Thursday, April 29, 2010

A small thing

A few nights ago out on the farm, I took a great shower under the new shower head in my sister's upstairs bathroom.  Took care of my normal ablutions, none of which either concern or interest you.  However, later, I thought maybe I'd trapped some water in my right ear, which led to all the standard things one does when this happens: I shook my head vigorously several times, tried standing on my head (not an easy practice in any circumstance now that I've reached my fifties!), inserted Q-tips, knocked my hand up the other side of my head.  All to no avail. 

Yesterday I realized my ear canal was swelling slightly, something it did a few months back, in the comfort of my own home, near my own medical professionals.  I decided I'd try gutting it out until I get home Sunday. I mean, how bad could it get? 

The answer was pretty bad.  Two days later, after a very painful night, I awakened with two thoughts in mind. First:  I needed to call my doctor--RIGHT NOW!!!--and hope he'd prescribe antibiotics without seeing me; and secondly, I needed to apologize to my children, my siblings' children, all the children of the world who had ear infections when they were too young to express how it feels other than by crying.  Because I'm here to tell you, crying suddenly seemed like the most natural reactions.

The truth is, our kids didn't have many ear infections.  Maybe one apiece.  Once at a well-child check for a couple of them, our pediatrician looked in the ears of one, then the other and said, "You know, I've always thought that for some reason, God had simply made the human child ear tubes too small. Across the board, too small.  But your kids--they have perfectly-sized ear tubes.  I don't get it."  But I watched my sister deal with ear infection after ear infection, and I felt for her as much as the kids.  Until the last couple of days.  Now I'm feeling for all those little tykes with such pain.  When I told J I had an ear infection, he said, "What are you, three?"  And maybe I am.  Maybe this pain in my ear that radiates to my head and down my neck, has given me a fever and made me a grump, maybe this makes me something like a three-year-old. 

I'm used to pain.  That's not news here.  But an ear ache?  It's done me in.  Absolutely done me in. This tiniest part of the body, this little canal with the sensitive hairs through which all sound travels is an essential part of our body.  And when it hurts, the whole body hurts with it.  And...and God knew it would be so.  He meant it to be exactly this way.  Every piece of the body has a purpose, even to the smallest hairs in the ear. 
"God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be?...If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it."  1 Corinthians 12: 18, 26

I'm living this this week.  An infection in my ear is teaching me about life in the Body of Christ.  That a small thing like ear infection can do this makes the pain almost worth it.  Well, maybe not worth it, but at least worth something.  And those antibiotic drops don't hurt either.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Harvest

The hills are brown across the road from my sister's house.  Dirt brown. Brown as upturned soil.  The hill behind her house is also brown. Dun brown.  I've seen these hills corduroy brown, white with drifted snow, velvety green and golden.  Once I made my younger daughter walk across the road and stand in the green waist-tall wheat against the hill.  I took a picture of her and sent it to my then-agent, giving her perspective of what I meant by the tall hills of the Palouse.

When I think of all these hills surrounding RE's home, I always think of them with wheat planted on them.  But of course they aren't always.  Nutrients must be replenished that are stripped from the soil from constant planting of wheat.  So on off years, other, nutrient-replacing crops are planted in fields.  Farmers have to learn a whole lot of science to do their jobs well. Crop management, weed control, soil conservation--none of these are hit and miss propositions.  Careful care is taken so that the seed planted yields not merely the largest but the richest crop.  So, for example, this year, on that dirt brown tall hill across the road peas are planted.  Peas, which grow more slowly, more closely to the earth, and will be in full bloom in June when I am next here in the Palouse.  ("Bring your allergy pills," my sister told me.  She knows that blooming peas are one of my most violent allergies.) And in the field behind this house garbanzo beans are planted.   When I was a child of this country, there were no garbanzo beans around here.  Peas, Lentils, wheat aplenty.  But these days garbanzo beans are a money crop.  See, that's what crop research has done.  Garbanzos yield well, and replenish well, and that's good for everyone. (And I'm here to tell you, I, for one, have come to love hummus--which comes from garbanzos)

The studying of the fields to learn when to plant, what to plant, when to cultivate, when to weed, when to harvest.  Watching and working through a whole year for the singular purpose of a single month.  This is the job of farmers.  The rotating of the crops to get the best yield, to keep the soil as healthy as possible, to keep erosion at a minimum.  Again for the eyes-on-the-prize goal of harvest.  Most of us can't imagine working an entire year and only getting paid once.  But this is the farmers' lot.  And glad for it.  They know, they really know, what they're working for.  They may get bogged down in details along the way, but they don't get sidetracked from their goal. 

I've been fortunate enough to be an observer in this farm world for more than half my life.  And I can tell you that when it comes to the Kingdom, there's almost no better metaphor.  Jesus Himself used it when He spoke the fields being ripe with harvest.  We could do well to pay attention to how farmers watch and are patient with the earth.  And perhaps slow down and take our time with others.  Take time to sow the seed, weed the ground around that seed, water and watch and allow it to grow. Slowly, slowly, slowly.  And keep watching.  Just watching and waiting for the field to be ripe.  The golden wheat turning white before we mowing it down.  The field ripe first.  Otherwise there will be no yield.  Just ask a farmer.  He'll tell you:  Harvest early and there will be no yield.

And God knows an eternal harvest takes time.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

YL banquet

I spent the afternoon reconnecting with my roots.  In the same high school gym where I watched my first high school basketball game, I hugged old friends, some of whom played in that same basketball game.  By lucky co-incidence, this area's Young Life banquet was held this afternoon. And by God's amazing plan, the emphasis was honoring the husband and wife who first started Young Life here in the Palouse, a pair who helped raise me as much as any adults outside of my own parents.  When I heard this event was taking place today, when I was already here in the Palouse, I had to join the throng in honoring them.

I've been in companies that have honored this couple before.  Beve and I were invited to a seventieth birthday for Sam years ago, where we stood with those who'd been affected by his ministry. Stood with those who'd been in his Young Life club.  Stood with those who'd been married by him. It was quite a standing, I'm telling you.  The influence of Sam and his wife on our lives is deep and wide.  Sam might be have been the face and voice of Young Life for most of our growing up in Christ years, but his wife, Colleen, was its heart and backbone. 

That's what I was reminded of today.  A good friend--a long-lasting from then to now friend spoke to the gathered company of Young Life's history in the Palouse, a history that started with Sam and Colleen and wound its way through our high school lives right into the Kingdom of God.  He spoke of their relational hearts, their hospitality, their message and their training.  I am blessed...no, beyond just blessed, I am transformed by having been the recipient of all that they poured out in every area.

And I'm not alone, of course.  A full room this afternoon attested to that.  Sure, there were many, many people I didn't know today.  There were kids who gave their testimonies in front of a large group of adults. I remember doing that a time or two.  The first time I did it, I was about 15 years old, and Sam took me over to Colfax where I stood in the auditorium at their high school and told the small crowd what Young Life had meant to me.  I remember how much I loved speaking, how much it energized me to feel that connection between my words and the Holy Spirit.  And, oddly, I actually remember one thing I said that night: "The church I went to growing up gave me the forms of a foundation.  Young Life has been the concrete in those forms."  

This afternoon, among all sorts of strangers I saw several people I've known for almost 40 years. Like the boy I had a crush on for longer than I should actually admit here.  As I stood talking to him, with my best old buddy, I was struck with how really old he looks now. Craggy and old.  In my head, if I think of him at all, he's still sixteen.  I saw other old friends from high school, friends of Beve's, friends of mine. And there were people in the crowd who were my 'kids' when I was a Young Life leader.  One of them told me that she will never forget how I bought her the boxed set of the Narnia Chronicles when she was a teenager.  She couldn't believe a college girl would do that, would take that much of an interest in her.  It's an act I don't even remember.  I can imagine it, loving Narnia as I do, but I can't remember it.  And she said she and her husband (also in my YL club) still have that set, though it's falling apart now.  They read them to their kids, then bought the CDs and listened to them on car trips.  All because an 18 year old, who barely knew what she was doing, and wouldn't remember it later, took an interest.

But that's how it works.  Just taking an interest.  That's what Sam and Colleen did for us, my friend reminded us today as I sat with his wife and talked about our summer plans to spend a week together.  Sam and Colleen took an interest.  Opened their home to us.  And allowed us, trained us to learn to do the same.  And we did.  We learned to take an interest.  To give our lives away without counting the cost, without thinking about it later.  So that those we gave our lives to would give their lives away too.  And so it goes. And so it goes.

Man, I'm grateful for Young Life.  I'm grateful that it was my people group, my first pulpit, my social group, my proving ground, my home for so many years.  I'm grateful for the people, starting with Sam and Colleen who raised me up and trained me in the way that I should go...so that in the end I would not depart from it.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dress stories

Once upon a time, about twenty-six years ago, I was living across the globe in the land of tulips and wooden shoes (both of which I love every much!).  Wooden shoes are actually called kloppen there and one day a very tall friend of mine took me on a long bike ride to a kloppen factory where we watched them being made.  I picked out a pair which live on the floor of my closet to this day, though I cannot get my feet into them since having had my third child...but that's another story.

This tall friend and I took long walks in those days among the kloppen.  We weren't there to see the tulips bloom, but we did travel once to the land held back by the dikes, the very real place of the fairy tale from my childhood.  On those long walks my tall friend and I planned our life together, starting with the wedding we'd have as soon as possible after returning to the states. 

We returned to Washington from Holland just six weeks before our wedding.  And in that time, had to put into action all the things we'd dreamed.  Or I did, anyway.  He went back to work.  I went shopping.  In Seattle, I went dress shopping with my grandmother and aunt, with my father holding the wallet.  Dad was living in Seattle that spring because he was having treatments for cancer.  I was reminded this afternoon what a special thing it was to have had that experience with my dad.  He didn't offer too many suggestions, mostly just wrote checks, but he was there, and that was plenty.

My grandmother, on the other hand, had plenty of suggestions.  And she had a completely different aesthetic than I did.  For the life of me, I can't figure out why I allowed the choice of bridesmaid pattern I did, but my sister today said, "You were jet-lagged." Yes, yes, I was.  Let me just say three words to describe them: Little Bo Peep.  I'm not kidding.  Baby blue (which was my color of choice because it was my groom's favorite color--see, not even that was my own) dresses with puffy sleeves and skirts so full we bought hoops to wear under them, with a wide royal blue sash around the waist.  I crack up, just thinking of the women I put into those things.  My very chic school teacher friend.  My dancer traveling/roommate. My sisters.  My oldest best friend.  Not one of them a flighty, Bo Peep type, even in dress-up.

My sister, RE, and I carefully made all five of those bridesmaid dresses in just a few short weeks.  They were meant to have lace down the front, with blue piping through it, but after basting one, I finally put my foot down.  Or maybe pulled my head out.  Woke up. Something.  Said no, in any case.  No way, no how.  It was bad enough.  But those women wore them with smiles on their faces and flowers in their hair.  Pretending they were thrilled by it all.  Pretending they weren't looking for their lost sheep, or at least their shepherd's crook.  And I'm pretty sure I never told them thank you.  I mean, I thanked them for being in my wedding, but I'm not certain I thanked them for the sacrifice of wearing those dresses.

This all came flowing back to me today, because once again, RE and I are sitting at our sewing machines in her home in the middle of the wheat fields.  In fact, I think I'm sitting at the same table I sat at 26 years ago, almost exactly this day.  And once again, we're sewing for a wedding.  Even the bridesmaid dress color is close to the same as the blue we cut and sewed all those years ago when we were young and slim, and this bride wasn't yet a twinkle in her mother's eye.  But the color is just about the only similarity between those five dresses and these.  Between that bride and this one.  These dresses are stunning, will fit and flatter the attendants (including both E and SK). They are shorter and have far--far--less material.  And this bride knows that this is her wedding.  She can dream and plan and put those plans into action and will be met with encouragement and support...

...which is how it should be.  You see, my sister had a dream of her daughter's wedding dress.  An actual dream.  She could see it in her head as clear as daylight.  But her daughter couldn't see it.  So my sister lay down her dream.  She let it go, surrendered her dream, and instead--gladly--is creating the dress of her daughter's dreams.

This, I think, is a great picture for me of how to parent adult kids.  I have my dreams.  Dreams so clear I could draft them and sew them into form.  But they aren't my children's dreams.  To love my adult children means that I must continually let go of my dreams for them, and support their dreams--at least when the two collide. 

What I'm talking about are Abrahamic moments.  Moments when I lay my children--or my dreams for my children--on the altar, and surrender them to God's care.  He has charge over them.  To mix verses here, He has charge "concerning them, to guard them in all their ways."  In such things as their wedding dresses to their choice of mates to their careers to all the pains in the adult world that I cannot fix for them.  Lay them on the altar where HE will deal with them.  Guard them.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Alz-hammered

E and I are on our way east in a couple hours, but I have time for a post.  Just time.

Yesterday was another marathon trip to a doctor with the elders.  Grampie's return neurologist appointment.  When all was said and done, the answer was clear.  The doctor was quickly, but thoroughly going over the results of the tests, aiming his words toward me mostly, when Grampie cut through to say, "So have I been Alz-hammered?"  I started chuckling.  Exactly! I thought.  Like a giant hammer came down on his head (wow, suddenly I'm singing about Maxwell's silver hammer!), creating holes everywhere.  Alz-hammered.  The answer to Grampie's question is yes, all indications are that this is very likely what we're dealing with.  And I say we because Alzheimers, more than most diseases, affects a whole family.

We've suspected this for a long time, of course.  Well before they moved here we thought there was something amiss, tried to tell him/them so, and they decided he "just needs to concentrate more."  But since they've been in town, our suspicions have become certainties.  We know, we've seen these things before.  Everything's all too familiar, too sadly familiar.

What isn't familiar is this:
On the way home from the doctor, with Thyrza in the backseat, Grampie said, "It doesn't bother me to have Alzheimers."
"It doesn't?" I asked.  "Why is that?"
 "I'm 86 years old," he said. "I've already outlived most of my compadres.  Something's going to get me one of these days.  So it might as well be this."
"Well, Grampie," I said. "Then I'll tell you what the doctor wouldn't bring himself to say outright--you do have it."
"I know it," he nodded.  Then he drifted off for a nap in the sun.  Unfazed by it.  Content as a cat.

As I drove on home, I thought of a conversation I'd had with my mother about 5 or 6 years ago, when she was first being tentatively diagnosed with Alzheimers (always so dang tentatively, which may make the process more painful (just put your money down on a spot and make an educated guess, doctors, please! If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, isn't it a duck?  An Alzheimers duck?).  My mother was a puddle of pain in her living room.  Crying, worrying, fearful pain.  The idea of losing her mind seemed the most horrible thing she could imagine.  And almost nothing I said that day could pierce her fear.

And I have to say, the memory of her reaction made me push all of us to keep Grampie for having to face this.  I didn't think there was any point in putting him through it.  Didn't want to go through it myself.  But I'd completely overlooked two critical issues.  The first is that my mother was only in her early 70s when she first began dealing with the kinds of memory losses that Grampie has now.  When she sat in a room with a neurologist hearing about Alzheimers, she was dozen years younger than he is.  That's a huge difference.  Not just in quantity of years but in quality of life.  Her body was far more healthy at 73 than his is at 86.  Obviously.  Shoot, her body, even with no brain left in it, is healthier at 79 than his is at 86. A world of difference between them.

But a bigger world of difference is the difference between their core personalities.  I've never seen my father-in-law shed a tear.  Never seen him throw a fit of anger.  Never even heard him yell.  He has the steady-as-they-come gene that has passed to Beve and from Beve to E.  Why on earth would I have expected him to respond to this diagnosis in a non-characteristic way?  It just isn't in him.  The doctor remarked yesterday that even as we spoke of his declining mental acuities, he just sat there smiling and nodding. "I don't see many patients as calm as you," he said. "Does what she's (meaning me) saying bother you?" "Nope," said Grampie.  "Just telling the truth."

I've used this example before, and suspect I will again, but bear with me, because it fits soooo perfectly.  When you knock into a cup of water, what spills out is...water.  Whatever is in the cup when pressure is applied against it is what spills out.  And when pressure is applied against our lives, what is really within us spills out.  Not what we'd like to have in us, not what we think should be within us, but what is actually in us.  I think that the vicissitudes of age bear this out as well as anything else.  The older we get, the more like ourselves we get. Does that make sense?  We stop being able to fake it, I mean.  Too much pressure--too many infirmities, inabilities, whatever--is applied against our lives.  And whatever we are, whatever is truly in us, is bound to spill out.

It makes me bend my knees, knowing this.  Makes me want to empty myself of me, more and more and more.  Because I know that left to myself what will spill out of me will be--is--pretty pretty ugly.  Selfish. Controlling. More like my mom than Beve's dad. So, the more of Him there is filling me, the more of Him there is spilling out.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Earth Day

For the beauty of the earth, For the glories of the skies...Lord of all to Thee we raise, this our hymn of grateful praise.



Fair are the meadows, fairer still the woodlands, Robed in the blooming garb of spring...Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer, who makes the woeful heart to sing.

I sing the mighty pow'r of God that made the mountains rise, that spread the flowing seas abroad, and built the lofty skies.   

This is my Father's world...The purple headed mountain, The river running by...the Lord God made them all.

 And all the trees of the field will clap their hands...while you go out with joy.


Morning has broken...
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden, Sprung in competeness where His feet pass.


This is my Father's world, And to my listening ears
All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas--His hand the wonders wrought.


Happy Earth Day, Happy Creation Day.  If you plant a tree today, thank Him.  And if you don't, thank Him anyway.

PS. I don't know why the boxes appeared, nor how to make them disappear.  Sigh.  Just reminds me that I'm the sub-creator, even here.








Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Herding turtles

Just got home from my non-paying, full-time job.  My "your crown in heaven is really getting loaded with jewels" job.  Over six hours today of putting the elders through their paces.  Doctors appointments, lunch at Olive Garden, Office Depot and Costco.  Like herding turtles, I told my son.  I have to wonder what a couple of people in their late eighties and early nineties need with that many sandwich bags, and two gallons of milk at once.  But it was quite a time.  It wasn't my first trip to the large box store with either of them, but the two of them together?  Not for the faint of heart, and this morning, when I first heard Grampie's cheerful voice on the other end of my phone saying, "We're at the front door waiting for you," I was definitely the faint of heart.  See, I'd thought this was my day with Thyrza.  But there they both were, sitting on the little bench by the front door of their residence, bags in hand and smiles on their faces.

This can be a hot button issue for me.  Have I mentioned that before? The other day a friend, who also spends a lot of time driving her mother-in-law around, was talking about this exact thing.  These elderly, non-driving people tend to get in a car, then think of several other places they want to go as long as they're out.  The problem is, they don't tell their drivers ahead of time.  At least my elderly charges don't.  No matter how often I request it.  My friend said, "When we had toddlers who wanted to go somewhere, if it wasn't in our plans or on our timeline, we just picked them up, buckled them into their carseats and let them cry."  I think she hit the nail on the head.  I thought of it as I wandered around that big box store looking for them, wandering if they'd made a break for freedom.  I finally called Grampie on my cell-phone and rather than in the cereal aisle, where his wife had told him to get oatmeal and Raisin Bran, he was over at the photo center.  Funny, that, we'd already spent an hour at the copy center at Office Depot, working on his photos.  I tell you, that man's brain runs on a loop.

"Did you get the cereal?" I asked.
"No."
 "OK, I'll get it.  Do you remember where you're supposed to meet us?"
"Hmm.  I don't think I do," he said.
"At the nuts," I told him.
"Where?"
"The nuts."
"What did you say?"
"THE NUTS! I SAID THE NUTS!"  Yes, there I was standing in the middle the busiest aisle at Costco, during a very busy afternoon, yelling these words into my cell phone.

Have I mentioned lately how much I love my life?

Have I also mentioned that after the doctor's appointment Thursday afternoon for Grampie (and yes, Thyrza is tagging along--but she told me ahead of time), and the test at the hospital for Thyrza Friday morning, I'm driving away with E to Eastern Washington.  She's leaving me me at my sister's for a week so I can help her do some sewing for her daughter's wedding.  See my mother, who won't know me from a hole in her head (which she used to say to us all the time). Just sit and be in the wheat fields when I'm not sewing.  I can do that for a week.  Yes, I can.  Funny, leaving for a week meant organizing things for the elders just the way I used to have to for the kids.  Make sure someone (like Beve or E) could cover the transportation.  Change the appointments that were possible to change.  Yes, it really is a lot like having children again.  Just older, more stubborn children, as slow as turtles, with a great need for sandwich bags and milk and toilet paper.

Monday, April 19, 2010

A little shower

Over the course of my long life, I've been to more than my share of wedding showers, though not as many as some of my friends.  Pastors (if they're women) or their wives tend to go to a whole lot of wedding showers.  As does anyone who has a lot of influence and interaction with the demographic that tends to be of marrying age.  Wedding showers are a rite of passage for women.  I don't know what the similar rite of passage is for men, but such showers have come in waves in my life.  First, my friends had showers.  My friends, my sisters (and in-law).  I went to such showers with my eyes wide open in wonder in the beginning.  "You get all this stuff?  Wow!"

By the time I was in my mid-twenties and still going to such wedding showers, putting on my seventh bridesmaid dress, I was beginning to think there should be some kind of non-wedding shower for the single person.  After all, at some point, a person needed to set up a household of her own.  A few towels that hadn't been washed and rewashed by her mother until they were threadbare, then handed down might be a nice thing.  I got a set of towels for something like my 11th birthday from my grandmother, but I'm pretty sure my mother wouldn't have let them out of her house if they hadn't looked like they were ready for the rag heap by the time I needed them!  And dishes?  I mean, I could have used a nice set of dishes.  Sure, I'd gotten a set of melamine dishes, which I think is just about the same as plastic, but I never saw these dishes at any wedding shower.

OK, so I clearly survived those early days to get to my own wedding and showers along with it.  Three, to be exact.  More than I needed.  A little embarrassing, actually.  That's what happens when you marry the boy across the street in a town where both your dads work fairly prominently at the same university.  And I'll admit, my embarrassment didn't keep us from raking in the goodies from those showers.  Great stuff.  Stuff we still use to this day.  The slotted board for cutting fresh bread--we easily use it every single week.  The garlic holder?  Used every single day until it broke last summer!  And we have a blanket on our bed right this minute that we got at one of those showers 26 years ago.

But some of the things we got have long since worn out.  And lately, in this new wave of showers I've been going to.  Nieces, friends' kids, etc. I've been thinking that perhaps it'd be a great thing to have a second set of wedding showers about 25 years in.  I mean, think about it--you've stayed together for a quarter of a century and most of what you have to show for it are ratty towels and pots and pans with loose handles.  Don't you think there should be some kind of reward for having stayed married, stayed gladly married for all these years?  A new towel or two, folks?  Is that asking so much?

It's not that I'm envious.  I don't sit at these young women's showers and covet their things.  Not even close.  Their choices are seldom my choices, anyway.  I mean, last month I was at a shower where the bride got downright excited when she pulled an axe (!) out of a package.  I mean, I ask you? (Or, to be punny, I axe you) Does this sound like something I might need?  EVER? 

When we remodeled our bathroom a year ago, we did replace our towels, actually.  I knew that wedding shower was never coming.  And just this afternoon, the Beve, who really never ceases to surprise me, took me down to one of my alltime favorite stores (The Greenhouse), and we picked out a new set of pots and pans. Yippee!  We finally took them out of the box, put all the ratty old Revere Ware (oh, how I used you well) into that box and set it out for Good Will!  Good riddance.  For those of you who know Beve, I'll include this important piece of information so you don't think he completely changed his spots: the pots were half price.  Of course they were.  It's the Beve we're talking about.

So that's my story for today.  That's it.  Just a little pot and pan story.  A little marriage shower for me, right in the middle of a sunny Monday afternoon.  And you know, sometimes that's enough. What these young women \don't know, is that if they stay married long enough (and please GOD, may they stay married long enough), their dishes will break, their towels will fray and their pots will finally tarnish.  Eventually, everything wears out.  Even mattresses.  So what I pray for each of them is that they will someday have to replace their pots and pans, with their wedding rings still on their fingers.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

From fear to fearless

Have you ever been in a room where the addition of a single person changes the atmosphere?  Just their presence, the force of their high octane personality, creates a swing in the mood of the whole.  I've been in a group of people talking quietly, maybe a bit seriously, and into this environment comes a person who revs the group into a whole different place--teasing, laughing, private jokes with close friends, loosening up even strangers (most of the time, anyway).  And though, most of the time, I think I veer toward being a more earnest, serious communicator, there are certain groups (my extended family, for instance) in which I have functioned in this role. So, oddly, I know what it's like to both be changed and to change a group by the force of a personality.

A group of scared men had retreated behind closed doors.  Not just closed doors, actually, but locked ones.  Deadbolted, I imagine.  And why?  Because they were afraid.  Afraid of what was out there...er, who was out there.   Odd to think of these burly, muscled men afraid but it's the truth.  They were dead afraid.  Locked down afraid.  And when I imagine them talking, I think of several things: where it had all gone wrong; what on earth they were going to do next; and what about this crazy story those women--Mary especially--had told them about meeting Him in the garden?  A couple of them had seen a rolled away stone, empty tomb, discarded grave clothes, but--and this is a pretty big but--they were still hanging around in a locked room, questioning what it all meant.

Then in an instant, an sudden, unexpected instant, everything changed.  The very air in the room changed.  Because into that locked room came a new person.  "Don't be afraid," he said to those men who were shaking in their sandals. "I'm not a ghost. Touch me and see.  Touch my hands and feet." Stop being afraid. He says by His presence. His very presence first alarms (of course, I mean, someone appearing in a locked room?  Wouldn't you be scared?).But immediately that same presence changes their fear into joy and amazement.  His very presence!  What they hadn't been sure of they now know to be true.

It is important to note that what they were afraid of hadn't changed.  Only a single thing had changed: the presence of Jesus in their midst.  That's it.  His presence took away their fear.  His hands which had only three days prior had had nails pounded into them and his feet which clearly hadn't even scarred yet confirmed to those men that they had every reason to fear the pharisees who'd been after Jesus' hide.  Yet those same nail holes calmed their fears.  His voice calmed them.  But mostly, significantly, His presence, His very presence calmed their fears.

And once those fears were calmed, Jesus 'opened their ears so that they could understand the scripture,' according to Luke, then He explained everything that had happened to Him. He 'breathed on them,' according to John, and said," Receive the Holy Spirit.."  And there you have it.  Right there (or in the first chapter of Acts, in the longer, more well-known version of this event) is the reason the disciples went from fearful to fearless forever (how's that for allileration?). The presence of God.  It's always--always--about His presence.

So here's the deal--for you and for me.  Definitely for me.  I need to remember this.  To know it down to my toenails.  To remember it in the watches of the night:  Where there is fear, He is NOT.  Where He is, there is no fear.  So when I am afraid, I am not living as if I am filled by the Holy presence of the Living God.  The Holy Spirit that was given to comfort, empower, to embolden me.  It sounds easy, doesn't it?  But I've struggled with fear.  I've awakened in the post-midnight hours with my heart pounding in worry about a child, a sibling, a friend.  I remember the days when I had my children all sleep in my bedroom because I was afraid there would be a fire and I'd be unable to get them all out and Beve was away from home.  Fear isn't rational. It locks a person away behind doors and says, "You are right.  You have every reason to deadbolt yourself this way!"  In that way, it's instantly in enemy territory.

But in comes that Person.  That one presence that changes everything.  And we need Him.  I need Him to say, "Don't be afraid!"  Stop being afraid.  If I can speak His name in those dark watches of the night when I'm awakened in fear, He will be there.  Because He already is.  That's the clencher.  He already is.  He already in IN me.

So why can't I just keep that in my head?

Friday, April 16, 2010

The answer is always...

What with doctor's appointments and trying to finish the actual quilting of a quilt for a birthday present which is far too quickly approaching (May 2nd), I've been a bit of a slacker in blogging lately.  A bit of a slacker in even thinking about it, which actually proceeds blogging, at least for me.  I have to keep my eyes and ears peeled to the presence of the Holy in the ordinary, and I'm afraid that lately all I've seen in the ordinary is...well, the ordinary. Sorry to say.

But last night, while sitting at my sewing machine, watching its needle move redundantly through rows of fabric, I was listening to NPR, the radio station I always have on in my sewing room.  The interview last night was with a Berkeley professor who is also a poet laureate, who has a new book of poetry out.  He was asked by the interviewer to read the poem he'd written after his brother's death, two years ago.  It turns out that this highly educated, undoubtedly well-housed man had a brother who chronically lived on the streets, who, despite his brother's efforts both gentle and tough, repeatedly returned to the streets, even though he (the brother) professed to hate such a hard-scramble, scamming life almost as much as his well-heeled professorial older brother hated it for him.

The interview, which was all about their relationship, about the poet's feelings and subsequent work about his brother, inevitably made me consider my own homeless brother also now dead.  The differences, of which there are many, certainly, starts with the one that haunts this professor most: the question of whether his brother took his own life.  That is not a question we have about my brother.  Because we have a blow-by-blow (which is an ironic turn of phrase to use because if Andrew could just have blown that piece of food out of his throat, presumably I wouldn't have known anything about the incident, since he wouldn't have died!) account of the last minutes of his life, we know he struggled and fought to breathe--to live!  So his desire to live is not in question.  However, so much else is.  Everything else.

I couldn't help thinking, as I listened to this interview, of how fortunate this poet/professor was that he had an adult relationship with his brother, a man who liked to ponder and think, a man who'd call him up and ask him some cosmic question because, "he didn't have anything else to do all day."  My homeless brother was not of such an ilk.  Yes, they both had accomplished, well-educated siblings. Came from a well-educated, upper middle-class home.  But Andrew struggled in that environment.  He fit there like a fish fits in air.  His brain wasn't hard-wired for intellectual pursuits.

So, as soon as he could, he took the money and ran.  If that makes sense.  Yes, his is a biblical story.  Like the younger son in the gospel story, my father gave Andrew money and Andrew left with it.  Didn't apply it to what he'd been given it for.  Dropped off the face of the earth as far as our family was concerned.  I've written about this before, and suspect I will again.  It's a troubling part of my family's story.

As I listened to the Berkeley professor speak of how he couldn't live with his brother's homelessness, how he had to make sure his brother had a room in which to sleep at night, for his own peace of mind, I thought of how I dealt with Andrew's absence all those years. His silence.  I ignored it.  Yes, that's what I did.  And, I suspect, that's exactly what the elder brother in the gospel story did.  He just went about his day, doing his father's bidding, ignoring his brother's absence.  Maybe he resented it, groused about it at times because he had more work.  I didn't.  Not once.  No, that's not quite true.  For my father's sake, it was upsetting.  But only for his, never for mine.  For myself, life was easier without him around.  There was no question of when the other shoe might drop. The other shoe that meant he'd done something else to hurt my dad, upset my mom, harm someone.  And...yes, here's the truth: we (my other siblings and I) didn't have to worry about our children being in his presence.  And, unfortunately, as it turned out, there was reason to worry.

So was I the older brother in the prodigal son story? Yes, obviously I was in some essential ways.  I worried about my father continually bailing my brother out.  I wanted Dad to stop, to practice 'tough love' with Andrew.  I wanted Dad to admit that Andrew was 'broken' in some essential way and needed help beyond Dad's finances. But I also saw that Dad's love made a difference in Andrew's life, that it had made Andrew a better person than he might have grown up to be otherwise.

At the same time, it also isn't as straight-forward as our story simply being 'the Prodigal Son' or even 'the Older Sibling'.  It isn't as straight-forward as the story told by the Berkeley professor. A couple things struck me as I listened to that story, though.  First--there are probably more stories like this than we can imagine: an accomplished family with one 'black sheep'.  And that family member--in jail, on the streets, struggling with addiction--is still our brother, son, sister, father, mother.  They are who they were.  And our feelings about them are every bit as complicated.  Secondly, we each have our own story.  And they're all unique. Therefore, there is no one solution.  Not in human terms.  How this professor responded, I couldn't.  What I could live with, he clearly couldn't.  What my father was compelled to keep trying, my mom couldn't continue.  We can only do what we can do.

 When my children were small and going up to the front of church for children's moments, every Sunday J was the first to raise his hand when the adult asked the children a question.  And he always answered, "Jesus."  No matter what the question--in fact, likely he hadn't even listened!--his hand went up, and he said, "JESUS!" Finally an adult asked him why he answered "Jesus," even when the question was something like, "What did you have for breakfast?"  And J answered, "If you're in church, the answer is always Jesus."  Of course the congregation laughed, but we've also re-said that to each other many times in the last 20 years.  "The answer is always Jesus."

I couldn't love my brother, or even help him.  I couldn't have welcomed him back home as he was.  Fear and worry would have kept me from it.  The answer, for both Andrew and me, is always Jesus.  To change him, and to change me.  Yes, it's too late for Andrew on this earth now, and what has become of his soul, I will leave to God.  But my heart still needs changing--and, I fear, even about my homeless brother.  My heart needs changing on a daily, hourly basis.  By the minute, I need to be changed by Jesus.  How about you?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The list

I spent the morning with a friend, having a meandering conversation that moved from kids to parents (the things that most consume me these days!) to books to the old days when we were looking for our 'one true love', and wondered if we'd ever meet him.  If God had one specific person for us.  Having spent years in ministry with high school students I've had this kind of conversation with teenage girls on more than one occasion, if every zip-code I've ever had--from here to the Netherlands, and that's no exaggeration.  I don't know as much about how teenage boys think but you gather a room full of adolescent girls, put a bowl of popcorn in the middle, roll out your sleeping bags around it, and two things are going to happen: 1. There will be a whole lot of giggling, and 2. the talk will eventually turn to boys.  (And the one thing that won't happen is SLEEP!).

Starting from when I was a teenage girl myself I must have had that talk about a hundred times in the last 35 years.  In large groups and small.  And often--back in my single days--alone in the dark with God.  And you know what?  God loves listening to us.  No matter what our concerns.  When I made that list in college?  After my heart was broken, and I thought I might just be single until the end of time?  He was listening.  I still have that list.  And let me tell you--after a couple of bad false starts, I wasn't about to leave anything to chance.  That is to say, my list of requirements for the man I wanted God to give me was long and comprehensive.  It was divided into five sections: Physical, Spiritual, Mental,Character and Miscellaneous.

I went looking for that list again this afternoon because I don't have it in the file cabinet in my brain, just those silly old telephone numbers.  But I remember some things.  Under Physical I said, "Tall--like over 6 ft.  Dark hair.  Blue eyes."  Those of you who know, might think I wrote this list with a certain person in mind.  And I did.     
This man.  My dad.  6 ft tall with dark brown hair and blue eyes.  He was the model I was looking for.  Or someone a whole lot like him.  God, of course, has a sense of humor (another trait on my list) since Beve is 7 inches tall than my minimum requirement.  Oddly, after we were married, I found a journal Beve had kept at some point in his single years (the only journal he ever kept and it was only about 40 pages long), and in it was a similar list.  A list that said he wanted a wife who was short!  About 5'6" or so. Pretty amazing, huh?

Also on my list as all important, of course, was not just that this man be a Christian but that we be like-minded.  There are a whole lot of Christians in the world, and a whole lot of differences between them.  And what God gave me was someone a lot like me in many ways, and enough different from me that life is never boring.  With that sense of humor I knew was essential.  One very much like the one the man in the grainy black and white photo above had.  A tease who never hurt people by his teasing.  That was my dream.

I asked for a leader with a servant's heart, even though I didn't know what I was asking for.  Honestly that was on the list, but for the life of me, I don't know what I was asking for back in my twenties.  I know what I got.  And I know I hadn't had it in earlier, aborted relationships. I didn't ask for a reader, though I think I couldn't imagine being drawn to a man who wasn't one.  However, I was--drawn to a non-reader, that is.  Married to a non-reader.  I mean, not that he can't, just that he doesn't much.  He doesn't live to read.  Not the way I do.  I kind of miss that sometimes.  I wish we could talk about books together.  But it wasn't on the list.  And...

Yes, God gave me my list.  I know, this sounds a little pie-in-the-sky-ish, which I really hate to sound.  But He did.  I carried that list around in my Bible for most of my twenties.  And even though I had my eyes peeled in a different direction for much of that time--toward a man who didn't have a servant's heart, nor dark hair and blue eyes, and certainly wasn't much like me in many and varied ways--God knew that that silly list was real and meant something.  That whenever it was that I'd written it up, probably in one sitting, late one night when I was mad or sad and couldn't sleep, I meant it, and He meant it too. Right there with me when I made it, leaning over my shoulder when I wrote the words. 'College degree.' That's a no-brainer, so I didn't recognize that as Him but  'How about athletic?'  came His whisper.  And it went on the list.  'Likes to cook!' came His nudge.  And so I wrote it down.  All these things that I'd sometimes look at and think, "Likes to cook? really?" but something would make me leave it on my list. 

Until there he was.  All the way across the ocean from just across the street, the living embodiment of that list.  No, I didn't notice it immediately.  Of course not.  He was too familiar, too well-known.  But somewhere along the way, not very long along the way, I began to puzzle it out.  Hair color? Check. Athletic? Double check.  Loves the Lord? Check plus.  And if I hadn't known what a servant's heart was when I wrote the list, once I saw it lived out, I understood what I'd wanted.

And God knew too.  So when ever someone starts asking whether there is one right person out there, or whether we just choose, I say, "Make a list."  Let God help you make a list.  Then step back, get on with your life, and let Him do the work of it.  He'll do it if you give Him room.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Hairs on his head

The men in my life: J, Grampie and Beve...and aren't they are trio?
A three hour doctor's appointment today.  That's a record even for us.  Of course, the doctor, whom I've known for eight years, didn't know what he was walking into when he opened the door to the song and dance troupe formerly known as our family.  Something to behold, I'm sure.  I wasn't actually present for those first moments.  There were four of us in the waiting room, and a couple of us have enough brain cells to realize that that was probably too many people to squeeze into one of those little examining rooms for this appointment.  It was obvious that a trip to Starbucks would probably do us all a world of good, but only one of us could go, so I took that bullet.  I know, I'm quite the martyr, aren't I?  I had a book, a latte, and was prepared to hole up for the duration.  However, not halfway through the cup, I got a text from Beve that said, "Can you join us?" I could practically hear the panic in his voice.  "Coming," I texted as I strode (not a verb I'm prone to using!) back to the car.
They were trying to reconstruct Grampie's health history with the doctor when I got there.  Unfortunately, these are not things Beve keeps in his head.  Nor the elders, clearly.  And, unfortunately, along with old phone numbers, an assortment of birthdays, I also have a file cabinet in my brain marked 'family medical history,' had already opened it up and pulled out Grampie's file by the time I got there.  The doctor instantly saw that I could untangle the confusion, and we waded through a rather extensive, comprehensive medical exam.  By the end, we were all exhausted, hungry, a little sweaty.  Including the doctor, I'm pretty sure. I do realize why he's always so behind his appointment schedule.  I mean, three hours?

After a lupper (lunch-supper) at Grampie's favorite place--the Olive Garden, where he feasted on that 'chicken and dumpling soup' (meaning chicken gnocchi)--we came home and collapsed in a heap, thankful not to have any more appointments until...tomorrow, when there are two! Plus a blood test.  I'm telling you, this is my new job.

As I was checking out for Grampie, the receptionist said, "It's watching people like them (the elders) that make me feel determined to stay healthy and in good shape."  I didn't come up with a quick answer, but the truth is, Grampie has been an extremely healthy man.  And an athlete who was biking and playing handball well into his seventies.  Taking long walks well into his eighties.  He's 86 years old and his blood pressure is 106/78, with low choresterol.  And he weighs the same as he did in high school.  86 years old.  I mean, to live to be 86 years old and be as healthy as he is.  But stuff happens no matter what we do.  No matter what.

The reality is that we can only do so much.  God is in control of the rest of it. I know I'm no picture of health.  Far from it.  But I do know that God is in control, both of how long we live and of what things happen to us along the way.  Lately (and I may have mentioned this before) Grampie's been worried because he's losing his hair.  No one in his family has ever gone bald, he's told us more than once.  "But Grampie," we keep reminding him. "No one in your family has ever lived to be 86."  But he just can't get over those clumps of hair that come out in his comb now, hair he thought sure were his for life.

But you see, God says every hair on his head is counted.  The ones he loses and the ones he keeps.  The same is true for each of us.  He knows the pain that will creep up on us slowly in life and those that will catch us unaware in a single breath.  He knows and He cares and He walks with us in them.  I'm grateful for this knowledge today.  I'm grateful for it, because there was a single moment this afternoon when the doctor used a word that opened Grampie's old eyes wide in anxiety. "I don't think he's associated that word with what has been happening with him," I told the doctor. The doctor immediately softened his tone, and explained the possibilities in a gentler way.  You see, we've been protecting Grampie from that word.  For us, this pain has been creeping up slowly--we've watched him deteriorate until we whispered it to each other and then to his wife--and we decided there was nothing to be gained by telling him something we didn't know for sure, giving him the name for his memory problems that is the most feared of all memory names.  But in a single breath, the doctor gave him that name. "Alzheimers," he said.  Now that word is out there.  Probable.  A thing as tangible as a smell.  As tangible to Beve and me as a woman (6 years younger than Grampie) sitting in a wheelchair, staring blankly into space.

I'm thankful that Grampie doesn't have the same picture in his head.  In fact, by the time we left the doctor's office after the marathon appointment, I think he'd forgotten that word altogether.  It will raise its head to speak its name again.  But for now, it's enough that we heard it.  Grampie has enough to do to simply get through another day.  We'll carry his burdens for him.


Some of my favorite flowers--in our backyard --did I thank you for planting them last fall, Beve?



Sunday, April 11, 2010

A mystery

It's been a great spring break for Beve.  Just enough time off for him to shed some of the tension he wears like a sweatshirt, enough physical activity to keep him engaged, and plenty of time with others.  All of these things call out 'Vacation Beve', and I'm always glad to see this part of the man I love, even when I roll my eyes at some of his silliness.

 As we try to soak the last pieces of this last day's gravy up with the last scrap of bread (and watching the final day of the Masters as a boon), I thought I'd post about another writer who has meant a lot to me.  Here's a small confession:  I am not deeply enamored of poetry.  Certainly not poetry with rhyme and meter, with cadence and rules.  Maybe because such rules are too difficult for my unruly mind.  There are exceptions, of course.  Hopkins?  Love some of his.  A couple of Shakespeare's sonnets, but certainly not all of them, nor all of the plays--not by a long shot--though I do respect them. Hold them in the highest of esteem as the cornerstones of our modern English language and literature. But for the most part, poetry bores me.  There, I've admitted it.  I have spent much of my life in the pursuit of literature, and still manage to admit it.  (However, if you could manage NOT to tell a couple of my favorite profs, I'd very much appreciate it!)

But there are a few contemporary poets who have come to mean quite a bit to me. These people write poetry as I do.  And I do write poetry.  Poetry comes clawing out of me when I'm in the deepest pain. It's like full thoughts won't do in those moments and only bits and pieces of thoughts break through the jagged edges of my sadness or pain.

Denise Levertov was introduced to me at Regent College.  Her small book The Stream and The Sapphire was a revelation to me. Beautiful, transparent, accessible to even the most prosaic of readers.  Readers like me.  Or like the engineers in my life who are even less inclined toward poetry than I am.

Of Being
I know this happiness
is provisional:

       the looming presences---
       great suffering, great fear---

but ineluctable this shimmering
of wind in the blue leaves:

this flood of stillness
widening the lake of sky:

this need to dance,
this need to kneel:
         this mystery.

The truth in this poem hits me hard!  There have been times when I was in the midst of crisis, or in that vacuum of waiting for it (like last fall with Beve's sister), where misery becomes normal, I think.  Then the other shoe will drop and it will hurt again--harder than I imagined.  But right in the midst of this, in the very center of such crises, for no earthly reason, there is a leaping within, a sense of presence and joy that I wasn't looking for, or expecting, in that place of gloom.  But there it is.  Beve reading Psalm 139 to his comatose sister when suddenly her hand unexpectedly lifted toward his, and he held it.  How that happened is a mystery--and a deeply sacred moment--and though I didn't feel like dancing, I definitely felt the need to kneel.  Because it pointed straight up through the sadness to God.

Sometimes it's just the simple pleasure of taking a walk on a beach with some friends of the heart, picking up shells, watching the birds--gulls, and the occasional eagle with its sky-wide span of wings.  Or maybe just sitting in a car with my husband having a simple conversation with no interruptions.  The feel of one of my children's arms around my neck used to be enough to lead me into this mystery I'm talking about.  But whatever it is, it is JOY.  The Joy, CS Lewis writes that he spent his life in search of, that makes life worth living.  No money can buy it, no fame can accomplishment.  It is heaven-sent.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Hospitality of home and spirit

A perfect spring day here in NW Washington. Tulips blooming, apple trees budding, and we're sitting by the fire with our morning tea and cocoa.  Beve and me.  That's right, home with my favorite person on a lovely spring morning.  These are the moments I relish.  Moments that don't happen very often, to be honest with you (and to be honest with you, I'm always honest with you).  Beve's an early riser.  An extremely early riser.  Yesterday, for example, he got up and went in to work, even though it's Spring Break, before 4:00 in the morning.  Put in a whole 8 hours and was home by noon.  I was still in my pjs.  OK, yesterday I didn't get out of them all day, but still, that's a full day's work in half a day. Isn't it?  Am I doing my math wrong?

That's just how he operates.  If he can't stay asleep, he doesn't toss and turn, he just gets up and gets going.  He's like his mother that way.  She used to get more done in the middle of the night than most people do all day long.  Make a few stained glass vases, weld a few lamps or waste-paper baskets, sew a couple of dresses, braid a rag rug for the family room, bake a loaf of bread--all while the rest of the house was sleeping.  She just couldn't sit still.  And Beve is cut from the same cloth.  Most of the time, especially since his mother's been dead for 18 years now (wow, has it really been that long?), remark about Beve's similarity to Grampie.  And yes, I can see it.  The organizational skills--and by that I mean, the piles of papers they tend to have on their desks.  But really, it's Grammie Beve's like.  The gift, yes, the God-given gift of hospitality that has made him open wide the doors of every door we've ever owned, welcome friend to come on in, have a meal, stay a while, stay a month.  This is that gift.  The ability to create a party from a moment, this is also my husband.

I don't have these gifts. I have the gift of creating moments from moments, if that makes sense.  If we start talking, you and I, I'll help us make that moment something, but will get so caught up in the making of it, I'll forget creature comforts--for both of us.  Won't offer you a drink, a blanket, a place to lay your head.  Won't lay down my head myself, come to think of it.  The moment, the conversation--they're what I pay attention to--while Beve, Mr. Hospitality Incarnate, will be mixing orange juice and lemonade, adding a little Sprite and offering you a tasty spring drink you'll find refreshing and lovely.  He got that from his mother.  Thank her very much.  I do.  I thank her very much.  For the hospitality offered that I would never think of.  For the generosity of spirit so different from my own.  For the beds, the food, the comfort we've given, that I've taken credit for because I stand beside him.  Yes, and for those same things that I've grumbled about more than once.  Ask him.  Ask my kids.  As I say, they don't come naturally to me, so I tend to tense when having to practice what isn't organic to me.

But if you knock on our door and Beve practices his gift, I can promise, my gifts will be practice too.  The gifts of conversation, of meeting of minds and hearts and moments.  His gifts feed and provide a bed for the night.  Mine might (depending on you, I suppose) offer something else just as needed. Maybe a hospitality of heart. At least that's what I tell myself when I'm just sitting and talking, while he'd doing all the work.

Now excuse me, Beve and I are off for a little overnight jaunt.  See you tomorrow night.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Confidence

This morning at a doctor's appointment with Thyrza (I know, I know, it does seem like a perpetual occupation), we got to talking about her height (5'11 at her tallest), which is exactly the same as my mother's.  She told of how she was once told by a photographer in high school to stand in the back row with the boys, since she was taller than most of them.  I could instantly see it, because I've seen a picture exactly like it of Mom from her high school years.  Thyrza refused to stand with the boys.  Just wouldn't do it. "I may be tall," she told him, "But I'm still a girl."  My mother made no such protest.  Instead, she slumped her way through life in those days, trying as hard as she could to be blend into the crowd.

Beve's mother, on the other hand, 2 full inches taller than these women, back in the same era, an era where 6'1" was a veritable giant among women, was proud of her size.  More than proud.  She stood tall and let the light shine on her.  As a result, the light shone on her extremely tall children, making them proud as well.  I've never met a more confident bunch.  Beve? Seriously one of the most confident people you will ever meet. And by confident, I don't mean cocky, don't mean arrogant.  Not a step across the dividing line of what makes someone a pleasure to know and associate with to what makes you want to run away from them screaming.

And you know what the difference is?  Beve's confidence isn't in himself, but in God. At the cell-level, Beve really, truly believes that God is in control.  And he trusts that more fully than anyone else I know.  Without fanfare or high-falutin' words.  Sometimes without many words at all.  You wouldn't talk to Beve and think, "there's one of those 'religious fanatics'." Not by a long shot.  He has his feet to earth, my Beve does, but maybe he can trust the way he does because his head is so far above the crowd.  

The thing is, Beve's certainty sometimes gets to me.  It really does.  I'm a whirl of emotions, a whole kaleidoscope of feelings about every event and possibility.  Take, for instance, a recent circumstance in our lives.  When the Grands (as our kids have taken to calling Grampie and Thyrza) moved to our town and we had to start transporting them daily, it became apparent that our small vehicles were not going to accomodate their extra-large frames + their extra-deluxe walkers.  For a while, we drove two cars everywhere we went, one for the people, and one for the accoutrements.  But this was neither practical nor always possible--particularly when I was the lone driver! Smile! So, with their quite vocal encouragement, we began looking at larger vehicles.  Found a Toyota Highlander.

Bought the Toyota Highlander.  Over my misgivings, I admit.  I was in favor of us selling one of our other vehicles first.  I blush to admit just how many 'other' I'm talking about. But I meant a specific one.  The one we'd decided we'd sell to buy this car.  (Even Chinese water torture (whatever that is) wouldn't make me admit how many cars we currently insure.  It's beyond embarrassing.)

Anyway, I made my misgivings known to the Beve.  And his response? "It'll work out."  I've heard those words from him before.  A calm, quiet, certain phrase.   Uttered when I worried about how we'd live if we left our home, jobs, life for me to go to seminary.  Uttered when I worried how we'd pay for a child to go to a private university.  "It's God's problem," Beve will say.  See, Beve believes--wholly--that if we've answered God's call in obedience--to bring the Grands to this city, to move because He intended me to go to seminary, because our child was meant to go that that university--then it's up to God to take care of the details.

Steady on, then.  We bought that car.  With my doubt and Beve's certainty. And a looming date of mid-April when the pick-up had to be sold in order to make all the finances work smoothly.  Yes.  Mid-April.  And I've been sweating blood reminding God about it.  You can bet your bottom dollar about that.  Beve?  Not so much.  He's a confident man.

And he "knows Who he has believed in."  Mid April, like I said.  I suppose you know where this story is going, don't you?  Don't you?  That's right.  This morning, Beve (who has Spring Break this week) sold that pick-up.  Exactly when he needed to.  Before mid-April.  With plenty of time to spare.

It's a lesson I have to learn over and over and over.  About things large and small and large and small.  It doesn't matter the size of the matter, what matters is the size of our trust in Him to accomplish on our behalf, what we have asked of Him.  Especially when we're following after Him.  Obedience.  Trust.  And then watch what will happen.

We don't live big lives, the Beve and me.  But we have repeatedly been privileged to see big things happen--not by manipulating or controlling or pushing.  But by trusting.  And I'm just lucky enough--and by lucky, I mean that truly spiritual quality of blessing--of living with a man whose confidence is as large as his heart.

Monday, April 5, 2010

At a table

At a table today at one of our favorite restaurants, with boats rocking on their lines in the marina outside the windows, the islands dark and tempting across the bay, and gulls soaring, we talked with our friends about the events of the last weeks, the last few days.  We spoke of ministries--those that have been successful, those that seem to have sputtered  in the water just out the window.  We wondered what the heck we're doing with our lives, and if we have a chance of figuring it out on our own.  We wondered if we'd gotten it all wrong all those years ago when we thought we'd heard Him call our Name.  There have been some nay-sayers.  Some out-and-out "you're dead in the water." And even worse, "We won't help you get going again." Yep, we spoke of those times.  Times when hope left us.  Times when we thought we were alone.  Gulls flew beyond the windows.  Boats sailed.  We drank another glass or two of water.  Talked a little more.  Maybe cried some.

But suddenly--or maybe it's only that our attention suddenly focused!--something changed between us.  The air, maybe.  Or...like someone else had joined us at that table. Yes, SomeOne else.  And the air changed too.  The air of our words, our attitudes, our focus.  The hope that had seemed dead between us burst forth like sun coming out from behind the clouds out the window.  Like a stone had been rolled away from a tomb.

Like we were walking along the road together, had a man join us, and didn't recognize Him until we sat down to eat.  But when He picked up the bread and broke it, we knew--scales came off and we knew Him.

That's what it was like.  The scales came off, and there He was, sitting right there at the table with us.  As if every word we'd spoken was a prayer, as if every sentence we spoke to each other was directed to Him.  Don't you just love when this happens?  I do.  It's what I live for, really, what I live for. And, after all, that's how the best conversations always are.  We work through the hard parts (and I suppose He was sitting there through all of that as well, just biding His time), and discover that He's there.  And because of His presence at our table, it was the best of all meals--though I can't remember what the food was!  And there was no place I'd rather be.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Christ Hymn for this Resurrection Day

He did not count who He'd been ( i.e., One with God) something worth holding onto, or to be used to His advantage.
Instead, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness (not merely a human but the most helpless kind to begin with: a human baby).
And, being found in appearance as a human being (a living and breathing and able to feel pain and sorrow human being),
He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death--
Even death on a cross (And to the writer of this Christ hymn, death on a cross was the worst of all possible kinds of executions!).

Therefore (yes, therefore, because of THIS) God exalted Him to the highest place,
and gave Him the Name that is above every Name,
that at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess (every tongue will, one way or another!) that
Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father!
Amen.

Philippians 2: 5-11

(Paranthetical thoughts my own)

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The hard work of the day

And then it was over.  I don't know about you, but I've had a couple of days like this, the day after a most beloved loved on died.  The one that makes me most 'get' what the followers of Jesus that first Saturday might have been feeling was the day after my father died. My father died bright and early one August morning and we all slept-walked through that day.  Barely closed our eyes through that night.  I tend to have trouble getting to sleep, so I tossed and turned until about 3 AM.  My sister, the Dump got up sometime while I was still tossing, went upstairs to sit in the over-sized chair in the corner or my parents' living room.  A while later, our older brother, Dad's namesake, R the III, came stumbling out and just about jumped out of his skin when at my sister's quiet 'hi'.  My mother was already up as well, so there were the three of them, up and doing the hard work of the day at 3 AM.

The hard work of the day.  That's what the followers of Jesus had to do that Sabbath.  They had nothing else to do, of course.  It was the Sabbath, after all, with no Lord of the Sabbath to lead them out.  No, I imagine them perhaps gathered in that same upper room where they'd last felt easy, last felt certain that they knew what they were about, what He was about, who He was.  That upper room, where they'd last felt safe.  The city wasn't safe, certainly.  If they'd come after Jesus, who knew if they'd be next.  So they sat in corners, reclining again, though not in joy.  And not to eat.  Some of them thought they might never eat again.  Others thought only food would do the trick--bury the pain of loss.  But they had to be careful.  It was the Sabbath and they couldn't work. 

And grief itself was work aplenty.  What was swirling in their brains was work aplenty.  All the things He'd told them.  All those promises.  Come to nothing.  And what they'd left for Him. Jobs and homes and families...everything.  Everything!

And now there was nothing.  Nothing! 

We live this story with the end in mind.  We can't not.  We know Sunday's coming when Friday happens.  But they didn't.  They had the pleasure, the extreme pleasure, of His company for three years, had heard His voice--His actual human voice (oh God, to hear His voice--there are tears in my eyes as I write this)--had been sought by Him again and again (think of Him finding them as they worked, as they sat under trees, did their jobs, think of Him walking to them across the water--He NEVER stopped seeking them!), they'd heard Him tell them in oblique terms and straight out, exactly what was going to happen, what His purpose was. They'd seen the miracles: the blind seeing, the lame walking, the dead living.  The temple clearing.  They'd seen it all, heard it all, lived it all with Him in ways that we don't get.  That was their privilege, their extreme, God-given privilege.  And...

They also had to live it with Him.  The jeers, the unbelief--the crowds', the pharisees', their own! They had to walk through that last week, the last few days, and discover what they were made of--which wasn't much.  They were made of denial, and fear, and fleeing.  And all those things He'd told them about His purpose, both oblique and straight-out, didn't add up to a hill-of-skulls that Saturday.  They absolutely, totally, completely missed it. Didn't know what the end of the story was anymore than...

any of us would were we in their place. Because don't for one moment think you'd be any different.  Or that I would.  We wouldn't. We'd have scratched our heads in confusion, run away in fear, cowered in the corner.  And that's if we hadn't been in the crowd, yelling, "Crucify Him."  No, thank God, we didn't have to live what they did.  Really, God knew what we were made of.  What we get in place of their luxury of time and place and human voice of Jesus is that we always live with the end in mind.  We cannot face the crucifixion, cannot face the stone-tight closed tomb of Saturday without the rolled-away stone of Sunday. We get (and now the tears are running again) His voice calling Mary's name, and Peter and John having a foot-race when she tells them.  We get that.  We don't slink off from the cross with our tail between our legs, thinking it's over, because we know the cross is only half the battle.  And that the battle is already won. 

For us.  Again, and again, and again, it bears repeating. FOR US. For you, for me.  For every person who ever took a breath, who was ever conceived, who was ever created in the magnificent Image of God Himself. 

So have a good Saturday.  A great Saturday.  A blessed beyond blessed Saturday. For this, too, is what we get.  

Friday, April 2, 2010

The worst, best day

It was sunny and hot today.  Not a cloud in the sky, with a blazing sun overhead exactly at noon.  The temperature was somewhere between 86 and 95 degrees Farenheit.  The sky was as blue as the eyes of my middle child.  Nineteen hundred and eighty-two years ago today, that is, the sky was that blue.  Today in Jerusalem, where the temperature really was 30 degrees celsius, but felt like 34 (according to Accuweather), which is 86 and 94 F respectively (and don't worry, I didn't do that math myself; that whole 9/5s + 32 stuff is beyond me...if I'm even remembering the equation correctly), I'm not sure the sky is bright blue.  Pollution has changed the color of the sky in most other urban centers, so I'm guessing the sky there is kind of a dingy flat color, with barely a tint of blue in it.  I haven't been to Jerusalem, so I could be wrong, but that's my guess.  But back then, back in the year 28 AD or so, that sky was blue, even in the heat of a spring day.

When Jesus lay on His flayed back on a rough wooden cross, while his arms and legs were stretched into position and nails pounded through his very human flesh, he stared at an azure sky.  Yes, azure--the exact color of an unclouded sky.  "The heavens declare the glory of God," the Psalmist says.  The heavens that Jesus last glimpsed on his dying day, while nails sharpened by our sin pierced his skin.  The distance between the two sides of His family tree, the distance between the two sides of Himself was clear in that moment. Well, that distance had been growing ever since He gave Himself up to God in the Garden of Gethsemane.

You know that moment, don't you?  That sweating blood moment where He made a certain plea that must have broken His Father's heart not to grant:  "If You're willing, let this cup be passed from me...nevertheless, not my will but yours be done." The same Father who sent an entire angel chorus to set up camp to sing His Son's first Birth-day chorus, the Father who heard His Son tell Mama and Step-Papa Joe, "Didn't you know I'd be in my Father's house?"  The Father who said the first time Jesus stepped out in public, "This is my Beloved Son, listen to Him,"  If you're a parent, even a little ol' earthly parent who make more than their share of mistakes along the way, you know how it feels when your kid hurts.  And to know that the hurt in front of this son--this Beloved Son--will separate You from Him for the first time in eternity, will kill Him, will destroy Him, how that must have made God wept that dark, black Friday when the sky was azure, and the sun was golden.  It was the worst day in history--not only on earth--but also in heaven.  Wasn't it? Wasn't it?

But also the day for which Jesus had come.  The day for which they'd planned, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit--God in three in One--since that first Garden.  Yes, this Friday was always coming.  The betrayal by Judas, even his unbelievable kiss in Gethsemane.  The monkey trial of the pharisees and the washing-his-hands-of-the-whole-thing by Pilate, who'd never have a good night's sleep the rest of his life.  The near rioting screams of the crowd that freed a murderer and condemned a Savior.  All of it had always been on its way.  Jesus had spent His entire life on earth with His face 'turned toward Jerusalem.'  And God in Heaven, sad as it made Him, turned His back on Jesus, just as they'd planned--when the sacrificial Lamb of God was nailed to a cross against a clear blue sky on a verdant spring day before most of eternity's population had ever even lived.

Look at Him hanging there on that worst, best day.  The day the sky was blue, then the sun went dark. Dark in fact, and dark with our sins on that worst, best day.  Through out history, this day has been known both as black Friday and Good Friday, and how true both names are. The azure sky went as black as the sin that stained the Good.  The singular, true Good.  He hung there, done for with our sins.  The worst, best day. Ever.  And God in His heaven, with the angels weeping as loudly as they'd sung at His birth, let Him. Of course they cried as loudly at that death as they'd sung at His birth.  Of course they did.  Their cries, God's cry--it blackened the cry and rent the temple...because God Himself was dying.
"It is finished!" The Man on the Cross said.  What He'd come for.  It was finished.  FOR US.  Finished. 

Thank God.  Yes, Thank God.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Leave-Taking

Have i ever mentioned that I love the gospel of John?  For the narrative of Jesus' life, the other three might tell the story more--with angels coming to Mary and Joseph, the birth in a cow-dung-filled out-building somewhere in the backwater town of Bethlehem, the flight to Egypt because of the wicked king.  All that stuff (well, come to think of it, that's all Matthew and Luke.  Mark starts with John preaching in the wilderness).  However, the poetry of John.  The metaphor and intentionality of those metaphors they grip me.  I can read it and read it and read it.  Just the prologue alone grips me enough that I could read it every single day of my life and never get over it--
"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.  Through Him all things were made and without Him nothing was made that has been made...
"Yet to all who received him to those who believed in His Name, He gave the right to become children of God...
"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have see His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."
I never read that without feeling a lump in my throat, and a catch in my chest. And in John are all those glorious, connective tissues we call the "I AMs".  The seven great phrases that tell us who Jesus is,  the great I AM in human flesh:  I AM The bread of Life, the Light of the World, the Resurrection and the Life, the Gate, the Great Shepherd, the Way and the Truth and the Life, the Vine.  I once wrote a Mission trip devotional on the I AMs, and maybe someday I'll 'borrow' from it for this blog, but not today. 

At His last, lingering meal with His disciples, after He's dispatched Judas to his demonic work, after he's told Peter how far he'll stumble, Jesus saves plenty of time for some good stuff.  Great stuff, actually.  I can just see Him, like a father with his children, yes, exactly like a Father about to leave His children, wanting to make sure He gets everything said He needs to before He goes.  And He has quite a bit to tell them.   Jesus' discourse in John 14-17 is the longest in John's gospel.  He talks a while--like all of 14, where He tells them He's going to His Father's house, and Thomas, the worry-wart, wants to know how they'll know how they'll possibly find Him if He leaves them behind.  Like it might be their job to go hunting for Jesus, like it ever had been.  Hadn't He searched them out in the beginning?  Doesn't Jesus always do the looking?  But these are human fears, human reactions.  Jesus has patience this last night--at least early on.  He explains things carefully--even when the disciples can't understand.  And at the end of chapter 14, He says, "Come let us go from here."

Now it's possible, of course, that John simply thought of more that was said.  Or perhaps, they went on to the Garden and Jesus continued talking from there. But when I think of these words, and the next 3 chapters that follow with Jesus speaking, then praying, I am reminded of what often happens at the end of a great time with friends or family.  Especially when the leave-taking is for a significant length of time.  We linger.  Think of other things we need to say.  We get out the door and come back.  Stop at the car for a few more words.  Pray together.  Make the moment last before the final goodbye.  It always happens with us.  Usually, Beve ends up with his hand on my shoulder, gently pressing on me to remind me that we have a drive ahead of us. I'm a talker, you know.  And find leave-taking hard. 

And find that often the last few minutes bring the most significant words of the entire time together.  I don't know why this is, but there it is.  So paying attention to these final words in that upper room make sense to me.  So what are they?

Peace.  That's last last word.  The last word before Jesus first says, "We need to get going."--"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your heart be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27)
And the last word before He begins to pray?: Peace. "I have told you these things that in me you might have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world." (John 16: 33)
And the last portion of His prayer, the part where He slices through the veil of history as completely as if the temple veil would be rent the very next day, to pray for all of us--ALL OF US?( I have to tell you, this brings another camel-sized lump to my throat.  That He was praying for US the night before He was killed, because He was killed for US--it kills me, it really does.) "...I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in You." (John 17: 21)

PEACE.  Three times, three ways.  All encompassing peace.  The first--peace that He gives, not letting our hearts be troubled--is peace within, peace from the internal striving and worry that the enemy, the world would want us to feel.  The second--overcoming peace--is peace without, peace from the things that the world tries to do on the outside to push at us, emnities, strife, etc.  And the third--Oneness--is peace between.  Peace with other believers.  No matter what our differences dogma-wise, ritual-wise, etc.  If a person believes that what we celebrate tomorrow is the death of their Savior, and what we celebrate Sunday is His resurrection--and it's for US--that person is our sibling in Christ.  The END.  No matter what. 

And if they don't believe that, that person is still someone God loves so much He sent His only SON to die for.  And these verses tell me, we are to be One as Jesus and God are One, which means loving as they do.
From where I'm sitting, there's no one left out here.  NO one.

The last things He had to say...pretty important, don't you think?