Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Like Zechariah

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because He has come to His people and redeemed them.  He has raised up a horn of salvation for us...to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and enable us to serve Him without fear in holiness and righteousness before Him all our days."

These words are from the song Zechariah sings when he finally gets his voice back after the long silence during his wife Elisabeth's pregnancy.  He didn't take God at His word when he was told a son was coming, so the voice with which he raised in doubt was stripped away for the duration.  All those months, while she grew large with child, that belly was a 'told you so' right in his face, and he couldn't say a word about it.  Couldn't argue, couldn't defend his own doubts, couldn't even say he was sorry.  Nope, he just had to be about his business, pondering what had happened, what would happen, what it might mean.  God had sent an angel straight to his door, and he'd questioned him. 

Not the done thing, my friends.  That's what this story tells us.  An angel shows up and tells you something will happen, it behooves you (yes, I just used that word, and I meant it!!!) to stand at attention.  More like...
well, more like young girl, Mary, than the aged man, Zechariah. Zechariah asks,"How can I be sure of this?" Mary asks a similar question of the angel, you know.  She asks, "How will this be, since I am a virgin?" there's a world of difference between the two questions.  Mary's question was a process question.  Zechariah's--'How can I be sure?' is clearly a matter of  disbelief--I don't trust you.  Give me some kind of sign.

But what is fascinating is that God was already on the move.  And He did give Zechariah a sign. Two, actually.  The baby was already growing, and the silence had only begun.  Each lasted about the same length of time, I'm guessing.  And who knows, maybe Elisabeth didn't mind the silence all that much. 

But baby is born and Zechariah, who won't doubt God again, writes on a tablet that he shall be named John. And with that obedience, he gets his voice, and immediately begins praising God.  Then he just can't contain himself and breaks into song, the way the holy people of God always do at such moments.  It doesn't make a whit of difference what kind of voice they have, whether they're trained, are pitch-perfect or can't carry a tune in a bucket, they just have to use melody to give God the glory.

But this Song is full of profound truth.  The horn of Salvation, which is the Messiah--Jesus, saves and transforms and gives us power to serve Him in holiness and righteousness. He enables us, via His Spirit to do this, without fear.  Fear, as we know from many other scriptures, is NOT of God. Of course. But beyond that, we are given Holy-Spirit-ability to BE holy and righteous. We need not/must not settle for almost holy, or simply live as forgiven sinners, which we were to begin with.  We get to move beyond that. By Him, we are enabled to be much, much more.  Holy as He is Holy.  All the righteousness of Christ is in us.  This is a profound promise.  Almost beyond comprehension in the flesh.  But here it is.

In my work, holiness.
In my conversation, righteousness.
In my thoughts, Godliness.
In my habits, Christlikeness.
In all things, glorifying.  Glorify Yourself in me.

I don't ask for much, Lord. Simply this: help me to sing like Zechariah every day of my life.

Monday, August 29, 2011

The best letter

An amazing thing happened yesterday as I was going through boxes from our basement.  We've been working really hard to finally--FINALLY--empty it out.  For the last eight years, since we moved into this house, our basement, /which technically is no more than a cellar, has been the storage/catch-all/shove-it-down-there-and-don't-think-about-it-again place in our house.  For us, our kids, even Grampie and Thyrza.  Needless to say, that space under our floors could give hoarders a run for their money. 

Well, perhaps I exaggerate, but just barely.

But because the girls are moving in stages down the freeway to Seattle (they spent their first night down there last night but will be back up Wednesday, down again Thursday, etc), we thought it was time.  More than time.  Just plug our noses and dive into the whole sorry mess of the thing and rid ourselves of all those things we've been carting around with us for two moves, at least.  For no earthly reason.
At least some of those things have no earthly reason.  For example, I began collecting teapots when I was about ten years old. By the time we moved into this house eight years ago, I had 70.  Seriously.  Why on earth anyone needs 70 teapots is beyond me now.  In our last house, we had a rather large kitchen, and the teapots lived above the cabinets where they were on display all the time, gathering dust, of course, but always in sight.  This house has no such display area, and I've long-since lost interest in collecting any old teapot for its own sake.  So I set all my teapots out on our table Sunday and divided them into keep, give away and get-rid-of piles--and boy, was I judicious.  Cut the collection in half yesterday alone.  I know 40 teapots still seems like a lot to most of you, but it's a whole lot better than Beve expected.

And then Beve brought up a box full of letters.  I began shuffling through them, and when I saw one, I began to cry.  For a very long time, I've thought this letter was lost. See, I've had the letter that precipitated it, so couldn't imagine where the partner could be, if not lost. And when I say lost, I mean it's been 20 or more years since I last saw it, so surely it has been long gone. Right? But there it was, in a completely unexpected place. And the minute I saw it, I knew EXACTLY what it was.  It's definitely THE most treasured letter of our lives, and perhaps the only letter Beve and I got from him.  The letter, you see, is from my dad.

When we got engaged in 1984 in Holland and Dad had just had cancer surgery, we each wrote him a letter.  Not to Mom and him, but privately.  And these two letters are his responses to ours.  So today, I thought I'd share pieces of those letters with you.  February 15, 1984
To me he wrote: 
(First, a page about what he was doing in his recovery, which was reading James Michner's Space, and working with his coins--he'd come across several $20-$30 ones, and was excited about that, but was already tired of not feeling well, anxious to get on with radiation, and confident that the next surgery would be successful in 'replacing [his] colostomy (which is rather sad, since it wasn't successful).'
I am happy you now have a love, in Steve, to make your life complete.  Love for him and for your children to come will become the most important to you.  I am saddened to lose my place of prominence in your life yet happy because that is what I want for you and the way it should be. 
I have always understood my mother's feelings about loss of her children's love but she doesn't seem to understand that a parent's job and love is proven complete when the children turn to their spouse and own children.  Anyway, I know we will always remain close and caring, but never think that I will be hurt if you put Steve or your children first.
As I may have said before, I can't think of anyone who would be better for you than Steve.   However, love is much more important than who WE think would be good for you. Since I can truly tell from these letters from both of you, the love is deep and strong, the being right for each other is just an added bonus.  I am so very happy for you.  All my love, Daddy

To Beve he wrote:
Certainly "Dad" sounds fine with me if you are comfortable with it.  Actually, I really prefer Dad over Dick from my children or children-in-law, so I am pleased that is what you want to call me.
I am pleased and excited about marriage and future life for you and Carolyn.  I give my blessing enthusiastically. I cannot imagine anyone who would be better suited for Carolyn. Aside from the love you obviously have for her, you are on the same wave length with the Lord.  And nothing can be more important than those two things...
I have always wanted that Carolyn use her full potential and not waste it by standing in the shadows.  I can see the two of you as full partners, each pushing the other and being fulfilled by the other's deeds and contributions.  You both have wonderful gifts and you both need to use them in service for the Lord.  I am counting on you to see to it that Carolyn doesn't waster hers.  I am sure she will do the same for you.
I love forward to seeing you in April (A hug is expected, rather than a handshake) and to the wedding on May 12.  All my love, Dad

It may seem pretty personal for me to write these letters for all the world to see, but I have two reasons.  The first is for those readers who are my family, so you can hear Granddad's voice, because it's inimitable and sweet, and will help you remember what kind of man he was, how he loved his children.  I was blessed to get such a letter for the simple reason that I was across the ocean in the age before cell-phones, when he was stuck at home recovering, and something important was happening in my life.  But he would have spoken such words to any of us--or any of you--if you'd gone to him at such a time as that.  That was the quality of his love for each of his beloveds.

Secondly, I think of how we all long to know we are so loved by our Fathers.  How we long for such letters of knowing, affirmation and encouragement.  But here's the thing:  We have that.  Not all of us have a Daddy like I had.  I realize that.  I understand that that there are some out there for him this post points out a painful reality that cuts more closely to the heart than most.  And Jesus calling God Father does not fill such people with joy as it does me, because a father has been the instrument of pain and sorrow.

But Jesus fills up the Name of Father.  He teaches us who a Father can be.  What He really is.  A Father is one, is THE one, who loves the world--LOVES YOU--so much that He sent His only BEGOTTEN son to die for His hoped-for-adopted children.  Think on that a moment.  Think about how much God the Father loves you.

Then think of the amazing words He's written you to show it.  The words you can read every day, the one that is "God-breathed", living and active, able to pierce between bone and marrow.  That's piercing into the deepest places in your life.  He gave you this beautiful, amazing, heart-breaking letter of love.  And you can read it every day.  And I'm here to tell you, it'll change you if you do.  My daddy's letter may be a treasure to me, but  the Word of God is better--it's our Holy love letter.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

If we only knew

We did a wedding yesterday.  I'm telling you, we were involved every which way in a day that wasn't related to us.  SK was the maid-of-honor, E helped the wedding co-ordinator (a job which usually belongs to SK), and even Beve had the monumental task of keeping the ring bearer in line.  No small feat, either.  The ring bearer practically stole the whole show, once he was let off his leash and went racing down the aisle, tux and tail wagging toward his master, the groom.  Said ring bearer is a little black pug named Guinness, and for all that I have little use for small dogs, he's pretty dang cute one.  Not to mention VERY well trained!  Beve had to hold him, keep him in tow, cart him to and from the groom's mom's house just for the ceremony.

And I was busy doing sound checks and the like.  On Friday night, when I was told I'd be miked up for the wedding, all the female/fashion worry in me rose up in horror.  I'd already decided on a subtle, sedate outfit, perfect for a wedding officiant, where I wouldn't stand out but wouldn't look too shabby.  But that was a dress.  And I've preached often enough to know how lapel mics work. So while I was nodding and smiling, agreeing with everything the wedding co-ordinator was telling me, I was wondering, where, for crying out loud, I'd put the transister part of a lapel mic on a dress?  I came home, not one bit worried about the ceremony, or my message (which the bride and groom had only asked me to give three days earlier) but, "WHAT AM I GOING TO WEAR?"  These are the things that try women's souls, I'll tell you that right now.  And I'm not even all that fashionable.  Most of the time, if left to my own devices, I'd just as soon live in pjs (in the winter, anyway).  But I've preached a fair bit, and in those situations I'm pretty self conscious.  Of course.

It turned out well enough.  I dug through my closet, tried on just about every skirt I own (other than the wool ones), and finally wore a black top I bought about 5 years ago but have never found the perfect occasion to wear.  It was all good.  I know it's ridiculous that such things should matter, and believe me when I tell you, that I'd give my left leg for them not to, but they do.  At least until the right decision has been made, and then I can get on with the business at hand, and stop worrying about it.

From where I stood--and I did have a bird's eye view of the whole thing, it was a beautiful wedding.  Lovely setting, right on the edge of a lake, on a perfect summer afternoon with nary a cloud in the sky (on this coast, at least).  The bride was drop-dead gorgeous in her dress, the groom had cleaned up very well, and they were earnest and teary as they spoke to each other.  It was sweet and good to be with them in their day.  To be allowed that privilege. 

And it gave me the space to think of how God looks at us when we say our vows to each other.  In a sense, I was standing in His place yesterday afternoon.  I've never quite had the sensation before of 'getting' what He feels like in such a visceral way.  We speak from our very human souls promises to love and cherish each other, but He's right there, so close, He's practically on top of us as we speak, not merely listening to every word, but more often than we admit or even know, actually nudging us toward the very words that come out of our mouths.  He speaks them first in us and we merely repeat them.  It's how He works. 

Not merely on our wedding days, but in all kinds of situations, there He is, standing right there, so that it's His microphone we're using when we lift our voices to the world.  And when the world listens to our words, it's because He's amplifying them. 

These are very old and wise 22 year olds, older than most, due to the specific circumstances of their lives, but for all that, they are still merely 22.  And as I listened to them repeating their vows yesterday, I thought of how little they actually understand of what they're pledging.  How can they, though?  It takes years and years to get what 'sickness and health' can mean in a marriage, even if we somehow manage to see 'better' and 'worse' within the first season.  No, if we actually knew what we were pledging to each other, what it would cost us, what it would require of us, how much more slowly would we speak them? He's the one who knows.  He's the one who stands there, knowing how close we should stand, when we should hold on tight, and simply hang on for the ride.  He knows. 

And His knowing is our safe haven.  It's our security. Because once we belong to Him, He never lets go. Not that dressed up day until the day we leave every piece of clothing on this earth.

We are, after all, HIS bride.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A poem in remembrance

I see you in your short maroon robe, a little blurry eyed with sleep,
handing our stockings on Christmas morning;
And walking through the garage door, sweaty and dirty,
slinging your pack to the floor after a 50 miler.
And all dressed up in your navy pinstriped suit, tie too tight,
on your way to church.

I see you leaning against a hospital wall, paile and silent,
watching me labor to give birth to your granddaughter
And walking ahead of my on a trail, one knee making you limp,
your arms slightly held our from your sides and moving gently.
And down on the braided living room rug, bracing on all fours,
while I run and jump and practice flipping over your back.
And you never tire before I do.

I watch you pound noails, pencil behind your ear,
calculations in your head for the next task, even as you work on this one,
And sitting on my couch, bent slightly forward, hands outstretched
as you make your point, "The think is...!"
And standing at the kitchen sink washing dirty dishes while the ketttle whistles
that it's time for another cup of instant coffee.

I see you in your recliner, moccasined feet up, eyes half-closed and nodding off,
until suddenly the chair springs forward, "Oh crud, did you see that lousy play?" you ask whoever's nearsest at hand.
And driving across the state, rubbing your hands across your face to stay awake,
rolling down the window and leaning forward to grasp them over the top of the steering wheel while the whole car slept and no radio could reach out in the middle.  And only you were awake, You and the stars.

I watch you praying at dinner, reading to my children, hugging your wife,
I see you kissing me hello, driving me across town or the state, or the whole world if I'd needed you to.
And staying up late just to talk to me, calling me up with no more to say than "I love you." And knowing those words were more than enough.

And I see you, gray faced and bloating, tubes running in and out, in a hospital bed.
"Can I pray for you, Daddy," I ask.
"Oh yes!" you answer, and you lift your hands from beneath the warm blanket to grab mine hand hold them tightly.  As I pray, I open my eyes to see your face.  But you aren't looking at me.
Eyes closed, you look heavenward.

I watch you, tears at the edges of your face, say good night to me.
"I want to keep touching you," I say.
"It's okay," You answer. "Go ahead.
So I hold your hand until the ICU nurse tells me I must leave.
Then I say, "I love you Daddy, I'll see you in the morning."
As I walk out the door, I turn back one final time to look at my Daddy's living blue eyes,
And you are looking at me.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Compass

The weekend after my father died fourteen years ago, I took two things away from my childhood home that had belonged to him.  One was an almost-new t-shirt that I'd slept in every night that week.  That t-shirt is now old and kind of dingy, its seams beginning to tear from repeated washing and wearing.  The other thing I took home was a compass. A well-worn, metal-rimmed compass on a piece of rectangular plastic.  I'd found it in the top drawer of his dresser, which was like a treasure-trove of Dad's best things.  The day my father died, when we got home from the hospital, I consciously walked into his room and pressed my face into his robe (a robe which is now hanging in my closet), laid my hands on the clutter on his dresser, grazed my fingers along the line of shirts hanging in his closet.  I wanted to soak him in.  And all that week all of us found our way into his wallets, old letters, belt-buckles and camping gear.  We dove into the piles on his desk and rummaged through his storage room as we wouldn't have dreamed if he was there.  I remember wandering around the storage room as a child, breathing in the musk of camping, old clothes, pipe smoke and man that clung to what he kept there. How many times I asked Dad for something I couldn't find in the seeming jumble, and he'd unearth it in a moment with the question, "Did you even look?"

 There was an allure to Dad's things because it connected us to Dad.  But also becuase there had always been that mystique to his things.  All my life I'd open his dresser drawer (especially the top one) to gaze in wonder at his collection of treasures, even in the ordinariness of the items, like the pieces of lists, small knives, tie clasps and Boy Scout neckerchief slides.  Watches and compasses.  He had wallets from when he was sixteen and too many watches for me to count now.  But when it came time to take something home as a small keepsake, I didn't go for one of the fancy watches or beautiful compasses, but the old workhorse compass he'd used on more hikes than I can count.  It used to have a string on it that let it hang around Dad's neck out on the trail, but somewhere over the last decad and a half, that string's disappeared. 

But I keep the compass in the top drawer of my dresser now.  I have since the day I brought it home.  It lives beneath my socks usually, though I have it sitting beside me as I write this post. I don't go backpacking too often.  OK, EVER.  And, to tell you the truth, when my Dad first showed me how to use a compass, I couldn't quite understand how it worked.  From my childish point of view that red arrow just spun around and around and around with no rhyme or reason.  I would watch Dad pull it out, line it up, point a finger and head off, and there we'd go.  And it was as mystifying as many of Dad's life to me.

But somewhere along the way, I suddenly got how a compass works.  Probably much later than for most people.  I just don't have the right kind of brain.  Anyway, once I got it, I couldn't believe I hadn't understood before.  The red arrow ALWAYS points NORTH. It only spins if you turn the compass.  As soon as you stop spinning, it will settle back to north.  As a result of this tiny tool, you're safe in the wilderness.  It's those who venture out without a compass who are most likely to get lost.  Unfortunately, most people don't rely on compasses as they should.  They trust trail signs.   It's good to be in touch with the compass well before you need it, not just in crisis.   Trail signs are all well and good, but what if you get off the trail?  A compass can lead you back but it's a little harder.  It's easier to simply stay on the path in the first place.

This is a rather obvious metaphor, isn't it?  Our relationship with Christ is our red arrow, pointing us always to North.  Always in the right direction. He keeps us where on the path, only as much as we pay attention to Him.   And, even when we're lost, He can help us find our way back.  It's a pretty apt picture of the Trinity, come to think of it:  God the Father is True North, Jesus the Son is the Red arrow pointing toward Him and the Holy Spirit is the compass given to us--within us.  We are blessed to have such a built-in compass.  And do well to allow it to work, to keep us headed where God intends us to go.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Adding to my resume

This weekend I add to my resume.  My pastoral resume, I should say.  Since graduating from seminary, I've had the opportunity to perform many parts of a pastor's calling, particularly the preaching ones.  I dare not suggest, however, that the call to preach is what a pastor's job is made of, though, generally (at least for those I know) it's how the called one received or interpreted that initial call.  Those pastors I know felt a strong calling to 'preach the word, in season and out', then, in their ministry as church pastors, find ways to do the other tasks necessary for the church to run, so that they can have the privilege of their calling--to preach. And I suppose most people don't instinctively see church ministry as their first option when God calls/gifts them with administration and leadership, but from where I've sat (on church elder boards and committees), such gifts are of primary importance to a pastor's job, at least in the North American church as it's now constructed, which begs the question of why our churches are structured as they are, so far from what God had in mind when He set them up in the New Testament, but that's a discussion left to better minds than mine.

I remember having a conversation with Eugene Peterson over lunch one summer afternoon with our closest friend, a pastor.  JM asked EHP how he managed to to stay true to his calling when all these jobs and responsibilities of the pastorate got in the way of that calling.  EHP told us that early in his pastorate he'd struggled with this very thing, but finally went to his elders and said, "You have to take on the administration of this church.  I can't do it.  It's not my calling and I'm not good at it."  Fortunately, his elders stepped up and took over, leaving EHP to do what God had called him to do--to study, preach and teach the word.  To pastor his flock.  EHP is the most pastoral man I've ever known, with a deep ability to be present in a conversation, deeply quiet with someone.  I can imagine how that church flourished because he was allowed to be himself, not stuck doing what he was ill-equipped to do.

One of the reasons I have always known pastoral ministry wasn't a suit I could wear was the peripheral things, the non-pastoral tasks expected of a pastor.  As an elder, I was often so overwhelmed by the business of church I could hardly keep my mind on them. Budgets and finances made my eyes glaze over.  I could hardly read those ubiquitous spread sheets some folks could hardly wait to get their hands on.  My brain just doesn't work that way.  And I know--trust me, I KNOW--I made people impatient and even irritated by my inabilities in those areas, as well as my insistance on praying every second moment (at least from their points of view).

Beve and I have often 'discussed' this issue, because he feels--rightly so--that every job has parts of it that a person is less inclined toward.  But we don't get to pick and choose.  We do the less enjoyable parts so that we can do the parts we love.  However, I maintain that one must be at least ABLE to do those difficult parts, and that there should be a proportional balance.  I don't see that this is very often the case in pastoral ministry, at least in churches with a lone pastor.  Too much is expected of that one person. He or she is expected to be EVERYTHING.  Is this right? Is this what God intended?  Of course not.  He intended pastors to pastor, and others to administrate.  It's right there in the Word of God.  In Acts, in Romans, in 1 Corinthians.  The New Testament is full of God's ordering of His church.  We would do well to take our model from it, rather than from business.

Ok, so that's my rant for the day.  However, in an obvious correllary, I want to acknowledge those in my life--JM, JT, TL, NS--who are or have been pastors and have had to do this Herculean job.  And, from where I sit in the cheap seats, have done it very well.  I have been blessed in many and varied ways by not just their preaching but the large range of jobs they do to take care of their flock.  God alone knows how wide that range is.

All that said, this weekend, I will have the privilege of performing one more of the offices of pastor.  I've preached numerous times, led several retreats, served communion, and even preached at my own brother's (two) memorial service (s).  But I've never officiated at a wedding.  Until this weekend, when I will be the "Marrying C" (so to speak), for SK's best friend and her fiance.  SK has been friends with A since they were spindly 14-year-olds, sharing a music stand in the viola section of the freshman orchestra.  They had (and still do) the same quirky sense of humor, and ability to remember movie lines, and, after going to see, "Finding Nemo",  we spent the next year listening to them quoting Nemo to each other.  SK still has a stuffed turtle on her bed A gave her that year.  That same year, A began dating her husband-to-be-on-Saturday, J. I look forward to being with them Friday and Saturday.  It's a serious thing we do when we stand up together and say those vows.  Serious, yes, but also a cause for celebration. And if I know God (and I do a little, though not nearly as well as I want to), He's always up for a celebration.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Heaven

August is the cruelest month.  This isn't really the quote, but for my family, August has been the month of leave-taking from this earth.  This week marks the death-days of both my parents, Mom's today just a year ago, and Dad's five days from now--can it really be fourteen years since he first breathed the fresh air of heaven?  So it should come as no surprise that I'm feeling slightly nostalgic week.

But not perhaps nostalgic for my childhood, which was as sweet and good as a childhood in a small, university town can be in the carefree years in which I lived, where we never had to lock our doors, and I ran bare-foot and free from the day school was let out in June until it began the day after Labor Day, with only the chores my mother imposed to blight those sunny days. 

I'm thinking more today about heaven than my own past, which I tend to run on about anyway, and I suppose you get sick enough of.  I can only say so much about my own past. In a way, I suppose the same is true of heaven, since all any of us know is told from those God has spoken to in dreams and visions.  Perhaps those with near-death and all-the-way-dead experiences, if one is inclined to believe in them.  I have no strong opinion about them myself.  I know that God will meet us the moment we breath our last breaths here, so I have no doubt that anyone whose heart has stopped, only to have it started again, has had Him shake their hands for a moment. Give them a quick hug then send them back.  I believe He can do this.  Whether that moment will come with a blaze of light remains to be seen.  By each of us who calls Him Lord, I dare say. About the rest? Only He knows.

But what I do know is that He cares about our four-score-and-then-some. And I find more comfort in the pattern He sets up for the Israelites, in their days of festival and celebrations, of working and worship and taking time out than I do the rather hard-to-comprehend visions of the dreamers, as breath-taking as they are in places.  Yes, I love the thought that worship goes on twenty-four hours a day, without ceasing.  But that He teaches His people how to take time off to do just that, to worship, to be community at rest, to party, to remember--this is compelling in terms of thinking of heaven.

What is stunning is that even though they had turned their backs on Him, He still kept His covenant to them, and created a "People for His Name."  They didn't, with all those holy days, feasts, sabbaths, years of jubilee, and rules, keep their HEARTS holy.  They turned their backs on God.

And He knew this would be the case.  He said: 'I'll give you all this--everything you need: the festivals, the daily regulations, the protection, the mandates for success, the vision for the land, the history to encourage--and still you'll turn away.  You'll start dancing to idols at the very moment I'm still speaking in a cloud on a mountain above you.  You'll complain and whine and complain about what I haven't done for you.  Yet I won't give up on you.  I'll never, ever give up on you.  I'll make a way for you to come to me.   Because I chose you.  I chose you for me.  A people for my name."

It's an amazing story, this story of our way to heaven.  It started so long before that baby was born in Bethlehem, and we forget that.  We think Jesus was the beginning of the story. And we think the resurrection is the way up to Him. But we always had a way to Him.  He was NEVER going to give up on us.  Jesus is only His final solution.  His magna opus, so to speak.

So I'm thinking of all this today.  This story that goes much farther back than my own history, or farther back than the history of Christianity. Even back beyond the people wandering in the desert, if we get right down to it. The moment Eve reached out her hand for that piece of fruit, God had this way back to Himself in place.  He was always at the ready.

And I'm thankful that my parents were each greeted, whole and finally holy, when they left their bones and body on this earth.  When their days of sin were gone.  Isn't that an amazing thought?  It isn't only our bodies we'll leave but our sin as well?  I may not know what Heaven will be, but I know two things:  Jesus will be there, and there will be no more sin.  And that's enough for me.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What He's called me to

I've been thinking a great deal in the last day about why I write this blog, about my purpose in these almost daily musings about life and God.  I know that there is, of course, the pulsing need to write as a way to make sense of how God speaks in my own life. Blog as journa, one might say.l But there is also a correlating desire to point others toward the Kingdom.  Blog as pulpit, I suppose, one might also say.  The first, perhaps, is better left to my own blue notebooks, meant only for my private consumption.  And without question there is much in those notebooks that far too private to work out before an unknown audience.  It is meant, as with Jacob and the angel, as a wrestling through the dark of night.  We know it happens, but we don't precisely know what passed between them as they grappled together at 3AM. 

But the blog as pulpit, blog as ministry has become a calling.  One I gladly answer.  In fact, when I think about how He sometimes reveals Himself, it is so far beyond my small abilities only the Holy Spirit could write these words (though the typos are all mine!).

What He has called me to, I think, is a deep-down-to-my-marrow-of-my-bones attentiveness.  Though, now that I think about it, bones aren't the deepest things in a body.  They may be the structure of arms, legs, fingers, toes, ribs and backbone, but they merely encapsulate the depths of our bodies. Under their protective armor lie all the vital life-giving and sustaining parts-- from heart, brain, lungs, kidneys.  Without such protection we would be lost. But bones are the only things that survive death.  Only the armor remains.  What life is truly about, blood and what it travels through, heart and how it pumps, cannot outlast a human soul.

OK, a long segue attentiveness. But when I close my eyes and let surrender wash over me, and listen to the throb of heart, electricity in the nerves of a lame leg, I am reminded that He speaks distinctly and profoundly in my body most often in pain.  Pain itself reminds me of life.  Reminds me to pay attention to Him.

And pain strips away the protective armor I try to put on--like human bones--to keep me from being fragile.  Without that armor--of physical strength, bodily abilities to run and move and keep up and do and be and look the way the world says it's right to look--there is nowhere else to look but to Him to be my protective armor.  The question is, am I attentive enough to His voice?  Am I able to say with Job, "Though He slay me, still I will trust Him." ?  Though people don't understand how I live, or why, or question my motives or revile me or judge me unfairly, do I still trust Him?  I pray so.  I pray that I trust Him no matter what comes. 

It's easy enough when the day is fair and I can sit in the sun and the wind blows gently (both literally and figuratively), when I am not tried beyond my powers to endure. But winds can whip, storms can blow in.  And I confess I don't always want to know what He might ask of me.  I want to live attentively, to live as a Christ-one, extending His Kingdom in every arena He sets before me.  But I want to be strong.  Even in my weakness. I want to lean into your protection, to be as strong as the truest trust in You.  When all around me is storm, when even my heart is failing, may I be yours.

And may I be faithful to do what you've called me to do.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

A few thoughts of the day

It's been an emotional day, for a host of reasons.  For one thing, we hauled a trailer (and by 'we', I mean our Highlander) down to Seattle, unloaded our daughters' large pieces of furniture into their new apartment, which made sweat pour down at least one of our shirts (I'm not pointing fingers, but he does sweat mighty easily...always has!).  Moving is always a sweaty work, though.  A grumpy, sweaty work.  Last night when the girls were picking up the U-Haul, the man handling the transaction asked, "Is this a good move?"  They told him it was.  It made me wonder how many terrible moves he must see from his side of the counter.  Divorce, lost jobs, homes, lives...it's pretty sad to consider.  So our grumpiness, in light of that, seems so unwarranted, so trivial.  We should be celebrating--with great joy--what God is about here, rather than getting irritated because people aren't doing things exactly as I would want them to.  OH, there it is.  It's just me.  The silly old mom, still wanting to tell her adult daughters where to put their furniture, dishes, etc.  Wow, how hard it is to release the iron-tight hold I have on their lives.  It's a life-long battle--this letting go of my children.  I want to do it, but the mama in me just has to try to mama them. Sigh.

So that was one thing: that recognition that I was the one in the way. Deep sigh.

But there was also an inward struggle.  One I also struggle to write about. I had a conversation this morning and afterwards, realized I was fighting not to feel offended.  It doesn't matter what the conversation was, what counts is that my reaction was to feel offended.  And then, in fighting that reaction ( I was in the car, and unable to get alone to pray--at least, that's what I'm telling myself now), I allowed that 'feeling offended' feeling to color the rest of my day, and my interactions with my daughters and Beve.  Even with J, on the phone.  It was like I got fat with myself today, if that makes sense.  So caught up in my own defense (in an internal conversation with this other person), that I was no use to anyone here.  And certainly no use to God.

And that, of course, is the point.  As usual.  The very epitome of being selfish, is when we're so pre-occupied with self, we cannot be His instrument.  I am not my own.  How many times does He have to remind me of this?  I don't get to pick and choose when to respond like Christ, and when I get to respond selfishly.  That's not the deal as one in whom He dwells. "I die daily," Paul says.  These are much easier words to type than to do, aren't they?  Only with Him, can I even say them at all.

And a final few thoughts:
I have wanted to write a few words in response to the post my son wrote the other day.  I have always been very careful to respect his (and all my beloveds') privacy on this blog.  And, when I am transparent about myself, it is not to call attention to myself but in order to trumpet God's glory.  Nevertheless, I am awed that J feels strong enough to write with such raw honesty about his life.  It gives me great hope.  You have no idea.  And that hope is the most important ingredient for living J's life.
About J's search for an authentic relationship with God, I will say two things:

First, we don't believe in the Triune God because we feel Him but because He's true. Experiences are quixotic things-- easy to manufacture, then just as easy to denounce (or revise history about).  Experience or feeling, therefore, cannot be the foundation for a relationship. It must be more than that, because feelings change.  To wit, divorce rates.  The question is, is it true? Is Jesus Christ who He says He is?  If He is, then He is worth our devotion.  That's it.  Even if you never feel His presence, even if you go your whole life on earth without ever sensing Him, if the Gospel is true and He is God, you must call Him Lord.  There is no other response.

That's my second point: I absolutely agree that there are many, many people who are 'fake' (or inauthentic) in their faith.  However, I also know of many, many others who have given their lives to Christ, then live out those lives on this planet without ever 'feeling' Him, with no real experience of Him.  Faith and obedience.  And He honors that devotion beyond measure.  And I believe--no, I am as certain of this as I am of this couch on which I sit--that when these dear saints finally have the doors thrown open to the throne room, they will hear God Himself standing and applauding them for their  lifelong, great faithfulness.

That said, I pray, for my son and for all who earnestly seek Him, that He will reveal Himself to each in such a way that they will know He is God and He is not silent.  That He will heal them of all their diseases, lift them up where they've fallen or simply (but importantly!) meet them in their ordinary lives and transform them.  Once and for all.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Belonging and mattering

Last week Beve told me he had a meeting scheduled for today with his school administrators, and he  thought he'd ask them to come sit on our new deck instead of sitting around a table inside a school.  This led me (and our daughters) to believe that there would be about six or so people at the day-long meeting.  Since Beve loves to entertain and has been anxious to show off this new masterpiece of his, and it's just so beautiful right now, it was a no-brainer to agree to host this meeting.

Then this morning happened.  Or, perhaps a better way to put it would be, this morning EXPLODED.  My assumptions were blown totally out of the water (or off the deck) as our door just kept opening and more chairs had to be found, and more food appeared on our counters.  Teachers showing up for a meeting!  In the middle of August a full two weeks before they actually have a contract to be back at work.  Yep, that's right.  Not just the counselors and administrators, but a whole bunch of teachers.  It was wild.  When I cornered Beve at one point, I said, "I thought this was going to be a small group."  And he answered, "Well, I might have invited a few other people when I saw them during the week."

 Beve.  Not the principal, but Beve was out there hijacking the meeting to invite anyone he felt like, just to make the party bigger.  "Come on over and let's talk about how to make this the best year for our students."  And they came in droves.  I haven't the faintest idea what the principal had planned to talk about today, but Beve wound up with the BM (belonging and mattering) Committee (otherwise known as TFC: Touchy-Feely Committee) he's always believed in.  Staffs will do better work, when they believe they belong and matter.  And the students will be the better for it. Yep, my Beve is like the den-mother for the whole staff.  Well, that's pretty much what he is for everyone in his life.

But he's absolutely right.  While he was entertaining this group of summering teachers out on our back deck, SK and I drove off for a wonderful lunch with some of our favorite people in the whole wide world.  People who are as close to family as they can be without actually having the same blood.  And while Beve was talking with passion about mattering and belonging, these friends were talking with passion about a people they have a heart for across the world in Africa.  They spoke of the amazing ways God has connected them with others who have hearts, the same passion and the structure to help them in this cross-cultural ministry.  I was wow-ed not only by their stories but by their awe at God meeting them.  We're always so surprised that God shows up.  He uses this little woman asking this small question to get that large, important person to cross country so that he can be just where he needs to be so that he's where God wants him...just when He needs him to be there. 

Now I admit, I'm as surprised as the next person, certainly as in awe as my friends. And it is well and good to be in awe of God when He works and moves among us. And wholly right to give Him glory for it.  May it be far from me--from any of us--to ever take it for granted that He does so.  But the truth is, of course, God shows up.  I mean, He's the head of the "Belonging and Mattering" Committee.  He invented it.  We matter.  Each of us.  God shows up for us.  That's what He does.  Maybe it's easier to see when we're so far out of our easy lives as my friends are when they're sweating 24-7 in Senegal.  When they're dead on their feet, at the end of their rope and have to rely on Him for every single breath.  Maybe it's only then that the blinders are taken off enough that we can see Him as He is every single day. Right there, showing up. Doing things on our behalf.  Because we matter, we belong...to Him.

The trick is how to live here with our Iphones, IPads, IPods, I--Everythings as if He was the one-touch at our finger-tips.  You know?  How do we live in this kind of world and still recognize Him when He shows up?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

From a man of courage and strength

A few days ago, my son asked texted me to ask if he could guest post on my blog.  I responded instantly, "Absolutely!"  My very brave, very beloved son, I should say. 

My name is Jonathan, and I'm the lost middle child of this blogger. You may have seen me referred to by the very clever pseudonym of “J”. When I asked my mom if I could guest blog, I wasn't sure what I wanted to write about. I just wanted to accomplish something tangible.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. Romans 8:18
Since last January, my life has been a ride. There hasn't been a whole lot of good in my life, I'll be honest. Lots of surgeries, lots of medications. Getting mentally and physically healthy has been a priority of mine for the last almost two years. 5 surgeries, several pretty intense illnesses, and a colon/endoscopy have made me feel like I'm destined to be physically broken for all of my life. I've also struggled financially, which should come as no surprise. I've spent 10s of thousands of dollars on medical bills, while also being either out of work or working a limited amount. I've had to make decisions that I never expected to make: i.e choosing between a tank of gas or eating. If you had told me, at age 6, that my life would consist of this, I would have laughed in your face.

The hardest part of this whole experience is two fold: 1) my continuing search for faith and 2) figuring out what I want to do with my life. The first part is especially hard because my struggle with faith comes from a very specific thing. I have never felt the presence or an emotional connection to God. Without having a healthy body and mind, it is hard to actually pursue any relationship. Especially one that is as meaningful and important as a relationship with God. Make no mistake: I want my relationship with God to be genuine. I have seen too many people that have fake “relationships” to know that I want mine to be the real deal.

It has been a genuinely hard road. A long, dark, and, most of the time, a lonely road. One that I would not wish on another human. The biggest of my problems is the way that my two mental health issues feed into one another. I can't be around too many people because it makes me anxious, but being by myself makes me more depressed. As a result I've probably damaged a significant portion of my relationships. I know that I haven't been too present at family events (even close family gatherings). I've been neglectful of all but my closest friends. I honestly worry if they take my absences to heart and think that I don't care for them anymore.
Of course, the people in my life have been the biggest strengths that I have going for me. My roommate is very supportive. He has worked with me and my financial instability far more than he should have. He has made his house a very safe place for me and has been a tremendous blessing. My two best friends have done whatever they could, whenever they could. The one I went to high school with struggles with the same mental things that I am, so I have someone close to me who TRULY understands what I'm dealing with. The friend I went to middle school with has been very understanding and very supportive as well. My sisters have (at least to me) never mentioned how absent I have been, and they are also very caring of me. I could never thank my parents (or any of these people) enough for what they have done. My parents never pressure me into a situation that I am uncomfortable in. They also have given me exceptional support and advice throughout everything. If not for these people, I would be a statistic about suicides.

I realize that this blog post has been rather disjointed. But in that way, it resembles my life. I'm not sure where my life is headed. I feel so out of touch with all of my contemporaries. They are starting lives, having children, and careers. I'm stuck in neutral, just trying to keep myself alive. I know that seems a bit extreme, but it is the truth. I think about death and dying every day; not good for someone at the ripe age of 24. I have lived the past year and a half just one day at a time, and I'll probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; (9) persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2 Corinthians 4:8-9
I think this piece of scripture applies directly to my life. The one thing that hasn't happened to me is that I haven't broken from the strain of life. I credit that to my phenomenal support structure. And maybe, I am a little tougher than I thought I was. So I leave this blog with some hope. Hope that at some point I will get some relief. And I'll be able to move forward and have a normal life. It is not tangible hope. Nothing that I can see. Just a feeling. A feeling that I can change and get better and be normal. That is what ultimately keeps me fighting. And I urge anyone who has struggled with depression and/or anxiety to talk to someone about it.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A bit of English

I can't help myself.  It's out there, all pretty and unblemished, and the sky is robin-egg blue and there's always another book to read so I just can't help it.  Each morning I climb out of bed, throw on whatever is nearest at hand, grab whatever book strikes my fancy, make myself a cuppa tea and a large insulated glass of ice water (which don't seem like they go together, but trust me, I'm a two-fisted drinker when it comes to these morning beverages), and go out back to our beautiful deck where the sun, and chairs and some world or other is waiting for me.  Then I don't come up for air until I'm so saturated by it that the cares of the day--the tasks I really should be doing--rise up to knock insistently on the door of my conscience.  I love the deck, oh my, how I love it, but I'm a little afraid it'll be my undoing.

Still.  The books I've been reading these last days.  Devouring is more the word.  One a day, like vitamin D every doctor seems to be pushing these days--seems not a one of us has been getting enough of it.  Who knew?  Who knew the whole wide world could be deficient of something?  Well, God did, of course.  That's the story of the Incarnation, isn't it? God knew we were in sad shape, not missing a single vitamin but the whole lot of them, and doomed to die because of what was in our body instead. Death.  Death was in our body, wasn't it?  So here He came, all life, and health and more full of the good, clean vitamins of God than any of us had ever seen. Then He went to bat for us.  Gave Himself up to the death, I should say, and now there's the perfect vitamin to fill us up with Life.  The Holy Spirit, available for the asking.  If we just reach out for Him. 

I got a bit sidetracked there, but how could I not?  It's a good point, after all, and worth the telling. 

Anyway, this morning, I reached for Catcher in the Rye, which has been sitting in a pile beside my bed for a while now.  It isn't new to me.  This copy is well-worn and travel-weary, but it's been years since I read it.  It's not a book I've loved.  Not like some people do.  When I was on the train from NJ to Massachusetts last month the people (I believe they might have been fellow educators on their way to a conference) in the seat behind me talked of books.  The woman had Catcher in the Rye with her because it's her all-time favorite book.  She reads it every year.  The man beside her had never read it, so she was extolling its virtues, then offered to let him read it during the conference.  "Don't worry, I'll read it again next month," she said.  As I listened to her, I thought of it sitting beside my bed, how I keep grabbing books from beneath it on the pile because I just couldn't make myself face Holden Caulfield and his teenage angst. In fact, he is the very definition of that teenage angst (and angst is a word I really hate using because I always connect it ONLY to teenagers, and hate stereotyping them so negatively). 

But this morning I began reading young Holden's story.  His painful, twisting and turning thoughts that start one place and wind up so far from there it's hard to figure out.  But I was stunned this morning, because it's exactly the way a person thinks, especially the way a young boy, trying to figure out life, thinks.  Starting here, ending up across the sea from there, and God alone knows how he got there.

But here's the other thing, Salinger breaks just about every rule you ever learned in every English class you ever had.  All those essays you wrote that came back with the second-persons (the 'you's) circled?  He speaks directly to the audience--or to some unknown "You"-- with prolific abandon.  There are run-on sentences mixed with half-sentences and I's where there should be me's and just plain put in the wrong place.  If a teacher of grammar looks too long and hard at Catcher they'll fall away in a dead faint, just imagining that such a thing could even work. That such a mess could have become such a hit, let alone the masterpiece it is, would be anathema in the abstract.

But that's the thing: it works.  And is brilliant, ridiculously brilliant.  Not merely because it takes us within that boy's mind, but does it in such an honest and convincing way.  And the way of convincing isn't always wrapped up in a tidy package.  Not when it's about a human being.

And there it is: my long-overdue point (or perhaps my second point). We're a whole lot more like Holden Caulfield in our thinking than we are like those College English 101 essays we had to write.  We stop and start thoughts, move with fleeting quickness from one thing to another.  I can't always retrace for Beve or my kids or friends how I moved from talking about the quilt I'm working on to the crumbling economy and whether China really is the new US.  And, even if you'd like to think so, I doubt I'm alone in this.  We don't even know ourselves completely.  Even those of us who are most introverted, most inclined to look at who and what we are, don't know ourselves.

Nevertheless, we are known.  Every hair on our heads.  Even my colored strands of hair right down to its roots are known by Him.  When my way seems winding and infathomable, when I am as full of angst as Holden Caulfield--and cannot blame it on being in the same hemisphere as a teenager--He knows me.  He gets me.  God doesn't look at me cross-eyed when I start down one path and don't finish my sentence.  He knows how that sentence ends.  He knows better than I do. 

And accepts me, exactly the way He accepts you and all your flaws and quirks.

And that, my friends, is the good news of this bright beautiful Northwest day.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Corn

There's a kernel growing inside.  It makes me think of the tall fields of corn in New Jersey we passed daily during the week we visited our friends last month.  That corn was 'as tall as an elephant's eye,' as the song goes, as I invariably began to sing each time we drove by or stopped to pick up a few fresh, juicy ears for dinner.  Those kernels burst in our mouths that week, as we held those luscious, completely ripe, fully formed, slathered-with-butter (and only real butter will do!)-and salt ears of corn.  Ah, nothing better. One of my favorite summer foods, for all that it gets stuck in your teeth until it drives you crazy for the rest of the meal. But it's worth it. Isn't it? 
The next week, up at my brother's family's home, just four hours north (by rail), their garden had its own stalks of corn. But that corn wasn't nearly finished growing yet.  If I'd put it side by side with the New Jersey fields, it'd look sad and anemic.  But that's not the whole story.  The truth of the matter is that more growth was needed.  More sun and water and time in the soil before those stalks would be tall enough, broaden toward each other, and the feathers around the ears darken because life was bursting within. 

Writing about this gives me a hankering for fresh corn on the cob, I have to tell you, but that's not my point.  My point is that sometimes I forget how long things take.  How long a kernel has to simply be a kernel in the ground before it can become something else altogether.  I'm so blasted impatient.  For myself and for others around me.  But today, I feel a kernel of something inside.  And that kernel feels like it could bloom into something I've been watching and waiting for for...well, for a long time.  It's only a kernel today. But sometimes a kernel is what God gives us. 

A kernel of corn inside, a grain of mustard in our hand.  That's what He tells us it takes. So today, I hold onto that grain, feel the kernel growing within and thank God for both. Trust Him that soon enough there will be a field white with harvest. Juicy with ripe, lush corn, ready for whatever good feast He has in store for it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

That joy of his

I can't guarantee it, but it's possible there might be two posts today.  But that's all I'm going to say about that.

Grampie and Thyrza came over yesterday afternoon to sit on our new deck, take in the view, and just generally enjoy the day with us.  Grampie had it in his head that he was going to become best friends with our dogs, though he's rarely paid much attention to them in the past, and they've liked it that way.  Those walkers of the elders tend to take up space that our dogs think belong to them, and that's just not right in their eyes.  Jamaica, especially, doesn't like those wheely-things coming down the hall toward her, even though it's being pushed by an elder at a pace that would make a snail look like a torpedo.  Maica goes running for the safety of her kennel if she happens to get caught in the hallway just as one of the walkers is in the same space, because God Himself only knows what might happen to her if it got too close.

So it isn't surprising that our dogs weren't exactly responsive when Grampie suddenly got the urge to become their best friend.  For one thing, he kept calling Maica, Jemima.  Jemima was our yellow lab who died nine months before we brought our Maica puppy home.  So Maica didn't pay one bit of attention to that old man calling some random name, even in her general direction.  And he had to ask several times--yesterday--what 'that big dog' was called, though Jackson is almost 11, and Grampie's known him his whole life.  Jackson only comes when he feels like it on the best of days.  He's sweet-natured enough, is a  'wouldn't do nobody wrong'  dog, but he only obeys if he was already planning to do the thing anyway.  We've always called him our dumb jock, though perhaps now he's more like our dumb old man.

But Grampie was relentless, wanted to get a picture (which is his favorite--only--hobby) with the dogs, so I finally got a few pieces of old bread, handed them to him and called the dogs over so they could see the bread.  They were instantly at rapt attention.  Grampie was beside himself with glee, making them sit, tossing bread in the air for them, hiding the bread in his jacket so they wouldn't know where it was.  I took a few pictures, which completed the thrill.

Then we had dinner, which he claimed was "the best meal [he'd] had in a long time." And when I say he claimed this, I mean he told us more times than I can count.  The girls, who were working hard not to giggle by the end, finally said that if they'd had to take a drink of alcohol every time he said one of his "Grampie-isms" they'd have been drunk before we finished the meal.  Even Thyrza was chuckling at how often he complimented us on our simple meal of hamburgers, brats, fries and salad.  Wow, if we could please others so easily.

And that's my point.  Sure, Grampie's glee in such simple things comes because he's losing it mentally.  And yes, he tends to sound like a skipping record (though we'd have to toss any old LP that skipped so badly), so much so that at times we get tired of having to answer the same exact sentence five times in a row.  But his sentiments are so sweet.  His heart is so full of joy.  It does me good to be around him, to watch the unadulterated glee he finds in getting our dogs to respond to him.  His smile is so wide you can't help smiling back at him.  And really, it makes all the difficulties managable, that joy of his. 

I think of how I walk through my day, of how often I lose my temper, even in the smallest ways.  Most of the time there's no reason for it. At least, far less reason than that I'm losing my whole entire mind like Grampie is.  And I spend so much time worrying about how others (Beve, for example) can please me, rather than thinking about how I can please them/him.  In even the smallest and simplest ways.

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility, value others above yourseves, not looking to your own interests, but each of you to the interests of the others.  In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had."  Philippians 2 : 3-5

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Showers

The other day, BB (baby brother for those of you new to this blog) told me I'm the story-teller of our family.  That got me to thinking of being a town crier, who knows and shares all the news of the community.  I suppose, like with all vocations, there are associated strengths and weaknesses.  The balance, of course, is to keep from tipping from information into gossip. 

Anyway, I resonate with his assessment that I'm a story-teller.  And last night thought of one I've told more than once over the years since it happened, but perhaps not on this blog, or if so, not for a long time.  So if you've heard it from me, feel free to move along. 

Years ago, Beve and I, along with our closest friends (and our combined six children like little ducks in a row behind us) were the leadership team for a high school ministry.  And each summer we took that high school group, as large as 40 strong, to a small, mostly Tlinget village in SE Alaska.  Hoonah was where we became friends we often say.  Our children did such things as buy candy cigarettes and smoke them on the church steps while we led VBS inside, and Beve was a hit as a 'play-ah' in the daily basketball games (which led us to form a Hoops camp the second year.  We slept at a rather decrepit church that had a broken down kitchen and two bathrooms of sorts, but no showering facilities of any kind.  Not to worry, however, the high school was right up the street, and we were given keys to the locker rooms for the duration of our stay.

Our first morning in Hoonah, K and I roused our five young daughters (SK was only five years old that first summer) early to get our showers in before breakfast and the day took off at a wild pace.  It was a veritable parade of teenagers sleep-walking up the hill that morning, the morning-folk, like Beve, at the head of the pack, the night-owls, like JM and me, barely with it at the rear.  But into the shower rooms we trooped, where we discovered a rather large open stall with several shower heads.  K and I gritted our teeth, set our face in stone and helped our reluctant daughters undress.  Then we undressed, we who had borne those children and had the scars and bodies to show for it. 

But around us those lovely, young unblemished teenagers were, one at a time, going into the bathroom stalls and coming out in their swimming suits.  Then they stood in the showers, scrubbing away at those suits as if they'd been stamping on them in mud.  It took all the strength in my not-so-confident-soul to stand in front of them and wash my real, actual, dirty, sweaty body.  I could have put on my swimming suit, of course.  But my swimming suit wasn't dirty.  It was clear back in my suitcase, clean and unsullied.

It's our naked selves that get filthy.  Toss our clothes into the washer and they come out smelling fresh and clean.  But ourselves--our dirty, pudgy, droopy selves, blushing in the shame of it all--must be washed, deep down where we sweat, exercise, excrete, expel most. Clean to the bone.  Washed.

In blood as well. It is not our swimming suits, neutral articles with no soul, only function, that need the blood of Christ.  It is not what we put on ourselves--our professions, our hobbies and roles, even most of our dreams and desires (though some are as dark and dirty as the dirties part of us)--that must alone be cleaned, it is ourselves. 

Wash us deeply.  Even in our saggy flesh.  What their suits covered is exactly what lies beneath everyone's clothes.  And what we each need clean. Don't let us hide behind our clothes, Lord. Help us--me!--strip naked to the core, then shower us in the clean, saving blood of Jesus Christ.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Simple grace

I just looked at the date and realized yesterday was the birthday of one of my oldest friends.  I may have mentioned this before, but I have a quirky ability to remember birthdays.  That isn't to say I do anything about them--not anything important, that is--but I remember them.  This particular friend is a woman I went to high school and even middle school with.  We were in Sunday School together, though both of us were often there not out of some deep interest in spiritual things but because our parents were dedicated Methodists.  Her parents still are, still shore up the walls of the barn-like structure, just up the street from downtown, where we spent every Sunday of our childhood.  CD and I got to know each other first during those Sunday school days, when her family moved to town in about our fifth grade year, I think.  Her dad, like most of the dads of my closest friends, was a professor at the University.  By odd co-incidence, he was the tennis coach and taught in the PE department, where Beve's dad was the department chair.  Small world, you might be thinking, and you'd be right.  But that doesn't begin to cover it.  Really.

CD and I became closer friends when we started high school, began going to Young Life, and somehow, our circle of girlfriends became set.  She's part of the eight women I still see on an annual basis (if I'm not dealing with a dying parent or sick or something), the ones who will forever be known to me and many around us as "the girls."  Though it might seem pejorative to call women of our ages by such a moniker, nothing else will do for us, because that's who we've always been.  A community.  The girls.

But this year, I thought I'd talk about each of them separately, on or near their birthdays.  So CD.  She was always an athlete.  Perhaps the most athletic among us, though a couple others were close.  She has a simple grace in her athletic abilities that make her tennis game smooth and strong. She's an artist, who likes to get her hands dirty in clay, paints when she has time and creates lovely graceful Christmas cards that are instantly recognizable. Like two others of the girls, she's an elementary school teacher, and I can imagine her handling her classroom with the same bold but smooth strokes she uses on the tennis court, with the same simple grace she brings to her art.  But then, perhaps that is a good way to describe her in general--a simple grace.  She laughs easily and often, is quick to listen and very, very slow to anger.  Of all the girls, she is least likely to have a bad word to say about someone, is the most calm and moderate in temperament.  It's like being in a serene pool of water to be around her, come to think of it, very like the calm serene lake where we once floated for an afternoon after a weekend with 'the girls', debriefing or not, just floating.  Being with her is like that, floating simply in her cool, lovely presence.  I've always felt better about the world because there is someone so peaceful and calm in it.

Several years ago, it was discovered that she has a rather serious chronic medical condition which might have hampered another person's life, made them resentful of the stringent daily dietary and medical requirements.  And though it took her some time to learn how to live, she just does.  And that's that.  The end.  No big deal, no problem, just get with the program and live with it.  A simple grace even in adversity.  That's who CDH is to me.

I am better for knowing her.  I always have been.  Thankful for her presence in my life, but also simply thankful for her presence in the world. Yep, she is a treasure.  I thank God that she was created 54 years ago.  Happy Birthday, CDH. Have a wonderful day.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Stuff and nonsense

Our deck is finished.  That's one thing.  Have I mentioned that this is a project three years in the making?  It's how we do things around here.  On the upside, it's ridiculously wonderful.  Beve and his cohort-in-construction put in lights on the wide steps that span three sides while the daughters and I were in Seattle the other day.  I expected three little lights that would help us if we had to go out and yell at the dogs for barking in the middle of the night.  But NO, in true Giant fashion, where everything is bigger, there are 16 little lights. I'm telling you, it looks like the decking around a pool.  Really.  And that's exactly what we need, so that I wouldn't get a single, solitary thing from now until who knows when.  You call me up and I'd be out back sitting in the pool.  Just because I could. But it sure sounds nice, especially now that we have the perfect deck for it.

Our refrigerator has been freezing all our food.  Talk about inconvenient.  On one hand, we had to throw out all our lovely summer produce this morning--nothing like frozen lettuce and celery! One the other hand, all our leftovers should last a long time.  The repair man is coming this afternoon.  Not a moment too soon.  Unfortunately just as I'm at a doctor's appointment with Grampie, and Beve's at one with J.  Thankfully there are two adult daughters at home to fill in the gap.

Not for much longer, however. Said daughters got the exact apartment they wanted. and will be moving to Seattle in the next couple of weeks.  They were dancing their happy dance last night.  Now for the next things, you know, like jobs to pay for the apartment, school, food, etc.  Just the trivial things like that.  But life tends to go well for these daughters of ours.  So I'm pretty sure that before too long, they'll have the right doors open to jobs they both like.  And I'm glad of that for them.

On the other hand, J has another rather serious medical procedure this afternoon.  Somehow, the balance doesn't seem to tip toward him.  And if I was someone inclined toward the three letter word we all get to when we come to the end of our rope, I'd be asking it about now.  You know the one I mean, don't you? It's the one we ask when life just keeps knocking us down and doesn't seem fair, when we look around and see good things, even ordinary things happening to and for others, and the world and the universe and God who says He loves us doesn't seem to be in our corner. Why? J asks that single word question often enough, and I have to admit, I don't have an answer that sounds very satisfying even to my own ears.  My words sound like a whole lot of stuff and nonsense in the face of everything he faces on a daily basis.  God loves you, I tell him.  You're a very strong man.  You fight harder than anyone I know. But the battle is hard, he feels weak, and it's hard to feel that God loves him in the middle of this.  If I told you (which I will not) all that his battle is, you'd understand the difficulty as well.  But he keeps fighting, and I keep loving him, and asking God to love him as well.  And to--please God--tip the balance in his favor. Give him a break. Let something go his way. Even for a little while.

But how do I balance that prayer with my equally fervent desire--for each of these three young adults--that they become holy and righteous and pleasing to God, and used to extend His Kingdom?  I don't always know what it will take in a person's life.  I don't know by what means God will work His presence into a soul, but ultimately, that is my greatest desire for my children.  Not for them to be rich or successful or happy.  The earthly ambitions I have for them are few.  I don't care what professions they choose or where they choose to live (though I'm selfish enough to want it within visiting range, which I suppose means on this planet).  For them to serve the Lord--I want this. Above all else.  No matter what. 

The rest is all stuff and nonsense.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Stepping Out

Spent the day in Seattle with my daughters who will move there at the end of the month.  That is, of course, if the one apartment of the many we viewed today, the one they fell in love with on the spot, is the one they're approved for.  I'm telling you, the rental market down there is like a feeding frenzy.  At one place where E had made an appointment, six other prospective renters also showed up at exactly the same time for the same appointment.  One woman was so put off that an agent would schedule appointments in such a fashion she almost didn't stick around to see the place (almost, I say).   Another woman showed us a two bedroom apartment so small a bed could hardly fit in the smaller bedroom, and a person could sit on the toilet and turn on the shower with one hand and the water in the sink with the other.  That woman said that she'd had two dozen people call about this tiny apartment in the first hour it was posted. 

So it was a long day and a hard search.  SK had an interview at the theater where she'll be interning for the year, and we met a couple of her friends for lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant in the U district.  So it wasn't all apartment hunting.  But plenty of hours were spent simply driving around the Green Lake, Greenwood area (somewhat between the places where the three women who will share this not-yet-leased apartment). 

Just yesterday when I found those old journal entries, I found a 'Valentine' I'd written for Beve many years ago. It was a compliation of journal entries from the first time I wrote about him until that Valentines Day.  Quite the project. Anyway, in one entry, I wrote about how Beve and I were worrying about our house in Tacoma selling.  E, who was not quite six years old at the time, piped up that night, "Don't worry, God already knows the people who will buy our house."  It completely settled me down that night. Reminded me again, as HE intended, that He's sovereign, that HE's in control.  Out of the mouths of our children came truth...so many times.

But those very words kept reverberating today as well.  God already knows what apartment will be their home.  He will order their paths.  I believe this.  I stake my life on it.  They aren't sitting in our house waiting for something to drop out of the sky for them; but in the end, God must provide. God MUST make the way for them.  Where to live, where to work, where to worship. God must make the way. 

I have said this before, but it bears repeating, I am convinced that when we step out in faith, God answers.  And the more we risk, the more we get to see Him in action, because we have placed more in His hands.  I've seen it over and over in my own and many other lives.  You ask anyone who's gone overseas on a misson trip and they'll tell you--they stepped out of their comfort zone where they could only trust Him and He became more real to them than ever before.  And it is transforming!  FOREVER.

So this move for my daughters and their friend, CC.  Taking a risk, stepping out to the thin limbs of a tree.  Two will go to graduate school. One will intern.  None yet has a job. But all have faith that He is in it.  And we have sensed His call and see Him moving here.  And believe He will go before them, and follow after them. 

Stepping out from the trunk of the tree--no easy thing.  It's scary out there.  But He already knows.  He already knows your future...and it's secure.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Old, old stories

My sister, RE, wrote me an email which precipitated me going through the file box in which I keep retreat, sermon and Bible study notes. This led me to re-organize them in a more systematic fashion, which made me start reading them.  One thing after another after another.  Well, this is how life often goes.  Doesn't it?  Anyway, I came across snippets of journal entries I'd copied to use for a retreat.  The retreat was about ways to enhance our spiritual devotion and the first session was about journaling.  So all through the retreat, I read portions of my journals to back up the other topics (We looked at spiritual friendships, suffering, and community as well). 

Some of the journal entries were quite good and seem so far from me I barely remember them coming from my own pen, though they have my voice, if that makes sense.  So I thought today that I'd share a couple of my old, old stories, so to speak. Bear with me, they're long (especially the second one, but it's worth it!).

February 8, 1997
I feel like the plum tree Grampie took his pruner to last spring right after the buds had turned to blooms.  All whacked apart, left to fall on the ground any which way, leaving branches and blooms gloriously flowering, screaming on the ground.  "Why did you do that?  I'm dying, dying, just as I'm most alive and beautiful."  And I felt offended that he chose to prune indiscriminately without asking, without so much as a 'by your leave'...But trees don't get a choice. EVER.
There I am saying, "Wait a minute, I like that limb, I was using it." And the Lord is saying, "We gotta trim you back get rid of this dead weight." If I'm completely honest, I have to admit I'm afraid, that like this plum tree, when I get pruned by Him, so much will be whacked off that it will take forever to grow back and bloom, or worse, that I will die altogether.  Could that happen to me, Lord?  Are you going to kill the whole dang thing?
But maybe sometimes He has to.  Maybe there are parts of me that are so diseased that the tree must come down, because I'm a lump of dead leaves and absolutely nothing is growing.  In fact, maybe I'm infecting those around me.  So maybe, sometimes the only way to grow is to die completely.  If I can just endure it.


March 27, 1997
God. He had skin and hair and fingernails and teeth.  His beard grew and he may have trimmed it or maybe not.  His body got dirty and sweaty in the sun.  He had to bathe, at least now and then because all that sweat and dirt smelled like the dickens. A real man with real human functions.  He set himself among us and limited himself to flesh.  At least most of the time.  There were moments, of course, when he stretched beyond, when he bypassed the slowness of this earth to do a natural process at supernatural speed:  turning water into wine.  Or he leapt beyond to make limbs move that could not.  Or stretch the minute into mass--2 fish and 5 loaves into 500 lunches. These feats, so simple for God but impossible for man, tore the veil from our eyes for a moment. But in the end, when he settled into flesh (or so we thought) we saw ONLY the flesh of him: the beard, the skin, the teeth, the fingernails.  And we mocked him. We laughed and yelled at the audaciousness, the very impossible presumption that this man--this man so like us in his smell and look and being--might be God. It could not be so, we yelled.  "Crucify Him! Let Him save Himself."  We pierced that skin and it could be pierced.  We pressed thorns through his hair and those thorns caused real blood.  And we nails His body to a cross.  And because he was a man, it killed him.

But we were wrong.  He was God. Wrapped in human flesh, He was also God. And He did save Himself...after He'd saved us.  After He'd died for us.  After what we did to Him--after we made Him bleed--He saved us.  And make no mistake, WE did yell with that crowd.  All of history was represented there.  It might not be a cross and nails in 20th century America but we'd find a way to crucify Him...and still, tomorrow morning, just as the sun rims the eastern horizon, He'll be walking out of the grave, leaving an empty tomb.  For us!  For the very ones who screamed at Him, ran from Him, rolled the stone to keep Him in. Still, there He is, walking toward us.  Toward me, the very one who held the hammer that nailed Him to the death tree; there He is, with love gazing out those more-than-human eyes, and the veil is ripped forever. HE is God.  And though I don't understand it and know I don't deserve it, He wrapped His infiniteness into finite flesh for me.  This IS my resurrection day.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The best part

This will be short because I've been nursing a migraine most of the week since I returned from the east coast.  First swollen glands, then a headache.  My body just won't quite relax into the lovely days that have finally come to the northwest.  And when such days arrive, there is no place like this.  I'm telling you, after the heat and humidity of the east, I do not take for granted our mild weather, though I do miss BB's pool. Sigh. It's always something.

However, we do have a beautiful new deck out back which I can take absolutely NO credit for whatsoever.  That must go to Beve and one of his teacher friends who has taught Beve a whole lot about construction.  When I got home Tuesday, my birthday present was waiting for me--brand new dark wicker deck furniture, so rich and lush with cushions I'd never move from it if I didn't have to.  This afternoon, even with an aching head, E, SK and I sat out there while Beve and his buddy worked on the steps that will extend in an L-shape down into the lawn.  Jeff, the foreman/teacher, who worked construction many years before becoming the technology teacher at Beve's school, was measuring and cutting 2 x 12s for the steps, while Beve hauled gravel.  The girls and I sat, drinking our water, reading our Kindles.  Jackson sat in the shade on the deck near the house, a contented grin on his face.  Honestly, sometimes it seems like he's saying, "What on earth took you so long to build me this deck?"  Jamaica raced around with a very dirty, very chewed-up tennis ball, hoping against hope that someone--anyone!--would throw it for her. She just never stops running.  Yep, even with a headache, it was a lovely afternoon.

In the middle of it, I heard Jeff ask Beve, "What is your favorite part of building this? Building the structure or laying on the decking?" 
Beve answered, "Discovering that it's level and true."
"That's my favorite part, too," Jeff answered.

They went about their work without saying anything else, but I couldn't get their words out of my head.  The best part--the part that makes all the hard, back-breaking work worth it, is the single moment when a corner is square and the top is level.  When the whole wall is true.  Having watched them several times this summer, I can tell you that they have been true more often than not.  Remarkably so. And you know why?  They took a great deal of time to build the foundation well.  They didn't cut corners.  Not once.  Some might say they did more than was necessary, but Beve wouldn't.  He wanted this deck to be strong and true.  Wanted it to hold and last and stand level.  To stand the test of time as well.

It's something we don't often think about, that small moment when we discover a thing is level and true.  Perhaps it's a moment we find out someone has stood up, has said no to a small thing, but that no will help square the foundation of his life.  Perhaps it's simply keeping true to the plumline that God has set before us, and turing neither to the right or to the left of that.  Keeping on that straight blue line no matter what.  Level and true.  It's what I want for my life.  And I want my children to want it, and their children to want it. To stay true, stay square to Him--and for Him to do--through the spiritual shims and nails and every other means it takes to keep them true.  That's His part. Their part is to allow Him access to this work. 

May we all come to see this leveling, this squaring up of our lives to Him as the best part. Indeed, the only part.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

New ringing

"Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."  2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

There are some 'go-to' verses in scripture for every believer.  Last week, I asked the small portion of our family gathered which of the 66 books (one from the Old Testament and one from the New) they'd have, if only two were possible.  From the Old Testament, three of us chose the Psalms, one the Proverbs and one hovered over Isaiah without quite deciding to land. But five different books were chosen from the New Testament: Matthew, Romans, Hebrews, James and I cried speaking of John (I've been crazy emotional this summer!!).  And as my relatives spoke, I smiled in agreement.  In truth, of course, each has much to recommend it because it is God's beautiful holy Word.  Recently I heard someone speak about the possibility of even the Word of God getting in the way of one's love for God Himself and I recognized the danger of such a thing in myself.  I have such love for His word.  But because I meet Him there.  Because He speaks in the pages more clearly than in the confines of my own heart.

And there are 'go-to' verses in scripture.  Certain occasions create needs which lead me to specific verses.  Such verses speak for me or give me hope or tell me again of who God is or allow me the freedom to rail against life itself.  Some give me a foothold of theology when I cannot answer deep and difficult questions and others draw me in to the mysteries that God intends life to be on this planet.  In short, there is always something.  Always a word, one way or another, for every situation.

And my 'go-to' verses for suffering come from 2 Corinthians.  Indeed, my go-to book for living with hope in affliction is the entire book of 2 Corinthians.  The timbre of joy, the promise of His strength and grace continues to sustain me. 

The last couple of days I have needed such words.  Not for myself but for the Beve.  I rarely speak of this side of him because he NEVER speaks of it.  But Beve has health problems.  Arthritis in two crippling forms, one of which is so hard to say people are shocked when it ripples off my tongue (and I do love the sound of it, though I cannot spell it!), and--more pertinent today--Meniere's Disease.  Meniere's.  This is an inner ear problem which causes tinninitus (severe ringing), which sometimes blooms into severe vertigo.  Beve's left ear has been ringing (non-stop) for over a decade, which has effectively made him deaf in that ear. Crowded rooms are hard for him; large, echoing, spaces even worse.  He stopped coaching because of it, bends his tall head sideways when someone tries to speak on the wrong side, and does almost all the driving so that his good ear is pointed toward the passenger seat, allowing for conversation. 

He's grown used to such accomodations.  Has made it work.  He has to, of course.  Hearing is the key ingredient to his job.  Like an airline pilot (or farmer) needs his eyes, so my Beve needs his ears.  Without them...well, let's just say he can't quite imagine how to be a counselor without being able to listen.  A year ago, for example, when his office was moved to a new location, he set up his desk in the corner nearest the door so that his good ear was open to the room.  However, students began complaining to the secretary and other counselors that Mr. Wiley was ignoring them.  The bad ear faced the doorway, so he couldn't hear them when they spoke to him! 

Here's the very scary, very bad news: for the last week, he's had ringing in his right ear.  His GOOD ear.  Last night he said it sounds like a jet engine taking off.  Yesterday, when I called him in Seattle, E answered his phone every time.  He had no good ear for the phone.  Even trying to hear in person was so wearing he was exhausted last night, more short than usual, fighting a headache.  When I told him how sorry I was, he said, "Well, that's how it goes."  A whole lot more resigned than I am.  I'm nowhere near resigned to this. 

Sometimes I think we pray for healing merely because we don't like pain, or don't want to be sick.  But I think we have to ask God in which way He wants most to use us.  In weakness or in strength?  How will His Kingdom most be extended? Sometimes it's in our weakness, our being a beacon of God in that dark weakness that He uses. I have come to believe that my on-going weakness is His plan for me(which He graciously allowed me NOT to feel last week--though I am certain the pool was a practical aid as well). In Beve's case, I know he's used by God in myriad ways with people and those ways include being able to hear. (Just so you know, hearing aids aren't the same aids for Meneire's patients they are for other hearing-impaired people) God knows what Beve can handle, and He also knows that Beve has been and is His instrument for the Kingdom in that school and school district. So, until He tells me otherwise, I will pray that God takes away this new ringing. It is right and good to pray such things. 

If you think of it (especially if you know him!), will you pray for the Beve?  He might not ask it, but I'll be so bold.