Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dinner with friends

It may not have escaped your attention, but this week I'm following Jesus' steps as He walks toward Golgotha, which is the Greek word given for the site where the crosses were raised, and Calvary is the later Latin translation.  I like using the word Golgotha, mostly because it has such a guttural, ugly sound that fits the base, ugly event that happened there at the "place of the skull", as Mark calls it. 

Anyway, as a reader, and student of literature, I'm well aware of how timing works in literature.  As a story approaches its climax, it slows down.  Rather than moving through a series of independent episodes over a course of years (in this case 33), it moves in terms of hours, even minutes as we get to the--er, THE--significant moment.  In the gospel of John, for instance, a book of 21 chapters, the Last Supper begins in chapter 13.  Twelve chapters to cover three years (since he doesn't write of Jesus' early life) and nine to cover Thursday, Friday, Sunday and post resurrection.  That's really, really slow motion.

In fact, John write more about the Last Supper than any other part of the story, including the crucifixion.  When that much of a story is concentrated on a single event, it deserves special attention.  Yet even though we practice a small portion as a Sacrament, I think we often hurry past to get to the climax--to the good/hard part.  The saving part.  So I want to linger here for a couple of days. 

Last week I wrote about how this meal started, with Jesus kneeling in front of His disciples and washing their grubby feet, so if you feel the need to re-read that, go right ahead.  It's "Blessed are the feet" and you can find it on the side. (I'd link you right to it, but my techs aren't home at the moment, and I'm a techno-idiot).  The other part of this meal I probably won't write about is the Sacrament itself.  I've written about it quite often, and hopefully tomorrow, I can give you those links.  For today, I have other fish to fry, so to speak!

Today is about the difference between denying and betraying Jesus.  One gigantic difference.  A life and death difference.  An eternal difference.  Right at the start of this meal, while the disciples still felt Jesus' hands rubbing their feet dry and Peter's avowed "You shall never wash my feet" and complete turnaround, "Then wash my hands and head too," were ringing in the air, Jesus starts talking about betrayal.  Can you imagine?  He had just knelt not only in front of Peter the brash, but the turncoat in their midst as well, and washed those dirty feet, washed them kindly, completely, lovingly. There they are, reclining at the table--and they were always reclining at tables in those days. ( I'd kind of like to see how that worked, wouldn't you?  I mean, I spill on myself about half the time when I'm sitting straight up in a chair, and Beve?  Well, I'm sorry to say, Beve is the cause of more Spray 'N Washed tableclothes and place-mats than our kids these days, and he leans forward when he serves us. So I'm pretty sure we'd be a wine-covered, bread-matted mess if we lay down at any table, but they'd learned it as they'd learned to eat, so maybe they were better at it.) 

So there they are, reclining, most of the disciples thinking they're having a nice time, a lovely intimate time, just the baker's dozen of them for once, except that Jesus is troubled.  He can't go on moment longer just eating this meal--even if it is His last--knowing what He knows.  "One of you is going to betray me."  'Holy mackerel, Andy,' as my father-in-law would say.  Imagine how this news landed on the ears of eleven of those men just reclining innocently around that table.  I bet they all sat up in alarm.  Started looking at each other.  All the little issues that had come up along the road probably rose up with them.  "Betcha it's Matthew," thinks Philip. "Never did think a tax collector was suited for this."  "That John--he's still wet behind the years," Thaddeus might have been saying to himself.  "I'm not so sure about any of them," Thomas is surely doubting. 

Peter, though, is never one to internally doubt when he could raise a question, nudges John.  "Ask Him who He means." So John does.  And Jesus answers, "It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish."  Then He calmly hands the bread to Judas Iscariot.  A couple of things strike me about this.  First, the same practice we have taken as a Sacrament for 2000 years, Jesus extended to the man He knew would betray Him.  Even Judas was given the bread, from Jesus' very hand.  Just as his feet had been washed, so the bread was given.  With an outstretched hand--full of what Jesus would call, "My body, broken for you", Judas was offered Jesus' love one last time.  And, in that moment, he had one last choice.  Jesus said quietly to him, "What you are about to do, do quickly."  It doesn't quite sound like it, but even here there was a last-ditch chance for Judas to refuse.  Jesus knew, though, that Judas wouldn't refuse, that he would do what greed, and sin, and Satan himself, had compelled Judas to do.  It isn't that Jesus--that God--made Judas do what he did.  But God, being God, being Sovereign, knew he would do it.  Such is the great tragedy of Judas Iscariot. 

Judas left--quickly.  And in the next breath, practically, while Peter and John, who knew what had just happened, were still catching their breath, Jesus begins explaining what's about to happen. "Where are you going?" "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later." It's always been a bit of a mystery to me that the disciples were so obtuse, that they missed so many of Jesus' words about His death.  I mean, how can you not understand, "For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth." (Matt. 12: 40) But I have the luxury of living post-cross, post-resurrection.  I can live the story, keeping the end in mind.  For them, all of it had to walked through as it happened.  And, if I might be so bold, no wonder it scared the living daylights out of them at times, scared them so much they ran, or did exactly what Jesus is about to tell Peter he'll do. "Before the cock crows, you'll deny me three times."  Imagine Peter's horror.

But there's a difference here.  I don't know if you caught it.  But here again is what Jesus says, "Where I am going, you cannot follow now, but you will follow later."  There is promise in this sentence.  Yes, on the heels of it, He tells Peter of a fairly significant failure.  But after that, beyond that failure, there is hope.  "You will follow later on."  For a few glaring moments in Peter's life, he will deny his Lord.  Three times.  Three stinkin' times.  Those dark moments may cause nightmares for him for the rest of his life.  He may wake up sweating them in prison down the road, when Satan wants to distract him from faith, when he wants to mock him.  Yes, Peter failed. But before that failure even happened, Jesus knew they'd only be like a single click of the fingers in a life-time of hand-clapping for Christ.  A vapor.  Signifying nothing.

I think Jesus wanted to get these things out of the way at the beginning of this meal because He had a whole lot to cover.  A lot of life to impart, a lot of praying to do.  Loving to do in that long (three chapter) prayer.  These two moments pointed out the huge difference between betrayal and denial. And it comforts me to think through this.  I know--I love deeply--people who question who/whether God is.  I continue to pray for them.  They might be saying, even as I write this, "I don't know the man," but I believe that they will "follow later."  And that when they do, all this time will be but a vapor, and their lives, turned toward Him, turned over to Him, will be a the same kind of lives I know God has envisioned for them all along.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hair and perfume

On the other hand.
In the very same week, that 'if you think it's bad today, just wait until Friday' bad week, had a couple of highlights in it.  And right after Jesus had pulled his hair out, not to mention wanting to pull the hair of those money-changers, he hightailed it back to his friends' place (affectionately known as MML or Mary, Martha and Lazarus) for a little down time between all the high stress moments.  Martha, who'd earlier been fretful about Mary sitting at Jesus' feet, has learned 'the better way', but that doesn't mean she's laid down her apron and serving spoons.  Nope, she's serving today as well, but I'm guessing she's doing it with joy and peace.  After all, between that earlier moment when she got mad at Mary for not helping her, Jesus brought her brother back from the dead.  If that doesn't give a person something to sing about, even while slaving over a hot fire, I don't know what does it!

John 12 says that a dinner has been given in Jesus' honor.  All the disciples presumably reclining around the table with Jesus a few days before they'd eat together in the city.  Lately-dead Lazarus was lying there too, alive and well.  It was a party of Jesus' closest friends, people who really knew and loved him.

Then in comes Mary.  Mary, the attentive.  In one motion, she pulls out a pint of nard, which is a fragrant oil made from a flower of northern India (the spikenard flower), and was both rare and expensive--the year's wages that Judas suggests it is worth is no exaggeration. She pulls out the bottle, uncovers her long hair, pours it over Jesus' feet--his road-weary feet--and wipes it off with her hair.  Her uncovered, unbound hair.

"And the house was filled with fragrance."
And immediately there's an objection.  Judas claims it should be sold and the money given to the poor.  John tells us that Judas didn't really care about the poor, but was actually dipping his hand into the pot, so this perfume could have lined his pocket.  Pretty audacious of Judas, however, isn't it?  Right to Jesus' face.  It's like he didn't even know who Jesus was.  A person makes a comment like this and you can tell--you can just tell--that he didn't know who he was dealing with. Because Jesus knows his heart, and Jesus knows his actions.  Just like all those folks at church who get up right during a worship service to complain about something. It's just common sense that HE knows what their motive is, isn't it?  And if it isn't pure...well, that's on them.

Anyway, that was yesterday's story.  Today I'm talking about the fragrance of worship.  The pureness of it, when it comes streaming out of a person.  Here's what I see in Mary's amazing picture of worship:
1. She's completely smitten with Jesus.  A.W. Tozer uses a phrased called, "God-smitten."  And I love this phrase, which rings true of Mary.  In every picture we have of her, she's gazing with love at Him, hanging on His every word.  She just plain loves Him.  His words, His being, and His incredible, life-altering gift of giving back her brother to her.  Can you imagine how she feels?  Ephesians 3:18-19 speaks of us being able to grasp how wide and long and high and deep the love of Christ is, and of being able to KNOW THIS LOVE that surpasses knowledge.  Mary has gotten it.
2.  She's bold.  Hebrews 4: 16 tells us to approach the throne of grace with confidence--with boldness.  Mary doesn't give a rip who else is in the room, or what anyone in the world might think of her action.  She doesn't even see anyone but Jesus.
3.She's willing to make a fool of herself.  1 Corinthians 4:10. "We are fools for Christ." Not thinking about what's going on beside us, not thinking about what's to be gained, but simply, utterly giving.  She doesn't even want anything from Jesus--she just wants to give to Him.
4. It's prophetic.  Jesus says that the perfume has been 'saved for this day.'  Mary was participating in what Jesus had come to earth to do.  Her worship was part of His master plan. That's what worship does--it participates in His master plan.  It declares that He is who He says He is.  That He is Lord.
5.  It cost her something.  The expensive perfume, her hair, her modesty.  Worship that costs.  There's something about Jesus that matters so much that she doesn't care what it cost her.
6.  "The house was filled with fragrance."  Worship sweetens everything around it.  In fact, it invades everything around it. Imagine it:  Mary's hair was obviously flooded with that expensive perfume.  It clouded her face--the smell of that worship.  And that smell brought out a response in Judas:  Worship does that as well--it divides true worshippers from false ones.  Imagine how not only Jesus, but Mary stunk up the place wherever she went after that.  Everyone smelled her coming!  So she did get something from it--but it was from her own act, her own surrendered action of loving Jesus.

We should be Mary in worship.  All of us.  This is my point. Jesus, the very reality of Him, the very undeniable, not-because-He's-done-anything-or-will-do-anything-for-me reality of Him--THIS is what she was adoring.  She wasn't asking anything.  She only adored.  Willing to  lay a costly sacrifice at His feet because, after all, He is Jesus.

Are you willing to be Mary?

Monday, March 29, 2010

Anger.

Anger.  The kind of heat that makes a person tip over tables and run people out of a room anger.  The kind of I-can't-believe-you-would-even-think-of-squaring-this-with-what-you-say-you-are anger that makes a person blow his top.  Or her top.  We don't like to talk about anger as being congruent with living as a Christ-one, and I tiptoe very carefully here, because there are mine-fields a plenty, but here I go.

Jesus got mad the last week of His pre-nailed life.  Scorching hot mad.  At the one thing, the singular thing that would stir Him to such an emotion: what they'd done to His Father's house.  The mockery they'd made of it with their money-grubbing booths and tables where they sold sacrifices to the poor folk who just wanted to worship.  Jesus raised His voice and turned on them, and that may have been the final straw, from their point of view, the one last thing that decided them once and for all to get rid of Him.  They couldn't have it, wouldn't have it!  So to death with Him,  to Hell with Him, literally.

I've often thought about Jesus' anger at God's house, then think about what goes on in God's house today, and how He might react, if He walked through the doors and saw it going on.  And here's what I think He'd be most troubled by:  how we try to make God's house, His worship, His very Church into our image, rather than lay ourselves on the altar and surrender, asking Him to make us into His!  For instance (and here's the largest landmine I can think of), worship music. If there are different generations in a church, there are struggles with music in worship.  How it's played, how loud it's played, how many songs, etc.  Having been an elder in a church, I was 'privileged' to listen to many complaints for those years from every angle of this question.  And I have to say, sometimes I imagined Jesus walking through the door and overturning the very table where we were sitting and talking about it.  "How dare you fight over this in my Father's house?"  Because worship isn't about us.  It isn't about what makes us happy or comfortable or content.  It's about God.  It's about the creature praising the Creator, about the gift responding to the Giver, about the lesser glorifying the greater.  It seems to me that we are so far off the mark at times when we talk about what we   do in worship that we never see beyond the end of our noses.  WE barely do anything.

In fact, come to think of it, it's like what Mr. Beaver says in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe when Edmund asks if the White Witch will turn Aslan into stone. 
"Lord love you, Son of Adam, what a simple thing to say!" answered Mr. Beaver with a great laugh.  "Turn him into stone?  If she can stand on her own two feet and look him in the face it'll be the most she can do and more than I expect of her." (emphasis mine!)

I think if we really, really got what is going on when we gather together to worship our God, the one who created us, the one who died for us, went to hell and back for us, and resurrected all for our sorry souls who don't have the brains we were born with (as my mother used to say), if we really understood that He joins us there, we'd be shaking in our boots.  In joy and wonder and awe and a healthy dose of fear. And who the heck would care about the dang music?  I mean God Himself standing right there beside you and you're worried about some song you don't have a hankering for?  For goodness sake, stop it.  For God's sake, yes, for God's sake, He's really there, it's really His house, and He says, He promises that if we're all there together, so is He.  So are we going to take Him at His word or not?

And that, my friends, is my take on anger.  And how angry I can get as well.  Probably not, I dare say, without sinning.  OK, definitely not without sinning. I know who I am.  What I am.  Still.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Fast-forward

Today marks the beginning of Holy week, the holiest of weeks of the calendar for those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ.  For most of the western church, this Sunday is a day when children march around the sanctuary carrying palm branches and singing, much like the crowds on the streets of Jerusalem waved palm frongs and sang when Jesus came riding on a previously unridden colt.

It's usually a day of celebration, isn't it?  Kind of an Easter Eve, one might say.  There's a lot of joy in Palm Sunday services.  But our pastor reminded us that all those words called out by the people on the streets of Jerusalem, the ones we usually say ourselves during such services, are, in fact, empty words.  They are empty because in a mere five days, those very same voices would be raised again, saying, "Crucify Him!"  But on that Sunday when Jesus rode that young colt into the city, only He had an idea that such a 180 degree turn was possible from those people, from His own disciples.

Because Jesus knew what was in them.  He--being God--knew what was in the heart of those lining the streets.  He had been with God--had been God--in the Garden, knew when temptation--hiss, hiss-- first reared its ugly head, and sin had snatched the one thing, the single thing God had forbidden.  Think of it.  You can have every single thing in this whole garden.  You are responsible for every single animal, even for naming them.  You are lord and master over all you see.  There is just one thing, one single thing you must not have.  Other than that, it's all yours.  And like a magnet, the eye goes to that one thing.  The only thing you cannot have, becomes the single thing you think you need.  This is Eve's situation, the situation the serpent exploited.  She took the bait, and Adam took it as well, and the rest, as we all know, is history.  And Jesus knew this.  He knew all about the curse that sent the serpent slithering along the ground for all of eternity, and the emnity not merely between women and snakes but between God and the evil one. And He knew He was the promise uttered right there in the Garden--"He will crush your head!" (Genesis3:15)

Then He banished them from the Garden.  And we often think that the sad end of this episode.  But God is always, always about saving humans, even when He's most disappointed in us.  He sends them out of the Garden, but first, "the Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and His wife and clothed them." (3: 21)  Cursing the serpent, promising an ultimate victory over him, and, because He's also practical, and those fig leaves surely aren't!, killing animals He had created in order to make clothes for them.  This is how God cares.

So fast-forward to Palm Sunday in Jerusalem.  Jesus knows what lies ahead.  He knows what's expected of Him, what humans not only are capable of, but absolutely will do.  Yet He rides that donkey.  He allows them to believe they are true and good and honest.  Was His heart heavy with sorrow as He listened to them?  Or did He simply love them?

Fast forward to this Palm Sunday night.  He knows exactly who I am as I sit on my bed beside my sleeping husband.  He knows the good, the bad and the ugly, as the cliche goes.  And I am all.  Mostly I am ugly.  Ugly with sin, that is.  I've been thinking about sin a lot today. Thinking about what sin is, I mean.  Of all the definitions I've heard in my life, and there have been plenty, the best is the one I probably learned first.  When I was a teenager, a baby Christian,I spent Sunday afternoons sitting on the floor of my Young Life leader's den, listening to his Texan drawl explain the mysteries of faith, "Sin," he said, "is acting without considering God."  That's it.  Anything, I mean, any single action I make without considering God, is sin.  

This morning, before I got out of bed, I was thinking about that.  Praying that God would give me an "undivided heart, that I might not sin against you," I wondered how long it would take before I made a single action without thinking about Him.  Five minutes? Could I really go five minutes after finishing my devotions without doing something thoughtless or mindless?  Or just without considering Him?  "It's not the big things that are really dangerous," E said last night when we were talking about this, "but all the little ones you just don't think about." 

She's absolutely right, I think.  So that's why I know I'm ugly with sin.  Thoughtlessly selfish through and through.  And it's only as I face this reality--as we all face this absolute reality--this week, that we have any chance of really getting what and why and WHO this week is all about.  And why we need it.  Need Him.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Hosanna

At the moment a couple of our closest friends are on their way back across the globe from Senegal where they've spent the last week in the small village of Diagle (pronounced something like jog-a-lay) that their church adopted.  At the same time another old friend is in Ethiopia, where he's in charge of YWAM's mission there.  Last fall my nephew spent a couple weeks in Kenya.  And the week after Easter some other friends (one of whom is a doctor) take their family to Sierra Leon, working with a medical mission (the non-doctor and kids will do triage work--every hand is helpful).  Someone else I was talking to the other day is on her way to Morocco on a short-term mission sometime next month.

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

Blessed are those who hold the children in the orphanages, who bring those children food, who allow those same small children to crawl all over them. Blessed are they who spend months away from their own families, learning the language of the children they want to care for, find homes for. And blessed are their families at home who lay hands on them--across the ocean--as they do their God-called work.

Holy are they who play soccer with active young boys in boys schools, sweat a little with them, then share the gospel with them as well. Holy are they who find joy in the sweat, in the words, in the very being on this mission.

And holy are the ones who put lotion on the feet of old women who walk all their lives on bare calloused feet.  Blessed are they who sit with these old village women who have become family them them, praying together, laughing together, dancing together.  Hosanna to them who come in the name of the Lord.  Who come to Africa in the Name of the Lord.

That's what I'm thinking this Palm Sunday Eve.  But there are other places as well.  Where do you see Him come?  Where does He come through you?  

Friday, March 26, 2010

Costly grace

It may not come as a surprise to anyone, but I have several boxes of books in our basement.  OK, more than several.  They live down there along with my teapot collection, my children's baby-clothes, their childhood toys (waiting for grandchildren still a decade in the future, I'm hoping!), Beve's tools.  And now Grampie and Thyrza's cast-offs.  Baby Brother's cast-offs too, from when he lived here, then moved across the continent.

But all that's beside the point, which is that for the last week or more, I've been trying to hunt down a specific book that fundamentally impacted my life...and I can't find it.  It was so important when I first read it in 1982 that I sent it off to Finland to my buddy who was teaching and coaching there, the boy across the street, Not-yet-the-Beve, so I know we have two copies of it in our lives, but I can't find either one of them.  Finally, in a fit of what can only be described as desperation, I looked it up on line, in order to gather the salient quotes.  But wait, it's possible J has a copy.  Just a second.  Nope.  Not anywhere inside the house, either.  Checked every bookcase.  I really should alphabetize these books.  It would help...

So I'll cheat today. Sorry. Deitrich Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship. When I was in college, back in the late 70s, taking a speech class at the small Christian College across the street from the University of Oregon, we were given a list of Christian monologues to choose our speeches from.  The idea was to prepare us for evangelism, preaching, whatever else came our way. I remember choosing one from a man named Stewart, which began, "Jesus Christ is standing at the crossroads of history..." but that's about all I can remember of it.  I took the class with a friend, whose name was John, who once asked me to write a poem to submit with his photograph from some contest--we came in second, or he did. Anyway, in this class, my single memory of his is when he mimicked Ann Kimmel, and if you're too young to know her, you won't get this. John was about 6'3, had a large afro and deep voice, and when he said, "i LOVE the word impossible," exactly as Ann--er, make that ann--would have said it, I could hardly contain myself. Even now, I can call up that moment, and his/her exact intonation, and it makes me chuckle. Probably not what either of them was hoping for.

For my final monologue, I chose the cheap grace vs. costly grace section of Bonhoeffer's Cost of Discipleship. I hadn't read the book, though I'd heard of Deitrich Bonhoeffer, had heard of the Christian pacifist who tried to plot Hitler's death in World War II and was executed for it. But I didn't really know his work.  But this section of the famous book grabbed me by the throat.  By the heart.

"Cheap grace is the justification of the sin without the justification of the sinner. Grace alone does everything they say, and so everything can remain as it was before. 'All for sin could not atone.' Well, then let the Christian live like the rest of the world, let him model himself on the world's standards in every sphere of life, and not presumptuously aspire to live a different life under grace from his old life under sin..."

"Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession...Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ..."

On the other hand,
"Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and self all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God."

Powerful, isn't it?  It took me 4 years to finally get my hands on the book and read it clear through.  Then with a pencil and notebook beside me, because it's dense and thought-provoking and changed everything.  By that I mean, I had been taking my faith superficially.  Had been allowing it--Him-- to penetrate only so deep, but perhaps no deeper.  Not to the marrow, anyway.  But all that I am for all that He is--that's what I wanted, after reading Bonheoffer.  No matter what it cost.  It's what I still want. For myself, and for all those around me.

I was thinking about this the other night because I was praying for my son.  I don't talk about this often, but I worry about my son.  For many reasons, most of which I have no freedom to express here.  However, I want him to come to Christ.  Not just to know the cheap grace he might have picked up earlier in life, and tossed out with his pizza boxes, but the costly grace that IS the Incarnation of Jesus Christ.  And as I was praying, the thought came to me--the Holy-Spirit-inspired thought--"what would you give to have this happen?"  Immediately, I thought of Paul saying, "For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, for those of my own race..." (Romans 9:3).  But here's the thing.  I couldn't say that. My stomach sinks to say it, my heart is a heart of stone as I admit it, that's it.  Death? Sure. Long, painful illness? BRING IT ON!  But to cut me off from Christ?  I don't think I can say it.  Even for my son.  My son whom I love.  Love more than life.  But apparently not more than Christ.

I read Paul's words again and again, and realize that he says, "I could wish myself accursed."  Could being the operative word.  I hope.  Would God ask this?  Would He ever?  I can't imagine it.  It doesn't seem like Him. But it's my struggle.  To love my son, to pray for him honestly, deeply, thoroughly.  To expect God to act like God, and to surrender to Him.  Costly Grace.  What will His grace cost me?  What cost God much cannot be cheap.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Just doing the expected

Spent the last two days with the elders, mostly driving them around. Taking them to various doctors' appointments (which appear to be their main occupation at this stage in life).  It wears me out, so imagine what it does to them!  I was making an appointment for Thyrza at a different clinic, while she had a dressing changed, and the woman behind the phone asked me all the pertinent questions, which I knew, then she finally said, "Wait a minute, you aren't 91 years old!"
"Maybe I'm just really well-preserved," I said. "But no, it's for my mother-in-law."
She laughed, telling the person on the phone, "You should see how good this woman looks for her age."
 All in all, it was a good day, and all the errands were accomplished, though it took over six hours.  Grampie always wants to be the one to 'just run in and do x".  He can't quite believe that he's slower than molasses and makes even me look like I'm fast, which is quite a feat.

Anyway, they thank me and thank me, and I tell them, "happy to help."  And most of the time, I really mean it.

All that to say that my brain is a little tired.  So I'm just going to write about something my grandfather--Chief--wrote about 77years ago.  Chief, a rough and tough navy man, spent a lot of his marriage away from home, and, therefore, much of his relationship with my grandmother has been preserved in letters.  In fact, my grandparents really wanted these letters destroyed because they were so private.  However, my mother (their only child) didn't do it.  Instead, she gave Chief's letters to me (I don't know what happened to Grandmom's).  I have two metal boxes of them, and, at some point, when I'm not caring for children or parents, I'm going to organize and edit them, because some of Chief's letters are absolute jewels.  But for now, here's a little gem.  It may seem somewhat personal, but it is so profound, it's worth quoting.

"You are entitled to all my sexual life--and altho that is all important, the fact that I am true to you isn't so much--that fact is yours--I am and that's all there is to it.  Nothing to be swelled up over, nothing to take glory for, anymore than I should be proud of the fact that I am over six feet tall.  I am that and what of it?  I am true to you--but I'm expected to be--so why the heck have I raved about it? Get my idea?" April 8, 1933

This is kind of a big deal when Chief writes it because he spent months, even years, away from his wife.  And among men who were notorious for having women in every port.  My grandfather drank, smoke and played cards with the best of those sailors, but once he met my grandmother, he never looked at another woman.  But this letter tells me (and this is perhaps a couple years before he became a Christian) that he recognized that his pride over being faithful to her was also out of line.  He was only being what he was supposed to be.

This gets at the core of fidelity in marriage.  But not only in marriage, also our commitment to Christ.  Both mean I belong to another person.  When I am wholly His, and give Him what already belongs to Him, there is no reason to get 'swelled up over' it.  But somehow, I think spiritual pride is a big problem among Christians.  I'm not around many people who brag about being faithful to their spouses.  Fidelity in marriage is either taken for granted or ignored in our world.  But I am sometimes around folks who are proud of who their fidelity to Christ.  Sometimes, I'm sad to say, I am such myself.  Though my any faithfulness in me is no more to my credit than my height (or maybe I should say my grandfather's height--he was actually 6'4").  Faith comes as a gift.  Lives as a gift.   And--I am expected to be faithful, to do what He asks.  To be His, all His.  And that's only to be expected, given that He's given all for me. 

"Suppose one of you had a servant plowing or looking after the sheep.  Would he say to the servant when he comes in from the field, 'Come along now and sit down to eat'? Would he not rather say, 'Prepare my supper, get yourself ready and wait on me while I eat and drink; after that you may eat and drink?  Would he thank the servant because he did what he was told to do?  So you also, when you have done every thing you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.'"  Luke 17: 26-27

Monday, March 22, 2010

Climbing in thin air

Annie Dillard's The Writing Life is a book that has resonated with me for a long time.  I've read several books about the writing process.  Stephen King's On writing, which I loved every bit as much as I've loathed his fiction.  Anne Lamott's Bird By Bird, who I'd never heard of before, opened up a new world to me, continues to help me at moments, particularly when I'm stuck and would rather be doing anything but writing, even those things I hate, like cleaning toilets! I don't like her fiction much either, but her memoirs, Traveling Mercies, Plan B, Grace Eventually have all touched something in me because they aren't usual stories of how people come to faith and stay in faith.  They're worth reading, worth being stretched by.

But Annie Dillard. Her practical approach appeals to anyone who dreams of writing.  It's better than a writing workshop, because she's clear-sighted, and understands the difficulties--reveals them as she's living them.  She doesn't stand in front of you, telling you how to do it, she works through it for herself, and you--the reader--get to participate in it.  The inability to throw away what doesn't or even to recognize what doesn't work is a serious disability for the writer.  A writer must learn to hold her writing loosely, not becoming too attached to it.  But this is the hardest balancing act in the world, because the very act of creating means holding on.

     "Several delusions weaken the writers resolve to throw away work.  If he has read his pages too often, those pages will have a necessary quality, the ring of the inevitable, like poetry know by heart; they will perfectly answer their own familiar rhythms.  He will retain them...Sometimes the writer leaves his early chapters in place from gratitude; he cannot contemplate them or read them without feeling again that blessed relief that exalted him when the words first appeared--relief that he was writing anything at all.  That beginning served to get him where he was going, after all..."  Dillard

This is exactly true of my experience, though I didn't see it for a long time.  The first--say 30 pages--of OA I'd left untouched for several years before my editor--a very wise woman moved to touch them.  She understood this need to keep them in tact.  And it took me even longer to realize that perhaps the entire work needed to be shelved.  But here's a secret I scarcely tell myself.  I knew a couple of years before the word came from the east that it wouldn't happen.  I knew I'd reached a dead end, and needed to lay the book down, that no matter what others would say about me being a quitter, etc, that for some inexplicable (at least for now) reason, God was saying, "Let go.  Lay it on the altar." People I know well, love better, tried to talk me out of this.  And, because it was also in me, I allowed it.  I wanted to be talked out of it.  I didn't want to let this book die.  How could I?

But God's ways aren't our ways. His purposes aren't ours.  And I do not know what He intended then, nor what He intends now.  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had obeyed Him two years earlier, if I hadn't had to be crushed from without by an agent in New York, but had made the decision from within.  But that doesn't matter now.

Annie Dillard says this: "I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend.  During visiting hours, I enter its room with dread and sympathy for its many disorders and hope it will get better.
But this tender relationship can change in a twinkling.  If you skip a visit or two, a work in progress will turn on you."
The work turned on me.  And God knew it.  And it was dead.  It had died on me and I had to let it go.  Someday, it may be resurrected, but I do not hope for that.  Have lived with the grief for over a year now, and have come to terms with the gap it left.  Wish, with everything in me, that I hadn't had it on life support for the last two years before someone else had to pull the plug.  It's almost like I tried to climb beyond the end of the ladder, if that makes sense.  I went as far as I was meant to go, but then kept on climbing. And it's like one of those cartoons I watched as a kid--for a split second I was still climbing in thin air, then paralyzed.  Then fell.  And no wonder, if God had asked me to put it down two years earlier.

So Annie Dillard, whom I read years ago, is good to come back to.  In the end, though, it's her words about the more significant things that find purchase, and help me grip the ladder, or even better, grip terra firma.

"There is no shortage of good days.  It is good lives that are hard to come by.  A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough.  The life of sensations is the life of greed; it requires more and more.  The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet.  Who would call a day spent reading a good day? But a life spend reading--that is a good life."

I love this because I've spent so many days in my life reading.  Even as a child, when there were adults around me, chiding me for reading where there were so many things to do.  I remember sitting in the shade of a tree at our property on Whidbey Island one summer afternoon, when it was very hot, with a good book in my hand, lost in the story.  My grandmother made me put the book away, "Why are you wasting your time reading?"  I felt guilty for 'only reading' when I could be 'doing' something more worthwhile.  But deep inside, those other things often felt like the waste, when I wanted to get back to whatever story was pulling at my imagination.  It may have been greed, as Dillard says, but now I think I wouldn't have lived my life any other way, that people who don't read "inhabit tiny world," as CS Lewis says.  I would not live there.  I want the larger, the good life that shares with what has gone before, and enlarges my spirit to live more fully in this world.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Making the ordinary holy

After a conversation yesterday, I started thinking about that often-talked-about difference between working to live and living to work.  A few times in the course of my life, I've run across people who have exemplified this difference to such a degree that their example bears following.

Years ago, out on the Olympic Penninsula, we lived out of town on our own little acre (well, ours and the bank's, though if we still lived there, we'd own it outright now).  Because of this, we had a well and septic tank.  And, eventually, the need to clean out that septic tank. Such need led Beve, through his normal channels of research, i.e., talking to everyone he knew who also had a septic tank, to a man named Dale Brown.  Dale Brown who called himself--get this, I kid you not--the turd merchant!  Beve set a date for this merchant of turds to come to our house, which, of course, happened to coincide with a time when I'd be home from work, but he might not be yet.  Such is always my life.  So one bright spring afternoon, Dale showed up at our house with his tanker truck, complete with the name emblazoned across the side, like he was proud of it or something.  I showed him the septic cover, then made myself busy inside with who knows what, probably laundry and vacuuming.  Yep, I'm guessing vacuuming where the noise could keep me from thinking what Dale Brown was pumping out back.  Only Dale hadn't started pumping when he came to our back door and knocked loudly.
"You gotta see this," he told me gleefully.  A large cover had been dislodged from our yard, a giant hole exposed.  I stood uncertainly in the doorway.
"Come on," he said. So I put on my shoes and followed him out to our septic tank, where I stood as far back from it as I could and still seem to be seeing it.
"See that crust on it?" he asked.  I nodded. "That's just how it's supposed to look.  You've done everything right.  This is like the perfect septic tank.  I'm so excited, I wanted to take a picture."
Though to him, he'd uncovered buried treasure in that septic tank in our back yard, I stood far back from the edge, barely glancing at it.  And I'm pretty sure I pulled my arm up over my nose when he actually laid down on the grass and peered down into the tank, pointed.  Then I backed away gladly, because about that time, Beve got home, wandered out to take my place as interested spectator, so I could hustle back into the safety of the house. But then, Beve is always interested in those kind of things, and doesn't have as quick a gag reflex as I do.


That afternoon, as he pumped the tank, Beve and Dale talked.  Shared war stories, so to speak--or perhaps I should say tank stories.  Then they got to talking about how good it is to like the job you feel called to do.  Yes, even Dale Brown, the turd Merchant, who told Beve this story.  Once he was taking a load of garbage (not from his job!) to the county dump.  The woman checking cars through looked like she'd been sucking on prunes all day.  Grumpy and ill-mannered, definitely not smiling.  Dale asked her what the matter was, and the woman said, "I work at the dump. Wouldn't you be in a bad mood?"
Dale said, "Listen lady, I pump turds for a living."
And made the woman smile.  Laugh. "You beat me," she said.
"Not only that," Dale said. "I love my job.  It's a service people need, and I get to do it."  He didn't say it, but the implication was--'just like you.'

Dale Brown, the turd merchant, had turned his most base of jobs into the most holy, because he believed he'd been called to do it.  Called to serve the world in just that way.  It isn't WHAT we do that makes our work holy.  It isn't whether we're full-time employees of the church or a ministry that makes us doing our work unto Christ.  It's How we do the work we're given to do.  It's doing even the earthy of life's jobs for Him.  For the Kingdom.  Whether a teacher or garbage collector, a writer or an engineer, a clerk or a parent.  And ultimately, what makes the ordinary holy is WHO we serve when we serve.  Dale Brown teaches me this.  Pastors can also, but I think someone like Dale Brown might do it better--because he lives it, because he does something most of us would never, ever do.

How will you do your work, your God-called, God-given work this day (or maybe Monday, if you get this day off)?  How will you do whatever it is you have to do this day?  How will you make the ordinary holy?  We could do worse than follow the example of the turd merchant.

"Do your work heartily, as unto God, rather than people."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Blessed are the feet

One of the many doctor appointments I've accompanied the elders to lately was a trip with Grampie to a pediatrist.  Beve had gone to a regular check-up with his dad, came home to tell me that Grampie really needed to see the foot doctor because "his toes are pretty nasty."  You have to understand that I'm not a foot person. In fact, I would go so far as to say I really can't stand feet (a feeling I've passed wholesale to SK, thank-me very much!).  Think they're ugly in the best of times.   I've had a pedicure or two since I've been an adult, though the first one was practically over my dead body--the idea of someone choosing to touch my feet, let alone pick it up, examine it carefully and paint the toenails made my skin crawl.  I've actually gotten better at these things, in direct proportion to my daughters' ages, to tell the truth--these daughters who love such girly-girl things as shoes and nail polish, and 'let's all go get pedicures.'  But if left to my own devices, I'd probably wear socks year round and forget about them. Beve learned early on that it was the opposite of a turn-on for him to rub his giant Bozo-the-clown, size-14s on mine.  Or anywhere in my vicinity, as a matter of fact.

The point is, I can't think of a single thing to say for feet, other than that they serve the purpose for which they were created.  But there I was at the pediatrist's office with my favorite father-in-law, sitting in a room with Grampie and a nurse, helping answer questions when the nurse asked Grampie to remove his socks.  They should have warned me.  Somebody should have.  I would have taken a valium ahead of time, though I never take valium, because it makes me feel weird (which I think is the point, but how can anyone stand that feeling?!). Grampie removed his socks and...I almost fainted. No joke, I've never seen anything like it.  Blood doesn't make me bat an eye and I stare straight at needles being poked into myself or anyone else.  But that toe, that big toe with the thickened nail standing perpendicular to the toe honestly made me lightheaded.  How did it even fit into his shoe?  I stuck my head behind a magazine and answered questions to pictures of spring flowers in Better Homes and Gardens...until the doctor turned on his electric grinder.  Seriously.  Then I had to put my head between my knees for a moment before fleeing to the waiting room.  Later Beve said, "I'll do feet from now on."

Feet.  Every night when I finally get off mine, I become suddenly aware of them.  They announce themselves with noisy throbs that sweep from sole to arch to toe and back again.  Then I wonder what on earth I've done to work them so hard all day that they have to complain all night at me, even when sometimes I've barely done anything at all. Bad feet run in my family, sorry to say.  My grandfather had them, my aunt, dad, a couple cousins, siblings.  Our feet just hurt, for no discernible reason.

But they also work.  They do their jobs pretty well most of the time.  "Blessed are the feet of them," Isaiah says. "Blessed are the feet of those who bring the good news."  The feet.  Not the mouths to speak this news, but the feet.  The feet to bring it.  To serve it, one might infer.  The good news that is served by one working on feet, coming across distances on feet meant for such purposes.  The cracked soles, broken nails, aching feet of those who work for the gospel, who serve the One who is the Incarnate gospel.  In fact, so blessed are the feet that Jesus found it worth His while to make a point of washing them.  He could have taken hold of his disciples' hands, dipped them in a basin of water, scrubbed the dirt from under their fingernails before they ate together because I'm guessing those hands hadn't seen many baths along the road with Jesus.  And if Jesus had washed their hands, He could have made a similar point.  Served His servants, so to speak.

But He chose feet, because not only are feet blessed, but that feet are blessed is also unexpected.  Feet weren't fancy back then.  There weren't pediatrists, wasn't fancy footwear.  Feet were merely utilitarian.  And the feet Jesus washed were workhorse feet.  They hadn't sat around on couches, waiting for someone to fan them, rub oil into them, bring them food.  No, these feet were out bringing the good news.  And in that bringing of it, they'd gotten more than a little dirty, they'd gotten all used up on the road.  Scummy and smelly.  Nails long and thick.  Maybe even bent at 90 degree angles.  They must have been pretty nasty, those feet.  And Jesus washed them.  He knelt down, held them in His hands, lifted them out of their nasty sandals, put them in a basin and washed then until the basin was dark and there was a ring around it.

Years ago, when I was a teenager on workcrew at Young Life's Malibu Club in British Columbia we did a footwashing.  I've participated in many since, but none has had the impact of that first one.  That day out on a rock hill near Main Street at Malibu, we lined up in two lines.  I remember thinking there was only one person I didn't want to have as a partner.  Of the 50 people on the hill that afternoon, there was only one person I asked God to please, just please, let me not have to face.  And, of course--because God is God--that girl became the first person whose feet I ever washed.  It was torturous to do it and not because she had particularly ugly feet.  I don't remember a thing about her feet, actually.  I don't even remember her name.  I just remember the ugliness in my heart as we stood together waiting for our turn at the basins, and the change that came over me as I knelt in front of her, then allowed her to do the same.  It's impossible to hate, or even dislike, when one is so vulnerable, so exposed.  And there is little more humbling than having one's feet washed, even more than doing the washing--particularly by a person one doesn't really like.

And this, I think, is the picture Jesus wants us to have.  To serve, be served, even in this most base way, is what it means to be His disciple, to be a 'little Christ'.  How blessed are the feet who bring, and serve, and DO, the good news.  Who act it out by serving and going and washing each other--even their feet.  And even--or perhaps, especially--the feet of those most difficult to love.  Who is it for you?  Whose feet do you need to wash?  Whose feet are blessed in your life?  And maybe it's the part of them that most grosses you out that He wants you to put your not-so-lily-white-but-forgiven! hands on that very part, and show them His love by washing that.  Yes, even their feet.

One of my favorite quotes from Frederick Buechner also speaks of feet:
"I say that feet are very religious too.  I say that if you want to know who you are, if you are more than academically interested in that particular mystery, you could do a lot worse than to look to your feet for an answer. Introspection, in the long run, doesn't get you very far...when you wake up in the morning, called by God to be a self again, if you want to know who you are, watch your feet.  Because where your feet take you, that is who you are."

The latest

I have something in mind to post about later tonight--about feet, actually--but until then, a couple of new quilts I just finished.  The burgundy and navy weave is for my middle sister, and is a bit 'recycled'--just the way she likes things.  It has bits and pieces from almost every quilt I've made in the last year, not to mention scraps from a few other projects from little sister, RE.  And believe me, it took some work to find scraps of her son's orange and yellow batik quilt that were close enough to crimson to use.  Sure, a few of the pieces stand out more than real quilters would consider aesthetically pleasing, but it also makes it just like the best quilts of our grandmother's.  All in all, I'm happy with it.  And it's actually been working on this quilt in the last few weeks that has kept me sane while answering the same question over and over and over.  Sewing the same blocks over and over and over will do that.  Don't ask me how, but it's really quite soothing.


This other quilt is one I made for SK's bedroom here.  We painted that room a vibrant violet when we first moved in and it can take a whole lot of color.  And these are the colors she loves.  All vibrant, all the time.  violet, teal, teal, purple.  I had enough fabric left after making this quilt, that I made a smaller lap quilt for her to take back to school with her.  For those of you counting (like my eldest child is wont to do) that's three quilts for SK, and only one for E.  So a two-sided duvet cover is new on my agenda.  She couldn't decide between blues and greens, and pinks and greys.  Hence the two-sides.  We'll see how it goes.  When I finish that, I think they'll be even.  I did manage a quilt for J, but he took it from the house before I got a photo of it. Just like a male.

My production has definitely tailed off with the addition of G and T to our community, which is exactly how it should be.  However, several times in the last few days friends have reminded me that I need to be taking care of myself or I'll be no earthly good to them.  This is smart, practical advice, isn't it?  Advice every doctor, therapist, even many pastors would repeat.  But I have to wonder, is it gospel wise?  It seems to me that giving our lives away--even to the point of dying--is more like what He had in mind.  "Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life..." In fact, "He did not count equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant."   It seems to be that Gospel serving involves a counter-intuitive expectation that the more one gives, the more one has to give.

But, because I'm also a slow to learn, and slow to grow human, I have much to learn about this kind of giving.  It's good to know that those to whom I minister to daily now are gracious, grateful, and...forgetful.  They make huge allowances for my rather large failings.  Hmm.  I might be doing the heavy lifting, but in the end, I wonder who actually ministering to whom here.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Moments of Grace

Back to my previously scheduled programming, ie, semi-reviewing books/authors who have changed my life.

College was my first contact with the southern author, Flannery O'Connor.  And I hated her.  Perhaps that isn't a strong enough word for how I felt, but it turned my stomach to read her fiction.  People did terrible things to each other, always reacted in the worst possible way in any situation, were mean, selfish and unjust.  The end.  I read O'Connor for some class or other at the great liberal University of Oregon back in the late seventies, where, though the sixties had ended, things continued to have the vibe of them on campus and certainly through-out the town of Eugene.  In fact, I have a hunch that there are pockets of Eugene even to this day where the inhabitants aren't quite sure what decade it is, or much else.  At 5th Street Market, for instance, you'll find some great crafts, some fine honey--if you like honey, which I don't (see yesterday's post)--but reek of the decade that first 'turned them on', if you know what I mean.

After that class, I gladly put down Flannery O'Connor and didn't pick her up again until my first semester at Regent College.  In a life-changing seminar with a life-changing professor, after a couple of life-changing events (Dad's death and our family's move to accommodate my education), I was more ready for O'Connor.  Maybe.  Or maybe it was my maturity.  Maybe it was the understanding of my prof of O'Connor's intent that did it.  In any case, something had changed within me.  I wanted to understand what she meant.  My prof said she was a Christian writer, and I believed him.  Enough that I bought her edited letters, called Mystery and Manners, and read them with pen in hand, searching for my answers to why she wrote what she wrote, how she could bear to.

And I discovered this:
"When you assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock--to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures."

Flannery O'Connor wrote about rot in the world because she had a purpose.  She believed that Redemption, or Grace, was possible for every person, but that that action of Grace, that moment when the world opened the door of the prison of self could only be revealed through everyday horrors.  She was particularly interested in the exact moment in a person's life when Grace is made available to him or her, and with this she concerned herself in her stories.  And she knew that these moments must come through the material world, one way or another.  In real life, every day events might do it, but in her fiction--drawing large and startling figures--she uses violent means: a killing, a kidnapping, banging a child's head on a rock, a fall down a stairs, a beating, fire.

And there it is.  I don't know if you've caught it, but right there in that last sentence is the germ of transformation in my own life. Sometime during the time that I was reading and writing about Flannery O'Connor, I had also had a dream about a man shooting himself in the chest while his wife and daughters went about their ordinary day downstairs in their kitchen.  It was a gruesome, difficult-to-deal-with dream until I began reading O'Connor's understanding of her work.  That dream and her words marinated together for a couple of years until I finally wrote that down the story of that dream, my now-again-marinating novel October Afternoon.  It was standing on the shoulders of writers like Flannery O'Connor that helped me write it as I did, though.  The entire time I composed, and revised, and revised, and revised, ad nauseum that novel, I had folks--well-meaning, helpful, lovely folks--ask me about writing a Christian novel, which I knew I wasn't writing.  I never intended it to be one.

Except.  Except that everything I write is from an utterly Christian worldview.  From an utterly Christian heart.  I find Flannery O'Connor to be a subversive apologist of the faith.  She says: "Let me make no bones about it: I write from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy.  Nothing is more repulsive to me than the idea of myself setting up a little moralistic universe of my own choosing and propounding a little immoralistic message.  I write with a solid belief in all the Christian dogmas.  And find that this in no way limits my freedom as a writer and that it increases rather than decreases my vision."

My Young Life leader in high school was fond on saying, "Christians should be the least shockable people in the world, because we should never be surprised at what sin can do."  And it's about this O'Connor taught me to write.  In large and startling figures.   To show--I hope--a moment when grace, er, I mean GRACE breaks in.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Before memory

When I was about a year old, the story goes, the family was visiting some friends when I wandered out into the back of their yard and sat on a box.  That box, it turned out, was a bee-hive, and my sitting on it did not, apparently, sit well with them.  I was stung multiple times, causing--my parents always believed--the allergic reaction I've suffered from such stings ever since, meaning not bad enough to kill me, but significant enough to greatly affect my life (both physically--a whole swollen leg from one small sting will do that; and mentally--abject fear will do that as well!).  I do not remember one thing about this singular event in my life, but I certainly remember the result, and perhaps the fear as well.  Perhaps my fear was also handed to me, along with that allergy, like too much bee-juice in my blood stream, from my own fear that day, and my mother's fear, and perhaps the fear of all the other adults as well.

When my sister, the Dump, was six months old, her legs were put in a splint for some reason I no longer remember, keeping her legs at right angles from each other.  Something about her hips being out of alignment, like she was an old Buick before she'd even had a hundred miles put on her.  That splint, or cast, stayed on her legs for a year, keeping her from learning to walk at the age when most children do.  Apparently she sort of managed to walk in something of an L-shaped lope, if she held on to something or someone, but with her legs splayed so, a normal gait was impossible.  However, the day that splint was removed from her legs, the story goes, my sister stood up and walked.  She doesn't remember a single thing about this, of course.  Not the splint, not the inability to walk, not the learning to.  She'd actually learned something even without doing it.  All she needed was the opportunity to move.

My older brother was born while my father was out at sea.  My mother, along with her parents, were settled in a navy town, in a larger city, awaiting the baby, awaiting my father's return.  The baby came first.  Early.  Word came to my father across the globe, over in the Orient, I think.  R was six weeks old when he met his dad.  When Dad came off the ship and saw my mother, he barely glanced at her, kissed her perhaps even perfunctorially, according to our family lore, before taking his son--his namesake--into his arms for a good long drink of look and love.  It was the most important meeting of my brother's life (well, almost) and happened six weeks after his birth, but well before memory.  I have it in my head, though this might just be poetic license, that my brother smiled for the first time that day.  He should have, don't you think? 

But all these things happened before memories began. These things--for good or evil--that happened to change our lives.  There are some people in this world who are disinclined to believe in the lineage of bad that goes back to the garden, but my own garden story, which I do not remember, is a metaphor for how the garden story that has infected me, us, the whole human race.  Eve and Adam made choices in a garden and we've been with the choices ever since.  And my sister's story, also before her memory, is such a picture of the gospel stories of healing.  Yes, yes, I know, also fully 20th century.  But I can picture the small, chubby (and my sister was quite the roly-poly toddler) little girl suddenly free from her chains (or casts) rising and walking.

And then there is the story of my brother meeting his daddy.  Meeting the one who'd given him life.  The most important moment in his young life, right in all those men.  My dad drug my mom, my brother, my grandparents all over the ship that day, introducing him--"this is my son...oh, and this is my wife, and in-laws".  My dad loved his wife.  Liked his in-laws well enough, even at that early stage. But oh, his son.  "This is my son, in whom I am well-pleased."  Can't you just hear it? 

Yes, this story of my brother does have the ring of that story on another waterfront.  God introducing His Son to all and sundry.  "This is my Son."  As proud as my Daddy that day on the ship.  But more, of course.  Also knowing who Jesus was, what He'd say, what He'd do.  "Listen to Him," God said that day at the river.  But still, a pleased-as-punch dad.

But this picture of R meeting Dad is also every one of our stories. He met his dad one specific day in March, probably just about today, 54 years ago.  Well before he remembered.  The most important thing that happened in his life.  Hmm.  The most important thing that happened in R's life didn't happen 54 years ago today, but probably more like 2014 years ago today, give or take a day, or year.

That's the likely day that God's only begotten Son was actually born in Bethlehem.  March.  Maybe April.  4 BC. Probably.  Before memory.  But whatever you're doing today, maybe take a moment and think of that.  That this--THIS--is the day not only that the Lord has made, that the Lord has made for you. Before memory, He was making it for you.  In that manger in Bethlehem lay the most significant person you'll ever meet. 

Saturday, March 13, 2010

A non-athletic view of things

I should have known better.  To think I was actually going to write about something academic for a bit.  I should have known better.  After all, this is the season of the year.  Tonight, the boys who play basketball at Beve's high school, won the State title in the 2A class.  Repeated as state champions, I should say.  There are five seniors on that team who have been playing together since they were fifth graders.  They've been winning that long as well.  So it's kind of a big deal that they won again--for everyone who cheers for them.  Probably just as big a deal that they're finally--finally--graduating, for everyone who's played against them all these years.

And yesterday we got our Sports Illustrated.  As is my way, I opened it to the back page, and read that editorial first.  Sure, it isn't quite the same since Rick Reilly left, but there's still usually something unique about the story told on that page, a different kind of sports hero.  There was a story about a man who pushed his disabled son in races, and other stories about kids who died too soon.  But this week's story was about a dad--a 70-year-old dad who still loved to lace up his high tops and play a little hoop with his sons.

I instantly thought of my own dad when I read this article.  Sure, Beve's dad was the rock star athlete of the family, but my dad had longevity.  Dad wasn't particularly athletic, if truth be told.  He used to laugh about the piece of paper that could be slid under his feet when he jumped, and how he made up for it by being the slowest man on the court.  But he hung in there.  At WSU, where he worked all of his professional life, he played basketball three days a week, unless he was out of town or in the hospital.  Those were about his only excuses.  He got cancer in his early fifties, which resulted in a colostomy, but that didn't stop him.  I remember a prof friend of mine once saying he'd seen Dad in the hall of the PE building after a noon game, and admired how Dad wasn't at all self-conscious about that colostomy bag.  I think Dad would have done just about anything not to have had that dang bag, but he wasn't going to let it inconvenience his life.

Beve, who is precisely the age now that Dad was when he got cancer, has long since hung up his ball, but he loved to go up and play with Dad and the other nooners when we visited.  It was a faculty-grad student only game, but Dad could get Beve in, though I'm pretty sure the other players weren't always thrilled when they saw Dad's son-in-law show up.  Even less thrilled when Beve showed up with one of his brothers.  But Dad loved it.  It was a highlight of a visit, and always a disappointment if Beve hadn't brought his gear with him.

Just yesterday J was asking me why I'm not more competitive.  I told him I actually am very competitive, it's just that I only like competing at things I know I have a possibility of winning.  I am NOT an athlete.  In fact, I am almost as far from athletic as one can get and still walk upright.  And I'm pretty sure my father wasn't all that much more athletic than I am.  What my dad had was perseverance.  The ability to endure, press on, carry on.  Stay with something.  Hang in there.  He always said he played basketball because it was the best way he knew to get the exercise he needed. He knew he'd never run, not when he could play a game he liked, even if he wasn't always that good at it.  He just pressed on--even to the last summer of his life.

And this is a spiritual virtue.  It's not athletic talent that we are called to cultivate. If one is so gifted, by all means, by every means, for God's sake, cultivate it, use it for Him, allow Him to be glorified through it.  Like my nephew, who took as God-given gift of eye-foot coordination with a soccer ball, and was privileged to use it for Him in Kenya.  But we are all asked to persevere.  To press on.  To keep lacing 'em up, so to speak, even if we can barely jump and are slower than me (who is a whole lot slower than the molasses you expected that sentence to end with!).  To keep pressing on, up and down the court.  The athletic doing of our faith.  Perseverance.

Romans 5: 3-5

Friday, March 12, 2010

A book review, of sorts

I'm a sucker for book lists.  By that I mean that give me a book list, and I'll be compelled to read all of the books on it, or die trying.  This isn't true for every genre, of course.  I can easily bypass westerns, mysteries, auto-mechanics, computers...ok, that list is also long.  But there are lists and then there are lists.  When my kids were in the advanced placement literature classes in high school, I read the lists they might be expected to know with relish.  Marked off how many I'd read, made a point to read my way through many others. It's why we keep having to buy or build more book shelves in our house.  J also has this reading gene, specifically  in the field of history.  Since his room here has no more space left for books, he had to move out and begin a whole new library.

When I was accepted at Regent College in the spring of 1997, in the packet came a book list.  Later I discovered that most students took that list as a suggestion, but not me.  I felt it was my responsibility to track down and read every book on it.  Complete with pencil to mark the pages, and notebook beside me, I waded through Martin Buber's I and Thou, Blamires' The Christian Mind, Nemeck and Coombs The Way of Spiritual Direction, Newbegin's Foolishness to the Greeks.  Skimmed History of Israel and New Testament History.  There were other books I couldn't get my hands on, others too expensive to consider buying (we lived far too far from any major lending library before we moved to this side of the water--plus, I needed to build my library, didn't I?).

The best gem of the spring was by Frederick Buechner, a man I'd already been introduced to my our best friend JM.  A preacher, teacher, brilliant writer, Buechner writes the way I think.  That's exactly how I think of him.  There have been so many times when I've read one of his books and thought, "EXACTLY!"  Before reading him, sometimes I thought I was born under a different sun or something, because I saw the world in this unique way, where every single thing has the whisper--or something the shout--of Christ in it.  And yet, sometimes I'm just so much like an ostrich, I plow through life with my head firmly in the dirt, cutting a large swath as I go, but not seeing anyone, or anything, but my own dang feet.  It's writers like Buechner who help me pull my head out of that dirt and see more than myself, more than just the earth, more than just the cars on the street cutting in front of me, or the person cutting in front of me in the grocery line.  Buechner helps me look at those very same situations and ask what God might be--is--doing in them.  In the situation, in the other person, certainly in my own dirty heart.

The little gem 'assigned' on that book list is Telling the Truth: The Gospel As Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale. This book appeals to so much that I love.  For one thing, it uses King Lear as the jumping off connection to the gospel.  For me, an English Literature major in college, this had me at the first sentence.  But for those of you--just the one or two--who might not be in love with Shakespeare as I am--there's more than enough to recommend this book without Lear, and even enough explanation of the play that your eyes might not roll up inside your head as you read about it.  Buechner is readable for anyone, even when he's talking about stuff you aren't all that interested in (though I can't be completely sure, because he's never written about auto-mechanics!).  But don't take my word for it, here he is in his own words:

        "The Gospel is bad news before it is good news.  It is the news that man is a sinner, to use the old word, that he is evil in the imagination of his heart, that when he looks in the mirror all in a lather what he sees is at least eight parts chicken, phony slob.  That is the tragedy.  But it is also the news that he is loved anyway, cherished, forgiven, bleeding to be sure, but also bled for.  That is the comedy.  And yet, so what?  So what if even in his sin the slob is loved and forgiven when the very mark and substance of his sin and of his slobbery  is that he keeps turning down the love and forgiveness because he either doesn't believe them or just doesn't give a damn?  In answer, the news of the Gospel is that extraordinary things happen to him just as extraordinary things happen in fairy tales."  Buechner, 7.

This book is worth finding, friends.  Worth reading, marking up (if you're a marker).  Worth owning.  It helps you 'be a better man', to quote Jack Nicholson in As Good as It Gets (not a man I ever expected to quote here).  It helps you be a better woman.  It does me, because it's provocative, and challenging. Doesn't tell me what to think, but causes me to.  I like that.  I need it.  And it leads me to pray.

Last night I was thinking about a whole lot of books that have impacted me life deeply for a variety of reasons.  For the next several days, partly because I'm tired, and I'm pretty sure you're tired, of all the minutiae of my life with the elders, I thought I'd inspire us all with these books.  Maybe encourage one of us (probably at least me!) to read one of them, or some of them, or all of them for the first time, or the fiftieth.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

There's a new man in my life

I've spent a lot of time this week with my father-in-law.  A whole lot of time.  All-day-every-day-lot of time.  More time than those kids who are joined at the hip going steady in high school, locked lip-to-lip behind the lockers until the last possible moment before each bells rings, then rush out after class to find each other as if they'd been separated for years rather than a fifty-minute class.  Grampie and me?  We're just like that--other than the lip-lock stuff, of course.  Our conversations go something like this:
Grampie: What is today, Wednesday?
Me: No, Grampie, it's Thursday."
G: What time is my appointment today?
M: You don't have an appointment today.
G: I don't have a doctor's appointment today?
M: No, your doctor's appointment is Monday at 4.
G: What day is today, Wednesday?

And around and around and around we go.  Last night as we listened to the Squalicum boys' basketball team (Beve's place of employ for those of you just tuning in) play their first game at the State tournament, Grampie became quite confused.  Beve, Grampie, a couple other teachers (both named Mark, which will either help or hurt Grampie) and E are going across the suddenly snowy mountains to catch the next few days of action this afternoon.  Grampie asked so often about another game for 'the Storm' that we pulled out the Tournament bracket to help explain.  "I've never seen anything like this," he said.

This reminds me of my mother telling my sister that she'd never seen anything like fondue, when the fondue set RE was using that night had actually been Mom's.  Mom was insistent that RE was mistaken.  This basketball stuff is like that with Grampie.  More so.

Beve's father was a basketball player.  I mean a player.  At Bremerton High School he was 'the man'-- the horse, as some might say. Surrounded by ponies.  The one who pulled the team to a State championship--in this very State, back in about 1942, I think.  Then Grampie went to the University of Oregon, where he was again, 'the Man.'  There is old footage of Grampie playing--even I've seen it.  Then Grampie left U of O to join the Army.  He just had to.  He was that kind of man.  And his first job in the army?  Playing on the Fort Lewis basketball team--one that traveled all across the country, raising morale during those bleak war years.  He was 'the man' then too.  He finally shipped out to the India-Burma theater, where he built roads, and, in his off hours, used his road-building skills to build a hoop court.  Played there too, called it something like Mudison Square Garden.  Filled the arena every night.  Because he was a star.  Yep, imagine one of the best college athletes of our day deciding to cross the ocean to fight, and, when he wasn't working, lace 'em up with the boys.  Every place he went, Grampie could fill arenas.  Every place.  Just because he walked onto the court.

Then there's a very famous story about being drafted by the NBA, but turning it down because he about to get married, had been also offered a teaching/coaching job out in little Bend, Oregon and thought it would be more stable for a family.  Better pay too.  A well-known, athletic senator from Massachusetts (who later had a better job, but didn't live to finish his first term) called Grampie up, asking him to reconsider, but Grampie refused.  Never regretted it, either.

All this to say, that my father-in-law is a man who knows his basketball.  Really, really knows his basketball.  So for him to say he's never seen a tournament bracket, never knew how a State tournament works, never seen a better high school team, says everything about his brain, and almost nothing about these boys, as amazing as they are (State Champs last year, ranked first in State all year, having lost only one game each of the last two years and those to nationally ranked teams).

Yes, Grampie's brain is definitely full of the same kind of holes Mom's had a few years ago. Going steady with him as I am these days, I have become intimately aware of all his weaknesses.  His short-term memory is like ancient lace, brittle and fragile.  He has a better command of words than Mom had at the same point, though he did ask Beve the other evening after Beve had talked to SK, "How's Leslie getting along?"  Now Leslie's a very nice name and all, but has nothing whatsoever to do with our youngest daughter's name. Both Grampie and Mom misplaced things with great alacrity.  The new Squalicum cap Beve gave him he was convinced someone had stolen.  His checkbook, his glasses, three different combs, his coin-purse.  That's just been this week.  No wonder Thyrza says she spends all her time looking for things.  Fortunately, Grampie is now staying with 'The finder of all lost things.'  Yes, that's right, folks.  I found them all--or almost all.  The cap?  At the restaurant where we ate last week. The checkbook? In his banking drawer in his apartment.  The combs were right on the bathroom counter where he'd left them, and his coin-purse was simply under a handkerchief on the dresser.  Glasses in plain sight in his apartment, he found himself.

I love my father-in-law.  As we were driving toward the medical clinic for a blood test yesterday, and he was asking me where we were going for the fifth time since we'd left our house ten minutes earlier, I was thinking that--thinking of how much I love him.  But also how much more I love my husband.  I really, really love my husband.  And this man, this stooped, confused, old man, was once the big strong man who carried my husband on his shoulders.  When Beve was little, Grampie was such fun, all the kids in their neighborhood used to climb on him, loved to play with him.  Beve and his siblings would go running in to their mom, complaining that they couldn't get near their own dad.  Grampie is the man Beve helped in the garage when Grampie worked on some project with his tongue sticking out the corner of his lips.  The older brothers had quickly found reasons to disappear when Grampie had such projects, leaving Beve holding the bag, so to speak.  But it was time with his dad.  And Grampie's the man who stayed up late to feed Beve after away games, to talk over the game at 1AM, when he knew a boy was starving.  Grampie's own dad never--NEVER--saw Grampie play.  He thought Grampie was wasting his time with such trivial pursuits.  But Grampie was a great dad to my Beve.  And now that dad is gone.  And I miss him.  I miss him for my Beve.  I love Grampie, and I love the man he raised.  I'm grateful to him.  I told him that yesterday. 

What are the chances he'll remember?
That's what I thought.  I'll tell him again today.

Here's the other thing. I don't want this to happen to him.  I know what's coming.  I really, really know what's coming this time.  And it breaks my heart that we have to do it again.  That Beve does, that our kids do. Yes, that I do.  It was one thing with Mom, because our complicated relationship created a distance within me to keep it from hurting--except for her.  And, truthfully, there's peace in ignorance.  But we aren't ignorant this time.  We're armed with too much knowledge.  And it hurts.  Scares the heebie-jeebies out of me, to tell you the truth.  But it's a one-way street, and he's already a long ways down it.  All I can do is hold his hand and walk with him, repeat answers I've given 100 times (I always think he'll remember he just asked, and he never does!), and love him, the father of my Beve, the grandfather of my children.  The old man in my life.
"What day is today, Wednesday?"
"No, Grampie, today is Thursday."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The truth of my life

I woke up this morning, thinking it'd be a good day to remain flat.  This followed a night where I found it difficult to get comfortable.  Out in the kitchen Grampie had forgotten how to start the coffee maker, the dogs were barking for him to go out and play ball with them, and the phone was ringing.  Not a day to stay in bed.

However, all the errands in Grampie's mind will have to be done by E, or wait until tomorrow.  I told him this when he began listing the jobs he had in store for us.  I really don't understand this daily need to go to the bank.  Anyway.  I said, "Grampie, my leg, which hurts every minute of every day, is really acting up today.  I just can't do it."  "Your leg?  Did you hurt your leg?"  Now I'm pretty sure he's known about the nerve problems I've struggled with for the last decade, but to him life is really new every morning, so I told him my story.

When I was seven years old, I was hit by a car, having darted out from behind a parked car onto the fairly busy street in front of our house, without looking both directions.  But that's not the whole story.  It was Valentine's Day--a Sunday (we didn't go to church in those days)-- and I had a brand new red fuzzy coat. I wanted to show it off to my friends who were playing across the street, so went across to see them.  However, the street we lived on was the major thoroughfare into the sub-division where we lived, so crossing  without asking permission was not allowed. The whole time (probably fairly short) across that street, I was worried that my mother would notice where I was.  I definitely remember this.  I also remember that my older brother was sick that day, but I think that's beside the point.  Anyway, I felt guilty for disobeying my mother so I went home to ask my mother if I could cross the street to play with my friends.  And on the third time across that street, I darted in front of a parked car (I've always thought it was my dad's Opal, but I'm not sure why he hadn't driven it to his lab that day where he was working on his phd--maybe it wasn't working--it often wasn't!), and was hit by a car.

I don't remember being hit.  I don't remember catching hold of the bumper and being drug along the street, but apparently that's what happened.  I don't remember saying, "I'm sorry, Mommy," over and over and over.  But I did that too, apparently sure it was all my fault and was about to get in trouble.  All the way to the hospital in Mr. Hoffmeister's car.  Mr. Hoffmeister was our next door neighbor.  He was a cop--an off-duty cop.  And he got us to the hospital faster than an ambulance could have come out and picked me up, and taken me back.  I have a feeling he had a police car at his house, but I could just be making that up for this event, though I know he did other times.  In fact, I don't remember anything about of it.  I do remember the huge wound on my left hip that had to be drained, was sometimes left open, and even, I think, how it stunk.  I remember when I got home that Mom cut a hole in a sheet for just those times when she had to let air get to it.

I have that scar to this day, of course.  It was bone-deep and ugly.  I missed an entire month of school, and the biggest deal to me was that when I went back I got to have the special chair pad and back that kids only had on their birthdays--the one I'd never had, because my birthday is in the summer.  And I was introduced and clapped for at a school assembly.  Yep, it was the biggest deal of my whole seven years.

But it wasn't.  The biggest deal was what had happened within my back when that car hit me.  When my hip pressed sideways into my backbone, but had the agility to bounce back.  In those days there was no such thing as MRIs or CAT scans.  And the X-Rays showed no broken bones, so I was good to go, right?

Yes.  And no.  Right until my body grew old, my muscles weakened and things began to slow down.  Then all that scarring, all those nerves that had been pinched and bent and left for dead, revealed the damage done 30 years earlier.  And here I am.  With the nerves in my leg in constant pain.  Unremitting, constant pain that sometimes spikes.  When the neurologists finally figured out what and why and how come, the explanation was that it's like an old football injury--while athletes are young and supple, they can injure their bodies and come back.  But someday they will pay the price.  Eventually they will pay the price.  That's just the consequence of such brutal impact on the body.

It's a lot like the consequence of sin, I think. I think of the time SK inexplicably (maybe she could explain it now!) cut off the hair of her American Girl Doll.  Her expensive American girl doll.  Afterward--immediately afterward--she was quite remorseful she had done this, but that didn't put the hair back on the doll.  The hair was cut. The end. We forgave her, but there was a consequence.  She had to save her allowance for the money to send the doll to the doll hospital for new hair (actually a whole new head, though I'm pretty sure she didn't know this then--sorry SK, if I'm bursting your bubble now).

So  I am not saying we are not forgiven.  Please, please, don't get me wrong.  However, some sins--perhaps many--have far-reaching consequences that can be haunting.  I think of sexual sins, for instance.  Certainly Paul makes a case for this being true. He says that "all other sins are outside their bodies, but those who sin sexually sin against their own bodies." 1 Corinthians 6: 18  There are scars from sexual sins that remain, despite forgiveness.

So, even forgiven, even transformed, we must live with the consequences of the wrongs we have done to others, and to ourselves.  And pray for the day, when we have new bodies, whole and holy.  Until then, I will honor Him with this broken and hurting body. I've said it before, but I believe I honor Him more because of this pain.  Having exhausted all (and trust me, I mean all--all kinds of doctors, pain clinics, drugs, therapies, etc) human solutions, and all spiritual ones as well (prayer in every guise--with and without oil), I stand feebly, but boldly (and for one like me, that's no contradiction), trusting that this is the life I am meant to live.  If I didn't believe it, I couldn't stand, or even sit, another day.  Honestly.  Without believing that I am more than the sum of my parts, more than the consequence of one small action 45 years ago, I couldn't last another day.  Without the counter-intuitive sense that God is in this--yes, EVEN IN THIS--another day might be too much.  I do not mean to sound depressing, because I do not feel it.  I feel hope.  Because He is. But all that is also the truth.  There is absolutely no strength in me.  No power, no ability in me.  I hate this pain.  I hate that it lasts, and lasts and never goes away.  I hate that it impacts every single moment of my life.  And nothing, not even sleep can diminish it.

And yet, I love my life. Every single moment of my life.  And wish for no other--would trade it for no other--even if that other had no pain.  Because this life is my greatest gift: Beve, my kids, my siblings, parents, family, friends, writing...especially Him. That He is and that He is in me.  It's worth everything.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Watching her sleep

Walked into the nursing that my mother refuses to step foot from these days, if she actually remembered how to step foot from anything, and watched the director hanging framed pictures of the administrative staff across from the front door.  My sister offered to help him, I wanted to correct him--the pictures were hanging too far apart, which my hours in front of HGTV have taught me should be no more than a hand's width.  He didn't need my sister help, didn't hear mine.  We walked down the hall, around the corner, and there sat a stragglely (is that a word?) haired, hunch-backed woman, whose hair and shoulders I'd know anywhere, even as unkempt and bent as they were.  I knelt in front of her wheelchair so that my face and voice came from within her line of vision.  Other visits have taught me that sometimes this is the only way she is able to see the speaker.  But though she saw me, and sort of answered to my "hello," there wasn't a glimmer of recognition in her eyes. 

She was willing for us to wheel her back to her room for a visit, but once there, didn't look at either of us.  It gave me opportunity to stare at her while my sister brushed her too-long hair.  I often used to say that my mother's face in repose was always a frown.  No matter what her internal attitude, she appeared to be disapproving.  I know this, because I sometimes asked her how she was feeling, and she'd say, "Fine," when I would have guessed, "Disappointed, angry, upset or sad."  I often think of those frown lines when I'm just doing mindless tasks and purposely turn stretch the muscles on my cheeks upward, so that someday, when I am no longer paying attention, I will easily smile--or at least look mighty pleasant! 

Along with the ever-present frown now, Mom has eye-brows my daughters would maim for.  Perfectly arched, perfectly shaped, and perfectly dark brown even with her all white hair, they sit above her eyes incongruously on this wrinkled face.  Actually, one--her right one--might be over-arched into a question, like she's confused about why she's so upset, which isn't really that far from the truth.  But it's her eyes that get to me.  Mom's eyes are the definition of 'beady'.  They really are just about the size of the almond-shaped beads in those plastic boxes my daughters used to play with, which aren't very large at all.  And they're just full of meaning as those beads.  Or just as empty, I should say.  That's the point.  There is no meaning in those eyes at all now.  They open or close with no difference between the two.

I know this because I saw my mother twice over the weekend.  Friday evening when I saw her, when my sister brushed her hair, she seemed completely vacant.  That night, when we told RE's husband about it, he said she's better sometimes.  They decided Mom's better in the morning, that by the end of the day, any human understand left in her is gone, due to the weariness of having been sitting out in the hallway in her wheelchair, sitting at meals playing with food (taking a bite or two--maybe), you know, all those really exhausting things!  So my daughters and I thought we'd stop by before leaving town yesterday morning.  We found her in her room with her television blaring.  She was sound asleep.  When I gently nudged her and said hello, she said, "hi!" and I thought, "wow, Brother-in-law is right!", but no.  Definitely not right.  I'd intended for my very musical, singing-the-drop-of-a-note daughters to help me sing some old family favorites to see if Mom's brain could sing, even if she can't speak.  But Mom wasn't there.  She kept drifting back to sleep, yes. Then she'd creepily open her eyes and seem to stare at me.  Seriously creepy.  And definitely vacant.  We stayed  about five minutes and there was no singing involved. 

When we left, I was teary.  Teary. Leaving my mother.  TEARY leaving my mother.  That's a first.  Well, a first since that time when I was in a summer pre-school program at the University of Michigan when I was four years old (it was a program for gifted children--but before you think I'm boasting, it was the first and last of such programs I was in EVER, and I'm pretty sure it was my father's giftedness that got me into it, not mine!).  Another little girl, who I'd been talking about all summer, invited me home with her after school.  So my mother arranged it with her mother and I was very excited.  But at the last moment, I panicked.  Refused to get into that  station-wagon.  Not with my own mother standing right beside me and I could just go on home where I belonged. I threw a fit, cried my eyes out.  My mom had to make all kinds of excuses and apologies, but for once in my early life, I was extremely stubborn, and simply wouldn't leave my mommy. And I really think that was the last time until yesterday that I cried at the idea of leaving her. 

Because, as irrational as it sounds, I wasn't sure I'd see my mommy again if I got into that strange station-wagon.  Now I know I'll never see my mother again.  I may see this body.  But the woman inside is gone.  A couple of years ago, I told her that at some point this disease would be like being asleep for her, and when that happened, it wouldn't be hard for her, only for us watching it, but that we could handle it. However, I didn't really know how hard.  She's asleep, and we're watching her sleep, her living, wheeling-around sleep.  Actually, we're watching her nightmare.  My sister and her family especially are watching Mom's nightmare.  It's a hard, sad way to live.  So I'm with that doctor--pace yourselves--twice a week is plenty.