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 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. 

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Shoes in a pot

I've been thinking a lot about SK lately...squeezed in between thinking about the elders, J and all the medical issues we face on a daily basis.  SK and many of her friends are a little over a semester away from being out in the 'real' world, and a whole lot of them haven't any more than their dreams, passions, and the faintest idea of where those things will take them.  It's not a very comfortable place to be.  Downright scary, if they're honest about it.

A few days ago I was looking through old pictures and came across a whole bunch of her with her close friend, MC.  MC, a clever, funny, talented young woman has been part of SK's life since they were squirrelly middle-schoolers going to youth group retreats, racing through the church and giving fits to their poor leaders who were just trying to teach them about Jesus.  Somewhere along the way, these girls became very good friends, enough that when MC and her dad went to Mexico for a family reunion one February, they invited SK along as their guest.

This trip was only one of about six trips to Mexico these girls took during their high school years.  A summer didn't pass that they didn't pack their bags and their hearts and travel south of the border to share Jesus with the children of Uruapan, Mexico.  And though they'd grown up since their middle school years, they still managed to be somewhat squirrelly, and I know for a fact that streaking was one of their yearly rituals.  As was the cake they shared as they drove out of Ensenada toward the border.  Don't ask me why, but somehow that first mission trip, they bought a cake together, realized they had no utensils and simply dove into it with their hands and faces as they traveled back toward the old US of A.  Here's a photo to prove it:

By the happy co-incidence that is no co-incidence at all but God's perfect plan, these girls ended up at the same university.  MC, a year behind SK in school, is an over-achiever so will graduate next May with SK.  And though her future is already mapped out to a certain extent (as I said, she's an over-achiever!), there's still plenty for each of these old friends to worry and wonder and hope and pray about in these last months of college.  Where will they end up?  How will God take care of all the details?  Does He really know and care and have everything firmly in hand for them?  These are questions most college seniors ask.  Shoot, these are questions we ask at every age, whenever something new looms before us and we have to trust Him completely.  
These pictures of SK and MC in Mexico spurred a very specific memory of that time that might just help.  It's one they'll remember, I'm sure.  But here it is:  The first year we went to Uruapan, our very large, multi-generational mission team, we had asked our church to donate clothing for the orphans we'd be visiting when we got to the Ensenada area.  We gathered many large boxes of clothing and, along with the construction equipment, medical supplies, kitchen stuff we needed, we sent them in a large trailer with the man in charge of the mission property where we would stay.  Darrell Graham arranged the construction jobs, set up the medical work, helped us with the VBS.  He was the liason with all things Mexico, so to speak.  And had taken such boxes of clothing over the border many, many times before.  However, that summer when he got to the border at Tijuana, the border guards told him, "NO!"  Resoundingly.  They did not want those used clothes coming into their country. So Darrell rented a storage unit and left all the clothing.

We got down to the mission, unloaded all of our equipment, including the giant pot Beve and I had brought from our own kitchen. (Just so you know, this property sits on a hill overlooking a valley that always making me think of Israel, complete with olive trees.  The view is spectacular, especially at the edges of the day, and the cacti are abundant and flower in glorious array all over the front of the veranda, and I have to say, those first moments there were like stepping into paradise! Really) Anyway, that pot sat in the back hallway of the mission for several days.  And during those days we got to know the caretaker of the property, a woman named Angela, a single mom who only got paid when people stayed there.  She has two children a daughter and small son, both of whom were wearing out their clothes.  In fact, her son's shoes were so small, she'd cut the ends off of them so he could wear them longer.  About the third day at the mission, we needed the pot for something, so I went and found it and opened it up.  And inside were a single pair of children's shoes.  Never worn.  And let me tell you--they did NOT come from our house!  Frankly, none of us had the faintest idea where they'd come from. But--and you probably know where this is going--those shoes were the perfect size for Chris, Angela's son.  I mean, just right so he had room to grow into them through the year, like a child's shoes should.  It was AMAZING!  When he put them on, Chris started dancing, Angela was clapping and I felt like crying.  What a holy, holy moment.  I think it forged something between Angela and me that has lasted, even though we haven't seen each other many times since.  We both recognized that God had moved, that He had worked on behalf of one very small boy.

Those shoes in that pot.  God kept those shoes in that pot exactly for that small boy who absolutely needed them.  This is the God who had brought us to that place.  A God who can put and keep shoes in a pot.  When you wonder if God is paying attention to your small concerns, if you aren't quite sure whether He is really in charge of your life, there's always this image of shoes in a pot.  I still don't know how they got there.  I don't suppose I'll ever know.  But I do.  The God who cares about every detail of our needs put them there.

So, SK, MC and all the rest of you who are graduating or moving on, or have big decisions ahead of you, every detail of your needs.  Shoes in the pot, just the right size.  Whatever it is you need Him to do, it isn't too small for Him, and you aren't too insignificant.  He specializes in things exactly your size.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

In a cell

After I took J to the doctor to have his bandage changed--a daily exercise in torture for him right now--we went to Costco to pick up more meds at the pharmacy there. I'm not kidding, I should put all this on my resume and try to get a job as a nurse.  If only I actually liked such occupations.  Anyway, as is the way of things at these big box stores, we were told to come back in half an hour to pick up the perscription, so I headed to the books.  And by the time we walked out of there, I was carrying two rather juicy books I can hardly wait to sink my teeth into, books bought by my son, thank you very much.  A new biography about Dietrich Bonhoeffer and a book of writings by Nelson Mandela called Conversations With Myself.

It didn't strike me until I began Mandela's book that these men have much in common.  Their struggle against the unjust--read that as abhorrent--state, their personal integrity and uncommon valor in the face of great trial.  Yes, there are similarities to these men whose stories I was drawn to today.

And even more striking to me is the similarity to the man who wrote the bulk of the New Testament.  The letter to the Philippians, for example, is part of what are called, "The prison epistles', those letters that Paul wrote while imprisoned.  His being imprisoned when he wrote this letter is clear through-out --"whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel..." "As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ."  "And because of my chains..."  "...supposing they that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains." And these are just from chapter 1.
What isn't clear is where exactly that prison was.  Historically, Rome was the only location considered for the prison epistles, though Paul was imprisoned for at least two years in Caesarea earlier in his life, and in Ephesus. 

But what we know for certain is that Paul wrote this letter from within a prison.  "In chains."  And somehow, that makes this letter even more amazing.  Because this letter is a love letter.  Well, it's considered in scholarly circles a 'friendship' letter, but I find that anemic.  The thing is, most of Paul's letters were written because there was a problem in a church.  People were fighting about whether they should follow Paul or someone else, or they had taken a left turn away from the Gospel and were worshipping their old gods.  In fact, all those churches, the Corinthians, the Galatians, the Thessalonians--they sound a whole lot like our churches here and now.  God knew this going in.  He was way ahead (think Ecclesiates, where it says "there's nothing new under the sun.") so He knew you put a bunch of folks together, even re-generated ones, and you're going to have issues.  It will take work to keep the church one.

But every now and then, we simply need a love-letter.  We just need to know what it means to be loved by Him.  And we get this from the pen of a man who was in prison at the time.  Paul's words of love, and his understanding of his own apostle-ship and our discipleship come directly out of captivity.  Directly out of suffering.

I know I sometimes sound like a broken record when I talk about how intricately entwined suffering and discipleship are.  How important suffering IS to our lives as disciples.  I get this understanding from many places in scripture, but could make the argument from Philippians alone.  Captivity taught it to Paul and Paul has taught it to us.

And I think that those who are most pliant to the Spirit--like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, for example--always learn this lesson in those hardest of times, that, like Paul, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."
So let's sit in Paul's cell with him for a while and see what he has to say.  What God has to say through him.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Loosening my grip

The other day, in an effort to organize our lives, I actually began sorting books to give away.  This is a monumental task in my life, something I have always resisted as if it would do bodily harm to me to lose a single book I'd ever bought, or been given.  Even those ridiculous novels my mother foisted on me as Christmas gifts when she was just trying to fill out my quota.  And I'm telling you, since some of them are so silly I couldn't even bring myself to finish them, I'm not sure why I needed to have them on my shelves.  But I did, because I have this very strong 'need' to own books.  Particularly books I love.  If I check a book out from the library and love it, chances are, I'll put it on a list to buy before the year's over.  And if I buy a book, I somehow consider it mine.  I mean, in some strange way, that book feels incredibly personal, as if it actually belongs to me, was written primarily--only--for me.  If I'm honest, I'm always a little startled when someone mentions loving a book I've known, read and owned for a long time.  Even while I'm discussing it, I'm thinking, "But that's my book."

Selfish, huh?  And this selfishness extends to my gripping books, which line the walls in almost every room of our home.  I get all over Beve because he holds on to things, but I don't cull my books.  How fair is that?  Thus, with a heavy heart, I vowed to lose an entire bookcase this fall.  And let me tell you, it took some guts on my part.  To be candid, those books haven't quite made it to the Thrift Store yet, but the bookcase is gone, and I simply need to girth of my strong husband to lift them into my car.  The rest I will do.  I promise.

So last night, when I finished the pastoral epistles, which I've been reading lately, I turned my attention to Phillipians.  And as I began it, the thought came to me that this is the single book of the Bible that is most like how I feel about my favorite books, which I somehow consider (selfishly) mine.  It's the first book I ever memorized from start to finish, and the first of Paul's prayers that I co-opted to pray for people around me.  In so many ways, Phillippians became integrated into my life early in my Christian life so that the words in it are part of my ordinary vernacular. "It's only right for me to feel this way about you, because I have you in my heart."  I say this without always even recognizing that Paul said it first.  And, "live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."  And, "I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings..."  Well, the letter is chock-full of the most beautiful gems that have become a part of my heart. 
And the Christ hymn.  The glorious, glorious words of chapter 2. 

Here's the amazing thing about the Word of God, both in whole and in specific.  It's both for all of us and for each of us.  It's okay for me to feel these words are for me, because they are.  And it's exactly right for me to feel they were written with me in mind, because of course they were, as all of it was. Though Paul didn't know it, the Holy Spirit did.  And He knew it was written for you.  Whatever specific pages you return to again and again, whatever verses are written on your heart, your doorpost, your mirror, your life, He intended that.  They are yours. 

Anyway, because Philippians is mine, and I'm learning to share, I've been thinking that this might be a good time to share a little about why it means so much to me.  Go through it bit by bit for the next little while. My life is somewhat out of control right now, and there's nothing like digging into His word to relax my grip on worry. So it'll be good to loosen my grip and give 'my' book to you.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

A long haul

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.

I'm not really sure when we think about the times that try our souls that we really think of the mere act of going to doctors as trials.  But that was prior to the life I currently live.  And when I pledged to love Beve in sickness and in health, I didn't really think through what I was saying.  I didn't realize that it wouldn't simply mean his health or mine but also the sickness of extended family as well.  And that promise was easy enough on that lovely spring afternoon when Beve and I were young and strong and our parents (well, three out of four of them, anyway) were healthy.  We never guessed that we'd have this responsibility for his father, and a wife nowhere in the picture that day.  Beve is the youngest of the giants, after all, and his sister was an RN.

But life rarely goes the way we expect.  The earth tips on its axis, and when it came to it, of course we'd be the ones to care for them.  If Glo had been alive and healthy...well, I've thought this phrase a whole lot this last year but there's no end to that sentence.  She isn't.  And here we are.  Here I am.  Learning that my vow before God and that company when I dressed up in the fanciest dress I've ever worn also means this.  My commitment to Beve means I'm committed--full-on--to his family.  All the way in.

And it means I spend my days lifting walkers in and out of my car, walking at a snail's pace, sitting in doctor's offices, taking notes in a small notebook I carry in my purse (so that I can remind them later when they've forgotten what the doctor said).  It means I listen to complaints about each other, like when I called Thyrza Tuesday night from Grampie's hospital room to tell her he was okay, but too groggy to talk. "Fine," she said. "But when he is more alert, could you ask him where he put the prunes?"

As I said, I can't make this stuff up.

Thyrza turned 92 Thursday, which we celebrated with pizza and German Chocolate Cake at their apartment, taking turns reminding Grampie to keep his head down.  The thing is, we can't really do anything about the most glaring problem with each of them these days--their disintegrating memory.  And therefore, we must take more care to be merciful and kind to them.  But also, like parents with small children, firm and unwavering when they want to do things that are beyond them to do.  Thyrza told me the other day, "I'm a very independent person."  And I agreed, but inside I was thinking, 'But you aren't now. Except in your mind."  She can't even walk across a room without aid, let alone go anywhere without someone taking her.  In truth, they are absolutely dependent for almost everything.

On us.  On me.  Dependent on our good will, on Beve's strength and the kids' technological abilities, and on my memory and flexible schedule.  On Thyrza's daughter's financial care, and all of our emotional care.  And sometimes it wears me out--in every way a person can be worn out, physically, emotionally, spiritually.  I'm admitting this tonight, when I'd rather simply concentrate my cadre of energies on caring for my son.  Caring for one's child is the simplest thing in the world.  I think there's an invisible thread that remains when the cord gets cut at birth.  That's how connected I feel to these three human beings, no matter that they are grown adults, (so adult that the hospital staff didn't recognize us as important, and sent a social worker to ask J if he had someone to care for him at home).  Caring for them is like breathing for me, it's that instinctive.

Unfortunately, caring for Beve's parents isn't quite the same.  Not like breathing, though I love and respect them both. However, it's what I signed on for when I gave my life to Beve. I wouldn't change it, but there are moments when I think it might have been good to know--not just his life, not just his children's lives, but his parents, sister, brother, step-parent--all of those I was making a promise to as well.  But I think that if we want to love our spouse we must be willing to love his family--to love them in practice as well as word.  It's a long haul.  A lifelong haul.  For better or worse.  But somehow, I think it makes that whole two-becoming-one stronger. Truer.  More.

Saturday, November 13, 2010


I don't quite know what to write about at the end of such a week. I've spent too much time in hospitals, too much time on the phone, and much time dealing with things not going the way we expected. And far, far, far too little time in the quiet and solitude that is my strength.  Literally and figuratively, which reminds me, recently I've heard young people--on tv and in person--say, "It was literally killing me."  Literally?  By that they mean that a knife was being stabbed in their heart?  Or they were bleeding out all over the floor?  Not usually.  In fact, I'd say that almost 100% of those who use the word 'literally' in such a way aren't even close to dying.  Actually they mean figuratively or metaphorically.  But somehow, "I'm figuratively dying here" doesn't quite have the same punch, does it?  But I get sick--figuratively sick-to-death--of the imprecise use of language I hear.  The other day in one of the myriad doctor's offices I've spent my life in, a nurse said she was the 'office hand-holder.'  And  I asked, "How do you hold hands with an office?"  It's an old joke, and not a very good one, but I was tired (though it was only Monday and I didn't have a clue what the week would really bring).  But I think of these things.  I react to the television and grumble at the car radio.  Oh, don't get me started...

Anyway, I need some quiet, and my body needs it even more.  Because of the pain I carry constantly, sitting in straight-backed chairs in hospital waiting rooms is even more torture for me than most people, and there isn't a soul in the world who enjoys it.  And when I am stressed (especially as I was yesterday), it takes weeks for the pain to get back to level.  Half of this day I still felt the adrenalin of it all, but now that J is home, reclining on the couch, his color back to normal and his wit alive and kicking, I've settled down.  Let go of the iron control I had over myself all week.  Once I let go, I felt it.

What amazes me, though, is that--as usual--God gave me the strength I needed for the situation.  No more, but no less.  I couldn't leap tall buildings this week, but I could make more phone-calls with more urgency than I've ever made before.  Been more firm than I knew was in me.  When my son's life was on the line, I could even raise my voice on his behalf.  And though I've been known to leave the more messy duties with our kids to Beve, since he has an iron gut and I have a quick gag reflex, he wasn't there, and I didn't flinch.  Not even once.  It never crossed my mind.  I felt strong and able and willing.  And that, my friends, was Holy Spirit working, even though I barely had time to do more than breathe His name as I flew.  But then, He is Spirit, and He blows where He will, and He knew far more than I did what I needed in order to be capable in those scary moments.  And...while He was giving me that strength, He was keeping J calm.  J was nowhere close to being scared.  And that, I think, was also the presence of Someone else in the bathroom.

So today I feel the aftershocks.  But I can live with them, because J is across the room from me, healing.  He will get well.  And that, my friends, is good enough.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A bloody afternoon

Note to begin:  If you're squeamish, you might want to skip this one.

So here's the thing.  I'm a woman.  And as such, I've been well-acquainted with blood.  Yes, I said that, and meant it.  Though we don't talk about it in polite (read that to mean mixed because women together often get to this), I'm even used to seeing blood in the bathroom, especially in the toilet.  There were a few times I hoped for it, and many more I frankly loathed the sight.  And most women my age have lived between these two feelings. 

And I also link the final days of my father's life with blood in the bathroom.  The hemorrhage that took him, wrapped in a towel from the linen closet, into the car and to the hospital for the last time, began with some blood in the bathroom.  Blood that my niece SE kindly cleaned up after Mom drove him away.  So there is this association of blood on a bathroom floor for me.

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.

It was a scary afternoon,  a bloody scary afternoon.  It might not have scared someone with a different history, but I carry mine with me.  When the nurse told me to have J lie down right there on the bathroom floor while she was trying to find the doctor, I definitely thought of how Dad's story ended.  I know J's mind went the same place, because as I was trying to clean up some of the blood around him, he asked, "So Mom, do you know your thirty-nines?" which comes from something Dad asked me that last week.

Sitting by his hospital bed tonight as we waited for the doctor, Beve and J watched "Turner and Hooch" on TV, and I thought of the woman with the hemorrhage. The woman who lived with blood for twelve straight years.  Of course we all live with blood, but when it stays in its place, doing the job it's meant to do, we rarely think about it.  It's only when we somehow start losing blood that it becomes important.  And this woman's blood stubbornly refused to stay within the borders of its rightful place, do the job it was meant to do.  J bled for about 6 hours and that was plenty.  More than plenty.  That woman bled for 12 long years.  Can you imagine that?  Imagine living with the mess in those days--when she had to clean rags by hand and was considered unclean and had to live apart every single day such cleaning was necessary.  So for all those years, she not only bled, but was ostracized by her whole community.  And she was likely anemic.  I was anemic once for several unrelenting months and, at the worst of it, sometimes could hardly walk from one end of the house to the other.  Twelve years of that?

It seems to me that when that woman reached out her hand to touch Jesus, her need was on every level--physical, emotional, social-relational, and spiritual. So the power that went out from Jesus at her touch also wasn't merely to heal her physical need.  Of course.  And He knew it.  Comprehensive power is what she latched onto when she clutched at His cloak.

So as I sat by my son's bed, thinking of his deep physical wound, and knowing that there are others more hidden, like there are for all of us, I reached out for His cloak on my son's behalf.  And reached out to Him to heal my own deep wounds that, though they haven't left me bleeding on a bathroom floor, are deep enough.  He is able to keep me from falling, the Word says.  And, as my son lies in a hospital, his blood hopefully no longer flowing outside the boundaries of flesh, I ask Him to give me peace about my son.  He is able, I say in faith.  To do all this.  To heal the deep wounds, to keep me from falling and to give me peace.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Just wanting it right

We returned home from Seattle yesterday to this.  Yep, lovely new carpet waving like wheat across our floor.  E had noticed it Tuesday night, of course, but didn't want to worry us while we were so busy sitting around  worrying about Grampie.  The carpet looked perfect when it was finished, and I signed off on it after checking the seam and walking across it.  But just three hours later, 'amber waves of grain' high enough that E actually tripped over it when she left the house.  When I saw it, I whipped out my cell-phone like a gun from its holster, punched in the number for the decorator. I described it as waves, but she didn't quite believe me until she walked through the door.  Then it was like one of those home make-over shows, only her exclamations weren't of joy but dismay.

We measured the waves from every which way, tried to figure out what might have gone wrong (installer incompetence, for example? or am I just being catty?), then she left, vowing to have it fixed today.  However, someone farther up on the food chain called me back last night while I was checking in on Grampie, leaving a message that there was no way it could be fixed today.  And when I talked to this woman this morning, still using my polite, company voice, she carefully explained that their installers are all busy through the end of this week.  Now it's important to note that confrontation via phone is not an area of strength for me, so I erred on the side of grace.  Always do.  But we have a whole lot going on.  With more to come.  J's having another surgery tomorrow, making it a hat-trick in the last year, and this dang carpet is a safety issue.  Isn't it? 

So we took some photos, sent them off to our decorator so she could forward them on to the manager in charge of our 'case', in hopes that the visual will help them understand that we aren't merely finicky customers but have a legitimate concern. 

I've always struggled with how, as a Christian, I should express such concerns to the world. If someone cuts me steps in front of me in a check-out line or takes a parking place I was just about to pull into, I find it fairly simple to turn the other cheek. Such things as a space does not really belong to me, and does me no harm to give up for another person clearly bent on getting it.  But what about services done that haven't been done to my liking?  I suppose the operative word in that sentence is 'liking', actually.  I mean, if someone does something for us that isn't as expedient as we would hope, but the result exceeds our dreams, do we have a complaint?  We had landscaping done in front of our house in exactly this fashion.  It took about eight months longer than the contractor promised.  For months and months there was only a pile of dirt and rocks outside our door.  And it bothered us.  Bothered me much more than Beve, probably, since I was home with it all the time.  Now, though, we've had the finished product for years, and all those empty months have been condensed into nothing.  They don't matter in light of the beautiful slate patio we've enjoyed.  What lasted, I'm sorry to say, is my irritation with the man who did the work.  My inability to recommend him fully when others asked.  The work was good, the timing was lousy.  Is that fair for me to have said over and over? 

And then there's something like this carpet.  This waves-of-grain carpet that is really a safety hazard.  I've tripped over it twice in the last twenty-four hours.  We just expect floors to be flat, and walk accordingly.  And I'm worried that J will walk into this house tomorrow, trip and hurt himself right after his day surgery.  I want it fixed.  I have a right to expect it fixed, don't I?  Or is this also a right I've given up as a Christian?  We all live differently when it comes to such things.  Some believers are much tougher than I am.  Some have no trouble taking legal action, which is anathema to me.  I just want it to be right.  I desire to be kind, generous, full of grace toward those who do work for us, but I think it's fair that the work they do is good.  Isn't it?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Retina repair

Home from our quick sojourn in Seattle.  Beve was reminding Grampie and me that a year ago we were at a different hospital in a different part of Seattle, sitting by Glo's bed as her life ebbed.  The only similarity between yesterday and last year was the interminable waiting.  I'm talking W-A-I-T-I-N-G!  Beve and I spent six hours on those waiting room chairs, and even though they seemed comfortable enough in hour one, by hour six they felt like beds of nails.  It was excruciating. Grampie's surgery was the last of the day (6 pm), so we had the place to ourselves, and we made full use of the large waiting room.  At one point, if anyone had walked in, they wouldn't have assumed Beve and I even knew each other--he was sitting in one section and I was across the room in another.  Just trying to find a comfortable position, and perhaps seeing if the view from there was any better.

If we'd done as Grampie asked, we wouldn't have waited at all.  We got to the check-in desk at the hospital and he said, "You can leave now.  I'll take a bus home."  The woman behind the desk looked startled, perhaps thinking we might do just that.  "You aren't getting rid of us that easily," I told him.  She was more relieved than he was.

We sat with Grampie for a long time before he was wheeled into the operating room.  Grampie in his lovely hospital gown, hot-air blanket and feet sticking off the end of the bed.  Even the extra-long bed wasn't long enough for our extra-long Grampie.  "Whoa," said just about everyone who walked into the room.  "How tall are you, anyway?"  The doctor and anesthesiologist who worked on Grampie are probably about my height (5'6"), so they looked a bit tiny beside him.  Finally the surgeon appeared and off they all went to repair Grampie's swiss-cheese of a retina.

And fix it, they did.  Sure, it took double the time we were told it would take, but Beve's overachieving father didn't simply have a single rip in the retina (which is like the wall-paper of the eye) but a myriad of them.  Too many to count.  This happens sometimes with very old eyes (though his other eye looks about twenty years younger).  And--the good news!--all those holes means that Grampie can sleep on his sides rather than his front.  And that is the ONLY thing he was worried about the whole time.

So another day, another hospital waiting room.  This is like a hobby for us.  But the good news is that we don't have to do it again for a long time...not until Friday when J has another surgery.

Monday, November 8, 2010


It's been a wild and crazy ride around here in the last several days.  The elders have returned from the east, and just in the nick of time, frankly.  Last week, while vacationing, Grampie detached the retina in his left eye and now has re-attachment surgery scheduled for tomorrow in Seattle.  So overnight (from Wednesday to Thursday) I became VERY conversant in the ways and means of retinal surgery and recovery.  Met with nurses, talked to the hospital, researched massage tables. Set up in-home after-surgery care.  Wow, does that sound like a vita to you?  If only there was a way to parlay this into some kind of job. 

And, because of course we didn't plan on unexpected out-of-town surgery, our new carpet is being installed tomorrow morning, which means the weekend was spent moving furniture.  And I'm telling you, it was quite the choreography.  Only one room is actually getting the carpet, but furniture had to be moved in three other rooms in order to make everything work out correctly. Now I'm mourning the absence of my sewing room (which is currently residing mostly on SK's double bed until after we get Grampie settled back in his home Wednesday) and Jackson is mourning even more deeply the absence of our family room couches which traveled across the state in a U-Haul yesterday.  He is having to make due with the dog bed we bought for him last year that usually lives beside my sewing machine. 

When Grampie and Thyrza got home Saturday, Beve and I were in their apartment ready to assault them with everything Grampie is going to experience in the next couple of weeks.  They seemed to follow what we told them--doctors' appointments, surgery, in Seattle, etc.  And were a little dismayed by the idea that Grampie would have to be face to the floor for two weeks or so.  Having watched my farmer-brother-in-law face this in August, I know it's not easy, even for a 40-something man with all his mental faculties.  B-i-l just couldn't help lifting his head when someone spoke to him.  So I know--I KNOW--that Grampie, who hardly has a hard time keeping things in his short-term memory file straight, will struggle with this critical part of the recovery. But here's the thing, gravity is an essential component of the solution.  The retina is reattached, a gas bubble is shot behind it to keep it still, and gravity alone holds that gas bubble in position.  It's like the bubble in a level, I think, which is only in the right place if the level is...level.  In this case, level is head to earth where gravity holds it still.  It's a pretty amazing concept, isn't it, to think that this very cutting edge surgery uses something so of the earth.

Gravity.  What holds our feet to this earth.  What we are held by, I suppose.  When our children were small, Beve and I used to pray that Christ be like gravity in their lives--not merely the ground on which they walked, but what kept them from flying out into oblivion.  But you know what is also true about gravity?  We don't think about it.  We don't think about why our feet cling to this earth, why, when we jump up, we come back down (unless we're nerdy science types, and even then, not with every step, at least I hope not.  Really, can you imagine how distracting that would be?).  We simply walk, run and even soar trusting that we will return to earth where we belong. I wanted that for my children as well, the understanding that whatever happened, Christ would be where they landed.  Always and always and always.  However, what also happened, I think, is that sometimes they stopped thinking about Him.  They grew up in a home where Christ was the gravity, the very ground beneath their feet.  And they didn't have to think about it for themselves.  Make their own choice FOR Him.  So each of them has taken a different journey across the land, testing that gravity, I might say.  Their stories aren't mine to tell, but...

This concept of gravity as participant in healing adds greatly to that life-long prayer of Christ as my children's gravity.  And even for myself.  Where we have lost sight or are blind, let Christ point us back.  Maybe it takes looking down at the earth for a while--even at the dirty and broken ground--in order for Him to fix what is broken in us.  Gravity as healer.  Christ as healer.  Yes, Christ as gravity. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Pumpkins, Pomegranates and Eggnog

I'm not simply talking the food of the season but the actual food I ate this very day.  Making it perhaps one of my all-time favorite food days. If you're a woman of a certain age, you likely remember when 'color-draping' was all the rage, which helped a woman discover what 'season' they were.  Well, when it comes to color, I'm 'an autumn,' through and through: rust and brown and plum and green.  And I'm autumn in my taste buds as well, all thick soups made from squash and carrots, anything made from pumpkin, turkey roasted after sitting in brine for a couple of days--I love, love love that--and the lovely, lovely pomegranate, the fruit of love... er, of Solomon, er...well, you know what I mean.

I can't remember the first time I ever ate a piece of pumpkin pie, nor when I first tasted eggnog, though I'm pretty sure both were in my infancy.  But I remember distinctly the first time I ever saw a pomegranate.  It was in sixth grade and girl named Judy had part of one in her lunch. She gave me a couple of kernels (they really do look like transparent kernels of corn), and when I bit into one, the juice exploded in my mouth.  It was glorious flavor.

Incidentally, another thing I remember about Judy is that she was with the group of us who went to see the movie, "Love Story" that same year.  Afterwards, we went to someone's house, where we all cried like babies--seriously!--and Judy ran out into a field to cry at the edge of a fence about the sad, sad dying of Ali McGraw and the beautiful words she spoke to her 'Preppie' husband, Ryan O'Neal.  When I got home that night I tried to tell my parents about it, and could hardly speak when I tried to tell them, "Love means never having to say you're sorry."  And my dad, my very sensitive, tender dad, burst out laughing at me while I rolled around on the couch, sobbing.  "It does not," he said, laughing.   I huffed off to my room.  It wasn't until years later that I really realized how infantile that night was: all those sixth grade girls being hysterical, my defending a line about love as if I knew a thing about it, and huffing when Dad said it wasn't true.  I mean, Dad loved very well, thank-you very much, and he said he was sorry almost every single day.  I did, however, learn from that moment that out-and-out crying at a movie wasn't going to cut it in my family, and by the time the same group (give or take a few) of girls saw "Romeo and Juliet" the next year, I didn't shed a tear.  Probably helped that I'd already read the play, which most of my friends hadn't at twelve. But still, even now, I'm more of a tear-dripper than sobber when it comes to crying at sad movies.

But where was I?  Oh yeah, harvest food.  Pomegranates.  Beve and I spent the autumn of 1983 in India and the first time I walked through a market there, where goats hung in doorways, looking like giant dogs (which is what Beve tried to tell me they were!), and flies buzzed in formation around unidentifiable candy-like substances, I suddenly stopped on a dime, a literal dime, because there was a pile of the most enormous pomegranates I'd ever seen in my born days.  That I should live to see them and eat them!  And so cheap, you can't imagine.  They were about the size of cantelopes, the fruit contained within was a deep, deep burgundy.  That, I have to say, might have been my all-time best food moment of all time, tasting that real, fresh Indian pomegranate.

These days pomegranates here are much better, often quick large, and certainly sweeter than they used to be.  We can thank faster planes and refrigeration for that, I think.  Better products here in the states as well.  However, there's something about the first time, don't you think?  I'm talking about food here, folks, keep your minds where they, out of the gutter, I mean.

Anyway, ANYWAY, pomegranates aren't the easiest of fruit to eat.  Or even to have a chance to eat.  They take a whole lot of careful work.  Even when I cover myself, the counter, and everything else, I've had dots of pomegranate juice on our white cupboards (who the heck chose white?).  No, this splendid fruit takes work.  There are a whole lot of people who think pomegranates aren't worth it.  All that unpeeling, all that possible staining, for tiny kernels of juice?  And to them I say, ok, leave them for me.  For me the work is worth it.

I don't think it's an accident that Solomon, in his great love letter, speaks of part of the beloved's body as pomegranates.  There's a whole lot of work involved in caring for the body, and in caring for His Body.  And sometimes that care takes a whole lot of work, time and is even stained blood red.  But the fruit of that work, the luscious, glorious fruit of that work is so worth it.  Taste and see that He is good.  What is this fruit of His? One with many kernels, you know.  This one? love. That one, joy.  The next, peace. Patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  All kernels of the same fruit that is the fruit of the Spirit.  As we work for His Body, the Holy Spirit gives us this best of all fruit...His fruit.

Hmmm, maybe my favorite fruit is His favorite fruit, too.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Make them one

Because yesterday was something of a mixed up day, though one I am completely happy about, I'm a little out of sync this morning.  I've created this life in which a whole lot of solitude has become necessary, like the air I breathe and the water I drink, then when I don't get it--no matter what the cause--I'm less than I should be.  And because I long for relationships, am built for conversations deep and penetrating (not the kind I find myself having with the elders, which are primarily about the workings--or not!--of their failing bodies), so when all I have is the solitude I long longed for, I am also less than myself.  How pathetic is that?  I want it all--all the solitude necessary to pray, think, meditate, read and write; and all the relationships necessary for His Kingdom to be expanded.

The spiritual truth is that His Kingdom cannot come alone in me.  Not ultimately anyway.  What I'm talking about is church.  Several years ago, for complicated reasons that I won't go into here, Beve and I left a church.  It was not an easy decision, and, unfortunately, by the time we finally did, we were quite bruised and bleeding.  And took what I called a 'Sabbath rest' from the organized church.  We gathered with friends who were also hurting, prayed together, tried to work through the pain and worship the God we all love, but the organized meeting with believers with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs was missing.  Then we began attending a community church in town, an enormous body with three services on Sunday morning, one on Saturday night, held in a place larger than any cinema that I've been in.  And you know what we did?  We didn't get involved.  We didn't have to. For the last couple of years we've been walking into that building, and left feeling blessed by the sung and spoken worship, felt God's presence, but we haven't gotten involved.  We're merely bodies taking up spots in the theater chairs, and nobody knows our names.  We've said repeatedly that we've enjoyed being anonymous, but we go, we like it, we leave.  The end.

So is this what we've been called to?  Is it possible for us--any of us--to be really healthy spiritually without corporate worship we're explicitly called to?  I don't think so.  However, I also know, really do know, that it's not really corporate worship if all we do is stand there with strangers.  If we don't get down and dirty and become part of a community.  For a while we were disinclined to that involvement because of the hurt we'd experienced (for ourselves and others we love deeply).  And we became disillusioned because worship was so flawed.  It has been a blessing hide from the truth that worship is always flawed where sinful humans are involved in it.  Humans will complain, humans will want it their way, rather than simply, only wanting to surrender to the One whom we worship.  In the last couple of years we haven't had to see the under-belly of this truth. 

But what we have lately realized--again--is that the flaws don't matter.  It doesn't matter if Betty doesn't like the music or if Jack complains that we're singing that song too often.  If Edgar and Edna think the pastor prays too long, and Phil thinks he doesn't pray enough.  It really doesn't make one whit of difference what all the complaints are, if we simply dig in and do it. AND, of course, Holy-Spirit-entered worship, in contrast to simple human worship, isn't flawed.  The mystery of worship is that I walk in, my flaws showing like warts all over me, and Jack stumbles in in his, Betty strides in with hers, yet before we've even sat down, in us--if we're really Christ-ones--there He is, a blaze of Glory, and it's real glory: Him worshipping Him.  When I don't know what I'm doing and Edgar, Edna and Phil haven't the slightest idea, either, the Holy Spirit does.  He knows exactly what's going on there.  Even if we're only staring at each other across a 'worship-center', 'sanctuary', or whatever else the church decides to call the space--if we're watching the way each other holds her hands, or sings or closes his eyes--the Holy Spirit somehow, mysteriously, is there, lifted up, lifting us up.  We are more than ourselves.

But here's the other part of the mystery:  Jesus, the night before he died, when he prayed that breath-takingly beautiful prayer, prayed, "Make them one, Father."  For us.  And somehow I believe that's exactly what happens in worship. We aren't only ourselves, but we're Phil and Betty and Edgar and Jack.  Those who sit beside us, with their broken lives and hurts so deep they could barely lift their heads, let alone get dressed and drag themselves to this place, to do this holy thing--we are them. We share in what they feel, hurt with them, because we are one with them.  And those who are radiant with hope while we are the ones who came stumbling in hopeless--their hope becomes ours as we worship, because by the prayer of Jesus and His Holy Spirit indwelling, we are one.

This is why we enter in. And this is what Beve and I have been holding ourselves back from.  I'm confessing this so that I'm accountable to right it.  We begin again Sunday, at a smaller church, much more suiting to our digging in, getting down and dirty.  Please pray for us.  We need to get down and dirty...and to really worship.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Have I ever told you the one about how Beve tore up our bathroom and it took an entire year before we actually got to take a shower in there again?  What about the one where he tore up the kitchen floor the week two of our kids were going off to college and we had to take all of our laundry to a laundromat for longer than I care to remember?  Then there's the one where we moved into a house and the drain backed up into our basement, and we thought we could fix even that ourselves. HA!

Let's just say Beve's a DIY-er extra-ordinaire.  He really is.  Mostly because he's cut from the cloth of his father, and likes to save a buck or two any time he can.  I'd say he was cheap, but he's too good a guy to say such a pejorative thing about. 

And now that mowing season is over for the year, we're starting into the season of DIY.  First on our agenda is replacing the carpet in our TV room, which has needed it for about six years (we don't lay our own carpet--we don't have the knees or the skill for it).  But as long as we were replacing the carpet, we thought we'd lay a small tile entry-way at the door we always use.  So we chose tile, carted it home and laid it out in a fairly elaborate pattern.  Made a graph of it, then realized it wouldn't work, that the cuts would be beyond us, and time was awasting.  Then Beve did the most amazing thing:  he called a young man who did some work for one of Beve's colleagues.  And that young man, Anton, came by this morning, looked at the tile, looked at the area, asked me what we wanted and said he could do it this afternoon.  TODAY.  As I sit here, it's done.  He laid it (in a more simple diagonal grid that we'd decided would be fine), then came back later and grouted it.  Amazing.

Beve came home while Anton was working and, as is his way, began asking Anton all kinds of questions about his life.  Anton's a young married man who worked in the construction industry, made plenty of money until the economy dried things up.  Now he's just trying to make ends meet.  Before he left, Beve had him in our hall bathroom, where they talked about tile on the floor and a back-splash, and maybe even the demolition work as well.  "Maybe he could tile our kitchen floor too," Beve told me later.  "I'd like to help him out if we can."

See, it turns on a dime like that for Beve.  Anton did a very nice job for us today.  Efficient, clean and timely.  And I love how the tile looks.  And it's done.  It's done without us having to do it.  Without Beve stressing about it, agonizing over the cuts and the placement and everything else.  We got the job done that we needed to have done, and we gave a job to a young man who needs the work.  Beve is motivated by the thought that we can help Anton so we'll probably 'employ' him again soon.  I admit, my motives are slightly more mixed.  I'm thrilled that we can help this young man, but I'm also just as glad these projects might happen more quickly than at the corners of Beve's extra-ordinarily busy life.  The reality is that Beve doesn't have time to do everything that needs to be done around here.  Not with his job, his studies (he's trying to get Nationally Certified this year), his dad, his sleep (when he actually gets it).

I think, though, that God taught Beve something today.  In letting go and admitting he needed help (and might have to pay for it), God showed him a man who needs the work that Beve doesn't have the time or ability to do and the money that work will bring. Maybe not being a Do-It-Yourself-er is the best way at times.  Hmmm, in the Kingdom is there ever a time when we should do it ourselves?  Ever?