Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking back

It's the eve of the eve of the new year, and I've been lacing up my tennies to race into 2011.  I can hardly wait to put this poor old year to bed for the last time.  The other day in an attempt to write a Christmas letter, I made a list of all we've dealt with in the last year.  Then I asked E to write the letter.  Her quirky humor and succinct style will fit much better than my 'tell the whole story and try to make sense of it all' manner.

However, I thought it might be entertaining to resurrect things I've posted over the last year, beginning a year ago today:

Dec. 30, 2009
The eagles have landed.  The elder eagles, complete white pure white on the top of their heads, also known as Grampie and Thyrza.  All the preparations of the last month have come to fruition in this move from 3-4 hours away on the Olympic Penninsula to just 8 or so minutes across town.  They are, I hope (it's almost midnight) sleeping deeply in a guest suite at the Retirement Complex where they will make their new home.

January
 Beve and I drove to two hours down the freeway this afternoon to pick-up our weary Bug (SK) from her flight from London.  She'd slept about half-an-hour on the flight over the pole, yet still managed to regale us with story after story as we turned our car back up I-5.  When she'd asked Beve before she left what she could bring him from England, he told her, "An English accent."  And sure enough, our little Thespian made us laugh hysterically as she mimicked Liz, their day-trip tour guide.  Unfortunately, there's no way to translate that to the page, so you'll just have to take my word for how good her accent is (and how funny that Liz is!), but if you have a chance, ask SK!

February
My sisters--They know me, I know them, we are different, we are the same.  Here's a moment that speaks volumes (at least to me).  RE and I, who traveled together, were just about to board our much delayed plane, when the Dump and her younger son walked past, just getting to the airport for their later flight south.  We called to them, so they came over for another round of hugs before we separated again.  As we walked off, Dump yelled, "See you in June" (when RE's middle daughter gets married).  Without thinking, I hollered back, "Unless Mom dies first."  "Yeah," she said. "If only."  Then we turned and walked our separate directions.  As I sat in my seat, I thought of how we all got it--what I was saying, what the Dump answered.  Why it wasn't mean, or rude or anything else. We live inside our lives together.  We know.  We know in ways that only siblings can know, more than spouses, more than offspring, there are somethings only siblings get.  And somethings, only sisters.  And I'm glad I have mine.   No matter what, I'm glad I have mine.

March
All of these African trips--no, these African mission trips--have kept that continent continually before me recently.  Well, in the last few years, really.  But this week, as we look forward to this holiest of weeks, it humbles me to think of this gospel work continually going on across the world.  And it strikes me that rather than raise our palm branches and march around a church sanctuary saying, "Hosanna! Holy is He who comes in the name of the Lord," maybe we should metaphorically march around the globe, saying the same thing.  Hosanna to those who do the fistula surgeries on poor African women. And hosanna to their families who count it a privilege to work in the heat of Africa instead of sitting by a luxury pool for their spring break.

April
At a table today at one of our favorite restaurants, with boats rocking on their lines in the marina outside the windows, the islands dark and tempting across the bay, and gulls soaring, we talked with our friends about the events of the last weeks, the last few days.  We spoke of ministries--those that have been successful, those that seem to have sputtered  in the water just out the window.  We wondered what the heck we're doing with our lives, and if we have a chance of figuring it out on our own.  We wondered if we'd gotten it all wrong all those years ago when we thought we'd heard Him call our Name.  There have been some nay-sayers.  Some out-and-out "you're dead in the water." And even worse, "We won't help you get going again." Yep, we spoke of those times.  Times when hope left us.  Times when we thought we were alone.  Gulls flew beyond the windows.  Boats sailed.  We drank another glass or two of water.  Talked a little more.  Maybe cried some.
But suddenly--or maybe it's only that our attention suddenly focused!--something changed between us.  The air, maybe.  Or...like someone else had joined us at that table. Yes, SomeOne else.  And the air changed too.  The air of our words, our attitudes, our focus.  The hope that had seemed dead between us burst forth like sun coming out from behind the clouds out the window.  Like a stone had been rolled away from a tomb.

May
I thought that would be the hardest thing I'd ever live through as a parent.  And, in a way, it was.  I've known many others whose sojourns in Children's Hospitals didn't end with a healthy baby, but an empty nursery.  I cannot imagine what that feels like.  I cannot imagine how a person survives the loss of one's child.  No matter how young that child is.  Or how old.  Sometimes when I think about the human body, and all the parts and intricate systems, all the bells and whistles we were created with, I'm surprised that more doesn't go wrong more often.  I mean, most of the time, babies are born healthy.  Most of the time, things work the way they should.  We grow up and live lives that have meaning.  More times than not.  And when I think about the complexity of mind, body, spirit that God gave us, I'm in awe.  It points to God Himself, even when we don't recognize Him.  I mean, no computer can match us who were made in His Image.  Yes, awe is the only proper response.

June
How many of us are there out there who are in this position of caring for their parents as they fail? Or their spouse's parents?  Or their spouse's parent's spouse?  Raise your hand if you're one of them. Or maybe bend your knees.  We entered this season knowing it would be hard, but not knowing how hard it would be.  And I suppose that's how it always is.  After all, what difficult thing would we ever attempt if we knew ahead of time what it would ask of us?

July
But the thing I keep hearing is something my friend, Sam's grandmother, told her daughter, that first desolate morning when it was so hard to be a mommy without a daughter: "You're my Sam."  My friend, definitely grieving the loss of her granddaughter, was also praising God that miraculously her daughter had been spared.  "You're my Sam."  'There's purpose in your life, sweetie.  God still intends something important for you.  He spared you.  And I love you every bit as much as you love Sam.'

July
Grampie looked over at me eating my sandwich from Subway (a veggie delite), and said, "Carolyn, thank you for marrying Steve.  Steve, thank you for marrying Carolyn."
Just that.  He thanked us for marrying each other.  Thanked me for becoming part of their family.  Imagine this in context of the man he used to be, a man who never did more than sign his name on cards or say, "You're great," to people he really admired.  No, my father-in-law wasn't one to wear his heart on his sleeve.  He was the epitome of the strong, silent type when it came to emotions.  But increasingly, as the filters have dropped with age and dementia, he's said what he feels, told it like he sees it.

August
It was a long day in a small room in a nursing home. Just like they were long days in the hospital when it was Glo lying in the bed, or Beve's mom. Or Dad.  Yes, I've sat in such rooms before.  And other than the day before Dad died, I haven't had the advantage, the gift, of final thoughts from the dying.  Nor will I--we--this time.  But we have two things.  We have each other: my siblings, some of our kids, and spouses.  We have our family, near and far to walk through these last days with us.  And, more importantly, we--the collective we that is the family she and the dad who waits in heaven for her--are in these last days with her.  We are simply in them with her.  Being with her.
So today, if she could count, here's the total:  WE'RE ALL HERE!  All five of her living children, all their spouses, all ten of her grandchildren, all their spouses.  Both her living sister-in-laws, and her one living brother-in-law.  Her important niece and family.  It's a grand total.  One she'd be flabbergasted by, and, hopefully, awed by.  I hope she'd know--I hope somehow she DOES know.  We're here because we love her. And that's the final count.  Amen.
  But what I rejoice in as I write this is that the next time I see my mother, she will be complete.  Not merely back to the full-voiced, clear-minded woman she was at the height of her brain-power on earth, but to the person God always intended her to be before the human frailties, the insecurities, fears and worries overwhelmed her essential made-in-the-image-of-God self.  I wonder who she'll be.  I wonder what a wonderful world she's discovering this day in paradise with God, her parents, my dad and the host.

October
Had a typical afternoon, and by typical I mean I took Grampie (and Thyrza) to the doctor.  It was in this office a few months ago, that in helping Grampie fill out paper work, I came across a section about 'sexual function.'  'Maybe you want to read this part yourself,' I told Grampie.  He shoved the paper back at me.
"No, read it to me."  So in a whisper, I asked, "Have you ever had erectile disfunction?"
"What?  You're whispering."  He said.
"Erectile Disfunction." I said.  The room stilled, I'm sure it did. 
Grampie looked at me.  "I'm 86 years old," he finally said.  "And my bride is 91."  Then he shook his hand.
"Enough said," I answered.  Really, enough said.

November
And this is an association that rose up to choke me this afternoon when, just 45 minutes after I'd settled J on the couch after his day-surgery to excise a cyst, he said, "I'm bleeding through my shorts."  I helped him into the bathroom and when he dropped those shorts, the blood flowed down his leg and onto the floor into a puddle.  Twenty minutes and a couple of pints later (or so it seemed), we were at the hospital, where he was opened up again, re-'packed', and now is spending the night.  It wasn't until we were told he was spending the night that I finally relaxed.  During his routine cyst removal, somehow an artery at the deepest point, was nicked, and no amount of pressure could stop the blood from flowing.

 Another day, another trip to the hospital.  Beve took J in to meet the doctor and get his bloody bandage changed.  I've become so inured of this stuff now I just sent them on their way with barely a momentary twinge of concern.  One can only handle so much, you know?  Besides, tomorrow I have to take Thyrza in for vein surgery.  I am not making this up.  Unfortunately, I'm not sure what time this surgery is.  When she told me about it, I wrote it on my calendar as 9:30, but yesterday she said it was 11.  Today she checked and said she had it written down various places as 9, 10 and 11:15.  So I'm pretty much on standby all morning.  Meanwhile, E will take J to the doctor for his daily dressing change, I'll talk Thyrza back to the vein clinic Tuesday, Jonathan to the orthopedist for his shoulder Wednesday morning and Grampie to the eye doctor that afternoon, and...well, there's no doctor on the calendar for Thursday but the week's barely begun.

December
I think there are a whole lot of Abrahamic moments in our lives.  We like to think that God doesn't test us, but here's this story to prove otherwise.  The reasons for His tests are not for His benefit, not simply because He can, or because He likes to jerk us around, but because something is lacking, or something is too important, or something is out of wack in our lives. And I think it's a cop-out to read this story and assume He'll always provide a ram in the thicket.  Yes, in one sense, this story is about the ultimate Lamb who takes the place of the Son.  Of course it is.  And we do well to remember Christ's substitution.

 And there you have it...a glimpse back through the year.  Without touching on everything, or even every important thing.  It is, after all, only a glimpse.  Tomorrow, even tomorrow, is for looking ahead.  With tennies tied and ready to race into whatever God has for 2011, thankful to finally, fully put this sad, sorry year behind me, once and for all.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

La Familia

Beve, the girls and I left our berg yesterday for a day in the emerald city.  SK's birthday is 22 days from now, when she'll be back behind the pine-cone curtain, so we bought her gifts she actually picked out yesterday.  It was a fun afternoon, punctuated by lunch at a wonderful Indian restaurant with the best service we've ever experienced.  Bar none!  Free mango lassees, free appetizers, refills on our chai as soon as we'd taken a single sip and no less than four different servers hovering at our table.  If we'd been the only patrons in the place, one might have expected this, but the joint was hopping. And the food was good.  Very good.

But the real destination yesterday was my aunt's house for a dinner with seven of my cousins and their families. Quite the crowd, you might be thinking.  But I'll remind you that the eight of us are merely a third of our generation in our large, crazy family.  We've been sharing holiday dinners in that house since I was a small child, and I swear there have always--ALWAYS--been a passel of small children running through the rooms.  This might have something to do with the fact that there are 24 years between the oldest and youngest cousins in our generation.  My cousin Ben (who turns 31 today) is a mere 16 months older than my oldest nephew.  And at one point last night, a couple of the little ones, who are second cousins to each other and to my children, ran through the living room, looked straight at my single daughters and said, "Excuse us, parents," which cracked up the room, and gave E and SK scare.  I think they felt like they should run to the bathroom to check for gray hairs on the spot!

For me, though, the night was all about the connection I feel with that group of people whom I share genes with.  They're 'our people', as one cousin reminded us.  My grandmother drilled that phrase firmly into our skulls--that the world was divided neatly and clearly into 'them' and 'us'.  When we get together, the old stories come out.  Some Most of these stories revolve around our grandmother, which isn't surprising.   She was the matriarch who ruled with manipulation and favoritism, list-holding and criticism.  And yet, for all those negative things I listed, when she turned her light on a person, especially a small child, that light was blinding.  Magnetizing.  It was only as we got older that we realized what ugliness was also contained within that blinding light.  Grandmomie--yep, that's what we called her/call her--was present in the living room last night, as we laughed about things that used to make us crazy.  Hurtful words that made us cry, the lists she kept of offenses.  Yes, old stories.  There was a new wife in the room last night and a new girlfriend, and we thought it only right to initiate them to the family in the proper way, by explaining what it's like to marry into this big sorry mess.  I have to say I almost never laugh as loudly and freely as I do around these people. In fact, sometimes I laugh so freely, so loudly, that I dang near get up on tables and dance.  I don't know why, there's just something about them that just brings out the ham in me. 

But...it's also true that though we are family, we have many differences.  Significant differences.  I was shocked last night to realize--again--how deep those differences run.  How little they really get me.  At one point we were talking about a conversation I had with Grandmomie when I was in college, and I spoke of having been very innocent at that age.  There was a loud burst of disavowal in the room, and one cousin even said, "Yeah, and who's the one who went to India with her boyfriend?"  Really?  REALLY?  One of my girls tried to say, "But that was a mission," and nobody seemed to even hear. They see the world from within their own worldview and that colors everything.

What is so funny (as in sad, not even remotely funny) is how long I've been both praying for them and aiming to 'be' Christ in the midst of my cousins.  When I was in my teens and a young believer, I tried both the 'in-your-face' method of sharing Christ with them, which didn't reap much harvest, and many more subtle approaches.  I remember being at our cabin at Whidbey Island and intentionally reading my Bible late into the night.  I was certain one of my relatives would come into the bunk room and ask me about it.  However, day after day I awakened with my face pressed into my open Bible.  No conversations ever resulted from my machinations.  NOT a ONE.  At some point along the way I stopped.  Stopped the straight on, stopped the sideways, stopped the every-which-way attempts to 'save' my family.  I placed them in God's hands and began to enjoy them for who they are.  Sure, I miss who they might be, who they could be.  See, they're all very smart, well-educated, interesting people...with whom I have these simple things in common.  Things like blood and family.  Things like 'our people' and 'us' that will only last until the dust settles, after all. 

While these days last, I'll enjoy my kith and kin (whatever that means), and be glad that we have what we have together.  It's enough.  For the rest?  Spiritual kith and kin for the meat I need when laughing stops.  And prayer that one day 'our people' will be both.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Christmas Break

I've taken a break from posting--a Christmas break.  Not a holiday, winter or some other politically correctly termed break, but a real, live Christmas break.  Christmas in the western tradition of the word, by which I mean lots of food consumption, presents bought, wrapped, unwrapped, stockings hung, unhung and rehung.  Lots of surprises by way of those stockings and presents.  Back in my youth, when my friends and I checked in with each other on Christmas day, the first question asked was always, "What'd you get?"  And I got a whole lot of really, really great things. Including the very best gift I've ever gotten.  SK (who got the idea from her older sister) got me an elephant for Christmas.  And I mean a real, live 18 month old elephant orphan.  Well, to be fair, I'm merely fostering him, but still...his name is Chemi-Chemi and he lives in the Baby Nursery at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya.  He's a very rascally little guy, my Chem-Chem, something of the class bully, always getting into pushing matches with his mates, but as the girls say, he's bound to keep me entertained.  And his dominant personality will serve him well when he has to live alone as an adult bull elephant. I can't begin to tell you what this gift meant to me.  Short of going to Kenya and meeting Chem-Chem and his 'family' (which I would absolutely LOVE to do...), this gift is the closest thing to that dream I've ever had.

But it's also been a Christmas break because as I go through the days with my very American traditions, and, yes, my middle-class values, I'm also trying to find some quiet within to dwell in the beauty and mystery that is this season.  The days leading up to Christmas didn't allow for such quiet.  I set myself a deadline for homemade gifts that was just about the death of me.  And Beve has some metaphoric scratch marks to show for it.  Not only was I hard to live with, he couldn't even figure out what would set me off next.  Not exactly the kind of joy and gladness of one who awaits the Christ child.  Instead, Christmas was something of a breath released.  For Beve as well.  In the days before Christmas, I dared not write for the ugliness.

Then we went to church Christmas Eve, and I listened to a man read the story of Luke chapter 2.  The words of this story are familiar from my earliest days when my father read us that story immediately after Mom read "The Night Before Christmas."  Because of Dad reading Luke, I memorized those verses long before I ever knew Jesus personally.  But last Friday night when I listened to a different voice read those words, they held something new for me.  This week I needed a savior born.  This very week I needed to find Him, because this very week, I'd been living in the dark night of sin, replete with very me, as Madeleine L' Engle calls it.

So I've taken the last few days to dwell in the quiet barn in Bethlehem where that small wonder of wonders made His first dwelling on this planet.  In the middle of the craziness that is ordinary life with young adults and aging parents and one legal giant, here He is.  Come to think of it, you add the dogs and my new elephant, we're a menagerie that would fit right in there in Bethlehem.  But that's the point, isn't it?  That my menagerie, and yours, my life and yours, are exactly the environment in which that baby came to dwell.  Right here in the midst of our grubby little lives.  My ugliness, your smallness.  Right here, right now.  That baby just lies there doing baby things, just plain old baby things like eating, sleeping and filling his swaddling cloths, yet He's already changed everything. 

So I'm dwelling here in this barn with my menagerie, staring at this innocent baby. Still waiting, still watching, and...okay, adoring. I don't even want to hurry away from this manger to the next stage of His life.  This baby stage is so short, and there is such joy in it.  So I'm resting here.  Taking a Christmas break here at the manger in Bethlehem.

(I'll find a way to get to Kenya another day) 

Monday, December 20, 2010

An aborted trip

An update:  After three days stuck in Heathrow airport, Beve's Finnish niece has been rescued and is now at a home in the English country-side awaiting her now booked flight back to Finland.  The long-planned Christmas trip here must be postponed. Not having had a shower nor bed for days, sleeping on the floor, she gained something of a world-wide community.  E and Beve talked to her last night and she was downright perky as she described the college students she'd been hanging out with, the one young woman who'd missed her wedding because of the icy runways, the sixteen-year-old who'd been given some money and told to go find somewhere to stay (imagine that child's worried parents!).  She was happy to talk to people she actually knew, but community had broken out among those strangers who were stuck from their hurry in traveling from point A to point B. 

But she also has a cold, is running a fever, and back home in Helsinki, there's been "Operation Rescue M from Heathrow" was moving full-steam ahead.  And thankfully, was a successful operation.  We can be nothing but thankful in the face of that.  Right?  Our own disappointment is nothing to knowing she's going to get home safely.  Her mom needs to see her face...sooner rather than later.  That's how I'd be feeling.  No question about it.  And her dad's been "all steamed up" over the whole thing, as Grampie told us about five time today after talking to him.  Grampie also used the phrase "hell-hole" several times in the conversation, which is a pretty odd thing to say about a first-world international airport.  War zones, third-world cities, any impoverished neighborhood might deserve that title, but Heathrow?

Anyway...Northern Lights is going home Wednesday, Grampie's 'just sick about it,' and we're all trying to figure out how we can kidnap her (and her sister for good measure!) in the summer.  Meanwhile our girls are back on their heels trying to figure out what to do with themselves for the next two weeks since their agenda has been buried in the snow in England.  I'm sure they'll figure it out soon enough, but they just have to mope a little for a day or two.

That's just the way it is...

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The terminal

We're feeling antsy today.  Our Finnish niece, Northern Lights (not really her name, but that's her blog's name, so I thought it'd be a good pseudonym for her), was supposed to have landed at SeaTac this afternoon.  However, her layover was at Heathrow.  And I'm sure you all know what's going on at Heathrow.  Oh, you don't?  You aren't conversant in weather the world over?  Me neither, except on days such as this.  But Heathrow is closed, due to snow on the runways.  So Northern Lights on her very first trans-global solo (which means without a parent) flight is stuck in an airport.  Stuck with a dying cell-phone and a charger carefully packed in her suitcase, which is somewhere in the bowels of the airport.  That's a rookie mistake, Beve observed.  But the rest of it, who could have guessed.  So we wait on tenderhooks, check the Heathrow International Airport site periodically to see if anything is opened yet. 

And for some reason, I keep thinking of the movie, "The Terminal."  Tom Hanks (who is a good enough actor that I actually forgot it was him with that heavy accent!) gets stuck in an airport when his country stages a coup, rendering his passport invalid.  He creates his own community from among a dissimilar band of workers.  Provides services to them, lives out a very full life, while all the time both being completely visible to those who are always watching him (the security department) and totally invisible to the hundreds and thousands of people who move through the terminal all the time. He extends charity toward all he comes in contact with--from those he befriends to those he antagonizes.  It's really quite remarkable.

And what's actually interesting is that I was thinking about these exact qualities this morning.  I've mentioned recently that I've been reading Cost of Discipleship.  This morning's chapter (14) was "The Hidden Righteousness" and focuses on the section of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus speaks of the nature of a disciple's righteousness. "Do not do your acts of righteousness before people, in order to be seen by them." (Matt 6: 1-4) Now, I realize I might be a slow learner, but until this morning, the paradox of Jesus' words about lights not being hidden under a bushel from the section immediately following the Beatitudes and these words struck hard.  How can Jesus mean both?  Bonhoeffer, however, asks this question--'how can the same life be visible and hidden?'

It may be difficult to answer for each of us, though answer it we must.  I remember once having a conversation with a pastor about my sense that I felt the hidden life was the best one.  He said, "But you (meaning anyone, not me personally) can share Christ with so many more people if you have more 'fame'."   But my healthy fear of 'fame' has been clarified by this chapter of Bonheoffer, I think.  What he says is that our activity must be visible but not for the sake of OUR being visible (see page 176).  Our responsibility is to follow Christ and if He puts us in the light, it will shine.

It's like Tom Hanks in "The Terminal."  He was offered many incentives to turn around and go home, or to disappear out of the terminal, so that he would stop being so visible to the chief security officer, who didn't want the headache.  But Tom knew what he'd been called to do.  He wasn't looked for celebrity or fortune.  He simply intended to obey the task he was on.  If he'd gotten distracted from that and left because it was simpler, he'd have lost everything that counted to him.  That hidden purpose meant everything to him.

Get it?  Hidden and visible all at once.  Jesus knew what he was talking about.  Sometimes we even have to hide our good works--or that light!--from ourselves.  I get this.  There are times when I get positively bloated by the things that I've written, the conversations I've had.  As if it had really been me!  Those are the moments when I am certain that what I told my pastor all those years ago was right.  Fame is dangerous for me.  Others might be able to handle it.  Me?  I'm just too full of me on my best days.  Any good that I do is Him.  ANY good--in word or deed.  No, the hidden, ordinary life.  And He makes that hidden life glow with His light, and that ordinary life extraordinary by His presence, and often (more than I can ask or think) He speaks and acts and works through me.   As Dietrich Bonheoffer says, "Hiddenness has its counterpart in manifestation.  It's up to God to reveal.  There is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed."  (page 177-178)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Peacemakers

When I was young and my parents left my siblings and I alone in the evenings for one reason or another--maybe a meeting, maybe just a dinner alone (imagine!), there was something of a predictable pattern in our house.  There was sure to be a rumble of some kind, though for the life of me, I can't remember why any of them started.  Then those rumbles would escalate into full-blown physical fights.  My older brother and next younger sister would go at it.  Tooth and nail, the saying goes, but it was more like wrestling than biting and clawing, I think.  The Dump usually tried sitting on our older brother.  She was, in those days, what our family kindly called 'husky' (though she's a tall, trim woman in her fifties).  Back then she had the girth to sit on a person and make a difference.  There would be yelling and probably some hitting, and a whole lot of tension in the house.

I HATED IT.  I really, really hated it.  For one thing, I was a puny thing who looked like she'd been kept in a closet while the other kids were fed.  The Dump and I have definitely exchanged body types in our fifties. Sigh.  But that's a different story.  Anyway, back then, I didn't have a snowball's chance in...well, you know...of even keeping my own in any skirmish between my siblings, even the biting and kicking ones between my younger sisters.  I was a wimp, through and through.  I didn't like the sounds of it, the violence of it.  Just the way it felt between my shoulder blades when they fought.  You know, that tension.  This very moment as I'm thinking about it, I still hate it. 

So you know what I did when they fought?  When their voices were raised in anger, I'd stand at the edge of the room and say, "Don't fight."  Then pretty soon, I'd be yelling too.  "DON'T FIGHT!", my voice every bit as loud as theirs, my yells definitely adding to the tension in the house.  As you might imagine, my yelling at my siblings had absolutely NO impact whatsoever in their behavior.  In fact, sometimes they even turned and yelled back at me, though neither of them ever pulled me into their physical fight (thankfully!).

But there was another, far less perfect (if those were even close to perfect) motive for my 'peace-keeping' role on our nights left home alone.  I wanted to be able to tell our parents that I hadn't fought.  That I'd tried to stop them.  I loved being known as 'the peace-keeper,' even though I knew inside I wasn't interested in peace for the right reasons.  Only for myself.  So I wouldn't feel stress, and so I'd get the praise.

This came to mind this Advent morning when I thought of the Angel saying "Peace on earth among all people..."  And Jesus saying, "Blessed are the peacemakers."  The longer I've been a Christian the stronger my inclination toward peace.  But it occurs to me that it isn't enough to stand at the edge of the room and yell, "Peace!"  Instead, if I believe in peace, I need to wade in and be part of the breaking up of the hostility between people.  Now I'm not talking about taking up a diplomatic career and flying over to Afghanistan, but being involved in peacemaking in my actual, ordinary life.  I'm convicted that over the course of my adult life, I've leaned away from peace-making in the interest of what I called "Truth-telling".  Being a truth-teller is good, but always with the view of peace as the result. 

So how do I live this out?
I don't really know.  For one thing, the person I told the most truth to at the cost of the most peace in the last decade or two was my mother.  I definitely did not make peace in her life because I was intent on not allowing her to manipulate me. Yep, pretty much like yelling at the edges of the room about peace, while making my mother cry.  Well-done, huh? I'm sorry about that now, but am long past being able to do anything about it.  It does seem to me, though, that Jesus intends me to learn.  And then to do.  Not simply as an exercise in thought but action.  He always intends action.  If the world is to know peace, I think it must come through the peacemakers.  And we who are His disciples are blessed to be called such.  Called to it.  So how to do it? 

With my husband, my children, my in-laws and my friends:  A His peace-maker.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Here I am

I climbed into bed this evening and realized what I needed to write about.  Wasn't all that enthusiastic about climbing back out of my cozy bed, but...here I am.

"Here I am."  These are words uttered by the faithful in the land through-out scripture.  When God--or His angel--calls, the faithful answers, "Here I am."  Abraham, Jacob, Samuel.  I am ready for whatever You might have for me.  The first time we read these words, it's in Genesis 22, where the chapter starts, "Sometime later, God tested Abraham."  God tested Abraham.  The very one whom He called out of Ur, promised a son, a nation and the entire world to be blessed through, this man who was the very father of faith--God tested him.  Of course, Abraham, like all people of faith, like all people, managed to be a sinner of great magnitude as well.  I mean, whoppers.  Passing his wife off as his sister, trying to solve the riddle of God's promise by fathering a son off his wife's maid.  Yep, a couple of such doozies, he'd make the news even in our very jaded, seen-it-all age.  But after these things, God still honored that promise, gave him (and Sarah) the long-promised son, and everything seemed hunky-dory, right?

Until 12 years later, when God decided to test Abraham.  And when God called, Abraham answered instantly, "Here I am."  Completely, utterly available to God. That's what happens when God calls.  It was an unmistakable command, too.  "Take your only son--the one you love--and go sacrifice him on the mountain as a burnt offering."

The next sentence, verse 3, begins, "Early the next morning..." but I wonder how Abraham spent that night.  Did he toss and turn.  Sob and cry.  Worry and stress about what he'd been asked to do?  We talk in theological circles about 'the dark night of the soul,' and I think we might trace this 'dark night' idea back to this night of Abraham's.  The text is silent about what he felt, but I obedience, I think, often comes after we've struggled through the night.

So Abraham got up the next morning, took his son up the mountain and lashed him to an altar.  That's the cliff notes version, anyway.  It actually took three whole days to get there.  Three whole days of cutting wood for the fire and walking with his son.  That's a lot of time to think.  To turn around, if he'd been so inclined.  To argue with God, at the very least.  Again, Genesis is strangely silent about any of Abraham's feelings during those days, and only notes the small verbal exchange he has with Isaac at the last moment, "God himself with provide the lamb for the offering."

Powerfully trusting words, aren't they?  Even as he laid Isaac on the altar, and raised the knife overhead.  "He reached out his hand and took the knife to slay his son."  And only in that last moment did God stay his hand. An angel called from heaven and Abraham said, "Here I am." 

Here I am.  Between those two obedient answers, Abraham had laid his son--actually, his very life--on the line for God.  He had proven, so to speak, that he meant what he said, that he was present to God's call, and willing to do whatever God asked him.  No matter what.

I think there are a whole lot of Abrahamic moments in our lives.  We like to think that God doesn't test us, but here's this story to prove otherwise.  The reasons for His tests are not for His benefit, not simply because He can, or because He likes to jerk us around, but because something is lacking, or something is too important, or something is out of wack in our lives. And I think it's a cop-out to read this story and assume He'll always provide a ram in the thicket.  Yes, in one sense, this story is about the ultimate Lamb who takes the place of the Son.  Of course it is.  And we do well to remember Christ's substitution.

But we do have Abrahamic moments.  Each of us.  I think of God asking me to lay my book down.  To take a knife to it, so to speak.  There was no lamb waiting to take its place.  When God asked me to sacrifice it, He meant it to die. You probably have dreams that He's asking you to take a knife to as well.  Sometimes those are dreams you love more than life itself.  Love like your own child.  Hmm, perhaps it's even your own child He's asking you to lay on that altar with a fire burning beneath it (we forget that part, don't we?  Not simply a knife to the throat, but a fire to burn him to ash afterwards!).  The things we love most we must part with--this too He tests, apparently. Dreams, careers, children (or the hope of).  And anything else He thinks we just might love more than Him.  It wouldn't be an Abrahamic moment if it wasn't about sacrificing what is most precious to us and what might just interfere with our obedience and God's reckoning it to us as righteousness, as He did Abraham's--both his faith and his obedience (the phrase is about both!).

But my hunch is you know this.  You've heard Him call you in the night--when you're trouble by things you hold too tightly and put in His place.  It's okay to wrestle with Him.  But you must also say, "Here I am, Lord."  Then do the hard thing He asks.  It's the only way through.

Here I am, Lord.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Short and sweet

Home. Tired.
Beve, dogs and my own bed.  All sweet.
Goodnight.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sleep deprived--again

We hardly drove anywhere today.  That's the good news.  Since E and I left home Friday morning we've clocked approximately 2 million miles in our Highlander.  We spent two days in Spokane carting around various members of the family in various configurations in the car, including one short drive from the Spaghetti Factory to First Presbyterian Church when we crammed seven of us in the five passenger vehicle.  Cozy!  Or crazy, depending on your point of view.

Today we merely drove into town and back, but never fear, E and I will climb back in that car for the drive home tomorrow--via Moses Lake because E's most important appendage (ie, her computer!) was accidentally left in her cousin's car.  I honestly can't remember the last time we simply drove to Pullman and back without a detour one direction or the other.  Cousin SE isn't too unhappy we have to swing by her house to grab the computer because it means we get to take her border collie, Shep, home to her.  Shep, the world's smartest dog, was left here a week or two ago, when he ran off with the other house dogs and missed his ride home.  So ol' Shep (who isn't all that old) is hitching a ride with us.  Maybe he can teach us a thing or two along the way about how to get our dogs to shape up.

I am tired, though.  For some ridiculous reason, I woke up this morning even before my farmer brother-in-law who gets up earlier than...anyone, I was going to say, then I realized that I'm married to a man who crawls out of bed some mornings at about 3 AM.  The other morning he actually walked straight into the wall when he was aiming for the bathroom, Beve did.  WHY?  It was 2 AM and he was afraid to turn on a light because he knows that I'm usually barely falling asleep about that time.  My very thoughtful husband didn't want to bother me, and he has the lump on his forehead to prove it.  But this morning, I could have called Beve at 5:30 AM and had a coherent conversation with him.  Wouldn't that have freaked him out? 

The rest of the day I've felt it.  I mean I've really felt it.  My sister said, "You should take a nap this afternoon..." "Yeah, right," as my mother would say.  Instead I'd rather just jumble my words, misplace them altogether, stumble over my feet and feel grit in my eyes the whole livelong day.  Hmmm, maybe my mother didn't have Alzheimers after all.  Maybe she was just faking all those naps she claimed to be taking. 

So that's my story today.  I'm tired.  Sleep deprived.  I know.  Same old story, right?  But I'm in the middle of a pretty bad bout of insomnia.  When the trouble I have falling asleep creeps over into trouble staying asleep, it's really bad.  Eschews EVERYTHING.

WHINE.

Tomorrow--or the next day--when I've had more than a nap through the night, I'll return to my natural cheery self.  Or at least my natural self.  Until then...

Saturday, December 11, 2010

These hills

Back on the homeplace...well, I suppose technically it isn't mine but my sister and brother-in-law's homeplace, but I'm claiming it as my own as well since I love these hills and have stared out at them at least a day or two in almost every season of the last almost thirty years.  And that's not even counting the close acquaintance I had with them for the fifteen years before that from in town.  Yep, I'm on the Palouse and today the hills are expresso brown with long patches of snow covering the northern slopes from storm last week.  Most of the snow blew away in what folks around here called the 'Pineapple Express', which I've never heard before.  The definition is clear, however. Air warm enough to melt and make a mess of things blew through, thankfully leaving enough to leave the ridges I see from my sister's living room.

Have I mentioned that I love the view from these windows?

But then I'm a view kind of person.  I really am.  If there's a view to be seen, I'm at the window staring at it.  Sometimes when E and I watch House Hunters on HGTV, prospective buyers (or realtors trying to make a sale) make some comment about the great view out the window. The camera pans to said view and all I can see is the backyard.  Sometimes it's wooded, but sometimes it's merely a stretch of fields so flat the only thing to be said about the view is that the sky isn't obstructed by anything.  Phew.

Have I mentioned that I'm something of a snob when it comes to views?  It's true, you know.  Each of the four houses we've owned has come with its own particular (actual!) view.  As I washed dishes in the dishwasher-less kitchen of the first old house we owned, I could see Mount Rainier perfectly out the window.  At least on sunny days, which were admittedly not as many as I might have wished.  Those were lean years in terms of my writing, but I wrote a short story once that used the idea of the mountain 'being out' as a metaphor for a young mother's need for hope in the general malaise of her life.  From the next home, we could see Victoria, BC across the Straits of Juan de Fuca.  Admittedly, we needed binoculars to do it.  We bought the property because of that view.  Sometimes regretted that choice (though that's another story for another day), but also thought we'd never have a view to beat it.

We moved to the big house out in the county just a house remove from our current address and I'm pretty sure I was ready to buy when I saw Mount Baker perfectly framed in the master bedroom window.  Upclose and personal.  Always gorgeous at sunrise (which Beve often saw) with the sun coming up behind her and perhaps even more beautiful at sunset.  The sun wasn't visible, but the glow of it reflecting on the snow, changing color as the sky in the west changed color--this was an amazing image to me.  Reminding me of how we are to reflect Christ.  No direct color or light, just the reflection of the Son on us is what makes us glow and light the world.

Then we moved to our current house, where we have another water view.  I've written about it many times.  About the broadening of that view.  Bellingham Bay spread out before us like a gift.  It is a gift.

But for all these views, somehow I'm most moved by the ones on the Palouse.  The view I see in my dreams from my parents' house.  The one I stare at out my sister's living room windows.  This is earth. Undulating, rolling soil that for all the work done on it never changes.  And yet it participates in feeding us.  It is part of God's plan for us to live in relationship with Creation.  I love the beauty of the mountains, and the timeless wonder of the rolling sea, but the fields--brown with soil, green with shoots, gold with grain, white with harvest--are the rainbow colors of abundant life.  The rhythm of how we must live in order to live...if that makes sense.

And the same rhythm of how we must live to share His new life.  I am reminded of this when I stare out these windows.  When a person's life looks like these fields--dark and deep and nothing close to the surface that speaks of readiness--it would be ridiculous, absolutely absurd to try to bring that person to Christ.  The field--person--must be white with harvest, not with snow.  Let me be reminded of this.  Encouraged by it.  Recognize the rhythm, indeed the perfect rhythm of these beautiful hills.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Failure

E and I drive across the state tomorrow.  We just watched the weather report, saw that our mountain pass of choice is buried, literally buried (!), under snow.  Now we're stalwart northwesterners, have the requisite four-wheel-drive vehicle, but I'm not really looking forward to anything but a straightforward trip. Actually I think you might be better off calling me a wimp, come to think of it.  And I won't even be doing the driving.  That will be E's job.

I was thinking about driving this morning.  Here's a fact:  when I turned 16, I wasn't home.  I on a trip with my grandmother and sister, visiting some far-flung relatives of my grandmother.  I hadn't wanted to take that trip just because I'd be gone on that very important birthday, and therefore be unable to get my driver's license on that exact day.  Instead, I was driving around Denver, Colorado with some great-uncle's great-nephew on the other side--no relation to me.  This boy (whose name I can't remember) drove a souped up car, spoke to me almost not at all, and seemed to spend a whole lot of time shifting gears just to hear them grind.  If he'd had cigarettes rolled up in his t-shirt, I would have sworn I'd stumbled into a 50's sitcom.  It was pretty excruciating for that very sheltered naive Christian girl. 

Three weeks later, after our swing through Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, we finally got home and my father took me over to the county seat to get my driver's license.  And here's another fact:  I took that driving test and failed it.  By two blasted points.  But two might as well have been a million, because 78 wasn't going to give me a license for another two weeks.  I blew the parallel parking and backing around the corner. Two weeks later, Dad took me back and I got a 98. 

But you know how long that failure mattered?  Just those two weeks.  Once I got the license, that failure was wiped away completely.  I've been driving for 37 years now and no one's ever cared that I didn't pass that test the first time out.

There are a whole lot of things like this in life, when you think about it.  Like SAT scores, or GREs or LSTATS or whatever standardized test a person is fretting over.  These things help a person get into something.  One that admission has been accomplished, their purpose is also completed as well. These things are tools, and that's all.  I remember dreading getting my report card in high school because along with my report card would come the quarterly lecture from my parents about my not trying hard enough.  "We expect you to do your best, and this isn't your best."  I really hated those lectures...but I'm not sure I really believed them when they told me I was capable of more.   There were failures in there that seemed to prove them wrong.  Seventh grade math, for example.  Math in general.

But then I went to college.  And all those Bs and Cs that my parents had been so disappointed in?  They disappeared as if they'd never been.  It was a whole new world.  A clean slate.  That's how long my high school grades mattered.  And my college grades matter just long enough to get me into grad school and...well you get my point.

We're fortunate that we always have chances to start over.  That's what Christmas tells us.  To start afresh with a clean slate, perhaps it's only a metaphor unless we actually repent, and surrender and start again with Him.  Allow Him to make us new.  My failures don't count. That I failed in school or driving or in life.  All wiped clean.  As far as the east is from the west. 

I wish I could figure out how to say this so that those around me who struggle with failure, whose chemistry distorts things, could really get this and feel hope and expectation and maybe even joy in this season of great hope and joy.  Oh how I wish that.  Because if it's true--and I stake my life on it!--it's available for all who believe.   In other words, He is who He says He is and...He is able to keep you from falling.
Amen.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

In Solomon's shoes

The first time I read the story of Solomon, I was a little girl. Sitting in my grandparents' garage-converted, wood-paneled family room, I sat in a rocking chair covered with nubby fabric with an aqua colored Bible story book open to the pages of the two women who came to King Solomon practically tearing the arms off a new-born baby, each adamant that the baby was hers.  The king's solution first shocked me in horror then amazed me in wisdom.  That he would be so sly as to suggest slicing a baby in half to discover the real mother.  Years later, when I was reading an actual Bible, rather than the reader's digest children's storybook version, I discovered that Solomon's extra dose of wisdom had come in direct response to God telling Solomon in a dream to ask Him for whatever he would and it would be given.  Solomon, wise man that he was, asked for wisdom.   (See 1 Kings 3)

I don't know about you, but I've often thought of what I'd ask God for if He came to me in a dream and told me to ask for something.  For the longest time, I'd simply say, "Give me faith, Lord."  Then I discovered (and claimed as my own) Exodus 33:13 which says, "If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you."

But today I came across these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose words I've been immersed in of late.  After reading the biography about him, I just couldn't help myself, I had to go back to the primary sources--Bonhoeffer's actual words.  So in the mornings this Advent, I've been slowly reading Cost of Discipleship, with a heavy dose of Letters and Papers from Prison.  This quote comes from toward the end of his long prison stay in Tegel, the military prison in Berlin, just after the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler's life in the summer of 1944, which was the beginning of the end of the resistance.  It's a long quote, but well worth the reading (pages 369-370 in my copy).  It's been in my brain all day until I just can't resist sharing them.  They're that good...

"I remember a conversation that I had in America thirteen years ago with a young French pastor.  We were talking about what we wanted to do with our lives.  We were asking ourselves quite simply what we wanted to do with our lives.  He said that he would like to become a saint (and I do think it's quite likely that he did become one).  At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith.  For a long time I didn't realize the depth of the contrast.  I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like it...
I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.  One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous man, a sick man or a healthy man.  By this worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world--watching with Christ at Gethsemane.  That, I think, is faith; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian (see Jeremiah 45).  How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God's sufferings through a life of this kind?"

I guess it's like my mother always said, "Be careful what you ask for."  But...even with this profound understanding of what it must come to that Bonhoeffer brings me, I continue to ask it.  For me, it's always about faith.  Especially the faith that makes me like Him--even if it has suffering in it.

 What would you ask Him if you were in Solomon's shoes?

Monday, December 6, 2010

Empty nets?

After her concert Saturday night, we visited with a few of SK's good buddies (mostly guys she's been singing and hanging out with for years!), then took her and her housemate ML out for dessert.  ML was along on the trip to help the tour director with all things organizational.  It was fun to sit at the Cheesecake Factory and listen to these young women talk about their lives.   As the conversation wound around through fashion (new boots bought online for a brilliant price!) to a party they were missing (one with a black and white theme, and the costume part was what they actually missed most!), then, as these things do, the topic turned to the future.  To their plans in the immediate future and after graduation (ML is about half a year behind SK in school).

At the moment both young women are about to apply for various internships around the country.  SK has eleven in mind to apply for, most of which have deadlines in the spring.  Her adviser has been very encouraging to SK, is certain the most difficult thing for her will be when she has to decide between the several who offer her positions.  ML, on the other hand, spoke to one of her professors about a couple of internships she was interested in and the professor told her not to even bother applying, because she hadn't a chance of getting them.  "Everyone wants those," this professor told her. It was a bit of a slap in the face to ML, that was clear.  And as she talked I thought of something that had been marinating in my brain for a while.

When the disciples returned to their boats after the resurrection, the fish weren't biting.  Nothing seemed to be going their way.  But Jesus (though they didn't recognize Him) said, "Cast your nets."  "The fish aren't biting," the disciples argued.  As we are prone to do.  Argue with the one who actually knows a thing or two about what's true, rather than what appears true.  We tell Him those dang nets are empty.  Or there aren't any jobs.  I won't get into that college.  I'm not good enough.  I can't do that.  They won't hire me.   "Cast your nets," Jesus says.  On one hand is everything the world says, and on the other is what Jesus says.  What are we going to believe?

We know what happened next. Those silly, recalcitrant disciples who'd returned to their boats EVEN AFTER THEY'D SEEN THE RISEN CHRIST managed to stop paying attention to what they saw and do what the Man said.  They cast their nets and pulled in so many fish that John even in his nineties when he wrote about it could remember the exact astonishing net-ripping number (153).

So I said to SK and ML Saturday night.  Cast your nets, women.  Don't let the world around you tell you what you can and can't do.  Let Christ.  Listen to Him.  If He's urging you to apply for some job or internship or school, do it.  And--and this is an essential way in which He speaks to us--listen to those wise ones He has placed in your life.  The wise ones who also listen to Him.  

When I said these things to the girls young women across the table from us Saturday night, SK said, "Is that going to be a blog post, Mama?"  "I suppose it just might," I answered.
And so it is.  Just for her.  And ML and all their friends who are in the same boat these days!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Hymns

Beve and I went to the big city last night where we met some friends for dinner at a lovely noodle house (I love curry, have I ever mentioned that?) then went to SK's Christmas concert.  Up in our little city we have Christmas think we do 'festive' pretty well.  But there were so many lights on the streets of the city (well, the city across the lake from the Emerald City) that when I looked out the window of the restaurant at 6 PM (well after sunset), it was so bright I was sure the sun was shining.  We had a wonderful dinner with our friends, great food and great conversation. At one point Beve asked how I liked my meal but I'd been so busy talking I hadn't taken a bite yet.  It's just possible I like to talk more than I like to eat.  It's also possible that with the current state of my life, I downright starved for conversation with friends.

Then we enjoyed SK's last Christmas concert as part of the Whitworth choirs.  Sigh.  I loved it.  Spectacular music, some pieces some so sublime they made me catch my breath.  There was one small bridge piece at the end that was like an orchestra of strings warming up.  Feathery sounds.  Amazing. 

The congregation always sings a a few pieces with the choirs, and last night, as we sang "Oh Come All Ye Faithful," I thought of my mother. My mother. Life has moved at such a breakneck pace this fall that my thoughts of her have been fleeting.  I'm too caught up in dealing with the living.  Racing from one doctor's appointment to the next.  Handling the daily care for Grampie and Thyrza.  And for J as he slowly recovers from what has to be the most gnarly surgery we've ever had the misfortune of being a part of (poor guy!).  Trying to keep a whole lot of balls in the air when I never even learned to juggle.  Whatever I thought grieving for Mom would be like, I didn't think it would take such a back seat to all these living stresses.

So last night I thought of Mom. Mom loved Christmas, but she also loved hymns.  For years, Mom taught a Bible study at the retirement community where she eventually lived based on hymns.  She'd pick out a hymn, like "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross", research its history (written by Isaac Watts, first published in 1707), then study the scripture contained within the hymn.  Needless to say, Mom knew and loved hymns.  Taught us to know and love them too.  My favorite hymn is "And Can It Be," by Charles Wesley, because it carries such a supreme sense of awe in it that Christ actually died for each of us. Every time I ever sang it as a youth (which wasn't often since I grew up in Christ), I was struck again with the theological implications of what He did--"Died He for me who caused His pain.  For me who Him to death pursued? Amazing Love, how can it be that YOU my God shouldst die for me."  And I feel like weeping this moment to sing it as I write.

Anyway, last night we sang "O Come All Ye Faithful." A Christmas standard, if there ever was one.  I cut my teeth on these carols.  Most of us did.  Know them so well I don't need the words to any of them, unless, unexpectedly, someone throws in a verse we've never heard before.  It happens.  Did last night with this carol.  But by the time a person's had 50+ Christmases, even almost 40 of them as a believer, it's easy to simply sing the words without thinking about them.  We even belt them out because they're like old friends each December. That might be what I was doing last night when the last verse caught me up of "O Come All Ye Faithful" reached up and grabbed me around the throat.  It's Philippians 2 and John 1 all wrapped up in one mighty verse that did it. "Ye Lord, we greet Thee, born this happy morning, Jesus to Thee be all glory given.  Word of the Father now in flesh appearing. O Come let us adore Him..."

'Yes, Lord, we welcome you. Born this most blessed and glorious moment so that even the day is forever happy.'  So happy, so glorious that every knee shall bow and every tongue confess Your name--Jesus Christ is Lord--happy.  And why?  WHY?  Because the very Word of the Father is now a human being.  The visible image of the invisible God, Colossians calls Jesus.  The visible and the audible and the oral WORD of God.  God spoke all creation into being including us.  Then, because our lives depended on it (The very lives He had created), He spoke Himself into becoming one of us as well.  Word of our Father, now in flesh appearing.
Yes, come let us adore Him.

Friday, December 3, 2010

10-40

I'm sitting in my living room, drinking an eggnog latte, which E brought me this morning.  She's reading a book on the couch with a puppy in her lap and one (dressed in a t-shirt--due to an infection the skin between his shoulder blades which he just won't leave alone!) sleeping next to them.  In short, we're all very comfortable.  We have everything we need, plenty we want, and could stand to get rid of enough to feed and clothe an entire family for a very long time.  I'm more than a little aware of this as I begin this post. That is, I'm absolutely aware of the contradictions between what I write and how I live, admit them straight out.  I am one of the privileged rich in this world, when it comes right down to it.  And if you are reading this blog on your own computer, or even if you can afford to sip a coffee drink in some other establishment and use a public computer, you're wealthy.  Do you have more than a single pair of pants, and actually own shoes, for crying out loud?  You've got money, people.

So we're all rich.  Let's start with that premise.  OK?  Because today I'm thinking about the poorest of the poor.  The 90% at the other end who live in what is a single band in the eastern hemisphere.  This is called the 10-40 window for the latitudinal lines 10 degrees south and 40 degrees north of the equator that mark the window in a somewhat fluid way (meaning some countries, like Indonesia, aren't actually within those boundaries but fit every other criteria of the window).  The 10-40 window, a term first coined by a missionary in the early 90s, has three basic elements: 1. A large percentage of the world's population lives within it. Though some estimate only 2/3s of the population, other sites I read today suggested 90% of the world lives within those latitudes.  2. These countries tend to have extreme poverty and with it, low quality of life.  Given the geography across much of this band--littered with deserts and heat, and not enough clean water to offset this terrain--this isn't surprising. But it is sad. 3. This band is largely non-Christian and much of it can even be considered hostile to Christianity.  It is Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Animist, Jewish or atheist, and many governments are opposed to Christian work of any kind, formal or informal, which makes it difficult to share the gospel.

The 10-40 window, however, is exactly where God made a covenant with Abraham, renewed that covenant with Israel.  He spoke to Moses in a burning bush that didn't turn to ash and moved His chosen people around a pane of that 10-40 window for 40 years before settling them in another pane of that broad, unforgiving section of this earth.  And, finally, of course, after an on-again, off-again relationship with His chosen people (where He was always the faithful One and they were always flirting (if not more!) with other gods), He finally put on His best suit and showed up in the flesh to claim His beloved once and for all. Right where they lived with all their rules and regulations by then.  Knowing all the while that even this would come to nothing.  But He also knew the covert operation going on beneath His human clothing.  He knew the very human flesh He'd put on was made to die for His beloved.  Right there in the backwater, poorest place on earth.

The 10-40 window.  Where everything that ever mattered in all of history happened. The poorest and most outcast of the world live there and that's exactly what God intended.  For us to get it. Jesus meant it when He told the parable of the great banquet about the rich and well-dressed refusing to come in.  He knew that it was the poor and lost who He'd come to.  Because we all are.  No matter how we live, no matter how much we have, we have NOTHING without Christ.  NOTHING.  If you think otherwise, you have entirely missed the boat.  I'm not kidding.   So, though it may be difficult to share the gospel in such places, it is not impossible. And we have friends who have taken it on, in small and large ways.  Jesus says that when we see the good works of others, we will glorify Him.  And it's true.  On behalf of the long journeys, hard beds, grit in their faces and sand in their eyes, because they sacrifices comfort and ease and their coffee and ESPN, and because they left family and friends to follow Christ to the 10-40 window, and minister to His beloved poorest of the poor, I glorify God for their good works.  It was hard and He knows it.   But it has been good.
Our friends have been centered in Africa:
Ethiopia (actually, two different sets of friends from two completely different parts of our lives who are both working with orphans there.  There are more orphans in this country than any other on earth)  Mark, and Kristi B
Senegal--John and Kris
Sudan--Bryan (who lives permanently there)
Then, south of the window, but also on the most impoverished continent:
Kenya--Logan and Elizabeth
Tanzania--Ruth and Alan
Zimbabwe--Pardon (ok, he's our foster child, but you can pray for him too!)
South Africa--Jay.  The Whitworth Jan. Term class

Not all of us are called to go.  However, all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ are responsible for the poor among us.  And for orphans, especially.  As we keep vigil through these weeks before Christmas, will you pray with me for the poor who are among us.  The poor in the 10-40 window, and those elsewhere in the world.  And will you pray for those in the field who work among them, live as Christ among them, to be light in their darkness of poverty and salt to cleanse, preserve and season their lives.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Pregnant

One of the interesting things about Advent is that we start with the story of Mary, or perhaps Elisabeth, move to Joseph, then by the time Christmas comes around, are in Bethlehem in some barn or cave or other kind of enclosure where a baby is born among animals.  Every year it's as if we live through the fastest pregnancy on record, like one of those "I didn't know I was pregnant" reality shows on TV where some woman was camping and accidentally had her baby in an outhouse in the wilderness. When I was a seventh grader, a woman friend of our parents went to the doctor one day with indigestion and came home seven months pregnant.  A few weeks later my parents were informed that the adoption agency had a baby boy for us, and we could pick him up in ONE WEEK.  My mother lost a whole clump of hair that week, trying to get everything ready for a baby, who became our brother Andrew.  However, having been upfront and intimate with three pregnancies, I can tell you such things are the exception rather than the rule.

No, pregnancies take a very long time.  And, considering that the woman in this particular case was informed of it at the exact moment that conception happened, we can assume this pregnancy took nine months.  I mean, if God went to all the trouble to Incarnate Himself as a human baby, He certainly wasn't about to shortcut the process.  So nine months. Forty weeks Mary carried God in her womb.  Interesting, perhaps one week for every year the Israelites wandered in the desert. And while that baby was being built in the secret place, as Psalm 139 says, Mary's body was also changing to accommodate.  Perhaps for the first few days after her conversation with Gabriel, she wandered around in a daze, uncertain of what had happened.  But she knew before anyone else that what Gabriel had told her would, had happened.  Her body was changing.

As I said, nine months is a long time.  The mountain-top experience of Gabriel's appearance, her hymn of praise, and the first moments, gave way to weeks and months.  People distrusting her story.  Her parents, maybe.  We know for certain that Joseph didn't believe her.  The other day Jonathan and I had a conversation about the difference in the faith of Mary and Joseph in those first pregnant days.  Mary knew--absolutely knew--that she was a virgin.  She knew that the Angel of the Lord had come to her and told her that she'd bear God's Son.  Joseph?  He had no such knowledge.  Not in the beginning.   Then he fell asleep and God spoke to him in a dream.  Confirming Mary's story.  "Don't be afraid to take Mary for your wife."

It takes God to speak in order for us to believe.  This was true for Mary and true for Joseph.  We spend a lot of our lives trying to figure things out.  Making plans, tallying up pros and cons, using our brains to reason out the best decision. But if we've ever answered the call of Jesus to follow Him, we get it.  He calls, we answer. And I think we forget this.  We aren't willing to wait the length of a pregnancy for Him to appear if it takes that long.  But if the story is true, if a young girl who had never been touched, became pregnant with God Himself, then our faith is true.  Either it is or it isn't.  And if you believe it, you have to be willing to live like you mean it.  That is, when you're pregnant with a dilemma--when you're waiting for the right answer for your life--let Him be born before you move.  That is, ask Him to speak.  And trust that He will do what He has always done.  He speaks to His followers as they wait for Him.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Darkness

Where to start?
Advent.  The general definition of this word is arrival, but to Christians at least since the middle ages, it refers to the impending arrival of the Christ child. That is, waiting.  For those of us in the northern parts of the northern hemisphere that waiting is associated with more cold dark nights than bright, sunny days,which somehow seems appropriate to me.  Of course it would, having only lived at this latitude most of my days.  The one advent I spent in close proximity to the equator, in New Delhi, my flip-flops and short-sleeves created a disconnect to my ability to settle down and wait for the birth of Jesus--though to be completely candid, that inability to settle might have also had more than to do with the romance God was orchestrating between a certain legal giant and me.

For the most part, though, there's something about waiting that makes me think of night. Hours stretch post-midnight, I'm certain they do.  All the poets agree about this, that the hours seem longer and the dark grows darker, just before the dawn.  So it seems absolutely appropriate that each year we (in the cold north winter, as the hymn goes) wait for Christmas during the shortest days of the year.  Our niece in Finland, who will be with us for Christmas, wrote about the Finnish darkness the other day.  She was glad to wake up to the first snow of the year, because the white of the snow lightens the unmitigated darkness, in a place where the sun barely rears its head this time of year.  I have walked enough snow-covered streets, even in post-midnight hours, to understand how even the sky can lighten when snow falls. But the fact is, the world is dark in December.  Dark and hibernating at best, and dead as a doornail (as Dickens would say) at worst.

Yet this is exactly the best place to start.  Our Christ-vigil, I mean.  Our Advent waiting.  We have to start with the truth that the world and everything in it is dark and in the longest hours before dawn where there is only the faintest glimmer of hope and not a whit of light.  As it was in the world all the centuries when a Messiah was promised but didn't appear.  The prophecies kept coming--in the 8th century BC, the 6th, the 5th, and still no light dawned.  To us all that Old Testament time might seem condensed, but it stretched backwards from Jesus almost 4000 years.  That's a whole, whole, whole lot of darkness.  Not only that, but between the last book (chronologically)in the Old Testament (Nehemiah) and Jesus' birth was about 400 years.  We have some apocryphal literature during those 400 years, but in a way I think we can look at that period as the post-midnight hours, when everything seemed dark and God Himself seemed to have grown silent.  The people living and working and struggling to make sense of life had no idea when anything would change.  If you ask me, that's a lot of darkness.  Years and years and years of it.  Post-midnight, time-stretched darkness.

In fact, Mary herself had no idea that dawn was breaking when she went out for her walk, or whatever it was she was doing when the Angel of the Lord confronted her with Incarnation.  Up until the very moment when God broke through the darkness and said, "You have been chosen to bear a Son and call Him Immanuel," and Mary said, "Be it unto me..." until that very instant it was dark.  And then it was light.  Because He brings Light.  He is Light.  And that Light, which we wait for, is and will be the Light of the World.

So let's start here in darkness and wait for His light to break over us.  Wait, wait, wait.  He will come.

Monday, November 29, 2010

What it means (wow, that's loaded, huh?)

I've been thinking a lot about fellowship lately.  A big meal around a table with family and friends, such as American Thanksgiving leads one to consider this word.  Food and fellowship go hand in hand to American Christians, I think.  But the fellowship Paul writes of, the Koinonia of the New Testament, is more important than potlucks and cookie exchanges or even holiday dinners where everyone tries to be on their best behavior.  Fellowship, New Testament-style, is less about what people do together than how they treat each other in the daily living they do together.  In other words, it's about how we live together as the people of God--in families, in various church communities, and as Disciples of Jesus Christ in this world we still inhabit.

I've been thinking about this not merely because we just had Thanksgiving, but because recently I've had occasion to listen to people whose most immediately community--ie, their family--had become a place of pain and rejection.  Of course, we should never be surprised at the things non-Christians do to one another...but in at least one of these situations, I'm talking about a Christian family.  These many conversations have made me consider what we are called to in our most intimate relationships.  And that, of course, leads me to the sentence I have written here a dozen times: We are called to walk/live/act in a manner worthy of the gospel.

But once I've written that sentence, what exactly am I saying?  Paul, fortunately, is given to expanding ideas.  He never likes leaving his flock wondering what he means.  So after charging the Philippians to live lives worthy of the gospel, he goes on to explain what this means.  Chapter 2 begins with the assumption that the readers of this epistle are disciples, are people who have committed their lives to following His call and wanting to be like Him.  This is no great assumption for Paul, since he knew well the people who populated the church at Philippi.  However, I sometimes wonder if we can make the same assumption about all those who populate our churches today.  Being a disciple of Jesus Christ isn't a matter of sitting in the pews and joining some committees.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, "When God calls a man (or woman), He bids him come die."  Answering His call means giving over our lives, lock, stock and barrell.  Holding nothing back.

  • But maybe I'm getting ahead of myself here.  Paul says it in Philippians 2 far better than I can, and what he's talking about in the first half of the chapter is how we are to live together so we can have the same unity between us that we have with Christ.  He suggests in his never subtle way that if we're united with Christ (which is the basic reality of salvation) certain things flow from that foundation: comfort from His love, common sharing in the Spirit, tenderness and compassion.  And if these things flow from us, fellowship follows.  How? By...

  •  being like-minded-- meaning a unity of mind
  • having the same love--meaning a unity of heart
  • being one in spirit and mind--meaning a unity of spirit and again, of mind
  • Doing nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit
  • in humility value others above yourselves
  • not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others
All these things motivate them to unity, or Fellowship.  The real Fellowship.

Finally (although this isn't at all finally but primary!), though, Paul gets down to what it really takes to live in a manner worthy of Christ, to have unity, to live in Fellowship, and that is: "To have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had..."  Christians are to have the attitude toward each other that Jesus had while He was on earth-- the heart, spirit and mind that made Him not merely serve but to give His life as a ransom for us all. Philippians 2: 5-11 is what I'm talking about.  This is called the Christ Hymn, and in fact was very likely an early Christian Hymn.  It's a picture into the world of the early Church between the events of the gospels and the epistles, and the content is profound.  A concise summation of Jesus Christ's Incarnation.

Here's my point.  It's possible that, like Paul in prison writing the letter to the Philippians, we live with people openly hostile to the gospel.  It's also possible that we live with people who claim to know Christ, but whose actions and words do not always correspond with such a claim.  Unfortunately, Paul gives no caveats.  He does not say that only those who live in easy community are obliged to practice Philippians 2 attitudes.  I might wish otherwise, but...
"In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude Christ Jesus had:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not count equality with God something to be used to His own advantage;
rather, He made Himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant;
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a human being,
He humbled Himself
by becoming obedient to death--
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place
and gave Him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father."

Every time I ever hear these words read in church, I feel the need to stand or kneel (or both at once, if that was even possible).  Tears flow and my throat chokes up.  Even tonight as I wrote them, I feel it. But when that day comes?  That 'Name above all name' day comes?  I think there will be kneeling, but I'm sure there will also be singing and crying and...oh, for that great day.

Until then, where-ever you are, in whatever situation you find yourself, this is what it means to live in a manner worthy of the gospel.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Exactly the same

Whew...we did it.  We cooked like demons angels, set a beautiful table and ate our way through the afternoon and evening.  Now, the day after, we still have enough to feed an army.  But, thankfully, we're up to the task.  And can I just say--Pumpkin Bread Pudding?  WOW!  E and I watched Bobby Flay make it on a Food Network Throwdown last week and decided we'd give it a go.  New favorite dessert of all time.  OF ALL TIME! 

Lots of conversation in the last couple of days with Beve's brother and sister-in-law, much of it revolving around Grampie, of course.  I took him in for a re-check of his re-attached retina Wednesday and we were deeply disheartened to discover that new tears have developed in the retina.  So early Saturday morning another surgery will be performed down in Seattle, and the arduous recovery starts all over again.  I felt sick to my stomach Wednesday afternoon, thinking of him having to go through it all again.  Worrying that he won't be anymore successful in complying with the protocol than he was this time.  Beve's brother (oh, so helpfully!) suggested we get someone to watch him 24-7 this time.  When we told him that had been in place since the first surgery, he said, "Well, you have to get someone else to just sit there every second--not even help Thyrza, then."  I don't mean to sound catty, but it's easy for him to say as he drive back across the state.  Easy and unrealistic, considering Thyrza is actually part of the compote of needs in the equation.  Sigh.

And we had some conversations that tend to come up when this family gets together.  Beve's brother thinks apocalyptically.  These days he's quite certain Armageddon is almost here, and that we must be ready.  He cornered Beve the other night and told him what we need to do--own our home outright, be debt-free-- to prepare for the return of Christ.  As we prepared for bed that night, Beve told me about this conversation.  I observed that it was probably good that I hadn't been in the room when this conversation had taken place, because I know exactly what I would have said.  What we need to do is "Live lives worthy of the gospel."  1 Thessalonians 4 says exactly this.  Paul (and all of the apostles) thought that Christ's return was imminent. And he counseled the Thessalonians to live in ways that pleased God, so that whether it came soon (as he believed) or didn't, we would live together with Him.  Pleasing Him.  Becoming more like Him, growing up into Little Christs. 

Every generation of Christians has believed that the day of His return would be in their lifetimes.  And, of course, some generation will be right.  But it seems to me that if a person has to change a great deal of his or her life in order to be 'ready' for that return, something is very wrong with that person's life.  Perhaps (hmmm, dare I say likely) such a person is not living as a little Christ today.  Christ as fire-insurance and Christ as end-of-the-world insurance are equally flawed motivations for clinging to Christ.  Living with Him, allowing Him to shape the lives we live today--on this earth as it is--is so much bigger than two motivations.  If He isn't changing you this day, changing you as you sit down at tables and eat with them, talk with them.  If He isn't breathing through you as you interact with co-workers and with your children, then perhaps the Gospel isn't being lived out in you.

The good news is that it can be.  Today.  Not as down-payment for tomorrow, but starting right now, this day.  When the Word says, "This is the day that the Lord has made," it also means that His Kingdom is here and now.  Here.  Not at some point in the future when the Incarnate one comes in Glory (and yes, I do look for that day--whether alive or asleep--with great hope!), but now with the Holy Spirit.  Who is exactly the same as the Incarnate one.  Do you get that?  He is here.  He is here and He is not silent. Live as if you believe it. Then, whatever happens, it really doesn't matter.

Phew, that was quite the rant.  Happy fat Friday. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Relative pain

It's freezing outside.  The sky's been winter white all day and the snow that fell Friday is crunchy underfoot. And here in the usually merely rainy Pacific Northwest, the roadways are full of people who don't have a blasted idea of how to drive in such conditions.  Some drive at a snail's pace.  Others speed along and wind up in ditches before before they've gone a single mile. By the end of the winter, they'll do well enough but today it was ugly out there.  As we sit in our family room this evening, bundled up against the drafts (I'm pretty sure I can see my breath...we really should turn up the thermostat at least for a while in this house!), I can hear the wind whipping around the carport.  Beve went over to the retirement complex where the power has gone out twice today.  When he got there, they had candles lit all over their over-stuffed apartment.  So he raced out to buy them a lantern.  The idea of Grampie and Thyrza at large in the world with a pile of candles is worrisome indeed.  I just listened to a message from Grampie (on his cell-phone). He called to say they got the flowers for Thanksgiving, "by way of Obama," he said.  I haven't the faintest idea of what that means.

I get to feeling at times that we have a lot on our plates.  What with Grampie and Thyrza, and their needs.  J and his daily trips to the doctor.  This morning I noticed what looked like a bit of strawberry jam between Jackson's shoulder blades, but when I tried to wipe it off, noticed it was a large raw, red welt.  About two seconds after I discovered that, sister, RE, called, and boy, did she get an earful.  "Now the dog?" On top of everything else, now we have to take the dang dog to the vet.

But this afternoon I dove back into the Bonhoeffer biography I've been reading.  And had one of those moments just how ridiculous I've been.  Suffering?  Me?  Not even close.  I'm a happily-married, well-educated, middle-class woman with three great kids in a country where I am free to worship, believe, speak, act as I choose.  Free to be a citizen of heaven first, last and always, with no reprisal.  And I take this for granted.  We all do. That we can join churches, leave them, form our own or not--this, too, is a freedom we take for granted.  Our government isn't telling us what we must believe.  And through-out history, starting with the first disciples, governments have always tried to do that very thing.  In fact, many rulers (from caesars to hitlers) have turned on its head the words of Jesus, and wanted for themselves the adulation which belongs only to Him.  And when that has happened--time after time after time--there is always a faithful remnant, the chosen few, who stand up against it, who say, "I will not bow to anyone but God."  These are the ones God considers worthy to suffer for His name.  And it is a worthiness I haven't the faintest idea about in my plush, easy life where belief is so easy.

Paul knows, though.  "I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Philippians 1: 20-21

I don't know that I could honestly write such words from within a prison.  I kind of think I'd be screaming, "GET ME OUT OF HERE!!!!!"  These words of Paul, however, are haunting...in the best possible sense. Though I pray I'm never faced with prison, I can say--with alacrity!--when I consider the relatively small (in comparison, anyway) pain I live with, I pray "that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body."  And yes, whether by life or by death.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

An ancient celebration

I've been delinquent in posting here of late.  Trying to catch up with projects that must be completed before Christmas between trips to various medical facilities.  Just when I thought I'd built up plenty of muscles lifting walkers in and out of the back of my car, 'we' graduated to a wheelchair, which I have to tell you, is a whole new ballgame.  At least the dinosaur we used this last week was.  Fortunately, a sleek new model was ordered and quickly arrived in time to keep me from too much chiropractics.

Every day, J and I make the trek across town in order for him to get the dressing on his seriously deep and wide incision on his lower back repacked and dressed.  Because my son is who he is and I am who I am, our conversations are rarely about mundane matters.  One days he asked me if it bothers me that the most important Christian holidays were set to correspond with already celebrated pagan ones.  "No," I told him.  The calendar dates of our holidays is not what is important about them.  That Jesus might not have been born on December 25th doesn't bother me at all, though the tradition that this was His birthday is very ancient.  VERY.   Second century ancient even.  And considering that the canon of the New Testament as we know it also comes from the second century, I think we're fine.  In fact, it's breath-taking to consider that no matter how much the world has shifted and changed in the last two millenium, every December Christians the world over lay down their work, lift up their voices and worship the Incarnate One who came to this planet and lived out His life among us, for the singular purpose of saving our lives.  Lean in a minute and listen.  All those carols we sing?  They've been sung in many ways (in many tongues) through out His church all through-out its history.  If that doesn't make you want to fall on your knees, you're made of sterner stuff than I am. The Church.  The Holy Catholic Church, in the true sense of the word.  Not denominations, not protestant and catholic, not sect and community, just the Church.  The whole, whole Holy Body of Believers who call Jesus Christ Lord, and worship Him.  Especially on Christmas. 

Yes, especially on Christmas.  It doesn't matter who we are, He came for us all.  Come to think of it, especially the unchurched.