Saturday, January 29, 2011

Rip Van Winkle and other fairy tales

I've been feeling overwhelmed of late.
Grampie had another surgery on his eye yesterday--one we'd known was coming--and when he awakened, he wasn't in the vicinity of his right mind.  He kept asking, with increasing panic in his voice, what he was supposed to be doing, and how long he'd been doing it.  Then he'd drift off, wake up, and ask the same question all over again. When the nurse helped him up, he looked down at his feet and said, "My own feet.  Finally, something I recognize!"  "What about your hands?" I asked him.  He looked at them, frowned, flinched and said, "When did they get so skinny?"  Apparently he thought he'd misplaced years, thought he was some young buck, all muscular and certain.  If he'd been given a mirror, would he have seen Rip Van Winkle?
See, I tried to explain that anesthesia makes people loopy sometimes, he asked me, "But where was I all that time?"  Then it hit me that he didn't realize he'd been sleeping, probably dreaming.  Explaining it took some doing, and re-doing, and doing again.  The nurse smiled every time she left the room.  She smiled even more when I told Beve, "Here sits your future!" 

But for me, it's all too familiar.  Today, Grampie's still pretty disoriented.  Called to tell me he was home from the hospital, as if I hadn't been with him the whole trip.  Thought there were two girls playing on his bedroom floor.  Told Beve Thyrza wasn't going with them to the doctor for his re-check, so Beve began to drive off without her.  Man, did she just about blow a gasket at that!  Yep, he's still not quite back in the neighborhood of where he was yesterday morning.  I asked Beve this evening if he thinks Grampie will get back, and he said, "Oh yeah..." but just about then, Grampie called.
"How are you getting along these days?" he asked Beve. 
"These days?" Beve asked.  "Dad, this is Steve.  Did you mean to call me?"
"I know who you are," Grampie said, grumpily. "Haven't talked to you in a while.  How are you getting along?"
Beve's eyes widened as they do when he's trying not to roll them.  He had, after all, spent much of the afternoon with his father.  Granted, it'd been about three hours since Grampie and Thyrza were dropped off.  Still, this represents a sudden change from the status quo.

And I've lived through this kind of change before.  I've watched the dramatic cliff dive in memory when my mother underwent several surgeries.  And it overwhelms me.

Along with it is the sudden change in Thyrza's deepening resentment toward me.  Now I'm a person fairly comfortable in confronting a person in this kind of situation, and have carefully weighed the idea of talking to her about why she is so angry at me.  I confronted my mother often because I felt strongly that I wanted an honest relationship with her.  However, as her dementia worsened, any even slightly negative conversation made her hysterical.  I mean, she would over-react to the point of wanting to die when a person said, "I wish you hadn't done that."  I was a very slow learner when it came to changing my behavior with her.  Sadly.  But I finally realized that I was creating such huge trauma by such small words, and felt that if I had it to do over, I would let things go.  All kinds of things. Especially things she couldn't control.

So with Thyrza.  She's angry.  Mostly she's angry at her frail body and failing mind.  But it's close to impossible to admit that to herself.  Instead, her anger needs a target outside of herself. Grampie is one, Grampie who has always let anger roll off his tall frame like water on an umbrella.  But his increased frailties mean that he fails her more, and just maybe she needs a better target.  If that has to be me, ok.  OK.  The thing is,  the real her, the one I first knew 20 or so years ago, she'd be horrified at how she's treating Grampie, and how she's treating me.  This is what I must hold on to.  The real her...like she's a princess imprisoned in the body of an old lady.  Come to think of it, I bet that's how she feels about herself these days as well.

There are other needs.  People I know and love who are facing life-choices that are difficult.  Right, good, but difficult.  These aren't my things, but they weigh on my heart.  It occurs to me that there are always such things.  In every life, no matter what we are pre-occupied in our own lives, there are people around us who are hurting or making huge decisions or any one of a thousand things that are better or worse.  But it seems to me that when we pray, we get this amazing chance to participate in doing Kingdom work that we otherwise might have not part.  Their needs, their decisions, and our tiny words or faith on their behalf participate in what He wants to do!  It may overwhelm me, but not Him, and what a privilege to be a part of what He's doing.

The most amazing thing about fairy tales is how such beauty came out of such horror.  A wicked witch puts a spell on a princess and she sleeps until she's kissed by a prince.  You know what I mean.  Well, praying for the deep needs of those around us, those with life and death and everything-between needs is like being part of a real life fairy tale.  We sit in our own homes, in our own lives, and by our prayers, can impact people a long ways away. Now that's magic I can believe in.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The scent of hope

Anyone who reads mysteries or watches TV crime shows (we love Criminal Minds around here!) knows that fear has a smell.  Now I'm not positive, but it's possible that Jamaica sometimes smells of fear. She gets scared and her sphincter tightens so much you can smell her all the way to Canada.  It's a sad state of affairs, I'm sorry to say.  If she wasn't a dog, and was capable of complex emotions, she'd be humiliated by such a stain of odor wafting from her.  We're all thankful she's merely a dog.  My point, though, is that when I think of the smell of fear, I now will always think of Jamaica.  Sorry to say. The smell of fear.

And without going into details, I've spent a great portion of the last year not necessarily smelling fear, but just short of it.  Living with fear so close to the surface that it does practically emanate from my skin.  I climb from my bed in the morning and fight against it all day long, then battle it even as I am drifting off to sleep at night.  In March of 1933, our parents and grandparents gathered around their radios to listen to the president as he took the oath of office  It was the height of the great depression and the great dust bowl and they had real things to be afraid of, like finding enough pennies to buy milk for their babies, and a piece of coal for their furnace, and what they'd do if those babies got sick.  But that president, a man who never admitted until his last speech he ever gave that he couldn't even stand, let alone walk, told them that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself.  Fear itself as the largest fear.  I wonder at the audacity of such words to a nation with such real, empty-pocketed things to be afraid of.  But that country believed him.  They ate up those words.  Trusted they were true.

I am pretty sure they aren't true, actually.  There are real things to be afraid of.  Things worth worrying about. And God knows this.  He knows that it's battle.  But instead of simply telling us not to fear (though He also does this), He also gives us reasons to hope. In the last few days, the fear that has been twisting my insides is loosening.  And I can only attribute that to one thing.  To one Who, I should say.  God is on the move.  He is.  All this time, I've been asking, pleading, praying for Him to move, and He is.  

Last night I lay in my bed and thought, "This is what hope feels like."  A knot in my stomach, a clench in my throat, tears at the corners of my eyes.  I've felt this way before.  This sense of expectancy, of waiting and watching and trusting  that if He is moving as He is, there is no stopping Him. 

Think of the one thing you want most in the whole world.  If you're a parent--if you're like me--that one thing is all wrapped up in your children.  What I want is for my children to be well, to be who God intended them to be, and to be in relationship with Him.  OK, so that isn't just one thing.  But in a sense, it is.  All wrapped up in the one main thing.  It's what I hope for.  And that hope blooms.  Like a scent.

 P.S. And you know, when I begin to pray for others, I lean in to how I feel about my children, lean in to the very deep, powerful desire I have for them, and let that flow over onto my prayers, indeed, my very heart, for all others. 

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Breaking the law

It's a gorgeous day here in Bellingham, a harbinger of spring one might even say, if one was prone to saying such things--or knew the definition of the word harbinger.  E walked in after her early morning class and suggested we take the dogs up to the lake for a bit of a game of catch in the smooth as glass lake.  In the last few days, I've had our Matrix to drive, which has been in Spokane with SK while we've had her Subaru repaired.  It's nice to drive the Matrix because it's our designated 'dog-taxi', the only one of our vehicles we allow our beloved dogs to ride in.  The large one sheds like it's a job, after all, and they both drool like it's their avocation--all over our windows.  One car is plenty to have to deal with, love them though we do.  So it's nice to have the Matrix home.  About 80% of the time, even when it's home, I don't drive it because I have to run this errand or that for and with the elders.  So the dogs have been in...well, dog heaven to get to ride around this week with their noses out the windows of the Matirx, even though most of my 'work' has still been on the elders' behalf.

Not this morning, however.  This was all about the dogs.  The moment E pulled out the leashes, the dogs began whining.  There are only two things leashes mean in our house, one very, very good, and the other equally bad.  Either we're going on some walk or to a dog park, or--shiver, whine, oh the horror!--to the vet.  However, these are not stupid dogs, and E did pull out BOTH leashes.  A trip to the vet never, ever involves more than one leash at a time.  And Jackson, the big lug, has been around the block (literally--but that's a different story!) a time or two, so he began jumping at E's face.  Jamaica, the little copy-pup, began baying, just to make sure we knew she was there, I think.

Anyway, after winding them up, we got them loaded up, then wound up at the large lake up the road, which typically has an off-leash area each November through May.  Due to my family's schedule and my physical limitations, the dogs haven't been there in a while.  But, as I say, they aren't dumb dogs.  They were out the back of the Matrix like they were being sprung from prison, Jackson sprinting for the boat-dock.  He knows the drill.

I threw the first ball far into the water for Big J a bit shorter for Little J, then realized we've been frequenting a different lake since Jamaica's lived with us. Uh-oh! This lake is deeper, and Jamaica was almost immediately frantic to get back up on that dock (not releasing the ball, of course), her head barely out of the water, her legs paddling furiously to keep her from sinking.  A whole lot different than Jackson's smooth flat glide across the surface. You'll be happy to know (as E and I were) that neither of us had to go into the January-cold water after her to retrieve her, but it was iffy for a moment there.  After that, E just threw so she could spring along the shore-line comfortably, while Jackson, the big oaf,  continually dropped his ball the second he could stand and continued to swim the entire time we were there.  Jamaica likes fetching just enough that she'd bounce on his for us so he could play as well.

Fun time, right?  Then an elderly man in a Pendleton plaid shirt walked down to us and said, "Did you realize that this whole area is NOT open to dogs, because the grass has been so destroyed?"
"No," we told him.  "We didn't know that."
"Well, there's a big sign up there," he said.  "I'm not part of the parks crew or anything, but I just thought you should know.  I thought either you didn't know, or you knew and were simply ignoring the sign."
"We've only been on the dock and on the gravel down here by the lake," I said.  "But we we would never willingly ignore a posted sign."
"Maybe it's okay, then," he said.  "But I thought you should know."
"Thank you," We told him.  We quickly reined in our reluctant dogs, let them wander around  (leashed) in the parking lot for a bit to dry off, then headed for home.

But I keep thinking of his words, "...or you knew and were simply ignoring the sign."  Just a couple of days ago I began reading 1 Timothy and came across this verse: "We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.  We also know that the law is not made for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious..." (1:8, 9a)  When I read it (and there's actually a much longer list beyond what I wrote out here), I have to admit I was feeling a little smug.  Most of the things on that list I haven't done.  However, this little incident this morning reminded me of a truth I have often struggled with.  This sign represented a parks ordinance, ie, a law.  And we broke that law this morning.  Granted, we didn't know we were breaking it, and therefore, our hearts were pure.  Nevertheless, in the eyes of the law, that fact was immaterial.  Also immaterial to that law was the fact that our dogs weren't even on the fragile grass the law was designed to protect.

I've often had conversations with people about whether one can sin if one's heart is pure.  And I'm thinking this morning that the answer is yes.  There are human laws I know nothing about--ordinances here, mandates there, regulations and requirements cities, states and federal governments pass constantly without passing down to us, the little people who have to abide by them. How can we possibly know them all?  In fact, don't they often change without warning or (perhaps even more confounding) our acceptance? Most of the time, most of us are ruled by our sense of good conduct, our ethical understanding of what is right and wrong. (By the way, I have often thought about the saying that laws aren't made to legislate morality, and wonder what else are they meant to legislate if not our moral behavior?  Just wondering)   Isn't this the truth?  Paul, in Romans, acknowledges this when he states, "(Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law unto themselves...They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. 2: 14-15)

That's the bottom line, isn't it?  That most of us know in our hearts and in our minds what is right and wrong.  And therefore, we also know this:  that there is a deeper law than the law of any city, state or nation.  And it's this law that Paul is ultimately talking about.  E and I could claim ignorance when that man first spoke to us this morning.  However, from that moment on, we could not stay at the lake.  Once we knew were were in the wrong, we could not continue to do wrong.  Because that would make us wrong--not simply our behavior, but ourselves.  It was in that moment that we had the choice of breaking a human law, which we hadn't known, and sinning.  We might have gotten away with it.  We might not have seen another soul, or we might have been able to pass off our actions as ignorance to anyone else who came along.  But the sin would have been committed in the very first moment the man had spoken.  And the sin would have been against God.

I sin enough in a day.  My temper is short at times.  I blame it on my physical pain, but in fact, it has more to do with not being right with God than being wrong in my body.  "All sin and fall short of the glory of God," Romans tells us.  That's the worst of it, the reason for every law that's ever been thought up, legislated, and enforced.  ALL sin.  If we didn't sin, we wouldn't need the law.  Yep, that's the very worst of it. 

However, it's also prelude to the very best of it.  "That while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  Even while I'm breaking laws, being mad, acting in my interest rather than anyone else's, let alone His!, He died for me.  No, let's just start with He was born for me.  Became Incarnate for me.  From there, every thing else was a fait accompli.  His ministry, His betrayal, His crucifixion, His resurrection  Can it be?  For all of us who've broken laws, those written by humans, and those--far more important--written on our hearts that reek of God.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Season

"This marriage has been interrupted to bring you the basketball season."
"A basketball fan lives here...with the best woman he ever courted."
These are just two of the clever signs and plaques we've had hanging in our house over the years.  I've learned not to roll my eyes at such things, but simply smile and say, 'thank-you.'  There's also a story of Beve moving into the first place he lived after college, with one good friend, and one brand new roommate he only met that day.  Right after meeting the new roommate, who volunteered to help unload Beve's car, Beve reached into the back seat, pullled out his basketball, spun it on his finger, off his head, and said, "First things, first!"  The new roommate, a quite un-athletic young man, was pretty horrified. Amazingly, they survived that meeting, and MW was actually the best man at our wedding.

But we are knee-deep in basketball season, well on the way to 'March Madness', which everyone knows is the MOST important season of the year, probably should be a national holiday, if you ask Beve and our older two kids, and many--many!--college-students around this country, their faces painted, their legs bouncing on bleachers, their voices raised in fevered pitches for their teams.  At our house, the TV's turned to hoops every possible moment, especially on week-ends.  And...well, I'm just fortunate I grew up liking sports as much as I did.  If not, it would be mighty lonely for me this time of year.

This afternoon, as I sat knitting in front of the Washington-Arizona State game, there was a John Wooden memorial moment, as there is during each half-time at every Pac-10 basketball game this year.  Always a little story about 'Coach's' brilliant career, then a quote from his lexicon.  Today's quote was: "Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are."

This is such a basic idea.  But so often we mistake one for the other.  I think of all the times parents talk to their children about reputation.  "You don't want people to think you're..." Or, "What you do won't reflect well on me.  It will hurt my reputation."  Neither of these are the critical issues when we are dealing with/raising our children to be adults with morals and ethics.  We want them to be people who choose rightly whether anyone knows or sees at all.  If we only care about what they do when others see them, we're practically asking them to merely be superficially good.  Or, to put it bluntly, to not get caught.  However, if--as John Wooden suggested--we care about character, we care about choices we make, or our children make when no one can see them at all.  Or even when the right choices are misunderstood.  Yes, even then.

This reminds me (of course) of when God sent Samuel to find His new king from among the sons of Jesse.  Samuel looked at the oldest, Eliab, and thought, "Surely this is the Lord's annointed."  But God told him, "Don't consider the outward appearance--for I have rejected him.  The Lord does not look at the things human beings look at.  People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."  (1 Samuel 16: 6-7)

It's a good day when such a strong word can come straight from the middle of a basketball game.  Character versus reputation.  One is the heart, the other only appearance.

Now excuse me, Oregon vs. OSU is on. 
But let me ask you one thing:  if you could only have one--which would you choose, reputation or character? 

Thursday, January 20, 2011

22


January 20, 1989.
George W. Bush was inaugurated President. And this tiny dumpling inaugurated an era into our lives with less pomp and circumstance, but a whole lot more lasting, meaningful change.
It snowed in North Tacoma the morning we brought her home.  Her older siblings had played in it with Grampie and Grammie for a little while, but mostly spent the morning with their noses pressed to the front window.
This was a nightly ritual in our home in those days.  Baths, then a book on Daddy's lap (though J obviously wasn't thrilled that SK was stuck in the middle of the whole affair that night).  She learned to love books at an early age.

 She was one happy baby, our last child.  I'm talking happy.  She came into this world to make people laugh, I'm certain of it.  Her grin was as big as her face, and made total strangers become her friends.

This was her first birthday.  I didn't wait until the cake was cooked to let her have her first taste.  I mean, batter is the best past, isn't it? Don't know why she doesn't have a bib on, however.  What was her mother thinking?











She was a complete ham, too.  She shares that with her Daddy.
See what I mean?  Mugging for the camera is always something these two are willing to do.  Ask them to act silly, and they'll be there all night.  Ask them to be serious for a moment, and...well, it could take a while.






Speaking of her Daddy, walking in his shoes was always a fun game.  I'm pretty sure they all had their shoes on inside his size 14s.  (Notice J doesn't even have them on the right feet!)  These are the shoes SK danced on when she got a little older and wanted to dance with her Daddy. These are the ones strong enough to carry her when her little legs wouldn't carry her themselves.





SK's first kiss.  Just couldn't resist putting this in her history.  A younger man, too.  Adam here is a full three months younger than she is.  His twin brother was watching the whole performance, beside their dad, who does seem a bit off-put by the whole thing.  SK, seriously, what were you thinking?








Always a fashion-conscious female, even at five, she picked out accessories carefully.  You can't see them in this picture, but there are lace socks on her feet too.  Oh my, oh my, if I'd only known.

And then there was this...oh wait, how did this get in there?  Basketball?  SK?  It must have been an aberration.  But she really did play a season.  Loved, er, liked, er, tolerated every minute of it too.  Then went back to her music and drama without a whimper of regret.
She's 22 today.  A woman with a large heart, big dreams, a passion for Jesus, and a desire to please Him and live expansively the life He's given her.  I'm so grateful for her, so blessed that she was given to us.  And I can hardly wait to see what He will do with her and for her.  Watch out, world, she's coming!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

One day's troubles

It was a heck-of-a-day with my mother-in-law.  I mean it, such a day that I'd just as soon crawl back into bed, pull the covers up, and try to start over again.  At least one of us started the day wrong...and it wasn't me, if you catch my drift. By the time we were loaded up and on our way to her vein clinic appointment (do these people EVER do anything other than go to doctors' appointments? You're asking this, aren't you?), tempers were frayed.  The poor nurse walked into the examine room, told me a few things that had happened while I was gone a week or so ago, and that frayed temper exploded.  The poor nurse didn't have time to duck, but she sure flew out the door quickly enough. Unfortunately, I had no such option.  It was a long, confusing afternoon, and by the time I got home, I was exhausted.

The thing is...I have to be way up in the private business of this formerly private woman, and she really hates it.  I'm not her child, nor even the wife of her child.  The longer she lives here, the more tired she becomes of the need to depend on someone who isn't one of her family.  That an 'outsider' should be so intimately acquainted with all her ways, it just feels wrong to her. I get that. I get that she always wants to run everything past her daughter back in Maryland, even such decisions as when to have the next appointment--though it impacts my life wholly, and she doesn't remember  that.  I get that in some ways when she gets angry at me, she's actually angry at her own inability to remember or walk or do what she always trusted her very able brain and body to do.  The veneer of gratefulness wears thin after so long.  It does for all of us, so I get it.

Still, it's hard to bear the brunt of someone's illogical anger.  I remember this well with Mom.  Remember how her illogical emotions made me grit my teeth to be around her.  Never knowing what to expect, or what would set her off.  And even when one emotional catastrophe had been dodged, it was inevitable that another would crop up momentarily.  It was the nature of the disease we learned...but too late to keep us from feeling we were going crazy.  No, it's clear that we're back on that same topsy, turvy, stomach-dropping roller-coaster.   And it's definitely a two-fer, because while I was with Thyrza this afternoon, Beve was with his dad, which is also always quite the ride (you should see him when he tries to show off with his walker and loses his balance.  Literally, quite the ride!).

I don't think I realized when I started this blog that so much of it would center around the care of elderly/dying parents.  Parents with dementia.  But for all the miserable days, like today, there were days when we were the ones being cared for by these people, and days when they cared for our children.  If they have their grumpy, two-year-old tantrum moments, well, I suppose we put them through the ringers at times too. AND...and this is no small thing, I know there are others out there like us.  The sandwich generations, we're called, I think--still parenting our kids, but also parenting our parents--who might feel encouraged to know they aren't alone.

This afternoon after taking Thyrza home, I called her daughter back in Maryland, just to give her an update (see, I am dutiful!).  Then I sat in my car quietly for a few moments and pondered the idea of driving to Canada.  Just driving away from it--her and her not wanting the help she needs that is feels so sacrificial about half the time.  But my passport's expired, Beve wasn't free to go with me, and I really just wanted to go home.  And live to fight another day.  Isn't that what Jesus said?  One day's troubles is enough for that day.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Double-standard

In honor of MLK's birthday, Grampie and I celebrated by going to the neurologist together.  Yep, that's right, we share a neurologist, and in an effort to make my life easier, the clinic makes our appointments back-to-back.  Because this neurologic clinic is in the next county, once a month or so, Grampie and I make the drive down together, then he sits in the waiting room, nodding off while I talk to the doctor about all things nerve/ nerve-pain my body (and I'm not talking about stress--that's a different kind of doctor altogether).  Once we've finished with my appointment, I go rouse Grampie, bring him back to the same room and the good doctor puts Grampie through a 30 question/task test, to gauge how the dementia is progressing, and whether the meds are slowing that progression.  It's the same questions every time, but oddly the same things don't trip him up each time.  Last month he couldn't draw the two interlocking octagons, and was so upset about it he told the doctor about it today.  Today, he said the date was 1972, inexplicably.  A very good year, to be sure, but what was he thinking about?  And he absolutely couldn't pull up 'doctor's office' or 'clinic' to save his life, though he could subtract 7 from 100, at least three times.  Steve (who went with us today) and I were both impressed with that.  We thought math was long gone.

But then he said to me, "I'd like to sit in on your appointment to see how you do."  At the time I didn't think of it, but later it hit me hard.  He thinks that I'm sitting in that room doing those very same tests.  He thinks that we are going to Dr. Morris for the same reason.  I know he once knew otherwise, but he no longer remembers, so now he thinks I'm merely trying to hide it from him.  Hide my own test and results, while sitting through his, talking about him, tattling on him (from his point of view).  And...his old man/little boy brain reasons only so well.  That is, it tells him that I'm not playing fairly, but I have all the power now, so he can't do anything about it.

The whole thing was like a magnifying glass on our relationship and how it's changed. The power has shifted from Grampie and Thyrza to their kids.  We're always telling them what they can and can't do and why. They love to take us out to eat--to be the parents--but their math skills, i-yi-yi! When they first moved here and took us out to eat, we often looked over their shoulders as they tried to figure out the tip. Often Beve left extra money on the table to make up for their stinginess.  Then we began grabbing the meal-check from their hands and calculating the gratuity for them.  They didn't raise a fuss or argue.  Nor did Grampie argue when I told him my appointment was private but his wasn't.  He just went along, because...well, what choice does he have? 

But it's a double standard. Isn't it? All my rights intact, and none of his left at all? 

I think it's appropriate to be thinking of double-standards on this day of all days, when we celebrate a man who bled hope that our country would be free of them those caused by race, especially.  I confess that I have lived all but the tiniest fraction of my life as a member of the 'majority' race, if that's the opposite of minority.  It was only when I spent two months in India that my race made me a minority, and my gender made me a target for very inappropriate public behavior by the opposite sex.  It was demeaning, sickening and the closest I've ever gotten to understanding what it must feel like to have lived in a different time in a different place, in different skin.  There was a double-standard for how white women could be treated and how Indian women should be treated.  White women were viewed as loose and 'asking for it,' simply by virtue of dress and skin color.  I hated it.  I hated feeling impotent to do anything about it--about the most basic thing about myself--my skin.  I was what I was, and that made me a target.

But that was a mere two months.  It changed me, though.  Made me re-think what I'd always thought was perhaps a little too much whining and complaining.  I didn't understand double-standards.  I hadn't really faced them.  There's been too much privilege in my life for that.  But the one thing that will creep up on me (besides my gender, and my middle sister would really hate it if I didn't at least mention that I get that there's a double-standard there too), is age.  Sooner or later, unless that proverbial bus hits me, I will be at the mercy of my kids or someone else's (if mine bail as they tease me that they will), and they will have all the power.  In fact, perhaps if there's an arc of power in a person's life, I've already begun the downward slope.

So...I abdicate.  Right now.  Today.  I give up. I won't hold it over Grampie, who can nod off in that examining room while I'm talking to the doctor as easily as he can in the waiting room.  And why shouldn't he?  Then he can see that there's nothing every exciting going on behind that closed door. Mostly he'll be disappointed that I don't have to remember what year, season, month, date, day of the week it is, nor what--blast it, what is it?!!!--county we're in in that doctor's office.  Or remember those three words (football, boy, tiger were today's--he remembered one, and 50 bonus points if you guess which one he remembered!).  And perhaps that will give him back a sense that we're in this together...even if he doesn't remember it by the time we get home.

Like Thyrza, whom I told all about Grampie's appointment, then, as I walked out of the room to write his next appointment on the calendar, asked her husband, "How did your appointment go?"  He didn't answer.  "I just told you," I told her.  "You did not,"  she said, quite indignantly.  "You just got here.  When could you have told me?"  Wow, I told Beve later, that's five minutes I'll never have again...but maybe I never had it at all.  Hmm, if there are three people in a room and the two with dementia are sure something didn't happen, how can the third be sure that thing really happened?  Sigh.  I just gave up and told her the whole thing over again.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

False Humility

We're watching the Golden Globes, making our traditional sarcastic comments about both dress and remarks.  Just a moment ago Jane Lynch won an award for her role as Sue Sylvester on Glee, and spoke of herself as "Falsely humble," and I thought she said the truest line of the night.

Falsely humble.  This is a concept I'm quite familiar with.  I remember being at a week-long camp one spring (Young Life's Malibu Club), and every morning I got up, looked in the mirror and said, "Hey ugly!"  About the fourth day, one of the counselors asked why on earth I would say such a thing, and I answered, rather glibly, "I just like to start the day with the right perspective." The counselor sat me down and had a long talk to me about false humility.  The thing was--and I still maintain this--I really didn't think I was very attractive.  And I also was working hard to fight the cultural ethos that said my physical attractiveness was important.  However, the counselor (who was also a math teacher at our school) had a very good point.  Talking to myself in a mirror was not the way to develop humility.  It was superficial and contrived (undoubtedly there were hopes that someone would come along and tell me I was beautiful!), and the most ugly thing about it was that I was doing it at all.

But one way or another many of us say things that sound humble but are actually the complete opposite.  Just this week I've heard them.  What we disguise as empathy can be an example--"I don't know how I got so lucky to have such good health/great kids/a happy marriage".  When we're talking to a person in pain (of any kind), to speak of our lack of pain is bad form.  We may suggest we don't deserve it, but that's somewhat like me lying to my reflection in the mirror.  What we're really saying is, "Thank God I don't have that pain."  Those words can cut like a knife to the heart of a person's pain. And there's no humility in such words.  Certainly no help to the hurting.  And...I'm sorry to say, I've been on both sides of these words, the one being hurt by them and the one speaking them as well.

Here's the thing:  it's absolutely acceptable, even good, to be grateful that one doesn't have the same pain as another person.  It's also absolutely acceptable to thank God for the incredible blessings of children well-raised, a happy marriage, even a beautiful face in the mirror (though one had no hand in it unless you paid for plastic surgery!).  However, what we must learn is to live a surrendered life--in everything.  To listen to others pain and be with them in it without measuring theirs as worse than ours, and telling them so.  To listen to our adult children (as I did this week) and their struggles, without telling them how their struggles impact us ("You can't do that, because I'll miss you too much, I'll worry about you too much..." You get my drift.).

Humility.  I have so much to learn about the surrendered life.  About not inserting myself into every conversation. It's a long lesson to learn.  Every day, I take baby steps.  Even my life is not my own.

Forgive me for the words I've spoken that were insensitive, couched in a false humility, but only cut your pain in sharper relief.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

My work's done here

Spent the morning writing notes on our yearly Christmas New Year's letters, which in our case, is more like a tri-yearly letter.  The last letter I wrote was sent co-incidentally about two months before I began this blog.  You know, this blog, in which I pour out my life and musings in unequal abandon on an almost daily basis.  By the time the next Christmas/holiday/New Year came around, and all those letters came pouring in, I couldn't think of anything to say about my children, Beve or me that I hadn't said about two-hundred times before.  So I let it slip that year.  Determined that by Christmas of 2009, I'd certainly be able to craft a reasonable letter. HA!  That year, Beve's sister had just died, we were making myriad trips out to the peninsula and various retirement complexes in preparation for the elders' move here, then moving the elders, and by the time we got through all that, I was so busy caring for the elders all thoughts of a New Years' letter were gone forever.  Or at least until this year.

So this year, I started early.  And by early, I mean a couple of days before Christmas.  And by started, I mean asking, then nagging E to write the letter for me.  See, my way out of my holiday letter writer's block, I'd determined, was to have someone else write it.  E, to be precise.  E writes her own blog.  Both my daughters do.  Fine writers, both of them.  E writes more frequently than SK (she also has a bit--just a tad bit!--more time than SK) so I've become quite familiar with E's style over the last few years.  That style is dry, self-deprecating, and almost always strikes my fancy/funny bone.  SK's ponderings are deeper, full of questionings about her future, her decisions, sleep (or the lack thereof), and life itself.  SK is definitely my child.  (J, by the way, has also started a blog or two a few times, and he's so stinkin' cerebral that his short essays are sometimes pretty deep.  Even for me...which sounds like I'm the measure of depth, which I'm not.  My point is, he tends to leave off writing after a few posts, then has to start another a few months later, but they're always interesting and worth reading--if he'd just keep writing.)

The bottom line is that all my kids write, which means my job is done here.  No, not really, but their writing ability was important to me.  Fundamentally important. When E was in high school, I'd read her papers, and was shocked that she was getting the grades she was, because I felt she could improve.  So...I edited her papers.  Yes, I did.  I'm not ashamed of it.  If those English teachers weren't going to demand it, I was.  And when the other two reached high school, the same excellence was demanded of them--by their English-teaching mother, and now and then, by their English teachers.  It's served them well enough.  The ability to write is a necessary tool, I believe, and not merely of the proletariat.  I mean, Beve certainly didn't expect writing to be an important component of his career, but it certainly has been.  How many people out there are as surprised as he is by the amount of writing required in their profession?

Wow, I think I might be standing on a soapbox here.

 Now for your rebuttal:
OK, so those of you who read this blog are wondering why it is then that I sometimes don't use complete sentences when I write, why I so obviously break rules of grammar.  Let me tell you:  I break them with purpose.  I break the rules because I can. I wouldn't break them in a formal letter, technical document or research document, but here, on my blog, I can/will with impunity.  Because every phrase has meaning.  Every time I create a word phrase I draw attention to it.  It's only by knowing the rules that a person can break the rules.   And because it's fun.  Yep, it's just plain fun to write this way. To stick it in the eye of grammatical rules, so to speak.  I enjoy it.  And I think my adult children have learned to enjoy writing enough that they understand how to use, when to break, and when to manipulate the rules of their mother-tongue to their advantage.  E's becoming very good at it.  She practices it often on her blog.

So I asked her to write our Christmas letter.  And she did.  Thankfully.  Entertainingly.  Sometimes I'm a little heavy-handed with things, and her light touch was exactly what we needed about now.  Not just because I couldn't bear to write it, but who the heck could bear to read what I might have to write at the end of such a season?  Not me, thank you very much.  Daily, small doses, that's about enough of me that even I can handle.

Check out E's blog;  You can get to it via the link at the side: Random Stupidness.  And SK's: Murmurs of Me.

P.S. This post was brought to you by a completely objective mother.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

In perspective

Beve didn't go to school yesterday.  It was called due to snow.  Alleged snow, I should say, since the inches and inches that had fallen over night began to melt before he got out of bed for good at 7 AM.  By the time we were out and about running errands it was wet and raining here in the 'ham, and we were trading joke texts with friends about the cancelling of school because of rain.  Ridiculous, really, though I did enjoy having the day with Beve, especially since there were two separate medical appointments for the elders at two opposite ends of town.  Here, without delay, are our two favorite moments from those appointments:  Thyrza, sitting in her wheelchair at the eye doctor (where the doctor called her "eagle eyes", making us certain once again that she just couldn't bear that Grampie has been having all this attention on his eyes so wanted her own appointment!), she began shuffling in her purse before we left the building.  "What are you looking for?"  "My glasses," she said, with her glasses perched firmly on her face.  And Grampie, who'd been sleeping in the car while we gave him a tour of Fairhaven and Edgemore during Thyrza's appointment, asked, "Where's Thyrza, at the pain clinic?"  Yep, we live in a constant state of confusion.

But that's small potatoes, if you know what I mean.  In the northeast, there's a blizzard.  In Australia, a flood the size of Texas slowly covers a province, including the third largest city.  In Arizona, people are reeling from the assassination attempt last weekend.  Across the world, people are dealing with matters which put our small concerns into perspective.  Matters of life and death, and I'm not using hyperbole when I write that.  I forget this.  I get caught up in the issues at hand, in the daily struggles I face with my kids, or my elders (who become more and more like kids every day!), with the challenges of my own puny body, and think that I have life pretty rough.  And that is where I begin exaggerating and worrying over peanuts.  Actually, if you want the truth, it sometimes makes me crazy that the elders, who have lived their four-score-and-seven and then some, worry so much about their health.  Cling to this life with their fingertips gripping until their fingers are white and their jaws clenched.  I mean, life on this earth will end.  Running off to the doctor every other day will not keep it from happening.  I realize how cynical I sound to say that, but in light of the real struggles of life and death and war and hatred and enmity that occur daily in this world, ones that take the young and younger, I just think perhaps at 92, it might be time to loosen one's grip and relax.  Enjoy the last days and be glad for every moment.

But what do I know?  I'm a long ways from there.  Perhaps when I get there--if I get there-- I'll be holding on to my things and my life with equal firmness.  In fact, perhaps the only vigor left at that age will be the vigor with which I hold on.  But I hope not.  I hope that I go out graciously.  Thankfully and lightly.  Lifting my hands away from my life, recognizing the transitory nature of all these 'things' and the even more transitory nature of my own body.

Shoot, why do I think I have to wait until I'm in the sunset of my days to have that attitude?  The reality is--the ultimate, cosmic reality--is that the earth is the Lord's and all there in.  And sadly, we humans have used it like it is ours, destroyed it like there was another one coming on the next ship.  Frankly, in the last century, we've treated it more like garbage than in all its history before, and now we're shocked and hurt that things are going wrong on it.  That God is allowing our ill-use to have an effect.  I'm not really sure if we're stubborn, a little like the elders, who don't admit death is coming and try to keep a dying body from decaying, or if we're just plain stupid, like chickens without their heads, as we destroy the world God gave us to govern and enjoy.

This world--like our lives--will end.  But that's not the end of the story.  He tells us He will give us new bodies.  And a new heaven and a new earth.  These are promises to stand on.  And, I pray, they help us keep things in balance when we want to take ourselves and our small concerns, our small lives, too seriously.

"At that time His voice shook the earth, but now He has promised,"Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens."  The words 'once more' indicate the removing of what can be shaken--that is, created things--so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
"Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire."  Hebrews 12: 26-29

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A few offerings

I haven't really been idle in the last several months, though sometimes it feels that way.  Things just move slowly with small children the elders and their needs.  However, these are my Christmas offerings.  The front one is a tree skirt for a niece who loves the color blue and married a man who grew up without a live Christmas tree because his mother had pollen allergies.  I didn't know this as I made this, but it sure made the giving of it a sweeter thing.  Their first live tree and a tree skirt to match.  Yes, a little large, but with plenty of room to grow. 
 The back quilt was made for my older niece.  It isn't a tree skirt, though with a couple of quick snips can be made into one.  At the moment, it's a table-topper, a simple (ha!) lap quilt or whatever she'd like to use it for during the holidays to come.  I wanted to make these gifts different from each other, because I never like doing the same thing twice, but after finishing the tree skirt, wasn't capable of creating something completely new, so just their signature colors and different purposes.  And trust me, that ridiculous octagonal shape was NOT for the first-time quilter, nor even one as new at it as I am.  But I'm learning.  Still I love the colors of each of these projects, the way the different colors make them personal and unique.

A long-promised quilt for our friends, J and K.  It was supposed to be for Christmas 2009.  I finished it on Christmas Eve 2010, just two hours before handing it over to them still slightly wet from our dryer.  The colors aren't quite right in this photograph, but they really are deep, dark and rich.  I'd have this on my bed in a flash if I thought I could get away with it.  I seriously love the fabrics on this quilt so much that I signed up for a quilting club at a local fabric shop, a club which specializes in this collection.  I haven't tried quilting in company before, but look forward to the community of it all.  After all, quilting at its source was communal.  Back in the days when women quilted because it was the way to cover actual beds, they joined together to share fabrics and stories with regularity.  So I shall try my hand at such a community as well.  I've never felt certain I was interested in the kind of talk that went with crafting, but I am interested in the craft itself, so it's worth a shot.


Monday, January 10, 2011

Pew

Beve and I got up at 3:30 this morning because he had to catch a flight to Dallas for a two day meeting about the (yawn!) FAFSA.  For those of you unfamiliar with all things student-related, that acronym means: Free Application for Federal Student Aid.  In other words, it's the online way for college-bound and college students to get financial aid from Uncle Sam, which they'll spend their lives paying back (or in some cases, defaulting on!).  So Beve--lucky dog!-- gets to spend the next two days sitting in a room with a whole lot of other educators of one kind or another talking about how to help students apply, how to best serve them as they work a sometimes apparently complicated system.  Beve was asked to go to this conference, and even last night was dreading it.  Frankly, to me, it sounds about as exciting as dry toast and powdered milk.  I can think of a whole lot of things I'd rather do than sit in a large room with people talking about numbers and systems and...well, I'm half-nodding off just thinking about it.

Though that could be from what was a very short night's sleep--like 1.5 hours of uninterrupted hours.  Sigh.  Anyway.

We spent the weekend with some friends down south, then made our way up the I-5 corridor, stopping first at my brother's for a late breakfast (he turned 55 yesterday, the old man!!!!), then at other friends' to retrieve a pew.  Yep, a church pew from my childhood church back in the Palouse.   Back in September at Mom's memorial service, in visiting with old church friends, I'd lamented that the gorgeous blond wood pews had been removed from the sanctuary and replaced with stackable chairs.  Aesthetically, it just doesn't do anything for me.  The wife said, they'd sold or given most of those pews away but still had two short (5') ones.  "Would you like one?"  Absolutely! I told her.  A couple of weeks later, my sister had to call her about something and she offered the other pew to RE, which RE was glad to take. She picked them up, had a couple of her kids bring ours across the state However, in the kind of gyrations typical to our family, complications arose involving cars, people, the pew, etc. and that pew has been taking up space in a studio in Marysville for the last two + months.  It wasn't until yesterday that we had the stars lined up in such a way that we could retrieve it.

So now it's here, right inside our back door, where we'll use it to sit down and put on and take off shoes and slippers.  Take off the outside world and enter in to our home, so to speak.  It is sweet to me to think that both RE and I have these tangible pieces of the house where our parents lived and breathed, came to faith and lived all their spiritual lives.  I can sit on this bench and slide as easily as I did when I was eight years old, the wood is still that smooth.  And, though it's not visible, I know that facing the wall are the slots for offering envelopes, small pencil, communion cup and hymnal that kept us occupied when sermons seemed long and impenetrable...which, to tell the utter truth, didn't actually ever quite go away no matter what my age when I sat on those pews in that church.  Sorry, Mom and Dad.  But worship happened for them, and brought them to a real and living faith, and that faith is in His Son.  Maybe even sometimes sitting on this very pew.

This pew watched me be baptized, marry my Beve, say goodbye to grandparents and my beloved Dad...and was still sitting clear out back when we did the same for Mom.  Yep, this short wooden bench was present for a whole lot of my history.  My sacred history. There is something sacred about this short pew.  Lean in, can you hear Him?  In the very grain of the wood, I catch His whisper, reminding me that in all those moments of my life story (and of so many, many others' stories, too, of course), whether I knew it or not, whether I was awake to Him, or bored silly and drawing on offering envelopes, He was there, present in His house--working, moving, simply BEing, the I AM THAT I AM.

Friday, January 7, 2011

God's poetry

Over the course of my life, I've spent a whole lot of time in classrooms.  And having an undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies as well as a degree from a seminary, it will surprise no one that I've have taken plenty of classes in which the Bible was the subject.  However, it might surprise (and amuse!) you to learn that the first academic class in which I studied the Bible was called, "The Bible as Literature" at Washington State University, and was taught by (I promised I'm not making this up) Dr. Lord.  Yep. Picture the course listing in the university catalogue: "Bible as Lit" taught by Lord.  I honestly couldn't resist.  It was a good class too, for all that Dr. Lord, despite his high-falutin' name, was an agnostic at best, definitely skeptical.  There was one specific concept that was new to me in that class that has remained with me ever since.  It's the idea of "the faithful remnant".  Both in the Old Testament, the gospels, and even in my own life, I've seen how many believe of that many, only a small portion, a remnant, remains faithful, returns to give thanks, etc.

But the other part of that class that helped me greatly came from directly from having studied scripture in all its various forms as the wonderful literature it is.  For example, much of scripture is poetry and poetry works best when it floods a person with images and sense words.  Take the Psalms, for example.  Dissecting a Psalm as one might a frog in biology class takes all the life from it, without actually uncovering what gave that Psalm life to begin with. 

There are plenty of places within scripture which lend themselves to scientific investigation and analysis.  Take Numbers and Leviticus, for instance (Please, take them!!!), with enough lists and mandates to satisfy  the most anal of exegetes.  And the histories--1, 2 Samuel, Kings, Chronicles--a historian could spend his life researching the battles, journeys, work of the kings of this people of God.  Or the prophets, where there are enough enigmatic utterances to keep a philosopher and linguist busy for years. And yes, I'll gladly accede the language to the linguists as well.  With all those texts of the New Testament, the varying styles of the writers, the  various bits of actual texts we pull our one Bible from, I understand the need to study and study some more.  And the perplexing words of Jesus--even I will spend my life trying to make sense of Him.  Of course I will.

But the Psalms...I am reminded of the moment in "Dead Poets Society" when Robin Williams makes his literature class rip the pages from their textbook that lay out a grid to measure a poem's success.  It's B.S., excrement, to reduce such emotionally-charged language to a grid, devaluing the writer and ourselves. Let poetry wash over us, let it transform us as we dwell with it.   Let the Psalms, God's great poetry, set right in the middle of all that Old Testament prose, work in image, cadence and form to draw us to the great poet Himself.

When we do this, we enter in to what a Psalm really is:  a personal or corporate response to God, ie, a PRAYER, and therefore, is something to be immersed in.  Rather than dissecting it, we must fall into it and allow it to cover us, work through our skin to our deepest selves.   My prayers alone are so often not enough, but the Psalms fill up my empty spaces where I need to speak to God but have no words.  The best of poetry...no, the best of His poetry fills in very well.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New

I'm holed up in my living room with the fire blazing.  It's quiet here.  Everyone has departed back to their lives and livelihoods, leaving the dogs and me to fend for ourselves; it's a toss-up whether they've having a tougher time or I am.  I really miss the holidays about now.  The festive way our house looks all decorated in red and red and gold, with the noble, noble fir standing boldly in the corner. The laughing of my daughters as they share a joke or two, do a little online window-shopping, or watch a bit of guilty pleasure TV (really, the Kardashians? Really?).  Miss the sounds of a football game as the background noise (I'm a big fan of Jon Gruden as a commentator, I really am.  And by the way, I'll be wearing my green and gold with pride next Monday night, completely unfazed by those in my family who turn up their noses at the idea that I could possibly be a Duck!).

Yep, January is a quiet month, kind of like that post-party, post-big-dinner coma people talk about.  We go about our business still in the dead of, dark of, winter when the year stretches long before us.  Though the calendar changes, most of us don't actually change anything but what date we sign when we get to January.  Years have always begun in September, at least in my world and I suspect in most others' worlds as well.  So how do we actually gather momentum to leap into something new when everything is still the 'Bleak mid-winter'?  This is the time of year (unless one lives in the southern hemisphere) when we layer up, cover up, and find dig in, so to speak.  Those aren't exactly the actions of becoming new.

However, we are told in 2 Corinthians 5 that 'while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life."  There's a sense of waiting inherent in Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 5, in his use of phrases like "[God]...has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come;" and "We are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight." If we are looking for ways to brighten our new year, to be assured that we are not simply biding our time until something else--brighter days, a better season, whatever--comes along, 2 Corinthians 2 is as good a location as any to begin.  While we live in the darkness mere faith, which is what we have here on earth, we have been given the Spirit as guarantee that we will someday--oh, that glorious Someday--see face-to-face.

In fact,  we who are in Christ are actually what is new in the darkness of winter.  This is what Paul reminds us in verse 17.  "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here!"  In these first few days of the second decade of this century, bear these words well.  You are the new Creation in this world.  In your workplace when the days seem long and the work sometimes tedious--you are the new Creation.  In your family, when the light fades quickly each day, making tempers fray, if you are in Christ, you are the New thing your family is waiting for. The old is gone--the year, maybe, but you, definitely!--and the new is come--the year, yes, but also you.

Clothed in Him and His saving mercies. As was written in Lamentations 3:23 hundreds of years before His birth, those mercies aren't merely a one-time thing, or a once-yearly thing, but are new every morning.  So, today, this year, be His--with His mercies--new every morning.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Faith vs. Knowledge

We sent the Bug (SK) back to school this morning.  She filled up our Toyota Matrix with new and old possessions and drove back to her life, leaving her Subaru, which she calls Gladys, for Beve to get fixed.  Sometime in December, she'd bumped into a pile of heavy snow which had become as hard as ice, knocking something loose inside a wheel-well. my procrastinating husband and daughter (I love them very much, really I do) left it until yesterday to deal with the issue, then realized a solution wouldn't be possible in our own driveway.  So we're doing the ol dosey-doe with vehicles.  It isn't the first time we've had to do this, and likely won't be the last.

So off she drove to her last five months of college, to the last of the easy community that a college campus provides.  Beyond May, everything is very foggy...as life is at every new turn.  My older brother starts a new job February 1st, one which will require one to two years at a time on an assignment.  I asked him where he'll go first, and he told me all he knows is that he goes to the company headquarters in Cincinnati for a week first.  Talk about flying off into the fog. Presumably he'll know a little more before he kisses his wife goodbye that day, but still...

Last night Beve and I talked long past his bedtime and even past mine about a decision he's trying to make professionally. We didn't come to any conclusion and when Beve finally drifted off, I thought of how much I wished we could see the future more clearly.   To know...to really know what we should do, what God's perfect, pleasing-to-Him will is.  I remember being a young Christian and thinking about the difference between knowing something and believing something.  The things I knew--like chairs could hold my weight or a raw egg dropped on a cement floor would break--weren't things I had to think about or ponder.  They just were.  Never in my life (at that point) did I worry about what chair to sit in... Such knowledge as this (and I'm not talking about complex thought here) has no strength behind it.  It simply is.  It exists, we accept it and rely on it.

Faith asks so much of us.  It is not the certainty of a chair or a broken egg, but the certainty of things unseen, as Hebrews 11 says.  We live with our weight resting on what we believe...or, rather, who we believe.  And this resting weight has the strength of steel.  I believed it instinctively as a baby Christian of 14.  And I've seen it over and over in the 39 years.

Take my older brother's situation as an example. Last summer, as we were whiling away our days around our mother's bed, he talked a bit about how he might want to finish out his career. Early in the fall, through no effort on his part, an international company in came calling--looking for a person with R's exact 'tool-set.'  When R first talked to me about it, we talked about how to know what God wanted for him.  As we all are at times, he was worried about making the wrong decision.  And easy for me to say, since it wasn't my life, I said, "Ask God to close the dang door!"  I must have said that exact phrase about half a dozen times.  Maybe even a bit forcefully.  I can be like that at times.  Anyway, R stepped out in faith and did exactly that.  He (with his wife) decided to continue through the process until or unless God closed the (dang) door.  The weight of their faith resting on Him.  And...He kept opening wider and wider doors.

It's not rocket science.  It's faith.  We have the distinct advantage over those who do not have God behind their every decision. Those decisions have to be made alone in the fog, and only what they know can help them.

Yes, I still maintain that faith is stronger--infinitely stronger--than infinite knowledge can ever be.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

A confession

Years ago, when Beve and I were less gray (him), less saggy (me), a lot younger (as were our chublets) and a whole lot more energetic, we ceremoniously cut up our credit cards one day.  It was just some random afternoon while said chublets were playing outside and we were fed up to our eye-teeth with the bondage we felt from those credit cards.  It was both freeing and terrifying.  I remember how the scissors struggled to cut those cards and how symbolic that seemed, because the struggle to do it, to let go and fight against the tide of the credit card culture we live in, just about did me in.  Beve seemed both more convinced of the wisdom of our course and inured to the culture.  So those cards went in the trash.

But this isn't a story of success from that moment on.  Once we moved from the place and season--and I left a job to return to graduate school--we allowed credit to re-enter our lives.  First it was a small thing.  Just an expense here or there, which we carefully paid for every month.  Then, one thing led to another, a big expense came for which we had no reserves, then another...and we were sucked in.  Paying for things without the income to cover them.  And feeling the pain of it each month as we stared at the bills and wondered how on earth we'd gotten so far in the red, and how we'd find our way back to black.

This isn't something that is unique to us.  I realize that, but it feels like a private shame.  Something none of us admit straight out, unless you happen to be extremely good at money and accounting.  Like our oldest daughter.  Others I know as well.  But we aren't.  Sometimes, when I think of all the ways I fail God, I'm certain that my failure to do well with the resources He's given us is chief among them.  I try very hard not to even think about it...except for that day each month when I have to face the bills along side the income and can't work out how it's supposed to work out. Sigh.

So one night, several months ago, when you might have thought me deeply asleep, I was awakened suddenly with the strong word that we had to pay off those credit cards and cut them up again.  Even my (beloved) Nordstrom card which (to my shame) I didn't cut up that first time, but hid in my dresser, since I'd had it since long before even Beve was in my life.  And the others.  Not that there are so many, but a significant amount of debt has accumulated on those cards.  So...rather than save for retirement, or go on a trip, or do something wonderful, or something else, we took a portion of the money my parents left me, and yesterday I paid off our credit-debts.  Completely.  I realize how fortunate we are that we were given this money to do this, and though it's probably not what Mom would have wished us to do, I remember how Dad struggled with bills each month, and know he would be glad that his money could help us this way.  It's a gift that I do not--dare not!!!--take lightly.

We begin 2011 credit-debt free.  And a HUGE weight is off my shoulders this morning as a result.  But...the fight begins anew this morning, because the insidious temptation to spend more than we have surrounds us.  And it is clear that this is an area of weakness for us.  So though I am not a resolution-maker, because by their very nature they are destined for failure, I am a firm believer in the power of God over the weaknesses in my life.  The Holy Spirit can and will shore up the weak places in Beve and me.  And part of that shoring comes with confession. So I use this post as my confession both of my past failures and my desperate need for His ongoing presence in this area of my life.

And...I ask you to consider what He might be asking of you as you start this year. What is/are the weak place(s) of your life that only He can fill up and shore up?  What are the ongoing failures that haunt you?  He is able to keep you from falling.  As you start this new year, let your imagination run wild with who and what He might make of you.

My losses

We watched the ball drop in Times Square with a bit of bubbly in our plastic champagne glasses, ready to toast the New Year.  Beve's mom bought these glasses for us many years ago when our children were tiny, and they've made their appearance at every celebration since.  It seems a little silly now, since our 20-something kids would be less likely to break their glasses than Beve or I would, but I just can't bear to get better ones now.  So we toast the year, tipping our plastic glasses, watching confetti fall on the crowds and wondering at the garbage being left in the streets.  That, too, is a tradition.

I've still been thinking of the past year today, which isn't surprising, of course.  It's always easier to look backwards.  Recently the very short chapter of Jeremiah 45 has felt appropriate for this last year.  What God said to Baruch, He could very well be saying to me at the end of 2010.  I am indeed worn out with groaning and find no rest.  2010 was a year of pain added to sorrow for our family.  Some of this pain I wrote about, some I could not.  But the Lord promises Baruch that though He uproots what has been planted and overthrows what has been built, and even bring disaster on all people, "wherever you go, I will let you escape with your life."

That's it.  That's the sum of Jeremiah 45.  This small warning, prophecy and promise.  And maybe that's all I can say, that we've escaped this year with our lives.  That, and that we did it together, Beve and I--which is no small thing.  The deaths--Beve's sister, my mother--the illnesses, the surgeries, the care-taking responsibilities, the work, failures, setbacks, etc.  Why I'm just about ready to list such things as my II Cor 11 'credentials', ala Paul.  My losses as credentials. 

Yes, my credentials.  But also my credentials as loss...Hmm, perhaps not II Corinthians, but Philippians 3.  Listen to these words: "Whatever things were gain to me I count them as loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of of things and count it as rubbish that I may gain Him..."

What are these things?  Well, earlier in Philippians 3, Paul lists his education, his heritage, his zeal.  And I suppose we could each come up with a similar list.  Almost every employer asks us to list our strengths, after all.  What if when asked such a thing, we answered with a list of our troubles?  Our pain?  Read II Corinthians 4, 6, 11 if you want his list.  It's pretty comprehensive, and Paul understands what God does with hardship and trial, that such things really are credentials--indicators of His working.  And here in Philippians he makes it clear that such outer things don't even count.  Not ultimately.  It isn't what pain we suffer, but what God works in us through that pain--His righteousness--that makes us His.  That's the point.  And, therefore...

As the year tips from one to the next, I count all that this last year gave--the good, the bad, the ugly and the beautiful--as gain which I count as loss for the sake of Christ (which sounds strange but actually makes perfect sense.  It's all useful by Him but adds up to nothing in comparison to Him).  And whatever else isn't included, I also count as loss that I may gain Him.

To gain Him, to be found in Him, and escape with my life--which is in Him--this is my aim for 2011.  Not seeking what lies behind, but pressing on to what lies ahead.