Thursday, June 30, 2011

Nonsense, sense and no-sense

The summer's begun around here, weather or not we're ready for it.  And yes, I meant to say weather, which, from where I sit, seems a whole lot more like March than July.  But I dare not complain.  Not when A) there has been a heat wave going on in so much of the country that people are dying from it; and B) I have so much else to complain about today. Unfortunately. Regardless of the weather (or irregardless, as some people like to say, which is dead-wrong, and they'd realize it, if they had two-brain cells to knock together!), summer has come, and with it, the first of our house guests.  Beve's oldest brother, an ex-pat who's spent more of his life in Finland than the United States, has landed in our home, bringing with him packages from E and his daughter's aborted Christmas trip. Beve and his siblings always seem so-quintessentially American--big and brawny, athletic, loud and friendly, the oldest as much as any of them.  R was talking today about how he sits at a park by the water in Helsinki, eating icecream and watching the tourists.  I asked him if he ever wonders how he got here, not literally, but ontologically.  He said he thinks about it a lot.  Then he verbally mapped out the LITERAL path of how he got from the small town in eastern Washington to Helsinki, Finland.  Completely, utterly missing my point of wonder.  That was my point.  That we expect our lives to be a certain thing, and not something else.  But we can't tell at 18 or 23 what that will be.  I couldn't.  I couldn't tell I'd be married to the tallest boy in the 4th grade in my elementary school, from whom I'd lived across the street.  I wouldn't have dreamed such a thing.  Only God can do such a thing as this.  And our response is always awe and wonder, if we stop long enough to wonder, or have the inclination.

And, we should.  Stop that is.  Wonder. Sigh in delight, in awe, gaze at the stars that only God could have set into space, at purple mountains, and the foam of seas, in fact, at the great breadth of geographies on this planet.  We should be swept away into silence by them, knowing that THEY sing of His glory in a vast array of tongues that we cannot hope to repeat with our paltry words.  The Psalmist gets this.  Our words in the face of the Creation is nonsense, it really is.

But we don't stop.  Not at His creation, nor, very often, with each other.  We live with agendas and lists and ideas in our minds of how things should be, how life will go.  And we want everything to conform to that.  To wit: I spent many, many hours in the last several weeks, making quilts for my nieces and their mother who are hosting E in Finland, and for their father, R, who arrived here Tuesday. Yesterday I gave R his quilt and showed him the other three.  This morning E emailed me that he had texted his daughters about their quilts.

I was stunned. Angry.  I had a plan in my head.  You know, like they were going to be surprises?  The way gifts are.  It made no sense to me--no sense whatsoever--that he would do that.  Ruin MY gift that way.  But  it was my agenda.  All my own agenda.  And, in the long run, it doesn't matter a whit.  It's the gift that counts.  I cannot change what has already happened.  I cannot make it un-happen, so I have to let go of my agenda in the face of a new reality.  And rejoice in that.  Otherwise, it'll be a wedge between me and my brother-in-law (though, because I am who I am, committed to truth in relationships, I have to tell him.  Wish I didn't.  But these things grow tumors, I know they do!).

And another thing.  This morning, SK walked out of her room and said, "Mama, did you write, 'I love Dell" on your Facebook wall?"  "No!" I said, emphatically.
 "You better change your password, then.  Someone else did."
Beve was walking toward the kitchen, and started laughing.  "That was me," he said.
"What?" SK and I both asked.
"I thought it was my page."
Of course, two questions come to mind.  Firstly, how he could have thought a page that had my name on it was his (though it does make me certain he believes we are actually ONE), and secondly...'I love Dell'?  Really?  He doesn't post a status for a year, then that? Especially since he's a Mac guy, if he has a choice.  Talk about nonsense.  Which can only mean, Vacation Beve has come home to roost!  And not a moment too soon.

All this to say, it's summer, and with it, all kinds of sense.  The glorious nonsense of Vacation Beve, the sometimes no-sense between people who have to live and work together.  And the healing Sense of God who saves and comes between as the bridge and the comforter and all things between.

Take a moment to look around at what He created.  I'm not saying to stop and smell the roses, but to stop and stare in wonder.  Let it overwhelm you that ONLY God could have done all this, the largeness and glory, and ONLY God could make sense of the smallest details of your life, could, and does, care for your relationships in every sense.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

The foundation

The first time I wrote about our back deck was...June 13, 2008.  That afternoon a crowd of high school students, celebrating the end of the year, crowded onto our deck until a couple of loud crashes sent them scurrying off the deck and onto the grass.  Fortunately, the deck isn't far off the ground. Well, at least one end of it isn't.  Unfortunately, the other end is six feet off the ground.

Our deck settled after that first even.  We noticed that the deck surface now pitched forward toward the steps we used constantly, but it seemed sturdy enough most of the time.  We thought about replacing it, actually went so far as to buy some decking, but time and money prevented us from completing starting the project.  Beve is, after all, a very busy man, winter, spring, summer and fall.  And hiring someone else to do the job is far beyond our financial ability.

There began to be 'soft spots' in the deck.  We learned to avoid them.  We took down the railing, never walked out there in barefeet.  We aren't idiots, after all.  We knew were were asking for trouble by letting it go, after all.  But this is sometimes how things creep up on us.  I suppose if our children had been smaller, we might have borrowed (or stolen? Just kidding!) to replace it, but we're all adults around here. And, after all, we have a beautiful slate patio in front of our house--with a view of Bellingham Bay, no less--so we do have outdoor space, if the weather actually cooperates enough for us to enjoy it.

Then in February, when all of my siblings and many other extended family were visiting, against Beve's repeated warnings, we piled onto our back deck for a group photo.  Needless to say, there were another two loud crashes.  Again people (adults this time) went scurrying off the deck onto the grass (other than Grampie and Thyrza.  Then my nephew-in-law looked under the deck and said, "It looks like some of those joists aren't holding up anything."

So the time has come.  No, that's not quite right.  The time has long since come, we finally just admitted it.  We got out our measuring tape, figured out a design (it'll be a larger deck now), asked a tech teacher at Beve's school to work out the supply list.  And Saturday, Beve and another buddy tore off that old deck.  That old rotten deck.  It was rotten.  Some of those joists were so rotten they crumbled in Beve's hands, like the one directly below where our barbecue has stood as long as we've lived in this house.  It was really appalling to see how unstable the underside--the foundation!--of our deck has been. Every time we've walked on it, we were in danger of stepping straight through it, I think.

The top of the deck has continued to look safe until recently.  With repeated coats of paint and the re-pounding of nails, the surface looks okay enough.  Not perfect to an expert's eye, but okay for most things, at least until the decay beneath affected the surface.

This happens with human beings as well, you know.  We often live our lives with flawed foundations, but rather than doing something about them, but rather than addressing the fundamental issue, we dress up the surface--reapply paint, pound a few nails where they've come loose in our lives.  All the while, underneath we're crumbling.  This happens in our marriages, with our children, in our business and other relationships.  And, of course, in the most important relationship of all, that with Christ.  It's instinct to act like we're in fine shape on the surface rather than face that something deep in our foundation might be falling apart.  But if we don't address those issues--that unresolved anger we're holding toward someone, that bitterness within us, that list of wrongs someone has done us--at some point, maybe not today but someday (and perhaps not that far off) our whole lives will have to be ripped apart and rebuilt.  God Himself will have to do this.  Not because He's vindictive or mean or has it in for us, but because He sees that we're rotting from the inside out, and no good for anything or anyone unless we're rebuilt, strong and sure with a new foundation.  This is a painful process, one we wouldn't wish on anyone.

But there's a better solution. We can look at the rotting place, face it squarely, not put one lick of paint on it, but actually admit we're in trouble.  Then turn away and seek God's help. This is called repentance.  Repentance is actually recognizing the weak places in ourselves, acknowledging we are unable to shore them up on our own, and asking for God to do what we cannot do--right at our foundation.  Repentance is the strongest, best thing we can do for our foundations.  And it continually saves us.   Continually.

Metaphors eventually break down.  Decks don't last forever.  They are built by human hands of human materials. But a foundation secure in Him is built to last.  That's the point.  Isn't it?  The point of a Cross and A man who was God who allowed all the rottenness of you and me and the rest of us to flood him until He died from it all.  Then He conquered it so that we could be strong enough to live in Him.  Our foundation secure.  Hallelelujah.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Me gets me in trouble...every time!

When I was a child, my mother was fond--FOND--of making lists: wish lists (which I've written about before), grocery lists, things to pack, and particularly, chore charts.  Those ubiquitous chore charts often seemed longer than the hours in the day and made us groan when we saw them...every Saturday morning.  You'd think, by the sound of it, that our house was spotless, but, alas, because the chores were handled by children, such was not the case.  I don't know if you know this, but children have a way of skimming the edges, so to speak.  At least we did.  Doing the least amount of work necessary to get that chore checked off on the list.  It wasn't like Mom walked around with white gloves on checking on us, after all (I can hear my siblings snorting at the very idea!).

As I grew older, I didn't need Mom's lists to make me do some of those chores.  I vacuumed because the floor was dirty, not because it was on some list Mom had tacked on the fridge.  But here's an interesting quirk of my personality:  I never minded doing a chore, but the instant I was told to do it, I suddenly resisted.  I could have gotten out the vacuum, had it plugged in, and was ready to turn it on, and if my mother yelled at me from the kitchen to, "vacuum the stairs, please!" I wanted to rip that cord out of the wall, and go find something else to do.  And this was when I was in college, or a married mother, visiting with my children.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I read an email from an old friend.  She'd heard I might be down in her neck of the Pacific Northwest woods soon with Grampie and Thyrza and said she'd love to see me.  I was a little mystified that she'd heard such a thing, but wrote her back that I'd love to reconnect.  Then last night, Beve told me that Grampie and Thyrza have arranged for us to take them to Olympia on July 6th to see some mutual friends.  Without consulting us.  It's already set, a done deal. Just get into our assigned places in the car and off we go, thank you very much. And suddenly, though our calendar is free and I have every reason to go--seeing my friend chief among them!-- I feel like ripping the cord from the wall, so to speak, and stomping away.  A moment earlier, I would have been happy to take them, but being told I'm doing it?  YOU CAN'T MAKE ME!

I realize this all stems from those chore charts on the refrigerator and my lack of choice as a child, but it also reveals something essential about my true self.  My selfish self.  The self that wants to do what I want when I want to do it, rather than at someone else's behest.  Even if I had the same idea a few seconds before.  I like to think I'm different from those stiff-necked Israelites, but you know what?  I'm NOT.  I choose me all the time.

The thing is, me gets me in trouble.  That old adage, "My way or the highway?"  That's the way of sin, friends.  The times I stomped away and didn't vacuum the floor?  Dirt piled up.  That's what happens, you know.  Dirt piles up when we selfishly choose ourselves at the cost of others.  If I stomp away this time and refuse to go, Beve (who is a better person than me) will still go, and I will only hurt myself.  And that's the other thing.  We tend  to hurt ourselves by demanding our own way.  At least ourselves.  Those are the consequences: dirt, pain and maybe both.

Is it worth it?
Guess I'll be busy July 6th.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

God's doors

Was rudely awakened before 8 AM this morning to the sounds of Beve and one of his buddies ripping out our back deck.  I'm sure the neighbors loved it as well.  But the die is cast now,  there's no turning back.  We have to put a new deck on the house or spend the next X number of years climbing down from our back door from a step-stool.  Us meaning the dogs, of course, who use the back door, and yard on a rather regular basis, if you know what I mean.  They were very interested in the proceedings this morning, and by interested I mean that Jackson sat out in the sun grooming himself and Jamaica chewed on a ball spastically, something she does when a) she gets tired of fetching; of b) no one is willing or able to throw for her.  Nursing a headache, I buried my head beneath a pillow and tried not to listen to every pound of the hammer removing nails, and the dribble of conversation I found neither interesting nor necessary at that moment.  Silence was what I craved.  Deeply.

So do you think I woke up on the wrong side of the bed? Nope, I checked and I was exactly where I always am.  Smile.  But yes, I did, obviously.  Finally got up, took some medication, went to my sewing machine. As I sat there, sewing a quilt top that looked simple before I started it but has been giving me fits, I listened to these two men talking.  Perhaps it was the distraction of their conversation, but when I finished the top, feeling smug and certain I'd conquered all my problems with it, I laid it out, and realized I'd sewed an entire row and ALL the large setting pieces in backwards.  And, at that moment, I simply threw up my hands and walked away.

The conversation out the back-door, and my issues with this quilt-top dovetail perfectly however.  Though I won't divulge the conversation (since it's not mine to share), while I listened, the question came to mind, "What does a person do when a door continues to remain resolutely shut, no matter how hard we knock on it?"  And what does a person do when, through mistakes and sin (I don't know that I could call what I did with the quilt a sin exactly, though perhaps it can stand for that), such a mess is made of one's life that the tapestry is altered?  These look to be two significantly different questions, so I'll take them separately, but see if, perhaps, they blend as well as they began to in my small brain.

Though I realize that some of you are instantly thinking of the parable of the persistent widow who knocked so relentlessly on the door of the judge that he finally got up and answered her.   Many people use this parable as foundational in their every prayer--that is, for their every desire.  When a loved one is sick, they look at Jesus' healing of the sick, Peter's call to pray for the sick and this parable as evidence that God will certainly heal--every time--their loved one (or themselves). If this is so, why is life only 70 or 80 years long?  Why does any one who follows Christ ever die?  Of course these bodies die.  It's part of the rhythm, part of the plan so that we can be with Him forever.  Sometimes, therefore, healing is NOT His will for someone.  Sometimes His will is to go home to Him.  And that's my point, that we must pray in His will.  That's what He says.  He's very clear about this.  "Whatever you pray--in my Name, if it's in My will--I will do for you."  These words imply that sometimes we pray things that are NOT His will.   I know I do.  I know I have asked and He said NO.  Once was for a marriage that resulted in a broken engagement and another was for my father's life.  That time, He told me in a clear, audible voice that He, too, knew what it was like to lose someone He loved.  This was a full week before my father died.  Do you think I wasn't persistent enough?  Even after He spoke so clearly?  You're absolutely wrong.  I prayed until those prayer muscles were bleeding, more than about anything else in my life.  But...it wasn't His will.  That door was closed.

There have been other times--and perhaps my relationship in college was one of these--when my sin created a situation in which it became impossible for God to answer my prayer.  Though He loves, forgives and restores me, there are consequences to sin and those consequences are something like that quilt top.  No matter how much I might pray for it to be back to where it used to be, it cannot.  God and
 I can go from here, good and lovely, but different than I thought--like my quilt top.  God only has us to work with--human beings so messed up that He had to come to earth to save!--so it actually amazes me that we get it right as often as we do, that we understand His will and listen to Him, and pray without ceasing to Him and that He opens the doors He does.  Actually, sometimes He even opens door He knows will hurt us.   You know?

I'm grateful for closed doors.  And grateful for the open doors that are the good ones, the God's-will and God-blessed ones.  And I'll keep praying for those.  See, that's what I want to learn--to pray that God will show me where HIS doors are, so that He will open them and I can walk through them.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Sweet

In the last week or so (since I wrote that post about feeling isolated), I've had a few phone calls to remind me that I'm not.  Isolated, that is, or forgotten, by my own, others', and especially God's reckoning.  And these calls have come from such diverse parts of my life as to NOT confuse me by some kind of theory that  anyone other than God might have orchestrated them.  That post, as far as I can tell--looking carefully and honestly within myself (as much as anyone can look inward)--was not a cry for reassurance, but that reassurance was given anyway.

Last week, on the very day that post posted, a blessed friend from far away called to say she feels it too.  And wonders, as I did in my musings, how long this season will be.  We had a moment of communion there on the phone, reminding ourselves that it is a season.  We aren't alone.  Yes, it's a different season, with different purposes--granted, cloudy purposes, at the moment--but we aren't alone.  So we were reminded together, by God and each other.  I was as glad for the call as she had been for my post.  It was as if we'd sat on her couch together with cups of tea, for the kind of conversation that had served us so well when we'd lived closer.

Yesterday, my sister-in-law called.  It was sweet, which isn't an adjective anyone (including her) would normally associate with her.  She might cringe to hear me call her thusly, but that's how I felt when I pressed the END button on my phone (sidebar: we should take the phrase 'hang up the phone' from our lexicon, since almost no one has the kind of phone that requires such an action now): that it had been sweet of her to call, sweet to talk to her, and a sweet moment of connection, as such real connections always are when they happen.  Sweet as in God is the fragrance of our conversation, because even if we don't overtly speak of Him, He is present, the motive behind her concern and behind our words as well.

On the heels of that phone call, came another with a friend who is living a very similar life to mine.  There are so many things pulling at her--parents, in-law parents, kids, that the large circle of friends she's always had time for in the past has dried up.  We spoke of this being a season.  Or at least the hope that this is a season.  Of course it will be.  And we will grieve when it's over, because that means that these beloved parents (for her) and in-law parents (for both of us) will have gone home.  And as hard as caring for them is, we will miss them. And know that these days are sweet.  Yes, there's that word again.  Permeating my life.  Or should I say, perfuming it.

So these phone calls, each different, each from a person in a very unique situation from each other, but each reminding me that we are in this together.  This thing called God's body, and this thing called being women of a certain age.  And I'm better for these phone calls, I feel better, and I'm a better person.  Being sharpened by the Holy Spirit sometimes comes in the form of being reassured by Him.  At least that's be my experience.

 God is faithful, in the smallest of ways.  If He puts someone on your heart to call, do it.  You are His instrument, after all.  To comfort, to sweeten, to sharpen, to simply be with those in need of Him.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

How well I know you

My favorite color is orange.  Let's be clear about that straight away.  And my favorite flowers are tulips.  These are the backbones of this story.  When I was a teenager and my family was ordering a new Suburban Carry-all, I somehow manipulated  was allowed to choose the color, hence our new carry-all was a very easy-to-spot orange.  I've always noticed other such orange-hued cars and felt a twinge of nostalgia and a pang of envy.

On the other hand--about the flowers: well, from the time I was eighteen, people have been buying me yellow roses.  A college boyfriend, other friends, my mother.  We used them in our wedding (though I wanted tulips, the mothers said they weren't wedding flowers and I was nothing if not compliant in those days), and ever after, as long as she remembered, my mother sent them to me, any time she felt I needed cheering up, comforting or anything else.  Here's a conversation between us (as written in my journal in 2002) after a surgery occasioned a dozen yellow roses.
"Thank you very much for the flowers," I said. "It was very thoughtful."
"Not just flowers. Yellow roses!" She answered. 
"Yes, yellow roses. They've very pretty, as always."
"See how well I know you?" she asked.
"Yes, "I said. "I see exactly how well you know me."
Mom had me bubble-wrapped at 18 or at 22, when AC (who also thought he knew me) bought me yellow roses and I was thrilled about it.  More, I think now, by that he sent them than by what he sent.  Perhaps that was the case in all those early days.  Not anymore.  I grew up. 

But here's the thing.  I think there are a whole lot of people who are kind of like this.  They get an idea in their heads about something, like what a Christian should believe about a certain issue, and they stick to that their whole lives, because they first learned it at 18, after all, and it was good enough then.  I've known a few folks like this.  They seem to be standing still in their faith.  Still talking about the same old things, the same old ways, every single time I see them. And when they discover my views have changed with my age, they shudder in horror.

When I was young I thought like a child, Paul says.  I thought in black and white and good and bad, and he's wrong and I'm right, and never seeing the middle ground. Certainly not giving God room to move and breathe and change people--as is always His goal.  But as I matured I learned about shades of gray, and sometimes the muddled middle, and how God is always working between, and how He works even in situations we can't understand.  Even those we judge as bad or wrong or 'what the heck were they thinking, anyway?'  'And they're wrong!' Yes, even in those situations, God is working.  God has purpose in them.  And our place, our most important participatory place is to be a Light-bearer in every situation.  You know?   To know God and to make Him known.

To know who He really is, I mean.  Not who you thought He was because you learned about Him back when you were a teenager, but who He is today, right now.  To learn and know and keep learning and knowing and then taking that and making Him known here and now--in all your dealings.  How well do you know Him?  What has He taught you lately?

PS. Beve has never bought me yellow roses, but a host of tulips through our marriage.  Sigh.  He's a keeper, that one.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Memories

As E and CC have been winding their way through the UK, I've been remembering places along their route that I visited in 2000 and 1982.  Now you might not be surprised that I can remember cities or outstanding sites from 2000, and a few from 1982, but yesterday they were in Stratford upon Avon.  And I thought of the little tea shop on the second floor overlooking the mainstreet.  And I am certain--more than certain, really--that if I could tesseract there, and the tea room was still in business, we'd find it easily.  But then, it was on the main street, right?  But there was also a small park where two typically English older women with their King Charles Spaniels were sharing their own tea (dogs partaking as well!), and I could find that park too, I know I could.  

I was telling Beve about this the other night before we went to sleep.  About this ridiculous ability to remember things I've done and places I've been, not quite like those people who remember every day of their lives, but close enough that it's sometimes ridiculous.  He didn't say much, but he's not only used to me, but uses that file cabinet of memories in filling out medical records, to correct his dad and Thyrza, or all kinds of other things.  

But that night (or Sunday morning, actually) I dreamed I got a call from Beve's sister, Glo.  It wasn't a dream that she was living and calling me from her house somewhere.  No, she was very much passed on to eternity, living the good life with Christ in heaven.  It was so great to talk to her, so amazing. I held the phone in one hand, was motioning with another, so the room was filling up with people who waiting in line to talk to her.  As it would.   Somehow (you know how dreams go!), it morphed so that I was in a car on the Oregon coast, still talking to her on the phone.  Then I asked her, "Do you remember all the times we had Christmas here together?"  
She answered, "The facts of life on earth aren't the important things to remember."
"Then what is?" I asked.
And then I woke up.

I've been chewing on that for the last day.  Every so often God teaches me something very important through a dream.  It would be nice if He'd do it every night, though I suppose I'd be in such a hurry to get to bed, after while I'd be staying there all the time, and be no good to anyone.  And He tends to mix things up, our God does.  We never really know which way the wind will blow, do we?  And often, it's not just one thing.  But this started with that dream.

Then this morning, I opened a book I've been reading, The Passionate Intellect, by Alistar McGrath.  And came to this sentence, "the cross [is] a lens through which we should view reality."   And this, "Luther stressed that the cross offers us the most secure standpoint from which to view and cope with [the] deep ambiguities within the natural order, human culture and our own experience" (60).

It was like the wake-up call I needed to clarify the dream.  It isn't that we don't have these facts of life, it's that we must sift them through the cross' T-bars, must allow the cross to shape what counts in our memories.  Not merely hold on to things for their own sake but because they have value that lasts.  Value that is governed by Christ.  If this is true, it means that suffering is more important that we want to believe.  What we want to believe is that the cessation of suffering is the important part, but in terms of our salvation it was Christ's suffering that counted.  And therefore, shouldn't we also assume that this might be true for us as well?  Shouldn't we also expect Him to use in us what He used in His Son? To will and to work for His good pleasure?  

And if the cross is the 'secure standpoint' in our lives, it means that when we most feel afraid, most feel alone, most feel the absence, we are also most in His care.  Because THE cross is the place where God turned His back, He will never turn His back on us.  No matter how dark our lives feel.  Isn't this true?  Isn't it?  We are safe because Jesus wasn't.

These are the things I've been thinking about.  There are more, I'm certain.  But I know this.  The cross of Christ--this is the important thing to remember, the one thing which must inform all my relationships, all my experiences, and all my relationships.  Cross-shaped memories.  How does that sound?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Dads

I talked to several different parents today.  My aunt and uncle stopped by.  They were up visiting my uncle's brother, thought they'd take a chance that we'd be home.   I always love seeing them.  Of course. They've been parents to four of their own children, but have been beloved Auntie and Uncle Don to a host of nieces and nephews, and grands as well.  We've all been blessed by how they've lived among us.  And today, especially, I thinking of my uncle, who was always the ring leader when he was around in the summer.  Uncle Don has played and fished and hiked and built things among us.  Teased and laughed and scared us around campfires, cooked salmon so often we practically have gills ourselves, shot off more fireworks than you can imagine, known the tide tables then loaded up Carry-alls or vans or both with shovels and towels and a pile of kids (and grown-up kids) to wade, swim, dig for clams, bring us all home with sand in every pore, then cook up those clams so they melted in our mouths.  So, happy Father's Day to you, Uncle Don.

And I had the chance to talk to the young friend of my daughter who recently gave up her baby for adoption.  She's a strong young woman but these are hard days.  As you can imagine.  It isn't for lack of love of this baby that she gave him up, that's for sure.  In fact, the love in her voice as she speaks of him. "Did SK show you the picture of him on the quilt you made?" she asked me. "Isn't he beautiful?"  She believes--completely--that the home he's in, the mom and dad he has, the life he'll live are God's plan for him.  But every day now she sees women just her age with babies who are terrible mothers, and she thinks, 'I could be a good mom.'  And it gets to her.  It's a sacrifice that costs.  You think of Abrahamic moments in life?  When God calls you to lay your son down...walk away as if he's dead.  That's what birth parents have to do, you know.  Not just moms but dads, too.  Today, I'm thinking of the young man  who took a strong stand against parental pressure to also relinquish this child to the life he believed God intended for the baby.  As hard as it is for her, it must be as hard for him.  And so I honor him this day.  This dad without his son, this dad who made the brave, godly choice to love his son better than himself.

And I honor the man who now has a son he dreamed of, prayed for, imagined and hoped for.  A son.  A farmer dad who wanted a son to ride on his tractor with him, to work the land with him.  And now there's a baby in a crib right down the hall.  A baby with his own last name.

My BB called.  BB is a step-dad.  Now there's a hard thing.  Not a father, but a step-dad.  Married to the mother of two boys.  He loves those boys. He'd do anything for them, worries about them, worries about his relationship with them, worries about how to be better at it, how to live with them.  You know all those things a step-parent worries about.  He's taken them camping, goes running with the older one, does scouting with the younger, goes on family vacations with them (obviously).  And yet...isn't their dad.  And I know BB has always wanted to be a dad.  Always.  So this Father's Day, when I'm honoring all kinds of fathers, I honor BB as well.  Because families are made up of so many people.   Steps, included.  Step-DAD. Right?  And I believe you're becoming a better one all the time, because you're praying and growing and stretching with the Holy Spirit toward that goal.

And then there's Grampie.  Tonight we had Grampie and Thyrza over for dinner.  Afterward, Beve had a conversation with them about some financial stuff (I scurried to the other end of the house).  Neither could quite grasp the situation, and both reacted according to personality.  And Beve--thankfully!!--also reacted according to character; that is, he remained unruffled and calmly re-explained the situation.  These days, Beve is the dad.  Even to his parent.  He's having to teach (and re-teach, though it doesn't stick!) his father all sorts of things he first learned from Grampie.

The other day, Beve and I were out at dinner with a group of young girls in the GRADS program in this school district.  This is the teen-mom program for which Beve is the counselor.  The girls were asking what kind of dad 'Mr. Wiley' is.  "He's a great dad," I told them.  "Did he change diapers?  Do laundry?  Cook, clean, play with the kids, put them to bed?  Yes, yes, and absolutely yes.
"But I had a great model," Beve said.  "My dad was a great dad.  When we were kids, we used to come crying into the house to our mom because all the neighbor kids were playing with our dad and we couldn't get near him."  Beve tells story after story about just liking to be out in the garage dinking around with his dad while his dad worked on stuff, or sitting in the room while his dad graded papers.  His dad used to stay up to fix food for the boys when they'd get home from their long basketball road trips.  Yep, he was a great dad.

So to all these men, all these kinds of dads--birth, adoptive, step, uncles-who-were-like-dads, dads-who-become-like-kids, granddads, and all those I haven't thought of!--Happy Father's Day.  May God shine His light on you as you have shone His light on everyone around you.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Ruthwell

E and CC are spending their last night in Scotland right now, and by the time I go to bed, will be up and on a train bound for the south and York.  So, in honor of Scotland, I thought I'd write about a Scottish treasure that captured my imagination in college, inspired me in grad school, and made me drag my sisters and a friend on a long journey in the spring of 2000.

I'm speaking of the Ruthwell Cross.  You know of it, of course.  Oh, you don't?  Well, at least you've heard of A Dream of the Rood, then, I'm sure.  This is an old English poem in which a dreamer imagines himself the tree which becomes the cross (or rood, which sounds like rude), on which Christ dies.  The tree tells the story of how it came to participate in the death of the savior.  It's a unique and beautiful way to tell the story of the cross, and every affecting to those of us reading it today with our 21st century understandings of the world.

However, several things make this poem a treasure to me.  For one thing, the earliest place a fragment of this poem has been preserved is on the Ruthwell Cross in a church near Dumfries, Scotland.  This cross was used as a preaching cross with depictions of the life of Jesus covering its four sides.  Lines from the Dream are inscribed in runes on the edges surrounding the images on the four faces of the cross.  This cross was constructed sometime in the late 7th or early 8th century.  We can deduce, therefore, that the poem was written long enough before the cross was built to be well-known. Just as we might see popular slogans written on billboards that we would all recognize immediately.

When my mother, sisters and I traveled to Great Britain in the spring of 2000, I had two specific destinations in mind to visit.  The whole trip was my harebrained idea, which, with very little trouble, I talked my sisters into joining.  Ireland was the aim, the 'research' aim, but Dumfries, Scotland was a close second.  A very close second.  Fortunately, while in seminary, I'd become friends with the wife of a visiting pastor from the west coast of Scotland.  She volunteered to drive us to Dumfries.  So my sisters and I left Mom to her own devices one day in Glasgow (and she got into a whole lot of trouble...er, spent a whole lot of money!), took the train south to the coast, met my friend, Dorothy, then drove for several hourse more where we had lunch in Robbie Burns' home town, then further down a country lane, where there was nothing but a church with a proper old graveyard surrounding it.  It was quaint and appealing, and we wandered for a long time among those old stones--many several centuries old.

Then we went into the old church, which reminded me of many little churches in rural areas from Oregon to Alaska.  Simple and rustic.  But for one glaring difference.  Right in the middle, beside the lectern and in front of the altar, stood the cross.  Extending from a deep well in the floor with a balcony around it so all could see the entire cross, and rising to a pitch in the roof, it was beautiful.  Larger than I expected, in better shape (though it's been restored, thankfully!), the runes are indecipherable, but lovely.  The pictures clear--Jesus in various parts of his ministry.  I stood beside it that day and pulled out my copy of the Dream I'd brought, and read the parts most clearly connected to the death of Jesus.

The Anglo-Saxons for whom this poem was written, and for whom the Ruthwell cross was used as a preaching tool were a people used to might and strength and military power.  They saw humility and voluntary submission as shameful and those who exhibited it were often cast out, or even killed for such weakness.  And because there was a tribal mentality, the chief held the collective identity of his tribe within his own personality.  What he did, they did; what he was, they believed themselves to be.

So missionaries found it easy to preach Jesus in one way, because if the chief converted, the tribe would follow.  However, the Cross was a bit of a problem.  No, that's an understatement.  It was a HUGE problem.  The Anglo-Saxons could understand the struggle between good and evil, and Jesus' battle over Satan.  But that that battle had been won by Him humbly submitting to death without a fight, without a word, made no sense to fighting Saxons.  It was, in fact, the worst shame imaginable to these people.

The Dream of the Rood was the answer to this. It casts Jesus as what is known as a Hlaford, or Chieftain, and the Cross as the thane, of underchief.  It is masterfully done.

Here is a bit of it (I realize not all of you have a taste for this kind of poetry, but if you do, it's worth looking up.  I'm using Charles Kennedy's translation here).

"Then I say the King  of all mankind
in brave mood hasting to mount upon me.
Refused I dared no, nor bow nor break,
Though I felt earth's confines shudder in fear;
All foes I might fell, yet I stood fast;
"Then the young Warrior, God, the All-Wielder,
Put off His raiment, steadfast and strong;
With lordly mood in the sight of many
He mounted the cross to redeem mankind.
When the Hero clasped me I trembled in terror,
But I dared not bow me nor bend to earth;
I must needs stand fast.  Upraised as the Rood
I held the High King, the Lord of Heaven.
I dared not bow!  With black nails driven
Those sinners pierced me; the prints are clear;
The open wounds, I dared injure none.
They mocked us both. I was wet with blood
From the hero's side when He set forth His spirit.
"Many a bale I bore on that hillside
Seeing the Lord in agony outstretched;
Black darkness covered with clouds God's body.
That radiant splendor. Shadow went forth
Wan under heaven; all creation wept
Bewailing the King's death. Christ was on the Cross."

See?
The gospel in terms a warrior people can relate to.  I love this.  All truth and all relevant.  That's how He works.  Or, as the kids might say, that's how He rolls.

Christ was on the Cross.  That was the powerful moment.  Not the submissive, weak one. But the moment when He was the HERO.  Both then and now.

If you ever get to SW Scotland, try to make your way to that little lane near Dumfries where the Ruthwell church stands. Inside there's a treasure worth going out of your way to see.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Here I sit

I sat down at this computer to write a post yesterday and...came up empty.
That's right, empty.  I couldn't think of a single thing to write about.  And trust me, that doesn't happen very often.  As you well know, those of you who know me, and those of you who read this blog.  I'm a little bit like Jerry Seinfeld--I can make a post out of nothing.  Or so it seems at times.  But now and then, I just sit here, hands on the keys, tap-tap-tapping gently, hoping and praying that some kind of inspiration will be found in my brain, like treasures in the cobwebs in an attic.  Unfortunately, yesterday it became clear that the only thing up in that attic is blown-in insulation, keeping me warm, perhaps, but not a very good place for storing treasures.

The thing is, for most of my life, I've had a plethora of friends, which has meant a very active social life.  Circle upon circle, really, from a variety of places.  But these days, partly from my own doing, partly (largely?) because of my health, and partly due to circumstances beyond my control (the needs of my in-laws, for example), I am increasingly isolated.  Strangely, unexpectedly so for having lived longer in this place than any other in our married life.  I didn't expect this.  I am a social person. Created for community.  We all are.  And this daily isolation is hard to live.

But also hard to break.  Beve and I were talking about it the other day.  He said, "Your shyness is a big factor."  I love him for that statement.  I love that he gets that, especially since I can well imagine the guffaws and outright sounds of disbelief from those in my family at the thought of ME being shy.  They have never seen me anywhere close to shy.  Of course.  Because they've never seen me out of my comfort zone.  And I'd rather speak in front of 1000 people from a pulpit than walk into a party of 50 people I do not know.  And this is a strange thing.  I have almost no stage fright,  but a whole lot of party fright, because those small gatherings mean small talk and chatter, and having to walk up to people I don't know and pull something out of thin air to talk about...just writing about this gives me hives.  Really.  I mean, you know when you're standing in a group, holding a drink, saying something, then that person turns away while you're still talking, and you're left speaking to the air?  This is what I envision EVERY group of strangers doing, because the art of chat is not in me.  It just isn't.  So I'll avoid them every time.  Every single time.

And Beve knows this.  Thankfully.  And he doesn't push me to be what I'm not.  When there's opportunity to have real conversations that go somewhere, that dive into something meaningful, I'm all in.  Every time.  Every single time.  Which means, of course, that I push for that.  I take charge of, and push, and come across as more outgoing and directive in groups than I might feel, because I want conversations--no matter where!!!--to mean something.  To get to a place where more than just information has been shared, but hearts and souls as well.  And those who participate in it grow and learn more about the other person and themselves.  This always interests me.  It interests God, after all, and what matters to Him MUST matter to me, right?

So how does this connect to being isolated in my life right now?  Easily enough, of course.  A few years ago, Beve and I made a change which resulted in many relationship changes.  And we didn't instantly replace them.  Not instantly nor easily.  There was a season of grief, followed by a season of inertia, which has resulted in this season (for me) of isolation.  And, though I've tried a few things to change that, I still sit here.

I'm not alone, I suppose.  But today, I just thought I'd admit to my unfolded, flawed self.  Admit to the struggle that I face.  Admit that I need His push, and His help...and the will to do more than I can do on my own.  And it's hard.

That's it.  No great message.  Just this.
But...and I almost never ask this for myself, I could also use prayer. Sometimes my own prayers aren't enough.  You know?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Castle on a hill

E and her friend CC are in Great Britain.  Have I mentioned that?  A time or twenty?  A thousand?  Well, that's nothing to how often I'm thinking about them.  This morning (their time) they took 'a bus to a bus to a bus to take a 45 minute plane ride from Dublin to Edinburgh, where they'll be for the next several days.  Edinburgh. Sigh.

Back in 1982, when SKC and I were riding the rails (which makes us sound like a couple of hobos from the depression!) around Europe, we got off the train in Edinburgh late in the afternoon, and hiked, backpacks firmly on our backs, straight up to the castle.  Er, THE Castle.  To me, Edinburgh Castle is one of the great places in the world.  Sure, there are more spectacular castles--think Heidelburg Castle, for example--but there's something about the very long and varied history of Edinburgh that tugs at me.  Maybe it's because that day, when SKC and I finally got up there, it was about 15 minutes before the grounds were closing for the day and the guard told us we could just go on in (this was a simpler time, after all). We stood at the wall (the Argyle battery), just as the sun was setting off to our left, casting a glow over the whole city.  It stirred my imagination as almost nothing else on that whole trip.  I imagined a young girl standing there, dreaming of a prince, or even a second coachman (if she was merely a dairymaid), and of guards watching the city and the water in the distance.  A thousand lives I dreamed in that gloaming.  A thousand years' worth of lives.

We went back the next day and crawled at a snail's pace through every nook and cranny of those buildings--the chapel, which is the oldest building on the grounds; the room where Mary, Queen of Scots, bore her son, James, who became the first Scots to be King of England as well as Scotland...all of it fascinated us.

Then, almost two decades later, with my mother and sisters, I returned to Edinburgh.  Stood at the Battery.  Looked over the city and was stirred again high on that hill.  Or remembered the stirring.  The imagining and dreaming.  The lives spent and lost in that castle, defending it.  Lives I can imagine...lives that would never dream mine.

Edinburgh Castle sits at the top of a hill that separates Old Town from New Town.  The old is full of soot-covered buildings from the coal that burned as the main source of heating 100 years ago.  New Town is shiny.  Untouched by that soot, clean.  Some of the buildings have been designed in exactly the same style as in Old Town, but they are clean.  And between, runs a street called The Royal Mile, like a dividing line between the old and new (so-named because it is a mile between the Castle at one end and the Royal Palace, Holyrood, at the other.

It's a little like our lives, isn't it?  With an old life, all covered with dirt and grime and, in great need of repair (they are systematically cleaning the old buildings in Edinburgh...just so you know!), and a new life, clean and beautiful and shiny with life.

And between?  There's a hill where something powerful took place, something that stands like a castle through-out the centuries, for us to be protected by, covered by, shadowed by.  We can look up from whatever we're doing, whatever we've gotten ourselves into this time, and there it is, like THE castle on the hill, that changed the course of history.  It encompasses everything, you know.  A mother gave birth to a baby who would be KING, the oldest church of all dwells within it, and yes, death came here.

The hill on which our castle stands is Golgotha.  But it also stands within each of us.  The cross is our castle on a hill.  It's the place that changed everything.  And the place that changes us. And that castle's name is Jesus.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Learning from Grampie

A couple of hours ago, Beve and I were just winding down for the evening.  We'd gone out for a late dinner at a local Mexican restaurant, and came home to a quiet house.  Not even the dogs were energetic enough to want to play at that hour.  Yesterday was graduation at Beve's high school, so he had several parties to attend this afternoon.  Tonight he's pretty tired.

Then my phone rang.  Grampie.  "What about my pills?" he asked.
Oh my gosh, I'd forgotten his pills.  This week Thyrza's daughter has been visiting from Maryland, so the routine is all out-of-wack.  That's no excuse for me, but I'll use it.   I apologized profusely, said we'd be right over with them, filled his pill-box while Beve filled a container with the oatmeal, chocolate-chip cookies he made in all his spare time this weekend.  Then back out the door we went, leaving our dogs to look longingly at us, wondering why on earth we were going somewhere at bedtime.

Grampie and Thyrza were happy to see us. Happy to see the pills and happier yet to see the cookies.  As it should be.  They've been on a big trip the last several days, you see.  They went back to Sequim where they used to live, and plum wore themselves out.  You'd have thought they'd been gone for a week, or had been to the moon and back. It was a great visit all in all, though Grampie couldn't say one specific thing about who they saw when we asked him.

While they were telling us about their trip, Thyrza handed me a very old photograph and asked if I knew who the people were.  So I got out the Wiley Family History (through pictures) that Jonathan and I put together the year he was in 8th grade, to compare the faces in this photograph with already labeled ones in the album.  Grampie was astonished by the family history.  "I'd forgotten all about this," he said, though he regularly pulled it out every visit up until they moved to Bellingham.  Anyway, tonight's photograph had no similar people in it.  But one somewhat familiar young woman.
Then Grampie said, "Oregon City, Oregon. It's written right here."  That's where the photograph was taken.  And that was all the clue I needed.
"I think that's Barbara's mother, Matilda," I said.  Barbara was Grampie's first wife, Beve's mother, my children's Grammie. "Then we can ask Barbara's brother, Berge, about it." Thryza said.
"No, because Matilda wasn't his mother.  Matilda died when Barbara was six months old, leaving her husband with a four-year old and a tiny baby.  Barbara was 18 months old when he married Clara, and they later had Berge." Grampie sat there, slack-jawed, as I spelled out Matilda's last name for Thyrza, explained about her life and death.
"You have a better memory than I do," he said. "I don't remember any of this."


As we were leaving their apartment, Beve said, "My father was very profound tonight."
I looked at him quizzically. "You have a better memory than he does."
And we laughed.

It's something people say all the time, you know.  Some people are born with clear memories that hold things in file cabinets so that whenever something comes up, all that is needed is to open the proper file and that information--the stored memory--is there.  And other people have contextual memories, meaning that they remember well those things that are grounded in something solid and meaningful to them--for example, Beve has a ridiculously good memory about where basketball players played their college ball, where coaches coached previous to their current job, even where broadcasters used to play or coach. But if I ask Beve about something we did on a mission trip to Alaska 15 years ago, and he can't remember.  Nada.  It just isn't there.

Grampie saying I have a better memory than him sounds for all the world like so many other people over the course of my life who have said, "whoa, dude, do you have a photographic memory or something?"  (which, of course, I do not, not even close!) or some manner thereof.  But for Grampie to say it is a completely different thing. To the naked ear, to the unknowing, it might sound the same, but it's a far cry.  I have a better memory than him. Yes.  But the sad truth for this man is that even my dogs have a better memory than him (and I say that with love).  Grampie gets to find pleasure in seeing the same old things in his life as new.  That's what he gets now.  These days every meal he eats is the best one he's ever had--the best hamburger, the best chicken, the best____--because he can't remember having it before.

What Grampie lives these days is Matthew 6:34, you know. "Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow. For tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own."  Grampie lives this because of the deteriorating brain cells inside his head.  However, his life is a lesson in profundity.  If I pay attention.  He gets up each day with a happy heart, is content with the food put before him, the day he's been given, the small things he can accomplish.  He frets a bit, but goes to sleep and gets up again, having let those worries go.  His dementia actually teaches me how I should live with my brain fully intact.  Letting go of tomorrow's worries so that I can live to the fullest the day put before me.  This day, which He has given.

"Teach me to number my days," says the Psalmist (90:12) "that I may gain a heart of wisdom."
Perhaps the mind isn't quite capable of wisdom.  Perhaps, because of mental brilliance at one end and dementia at the other, the brain is just not the wisest part of our souls, as counterintuitive as that sounds. I can be smart and wise, which are clearly two separate things. So, perhaps the wisdom that numbers our days and lives each one as it comes, must be centered in the heart.  Wise in heart. And what does this mean? No matter what happens to my brain, I will continue to get up each day with a heart of love and gladness and hope and gratitude to God and to others.
Like Grampie.

Friday, June 10, 2011

So it doesn't reflect all that well on me...

We have a pretty solid policy around here about our door.  We let the dogs do the talking for us.  That's why we have them, after all.  When there's a knock on our door, if we don't recognize the car (or the delivery company, since E has been living with us and ordering copious goods from online retailers), we just don't open the door.  There have been exceptions to this policy, of course.  It's not an iron-clad rule, after all.  There have been the occasional Mormon or LDS couple (always in pairs, you know--it's in the gospels!) who have made it past our door.  I've been out watering my plants and find myself holding out my hand, not to take "The Watchman," but to keep some earnest young or old person dressed in fashions long out of date, from trying to explain the Bible to me.  "You'll probably have better luck with someone else," I tell them.  That tends to slow them slightly, but doesn't stop them.  And in such moments the teenage boy that lurks within me (you know, the one that is always ready for a pissing contest) shows up.  Unfortunately. They start spouting scripture to prove their point, and I just can't resist.  You'd think I could/would/should, but I don't.  The moment that His words are whipped out in some distorted form, my brain begins to blow. Really.  Then all those memory verses I stuffed into that brain pour out--as if I might possibly convert them.  Then either the missionaries scurry off (these are the young ones) or change the subject--once an older couple started talking about our flagstone patio and before long, we discovered that they'd been long-time neighbors to my family's summer place on Whidbey Island.

Most of the time, however, we simply DON'T answer the dang door.  We don't buy stuff from traveling salesmen (or from the ones who call on the phone...especially now that we've disconnected our landline!).  We just don't.  I mean, it just makes sense, right?

But today.  Today I was opening my door to go get the mail (which I then forgot to do) when a man was about to knock on it.  And by the time the man drove off, I was the proud owner of 2 cases of chicken and seafood, courtesy of Vietnam Vets, had probably overpaid, and certainly had ticked off my very-difficult-to-tick-off husband.  It was a stellar moment, let me tell you.  Hours later, I still feel sick about it (though the Caribbean cob was actually very tasty).  I mean, I cannot remember Beve EVER hanging up on me before.  Sigh.  And he was right to.  It was a pressure situation that I bowed to, and I know better. I really know better.

But we do have a year's worth of seafood and chicken, if you're in the area.

Just earlier today as I was sitting in traffic, I was wondering what fills the place in people's brains that God fills in mine.  Is that space just like static on a radio, or is it filled with garbage?  Of course, I actually know the answer.  I know that people fill themselves with every kind of thing they can think of to take their minds off the fact that there's a space where God should be.  A space they don't even recognize as belonging to Him.  But even in me, where He dwells, sometimes I make bonehead decisions, do the dumbest of things, and just plain live with that static playing in my head.  I do.  Today is one large example, but every day there are little ones.  But as I was thinking about all those drivers of all those cars and all that static where God should be within each of them, where He wants to be, and would be, if they let Him, and how much better and fuller and richer and bigger their lives would be if they did, and all these thoughts made me start crying right there on the Guide Meridian.  Right in front of God and everyone, because He looks into all those cars, sees all the pain in all those lives and...IT DOESN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY.

I mean, Jesus came so that it didn't.  And it kills me.  Yes, sometimes it just kills me that there's so much pain in the world.  But today, rather than it just killing me (metaphorically, of course), it broke me wide-open into praying for those cars beside me.  The black range rover with the Decoratr license plate in front of me, and the pink (!!!) breast-cancer awareness garbage truck beside in front of that.

This day had a bad moment in it, one I'll pay for (and eat from), but another when God woke me up.  One didn't reflect well on me.  But the other?  Very well on Him.  And that makes up for a lot.

PS. Those of you who don't already read E's blog, you should check it out.  She's posting pictures (and commentary) from her trip, and some of it's hilarious.  As she is!  You can reach it by clicking on the  Random Stupidness link on the side.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Beautiful beyond compare

A few nights ago, a friend sat in our living room staring at a wedding picture of Beve and me (the one I posted on our anniversary--May 12th, if you'd like to remind yourself).  She said, "He was really good-looking.  Well, he still is, even older with gray hair."  Then she paused.  "Isn't it interesting how often really good-looking people tend to marry people so much less attractive than themselves?"

Last night, as I stood in the shower, I started laughing about this comment.  I mean, belly-laughing until tears were mixing with the water from the shower.  It isn't the first time I've been around this block, you see.  Not by a long shot.  Almost from the first moment of our engagement, I heard comments about how handsome Beve is.  (And, actually, the guy I dated in college (in an informal dorm vote) was voted the best-looking guy in that small college.)  So I'm no stranger to being in relationships with very handsome men.  And to the often strange looks I've gotten by some in this world who don't get it, who just plain don't get why that man would be with someone like me.  I've had cashiers in stores tell me to my face that Beve is the best-looking man they've ever seen, Nordstrom employees say he should model for them, friends tell me they could drown in his blue eyes or have a crush on him.  The list is long.

And along with those comments about him have come those about me and my relative place in the looks department. "You and I," an older friend once told me, "have to be content with the fact that we are not attractive women and can't do anything about it, while our husbands are."  Oddly, though I love and respect her husband, I've never thought him all that good-looking.  But I'm very glad she does.  Another friend has told me, "At least you married up and gave your kids a chance, looks-wise."  "It must be hard to be married to the best-looking person around, looking as you do?" is something else I've heard.

Yep, I've grown accustomed to these things over the long course of our life together.  And yet.  About 95% of the time, I never think about Beve's looks at all.  No more than I think of mine.  I mean, I think of them.  Sometimes he doesn't put his clothes together very well: like rust cords with green shirt.  Seriously?  So to put it in a grammatically-poor sentence, I like him to be looking good rather than good looking.  And he feels the same way.  Though it may be hard to believe, I don't think he's ever noticed his own looks.  That just isn't important to him.  We are equally yoked, because God meant us to be, even on the outside.  No matter how tall he is, how smart I am, how handsome or not either of us are.  God does this.  And that's what counts.

And to my Beve, I'm beautiful.  The first time in my life I really felt beautiful was with him.  Truly.   He made me believe it.  Then he made me know it doesn't matter.  That's one truth.  And the second truth is that when my children were little they thought I was pretty simply because I was Mommy.  I was their definition of beauty, because they loved me.  That's another truth.

But the over-arching truth is that I am who I am.  This external self as well as the internal one is created in God's image.  For His purpose.  Perhaps by the world's standards there are others whose features are more pleasing.  And I'm okay with that.  This body, this face, this whole me is who He made me to be.  And I'm beautiful beyond compare.  To Him.

So no matter what the world might say about me, I'm comfortable in my own skin.

What about you? How do you feel about the face and body you have been given by God?  Are you comfortable in your own skin?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

the giant I in the middle

I'm probably too tired to write this post.  Tired enough that I'm distracted by my very first word in this post. How many times have I begun a post with the word "I" or some form of it?  Or because I was aware of that propensity, dropped the personal pronoun and simply implied it instead?  A large percentage, I'm guessing.  The other day as I was driving somewhere, listening to sports radio, as I often do (if it's been left on by a previous driver), I heard some coach or player or analyst repeat the so-oft quoted phrase it's become hackneyed (say it with me, if you want!), "There is no "I" in team."  My son, daughter or husband always point out that there is, however, an I in win, which is, after all, the point of sports.  Isn't it?  But what I imagined saying the other day was, "there is no "i" in [plug in a last name here]". And I imagined a family with the concept of WE rather than I.  Training children to think of the whole rather than themselves, to really, truly think first of the unit and each one as only a piece of that unit, a piece which is essential to making the whole work, but cannot work by itself, and isn't the only or most important piece.  In fact, there is no most important piece.  All together is the most important.  Together.

But then I began to laugh, because, as those of you who know me, know, I've had two last names, and as luck or fate or providence or God Himself would have it, each of mine has actually had an I in it.  Most people don't like to spell my maiden name with an I in it.  They instinctively don't.  All of us who have lived with this name know the truth of it, though, Crain is spelled best like brain, not like...well, like crane.  Thank you very much. I didn't leave Crain in the dust when I married.  My middle name (which didn't have an I in it) meant almost nothing to me, for all that it was the middle name of some great-grandmother I don't remember meeting, given to me simply so my initials matched my mother's.  And Crain meant everything.  I'm still a Crain.  Always will be.  And now a Wiley.  Also not spelled the way most people spell it. That Wylie stuff I watch people type into their computer even as I'm saying my name and actually spelling it for them.  "Oh," they say. "Sorry," hitting the delete button rapidly.

But that's not my point this afternoon.  My point is that I'm swimming with self.  By that I mean, I get so caught up in my own junk and stuff and worries and thoughts and how I look at the world and what I need and who I want to be, and what I think is important and what I dream and...that it's hard to get outside myself.  Isn't it?  It's hard to walk in other people's shoes.  Jesus tells us that we are meant to do this.  That it's our most important task as His followers--to consider the world from others' points of view.  And I fail at this.  I want to love Jesus more, but I don't always want to love people more.  Yet He says it's one and the same.  And if I'm failing to love people, I'm absolutely failing to love Him.  The great big I that starts each post is the I that blocks Him from working through me.

Today SK and I were driving through town and I saw a woman throw something into the street.  I don't know what it was but I was incensed by it.  Unbelievably, almost irrationally angry that she would just litter like that.  I could have stopped and yelled at her, I was that mad--except that it's not really my nature, though I pretend it is.  Instead I just railed at SK about how disappointing the world is, how much I hate how people are, what they do, etc.  But even as I'm speaking I hear The Holy Spirit behind  me saying, "You are no different.  You're judgmental and mean-spirited.  You lash out in anger and have a critical heart, and think you're superior to most people.  Look at yourself.  Tend to your own sins."

There's a giant I in the middle of SIN, of course.  Exactly where it all starts.  My sins, sin itself. It's easy to talk about the goodness of God, the amazing grace of the cross and the abundant resurrection life He's given us in our salvation.  But I didn't just take one shower in my life and was clean ever after.  No, I get dirty again, because I'm flesh and sinful flesh.  Saved and being saved, hallelujah, but still in need of the cleansing only He can do...and He does it at my repentance.

Yep, not past the first word, but maybe it was the word I--er, WE--needed today.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Wait Time

You know those people who check their emails before their feet hit the floor in the morning, then every few minutes throughout the day, if they don't have an alert to tell give them a news flash that a new message has arrived in their box?  Well, it probably won't surprise you to know that I am not one of those people.  I'm just not that plugged into to cyber-space.  Most days I reach for my Bible, glass of water, my watch and my glasses, in no particular order.  I was trained early to wear a watch and feel naked without it, no matter that my cell-phone could tell me the time if I thought to look at it.  And my glasses go without saying, though I look beneath them to read.  The water also goes without saying.  And my Bible is a habit of such long standing I can hardly remember not reading at least a verse before I leave my bed.

Except this morning.  Here's an admission.  I sat up in bed, pushed the dog off my space, took a drink of water, grabbed my watch and glasses and hurried out to my computer to see if my overseas daughter had checked in yet.  Now I've had a child overseas before, and have done exactly the same thing with them.  I like to think of myself as an easy-going mom who has untied the apron strings nicely.  Who's actually laid down the apron altogether (which they'd all agree given how off our dinners consist of 'foraging' around here!).  But the reality is, when my chicks are 'off-continent', and I'm unable to connect with get in touch with them, the computer is my lifeline.  We clearly didn't think ahead when we disconnected our landline because if something critical happens, how on earth will she get in touch with us?  That's what my mind was racing with as I lay in bed this morning.  Before I reached for my Bible.  Instead of reaching for it.  Getting up and reaching for this computer instead, where there is not yet a word from her.  She is, after all, at the end of a 29 hour travel day, the finale of which consisted of her driving for three hours on the opposite side of the road than she ever has before.  I'd be falling down like I was dead drunk if I had to go through that, even if I was young and healthy and strong and able.

But I feel a little more compassion for my mother who burst into tears when I finally called home (collect) a full six weeks into my trip to Europe.  My letters home (which were, admittedly, few and far between) had barely reached them yet, so she was certain something terrible must have happened to me. The world now can't quite imagine how different communication was then, how rare it was to call, even across a state, let alone across the world.  The postal service, stamps and our hand-written (or typed) letters were the only way we 'talked' to each other.

The other day I got an email from an old friend, commenting on this.  Lamenting that we don't communicate as our children do, instantly and frequently.  But our relationship has the freedom of that gap in it.  E was telling me that she typed in an education class in which a professor spoke of 'wait-time', which is giving students time between asking them to think before expecting them to answer a question.  In this instant world we live in perhaps that's more important than ever before.  I know it's what I need with my daughter right now.  I need 'wait-time'.  Time for her to experience more than just exhaustion and, 'where the heck is a bed, please!!!!' before she tries to be coherent.  We need it in all our relationships, don't we?  Time to let the other process and think and brood and dwell and sit with a question.  Then answer thoughtfully and without the kind of rancor an instant answer might bring.

And, of course, we absolutely need it with God.  How often do we sit down to pray, say everything we have on our hearts, just spew it all out like vomit, really, yes, just like that.  Or even rejoice and be glad, and hallelujah and praise Him. Or some combination of the two, with confessing our sins and forgiving our neighbors thrown in. Yes, all good things, all worthy, right, honorable elements of true prayer thrown in there. Then we say our Amen.  And off we go. Pleased with how good and fruitful and, well, blessed the time has been, though there might be, if we're honest, a niggly question of something missing, though we aren't quite sure what.
It's the 'wait-time'.  Without waiting whatsoever for Him to answer, how can it be complete and satisfying?  We need Him to show up.  But how can we expect Him to show up if we don't wait for Him to do so?  We're all just so impatient to get on with our day, with our lives, with doing the good work He's called us to do.  But the better work starts with that 'wait-time'.

Or, as He puts it, "Be still and know that I am God."

Sunday, June 5, 2011

First class lounge

I had a completely different post in mind for this lovely Sunday evening, when the sun is setting over the bay in pastel stripes.  It's finally nice here.  Nice as in the sun has been shining all weekend and we're all holding our breaths that summer is actually going to come this year for all that spring barely did.  I was going to wax all poetic about the change in seasons or some such thing.

Then SK found a box of pictures and I was going to post  a few of them, except that I can't make Beve's computer upload them the way mine does, and mine has powered down for the last time.  One of the pictures SK found was a very pretty one of E and her best friend CC, when we all went to tea half a decade ago.  Tonight, as I write this, E and CC are flying across the Atlantic.  They spent most of the day in the First Class Lounge in JFK due to a six hour layover which made their trip sponsors VERY angry, which made their travel agent pony up for the first class lounge.  And, for those of you who don't often spend time in the rarified air of such places, it's all free--food, drink and wi-fi--up there in first-class, even in the airport.  Not to worry, though, these young women will return to earth soon enough.  They only have 5-Star hotels to stay in once they land.  Poor things. Really.  I don't know how they'll manage.

As I keep saying, this is NOT their parents' trip.

But I did start thinking about blessing.  I am struck with the thought that I already have everything I'll ever need in Jesus.  When someone asks, 'how can I pray for you?; the answer is, ' I already have it all.  I have been given all.  There is nothing else.'  My life is like a five-star hotel, like the first-class lounge.  The only thing, the only thing, is to apprehend Him more and need the world less.  It's what I've been going on about for a long time, I suppose.  But the idea of blessing is an Old Testament idea.  Do you know what I mean by this?  At specific times, for specific purposes, people were granted blessings.  Sons by their fathers, kings by their God.  People called out to do something extraordinary were blessed, then empowered to the task.  However, in the New Testament, the cross and the resurrection is THE blessing (and yes, I am grouping these events as one blessing because one is dependent on the other).  We have been given the riches of eternity because of--and BY--the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so to want blessings, or more blessings is...well, how can we want more than everything?  I mean, really?  He is ALL.  There is no other blessing, thing, honor, riches, pearl.  At least none that last. So when we ask for earthly blessings, aren't we--in some sense--asking for something counterfeit, glittery and valueless?  Dust?

It's because we don't understand what He's done and given and keeps giving, that we keep craving things that turn to dust.

Yet, still I live here.
That's the truth.  I live here too.
As hard as that is to admit, even to myself, I want things.  I want my children to be blessed. And my beloved Beve.  I want to know what it would feel like to live a single hour without pain.  I want that. I want my life to be blessed as much as the next person, and not have to go looking for the blessing in the broken places.

So I thank God that I don't live my life alone, because if left to my own devices, I'd get so far off track, I'd spin out of control.  I thank God for the 'being saved' ones who point me on the way, who actually embody your whisper, "This--this--this is the way, don't turn to the left or right."  We need each other.  We need to talk together, like one woman talks to another, and know that God is there--honest and unflinching, loving and frustrated and thankful and scared.  When we have people like this in our lives, and can be our unfolded selves with them, God reveals again what blessings He intends for His children.  The abundant life blessings, I mean. The heaped upon blessings, above all we could ask or think blessings.  That's up to Him, you know.  We already have everything in Jesus.  Then He gives us more.

These earthly riches, these first class lounges and five star hotels may turn to dust, but if our feet are right, and our eyes turned toward Him, we won't even notice.

Friday, June 3, 2011

what my life's made of

What is your life made of?

Mine is made of tea in the morning, tennis balls in the backyard, scraps of cloth and conversations with God as I go.  The phone rings and it's Grampie who isn't sure who I am or why he's called but always asks, "How things are going over there?" and, "How's J getting along?" and "Let us know if we can do anything for you," as though there was actually something he could do for me from where he sits on his couch with his head drooping into constant naps.

Mine is sometimes made of time with friends and phone calls with siblings--like my mother, I could count them, having heard from all four of mine this week.  It's made of an open Bible on my bed, my journal and pen in the ready position along side, for the insight God will surely give.  Even when I thought I could write a novel, even when I spent thinking up scenes and conversations between characters, my heart and mind would thirst for the clean water of such meditative reading and writing.  My day is made up of words that tumble off my fingers and on this very computer screen, sometimes revealing themselves to be God-breathed, other times fat with my very human self.
My life is made of errands and bill-paying and meeting Beve for lunch and the elders for dinner and taking them their pills, creating quilts, buying fabric (maybe that's an addiction, like all those fabric-addicted women refuse to admit, but it isn't for me! Smile!), sometimes making meals, sometimes (when my energy and pain are in sync) doing other domestic tasks, organizing, rearranging, reading, sitting in the sun (if there ever is any!).

My life is made up of worries for my children, about their present concerns (plane flights that I've never been completely comfortable with), their immediate future endeavors, both amazing and worrisome (E's trip, J's "NO way, not again!" possible repeat surgery), and more distant future (the girls' move to Seattle and their prospective jobs and education).  These things sit at the corners of my brain right behind my eyes where I can almost see them every moment of every day so it takes discipline to turn from them.  Turn them to God where they belong.  And my concerns for the Beve, my closest friend and lover, who shares with me his every burden so I know them and worry over them like a cow with her cud, chewing over and over and over.  Until I finally stop.  Just stop, drop and roll those concerns to the Master burden-bearer.

And my life is made up of praying for those God puts on my heart through out the day.  The ones whose concerns I am acquainted with, and those who simply settle on the park bench of my heart until God the Holy Spirit presses on me on one side and that person on the other I can do no other but have a conversation with them both.

As I talked to my older brother, R, this morning I told him that I live a small life.  Then I corrected that to say it's a hidden one.  That's the truth.  I live a hidden life.  There's a cadence to it that others would find too simple or boring.  But it's what my life is made of.  God doesn't judge by the outward appearances of a person, He said when it was time to find the king for Israel.  He looks at the heart.  By outward appearances, my life isn't much to speak of.  I know that.  One would overlook me without thought.  Think me part of the furniture and pity me for being so.  But they'd be wrong.  Dead wrong.  Because my inner life, the life that counts, is wild and bright and abundant.  Simply hidden.

And do you know why it's hidden?  I told R this this morning as well.  I prayed for a hidden life.  I always wanted it.  Knew it was essential for me.  Because if I wasn't hidden, I'd take credit for my own life. If given half a chance, I'll take credit for any accomplishment God did through this puny body, which He gave me.  I know that.  He knows that.  He knows the pride lurking in broken, nerve-pain shell.  This shell that is HIS temple. Fancy that.  My little shell a temple, yet I would take credit for it if I could.  I would.  I know this very well.  So here I sit. Gladly. Oh, so gladly. The joy comes off me in waves for this little life of mine.  Because it's the only way He shines.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

A good find

The day was spent clearing out.  Our house has had something of a revolving door in the years since our children graduated from high school.  Some parents help their children pack their bags for college, then change the locks on the front door, metaphorically speaking.  We're not of that ilk.  Our kids have been in and out and in and out often over  the last 8 years, and we've welcomed them gladly.  As long as they're single and have no other permanent allegiance we want this to be the place they think of as home.  The place they land.  Shoot, I want them to call our home home as long as they live if they wish.  If I'm completely honest, there is a certain house in my hometown that is no longer owned by my family...that, in some visceral way, I think of as home.

However,  this house is small.  And by Saturday, when SK gets off a plane, there has to be a place for her to land.  And a place for the four years of accumulated college stuff to fit as well.  At the moment it's still in her car and a small storage unit across town, but not for long.  She's only here for the summer, but she has to sleep somewhere.  Along with a couple of relatives from across the ocean who will spend most of the summer with us as well.

So I've been taking a crowbar to the walls in order to stretch the space.

If only I could.  Short of that, I've been sending piles of J's stuff to good will, sorting through papers, generally 'downsizing', as Beve keeps telling us we need to do.  This is rich, coming from him.  He's the shopper-extraordinaire in our family.  He loves finding bargains, loves bringing me home surprises.  I once had to declare a moratorium on condiments because he'd bought so many bottles of salad dressing and calamata olives.

All that to say, it's been an all-day job.  But this morning, I found a couple of treasures.  Inexplicably, in a box of J's college papers, I found some letters Beve and I had written my family immediately before and after our marriage.  The earliest was one I wrote the first morning we were in India.
 November 18, 1983:
"I awakened this morning to the strains of chanting and a melody easily recognized as belonging to this land.  I walked out onto the balcony in shorts and [flip-flops] to watch a skeleton of a cow poking through garbage tossed haphazardly into the street.  I believe I am really in India.  I now sit staring out a window at square cement houses stretching in every direction.  This is the better part of New Delhi, I understand, where the stench of poverty has not reached.  It's a relative thing, though--this would be poverty to us.  But doctors and lawyers live here and people live fairly well.
We took a walk through a market place that makes all of our US open flea markets seem silly and phony.   There's not a lot that shocks me yet, only ALL of it overwhelms me--if you understand the difference.  It's what I expected: cows, beggars, monks and garbage, but it's more real.  People eek out their livings on small mats on the street, cutting hair, fixing shoes, selling candy totally covered with swarming flies.  The streets smell of excrement and no one notices.  Cars, bicycles horses and carts all share the roads--narrow and crowded--with a mass of humanity.  And the cows and goats truly wander wherever they want--they are 'protected' as sacred, but that 'protection' also means they as skeletal, since no one cares for them.  It shames me, this place.  The children are beautiful with their dark, staring eyes.  They break my heart as they tug at our hands, motioning to their mouths for us to give them money.  They are so curious about westerners.  I've never been the minority before, never been the object of open stares.  And though western women attract them, they are most drawn to Steve.  I'm sure many have never before seen anyone so tall.  It's fascinating to watch them talk to each other when they see him, speculating about this giant."

It takes me back, these words.  When you read them, you can't smell India.  But I can.  In an instant, they evoke the dense fragrance of humanity, animals, meat, flowers, and something else that is just the heat of India itself, I think.  And though you wouldn't think so, it makes me hungry to go back.

But then there was a letter written February 4, 1984.  Discerning readers (namely, those in my close family) will recognize this as the day my oldest niece was born.  But for me, it was something else as well.  The night before, I'd answered a very long distance phone call in Heidebeek, The Netherlands that I'd been anticipating for weeks.  The phone call that would tell me of this baby's birth. And, it was my mother on the phone that Friday night, but the baby hadn't been born yet.  Indeed, my sister was still struggling laboring hard toward SE's birth.  That night my mother called to ask me to pray for my sister, but that wasn't the primary reason for her call.  If I could paint I could paint a picture of the office where I sat, with Beve beside me, as Mom spoke.  I wrote the words on a scrap of paper I found on the desk so Beve could know why my hands were suddenly shaking and I was crying.  "Daddy. Cancer. Surgery." Those were the words I scribbled across the page. I remember that, but very little else about the conversation with my mother.

But that night, after I'd cried about a million tears on his coat, tried to figure out how to get home (which I couldn't and didn't!), Beve asked me to marry him.  He'd been planning to wait for a more special moment, but decided there should be something good that night as well...so that I'd have that to think about along with all my worries about my dad. And maybe I'd be able to get to sleep.

So these are letters written by each of us to my dad the next morning.
Beve's says this: "Dear Dad Crain--Is it okay to call you that? I thought "Mr. Crain" is too formal, "Dick is too grown-up, and "Daddy" is copy-righted by women and considered girlish by most macho-men...so "Dad" it will be unless objected to by you or a better title is suggested by the international father-in-law name committee.
"Actually there are several things I want to communicate with you and there's one question I want to ask.  First, the question-- Would you give your blessing on Carolyn's and my upcoming marriage.  If I was there right now I'd sit down and ask you this question face-to-face, but I'm not there, and it's really important for me to communicate with you my interest in marrying your daughter and to gain your approval.  I want both you and Mom Crain to feel as if you're an important consideration.  It matters to me how both of you feel.  It's been easy in the past for me not to communicate and involve my parents in certain decisions in my life because as a family we've shied away from good communication...Being able to weather this whole thing with your daughter has given me a greater appreciation of the quality relationship the two of you have.  In fact, I've been envious of it.  I'm asking God to revive my relationship with both of my parents, particularly my father.  Anyhow, I'd love to spend some time with you, getting to know you better, I feel like I already have by just listening to Carolyn's description of you."

And my letter:
"Dear Daddy--Gigantic words threaten to overwhelm my reason. Last night when I hung up the phone, I was stunned into non-reaction. It was too far a leap from expecting to hear about RE's baby to hearing about you.  Then tears flooded.  Panic and grief because you, the stronghold of my life, the certain rock, lie in a bed with tubes in you.  I love you so very much.  Do you know that?  When I'm so far away and unable to even see you, all I can do is pray.  Prayer, though, is the strongest power in this world and unleashes the love and might of the Father.
I do pray.  I prayed last night when tears wracked my body and I couldn't form the words.  My tears themselves were prayers as I held onto [Beve} and pretended I was hugging you (I think he understood).  I woke up this morning in the pre-dawn darkness with an aching prayer on my heart.  The most reasonable thing I can do is pray.  I know God loves you far more than I do and He won't let anything happen to you that isn't sifted through His loving hands.  I KNOW that!  He will heal you.  There are many prayers seeking that.  It's exciting to add mine to them and to know that so many love you.  What a horrible way to find out, but how wonderful to be so loved, huh?
  I trust God for you, Daddy.  Your life is in His hands.  I know He has a purpose in this.  I'm not saying He caused it--BY NO MEANS!!!--but I do know that God can and will use it for your best.  Maybe He wants you to slow down, have time to relax and get to know Him better.  I'm going to be praying for that. He desires to show you who He is, you know.
"I'm glad our relationship is so fantastic that it doesn't take a crisis to discover how much you mean to me.  I've always known that you are one of the most important people in the world to me.  In fact, sometimes I think I even have rose-colored glasses on about you {ed. note: Ya think?!?!!?}.  This is good for me--to learn you're not quite the rock of Gibraltar I made you out to be.  I keep thinking of all the times I've called you long distance to tell you of some big panic in my life...and there was usually very little you could do.  Well, dearest poppa-daddy, I know EXACTLY how you must have felt.  But I'm really glad I've always been able to share my joys and sorrows. I'm glad you're a dad who loves his children, who shows his emotions and shares himself.  I'm glad you have a crazy sense of humor, which I inherited and an easy-going way of taking charge.  Daddy, I love you for who you are, flaws, quirks and all!"

I've often felt regret that I didn't say certain things the last day of my dad's life.  Things like...well, exactly like the words in this letter.  It's longer than this, much longer.  But what I love is that I said them.  Yes, it was 14 years before he died, but he knew how I felt about him.  He knew what he meant to me. AND, I wasn't shy about wanting him to know God.  That is reassuring as well.  I may have forgotten, but God didn't.  And...my dad did know how I felt about him. I didn't have to tell him that last Tuesday, because I'd been effusive about telling him.

That's the important thing.  That's how to have relationships, I think.  It's not about what we say on the last day, but what we say all along the way. The last day only matters if it hasn't been said.  Or said well.
So that's how we move forward.

PS.  One of the tragedies of my life is that I have somehow misplaced the beautiful, inexpressibly dear letter my 'poppa-daddy' wrote in response to these letters of ours that February.  It was, without a doubt, the BEST letter of my entire life.  No, take that back, the second best.  The best is the one I open daily, that has red-letters in it. Still. Needless to say, Dad gave his wholehearted blessing and approval about our marriage, though he was just liberal (and well-trained by my mother) enough to say we didn't need either from him, since I was an adult woman. All in all, he was very generous with his support and encouragement of our relationship both present and future.  And, dare I say, quite prophetic.

Maybe I'm just remembering with rose-colored glasses!  But I don't think so.