeling like a failure, I lift my voice to sing with her: there will be no "October Afternoon."

The thing is, many of us come to a point in our lives where we believe ourselves to be failures.  We spend long years doing something and come to a point where we lose that job, are shut out from a certain path, are rejected relationally.  We wake up some morning and wonder whether we've actually been a fraud all this time, if we've misunderstood what we thought we were called to, misheard God. And it's not merely embarrassing, even humiliating; no, the very loss of that dream cuts so deeply, so close to our essence that it's only a step away from feeling that we aren't worth anything.  I don't think I'm alone in this.  Marriages fail, businesses we've put our hearts in go under, the company we've given our hearts to cuts us off with merely a small severance (if that).  There are sooo many ways for our dreams to die.

So I join the ranks.  I struggle with what this means, with what such an arduous,  painful, exhilarating journey all means.  What God intends.  I worry about having to tell all those people who have asked--mercilessly--when my book's coming out, about those who have seemed to simply enjoy the idea that they might know a published author.  Yes, I am embarrassed about that.  But more than that--so much more than that I can barely see it from this side of it--I am sad.  Sad for this story I've believed in that won't be told, sad that I failed, and most of all, sad that I've done this to my Beve and my children.  All for this, for this nothing...

And yet.  What I know when I get to the end of this lament, this truth-telling, transparent moment, is that resurrection is always possible.  That death isn't the end of the story.  I don't know when and how that resurrection might come, or whether it will come in a way that I might like.  I don't know if there will be a life after death for this story.  But I do know that God knows.  And I know that there will be better days ahead.  That even though grief is real and overpowering tonight, I will breathe a little easier tomorrow, and still easier the next day.  If there is a writing talent in me, it is not finished simply because that story is.  And after all, that's the real gift.  I can't imagine ceasing to write, even if I have to cease writing this book. 

In the end, I surrender to this moment.  I say, though tears stream from my eyes even as I type it, "Your will, Lord--NOT mine--be done." I say with the Psalmist, "The Lord is good.  Blessed be the name of the Lord." And, when I look at the whole of my life, I believe it.  Hallelujah.  Amen.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Word

I'm one of those strange individuals who actually loves study.  I have spent much of my adult life studying...all sorts of things, actually.  When I went to seminary in my 40s, I was like a sponge.  I just couldn't get enough of the history, the theology, the conversations and seminars.  I lapped it up like it was spilling all over the place, and I might miss something.  I was privileged to sit beneath really wonderful teachers, learned men and women who challenged me to be more than I knew I could be as a student, as a believer.  And some of them had such deep understanding of scripture, you can't imagine, if you haven't sat where I did.  They knew scripture forward and backward, and up and down. 

Of course, they'd spent their life at it.  They had degree after degree in semitic languages, Biblical Studies, spiritual theology, systematic theology...all those studies that aided the teaching.  I remember when I was an undergraduate, being impressed with an Old Testament prof who read the texts straight out of the Hebrew, translating as he spoke.  But then I got to seminary, and every second prof seemed to have that ability--and some of the students grew pretty proficient at it as well. 

But last night, as I was reading, I came to Psalm 100, where the Psalmist speaks of us being the sheep of His pasture.  Immediately, of course, I thought of John 10, where Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd, and my sheep know my voice."  What occured to me last night was that Jesus, from a very early age, knew the Psalms.  This Shepherd reference wasn't the only time He quoted the Psalms. Think of His words from Psalm 22: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (perhaps quoting the entire Psalm). And He knew His prophets, and the Patriarchs.  But here's the thing.  Jesus was a carpenter from a back-desert town.  There is no story of Him having gone to Hebrew school, having studied long and hard to learn the scriptures.  Probably, given the trip He made with His parents at 12, He participated in synagogue.  But there is no earthly reason to assume He spent hours and hours learning the Hebrew Bible.  He was a carpenter in His early years, working with His hands. 

But at twelve, He knew the scripture well enough that He baffled the men who spent their lives with their heads buried in the Torah.  And from His first sermon, He quoted not simply the texts of the Old Testament, but understood who He was in relation to those texts.  Flesh and blood didn't reveal all those texts to Jesus.  He hadn't made a list of prophecies (as I have) and checked off how He fulfilled them.  No, Jesus gained His understanding of scripture not from His mother's side of the family tree, but from His Father's.  Everything He did--and said--came directly from His Father. Everything was completely purposeful.  Can you imagine sitting under such teaching? Can you imagine all the mysteries of the universe, all the paradoxes in scripture being understood by the one you are listening to?  Our pastors and teachers are human, with human flaws and partial--through a mirror--comprehensions.  Yes, they are filled with the Holy Spirit (hopefully!), and He reveals to them things they would never get if left alone.  But it takes years of study, years of prayer, years of submission to the Word to understand and preach the Word.  Jesus had a PhD in the Word of God without ever taking a single seminary class.  He embodied it in His very self.  He was the Word of God before there was ever a Word from God.

When I read these prophecies last night--especially in Matthew, which is crammed with them, crammed with all the ways Jesus is the fulfillment of them--I have a new brilliant appreciation, not only for the Incarnate as my Savior, but for Him as the wisest, most learned theologian who ever lived.  I don't suppose this is the revelation to all of you that it is to me today, but it gets to me.  I have memorized a lot of scripture in my life,--entire books, in fact--but He, well, He just knew it. No memorizing necessary.  Because, after all,  He was it.  The Word made flesh also means that He made even the driest pieces of it alive and new--as He spoke them.  Pretty cool, if you ask me.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Flood

Well, we've become Noah and his family around here--and by here I mean, this whole side of the state.  I'd just like to know where the ark is! The rain's come with no large boat to take us to safety.  For those of you who don't know, live here, western Washington is quite the disaster area.  And our own town--Bellingham--is one of the worst areas.  When they have to close major streets in town--like the Guide Meridian-- it's not a good thing.  And though we live on a hill, our basement has water running through it like a river.  We spent hours today putting boxes up on pallets.  The good news is that it caused E to get a vision for cleaning it out (next summer, when presumably, the rain finally stops). We found a whole lot of treasures, including pictures of Beve, J and J's cousin, M, when they went to Buhner buzz night and got all their hair shaved off.  Beve, who is really quite a handsome man, usually, looked exactly like Bull from the TV show, "Night Court" with a shaved dome, and the boys looked like they were cancer survivors.  I wasn't that happy when they got home that night, but today those pictures made me laugh.  We also moved many boxes of books, both mine and J's.  If you've seen our house, where many walls are covered with bookcases, but I've known for years, that I was missing several (a couple dozen?) boxes.   Fortunately, most of those books were fine.  It's an odd thing, I don't really care about a lot of 'things', but books?  They mean everything to me.

We had plenty of time to deal with the basement because school was cancelled here in town.  We're watching the news at the moment, and some rivers around here are 20 feet over flood stage--they're showing pictures of our county.  Apparently we're one of the worst places, and that's saying a lot, given the catastrophe happening south of here. 

It makes you wonder, doesn't it?  I mean about God's promise never to destroy the world through flood again.  What that tells me is that as bad as these floods are, as water overspills every river in western Washington, the world won't be destroyed from them.  The world has floods, earthquakes, forest fires.  These are part of the cycles of nature.  Perhaps they're worse because of the havoc we humans have wrecked on our environment, but these things happen.  It stinks that this is true; there are days when I wish it was always sunny and always summer. But I suppose if I really wanted that, I should move to the equator, and though I don't mind visiting (would LOVE to visit, actually), I don't want to live there.  I like the green, treed world I live in, and that means rain is necessary.  Maybe less than this rain, maybe not so much that we get flooded out of house and town, but, as the song goes, "Jesus, bring the rain."

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Muscle memory

I've been reading the Gospel of John lately, and last night came across this verse, "Greater love has no one than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."  (John 15:13)  Every time I read this verse, I'm reminded of my old friend, SW, the boy across the street.  At some point in high school, we must have had a conversation about this quality of love, because in my New American Standard Bible, his initials are written beneath the verse.  I just pulled down my taped up (both masking tape and packing tape), navy blue bonded leather NASB to make sure.  I got this Bible the Christmas of my sophomore year in high school, and for many years, it was the Bible I used.  Sure, I had plenty of other translations. For some reason, I liked collecting Bibles, and my mother was glad to oblige by buying me a new translation for every event.  Amplified, Phillips, Good News, RSV, parallel versions with 2, or 4, translations, the Living, study Bibles, New Testaments, you name 'em, I had 'em.  But despite all those books sitting on my shelf, this old sturdy blue workhorse, lightlighted, annotated, covered with my childish scrawl was the one I used.  And there on the page (169 of the New Testament), right beneath the top line on the page are the initials SW.  I don't have a single memory of the conversation that spurred me to write his name, but clearly it was important enough to me to note.

(A couple of days after I received the NASB Bible for Christmas, my neighbor, SW, and I walked home from a Bible study together.  He carried my brand new Bible beneath his coat, but just as we turned the last corner onto our street, it slipped out of his grasp and into the snow.  He was very apologetic, and I was very gracious (well-trained), but the wet snow rippled some pages, and they bear the scars to this day.  Wow, right at John 15, as a matter of fact. How's that for coincidence?)

Anyway, these words, about this highest form of love, really represented SW in those days.  His single-hearted earnestness, his hunger for God, and his willingness to serve whoever crossed his path.  When I read the words, I think of that lanky, wavy-haired teenager.  The one who played basketball like he was put together with rubberbands, but still managed to be better than anyone else around.  I read these words last night, and thought of that boy, even though the man he's become was leg-twitching and deep-breathing right beside me in the bed. 

It's an odd thing to have known him so long, in such different guises.  That boy, SW?  I wouldn't have dreamed in a million years that he'd be the man who would father my children. I'd have shuddered if anyone had suggested it (come to think of it, when my mom suggested I date him, I said, "why don't you?" which might have been a bit mouthy, not to mention tricky, considering she was happily married to my dad). But who he was in high school, is really who he is.  A man who would lay down his life for his friends. At least, that's who I think he is.

This isn't an easy thing to consider, this life-laying-down love Jesus encourages us toward.  I have to admit, I hope I'm never put to the test.  Many years ago now, when a student took a gun into a classroom in Moses Lake, Washington, the assistant principal ran toward the shots, wrestled the gun out of his hands, saved untold lives, though there were some casualities.  Beve heard the name of the principal, and was surprised to discover that he knew the man, who'd been Beve's middle school gym teacher.  Beve called him up, and they talked through those scary moments. Like it had muscle memory, his body had moved almost like he'd trained it for that specific situation.  Afterwards, he was shocked that running toward the gunfire was so instinctive.  This is a man who put into action these words of Jesus'.

I don't know if I have that muscle memory.  Sure, I'd like to think I'd lay my life on the line for my children.  I really think I would.  But I don't know.  There's a pretty deep well of cowardice in me.  But what I know is that God has not given me--us--a spirit of fear, but the Spirit of power, of love and of discipline.  These are the tools of the Spirit in the best or worst of times.  Power, the very power that raised Him for the dead, is ours.  Love, the very love that God demonstrated by our salvation through Christ's death. Discipline, the very discipline that comes from surrendering our puny will to His.  These are the things that give us muscle memory, even if we've never been tested.  The Spirit Himself, enabling us to do more than we imagine we are capable of.  Running toward whatever fire life throws at us.