Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Handmade


I saw lights up on a house a week before Thanksgiving.  I imagined that someone in that family wanted to get a step up on the neighbors, to go bigger and better than those next door or across the street.  And when Beve and E were out picking up a few last minute groceries for our Thanksgiving dinner on Wednesday, they saw tents set up outside Best Buy, which means those people spent their thanksgiving holidays cooking weiners over bunsen burners in a parking lot.  Festive AND full of thankfulness, right?  Black Friday came with a bang all over this country. People were trampled right at midnight, all in an effort to get more. Bigger and better.  And the stores tried to jump start the economy in a single day.

Because that's what Christmas is all about.  Really, that's the truth of it.  Let's not pretend otherwise.  No matter who we are, we still want something under a tree or in a stocking that blesses us. That counts.  We want something better than we had before, and, at least in this country, we go to great lengths to get it.  It takes a whole lot more effort to NOT be sucked into this mentality than to let the culture sweep us away.

This year, our family is trying.  A few months ago, we made the decision to have a thrift-Christmas.  That is, we are only giving second-hand or handmade gifts to each other.  It's been a very stretching thing for us. I wouldn't say that we're exactly good at it, or have figured this all out, I'm praying that this kind of Christmas makes the day less greedy and more grateful. Less full of material goods and more full of thoughtful ones. And certainly, ultimately more concentrated on the gift that cost everything but wasn't bought at any large box store.

One could, of course, make the case that God set up a tent in front of the whole wide world for that gift.  He set off to Bethlehem encased in human flesh, in the safety of the human womb of his human mother, and when He finally breathed the air of earth, His appearance stopped creation for a few moments.  The stars shone brighter, angels sang so loudly, they interrupted plain, old shepherds just going about their business, watching sheep.  It wouldn't surprise me if even those dumb old sheep (and sheep are the dumbest of creatures) were dumbfounded by the sound of that voice and voices speaking and singing in the starry night.

That's the most handmade gift we've ever gotten.  Made by the Hand of God.  You can't find it at any store, can't satisfy the longing for it no matter the size of the TV you wrap up for your husband or the jewelry you buy for your wife.  There will always be a better gaming device that you'll be pressured to buy for the kids next year.  But this handmade gift of God in the form of that baby came once. And lasts forever.

Happy December.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Post- Op

I had my two week post gall bladder surgery appointment this afternoon, and it's definitely worth a story. Have I mentioned that I LOVE being friends with my surgeon? I mean, serious perks. And today was one of them. Well, sort of.

I got to my appointment, said my name to the woman on the other side of the counter and she said, "I'll find you a room right away." And with that, she led me down the hall, past my doctor's office, where he waved at me as he talked on the phone, all the way to the back of the practice to a closed door with very recognizable symbols of a man and a woman on it.  Yep, a restroom.

It turned out to be a combination examination/dressing/restroom where I sat on one of the two chairs for all of twenty seconds before Dr. VG came through the door. "I didn't want you to have to wait," he told me. "Hope you don't mind." ARE YOU KIDDING ME? I didn't even mind that there was a toilet behind the curtain in the corner with all that instant attention.  He read me the description he'd written of my gall bladder after removing it (and was actually a little sad he hadn't brought a picture).  The marble-sized stone was stuck like cement in the entrance and the whole organ was green. GREEN. Can I just say that I'm pretty sure that green is NOT a good color for any organ.  Maybe for eyes but NOT for organs within the human body. "It definitely needed to come out," he told me. Well, I think so.

I told him I've been feeling pretty tired this week.
"You had your gall bladder out two weeks ago today, a house full of people for Thanksgiving and you can't figure out why you're tired?"
"Well..."
"There's no convenient time for surgery, but it's even less convenient if you don't give yourself time to recover."

Then we had a good conversation about aging parents and forgiveness and the emergent church and a great pastor we both know and love...well, all manner of things. I'm pretty sure it made him run late to his next patient but it was just about the best doctor's appointment I've had in a long time.  Even if it was in a restroom.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Owning what's mine to own

I'm trying to figure out if I'm tired because all the hoopla of the holiday weekend has finally caught up with me or if the hoopla of the last four months has finally caught up with me, or if I'm just plain tired, but I'm telling you, the dogs and I barely lifted our heads all day long. Now that Beve's back at work and the company's gone and all the processing of various events has been done (or at least partly done), the house is quiet and I can't even muster up enough energy to finish the projects I have going for Christmas.

Some holidays are so sweet that we hold on to them long after the last leftovers have been eaten.  This was no such holiday.  It was fraught with tension and confrontation and family dynamics of the sort that keep therapists and counselors in the business.  More than once I found myself on my knees in my bedroom tearfully praying for the Holy Spirit to extend grace I didn't/don't feel in myself. It was hard and long and stretched our small family in many ways as we hosted a larger one around our table.

Here's what I have learned about myself in the last five days:  I care about what people think of me and am shocked to discover that they question my motives.  But I don't want to hold long accounts. No matter what.  So when apologies come, so too, must forgiveness.  This is Christ's mandate.  I know this.

However.  Here's the hard truth about myself.  Sometimes I say I forgive before I actually have.  Sometimes the cut is deep and the blood is still running when that apology comes and I say, "Of course, I forgive you," when I actually just want it over with. I want the pain to stop.  But it hasn't.  So a couple of days later--like today--I wake up, bone weary and aching with it because I've been wrestling with it through a couple of long nights.  And, now that the pain isn't quite so piercing, I discover that I am still angry.  I haven't come close to forgiving what I said I forgave.

And it's at this moment that the true work begins.  With God.  Facing the facts of the situation and the other person, looking at that person's pain and what made them do and say what was said to me. And why.

This is a hard post to write.  I'm a flawed human being who sometimes holds grudges.  One who is sometimes wounded deeply by the grudges held by others.  I want to be more than I am, more formed of the Kingdom than of the world.  And this holiday has opened my eyes to the truth to how far I am from who I pray to be.

I can't do anything about what others think of or say to me. What they believe my motives to be in any situation. Beve often talks to students about 'owning what is yours to own.' And what is mine to own here are two things: what I might have done to hurt the one who lashed out at me (still trying to figure that out with Beve) and--more importantly-- how I respond. No matter what. And He's not ambivalent about what my response must be. "Forgive others as I've forgiven you." There's no wiggle room in those words.  None at all.

Instead, I go to my knees again. And ask Him to help me do what I cannot do on my own.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Frequent flyer miles

This morning, just as Beve's brother and sister-in-law were walking out the door to travel back across the pass to their home in the Yakima Valley, Beve got a call that Grampie was unresponsive and had been taken to the hospital.  Plans changed in a flash. Beve and I quickly threw on some clothes (I wound up in black yoga pants, an oversized 'Life is good' long-sleeved sleep-shirt hanging below my Northface Fleece and FatBaby boots--yep, one of my finer fashion looks!), and while he went to get Thyrza, I rode with B & N to the hospital. We actually arrived ahead of the ambulance, so I really could have taken another moment with my attire. Oh well.

It was/is our 4th trip to the emergency room since September 10.  If that doesn't make us regulars, I don't know what does. I certainly knew the protocol, knew that only one person would be allowed back with him, and knew it would have to be me because they'd need to know about his medications, and any pertinent pieces of his medical history. For example, the doctor asked Thyrza if Grampie's ever had prostate problems. and when she said no, unfortunately, I had to correct her (which is NEVER good--and makes Thyrza think I've been keeping secrets from her, because, "I know I wouldn't have forgotten that!"). At least this doctor continued to address her questions to Thyrza, which isn't always the case, even though she (the doctor) waited for my answers.

Beve's still over there with Thyrza.  Grampie's been admitted now, with a UTI (Urinary Track Infection).  Possible Kidney damage. We'll see how it goes. I had a very candid conversation with Grampie's wife this morning about what is really happening with Grampie.  That is, what the doctors won't quite say--that one of these days or one of these trips to the hospital, Grampie will die.  I told her as gently as I could that we needed to value every day we have with him, and feel peace with the knowledge not only that he has lived long and well, but that he is very ready to go home.  Thyrza got a little teary as we spoke, and told me they had talked about it only a little, because Grampie's so "private about these things." ( I haven't found him so, but then, I tend to push him to answer my questions. I mean, I ask and he answers.  It works.) During our conversation it seemed like Grampie was sound asleep, his head back, mouth open.  Looked like sleep to me. Just as Thyrza was wiping her nose and I was rubbing her shoulder, a nurse came in and offered Grampie a drink of juice, and sat him up.  As she did, he opened his eyes and winked at me.

Yep, he winked at me and smiled broadly.  Thyrza and I burst out laughing.  He's still here, he seemed to be saying. But also, like he and I were sharing a joke.  I love that.

Sure, he drifted off a few minutes later.  He's a frequent flyer in the hospital, losing weight before our very eyes, but the wit is still in there.  And that's good enough for this day.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving at our house

There were eleven of us around the table yesterday, feasting on a meal I did almost nothing to prepare except offer some well-oiled recipes that have served us well over the years (or at least one!).  This whole recovering-from-surgery thing has worked pretty well for me...except that I actually find it difficult NOT to be in the kitchen in my own home when there's work to be done and a table to be set and people to be served. Other than that, it was relaxing.

But we got to the table, the food was as tasty as it always is and E, who will be a far better cook than I am when she's my age because she's a better cook than me now, fed us well.  We passed the platters and bowls and gravy boats and homemade roll basket and butter dish, then Beve had the girls read two different things to remind us what we were doing there.  And we spoke (as we always do!) of the things for which we give God thanks.  It was sweet, as always, and those first bites tasted better for the true thankfulness I felt for all the thankfulness we'd shared.

But moments into the meal, Beve noticed that at the other end of the table, Grampie was beginning to hiccup. So I raced down the long bowling-alley of our hallway to our bathroom to retrieve the TUMS for him.  Unfortunately I couldn't quite prevent a spitting-up episode right there at our Thanksgiving table. I grabbed a bowl, Beve grabbed a wet washcloth and we rolled his wheelchair away from the table, to give him a bit of privacy and everyone else a bit of space from what might affect their appetites.  Between us, the TUMS, a medication we have on hand  because I'm in charge of dispensing his pills each week, we got this episode under control pretty quickly.  It lasted only five minutes, when they've been known to extend hours (particularly when we aren't around and the elders are trying to figure them out between them--Grampie always thinks it's the first time he's done such a thing).

Why do I tell you such an unappetizing story?  Because of how it shocked a few of Grampie's grandchildren who have heard of his decline but until yesterday had not been in close proximity to it.  This episode painted his frailty in sharp relief.  Their once giant of a Grampie, the man who stood like a mountain over their lives, is no longer in control--even of himself. These grandchildren watched three of us move him from his wheelchair to the couch in order to take a family photo, because he seems to have forgotten how to make his feet move of their own accord, and noticed that even a trip to the bathroom required help from Beve.  This is the sadness on the other side of the coin of their thankfulness on this Thanksgiving holiday. What Grampie was most thankful for was his family, particularly the three grandsons who were sitting in a row on one side of the table. Later, one of those grandsons said, "Life is only a fragment."

That grandson is right, of course.  Life is only a fragment--on this earth, that is. But Grampie lives it so well. even now.  As I was holding that bowl for him at dinner, I asked, "What can I do for you?" He answered, "You already do everything for me."  He wasn't whining when he said those words, as some might have been, wasn't bemoaning his lot. He was simply thankful. Really.

I want to have such a heart as my father-in-law.  His body is broken.  He can do nothing for himself now. Nothing. But he continues to live gladly and well.  And when he leaves this broken-down body, and stands up straight in the new one waiting for him, he'll continue to live that one well, too.

This is what I'm thankful for this Thanksgiving. I'm thankful for what I'm being taught about living well from the most broken in my life.  His model continues to humble me. As he is being broken daily, He continues to make him whole.

And that, my friends, is what I desire for my own life.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Plimoth

Last summer when sister RE and I were visiting our brother BB and nephew K and his wife C in New England, we spent a very hot afternoon at Plimoth Plantation (and no, that's not spelled incorrectly), wandering through the re-production of the Native village and the first settlers' homes.  We watched practically naked young men weaving thin pieces of bark through long sticks to create a long house--a project that will take the three of them a couple of years to complete, since only two work at a time, while the other narrates (in proper American English) for the crowd.  We sat in a very small hut, where furs covered the dirt floor, and raised mats, and listened to a woman speak of how the tribe lived and finally died out in exactly this spot, trying to live the old way (off the grid, one might call it now) as recently as the 20th century.  They married and procreated and bore children and raised extended families and suffered illnesses, and watched people die in these small huts for hundreds of years, and lived off the land and followed the seasons to and from the sea--inland in winter and outward in summer.  And all the while, called it good.

And then the people came from over the sea in large ships and many clothes with many novice ways of living, ways that didn't lend to this land. The Pilgrims, as we call them, who came from Holland, where they'd fled first from English persecution, were uncertain about almost everything.  And the natives were uncertain about the English as well.

But somehow, they learned to live together, or at least, side-by-side, in two different ways. The English with their tall, thatched-roof houses, and heavy chests and many clothes, their rules and regulations and desire to own the land rather than live with it.  And the natives with their more free-moving rhythm with the seasons. 

That afternoon last summer, when we walked through the Plantation at Plimoth, I was struck by the grid on the hill where the pilgrims lived, like a High street from some English village plopped down across the ocean back in the 1600s, lots assigned, portions divided, in contrast to the rambling maze of the native village down in the flats where they just set up camp and could just as easily move it, when necessary.

But one thing they did, these two separate people--when the work was done, they gathered to be thankful.  Now I don't know if what we call Thanksgiving actually took place in the autumn after the first full year of being in the new world, the way we were taught in our history books.  I know that many of those early stories are faulty. But I do know there's truth to a harvest feast. And I know that these pilgrim ancestors of ours were thankful people. And I know that the people who met them on the shores of this land had lent them hands and feet and grain to get them through the tough first year. And visa versa, at times.  And I know they gave thanks.

But long before it was an American, or new world, tradition to set aside a day for a harvest feast, it was a-people-of-God tradition to set aside a day to give God thanks for the harvest.  For a thousand years before Christ, the people of God were stopping their labors to praise God for the fruitfulness of the harvest.  This feast is called  The festival of Tabernacles, and is mentioned first in Exodus 23:16, "... Celebrate the Festival of Ingathering at the end of the year when you gather in your crops from the field."

So this idea of Thanksgiving is extremely old.
And has very little to do with overeating.  
And a whole lot to do with offering to God.
I dare say we forget that.
As with so many things, it's morphed into being about how we can stuff ourselves with more, rather than honor God with more.  But I keep thinking of how lightly the natives of this land held onto things: space, time, land.  They simply lived with all of it.  Honored it. Yes, without the God we know and love. But I wonder, is there something to be learned from them?  How can I live more lightly with the stuff of life? How can I honor the time I've been given, the space in which I find myself, the land on which I live, and give it back to God to whom it actually belongs?  How can I--this year--be thankful for ALL that He has given me, and not merely hurry on to the next thing (to the Black Friday sales, for example!), and try to get more?

There's something to consider here.

I am thankful for this life.  I do not say this as a general, overarching thing, like a beauty contest parroting that her one dream is world peace (or peas, as our family likes to sarcastically say), but as a humble prayer. I am thankful for the inexpressible gift that He has given by giving me life.

And then giving me life again.

"Let us enter His gates with thanksgiving in our hearts,
and enter His courts with praise." Psalm 100:2

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

It's rally time

Tomorrow is the birthday of another of 'the girls,' one whom, for the sake of this post, I'll simply call Rally.  Of the seven of them, I've known Rally the longest, or at least of her, I should say. I first heard about her at my dinner table when I was in the fourth grade because she was in my mother's class that year. My mother found her charming and energetic, an athletic tomboy who wanted to play sports with the boys and (usually) beat them at their games.  And what my mother first noticed about Rally were core characteristics about her that didn't change for...well, forever, I suppose.

The other day, when I was looking through old pictures, I found a class picture of Beve and his sixth grade class, and there's Rally, right in the front row.  Now most of the girls in that class looked a little awkward, I have to tell you, which is what girls often look like when they reach the age when their bodies begin to change and grow and they hardly know what's happening to them.  But Rally--she stuck out like a perfectly formed, perky girl-next-door who completely skipped that awkward stage. Or just blew right through it because she was too busy racing around some athletic field to give awkward a chance.

Rally is the fifth daughter in a family of ten children, and has always been able to hold her own among them. Indeed, she can hold a crowd like she was born to it.  From the time I first knew her there was an aura about her that made people want to be around her.  It's a bit hard to explain, but she has a sense of the absurd, a style that is completely inimitable and a laugh that pulls others in.  For a small, quick person, she's larger than life, Rally is. In fact I remember a slumber party from the end of sixth grade--at Kim Mooney's house where, if there'd been a mike, she would have been the last comic standing, because we laughed until we cried at everything that came out of her mouth.

But there's another side of her, and that side I didn't get to know until years after high school.  In fact, though we were friends back then, we only shared a couple of rather significant (although strange) moments, like a night we went to the drive-in in her family's little pick-up and happened upon a classmate in his car.  We pounded on his car's front window, then noticed that his girlfriend was sitting on his lap...and we'd interrupted them in a VERY compromising position. It was more than awkward. I think I raced almost as fast as Rally away from that car that night.  But generally we mostly spent time together only when all the girls got together--and often that was in her family's large family room, where we took pictures and ate cake.  However, on October 12, 1973 (I know this because I found the card the other day when I found my prayer cards) I committed myself to praying that Rally come to Christ.  I wrote her name in bold black letters on a 3x5 card and I started praying.

And God was faithful.  Not to me, but to her. She did come to Christ, I mean.  I don't know when exactly, but by the time we were both living in Tacoma in the late 1980s, raising small children (well, the first of hers, at least), she was in love with Jesus. By the co-incidence that is really only Christ, we lived almost within walking distance of each other.  And spoke almost daily for a couple of years. I needed her so much at that time. God knew how much. I was sometimes so over my head with the demands of the three rug-rats of mine, and talking to her calmed me--often. Because Rally is a mother.  A mother of seven now (though only 3-4 then).  It's a role she was born to. If she was born to anything it was this. To be their mother, to laugh with them, encourage them, grow with them, love them.  One only has to be around her for a moment to know that they are everything to her. They are the jewel in her crown. And our relationship in those early mothering days completely changed from the superficial friendship it had been as teens. She is a friend of my heart now, more than I ever knew before. Though she still laughs deeply and has an inimitable style, she has a depth that draws me in. She feels and cares and loves and has her heart broken for others.

I'm exceedingly glad that I got to know Rally as a child and that God put her back into my life as an adult.  This twice-given gift has been one of the great highlights of my life. Thank God. Yes, I thank God for you, Rally. I love you.
Happy Birthday.

Monday, November 21, 2011

So I laugh

Clearly I've felt God's presence in struggles of this season.  It really hit home Friday night when Beve sat down next to me on the couch and said, "My back is hurting." He pointed to his right flank in the region of his kidney.  And, sure enough, over the next hour, the pain grew.  And we began to laugh over the pain, because honestly, what else could we do?  I mean, really, a kidney stone on top of everything else? Because that was clearly what was going on. Last time he had such pain, we raced to the emergency room where he had a series of tests confirming the presence of said stone, he got pumped full of pain meds, and then was sent home with a strainer to catch the stone when he passed it. And when he finally did the next day, that little sucker was barely visible to the naked eye and hard to believe it could cause such havoc to the naked eye.

So Friday night, as he began to squirm and ache and sweat, he decided not to shell out good money for an emergency room visit when he could do all that in the comfort of his own home (and bathroom). Sans strainer, of course. But who needs it?  He just took a couple of pain pills, went to bed, was awakened by the pain at 3 AM, was uncomfortable for a while, then most likely passed it before I even got out of bed and took my first dose of my Ibuprofen.

But I have to tell you, we were a little hysterical Friday night thinking, this too? I mean, even a kidney stone?  A week ago, before my surgery, Beve went to the retina specialist for a check up from his iritis of last spring, and the doctor told him, "You have a hole and tear in your right retina. I think we'll just laser that right now before it gets worse." It just seems like every time we turn around these days something is falling apart.

There are a few different reactions we could have to this situation, of course. We could rail at the universe and God for why he seems to be punishing us. We could blame Him for everything large and small that goes wrong in our bodies and lives and relationships. But those responses don't take into account our own sin, the fallenness of the world at large--which created a world in which disease exists. Nor do they take into account the fundamental nature of God.  It is not God's character to punish us. The cross of Jesus Christ has seen to that. Though there is consequence to specific sin, there is no cosmic punishment dealt out to us. This leaves, of course, two different 'reasons' for such times of suffering. The first is the enemy's desire to rip us from the Father's camp.

And we know that he definitely desires this. He is described as 'a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.' (1 Peter 5:8) He'll use anything he can to get a foothold into our lives, and sickness, weakness, calamity, pain, stress, worry--well, all the things of the last 24 months of our lives--are chief among his hooks.  And often we play right into his hands.

Years ago, a very wise woman told me that one of the best ways to defeat satan at his evil game is to laugh at him.  He loathes this reaction.  His goal is to make us fearful, doubtful and angry. He wants us to lash out at our circumstances, each other and God about what is happening to us. So to laugh at what he does, to find his ploys ridiculous is to render him impotent. The hysteria we are sometimes helpless to stop? I think perhaps that is Holy-Spirit-aid. It's the help He brings to cut the enemy off at the pass, right as he's about to strike.  That laughter allows us to lean away from the pain of the moment and say, "Of course, this is ridiculous." And next, "Of course, only the enemy would think up something so ridiculous as a way to tear me from my Father's hand."  And just like that, yes, just like that, that enemy is back in his box, and the King is on His throne, in the place of pre-eminence in our lives.  Because that's the other point.

Oddly, when life gets overwhelming, when the pressure is beyond our imaginings, in terms of what we have to endure, particularly when the circumstances are not of our own making--like illnesses or lost jobs, or the dying of loved ones or life-and-death worries about our children,  we cannot possibly imagine the strength needed to endure. If we are to survive, God must do it for us.  He must shore us up.  At the end of our strength, there He is. That's what we learn in overwhelming struggle and loss. There He is, at the ready. When I'm over my head, He never is. I'm telling you right now, what life has brought Beve and me in this season of our lives is beyond me.  If you'd have told me a decade ago that I'd be able to write these words about it, I'd be in a heap. Telling you that I could not do it, pleading with God not to make me, and calling you a liar.  However, He has led us safely through every twist and turn on the road, through every disease of every loved one, through every loss, and our own infirmities. He has been light in the darkest moments with our son and is hope even now.  And is surely leading us through theses final days with our beloved elders even in our own weaknesses. If He is for us, indeed, the one who is against us has not a hope in hell of overcoming us!

I guess that's the point: we didn't ask to be the caregivers. We had other ministries in mind for us. More exotic sheep to feed, as I've often said. But God is in these days. He put us here purposely, has a plan for this season that is rich and full and we would not miss it for the world. For all that the enemy wants to rob it from us. But...the enemy is outmatched. Even when he tries to pile on the pile of this season, he has already lost. Yes, he is outmatched. satan might have had a fighting chance with me but he has none with God. So I laugh.  In the name of Jesus, I laugh.

However, let me say this in the name of Jesus as well. I also know more could be lost. I also know this. We are essentially whole and healthy and safely kept in Him. And believe me when I say I earnestly ask for protection from that prowling enemy who tries to get in. For a hedge around my beloveds. I cry 'uncle' to all this. Enough is enough (which, is, of course, redundant!).

Friday, November 18, 2011

The starting place

Feeling better by the day, though I did have a dream this morning that I interrupted a robbery and got stabbed. I was surprised at how real the pain felt until I woke up and realized why. Still, I'm not thinking with my entire brain so thought I'd cull another post from a journal, this one from October 2007:

"The thing is, submission to God's will is only as painful as two things in proportion--our love for self versus our love for God. To the extent that we love God more than we love ourselves, to that extent alone can we surrender. And loving God is dependent on knowing who He is, what He's about, what He's done, why He does it (even though some of this is always part of the great mystery). In some sense, we need no more than Genesis 1: 26-27, to submit to God--Then God said, "Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. So God created human beings in His own image, in the image of God He created them, male and female He created them."

In another sense, of course, we need Calvary. Self-centeredness is too deep, stained on us, and had to be washed in blood. But WE live post-cross. We get the whole story, and we know--we must know--that His good, acceptable, pleasing will is always better than our own.

I don't say this tritely. I know what it costs to give up control. It hurts and pulls and makes us feel like our skin is coming off.  In a sense, every parent who sends a child off to college surrenders control, to one extent or another, when we no longer get to govern what our child does or doesn't do. But the process begins at birth. At least it should. From the moment a baby makes its way out of a mother's womb, that mother is no longer breathing for the baby. Giving it up to its own life.

But Gethsemane surrender?  Abraham with the knife-raised-surrender? "I am absolutely willing for this--my life--to go any way YOU, God, wish!" surrender? This is a whole different thing. And comes at great cost. Jesus Himself wrestled with it until it made him sweat blood.  Abraham surely trembled when he raised that knife over his son's body.  The point, I think, isn't how hard or long it takes to get there, how much we tremble or shake to release our hold on our lives, it's that we finally do.

So, where I must start is by praying for a hunger, a desire, a WANT for that will, a desire to believe that His good, acceptable, perfect will is better than my own. That's the point I must get to--that I can trust Him. Every time.  If I start with that prayer, perhaps surrender is a natural second step.  And, of course, for a deeper love for Him, which is where it all begins. The pervasive love of God which is the starting place of all things.

This morning, this is my earnest prayer for all whom I love [and all who read this blog].  I pray for a desire not only for "Your Kingdom come," in their lives, but for "Your will" to be their chief hunger, aim, sole desire. I pray that it be their great joy, that their food is to do Your will, Lord. That they will want to surrender to You because they know to the marrow of their bones--in all their varied circumstances--that YOU (and You are synonymous with Your will) are trustworthy. May we love You more, love ourselves less, so surrender is the obvious outcome of our devotion.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

What He's done for us lately

Because I'm still knee deep in recovery mode, I thought I'd pull a post from my journals. So...
from March 2008
"Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other..." Deuteronomy 4: 39
Just prior to this verse is a list of all that God did to uniquely reveal Himself to His people as He freed them from Egypt, led them to and at the Holy mountain, through the wilderness for forty years (Psalm 105 is a succinct recital of this as well). It's a pretty amazing list--speaking in fire, displaying His power through many signs and miraculous events, parting the sea, being light in darkness (literally!), giving them daily food. Yet they continually complained, whined  and turned away the moment He stopped showing Himself. Sometimes even as He was in the actual process of showing Himself (in the case of manna!). Never before had God been so engaged with His people, creating a people from another people for Himself and they couldn't keep their eyes focused.

And the only time Heaven touched earth so profoundly again was when He came down Himself. Signs wonders, light, feedings, dealing with the waves on the sea. There He is again in our midst. Creating a people from another people. Calling us forth from where we've been enslaved. This time it's all about heart. The first circumcision was physical, the next was spiritual. We're set apart, just as the Israelites were, a people for His name. Christ-ones.  It's the same story, thought. We're still hard-hearted whiners and complainers, looking for signs and wonders. Personal miracles. "What have you done for me lately?" could be humanity's refrain, sadly.

We're like this with God, and we carry it into our human relationships. Marriages fail at a remarkable rate...(or maybe it's even more terrible because the failure rate is no longer remarkable) because the other doesn't do the wonders for us we expected of them.  They aren't who we imagined. He isn't who I want--He's just a man, and too needy, self-involved, too busy, too non-communicative, too unemotional, too...she's SO needy, selfish, demanding, emotional, wants to talk all the time--she isn't who I want. There must be something better out there.  But how will that better remain better? How do we learn to stay and be faithful except by being faithful and staying?

Beve isn't always what I want. I could list those "He's too.." myself. I have, in my angry moments.  These journals have pages of such words.  But if he kept a journal, he'd have a long list, too. A longer list than mine, I am well aware. I know that.  The trick is--and it's no simple trick--is not to pay attention to that list at all. That is, to let each thing go each time: that's the battle in marriage.

AND, having a different list kept close, that's important too. As the people of God have always had a list of God's faithfulness right at hand, so I should keep near a list of what I value about Beve.  Why I thank God for Him. This list is the antidote for whining and complaining. In our relationships with God, and our relationships with others.

So today, here's my list about Beve:
He has a heart for the hurting
He loves to serve others
He's a great dad, loves his kids and takes time with them
He's an intentional friend
He makes people feel important--in his office, our home, in every conversation
He goes out of his way to help those in need
He's a great counselor--for staff, students, parents, whoever walks through the door
He sees his job as a calling
He's very hardworking
He loves his dad, loves doing and being with him in this season
He likes to bake for others
He likes meaningful conversations
He loves to laugh
He loves dogs
He's a beautiful pray-er

This is the list I need to recite when I itch to pull out my whines and complaints...What Beve has done for me lately is plenty. This list tips me into the thankfulness I need in my marriage. Every time.

Just like we need to recite out list of God's faithfulness when we're in danger of feeling like He hasn't done much for us lately. What He's done for me lately is BE God. Amen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Buckets of cold water

Sitting around with a pillow on my lap. I've been down this road before. The surgeon told me the other day that with my gallbladder removal, I've completed the trifecta: my appendix, uterus (and ovaries) and gallbladder are all gone.  There's a whole lot of empty space inside my abdomen now, though, thankfully none of these organs are the life-or-death ones.

And that 54 year old gall bladder was due to be removed, it turns out. Well past its prime. Scarred and ugly from a marble-sized stone causing havoc all over the inside.  My fine surgeon and the recovery-room nurse were both quite certain that my life will be a whole lot better without that mess inside of me.  Looking back on the last several months, even before it really began to cause this final month of rather harrowing pain, I realize that what I thought was stress and anxiety about many things--the elders, my son, even smaller things--was physiological.  I kept saying, "My stomach hurts thinking about x!" When really, that dang marble was making my gallbladder actually hurt. For real.

The other side of it, though, is that I've spent the last couple of weeks thinking that something far more deadly was wrong with me. Yep, I'm big on diagnosing myself. Always have been. Frankly, it's one of my biggest weaknesses. So I had just about convinced myself that it wasn't my gallbladder but pancreatic cancer.  In my defense, my pain never settled in the right upper quadrant beneath my ribs where the gallbladder resides but was across the top of my abdomen--exactly where the online sites say pancreas pain is.  Beyond this, however, I have an aunt who  died the day after her first surgery and diagnosis of pancreatic cancer when she was JUST MY AGE!  So of course I would be following in Aunt Aureli's footsteps. Right?

This has been the ongoing fear I've been living with for the last few weeks.  The haunting that has made me imagine heaven, think of leaving my children before they even marry, leaving Beve before we've ever had the freedom to do anything by ourselves.  There's been pain and joy in it all, I have to admit. Half excitement about seeing Jesus, but a whole lot of sadness too.

Then yesterday at the hospital, we talked to our friend the surgeon about my propensity to self-diagnose.  Not only did he not tell me I was ridiculous, he said, "I do the same thing. But I see people with serious problems all day every day. So every little twinge I get, I think is some dreadful disease. And I know too much about it." We all laughed then.  Most of the time our fears are groundless.

That's the point. Most of the things that trouble our sleep and stir our darkest imaginations are made up of nothing more than sticks and stones and rubber bands. They don't hold up in a stiff wind.  That's why God tells us that perfect love casts out fear.  It's the places where we don't consider Him first that we fear most.  That's the reality, isn't it?  Now I don't want to pretend that I will never fear anything again.  I know better.  I'm not at the 'perfect' place in my life with Him.  Nor do I expect to be while this mortal body is my home.

But here's the other part of what fear does. Like a disease it's contagious.  I've seen this repeatedly.  Beve, who is not naturally a worrier, can become worried by my convincing fears.  I'm good at these things.  I've infected him more than once.  I remember years ago when we were trying to sell our first home.  I was panicked because, in my mind, the floor plan was absurdly off-putting to would-be buyers. The one full bath was in an alcove off the living room. Beve had never thought about the floor plan until I began to fixate on it. But once I pointed it out to him, he became completely convinced that we'd never sell that house and couldn't believe we'd even bought a house so badly designed.  What had we been thinking?

God sold that house, of course.  As He does.  But that's how fear works.  The germs pass from one person to another and soon it's an epidemic. Playing into the enemy's hands. Scripture tells us to take every thought captive to Christ so that we don't give the enemy an opportunity, or foothold, into our lives. That's what fear does.  It gives satan access to us he would not otherwise have.  Being reminded of this is an antidote in the post-midnight hours.  And we must remind each other as well. Call each other when we slip and allow our minds to run away with us, and fear to creep in.

Two different friends did exactly this for me in the last couple of weeks, throwing buckets of cold water to wake me up to myself.  One, a nurse who used to work in oncology, matter-of-factly told me pancreatic cancer does not cause pain. She went to the heart of my fear and pulled the rug out from under it. Thank God for that. The other, face-to-face while we sat at tea, told me to STOP trying to do the doctor's job for him. Told me to stay offline. The end.  Later she worried that she'd been too harsh but it was exactly right. Each friend was right. The right words and the right tone--doing the work of the Holy Spirit. And that, my friends, is what we need when we give in to our fears.

Fear will rise again. I know this. But God will also provide ways out. He will win.

What are you afraid of? Ask Him for someone to step in and speak His truth in the face of the enemy's lies. It might be exactly the bucket of cold water you most need.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ticking all the boxes

Of all the pieces of my history I've uncovered in the last couple of months, one of the most profound I finally put my hands on this last weekend.  I knew it existed, was pretty sure it hadn't been thrown out, have referenced it more than once to my children and other young people. But to see that piece of notebook paper, with my distinctive handwriting in columns on both sides of the page really packed a punch.

You see, it's a list of what I was looking for in a husband.  I wrote it November 24, 1978.  It was a rather interesting time to have written such a list, because I was already in a relationship.  Despite that, I didn't try to govern my deep desires, needs and wishes to the boy I was then dating. This is most clearly apparent in the physical 'requirements' of my longed-for spouse.

On one side of the paper, I divided my list two ways--'Needs' and 'Wants'.  Under needs, I wrote:
spiritual leader, wise--a teacher; ministry-oriented, intelligent, conscious of the world, verbose at times (by which I meant relationally communicative), responsible, willing to listen, patient.
Under wants: older, strong and stable (steady), attractive, active athletically, taller than me (taller than my parents), crazy (enjoys fun), affectionate. below this list, I wrote: "Reason to my emotion, rational to my irrationality."

On the other side of the paper, I divided my requirements in three ways: Physically, Intellectually and Spiritually.  Physically, I wanted: tall (over 6' feet), good looking (in my opinion), neat smile, blue eyes,  lots of hair (not balding), good build (not too fat, thin or muscle-bound)--shoulders, muscles, etc. Athletic.  Intellectually, college (and post-college) graduate, world-conscious, deep-thinker, enjoys analogies and communicating about ideas (philosopher), teacher for me (stretches me) enjoys learning new things. Spiritually, walks in the spirit (filled with the Spirit), interested in ministry (even missions), patient, listens to Jesus, a prayer-partner.
Misc.-- good listener, enjoys fun.

What strikes me about this is that that college boyfriend so patently didn't fit this list. But God absolutely paid attention to it.  CS Lewis talks about our desires being too weak rather than too strong.  And these desires of my heart remind me of this.  I was young and earnest about what I wanted in a spouse.  And God gave me those things in my husband. He's tall, of course. With blue eyes and so much hair I am jealous of it, is a listener and teacher by profession, crazy-fun yet committed to communication. And he sees his job as the front-lines of ministry...Really, it's as if I was writing a description of Beve when I wrote it. And, some of those qualifications were definitely in response to what that college boyfriend was NOT, from the physical to the intellectual, to the spiritual.  The whole thing amazes me. Though it shouldn't. Not when God has a hand in such things.

Beve and I often talk about letting our imaginations run wild with what we expect of God. Trusting Him not only to do the ordinary but the extraordinary.  And that's what I'd tell young people when they think of who God might have for them to spend their lives with.  Allow Him to help them draw up a description of the person who will most suit them. Then allow Him to produce that person--a person who is already walking around, living life, waiting to be the right person to share their Godly marriage. It's a whole lot easier, of course, to fall into these things, but God wants to share in it.  And if we allow it, He'll see to it.

Not only about spouses, of course. This also holds true for careers, children, homes and a host of other things we must choose throughout our lives.  Make a list--with Him. Check it twice, then trust Him with it.  And prepare yourself to be astonished when He checks every box.

Frankly, I had no idea what God had in mind. And I tried pretty hard to fit Andy into the list.  But God was in it. Answering the true cry of my deepest desires.  And I thank Him.

And I'm thankful, too, for the bounty of such pieces of my past.  I don't take for granted that I've kept such artifacts. The compulsive writer that I am has a huge advantage over most people, so more has been kept than most people would expect. It is well with my soul to remember such things. Encourages and blesses me today.  And reminds me to allow God more access to every corner of my life.

Monday, November 14, 2011

A Bible up on my shelf

So big day tomorrow.  I'm no novice at surgery; in fact, this is my eleventh, and finishes what my surgeon calls 'the trifecta' of abdominal surgeries--Appendix at 12, hysterectomy (2006) and now my gallbladder. And with the 3 c-sections for my kids, the scars look like cris-crossing ski-tracks across my belly. Good thing I'm not planning a career as a Sports Illustrated swim-suit model.  Sigh.

So as I've been running errands today in preparation for being laid up for a while, I've been thinking about books. But I keep getting stuck on the Bibilical books that have meant the most to me over the last forty years. So today, rather than write about other books, I thought I'd write about scripture.

As you might know, there are many kinds of literature contained in the Bible.  And I love all kinds of literature. So I thought I'd choose one book from each of the different sections of scripture.  If I were stuck on a desert island (which actually sounds very appealing, at least for a while!), these are the fragments of the Bible I'd find necessary to my health, kind of like my own 'dead sea scrolls', if I could pick and choose.

The Pentateuch: These are the first five books of the Bible--Genesis through Deuteronomy-- and are referred to as 'The law' or 'the law of Moses'. These books hold supreme place for Jews who call them Torah.  Honestly, there are great sections in each of the five, though getting through all the rules and regulations of Leviticus and the head counts, etc of Numbers is NOT for the faint of heart. There's Deuteronomy 6, which is so beautiful it takes one's breath away, and the first chapter of Genesis as well as chapter 12, where God calls Abram then gives him the blessing. HOWEVER (drum roll!) Exodus is necessary food for my soul. Chapter three alone where Moses is confronted by a bush on fire, and God who calls him by name. Moses is called to a job, and when he protests, God tells him, "It doesn't matter who you are, it only matters who I AM. And I will be with you."  I love this book, and contained within it is the section of scripture which I'd like as my epitaph, "If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you..." (33:13)

The Histories: This section starts with Joshua and continues through Esther.  The story of the people of Israel from the time they crossed back into the promised land is in these books, spanning hundreds of years of history. These were my favorite portions of the Bible when I was a child, but since I've grown they've become less important to me.  I still love the way God speaks through story, however, because after all, God always speaks through story.  Doesn't He?  And my favorite book of these is 1 Samuel. There's just so much in it--from Hannah's sweating-blood prayer for a child to Samuel choosing David to David and Jonathan's friendship to... well, it reads like a novel with God at the heart of it, and whenever I need a fix of story, I turn to it.  Or the sequel, 2 Samuel.

The Poetic and Wisdom Writings:  Psalms through Song of Solomon.  This is a no-brainer.  I need the Psalms. They are daily bread to me. Air to breathe. I could do without a whole lot before I'd do without the Psalms. Learning to read a Psalm a day created a cadence in my life that has served well for a long time. Long before I ever tried it, monks were living via the rhythm of the Psalms. Who am I to mess with something so obviously honored by God?  Even on my busiest days, when time is at a premium, there's always time to read a single Psalm.

The Major Prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, Ezekiel, Daniel. It's important to know first that these are called 'Major' because they are longer books, not because they are more important prophets. But of these, Isaiah is my 'go-to' book in this section, without a doubt.  Isaiah is comprised of three sections and I tend to read 2nd Isaiah most frequently (chapters 40-55) because it has a preponderance of prophecies (how's that for alliteration) about the Messiah.  But I love the whole book.

The Minor Prophets: Hosea through Malachi, or all those little books after Daniel.  OK, raise a hand if these are the books that you've never read.  Do I see a hand?  Yep, that's what I thought. These are the ones that are hardest to get through. Oddly, some of these prophets were actually pretty 'major' like Amos and Hosea.  I can't say I actually have a favorite whole book among them, but I do like sections of them.  And if push comes to shove, I'd pick Habakkuk. Habakkuk is a conversation between the prophet and God.  The man complains and God answers. It's gritty and honest but when Habbakuk prays at the end, it's a prayer I've prayed more than once in my life.

"I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, Lord.
Renew them in our day, in our time make them known. In wrath, remember mercy." Habbakuk 3:1-2

OK, that's the Old Testament. You still with me?
So the New.
The Gospels:
JOHN. Obviously. I've written about this about a million times before.  Each gospel has something in its favor, of course. Matthew the Jewish gospel, Mark as the story of the deeds, Luke with parable after parable, and the birth story which is so necessary to our understanding of the Incarnation. Still, there's only John for me.  I didn't always feel this way.  Most of my life I'd have told you Luke, but the prologue, the I AMs, the great prayer. And the scene on the beach after the resurrection. There's something about that moment with Peter that resonates with me so much I come back to it over and over. "Feed my sheep!"

The Epistles of Paul:  This is a large unwieldy group. I'd take them all, in a way.  And I'm going to cheat. I admit that.  I have Philippians memorized, so I don't have to choose it. Otherwise that would be my sentimental choice. There's a strong argument for Romans because of the comprehensive theology in it and 2 Corinthians is a strong contender because of the counter-intuitive sense of what counts in God's economy--the credentials in the Kingdom are considered failures in this world. But in the end, I must choose Ephesians.  The prayer in Ephesians 3 knocks me to my knees, and the power of God's armor keeps me on my feet in chapter 6.  And between, I learn to walk and live and be a believer. It's right and full and everything about being a believer. THE end.

The general epistles:
Hebrews, James, Peter, John, Jude. Hebrews. Another no-brainer. So much to love in this book.  Especially The last few chapters (10-13) especially speak to me. Always have.

The Revelation of John. Yep, love it, hate it, don't understand it, can't quite leave it alone.  You know what I mean?

And there you have it. My Biblical favorites at a glance.

One of these days, I'll get around to actually writing about other books. But probably not tomorrow.  I'll be busy.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

A hierarchy

It's Saturday.  And in our house, if it's fall, Saturday means college football.  No matter what other tasks are on our lists, there's a football game in the background.  The house my parents built (not literally) when  I was in elementary school had an intercom system, so every Saturday afternoon in the autumn when the air was crisp, if our Washington State Cougars were on the road, that intercom was turned on so the game blared through every room in the house.  To this day, when I clean bathrooms or vacuum stairs (not that we even have stairs in this house) I expect a football game to be the background noise to my work. Hmm, maybe that's why I don't get to those tasks as often I as should.

Today Beve drove down to Seattle to go to some basketball tournament with E and left me with a couple of boxes of pictures to sort. So I turned on the tv, and began the task.  This week, of course, college football has been dominated by off-the-field news. Even if you aren't a sports fan, you have probably heard of the terrible events taking place in College Station, Pennsylvania.  Or I should say the revelation of events that have taken place there for who knows how long. 

Now I'm not writing this post to weigh in on the actual situation at Penn State. I don't know enough about it. But what has struck me this week is my own visceral reaction to the situation. I've been horrified.  As well I should be. We all should be, I suppose. As Beve and I have talked about this, we've talked about the difference between this and other NCAA violations, how those other things seem like nothing in comparison to the egregious criminality of this. I'd  be surprised to learn of any who disagree with our feelings about this. Abusing children in contrast to say, giving money to, or making phone-calls to, players? There's no contest.

But here's the thing: it tells me very clearly that despite what I've always said, and despite what scripture might say, I actually do believe some sins are worse than other. I try to pretend this isn't so, but inside I feel it.  The difference between a 'white lie' and raping a child? There's a fundamental difference to me.  And do I really think I'm no different than someone who murdered 6 million people (and more)? Of course I think I'm not the same as Hitler.  I'm certain of that.  And I believe that my child who doesn't tell me the truth about hitting her brother isn't the same as a man who is a serial killer.

That's my human, gut reaction. And let's get it on the table, we Christians, that we know this.  The rest of the world sees it clearly.  Even the smallest child can see the difference between such things... however...

However, those differences aren't the point.  The point isn't that there is a qualitative difference in sins, it's that ALL have sinned. And that 'the wages of sin is death.' That's the point. The cost of our sin is separation from God. And this is the heart of the matter. When my children were small, and there was some kind of inferno between them, they were always more than willing--anxious, actually--to tell me what the other had done to cause the fracas.  My response in such moments was always exactly the same, "NO, tell me about you!" Tell me what YOU have done. Tell me what YOU did to cause this problem.  It doesn't matter what the other person did, what anyone else is doing. Tell me about you.

That's the point of sin.  Positionally, all sin is the same. That is, sin separates us from God. Mine does--no matter what it is. And yours does--even if it's less than mine.  So each of us has the same responsibility with Him: to get right with Him.

Or, to be made right.  That's the other side of the coin, of course. We can't actually 'get right' on our own. We can repent. We must. But we can't clean ourselves. We can't make ourselves righteous. Only the clean can clean us. And the only clean around is HIM. Thankfully, He has made a way to clean us.  "He who confesses with his mouth that Jesus is Lord, and believes in her heart that God raised Him from the dead will be saved." Romans 13:9-10
Will be made clean.
 And whole. And righteous.
 It's that easy.
 And that life-changing.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Once more under the knife

The motto around here lately has been "A crisis a day."  And though I have a master's degree in being overly dramatic, this is no exaggeration.  Well, maybe just a little one. Anyway, we aren't catching our breath much, I can tell you that.  We've just gotten Grampie settled back at home, gotten his assisted living sorted, his medications organized, and now something new pops up.

Actually, it isn't completely new.  For the last several weeks, I've had continual pain in my gut, particularly after eating.  I saw my doctor about ten days ago, who told me that the MRI done while I was in the hospital in October showed a good sized gall stone, which might be the cause.  He wanted to refer me to a surgeon, and I stubbornly agreed to only see the best in town who happens to be an old friend--a man who, with his family, went on a couple of mission trips to Mexico I led six or seven years ago.  I love that he loves the Lord, his family and is very good at his job. However, everyone else in town wants him to do their surgeries as well. The 'next available' appointment with him was November 21.

Let me tell you, the ten days since that appointment with my doctor has been pretty hard going.  I've tried fat-free foods, no food, the 'gall-bladder diet' and still my gut hurts. Finally I returned to my doctor Monday to see if he could push to get me into see the surgeon sooner.  Beve wanted to call the surgeon at home, but I felt uncomfortable about that, since we haven't seen him (or his family) in probably four years. But when I got to the doctor on Monday, I'd lost 6 pounds from my previous visit.  That's 6 pounds in a single week.  Now that might not seem like much to you, but for a 54 year old, non-active woman, that's a whole lot! It didn't take much convincing for them to try to get me into the surgeon sooner than the 21st. Jodi (my doctor's really fine nurse!)  came back into the room while I was still talking with my dr. and said, "Either he or someone from his office will call you in the morning."
 "Tell him it's me," I called as she was closing the door.
 My doctor said, "They'll know it's you when they see your name."  Oh yeah, right. I felt a little foolish. Or a lot.

But I told you I haven't been feeling very well.  Anyway, I got in to see him this morning.  Before I even got to the appointment, I'd gotten a call to go in to the surgery center to fill out paper work for my upcoming procedure. When Dr VG first came into the room, he said, "Why are we talking about surgery when you haven't even had an ultrasound yet?"  But ten minutes later, after listening to my symptoms, and looking at the MRI, he said, "I'm canceling the ultra-sound. There's no reason for it.  Let's get this thing out of there."

So Tuesday.  In the meantime, I'll hang in there.  Breathe in, breathe out.  And pay more attention to what I eat than I ever have in my life. Little meals of fruits and vegetables...looking for protein wherever I can find it. Praying through the pain. It's crazy.  But hopefully, I'll be better in time to eat a real Thanksgiving dinner.

Between now and then (and even afterwards) how often I post remains to be seen.
I'll let you know.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The best of Jack

Found in an notebook circa 1995 or so, this vignette:

A moment today...browsing 'Recommended Books' in a small local bookstore, I overheard a man ask, "Do you have anything else by CS Lewis?"
"What are you looking for?" the proprietor asked, leading him to the old standards dressed in their matching covers, Miracles, Problem of Pain, Mere Christianity.
"No, it's a small book of essays."
I couldn't help it, I just couldn't. "The World's Last Night?"
"Oh, you know Lewis?" The man turned to me.
"I may have more than a few of his books, " I told him.
"It's the one with 'Transposition' in it." he said.
"Oh," I breathed. "The Weight of Glory. I love that."
"YES. I cried the first time I read it," he said.
" I know." I answered." The end is the best thing I've ever read, where it starts-- 'Meanwhile, the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning...' "
"I know exactly where that is on the page.  I can see it." He grinned.
The clerk stared at us and moved to the counter, trying to see if she could order the book.
"It's hard to get," I offered.
"More esoteric than most," said the man. "I'm leaving town.  I'll keep looking.  Thanks anyway," He said to her.  He looked at me. "Nice talking to you. God bless you."
"Yes." I nodded.
"That was amazing," said the clerk.

This is as good a place as any to talk about my favorite books of the single most influential writer of my Christian life.  When I was a small child, our grandparents bought our family The Chronicles of Narnia in 1964.  These books are hardbound with the original illustrations and have been read and re-read until they are old and broken with love.  But oddly, it wasn't until I was in high school and became friends with EE that I even knew CS Lewis had ever written anything else.

But EE lived in a home fairly swamped with books.  His house was the house of my dreams. At least all those books were.  And once he told me there was more to Lewis than I had known before (I believe it might have been The Screwtape Letters he first mentioned, though it's also possible it was The Space Trilogy or Til We have Faces) I had to get my hands on all books Lewis.  Now there are more dedicated CS Lewis shelves in my bookcases than any other authors'. By a country mile.  So when I considered writing about the books that have most impacted my walk with Jesus, I realized that I needed to dedicate one entire post to Lewis's writings.

And away we go:
I've divided these into a few categories.  And remember, these are just MY favorites. Not a theologians, or heavy-duty scholar, but plain, old me.
1. Of essential importance for every believer:
Mere Christianity--This is like Lewis's book equivalent of Romans, if that makes sense.  In his clear, logical way, he makes the case for our faith, then what that means for lives in response.  Some people will find him dense and hard. But  he's worth the effort.  EVERY TIME.
 The Screwtape Letters. Absolutely, no question about it.  If you have any question about the work of the enemy, you won't after reading Lewis about him.  It's chilling and convicting all at once.  Easy to read-- like a novel--and hard to walk away from in your brain when you've put it down. Just like it should be.  We need books like this to counter what satan (and yes, I realize I didn't capitalize that name--I don't like to give him that honor) wants to do in us.  He doesn't want us to think he exists, so Lewis is Holy-Spirit-inspired to help us acknowledge that he does.
God in the Dock--This large book of essays covers such a variety of subjects I've gone to it again and again when I've needed to glean truth, for myself, for something I'm teaching or preaching.  I can't begin to list all the subjects. Just check it out yourself.
Many would say The Problem of Pain, Miracles, Abolition of Man also belong in this category.  To tell you the truth, I've always had a hard time wading through them.  Just being honest.

2.Delectible Delights:
Weight Of Glory--as implied by the scene at the top, I love this little book.  The title essay is my all-time favorite thing CS Lewis ever wrote. Bar none. It may be my favorite non-Biblical text ever. If you can find it, it's worth it. Wade through the first part for the last page of that essay and you hit the pay-out of all time.  It runs through my head so often you can't imagine.  "There are no ordinary people. You have never met a mere mortal..." Powerful and glorious and life-altering in the way we approach our nearest and farthest neighbors.
Letters to Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer--There are nuggets here that will change the way you pray. I promise you.
A Grief Observed--Lewis's raw portrayal of his mourning is a balm when we face our own.  It was like a companion when I was stumbling through my own grief after my dad died.  I'd read it before with dispassionate interest, but within my own mourning, it was a light. Kept me from thinking I was losing it.
Four Loves--I don't agree with all of his suppositions, particularly about phileo, because he so definitely sounds like the stuffy old Oxford tutor he was, without much interest in relationship that I find most important in life. But there are things in this book that have clarified how my life, particularly when I was trying to understand myself as a young adult.  I'd still recommend it to my non-married children and other people grappling with such things.
Surprised by Joy--Lewis' autobiography.  WONDERFUL. worth the reading. The moment he comes to Chris--so odd and interesting and surprising you almost miss it.

3.Other worlds:
The Space Trilogy--True confession here.  I didn't even manage to read these three books until I got to Regent College in 1997, and had to read the third one, That Hideous Strength for a class.  It was tough going at first because I'm not drawn to sci-fi. But the class, the prof, the season perhaps, all combined to make me appreciate it so much I read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, and now love them. But I still say, they're mostly for sci-fi fans.  Though wow, what they have to say about our world. Yikes.
Til We have Faces--I should put this on the list, but as I do I realize I need to read it again in order to actually write a synopsis.  It's compelling but not for everyone.  You might have to like Greek mythology to like it.
Narnia--Duh!  I realize that not everyone on this earth likes fantasy or fairy tales, but I'm here to tell you, these are the very most important works of fiction in my life.  THE END.

There are books about him on my shelves too. Anthologies, collections of quotes, and all manner of critiques from Narnian studies to books about his friendships, to his diaries and letters.  But these should do for today.   Enough to get you started if you haven't read him, and to remind you of why you do, if you have.

By the way, he was called Jack from the time he was a very small boy.  After all, who would want to be called Clive? Or Clive Staples?

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Dinner and dessert

There must be a time of day when the man who
     makes plans forgets his plans,
  and acts as if he had no plans at all.


There must be a time of day when the man who has
     to speak falls very silent.
  And his mind forms no more propositions,
        and he asks himself:
     Did they have meaning?


            There must be a time 
     when the man of prayer goes to pray
        as if it were the first time in his life
            he had ever prayed,
     when the man of resolutions puts his 
            resolutions aside
        as if they had all been broken,
      and he learns a different wisdom;
     distinguishing the sun from the moon,
           the stars from the darkness,
              the sea from the land,
and the night sky from the shoulder of a hill.


This poem, by Thomas Merton, is the best starting place I can imagine for a conversation about devotions, quiet times, or whatever else you might call the time one sets apart from the craziness of life to focus wholly on God.  Yesterday I was considering a list I might share of books that have meant much to me over the long years of my walking with Christ and it became clear that before theology or spiritual formation, it was vital to write about devotional reading.

First, a word about Bibles themselves.  Since I became a student majoring in Biblical studies in college and the Bible became a textbook, I began using two different Bibles in my daily life.  Back then I used two different translations: one for course work and the other for my quiet times.  I did this so in an effort to allow the Word and the Incarnate Word to do their living, breathing work in me without my feeling that I needed to focus my reading on the texts I was studying for class.  There was a difference in the way I read when I simply read, rather than busy myself with study and reference checking, word studies, following threads of scripture, etc.  This rhythm of simply reading has been important to me. These days, I use two different versions of the same translation--Today's New International Version.  This is my version of choice for a couple of reasons: I've always liked the NIV. And Gordon Fee, who I know from my Regent College years, was on the committee that helped create TNIV and its gender neutral language.  I've heard him speak more than once about the great care they took with every passage ( which reminds me to write about a personal humbling moment regarding this sometime)--preserving the integrity and intent and never changing language simply for the sake of it.  So there is no blanket sweep of gender change.  I like that. And though I've never had any trouble understanding/seeing myself included in "man" and "he" in scripture,  I do find it personally appealing to see the more inclusive "human beings", "people" and "they" in the words used in scripture.

OK, so devotional reading.  Devotionals I would define as any book that leads a person to God's presence. There are many different kinds of devotionals. Some are simple meditations, which include a passage of scripture, a thought and a small prayer at the end.  Others, like The Book of Common Prayer, are comprehensive ways to study, live and breathe God and the scripture throughout the year. Still others are compilations of writers' words--and these compilations can range from small meditations to complete studies.  It is even possible that such things as poetry, hymnbooks and other forms of literature can function as devotional because of how they draw us to seeing Him more clearly.

One way or another I've been using devotionals since I was in college.  At least I don't remember using any in high school.  The first one I ever had was Streams in the Desert, given as a Christmas gift by a roommate when I was in Oregon. I was shocked by how rich such archaic language and ideas could be, how powerfully they could enhance my times with the Lord. That little volume was the appetizer of my devotional life.  Because I'm not a morning person, I've never managed to have the 5 AM quiet times the older saints in my life counseled were best.  I used to feel soooooo guilty about this.  But it wasn't happening. Not then, not ever.  That first little devotional was just enough for the morning.  I'd pick it up before I got out of bed (usually about five minutes before I had to leave the room or house), read the passage, ask God to sink it in deep, and be off. But think on it on and off through the day, particularly if it was meaty.  It often was.  By the time I had my quiet time that night, I'd be full of thoughts and prayers based on that reading (the year I received that volume, I lived in a dorm, and often had my quiet time in my small walk-in closet because my roommate was already asleep by the time I wanted to read and pray--so it really was my prayer closet).

These days I go to my 'prayer closet' (living room couch) in the morning, though still not at 5 AM.  And I've used many, many kinds of devotionals in my life. Some have formed the full-meal-deal of my prayer-closet, and others are more like dessert now. Their words are the last ones I read before I get up off the couch and go about my day. They are the great AMEN to that silence with God, and the "be with me in my day" thoughts to draw me in when I'm easily shaken into self.


So here's a list (I couldn't think of all of them, but here are some of the best ones ), divided into two parts, the whole dinner and dessert:
Dinner:
Book of Common Prayer
Celtic Daily Prayer
Devotional Classics
Spiritual Classics
Morning and Evening--Charles Spurgeon

Dessert:
My Utmost for His Highest--Oswald Chambers
Listening to Your Life--Frederick Beuchner
Seize the Day--Deitrich Bonhoeffer (ed. by Charles Rigma)
Diary of Common Prayer--John Baillie
Strength For Today (meditations for the chronically ill)
Praying with Jesus
Praying with Paul
Praying with the Psalms--(all three) Eugene H Peterson
Book of Hours--Rainier Maria Rilke
The Complete Book of Prayer--E M Bounds
Contemplative Prayer--Thomas Merton


Here's the thing: whatever helps.  That's the point. ANY book that leads you into His presence and keeps you there until the cares slide away and you can focus on Him is a devotional. But Merton's poem says it perfectly.  There should be a time when we lay down our watches and our plans and forget everything but God. And that's what such reading helps.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Humbly marveling

In the immortal words of the King of Beasts, as He raises his newest cub into the sky above the savannah, "It's the circle of life."
 I am well aware that my posts of late have hovered dangerously close to the cliff most people don't wish to step near.  But even as Beve and I have set up camp here, we are also surrounded by beloveds among our family and close friends who hover at the other end of that circle, where it all begins.

As I write this, I am thinking of three couples whom I love greatly who are awaiting the birth of their first child.  And another whose son has just begun to crawl.  Life is burgeoning around us.  My siblings are becoming grandparents as are my friends. And it's a wonderful time. This very day, should God choose, a new child might take his first breaths outside the safest place he'll ever be.  So I'm thinking particularly of him this day. And of his parents who wait in hope and wonder, and the slightest bit of worry.

The closest moment to that first Christmas morning a woman ever gets is with the birth of her children.  We have the rare and wonderful privilege of sharing in Mary's lot.  Theologians, of course, point to the travail a woman must go through to birth a child, recognizing that Eve's taking of that fruit resulted in that pain.  But there is also the joy of it.  Ever since I first felt it, I've believed that the best definition of human joy was the feeling of a baby's kicking in my womb.  God chose me--plain, old, ordinary me-- to grow another human being.  There isn't a word large enough for how that feels. But that's nothing to the moment of 'first contact'.  Of seeing that baby face to face, after only feeling and sensing and being changed by its presence for all those months.

There is hard work in it.  A little fear. The whole thing is so unknown, the first time, anyway (but always, in some ways).  And a woman, even one with the best support in the world, a husband who can hardly wait to hold that child, one who's longing to be a dad, still has to do much of it on her own.  It's the way of things. God set it up that way.  He told Eve that as well.

But the promise He gave her, that she'd be saved by that travail, is surely true for each of us who has borne a child.  We become something new the moment we become pregnant.  From that first moment, never again are we merely our own.  Whether we carry the child to term (please God!), or lose it, we are mothers.  I believe that. And even when have our bodies back to ourselves and must care for them more intentionally, there's a certain thread mothers feel for our children.  For the rest of our lives, we're mothers. Their mothers.  Whether we stay home a week, a month or forever, we're mothers.  I will never forget watching my grandmother at an unguarded moment before her youngest daughter's memorial service.  My grandmother was almost 90, and leaning heavily on her walker gazing at the pictures from my aunt's life that were set up in front of the sanctuary.  Grandmomie, normally so in control of her emotions, looked completely shattered by this loss of the second of her four children.  She was pure mother in that moment.  'Why, it never changes,' I thought then. It never, ever changes--that thread that connects my beating heart to theirs.

It's a powerful thing, a beautiful, powerful, humbling thing to be a mother.

And a father, too, of course.  I know less about that.  Only from watching, not from being.  But that's exactly what these expectant dads are doing right now, isn't it? Becoming dads by watching, not by being.  Not yet, anyway.  And that's also what God intended.  That their part would be the supportive one.  That they'd have to stand at the side and marvel, be humbled by it all.  That's a pretty good way to begin, come to think of it.  Humbly marveling at what God has done.

It's the circle of life.  We wait and watch and marvel, and long for the moment when we get to touch and see and welcome who we've longed for.

I'm praying today for all those who are pregnant with this longing (pregnant means waiting, after all).  For the ones who have a mere day or week to wait and those who have several months left.  My prayers are that you be filled with awe and wonder and strength and peace and joy.

May you humbly marvel at who you meet on your child's birth-day.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Grateful in the fire

Spent another day sitting in a hospital room with my father-in-law, answering his looping questions about yesterday, the events of which he has absolutely no recollection. When I told him we were awaiting the results of some tests, he used words like matriculation, accreditation and degree program when next he asked me a question, making it clear he thought that we were in some kind of academic setting and he needed to pass these particular tests in order to get his degree.

But then lunch came--and he was a 'clean-plater-- and he drifted off to one of his many naps of the day.  I awakened him because our close friend, Pastor J, had driven up from Marysville.  When he  walked into the room, I said,  "Grampie, look who came to see you."  Grampie opened his eyes and said, grinning from ear to ear, "Why JM!" There are a whole lot of cognition problems for Grampie, but in some ways, his memory about the important things hasn't faded one decimal.  He hasn't seen JM in quite a while, and didn't know he was coming, but recognized him easily, and was as thrilled as if he'd won the lottery that a busy pastor would make the time to see little old him.

It's exactly what I was saying yesterday. For Grampie, it's all about relationships.  It was a great conversation with JM.  Grampie told a couple of stories about playing basketball (the new hoops arena at U of Oregon has his name on a wall, and he's proud as punch about that, talks about it as if he helped build the building with his own two hands, which, if you think about it, he kind of did, being an athlete of his caliber back in the 40s), about being in China-India-Burma in WWII.

I told JM how easy it is to be with Grampie because he's so grateful all the time, and he said, "I am grateful." Then he said this, "I've done everything I wanted to do, seen everything I ever wanted to see."

Think about that statement for a moment.

This is a man who is content. You can't ask for a better statement than that.  It reminds me of Paul's words in 2 Timothy 4, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race..." I have always hoped that I will be able to say these words at the end of my life, or my own version of them. And here's the most fascinating part to me. Whenever I think of saying them, I also think a sermon of JM's from the first year we knew JM. I can't remember the whole of it but it has governed a great deal of how I've lived since.  It was something about living with the end in mind.  What do I want the last thing to be said about me? What will be my legacy? Will honoring Christ be what people know about me?

Because that's what I want.  All Him. From this day forward. With the gratefulness I see in my father-in-law, with his sense that there is nothing left to be done when He calls me home.  I envy the contentedness I see in him.  J observed at lunch that Grampie's son has that same quality in him.  It isn't natural to me.

But, what isn't common to man, as Paul puts it, is common to the Holy Spirit. It is the work--the job--to the Holy Spirit to create contentment in a not-naturally-contented person, like me. I learn this at the bedside of my father-in-law.

One of these days, life will slow down for us. And I'll write about other things. Think a little more deeply.  But, as I told my son this evening, A crisis day day, seems to be our motto of late.  Hang in there with me, k?

And until then, I'll be grateful for each day with Grampie. For this season I'm doing everything God gives me to do. This is what He wants for me.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Another hard one

This has been a very long week...already.  And it's only Tuesday. Wow...what will the rest of the week bring?

Yesterday we moved Grampie back home from the skilled nursing/rehab center where he's been living since he broke his hip on September 10.  The process of getting him home has been a full-time job for Beve and Thyrza's daughter (long-distance from Maryland) for the last week, while various agencies, therapists, facilities 'discussed' the best placement for Grampie. We've found it unsettling that most of their concern has not taken into account the most important component of Grampie's life--his relationship with his wife.  They've looked his medical status, his cognitive and physical abilities but haven't noticed that any living situation that includes the separation of this happily married and definitely-dependent-on-each-other couple would be deadly to both.  So the adult children had to fight for their parents--and did a fine job of it, I must say.

So we got him finally moved home, his living space decluttered enough for the wheelchair he'll be confined in for the remainder of his life, the aides in place...It took us the whole day for the job, but he settled in nicely, was very glad to be home, all smiles and full of the graciousness that epitomizes his life.  By the time Beve got home, spoke a couple of words to E (who'd had a long, difficult day of her own), he was ready to crash so he could face today and the trenches of his school job.

My marching orders for this morning were to go over, check on how Grampie's night went, fill his weekly pill container, take over some laundry.  I got there about 11:15.  Knocked on the door.  No answer.  Walked in to see Grampie sitting in his wheelchair near the breakfast bar, asleep.  Thyrza was in the bathroom.  I called to Grampie, which always awakens him.  He knows my voice.  But he didn't wake up this morning.  I walked over, saw that he was drooling, spoke more loudly at him and he still didn't answer.  I dropped my bags, shook him and he still didn't move.  My heart began pounding.  Oh no.  Was this it?  Was this actually it?  I felt his hands. Cool to the touch.  His face, warm.  His chest, still moving.  I didn't check for a pulse, because I have never been able to find one on anyone. But he was still breathing.  Thyrza came out of the bathroom.  She yelled at him.  We pressed the call button and I called Beve, who instantly said he was coming. Thyrza called the desk and said, "He's drooling from his mouth and nose, and someone should come and look at him." Yes, I thought, but those are the secondary issues.

 I was slow in deciding about calling 911, because Grampie has been very clear that he doesn't want any extra-ordinary measures.  What was right?  Really, what would he want?  What did God want? But Thyrza was insistent so she called.  And very soon the apartment was filled with men and equipment and questions were being asked, and it was very fortunate I'd been there because I could answer them all.

And then Beve walked in, and we all--and I mean even the paramedics--stopped for about 20 seconds to breath a deep sigh when we saw him.  Turned and asked him a question only he could answer about Grampie's advanced directive, then they were on their way.

And we spent another long day at the hospital, where Grampie remains tonight.  But he came out of whatever that was as quickly as it had come on.  A couple of hours later, he was more lucid than he's seemed in months.  Perhaps it was the extra oxygen they were giving him.  But it was sure nice to be with him, for all that the day dragged and the chairs were hard and we were starving.  He's wearing a purple identification bracelet, which is the hospital's way of identifying him as a 'do not resuscitate.'

Tonight we're tired again.  Today was not 'It' for Grampie. Not his last day.  I didn't walk in to his dying moments, though it surely, surely seemed that way. When we talked about it this afternoon and I told him I'd thought he was dying, he said, "Well, it's going to happen one of these days."  He shrugged his shoulders (covered under about 5 warm hospital blankets) and said, "Sorry I scared you, but I worry about this one," and he nodded toward Thyrza.  Better me than her to find him, he was saying.

 Maybe. But it wasn't a calling I wanted this--or any--day. And it makes me wonder why there was such a pounding fear in facing it.  Why the adrenalin was racing, even as my spirit was praying that God's will be done and that I do what was best for Grampie.

Some people are clear about God's will at such moments. I am not. I know death will come for Grampie.  I love him deeply, but I know the day of his home-going is in the not-too-distant future.  And I also know that will be a day of rejoicing on the other side of the veil.  His life has been well-lived, and these last days here much diminished.  Just the other day, Beve and I were looking at pictures of Beve's parents' wedding day. Grampie was tall and straight and handsome and full of life that day. Breath-taking were the two of them in their stately elegance.  When I imagine him in heaven, when he's taken off this broken down body, I imagine him like that.

It's what I imagine for each of us who love him.  Each of us on our best day.  That's what we'll look like when we see Him face to face.