Saturday, January 30, 2010

Turning around

As part of my daily internet browsing, I read a few other blogs.  My daughter's, for one.  Unfortunately, now that it isn't November, she doesn't feel the need to post every day, which annoys me, no end.  This is the daughter who used to answer my every question with one or two word answers. "Pretty good," she'd say when I asked her about her day. "Just tired," she'd answer whenever she burst into tears.  She's much more vocal as an adult, but her blog is often about little episodes of her life she might otherwise never mention.  And more often than not, it makes me laugh.  She got that quirky wit from Beve...well, at least the part that wasn't original to herself.

But I read blogs of total strangers as well.  And one of them, which I won't identify, has troubled me all week.  I mean, really, really troubled me.  See, this woman, a funny, intelligent, book-loving woman decided sometime in the last month that she no longer believes there's a God.  She was raised in a Christian home, has raised her sons in a Christian home, taught Sunday-school for years, but now (after the last five years of struggling, she says) she's come to the conclusion that God is imaginary.  When I read her first post about this 'enlightenment', my heart sank like a large boulder in a deep lake, and something akin to fear rushed over me.  Seriously.  I can't remember ever reading something that so hurt me deep within.  I mean this is a woman who was active in her Christian life.  A woman who is like so many other women I know, praying for her children, her husband, serving God in her community.  But something happened to her (which she doesn't quite identify, though I'm pretty sure Haiti was the final straw) that caused her to turn her back on it.  On Him.

After a full week of being a little distracted by her decision, and by my response to her decision--I mean, not just hurting for her, but the rush of fear that accompanied it--I finally identified what was going on.  When I was in my twenties, after my college boyfriend broke our engagement--the boyfriend I was certain was God's plan for my life--I turned tail, left that town for my hometown, and started grad school.  And made the decision that I would turn my back on God.  Just to see, you see.  Not that I went as far as this woman blogger has, but just to the edge of that.  I felt betrayed not merely by the boyfriend, but by God Himself.  So I thought I'd try living without Him.  And you know what I discovered? 

It was dark and lonely out there.  Miserable.  The loss of the boy was NOTHING to the loss of God (and believe me when I tell you the loss of that boy was, apart from my dad's death, the hardest thing I ever dealt with--or maybe I should say, I didn't deal very well with, at all!).  But living without God in my life was like living in the abyss.  In fact, I realized that without God, the existentialists were completely right: life has absolutely no meaning whatsoever.  And that meaningless life could lead to all kinds of horrible decisions, because nothing counted.

And all the while, He was standing behind me.  That's how it felt.  Like God was standing behind me, just out of sight, watching me...and crying over me.  I'd like to tell you it was mere months of darkness before I came to my senses.  But it wasn't.  It took about a year. That's the only year now I'd gladly strike from my chronology.  Looking back, I think of that year with something akin to fear--fear that I almost gave up the most important thing in my life.  The most important Who.  And the One who led me to Beve...to my real life.  That was all ahead waiting for me.  If only I didn't give it all up.

Fortunately, I couldn't do it.  Thank God, He never gave up on me.  He waited through that painful time, and was right there when I turned around.  Turned around and repented and thanked Him for never leaving me, for holding on while I was trying to run away.

I'm not here to discuss the theological arguments of  'once saved/always saved' versus 'it's possible to lose your salvation.'  Thankfully, that's above my pay grade.  Maybe it should be above all humans' pay grade. Maybe we should leave that whole question up to God.  And simply pray for those, like this woman, who have gotten turned around, disillusioned, and shut themselves out in the dark. So  I pray that God continues to stand behind her, maybe right out of sight, but always within reach.  I pray that she finds the darkness too dark, and the world too empty without Him.  And for all who think He's merely imaginary, who think that this world, our lives are merely accidents, I pray that the light overcomes the darkness, that they turn from that darkness to recognize who the Light is. Yes, that they just turn around and see Him.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Our own Marleys

Excuse me if I sniff all over this post.  We just finished watching "Marley and Me," a movie bound to make every dog-lover, dog-owner in the world a little teary at the end.  OK, more than a little.  Between us, I'm pretty sure there were full-blown sobs going on in our family room.  But that's because Marley was a lab.  A big, ol', incorrigible lab like our Jackson.  Jackson, who we called a dumb jock for most of his early years because he didn't seem to know his name, thought his tail was a toy whenever he happened to catch sight of it, plowed through flowerbeds, deck railings and fences, ate dozens of chocolate chip cookies, a pound of Belgian chocolate, a thousand pieces of bread and even managed to unscrew a Costco-sized jar of chocolate-covered raisins and down the whole thing.  We're about half convinced that nothing'll kill this dog.
Jackson's the lighter lab in the back, sitting at attention. Likely, facing a hand holding a piece of cheese.  Back when this photo was taken, cheese was just about the only thing that would make Jackson sit on command.

 Jemima, our other yellow lab, sits in the foreground.
Here's another photo of her...looking very relaxed!:


  When I took them both for walks (or they took me!), people would ask if they were litter mates, but these dogs weren't related. And for a long time, Jackson thought Jemima was his mother.  If Jemima was lying somewhere, he'd curl up right next to her, make sure his butt was touching hers.  And my sweet Beanie (which is what I called her most of the time--for Jemima Bean) let him pretty much do whatever he wanted.  Jemima was the opposite of Marley, and of Jackson.  She couldn't bear to misbehave, seemed to understand just about everything I ever said to her, would walk beside me without a leash, and always came to my voice.  Sure she barked when someone came to our door, but thirty seconds later, she was nudging that person to pet her.

But the way Beanie reminds me of Marley is that she got sick one week, lost 20 pounds and by the end of that week, it was discovered she had pancreatic cancer.  Beve, SK, J and I sat with her for over an hour before the vet came in to give her the shot that would stop her breath.  And we cried.  Hard.  When her head had dropped like a stone and her eyes closed for good, we brought Jackson in from the car to see her.  He stopped by her body, sniffed her once, then turned away.  We mourned Jemima a long time.  Still do, in some ways.  I walked back into that dark room after the family had left.  You see, the whole last hour of her life, I spent petting her.  Just as I had so many other times.  And Beanie shed hair, just like always.  I put it in a pile beside me as I stroked her.  Then couldn't leave it there.  I brought her coarse reddish gold fur home and put it in an envelope just like my other babies' hair.

And you know, at first we couldn't really tell that Jackson was grieving. But then I noticed that whenever he rode in the car and saw a pair of dogs in another car, Jackson whined.  Now, normally he barks at other dogs.  But not then.  I was convinced he was telling me that it just wasn't right that he was alone, that he knew he was supposed to have a buddy, that he was meant to be part of a pack--and not just of humans! So, six months later, Jamaica came home to be Jackson's buddy. This is Jamaica soon after we brought her home.  She was so scared of that big dog that she'd sit at the end of the hallway, very quietly, until someone came by to walk beside her.  But after a while, they became buddies.  And Jackson stopped whining at other dogs.  His pack was back!



Thursday, January 28, 2010

Rules

Beve, the girls and I went to Happy Hour at one of our local, favorite restaurants this evening.  It's a pretty big deal, because it was the first time SK could come with us.  That's right, our baby is finally 21.  Or as she put it, old enough to have a 'long-ways driver's license', which she got today in the fastest trip to the DOL I've ever experienced.  I was with her, it being one of the errands on our list this afternoon, and I'm telling you, next time, I'm having my birthday in the middle of winter, because NO ONE is at the DOL!  SK opened her book to start reading, barely got through a single sentence before her number was called.

So in celebration of SK returning from a trip abroad and being of legal age, to boot, we went to Happy Hour, where we shared two large bowls of steamed clams, some calamari, two plates of sliders, and some shrimp and artichoke dip.  These girls of ours love seafood.  Always have.  E's first bite of 'real' food was a spoonful of clam chowder my mother fed her when she was about 4 months old.  E has loved it ever since.  And the Easter after SK turned one, she tasted a shrimp with cocktail sauce, and practically flew out of Grammie's arms, trying to grab the entire plate.  It was truly love at first bite for both of the girls.  Unfortunately, I think we neglected that essential step in J's development because he hates seafood of any kind, shelled or not.

We all ordered a happy hour drink tonight as well.  And I have to tell you, there's little that's more disorienting than my children ordering alcohol.  They can't possibly be that old, can they?  When I was their age--any of them--I never drank the stuff.  Nor did Beve.  In our day, Christians didn't drink. The end.  And I know there are many conservative believers who never touch the 'demon rum'.  But we do drink now.  A little wine at dinners now and then enhances the food, from my point of view.  Paul, our chief epistle-writer in the New Testament, lists drunkenness as one of the things we who are followers of Christ must avoid (see Romans 13:13, Galatians 5: 21).  A completely different thing than having the small glasses of drink we had tonight, or the wine we serve with meals. 

Alcohol is just one of the things that Christians over the centuries have created rules around. I remember a tea-totalling pastor I knew in college who told the story of interviewing at a church somewhere in the midwest, I think.  He was asked to sign a 'covenant' saying he didn't/wouldn't drink while associated with that denomination.  He refused to sign that covenant, not because he intended to drink, but because such legalism is NOT of the gospel.  "I have the right to do anything--but not everything is good for me.  I have the right to do anything, but I will not be mastered by anything."  Isn't it odd think that such rules have been created in the face of Jesus' first miracle, of turning water into wine?

But the truth is, this is what we do.  Humans, I mean.  Christians in particular.  We turn things into rules.  We do this in order to get a handle on things, in order to control situations, and in order to evaluate whether someone else is one of 'us.'  Now I'm not saying there should be no rules--heaven and God Himself know we need rules like we need boundaries, so that we stay on the path.

But those rules can run amok.  Can keep us from experiencing fellowship, from extending the Kingdom.  Or just keep us from enjoying life as He intended it, understanding the Spirit of Love, rather than living under the burden of the law.

To wit (which means, 'to witness'):
About 14 years ago, my sisters and their families, my parents and the five of us went on a camping trip to Northern California.  We now refer to it as the 'Castle Crags debacle.'  When we pulled up to our camping site, my parents had already arrived and set up camp.  My father was busy getting a fire going, and my mother had stuck signs on several trees around our tents.  One had the cooking/cleaning/helping rotations on them. The other was a list of rules.  And that list was long. No sitting on tables, no eating between meals, no leaving the campsite alone... and on went the list, to the last rule, which was, "Have fun!"  There were major problems inherent in this list of rules.  One was that J, who was 9, and his favorite cousin, M, who was 7, obeyed the 'buddy' rule completely.  They never went anywhere without the other.  However, they also wandered away from the campsite and we couldn't find them for almost an hour.  They hadn't disobeyed that dang rule, though.  They'd obeyed the law without understanding the 'spirit' of it, which was that at least one of the adults needed to know where they were.  And 'have fun' as a rule?  I have to admit, I was just about annoyed enough to sit on a table and say, "You can't make me!"

But this is what we do all the time as believers.  When we say we can't be friends with anyone who isn't like us--like homosexuals, like adulterers (except that we might be without knowing), we can't break bread with sinners.  Right?  Wrong.  We can and we must.  If we are only around those exactly like us, those who agree with everything we say, believe, do, how will we extend the Kingdom of God?  Really, how will we?  And if we're always throwing up rules in front of those around us--to be a Christian, you must X, whatever that X is--aren't we in danger of imitating the very people Jesus spent most of His ministry warning against?  Getting angry at?  Being judged, condemned and crucified by?  If He walked the earth again today, it might/likely would be those who populate the pews of the church that He'd rail against.

Something to think about, anyway.  Maybe with a nice glass of gerwertstraminer.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Disability

I'm going to the doctor tomorrow.  We're going to sit down with a long application which might involve me promising my firstborn child (sorry, E!), in an effort to qualify me for disability.  This is something I've hesitated to do for a long time (over eight years, I think!), partly because I didn't want to admit it, partly because I've procrastinated, and partly because I'm afraid of the this application's result--no matter what that result is. I'll have to release the thousand thousand pages that make up my medical file, have to allow all my doctors to be contacted, and have to be interviewed by some government official (hopefully, an actual doctor).  Then wait to discover if I'm actually disabled enough.  Whatever that means.

Here's the thing.  Some days, some seasons, some years have been worse than others.  Seasons when this idiopathic peripheral nerve pain in my left leg and left arm has so crippled me that I can barely walk.  And sitting? Fogettaboutit.  Really, sitting is excruciating.  And right now is one of those days, seasons.  It's hard to explain what this kind of pain feels like if you've never dealt with it.  It's like fire through the limb, a burning tingle that nothing alleviates. Pain I live with 24-7--though sometimes it's better, it has never, ever disappeared.  Not for eight long years.  It's why I go steady with a neurologist, why I take a cocktail of drugs.  It's why any kind of job where one has to sit, stand, or walk for long periods of time is out of the question.   Oh, and another thing--clothes are like needles on those limbs. 

But hey, if you can think of a job that one can do in pjs, lying on one's bed, or in a recliner, I'm your woman.  My brain is healthy. 

And my heart is healthy as well.  Both physically and spiritually.  I've said this again and again, and I claim it today as I face this arduous process.  If I to choose between this relentless pain and spiritual pain, relational pain...just about any other kind of pain, I'd choose this.  There have been moments when I've pounded my pillow in frustration (last night might have been one of those moments), when I've pleaded for just a single moment without it...but there are such moments.  In a swimming pool or even our extra deep bathtub.  But I can't live my life in a swimming pool, though I'd like to try.

I don't know if I qualify for disability.  I don't know if I should.  But for my husband's sake, I'm going ahead with it.  And we'll see.  When I get discouraged about my small concerns, I remember that these things are creating in me an eternal weight of glory, are not more than I can handle, that if I continue to welcome this pain as a friend, God will meet me.  This process won't, of course, mean that the pain goes away, but perhaps, it'll be a help to Beve.  And that's good enough for me.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

His voice

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!

What a time she's had these last three weeks. And every story she told us--of climbing the stairs out of tubes stations, before realizing those stairs would be the steepest, longest stairs one might ever climb; standing in Trafalger Square, wandering Covent Garden and Piccadilly; seeing the Crown Jewels at the Tower--all of these things made me homesick for a place I've only visited, but never called home. She loved the trip...but by the end of it, she was hungry for her own room, space, time to herself.

SK is a lot like me that way.  We are both social people who need--like we need protein--space and time to ourselves in order to recharge our batteries.  She's been this way since she was a tiny girl.  After school every day, she'd have to veg out with her Polly Pockets, her books, her imagination. 

Just like me...many people don't need the hours alone I must have in order to breathe.  The silence other than the dogs' feet padding around the house necessary for me to read, pray, write, be.  I'm quite aware of how fortunate I am that I've been allowed these hours of silence and don't take them for granted.  Never take them for granted.

It's been in these hours that I've often heard God's voice. 

Here's the thing: recently that still,small voice has been silent.  More silent than it's ever been in my walking-with-Jesus life.  But something occurred to me the other day, something I'm sure is Holy Spirit.  For months, I've been lamenting that God has been so silent.  I've been accustomed to being able to hear Him, to sensing His presence not only when I pray, but often through my small days.  And I can't manufacture that voice.  I know.  I know because I've tried.  That is, when the silence stretched, I began to think that I had been just making it up--that voice, those words, the things I've told other people that were from Him.  But this was the revelation--I sit and try to bring up words in that voice, that voice that is so much like my own voice, so close, but isn't.  And I can't do it.  I can't fake God's voice.

So He's silent.  And that comforts me.  His faithfulness in the past, His provision for space in my life in which to meet with Him, think about Him, listen to Him, and His now clearly unmistakable voice in the past--all these things comfort me today.  Give me hope.  As this old globe turns and seasons pass and our lives move through wilderness and lush garden, as marriages ebb and flow, so my relationship with Him.  As He has before, so He will again.  And I will wait.  Watch and wait, and continue to sit with Him and listen.

He who has begun a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.  Whatever that takes. 

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Frustration

Every weekend (and many days between) since Grampie and Thyrza moved here, we've spent in their small, warm apartment, going through boxe, trying to reduce the piles of papers and belongings to a manageable amount.  Yesterday I took over some carrot soup that Thyrza had been requesting, soup I haven't made in a long time.  As Beve said, "I like it because it doesn't taste like carrots."  I guess that's high praise, certainly worked for our kids when they were little and finicky.  So we ate soup and grilled cheese (with Cougar Gold, no less) sandwiches, and tried, once again, to help them  get rid of things they have no space for, things they will probably never use again.

Here's the thing: Grampie would get rid of everything.  Well, almost everything, that is.  Not his computer, and not the twenty-seven reams of printer paper he bought on sale at Staples.  But pictures, old memorabilia?  Toss them.  Seriously, he tried to get the movers to dump an old suitcase full of photographs.  Fortunately the mover didn't--wouldn't.  He gave them to us, and there are treasures there.  Photographs of Grampie's great-grandfather Justus, his wife Susan.  Even Susan's father, Byron Henry.  I'm talking about pictures taken in the mid-nineteenth century.  I love those old photographs, really love them.  I'm going to get some of them framed and hang them in our entry way with all the other old family photos.

Thyrza, on the other hand, is far more connected to her things.  She's done a masterful job of culling her clothing--sending off boxes to her daughter and granddaughter.  But she has a difficult time with this job, all the same.  Doesn't want us doing it, either.  All the holiday decorations, the Christmas wreaths, the autumn flowers?  She wants them near at hand.  Even when there's absolutely no space for them.  Both of them think that with just another shelf, everything will magically fit.

It's a stressful situation, one in which it's easy to feel frustrated by their slowness of decisions, and their inability to actually take action.  To compound it, Beve and I take opposites tacks with the elders.  His desire to help means that he takes charge and starts tossing things that Thyrza is deeply attached to.  I tend to ask her about everything.  And, as you might guess, because neither of us wish to get mad at them, we take our frustration out on each other.  Yesterday, Beve was trying to convince Thyrza of a certain course of action, as she stubbornly resisted.  And I thought that perhaps he didn't understand that from her point of view--her age informing that view--his way was intolerable.  So I tried to explain it.  And he got mad.  And believe me when I tell you that Beve doesn't get mad at me very often.  He was basically telling me to stay out of it.

Later, at home, we had a calmer conversation about it. At one point I said, "Are you saying that if you're having a conversation with someone, I'm not allowed to speak?  Because that isn't the way we've operated, and if you're changing the rules, I need to know."  He looked at me for a long time, until I said, "Beve, you're just staring at me.  Say something."  "I'm thinking about it," he said.  Then we both laughed.  Of course that isn't what he wants.  But we're both exhausted by all this, don't see an end to it, and don't know well enough how to navigate this new landscape where we have to parent these parents (one of whom is so clearly not ours, though we love her).

But what I know is that the last thing Grampie and Thyrza would want is for all their stuff to be a wedge between Beve and me.  But I also know that to get wrapped up in their stuff at the neglect of our own relationship is on us.  It's a little bit like dealing with small children again, though they want their own autonomy.  Little children with minds of their own.  And we managed those days well--most of the time, anyway.  Took steps to concentrate on us.  Were intentional.  It will take some shifting to understand that these parents who have taken care of us and our kids (Funny story, Grampie told Beve the other day that if we needed to go out by ourselves, they'd 'sit our kids' for us.   E and J were thrilled).

Yes, it's new territory.  And territory we'll be going down ourselves before long.  So I pray that we all navigate it with dignity now.  And dignity in the future when our kids are making decisions for us. 

Friday, January 22, 2010

Libraries

I'm thinking today about libraries.  My sister who lives in Ventura, CA recently told me that her favorite public library branch, the one between her home and her job, the one she frequents more often than most grocery stores, is closing.  Now, in a city that has four high schools, a junior college and about 25,000 more people than our small city, will only have one library.  She said it isn't like her favorite branch was a ghost town either.  In fact, it was thriving...in every way but financially.  So it's doomed.

I'm also thinking about this, because I was just reading an article about the most amazing libraries in the world.  Right in our corner, the downtown Seattle Public Library was on the list, and the Library of Congress, which shouldn't be surprising. Here's the Library of Congress's reading room:

Doesn't it make you want to sit there, read tomes and think more deeply than you ever have before?  To me, libraries have the feel of churches--and I mean any library, anywhere.  That's what words mean to me--something supernatural, with the ability to create, record, change lives.  I could sit in this place until they kicked me out, and never get tired (even if my hind end did!).


As I was scrolling through the photos, I kept waiting for one particular library to be shown.  A library I had the chance to visit a few years ago on a trip with my mom and sisters.  It took my breath away.  The Long Room at Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland.  I can't tell you what this space meant to me. 


Amazing, isn't it?Doesn't it make you want to tiptoe, whisper, and maybe say a prayer or two?  The written word.  It just does something to me.

Downstairs, in a dark room, in a glass case with special lights to preserve it, is the Book of Kells, a illuminated copy of the gospels, scribed by Celtic monks around 800 AD.  Two pages are on display at a time, an illustration and a text.  It took my breath away to see those pages, just to imagine 1200 years between the writer and the reader...and the words written as true for them as they are for me.  In that darkened room, with those lovely hand-painted words so beautifully rendered by the scribes, I finally had a sense of how timeless our Word of God really is.  The same yesterday, today and forever, we're told.  But mostly we think of it as ours--for our day and our time.  We're compelled to find meaning for ourselves.  As we should. But the fact is, those monks (probably three did the work on this wonderful book) were full of the Holy Spirit, inspired by the Word to create something beautiful.  Because it had touched their lives. They created a work of art from the written word of God. We know nothing about these monks.  Yet we know everything--by their hands' careful illumination of the gospels, we know they loved the words within.  And the Incarnate Word within.

Words and the Word, and The Incarnate Word.  A word about such words--Hallelujah!

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go to the Library!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My way or...

I've been a bit of a slacker here this week, as my kids would say.  The days pass with their usual mix of interesting encounters and my shortcomings revealing themselves to me.  Sigh.   For example, yesterday I was going to post about this conversation I had with a female clerk in a video store, how she felt no hesitation in telling exactly which movie I should choose, which were 'cute', which were 'hilarious,' and which 'people our age' would get a kick out of.  Though on the outside I believe I was polite enough, within there was some consternation, some eye-rolling and not a little judgment that she--a mere video clerk--would assume to know what I (who probably had a decade on her, and--I told myself--a decade more education) would find entertaining. I got exactly that far when I realized how horribly judgmental the whole inner monologue was, and how quickly I began rationalizing that judgment.  And I couldn't bring myself to write about it.  Now until I actually felt repentant.  Which I don't quite.  But I want to.  I want to feel that everyone I encounter is exactly like me--not less important, not less smart, or educated, or...or anything.

There are often those kind of short encounters in our lives.  In mine, anyway.  Encounters where I am certain I know better than the other person...well, just about everything.  A couple of days ago, as I sat in a doctor's waiting room, a lovely little (and I do mean little--I think the husband was about 5 feet, and the wife smaller) Mexican couple came in, and asked if the women behind the counter spoke Spanish.  Neither did. Then they closed the glass window for a moment and conferred (which reminds me, why on earth do they sit behind a window as if they're dealing with state secrets or don't want to get infected?  It's very off-putting--certainly I felt that way for this couple).  Then the woman closest to the window began speaking loudly to the man, who was the spokesman for the couple.  Loudly, like, "What is your name?"  Then she said, "El nombre," which even I know means number.  Across the waiting room, I muttered "Wie heisst du, bitte?" (excuse the spelling, there isn't the correct key on my keyboard!) which is actually German for 'what is your name?'--something I always do when confronted with Spanish.  I know, it's ridiculous, but I know German far better than I do Spanish, so that's where my brain goes.  As I was rooting around in the 40 year old Spanish files for "Como te llamos?" (again, excuse the spelling--I can barely speak Spanish, let alone spell in it!), the clerk continued to raise her voice.  Finally I spoke more loudly, and they all turned toward me.  Unfortunately, I'd just about run out of my Spanish phrases, unless she needed to know the time or their ages.  I should have kept my mouth shut, because among the many, many things I am not, a translator is one.  But I just knew I could solve the problem.  I knew when someone else was making a hash of it, I could smooth it out.  They all turned back to themselves and solved the language issue without me (the woman got her daughter on the phone who speaks Spanish).  I had just complicated things by butting in.

I really hate that I'm like this.  I remember my mother, a life-long elementary school teacher, not only speaking to children in stores or on the street, but actually correcting their behavior.  Butting in, is how I saw it, when it embarrassed the heck out of me.  Later, when she was doing it to MY children, when I was right there, in charge of the situation, it made me stinkin' mad.  She just knew, my mom did, that her way, her approach, her knowledge was best, right, important enough to run over others.  And...I learned this from her.  And I hate it.  I hate that my instinct is for judgment, not mercy.  You know those sayings like, "My way or the highway," or "If Mama's happy, everybody's happy," well, I really hate them.  I hate them because I have the sneaky suspicion that they're true for me, and that makes me ashamed.

You see, I don't really believe that my way--to raise children, to cook, to write, to breath--is the right way.  I don't believe that I must be happy or I'll make everyone around me happy.  My way is far too often just like me--selfish, sinful and bent toward judgment.  There is only one right way and that is not mine.  But hopefully, slowly--slowly as a snail moves across the sand--my way is becoming the right Way.  The more I surrender (even the internal judgment in my head), the more His Was will be worked into me.  May tomorrow find me more full of grace--toward all I meet.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Just the way you are

Beve, while cleaning the carport (mostly Grampie and Thyrza's stuff that we agreed to take, no matter what it was, just so it would leave their small space), found some refrigerator magnets the kids and I had made for the grandparents when those kids were in elementary school.  E had very long hair, but a whole lot of it was pulled on the very top of her hair with a scrunchy.  It was quite the look, let me tell you.  E always had a flair for fashion. The next year, we (she and I) inexplicably had her hair cut so short her 5th grade teacher thought she was a boy, as did people at restaurants.  "Thank you, sir!" isn't exactly a compliment for a ten-year-old child.  Especially at ten, probably.  And that was in her pre-braces day, so her teeth might have been a bit protruding (something she got from me, sad to say!).  In middle school, E went through a phase where she wore a green plaid flannel shirt/jacket every single day.  Yep, another great look for her. Yep, she had a year or so that weren't so great, poor kid.

J, as a small boy, didn't like the feel of jeans, so wore sweatpants to school every day. And some of those were multi-colored, worn hiked clear up to his waist.  He also didn't like to have to tie his shoes.  That just took too long and that boy was always, ALWAYS in a hurry.  Of course, there was one day when he was in such a hurry (or I was, we often ran late in the morning) that we got all the way to school and he was about to get out of our van when he admitted he didn't have any shoes on.  When he was in middle school, even the first couple of years of high school, J was rather short and squatty.  It was like he grew out before he grew up, poor guy.

SK, small and thin, got something called a 'lip-bumper' in the third grade.  I don't really know what it was meant to do, but it gave her the appearance of having a large under-bite.  And she couldn't quite close her mouth completely.   Poor kid.  She was goofy enough in elementary school that she was awarded the "Most Hyber" of the whole sixth grade (This shocked me, since she so often played quietly by herself at home.  Since then I've learned that she needs that quiet/down time, in order to power up for social events).  Glasses, braces with her hair in long braids, that was SK.  And she looked about ten when she started high school, poor kid.

The thing is, it's only when I look back that I realize these things about my kids.  As they were living their awkward stages, I was so crazy in love with them, I never noticed the externals.  To me, they were the most beautiful, most amazing people on earth.  That's how most of us feel about our kids.  We're so in awe that such beings were given to us, came from us, we don't see straight.  Even at their worst moments, these three people continue to enthrall me, to bless me, to make me feel astounded at God's amazing graces.  Even when I see their weaknesses (which I do.  I absolutely see them), I never stop feeling this awe that they were given to me. Just the way they are, I love them.  No matter what, I love them.  Even when they blow it...well, you get the idea.

You know where I'm going, don't you?  I need to hear this today.  I need to know deep inside that God loves me exactly as I am. Lately I've been feeling weak, fat, ugly inside and out.  Now I know what I look like...and trust me when I say I'll never win any beauty contest.  I've been going through an awkward stage for about my whole entire life.  And, within, I won't win any saint contests either.  There's just too much self inside myself.  Too much sin.  So I need to know that God looks at all of that, looks at my weaknesses and sin, and says, "Worthy. You are worthy!"  Me, worthy of His love, worthy of His salvation, worthy to be saved.  Again and again.  I am a 'being-saved,' one, a One for whom He died, one in whom He dwells. It doesn't matter how ugly I look, how much uglier I feel, He looks at me and says, "Beautiful."  Me, beautiful?  Yes, even me.  And even you.  Together, we're the apple of His eye.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Watching for the Bridegroom

Beve and I had lunch yesterday with a counselor from another high school here in town.  Beve has always really appreciated JH.  She has a quirky sense of humor--just like Beve--and when they sit together at the interminable meetings around the district, they keep each other awake by making under-the-breath comments designed to make the other burst out laughing.  JH has been a counselor around here for about 30 years (after a reasonable time teaching in the classroom)--long enough to see kids of former kids walk through her office door, and the issues of students have grown and grown and grown.

Suicides (and attempted suicides, kids in treatment (or needing treatment), children of alcoholics, addicts who follow in their parents' footsteps: these are the things Beve and his colleagues see on a daily basis.  JH made the comment that her husband increasingly believes that we are in the end times, and when she considers the difference in kids and their concerns from when she started this career decades ago, she thinks he might just be right.

Maybe, we said.  But as I drove home, I thought of how, when I was in high school, there was a HUGE undercurrent that Jesus' return was imminent then.  That was 35-40 years ago.  Of course, in God's timing (and looking back at the history of the world), 30-40 years isn't that long.  It's a mere whisper. But I remember all the boys I knew who intended to be a 'bachelor until rapture'.  At least that's what they claimed.  As far as I know, though, only one of those boys actually managed to keep that vow.  Ol' Booner, who didn't stay single for lack of trying--at least in his twenties.  (But just so you know, the last time I talked to him--in June--he certainly seemed content with his lot!)  There were books about the end times--The Late Great Planet Earth--and songs we sang--I Wish We'd All Been Ready--and lots of speculation, lots of discussion about whether He'd return for us before, during or after the trials (we all voted for before, if we had a vote!).  However, that length of time is exactly how long the Incarnate God walked on this earth, so it isn't nothing (to use a double negative!).  It's something.  Not that it necessarily means something, but it isn't nothing. 

So here we are, that thirty + years later, going about our lives just as if this earth will last forever. And what hit me yesterday is that both of these attitudes are exactly how we should live.  Not the ridiculous vow stuff (which also included some of us thinking we wouldn't have kids) but with one eye slanted toward Heaven.  With our lamps full of oil and lit to light His return.  No matter when He comes, whether in our life time or another thousand years, we must be ready.  Waiting.  Watching for Him as the obedient wedding attendants we are.

Unfortunately, for most of Christian history, people have thought the end was near, have imagined the Bridegroom's .  Believers have looked at the events of their time--the persecution, the anti-Christ choices, the selfish sin--and yelled at the world, "The end is near."  Reading the times in light of Revelation, that most bewildering, mysterious book.  Reading them literally, reading every nuance of the world and trying to fit it into the puzzles of John's dream.  His written-down vision that has more to say about worship in the church today (and every day) than a date of His return trip to Earth.

Let's face it: Paul's metaphor of 'thief in the night' is important.  It means we won't know until it's upon us. We will awaken to see Him, and (and this is the key) those of us with lit lamps will recognize Him.  Know Him as the One who knows us.  Sleeping, working, loving our children, ministering to the world, we will be stopped in our tracks and know Him. And we will respond to our Beloved when He comes, whenever He comes.  This is what counts when thinking of the end, that we're living with the Bridegroom in mind and heart, not living with the end in mind.  Watching for Him whenever, however He comes--and this means today, in this moment, in our daily lives. 

If we're doing this, if we're living with Him in mind, we'll be ready.  And we'll be helping those He puts in our lives to be ready as well.  Whether tomorrow, next year, or long after we're 'asleep'. I'm more interested in listening to Him today than worrying about the final days.  More interested in Him being in my life and--through me, if He wishes--coming to those whom I love who do not yet watch for Him.  Maranatha (which, means 'Our Lord comes'), as we used to say. Lord, come soon.  Maranatha--Come today!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Seven

There are a few other blogs in cyberspace that I read now and then (read that as almost every single day) and this morning when I checked in on one of them, there was a 'seven' random things section.  His was full of amazing and adorable photos, and heart-felt words about his church.  Then this: a challenge to list seven random things of my own and post a link to his (which I think you'll love!).  Never one to forego a challenge, I ante up and come up with my own lists on the spot:

Seven foods I cannot live without:
1. Peanut butter. If we run out of PB, we run to the store no matter what time of day or night!
2. Cheese.  The more variety the better.  My favorite? (er, make that two, no three: brie, smoked gouda, and 3. Washington State University's Cougar Gold--which we get yearly for Christmas, thank you LMc!)
4. Tea. A strong black, English tea. (Trader Joe's English Breakfast is good, but PG Tips is my favorite)
5. Bread.  Any, all, the more the better (my body is a living picture of my love of bread.)  See 1. as a complement.
6. Chicken.  My go-to dinner option. Thankfully, Beve doesn't get tired of it.  Also turkey, which I think we don't eat often enough! 
7. Curry.  Love, love, love curry, which Beve and I learned to eat in India, where we had it almost every meal (other than breakfast!).  The best was a curry cooked in a small village over a single burner by the best chef who never went to cooking school, and never even traveled away from that village.  I still dream about that curry!

Seven books I read over and over (not including the Bible):
1. The Narnia Chronicles
2. Pride and Prejudice..er, Emma...er, Persuasion...ok, all of Jane Austen's works
3. Brothers K--David James Duncan
4. Sparrow--Mary Doria Russell
5. A Day In the Life of Ivan Denisovich--Alexander Solzhenitsyn
6.  Wendell Berry's Port William chronicles
7. Lord of the Rings
 (OK, so I cheated a bit.  Can't help it.  It was a task too big for the asking for someone who reads like she breathes.)

Seven heroes with clay feet:
1. Abraham Lincoln, who emancipated the slaves but didn't necessarily find them equal to their slave owners (or any other whites).
2. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who brought this country out of the depression, carved peace with other leaders across the world, but was also unfaithful to his wife.
3. Martin Luther King, whose birthday was today, a preacher who spoke prophetically about all this country could be, and put feet to his faith about it, but also had a problem with adultery (and perhaps plagarism in college).
4. CS Lewis (my personal hero) who wrote profoundly about the faith, but also felt men and women were not equal. He'd never have taken me--a mere woman--on as a student, and that breaks my heart! Plus, he was a slob, smoked and was known to throw back a pint or two (though less than his poor brother, Warnie).
5. David, beloved of God, whose heart I desire to emulate, who believed and sinned with equal size, also an adulterer, with a bit of a vengeful streak (see the Psalms about his enemies).
6. Paul, man of God, man of faith, man of acknowledged weaknesses, somewhat sarcastic (see Philemon), and condescending towards women.
7. Jesus--Son of Man, Son of God.  NO CLAY FEET.  None, whatsoever.


Now, here's the link to the original Random Sevens!
http://www.thisisreverb.com/

Friday, January 15, 2010

The waiting room

Spent the morning on the exceedingly comfortable straight-backed chairs of a waiting room, with a vanilla latte and cranberry-orange scone to keep me company.  After the travel mug was empty and the scone long-gone, a doctor burst through the door and said, "Wow, those were some terrible tonsils!"  Yes, my grown-up baby boy had his tonsils removed this morning.  The doc said the infections had been so bad, over so many years, it had permeated into the muscles at the back of his throat, causing deep scarring. "These are easily the worst tonsils I'll see in the next three months, probably in the top five worst of the entire year."  Puts to death any lingering doubt about whether removing those beasts was a good idea, and worth all the pain in front of him for the next week!

Oh, the times I've spent in waiting rooms of one kind or anothe, for one family member or another.  Once my dad went in for colon cancer surgery in Seattle.  Little sister, RE, her new baby SE, and I drove across the state to sit with a whole crowd of family members in the waiting room.  Half way across the state, I fell coming down the hill from a restroom, and by the time we got to Seattle, went straight to the emergency room.  I'd broken a bone in my foot, refused to have a cast put on it (it was just three weeks before I had to squeeze my foot into the highest heels I ever wore--before or since--for my wedding to my beloved giant), then went up stairs and sat with my mom, two aunts, a grandmother, two sisters and one small niece.  Dad's surgery lasted thirteen hours that day, so I think my broken foot was a bit of a distraction for all of us.

There were weeks in an ICU waiting room while Beve's mom was dying of cancer, recent weeks in another ICU waiting room while Glo was dying of every other thing.  Days and hours and minutes in waiting rooms for one procedure or another.  One night a dozen years ago, we took SK to the ER with severe stomach pains and nausea because I suspected (rightly so) that she was having an acute attack of appendicitis. By the time the doc, nurses, and anaesthesiologist got there to remove that offending appendix, it was about one in the morning and I was alone in the waiting room (Beve having gone home to be with our other two kids for a few hours), shivering at the unnatural quiet, feeling sick--two parts worry, one part from the stink of old, overcooked coffee across the room.

Truthfully, most waiting room experiences are pretty dreadful (unless it's the wait which ends with, "It's a boy/girl!" For instance, I think of the long waits I've had before mammograms. Those are pretty intimate procedures (for those of you who've never had--and never will have--one). I'm not a fan, really I'm not! Taking half my clothes off, having to be manipulated by a stranger woman, then flattened, like a roller over blacktop.   The first time I had one, I turned to the woman and said, "Shoot, can't we at least exchange names first?"

Waiting rooms with little to read (I always bring my own book--who wants old copies of Parenting, WebMD, Sports Illustrated?), and not much to look forward to.  Waiting for the thing to happen, the appointment, the procedure, the explanation, the results.  Waiting to find out whether there's hope or not. Waiting.

I think, though, that in some ways, all of life is that waiting room. Romans 8: 19 says: "The whole creation waiting in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed, and verse 23continues: "...we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoptions, the redemption of our bodies."

So though we are saved by faith (see Romans 10: 13 and Ephesians 2:9-10), there's something more to wait for.  Indeed, not only do we--the wholly human ones who are His heirs--await it, but all of creation waits with us.  This more is for our entire selves to be redeemed, body, mind and spirit.  Creation awaits this as well, because when that culminating redemption occurs, there will also be a new heaven and a new earth.  We await the return of Christ, and await His Glory to be revealed--through our redeemed, new bodies.

However, the waiting room, which is our present reality, only bears the smallest resemblance to a hospital/doctor's waiting room.  Those are stagnant places, empty of personal activity.  The waiting on earth of the faithful is active.  Wholly and gloriously active.  No matter how quiet we might appear on the outside while we wait (especially if in a season of waiting, such as I am currently), within there is always action.  Always the powerful action of the Spirit moving and breathing and having His being in us.  There's a hum in the room of our lives, and that hum is Him.  We wait, and He hums, and we wait, and He moves in us.  We wait.  What if all of this life--the glorious colors of spring flowers, the majestic sharpness of the Rockie Mountains, the grandeur of the deepest Canyons, and the breath-catching sweep of oceans--what if all of the best this world (and the whole universe) has to offer, is merely the most dismal of waiting rooms?  Maybe the new heaven and new earth promised is so much more magnificent that we do not have eyes to see it.  Maybe we need our re-created eyes to see what God has in store in the new earth.  Maybe all the world is merely the waiting room.  And what's beyond is more than we could ask or imagine.  That would make--does make--it worth the wait.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Reproduction

I'm typing this post on the back of my Springer Spaniel, Jamaica, so any typos I'm blaming on her (for once, having an excuse).  She's in my lap because it's Thursday.  You know, the big, bad garbage truck day.  The equally scary recycling truck day as well.  But she doesn't really need much of an excuse to climb into the lap of one of her people.  She's our 48 lb. lap dog.

Yesterday I got a note (online, of course) from the woman who was my Campaigner/Young Life leader in high school.  She reminded me--oh so gently, Ouch!--that it was almost 40 years ago that we were sitting in some living room or other talking about the Word of God, how that Word had meaning and application for our young lives.  The spring of my freshman year in high school, KB and our other leader, CH (who were each only 20 years old--this was long before driving regulations for such trips), piled seven campaigner girls into my family's Carry-all and drove us up into the mountains for a mini-retreat at a condo at a closed-for-the-summer ski resort.  Only about two thirds of the way up that mountain the snow was so deep the road--unplowed--was impassable.  We pulled out our sleeping bags, handed them around without paying attention to whose was whose and slept right there in the car.  I was lucky enough to be in the far back, behind the seats, on top of bags, which meant that I (and two others beside me) were flat and snug for the night.  The other girls, KB and CH, weren't quite as fortunate.  Two of them actually had the misfortune of getting the two  mummy type hiking bags that weren't filled with down, though they thought they were, and took off all their clothes in order not to be too warm in those bags.  Instead, they practically froze overnight (It's just possible--er, likely--that one, or both, of those bags belonged to my family...Sorry!).  In the morning, when we saw how deep the snow was, how precariously close to a mountain road's edge we were, we hiked down the mountain for help.  Got it, as you can tell.

The most interesting thing about that trip, almost 40 years ago, is that all those women--the two leaders, the six other girls--are still in my life.  I wouldn't have guessed it then, but that's how it's turned out. When KB got married, the fall right at the start of my sophomore year in high school, those same seven girls plus a YL leader driver drove across the state to her wedding, the first wedding any of us had attended without our families.  We thought we were sooo old. And I sat in living rooms with KB all four years of high school, listened to her explain the mysteries of God's word...and also--more than once--the mysteries of the opposite sex. She discipled me in every possible way, and I soaked it up like the little sponge I was.  I listened to her, looked up to her, wanted to be like her when I grew up, both as confident and as clear about God.

And the other night, Beve and I ran into a young woman who was in our youth group about 15+ years ago.  This woman, now a wife and mom, sat in rooms with me and we delved into God's Word together.  I helped explain the mysteries of the opposite sex to her, discipled her in every way imaginable.  Beve and I (and our best friends) took this young woman and dozens of her friends on short term missions, on adventures, on service projects.  We shared much together in those years, shared song and food and...life itself, the life that is in His Son. There's a whole generation of men and women from that period in our lives who listened to us, looked up to us, who saw us as wise.  This young woman is training her son in the way that he should go...and we have a part of that. 

And that, of course, is the way things should be.  The young woman I saw in that store has KB to thank for her ongoing life of faith, just as I do.  Just as I have the people who discipled KB, and the ones who discipled them.  Reproduction is what I'm talking about--how the life KB found in Christ was reproduced in me, then reproduced in those I've discipled along the way.  This reproduction is exactly what God intends.  It's what Paul speaks of when he tells the Phillipians, "Join in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do."  Follow me as I follow Christ.  Follow the ones who follow the ones who follow...all the way back to Paul.  All the way back to Christ Himself.  The Christian life isn't something we invent, it's something reproduced in every new believer, every new generation.  The organic goodness of that, the earthy sweetness of it blessed me this morning as I think of those I followed, like KB (thank you!), and those who followed me (A, thank you as well!).

So the questions begging to be asked are: what are you reproducing? And who is following you?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Be more

I was thinking this morning of the default prayers that run through our brains.  I'm talking about the short phrases we find ourselves muttering under our breaths when life goes south, when we need something, when we're scared out of our wits.  The medieval monks repeated what is known as 'the sinner's prayer', found in Luke 18: 13, "Lord, have mercy on me, a [poor] sinner."  In foxholes and ICUs the simple, "Save me/him/her" is often uttered.  And across the world, whether believers or not, in time of great need, the words, "Help me," are spoken, whispered, screamed in the darkest hours.

So, too, I have a default prayer.  Mine is a bit longer than the two word phrases above, but deep in me. It's the prayer I pray as I rise in the morning and as I'm falling asleep at night.  I speak it so often I sometimes worry that it's mere rote, empty of meaning. But as I thought of it this morning, I realized again how cell-deep and life changing it is for me to pray.  It's this: "Lord, be more in me than I am in myself."  Be more.  That's the prayer I speak when I don't know what else to pray.  What I am in myself is small, sinful and painfully ordinary. If left to my own devices, I know what I will choose. Self and sin and all things wrong.  But if He's in me, increasing in me day by day, becoming more and more and more in me, just imagine the difference. Because what He is, is everything. More wise, compassionate, patient, loving, forgiving.  What He is is more full of grace and healing.  He is more. Well, actually, He is all, isn't He? And I am just selfish enough, just greedy enough (spiritually) to want it all--I want all the wisdom, the mercy, the grace that He, who said He would come into those who asked, has to give.  I want it all.  That's true, I want all that He is to fill every crevasse of my life.

I also believe this might well be the most important thing I can pray for others.  To ask God--who asks me to pray--to overwhelm others' weaknesses with His strength, to flood their little lives with his abundance.  To inundate them with all that He is. So I pray this simple prayer for my children, my Beve. I ask Him to be more in them. I want Him to be more  in them than they are in themselves alone.  More true, more wise, more loving. More.

And, as one of His chosen ones, one of His adopted children, I am just presumptuous enough to ask Him to be more in the world than the world is on its own. In fact, I believe it is the responsibility of every son and daughter of the King to approach Him boldly on behalf of those who aren't yet in His family. It is our primary job in His Kingdom--before doing anything, we are called to pray. And to pray that He acts and does and IS more in this world. Today I'm thinking of Haiti.  I'm thinking of the incredible devastation, the loss of lives.  I'm thinking of that unbelievably impoverished country now facing ruin of catastrophic proportions.  Tragedy beyond which I can imagine.  Though I can (and have) sent my pittance across the wires to aid, what I know to be true is that mere human aid will not suffice.  So I keep praying my default prayer.  "Be more, Lord. Be more present in Haiti.  Be overwhelmingly present.  Yes, overwhelm them with help, hope, strength and peace. Be more real in those who fly in with aid, actually be the hands of those who lift hands to heal. Be more, Lord."

Be more in me, Lord.  So that I can be more in this world. Amen.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Contentment

A rainy winter day here in the 'Ham, as some around here call our little city.  Wind blowing so hard even our big lug, Jackson, doesn't want to go outside.  But then, he really is a 110 lb weeny!

But I'm a pretty contented human being today.  A couple of reasons: first, and this is no small matter, I don't have a headache.  I repeat, though maybe I should be knocking on wood, I do not have a headache.  My head's been pounding, my eyes blurry and seeking darkness for the last 5 days.  Yes, five long, mind numbing, I-don't-get-those-back-again days.  Sure, I've lived my life.  Continued helping the elderly unpack, unload (we went through their clothes last night, and it wasn't a pretty sight.  I've become pretty ruthless with them in my/their old age!), cared for our son (as much as he'll let me--he is a grown man, you know) who is having his tonsils removed Friday, made meals for the Beve and E, played with the dogs, but I'm here to tell you, most of the time I've wanted to bury my head under a pillow, fall so deeply asleep I couldn't feel it.  So believe me when I tell you, it thrills my heart--and my head--that the pain is abated.  However, I may be speaking too soon.  Sigh.  Or maybe just writing about headaches makes me think I have one.

Another reason I'm feeling good today is that we got an email from SK across the world.  It warmed my mother's heart to just to see her name in my inbox,  and my Anglophilic heart to hear about her trip.  This morning her class went across the Thames and as their destination came into sight, SK teared up. The Globe.  The rebuilt-to-historic-specifications Globe Theatre, Will Shakespeare himself made famous.  In 2000, my sisters, a couple of friends and I saw 'The Tempest' with Vanessa Redgrave masterfully playing Prospero.  It's like mecca to a person like me who took two years of Shakespeare in college, and actually LOVE it.  SK said she learned more about Shakespeare in this morning's hour-long acting class than she ever has.  It was brilliant, confirmed that she's in the right field.  And I love that she's loving it.  Am only the tiniest bit jealous.  Really.  No, really.  I mean who wouldn't rather be here in rainy Bellingham than across the globe at the Globe.  


But I am content here in my own little corner, because yesterday Beve and E took down the bed in J's room, brought in a big table, and now I have an actual sewing room.  A dozen years ago I had a large room stuffed to the gills with sewing things.  Serger, machine, cupboards full of fabric, patterns and notions.  But since we moved out of that home, there's never been a designated space for this.  All these quilts I've made this year were cut out on a folding card table, pieced on a small computer desk in the family room, laid out on our king-sized bed and quilted on our dining room table.  Basically, I either leave stuff all over or have to repeatedly start over.  I've actually been taking photos with my phone so I can figure out how a quilt's been laid out, if I have to put it away mid-project. Frankly, makes you wonder if it's worth the trouble.  But now I have a room where I can leave projects, stack fabric in color-appropriate bins ('borrowed' from Grampie's place), and not have to spread out across the house. I'm telling you, this is a red-letter day.

Being content.  This is something we have to learn over and over.  The absence of pain, contact with those we love, a small space of our own all bring contentment.  A fire in the fireplace on a rainy winter day.  Warm boots in the snow.  Clean sheets, a shower, an idea for a blog.  An idea for dinner.  Good conversations--whether deep or hard or just connecting with someone--being let in to someone else's life. There are so many things that make me content, make me certain that in all the world, I'm exactly where I'm meant to be, who and whose I'm meant to be.  I've said it before, but believe it wholly, that contentment is one of the most important things in the Christian life.  The sense that, no matter what is going on around us, whether good or not, we are in the right place, living and doing exactly what God intends for us: this is contentment.  No matter how little, no matter how insignificant that is.  Whether infirmed or healthy, whether making a global difference or a very hidden one, we are living content.  As Paul says, "I have learned the secret of being content whatever the circumstances...I can do all this through Christ who strengthens me."  He intends--and will strongly aid--our contentment.  He promises this.  This is what He strengthens us to do--be content.  And you know why?

Because the world isn't.  The world is always looking for something to make life better, a new toy, a new gadget, a new love, a new...more, more, more.  But our contentment, our Christ-strengthened contentment in His world, His life, His...everything is like a neon sign to those around us that we are different, that we are other.  We are His.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Interdependence

Over the more than quarter-of-a-century that Beve and I have been married, we had many times when we needed home-repairs, remodels, or other services done for us.  This is always the case, especially the moment, married or not, that people put their initials and and names on the sheaf of papers that certifies home-ownership.  Before we even owned a home, a friend from Beve's grad school days helped us build a futon frame.  He was quite a carpenter, that friend, and we re-used his skills when we needed to put in a wall in the first house we owned.  In that house, one of my brothers and an uncle helped Beve move our front door, replace a sliding door with a window, and my dad helped us build the steps to that new entrance.  In the next house, Dad built a deck for/with us, as well as helping my brother frame our garage.  A teacher Beve worked with happened to have a background in cement, so he helped Beve add a sports court to that back of that garage.

We've had friends willing to let us use their giant pick-ups to move hot-tubs, others who let us store our earthly belongings in their garage.  A dad of one of E's basketball team-mates, also worked in the cement-pouring industry, and he widened our driveway for us a house ago.  There's an electrician in town who used to own Jackson, and still feels a little guilty about making us take the big oaf (not that we' regret it for an instance) so this man did all the wiring on our front patio.  A different friend did the lion's share of wiring in our bathroom re-wire.  

My point is, we've had so many friends with exactly the right cocktail of skills we've needed at exactly the right time, it's been a joke between us that we only make friends with those who can do something for us.

I'm thinking about this tonight because J went to the doctor again this afternoon about his tonsils.  He texted me this morning that they were not only bleeding, but also pussy, and were practically touching his back molars.  We immediately called the doctor again, and Beve went with him this time, because J can barely make his voice heard.  The doctor said that J's tonsils are the worst he's ever seen.  So J will very likely have them removed.  When the dr. said he was going to send J to an ENT, Beve said, "Tom."  Tom, you see, is an ENT in town.  Also the father of three of Beve's former and present students.  Just a month ago, Beve took Tom's middle son out to lunch.  This son was the star of Squalicum's basketball team, a team that won the state title last year and is expected to repeat.  But this boy had rotator cuff surgery last month, and won't be a part of their victory lap, except from the bench.  So Beve wanted to check in with him. 

And I was in a Bible study with Tom's wife a few years back.  We were actually meeting one Tuesday morning when Beve was back in Pennsylvania, suffering from a Meniere's attack.  Right in the middle of that Bible study, Tom's wife called him for me.  A wife can get through to her husband more easily than a patient can.  And Tom went on a mission trip to Mexico with us one hot August.  He worked side by side with J, building a medical clinic in a tiny town on the Baja Penninsula.  He told Beve and me later that J was a remarkable young man, a really hard worker, and that he'd be glad to help J someday.

He meant, of course, help J get a job. But tonight I'm thinking how that help will come a different way.  Beve's going to call Tom tomorrow, even though it's Sunday.  And Tom will agree to see J.  I know this because I know Tom. 

We don't, of course, ask for resumes and skill sets when we are looking for friends.  But this sharing of gifts--without counting the cost--is what the Body of Christ is about. Or what it should be about, anyway.  I've helped many of my friends' kids with their college applications.  Beve's baked cinnamon rolls for practically everyone we know.  It's the sharing of our talents, our skills with those who need them...and we all need each other's talents, don't we?  We've lived this way mostly as economy.  We can't afford to hire such experts, as others can. But this economy-life has made us stumble into the best way to live.

A hundred-plus years ago on the prairies and farmlands of this country people didn't call a contractor when they needed to build a house. They called their friends.  Then they helped their neighbors bring in the harvest.  Not for pay, but because through such giving, such neighborliness everyone prospered, which developed community.  In those days people didn't try to be independent, but interdependent.  And I'm thinking tonight that this interdependence is what living Kingdom-lives really means.  It's faith in action, as James says.

The last time we moved--into this house--27 people showed up to help us.  Seriously, 27.  Even thinking about it now (6 1/2 years later)  makes me tear up, I'm so humbled by it.  That's a Kingdom-come blessing we can never repay.  But repaying isn't the point--giving what God's given us to give is.

"For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.  We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us." Romans 12: 4-6

Friday, January 8, 2010

Directions

A couple of farmers ventured out of the Palouse yesterday.  My brother-in-law and his brother took a road trip up to our neck of the woods.  There was a John Deere tractor sitting on a lot in Lynden that had their name written all over it.  Or so they suspected.  And since all the other tractors they've been checking out (online, mostly) have been much farther away--like Colorado and points further east--they hopped in their car and drove across the state then turned north toward us.  (Ok, for you grammar types, I just checked out the difference between farther and further, and apparently, in contrast to what Finding Forrester would have us believe, they are now considered synomyns, so keep using which ever you choose, or mix them up as I just did!)  The salesperson waited around for them, likely assuming--and rightly so--that they wouldn't have gone to all the trouble of taking themselves off their land and this far afield if they weren't serious buyers!  And I'm pretty sure he didn't have trouble identifying them when they stepped out of their Chevy Trail-Blazer and onto his lot, because we saw them a couple hours later and they were practically identical twins in their plaid flannel shirts and jeans, not to mention their 'aw shucks' politeness.

Yep, they bunked here last night.  Walked through our front door about a couple hours after my brother-in-law called us from the tractor equipment lot.  That lot, by our reckoning, is about thirty minutes away from our house.  But these boys, and I use that term affectionately, don't get into the 'big city' much, especially one they don't know well--or at all.  And my directions must have been a little confusing, because they ended up bewildered and in downtown, having turned the wrong direction off the freeway.  Then they back and forth on the major street down the hill from our house.  Yep, I reckon I'm just so used to getting here, I don't pay enough attention to landmarks that would help strangers in our strange urban landscape.  These farmers are used to long distances between roads, and I was talking merely blocks.  That threw them off a bit.  And--and now we know this--some of the street signs are obscured by trees and the like.  Trees.  Trees aren't indigenous to the Palouse.  Grass, and only grass, grew on those tall hills without someone coming along and planting it.

But finally, we told them to hole up at the 7-11 and Beve went down and rescued them.  We gave them a nice meal (E was wishing they'd stay an extra few days just because her mother actually cooked a decent meal, seeing how we had company and all), a bit of conversation (we had to watch the national championship, after all, and wasn't that a terrible thing, seeing Colt McCoy go down during his first drive), and  before they hit the road for home early this morning.  By the way, we put my brother-in-law in SK's room, complete with netting over her bed.  I'm hoping he slept like a pretty-pretty-princess.

They're the reason I'm 'ah shucking' and 'I reckon'-ing this morning.  Folks where I come from always think there aren't strong accents in our parts, but they're dead wrong.  Put a bunch of farmers together, and you hear drawls as long and true as in any Hollywood western.  I don't notice it much when I'm just talkin' to my brother-in-law, but with his brother sitting right next to him, shoot, it's thick and and broad, I'm here to tell you.  While B was talking to his wife last night (otherwise known as my little sister, RE), I asked his brother whether he drinks coffee.  "I like a good cup now and then," he told me. "But I pride myself in bein' calm and not gettin' much done. That coffee pops me up like a popcorn machine." 

But that's not really my point, as entertaining as listening to them is (I've always wanted an accent, really I have.  And Beve told SK the only thing he wants her to bring him back from London is a British accent!).  What I'm really thinking about this morning is how easy it is to get lost in this world.  Especially if we're away from our homeplace. Especially without landmarks to point the way.  We all need them, yet for some reason, it's easy to stumble through life, just hoping something shows up that helps. But the truth is, these things rarely just show up.  In Deuteronomy 6, the Israelites are told, "Impress [these commandments] on your children.  Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates."

Jews, even today, have portions of theTorah (Deuteronomy 6: 4-9, which is called the shema; and Deuteronomy 11: 13-21, the veheya) written in pieces of parchment set inside a protective case, called a Mezuzah, mounted beside their doors.  I've long wanted a Mezuzah for our house, as a reminder to keep Him holy and of primary focus in my life and in our home.  It's a set of directions, the Mezuzah is, it seems to me.  A reminder to watch for Him within my home and as I leave it.  To carry Him with me so that I know the way in which to go.

We need these directions.  It's ridiculous to think we can live without them, that we can find our way without being intimately acquainted with the Way...the Way, the Truth and the Life. And we have a pretty complete map right at our fingertips, available in leather, hardback and paperback.  Online and read aloud on CD.  In fact, in every form imaginable, we have this map.  This holy, precious map.  And yet.  And yet, we often go off without consulting it.  We stumble through our days, our lives, without availing ourselves of the very thing that will make life navigable.  And then we're surprised when we lose our way.  Or worse, we blame God for abandoning us.  And all the while, it's right there--He's right there--waiting to give us directions.

P.S. They bought the tractor.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Annoyances

As I was running errands with Thyrza (my mother-in-law for those of you just tuning in) yesterday, she casually mentioned that she had never seen me irritated, annoyed or upset with anyone. I just about ran off the road, when my eyes rolled up inside my head, and I'm pretty sure the iced tea I was drinking came out of my nose.  Now I know she has short term memory problems.  In fact, I'd been struggling not to be annoyed through our whole grocery store adventure.  I mean, it's not her fault she takes twenty steps per meter and has to slowly process every single item she carefully lifts from the shelf.  She's in her nineties now, she's earned this slowness over more living than I expect to do.  So it's easy enough to show her a little patience.

However, it's not quite as simple to show that same kind of patience with those I live with, those I actually love the most in this world.  The truth is, Beve is the object of my annoyance, impatience, irritation more than anyone else on the planet. Seems a little backward when I think about it.  I love him.  I am in love with him.  I am grateful that he is who he is, and that he's in my life.  But he drives me crazy.  When he drapes the kitchen towels over the counter instead of rehanging them up, when he stuffs plastic bags any old place rather than putting them in the closet in their container, when he leaves condiments on the counter, and his coats in the back room.  He drives me crazy.  When I've hung up that towel, replaced the condiments, found all the errant plastic bags, there are times when I grit my teeth.  More than grit my teeth. Sometimes I might actually say a thing or two outloud. Even scream.  Usually I'm alone in the house when I'm reacting thusly.  But the dogs hear it.  They splinter in different directions, let me tell you.

What I try NOT to do is yell at Beve about these things.  I know, I know, some women have done better jobs at training their husbands than I have.  But all along (like the last 25 years) I've felt hesitant to make the small things into big things.  And these things seem--are!--trivial.  In light of all Beve is, in light of his tender servant's heart, his habits are annoying at most.  And, though I'm loathe to admit it, I'm also reluctant to nag him about such habits because I'm well-aware that were he to keep such a list of my flaws, that list might well cover the earth.  And though some of my habits are also petty, trivial and ridiculous, they probably bother him as much as his towel habit bothers me.  I have always imagined what that kind of 'fight' would look like: two birds pecking at each other, the offenses growing bigger and bigger--peck, peck, peck--until an eye was put out, then another.  Then we'd be blind and hurting and blaming each other.

No, it's not something I dare start.  Now don't get me wrong.  Beve and I do disagree.  We argue at times like we're siblings.  He plans one thing, I plan another, and unfortunately, each of our plans are only in our heads.  Then when each initiates that plan, we discover the other wasn't reading our minds.  The result of this is more like the butting heads of rams.  We go head to head until we reach a consensus. Often someone has to ask forgiveness, someone else has to extend grace.

These two different kinds of conflicts with one's spouse are what Paul writes of in Colossians 3: 13. "Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone."  The first clause, 'bear with each other,' is about the trivialities that occur in daily life.  Maybe you don't like the way someone clears their throat--and they do it ALL the time!--or maybe the way he blows on his hot coffee annoys the socks off you.  Bear with each other, Paul says.  Let the small things slide.  Just bear it.  Keep life in perspective.

But there are also big things.  'Hills to die on,' as my son would put it.  Things that are legitimate grievances.  You know the things I mean.  You know them for you, that is.  Is it spending money?  Child-discipline?  Adultery?  Real grievances, real make-it-or-break-it grievances.  About such things, such things that could sever a relationship, Paul says, "Forgive one another." I don't say this, he does.  Jesus does.  I know well that I wouldn't say this at all.  Though I grew up with a father who said he was sorry every time my mother raised her voice (and believe me, this means he was saying he was sorry ALL the time!), I'm pretty sure he never felt completely contrite.  Nor wrong.  And my mother wasn't always forgiving.  In fact, now and then, when she was really mad, she told him to "Stop saying you're sorry!"  So I didn't learn forgiveness at my parents' knees.  I did learn to say I'm sorry quickly, but I didn't learn to mean it.

This learning to forgive comes from Christ, not from our natural selves.  It goes against the grain of our sin-flooded humanity. But there it is.  There it is in His words and there it is, of course, in His actions.  He didn't stop to measure the grievance before He allowed Himself to be nailed to the cross.  He simply did it.  Allowed those nails to be pounded into His flesh.  His very human flesh.  And so, at times, we must also allow nails to be pounded into us, by the deep hurts our loved ones inflict upon us.  And still, we must forgive.  "Forgive others as I have forgiven you!"

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Stuck

J's come down with a wicked case of tonsillitis.  Unable to swallow, he even has some bleeding on them. Yuck.  Glands so swollen he can't open his mouth, and even his tongue is swollen.  J moved out of our house last week, but called Beve from the doctor's office Monday while I was driving SK to the airport.  He came home and has barely gotten up since.  He told me this morning that he sounds like he's deaf at the moment.  And I admit, it's true.  He has a high-pitched, barely enunciated voice right now.  And swallowing the regular-sized antibiotics he has to take is an exercise in torture.

It makes me think about my early childhood adventures with tonsillitis. Though I don't remember the actual pain of those swollen glands, I do remember spending summer days and nights in the basement of our home in Ypsilanti, Michigan because it was the only cool spot in the un-air-conditioned house, and my fever was very high. My parents fixed up a mattress on the floor, and I'd lay there, sucking popscicles and sipping ice-water.  I remember that those fevers gave nightmares, though I can't remember the actual dreams.  However, ever after, even when I was tonsil-less, I hated that basement.

Then the Christmas I was four years old, I spent in the hospital. I'd had my tonsils removed the night before.  I don't remember why that removal was so important it had to happen the day before Christmas, but I definitely remember the children's ward where I spent that Christmas, surrounded by children who were far more sick than I was, kids who lived there.  There was a Christmas tree, gifts (even for me who was only there a day or two), and plenty of cheer.  But I didn't feel cheerful.  It was a very sad day to me--I've never forgotten that feeling.   Sure, I got all the ice-cream I wanted, but I couldn't go home.

And it seems to me that there are a whole lot of people in the world who are stuck in places they don't want to be.  Stuck for a myriad of reasons. People like my mom want to go home, even though she doesn't know where or what home is. For her, that 'stuckness' resides within her very head.  There are people stuck by diseases they're living with, and people who may even be in their own homes, but feel stuck by their own loneliness.  Stuck because of poverty, stuck because of poor choices.  Even these people are stuck, and the sense of isolation is no less for coming via one's own sins than when one's a victim. 

Jesus was very clear about our responsibility toward all of those stuck in our world.  He doesn't make a distinction between any of them.  We're responsible for them all.  We must recognize Him in them.  In the least of them who are stuck in lives they never imagined, lives their parents never dreamed for them. Sick, hungry, thirsty, poor, imprisoned.  The least of these = Him.  That's what He says.  And I think He means it. 

Matthew 25

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hammers and other tools

SK (now sound asleep while the plane she's on flies over the pole) and I had a great conversation today as I drove her down I-5 to the airport.  She was telling me about a couple of conversations she had early in her vacation with a close friend who happens to be a non-believer, about how this friend didn't understand why SK wouldn't be interested in a young man they both know who is also not a believer, a young man who has expressed interest in SK more than once. 
"Why won't you give him a chance?" this friend asked SK.  "I know you have fun with him."
"There are just too many differences.  Important ones.  It's not like we disagree about music or movies! It's core stuff. At the heart of it is that he's not a Christian."
"But maybe you can make him be a Christian.  He'd be willing to change for you."
"I don't want that," SK told her.  "He needs to change because it's true and right for him, not for me."

SK has it right, I know.  Though she thinks this young man is a great guy, he isn't right for her, and she can't change him.  I get this.  I've lived it myself in a different way.

It's a familiar notion that a person might 'make' someone else be a Christian. I remember back when my middle brother was particularly troubled in his mostly-troubled life.  He spent quite a while in a Children's Psychiatric Hospital, then a year in a Psychiatric group home.  More than once during that time, my dad (not yet a Christian) asked me about converting Andrew.  I told him there was no way I could convert my little brother.  Or convert anyone. Conversion isn't the domain of humans.  We can talk to people about what we believe, we can point them in the direction of Light, but we can't move them.  "But isn't there a program you can put together to make it happen?" Dad asked.  I remember telling Dad how allergic I was (even in my mid-twenties) to programs.  Programs, like 'religion', doesn't save anyone. 

Relationships do.  Back then, I often had the task of picking Andrew up at his group home in Spokane and driving him home for the weekend.  I was a grad student at the time, and there was space in my life for that job.  And, I admit, once or twice or maybe every time, I talked to Andrew about Jesus.  But you know what?  All my talking was for naught.  And you know why?  I didn't really have a genuine interest in Andrew's life.  In his thoughts, in his motivations.  I admit that now.  Yes, he was a difficult child.  And sometimes--often--inscrutable, like he was from the far side of the moon.  It seemed to me that he had almost no interior life, no sense of consequences, no strong emotions.  But I didn't offer him many chances.  I was too busy telling him what he should believe, how he should feel.  Shoot, I was probably worse than all those programs I hated. At least they had snacks at the end.  No, my words made absolutely no difference in Andrew's life. 

But someone's did.  A youth leader at my family's Methodist Church took an interest in Andrew.  A deep interest in him.  That youth leader (whose name I can't summon at the moment) spent a whole lot of time with my troubled middle brother.  He went to movies with Andrew (and Andrew was always--ALWAYS!--addicted to movies), took him out for cokes, to camps.  Just hung out with him.  And when Andrew dis-located himself from our family, when he cut the ties as far as we could tell, he continued to call Scott (yeah, I remembered his name!).  In fact, after Andrew died, we discovered that he'd gone on mission trips with Scott's new church--a church in Oklahoma! 

And that's what changes people.  A person like Scott, investing time and interest in a troubled young man.  A person who allows that troubled young man to be himself but invites him in to something.  It's those relationships that God is in, I know.  Andrew didn't change for Scott, but perhaps, (I hope) God worked through Scott to bring my brother closer to Himself.  He does that.  He uses us.  But it's always, always HIM working, changing, converting people.  We are never more than the tool.  Never more than a hammer, for instance.  And I've never seen a hammer yet that took credit for pounding in nails!

So let's embrace our tooled-ness.  Let's be the best dang hammers and wrenchs and awls we can be.  Let's be the object He uses whenever, however He wants.  And allow Him to work us, work through us...simply work.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Turn, turn, turn

It's over. Vacation, I mean.  Sleeping in, staying up late to watch movies or HGTV (we're House Hunters addicts around here, are thinking of buying a place in Fiji...).  SK has been furiously racing around tonight, checking and rechecking her bag.  That bag's been weighed and repacked several times this week.  She's leaving for her Jan-term in London tomorrow.  London with a long weekend in Barcelona thrown in.  Ah, to be young and traveling.  The last couple of days she's been nursing a cold, so she'll be the one to blame if others wind up sniffing and sneezing at the other end of the over-the-pole flight to Heathrow.  I hope she's not too excited to sleep tonight; the last thing she needs is to start the trip exhausted.  And I'm hoping I'm not too worried to sleep. But my worries are more likely to keep me awake tomorrow night when she's actually flying.  I'll feel much better when her plane's taxi-ing on the wet runway nine hours later.  But she won't be pulling out her cell-phone..er, make that her mobile (since she'll be British for a month)...to let me know she's landed, so I'll just have to trust the old addage that 'no news is good news.'  At least until she plugs in her computer. 

Beve's off tomorrow as well.  Off to work, I mean.  He's a little more tired than he usually is at the end of a long break.  The last five days at Spring Creek Retirement Community have exhausted all of us, including Grampie and Thyrza.  We've worked like dogs, as the saying goes, though I think the saying's wrong.  It seems to me dogs do a heck of a lot of sleeping!  And not even Grampie was doing much sleeping these last several days.  There was too much commotion going on around him, though I'll give him props (as our kids would say) for giving sleep his best shot.  We, on the other hand, were moving boxes from study to living room to hallway to recycling bin.  Then from living room to bedroom then back to study.  Lots of boxes. 400 boxes.  And I was sweating up a storm.  Today I took a sleeveless summer shirt and flip-flops to change into in the sauna that is that retirement community. I used to have terrible circulation, until I got heat exhaustion a couple of times.  Since then apparently my doctor thinks my thermostat has gotten all screwed up.  Sigh! If my sweating's the worst thing, though...

So Beve goes back to work, SK goes to London.  Oh, and J's moved out.  Tonight he took the last of his boxes vacuumed out his bedroom, and drove off.  Leaving me with a great space for a sewing room.  And I'm definitely looking forward to that.  Sorry to see him go, but it was time.  Definitely time.

That's the point, isn't it?  That time passes, seasons turn.  For these last two weeks, with the kids all home, it was like they were still ours.  But they aren't.  They never were.  And the time in which we had authority over them is passing as well.  I was thinking (rather nostalgically, I admit) about the days when I was definitely smarter than my children, when my words, my arguments (!) were the definitive words with them.  They were good kids, they rarely argued with me. But these days, as they've become well-educated, thoughtful adults, I often feel out-thought by my kids.  That's where I wanted to get with them, it's what Beve and I set out to do--to raise adults--but I have to admit, sometimes it's not easy.  Sometimes I wish it was a different season in my life.

And I watch Grampie and Thyrza, and know that they, too, wish for a different season.  Wish the years turned back to when their brains worked better--more quickly!--and their limbs were steadier.

Maybe that's why chapter 3 in Ecclesiastes is included in scripture. (By the way, when I was first learning synchronized swimming as a child, I did a water ballet routine to that "Turn, Turn, Turn" song from the sixties, so every time I think of these verses, I hum them). We need reminding that seasons change, that time passes.  I need to place my own chronology within the larger picture.  For EVERYTHING there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.  This time, this season is for our kids to fly.  In whatever way that is, however God intends, it's their turn to fly. And it's our turn to care, not for them so much, but for our parents, who cared for us.  And someday, if we live long enough, our kids will watch their kids fly, while they take care of us. For everything... turn, turn, turn...there is a season...turn, turn, turn.