Saturday, April 30, 2011

The same and different

I'm exhausted in a heap today.  E and I drove a couple of hours south yesterday for a rendezvous with her oldest friend and her mom (who is a great friend of mine).  And by oldest friend I mean a woman E first met when she was three weeks old.  Like twins, they learned to sit up, crawl (well, Chels did, E never did crawl--and a child psychologist who worked with Beve told him she wouldn't learn how to read because she'd missed that developmental step.  When he came home and told me that--she was about 2 already by then--I got down on the floor and tried to get her to crawl places.  She looked at me like I was crazy.  And you know what?  She was reading before she turned 4! Developmental stage missed or not!), feed themselves, run, etc. Well, the list is long.  We laughed today about the matching "Boo!" costumes I made for them the Halloween after they turned one.  They were adorable, and remarkably similar in those days.

One day, when E was 3 or so, I made her (oh the horror!) take a nap.  You have to understand that E stopped sleeping during nap time by the time she was 2 years old, but I continued to make her lie there quietly with a book or two.  It was good for her and good for me that she have a daily rest period.  But this particular day, for no particular reason, she wasn't her usual compliant self.  Maybe she had something going on that taking a nap seemed to be interrupting.  You know, all those important projects three-year-olds have.  I really can't remember.  But I had no mercy for her non-compliance.   I just picked her up and put her on her bed, told her to be quiet, then I closed the door.  A few minutes later, I heard her yelling. E yelling. E.  Now you must understand that she wasn't that kind of child.  Not loud, not recalcitrant or stubborn.  Bossy?  Absolutely.  Certain she knew more than every other child in the room how to do something, and told them so--of course.  But not loud, and not angry.  Except that day.  That day, she was jumping on her bed, yelling, "I hate my mama, I hate my mama."

I opened the door, looked at her and said, "Oh please.  You don't hate me, and you aren't going to start saying that you do."
"But Chels says it."
Ahh, I thought.  And E had taken notice.  Chels and her family are a loud, passionate bunch whose very presence in a room makes that room a party.  And the pendulum swings through all the emotions without a moment's warning.  It's a great place to visit, and I love them to pieces--all of them--but Chels and E, for all their similarities, are very different.  I knew it perfectly that day.  I could well imagine the emotion that would cause a three year old Chels to say such a thing to her mommy.  But not E.  Even angry, she wouldn't say it.  No, E--even at the worst of moments--tries to find ways to see things from another person's point of view.  Tries to let things go.

I've seen this clearly in my oldest child.  She doesn't hold a grudge, even when she's hurt--badly hurt--and (at least in my mind) justifiably so. Even when she wants to stand on her bed and say, "I hate you, Mama."  And even when I want to go to bat for her, like the quintessential stage mama.  But, you know what?  As it wasn't in her then, it still isn't.  And, thankfully, I could see it that day.  Knew it wasn't organic for her to speak negatively toward those she loved, even when she was upset (though there have been times when even I have wished she'd be a bit more honest about the pain she's felt in certain situations--like in high school when her basketball coach treated her poorly, to name one).  No, E's a balanced, calm personality.  Chels is loud and passionate and emotional and... maybe a bit more like me, come to think of it.

It was an interesting conversation at our lunch table about these young women and their similarities and differences.which made us speak of the universality of these things between people, how we must recognize at exactly the same time that we all are like E and Chels--very much alike, and completely different. I'm glad that E and Chels were alike as small children, but also (deeply) grateful that they were different. It's an important lesson for me.  In race, gender, and ways we divide ourselves, we can either make those differences be the last word or we can hold in one hand our differences and in our other, the similarities, and put those hands together. Together.  Hands together as the last word, hands together in prayer for those who are like us...and those who are different, knowing we each are both.

Yes, an important lesson.

Maybe for all of us.

Friday, April 29, 2011

What we keep hidden

It's been quite a week.  Let me put it this way, I've been absolutely pre-occupied by it all.  Distracted, consumed, unable to focus on anything else.  At first it was just me.  But it wasn't long before E, and even Beve, got sucked in as well, and before you knew it there we all were, listening to the experts, paying minute attention to what each said about how things would go, what they thought would happen. And wen I say minute attention, I mean it.

See, I've been around this block before.  Was visualizing this week exactly like the last--and how that ended wasn't a fairy tale.  No sirree, Bob.  Not even close. 

And neither was this week.  Not for us, anyway.  See, this week, some @*#% critter crawled up under my beautiful jacuzzi tub that gives me such necessary respite, and that critter (ok, ok, it was a rat, I'd just rather call it a critter, sounds more benign) took a huge bite through the wiring and fried itself to death.  AND STUNK UP bathroom.  At first I just barely smelled something, so cleaned every blasted thing in the room within an inch in its life, and still smelled that odious odor.  But back then--like a week ago--Beve and E couldn't even smell it.  But a day or two passed and the odor grew to the point that they could, and I was certain we had a busted pipe beneath the house, leaking raw sewage all over.  And let me tell you, that's something we unfortunately have experience with.

When Beve and I bought our first house--an old farmhouse that had sat empty for a very long time, so Fannie Mae sold it to us for a song!--we had to take it as is, of course.  The first weekend, we discovered that the alder trees lining our property line had buried their roots into our sewage line, and the Roto-Rooter we called when the sewage spilled all over our basement garage floor got his drill stuck and broken in those gigantic roots.  It was nightmarish. 

And this is what I was picturing in the crawl space beneath our bathroom.  Our only-two-years-old remodeled bathroom.  Heads would roll, I was thinking.  We called the plumbers who did the work for us, and they came out in a hurry.  These things worry them, too, of course.  One of them--the more agile--bent himself into a pretzel and managed to get into that small crawl space.  The next thing I knew, he was back out, standing in my back room in his stocking feet with his t-shirt off.  The good news was that everything wa bone dry down there.  The bad news was, he'd found evidence of critters.

I don't think I've slept since. 
No, that's not true.  We've had rats before and dealt with them.  We called a BIO-BUG exterminator who came out and wanted to charge us 400$ to do what we can do ourselves--and when I asked him about getting rid of that dead critter under my tub, he said, "The smell will go away in a couple of days.  It's a small creature, it decomposes quickly enough." Good luck, and thank you very much. Oh, and have a nice day.

He's right, of course.  The smell is already better.  But the 'yuck' factor hasn't left me.  You know what I mean?  There's a dead thing beneath my bathtub and now I know it.  How am I ever going to take a soothing bubble bath again?

But there's always something yucky and smelly beneath the surface, if we look deeply enough.  The earth is littered with the dead, of course.  Any person who studies soil would tell you that.  But in a more spiritual way, I wonder how many dead and smelly things I try to keep hidden, hoping they'll just decompose?  I know some of them, of course.  To my shame, I know them.  How I felt about my mother for most of my life--that was a pretty ugly, smelly thing.  And there are the attitudes I've held toward others--the critical spirit I have (it's part of my family gene pool--we come from a long line or critics, thanks to our paternal grandmother, who may well have learned it from hers), my laziness, my...well, I don't know that I can bear to take all of those smelly things out tonight, the odor might just knock me over. 

But we all have them.  Don't we?  And most of the time, if we can't smell them, we pretend they aren't there.  But there are rats in the crawl spaces of each of our hearts, I reckon.  If this wasn't true, we wouldn't need the Holy Spirit.  And we do need Him.  I do.  I need Him to take His flashlight and shine it in all the crawlspaces of my heart, to go searching out all the rotten, ugly, smelly parts of me that do not honor Him.  I may not like Him doing this, it may not always be pleasant, but I absolutely, completely, utterly need Him to do this.  If He doesn't, sooner or later, everything I try to keep hidden will start stinkin' up everything I touch--every relationship with every person I know and love.   Can you imagine?  To have Him inside, but be so closed off to Him that you stink up every relationship?  When He can fully change you to make you new and fresh and a pleasing aroma?

It isn't easy to allow Him access to all that ugliness.  But the alternative, my friends, is nightmarish.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thinking in pictures

When E was little (and by little, I mean so small she was not yet in school, and still needed a carseat), her idea of a really, really good time was for me to make her a page of math problems.  I'm not making this up.  We had a small table and chairs in the corner of our living room, with a box full of scratch paper in it.  There were crayons on the table, but E wasn't nearly as interested in coloring as she was in doing addition and subtraction.  And--"Please Mama, make them three numbers hard!"  By the time she was four, I had to break down and teach her about carrying and borrowing because we were both getting a little tired of the same few combinations possible without knowing those important steps.  After that, though, the world was open to her.  And I'd created a little math monster.

I tell you this because E"s love for and interest in doing math is almost exactly how I felt about writing stories from the moment I learned that this letter and that one, put together forming this word and that one could create meaning and more meaning and---STORY could be the result.  Story.  That's what I was always after. From my days of make-believe and paper-dolls to the first three sentence paragraphs I learned to write in school, I was more interested in writing what wasn't actually true, but could be, than what was factual.  And I think the reason for this is because I think in images rather than in words.  I've had conversations with many people about this and have discovered that this thinking in images is less common than thinking in words (or, I'd guess numbers).  But I can't imagine thinking in words.  I can't--I physically can't--make myself see words in my head.  I've always felt that my hand and pen or fingers on the keyboard are the instrument of writing.  Sometimes I don't even know what I'm going to write until I see it on the page, or computer screen.  I realize that sounds a little strange to some of you who plot everything out ahead of time, who can't imagine working without an outline.  To do so would be like working without a net.  But that's why I like writing fiction.  Because I don't have to know the whole story when I start.  I only have to get to know the characters, learn their backstories, uncover the problem, and wind my way through their lives with them  It's a discovery for me too.  And I love it!

Ok, so this is perhaps too left-brained and creative for some of you who don't think as I do.  My ability to think in images, however, does explain, I think why I have such a good memory.  Take, for example, the memory I wrote about at the beginning of this post.  I can instantly call to mind a specific picture of E with her hair cropped above her ears (a cut her Grammie gave her that I've forgiven Grammie for, really I have), sitting at that little table, dressed in a little jumpsuit (don't ask me why I'm picturing this particular outfit).  It's butter yellow with pink flowers and has a tie at the waist.  E is holding her pencil so tightly in her fingers, I'm sure she'll snap the pencil, but instead, she merely makes very dark numbers on the page.  When she finishes her math page, she brings me the page, and I tell her she's gotten one wrong.  This is not news E EVER likes.  She goes back to the table, and sits there pouting.  I can look back from here and see that child and know how much she hated making mistakes, how much she wanted to tell me to SHOVE it, but was too obedient to ever do so.

And here's what I'm coming to understand.  This is the story I am meant to tell; because all these pictures in my head of all these moments?  They're my story.  For as long as I've been writing and telling people about it, I've heard, "You should write about my family/mother/life."  This has never inspired me, actually. My answer has always been, "You should write it.  Only you can tell your own story."  But somehow I haven't really been paying attention to my own words. I've been thinking that all writing about my own little life I've been doing in the last three years since I started this blog (and my novel got shelved), has just been to tide me over, so to speak.  Just something to do, but not the real writing I'm meant to do.  But this is real writing.  This is the writing God has called me to, if He's called me to anything.  It's not this until...it's this!  The only until is until He calls me to something else.

This may not be a revelation to anyone but me...but that's sometimes how it works.
Sometimes God has to paint me a picture, if you know what I mean.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Covered faces

Phew.  I've begun a new practice of jotting down the ideas that spring from my over-active brain when I lay me down to sleep, just as I should be falling asleep, but can't, of course, because this idea and that one, and just one more thing just swirls around in my head until I think, then I'm sure I might just have to stay awake all night to ponder it.  And it might just be worth it if the idea is good enough, if the pressing into God is deep enough, if all of it together takes me somewhere I haven't gotten to during the cacophony that is daily life, even my most quiet of daily lives.  I can be so tired my eyes are gritty and burning with the need to close them, but these thoughts, these contemplative, with-God, thoughts are just enough to wake me up. 

But, as I said last week, I often forget the meat of them by the next morning.  Now I realize that some of you might consider that an indication that they aren't nearly as important or profound as I imagined, and in one sense you'd be absolutely right.  But in another, whatever it is that pulls us into His presence is valuable, and anything He can use He will, and it matters not a whit if we carry it beyond that moment.  God is present in the present and will be present in the next present and that's all we need to know.  It's WE who want those moments, those deep senses of "I AM" and "I AM not silent" that we sometimes feel with and from Him to last.  But honestly, I don't think He intends them to last.  Moses went up on the mountain to speak to the Lord and the Glory of God was so great, Moses' face glowed from the encounter.  Glowed so that it scared the people.  So Moses covered his face because the radiance of having seen and spoken to God faded.  Like it does. Exactly like it does. Moses didn't want the people to know that glow was fading.

And we're the same way.  When we have an encounter with God, we want to make it last, want to stand there with our faces covered, so to speak, so that even we don't have to face that the glory of it is fading.  That we're forgetting.  But we aren't meant to linger at moments, to hold on to emotional experiences of His presence.  These are wonderful but patently NOT what faith really is.  What faith is is what happens between those emotional experiences when life is hard and we walk the tightrope of doubt and fear and think we're going to fall, but trust Him to carry us.  It's when we struggle and when life is blessed and all the mediocre moments between when we're just going about our business but going about them with Him in that business. 

The fact of the matter is that even the most faithful of us have doubt-filled moments.  Moments when we wonder if this is all a house of cards that we've staked our life on.  If you think otherwise, you either aren't very introspective or are simply fooling yourself.  Living by faith isn't about never having doubt, it's about recognizing your doubt--recognizing when the glow on your face fades, in a sense--and trusting that it won't always be so.  That the silence or what you perceive as absence or the house of cards or whatever it is you want to call it is as much a mere moment as the emotional experience as those that glow.  We are human.  We lean toward and lean away from faith.  In and out of doubt. 

A line from The Count Of Monte Cristo (made from a book I love!) helps here.  Edmund, imprisoned by several men he had trusted, is befriended by a priest, and loses his faith to his thorough-going desire for revenge.  As the priest dies, he tells Edmund to let go of his bitterness, to let God take care of revenge.
"I no longer believe in God," Edmund says.
"It does not matter," the priest answers. "He believes in you."

That's what counts as the glory of God and high holy moments with Him fade from our lives.  When we begin to doubt because we don't 'feel' Him as clearly.  He continues to believe in us.   

Monday, April 25, 2011

A mirror

I rarely think of my town as a 'destination city', but often enough old friends make their way here for a weekend that perhaps I should rethink that.  Such was the case over the last few days when one of my closest college roommates (of 11, so the qualifier is necessary)-- the woman with whom I hoisted my backpack and hopped on the trains of Europe back in '82, whose middle name I gave my youngest child--was here with her daughter, checking out Western Washington University as a possible college option.  An option for the daughter, I must clarify, though my friend felt some not so slight pangs of envy for the students who sit in classrooms and don't realize what a privilege it is to study all day.

That's just one of the things we share--that deep love of study.  One of the many things. Saturday afternoon at my family's favorite tearoom, SKC and I sat together, and were easily reminded of the plethora of things we have in common.  When we were young (though honesty, she barely looks older than she did then, and if I was a swearing person--thank God I'm not--I'd swear she actually looks better, more beautiful!!, now than she did then, and that's saying a whole lot, since she was always a pretty pretty woman!), living side-to-side, going to school, church, and sharing practically everything, the ways we looked at the world was clothed in the way we lived.  It was easy to conclude we were mirror images in some ways--she was a dancer and I was a writer, both of us artists, both of us always scribbling, one way or another from our right brains in a left-brained world.  Well, mirror images but for her facility on the stage and dance floor, and that prettiness of hers, all of which were beyond me, by gift or talent.  She'd say, were she sitting here to say it, that there were some things about me that were beyond her as well.  Perhaps my intellect, and my intensity in conversation.  I don't know.  She'd say I tend to swallow the air in the room by the force of my personality.  She wouldn't be the first person, and won't, of course, be the last.  I know who and what I am.  Yet, here's what I also know, that large personality of mine is every bit as much a gift as her prettiness or her gifted feet.  Given by God.  Not asked for.  Sometimes tried to stifle when others point it out as a fault.  But I am what He made me.  And shouldn't/can't apologize for it, anymore than she can or should apologize for her face or ability to imagine the dance and make her body move to it.  Yes, we are what we were made to be, each one of us.  The strong and certain ones as well as the quiet and artistic, and together we create something whole and pleasing.  I believe this.  Between my mirrored friend and me--and also between those others and me who find my large personality a bit too large and choking. 
But I digress.  Perhaps protesting too much.  Sorry.

However, SKC lately directed a theater production, "Shadowlands," about CS Lewis, and I was touched to read, in her director's notes, that she wrote about me.  I introduced her to CSL back in college when I was a rather voracious reader of all things Lewis.  She told me that she kept thinking of me especially in terms of Lewis's wife, Joy, and tried to get the actor to play her as SKC thinks of me--strong, confident, holding her own intellectually in a company of women.  SKC could probably not have given me any greater compliment than that, and brought tears to my eyes. Thank you, SKC. Thank you for thanking me for being your inspiration and thank you for inspiring me as well.  And, by extension, for showing me how to support and cheer on the one in my life bent toward the arts, her namesake, my own SK.

On Saturday, what was clear is that it doesn't take living side-by-side for us to feel as we did thirty years ago. Conversation flowed, with us jumping all over each other, finishing each other's sentences, laughing at old jokes and new ones as well.  It was as sweet as the tea and scone to spend that time with my old friend who looks as she did when we were young and made me feel that way as well.  Except that our daughters were sitting at the next table, the ages we were when we met and traveled and loved and lost side by side.

She's lived and lost since then as well, but is well-loved and loving now in her fifties.  It was good to see the love on her face and hear it in her voice.  There have been battles lost to get to here.  But battles won as well.  And to hear her speak--of her life, her love, her journey to it--is to hear of victory.  I remember once her saying that she (and her brother) was what was left of a dead marriage, and no one bothered to visit the grave anymore.  Yes, battles won, my friend.  And a life well-lived.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Resurrection Garden

As it began to dawn,
on the first day of the week,
came Mary Magdalene and the other Mary.

Three phrases that are of great interest to this greatest of all stories.  But I'll take them in the order I wish:  First, about the women.  When I was contemplating writing my Holy week blog posts this year, I fully intended to write about the women of the gospels.  If I ever write a book--oh wait, I already did that!--this will be the subject.  The importance of the women in the Incarnation.  In an extremely patriarchal world, the likes of which none of us can even imagine, women show up in pivotal places. From the first word that He is coming--a mere nine months hence--to the word that He has risen, the good news of Jesus Christ comes not to men, not to the disciples, but to women.  The best word about worship?  Look to a woman pouring perfume over his feet and wiping it with her hair.  The best word about attentiveness?  A woman sitting at His feet, neglectful of all domestic responsibilities.

So two women hurry to the tomb as soon as the dawn breaks.  Sabbath is over and there's work to be done.  Women have had this work for centuries.  My own grandmother had it, you know.  Preparing her grandmother's dead body.  Because of the Sabbath, there hadn't been time to do this Friday, so Jesus--their beloved Lord--had laid dead for three days, three days rotting to their ways of thinking, so there wasn't a moment to lose.  There wasn't a chance in...well, you know!--that those Fishers of Men would do this job, any more than they would have prepared the meal for that last supper.  No, this was women's work.

And because it was so, the women were first.  AND GOD KNEW IT WOULD BE SO.  It was no accident.  He knew those men were still asleep in their grieving beds while those women saw a stone rolled away and an empty tomb. God intended it so. I've wondered if, because Eve responded first to the insidious words that God had lied, that she wouldn't die if she ate the fruit, so took that first bite, that God gave her--woman--the first glimpse of the victory over that enemy and our very death.  The first "Oh-my-God!" that wasn't anything but the absolute truth.  Dropping their embalming ointments (like myrrh) right there at the rolled-away stone, staring into that empty tomb for a moment then running off to tell the disciples, that "Oh-my-God! He's risen!!!"  And the disciples didn't look down on the women like, "sorry, there's no possible way God would have chosen you to tell first."  No, they took the news as...well, as gospel, Peter and John even having something of a footrace to the tomb, to see, to confirm, that He had risen, He had risen, indeed.

But John tells us of another moment, a quieter, most significant of all moments in all of history.  Mary Magdalene has come back to the garden and is walking alone, worrying herself silly over that wide-open tomb and empty grave clothes, certain (as many of His detractors have tried to say throughout history) that someone has stolen the body.Crying. When she finally sees a gardener, he asks why she she asks, "Just tell me where He is so I can get Him."
And then the supposed Gardener speaks her name. "Mary."
Three important things happen in this moment, in this beautiful resurrection garden moment that pertain to how Christ comes to us. First, He appears.  He's simply present with her before she knows who He is.  He knows her, asks about her hurts, knows what troubles her. And this is always the case with how He appears to us. Secondly, He speaks.  He calls her by name.  He knows what what she can do, and what it will take for her to know Him.  She recognizes Him when He calls her by name.  And thirdly, He gives her a charge.  He asks her to obey ("Don't touch me yet!") and she does on the basis of their relationship. 

My mother's very favorite Easter chorus, which we sang with great gusto in the 70s, when it was popular, was "Every morning is Easter morning from now on. Every day's resurrection day, the past is over and gone."  The tune is...well, it fits the era, but the words strike a chord (get it? a chord!) that ring so true, I can't stop singing them today.  From the first moment those first women saw that the stone wasn't in place, and when Mary heard the 'gardener' call her name and finally realized what it meant--that He was alive, every day IS resurrection day.  His resurrection, which happened in an out-of-the-way, little garden in a small country 2000 years ago, is the most transforming event of our lives.

So, these questions:
Do you feel His presence?
Do you recognize Him when He calls you by name?
Do you obey Him?
In short, do you live your life in the resurrection garden?

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Sabbath

It's a lovely spring day here in the northwest, perhaps the first actual spring day we've had, with cerulean skies, tulips beginning to bloom and temperatures warm.  I sewed a binding onto a quilt this morning, then took a book to the back patio where I enjoyed the sunshine while Beve mowed the grass and the dogs lay on the deck, sunning themselves.  Chatted for a few moments with our neighbor, whom we see more often once the rain stops and we venture outside to work in our yards.  In a few moments, SK, who's home for the weekend, is going down to the farmer's market, and later, both daughters and I are meeting one of my college friends and her daughter for tea.  Yep, it's a typical Saturday in the spring, full of work and activities and busyness and running here and there and, "I'll meet you," and "If you drop me..." You know how these things go, if you're planners--like we surely are.

But the Saturday after that Friday--you know, that Friday--was not just a Saturday like we know it, the part of the weekend when we don't work but try to cram household and play altogether into a single day.  It may not be actual labor we're paid for, but we often work as hard as if it it was.  But not for these men and women who had traveled with Jesus.  See, they were Jews, observant, practicing, loyal devout Jews whose Torah had told them of a coming Messiah--told them and their ancestors--for thousands of years.  These called out disciples and the others who followed as well, were the ones who recognized Jesus as the Messiah who'd been promised.  And His coming and dwelling among them, full of grace and truth, didn't immediately make them throw off those centuries of heritage.  In fact, in order for them to even accept that a person could become a follower of Jesus without also becoming a Jew would take a vision so intense it caused Peter to go blind, then some fairly difficult disagreements among the top-rung of the flock.

So on this first Saturday after His death, His followers were Jewish.  And that means that this wasn't merely a weekend day, or a day like any other, but the Sabbath.  The day of rest.  "Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy," says the 4th commandment.  But unlike most of the other commandments (except the one about making a graven image), this commandment elucidates what this means and why.  "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God.  ON it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in it, but he rested on the seventh day.  Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath and made it holy."

There were many, more precise laws about what a person could or couldn't do on Sabbath, but more importantly, what it was meant for was a set aside day--a sacred assembly-- to worship and honor God, as a sign of His covenant, and remember His salvation.  This was His command. Not just any old command as part of the larger whole in Torah, but one of the Ten, the BIG Ten which Moses went up on the mountain to get, came down once and broke all over the place in anger and had to get another set. Part of that Ten.  In other words, nothing to mess around with.

So here's the deal: these-"Follow me and I'll make you fishers of men", leave-everything, disciples have just seen (or heard via the proverbial grapevine) the Messiah crucified.  THE MESSIAH.  God's chosen one whom they always hoped would come, believed had come, has been taken, stone dead, from the cross and quickly placed in a borrowed tomb because the sun's about to set and when it does, the Sabbath will begin. And when that happens, when that sun sets and the Sabbath starts, all these 3-year-old, if that, followers will be expected to bow their heads in worship of God.

Right?  Expected to say, "Shema yisrael. Adonai elheynu Adonai echad."--"Hear O Israel. The Lord our God The Lord is one."  Expected to cover their faces with their right hands, speak the words of this most holy of texts and honor their God with everything they had.  And mean it.  But.

But...on this first Sabbath after Jesus died, this black Sabbath, if you will, the axis on which the world tips and spins seemed to have broken.  It must have.  Don't you think?  How could these followers of Jesus worship God with anything resembling honesty when--as they'd laid down their work and walked away from their work--to coin a phrase that was likely ringing in their ears, "God had forsaken them"?

Now I know and you know, if we've read the gospels, that Jesus had told them in many and varied ways, what was going to happen. In literature, it's called foreshadowing, these clues he was giving them. But these people were dumb as posts that week.  They really were.  Grief can do that to a person.  I've lived through enough to know that.  And I've read enough of their story to see that it was true for them as well.  If they'd really understood, they wouldn't have run away from His cross, wouldn't have been hiding behind locked doors, and wouldn't have returned to their fishing boats later.  No, they didn't have a clue that Jesus' "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it again," was to be taken literally. (John 2:19)  But, of course, we have to give them a pass about it, because not one of us would have been any different.

But, it turns out that God intended it just this way.  At least that's what I think.  I think the pain of Friday and the subsequent inability to worship honestly on the Sabbath were the necessary prelude to what God intended on the first day of the week. They make the magnificence, the glorious, unprecedented, never-before, nor never-again joy of what happens tomorrow all the more profound.  The floodgates of victory, freedom, love...of everything...of tomorrow!

And that, my friends, is what it's all about.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Imagine with me

Because I live in one of the most western time zones on this spinning globe of ours, it stands to reason (and I am nothing if not reasonable!), that wherever you are when you read this, it's already a done deal.  If in fact today was really the day the sky turned black and the world changed on a dime and time stopped for a moment and heaven itself was cast into grief more deep and wide than it had know since the Garden of Eden, if this was that day and I was just now finding out about it, and writing about it from my safe little house across the world, I'd be playing catch-up.  I'd have awakened this morning with a sense of well-being, had been going about my day with ignorance until somehow, maybe over NPR, which I listen to while I sew, or Yahoo news, which pops up when I open my computer, I'd hear the news that Jesus of Nazareth had been killed. 

Imagine it that way with me for a moment.  Imagine it today, and that He is Someone you've been following, not because you know the whole story, but because there's something about His Words, His ministry, His signs and wonders that point to something.  That have drawn you in.  Made you leave your old life, even here--wherever your here is--to follow Him.  You've been walking with a purpose to your steps these last two to three years because while the rest of the world around you struggles with rules and regulations (or not!), you have the key to life, and His name is Jesus.  You feel free, and full of hope, and certain He's going to do something great to reveal Himself to all the World as the Savior you know Him to be.

You're just waiting for that day.  Just waiting for it.

But today comes.  You're driving in your car, listening to the radio (the station of your choice), or watching the morning news (if you live west of the Atlantic Ocean), you hear that inimitable music that foretells a "Special Report."  "Jesus of Nazareth, whom some believe to be the Messiah, was killed this morning on a hillside outside of Jerusalem."  And your car practically swerves off the road.  You drop your coffee cup and it shatters on the tile floor of your kitchen.  NO! You're screaming in your head.  This must be a hoax, you think.  He is "the Messiah, the Son of the Living God."  Surely He wouldn't allow Himself to be killed.  He could save Himself.  Couldn't He?  Couldn't He?  I left everything for Him.  EVERYTHING!!!!

And everything you believe Him to be comes crashing down.  Doesn't it? And you're cast into the deepest pit of grief imaginable.  An unthinkable despair.  A dream is over, and it turns out it really was only a dream.  Mixed into that grief is embarrassment, humiliation--I mean, you did leave your family, your profession, your home to follow this man.  Now he's died.  What are you going to tell everyone?  And what about all those things he said about his kingdom?  What the heck?

This is how they felt, I imagine.  But really, I can't imagine.  See, we come to this day, this Good/Black Friday knowing how it ends.  We come to faith based on the Cross and Resurrection far more than the ministry and person of Jesus.  So we know the death on a cross has a happy ending--the happiest in the history of the world!! And this makes the day Jesus died only the second most important day.  And, of course, it was to those who had dirty feet and dusty robes along side him as well.  But that was only next week.  As they lived it, this day, this Friday when Jesus carried those two rough pieces of wood on his newly-whipped-raw back through the streets and up the hill, until a man was consigned to help, this was the epitome of a "no good, terrible, very bad day."

I've lived a few very bad days in my life. Days when I thought the bottom had dropped out of not just my life but the whole world and I wasn't sure I'd be able to ever get a foothold again.  Grief chases sleep and hunger and desire and everything else from people.  It carves out a hole in the center of a person so large you think it'd be visible from space.  It makes one want to hole up and hide from the world...and from God.  Especially from God.  Especially that day, I imagine.

So I'm not surprised that most of His followers ran.  I think I would have run too.  Sure, I'd like to believe I wouldn't have, that I'd have stood with the Marys and John and not turned my face from the toppling of the whole world in His face and body and life. But I wouldn't bet on my doing it.  I'm a coward when it comes down to it.  And it came down to it that day.  The end of a dream right before their eyes.  Standing there must have been the hardest thing they ever did.  (Especially for Mary, of course, but that's something completely different, and I can't /won't begin to put myself in her place that day.  A mother stays, though.  I know that.  Whatever it means.)

When you're walking through this day, just let it seep through you what it is.  Not what it means, not what the real ending is, because all of that comes later.  See, even what this day means the disciples didn't understand that Friday.  That they needed Sunday for, Sunday and Jesus coming through doors and talking to them, and the Holy Spirit coming in fire to fill them.  No, on this day, this Black Friday, they only knew God died.  Walk around with that today.  Grieve with them a bit.  Imagine.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

In the trenches

Thursday.  Maundy Thursday, if you like.  A quick check of Wikipedia reveals that the name Maundy, which I've been known to bandy about since being a Presbyterian without actually knowing its etymology, is derived, via various old languages (English and French) from the Latin word mandatum, from the mandate Jesus gave to His disciples in John 13: 34, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you."  This mandate was part of the long discourse Jesus gave during the rather leisurely (they were reclining, after all) but tense ("Is it me, Lord?") and mysterious ("This is my body...this is my blood"), last dinner they all shared together somewhere in Jerusalem on this holiest of Thursdays.  Maundy Thursday--Mandate Thursday.  And I have to admit, in that discourse in John, there isn't just one, but 27,000 mandates.  Well, perhaps I exaggerate.  However many there actually are, they do all come down to the one that becomes the moniker for this day.  "Love one another, as I have loved you."

And they come down to it, of course, because the God-head knew that this is where we most often fail as human beings.  Well, after failing to recognize Him as Lord, or even recognize Him at all.  But between each other, we make a total hash of this whole loving as He loves us.  As I sit here, trying to think of an example or two, I'm so overwhelmed by our failure to love each other, I can barely write.  With our spouses, our children, our bosses, our employees, our neighbors, our friends, our parents, our siblings, our enemies, our...well, let's be honest, every war has been waged because, in one way or another, someone hasn't been loving others has God has loved us.  That is, either a tyrant hasn't loved his/her (but why do I say her--have there been female dictators and demagogues in the world?) subjects and the people rebel, or another nation (or coalition) steps in to free them. Or one leader and/or country tries to overthrow another to gain control of people or land.  But there is always selfishness at the heart of war, one way or another...at least from my simplistic point of view. ( J, who knows more, would have a more in-depth argument.)

It stops me cold to think that Jesus' great commandment was a mandate at which He knew we'd fail.  He knew on Mandate Thursday what all of history would reveal--that we are not very successful at loving as He loves us.  Oh, now and then one of us steps in front of a bus for a stranger.  And most of us parents can imagine laying down our lives for our children, would it come to that.  And soldiers go to war, knowing they might be the ones to die for their countries.  And still they do it, amazingly enough.  Sometimes reluctantly, but more often with resolve and pride and a certainty of purpose.  I may not understand it and I admit I don't always agree with the policies that make it necessary, but I do admire their willingness to do what they do at so great a cost.  For the most part, though, what Jesus is talking about is our daily--nay, hourly--interactions with each other.  Our willingness to walk down the hall and get a glass of water for our spouse or to take out the recycling so he doesn't have to after a long day, even though it's his job, after all.  It's what we do in the trenches of life that say more about how we're living out this commandment than what one does in the trenches of war.

But most of us fail in the trenches of life, and Jesus knew it would be so.  As the words were coming out of His mouth, He knew it.  The long discourse in John is jam-packed with things that can terrify me if I really take Him at His word, which I know I must.

 From John 13-17--
"All who have faith in me will do the works I have done and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  I will do whatever you ask in my Name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.  You may ask me anything in my Name and I will do it."
"If you love me, keep my commands...whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me."
"Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching.  Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching."
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
"If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned."
"If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask me whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.  This is to my Father's glory that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples."
"My commandment is this: Love each other as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command."
"This is my command: Love each other."
"When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father--the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father--He will testify about me.  And you also must testify, for you have been with me from the beginning."
"I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

But even as these mandates look impossible, tucked between are two very important, specific promises, that we overlook to our everlasting peril.
First, the promise of Friday.  That's right.  Yes, right in the middle of these commandments, given on the last day before the final solution, to co-opt a phrase in the best possible sense, is the hope of what tomorrow brings.  While these men (and women) listen to his words, overwhelmed with their own sin and inability to do what He bids them do, He is already rolling up His sleeves for the one thing He put on bone, muscle and flesh to do--to die.  The cross lay before Him this night, the shadow of it right on His face as He gave this mandate to love..."As I have loved you."  The love He had for us took Him to the cross (and back, of course, but that's another day's story), and makes it possible for us to be saved from our failure to do the very things He bids us do.  Saved from, forgiven for, and...
Aided in doing.  Because this is the other promise, the ongoing and life-long promise contained in this long discourse.  Jesus, the Christ, the Second Person of the Godhead, promises that the Third Person of the Godhead will come, aid and abet us, so to speak, in living up to these commands.  The Spirit will dwell in the trenches of life with us.  Right in the muckiest trench that is our own sorry heart.  We couldn't live up to these commands on our own.  No way, no how.  And that was the whole point--we DON'T have to...He made all the provisions for us.  It was His last opportunity to speak them before He died because we couldn't  obey them.  After the cross, with the Holy Spirit enabling us, it was--it is--a whole new story.

I continue to fail at them.  But, with Him, I also continue to succeed.  When I ask--and am given--Holy-Spirit assistance to do more than I could ever do and be on my own.  I shudder to think of how selfish I'd be without Him.  No, I have to turn away from that image.  It's the stuff of nightmares to consider.  He makes me more than I could be on my own.  And more each day--better, more obedient, more like Him--than I can dream of being.  Loving those He's given me to love.
Maundy Thursday--the day of commandments.  "Love one another...as I have loved you."

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hardness of heart

When I was a teenager, I was in a pretty tight circle of friends.  Five of us had been friends, one way or another, since elementary school days.  But the spring of our freshman year of high school, a formative event occurred that cemented the circle of seven of us:  With our Young Life leaders, we went for a weekend retreat up to a ski resort (well past ski-and-snow season), and spent the night stuck in my family's old maroon and white Carry-all in the snow on the side of a mountain.  When it became clear that we were stuck, snowbound with no help available in the dark and no way out (unless we fell off the mountain side in our continuing attempts), we passed around sleeping bags, and tried to make ourselves comfortable for the long haul of night.  I was fortunate enough to land behind the back seat with two others, lay flat and cuddled up.  Those in the seats were not so lucky.  Two in the front seat made the unfortunate decision to remove their clothes, thinking the sleeping bags they'd been given were down.  One of those not-down-but-appeared-to-be sleeping bags was mine and I know/knew it wasn't, but I was clear in back, and didn't realize what they were doing, having fallen quickly asleep (oh, for the ease with which sleep came in those days).  They shivered all night long, poor things.

Very early the next morning, after making trails up a hill to relieve ourselves (I can see the photographs of the tracks in my head even now!), we walked down the mountain for help.  A man named Dan and his little boy, David, came with a snowplow to rescue us.  I remember even their names clearly because we made up a song about the whole experience that we were apt to break into at odd moments for years afterward!

It was perhaps, THE determinative event in us becoming 'the girls'.  Only one other girl became part of our group after that weekend.  And these girls/women have been my lifelong friends. Even the YL leaders  I still hear from and love like sisters (and oddly, they aren't nearly as much older than they seemed then, when they were all of 19 and 20 to my 15 year old self).

However, sometimes we've hurt each other. Back in high school, there were some moments of what one might have called betrayal.  At least then.  Years have softened the blows of those moments, but they were laced with pain then.  From here, I can't speak to motives, though my guess is that most choices had more to do with having fun than actually wanting to hurt someone else.  But hurt was felt.  There were long seasons when relationships were so strained between two or three of us that very little, if any, communication was possible. This hurt the rest of us, pulled us in to the drama, forced us to take sides.  Lest you think I'm innocent of all of this, you are mistaken.  I wish I could say otherwise.  I'd love to be able to tell you I neither hurt any of my friends, nor was hurt by them. Without question, my actions and reactions fell on both sides of betrayal--the betrayer and the betrayed--at different times.  Mostly though, I think--I hope--our betrayals were small things in the grand scheme of things.  We survived them.  Lived to move on and talk about them.  Lived to love each other more than hold on to them.

But then there's real betrayal.  You know what I'm talking about, doing the one thing that will most destroy another person for the sake of self.  I personally haven't experienced this from either side, though I've read enough books to recognize it.  And while it makes for an interesting plot line, it's hell on earth in reality.  To be betrayed by someone you trusted?  Someone you loved?  How do you survive that?

Judas Iscariot.  The very name conjures the worst betrayal in history, doesn't it?  Even those who don't follow Christ, recognize this name. In Luke it says that "Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve."  But here's the thing:  in other places in the gospels, we've seen Judas stingy and selfish. In the story of Jesus' anointing at Bethany, John tells us that Judas thought the perfume should have been sold and the money given to the poor. "He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it." (John 12: 6)  Two things strike me about this. First, of the disciples, it was a thief who was given charge of the money.  Doesn't this seem a little odd?  Surely Jesus knew who and what Judas was from the get-go. And right beside Judas in the group was another man used to handling money--Matthew (or Levi), the tax-collector.  Surely Matthew could have done the job admirably, if Jesus had asked him to.  Right?  But I think it wasn't that important to Jesus.  What's a denari here or there among friends?  And Matthew had been changed.  He wasn't interested in getting his hands on the money any longer.  Had Judas actually been changed? 

That's the second thing that strikes me.  Satan may have entered him and pressed him to go to the priests.  But Satan couldn't have entered Peter.  Not essentially.  Sure, Peter slipped the night of Jesus' arrest.  But denial isn't the same as betrayal.  Peter had been changed by Jesus. The gospels tell us enough about Peter's character to reveal that.  He'd fallen in love with Jesus, knew who He was, and, if not what it all meant exactly, at least enough to know he wanted in on it.  But the few things we're told about Judas indicate otherwise.  Judas hadn't been changed by the One he'd spent three years with.  This is a little shocking to me.  I can't imagine it.  All my Christian life I've had one underlying envy, that those men (and women, for there were plenty who also followed with the disciples; see Luke 8: 1-3) lived and ate and got to touch and see and be with the Second Person of the Trinity while He was in the flesh on this earth.  Yes, I admit it, I envy that, as hard as it was.  I know I have it better, for having the whole story in front of me, at my finger-tips, but I still feel it. Always will.  So to think of Judas who had this incredible, only-for-those-few gift and was so hard of heart that he wasn't changed by it, I don't get it.  I really don't.

But it was that very hardness of heart, that very unwillingness to give up self and be changed by relationship with Christ that gave Satan the space necessary to enter him, thereby compelling him to do the dirty, bloody work he did.  It's all well and good to blame the whole kit and caboodle on Satan, or to question whether God knew ahead of time that Judas would be the one to betray Jesus. The answer to the second is yes, of course.  God knew not because He created Judas to be His instrument of evil--if you think that, you miss who God is completely--but because He knew who Judas was.  He saw that Judas was unflinchingly selfish, unwilling to be changed by the Good, the Love, the actual presence of Himself right in his midst.  So He knew Satan could/would use Him.  But this sidesteps the real issue.

The issue is, how hard is your heart?
See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called, "Today," so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness.  What have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold till the end our original conviction.  As has been said, 
"Today, if you hear His voice,
do not harden your hearts
as you did in the rebellion." Hebrews 3: 12-15

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Figs

Sometime on that very busy Monday, Jesus had apparently wanted a piece of fruit.  No big deal, just a little fig as they were walking along.  I wonder how often they picked fruit from trees as they wove in and out through the towns, along dusty back roads (and dusty front roads too, for that matter, since pavement was two thousand years in the future), over hills, by the sea.  It wasn't like they had a chuck-wagon behind them, with a craggy, grumpy old cowboy ready to fix hearty meals over a fire he'd laid himself while they were off doing ministry.  No, they lived by their wits, these first followers of Christ. And more than one fruit tree, I'm guessing, fed them.  But not this fig tree, not that final Monday.  It was empty of fruit, you see.

And that didn't sit well with Jesus.  At least this is how I always read the story as a young believer.  Just this simple, just this based on human hunger and a little put off not to be fed when He wanted to be.  But, of course, this isn't really His character, is it?  God Incarnate isn't mercurial so that He'll condemn on a dime what doesn't satisfy His base hungers.  This would be a human response, and not a very righteous one at that.  So when Jesus doesn't find a fig on that tree, and this absence causes Him to curse it for all time, I'm guessing the disciples were scratching their heads a little.  Drop-jawed with the inconsistency of this response with what they'd come to know about Him.  Did they whisper among themselves? Or were they so startled that they could only squeak with it? The truth is, Jesus could just have easily put a fig on that tree, if He'd had a mind to.  The man had made a banquet out of a few fish and loaves, after all.  So one measly fig to satisfy His hunger? Piece of cake...so to speak.  But that wasn't what He was about.

The next morning--Tuesday--the disciples and Jesus have occasion to pass by the fig tree again.  And not only is there no fruit among its branches, but it's positively withered from the roots.  Peter (and all the others, too, undoubtedly, though he tends to be the quick-draw spokesperson, which is an all-too familiar quality, just ask my family, my whole, large extended family) remembers what Jesus had said to the tree the day before, and stops dead in his tracks. "Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!" 

"Have faith in God, " Jesus answered.  "Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, "Go, throw yourself into the sea, and do not doubt in your heart but believe that what you say will happen, it will be done for you.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours."

Now we get to down to it.  In Jesus' answer, we (and the disciples, of course) understand that the 'curse' wasn't about the fig tree at all, but was a vehicle by which He could teach about prayer.  A teaching moment, some might call it today, though a better-by-a-country-mile phrase would be a sign and wonder.  Almost every miracle Jesus did had the purpose of revealing something about Himself.  Yes, there were times when He was simply moved by compassion. We are told that.  But often, even when He healed the sick and, particularly when He raised Lazarus from the dead, He was pointing to Himself, pointing to something essential for His followers to understand in the life of faith they/we are called to.  As John puts it, "These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and believing, you may have life in His name." (20:31)

So this 'curse' of the fig tree has nothing to do with the fig tree itself, and everything to do with prayer.  He was performing, for the disciples, an exercise of faith. There are echoes here--or shouts for the hard of hearing, as Flannery O'Connor put it so eloquently--of John 15, where Jesus tells the disciples that, "I am the true vine and you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.  If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers...If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you." (15:5-7)  It's a visual aid, to show what is possible if--with Him in residence in us--we believe God to do what we ask.  Now clearly, He's not advocating that we go around cursing fig trees or moving mountains, like we're some kind of magician.  Of course not.  And, come to think of it, I can't actually remember the last time anyone managed to move a mountain into the sea via prayer.  The most faithful understand this isn't the point, and the rest of us thankfully don't have enough faith to actually do so.

In other places, He gave a blueprint for prayer (the Lord's prayer, for those of you who didn't catch what I meant), but here He's concerned with the foundation.  And that foundation is faith.  Faith.  Our half-hearted, uncertain, worry-warted prayers have a way of bouncing off the walls of our ceiling and of our hearts, but that's about the end of it.  No, Jesus tells us here--and many other places as well--that it's certain, full-throttle, 'I believe and I trust and I know You can and will do this' prayers that He is interested in, but those prayers mean that we believe and trust and know that He is.  Just that, that He is, and that He's in relationship with us and cares about what we care about. "Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and being certain of what we do not see." (Hebrews 11:1)

Sometimes the best way to shore up our flagging faith, our certainty in what we do not see, but want to, is to remember the ways God has been faithful in our past.  A list, a recitation of His goodness to us really does the job.  When I've made such a list, it's made me feel joy and humility all at once.  That God, my very Big GOD should have done so much for so puny me, who has so often doubted.  It utterly slays me--and reminds me that yes--YES!!!--He lives and breathes and has made His home in me, and therefore, what I ask, He answers. I absolutely believe that the more we are willing to trust Him, the more He will do for us.  Four years ago right now, our youngest, faith-filled child was convinced that Whitworth University was the only place she should go to college.  The cost looked overwhelming to us.  But she was certain, and God met her at her faith.  No, He did more than met her, He inhabited her faith and brought it to fruition.  Four years later, she is about to graduate.  God has been faithful.  She believed and He was faithful.  This is relationship--God-dwelt, faith-filled relationship. It is both awesome and humbling. 

How do you pray?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday

It's holy week. The pace of Jesus' life and ministry on earth moved something like a horse picking up speed.  It begins with a word and a song--to a young girl, and bursting from her in response.  And slows to wait--as life always does--through the nine months it takes to incubate within the safest place a person ever lives, protected on every side by his mother's body.  There are a few bumps in his early life, if one can call having to flee a tyrant who wants to kill him (and successfully murders every other male child his age in town) and settling in the far-off (but history-mimicking) nation of Egypt a mere bump, but generally speaking, this God-man Incarnate's early life was so calm and smooth-sailing we know only one thing about it.  Only that one 'look-in' in his twelfth year, when He stayed in the temple bewildering even scholars by what He understood/knew about His father. That look in only confirmed that He was growing in wisdom and stature, pleasing both God and man at exactly the pace of every human being.  Years were simply years, no faster, no more miraculous than that.

Thirty years in, which is far later than we expect our sons and daughters to begin their lives and livelihood, but oddly, at exactly the age my daughter recently learned that a male's brain finally finishes maturing (a female's is earlier, but that has no bearing here), our hero (and indeed, isn't He the only ABSOLUTE hero who's every lived?) begins His work.  To use our analogy, the horse begins to trot.  Truth is expounded and miracles abound.  Every action is purposeful, every word intentional.  His movement geographically (or sometimes lack of) might confound His followers, but He knows what He's about. Profoundly, He knows! (Are you enjoying my word choices--expound, abound, confound?  In our family, we like to play a game where we think of as many words we can with the same endings...and sometimes I just can't help myself, it tips over into my writing).

His face, the gospels remind us frequently, is set toward Jerusalem.  Toward this week.   This week, in the life of the Incarnate, reminds me a little like the Suicide Race held each year in the great northern middle-of-nowhere in this state where there's nothing much else to do but to climb on your horse and ride down the steep (33 degrees!!!) hill at a breakneck pace. Gee, sounds like fun. 

But this is what Jesus' last week was a little like.  It was a steep down-hill gallop toward that steep hill up to the cross.  And more happened in that one week than had happened in the rest of his life on earth combined.  What am I saying?  Of course more happened then.  It was the climax, after all.  The place and event and moment toward which He was always moving, always. 
So at the same breakneck speed, we move through these cataclysmic events, these seven days that change the world.  After the first seven, no other week in history have held more, and meant more to all eternity.
Monday:
With purpose in his stride, and some well-placed anger in His voice, He turns the wrath of Himself on His Father's house, the very place where folks, 20 years earlier, had first sat up and took notice of Him, first heard Him call it, "My Father's house." I'm sure, as He stood in that marketplace of a Temple He was remembering the sweetness of sitting with the older, learned men and talking with them about the mysteries of God.  Remembering, too, the day when Solomon finished building that temple, and the ones when the place of worship was a tabernacle in the wilderness.  All of those memories were present to Him when He blew up, as it were, at what that Holy place had become.  Of course He blew up, and of course it was right.  If we want to understand righteous anger, we must look at Jesus in the temple.  And stand a moment in His shoes. 

Oh, but wait.  We can't.  We can't stand in His shoes, can we?  We weren't there before the world began, or even when God breathed life into humans and the air was pure and clean and no one had hit or hurt anyone yet.  The one who slithered his way through the fresh, new grass of the garden and wound his lies around the tree of life came before we did...but not before He did.  We have no memory before sin--our own or anyone else's--but He does.  That gives Him the right footing, so to speak, from which to feel and express anger at what sin has done.  And though we have that same right--the right to feel and express anger at sin--none of us have the same footing as Christ.  There is none righteous, no, not one.  At least not on Monday.  Not if we're looking at life through the lens of this week, this most holy, but pain-filled week.

Yes, it's Monday.  And He began the week with a righteous anger, overturning tables, upsetting the applecart that began the stampede that led to the cross.  And He knew it would.    He knew exactly what He was doing that day.  It's Monday.  But, to paraphrase Tony Compolo, Friday's coming.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Love it

We're heading east in an hour or so...whenever the troops get here.  By troops I mean, Beve, E and J.  SK's senior project is this weekend, her last great hurrah, so to speak.  She'll take to the stage with two of her best theater buddies and they'll strut their stuff, so to speak before profs, friends and family, as a culmination what they've learned in their four years in college.  She's been in a major panic about this in the last couple of weeks.  A PANIC, I should say, not wanting to let down any of us.  Not those who love her, those who will evaluate her, those who act beside--and depend upon her acting well--her, and especially herself.  


Now I had a senior project when I graduated from the University of Oregon English Department.  Mine was--wait for it--"A study of the Pastoral  in the Elegiac Mode of Edmund Spenser's The Faery Queen".  Are you suitably impressed?  Or just bored to tears?  Falling asleep in your coffee?  It was scholarly and self-important, and I'm almost sure I would barely understand (let alone care about) a word of it, were I to read it today.  But I did it. Got a reasonable grade on it--must have, or I wouldn't be sitting here today, with a college degree and all.  But the only good thing about it was the only those profs who graded it and I, who had researched within an inch of my life in that most horrible last term of college (and it really was--trying to survive a broken engagement, still be in the town with the man, go to school, see him our friends, simply survive so I could get the dang degree), and wrote it, actually read the thing.  

What I'm saying is that this is a whole lot different--across the Grand Canyon divide--from doing a theatrical production as a senior project.  Yes, in some ways what I did was harder.  All that stinkin', back in the stacks, rare book room and research library research.  And, I'll remind you--this was in the dinosaur days of no computers, let alone no internet. The world wasn't at my fingertips in those days, all U of O had to offer was all I could offer my profs, for better or worse.  However, I was hidden in the end.  I didn't have to stand there, warts and all, hoping I really knew all my lines, grasped well all the characters, got all the costume changes down quickly enough not to interrrupt the flow of the play.  I may have had only one shot at it, but only when I came in to sit with my prof (a rather slight man with a diffident way of speaking that didn't intimidate anyone, which may have been why I chose that  period to study, rather than something I had more interest in), it was to a cluttered office and an offered cup of tea I came, and a cozy, easy conversation that didn't scare even the birds in the trees beyond Old Main where he'd been teaching a million years.


So I get SK's fear.  But I know this about my daughter.  When the seats are filled and the lights dim, whatever she's worried about in the moments before disappear, and she's suddenly present in that/those characters she inhabits for the course of the play.  From when she was the littlest apple seed "Johnny Appleseed", to one of the step-sisters in "Cinderella" (a role people STILL rave about, though it was 7 years ago), and all the others, she's always right there.  Inside that role, inside those people/creatures in whom she dwells for those moments on the stage.  I don't know whether this will be the last time we'll see her act, but it might be.  She's choosing a different path now, costume design.  But I've enjoyed loved every minute of it.  Large roles and little ones, I've loved watching her act, loved watching her love acting.  So, if I could say just a couple of words to her this morning it would be these:  Love it this weekend.  Pour your love into it exactly the way you always have.  Let go of your worries and simply relish that you get to do this one more time.  That's what I'll be doing.  With all the love in my heart.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

101

I had a conversation with a woman who was facing a rather difficult transition.  Facing it not with anticipation, thrill and 'let's get this show on the road,' but with anxiety, resentment and her feet, hands and body wedged against the door God had clearly opened for her.  I instantly recognized her reaction.  About 8 years ago, Beve came walking through the front door of a house I loved, one I'd set up in ways that suited our family and particularly myself so that there was a dedicated place for my writing, a large kitchen that opened up to a family room where we gathered while I managed to put meals together, simply because we were all together.  He walked into that house and told me God had shown him the house we were meant to buy in Bellingham.  It was a smaller house, but all on one level (a requirement, since that was the year I lived on the couch), with a large yard, right next door to some very close friends. With a great view of the bay as a boon.

Wheels began to turn.  They picked up speed.  And suddenly we were barreling toward a move faster than I could imagine.  We put our house up for sale on a street where many houses had been for sale in the previous year.  None of those houses had sold so, one by one, each owner had removed their home from the market.  But our house sold before we even managed to clear out the rooms and stage it for showings.  The first day we put an ad in the paper (and we sold it ourselves, another thing no one else did), the eventual buyer's sister called and came to see it. If God wasn't in that, I'll eat my hat, as my grandfather used to say.  Several months later, in fact, a neighbor, while dropping her son off to hang with J, commented on this miraculous turn of events, and instead of giving God His due, I simply agreed that it was amazing.  I've never forgotten that missed opportunity.  It was missed, unfortunately, because I wasn't sold on the sale of our house.  My heart was cold to what God was doing.  I liked that house. No, I loved it.  I didn't want to give it up and squeeze ourselves into this smaller house, even for the convenience of town and a great view out the window.

It took me a long time to soften to this new home.  Oh, objectively I could see why living in town was better. SK could go to the high school where Beve is a counselor.  With a shorter commute, Beve was home more, and it was certainly better for the environment for all of us not to be running into town so many times a day.  My ideal would have been to pick up that house and move it to this lot, but I suppose God doesn't generally do such things, just for my personal gratification.  What He's in the business of doing, and what He is most concerned about is not changing our residences but changing our hearts. (Just so you know, 8 years down the road, I am overwhelmed with what God did back then, with how far ahead of me He was--as usual!--and LOVE this house, am grateful for it.  I'd never want to go back to the other. No way, no how.  He was right, and this is good. Amen.)

So when I was talking to this woman about the change coming in her life, the one she has her heels firmly dug in over, I thought of the verse in Ezekiel--11:19 (though I had to look it up to get the right chapter and verse):
"I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh."
This woman instantly asked, "Is that for me? Can I ask Him to do that?" 
And I thought two things.  First, what a privilege to give just the right encouragement to someone at exactly the right moment.  It's one of the blessings of having scripture hidden in one's heart, that it's always available at the ready.  The more there is hidden within, the more available for the Spirit's use through me.
But the second thing, prompted by her question, "Is that for me?"  This isn't the first time I've run into this wall with another believer, this wall of not quite getting that scripture is personal and absolutely meant for us.  If it's anything, it's meant for us.  Other wise, what's the point?  Of course, there will be the theologians among you who will instantly think of sections we should NOT ask God to do--'dash our enemies' babies heads against the rocks' comes to mind--but His word, His Word is ours.  "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correction and training in righteousness, so that all God's people may be thoroughly equipped for every good work." Paul tells Timothy.  ALL Scripture.  There's nothing left out of what is useful.  For you, for me, for every one sitting beside us on Sunday morning.

I know this might seem like Bible 101, but somehow I think even those who have walked with Christ for a while forget it. We forget that the answers we're seeking--for life changes and HEART changes--can be, indeed must be, found in the pages of the Bible.  And if this is true, and if you have been walking with Him for a while, there is one simple way to know whether you're really seeking the best answers to your heart and life and 'what next, Lord?' questions:
How worn is your Bible?
If you're looking elsewhere, and flooded with anxiety and worry, while your Bible sits pristine on a shelf, you're missing something.  No, you're missing THE thing...where you'll meet God and be changed.  And really, to meet God? Seriously, why wouldn't you?  And...by the way, stop looking around to see who I'm talking to here--you know, like you do in church, when you wonder who the sermon's for, because it really can't be for you, as uncomfortable as it makes you. This is for you, and me--well, each one of us who call Him Lord!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Two selves

Two things I must get off my chest.
First, Maica is a spot-stealer.  Yes, she is, the little turkey.  I'm sitting all snug in a chair with my feet up, a heating pad around my neck (you know how you move wrong and that sharp nerve pain goes slicing through your neck?  Well, I did that last Thursday and the dang thing just won't stop hurting!), get up to pour more tea, and when I return there's a black and white Springer curled up in my spot.  I've even taken to saying, "Saves-ies!" but you think she pays any attention to me?  As we used to say (and the double negative of it drove my grandmother crazy!), "Not hardly!"  So, now that I've resettled myself on the couch, perhaps I can also regain my thoughts.

For the last several days I've had a particular idea for a post, one I keep mulling over right before I go to sleep. I really should get up and write about it then, because, honestly, by the time I'm wide awake and ready to place my fingers on the keyboard, I can't remember what that brilliant idea was.  Not for the life of me.  For three straight days I've had this lightbulb go off, feel utterly certain that this time--surely this time--I'll remember it in the morning, to discover it's been wiped out by a good night's sleep.  It reminds me a little bit of a cartoon I saw years ago.  In the first box, a man is asleep in his bed.  In the next, he's awakened from a sound sleep, and says, "Aha, the secret of life." He quickly scribbles something on a scrap of paper and goes back to sleep.  The next morning when he wakes up, he grabs the paper, excited to know what he uncovered in the dark.  The paper says, "Cheeseburger."

So in case my brilliant idea is no more than "Cheeseburger," I press on. 

A couple weeks ago, when I was searching through photographs of J on his birthday, I came across this picture almost 40 years old--a very posed picture, I should say.  If the date on my brother R's t-shirt is current, we're looking at vintage 1974, and, left to right, that's R, me, our cousin BJ, our aunt Aureli (I had to tell you her whole name because it's so unusual), and the Dump.  We are the four oldest grandchildren and the youngest child of my father's parents.  We're in the kitchen of our cabin on Whidbey Island, beginning the process of making a family favorite, Bread Dumplings, a dough fried in oil, then dipped in syrup, and VERY delicious.

I turned 17 the summer this picture was taken.  I was very skinny, with (as you can tell) a long nose on a long, narrow face. And my eyes... I have eyes so deep set in my face, I've been asked if I'm tired or sick hundreds of times, but when I was thin, the dark circles looked like I was punched in the nose. No, I wasn't very attractive.  I say that from a distance of time and objectivity I certainly didn't have then.  A boy once told a friend of mine that from the back I was very pretty...but then I turned around.  Granted, this was a boy whose interest I neither wanted nor cared about, but my friend has reminded me of this comment almost every time she's seen me for the last 40 years, so it's been a bit hard to forget.  I also had a couple of very sweet nicknames: one was 'Stash, for mustache, which I'm telling you, I tried every blasted thing in the world to destroy.  Bleach, pluck, whatever it took...oddly, I outgrew the 'Stash after those years, both the name and the hair, which is really a cruel injustice.  Then there was Beak.  Ah, my nose.  My long, lean, triangular nose.  Oh, the woe it has caused.  Another boy--an actual friend--once spent an entire field trip making fun of my long nose.   He said things like, "If you put it in the air, you could sail a boat with it.  Put a hinge on it and it'd be a door." I remember laughing, because all our other friends were laughing, but it wasn't very pleasant on the inside. Particularly because he was, in most girls' minds, probably the best looking boy in school.  Just so you know, however, he felt badly enough afterward that he wrote me an extremely thoughtful apology letter.

But here's the thing, the very unexpected, counter-to-what-culture-would-tell-you thing: I wasn't insecure.  Now, let me explain.  Of course there were insecurities about boys.  I wanted to be liked, particularly by the one I liked.  And I did worry and fret over that big nose, thin hair and bruised eyes.  But inside of me, inside this not-very-pretty-except-from-the-back girl, there lived a girl who believed in herself because others believed in her.  I can't tell you all the reasons this is true, but I know it.  I remember a conversation with a college friend--a very pretty friend, actually--about why I was so vivacious.  I told her that in order for people to make an accurate judgment about me and my character, I had to open my mouth and tell them the truth of me, because first impressions couldn't do it.  I couldn't walk into a room and expect to be liked for my looks.  Only my real self could do the job. And that real self was somehow confident enough to stand in front of adults and even her peers, and talk about Jesus.  Whenever the occasion presented itself.

I think everyone in the world walks around with two selves, the external, which they show and speak through, and the internal, where something completely different may be/is happening while their outward engages in talk or work or whatever.  Most of real life happens at the vortex of the two.  And I think that in my early life with Christ, which happened in the critical days of adolescence, while boys (and girls) were teasing, mocking and just plain being mean to each other, the Holy Spirit was also burying Himself deep inside me, telling me a different truth about myself, that I counted, that I was made in His image, that who I was and would become had been planned by Him and was no mistake.  Is no mistake.

It would have been easy in those years, to focus on the outward.  The world, after all, lives there and places all focus, meaning and value on the external.  Somehow, He got through to me. Don't get me wrong, this was/is completely, totally by His grace, and no credit to me. Absolutely all Him, I know. But He whispered, and nudged and told me, over and over, that I could only do so much with the external.  I could get thinner or fatter, could put makeup on my face, but, barring surgery (which seems anathema, unless there is some medical reason), only so much could be changed about the shell God has placed me in.  But the internal, where He lives and breathes and has His being--much could/ must be done there.

This is where the real work is always done, where it's continually done, until we breathe our last on earth and our first in the rarified, pure air of heaven itself. To give Him more of myself, to marry more of my internal with my external so that He is evident in every step I take and every conversation I have: this is worth spending my life on.  The invisible must rule the visible.   Just as Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, we can allow Him to be in our visible selves what He is in our invisible selves.  Incarnate in us.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Work

As I mentioned last week, we've been in a flurry of shifting rooms and beds and stuff around here.  And by we, I mean mostly Beve, with a little help from E, and far less from me. Unfortunately, Spring Break ended before the shuffle could be completed, as is often the way of things with us.  Beve's waiting for help from a rather harried, busy friend who is much better mechanically than either of us could ever dream of being, to assist in the Murphy-bed set-up, so in the meantime, my sewing area is here:
Yep, smack-dab in the middle of our living room.  And most of my sewing projects, fabric, etc is here:
piled high on the dining room table.  And yes, that is Jackson's collar of shame perched on the corner of a chair, as well as a towel slung over the back of another.  A table runner RE made for me hangs over another, and...well, apparently I've let things pile up along with the fabric bins. Sigh. 

This is not to say that I've been a total slacker.  The project on my sewing table turned into this:
Weeks ago, Beve asked me to make some quilts to put on our large sectional in the TV room.  Here's a sordid confession: we've long had an old comforter I cut in half laying over our beautiful sectional.  And here's the reason:
Yep, we let our dogs get on the furniture. I know some (most!) of you are shaking your heads and quivering in your boots at such a thing, and believe me, there was a day when I was right beside you pointing my finger at such pet-owners.  Dogs did not belong on couches.  No way, no how.  But then I spent a year on a couch.  And one of my great pleasures that year was having Jemima, my beloved, beautiful lab, lie at the end of the couch at my curled feet.  It wasn't long before Jackson was creeping up onto the loveseat across the room, and who was I to say it was okay for her but not for him.  And pretty soon it was Johnny bar the door, and our dogs were climbing on our beds as well.  And frankly, I just didn't have the energy to stop them.  Thank God (really!) our children were so well trained by then, or we'd have had three hellions on our hands, I'm sure.  Anyway, to protect our furniture, we came up with the old quilt method, until this last week.  Now we have the beautiful new quilt method of protecting them.  And it makes me very, very happy.  I've HATED those old quilts.  But these two long narrow quilts do the job and appeal to me.  So I made a couple of pillows to match.


And the other project of my week was this bed quilt for my sister, RE.  She actually bought all the fabric and sent it over to me.  She'd liked the pattern when I made it for SK two years ago (wow, how time flies), so wanted one like it.  Knew she's too busy to do it herself, so I said I'd do it.  Here's the one I made SK:
And here's the one I just finished this afternoon for RE:

So that's my Spring Break in a nutshell. 
Well, that and a HUGE kafafel with Grampie and his perscription insurance.  It makes my head ache to think about it.  Hours on the phone, miscommunication, intractable laws and inflexible insurance.  A person with dementia can be his own worst enemy and there's no protection for him.  Someone asked the other day when I'm ever going to get a rest.  When I was talking to RE today and told her that, E overheard me and quipped, "You can rest when you die, Mom."  See what a thoughtful daughter I have?  And what great perspective!

But she is right.  The notion of retirement and rest, that we are owed this--it's a western construct.  Not a biblical one.  In the Kingdom of God, we are called to work and labor--whatever that means for each of us--until He calls us home.  However we are meant to be used, we should be used up.  To the very end.  But somehow, in our culture, we think otherwise.  Now I'm not saying--please understand this--that one must stay in their corporate or educational or hospital or whatever job until the day he or she dies.  However, I absolutely believe that once the years of service to a particular company or field are finished, it does not mean a person is finished being useful to God.  Or should just sit in a rocking chair watching the butterflies and the folks passing on the road.  Or play golf (or watch golf, though wow, wasn't that a great Masters?  I love watching it!).  The end of one kind of work means the beginning of a different kind.  Doesn't it?  And perhaps that work will only take place (as mine does) from a chair in your living room, with a Bible, a computer, and time to pray. But it's vital-to-His-Kingdom, real work.  I believe that. 

Sabbath is good.  And even a year of Jubilee is good. But He has something for you, even at the end of your days.  You can rest when you die.
Right, E?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Hog-wallow

The question is how to get from lament to praise.  In the Psalms, it's all one smooth rhythm. There is no sense that it takes the lamenter any time at all to move from grief or anger to praise and gratitude. The human condition tells me otherwise, though.  I'm certain that some of those Psalms took hours, days, even months to finish.  It is not an easy movement, if it's an authentic one, to surrender pain, to say, "Even in this will I praise you."  We can get discouraged reading those Psalms of lament if we think we're so much slower (the word retarded is the proper word here--retard meaning slow) in making the movement from lament to praise than the 'truly Godly.' But God alone knows how much time it takes, how much broken-heartedness it takes, for us to take joy.  "Weeping may last all through the night, but joy comes in the morning."  How long is a night of weeping to God?

This is not, of course, license to wallow in the pain or anger or frustration or resentment or whatever other negative feeling one has. Certainly not to the point of allowing it to fester, turn gangrene and infect my very soul, so that the rotten place must be amputated.  It only means that the movement is a process, a journey (as Beve so often reminds me) and the speed can not be pre-determined, at least not by me.  God is more patient with that process than I am, of course.  The process of moving away from lament to praise is almost never set by the length of time it takes to read a Psalm of lament.  Would that I could move away from whatever is troubling me so quickly.  I open my Bible to, say, Psalm 27 (which is one of my default laments), when I am really struggling with the ongoing battle of pain and the consequential battle with feeling somewhat (or a whole lot) useless.  I read, "To you, Lord, I call; you are my Rock...For if you remain silent I will be like those who go down to the pit."  At the slow pace of lecto divino, it takes me just over a minute to read the Psalm.  1 minute and 15 seconds, to be precise.  And...yes, I feel better when I reach the lovely, hopeful words at the end, "for He has heard my cry for mercy.  The Lord is my strength and my shield, my heart trusts in Him and He helps me..." but it will take more reading.
And more quiet, and more reading, and more listening, and more...to move in earnest with the Psalmist, not merely in word but in heart.
The essential question isn't of time, but of desire.  Am I seeking that journey, that movement toward joy, or do I actually want to sit in the hog-wallow of whatever the lament is?  Am I seeking God through the tears I shed in the watches of the night, no matter how long, in earth's chronos, those watches are?  Am I leaning toward joy?  Or taking perverse pride in that pity-party of a hog-wallow?  Doesn't the dawn of gratitude begin somewhere even in the darkest, most pain-filled hours of the night?

This, I think, is the movement toward which every lament is aiming.  The word, of course, is HOPE.  Even when my body feels like crap (excuse the language, but the Psalmists sometimes are extremely graphic, you know), there is Hope.  Even when everything seems lost and darkness is spread out like a muddy cape across the hog-wallow of your life, there is a sliver of light somewhere on the horizon.  If you only face the right direction.  That hope, that direction, is His Son.  The person who has His Son has life.  He or she who doesn't have the Son, has only a hog-wallow." (I'm pretty sure that's the actual Greek).

Beve found this contemporary lament of sorts yesterday, thought I'd written it, but I can't credit for it, though no longer remember the author:
My Lord,
I have mistreated you all my Christian life.
I have treated you like a servant.
When I wanted you, I called for you;
when I was about to engage in some work,
I beckoned you to come and help
Me perform my task.
I have kept you in the place of a servant;
I have sought to use you only as a willing
servant to help me in my
self-appointed and chosen work.
I shall do so no more.
Just now I give you this body of mine;
from my head to my feet, I give it to you.
I give you my hands, my limbs, my eyes,
my lips, my brain;
All that I am within and without.
I hand over to you for you to live
in it the life that you please;
You may send this body to Africa,
or lay it on a bed with cancer;
You may blind the eyes, or send
me with your message to Tibet.
You may take this body to the Eskimos,
or send it to a hospital with pneumonia.
It is your body from this moment on.
Help yourself to it.
Thank you, my Lord.
I believe you accepted it.
We now belong to each other.