Sunday, October 30, 2011

For His Name

Almost as soon as it became apparent that God had come down to earth and made His abode with us, His presence was seen a disgrace to those who didn't understand or believe.  Mary was pretty much shown the door of her family home, was practically thrown out of town had not God stepped in and told Joseph to go ahead and marry her.  All because of His presence not only in her life but her very body.  And while that baby was still so small He was barely able to hold up His head, Mary and Joseph were running for their lives from the persecution that was on its was to Him.  He wasn't even a month old and the world was already gunning for Him.

That's how this whole 'following Jesus' started.  In disgrace and persecution--at least from the world's point of view.

But somehow, we expect it to be easy to be His followers. We're surprised when people find Christian views offensive and intolerant.  When our culture thinks we're too narrow-minded and too-- well, too much of some things and not enough of others. But we should never be surprised that the world doesn't get who He is, and we certainly shouldn't expect the world to understand why His followers act as they do.  Why they lay down their nets, walk away from their earthly goods, don't grab and reach and want their own glory.  And all those things we choose or don't choose--out of love. The world SHOULD judge us. That is to say, we should be offensive to the world.  We should be so different in the way we live and respond to situations that they cannot help but see a difference in our lives.  And if we're offensive to others, we're sharing in a blessing that is as old as our very faith itself. If we're disgraced for our beliefs, we share our lot with a long line all the way back to Mary.  And if we're persecuted, back to the apostles whose attitude about persecution is astonishing: "They left [the Sandhedrin] rejoicing that they had been counted worthy to suffer for His name." (Acts 5:41)

Think of that--think of rejoicing when you're persecuted. Rejoicing that you share in the sufferings of Christ.  This attitude is light years away from how we look at sufferings most of the time. We like to think in terms of metaphors when we think of suffering at all.  We don't really want to suppose that we might ACTUALLY be persecuted for our faith, after all. Not really.  But if we take the words of the New Testament seriously, if we take the words of the Beatitudes seriously, we must consider it not merely a possibility, but a promise.

"Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad..."

There have been times in my 40 years of walking with Jesus when people have insulted me personally for my beliefs.  I've felt hurt, angry and, as I've grown older, sad when this happens.  I've sometimes felt judged by misconceptions, if that makes sense.  But the truth is, I am not the one who is actually being insulted in these situations.  Both the general misconceptions people think about Christ (and His followers) and the specific ones they believe about me are because of HIM, He says in this verse.  Then He tells us to rejoice in such things.

This is as counter-intuitive a notion as one could have. Rejoice when one is ridiculed? Be glad when one says all kinds of evil against you?  Yes. Yes. Yes. He said He came to bring a sword, and such reactions to His followers, even here in the 'free' west where we will not be martyred for our faith, reminds us of that sword.

"...great is your reward..." Jesus promises.  I completely convinced that we already have that reward.  We already have what the world wants (even if they don't know it).  That joy of ours, that gladness in the face of  all that enmity is only possible because we already have that reward.  We can't manufacture such joy on our own. It comes because we get, with a lightness of being that comes because the great I AM became a man named Jesus.  And now, because we have taken hold of Him who took hold of us, we are aided and abetted in joy--no matter how the world treats us!

Consider yourself worthy the next time someone insults you--for His sake.  That we should be so worthy...because what those apostles felt was that each insult, each suffering was a little like what Jesus suffered on our behalf, a suffering that changed everything for them.  Perhaps there is no finer moment, no moment of our lives  MORE like Him (or more likely to make us like Him) than when we suffer because of and for Him.

Blessed are you...to suffer for His name.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Don't waste it

Tomorrow I'll get back to the Beatitudes, but it's been a week since my heart scare so I thought I'd post what I've been pondering in the days since.

I've had a lot of opportunities to tell people about last Friday this week. Phone calls from all over, conversations with nurses, doctors, and even random clerks who had no idea what the answer to their "how are you doing?" would bring.

  But a couple of things stand out.  One is that everyone is afraid of anything involving the heart.  It just seems to scare the bejeebers out of people the moment the story begins. I must be honest, though, and tell you, that the large part of me never actually thought I was in any kind of danger.  I just couldn't imagine it.  It seemed like a whole lot of hoopla for nothing.  Like, what did they mean I couldn't get out of bed to go to the bathroom? Were they kidding me?  And why on earth did I need that oxygen in my nose?  Seriously, I wasn't that sick, just in a whole lot of pain. People, relax.  That was how I was feeling.  After all, I'm young. YOUNG.These are common feelings, I've been told. Very common in the situation. And again, I think they are ways God protects us. Every thing seemed so normal at the time, in one way. Beve sending out copious texts, making witty cracks, the nurses commenting that we'd clearly been married a very long time, etc.

When the inevitable questions are asked, like, "Did you think you were going to die? and if so, how did that feel?" my answer is, not exactly.  I never actually thought about it that way at all.  For one thing, I was in too much pain.  I realize that sounds counter-intuitive, but it's just the truth.  However, once the pain let up (thanks again, nitro!), a couple of thoughts did cross my mind that were heaven-related.  One was the idea that perhaps I'd soon be able to talk to my dad face to face and that we'd get to worship Jesus together. I could even imagine it, with him singing in his slightly-off-key voice. The next thought that came to mind was that this was something I wanted very much. And then the thought that what I wanted very much would be very difficult for my siblings.  Yes, my siblings.  Not my children or Beve.  I think God firmly put a wall around my thoughts and feelings about Beve and our kids because that would have done me in.  I could bear to look at the loss I might be for my siblings--and know it as a loss, and even feel it--without it even hurting me.  The only way to make sense of these feelings is to understand that God was present. Because thinking about such moments in the abstract has always felt a whole lot sadder than it felt when I was in it. I didn't feel sad, scared or even worried, only aware and even looking forward. 

So take heart, friends, the Comforter will be entirely engaged with you when you are in the scariest moments.  And I am convinced that when the time comes that He comes calling us to the other side, He will be close to our hearts and never once leave us.  He'll be holding our hands all the time.  I know that more this week than I did last.



But in the week since, I've been re-energized for life.  I don't mean that I'm out running marathons.  Actually, I've been as tired as a baby, taking naps each afternoon, recovering slowly but surely.  But spiritually there's new life in me.  A new sense of presence and passion and... well, and "What do you want to do with this, Lord?" is the way I put it to Him one night in the shower (I don't know about you but I do some of my best praying in the shower, especially when the house is full).  His answer was quick and to the point: "Don't waste this!" Don't waste this.  He'd done this thing for a reason, and, like with all that He does for us, it's purposeful and meant to extend His Kingdom.  Don't waste this.

Now bear with this analogy.  This morning I was reminded of some old pictures of my childhood home.  There are some taken before it was finished.  My siblings and I are climbing on the frame in a few of these pictures.  Later the house figures in family photographs for over 32 years.  That's how long my mother lived there. Then, because it was too large and full of too many memories, she sold that house.  But every time I think of it, am back in town and happen to drive past it, I'm a little sick that someone else lives there.  That house still feels like it belongs to our family.  Not only was it designed and built for us, but it was lived in and loved by three generations of our family.  What has been changed in it actually hurts viscerally. Makes me a little crazy, to tell you the truth, though I know (I'm not stupid!) I have no rights to it now.

What God has been reminding me about my life is exactly this truth.  My life is not my own.  He designed me. Built me. Created me just as I am for HIS purpose. I am His workmanship, Ephesians says, created for good works. In other words,  He lives in this house I call my life.  I gave Him that right 40 years ago.  And what happened to me last week was His giant wrecking ball on the places that I've tried to create rooms of my own to what belongs to Him.  Or put walls up within myself to keep Him out.  This is HIS life.  Don't waste it.  He intends to do something with His life in me, and I'd better be ready.

I don't know what the next phase of my life will look like.  I'm still in the pondering mode here. But I am convinced that He will make that as clear as a heart attack (to be punny), but I know this, I'm not going to waste it.

PS. By the way, the new look of the blog is courtesy of my older daughter, though I took the picture one summer evening of our beautiful Bellingham Bay.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

He's on the move

My son, J, has a 'justice' streak so wide it takes up his entire back.  In fact, you might just say justice is his middle name and you'd be right, for all that it's spelled Justus and is an old family name, and he actually changed
it to that when he was 18.  But he has always had a difficult time with wrongs, stood up for what was right, no matter what the cost to himself.  When he was a first-grader  before bullying went viral (It's existed, of course, as long since Adam and Eve went looking for fig leaves), J stood up to them on behalf of a victim.  One day, when a group of little boys were harassing the little Bell boy (I can't remember his first name), the teacher strode over to take matters out of their hands.  But right as she reached the circle of boys, she saw J step up beside this little boy, throw his arm over the boy's shoulder and say, "Leave him alone," and then to the boy, "I'll be your friend."  This made the teacher so proud she called me to tell me about it. I was proud too, though in the days that followed, that impulsive--righteous--decision made life very difficult for my son.  He also became the target for bullying from boys who had previously been his friends.  And that little Bell boy wasn't all that interested in being his friend either. J had done a right thing, and was persecuted for it in his small world.

Years later, when he was a junior in high school, taking AP history, J met with a group of classmates at a local Starbucks to study for a test. When he sat down, he realized that his friends had somehow gotten a copy of that test and were carefully going over the answers.  He was shaken and horrified by the situation, came home and talked to us about it, and decided he had to tell. With Beve, he went first to the teacher and then to one of the assistant principals about the cheating. The teacher, who knows J (and Beve) very well, was proud of J for his integrity.  The assistant principal had a completely different reaction.   She did talk to them, and, of course, they denied it, and as a result she didn't believe J at all.  Because, in her words, "These are the best students in the school. They wouldn't stoop to this." In other words, J must have lied for some malevolent esoteric reason.

The consequences were terrible.  It was a blow to J not only not to be believed, but to be accused of actually perpetrating such a horrible lie.  And his friends obviously turned their backs on him--persecuted him for his right act.  Their lies could not tolerate his truth.

Lies never can.  That's the message of today's Beatitude.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness..." Matthew 5: 10
Jesus says He is with those who are persecuted for doing and being what is right, for standing up for truth and being people of integrity.  Psalm 41: 12 says, "In my integrity You uphold me and set me in Your presence forever." That's what Jesus means by this Beatitude.  Jesus refers to a general righteousness in this Beatitude.  In the following verse He adds that one is blessed to suffer for His name, but that's in a class of its own.

For those who are intent on living worthy of Christ and slaves of righteousness, persecution for righteousness' sake is likely, even inevitable in this fallen world.  We are surrounded by those who cut in line, take advantage, cheat on tests and do far worse things.  And there is pressure from all sides that we live in this world.  But we have a different standard, which makes others uncomfortable at the very least, and holding them to that standard (as my sister told me someone has accused her) and even worse.  They mock what they do not understand, belittle what they find uncomfortable, and persecute what troubles their darkness. But that's always the way it is when darkness comes in contact with light.  Or the enemy with the One who saves.  It is hard and lashes out and tries to snatch away.  Persecute.
 Jesus tells us we are feel Blessed when we get these reactions. We must understand that it all means that something is working, that He's in there with us (as Blessed means, if you'll recall). This is Kingdom work. Yes, just our very living as righteous ones among those who are in darkness is Kingdom work because it so points out the difference.

And that, my friends, is the blessing of this Beatitude, that "...theirs is the Kingdom of heaven."  Just like the first Beatitude, this one reminds us that wherever we see those reactions to our lives, we can be certain that the Kingdom of heaven is in play, and is ours.  It's working.  We're a part of it.  Don't resent those interactions, but step back and marvel at them.  Welcome them as the amazing graces that they are because they proclaim that He's on the move--right there in Your very life.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bridges

If you happened to knock on the door of our family's home some Saturday night in 1968 or later, it's entirely possible you'd have found my sisters, older brother and me home by ourselves.  Now and then, our parents went out to dinner or to Cougar sporting event.  And they'd leave us by ourselves, tell us to behave ourselves, mind our manners and go to bed on time.  Then they'd drive off, confident that we'd behave in their absence exactly as we did in their presence.

But what happened in their absence was inevitable, I now know (having become a mother myself and seen it in my own children!).  Some directions by one child (probably the oldest), some response like "You can't tell me what to do" (by the middle child), and before long yelling would escalate into real physical fighting.  My middle sister, the Dump, was almost as big as our big brother, and certainly the most stubborn of us with a whole lot of anger and she wasn't afraid to use either.  She had a way of taking her size and using it to her advantage--by sitting on people.  Big brother included.  

My position during these battles was usually standing somewhere out of harm's way and yelling (almost at the same volume as the fighters), "DON'T FIGHT!"  Let me tell you, it was mighty effective in getting them not to fight, too.  Solved a whole lot of arguments, I did, though I tried mightily.  Every single time.  For two reasons. First, I was smaller than my middle sister and older brother and if a bruhahah got brewing and I got stuck, it'd be no laughing matter for me. But the second reason was more significant.  I wanted to be able to tell my parents in all honesty that not only had I not fought, but that I'd tried to stop the others.  That was my sole motivation.  

I almost always think of this when I think of the Beatitude in Matthew 5:9. "Blessed are the peacemakers..."  because what I was doing bears little resemblance to the kind of peace-making referred to here.  The Beatitudes finish so well, with such teeth, that we must understand the peace Jesus speaks.  The word peace in this Beatitude comes from the Hebrew concept 'Shalom', which is a deep, reconciling peace, rather than a simple tranquility, or ending a conflict.  Being a peacemaker, in Jesus' words, means being a community-builder.  A peacemaker stands between people, grasps a hand from each, draws them together so that they can be reconciled and in relationship with each other.

What it is not--patently NOT--is getting in the middle of a fight in order to 'fix' it, or jumping into a battle in an effort to be known as the hero. I am not saying there is never a time for action on another weaker brother or sister (or nation)'s behalf, but I wonder if we don't act more easily than we pray, or whether we don't pursue peace as the world gives--or as I was pursuing it as a child--to be known as the good one.  Peacemaking in the Kingdom is a quiet work that doesn't care about taking credit.  We live in a culture that tells us otherwise.  It tries to say that the way of peace must often be a way of war. But war, I think, puts up walls--barriers--between people. It's the opposite of the bridges of peace. Indeed, any child can see the holes in the idea of attaining peace via war.  Seriously, how many parents would tell their child to hit his sister so that she will cease hitting him?  

Ephesians 2: 14 tells us that Christ is our peace who has broken down every wall--all those walls the wars to bring peace build.  In the world we will have trouble, John tells us, but HE is our peace.  So when Jesus tells us we are peacemakers, He also gives us Himself as that peace. And the way to make peace is to practice it. To live it first.  Within ourselves and with each other. 

The promise here is "For they will be called children of God." This promise reminds of of that verse in Ephesians 2. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is our peace. When we act as peace-makers, working on His behalf--with Holy Spirit-aid--we are His bridges of reconciliation between people and between people and God. Yep, as peacemakers in His Kingdom, we act as His agents, His children, His little Christs--sons and daughters of God. This is when we are most like Him who is our peace.

Will you be a bridge?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Be-getting

Now, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

"Blessed are the pure in heart..." Matthew 5: 8
 I know more about this today than I did a week ago.  Maybe that's why there was an interruption in my writing about this Beatitude.  I have a stronger appreciation for the necessity of my heart being strong and true than I did last Thursday night.  A heart with plaque and gunk and all kinds of stuff built up inside of it has no more chance of being the solid foundation of the human body necessary for life than an un-level foundation has of holding up a house.  But clear, 'gorgeous' arteries and that most brilliant of muscles working exactly as it was created to work is the plumbline of a body.  Being literally pure in heart is what keeps us alive.  That's the truth as I've learned it this week.

But, as we know, as all believers know, the heart isn't merely the physical center of the body, but the foundation of a person's feeling, believing, conduct, behavior and, most importantly, where the Holy Spirit dwells.  The purity of this Beatitude is primarily related to our relationship with God. Being pure in heart doesn't merely mean being pure in behavior but to being fully turned toward Him. To being TRUE to Him. That is, these words are less about moral purity and more about a person's single-hearted loyalty to God because if your heart is pure--is true and square--your whole body will be.  Your brain (where your selfish thoughts reside), your limbs (where your selfishness acts) and even your hormones (where your lusts are) are put right when you are pure in heart--True to Him.

There are people around you who are single-heartedly devoted to Him.  I know there are.  There are around me.  You meet them sometimes.  They're different than other people, even from other believers.  There's just a light in them that shines a little more brightly.  It's like nothing gets in the way of their love for Him.  I don't mean they never sin or that they don't have bad days. But they stay true, even in the hard times. In fact, the hard times simply make them lean more deeply on Him. As far back as I've been walking with Christ, pure-in-heart, true people have attracted me like magnets.  I think of Paul saying in Philippians, "Imitate me as I imitate Christ." That's what I've always done with such people.  I've sought them out, made it my aim to practice what they modeled.  I've sat in their company and learned by listening to them praying.  The pure in heart don't always know what they are, you know.  That's the beauty of them.  Often they think, with Paul, "God came to save sinners, me chief among them."  But I know. We all know. They're saints. That's the good, old-fashioned, New Testament word for them.  And because Christianity is a be-getting faith, the very best way to become a pure-in-heart saint is to be or get with those who are--those with whom we can pray, study, fellowship and simply be in His presence.

Because...they see God.  And I don't know about you, but if I could distill all my deepest longings into four words, it would be these, "I want to see Jesus." So the promise of this Beatitude, and the truth of what saints experience is everything to me.  It's all there is.

The promise of this Beatitude is just this profound: " They will see God." Jesus actually promises that those who are centered on seeking God in all aspects of their lives: relationships, work and play will see and know Him.  Jeremiah 29: 13 says, "If you seek me, you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart."

So seek Him...in those around you in whom you see His face shine most brightly.  His countenance upon their cheeks.  And make it your aim to be or get with them as often as you can.  In them, and by what they teach you, you will see God.

And it will be everything. Of that I am certain. As certain as I am of my own heart.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Curbs and legs and around-the-corner

Tomorrow I'll get back to the Beatitudes, I promise.  It's like we're treading water right in the middle, with the pure in heart, peace-makers and persecuted still ahead of us. Some pretty big ones.  Life-altering ones, though they all should be, come to think of it.

But today is the birthday of another of 'the girls.' For those of you just joining us, these are my closest friends from high school, whom I'm blessed enough to continue to love and be in relationship with.

I was always a very social girl.  Even as a small child, I had gift for relationships.  When my parents began the process of applying for adoption, my mother wrote an essay about us, and about me, she wrote of my out-going, social gifts.  But until I began high school, I never had a close friend in my own neighborhood, a girlfriend  around the corner to walk to school with and just generally hang just about every day of the week.  But when LG and her family moved to Pullman right before we started our freshman year of high school, she became that friend.  I don't actually remember how we became acquainted with each other, but by the spring of our freshman year, we were practically inseparable.

Then the summer of 1972--the summer after our freshman year--our friendship cemented.  The town council had decided to revise EVERY address in Pullman, to add NW, NE, SE, SW according to the four hills of the town, and each house actually had their address changed. For example, the 113 W Janet St address of our home became NW 365 Janet St that summer.  So our Young Life club was given the contract of painting the new house numbers on the curbs in front of each home. It was a fund raiser for us, helped pay our way to Malibu, and saved the city a host of problems for mail-deliverers and lost people.

What began as quite a large curb painting crew quickly (after just a couple of days, I believe) into a foursome.  And the four of us became so close we were inseparable that summer, not merely all day every day, but in the evenings as well.  Each morning, LG and I would be picked up by the guys, KC and EE, and we'd spend the day with masking tape, black spray paint, and stencils.  We laughed a whole lot, listened to a ridiculous amount of music on the radio in KC's old station wagon, which included such oldies as "Mandy," "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" (by the Raspberries), and "Saturday In the Park." Not to mention a host of others I can't remember now.  We went to A&W practically every single day, where we drank a whole lot of...rootbeer.
Oh, and both boys fell madly infatuated with LG.

Because I'm here to tell you she was something to  behold in those days.  Willow thin, with gorgeous runner legs and a practically-perfect body.  She wasn't too loud--like I was--or awkward--like I ABSOLUTELY was. She was every boy's dream and I felt very envious of their interest; at the same time that I was well aware that she had all the things I had no hope of never having. It just wasn't in my bone structure or DNA. Sigh.  But the harder part of the whole thing, I think, was actually hers.  Because they liked her, they actually felt more comfortable talking to me. Safer, somehow.  There was less to worry about. But all in all, we had the time of our lives that summer.  Oh there were bad moments.  There was one,  just down the street from my house (if my mom had been sitting on our deck she could have heard the whole thing, I'm sure, and she might well have put the kabash on me spending another moment in their company!), when for some reason which I cannot remember, EE, LG and I thought it would be quite the joke to put masking tape in KC's longish strawberry-blond hair.  Then pull it out.  He let out a couple of words I'd never heard put together before.  I was shocked out of my rather innocent, very young soul.  He did NOT find it funny. And his anger didn't make us laugh either.

One night (though I'm not sure this was that same summer, but the next one) we were sleeping out on her deck above her family's garage when these same boys came walking up.  They'd walked all the way across town (they lived in SW and we in NW). We stood up, walked to the railing, looked down on them as they spoke rather heatedly to each other.  Then one of them turned and marched off down the hill. The other turned and followed.  Neither of them had spoken a single word to us.  LG and I looked at each other, our jaws dropped enough that every bug in the night could have flown in.  Then we laid back down in our sleeping bags and tried to sleep.

But that summer was only the beginning.  From there, LG and I were really joined at the hip.  We were lab partners in chemistry at school, and partners-in-crime (though there was never any crime) in just about everything outside of school.

When LG was a junior in high school, she began dating ST.  Inevitably, our relationship changed.  These things happen.  But it didn't change essentially. And that relationship with ST, begun so young, when clearly neither really knew, God knew. God knew what He was doing, because they've been together ever since.  In September, they celebrated 32 years of marriage.  ST is a good man, the right man for her. God continues to form them into His likeness both individually and together.

LG has always been a loyal friend to me. Just recently, LG (now LT) and I had the opportunity to talk about the one situation in our friendship that was difficult between us. We had a chance to heal something that has long been healed, without either of us ever having said it.  Sometimes it only takes the speaking of things to finish them well. I feel greater love for her now than I ever have, and that's saying a whole lot--because I've always loved her.   She's has passion and deep convictions about what she believes.  She knows who she believes and what she knows is right, and when she feels she's wrong, she's troubled by that as well.  She worries about her children, worries about her siblings, worries about her parents. She wants the world to know Christ, to be whole and Holy, and to that end, she thinks and works and invests herself.   I've known as much as I know anything that LG is someone I can count on.  When the chips are down, I am certain  I can call her, and she'll be there.

She's still willow thin, with gorgeous legs and a fabulous figure. I could still envy that as much as I did when I was 14.  But I don't. I am just glad. Glad that she was my around-the-corner friend, indeed, my best friend in those days, and a go-to friend now.
Happy Birthday, L. I love you.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The heart of the matter

WOW! It's been a wild time around here. Even for us.  As I told SK this afternoon, I'll go to ridiculously great lengths to get my kids home.

To wit: Thursday evening, when Beve got back from visiting his dad I told him my upper back between my shoulder blades was very painful.  He responded typically--a bit sympathetic, a bit uninterested.  He's been down this road of my various aches and pains before, of course.  Most signifying nothing. We went to bed.  By two am, I was not only awakened, but sick to my stomach by the pain which was banding my upper chest area.  I couldn't think of what could possibly be causing such profound pain.  By five, when Beve woke up, I was sitting on a stool by the toilet, the pain making me that nauseous.  "Should I take you to the emergency room?" he asked.  "I don't know, " I told him.
Later, that indecision would be the most haunting of his day.

But he went to work and I huddled in bed until Beve finally convinced me to call the doctor who said, "Do not pass go, go directly to the hospital!" 

...where before I could get my name out, I was in a wheelchair, then taken back to a room and hooked up to a heart moniter.  Given an IV, oxygen, an EKG and aspirin.  Then the ER doc came in and told me that my EKG showed a blockage in an artery in my heart.  She showed me the EKG, which I am familiar with because of a now-fixed heart condition.  I know what my EKG should look like.  This did NOT look right. NOT even close.  There were very steep long lines in a jagged cluster descending from the middle.  The consulting cardiologist was called and I was given a nitroglycerin pill to put under my tongue to help with the pain.  And I have to tell you those tiny pills are like magic.  They may make a person lightheaded, but as they dissolve, so does the pain. 

The cardiologist came in with the EKG in hand and told me there were several smoking guns. That was the phrase he used. Smoking guns. The first, my pain, which indicates heart problems in women. The second, my history of cholesterol problems and sedentary lifestyle (due to my nerve problems--though I made no excuses). The third, my blood pressure which had jumped almost 100 points from its normal place of hovering at 100/70. And the fourth and most significant smoking gun, the one that made the decision for him, was that EKG. That dead wrong EKG.  I hadn't had a heart attack, he told me, but it was only a matter of time. Even hours.
Apparently there was no time to waste. I needed surgery and I needed it NOW.

The plan was to put a catheter into my heart, find the clogged artery put a stint in it to keep it open.  But if they couldn't get to that artery, they'd talk to Beve and me before any more extensive surgery was done.  Within about ten minutes after that conversation--after a couple of hours of sitting around--I was rushed up to the Cath Lab for the angioplasty. Along with what seemed like two dozen nurses, was the doctor and a specialist from Ottawa who helped develop a technique of threading heart catheters up through the wrist rather than the groin. Both of these doctors had seen my EKGs, and the French-Canadian knew precisely where the blockage was.  Because I wasn't asleep I could hear their conversation...well, as much as I understood. I did drift off, of course.

So here's where it gets interesting or baffling or curious or...POWERFUL.
That catheter got threaded up into my heart--my heart where God Himself says He dwells--and I clearly heard the accented voice say, "No, you over-shot it, back up a little. "  Then there was a silence. A "Be still and know that I am God," stillness, if you were with it enough to recognize it (though I was absolutely NOT at the time!). And then there were these words: "Wow, those arteries are beautiful!"  Unexpectedly, miraculously, ridiculously beautiful.  They could make no sense of it.  So they did another EKG, and guess what? My third EKG of the day was perfect. Completely, normally perfect. Or perfectly normal.

Last night, as Beve, our kids and I sat in the hospital, we couldn't make any more sense of this than the doctors.  I kept asking, "What about the pain?" and Beve was worried that he'd be bringing me back a few hours later because nothing had actually been solved.  We were so focused on the symptoms that we didn't look at it except through our very human, very rational, worried eyes.  Besides, how often have you experienced a real miracle like that?  Really.  Never in my life.  I'm telling you the truth, it honestly didn't even cross my mind that God had intervened, that HE had done that artery clean out all by Himself. Not last night. We were all tired, and it had been a rather worrisome day.
I had, after all, actually had a heart procedure, so I wasn't able to see clearly, and I had the equivalent of a wood clamp around my wrist keeping my blood inside the artery. "You wouldn't want to bleed out," I was told. I didn't mention that I have more than a passing acquaintance with arterial bleeds.  They have NO idea how close a relationship.

But this morning, when the only pain I feel is in my right wrist and my head (narcotics, which I was given in the Cath Lab, always give me headaches!), it was like God was using a megaphone to get my attention.  To get the attention of whoever will listen.  My sister, RE, said this morning, "I think maybe He wanted all of us to pray for you!"
I think maybe she's right.
Because there are reasons. Just Thursday, Beve and I made a decision without asking God about it.  Just added up the pros and cons and decided we didn't have a choice, and it's the right thing to do, after all, no matter how hard. But as good an idea as it might have been, it isn't what He wants.  That much was very clear by last night--to all it concerned.

The other thing -- this scare--and His amazing presence in the heart of the matter--is simply a wake-up call to the wonderful profound truth of God.  He is here and He is as far from silent as there can be. He loves me.  THIS MUCH.  So much that He reached right into my heart and opened up an artery ahead of those surgeons. This God who created me in the first place can absolutely clean out a clogged artery just in the nick of time, without any help from a plain old human, no matter what kind of fancy specialist he is!

We must--we ABSOLUTELY MUST--allow Him to be at the heart of the matter -- whatever those matters are. As much as He loves me, and did this for me, He loves you. HE LOVES YOU.  He cares about your heart and your health and your every little thing. From arteries to anxieties to whatever hurts you.
I have always believed that He uses miracles as signs of His presence, as ways to bring His gospel to the world.  To get us to speak as we might not speak, to be more fearless. As I just said yesterday, "We can't help speaking of what we have seen and heard."

This is my testimony.  

Friday, October 21, 2011

Working ahead

This is my 901st post since I began this blog in March of 2008. 901 times I've put my hands on a keyboard to pound out some story or word or idea that God and I (but mostly God) came up with to share here.  That's pretty prolific writing.  Two verses come to mind when I think of what I've been about here, the motivation  behind the stories and the words. First, the verse I wrote of yesterday, "The love of Christ compels me." His love, and corresponding work in my life, push me to do a whole host of things I couldn't imagine doing on my own.  This is the most public but not the only one of them.  The other verse that runs through my mind is "I can't help speaking (writing) of what I have seen and heard."  That's it.  I can't help it.  The eternal imperative to speak who He is and what He's done.

So here's a story of exactly that-- who He is and what He's done:

The other night, in another sorting project, I came across the file box of memory verses I began in high school.  Every time I wanted to memorize a scripture, I'd write it on a 3x5 card, carry it around with me until I had it firmly in my brain, then put it in a carefully organized box with dividers for each book of the Bible.  Many of my Christian friends had fancy little memory card holders, but I just had this, and it worked.  There are hundreds of verses in that box.  There have been times now when people have been surprised by my easy recollection of scripture, but the credit doesn't go to me, but to the discipline of memorization  drilled into me (and all our friends) by our Young Life leaders.

But that plethora of memory cards wasn't what caught my attention.  At the back of the box was another set of cards, a set I couldn't have told you about a week ago, but knew unerringly to look for the moment the box was opened.  Each of these seven cards corresponded to a day of the week, and on each was listed about six or seven names.  Beside most of the names were verses--or passages--of scripture.  These were my prayer cards, the names were the people for whom I prayed weekly for five or six years of my young life.  I have to say I honestly feel like talking about myself in the third person when I tell you about this, because it feels somewhat unconnected to this me.  That teenager was intent on praying for those around her.  In her earnest, halting way, she was allowing the Holy Spirit to work in her feeble prayers to impact her friends and community.
.
And here's the really profound part--to me, at least! The Sunday list was clearly the top list. No question about it--my dad, the Texan who was our Young Life leader, my closest guy friend.  This was the power group in my life.  And on Sundays I also prayed for Beve. Or not yet (as far as I knew) the Beve.  Seeing his name on that list, with all the others who were also on that day's list was a powerful moment.  What I didn't have the faintest inkling about in those days, God knew.  He who is sovereign helped me put that list together in that way.  Pretty powerful reminder that long before--a whole dozen years before we married--He was pressing on me to pray for Beve.  And continue to faithfully pray for him.

As I say, I continued that practice for about five years.  Those prayer cards were the last things I touched before drifting off to sleep at night. By the end of that time, I hadn't spoken to Beve in a couple of years, since he was across the state at college.  But God knew he needed prayer.  Mine in particular, given who He intended us to be together.

It's a profound thing to discover that God was working that far ahead of us.  It's all too easy to wonder if our small prayers have any consequences at all.  But here's the other part.  God gave me scripture for most of the people on those cards, and when I looked some of those passages up the other night, I was stunned with how appropriate they are for who those people are TODAY.  My prayers may have felt like they were local and specific for that place and time, but God knew the future element of them.  The necessity of prayer for these beloveds' future.

God is bigger and works farther ahead of us than we ever know.  So now and then when we're allowed a glimpse from the corner of our eyes, it's pretty amazing. It's a bow down and worship kind of holy moment.

[Tomorrow I'll get back to the Beatitudes and the Pure in Heart.]

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"I didn't sign up for this..."

 When Beve and I put on those fancy, one-day-only, duds, stood up in front of God and everyone, and spoke vows to each other, and heard our dear Young Life leader-pastor say, "I now pronounce you man and wife," in his slow Texan drawl, we thought we knew what we were getting ourselves into.  After all, we'd known each other since we were in the 4th grade, were more than passing acquaintances with each others' parents and siblings, and 'got' the truth that a person doesn't marry in isolation but marries into a family.  Yep, when we put our names on that marriage license, we were pretty sure we had it all figured out.

But we were wrong.  Dead wrong.  We'd only seen  the courting selves of each other, and the easy selves of being friends and the company face of those families. We hadn't learned about the community of marriage, and the community of the extended family that marriage brings.

When we married, however, Beve and I had just returned to the States from six months of living on a Youth With A Mission Base in the Netherlands (with a six week field-trip to India in the middle).  During that time, we had the chance to learn the best and worst of what it means to live in community.  And you know what?  It's --not idyllic.  Oh, sometimes it's wonderful--the fellowship with other believers who are intent on the same purpose and the finding of those with whom one clicks in deep and meaningful ways.  There are always opportunities for conversations about the Kingdom, always times of Ephesians 3:15ff prayer (as I always think of them--read that passage, it'll blow your socks off!).  But--BUT-- not every believer is easy to like, easy to get along with, just plain easy.  Living in community is hard.  There were moments when, living with the five other women I lived with in the small room where I lived felt claustrophobic, when I felt like screaming, "This is not what I signed up for!"  I was used to having time with the Lord late at night (being the owl that I am) and my roommates were not happy to have even the smallest flashlight on after ten PM.  I was used to washing my oily, limp hair daily and we were allowed baths (not showers!) only once a week in the main house of which our small room was an annex, and the only sink in our room had only cold water so I had to wash my hair in cold water each morning--before my roommates got up! The space was small, and one of the women in particular was so temperamentally different from me I struggled with her on an hourly basis.

The large community and this small segment within the larger one, in God's perfect plan, was the last place I lived prior to my becoming part of Beve's family.  I learned by living in community how to live in very close--'for as long as you both shall live'--community with another person, and how to be community and family to his larger family which is very unlike like my own.

There are times in a marriage when one wants to say, "I didn't sign up for this."  Times when I wish it was a little less hard, when it wasn't so much work for so little reward.  Times (like right now, to be honest) when I wish someone had told me that it would come to this, that there would be so much 'out-go', if you know what I mean.  When we'd have to give and give and give. Because it's hard.  It's just plain hard at times, to live in community even when that community isn't in one's own space.

In the kind of symmetry for which God is famous (and which He has worked most of our lives, if we've eyes to see), we've come to the Beatitude that speaks to this exact attitude.

"Blessed are the merciful..."
In the gospels, the merciful are those who come to the aid of the needy, who are sensitive and understanding (as in standing under to hold up) and supportive (the way a foundation supports a building) of those around them. Mercy means forgiving one who has wronged you but ALSO showing kindness to those in need.  In the Old Testament, only God is merciful, but because Christians have experienced God's mercy--His complete pardon for our sins--we can extend mercy toward others whether they ask for it or not.  This Beatitude speaks to the fundamental calling command of the gospel, to love your neighbor.  No, not just love your neighbor, but to LOVE your enemies.

Here's the thing, other places, Jesus simply commands us to do this: to love our neighbor, to love our enemies, to love our brothers and sisters.  That's it.  And that should be enough. That He asks us to do something should compell us.  "The love of Christ compels us," 2 Corinthians 5:14 says.  His love for us compels us to love others, His love for us compels us to obey Him.  Often we want the reward. "What do we get out of it?" the world asks.  And believers ask the same question.  All the time.  What will He do for us if we do for Him.  And what I always think is that what He's already done is enough to compel us to obey, honor and worship Him FOREVER.  He poured His infiniteness into the puny shell of a human being all for the sake of dying to save us from the sins that were killing us.  He did that. What other blessing is there?

But here, He wraps this command into the form of a blessed, and gives us a promise with it.  It's a pretty powerful motivator, if you need it (and I'm just saying, we shouldn't, though I'm as guilty as the next person of needing it at times).  "Blessed are the merciful..."

This beatitude doesn't say that you're blessed when you show mercy to one who asks, but that you're blessed when you show mercy. Period. There's a fundamental difference there.  It's on you. And me.  We are blessed--and He is with us!--when we show mercy, extend forgiveness, show kindness, love our enemies. The end. No matter how easy the person is to forgive or love. No matter how they respond, or even if they spit in our faces.

The promise/blessing is "...For they will be shown mercy." This is the ONLY Beatitude where you get back exactly what you give.  Mercy leads to mercy.  It's a circle. He promises this. One way or another, mercy will be shown to you. Perhaps not from that person, but at least--obviously!--from Him. But also from others in the Kingdom.  I am certain of this. This is how God works.  We extend mercy on His behalf and He sees to it that mercy is extended to us when we need it.  We are His and He cares for His own.

We are commanded to this Beattitude.  It's an imperative.  Show mercy.  I must learn this today.  This very day, in the community of my larger family, the family I absolutely signed up for all those years ago, when I was young and naive. Long before I pledged my life to Beve, I pledged it first to God, and He calls me to show mercy--not matter how they respond.

"Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy."

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Thirsty

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness..."  Matthew 5: 6

Years ago, when Beve and I spent a couple of months in India, we learned something about thirst.  We were told that under no condition were we to drink the water anywhere but in the home in New Delhi where we lived--where we had boiled, filtered, safe water.  But Beve got sick, and with that sickness came dehydration, and with that, came a thirst unlike anything he'd ever experienced.  We were in a very small village called Pushkar when that illness, and dehydration and thirst simultaneously struck.  He simply had to drink water, wherever he could find it, no matter what was in it.  It didn't matter that the very thing he craved made him sicker and more in need, the desire to quench his thirst overwhelmed every thing else.  Common sense, even.

But it's this kind of desire Jesus is talking about in this Beatitude.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness."
There are two important things to understand about this Beatitude.
1. What Jesus calls a blessing is NOT righteousness itself, but the desire for it.  Hunger and thirst are the most basic of human desires, the ones without which we could not live.  It's this kind of craving, like we crave life itself, that Jesus blesses.  "I must have it or I die," longing--profound and lasting.  Like hunger and thirst, the longing for righteousness increases and even becomes painful in intensity.  Psalm 63:1 says, "You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you in a dry and parched land where there is no water."  This is the strength of the desire for righteousness.  One's whole being aching for Him as though the world is a dehydrated desert and He the only water (which, of course, He is!).
2. It's important to understand that righteousness means to be in right relationship with God, to know Him about all else, to be in fellowship with Him and then to become Holy as He is holy.  The desire to be free from sin, which is righteousness, comes from being right with God.  The point, therefore, is that our hunger and thirst is to be in right relationship with the One who most longs to be in relationship with us.

So how can we NOT long for that?
Especially when we consider that the promise is "...for they will be filled."  He will fill us.  When Jesus spoke these words, it was before the cross and Pentecost and the Holy Spirit being given to all who call Him Lord. But we not only have this promise, we live it out daily.  It's a fulfilled promise.  He will fill us and He has filled us.  What a spectacular thing this is. I think of Beve desperately thirsty, even as he knew the water was making him more sick and more thirsty.  It's a really sad story, but our hunger and thirst is for the one thing that is pure and clean and holy. But, just as it happened with Beve, our thirst for righteousness is increased as He gives us Himself.  Our longing for Him increases our longing. He satisfies our desire for Him and gives us more.

"I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty, I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life. Those who are victorious will inherit all this and I will be their God and they will be my children." Revelation 22: 6-7

Monday, October 17, 2011

Leashed power

"Blessed are the meek..."
If there's one thing people have rarely said about me, it's "You sure are meek, Carolyn."  And by rarely, I mean NEVER.  In fact, when my sisters and I were together a few weeks ago, we got to talking about how one of the 'besetting' sins of our immediate (and come to think of it, extended) family is that we're a proud bunch.  A 'we think we're so superior we stink up the joint' bunch.  I hate having to admit it even as I write it I can't quite imagine NOT feeling it because deep down I really believe it. Unfortunately.  We're our father's children and he was so blasted sure of himself and his place in the world and that was on top of the heap, and he expected us to be right up there with him.

At exactly the same time I admit this, I realize it's like admitting I have a giant wart right on the tip of my nose that the whole world can see, and I'm actually proud of it.  Proud of something that is a wart?  Yes, as I say, it's my besetting sin.  The thing that haunts me every day.  Because, after all, Pride means that I think I'm capable of handling my life on my own, and I AM NOT. I am patently NOT.  All sin, it's been said, is a form of pride and the older I get the more I realize the truth of this.

I tell you all this because for me to talk about the third Beatitude seems presumptuous.  Impossible.  I mean, on my own, I've never even wanted to be what Jesus speaks of here.  And I am a small picture of the world in my attitude about it. "Blessed are the meek..." Meekness is NOT a characteristic that the world values.  When you go to a job interview and are asked about your strengths, would you dare say,"I am meek."?  Assertive, self-starting, a leader, a team-player: these are the traits most people consider strengths.

But Jesus says, "Blessed are the meek..."  And in saying this, He gives us a new understanding of meekness because the best example of meekness isn't of the milquetoast Jesus with a lamb on His shoulder from my childhood Bible-story book but of Him at His trial the night before Calvary.  Matthew's account is found in chapters 26-27 (if you'd like to re-read it).  The movie The Passion of the Christ is a careful representation of Jesus' strong, unwavering meekness.  Jesus contained Himself that night.  He held back the power that He could have unleashed on those who were about to crucify Him.  He CHOSE to keep quiet, CHOSE not to assert Himself.  It was humility at its finest hour, that long, sleepless night was.  "He did not count equality with God something to be grasped...but humbled Himself and became obedient to death--even death on a cross." (Philippians 2: 5...well, you should really read the entire passage to verse 11!)  Yes, meekness as leashed power for the sake of others.

This is the meekness Jesus calls Blessed.  The meekness in which He'll aid and assist us.  Sometimes that meekness shows itself in giving way to another in the most ordinary of ways--like NOT honking one's horn when someone cuts you off on the road.  Other times, it's more significant.  It's about turning one's cheek when abused and berated and abused and berated--for no reason other than that you are convenient and NOT who the person wishes you were. God's been teaching me about meekness lately in such sharp relief, that the post I would have written two months ago is nothing to what He now has helped me understand.

The promise of this Beatitude is: "...for they will inherit the earth."  Psalm 24:1 tells us that "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it, the world and all who live in it." This Psalm makes it clear that the promise of inheriting the earth is a comprehensive on.  Those who humble themselves, as Christ did, who live with the power of God leashed within them, are inheriting (a purposefully present ongoing tense of that word) ALL that God has creating.  Because we already have the Spirit within us, we already have the power of the universe available.  So it's all about leashing it--as He did--to God's command, allowing only Him unleash it when and where and how He will--all the days of our lives.  Within the Kingdom, it is meekness that will rule.

Oh Lord, leash me up.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

It's all about mourning

"Blessed are those who mourn..." 
Blessed are those who mourn.  Not just, "I recognize that you mourn," but BLESSED are you. Let that word roll around in your life for a moment.  It's not just okay, but--as blessed means--I AM WITH YOU.  And it's a good thing.  Some translations actually say, "Lucky for you" instead of "Blessed."  Lucky in the most miraculous, spiritual sense, because God-the-Incarnate has purpose and places value on this specific condition.  In this beatitude, the spiritually lucky condition is mourning.

Jesus doesn't say what kind of mourning is blessed in the second Beatitude. He simply says that, "I am on your side...when you mourn."  David tells us in Psalm 34: 18 that "God is close to the brokenhearted." Deep sadness is condition in which God dwells with us.

Mourning is part of life, of course.  It would be utter foolishness to expect to survive life on this planet without mourning something--someone, I should say.  I used to think it would be terrible to have lived a hundred years ago (and any time before then) when mothers routinely (!) expected that not every child they bore would live to adulthood.  How could they bear such pain, I wondered?  My own grandmother was pregnant five times, yet my mother was an only child.  That's a sad, sad thing.

 But in this technological age in which we live, there are other kinds of griefs.  We are inundated with images of loss via TV and the internet, and suffer our own corresponding feelings of loneliness, failure, confusion, doubt.
And all these things are part of the word mourning, which contains a sense of despair and desperation in it as well.

So it's striking that one of the very first things Jesus addresses in his public ministry is this very human, very real, ever-present insidious pain we all face--one way or another (and if we don't, we're either lying about it, or just too superficial to recognize it, I think).

The comfort of this Beatitude is the most straight-forward of the promises contained in the Beatitudes.  I can wrap my puny brain around this idea.  ".. for they shall be comforted." There are times in the middle of a person's pain when this promise seems impossible to believe.  But I've been around the mountains of mourning enough to know that comfort always comes.  Sometimes it comes via completely expected forms: the long, sacramental silence of sitting with Beve as we drove back across the state after my father's memorial service.  He just drove with his hand on my knee as tears streamed down my face so continually that I could have sworn I'd worn grooves on my cheeks.  But other times, that comfort has come in the most unexpected ways, forms that only God could have directed.  An email from a person I haven't heard from in ages, a call from a friend asking me to tea, just a word or an answer to a question I asked so long before I didn't remember.  These things comfort.  They've happened over and over and over in my life.  The key is to pay attention and recognize them when they come.

But here's the other part of the equation.  Sometimes God asks us to be His agent of comfort to those around us.  We may not realize our words have to do with comfort, but the nudge to call or visit or speak a word is there.  That's how He means to comfort others.  We are the Incarnation now, you know.  I know I'm a broken record when I say this, but it's the privilege of eternity that we're filled with His Spirit, and are entrusted with His Kingdom work.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The end of your rope

The Beatitudes.  The words with which Jesus began His teaching to His disciples about how to live as His followers on this earth.  In the world but not of the world. Dwelling among people but as different from them as He was from those He walked with when He put on flesh and walked dusty roads.  He was, after all, preparing His followers to be the continuing Incarnation of God in this world, filled with the enabling, empowering Holy Spirit to aid and abet us to do what He calls us to do.  So these are the living attitudes, the 'being' attitudes (get it, 'Be-attitudes') of His people.

The heroes of the world are the strong, the successful and the famous.  The powerful.  The heroes of the Body, Jesus tells us in these simple (and simply constructed) verses, are starkly contrasted to those of the world.  But make no mistake, ALL Christians are meant to have these characteristics.  We do not get to pick and choose, do not get to brush some off as incompatible with our temperament and nature.  The whole point is that they are essentially different than human nature and cannot be conjured up of our own accord.  Some may have a natural tendency toward one or another, but the Spiritual quality of which Jesus refers is--MUST BE--produced by Him.  And, if we would be called His disciples, we MUST learn to value what HE values; that is, these qualities, and NOT value the qualities the world calls important.

It is in the light of this stark contrast, that Jesus grabs the attention of His disciples and all those who listen/read His words by His very first sentence.  It's a doozy.  As far as the east is from the west attitude difference from the world.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

This familiar verse, which begins the section of Matthew known as the Beatitudes, contains a difficult notion.  What exactly does it mean to be 'poor in spirit'?  Perhaps you don't struggle with this concept.  Perhaps you have it all wrapped up and walk through life clear about what the idea of this first sentence of Jesus' powerful Sermon on the Mount.  But if that's the case, I might (humbly) point out that you probably have never actually been 'poor in spirit' yourself.  You see, the very words imply we can't quite get to the root of them because, after all, we are poor in spirit.

So, again, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

Jesus starts with the notion that we are lost, broken and empty.  The Message puts it this way: "Blessed are you when you're at the end of your rope.  With less of you there's more of God and His rule."
This is key to all the other Beatitudes.  The poor in spirit cannot live without the supernatural help of God.  And make no mistake, we are all poor in spirit, all spiritually inadequate on our own and completely dependent on Him.  There is NO one in God's community of believers who is NOT.  We need Him for His salvation, His daily strength and grace.  The good news--the amazing, glorious news--of the gospel starts with this verse.  We know that He is on our side when we acknowledge our dependency on Him.

This is what the world doesn't understand.  They don't get that they don't have to do everything, be everything, try and try and try on their own.  The effort to get to the top of the heap, and stay there, the continuing drive simply to survive can do a person in.  And it doesn't have to be this way. That's the good news of the gospel.  The promise is right here in living color (probably red, if your Bible is like mine!), that for the poor in spirit, the Kingdom in heaven is theirs.  For those who recognize their own inadequacy and need of Christ, He throws open the doors of the Kingdom of heaven.  It's all theirs.  And here's the thing, it's not simply a future promise--that we'll get to heaven someday, that we'll go through those gates and be welcomed home (though we certainly will, and what a home-going it will be!)--but THIS very day, the Kingdom is here.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9)
 RIGHT now, all His grace is available. Between us and in us, we have the Kingdom.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Reading

"A couple of quotes from books I read during my years at Regent College, just because it's Thursday and I feel like it.

"There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. A life of good days lived in the senses is not enough. The life of sensation is the life of greed; it requires more and more. The life of the Spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet. Who would call a day spent ready a good day? But a life spent reading--that is a good life. A day that closely resembles every other day of the past ten or twenty years does not suggest itself as a good one. But who would not call Pasteur's life a good one, or Thomas Mann's?"  Annie Dillard, The Writing Life.

I love this quote because I have spent so many, many days of my life reading, especially as a child.  Certain adults around me--my grandmother, to be precise--chided my siblings and me for reading when there were other (and in her mind, better) things to do. "Why are you wasting your time reading?" she'd ask, when my sister and I sat in the shade on a hot summer afternoon at our cabin on Whidbey Island, enjoying some lovely story, and the trees above us and the imagination expanding us.  But my grandmother's voice would cut through all that expansive world in which I'd been dwelling, so, with a deep sigh, I'd put down the book and go find something better to do.

But the thing is, there really wasn't anything better.  Not to me.  I might have felt guilty about it, but that 'only reading' made everything else seem like a waste of time until I could get back to my book.  It may have been greed, as Dillard says, but now I believe I wouldn't live any other way, that a life without books would be to 'inhabit tiny worlds', as CS Lewis says.  I could not live there.  I want the larger, good life that shares with what has gone before and enlarges me.

"..But out here in the country you can walk all day and all the next day with an unanswered question in your head: you need never speak until you have made up your mind." CS Lewis, The Pilgrim's Regress.
I like this quote.  I know that Lewis meant it to be about Reason waiting for evidence before voicing an opinion, but taking it out of context I think there is another truth here. Christians often try to speak too quickly, using platitudes to voice what they do not comprehend.  It's like we're afraid to admit we don't understand or have all the answers or even have a single doubt in the smack dab middle of our faith.  And we do. We all do.  Of course we do.  So this sentence speaks to me, and reminds me that it's okay to have questions in my head, to just wait before speaking what I don't know.*  To wait before speaking at all.  This is very important for me to remember because I so easily speak up.  Let me--ME--just walk all day with an unanswered question in my head and not be afraid of question or the silence not speaking brings.

*My all-time favorite note from a professor was written beside this sentence, which was this "...But unlike many who 'just speak up', you usually have something to say!"

Of Being
I know this happiness 
is provisional:

     the looming presences--
     great suffering, great fear--

but ineluctable this shimmering
of wind in the blue leaves:

this flood of stillness
widening the lake of sky:

this need to dance,
this need to kneel: 
         this mystery.

Denise Levertov, The Stream and the Sapphire hat n the midst of crisis, or in that vacuum of waiting for it, where misery becomes normal, but the other shoe will drop and it will hurt again; when for no earthly reason, there is a leaping  within, a sense of presence and joy that I wasn't looking for, or expecting, in that place of gloom, but there it is.  It's a mystery, a sacred moment, even when I'm not aware of God.  But it points to Him. Sometimes it's just the simple pleasure of taking a walk in the rain after being cooped up with a sick child all day that loosens the clench of suffering. Other times it's bigger: the radiance of a sunset of the ocean, or maybe unexpected words of love from my adult children that lead me into this mystery, but whatever does it, it is JOY, the joy of which CS Lewis wrote, that people seek their whole lives, that make life worth living.  Worth all the pain we have.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Word of the Lord

I open my Bible to Psalm 44 and, at first glance, think it reads, "What have we done with out ears--that we haven't heard You?"  It's a good line, a provocative, inspired word and my brain races off. What have we done? have with overwhelmed our ears with the noise of our culture at decibels so loud that our hearing is shot? Have we stuffed our ears with the narrowness of 'churchiness' so that we think we know who and what and how to live and love, and it all comes out as legalism?  Have we waterlogged our ears with our own lusts so that we are deaf to anything but our own desires?  Indeed, have we always been hearing but never listening?  "What have we done with our ears that we haven't heard You?"  What have I done with my ears?

Then, after a long moment of pondering this profound thought, I reread the line, and oddly, the Psalm actually says the opposite.  Yes, almost the exact opposite of what I read at first glance, it says, "We have heard it with our ears, O God."  I don't know how I got it backwards, but this truth I must understand.  The true people of God will hear. The cream rises, so to speak, and His voice will be heard.  Over the clamor of culture, the sometimes narrow, sometimes even hypocritical voices of the church, the ones faithful in the land will hear Him.

He prevails.  Righteousness wins. Culture doesn't.  Hard-heartedness will not. Lust will not. God does. Even in me.  Even in the church.  God is God. As He has been, this Psalm says, so He will be now.  The God who drove out the nations is MY God. No matter what it looks like, no matter what the material world brings, He is true.

This is the word of the Lord.

In many churches, we say this sentence after the reading of scripture. "This is the word of the Lord."  I grew up saying it without a single thought of the power behind such a sentence.  But creation came into being by His word, we were created by His word, and His word stands when all else falls.  It's the one true thing in eternity.  So when we say those words, when we know such a thought or word is true, it should knock us over with the power and magnitude and glory of it all.  This one--that "We have heard it with our ears."  That we can HEAR God Himself--if it doesn't make you fall on your face in in awe, you're made of stronger stuff than I am. Because I need to hear Him.  I need it like I need air to breathe.  I need it like...well, like it's the one still point on which I can stand in this dying world. Really.

And I'm telling you, you don't have to listen to any other voice.  And if you don't think you can hear His, just open a Bible.  Right there in black and white (and a little bit of red letters), He lives and breathes and speaks loudly.

 As Psalm 44: 6-8 says, "I put no trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory, but You give me victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame.  In God we make our boast all day long, and we will praise your name forever."

This is the word of the Lord.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's about change

Of course, if can change God, it changes us more.  This was driven home to me again yesterday as I continued my 'walk' through my early journals. With the intention of weeding tossing out the earliest, most redundant and juvenile of them, I got sidetracked into actually reading them.

Again.

Came to chapter in my past I've purposely slammed the door on because to open it has never done me--or anyone else, I dare say--much good.  But in the light of being changed by God through prayer, though not exactly via the desired answer--it's worth a passing look today.  However, readers beware, this is one of those, 'oh my gosh, she's an open-book' kind of posts,' that might not appeal. Just sayin'.

My early life (and by that I mean my teenage and early twenty years) is nothing if not a repeated, sorry pattern of uneven romantic feelings, too strong on my part for the one on whom those feelings were bestowed.  Looking back at it from the wisdom of this aged-self, I can easily see that those feelings were sometimes taken advantage of by the boy. Perhaps often, even.  

The spring I was a sophomore in college was full--a  packed social life, the crazy schedule of a Young Life leader, a sprinkling of academics thrown in, somehow (I hardly know how I managed), but a GIANT heaping helping of this boy. He flooded my journal. Day after day (which is a esoteric pun that just made me chuckle).  The ups and downs and vicissitudes of whatever was going on between us pre-occupied me to such a degree I find it hard to imagine I had time for anything else.  Pulling away,  reassurances, great conversations, hard ones, over and over, ad nauseum. Reading it made me want to take that 19-year-old girl aside and say, "Run for your life!", along with the most clear-minded of her friends.

But then, I know what was coming.  And she surely did not.  In May, for example they had a conversation where she (sorry for using the third person about my young self, but it's really difficult not to in this context) told him her fears that he'd 'walk away for good.' And he not only assured her he NEVER would, but he told her he loved her.  I have to say, I was SHOCKED to read this.  You can't imagine.  Because a mere four weeks later, he did walk away for good.

But that's not quite the whole thing.  He actually disappeared without a word. I mean, he literally was in my life one June day then never spoke to me again.  NEVER.  Not a word of explanation.  We lived in the same small town that whole summer--until I packed my bags and transferred to another university in a different state--so our paths crossed a time or two, and he did no more than say hello.  That's it.  Indeed, to this day, he's never talked to me again.

But his disappearance wasn't even the hardest part to read in that journal.  I've been over that for thirty-five years now.  What breaks my heart today is that for the next three months, at least (and who knows how much longer after that--I just didn't read the next journal), I thought it was all my fault.  I blamed myself for his disappearance and his reported (by our ever-so-helpful friends) bitterness and resentment toward me.  He had every right to treat me as he had because I'd done something wrong--I knew it as surely as I knew my own name.  That comes through loud and clear in this journal.  And I twisted myself into knots trying to figure out how to 'be better', different, good enough, not a 'bitch', etc.  I just knew I wasn't worthy, so, of course, he'd walk out of my life.  I never once saw that I was actually simply wronged, at the very least for the way he went about that leaving, if not for a whole host of other things.

From here I see so clearly how abused that young girl was. And sadly, how she went from that to an even more emotionally abusive relationship.  In those days I always believed the the word of the person I most 'loved', so if he thought I wasn't worthy, I believed it. Lock, stock and throw away the key.  And, because I believed I was so unworthy, I also knew I'd be left alone in the end.  And that next time, I was again proved right.

It's a very sad story, my young romantic life. Pathetic, really.
But thankfully, praise God, it has had the happiest of endings, in the most unexpected ways.

Why? Because all those years, those 8 years (which is exactly the number of years Beve and I went without seeing each other--except 2 brief moments which we both  remember very clearly--after high school), while I was praying earnestly with tears and sweat and almost blood for God to do for me--to give me what I wanted--, He was actually changing me.  Fundamentally, at my core.  Growing me into His likeness so that I stopped asking for myself and learned to pray for His will. Reforming me so that my thoughts and words and especially my desires were His. Of course, God's gift of Beve in my life was a sea-change.  It was healthy, for one thing. Beve's a very healthy man.   But by the time I fell in love with Beve, I was so wrapped up in praying for Beve, I had matured chronologically and spiritually, and learned about my own worth.  God did that.  And He used Beve to confirm it. That's the right order of things. The way it should be. As I say (and I don't throw this phrase around a lot!), praise God.

Anyway, that is what prayer's really about.  Whether or not He wants to change or fix or heal or give to us the circumstance about which we're praying--for ourselves or others--we can be absolutely certain He wants to change us.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pray Largely

Finally coming out of the dry season here.  And no, I'm not speaking of the weather, because that would be just tacky, given that I live in the rain-drenched Pacific Northwest, where it rains a whole lot more than it's dry.  In fact, it rains so much here, our lakes are so deep, that water is shipped from these parts to other real drought-ravaged parts of the country.  So to ever talk about a 'dry season', even when we barely had about a month of summer which unfortunately didn't arrive until September and it already over (dang it, anyway) is more than poor form but sick and wrong.

No, I'm talking about a dry season spiritually.  Emotionally as well, I suppose one might say, though Beve would say there have been plenty of water works in my emotions--waterworks to go along with the fireworks. Yep, he's loved it.  Nevertheless, I've been a sack of dry bones for quite a spell now (whatever a spell is).  The toll of caring for the elders, worrying about the son and living in a crowded house of people has wrecked havoc on my usually luxurious time with God.  Time I've grown used to over the forty years of wandering with Him through the various deserts and not-deserts of my life.  I am famously NOT disciplined when it comes to most things in life--exercise, eating habits, etc. (and yes, you can tell looking at me that this is unfortunately true), but spiritual disciplines have usually appealed to the scholar/student in me.

But not in the dry-as-a-skeleton seasons of life.  Not when praying becomes foxhole-like in nature then swings across the no-man's land to a different foxhole about a different war.  Between the two, in that no-man's land, I simply refuse to let my mind think about what worries me the most.  I'm talking here, for those of you who know, about the very serious situation with J, and the equally troubling (or at least time- and mind-consuming) situation with my in-laws.  Foxhole prayers have been going on as long as there have been people on this earth picking up weapons of one kind or another and waging battles against each other.  Or battles against themselves. It might just be that Abel prayed so when Cain came at him in the very first conflict. "Help me, God, help me."  Such prayers are knee-jerk cries for help in the gravest of situations, from ICU waiting rooms to dark alleys in inner-cities and every place between.  Where we hurt we cry out.  And God hears such prayers.  I believe this as surely as I believe He created us on the sixth day with mouths to speak and hearts to bleed. And the moment the first of us left the safety of that Garden, we began a long siege in the foxhole.

However, I've never really felt that such prayers were what He really meant when He said, "Pray without ceasing."  Obviously.  He's glad to hear us whenever we pray, but the examples Jesus gives of real prayer have little to do with foxholes and a whole lot to do with real persistence.  With the kind of persistence foxhole praying is the very antithesis of.  This is what I've forgotten in this dry worrisome season. Such foxhole prayers actually limit God's ability to work, by the very nebulousness of the request.  "Help me, Lord," could mean just about anything.  Really. Now you will be saying, 'But He knows what you're asking,' and that's true. But God--our Sovereign, all KNOWING God--has chosen to impact the world and our very lives by our earnest, specific prayers. 

Jeremiah 29: 12-13 "Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart."
John 14: 13-14 "And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name and I will do it."
John 16: 23-24 "Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive and your joy will be complete."

And then there's this 'hit me on the head' passage from Philippians, that I really should remember but don't. I MUST hear it.  Learn it, DO it.  Philippians 4: 6-7: "Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situations, by prayer and petitions, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God, and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus."

CS Lewis says it does no good to pray for object A when our whole minds are really focused on object B.  No, we must pray what we really feel. Too often, lately, this has been part of the problem for me.  I want to sound all humble and surrendered and devout, even.  The truth is, I want my son to be healthy in every way, and I want him to be whole spiritually.  I don't want to surrender him to God's will, but to impact God's will. Instead of living in the foxhole, the persistent widow should be my model.  And as I've begun to practice this persistence, all areas of praying have opened up.  

And just this morning I felt these strong words from God to pass on to you.  "Pray largely."  Don't be wimps.  Be willing to wrestle with God for those you love, to fight for them, even argue with Him on their behalves.  The amazing truth is that He asks us to pray, He asks us to change the world, to be changed and--oh the incredible thought of this!--even to change HIM by our prayers.  It's true. Read about Abraham arguing with God about Sodom and Gomorrah. Read about Moses changing God's mind when He was ready to give up on the Israelites in the desert. Yes, the amazing truth is that God allows us to change Him by our prayers.  He set it up that way.  So get after it. Go to it. Like it's your job. 

Because it is.
Pray largely.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Letting go

It hasn't been an easy week. Some are--even in the middle of the kind of pressure-cookers we live in these days.  There are moments so good and memorable that I want to bottle them up like perfume so I can take them out later and get the whole scent of experience over again.  This week?  Not so much.  It's just contained the dirty, smelly work of relationships when the chips are down and brains don't function clearly and bodies don't do what they're meant to, and someone has to take the blame for all of it.  Because those brains and those bodies can't quite remember that this is--for everyone of us, if God keeps us here so long--the way things go, so it can't possibly be them who isn't remembering correctly. NO way, NO how.

I don't always act with the full measure of grace I wish I did.  Inside I get wounded.  Some people get angry.  But I'm too much my mother's child for that.  I learned that this week. Sadly enough.  In full measure.  And what a sleep-destroying revelation that was. Is.

Yes, I get wounded.  React like my mother at times.  Though, fundamentally--below the surface--I'm as little like her as I've ever been.  She took blame for her total being while I don't think my being is essentially wrong, though I sin and have flaws and...well, that's a broken record.

But here' the story.  Beve and I drove down to meet our kids for dinner.  Our very grown-up, lovely-to-behold, all-laughing-and-teasing-each-other kids.  J'd gone down to the girls' apartment the day before, and they're all driving over to eastern Washington today, so we met for dinner.  Had a great time, too. Talked about  the three living people we'd want to have dinner with if we could (YoYo Ma was one of mine, but only if he brought his cello for an after-dinner concert!).  It was a lively meal, for all that Beve has a terrible cold he caught on the airplane coming home from Indianapolis last week--dang those dang closed-in petri-dishes!.  Then the kids began talking their logistics for today's trip: when they'd leave, SK's work schedule, etc.  I made a suggestion, and it was batted down. Then another and it was also vetoed.

And then I said it.  "I just shouldn't say anything."  At least I think that's what I said.  Close enough, anyway.  I know I was thinking I should mind my own business, that it's their stuff, and I'm not a part of it.  But I forget, you see.  I forget I'm no longer the mother of children who need my help for every decision.  I still have those days in my head when I'd pack them and all the suitcases into the car, drive 45 minutes to pick up Beve before we'd head across the state for holidays.  I was in charge of absolutely everything back then. In total control.  Of them, and everything about them.  Shoot, mothers know more about their children than those children know about themselves.  That's the real story, isn't it?

But we raised them to be adults.  And now they are.  Of course.  And I am no longer in charge of their lives.  And most of the time I remember this.  Most of the time I keep it in my head that I can't--and shouldn't--interfere with how and why and what they do.  But sometimes old patterns come creeping in.  I'm too new at this--this stand back and watch them--self.  And, as my sister and I were talking last weekend, half the time these days, they're telling us what OUR plans are.  Now that takes some getting used to.

But that wasn't the part that kept me from sleeping.  No. The worst part was that when I made that, "I should just never speak," comment, was that my daughter said, "I hate it when you do that."  That was like a bolt of lightning.  Because right there at that table, was me.  My mother and me, I should say.  I said that very sentence to my mother more times than I can count.  Really.  And I meant it.  I loathed that my mother turned every small thing into a ontological statement of her worth.

It didn't matter in that moment that I didn't mean the same thing, that I was only reminding myself to stay out of their business.  It only mattered that to my kids, I was like my mother was to me.  I HATE that.  You can't imagine.

 But at 3 AM, it also occurred to me that perhaps my own mother, who really did have self-worth issues, was also (all those times) trying to remind herself to let us grow up.  And I never once saw it that way.  I only saw it as her trying to garner my sympathy, trying to get me to tell her she was okay, after all.  This morning, when that lightbulb went off, I finally did feel sympathy for my mom.  I did see it from her side.  It's no easy thing, navigating this new sea with adult, independent kids who make up their own minds and tell you when your ideas won't work--just the way you prayed they would.  She taught us to be adults too, and when we became them, it was hard.

But it also made me ask God to keep me from speaking such a sentence again. It's a knee-jerk thing.  Something unhealthy and, obviously ugly--for me and for my kids. If I need to be reminded to let them grow up, I should do it alone with God, not in front of them.  And simply keep my mouth shut. Learn to let them be.  Because, honestly, it doesn't go away that the last thing I want is for them to feel about me as I felt about her all those years.  The health of our relationship is still on me.  I'm the mother.  I still must let them go.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Hairs on my head

I got my hair done today. I'm not one of those 'every six weeks' women who rush in to get their roots touched up and their uneven ends trimmed.  I just don't care enough.  Don't like the hassle, can't afford the cost.  All of the above.  So I stretch out the time between hair-cuts until I'm bound to hear the same kind of comments every time I sit in that chair.  "Wow, you really need at least an inch taken off."  And, of course, even with my lovely young hair-dresser, "I always forget how fine and thin your hair is."

So I girded my loins and went in to get those thin, lank locks shorn--at least an inch.  And sure enough, Amy made a few comments about my hair. Yada, yada, yada, like I can do one blasted thing about the weight and girth of each strand of my hair.  There are a whole lot of things about myself I can change--can ask God to change, I should say--but my thin, fine, shiny hair is NOT one of them.  The hairs on my head may be numbered, but they are numbered fine.

Most of the time, however, the conversation I had with Amy, my hairdresser, was about her life.  She has a 4 month old baby boy and another boy, almost three.  And Amy is tired.  More than tired, she feels like she has not a moment to herself, even in the bathroom, not enough energy for the day's tasks, and not nearly enough support with a husband who works out of town much of each month.  I listened to her and remembered.  Remembered how much sleep deprivation feels like being strung out on drugs, and how, even though those babies are so adorable a mother would die for them, there's also a sense of "I can't do this!" to those foggy, early years.

Then we spoke of the challenges in my life, the elders who are reluctant to do what is best for them, who do not listen to our sound words, get grouchy when they miss their naps, and whine when they are hungry.  "Why, they're just like my babies," Amy said.

Exactly, I told her.  There is a circle of life and we're living it.

And in the meantime, the very hairs on our head are counted.

And they are fine.

Monday, October 3, 2011

And then some...

Whoa, what a weekend.
Wait a minute, it's Monday, right?  Well, maybe I began my weekend on Thursday and stretched it half-way through today. But since that's just about the only perk of my unemployed life, I might as well take full advantage of it.

Sisters LD (the Dump), RE and I spent three lovely days at our family's place on Whidbey Island.  We wandered the acreage, sat in the sun, poured over old photographs, replayed childhood memories both happy and not-so-happy and generally do what sisters (at least we three) do best--solve the problems of the world (or at least those nearest our hearts).  We answered some really tough questions like, "name your most memorable time peeing outside," and "what childhood meal do you miss--and feel guilty about missing?" (My answer was 'creamed tuna on toast', by the way. Wow, I can't believe I just admitted that in blogger public). Then we moved on to the real questions like, "what one thing about your spouse that has been (or was) hardest for you to live with?" And "What is the thing you do that you know is wrong but you also know you'll probably always struggle with?"

We talked as we drove, as we walked, as we ate, and practically as we slept.  Come to think of it, LD has always been able to talk while she sleeps.  Fortunately RE and I were too tired to hear her this weekend.

Needless to say, it made for a very long Sunday.  We hurried back across the ferry in time for an authentic (and caloric) tea with E and our aunt before taking LD to her plane, then RE and I spent the rest of the day with that aunt and my daughters in Seattle.

And while we were having having dinner, while I was still in the glow of the weekend, feeling replete from our time together, Beve called, and I was plunged back into life with the elders. By the time I got home at noon today, the weekend felt like a foggy dream. Doctors' appointments, missed rides, missing orders, barking orders, and then some.  There was a moment this evening when I was standing alone in the elders' apartment when the truth of who I am to them came crashing through the walls of my peace. Right there in bold print beside their front door...No, I will not say more.

Because the thing is, it isn't about who I am to them.  Caring for others is never about that. Being with my sisters is about that. That's the gift of them--that we are committed to each other (despite some rather significant differences) simply because we are who we are.  We share history and genetics and then some.  But most of those I care for I cannot say such things about.  We don't only care and love and minister to those who share our name and genetics and history. How absurd that would be, right?

I was reminded of the robbers who beat up the man and left him in the ditch, and the really important leaders of his own house--his own faith--who crossed to the other side of the road to avoid having to come in contact with him.  The only one who stopped was a person entirely unrelated to him--in faith and in community--but wholly related in the truest sense: in charity and the loving-kindness that only God can bring.  Yes, the Good Samaritan.  Living and doing just what God intends each of His servants to do: give and serve and love and care.  There's a verse in Luke that runs through my mind at such moments as this: "So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, 'We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty." (Luke 17:10)

We do what we are asked to do.  And then some.  And are grateful for the privilege because it is God who does the asking.  No matter what that means.

And thank Him for those who give us respite.  Like my sisters:  I love you both.