Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A wild ride

Stick with me, this will be a bit convoluted for a bit (as I often am...Smile!).  So I've been thinking a lot lately about how I often 'yammer away', as my youngest sister, RE, calls it, about 'walking/living in a manner worthy of the gospel," and how that's all well and good to say, but what, for crying out-loud, does it really mean in our day-to-day, putting-on-clothes, walking-out-the-door and dealing-with-real-people lives? People who, I might add, are not all that easy to deal with much of, or most of, the time?  And what about what it means in our decision-making about what is right and wrong to do and be in our own lives?

So as I've been pondering this, kind of chewing on it, you might say, I was also re-reading Romans 12 the other day after writing about the first couple of verses, and it suddenly struck me (kind of like being hit by a tennis ball, really) that Paul kind of 'yammers away' about certain things over and over in his letters.  So I thought I'd make a chart of these sections. An actual chart on graph paper and everything of these practical sections where Paul clearly tells us how, therefore, we should live, if we really take seriously everything we say we take seriously about Jesus Christ and His Kingdom and all that jazz.  Romans 12, Ephesians 4, Philippians 2 and 4, Colossians 3, 1 Thessalonians 5, 2 Timothy 2 all made my chart.  There are probably other sections, but these are the redundant ones.

And after making this chart I was utterly blown away.  BLOWN away by his redundancy.  But not just his redundancy but what he focuses on and how we so often get it wrong (at least I do, maybe I'm just talking in the mirror here, though I don't think so).  And here's what I learned...

No, let me wait on that a bit while I tell you that I cogitated on it all day yesterday, meaning every hour to write this post, but didn't get to it.  I can't really tell you why.  E had the flu and I had to run to the store for 7-up and Saltines, but that wasn't the reason.  I just had to let it simmer, I suppose.  Then last night, SK called.  In the course of our conversation, she told me that one of her roommates had broken up with her boyfriend because he has been quite disapproving of some of her choices.  He feels that it's completely, utterly, always wrong for Christians to do certain things.  Dress certain ways, drink, etc.  SK and her roomies have some kind of "Hot Hawaiian Guys" calendar in their house that they find totally hilarious.  This now-ex-boyfriend thinks it is causing them temptation.  He has strict rules about what it means to be a Christian so is questioning SK's friend's true righteousness. 

That's exactly what righteousness isn't, I told SK.  I told her about my stumbling into making the chart about living in a manner worthy of the gospel and how illuminating it was.  The common traits in each of these sections of scripture, the core qualities Paul always highlighted and never missed had absolutely nothing to do with what we shouldn't do.  In fact, there's no whiff of judgment in the bunch.  Looking down our noses at each other?  Not for those who want to live like Christ.  Here's what I discovered:
In all these sections, the two common themes are: joy and unity (or peace or harmony between us).  The other repeating characteristics are prayer, love, patience, giving preference to each other, compassion, kindness and gentleness.  I'm talking every single time, he includes at least three of these traits.  The pointing fingers we do at other Christians? That's not walking in a manner worthy of Christ.  The judgment about what churches do (or sing or don't sing), who is allowed to preach or let in the door?  These are patently NOT giving preference to one another or considering others as more important than one's self.  They are not living at peace with each other, and loving each other.  We are to be devoted to one another. DEVOTED.

So then after talking to SK, I went to bed and had a dream that (of all crazy, unfathomable things) I was a landscape architect hired by an entire community to beautify their neighborhood.  There was a big potluck/BBQ out on the street to welcome me and when I asked for a drink, a man put a bottle of beer into my hand.  Then a little, oldish lady stuck her face right into mine and began to call me out for drinking as a Christian.  And I calmly (in a much higher voice than I actually have, which is the way of dreams, right?) told her, "To walk in a manner worthy of Christ has nothing to do with what I put into my mouth buy what comes out of my heart.  Am I loving to my neighbor? Do I live with joy among those He sets me among?  Am I a bringer of peace to the world? By this the Kingdom is extended, and the world changed.  Whether or not I drink this beer will do nothing to bring people to Christ.  My living them as Christ among them will."  The women with this little woman said, "She's telling the truth, Lucy.  Your hard rules keep people from wanting to be like you.  There's nothing in it for them."  Lucy walked away, but a man who"d listened to our conversation said, "Wow, it'll be a wild ride with you in the neighborhood."

And that's the point, though it took a dream to tell me.  We should be the wild ride among our neighbors, the most unexpected of all people, because we love that thoroughly, rejoice with them, hurt with them, are in it--no matter what IT is--with them.

With ourselves?  That's a different matter.  I do believe that God has standards, and that He tells us to "Be Holy as I am Holy."  But...what that means is up to the Holy who dwells in you.  The Holy Spirit, I mean, must (and will, if you let Him) reveal and work out holiness and righteousness in you. Living according to His nudges, pin-pricks and full-throttle pushes in us toward transformation.  Toward others?  Unity, joy, gentleness, compassion, and devotion.  Love liberally.
It'll be a wild ride.

Monday, March 28, 2011

A living sacrifice

Before I climbed out of bed this morning I prayed for SK. Obviously I pray daily for my children, but in this pre-graduation season of her life, SK is walking around with pine-cones in her feet (as she used to call the tingly feeling others might call 'pins and needles', a phrase apt since she lives on a college campus covered with pine cones and needles), waiting for, and worried about what doors God will usher her through for the next chapter of her life.  So I've been opening my eyes to prayer for her each morning, before I even reach for my Bible and let Him open my eyes to Him. 

This morning, as I prayed, the words of Romans 12: 1-2 came rushing through my mind.  Many people know these verses thusly: "Therefore, I urge you brothers, in view of God's surpassing mercy, to present your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God--which is your spiritual worship.  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test what God's will is--His good, pleasing and perfect will."  This is the NIV version of these verses. 
Great stuff.  However, NOT the words that ran through my head, which were: "With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give Him your bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated to Him and acceptable by Him. Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its mold, but let God remold your mind from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves toward the goal of true maturity." ( This is the JB Phillips translation, though, in all honesty, I had to search the house to discover this.  It was just as likely to be the Living Bible Paraphrase.  These two, along with the New American Standard Bible, were the Bibles I wore threadbare when I was a teenager, and did the preponderance of my memorization.)  The point is that these words hit me in the gut this morning, not merely for SK, but also for me as I pray for her.

See, my prayers have been that He give her one of the many internships for which she's applied.  She's been faithful in doing her part, I remind God, and that counts for much.  Then, as I pray, I begin to wrestle with the idea of His will, and I realize that I still--STILL!!!--have this vague notion that somehow His will is contrary to our desires.  I have this sense that our desires--SK's desires--are worldly, and His will is always Kingdom, and never the twain shall meet.  So we must, in the end, sacrifice/surrender our desire, our hopes and dreams to Him, to His will, and only then will He have control.  My notion of this comes straight from the Garden of Gethsemane, of course, where Jesus sweated drops of blood, prayed through the night, gave up rights and went boldly to do The Father's will.  It cost Him everything.  That's what it means to say, "Your will be done, Lord."

And I'm right.  I am. But what is also true is that God doesn't always call us to die to our deepest desires.  I have a story from my past (of course) that I should have been paying attention to.  After Beve told me how he felt about me in India, we flew back to Holland where we were living on a YWAM base, and we quietly began to make plans for our future.  We'd return to the States after finishing our DTS and get married.  Beve had a commitment with a basketball camp which he needed to fulfill for the coming year so this plan made sense.  We strongly felt that God had called us to be married, which dovetailed perfectly with our desires.

However, then the field trip (three to six to year-long terms) opportunities were announced.  One was in a refugee camp in Thailand.  And suddenly I got the notion that I should 'give up' Beve and travel to the Far East to be a missionary, because that had been my plan before I went to Holland.  I worked myself into quite a lather.  It was oh-so sacrificial, and exactly what God's will was supposed to be, right?  Sweating blood, praying all night, oh yeah, I did it all.  And finally, actually talked to a very, very wise older couple in leadership.  They were gentle with me, but were probably shaking their heads at me as well.  Basically said, "God gave you your heart's desire and you want to throw it in His face? Why don't you believe Him when He says His will is good?" I said something about everyone there going on field trips, and how I should too, and they said, "Don't be conformed to this world--even the world this YWAM base."  A weight dropped from me.  Of course. Would my life be more a Kingdom- extending life with Beve, or without Him?  The answer was simple.

And that, I think, is the question.  In what was will SK's life most honor Him? How will she, how will any of us, be a living sacrifice? She must--as we all must--give herself over to that, to living for Him and to Him as a wholly living, breathing testimony that He reigns, to be, as it says, a living sacrifice.  And if she takes care to do her part--to live that--He will absolutely do what is good, meets His demands and leads her toward the goal of spiritual maturity.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Unrequited love

Home alone.
The dogs have been standing on their hind legs, staring out the window since about three, trying to figure out where their people are.  For Pete's sake.  The other day, when Beve was watching TV at one end of the house, E cooking dinner at the other, and I was sewing in a room between, poor Jamaica kept running up and down the hallway, trying to herd us all to one place or another, she didn't care which so long as she could see us all at once.  These dogs just don't settle without their herd all together.  And today--tonight--we're definitely not all together.


I'm thinking today, though, of a dream I had this morning about the first boy I ever liked.  Someone I hardly ever think about these days.  But back in my teen years, I filled pages and pages of my first journals with prayers about him.  Prayers that he'd talk to me, do this, or that with me, but mostly, ultimately, please, oh please, let him like me.
God never answered that prayer.  That boy never liked me.
Yep, my first 'love' was unrequited.  He was the most earnest, godly Christian boy in our high school and I was profoundly drawn to such qualities as a young believer.  To his credit, he was always very kind to me.  More than kind.  He knew (what am I kidding, the whole blame world knew!!!) how I felt about him, but he continued to be the warm and friendly person he was.  Years later, when I'd grown up and over, so to speak, and we were real friends, I told him that if I ever had daughters, I hoped the boys they first 'liked' would be as good to them as he was too me. He got a little embarrassed, in his 'aw-shucks'-ing kind of way, and tried to demur that he knew what I was talking about, but I wouldn't let him.  "Unrequited love, that's what it was." I told him. " And you handled it gracefully." 

So several years later, in one profound moment I've never forgotten, my dad told me that parental love is largely unrequited. To me then, unrequited meant me as a scrawny teenage girl mooning over a boy, who barely notices her, or at least doesn't notice her the way she wishes.  But then I had children.  No, let me rephrase that.  Then I got my first glimpse of my first child.  And fell headlong so far into love that all those dewy-eyed teenage feelings were utterly laughable in the face of that tiny baby.  This is love.  Whatever it takes, wherever it takes us, no matter what she/he/she does, no matter how much it costs me or how much it hurts, I'm in.  And I don't even care, I will never really care, if they love me back, because, of course, they can't.  How could they?  A child shouldn't love her parent in the same way the parents love her.  To expect it or demand it...well, this is the stuff of a tragedy.  And Shakespeare's version ended with a King going mad (King Lear, for those of you not conversant).

As Beve was driving across the state today, I was thinking about this because what he and MG are going to a hearing with our young friend who must face the man who raped her.  What Beve is doing is this kind of parental love that gives and gives without expectation.  That's parental love.  At least, it's what parental love SHOULD be.  My dad's love was like this.  My mom's less so. There was expectation in her love.  And there were times, when I was young, that I thought it'd be a terrible idea to be a mom--especially of girls--because of my relationship with my mother, and her relationship with her mother.  I was scared that poor relationships with daughters was genetic, kind of like the gene for diabetes or high blood pressure.  And even when I had our first child, and she was a girl, I admit, I was scared.  I was so sure I'd screw it up, that my child/children would grow to resent or even hate me.

But I'd forgotten the deeper truth, that the most important unrequited love on earth is that of God for us.  The love that brought Him to earth and gave Him human bones and skin.  And put Him on a cross.  The same love that did all had transformed me.  Had superseded my former life, you might say.  What I might have been, what kind of mother I might have been if He hadn't indwelt me15 years before I had my first child, I can't begin to imagine.  I don't want to imagine, frankly.  It's who He's made me that counts.  I am not the best mother in the world.  Ask my kids.  But I also love them deeply, firmly and without reservation or expectation.  And that's because of His unrequited love for me.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Rants and raves

Years ago I wrote what was one of our favorite Christmas letters of all time.  It was a theme letter, in which I divided the year into "Rants and Raves."  Today, for no particular reason, other than that it's Saturday, I thought I'd post a "Rants and Raves", if not of the year, at least of my current life.

Rants:
  • The redundant commercials during the NCAA basketball tournament, particularly the car insurance one where the woman asks for, and gets, a new and more studly boyfriend.  This makes the boyfriend ask for a hot girlfriend in return, at which point the girlfriend gets bent out of shape that he doesn't find her perfect as she is.  This makes me mad every time I see it.  It's okay for her to care about his hotness factor, but not visa versa?  What a double standard, and how superficial anyway.
  •  The high cost of pet ownership.  Lately, our big Lug has been nickel and dime-ing us to death.  He's currently wearing what we affectionately call "the cone of shame" because he has a laceration in his left eye-ball that isn't healing.  The vet thought he was worrying it, but we know better.  We know that our smaller, more energetic Spaniel continually jumps at his face, trying to rile him to 'love and good works', er, play, and probably exacerbates the eye.  His cone (which looks very much like a pioneer woman's bonnet in shape) protects him from her.  But you should see him try to groom himself through the plastic.  It would be funny, if it wasn't so sad.
  • My dang-iddy-dang-dang leg.  I started a new med and was hopeful that it was actually getting better.  But these last few days I've realized that was just wishful thinking.  There I was getting my hopes up, beginning to dream of finding a job, being able to actually do more than survive my life.  And it's discouraging.
  • Missing a few important 'last' things of SK's college life.  Her last choir concert.  We are so present for our children's 'first' things, but often have no choice but to miss the last things.  In fact, we seldom even know when those last things come.  The last time a child sits on our lap, the last time we feed him or her or the last time we read one a story.  I remember my mother talking about this, in relation to her youngest child, and I vowed to pay better attention.  But there's really no way to do it.  We just live and happily so.  We let our children go, because we're in the business of raising them to be independent.  To be free of us...and if we do our jobs well, we don't let them know that it's hard that their freedom cuts a little.  
Raves:
  •  It's spring. The daffodils are blooming.  Beve and E are mowing lawns again.  Though one might think (by one, I mean Beve) this should be a rant, I love that they come in smelling of grass.  The smell of freshly cut grass is one of my all-time favorite smells in the world.  I remember it on my small children's cheeks when they'd come in after playing outside.  It made me know we were headed toward summer.  And summer...well, I have to admit, if I could always be headed toward summer, I'd be content.
  • SK's graduating from college. Her whole life is spread out in front of her and before it begins she'll be home with us for the summer.  I've missed her, and can hardly wait to be with her for a long expanse of time.  And to see what God has planned for her next.
  • The trips and visits planned for this summer.  They are myriad and varied.  Beve's brother and daughter come from Finland for the summer (she of the aborted Christmas trip).  In July Beve and I will go the east coast to spend a week with his two oldest friends and their wives, some of our very favorite people on the whole earth.  Then my sister and I will meet up in Boston to visit BB and his wife and our nephew and his.  I'll get home from that trip in time to kiss Beve, wash my clothes, then head east of the mountains to see 'the girls', women I've been friends with for 40 years.  Yes, it'll be a rich summer.  I'm looking forward to it.  
  • The books on my Kindle.  I've been squirreling away really meaty books for the long plane rides.  A new memoir by Eugene Peterson called Pastor. Wendell Berry's Imagination In Place. A biography about Cleopatra.  A book by Earnest Shackleton I haven't read.  I'm LOVING the Kindle.  More than I expected.  Yep, I'm a believer.
  • J's finally recovering from his latest surgery and is finally going back to work in a few weeks.  It's been almost a year.  This is such a rave, I can hardly believe it.  Thank God.  Really, thank God.
  • Jesus.  That's it.  Just Jesus.  Need I say more?

 

Friday, March 25, 2011

A very special one

I'm sending off this quilt tomorrow.  It will ultimately belong to a baby I will never know, whose parents I will never meet.  Nevertheless I feel deeply connected to this unborn baby boy and his family.  You see, he will be a much adored, long-waited adopted son.  And I know well what it is to welcome a much adored, long-awaited adopted child into a family.  There are few blessings like it in the world.  In fact, I can think of almost no other human gift that costs so much for one person (or two) and gives so much to others.  Having been on the receiving end of the life-long gift of adoption, I am well-acquainted with the depth of the blessing.  I cannot begin to imagine my life without it.  That is, my life without the gift of my brother (s).  BB not in my life?  No.  He was meant to be my baby brother.  He was always meant for that.

But I have to admit, apart from a few speculative thoughts now and then, I haven't spent much time thinking about the woman/people who gave him up so that he could become my brother.  I am thankful to them, thankful for their willingness to give him the life he's had, to allow him our family, our dad!!! But...what did it cost them?  Has she paid again and again for that sacrifice?  Every year on his birthday, noticing by his absence?  I'd like to tell her, if I could, that her sacrifice was not in vain, and that I pray she hasn't suffered for it.  I pray God has given back to her for what she willingly gave up to us.

I'm thinking about this, because this quilt was made for the unborn baby of a college friend of my younger daughter.  A young Christian woman who made a mistake, as one might call it, has found herself living with the rather obvious and life-changing consequence of that mistake.  She is not the first, nor will she be the last, Christian to make such a mistake.  We like to think that Christians do not sin.  And we also like to think that if we do sin, God will protect us from the consequences of such things.  However, neither of these assumptions are true.  We sin.  Christians are capable--and have committed over the centuries--every sin known to humans and then some.  And sometimes there are natural consequences of that sin that we cannot simply will away by asking forgiveness.  Sperm meets egg, and begins to divide, and so life begins, exactly how God intends life to be made, of course.

This is the situation SK's college friend found herself in.  After the tears had dried, and the recriminations had faded away, she felt strongly that she couldn't keep the baby. To keep it would be to offer a compromised life--for him and for herself.  And this, she knew, would not be good for anyone, would certainly not be the act of a loving mother. On the heels of that, she also realized that her strong pro-life beliefs weren't merely theoretical but about to be put to the test. She would be pregnant on a Christian university campus, then give up the baby.  However, this is what she had no doubt that God meant for her to do.

It has not been easy.  Of course.  I don't know her, but SK, who gave her a huge pile of all her loosest clothing, has shared some of the struggles.  So a month ago, as I was praying for this young woman, I had the strong desire to make a quilt for the baby.  I asked SK if it would be weird, and she asked her friend.  Her friend said she'd LOVE to have a quilt to send with the baby when he goes to his family.  She carefully picked out a Christian home for him.  And as I made the quilt, I was swamped with the sense of blessing that he will be for them. He is, after all, the beauty, the unbelievable beauty from the ashes of this mistake, if not for SK's friend, certainly for his family.  They have no idea yet--how could they?  But it's breath-taking to imagine that this baby, so completely NOT purposed by SK's friend, is so completely part of God's purpose for his family's life.  Exactly how our God works, I think, that He can take something that begins in 'wrong', is marinated in struggle, and create from it, hope and joy, and ultimately, new life.  In one way or another, it's what He's always doing in the middle of our darkest, most troubling times.  Isn't He?

As a side note, as I bought a few pieces of the fabric at a local quilting store, the woman who cut the fabric for me asked what I was making.  When I explained, she told me she'd been a birth mom herself, and that she thought it was a spectacular thing I was doing for this young woman.  "You should write a book," she told me.  I don't know about that, but what I do know is that all the days God has for this baby have already been written, while he's still in his birth-mother's womb...and when he's in His adopted mother's arms as well.

Have a wonderful life, little one.  A blessed and joyful life.  You have been prayed for, protected and loved...and the sacrifice she's making she's making out of love.  The truest act of a mother's love--to consider what is best for her son.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Oh, the madness

E and I are in our TV room watching basketball.  This is a sentence I could have written just about any time in the month of March.  Any March, come to think of it.  Years ago there was a commercial on TV about "Bracket-ville", with Coach K, Dickie V, and a host of other hoop stars--both coaches and players--sitting on porches, strolling along sidewalks, etc, of an imaginary all-basketball-all-the-time place.  You know, Bracket-ville.  If you've ever been in our home in March, you've visited Bracketville. It's honestly like we've packed our belongings and moved to an alternate universe during these Ides of March when the sun might shine or the wind howl but we barely leave this room, let alone the house.  I exaggerate, of course.  Beve goes to work--though he'd rather not--and the mowing business has actually started for the season, but the main event always happening in gyms across the country, and we're careful not to miss. There have been years when Beve's felt a 'cold' coming on that first week of the NCAA tournament, and one year he even scheduled knee surgery so he was laid up (but not too out of it to watch) when more games are played in a single day than there are hours of daylight.

We know teams and coaches and players by name, and story-lines that pull on our heart-strings (whatever heart-strings actually are)--players whose mothers raised them, whose parents are dead, who have overcome immense odds to get where they are, towering over mere mortals on a basketball court.  There have been Cinderellas who became perennials--Gonzaga, to name one--and Davids who fell Goliaths--George Mason of 2006 making the final four was such a stone-heaving David.  We know the players so well by the time March finishes, we're on first name basis with a whole tourney of them:  This year's lot features Kemba (from U Conn) and The Jimmer (BYU) to name two of the more unique names, neither of whom need last names to identify them anymore. But though we've seen it all, the definite article before a college student's name is definitely new.

However, though I've thrived in my marriage in part because I love, rather than resent, Beve's love of hoops, some of these games-how can I say this diplomatically so that I can still live in this house-- become long, boring, and all look alike to me.  But you didn't hear me say it.  OK?  The thing is, I like to have a dog in the fight, if you understand that reference.  Game after game after game where I don't know anything about the programs or care who wins are a little too much up and down and shoot and swat and dribble and pass and shoot and foul and sweat and run for me.  And older men on the sidelines yelling at them like their lives depend on the outcomes of all this running and shooting and dribbling and sweating. And you know what? For some of those older men, their lives do depend on the outcomes--at least their professional lives do.

But, give me a team I care about, and I'm pretty much all in. All in so much that I can hardly stand it if the game is on the line and a couple of free throws--or even one!--can win it.  I pace, have to leave the room, peek out through my fingers around the corner because I am that kind of fan.  And the team I care most about has been known to "Coug" it more than once over the course of my life.  For the uninformed that verb means to find some way to lose a game, even when a win seems a sure thing.  Last night, though, in exactly this situation, even after NOT making the crucial free throws that would have put the game away in regulation, the Cougars of WSU managed to extend their season.  Sure, they aren't playing in the Big dance.  But they're still playing, and that means we're still cheering for them.

And that's what it's about.  Having a dog in the fight, right? Or perhaps it might be better to say having a God in the fight.  A God whose name definitely has the definite article in front of it.  Hmm, come to think of it, He has the name that is above every name.  And the fight He's in--the fight for lives--is the only game in town the universe.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In a shed

Beve went to Lowe's the other day.  He had to pay a small bill.  But while he was there, he wandered through the tile section, checked out the cooktops, sat in a few pieces of patio furniture, then wandered out to the garden sheds.  We actually do need to replace our garden shed.  The old aluminum shed in our backyard is no longer waterproof, which tends to be a problem for some of the things we have stored in there. So Beve's had his shopping hat firmly on recently as he's looked for the best deal.  This means getting the size he wants for the best price.  Well, you know the gig.  Beve's a shopper, and I gladly leave it to him.

He was opening up the door of one such shed outside of Lowe's Saturday morning when he saw a backpack just inside the door.  He reached inside to lift it out, thinking it had been accidentally left there when he realized it wasn't there accidentally but had been placed there by the person sleeping at the back of the shed.   I have to tell you my tall, strong husband isn't easily spooked but he was a little startled by seeing a person in what he expected to be an empty shed. But almost immediately it made perfect sense: a spot out of the rain for one of the myriad homeless people in our community. 

Bellingham is a haven for the homeless, actually.  The most recent count I could find was from 2006 and put the estimate of homeless people in our community at 1200.  And on cold days, there are only so many places to get out of the weather.  The public library is one of them.  I know this personally because I'm a weekly patron of our library.  Every time I'm there, most/all of the computers are being used by someone who seems to have all their worldly goods beneath their feet.  I actually love this.  I love that libraries provide services that do not discriminate based on wealth.  It's impossible to know why all these people are homeless.  It's easy believe that homelessness is caused by drug or alcohol abuse, but this is an oversimplification of the problem.  Too many people have lost their jobs, which resulted in the loss of their homes, to be this naive.  However, even if such dire straits has come via drug or alcohol addiction, the plight is no less real. I had a brother who was homeless.  He carried his life around with him in a gym bag.  One scruffy blanket, one old beach towel, and a single pair of jeans was all he owned.  My brother had a full-time job with benefits, but the wage didn't extend far enough for him to actually live on it. He was a good employee, a hard worker at a job he loved.  And I believe there are thousands out there like him.  Wanting more, but not able to make their money stretch.

I confess I do not think often enough of the poor among us.  I have friends who do.  I know people who have passion for caring for the homeless in our community.  They'd practically give the shirts off their backs just to give one more meal to someone in need.  And I remember the days when Beve used to buy bags of hamburgers for those panhandling on the streets.  He had/has a hard time just giving them money, not knowing what might be done with the cash, but those burgers were gladly received--and eaten.  And every year Beve has a few students who are in this predicament.  A few years ago, a couple of students were actually squatting in an abandoned house here in town. Getting themselves up and to school each day.  Beve didn't hear about it until almost the end, when someone reported it and the cops came and kicked them out.  I realize this might sound wrong, but I admired those kids.  They could have simply skipped the school part, without an adult there to force the issue, but they wanted to have better lives.  So they pushed themselves and each other.  And I felt badly when I heard about it, and yes, badly too, when I heard they'd been 'shut down' and spread out.  They who weren't related had become each other's family, and were making it.  What was so wrong with that?  I know, I know.  But still, there was something wonderful about the little community they'd created together.

We don't do enough for those around us.  That's the bottom line.  We see them on the street corners and become inured to them holding up their signs, or pushing their overloaded shopping carts.  But we should be convicted by those things.  Convicted by the sight of a person sleeping in a garden shed at Lowe's.  These are 'the least of these' Jesus spoke of.  How will He judge me if I don't see Him in their faces?

Monday, March 21, 2011

The magic kingdom

SK is in So Cal right now, on choir tour with Whitworth Choir, and spent a very cold and rainy day at the Magic Kingdom.  I suppose if a person has to be cold and wet and outside all day, there are worse places than Disneyland to struggle through the trauma of it.  As E would say, "Sounds like a first-world problem to me."

I/We have a rather long, sometimes humorous relationship with Disneyland.  I'm a great fan of amusement parks.  Funny about that.  I do not like heights, especially don't like high, windy mountain roads in automobiles, but put me on a roller-coaster, and I'll ride all day, with my eyes wide open and my hands raised.  There might even be a scream or two--at least there would have been before I became old, wise and dignified.  Anyway, I think this love of such places began before I was born.  According to family lore, when my mother was nine-and-a-half months pregnant with me, she went with my dad, brother and her parents to the Land of Disney for the day. She was tired of sitting around waiting, and back in the olden days, as it were, there were no restrictions on pregnant women riding rides, so Mom gleefully rode the Matterhorn, which was the largest, newest ride in the park at the time.  I was born the next day.

I went to Disneyland a couple of other times as a little girl, but the next time I have a strong memory of it was twenty years later when I was visiting my sister, The Dump, at Cal Tech (have I ever mentioned that I come from a fairly smart family?).  One of the first people I met at Cal Tech was Dump's new boyfriend, whom I'll call Eric (since that's his name).  I'm not proud of this now, but I was appalled by Eric.  He was just so, so...how shall I say it?  Nerdy?  Strange?  Incapable of social engagement?  I don't really remember anymore.  I do remember that he had one eye that was cast oddly, so I wasn't ever quite sure if he was looking at me or not. I'm pretty sure I was neither kind nor tactful when I got Dump alone. Anyway, one day while we were there, we went to Disneyland with Eric.  And this is the really bad part.  Dump and I spent the entire day at Disneyland speaking German.  Just so Eric couldn't understand what we were saying.  Honestly, I can't think of anything I've ever done that was quite so downright mean.  Unfortunately, as I'm writing about it, I can hardly keep from giggling thinking about it.  How ridiculously immature.  (Obviously, Eric and Dump didn't last, though they went on to be great friends and he is quite happily married, I believe.  Thankfully!)

Fifteen years later, my own family spent a few days in the magic Kingdom over 4th of July week, with 100,000 of our closest friends.  I was the tour leader of a choir my close friend KM directs (and E sang in), so didn't really have much time with our other children, being too busy wandering between groups of children in matching clothing.  I did, however, manage to ride a few rides.  At one point, I caught up to JM (K's husband), who was with a group of kids about to ride the then new Indiana Jones ride.  I cut right in line next to them.  While we waited in line, we began to smell something, causing us the natural reaction of lifting our feet to check who had stepped in dog-doo.  But seriously, dog-doo in Disneyland?  No possible way.  Then we saw it.  Er, him.  Right in front of us was a grown man, a tourist with a camera around his neck (but then, who exactly ISN'T a tourist at Disneyland?) with a GIANT brown splotch on the back of his pants.  I am not making this up.   Poor man.  But still, can you imagine?  About that time we got to the point where the line divided to get into the ride.  When that man went right, you can bet we (and quite a stream close to us) went left. Just think of the seat after that.  On second thought, don't!

That same trip, because the choir was singing at Disneyland, we 'got' to walk in the back-lot, or behind the tall walls at Disneyland.  Every so often as we were guided through the maze of stalls and alley-ways, the escort made us stop.  The children in our group made this a necessity.  You see, there is a strict policy at Disneyland of never allowing children to see any character without their heads on.  So the dwarves, Dopey, and Mickey himself had to scurry out of sight, presumably carrying their heads, before we could pass their way.  I'm pretty sure they fooled all of us.

Six years ago, we returned to Disneyland with Dump and her sons. It was Christmas week, and everything was beautifully coiffed for the season.  Unfortunately, poor SK had, of all things, a nasty in-grown toe-nail we had neglected to take care of before heading south.  She honestly could barely walk, and the thought of an entire day was sheer torture.  So we rented a wheelchair.  And this is when the fun began.  For one thing, there were some unexpected benefits to having a 'disabled' person in our group.  The ride operators took one look at her and hustled us to the front of the ride. It was quite the boon.  Beve took SK with him on a whole slew of rides even when she was tired, just for that reason.  At another point, when we were down at the riverfront, a blues quartet was singing.  We had SK parked off to the side as we listened.  Unexpectedly, the lead singer moved over and began singing a rather sweet song to SK. Beve, Dump and I couldn't look at her as she sat there.  SK smiled but inside was incredibly embarrassed.  It was clear the group thought she had a wasting disease of some kind.  Poor thing. "Get me out of here," she said afterwards.  She didn't want to stand up and walk, though she had part of the day, because she didn't want them to feel badly.

Yep, the strangeness of our times at the Magic Kingdom.

That's it.  I realize I should have some kind of spiritual message about it.  But all I can say is that I'm thankful that the real Kingdom is built on the Rock, and not such shifting sands as this.  It's fun and games, but also smoke and mirrors, and, in the end, signifying nothing.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

24


It's the first day of spring.  Twenty-four years ago today, Beve and I walked into a hospital in Tacoma, WA and by noon, had welcomed our one and only son into his breathing-outside-my-body life.  It was the best of the three birth-days I experienced, neither too tired from a long labor, nor in too much pain from too little anesthesia.  J would say that this might be the only time he caused me the least amount of pain of the three of them, but that's because he tends to be a pessimist.  In truth, he's always been a bright light in my life.  So much like me, it's sometimes like talking to myself to have a conversation with him.  And physically, he is the child whose genes are most easy to see.  He's built like my brother, with Beve's eyes and my nose, and the hairiness of my father's family (sorry, J!).

So without further ado, a look through J's life:
This is my all-time favorite baby picture of any of my children, the night my father met my son. Dad had just gotten home from a Boy Scout meeting (which, I suppose, is obvious!), and for a one month-old baby, J is so alert and present. I love how intent they are on each other's faces. Dad's look is so familiar to me here--I think I saw his look at things this intently about a million times in my life.  I also feel sad to see it, though, because Dad and J only had ten years to know each other, and Dad was such a quiet man that J doesn't have a strong memory of him.  I wonder how that might have changed for J--and all the grandchildren--if Dad had lived to see them become the great young adults they are today.  He would be so awed by them, so glad to have the deep, far-reaching conversations they all love to have.  J is like my dad (and Beve's dad, for that matter) in that he has integrity, and, as my brother said the other day, a strength to handle unrelentingly difficult things rather stoically.  Because of this similarity, Dad would have really 'gotten' J.
 This is J with his cousin LA.  They are six weeks apart in age, were adorable little ones, all smiley and happy. Notice how J's reaching over to take whatever she's holding.  A prescient moment, I think.  Once he got beyond the playing simultaneously to playing with other stage, he still liked other children's toys best.

Beve holding his son in typical fashion (at the cabin on Whidbey Island).  Each child spent a lot of time cuddled just so safely against their daddy's chest.  And wow, wasn't Beve thin back then?  He's not exactly chubby now, but good grief, he was lean...and those sunglasses.  And yes, kids, he did have dark brown hair once.
 The fruits of our first garden.  This is another of my favorite pictures.  It's telling about J as well.  They each have a carrot to eat, but J would rather hold up the big one like a prize than just munch on the carrot.  I love SK's curls, E's pose, and the fact that J has the carrot top in his hair without it bothering him.  So little bothered J as a little boy.  The girls were finicky, liked to be clean, wanted things to be just so, but he didn't care about clean clothes or whether his shoes were on the right feet.  He never had a high, baby voice, just a deep, loud baritone, and I'm pretty sure he couldn't have whispered if his life depended on it.  There was no walk in J as a little boy, and walls' functions were primarily to stop him when he ran.  Once he talked E into dragging SK in her infant seat up the stairs (head-down) while I was in the bathroom, and another time he proudly told me he'd climbed out the window in E's bedroom (while he was supposed to be napping) to retrieve the toy he'd thrown out onto the roof.  Incorrigible.  No wonder Beve has gray hair!
Christmas after Christmas, under the tree were various costumes of war for our son.  Yes, I realize that many parents refuse to allow their children weapons of any kind. But bananas, hotdogs, forks, table knives, sticks, stuffed animals, Legos, building blocks, etc. can all become guns to a child like J.  So we allowed for the games--knights of the round table, cowboys of the old west.  Dragon-slayers.  These were all games, and never translated to a more violent nature in him than he would have had otherwise.  In the background of this second picture, by the way, is Grampie, still tall and slim, talking to JJ, the W cousin who is just six weeks younger than J.
Our 3rd grade son spent a lot of time reading, playing sports...and talking to the principal.  There was always something going on that J was involved in.  Nothing that made the principal worry that J'd become a real problem (I was working at the school at the time), but J was so completely certain about what was right and wrong in every situation that he got himself in trouble.  He'd stand up to kids who were being mean, tell them what he thought, and that came back to bite him more than once.  Starting then, but even into high school.  J's just never, ever been able to abide that people cheat and lie and try to get away with things that aren't right.  His moral compass is as perfectly true as anyone's I've ever known. It worried me when he was little, because, for all his rough and tumble ways, there was a sensitive spirit inside that felt everything deeply, that was troubled by the meanness of others, and worried about how people treated those who weren't as popular or smart or whatever else counted in his peer group.
I thought I should include one picture of the five of us (with two of our earlier dogs--my sweet Jemima, the lab puppy, and Sassy, the Lhasa). This is from the summer we took a trip across BC, into Alberta, down through Montana and home with good friends.  The summer of 1999.  J was 12.  You can tell by the way he's holding his left arm that it's after the shoulder injury that changed his life.  He'd spent almost an entire year with that arm in a sling, hoping it'd heal well, though it was not to be. (By the way, this picture was taken at the home of Eugene and Jan Peterson.  Do you recognize that name?  He's fairly famous in Christian circles as the author of The Message, though calling him the author isn't exactly right.)


Beve and J have taken two big trips together. Notice J wore a WSU hat on each trip! First, my men went to Washington DC with my mom and two other Crain cousins one hot, sticky summer.  Beve was there to help when Grammacy was out-of-hand emotionally, and to be a stabilizing person for our son.  J and my mom had a rough go of it.  Well, she almost always had a rough go of it with him.  Her loss, we've always said.  But the trip was mostly great for the rest of them, other than Beve having a Meniere's attack, which landed him in an ER, and kind of put a damper on their last day.  Well, that and the electrical storm when they flew into DC. Then there was LA having to share a room with Grammacy, whose snoring kept her awake all night, every night. Hmm, Come to think of it, there were a whole lot of hard moments on that trip.  Maybe the best we can say is that they survived it, and have the pictures to prove it.  J's favorite part was the Halocaust museum, though favorite is an odd word to call it.  A couple of years later, Beve and J went to Germany together with J's high school German class.  J is a history major now, has always been passionate about WWII, so German was the obvious language to learn, and the trip an easy choice.  They were both very moved by Auschwitz.  It is a transformative experience.  One I hope to have someday.

J.  24 years.  He's spent so much all of the last year trying to get healthy so it feels sometimes like he isn't getting anywhere.  I know he feels that, anyway.  But I have great faith that there is a purpose and plan in all of this.  God created J so perfectly, and knows exactly what he needs to become the man He intends.  This year seems like a waste to J, I know it does. But I believe it has served a purpose we might not understand for years.  Never-the-less, I pray that being 24 will mean fewer surgeries (like NONE!!!!), fewer medications, and less of what might be considered treading water.  Here's the thing, though.  Whatever happens, I am certain that J will continue to have the integrity, the strong moral compass and sensitivity he's shown his whole life.  Those are great traits.  And may God greet him in this year in new and decisive ways. 

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The try

My sister, the Dump, called me yesterday and, as usual, our conversation was a long and windy road. Along with talking about our children, her 'boyfriend' (which is a very strange thing to call a man in his fifties), you know, the usual, we also spoke of such esoteric matters as how we don't actually think of ourselves in terms of our own names.  I realize there are people in the world who use the third person to think of themselves and, presumably, they refer to themselves as Snoop Dog, Ali, or whoever.  But we ordinary people simply live inside our own heads and think of ourselves without a name whatsoever.  This may or may not make sense to you, depending on what kind of person you are, but it's the kind of thing the Dump and I talk about about.  We've been known to have long conversations about the gender of numbers as well.  This assigning gender to numbers is part of synesthesia, which means the personification of numbers, days, months, and letters.  For the record, the for me, 1,2,3, and 7 are female, though 1 might be as close to neuter as there is.  4,5,6,8,9 are definitely male. And, come to think of it, I know the genders of all of days and months as well. Apparently it's something a person has or doesn't.

All of these kind of strange conversations are interesting to us, but have absolutely no value other than that.  However, almost always, something comes up that really makes me think.  Yesterday she told me she'd been thinking of a partial quote--'lives of quiet desparation', which was so familiar to me I kept wanting to reach out and catch the rest of it, but couldn't quite.  I hate that feeling.  It's right there, I knew it and knew I knew it but couldn't put my brain on it.  Then finally, there it was.

From Walden by Henry David Thoreau: "Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to their deaths with their song still in them."

It takes one's breath away, doesn't it?  I thought about the truth of this sentence the rest of the day, of the things people do to keep this desperation at bay--self-medicate, over-achieve, live on the edge, play it safe, think out of the box, and all the other hackneyed phrases that mean not facing what is empty at the center of their very souls.  Because I write in a journal and also blog, I can't quite remember where I wrote this, so forgive me if I am redundant, but the word people most often use about their life and change and becoming better, having more, etc. is "TRY."  We spend so much on the 'try', so to speak. People try to lose weight, change their attitudes, love their spouses, kids and parents; try to be better employees or save more or...well, you get the idea.  Yesterday as I thought about this idea of lives of quiet desperation, I thought of the word TRY. 

And I'm not merely talking about non-believers.  There's no question that those who are not His must expend their own effort to change their lives.  They are all they have, if you know what I mean.  But the whole point of the Incarnation is that human effort is useless.  We can try and try and try and still 'fall short of the glory of God,' as Romans puts it.  If our effort was enough, if the 'try' could do it, He wouldn't have had to come.  But try fails.  Because there is sin in it.  However, until a person has been redeemed, transformed, and indwelt by God Himself, personal effort is all there is.  It's why it's so essential to extend the Kingdom to those around us.  That's the only hope our fellows have.

However, what is more troubling--for myself as well--is that those of us who are His continue to expend our own effort in life. We have the Holy Spirit of God Himself within us, but live as though we do not.  There is no reason we should live lives of quiet desperation.  The verse that kept going around inside my head in contrast to this Walden quote is from Ephesians 1: 18-20.  Paul prays that "the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength that raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at the right hand in the heavenly realms."

Think about this idea for a moment. The power that is not simply available but IS ours is the SAME as the power that conquered death, destroyed Satan's hold over us, and made Jesus ascend into the heavens.  Why would we EVER simply try to do something when we have this power not just possible but within us in the Holy Spirit?  Is our 'try'--our effort--a form of unbelief and therefore a sin?  It does appear so. Philippians 2 tells us to "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose."  We tend to focus on the first half of this sentence to the exclusion of the second.  But the only way to work out our salvation is to trust in and give over to--yes, surrender to!--God who works within us.

Then going to our death with our song still in us?  By no means.  His song can't be contained.  "Let the message of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms and hymns and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him."  Colossians 3: 16-17

Thursday, March 17, 2011

A theology of sorts

While I was working on one of my recent quilts, I began thinking about a 'theology of quilting', so to speak, though that's not quite the right word for it.  But I thought I'd share this photographic version of it.  In the beginning there's a whole, unblemished piece of fabric that is the inspiration. By itself it is lovely.  And perhaps useful--as a tablecloth, for example.  But only in a limited way.


A pattern is chosen, and other fabrics are added, which will create the quilt. 

And then the cutting begins.  I love cutting the fabric.  It's satisfying because it means the work is beginning.  Even when I can't completely visualize how each piece will work to make the whole, I know these small squares, triangles, or whatever, have purpose.  Yes, that's it, there is purpose in these cuts.  And if the blade is sharp and the ruler straight, the fabric cuts clean and square.
Then the sewing begins.  In the quilt I made with this fabric, small squares were sewn to the corners of large ones, and these were the corners cut off.  These scraps of fabric will go in my scrap drawer, saved for a later day when I might need triangles just this size and color.  Though they do not currently have a purpose, they will not be wasted. 
However, this is trash.  Cut off, and thrown away, unnecessary for this or any other project. 
The square. A building block for a quilt (not ironed here, so it isn't laying flat, but you get the idea).  With three important instruments.  The machine, pins (which, actually, I almost never use in quilting) and a stitch ripper (which I definitely do use).  Think with me for a moment about these things, as well as the cutting tools from the earlier photos.  All have the property of piercing fabric one way or another.  To put together or tear apart it takes piercing.  Pain, if the fabric could speak.
The quilt is in strips now.  Squares have been lined up so that the seams are straight, and if the sewing is done correctly (exactly 1/4" seams), these corners will line up to create this pattern perfectly.
The borders have been added now. The quilt is a whole thing.  All the planning, cutting, sewing (and sometimes, stitch-ripping) have created this.  It is not the same as the whole piece of fabric it was in the beginning, but it is also beautiful.  And now has a purpose.  It will cover someone who needs covering, will comfort her when she's feeling sad and alone. 

This quilt reminded me very much of the young woman for whom I made it.  Her life has been ripped and torn and created from pieces so pierced you might think a person could not survive.  But she has.  And every stitch in her life, every small square that has gone into the quilt that makes up the person she has become, is stronger because it's stitched to the whole by thread governed by God's hands.  That's why I think this is such an apt analogy.  We so often look at the cut places and wonder how God will use it.  We look at what He's taken away and wonder what purpose He has for it.  But His hands are the ones controlling our cut places, and He definitely has a stash drawer for future projects with those things in our lives we think have been simply taken away from us.  God does not waste anything.

And is always, always in the business of making beautiful quilts of purpose from the  'fabric of our lives.'


And now, this gratuitous picture of Jamaica because she got her hair cut scalped this week. As with oh-so-many things in our lives (like my own hair!), we tend to let her go rather a long time between cuts, so this time we thought maybe we should just have her cut short all over, rather than giving her the traditional Springer cut, which I love--you know, long feathers on her legs and belly.  As I was vacillating about it, the groomer told E and me that about 85% of their Springer owners don't let their dogs have Springer cuts.  A crying shame, if you ask me.  And apparently, Jamaica feels the same way...or as we now call her, Naked Maica, because she's cut so short her chest and belly are pink.  And she sits across the room staring at me disgustedly, and I swear (if I swore, which I rarely don't, though more than when my kids where kids) she's saying, "How could you have done this to me?"  Yesterday, when she went outside, she began to sit on the grass, and immediately lifted her bum up, like, "Why is that so cold on my fur?"  Poor Naked Maica.  On the plus side, her beautiful markings are very easy to see. And she looks like the puppy she acts like, rather than the 4-year-old adult dog she's supposed to be.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Insomnia

I'm a past-grand-master of the international society of insomniacs (or would be if there was such a thing, or if I actually knew about it), but my inability to sleep has always shown itself at one end of the cycle--the getting in bed, putting my head on the pillow, closing my eyes and slipping into slumber part.  The fact that there are people in the world (and I'm married to one of them) who can turn off their light and turn off their brain at exactly the same moment has always perplexed, and often annoyed, me.  Especially when he's just lying there sleeping!  I mean, of all the nerve.  I'm tossing, turning, and, THINKING.  All that blasted thinking that happens when I want to shut down, shut it off, let it go, as he tells me to. "How do you stop thinking?" I ask. "I don't know," he tells me. "Just close your eyes and stop.  WHAT?

But what I've always taken pride in (is that a perverse pride, or simply some sort of comfort for when I need it in my most wakeful moments) is that if I do manage to get to sleep, I'll stay that way.  I am not a light sleeper. Never have been, though most mothers, if you ask, won't admit this.  They'll say, "I always had half an ear listening for my children.  Fortunately, I was a light sleeper."  Not me, though.  Fortunately, my husband was a light sleeper, because if I manage to get to sleep, not even their cries could have awakened me, I'm pretty sure.  And it's also why, when Beve had to be gone occasionally, I 'let' our children all sleep in our room. I wasn't going to take a chance that they'd die in a house fire because I hadn't awakened.  Not that I'm paranoid or anything...I just don't like fire, and after all, there were three of them and I only had two arms.  How was I ever going to get them all out by myself anyway?  What on earth were we thinking to have them so close together?  It's things like this that kept me from falling asleep AT ALL on those nights with those three small bodies packed in my bed with me, NOT the fact that there were legs kicking me from every angle, and no space to breath.

What was I talking about?
Oh yeah, sleep.  My point is that almost never wake up once I fall asleep.  But I did yesterday.  Boy, did I. For some unfathomable reason, I woke up at 3-stinking-AM, after a mere two hours of sleep, and never fell back asleep the whole live-long day until after midnight.  I did, however, almost manage to drive into another lane of traffic in the middle of the afternoon, and when I got out of the car, E quickly scooted over to the driver's seat. It was a long, gritty-eyed day, reminding me a whole lot of those nights in college when I stayed up late to study.  "Pull an all-nighter," some people called it, but usually I didn't study all night.  I just wasn't very effective after about 3 AM--at least for studying.  For something like driving out to the beach after midnight, I was always ready. I went to college in Eugene, Oregon, so was only a hour away from the ocean, though, in case you were wondering, driving out to that particular ocean to watch the sun come up is an exercise in futility, and something only college students without collective brains in their heads (I like to blame it on the post-midnight hour, but who knows) would do.  Needless to say, the sun did come up the morning we were out at the Pacific Ocean to see it, and yes, it was at our backs.

Anyway, I have a whole new appreciation for Beve and his fellow insomniacs of the 'can't stay asleep' ilk.  I've often suspected, but now feel more certain, that it's a more difficult challenge. I always know that if I can manage, please God, please, just manage to get to sleep, I'll stay that way until I'm rested.  But Beve doesn't know that.  Sure, he can fall asleep at the flip of a switch, without having to think about it (get the pun?).  But he never knows if it'll take.  He can't be sure when he closes his eyes that he won't wake up--thinking!!--at three or four in the morning.  It's a shaky relationship to have with sleep.  Very shaky indeed.  And it makes me feel badly about all the times I've grumbled at this man because he couldn't stay awake for a conversation I really wanted.  Today, though, after a good night's sleep behind me, I get it.  Take it when you can get it, Beve.  Whenever.

Sleep seems like a very small thing to be writing about this week.  I get that.  Our eyes, metaphorically, have been trained on that island across the Pacific where half a million people have become homeless in the last five days.  But one of the thing that I know is that there are people in those prefectures northeast of Tokyo working around the clock on behalf of others.  As I've watched them yesterday when my eyes were gritty from lack of sleep, it hit me how hard it is to move, to react, to have emotional, spiritual and mental energy without the replenishment of sleep.  I understand why those workers at the reactors aren't sleeping, but I pray for the time when the crisis will have passed, and they will be restored. 

And, while I'm at it, for all of you who daily fight--as Beve does--to stay asleep just a few minutes longer, I'm praying for you too.  For restoring, replenishing sleep.  As God intended!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Worse things

Grampie and Thyrza came over for dinner last night.  Beve had asked Grampie over to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show, but then realized the show is essentially talking heads, no basketball included.  It would confuse Grampie, if not put him to sleep.  So the full day of basketball with Beve/E will be next weekend when--wait for it--they're actually playing basketball.  However, Grampie's brain only got half the message, so at 5 PM. called me to ask, "When do you want us?"--as if they were going to show up at our door without our assistance.  It's interesting how the brain continues to use familiar expressions long after the validity of the meaning passes.  The other thing they ask is, "What can we bring?" which is what people always ask, but in their case would involve one of us taking them to the store after picking them up so that they could bring something to our house.  Needless to say, we always tell them we don't need them to bring anything up each other (which is hard enough).

The point is, Grampie's "When do you want us?" is actually code for "When are you coming to get us?" and we're nothing if not accommodating (well, not always, but it was easy enough yesterday to fit them into our dinner plans), so Beve hustled out the door.  And we had a nice dinner with them then settled down to watch some CNN, because Grampie told us Thyrza always watches the news after dinner. 

As you know, the only thing on the news was Japan, which is both gripping and heartbreaking.  Every day a little more of both.  To think that this very progressive nation, with a few moments on a rocking horse beneath what they thought was solid earth, has been swept back a hundred years.  Without power, without roads to move them expediently up their island home, and, in the northeast, all the way back before civilization itself.  We continue to be mesmerized by the images, and horrified by the stories.

Well, I should say four of us were mesmerized and talking about it incessantly as we watched.  Grampie was in his own world.  As soon as we turned on the TV after dinner, he asked E about the basketball Tournament, wanted to know about the WSU Cougars, and got his peculiar "I'm bewildered" expression on his face when she told him they weren't in the tournament.  She printed him out a bracket, and tried to explain it, but his questions didn't stop. "But how do more Pac-10 teams get in the tournament?"

Now let me review for those of you who are new.  Grampie was a college basketball star at the University of Oregon.  His name is on the wall of honor at the new Matthew Knight Colliseum there.  He became a PE and Recreation major after his stint in the army in WWII where, among other things during his free time, he put together a basketball tournament in Burma.  In Bend, Eugene and Pullman, he was so instrumental in developing Little League baseball, there's a baseball field with his name on it in Pullman.  And, while at WSU, he evaluated officiating (the refs) at the Pac-10 level.  What I'm saying by reciting this portion of his resume is that he absolutely understood how tournaments worked in his prime.  Absolutely.

As I thought about his confusion afterwards, I fell apart.  I remember three years ago when my mother couldn't change her TV channel, so was deeply immersed in the Presidential campaign on CNN.  I thought it was testament to how well she was still doing until the day she told me that those people didn't stop talking to her even when she went into the bedroom.  She thought the people on CNN were right in her room, and for pete's sake, she told them she'd be right back. No explanation on my part made any difference and I was shocked by this breakdown in her cognitive ability.

We aren't quite there with Grampie, but we're getting close.  When something that was basic to his career is gone, we're definitely on the rapid decline.  AND I HATE IT.  When I told Beve this, he said, "But I love how sweet he is now.  How dear."  And he is.  He absolutely is, and it's also sweet to see Beve with his father.  But I still hate this disease with what I used to call in middle school a "purple passion!"  (That was the strongest phrase I could think of in those days)  Beve didn't see Mom in the last year of her life. For all sorts of reasons, he just never got over there, so he doesn't know.  He just doesn't know how bad it can get.

There are worse things than dying.  I believe that.  And for a person who knows and loves the Lord, there may well (there IS) nothing better.  Really.  The end stage of Alzheimers is worse than death.  I know this. If you think me harsh, I say it's because you haven't seen a person empty of everything that makes them human.  Literally a shell.  I have seen it with my own eyes.  I do not wish it on anyone, especially a man so sweet, a man so beloved.  This man.  May he die before he get there.  Please God.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Elemental

The elements: earth, water, fire, and air.  Every one of these is fundamental to life.  Without water, a person dies quickly.  Water is more important to the body than any other substance...other than air. Without earth, the ability to plant food disappears, and, in fact, we would float away into space.  When I think of the importance of fire, I always think of the movie, 'Castaway,' when Tom Hanks has finally managed to make the flint take spark.  He does a fire dance as elemental as anyone ever did, shouting, "I made fire."  The overwhelming joy came because of the understanding of what food becomes possible with the ability to cook it.  And--even in a warm climate--fire brings the ability to stay warm.  And air.  There are no words necessary for how essential air is for living beings.  Without air, a being--whether plant, or animal, reptile or mammal will die within minutes.

Earth, water, fire and air.  In the last few days, each of these elemental necessities has turned on its head to become a danger to the people of Japan.  The earth shook and people were hurt.  And as a result of that shaking, the water surged and swept over the land, not merely hurting but destroying everything in its path.  The fact that water, which can be so pure and good and life-giving, can be so dirty, angry and death-bringing, is a startling thing to realize, though with every flood, and even more with Tsumanis, we are reminded of this.  The images from the air of that wave plowing over boats, cars, buildings, fields, everything in its wake as if the whole thing was merely a tinker-toy village was hard to watch.  But there were people in those boats, cars, buildings.  There were lives blinked out in the rush of that wave faster than I can write this sentence.  And those who survived?  Their lives were also destroyed.

Then once the water receded, once the people began to think it was over, fire took over.  Explosions started.  One might think with all that water soaking through everything, fire would be the last worry.  But not so with nuclear reactors (I have been wishing for my dad to explain how they work, because I can't quite remember my college chemistry).  But I know this.  They are subject to electricity to stay functioning.  If somehow the electricity goes out, things go haywire, which is EXACTLY what happened in Japan.  And when those explosions happened, and the fires started, and the reactors began to melt, the last element also became infected.  AIR.  The very air surrounding those people hanging on by their fingernails to survival can't even count on the air they breathe to be clean and life-giving.  They can't take big gulps of air when they're trying not to fall apart at the seams every which way, because those big gulps might be the last seam to rip.

So what do we have to say in such moments?  What dare I say from the safety of my own home, with my clean water, clean air, fire only in my fireplace, and firm ground beneath my feet?  I don't have much to say, and I know this, whatever I have to say, must be said with deep respect only at a whisper.  People are suffering, and their suffering is legion.  First of all, I must say, can say, I am praying for them.  And that, in some true way, I don't understand.  I really don't.  I take everything I know about the earth and everything I know about God and throw them into the air and allow them to come down around me in tatters when it comes to suffering like this.

There is suffering in the world inherent because it's a fallen world.  I believe this as firmly as I believe that God came to this world because of our fallenness.  Still, sometimes the depth and breadth of that suffering is a mystery to me.  It's one thing when our suffering is man-made.  I can shake my head at that and say, "We're culpable."  But this?  It's a hard one.  So all I can do is put those questions in my hands and put those hands together in prayer. As I've said before, Job is the prime location in scripture for understanding suffering, and God's view of it.  And His answer to Job is difficult.  Maddeningly, unfathomably unhelpful.  He really doesn't answer Job at all.  This is one area that God tells us is above our pay-grade.  Only He who created all can understand all.  "I AM WHO I AM" is in charge of suffering.

Is that good enough for me?  I admit, not always.  Not this kind of catastrophic suffering.  I have to wrestle with it, as Jacob wrestled with the angel.  But I do believe, and I hold this in my hand along side the questions about suffering, that He is present when the earth shakes and the waters roll and the fire explodes and the very air we breathe turns on us.  Do you think that the One who created this earth in the first place would turn His back when all four elements go so horribly wrong?  No possible way.  This is God. 

I have no other lesson than that.  And there is this, which will sound callous though I mean anything but that and say it with mercy in a whisper.  We all die.  Death comes.  I think ultimately God cares less about the way we die than whether we die with Him or without Him.  We humans spend so much of our time trying to put off death, but I'm not sure God ever has the same goals we do.  His goal is that we know Him, that we are in His Kingdom.

I pray for those affected by these events, and for those whose loved ones they've been unable to communicate with.  And...I'll leave the rest for a clearer day, when the smoke and air clear and the water and land settle.  And ultimately, I'll trust it to God, where it belongs.  God be with them.
Amen.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Lent

Lent began Wednesday.  After a day of merriment down in New Orleans that I've always found as strange as the practice which follows it, we come to this season of the church calendar called Lent.  Let me tell you my attitude toward Lent for those of you who haven't heard me every year ad nauseum.  The forty-days prior to Holy Week, culminating in the trial, conviction on trumped-up charges, Gethsemane, the cross-carrying walk to Golgotha, and finally Jesus' crucifixion, is considered a season of leanness, so to speak, by the church.  People traditionally give up something to signify their allegiance to the Incarnate.  Over my Christian life, such things have included chocolate, sugar, candy (see a theme here?), alcohol, and other foods.  I have personally given up novels, reading in general, bread (I'm not that much of a sweet person), and coffee.  And, to a certain extent, this practice is a beautiful expression of our devotion to Christ, a way of daily acknowledging that we belong not to the world, but to Him.

However, several years ago, I began to think differently about the practice.  It occurred to me that the if the yearly calendar Christians follow which leads to the climax of Resurrection Sunday follows the life of Jesus, then the forty days prior to Holy week would symbolically represent His earthly ministry.  If this is so, it's the fullness of presence we should be practicing rather than the asceticism of denial.  This means contemplation (which is asceticism, of course), yes, but contemplation on His ministry, and His presence with us.  So rather than simply giving up something for the sake of its absence from my life, what could I do to create a stronger sense of His daily presence with me? Does this make sense?

On the other hand, to carry my thinking to its conclusion, I began to think of Advent as the season in the calendar year when, by its nature of waiting for God to come to earth as a human, when I live with Christ's absence.  Advent is the time to give up something important to me so that I'm daily aware of its absence the way, in all the centuries before, the world had lived with the absence of the Incarnate.  Are you following my thinking?

This means I've changed my yearly practices.  I've given up my tea and bread and reading novels and TV and whatever else He puts on my heart in December, while doing something more devotional in Lent--which may or may not involve giving up of something.

This year, what God and I have come up with together for Lent comes from a sense that solitude has been lacking in my life.  I am convinced that part of the trouble with our world is that we are too plugged in to technology. While I'm grateful for the ability to 'talk' to my children via all these means, particularly the one least prone to speak via phone, I wonder if the so many ways to communicate with others mean that we become distracted by the cacophony of voices going on all the time.  The Psalmist tells us, "Be still and know that I am God."  And the most familiar of Psalms speaks of His leading ups 'beside the still waters,' and causing us to lie down--to rest--in green pastures.  This is where/how He restores us.  In Isaiah 30:15 is one of my favorite verses about quietness: In quietness and trust is your strength."  It seems that there is an equation between quietness and trust which results in strength.

And I've been missing that quietness.  I'm as guilty as anyone.  Yes, I spend time with the Lord.  But too often--far too often--I walk away from that time, plug myself in, so to speak, and don't look back.  I pick up my phone as I pick up my glasses and watch each morning--so I can see, know the time, and 'be in constant radio contact,' as Beve likes to say.  Then I almost immediately check my computer.  What's so important, I don't know.  Why I feel the need to spend hours with it open is baffling.  So this is my forty-days of His presence decision.  My computer is a tool for this blog.  The end.  I will open it, write what He gives me to say, and put it away. That's it.  An occasional check of my emails, perhaps ( if someone really needs me, they can find me), but what has been dedicated to the world and its insidious pull, I give to Christ and His presence.  More time in silence.  Simply being, simply still and allowing Him to speak.  I believe--I am convinced--that His voice will be louder when all the other voices are not there.  And that, my friends, is my hope.  My joy and my crown, and Paul puts it.

I do understand the practice of giving up something during these days (which, of course, I am also doing).  But I challenge you to add to what you're removing from your life an extra measure of time with Him, while He's symbolically here, if you know what I mean.  Let's practice the presence of Christ together this Lenten season, shall we?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sports fans

It's late, late enough that even Jamaica walked down the hall, pawed at E's door, asking to have her kennel closed for the night.  Kind of like a little kid being tucked in.  Beve and E have fierce colds today.  Fevers, coughing, aching--you know, the whole works.  I've been trying to stay away from them, but this isn't really a very big house.

E spent most of the day curled up under a blanket on the couch, except for the few minutes this afternoon when she checked her email.  Then, fever, cold and all, she danced a little jig right there in her bedroom, and bounced out with a huge grin on her face to say, "I got into grad school."  She's been anxiously awaiting this news, finally resigned herself to not having made the cut and trying to be at peace with that.  I wonder how often God allows things to be delayed until we come to a real place of peace within ourselves, a peace that comes, not from a change in circumstance (as E told me today) but wholly from a sense that God has a plan for us exactly where we today.

When E told Grampie the news, his first question was, "Does this mean you're going to change your allegiance?" (not that he said it quite that coherently, but she knew what he was asking) See, E's program is a Master's of Communication in Digital Media at the University of Washington.  Now I'm sure there are a few of you out there who don't understand the significance of this for E (or most of our family), but let me tell you, it's no small thing to go to 'the other university' in our state.  To become a huskie.  A dawg.  In fact, it's a little like joining your enemy's army.  You see, we're Cougars.  Not quite born, but definitely raised to bleed crimson and gray.  It takes a strong stomach to even think of turning purple and gold. And E reassured her grandfather that she'll always be a Cougar, even if she has to be something of a closet one now and then for the next season of her life.  Because she gave him that answer, Grampie was able to move on and actually congratulate her on getting into the program.

It's a funny thing about allegiances, isn't it?  I'm not sure there's really anything else in the world like sports fans.  There are some fans who are so fanatic about their teams that they never miss a game, deck out their houses, cars and even themselves in the colors and accoutrements of said team. And love the reputations that accompany their fan-dom.  Oakland Raider fans, for example, dress up like pirates and thugs and are proud to be obnoxious.  The Green Bay Packers like to wear strange cheese hats on their heads.  Sometimes stadiums and arenas are filled with people (even the coach) who all got the memo to wear the same color.  This is an effective way to show support, but sure looks strange, especially when white is the chosen color.  And then there's the students standing and students bouncing.  Once I had the misfortune of 'sitting' in the student section at WSU for a basketball game, and (if I hoped to actually see the game) had to stand the whole time, except (counter-intuitively) during time-outs.

All this dressing, acting, being alike has several purposes, as do most things.  To encourage the team, to disrupt the opposing team, and, of course, to be known as a fan.  And when I think about it in spiritual terms, it's a great analogy to what we're meant to be as His disciples.  "The world will know that you're my disciples if you love one another."  Love is the action that points us out as one of His chosen ones.  Part of His team, so to speak.  Loving each other, clearly, is not a natural thing, or Jesus wouldn't tell us that it is something that sets us apart. No, it's only something a Christ-one can do.

In part, of course, we love so that we encourage each other.  Obviously.  We bear each other's burdens, 'encourage each other while today is still today.'  We should be each other's biggest cheerleaders, on the sidelines of each other's lives to cheer our brothers and sisters on to victory in whatever they're struggling against, or working toward.  What we can't bear with them, we can certainly root for on their behalf.

And, at the same time, our love for each other disrupts the enemy.  The last thing the enemy wants from us is love for each other.  His goal is to create enmity between people, to have us turn on each other.  So to love, especially the love that lays down its life for a friend, is anathema to satan.  He is destroyed by such love.  He was essentially by the love Christ showed: "The amazing proof of God's love is this, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."  It's that love that won.  And that love that we can extend to our brother and sister--the love of Christ on the cross.  And this is the love that wins for His Kingdom, and destroys the enemy.

I like cheering for teams.  I like having an allegiance when I watch a game of any sport on TV.  It makes the game more fun.  E and Beve can watch basketball without caring who is playing, but I'm not like that.  I want to root for someone.  And I think that this is especially true in the Kingdom.  We know who we're rooting for.  And if we're at all confused, the Holy Spirit is present to clarify it for us.  This is a fight to the finish I'm talking about, a 'game', if you will, with eternal consequences.  So let's love like we mean it, and allow it to color our faces with His face-paint, cover our chests with His insignias, and our lives with whatever He might use to make the world know that we are disciples--that we really, really love one another.