Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Adventures with Grampie

It's been a week of them.  I'm telling you, we're living the dream around here!  We spent well over an hour the other night at Walgreens, dealing with his medication, though it didn't seem that long to Grampie because he had a nice nap while we were waiting.  When he tried to stand up, he fell back into the chair.  He's not too steady on his feet these days, but likes to get by without his walker. It's a pride thing, but I keep telling him that if he really falls, I won't be able to help him up and we'll be calling 911.

This morning he called me in a panic. "I'm in a tailspin," he told me.  "Do you have an extra shaver over there?"  He bought new blades for his yesterday, and they were the wrong ones.  He and Thyrza had been working on the dang thing for a long time before he called me to rescue him.  I got myself together, told the dogs they could go for a ride and we happily drove over to Grampie's, our heads out the window, our tongues waving in the breeze.  Oh wait, I guess that was just the dogs.  I was simply driving.  When I reached Grampie and his tailspin, the first thing he did was grab my hand and rub it across his face.  "I'm a shaggy old man now," he said.  I couldn't see the whiskers, but he was clearly overwrought by the state of affairs.  This is not a man comfortable with facial hair.  But before we could leave, he got a call reminding him that he needed a blood test this morning.  A blood test I didn't know anything about. So before dealing with the shaving calamity, we detoured to our medical facility...

where the parking lot was jam-packed.  So I decided to let Grampie out at the front door.  Now you have to understand that Grampie has gone to this same lab for bloodwork almost every week since they moved here, so letting him go inside alone was safe enough, and I'd catch up as soon as I'd parked.  However (and you'ver already guessed this, haven't you?), when I finally found a parking place (behind the building), raced inside and downstairs, Grampie was nowhere in sight. And they hadn't seen him. Now I've lost me some kids a time or heart-stopping minute or two.  Once J and his best friend/cousin M made my father's very pale face turn whiter than a sheet when they infamously wandered away from a family camping site.  I think I've told that story before.  And there have been more than one occasion when I've thought I'd lost Beve, which is quite a feat, considering.  How can you lose a man who's 2 meters tall?  Not easily, but I'm talented.  Once when we were in New Delhi, we got separated in the middle of a very busy market.  I walked out of a little shop, looked one way down a street at a sea of people walking, then turned and looked in the other direction.  And started running, dodging people and thanking God for that 2 meter man, who was was literally head and shoulders taller than anyone else on that street.  So though I've lost him, I've always found him easily enough.

But his taller, but now stooped father, I really, really lost this morning. Or I should say, he lost himself, which is really more accurate.  I went up one staircase to our doctor's office, back down the elevator to the lab, to the front of the building, to the back...talked to some very helpful nurses who thought we should 'lock down' the building, which I agreed to after checking upstairs once more.  And there he was, standing in our doctor's office.  And he couldn't even tell me where he'd been.  "I just got confused," he said. 

Disaster averted, though, blood taken, we moved on to Fred Meyer where Grampie had purchased the wrong blades for his electric shaver yesterday.  We got his money back, found the right blades, and before we even bought them,  I put them into the shaver, just to be sure they'd fit (a store employee assisted me in opening the plastic with a box-cutter).  Grampie's old whiskers poured out on my jacket, but I got the puzzle put back together correctly and he grabbed it from me.  And instantly shaved his face.  I mean, he wasn't just checking to see that it worked, but shaved every craggy plane, then wanted to see if there were any samples of aftershave in the store to put on, like he does at home after he shaves.  My mouth was hanging open.

I remember when this man was a strong, stately man with a tremendous about of pride in his appearance.  A man who would no more have shaved in public than...well, than take care of any other personal hygiene in a grocery store.  But Grampie's now 8, not 86.  I just haven't quite figured that out.  He can get lost, make poor personal choices, and needs to be watched all the time. 

And doesn't know it.  Sigh.

Beve just got off the phone with them.  He got in trouble from Thyrza tonight.  He's not exactly sure how he wandered into that minefield, but then one never knows.  Sigh.  Yep, adventure is the word for it.

As I told SK this morning when I was telling her about my day, just think, this may be what you have to look forward to!

Monday, September 27, 2010

Funny-bone

Imagine that you bumped your 'funny-bone' and felt that hot, vibrating, tingle all the way up and down your arm.  Then imagine that you did this back in 2002, only it was in your leg, and there's nothing funny about it, since that dang 'funny-bone' pain hasn't stopped since.  I mean, not for a single solitary instant stopped completely. You go to doctors (10 of them) of different specialties (at least 4 of them )in three different cities, have been poked prodded and had every kind of test ever created in the medical field, except perhaps a pregnancy test and prostate exam, and still that fiery pain continues.  Sitting exacerbates it, especially with the leg bent and foot on the ground, like in a car or airplane.  But so does standing on it or laying on it or walking on it or...well, so does everything. 

And the praying over it.  Oh my God (literally!), the praying. The laying on of hands and anointing with oil.  The fasting and praying and every which way and praying.  And still twenty-four hours of every day, seven days of every week, fifty-two days of every year for the last eight years that crazy-bone pain that starts at my hip and ends at the bottom of my toes has been the closest companion in my life.  The reducing companion in my life, I have to admit.  The first year I spent on the couch with my leg propped on a pillow, the pain was so distracting for me.  But finally I stood up.  Not because it had left, not because the medication had helped so much, but because life looked long and terrible and downright empty if I didn't get ever off the couch again.  Nevertheless, my life is smaller than it used to be. I still spend a whole lot of time on the couch.  Er, the right side of the couch so that I can swing my left leg up beside me and give it something of a rest.

Sometimes it's discouraging.  OK, that's an understatement.  I mean, sometimes I just try to imagine what it would feel like not to have it.  To have a pain-free body.  Last night in my nightly ritual of trying to get comfortable--my instinct would be to sleep on my left side if that wasn't the side crippled with pain--I was thinking with God about all this, and realized that having done all the medical things I've done, seen all the doctors, tried all the kinds of procedures I've tried, some so far out of my prior comfort zone I'd never have imagined trying them, and taken all the medications I've taken, I can rationally conclude there will not be a medical 'cure' for this pain.  Likewise, having prayed as long and earnestly as I have, with the prayers of others I trust joining mine, I can faithfully conclude that God does not intend healing from it either.  At least not now.

So what am I to conclude?  I know that He does intend good for me.  And I know that He desires everything that happens in my life to participate in my becoming more like Him.  Therefore, I have to believe that He means this continuing pain to be used for His purposes. He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.  By whatever means He sees fit.  For me, it means this pain.  I'd say that someday I'll ask Him why, but I actually believe that 'but know I know in part, but then I will know in full' and will understand without having to ask.  Or maybe I won't care to ask, because I'll be so wrapped up in seeing 'face-to-face.' 
And today, while it is still today, I must continue to learn from my left leg.  Just as you must learn from whatever is hardest in your life.  And if there isn't anything very hard in your life, I suppose the question is, why isn't God working the deep things in you that only pain can work?  Don't take my word for this notion, but David's, Jeremiah's, Paul's, and Peter's, to name a few good men.   And Jesus' words as well, because this pain, I think, really is the cross in my life, the one He speaks of: "Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me."  (Matthew 10:38)

So I lift my burning left leg off the couch once again, and follow Him.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Calzones

This afternoon as I cut onions, peppers and mushrooms for the calzones we were making for dinner, E made the tomato sauce. She stood in front of the stove in her nice skirt, blouse, tights and slippers and opened the spice cupboard.  Stared into it for a few minutes and said, "We have Italian seasoning, don't we?"  "Nope," I said.  So she stared a little longer, pulled out a few more spices, added some nice cabernet at just the right moment, and made a nice marinara sauce for the calzones Beve rolled out and we put together.  Calzones are a group effort.  They have to be.  They're labor and time intensive and our oven's too small to cook more than two at a time.  So it's a commitment we all have to..well, commit to, if you know know what I mean.

And we each have our way of doing things.  Beve's all about the dough.  Anything with yeast, he's your man.  Me?  Well, I like to eat things made from yeast.  That's about as close as I get to it.  But I've perfected tomato sauces over the years.  Asked a whole lot of questions of folks who cook better than I do.  Paid a lot of attention to things I read.  And I like to experiment.  Like adding this spice and that.  It's more of an art than a science, the way I cook.  Baking, on the other hand, like what Beve does and what my sister, the Dump does and my niece and my aunt, seem more like a science.  More precise.  One must make a cake the same way every time.  And trust me when I tell you that the apple crisp I tried to 'wing' today could have used a little more science, not to mention a whole lot more oatmeal. 

The calzones turned out beautifully because each of the three of us contributed in ways that work for us.  For example, Beve set the timer, which is always helpful.  I can't tell you the number of times I've forgotten that critical step in a baking process.  It's a wonder I've ever managed to make anything.  My grandmother would be turning over in her grave, if she had one, to think I'm such a loser when it comes to the culinary arts she tried to teach me when I was young (always with a recipe in her spidery handwriting right in front of me).  But I just don't have the patience for all that precision, I think.  It's too much math, maybe.

However, you come to our house, and we'll fix calzones for you.  It's one of our company meals.  An all-hands-on-deck company meal that is worth it.  Worth the time and effort.  The doing it together. The kitchen is a disaster area afterwards, with counters and dishes and every surface dirty, but it's worth it.  The taste of it, ah yes, the taste of it. Maybe not the best thing I ever ate, but close enough.  And I think that's because we all contribute.  We have to.  So come on over, we might put you to work, but you'll get to sit at our table and join in the feast as well.

PS. J, we kept one for you.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

A jar full

"Let those who love the Lord hate evil,
for He guards the lives of His faithful ones...
Light shines on the the righteous
and joy on the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous,
and praise His holy name."     Psalm 97: 10-12

Command, truth and promise.  Do this, He does this, He will do this, do this and this is your obvious response. Oddly, I know that I am considered righteous.  Not in any conventional sense--I mean, I know my own black heart.  I know what I do that grieves Him hurts others.  What I don't do.  What I do for myself.  However, I also know that I have been made right--righteous.  A righteousness that comes by faith. Like Abraham, who 'believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.'    And like Abraham who 'obeyed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.'  Each are true of him, each written of him.  And each is true of me, as I follow in his footsteps.  I'm so used to thinking in New Testament terms I forget that I am Abraham's daughter.  Abraham left his home and early life to follow God, which is what each of us must do (at least metaphorically), when we begin our lives with Christ.  And from that moment, we are considered the righteousness of God.  FROM that very first moment of our saying yes to His call, yes to His knock, yes to Him in every way.  And from that moment He guards our lives. 

Yes, even with my black, but--and this is key--forgiven heart.  I don't take credit for this righteousness, this 'upright heart' of mine any more than a jar can take credit for carrying diamonds in it.  But I am aware of it.  Aware and awed and glad.  Wordless with joy for the priceless jewel that lives within me and is called Holy Spirit. I rejoice in the Lord, I who am righteous.  I am compelled, by virtue of this very great thing He does, is, in me, to praise His Holy Name. 

And then I read this: "May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world."  Galatians 6:14

Exactly!  That's all the credit to my name, that I have the cross of Jesus Christ saving me, working me over so to speak.  Transforming me.  Crucifying me/my flesh to complete me and make me into one like the resurrected One.  Talk about a career path.  A life goal. The arc of my life is this:  To spend my life praising Him, asking Him to become more in me with every moment, so that I can be more for Him.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

One way or another.

The fall is fully upon us here in Bellingham, which means it rains one day, then is beautifully sunny the next.  The trees are dripping with color and lawns are growing again.  And I'm knee deep in the affairs of the elders.  After the 'vacation' offered up by Mom's dying and death, it's now back to business as usual with them.  Back to doctor's appointments, the bank, Office Dep-o (as Grampie pronounces it), the post-office, and Walgreens.  Oh, and how about a milk shake or cup of coffee before we get home, or do I want to come up to their apartment and have some cookies that they've taken up on their walkers from the dining room?

Yesterday, Grampie had to go into Walgreens to talk to the pharmacy, but said he'd just be a minute so I waited in the car.  But when those few minutes stretched beyond what I thought was reasonable, I went inside, and he had his weekly pill container open on the counter in front of the polite, but very young, pharmacist, and was asking, "So how much would you charge for the blue ones?"  The pharmacist looked up at me when I touched Grampie on the shoulder and said, "You're with him? OH GOOD!"  With my translation, we worked through the problem and got back into the car, where we went to the bank and I helped interpret Grampie's issue there.  It's tricky business, working with these elders so that they continue to feel like the adults even when their brains aren't quite up to the task.

In the last weeks since Mom's death, I've been struggling with a bad bit of nausea.  For a while I thought it was related to dairy products, as it's been in the past.  Then I tried to pin it on car-sickness, on the way back to Pullman for her service.  Then, when it continued, I began to worry that something else--worse!--was going to with me.  I made the rather idiotic mistake of looking it up on WebMD, and was 'told' to call my doctor immediately, which I did.  Had blood tests run, joked with the nurse about how I'd think I was pregnant, if I was 20 years younger and actually had a uterus.  But the bloodwork came back mostly normal, and still the queasy stomach.  Still the unbelievable exhaustion.

And I've been mystified about why I feel so sick constantly.
Until yesterday when I spent the day with Grampie.  Grampie and his dementia.  And my stomach felt wretched by the time I got home.  I mean, toilet-hugging wretched.
Then it hit me.  It's fear.  That's what this is.  I'm scared.  There's this huge, mind-sucking possibility out there with the name of Alzheimers written all over it, and I can't do anything about it.

See, I don't have anything other than my brain.  I've come to terms in the last ten years with the weakness, the pain that floods my body.  And most of the time I can live with it.  Yes, sometimes it's harder than others.  But I still have my brain.  And my brain is where I live.  It's where I love.  Where I know God.  It's all I have.  So what if the genes that ripped out my mother's fully-functioning brain rip out mine? What if someday, in the not so distant future I stand at some counter, beseeching someone to understand what I mean when I speak of 'the blue ones,' or begin to talk about my own legs as though they're my brother and sister--and squabbling ones at that?  What if my language goes, then my ability to tell time, then--oh the horror!--reading, first my beloved literature, then silly romances, then even Dick and Jane and Sally.  And what if my knowledge of my children and my knowledge of the world, and my love of God all disappear, and I can't do one blasted thing to stop them? What if this is God's plan for the ending of my life, as it was for hers, as it looks to be for Grampie's? What if this Alz-hammered is the final cross among the life's crosses that God asks me to bear? 

And what if--and this is the worst of all my fears--what if a person is really still somehow whole within the cavity of that empty mind but somehow has no way to express it to the world once Alzheimers has taken their mind?  What if Mom was really still there and just couldn't tell us?  Wouldn't that be the cruelest thing of all?  I pray that wasn't so.  I pray she really was something like asleep, or waiting for her breathing to halt, and her soul to be freed.  Because that what if... well, it makes me sick to consider.

I know, that's a whole lot of 'what if's', isn't it?  And most of the time, I don't live in the 'what if's', I really don't.  But I think it's just how the stress and grief and pain of this season are living out in me.  It seems to me that in naming this fear, in putting it down on the page, I am taking some of the heat and sting from it. But I'm telling you, facing this giant 'what-if' isn't nearly as easy today as it was when it was all theory, when I hadn't watched a mother disappear beneath the weight of it, then came home to face a father-in-law whose life is beginning to crumble from it as well.


But this I know, and trust me when I say I write it with my stomach still rolling and the toilet bowl only a few feet away, but I say it by the faith in the God I believe in who works for my good and not ill, and loves me--as He loved my mother, even as He let her mind be destroyed.  God will make a way, where there seems to be no way.  That's a lyric from a song our Youth group sang back in our Sequim days.  I remember those kids thinking that song was too simple, the words too easy.  They balked against singing it. But then when we got to Alaska, we had the opportunity to sing it for the family of a little boy who'd killed.  I remember telling our kids, "This is EXACTLY what that mom needs to hear.  God will make a way where there seems to be no way.  It's not easy or smooth, but will be rocky and tough, but He'll make that way, one way or another."  And I need to hear this today.  For my future fears.

And for yours, whatever they are. God will make a way. For the things you fear that will happen, and (of course), the things you fear that won't.  God will make a way, one way or another.  Not an easy way, but a way.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In orbit

Back in the dark ages when I was in college, I had a shelf full of fairly cheesy books that were meant to encourage me to love and good works.  Or something close to.  It seemed like every time I turned around, someone was buying me a gift book of one kind or another, with smaltzy (is that even a word?) poetry and insprational photographs.  But these little volumes usually failed to produce in me the kind of response which they were created to produce.  I don't know if it's because the words came across as too simple and easy for a life which often didn't seem to have rhyme in it, or if it's just that I'm not, by nature, not a very sentimental person, but when life was hard (and there were hard moments even back then), and I was trying to hang on by my sweaty, slipping fingers, short lines of comfort didn't increase my grip.  And that's what we need when life is hard and we're barely hanging on, isn't it?  Something--someone-that helps us hold on a little bit more firmly.

But there was one book, and maybe those of you of a similar age remember it, that I've been thinking about lately.  It was something like a child's picture book, with illustrations and single sentences across the page.  To tell you the truth, I can't remember anything of the content, but the title was A Still Point in Our Turning World.  I've been thinking of this profound truth the last few days, that God is the still point and my life turns around Him.  But, like the earth around the sun, my rotation isn't a perfect circle around my Lord.  No, it's an ellipse.  And, perhaps also like the earth, I also rotate on my axis so that sometimes my face is toward Him and sometimes it's bent farther away.  But always, always, the magnet that is God in my life, pulls me back around until I am facing Him, and closer to Him all at once.

Back to the place in orbit around Him where His voice is more clear, His purpose more distinct and all is well with my soul as a result.  Wow, I just remembered, really just this second remembered that I had a conversation with my dad in the last year or so before he died about this very thing.  Dad maintained that once a person had given his/her life to Christ, that person was in a circle of God's will.  He actually got out a sheet of paper and drew something like the orbit of a planet around a sun.  Dad said he believed that not even sin could knock a person out of that orbit, because salvation is salvation.  Sin only moves a person to a different place in the circle (as he called it).  But the Holy Spirit keeps us safely within that circle.

And I guess that's exactly what I'm saying today as well.  We might twist and turn and face the other direction, but He pulls us back around, and never moves.  I Am that I Am, He told Moses.  And on this first day of autumn, in a season of huge changes in my life, I feel Him pulling me back around.  And that is very encouraging, indeed.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

My checkered past

From a novel:
"...If you were to attempt it, you would see at once what a terrible inhibition it is to be writing something that is to have no end.  I bring my letters safely to an end after a few pages, when I have faithfully recorded my impression of the past few days.  But a journal, if it is to serve its purpose, must go on for years or for decades.  It must go on, in fact, until I have lived the life the journal is to record.  It makes me dizzy to think of it, and while I'm writing I find it impossible not to imagine myself looking back from the journal's future, an old woman already at the end of the life I am recording.  The present loses its meaning for me the instant I begin to record it with the cold abstracted gaze of the future."       

A unique view of journal-writing, one so far from mine I've never even thought of it.  I journal because I must, because it is part of keeping the past for one thing--so that I never lose one self for another.  When I was a certain-boy-crazy teenage girl, and wrote of him obsessively, spent my journal's pages praying for and about him, that was the real me.  I know that because I still have her words in my very handwriting.  I can't take a brush and paint over those years as if I was different or better or other than I really was.  And I am grateful to have these windows into how I was processing what life meant as it happened.  Even if it seems childish now.  It gives me a picture window into how God deals with us.  By this I mean that He lowers Himself to whatever level we are when we reach out to Him.  To my sixteen-year-old self, He responded one way, and it was entirely appropriate, and to my more mature (but with still such a very long way to holiness) self, He responds in quite another.  It's only right that this should be so.

But I never wrote a sentence of a journal with the idea of a future self the censor for my thoughts. Sure, some of what's in those blue notebooks is garbage, pure, unadulterated garbage, that should be thrown away, though I have no will to do it.  I've written when I was hurt, angry, spiteful and just downright rude.  There are entries in those journals that do no credit to my testimony of being one filled by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ.  And I regret that.  I regret that I do not always write what is a pleasing aroma to Him who I want to please.

In the last week or so, I've had a couple of conversations with people who say they have no regrets about their past.  I have to say this idea is troubling to me, perhaps because, to me, regret is a Biblical notion associated with repentance.  To feel sorrow or regret for what I've done or have failed to do is the human emotion God uses to lead me to repentance.  However if it's true that some don't feel regret for past actions or inactions, a writer of journals has no such luxury.  Those blue notebooks of mine, unless I create a giant bonfire from them (which I am not inclined to do) are a permanent record of conversations that are not honorable because I am not always honorable all the time. The downright, unvarnished truth of it is that I have a checkered past.  I've made some poor choices, a couple of such doozies I'd have to claim amnesia to not regret them.  I've held grudges.  Justified my position and used God as a genie in a lamp who 'owes' me my desires.  I absolutely regret those things.  

And I'm glad of it. Glad, of course, that my checkered past has been wiped clean by the bloody cross of Jesus.  And I'm even glad I've written about those 'checks' as I commit them.  It keeps me honest, somehow.  I cannot forget who I've been, nor who I am.  And ultimately I believe my life has been well-lived because it was/is lived out in print as well.  God has met me time after time, in my regrets as well as those choices so perfect I can only look at them and wonder.

Because that's the other side of the coin, isn't it?  If I have regrets, I also know--know with my blood and my bones and the muscles between--that the best choices in my life, the best decisions and actions (or thankful missed actions), did not come from my own brain.  I was only the instrument of His doing.  The object of the sentence with Him as the subject, to put it in the vernacular of my English grammar background.  And that's what I've learned through the writing of those journals, and yes, in the rereading of them years later:  I've learned over and over how often He's worked, even when I couldn't see it at the time.  And astonishingly, even as my hand was holding a pen and moving across a page.

"...for the Lord searches every heart and mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every desire and every thought.  If you seek Him, He will be found by you..."  1 Chronicles 28: 9

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Warming up hearts

"Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold..." Matthew 24:12
Jesus isn't simply foretelling an unknown future, He's describing one He knows full well. The love of most will grow cold. Weeds will choke out good seed. The enemy will steal others. Sin will strangle.  People's hearts will/do turn away from Him.  I think of those who started with the same fire I had when we were just starting out on this great adventure of faith, this pilgrimage with Jesus.  We couldn't get enough back then, like baby birds in a nest, our spiritual mouths were wide open for the food of Him who served us.  Fish and loaves, you betcha.  Milk and honey? bring it on.  The bread of life and the living water?  More, more, more, said the babies.

But we left that nest.  And more have lost their appetites for His gospel than I like to admit.  The fervor gone, the fire died out.  However you want to say it, there are plenty in my life who no longer serve Him.  Yes, there are also many who do.  But tonight I'm thinking of those who have walked away.  I remember the first time I encountered these passages in the gospels where Jesus warned that some would fall away.  I would look around at a Bible study of my closest beloved friends and think, "Ah, but we're different.  That won't happen to any of us."  But it has.  Some people who walked beside me, who taught me and served with me and were disciples with me in my fledgling years are now no longer walking with Christ.

I don't want their cold hearts to be the last word.  I'm thankful that the story isn't over for these beloveds in my life, and pray there is time left for each of them.  Turn around, I think.  Turn around.  Don't you remember?  It wasn't mere childishness, which the enemy would have you believe now, but Truth simple enough for a child.  Uncomplicated.  Christ is who He says He is.

I'm sure I'm not the only one who has people in my life like this.  Old Youth Group friends who 'put away childish things', but have made a kind of goulash of their lives without Him, if they were willing to admit it.  People we work with who have confessed they used to be "quite religious," but fell away for one reason or another--the pain of life made them doubt that God cares.  And maybe you're better than I am at continuing to pray for those people who once or still populate your life. But it's the responsibility of the few to pray for the cold hearts of the many.  I admit I could be better at this kind of praying.  I get so caught up in what's been called 'the tyranny of the urgent', where I primarily pray for what is up-close and personal.  So I'm going to start tonight by praying for just one of those old friends.  Just one--a woman who has been on my heart since she wrote after Mom died.  Her name is Peggy.  I'll let you know how it goes.

But here's what always encourages me.  It took 20 years of praying daily for my father before he came to Christ.  And in the middle of that time I sometimes thought it'd never happen.  Couldn't imagine how it would.  Or that my mom would as well.  And now they're setting up house in a mansion prepared for them by Jesus.  I hang on to that as I pray for people to come to or return to Him.  And all those theological questions about whether a person is 'once saved always saved' or can lose their salvation, I'll leave to people who want to argue.  For me, I'd rather just pray.  And since I KNOW that salvation is always in line with His will, I can pray with confidence for my beloveds, even those long-ago beloveds.
So please, God, begin the warm up with my friend Peggy's heart.


Who will you pray for?

Friday, September 17, 2010

The petri-dish

When I was a graduate student at WSU, I also had a job working at the student bookstore or 'the Bookie', as it's called.  I worked in the athletic department, where I learned to fold t-shirts the right way, sold tennis shoes, and rubbed shoulders with alumni when they swelled our small town to its breaking point on the autumn Saturdays when there were home football games.  That was the first year (in about a thousand!) when WSU was actually successful enough that they won all but one of those games (including the Apple Cup--GO COUGS!), and even went to a bowl game (the Holiday Bowl).  I got to know, in a sort of nodding acquaintance way, many of the football players when they'd come through our department, and later in the year, got to know the basketball players in the same kind of way.

I worked with some women who were Bookie 'lifers', so to speak.  They were the wives of men who worked for WSU in some way or another, salt of the earth kind of women who still smoked in the break room and liked to drink at company parties.  Others I worked with were wives of graduate or undergraduate students (yes, mostly it was women I worked with, other than the managers, whom I rarely interacted with).  There weren't many Christians among them, to say the least.  To be specific, only one other Christian worked there, and she went to a church in town that many considered a cult, so I was friendly, but not exactly friends with her.  I did, however, become friends with all these other non-believing women, most of whom were much older than me, worldly and slightly rough around the edges, which was quite a unique experience for me, after 8 years or so of mostly having Christian friends.

One evening, at a baby shower for one of the women in our department, these women (there must have been about 25 there) got to talking about marriage. About their husbands.  It was the most negative conversation I'd ever heard in my life from people who supposedly loved the people they were talking about. At least they'd loved them enough at one time to have stood up before someone and said some vows (though in at least one situation, that someone was merely a judge in San Francisco before a sailor shipped out to Vietnam). Anyway, that night you would have thought these women were consigned to hard labor at some prison camp by how they complained. Up one side and down the other about everything from the way those men left the seats up in the bathroom to how they didn't talk--just plain didn't talk--to their wives.  There were only three of us who weren't married there and one of those was living with her boyfriend and the other one was a lesbian.  Each of those women also had plenty of bad things to say about men too!  This man left his socks--his socks!--on the floor.  That husband didn't bring in the garbage cans immediately after work.  One was too demanding and the next was too lazy.  I'm telling you it didn't sound to me like there was a single woman in the room who was just plain content with the man she had chosen.  I mean, she had chosen this life, hadn't she?  In the almost 30 years since then, I've been in plenty of women's groups where the conversation has taken on something of that tone, though never quite as bad at that evening.  But unfortunately, worse than one might expect too from women who love the Lord and profess to love their husbands as well.

But I remember driving away that night thinking there was no way I would ever--EVER--sit in a room full of women and speak ill of my spouse, if God meant me to have one (and it wasn't at all clear at that time that He did intend it).  No way, no how.  Because I believed (and still do) that even if there were things to complain about, there were plenty more fingers to point back at myself all the time. PLENTY.  I knew who I was, knew who he'd be getting. Besides, it felt disloyal and ugly to complain of what I believed (and still do) was a--the!--great gift from God.  

I've discovered, certainly, all kinds of things about marriage and Beve and myself since that long ago day when I naively judged those women.  And sure, there are moments when Beve drives me crazy.  But my fundamental notion that night has never wavered. It still feels disloyal and ugly to complain about this remarkable, funny, giant of a man God gave to me.  Marriage is every bit the great gift I imagined.

And--and this is my point--also what it takes to make me holy.  There are long and varied paths to holiness, I think.  Temperaments, gifts, callings all combine to make a person's path unique.  But we often overlook the mundane elements God uses to that end (which is always His end).  I think of all the women who look at their marriages and domestic responsibilities as difficulties, but these--the forms of our lives--are really the place where holiness must grow.  Yes, marriage as the petri-dish, the presence of God's Holy Spirit between us the bacteria, and the resulting culture is holiness.  Yes, that's it, a man and woman commit themselves to God and each other and His Holy Spirit begins to work from that union a culture of holiness in that petri-dish.  Oh my, what a stretch.  But something true about the idea too.   Either what grows out of a marriage is the kind of culture that can destroy, perhaps in tiny whines and complaints, or its the kind that becomes a culture of salvation for all who encounter it.  Let what grows from the petri-dish of my marriage be like penicillin, holy and acceptable and able to save a thousand souls.

But, as a caveat, I should make it clear that I'm not talking about real difficulties in marriages.  Not infidelity, abuse or other horrors.  I've also had the privilege of sitting with women when their hearts were breaking about their marriages, when they were shaking with the pain of betrayal and loss.  In such moments as those, being there to take some of the burden, to lift the pain gently from those heaving shoulders just for a few moments because words were spoken that a woman had needed to say, those moments are swamped with God's presence and just about as far from those sniping women at the baby shower as I can imagine.  When marriages falter, and true pain is exposed, people tend to forget all the things they rolled their eyes about when life was ordinary.

But if the petri-dish of our marriages creates holiness, we will be able to stand with those whose lives need us most.  Married or not.  However, if the culture in our own lives isn't holy, why would anyone lean on us?  How can we expect God to use us?  I want the holiness between Beve and me to be THE culture--yes, the tissue for growth, as the dictionary calls it--of our lives. 

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Speaking a Psalm

Back before the turn of the century, when I was in seminary, I became friends with a husband and wife who'd re-located to Vancouver, BC from New York city.  He was an actor studying to be a pastor, she was an artist who had spent 20+ years in the fashion industry, creating sweaters for me.  I have to say, Jim wore the most gorgeous sweaters I've ever seen on a man, far out of our tax bracket, that's for sure.  This couple was in my community group so I got to know them well during the two years they lived in Vancouver. And it was a season of fire for them.  Just the week before they moved across the continent, Linda's breast cancer, three years gone, re-emerged with a vengeance.  So she spent the two years in BC crossing the border weekly to get treatments in the states, flying to NY monthly for her job.  It was grueling.

And Jim studied.  Cared for their two daughters when she was gone or sick.  He got involved at Regent with a bang.  I had several classes with him, so we often studied together.  Once he told me that I was more pastoral than most pastors they'd met, so why wasn't I in the divinity track?  Though I thought of becoming an MDiv, I never quite felt the draw to being a church pastor, but his comment made my day, and I've apparently never forgotten.

Anyway.  Chapel is held every Tuesday morning at Regent.  The whole student body, faculty and staff gather in the chapel for a worship service.  Various faculty members, visiting profs, artists, etc speak.  The music is always varied but engaging.  You get that many seminarians together and you won't find them nodding off in their pews, if you know what I mean.  Maybe taking notes, or critiquing, but not sleeping.

My most compelling, breath-taking, moving experience in chapel at Regent College (and perhaps one in any worship service in my life!) was done--performed, really--by my friend Jim.  One morning he sat up in front on a stood and began speaking the words of the 139th Psalm.  Not reading them, not reciting them, but speaking them as if he'd just been thinking about them, or was just praying off the top of his head to God and we were part of their conversation.  "God," he said. "You have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise."  As he talked to God he untied a shoe, took it off, pulled the sock off and placed it inside, and put it on the floor, speaking the words of the Psalm the whole time. He did the same with the other shoe and sock, and then he stood up. Taking off his shoes to speak these words, reminding us of the holy ground of such thoughts--of the awe of standing before Him and knowing He is in control and we are always safe with Him.  That God knows us, hems us in, that we cannot go anywhere He is not.  That darkness and light are the same to Him.  Jim's voice rose as he spoke these beautiful ideas, and somehow they were new to me that morning. 

And then there was this moment, this holier that holy, this lump in my throat, take my breath and toss it into the sky to God moment, when Jim got to a particular section where the Psalm says, "For you created my inmost being..." In those words each of us is reminded that our creation is purposeful, not accidental, that God had intention, far more than our mothers and fathers did, for our lives--the length and breadth of them.  God always knew who we'd be, even when we did not.  That's what Jim's speaking of this Psalm helped me hear that long ago morning.

But then, his voice rose and got angry.  I mean, rose to yelling.  Because You had purpose, God, because You created each of us with intention, because You alone know...yes, in light of all this, only You can slay the wicked, can take care of the evil ones.  YOU must do this.   And as he yelled, Jim also put on his shoes.

Then he said, quietly, "Search me.  Know me."  See if I, too, am the wicked, the evil one. And suddenly I got it. Those shoes, his raised voice helped it make sense. WE have taken what is holy ground and tarnished it. WE have forgotten that He created us, that He is in control, that HE is our God. That He knows us. What should be holy--our very selves!--we profane by sin.

My breath caught.  But then, I think there was a deeper collective inhale by all of us in that place, if such breath was left in any of us.  Yes, search me.  You have searched me, you have known me.  Now search me and know me. Search me even more than you already know me. Am I among those I rail against? Am I one who causes such great harm? The Psalm had never fit together so clearly before.  Those verses (19-22) weren't accidents.  They are also for us.  All for us.
Then: "Keep me from this," the last words imply. "Lead me in the way everlasting."  My Christ-saved heart led to these words, "Holy Spirit, indwell in me so that I walk in a manner worthy of YOU--and what You have made--Me."

Psalm 139 was my mother's very favorite Psalm, her very favorite section of scripture.  I wish she could have heard it amplified in such a way that gave it life.
No, Incarnated it.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Taking me back

On KCTS tonight, a concert is being rebroadcast of James Taylor and Carole King, from 2007.  When I turned to it, James (as I like to call him!) began singing "Going to Carolina in My Mind." Yes, at exactly that moment, as if I had been meant to turn to that concert just then. I raised my hands like I was in church, turned up the volume and started singing. Beve and E came down from the other end of the house, E saying, "I knew you'd be watching this, if you saw that it was on tonight." See, "Going To Carolina" was something of a theme song in my life when I was in college.  Whenever it came on the radio in a car I was in, it was instantly turned up, like the song was written for me, like I was the destination someone--maybe the whole car--was headed toward.  I remember trying to explain very earnestly that the song was, in fact, about the states, North and South, but my friends just laughed at me for being 'a literal English major.'  But secretly, of course, I loved that I had a song.  Or two of them, actually.  Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" was the song people sang to me.  Including Beve in some of his more goofy moments.

It's amazing, though, how songs can take us back.  Viscerally pick up out of our family rooms where we're sitting with our dogs and husbands and middle-aged lives, and thrust us back in time to where we're sitting in some 1965 cherry-red Chevy Impala, wearing bell-bottoms, our hair firmly parted down the middle.  The kids smashed into that car with us (well before seatbelt laws) are people we haven't seen since our last high school reunion, if then, but I can feel them beside me as James sings as if we were just on our way out to go ice-blocking tonight on the golf course.  One such night after one no more wild ride than any other, my bra broke.  That's right, it busted right in half down the front as I was sitting on that ice block with my buddy GT.  It's telling about my friendships with all those boys I grew up with that I told him.  But there wasn't really much choice.  So GT suggested I leave it on a bush right there on the golf course.  And, though he couldn't quite believe it, that's exactly what I did, while he bent over laughing so hard he could hardly speak (I was laughing pretty hard myself as I extracted the torn mess from the sleeves of my shirt!).

Yep, these songs take me right back to that kind of night and those kind of innocent adventures, the fun and wildness that was anything but wild. Really.  When I was riding around in those cars, listening to James Taylor, Carole King and the like, we were kids looking for ways to know God, to love Him.

Saturday, when I saw the tall Texan who led my Young Life club in high school, I introduced his wife and him to our kids and our friends. And I said to him, "I was just your average Young Life kid."  He looked at me with his sweet, old eyes and said in his inimitable Texan drawl, "You were never average.  You loved Jesus too much." That touched me.  Not in the way you might think, though.

I used to think it was like I'd been born under a different sun or something.  I don't really know exactly how else to explain it.  But always, always since I first met Jesus on that pine-cone strewn path at Camp Easter Seal, I've felt it.  KNEW it to the marrow of my bones.  His name is Jesus.  No, that's not quite it. It's more like Jesus was who I'd been looking for in the long days of before. Like He'd always been there and I finally looked up.  Yes, that's it.  I finally looked up and He came in.  And lit me up.  Completely, utterly lit me up.  For good. That's what Sam saw, I think, what he confirmed the other day.  There was a difference in that scrawny narrow-faced, lank-haired girl and most other high school girls he knew, and that difference is Jesus.  Then and since. Jesus.

And you know what else?  When He came in, His goal was not just my life.  I've told the story many times of coming home from Camp Easter Seal after becoming a Christian and telling Mom she was going to hell.  She was NOT amused.  Mom was a fine Methodist back then, but didn't know Jesus.  Dad wasn't even much of a Methodist.  But Mom's service Saturday morning was solidly, beautifully Christ-centered service, because by the end of her life, Mom loved Christ.  That's what Jesus has done in our lives.  Starting that day on that pine-cone strewn path,  He began His journey into our family. 

There are still miles to go, hearts to be won.  But He's in it for the long-run.  And I'm with Him.

Monday, September 13, 2010

But I'm not seeing things

I have trouble sleeping.  I might have mentioned this a time or two before.  And the other night at my sister's, a bunch of us got to talking about our sleep issues.  By us I mean 3 siblings, Beve, friend J and I.  Other than BB, all of us are old enough that we either can't fall asleep or can't stay asleep.  And a few of us, or our spouses, have made the acquaintance of the nice little white sleep-aid called Ambien.

My doctor prescribed this for me a couple of years ago when my insomnia was so bad that I'd go several nights a week with almost no sleep at all.  I finally went to the doctor and he suggested this tiny pill might help me out. And it worked like magic.  LIKE MAGIC. I was completely, utterly rested for the first time in weeks.  And thrilled to be so. I took one that night as well, and woke up as if only a moment had passed. But a few days later, when I opened my journal, I saw some scribbled sentences in an approximation of my handwriting.  Sentences I had absolutely NO memory of writing, not even the faintest, drifting-off-to-sleep kind of memories I sometimes have when I really should put down my book but just want to read one more page.  Those scribbled, incomprehensible sentences scared me.  I hate the idea of being so deeply drugged that I don't remember things.  It's why I don't like too much alcohol.  I hate not knowing what's going on.  Being out of control, if that makes sense.  However, I did need to sleep, so I cut those tiny pills in half, and that was enough to get me through that difficult season.

Fast-forward to this August.  I dreaded the insomnia that might come with the stress beside my mother's bed, and after her death.  So I called the doctor again and got another prescription for those tiny white pills.  And Ambien, cut in half, did the job again.  No matter what else was going on, at least I was sleeping.

Saturday night, then, after a long day of memorial service, reception, family gathering, visiting, I took my regular pills, that little one included, took my evening shower and went down to what my farmer brother-in-law is now calling, "Carolyn's bedroom."  Got into bed, read a while, with Beve beside me.  At some point, though I don't know what time it was, son J came in to speak to us.

Yesterday, on the way home, J said, "Mom, do you remember what you said to me last night?"
I shook my head, then suddenly thought, 'oh crap, I think I do!'  And J confirmed it:
I had very seriously looked at J standing in the door of that bedroom and asked, "How can you talk with two mouths? And you have two--no, wait, THREE--eyes!"

I wonder if those little pills can be cut into fourths?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

A company of teachers

I feel like I've started about a million posts with the words, "Home from the Palouse," or some like phrase.  And again this afternoon, I'm overwhelmed with images and conversations and moments from the week-end in my 'homeland,' because yesterday morning our family gathered with Mom's church family, with men and women she taught with, with old friends and neighbors, to celebrate her life.  And I have to say, I'm proud to say (having almost no hand in it), that it was a service that did honor to her, that reminded us of her best self from the points of view of a grandson, a son, and a pastor.  From, I think, the point of view of God.

It was a great surprise and joy to walk into that familiar old church (where Beve and I married) and re-connect with so many.  The first people I saw were some close friends of Beve and mine who'd driven across the state to be with us as we honored Mom.  That brought such a lump to my throat I could hardly believe it.  One of LD's high school friends came over from Seattle as well, and  BB even had a friend fly in from Arizona.  The Texan and his wife who were so instrumental in Beve's and my Young Life years were there (the Texan stood at the front of the same church and spoke the words that pronounced us husband and wife 26 + years ago). 

And the teachers.  Oh, the company of teachers.  Quite a crowd of them, really.  Every elementary school in town was represented, along with every grade level.  One showed up last weekend, had to turn around drive home (wherever he now lives) and came back yesterday.  My middle sister's first grade teacher was there, a woman who remembers the Dump from 1965 (but then, Dump was a fairly unforgettable student!).  When our friend, J, read the obituary (a practice fairly common at memorial services now), there was a ripple of laughter at the words, "She was feared by younger students and beloved by her own...and called her students, "Crain's brains."  If I had thought about it too much ahead of time, it might have given me pause to be so surrounded by teachers.  But J clearly had thought about it, thought long and carefully about what it meant that Mom was a teacher, that she believed so firmly in that calling, and was so passionate about it.  His resulting meditation was compelling.  I forgot to ask him for a copy of it (and will), but the question that swirls in my brain is, "What have you learned from her passing?"

What people spoke of in that fellowship hall was of her strong personality, yes. And of her talented teaching.  But also of her courage in the face of the disease that robbed her of herself.  "I remember being in the beauty parlor right after she'd been diagnosed." One woman told me.  "She didn't try to hide it, or even seem afraid.  She just told us straight out.  I always admired that." I wish Mom had known that.  She wanted to be brave in facing Alzheimers, and it wasn't easy.  So even in the first hour after J's words, I had the feeling I was learning new things from her passing.

And so it goes.  If I've learned anything from my teacher parents (and both were teachers), it's that learning must be life-long.  Even the learning that I do about the meaning of my mother's life, her impact on my life, and the eternal point of it all.

At the end of the service, after E and my brother, R, had sung "Amazing Grace", we all stood to sing a final song together.  It wasn't a hymn, or even a very spiritual song, but the melody is one that tends to stick in my brain and float up out of my sleep.  It was my mother's favorite song, "Ash Grove."  J, who easily had the best voice in the building (no offense, E and R, who sounded beautiful, despite the missing soprano in the middle), encouraged us to really sing out together the second time through, and something about the robustness of our voices singing that old camp song was the sweetest sound of the morning for me.  Mom was suddenly, completely right there, lifting her strong voice to the rest, Dad right beside her, slightly off key, and there we all were, singing together, a family.  Loud, and strong and happy.  And I wanted to clap.

Ash Grove
Down yonder green valley, where songbirds assemble
Where twilight is fading, I pensively roam
Or at the bright noontide in solitude wander
 Amidst the dark shades of the lonely ash grove
'Tis there where the blackbird is cheerily singing
Each warbler enchants with his notes from a tree
Ah then little think I of sorrow or sadness
The ash grove entrancing spells beauty for me

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A burning thought

As Beve and I were walking through Costco last night, he said, "Did you hear about that church in Florida?"
Since I'd spent my entire day in the car driving our son around, with my radio station turned firmly to the Canadian Broadcasting Network, because listening to classical music is the only way to survive driving around town, I had to admit I hadn't heard any US news at all.  The only downside I can ever think of about not knowing current news is that I don't always know what people are talking about at parties.  However, after about three sentences, I usually catch up. Nevertheless, what Beve told me last night in the tool aisle at Costco had me stopping in my tracks.

"On September 11, they're going to burn the Qu'ran," Beve told me.
"Oh no," I breathed in. "Oh Lord," I breathed out.

I have been so troubled by this act by this tiny church that it troubled my sleep last night.  Of course, my sleep is easily troubled, but usually it's about things closer to home.  However, this hits home.  At least it should.  For all of us who call ourselves Christians--ones who would be like Him--it should trouble our sleep and our waking and our walking-around lives.  Whenever people who call themselves by His name set out to do something so absolutely abhorrent to who He is and what He says, we should be appalled, ashamed, horrified.  These, yes, these are the ones we might well consider the real enemies to His gospel.  Why?  Because they are feeding upon fear and hate and misunderstanding and practicing evil against their neighbors.  Or even against their enemies.  And reaping hatred.  Yes, a harvest of hate for Christians.

Across the world, Muslims are afraid of Christians.  See us as the enemy.  Did you know this?  Did you know that we are their 'infidels'?  They will see such an act, by a tiny church with a wacko, extremist minister and think it representative of  Christians.  And this is a very sad thing.  Just as it's a very sad thing that we lump those who are not like us by the acts of small groups of extremists.  I do not know what the Qu'ran tells Muslims about how to treat those unlike them, but I do know what our scriptures tell us.  God, while He walked around in human flesh and knew what His enemies would do to Him, told us to "love our enemies." Do good to those who hurt you.

Lay down your life for your brother, love your neighbor as yourself, and love your enemy.  These are the mandates we have--from Christ--for our human relationships.  Wow it's pretty clear, isn't it?  There's nobody left out. Really, who on this earth is outside of one of those three?  So there's no choice.  Our God tells us to love and to love and to love.  "He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." 1 John 4: 7-8

Maybe on the anniversary of such an evil act toward us, we should return good for evil.  As Jesus tells us to.  What would that be?  How can we most show the world, most show Muslims, especially, that we love them, that we really, truly love them as Christ does?  Lord, change our hearts.  Please, let the world know that we are your disciples.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A little bit of rain, a few large onions, and...

I live in western Washington. You know, the place where it rains a lot.  A whole lot.  If I were a more research-loving geek, I'd look up exactly how many inches of rain we have a year...oh wait, I actually am exactly that kind of geek.  Give me a moment. Here it is: 34.84 inches!  Gosh, almost a yard of rain in a year.  (Just so you know, Seattle, that little metropolis to the south, gets 36.2 inches of rain, according to the same source.)  No wonder we all have REI raingear.  And don't cancel activities due to inclement weather.  I mean, we might not get anything done if we let a little rain get in our way.

But it rained today, and I have to admit, I wasn't ready for it.  Wasn't ready to put away the lawn chairs, turn on the pellet stove, pull out my raingear.  Just plain wasn't ready.  And Beve clearly wasn't ready either.  When he got up early this morning, the sun was still shining, so he pulled on his current favorite t-shirt, an orange Texas Longhorn one he found at Good Will about a month ago. He's worn it like a  little boy who wears a ratty old Batman t-shirt so many days in a row that his mom has to wash it while he's sleeping.  Yep, Beve's kind of like that little boy.  Just throws on his beloved, soft Texas t-shirt, hoop shorts, and goes off to school because, starting tomorrow Beve actually has to dress like a grown up for another 180 days.  Anyway, by the time I went over to meet him a few hours later, the weather had turned gloomy, the rain was coming down hard and fast and I was adequately covered.

When we went off to run errands, Beve did something we almost NEVER do.  He looked around his office for the large golf umbrella he keeps for certain emergencies.  Like any time he has to stand still outside in a downpour--football and soccer games, fire-drills.  An umbrella!  Are you kidding me?  I was almost embarrassed to be seen with him--not because of the shorts, and certainly not because of the Texas t (I LOVE that color!), but that umbrella.  Really.  It was like he was advertising himself as someone who doesn't know any better.

The rain has come, school is starting, and I decided it was the right day for soup.  French Onion soup, to be exact, with five giant onions sliced and sauteed until they're "very--but not too--brown," as my Moosewood Cookbook says.  Now that's a trick, isn't it?  I've made this soup many times (we're big soup-eaters around here), but it's more an art than a science to know how long this 'very--but not too--brown' actually is.  Well, that's not true.  I always know it when I see it, but I can never quite tell until the exact moment that it happens when that moment is.  If that makes sense.  I just have to stand there and let those onions cooks, stirring them, watching them, stirring them, watching them, and it takes forever and ever and ever...and then suddenly, they're brown.  Exactly the proper shade of brown.  And it's only then that the next stage of the making of this soup can happen.

These two things don't really seem like they go together, do they?  The rain that fell today, that falls so often in this small corner of this globe, and those onions that must cook exactly to the right degree.  But in my crazy, looking-for-connections, seeing-God-in-the-strangest-things, I was struck with the arc of my day as I stood at the stove.  It seemed exactly right the the rain came just as summer vacation is ending.  Labor Day marks the end of summer for most of us, even if we aren't governed by school calendars.  But I can't quite imagine how it would feel to live in a place where the seasons didn't change.  Like where my sister, the Dump, lives.  Southern California.  It's always nice, which is nice.  But it's always nice, which is...well, the same.   How can you tell when it's time to move on?  How can you tell when season is over and the next is starting?  How can you tell when something is very-but not too-brown, if nothing ever changes?

See, that's my point.  My soup, and the rain, both made me realize that it isn't sameness I should want in my life, even in my life as a disciple.  I need markers.  A way to know I've actually grown.  Some of those markers are like the rain--things that fall on and cover my life in such ways that I've flooded by them.  God uses such things to change me.  He's used the rain--er, the flood, even--of Grampie and Thyrza's move to Bellingham thusly.  It's covered me.  Us.  In wonderful ways and in hard ways.  And some of those markers are pressures of fire.  Like physical pain.  This fire I can not quite ever call beautiful or wonderful, but I am changed by it, and, by His grace, changed into what He wants me to be.  Then changed again by it.

There are some people who might not want such markers in their lives. But I "want to know Christ--yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the death." (Philippians 3:10-11)  This is the prayer of my life.  And when I read what knowing Christ is in this passage, it's clear that sufferings is part of that.  All kinds.  What does it take to become like Him? That's what I want. Sometimes something happens that is so much like those browned onions, actually.  It's like He's been stirring me over the fire for an inordinate amount of time, just stirring and stirring and stirring.  And I'm so stinkin' slow at getting it--at browning, one might say.  But finally--even suddenly--sometimes, even in a flash, something turns, and I'm changed.  I've been changed, I should say.  The action has been done to me, not by me.  And I know it's exactly what He intended all along. To change me.   Whether it takes rain or fire. "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me." (Philippians 3:12)  This is the great news.  What I am aiming for, He has already reached down to give. What I desire, He wants for me.

And for you.  Not just the same ol' same ol' life.  But rain and fire.  And LIFE.

Friday, September 3, 2010

First contact

Since J had his shoulder surgery two weeks ago, he's been mostly living at home.  I say mostly because every now and then he gets a ride out to his own place to hang with his roommate and rare cats (and by that I mean actual rare cats).  J's wearing quite an elaborate sling, complete with stomach cushion, so that his upper arm and shoulder don't move even the centimeter-and-a-half that the doctor pulled those ligaments.  So he isn't allowed to drive.  He has, however, figured out a way to drive off after showers, which is nice, since having your dad help you when you're 23 is a little much, though he did suffer that indignity the first couple of days when he was in too much pain to care.

But the fact that he can't drive means that it's a little like living with a fifteen-year-old again.  A fifteen-year-old who's used to going where he wants when he wants.  Just like I'm used to letting him.  It's been a long time since I've had to cart my kids around--like almost 5 years (SK got her license a little late, for those of you who know that she's actually 21).  And it's made me think of those years when driving them around was the prime occupation of my days.

When my kids were small, I loved driving them around.  We spent so much time in the car together that I considered it my classroom, in a sense.  We'd talk through all their concerns of the day.  I had the strongest sense that if I wasn't the first person they talked to when they left their classrooms, by the time they got home, they'd have other things in their heads.  This was partly because the bus ride to our house from school was an hour and a half long, even though we only lived seven miles from the building.  And there was no way I was going to miss their whole day--at least the most important part of it--because of a long bus ride.  So I made it my business to be waiting in the car for them when they came out of that building.  J, dragging his sweatshirt and backpack behind him along with all the cares of his day; SK skipping out of the school, probably clutching an invitation to a birthday party in her hand; and E, walking toward me at exactly the right pace, with a list in her head of the homework she had, and the order in which she would get it done.  By the way, E's orderly approach to homework meant that the other two just sat right down and did theirs with her--without a word from me.  Worked like a charm, and made me look like a much better mother than I probably was.  Thanks, E!

So I loved being their driver.  Loved hearing their stories.  The only thing I ever minded was that it finally came to an end, and with it, so did that intimate, first contact.  My going back to school changed things first. I take responsibility for that.  But so did their growing up.  Blast these kids, they just have to go and grow up on us.  I remember saying to E when she was small, "Stop it, stop growing right now."  And she'd always answer, "I can't.  God made me to grow."

Wise words, those.  I thought so then, and think so now.  God made her to grow.  As He makes all of us.  And these days, as I'm driving my 23-year-old son around, and being reminded of those 'first contact' days, I also think of how God wants to be that first contact with me.  I'm afraid I haven't been very good at that lately.  I've become somewhat independent.  No, I'm not going to go all, 'driving my own car' as a metaphor on you, but I do think that with all the stress that's been piled on this year, my default mode hasn't been to go to Him first.  Instead, it's been to try to figure it out--whatever the 'it' in any particular circumstance is. And then I wonder why I'm not growing.  Why I'm struggling with anger, why I'm so exhausted all the time.  There's no first contact.  Some days there's no second or third or fourth. Maybe there's a fifth.  Maybe, by the time I'm laying me down to sleep, I pray to God my soul to keep, and then some. But what about all those daylight hours when I'm heaving the burdens of my life onto my shoulders and just trying to manage them myself?  No wonder my shoulders hurt.

So, God.  First contact.  You made me to grow.  Even now, even at my ripe old age of 53 when you might have expected I'd have learned this all a hundred times before.  Well, I have, and I still have to learn it again. Who can bear my burdens?  The one who bore them.  How many times will it take me to learn?  Seventy times seven, apparently.  As many as it takes.  His shoulders can take it.  His holey, holy hands, his pierced side and nail-driven feet can carry what I need him to carry.  HE is my first contact.  I need Him to be, and He's willing to be.  Not to change the burdens to bear them.  To change me.

"Cast all your cares on Him, because He cares for you." 1 Peter 5:7

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

All worth it

Beve's back at work. Full-swing.  Or, if a swing is an 8 hour shift, far more than full-swing.  He's been waking up, heart pounding, brain racing, unable to do anything but get up and at it, at about 3 AM.  Been at his desk by 5AM.  And it was after 9PM last night when he walked through the door.  He takes his job very seriously. Always has, always will.  Kids' lives are at stake here, and he knows it.

This afternoon J and I, out running errands, stopped by to see him during daylight, and there was still a line-up of students outside his door.  Today was the day students got their schedules, were either thrilled with what they saw on those white printed papers or ready to do battle to change them.  Anyway, we finally ran the gauntlet and sat down on Beve's couch when a final student wandered in after 4 PM.  This very courteous young man asked Beve what time he'd gotten to work this morning.  Beve told him, "A little late today.  I stopped for a donut so didn't get here until 5:40." The boy shook his head in wonder. "They don't pay you enough, they really don't," he said.  When Beve finished helping him with his schedule, the boy--really so close to being a young man, now that he's a senior in high school-- stood, walked over to Beve and shook his hand to thank him.

And I thought, 'that's why he does it.'  It's for boys like that who have been raised well, are thoughtful and perceptive enough to know he puts in more hours than he could ever be paid for.  For all the angry parents who call him and yell because their child is out of control (though the parents are likely barely in control of their own lives), for all the interventions Beve's had to do, and all the insolent, disinterested kids who haven't a clue what teachers are willing to do on their behalves, there is now and then that one child who says 'thank-you.'  For all the homework that isn't turned in and all the half-assed jobs that are, and all the 'I don't give a flying-leap what you want me to do, you can't make me!' there is, every now and then, a single student for whom a light goes on at some point, who suddenly, on some Thursday for no reason that one can account for, can do the math equation they thought they were never going to do, or read as they had no idea they could, or can make their instrument sound like its supposed to, and it's worth it.  All the extra hours, all the waking up in the middle of the night, trying to come up with some new way of doing things, some new approach that will reach that kid who isn't getting it.  It's all worth it.  I've seen the way a teacher lights up when a student they never thought was going to finally succeeds, even the smallest bit.  It can be a teary beautiful victory for a teacher, I've seen that. Yes, it's all worth it.

It hit me again today how grateful I am that Beve does what he does.  But not only Beve.  I'm grateful for all the teachers I know, and I know a lot of them.  A whole lot.  These are dedicated, engaged, willing-to-spend-it-all-for-each-student kind of people.  Sure, there are some crummy teachers out there--of course there are.  But the ones in my family  (5+ teachers and Beve) are good ones.  And I'd just like to add my voice to this grateful boy's of this afternoon, and say, "Thank you."