Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Mawwiage

I've never really been a fan of the movie "Princess Bride," but whenever I think of the moment a priest/pastor/minister stands in front of a hopeful young couple, I think of  the lisping priest from that movie. "Luv..." he says, "is what it's all about." 

But sometimes, marriage is about work.  I live in one of the easiest marriages I know, but I'm telling you sometimes it's just plain hard.  We haven't had the easiest week, the Beve and I.  We've been like a skipping record, stuck in the same unhealthy groove.  I'm a brooder, I admit.  So sometimes I hold things against him that are ridiculous.  I expect him to know what's wrong with me without having to tell him, and God forbid that I have to explain how he's supposed to respond to me.  I want him to know instinctively, to understand and say the right words without having fed them to him.  I expect him to be inside my head and heart and 'get me' and when he doesn't.  When he says, "I don't know what you want me to say/do," I pull back into my shell and don't let him in.  I mean, if he doesn't know, I'm sure not going to tell him! So there. 

This attitude has served me well over the last 25 years, let me tell you.  By that I mean, I have caused myself no end of damage.  Yeah, I can confidently say that most of the pain I feel at these moments is self-inflicted.  By not helping Beve to know me, I am keeping him from what might actually help. 

I want it to come easily, this two-becoming-one stuff.  It's like we're in a three-legged race, trying to get our strides to match...and they don't always.  Sometimes we walk, even run smoothly, arms around each other, helping each other on toward to the goal of Christ.  But other times, our strides are just too different, and we trip over each other.  He's a legal giant, you know.  I'm 14 inches shorter than him.  That makes for some pretty awkward steps for each of us. And we're as different on the inside as well.  I tend to make decisions quickly, tend to plan things in my head without having to talk about every step, and plowing through tasks quickly so I can get back to the business of life. That's just how I look at errands, jobs, etc. He's more of a meanderer through life.  Goes to write a letter, ends up taking apart the pen.  Starts home from work, gets side-tracked into some extra errand.  He's active, I'm reflective.  He lives with his feet on the ground, I live with my head in the clouds. 

But it's Beve's very otherness that so appeals to me.  His ability to be in every moment, to see what is needed to serve and to meet that need before it's even expressed.  He stretches me to look at the world through his eyes, to see others with his large compassionate, well-grounded heart.  To not merely see this life as a metaphor for Eternity, but as a reality that could be better for many people.

Marriage is the proving ground for us, I think.  It's the furnace in which God purifies us and polishes us into gold.  If we are to become His, and we have a spouse, we must count on the fact that that spouse is His agent for growth, change, transformation in our lives. And that doesn't mean they always do what we ask to help that change. Sometimes, they do the very opposite of what we want.  Just like sometimes God does the very opposite of what we want, engaged instead in the doing of what we need.  Sometimes, Beve doesn't respond as I want--and he's wrong. But sometimes what I want is wrong, and I must learn the difference.  Not take it out on him. 

I wouldn't be in this three-legged race with anyone else, not even someone closer to my size, temperament, inclinations.  Sure, that might be an easier race superficially, but it wouldn't be the race God is in.  God is like that rubber band, tying our legs together.  He made it clear from the very outset, that we were meant to take our unlike sizes, our different interests and temperaments, and ways of being, and combine them to become "us."  From that moment on, we became each other's only option for this marriage race.  We have to work out our marriage, just as we work out our salvation--with fear and trembling, and--AND--because it is God who is at work between us, IN us.

Mawwiage, it's a wonderful state.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Lent

Usually this time of year, I've changed one of my usual habits.  Maybe I've stopped reading fiction for the season. Maybe I'm practicing Lecto Divino through the public ministry of Jesus as I approach the holiest of weeks.  Lent is what I'm talking about, of course.  The forty days prior to the resurrection.  I used to simply give up something--caffeine, sugar, something of importance to me gastronomically. But the last couple of years, I've wondered about this practicing of fasting--to whatever extent I do it--while Jesus is, metaphorically, anyway--alive, teaching and healing, and walking the dusty roads with his face turned toward Jerusalem.  This is the season of  life for Jesus.  People are coming to Him in great crowds, lives are being changed.  So I've wondered about Lent, which I think is mostly about slowing down enough to always be aware of Him as we head toward that wonderful, terrible week.

A month ago, when I was east of the mountains, I had dinner one Friday night with some of my relatives.  As we ordered, I realized that I was the only one at the table not ordering fish.  I remember when I was a little kid, whenever I went to one of my Catholic friends' homes on Friday nights, we were served fish sticks for dinner.  Every single Friday night--fish sticks.  And frankly, I neer really quite understood it.  Was it representing how Jesus fed the masses with the fish and loaves?  Was it a matter of denying oneself of 'meat' in order to focus on Christ?  After Vatican Two, the mandate to not eat meat on Fridays was reduced to the Fridays during Lent, but the question is still valid.  I'm always interested in why certain churches practice what they do, how those practices line up with the gospel.   So last month, while I ate my Oriental Chicken salad, I asked my relatives why no meat.  I was told that this sacrifice (especially for my hardworking, farming relatives, not eating red meat is quite a sacrifice!) makes us hungry for Christ, reminds us that He alone satisfies our hunger.  I'm telling you, too, if we adhered to this practice, J would go hungry every single Friday. J's attitude toward fish is a succinct "Yuck!'.

I do love the reasoning behind this choice.  I love that, at least for my family, it's well-thought-out, and makes sense.  Anything we do that makes us pay more attention sounds good to me.  Because that's what I think this season is about.  Doing something that causes us to pay more attention to the Incarnate.  The days are short now, even though the sun stays longer and longer in the sky.  The hour is coming when the Son of Man, the very Begotten Son not only of God but of Man as well, will suffer and die.  We're about ten days away now.  Jesus' sandals have caught up with his face, and everything is turned toward His date with the Jewish leaders now. The wide lenses of the gospel writers, used to tell the story of Jesus' life in broad strokes early, are increasingly tightening so that in just another couple days, the telephoto lens will be put on and we'll see every moment in isolation. And though I didn't do anything for the 40 days we call Lent, I want my lenses ready too, I want to pay minute attention to the details of this glorious story.  This fairy tale that is true!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Haircuts and stuff

Saturday...because it's rained all day, Beve's been home.  He went out this morning to look at a new lawn mower (he already owns five, I think, but one can never have too many lawn mowers!), and to buy bones for the dogs.  I'm talking giant beef joints.  Jackson loves them, carts them from pillar to post, guards them from any would-be interlopers (namely, Jamaica) with his life.  Deep growls and snaps tend to hover in the air when he's gnawing on a bone.  Jamaica loves these meaty bones, too, but she's too little to hold them in her mouth, so her only choice is to hope Jackson walks away and she can take over his.  This behavior is flipflopped when there are rawhides around.  Jackson, who has the softest mouth you can imagine for a 110 lb. lab, doesn't like rawhides until they're soft and juicy, which only happens when Jamaica has chewed on them for a while.  She leaves of rawhide for an instant, and he swoops in and carries it off.

We're easily entertained around here, you can tell.  Jamaica also went to the groomer this afternoon.  Taking her to get a haicut is like taking a small child to get shots.  The minute she realized where we were she jumped back into the car and curled into a ball, as if thinking she'd become invisible.  Beve and I together drug her out of the car and into the groomers', where she stood upright with her front paws on the counter, whining at the tiny dog being clipped. When the groomer took her through the gate, Maica slid on her hind end, pulling away frantically.  Two and a half hours later, we had a new dog with all her freckles showing.  So adorable.  But she was pretty mad at us.  At home, after greeting Jackson like they'd been separated for months rather than hours, Maica sped into her kennel and sat in the back corner.  We couldn't coax her out even for food.  Maybe she felt embarrassed by having lost all her curls.

I know all about bad haircuts.  Last week on J's birthday, he let a friend cut his hair--now it's kind of a modified mohawk, only wider and not standing up straight.  He's had to leave it all week because they shaved the sides, and he didn't want to be a skinhead.  He's been telling us all week about the dirty looks he's gotten from people.  No one has actually said anything aloud...well, except for my mother whom he went to visit last weekend.  She hadn't the faintest idea who he was, but still managed to chastize him about his hair.  Some things are more deeply engrained than others, I guess.

And SK, who's been down in the Bay area this week, colored her hair a deep red.  I haven't seen it yet, but I understand it's not quite glow in the dark.  She also pierced her nose, which isn't something I'm very excited about, but it's better than a tattoo, I guess. Her brother told her if the only reason she wouldn't do it was because I'd be disappointed, that she should just go ahead.  GREAT advice, I told J. What about honoring your parents?  Sigh. Then this morning she texted me with a picture of a butterfly on the small of her back.  "That had better be temporary," I told her.  "Um...I think we need to talk...um" was her answer.  "You'd better be kidding," I texted back.  She was, thankfully.

All in all, I've been really aware of how much outside our control our kids are, now that they're all in their twenties.  Maybe that's why we have dogs--so we still have some creatures in our house that we can control (or at least attempt to...they're pretty incorrigable dogs).  I still want to have a say in my children's lives.  And they are willing to talk to us about their hopes, dreams, plans.  But we don't have quite the say we used to, when we could tell them what to eat, when to go to bed, make them do their homework.  The hard part is, I don't feel any differently inside about them.  I still feel like I have a stake in all of their choices, even in their physical bodies--you know, those bodies I once held, and even carried within.  This growing up stuff is so stretching for us all.  They're better at it than I was.  Just as I was much better at it than my parents were with me.

It made me wonder, when I saw the picture of SK's nose with the tiny little charm through the nostril, how many choices I make that God is disappointed in.  There's nothing morally wrong with that little earring in her nose.  But I'm not a fan.  So how many choices do I make--each day--that may be morally neutral but aren't what God intends for me?  Like eating that extra cream-puff with hot fudge sauce--the one I really should know better than touch.  There are plenty of things like that in my days.  What about yours?  "Tell God every detail of your needs," Paul tells us in Philippians.  Do we take this seriously? Do we believe that He actually cares, and cares enough to be disappointed in us?  I think he does.  He cares for the hairs on our head, and the peircings on our noses...and many are the small things that pierce His heart for us as well.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Learning to walk

It's possible I've written about this before, but that's the way it goes.  E walked in this afternoon after work and said, "Back in the elephant phase, huh?"  It's true, I'm all about elephants right now.  I've made this journey before, reading everything I could about them, but I just found the BBC documentary about a family group of elephants in Amboseli National Park that I first saw many years ago when we lived in Sequim.  That movie made me fall in love with these giant creatures and what they can teach us about ourselves.  Watching Echo, the matriarch and her family yesterday, was like being reaquainted with a beloved friend.  The documentary begins with the birth of Echo's calf, Eli, a male calf so large he was cramped for the 22 months in her womb.  He was born completely unable to stand on his feet, but could only stand with them bent under, like a human might stand on his ankles, with the foot bent completely backwards.  Generally such a disability is precursor to death, because the calf cannot stand or walk, but this little guy (which is a very strange thing to call a 300 pound baby) was determined to walk, and his mother and older sister refused to leave him.  The rest of the family moved off after they'd helped Echo birth the baby, but she waited, wrapped her trunk around him, and gently helped him up, his older sister also assisting.  They absolutely insisted that he get up, that he move.  They weren't about to leave him to flounder on his own. It was a long slow trip catching up to the rest of the family, with Eli trudging along on the tops of his large feet.  But eventually, on the third day of his life, after trying and falling repeatedly, Eli managed to get his legs to stiffen and hold him upright.

This scene is very evocative to me.  The gentle help of the family with the birth, the patience of Mama and big sister with the little disabled brother, the diligence in his working to be a full member of the family--all of this speaks volumes to me about living in the body of Christ.  We aren't always patient with those who are weaker members, those who are even slow and disabled in their faith.  But we could be.  Should be.  Paul tells us to help our weaker brother (and sister), to encourage each other.  Often we're so busy criticizing the strugglers, those different than ourselves, that we never consider that our judgment leaves them for dead.  We don't like people who are different than ourselves, who look different, move differently, are a little crippled--from our point of view.

We can learn much from this insistent loving of the elephants, from the patient endurance of Eli. His working and working until he could stand, and his mother's waiting and encouraging him to do so.  That's the point.  We all have to work together to work out our salvation.  We're the church--the whole community of faith, the whole family of God.  Not a one of us can learn to walk by ourselves.  Why, without those older and more experienced, we'd never take a healthy step, I think.  We flail and flounder and fall flat by ourselves.  I do, anyway.  Without brothers and sisters to encourage me, I'm Eli, alone in the savannah, trying to walk on my ankles.  So I thank God today for all those who have stretched out their trunks to me, their steady arms around me, helping me to stand upright and walk--walk in a manner worthy of Christ.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

If

"But you, Sovereign Lord,
help me for your name's sake;
out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.
For I am poor and needy,
and my heart is wounded within me.
I fade away like an evening shadow...
Help me, Lord my God;
save me according to your unfailing love.
Let them know that it is your hand,
that you, Lord, have done it."      Psalm 109: 21-27

The Psalms, I have long known, have a rhythm to them that I need in my life.  Within them, they contain the breadth of human experience.  Feeling full of joy?  There's Psalm 100.  Need to repent? Psalm 51 is the location for that.  Need to be reminded that you belong to Him, have been created purposely? Psalm 139.  These are the easy ones to find.  But on a daily basis, as I read each in its turn, I'm moved by how the life of the Psalmist mirrors mine.  Sometimes needing to be in His presence, sometimes with so much anger within, that I--like him--want to curse my enemies.  And some days, when I open the Word to my attached gold-bookmark, I read the Psalm and am stunned by how the words fit my mood, can say what my heart feels better than my own vocabulary.

Lately, I have barely had voice to speak what I've felt.  Last night, gathering with a group of friends, we went around the room, answering the question of how we and God are doing together.  I was loathe to speak, didn't want to open myself up to the well-intentioned, loving scrutiny of my friends.  I barely admit to myself the unhealed wounds I'm living with, the distance I feel from God.  But, haltingly, reluctantly, I did speak. I told of the sense of purposelessness I feel, the way the future stretches out in front of me, but I can't see what's in it, what my life will be about.  And, more specifically, I cannot hear God.  And that has led me to wonder if I deluded myself in the past about what I believed was His voice.  Was I wrong to feel called to write?  If not for my theology, at this particular moment (as one friend put it), I could simply say, "Well, I tried that and it didn't work out."  But because I honestly felt--still believe--that God gave me this purpose, that it is for Him, by Him and because of Him, that I began this writing venture, it becomes also a theological issue when confronted with a dead end.  And that, I'm sorry to say, is the door into all kinds of more fundamental doubts.

Yet, every lament in the Psalms, every cry of the Psalmist, leads to God.  It is God alone whom I can both point my finger to, and run to for the answers.  If I struggle, I struggle with Him, not alone in the dark.  I choose, day in and day out, to confront Him--even when He seems silent--with the truth of my confusion, and with the bottom line TRUTH on which I stake my life.

And this is that truth, the same truth the Psalmist eventually gets to, no matter how meandering the way:  I might wonder if I hear Him, if I ever did, if I ever will.  I might question my purpose, my very being.  But in the darkest hours of the night, I come to the Incarnation, to the man who was God, and I do not doubt Him.  I believe, so deeply, it creates a crater in the middle of my doubts, that the man Jesus is who He said He was.  He is God.  There is no other.  I may question and struggle with every single thing around that: what is church, why do Christians behave just as non-Christians do, why can't we all get along.  But I come back to Jesus, and am saved.  Don't ask me why I am so certain.  Some days, I couldn't summon up the answer to it (except that He who lives inside of me feeds that certainty).  But I am sure.  I stake my life, as meager and useless as it seems to me right now, on the gospel.  "Though He slay me, yet I will trust Him," says Job.  If Jesus is who I believe He is, then I trust Him. Whether in the dark when I cannot see or in the glowing light of joy, it makes no difference.  If Jesus is God, my life is His. Bought by His death, rebirthed by His resurrection.

So I speak these words of Psalm 109 with an overflowing heart--overflowing with equal shares of doubt and certainty.  Let them know--let all the world know--that YOU have done it.  Deliver me, save me according to your unfailing Love.  And keep on saving me, every blessed day.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Snake and bird at once

"I am sending you out as sheep among the wolves.  Therefore, be shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves." Matthew 10:16

I don't think of being 'shrewd as a snake' very often.  Maybe ever.  To me, the word shrewd makes me think of dirty public servants--cops, politicians--who use situations to their advantage, who deal under the table, accept bribes for favors.  Cunning and tricky are the synonyms that come to mind.  Clearly, though, this isn't what Jesus means by shrewd in this statement.  He means for His disciples to be sharp of mind, to use the Word as Hebrew puts it, "Sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow." 

There's a good example of such gospel shrewdness in Acts 23, when Paul is arrested in Jerusalem, and the Jewish leaders plan to kill him.  He asks/gets permission to speak, then looks out at the crowd and sees two distinct factions of Jews.  Sadducees don't believe in the resurrection from the dead and Pharisees do.  Paul, having been a pharisee, knows clearly just how deep and divisive these beliefs are, and speaks carefully, using shrewd, loaded language. "I stand on trial for the hope of the resurrection from the dead."  He cuts to the heart of the matter for these two groups, and in naming their difference, causes a riotous debate between them.  They are distracted from their earlier singular purpose of wanting Paul's death.  Their unity is exposed as superficial, and Paul knew this would happen.  Shrewd as a snake.

And so Jesus calls us to be.  To look beneath the surface of situations, to have acute perception about the arguments, the complains, the brokeness of those around us, and see the world (and those who would come against us) for what they really are.  Things are not always, or even usually, what they seem in this world.  There is always sin and darkness and division lurking, trying to divide us from Him.

But He also calls us to be innocent as doves.  To fly high above the fray as people in whom the Holy Spirit dwells.  He calls us to where peace reigns--out of the orbit of sin and greed, and division from truth.  He calls us NOT to be subject to that world, but to live as transformed, high-flying creatures of new life.  "Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mold," Romans 12:2 (in the Living Paraphrase) says, "but let God remold your minds from within.  It's an enlightening way to look at transformation, this being remolded into something 'other'--something like an simple bird. Into His likeness.The innocence of doves and the shrewdness of snakes.  Both at once.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Comfort zone

Okay, so I'm a product of the age. That's been made perfectly clear lately.  A week ago, our washing machine started banging like a big bass drum.  After three loads of of tippany, and dogs barking in rhythm, we (er, make that Beve) called a repair man.  The first one who came took one look and told me we needed to call a different man.  Our entire basket (the drum where the clothes spin) was loose from its moorings.  The good news: it's covered under warranty.  But that 's the only good news.

This second repairman, a true grump, complained the whole time he was here.  He'd never seen a Whirlpool fall apart like this before. The part needed to be ordered, and it will take two plus weeks to get here.  Deep sigh--from him, I mean.  And it's an incredibly long repair.  Another deep sigh.  You'd think I was torturing him, rather than helping him accrue income at an obscene rate.  "What's the alternative?" I asked him.  "You could buy a new machine."  Boy, this is one lazy repairman.  He'd rather see us spend four times the money than actually fix a 6-year-old washer.  I told him that was out of the question and was rewarded with my third deep sigh.  "I guess I'll call you when the parts come in," he said mopily (is that really a word?  Oh well).

So now we're without a washer for two more weeks.  I was thinking about the washing machines of a century ago, the kind where a woman in a dress and apron had to hand-feed the clothes through the wringer, then hang the wet clothes on a line outside.  I've been spoiled by my extra-large machine; shoot, for that matter, I'm spoiled by being able to live in pants about ninety-nine percent of the time.  Then I got to thinking about all the appliances I take for granted.  Reach back in your memory for the the picture of coffee pots perking on a stove.  My parents had one of those when I was a child.  And we had a black and white TV.  Lucky to have one, too.  My life is soooo easy, it makes me feel a little guilty.  Phones in our pockets so we're never out of touch?  Texting our kids every few minutes?  Okay, I'm exaggerating, my kids would kill me if I interrupted their lives so incessantly, even if I want to.

But now, below the surface, I'm constantly whining.  Three whole weeks without a washing machine. Having to bundle them into the car in a dirty heap, to take them across town to wash?  Yuck, I hate it.  Have you ever sat around a laundromat? (that reminds me, when I was in London about a thousand years ago, one day my friend and I needed to wash our meager supply of clothes, so when we saw a 'Bobby' in the middle of a bridge over the Thames, we asked where the nearest Laundromat was.  He looked at us quizzically, had absolutely no idea what we were talking about.  Finally, after we both explained and pantomined washing clothes, he said, "Oh, a laundrette."  Like laundromat is so much different than laundrette!).  Laundromats, or laundrettes for that matter... well, without casting aspirsions, let's just say they aren't my favorite place to be.

But sometimes, when life begins beating like percussion, we find ourselves out of our comfort zone, doing life's laundry where we'd rather not.   We find ourselves facing inconvenience and even uncomfortable situations.  The question is, how will we respond in those moments?  Will we--do I--look at them as opportunities to grow and expand, or do we react in our flesh and complain? No, don't answer that.  I already know the answer for myself.  But this I know.  In the little inconveniences, in the giant dislodging we also sometimes face, God is faithful.  God is in the midst, working behind the scenes or in front of them, and His only goal is to save us, to keep on saving us every moment of our lives.  We are the 'being saved ones.'  Sometimes--maybe often--from ourselves.

AHA

It's  an AHA moment around here--All Hoops All the time!  We've had the HD TV on all day every day since Thursday morning, and have seen (participated in vicariously) over 40 games now.  I realize this isn't standard behavior for most people of my gender, but for me, it's a simple, real pleasure.  I've watched games when no one else is even my house. There's always an ongoing conversation about where certain universities are:Sienna in upstate New York--I correctly guessed that one.  Xavier--which is in Ohio, though Beve thought Louisiana, then discovered there's also an Xavier of New Orleans, so felt vindicated.  Cleveland State?  Oddly, it's in Cleveland.  Hopefully even non-interested women could guess that.  And the mascots--sometimes the announcers simply call a team by its nickname.  The Zips, for example.  What the heck is a Zip (Akron's mascot)? Apparently it refers to the zippered overshoes made by Goodrich in the first part of the 20th century (thanks, Wikipedia!).  I remember those boots, I think my father, maybe even my brother had some. But as a mascot? Pretty lame.  Of course, there are also bumblebees (Georgia Tech, not in the tournament, but my least favorite mascot of all time), UC Santa Cruz's slug, Stanford's Cardinal that is actually a tree with a face.  And the Buckeye, also a tree, but one source tells me it's also slang for testicle--but I wouldn't tell The Ohio State University that (which reminds me, why is the definite article needed for this university?  Somewhat arrogant, if you ask me. But then my father got his PhD from Michigan, so I'm predisposed to dislike The Ohio State University).

Anyway, these are the things I amuse myself with while watching the games.  Editorializing about the commentators also takes a lot of time.  A couple of nights ago, the play-by-play man of one game apparently had to go to the restroom, or maybe had a coughing attack so the color-guy tried to call the action for a few minutes.  It was pathetic, let me tell you.  He'd better not quit his day job.  We're big fans around here, though, of Jay Bilas and Dick Enburg.  Bilas is the quintessential teacher, like Joe Morgan for baseball.  I've learned more about the specific sport from these men than from anyone else.  In fact, I think Joe Morgan single-handedly gave me a love of baseball.

The thing is, I'm a spectator.  I have the luxury of rooting and dishing and editorializing about every game I watch.  There's no sweat involved, no pain of injury (except maybe for bedsores from sitting on my rear four days straight), no exhaustion from all those days in the gym working on my shot.  Sometimes when I watch these games, I'm struck with the urge to laugh, thinking of how odd it actually is that so much time, energy, money is expended about this game, which involves putting a rubber ball through a small nettted cylinder.  Seriously?  If aliens from other planets landed on earth and happened upon one of our sports, I think they'd be incredulous by how ridiculous the behavior seems.  Think about golf--using a club to hit a tiny ball into a shallow hole.  American football, where the ball isn't even round and grown, overweight men, wearing strange costumes, try to pound each other into the ground, just so this 'ball' can cross an invisible 'plane.' (or is it plain?)

I love sports, but they really do seem silly when taken apart.  But then I wonder how much of what we do, God looks down on and shakes His head.  All of our interest, and controversy over the things of this world, even the elements of human worship--maybe to Him, He watches fondly, because He loves us, but also knows we're missing the point. Maybe we expend a whole lot of energy on things that don't really make any eternal difference.  Worship music, for instance.  Does it matter to Him what that music is? Or is the more--most--important thing THAT we worship.  Loud, soft, with instruments, without, the point is to make a joyful noise to Him.  To make everything we do about Him and not ourselves.  Then I'm convicted because I can spend all this time paying attention to sports, and barely spend any time at all worshipping Him, proclaiming His Eminence in my life. Oh Lord, to be All His All the time, spending my life in worship. Let this AHA be my 'one shining moment,' Lord ( the song played at the end of the tournament, full of great hoop moments from the many games).  When I come to the end of my life, let the tape that plays forYou, be all overflowing with worship.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

A plumbline

As a baby, he was the smiliest, most cuddly of our children. We began early on to call him "Lovey-boy," sensitive and earnest. He didn't speak until he was over a year old, about the same week he began to walk--late at both. But his words came in a rush one day when we were at Beve's parents' place on out on a deep-water lake in Northern Idaho (I'd tell you the name but I have trouble spelling it correctly).  That afternoon, while holding the video camera, his Grammie asked, "Johnson (E called him this and the rest of us followed suit), how are you?"  And to our great surprise and delight, he answered, "I fine, how you?"  From that moment on he spoke in complete sentences, and we spent the rest of the vacation asking him questions like he was a wind-up talking doll, recording every answer on tape.

I'm thinking about J today because yesterday was his 22nd birthday and I neglected to write.  To tell the truth, I've been so swamped with pain the last couple of days, I haven't done much of anything but lie on the couch with basketball on, then limp to my bed early. Ok, I'm still lying on the couch, but J's is the last birthday (from when I began this blog almost a year ago), so I definitely don't want to overlook him.

Not that J can be overlooked.  Once he began to talk, J barely stopped.  He never met a stranger as a child, and his innately honest nature compelled him to ask such questions as, "Don't you know that smoking will make you sick?" to a salesman at a car dealership, and "Is that a baby in your stomach?" to a older, rather portly man.  He once turned off a stranger's gas at a filling station, and told a doctor that his Dad knew how to trick the bank out of money.  This last came after Beve had told him we didn't have money for whatever toy he wanted in a store, then went to an ATM machine.  But my all-time favorite (though not in the moment!!!) bank experience with J came one frazzled Friday afternoon when I went to the bank with all three small children, our youngest still a babe in arms.  The drive-up window was inexplicably closed, but I had to deposit and get money (remember the days when banks closed at 5 on Fridays and didn't open again until Monday morning?). Sighing, I got all three children out of their carseats (I think J was 2, and E was 4 at that time), and took them with me into the bank.  There was a long line winding through the lobby, with one of those velvet covered ropes keeping us in line.  J began swinging on the rope, and I repeatedly asked him to stop.  But even then he was efficient at ignoring my voice.  By the time we were second in line, he was really being a pill, and I was at the end of MY rope, so to speak.  So I bent down, holding the baby, and whispered to J, "If you don't stop, I'll spank you."  And J looked up at me, and, like we were all in the EF Hutton commercial, spoke in his deep voice loud enough to still the room, "No, I'll spank you, butthead."

If you could have seen my face in that moment!  I don't usually blush, but I'm pretty sure smoke was coming out of my ears!  The dilemma, of course, was that, at about that moment, I'd just moved to the head of the line. And, in those on-the-edge-of-poverty days, absolutely had to get that money in our account.  With the whole bank watching, I slunk to the teller, did my business, holding my breath and giving J the evil eye as I held him by one arm.

Just so you know, Beve and I never use that word, and, as matter of fact, I think it was that moment that we began to plan our move out of the city, away from the house where, just across a chain-link fence was a blended family of boys just older than J, who played hard and spoke harshly, and he was like a sponge to it all.

It's a telling thing about J, though.  He really is a sponge for life.  He loves learning, loves truth, tells the truth about everything he feels.  It's sometimes been as disconcerting--even dismaying--as that moment, but we also really value that quality in him.  As an elementary school kid, every day he'd get into the car and pour out the truths about his day, his questionably rambunctious behavior, his standing up for smaller, more picked-on kids, his desire to be right--even sometimes telling teachers when they were wrong.  In our house, after me, J has the largest library, and if you saw them you'd be impressed by the depth and breadth of them.  He's a student of history, has been since he first learned to read (the first book he remembers reading is Johnny Tremain, which I think he read in second grade).  In fact, our son is so committed to truth and justice, when he was a senior in high school, he decided to change his middle name.  Justus is an old family name from Beve's side, and J loves both the name and the idea of it.  Needless to say, Beve's dad was pleased as punch by the name change.

J's still committed to truth and justice. He will argue as the day is long if he believes he's right.  I think he gets this from his mother.  We've been known to clear a room when we get going, because he's far to the right of me on most issues.  But I value that he thinks deeply, works to understand issues, and doesn't ever mind taking a stand. And he still stands up for his friends, especially those more needy than himself.  He still sometimes tells a truth to us that I'd rather not hear, but it makes him incredibly trustworthy.  J's plumline has shown us time and time again, that the walls in his life are perfectly square. 

It's quite a journey, being J's parents.  We never quite know where the road will take us, but it's journey I wouldn't miss for anything.  I know what kind of man he is--and is becoming--because I still see that little Lovey-Boy in him.  I see the tenderness this adult male tries to hide, I see the child who was willing to speak openly, even to strangers.  J's life has shaped him in ways that I could not have predicted, but at his heart, he's still square, his plumline is still hanging true.  And that's enough for me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hunger for hunger

The year my father died, I shed so many tears my cheeks grew raw from the salt, and even aloe-filled tissues felt like sand paper on the dark-shadowed skin beneath my eyes. After a while, if I was alone, I let those tears fall unchecked down my face, to land on my shirt.I was certain in the dark of trying to sleep that if I got up and looked in a mirror I'd actually be able to see the tracks crisscrossing my flesh like those paths made by cattle along the sides of the hills down on the Snake.

I began seminary that fall in the surprisingly compact building that is Regent College in Vancouver, BC.  Twice a week I drove up from my home across the Washington border, and drug my body through what felt like pea soup thick fog. Grief settled on my shoulders like a dead animal pelt as I took notes in class or sat in a study booth in the basement library. Beneath all the words I read on the pages of the books was a silent scream reverberating in my head, "DADDY!", a name I hadn't called him since I was less than my full heighth, but which he instantly became again in death.  That scream was in my cells, passed down as a relief-giver from him, who once admitted that he opened his throat to also scream sometimes while driving alone in a car.

I usually kept it together well enough through those days, at least on the outside, though there were moments when someone said a few words to me that unplugged it all like a finger from a dike, and this terrible absence came pouring out, flooding that unsuspecting bystander asking some innocuous question.  But as I traveled home at night, the sky a navy blue glowing from the lights of the city, I allowed myself the freedom to scream aloud,and release the unshed tears of the day.  There was a particular place on that hour-and-a-half long slanted drive down Highway 1 in BC where the road bent right and was rimmed by a tall hedge of evergreens.  For no particular reason that I can tell, nightly when that spot came into view I thought of Dad and sobbed.  Like Pavlov's dogs, that hedged turn became the stimulus for a teary response, and even in the next years, when I went hours, then longer days without consciously thinking of him, when I reached that place on the road, my father filled my head. If I were to drive that road this very day, I'd feel a pit in my stomach remembering all those tears. See, after a while, that hedge became a memory of the memories of my grief, rather than the thing itself.  A hunger for the first aching hunger for him long after that hunger had passed.

Lately this idea of a hunger for the hunger has taken hold of me.  There have been moments in my life, even long seasons, where the very name of Jesus shook something loose in me, moved me to tears.  His very name as the culmination of all my joys and longings.  Periods when I was so hungry for Him my daily life felt like the shadow, the world only a rehearsal for the main event, Life with a capital L which would come after I'd practiced at it long enough in this mortal body.  There was a sweetness beyond the taste of honey in my life in those times, when I could smell His presence in every conversation, almost see Him in every room, definitely hear Him in every silence.

But now there is only silence in the silences in my life, now I'm in a season of His seeming absence, no aroma of His presence in the mundane acts of my days. Every morning when I walk out to my living room and plop down with Bible in hand, it's like I've come to that bend on Highway 1 in BC.  I'm flooded with the memory of the memories of Him.  What fills me most right now is that hunger for the hunger, a longing for the desire of heaven and His presence.  I can almost taste it, have the memory of that sweetness, but it's just beyond the the drifting sand of my present desert, I think.  Just out of reach.  But what strikes me, what I've been told by fellow travelers is that sometimes this hunger for the hunger is all we get in this life.  For me, right now, that longing for the longing of Jesus is enough to keep me diving into His Word, keeps me digging into prayer in the hopes that one day soon He'll come into the room again and speak.  I'll be waiting.  I am waiting. Come quickly, Lord.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

All-access passes

So E's on her way to the NCAA tournament first round in Portland.  Working for CBS.  She doesn't care what she does, just as long as she gets to be there.  A couple years ago, when WSU hosted that first round in Spokane, E volunteered Beve and J to help too, and though J was a runner who, every time out, carried stats to the announcers, Beve was assistant copier.  Yep, post graduate degree and everything, and he mostly hung around in case E, who was the head copier for all the teams, somehow broke her index finger, lost her way in the Spokane Coliseum, fell over dead or had some other major kefuffle so couldn't press the buttons on the IBM copy machine.  Needless to say, he mostly stood around, and moseyed in and out of the media buffet room.  He and J were experts at knowing when the ice cream bars were put out during the day.  Yep, it was quite the heavy responsibility.  They all wore really attractive grey NCAA long-sleeved polos, khakis, and wore press passes so they could go anywhere they wanted in the building.  I'm telling you it was a highlight of their lives. All sorts of benefits, a lot of impressive hoop, and no strenuous duties.  Beve may have been the oldest volunteer (not another had a single grey hair), but he was also the most grateful one.

I was thinking about this experience while I listened to E's excited voice on the phone with her friend who got her the gig.  Thinking about the idea of a press pass that gets a person into the back-rooms of an event, allows him access to all the hidden treasures, and especially, the banqueting hall. It is a picture of our exact situation in the Kingdom, isn't it?  Paul says in Galatians that he 'bear[s] in his body the mark of Jesus. In 2 Corinthians,we're told that "we always carry around in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus is revealed in our bodies.'  As ones who are being saved day by day, who are being transformed by the Holy Spirit who resides in the very Temple of our bodies, it's like we have that full-access pass to the the inner places of the Kingdom.  The back rooms of where God is at work on His strategy for the world?  We get to sit in on those planning sessions.  The banqueting hall where He hosts the great feast for us? The table is full before you. The very throne room where He reigns and showers blessings?  You get to sit right at His foot. The mark you carry on your body--the Holy Spirit--allows you in.    This is an amazing proposition--that we're in on all of it.  That plan, that feast?  We are His workmanship, set apart for love and good works. It's our privilege and responsibility to be the runners for the Kingdom.  To participate with Him in impacting the world.  No matter how small your contribution seems, the kindness you extend to strangers.  The good you do for your neighbor.  Part of your all access pass, part of being in the hidden places of His work.  Those around you may think you're merely kind and good.  He knows better, He knows the good that you do, the love that you give is the job you've been given, the holiest of jobs. Think about this as you go about your day.  You are not your own.  You're forever marked as His.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Close enough

Beve bought me a new sewing machine for Christmas.  The previous one--which I bought the year E was born--is a Singer, and served me well for many years.  I made scads of dresses for the girls.  Doll clothes and baby clothes, and Halloween costumes.  Curtains, valences, and baby quilts, quillows, aprons, tea cozies, vests. For a machine that had only 5 stitches, it did the job for me for many years.  Matching Christmas dresses, co-ordinating Easter outfits (including, one year, ties for Beve and J), yep, I was a pretty capable seamstress back then.  Back when we actually built a room on back of our garage just for me to sew in.  I had a plethora of fabric in those days, filling the cupboards that lined one side of the room.
That poor old Singer, though, bit the dust finally.  It had been limping along for the last several years, sometimes working, sometimes--inexplicably--not.  The last time I took it in to get repaired, the repairman said it had outlasted itself.  Not old enough to be vintage, the parts for this 24 year old machine are simply not being made any longer.  

But this new machine, a Pfaff, is a wonder.  Computerized, 65 different stitches, the ability to write the alphabet, embroider flowers--it's pretty stinkin' fancy for a simple seamstress like me.  But because I've been a little at loose ends of late, I decided to pull out some of my fabric, and make a quilt.  I've long wanted to become a quilter.  I admire the craftsmanship in really well-made quilts, admire the patience it takes to create them.  I grew up with quilts on my bed.  Not fancy ones, just the ordinary cotton quilts made by my Kansas grandmother and her mom and grandma.  Barely thicker than sheets, some of those quilts were--Sailboat patterned, the pioneer bonnet, double wedding ring, and simple squares, all of them white backgrounded with a variety of fabrics making up the squares.  These women made quilts because they had fabric to use up--from clothing their hands had also made.  They made them because they had to cover the beds with something, after all.  I doubt my grandmother thought of herself as an artist, never thought they'd be worth what antique quilts sell for today, but she was handy with a needle and thread, and blankets were either expensive or impossible to find out on the Kansas prairie.

So I decided to make a quilt.  I've needed a project that I could finish.  I doubt I could hand-sew one, as my great-grands did, but with this fancy new machine (though mostly all you need for a quilt is a straight stitch!), I thought I'd give it a try.

And this is what I've learned:  it will take time to become a really good quilter, and even at that, I don't know if I have it in me.  It takes a minute attention to details--from the exact cutting to the precise sewing (1/4" straight seams).  I'm not a detail person.  I tend to move at "close enough." Close enough isn't close enough when it comes to quilting.  Corners can't almost meet, but must be lined up perfectly so the pattern is right.  I'm too quick--in my thinking and in my work--and that doesn't work either (at least not as a novice).  I'm almost finished with the quilt top now, and it's going to be okay, but it's not a showpiece.  It wouldn't win any blue ribbons at the county fair.

And I should be saying that worries me.  Unfortunately, it doesn't quite.  I just don't care enough.  It looks good, as long as you don't look closely, and that's close enough for me.  Sorry to say.

It makes me wonder how much I'm like this in the rest of my life.  How often I let 'close enough' rule the day, when, with a little more patience and a little more attention to detail, I could turn out something better--something righteous, one might say. Might become better myself--become righteous or holy.   It's easy to say that such qualities in a person are simply character traits--you're either born with the ability to work carefully, or you're not.  And I'm not.  But I think that attitude has let me off the hook too many times in my life.  Rather than slowing down, finishing well what I start, paying attention to something precisely, I've sped on my way.  But God, I know, pays attention to the details. He intends rightousness--perfection for all of us.  And in order for me to become what He intends me to be, I'd better slow down and move more precisely.  For Him, 'close enough' still comes up short.  That's the whole point.  Even those pharisees who tried to obey to the last jot and tittle weren't quite close enough. It took God Himself to draw us past our 'close enough,' to 'saved by grace.'  And because He did this, because this very day, that saving by grace is at work at me, I am compelled to press more slowly, more steadily, until I am Him completely.  Not just close enough, but all the way to Holiness.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Two -way mirror

A beautiful spring day, tea at a friend's, great conversation. Some of my favorite things wrapped up together. Later, as I really should have been getting home, my friend's husband came home from work, and the conversation continued. Somehow the conversation wandered to books written by people who, even weeping and gnashing their teeth, turned their backs on faith. Articulate, honest people who looked around at this world and began to question why a life of faith didn't seem to make a difference in people's behavior and attitudes. They saw Christians every bit as petty, mean and even cruel as non-Christians. Christian divorce rate isn't substantially lower than that of non-believers, and abuse, neglect, all kinds of malicious and lascivious behavior are also rife in the church. Oddly, the truth of this doesn't bother me. I mean, I know what raw material God has to work with in these much beloved Creatures He made on the sixth day. I know what I'm capable of, what ugliness is contained within my flesh. And I know I'm not alone in such filth. We are, after all, Adam's sons, Eve's daughters. So the question I asked my friends, the one begging to be asked is, "How are you different than you would have been without Christ?"

One of my friends said that he's considered this before, and thinks he wouldn't have been much different.; His father was a moral, honest man of integrity and my friend thinks he would have followed in his father's footsteps. But I can see clearly the huge gap between what I am and what I might have been if I hadn't thrown off my fishing nets of non-belief and followed Him. I look backwards and know. Without Him, the rampant insecurities of my mother, the manipulating control of my grandmother, the pettiness of my own self would have combined to choke out healthy relationships. I look at what might have been and see a Grand Canyon distance between that self and this Holy-Spirit indwelt one.

One of the worst seasons of my life was my first foray into graduate school. I'd come home from the university town where I'd gotten my undergraduate degree as close to a broken reed as one still standing upright can be. A broken engagement had shattered everything I thought was true. I'd thought I'd heard God telling me that man was His plan for me, and I was clearly wrong. Dead wrong. So as I enrolled in the graduate English program at WSU, I decided to try the now unconscionable-- living without considering God. And I have to tell you, it was an empty, terrible time. Living without Him turned out to be more impossible than living without that man. And if you knew me then, you know how impossible it seemed to live without that person. But the blankness of life without God was intolerable to me. Looking back, it feels like long season of hibernation, but I don't really think it was very long. Sooner, rather than later, I was pulled back into relationship with Him. And I think it was like sinking into reality for me. The most real thing in existence for me is Someone who I cannot see, might not even hear.  But even my bones know is TRUE.

It didn't matter then if He made a difference in my life. It didn't matter if I was happier, more moral or at peace or anything else people say they're searching for. It only mattered that He was. It's because He is that my allegiance was due Him. It didn't matter if He ever did another thing for me.

I still feel that way. It occurred to me last night that at the moment my relationship with Him is a little like being in a room with a two-way mirror. I look toward that wall and only see myself reflected. Some deserts are like this, you know. But what I believe, what I stake my life on isn't what I see in the mirror, but that there is Someone--the ONE--on the other side of that wall, who sees me clearly and hears me when I offer my puny, uncertain prayers. He is and He's standing there, and His attention is on me.  On each of us.
And I know that there are moments, when I press closely enough to that mirror that for a moment I see past the end of my nose, past my blemishes and flab, and there He is. In all His glory, all His beauty, all His magnificant brokenness, and He's looking at me.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The math of Acts

It's reassuring, I think, to discover the flaws in our heroes, to learn that they might be giants but they have feet of clay.  Though I aim for their substance, the jewels in my crown that they clearly have in theirs, I can't quite squint my eyes enough to actually see myself doing what the Booths, who began the Salvation Army did--going into bars, turning ditties into hymns in order to reach the unreachable of 19th c London, giving up all--a life of ease and contemplation--to travel via boat to India and begin a ministry to children, like Amy Carmichael, or to the dying of Calcutta, like Mother Teresa.

And though sometimes I hunger to have walked the world when Jesus' feet were also dusty from walking, or to be in the assemblage when the disciples, speaking in every language the dis-separate factions of a large city required, just to be standing there when Peter stood up and said, "This man Jesus, whom you killed--just two months ago?--God made Him LORD and Christ--yes, the very Christ you've been waiting for.  Repent, be baptized and you'll get exactly what we have--the Holy Spirit!" Can you imagine that day? And I'm wished to have been the one walking the dusty road with Saul when God struck him hard. Turning even that kind of enemy into His chosen tool.

I've been reading Acts, you see. Stumbling through their efforts, which, because of the Holy Spirit, were the very epitome of world-changing.  Imagine marrying your feeble, human abilities with the mighty wind of the Spirit to add, then multiply the number of people who belong to Him (don't you just love the math of Acts? It's about the only kind of math I can actually understand!).  Man, I'm ecstatic when one person responds to something God directs me to speak. 

The thing is, these men (and presumably women) were no different than we are.  I was just reading this little vignette (which means 'a small graceful literary sketch') in Acts 15 that packed a punch with me.  Paul suggested to his traveling companion Barnabus that they should check back on all the places where they'd preached.  Good plan, Barnabus thinks, but he wants to take John (Mark--the gospel writer) with them.  Paul's all like, "No possible way.  He turned tail and left us."  Apparently this disagreement flared into quite the argument. resulting not only in Barnabus taking John (Mark) and sailing off for Cyprus. Paul enlists Silas to be his new companion on the 'encourage the believers' return tour. 

(Note, I've always wanted to visit the Mediterranean--Greece, Italy, Cyprus.  Don't you think it's lucky that they got to do mission work in the place of fantasy vacations?)

The point is (yes, I'm getting there), this vignette points to a not very pretty trait in Paul.  He held grudges, was stubborn.  This story is the last time we hear of Barnabus and John (Mark) in Acts.  Paul didn't change his mind.   Maybe I'm wrong.  Maybe Paul was just being prudent, had spent a whole lot of time on his knees about the young man, and very little time arguing about it.  But that's not how it reads to me.  It reads like, "Sorry buddy, you weren't loyal to me, so I'm cutting you loose."  That sounds like the timbre of this moment between two previous friends and co-workers. I think Paul sturggled with forgiveness, I really do.

And somehow, rather than putting me off, this actually warms me to him.  He was a real person, Paul was.  He made mistakes, had strong opinions (some of which I definitely struggle with--that whole women not cutting their hair, wearing hats to church, not teaching in public stuff gets stuck in my craw!), and was proud, so proud he actually said he thought others should be like him (think of his stance on marriage).

You know, he sounds a whole lot like me.  Struggling to forgive, holding grudges, having strong opinions, thinking I'm such a spiritual giant others should follow my example.  Yep, I'm unfortunately very Paul-like in some ways.  Not ones I'm proud of (though I am proud!).  But there it is.

But here's the thing.  A man like that, so clearly not perfect, so clearly human, could do and speak and write what He did.  God took the good, the bad and the ugly of Paul and had a set-apart purpose for his life.  A world-changing purpose.  And that, my friends, is the most important point of connection, because I believe--without a doubt--that He has that same kind of purpose, specific and uniquely suited, for me.  For each of us.  He looked at Paul, saw the flaws and knew what He could do with him.  He looks at me, at you, and sees that same possibility.  We are not the sum of our flaws, we merely have them.  No, the math of Acts tells me that He is more than able to use us, no matter what. One addition--the Holy Spirit to humble, flawed us--and the possibilities multiply.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Interruption

As I was tossing and turning last night, trying to find the one position comfortable enough to let my hurting body fall asleep, there was an interruption. I heard a noise and looked up to see a silhouette in the doorway.  "J?" I said. (I actually do call him J, rather than his full name, most of the time!) "What's going on?"
"I have a problem," he answered. "I think C (his ex-roommate and very good longtime friend) is going to kill himself tonight."
Without saying a word, I leaned over and nudged Beve awake.  This is a Beve-sized problem without a doubt.  Beve has dealt with all kinds of suicide situations, once kept a kid on the phone who had overdosed and didn't know where he'd wandered to.  Has visited families of successful (though it's a little backwards to call it 'success', when it's really the ultimate failure!) suicides.  One spring he asked we to go with him to a motel in town where the family of a dead son was staying because they couldn't bear to be in their house until their blood-splattered bathroom had been fixed.  He'd made them cinnamon rolls and we listened to the mom tell her story from every which way, while the 8 year old younger brother--the one who'd found him--sat in a glaze staring at the TV on the far bed. Beve inhabits this world with kids and their families, he's trained for it, and by nature, is calm and thoughful.

So he was definitely the parent of choice for J.  J told Beve he'd been talking online with his buddy, and was pretty sure he wasn't just joking around. As he read the dialogue, we realized J had every reason to be worried. C offered J his music, said he knew it was the most selfish thing he could do, but he'd been thinking about it for a long time and couldn't see any other way out of his miserable life.  J said, "Let's go get something to eat, take a drive."  But when ten minutes went by without a response from C, J came to us.

Beve offered to call the parents (Like J, C moved home last fall), but there was no answer (of course, I mean, who answers their phone after midnight?).  By this time it'd been 20 minutes since he'd heard from C, and that's about a lifetime when someone's planning to end theirs.  They thought about going over to C's house, but as Beve said, "The police can respond faster."  Beve offered to place the call, J said, "No, I'll do it. I know the situation." So he dialed 911 (for the first time in his life), and explained the situation very clearly.  Suicide is not something law enforcement officers take lightly, thankfully. Afterwards, J worried that C would be mad at him, but agreed that there hadn't been a choice. Saving C's life was more important. Though the police dispatcher told J they'd call when they got to the house, our phones must not have been working (I'm not being facetious--our phones are notoriously temperamental, cut out on J as he was talking to the dispatcher, actually) because we kept waiting and waiting to hear something--either way!  Anyway, finally--almost an hour later--J got a text message from C. "I'm having a mental health evaluation." Safely at the hospital, beginning the long trek toward health.
"Are you pissed at me?" J asked.
"Maybe a little, but I understand why you did it."
"You can be pissed at me," J told his friend. "As long as you're alive."

I'd spent that whole time praying.  From the moment the first sentence came out of J's mouth, until I drifted off to sleep, I'd been doing the only thing I had any expertise in (and let me tell you, I'm a long ways from being an expert at prayer).  Inviting--pleading with--the Holy Spirit to interrupt this young man from his self-appointed task, asking Him to participate in Beve's conversation, J's call, the police's actions.  Sometimes when I hear of the difficulties people are going through, I feel impotent and useless, unable to offer any real help to them.  "I'll pray," I say, feeling slightly lame.  I know--I KNOW--that prayer isn't lame, that it isn't the aid of last resort, but sometimes it feels that way, when others around me are doing something.  But last night, it felt powerful and important.  Exactly as important as calling the police, actually.  As they intervened, so did the One who holds life in His hands.   Thank God. Really, thank God.

I'm proud of J today.  I'm proud that he was an instrument of God last night, keeping his friend from such an end.  It was a hard, hard night for our son, but he passed with flying colors.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Basketball

This is the best time of year in our household.  For basketball fans, this week, next week, and the ones following are what one lives for.  There is more basketball going on in the country right now than any other time of the year.  And in this house, it means everything else stops.

For the legal giant I live with, it's an especially exciting time.  See, the school he's worked at since its inception is on its way to its 6th straight state basketball tournament.  Beve stopped coaching two years ago, so he's only a fan now, but he'll be making his way halfway across the state Thursday night to watch.  Unfortunately, he'll miss the most interesting match-up personally. Beve's current school will play the high school Beve and I attended back in the dark ages.  When we were in high school, Beve was a pretty big part of our school's basketball team.  Actually, that might be understating it a little.  Beve was a stud on our basketball team.  He was fortunate enough to play in the first all-state basketball game, and was first team all league two years.  Part of it was talent, part of it was simply genetics--an accident of heighth.  Beve was one of the tallest players to ever play basketball for PHS.  He dominated by simply by being a huge presence in the middle of the key.

So we're pretty loyal to our alma mater.  We check out their scores through out the season, and root for them all along the way.   In fact,  Beve's going to wear his Pullman Greyhounds sweatshirt tomorrow.  However, when the game actually starts tomorrow at 12:30 p, we'll be cheering for the Squalicum Storm.  There just isn't a choice.  Half the players on the Storm are Beve's students.  We know their families, we especially know the coach.

But we're also settled in front of the television to watch NCAA championship week.  We just watched Cleveland State upset Butler.  Yes, two teams I know nothing about, not their mascots, their coach, or even where they are located(though I am betting Cleveland State is in Ohio...but that's just a guess!).  Earlier we watched College of Charleston against Chattanooga.  Don't know anything about those teams either.  But that's not the point. For diehard fans, like the ones I live with, if there's a game on, we watch it, especially now.  There's so much riding on the games this time of year that kids play hurt, play longer and harder than they've played all season, and the coaches sweat buckets...at every basket.  The heart, the passion, the soul--these are all on display during these next two weeks.

All the early years of our marriage, Beve also played basketball.  He always said that hoop was to him like writing is to me, a way to express his creativity. The basketball court was where he exercised, breathed, and became most himself.  A few years ago, when it became clear that he couldn't play anymore (Beve has two kinds of arthritis, one of which dwells primarily in his backbone, making every jog down the court jarring agony), he went through something like what I've gone through this year.  And our kids barely remember him playing, certainly never saw him when he could outplay most people in the gym.  But I remember, and even now when I watch these kids on TV playing their hearts out, doing amazing things with a basketball, jumping as if they have springs in their shoes, I think of Beve, think of his heart, his love for the game, his desire to be creative.

On the other hand, I played basketball in high school as well.  For one year.  And I was pathetic.  Really pathetic.  I made one basket the entire season, and it didn't even count because it hit the wire holding the backboard in place.  I never had a clue about running an offense, even though we practiced said offense every afternoon.  And I couldn't even make a lay-up.  Seriously.  We even had a basketball court in our backyard, and no matter how often my dad shot with me, I never really got it. Honestly, the only reason I even made the team was because the coach didn't cut anyone that year. I know I'm not stupid, really I'm not.  But when it comes to basketball, I'm much smarter when I sit in the stands and take stats. And it only took me a single season playing to realize I wasn't cut out for playing that game.      

Sometimes we want things we aren't made for.  If I had loved playing more, wanted it more, maybe I would have been better at it.  But I don't think so.  I think I was lucky I didn't really want to do something I wasn't capable of doing.  Beve had talent, drive and heart.  But even Beve, as good as he was in high school, wasn't good enough at the next level.  Too short, too slow, not able to jump.  He was never going to be an NBA player.  And he had some hard moments in college when it didn't go as he dreamed it would.

The reality is that most of us are in the average range.  Most of us won't play a professional sport, won't be as good at a thing as our dreams would make us.  But God usually uses average people.  Just as we are.  We may not be extraordinary, but the talented, driven, extraordinary God lives in us, works through us, impacts the world through little old, unexceptional us. Isn't that amazing? It's like we are the champions.  His champions.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Bits and pieces

A few bits and pieces of reflection from the last week:

Home. Sleeping in my own bed, upon which Jamaica the Spaniel springs as soon as she's let out of her kennel in the morning.  She follows Beve around while he's doing his morning ablutions, then, as soon as the door closes behind him, jumps back up on my bed and presses her body into my back for another couple of hours.  Because I sleep more soundly in the morning, I'm always able to snooze with that 40 pounds lying on my backbone, but it's no easy task.  But the moment I dislodge her by rolling onto my back, she has her face in mine, nudging me to get up and on with the day--preferably with ball in hand ready to throw for her. 
Now we're on the couch in front of the fire, and Jamaica is as close to me as her fur will allow her, her nose lying right on the keyboard.  This is one hyper Springer, but when she's quiet and cuddly, she's just about as adorable as a dog can be. I think she's as glad I'm home as I am to be here.

The time in Pullman was about what I expected--good conversations with my sister; catching up with an old friend I always try to see when I'm there; but primarily living in that never-never land that is my mother's existence now.  You just never know what's going to come out of her mouth.  She's moving away from the nursing home today, back to the Alzheimers unit in the retirement complex where she's lived the last 2 years.  Thank God for that move, too.  Really.  The nursing home is incredibly depressing.  It's been in the same place, same condition as long as I can remember.  When I was in middle school, I used to volunteer up there, singing with my church choir, reading stories for the bed-bound, dodging wheelchairs in the narrow, linoleum-covered hallways.  I swear a couple of the people still staring blankly into space in the activity room where the ones who once grasped at my hands, thinking I was their daughter, granddaughter, mother, sister, friend.  And the smell--I guess you just can't get that smell of disease, terrible food, and medicine out of walls and floors and ceilings after so many years.  It's no wonder my mother alternates from tears to sobbing most of the time.  She doesn't like having a roommate, either.  Mom didn't have any siblings and the only person she ever actually shared her space with was my dad, and she barely remembers him.  So this strange woman who had terrible posture and talks to the TV really annoys her.  Mom talks to herself too, of course, but she doesn't connect the dots. 

Had a great time in Spokane with SK.  The play, "Museum", was, as a friend commented, quite abstract, but also very funny.  And SK is funny in it. She's always been good at comedy--and, though you might not believe me, I'm saying this as objectively as I'm capable of being. I don't know what it's like for the rest of the world, but when my child's doing something--singing, playing sports, acting, speaking--I can be quite myopic.  I have to remind myself that there are others also performing.  The thing is, there's a part of me that thinks they are the most miraculous, perfect people (apart from Jesus, of course) God ever created.  And that piece of me co-exists with the bit of me that sees, knows, bears the brunt of all their flaws and failings.  This is true of every parent, I'm sure (well, at least the good ones). Anyway, I enjoyed the play--both nights--and even the woman sitting next to me said that SK was adorable in the pink suit and white pumps. Beve and E were there the second night, and Beve didn't fall asleep during the performance.  This is as high praise as Beve can give for such things.  And he laughed, which, along with watching the kids do something, is one of my favorite things in life. 

We also went to the wedding of some friends' son.  Watched one of our oldest friends in the world as he did the marrying.  What a privilege to be a part of that company, to witness the joining together of people who are, as the groom's mom told us, "on the same page spiritually.  Equally yoked."  And especially listen to our friend do great justice to one of God's Holy sacraments.  His words were profound, his heart was tender, and God was present in all of it.  

Mostly, though, it was good to be with SK, just having her around.  She's just starting her life now.  I mean, though she wants to please us, make us proud of her, most of what she does comes from a desire to please God, to do what will honor Him.  We don't have to be the go-betweens, so to speak. When children are young, parents have to be the arbitrators, must decide for them what is best and His will for them.  As they age, the goal of parenting should be to increasingly give them the power to do seek Him for themselves.  Even to make the wrong choices.  It's the hardest thing we do as parents, releasing that control, but also the most gratifying.  Isn't it?  To watch as they struggle with, and come to a place of peace about who He intends them to be and do--I love this as much as I love anything about being a parent.  And it's odd to think that now, as an adult child, I am helping do for my mom exactly what I did for our kids all through their childhood.  Exactly what my parents did for me.  With my siblings, I'm the arbitrator of her life, deciding what is best for her, what God wants for her.  She's beyond her ability to make any such decisions just as our kids are fully engaged in making theirs.  What a cycle life is, isn't it?  Someday, E, J and SK will become for Beve and me what we are for our parents, what we have been for them. Seeking God for our best, depending on each other to help see what is good, acceptable and perfect for us. 

It's good to be home, it was good to have gone.  It's snowing again here in Bellingham, and I'm just sore and tired enough to no get off this couch for the rest of the day! May God be in that too.
 

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Genesis work

I don't know what your calendar says, but I was under the impression that this was supposed to be March.  However, here on the Palouse, you'd be forgiven for thinking it December. Yesterday we walked around without coats, today we were bundled up against a mighty wind and winter blast of snow.  But my brother-in-law, B was elated tonight with the snow.  He told me just yesterday that moisture is needed for field and pasture, and snow is preferable.  B knows these things, he spends his life paying attention to creation.  Doing the same kind of work as both of those first born children of our first parents.  See, B and his brothers farm like Cain, and raise animals for food, like Abel.  How many people you know actually live out Genesis in such a way?

Yesterday afternoon, my sister, nephew (and his girlfriend) and I drove down to the Snake River canyon where B and his family have over 400 head of cattle grazing on the steep slopes of the canyon.  I've been down to the Snake river many times in my 50+ years, but was ashamed to admit I'd never actually seen the family cattle operation.  So nephew M took me on a guided tour--past myB burning blackberry bushes (they gravitate toward water and choke out the supply for the cattle)--right through a gate where a dozen or more saddle and work horses wandered around, up to the big barn in a muddy lot, where a tractor sat, all in pieces. Recently, my brother-in-law had stepped off the tractor to close the gate to one of the pastures, and the tractor got away from him.  This is no little garden tractor, either, but one as tall as a house.  That tractor smashed through a fence, down a ravine past massive boulders, and lodged itself on the far side of the 'crick.'  It took several men, and two other large machines, to pull it back up to the road.

In the barn, I got out of our car and stood in the matted hay, watching the yearling cattle standing in a rocky hillside pen, with two-feet thick mud covering the ground (and those cows).  There isn't a stick of grass where they are kept, though they certainly have a lot of area to wander.  My brother-in-law was a little shocked to hear I'd never been down there before.  He spends half his life driving the hay wagon, or riding a horse, feeding those cows.  Yep, the only way to get to some of their land is by horse.  I looked far up the canyon walls to where some of the mother cows searched for fresh new shoots of grass.  The fields on top are greening up faster (by a country mile) than the yearling pen.  Crisscrossing the sides of the canyon were slender paths made by the herd.

Down the river highway a piece we came to the end of the family's land.  It was easy to spot because a huge mudslide, complete with enormous rocks, littered the hillside.  That was another long day for these cow-men.  They had to dig out, reroute a flooded creek, gerry-rig a culvert, and rescue the few cows who were stuck on the opposite side of the slide from their food or water.

It hit me all the jobs these farmer-ranchers have.  They have to be mechanics, heavy equipment operators, engineers, sales people, long-haul truckers (today B drove half way across the state to pick up a week's worth of yearling grain in their semi!), horse trainers (yesterday he began training a 3 year-old they just acquired), landscape designers, builders.  And that's just the ranching part.  They also have all that farming work, the most mysterious of which is simply watching the fields intently enough to know when to do whatever must be done next--plow, cultivate, harvest.

I have never wanted to be a farmer, or a rancher.  It's a long job for whom sun-up to sundown doesn't come close to all the hours they actually put in. I admit it, I'm too lazy for the pace, for the hard work, and uncertain rewards. But I hear the passion in B's voice.  The passion in M's.  And when I really look at the work they do, the land they love, I am envious.  One has to love such work to do it, year in and year out.  One has to care more about it than about getting ahead, because ahead is an iffy proposition.  Breaking even is often goal enough.

And it hits me that this drive, this passion, this full engagement with one's livelihood and place in this world, is exactly what God intended for us.  He created us with deep wells of passion, wants us as interested in His creation as He is in us.  And mostly, He wants us to love what He created us to be and do, to do our work heartily, as unto Him, rather than me.  These farmer/ranchers do exactly that.  Glorifying God by the hard, interesting, Genesis-like work of dominion over creation and animals.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Both at once

I took my mother for a drive today.  It's the first time she's been out in a car (she gets driven to doctor's appts in the nursing home's wheelchair accessible van).  She was very excited about the idea...until she realized that the physical therapist who was helping her get into the car wasn't actually going with us.  But once he reached in a fastened her seatbelt and closed the door on her quavering face, I just put the car into drive and bumped out of the parking lot.  A minute later, she asked for ice cream, trembling concern forgotten.  "What kind do you want?" I asked her. "Chicken," she said.  "You mean chocolate?"  "Yes. Chocolate and chicken."

I bought her chocolate-almond  (WSU's creamery was fresh out of chicken-flavored ice cream), and we drove through town, then south into the Palouse hills. She was thrilled to see them. "They look like water," she told me.  They're just beginning to 'green up' as farmers would say.  Our family home had floor to ceiling windows facing south, so the hills we were driving through are ones she's watched in every season for the last 44 years.  Mom used to love the ocean, but today just driving along those familiar fields was pleasure enough.  I reminded her of Sunday drives we'd taken when I was a child, asking if she remembered.  "I remember the idea of it," she said.

All in all, it was a pretty clear day with her.  Sure, she talked nonstop from the moment we got into the car until the therapist met us in the parking lot at the end.  She told me she talks all the time, even when she's alone. Mostly she talks to her legs--those injured legs she thinks are separate from herself.  And a great deal of what she says is pretty indecipherable, but when we've all learned to smile and nod (though there are moments when, unfortunately nodding is clearly NOT the response she wants).

Finally she asked me about my book.  And I told her the hard news.  "Oh," she said.  "That hurts my heart." And she meant it. Yesterday when I saw her, she told me, pointing to her chest, "When I see you, or see a picture of you, it makes me happy.  I feel it here." Two sweet things from my mother in two days. In the days that she was our mother, she used to sometimes write sweet things in cards...but those sentiments were always a little hard to swallow.  They were overshadowed by the thousands of interactions that were the opposite of sweet. But these seemed to spring from a place of truth so I appreciated them. 

It's like being with a small child to be with her now.  One who very much wants to please, doesn't want to trouble anyone. It made me wonder if she thinks of herself as a child now.  But when I asked if she knows how old she is, she stuttered and tried, but couldn't find the answer.  "78," I said.  She was shocked. But when I pressed about why that doesn't sound right, she said, "I'm a very old lady."  Yes, I thought, a very old lady who is also a very small child.

I wonder if it's wrong to be so thankful for a disease that is so destructive.  A disease that has taken the sting out of a mother from whom I bore so many stings. I'm thankful for the small pleasure of this day, and how much easier it is to be with her now.  And at the very same time, I wonder if it's wrong that I hope for a speedy end of this excruciating season in her life.  She confessed again today, as she has often since Alzheimers began swallowing her, that she wishes she could die.  "I understand that," I told her.  But what I didn't say was "From your mouth to God's ears."  Both these thoughts I hold in my hands tonight. Thanking God for the very worst thing that ever happened to her.  And asking God to take her home.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Fear of Flying

I'm not a great flyer.  I think I've admitted that once or twice here.  And today's flight reminded me of all the reasons I don't like it.  Before we even left the gate, the captain came over the intercom to tell us that there would be so much turbulence there would be no beverage service during the flight.

Great, I thought, paling under my Mexican tan.  I was in the middle of a conversation with a young man who'd just been medically discharged from the army.  He was marching around last summer, fully outfitted, in the 130 degree heat of Iraq, and oddly, got heat stroke.  When his temperature got up to 112, the army judiciously decided to pack him off to Germany.  He spent the winter there, was never so glad to see snow in his entire life.  Was pretty glad just to be alive, after all that, though he's just young enough that he can't quite imagine dying, even in a war zone.

I, on the other hand, could imagine dying this very day.  Imagined the ridiculous little prop plane that vibrates through the soles of shoes, being hit by a jolt of wind and flying straight into one of the snow capped mountains in our own state.  Shoot, I just about got out paper and pen to jot down my final thoughts.  Across the aisle, the men were jawing about Grangeville, Idaho, and life in the good old days.  Their only comment about the turbulence was, "Maybe we'll catch the wind and get ahead of schedule."  I wanted to say, "Who cares how long it takes--as long as we don't fall out of the sky!"  But mostly I just wished I wasn't such a scaredy cat.  The would-have-been soldier had his face pressed to the window, the woman ahead of me had her head bent toward a book.  It seemed like only I wore the tension of fear in my body, the tension that tomorrow will feel like I actually did fall out of a plane and hit the earth full-force.

I don't like that I have fears.  I don't like that I don't really trust the truth that "My times are in His hands," that there is no muscle on the skeleton of my faith when it comes to certain specific situations.  Buzzing bees around my food is one situation, and flying another.  I'm allergic to bees, so a good healthy fear is not irrational.  But as I sat in SeaTac airport today, and watched the many, many people boarding planes to places far flung around this globe, I was struck that obviously, planes actually seldom crash.  I lulled myself into thinking that that knowledge would keep me at calm on the flight.

But one short announcement before the engines even started, and I was right where I always start--full of fear, praying in panic.  Not exactly the kind of prayers that God says are effecacious.
But God answers such prayers as those prayed in fear.  And He's not surprised to hear them.  This mountain is one I never seem to climb over, but thankfully, He's faithful anyway.  I know--I know--He says that perfect love casts out fear, but it occured to me this afternoon, as I clenched my hands on the arm rests, and prayed my way across the state, that it's not my love that casts out fear, but HIS.  His perfect love slowly--repeatedly--casts out my fear (just as the wheels touch down)!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Geography of my soul

I'm heading east of the mountains again tomorrow.  Back to the old home town to see my poor demented mom, give some respite to my sister, hang out on the Palouse for a few days.  It might be strange to be out on the farm right now. In the many years since I first drafted "October Afternoon" I never go but what I think about that make-believe family.  They're only alive in my head, but are so familiar to me that I almost feel I could find their house, sit a while in their kitchen, ride a horse over their land.  Of course, their house sits approximately where my sister's house sits, though it's oriented slightly differently, with a larger back yard, and steeper climb to the top of the hill.  But I sit in my sister's living room, stare out the windows at the grain growing across the hills, and am always half composing.  I listen to my brother-in-law as he speaks to his children, to people on the phone, and I'm taking notes about the content and cadence of his farm-speak.  There's so much of him in my story--much more than he probably knows.  There's much of the whole family, though not on a one to one ratio, of course.

But lately, having studiously avoided thinking of this novel, opening the enormous folder on my computer (or one of the back-up disks) that holds it, I am flying to ground zero, so to speak.  The place where it all began, where it took shape, where it dwells--even when I'm closeted here in my rainy western Washington home.  I've always said that the Palouse is the geography of my soul, the place where the Spirit was born in me, where God began the work of re-creating me. Now I'm wondering (maybe even hoping) if it will open something up in me.  Give me the courage to peek again at this story, to look at my words with fresh eyes.  This is the longest time I've gone in years without working or even glancing on these pages.  Has it been germinating, like the wheat on my beloved hills?

I'm excited to find out.  And I'm nervous to know.  Maybe it's too soon, maybe I've waited too long.  I'm a chicken, after all.  I don't want to pick at a wound that's just beginning to scab. It's hard to explain unless you've been in this position. But I loved this story to begin with, then I hated it, and was finally loving it again.  Really loving it.  And it was right at that moment--the moment I was finally completely certain again--that it was most rejected.  So what do I do with that? How do I find the courage to even open it?

But I'm taking it with me, thinking that if I can do it anywhere, I can read this story against that backdrop, the geography of my soul.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bigger is better

The other day Beve returned the TV the kids and I bought him for Christmas. The reason?  He could buy a larger HD TV for a mere 20 dollars more, if he bought the floor model. And he couldn't resist this deal.  Beve loves deals, and loves returning things almost as much.  He's become quite the fan of HD TV since Christmas, will watch practically anything, as long as it's HD.  Now I thought the 37 inch was plenty large enough for our needs, just the right size for the space.  But "Bigger is Better" appears to have ruled the day.

Bigger is better...our world would tell us that this is a truth is most things.  Bigger houses, cars, TVs. Bigger closets, bathrooms, kitchens.  Sure, with the economic and energy crises, we've begun to size down, but we Americans still bend toward bigger.

And we envy those who have bigger, or at least better, toys, etc. than we have.  I had a conversation with my BB (baby brother) today about this very issue.  He was struggling with the truth that he gets jealous of others who have more money, better jobs, nicer cars than he does.  He really hates that this is true about himself.  I told him that it's human nature to want things for ourselves.  It's a symptom of sin.  However, it's also true that the attaining of 'things' inflates our desire for more and better.  And we have to recognize that God doesn't give a rip about our stuff.  His only concern is for us, and making us little Hims. I was just writing about this the other day--the idea that what we need is for Him to do whatever it takes to make us like Him.  Remember?

I told Beve about my conversation with BB, and he said, "It's about contentment."  And as I turned off my bedside light just now, I thought of the wisdom of that diagnosis.  Contentment.  Being satisfied with this life--my life--as it has been given by God.  Not fitting our life rafts (as the old tract goes) with gadgets and gizmos, not being weighed down by the accumulating of the world's goods, but being glad to simply be on the life raft, and free to pull others aboard.  That's contentment. To do, be, live as He bids--no matter what our neighbors' rafts look like. And be satisfied with what He gives.

Last week in LA, I got on the hotel's elevator with a couple of men.  One of them manned the floor punches, and when we'd each told him the numbers of our floors, I said, "I win!"  "What?" he asked.  "I'll be the first one out," I answered.  "Everything's a competition."  Both the men laughed.  "Like 'he who dies with the most toys wins?" the button-pusher asked.  "No, he who lives with the most toys.  When you die, it's all the same how many toys you do or do not have." "I never thought of it that way," the other (younger!) man commented.

And that's the bottom line.  It doesn't matter what I own, what kind of car I drive, or how much I pay for my jeans.  I won't win any prizes the only place I care about winning prizes by hoarding my treasures, or amassing more.  The only 'bigger is better' reality is that God is bigger and He's making me better (to be a little punny!).  Everything else is going to burn.  It's what really lasts that counts. 

Do I ever sound like a broken record?  I feel like it.  I feel like God has to be a broken record with me in order for me to get it.  Contentment--maybe it's a lifelong battle to get there.