Wednesday, December 26, 2012

All kinds of stuff

After a very restful few days, I'm not really ready to get back to the routine of posting here. Or even thinking deeply. We had our precious Christmas moment Monday night when our adult children shared so transparently about their hopes and emotions about the year past and the year ahead, their faith and their doubts, that I could hardly sleep for the joy of it. For the joy that Incarnation continually brings to our family. Jesus comes in each of us, between us, and when we sit quietly together, tasting the bread that commemorates His body and drinking the wine (grape juice) that is His blood, I sense Him there. Deeply and truly. Taste and see that He is good, that wrapped in human skin, He saved us so that we can each go out into our lives--in excitement for the new adventures, in expectation for what He will do, for hope that He will meet us--and we will change the world by our being in it.

And that lovely moment carried me through the more silly parts of the day that is Christmas day. I say silly because much of the gift-giving is silly if considered without Him as the foundation of it. I know I get up from my place on the couch of communion and hurry to get the last of the presents wrapped, the stockings filled, the tasks finished. I lose Him in the final push of it all. And though we have a more leisurely pace than we did when our children were small, there are still gifts beneath our tree of a substantial nature, and we wait for them with bated breath. The ones we give and the ones we receive.  And it's all a little silly in comparison to the great big gift He gave.

And I'm fine with that. I'm fine with the disproportionate nature of it all. Fine with paradox that is this holiday. The natural and the sublime wrapped up together. It's just so like the Incarnation itself. Human and God all at once. It's a matter of keeping it in perspective, however. Realizing that no matter how large or small the gifts beneath the tree, we cannot buy what we need most. Not for ourselves nor for those we love. It's not ours to give. We can ask for it, but it's--HE'S--not for sale.

That's all I have to say.
I was blessed this Christmas. As I always am.

And, since I can, I thought I'd post a few pictures of the quilts I've been working on in the last little while. I haven't been as busy this fall, since I spend so much time chasing a puppy around. But he's finally slowing down, so I have high hopes that all those projects awaiting me will become more than just fabric in containers after the new year.

This is a baby quilt I made for the granddaughter of a friend. These were the colors of the nursery. I love the way it turned out. So fresh and clean-looking. It's backed with a white minky fabric, perfect for a baby to play on.

These are the back and front of the quilt I made in honor of our big dog, Jackson. I wanted to show the finished product because I love how it turned out. I used extra pieces of the batik fabric for the back and quilted it with random lines. We've been using it in the back-room when we watch movies. That was where Jackson liked to hole up, especially at the end of his life.
I made this quilt for a gathering of my cousins on the 28th. We were going to have a Christmas letter contest, and this would be the prize, but none of us has managed to write a letter yet. We're like that. So I think we're going to raffle it off...
along with this one. After I finished the plaid quilt, I decided it was a little feminine for some of the younger male cousins, so I decided to whip up this quilt. I got my inspiration from a photo E took of grass and stepping stones on UW's campus. I'd post the photo, but can't figure out how to do that. Anyway, it's only inspired by that photo, not a copy of it. I have to it quilted tomorrow so it's ready to go for the dinner.
And finally, the Christmas tree skirt I made for us this year. It's the same pattern I made for my sister last year. I liked hers so much I used the pattern again, which is something I almost never do.  Beve thought it about time we actually had out own skirt, since I've made them for other people. It took us a long time to get any lights and ornaments on the tree, but at least we had the tree skirt.
NOT a quilt, but the photograph we're going to use for our Christmas card this year. We've been getting so many cards for Grampie as well as us, we decided we needed to explain to his friends what has happened to him in the last year. So for those of you who will not receive our 'snail-mail' greetings, may God meet you in this coming year, may you experience what it means to live Incarnationally--His very presence within you, making you more (more in EVERY WAY) than you can imagine being.
Much love from all the Wileys
Clockwise from left: E, J, SK, Grampie
 Beve and C (not pictured, but definitely present--one taking the picture, one working to make Grampie smile!)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Awkward and Awesome

Because it's been that kind of week, and because I'm sometimes as fad-follower, I thought I'd copy my daughter and her bloggy friends "Awkward and Awesome" of the week. They try to post this list on Thursdays, so I'm a day late (and a dollar short--at least! it is December, after all!), but here's my list:

Awkward:

  • The state of my dining room table and carport.Both are still covered with ruined things from our basement. Christmas ornaments we're still hoping will dry out, given just a little bit more time. Like Christmas ornaments from both Beve's and my childhood and the first ones we bought together. Children's books (sigh, I do know these are a lost cause but can't bear it, really I can't!). Linens, sweaters made by Beve's mother. All a treasure trove of our history. All waiting for the insurance adjuster to go through our list before we can get rid of the water-logged. Sigh.
  • A cold which has taken up residence in my eyes. Somehow this is always where I get colds. Not in my nose, but my eyes. It makes me want to keep them closed all the time, and if they're open I need to wipe them constantly, and look like I haven't slept in about three days. 
  • The lack of interest I have in decorating our house for Christmas. I think this has to do with the flood in the basement and the loss of so many of our things. We've had our tree up since the day before the flood but J thought it was the scrawniest tree he'd ever seen (we do favor Nobles). But I think mostly its scrawniness was because it stood naked until Tuesday when we finally lights and decorations up.  And they were only simple blue and silver balls, and clear lights. Almost like we're newly-weds again. 
  • Trying to figure out how to keep our Springer Spaniel from running. Her favorite activity in the whole wide world is playing fetch and she's under strict vet's orders to lay low until she finishes her course of steroids. She has a fracture in her left shoulder, tendinitis, bursitis, and some floating bone spurs. In short, just about everything that could go wrong with that shoulder has. So she's limping like an old lady, rather than the springy 5-year-old that she is.
Awesome:
  • The smell of the Christmas tree in our house. Seriously, is there anything better? I know, I know there's a lot to be said for the ease of an artificial tree, but that smell...I can hardly wait each year. Along with the smell are the lights. Love them with all the lamps off, and carols playing in the background.
  • The luxury of time with Beve that come when school's not in session. I realize that there are those who envy the surfeit of vacations educators get, but given how hard the ones I know work, what long hours the one I live with puts in (many days 13-14 hours a day plus time on weekends for which he gets--none of which he gets compensated for), he needs his breaks. And when he lets down, the quality of our conversations...well, it's been a surfeit of riches. 
  • Time to quilt. Our puppy is calming down, so that's a factor. And Beve's presence is also a factor. So I've been more productive in the last week (even with burning eyes) than I was all fall. I'll post pictures soon.
  • Cuddly puppies. Jamaica's bum wheel means she's even more of a velcro dog than usual, needs to lay against one of her humans to sleep. And she's just so sweet.
  • The great books I've been reading lately. Elizabeth Goudge. Old-fashioned stories of family, faith and reconciliation. They're sweet and well-written and I forget how much I love them. I was introduced to them by an old friend years ago, ought most of them at used bookstores, and wish I could find the rest  at non-collectors' prices.
  • Traditions of Advent. Being intentional about the story of the Incarnation. Each Christmas Eve, just before we go to bed, the five of us sit in our living room and have communion together. We take stock in the year, who Christ has been to us, where we hope He'll take us, then ask Him in again through the bread and wine. This, even more than the candlelight service at church, is our true celebration of His birth. 
So, that's my list. Hope that if you have a list it's disproportionately full of the 'awesome.'

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Good news among the bad

The grape-vine in my family is a tried a true means of communication. Faster than the speed of light sometimes.

For example: yesterday morning, my younger daughter got a text from my sister's younger daughter. Immediately, SK texted E, who yelled at me from the bedroom where she was packing to go back to Seattle. The barn on my brother-in-law's family farm burned down Sunday night.  I instantly called my sister. "You already know?" she said, rather incredulously. When I explained the chain, she laughed. "I was just about to call you," she said. "Leave it to our daughters to beat me to it."  My sister, her husband, their son, my b-in-law's mother, brother, other folks stood and watched that old barn burn to ashes Sunday. It was built of dry timber and straw and, even in a blizzard, went down fast. And, along with the saddles, harnesses, piglets and their mama, a couple of lifetimes of memories went up in flames and down in cinders that night. Hard to recapture.  Their livelihood depends, to a large extent, on that barn. On all the farm's buildings. Fortunately, the quick thinking of my b-in-l's brother, who grabbed a garden hose before the fire department got there, the barn was the only building lost. But though that should be comfort (and surely is in the abstract), I can imagine it's hard to face the black hole where that barn sat all the years of this family's life (only Grandma remembers before it was a fixture).

But while I'm thinking about them this week, it also struck me how quickly the news of this fire traveled to us. Gossip. That's what some people might call it. Gossip carries a negative connotation, doesn't it? And I realize that the definition of gossip is 'idle talk' or rumor. And about such chatter, we're warned often enough...as we should be. When what we share is based wholly for the sake of hurting someone, it's nefarious indeed. But now and then, maybe the word, the very idea of gossip gets twisted on its head, this idea of one person telling another amazing, wonderful news--like the news of an impending marriage or a new baby-- then that news being passed on and on and on. Not all news is bad news, not all 'passing it on,' the wrong thing.

If you think about it, something like this 'good' gossip happened in Jerusalem when Mary and Joseph took the baby Jesus to the temple to be presented to the Lord. It wasn't a human whispering in the ears of Simeon and the prophetess Anna.  It was the Holy Spirit himself who said, "Hey, do you know what's going on here? He who you've been waiting for is here."  The Holy Spirit spoke familiarly enough to these two people, intimately enough that each knew exactly which baby of the presumably many who were being presented that day. Simeon had been promised he wouldn't die without seeing the Messiah. His position was such that parents put their babies into his arms for a blessing. When he was handed Jesus, something powerful happened. A switch flipped (on an unrelated note, I always want to say a flip switched, which makes me wonder about my aging brain) and an amalgamation of words from the prophet Isaiah came out of his mouth. All about the Servant King. It's a jaw-dropping moment for these pious Jews, even ones who'd already been told (and believed) who their baby was.  They marveled at this confirmation.
But God didn't leave it at that. At one confirmation, I mean. He gave them two. Anna, the prophet, also immediately recognized Jesus. And spoke loudly and firmly to all within the sound of her voice about him.

These moments in the temple, which began with the Holy Spirit whispering in the ears of His faithful, were confirmation in three ways, really. Confirmation for Simeon and Anna, that what God had promised--that they'd live to see Him--had come. God was faithful to fulfill His promise to them. And they'd been faithful to wait. And, as I said, it was confirmation to Mary and Joseph that God would continually remind them that their baby was not just any random baby, but God Incarnate. He would always--always be unusual, and they'd always marvel. And thirdly, it was confirmation to those within the reach of the words spoken. Even  though the events were taking place outside their sphere of understanding (though they stood right there listening), God was on the move. There was more going on than most could comprehend. Only a few had been told. Only a few had had the good news whispered to them.

In any situation there's more going on than we can understand. We stand in a crowd and whisper among ourselves. Gossip about what we've heard, trying to make sense of the commotion. But somewhere, God is whispering the truth. If we open our ears, get the cotton of this world out of them, perhaps the gossip we hear is will be from the Holy Spirit Himself.

And then, only then, can we begin to spread the GOOD NEWS.

"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations,
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel." Acts 2: 29-32


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Just a typical morning

Christmas presents already wrapped,
already tagged and set out under decked-out trees--"Give me a hard present, Daddy!"
gifts that will never be opened.

Unmade beds
with stuffed-animals so crowding the pillow,
     only a small imprint is visible.
And the smell of fresh children's 'no-tangle' shampoo
     or the sweat of hard playing lingers
          in the air
     like priceless perfume.
Beds that will never be slept in again.

Art hangs on the refrigerator,
Half-finished meals sit in plastic containers inside.
Events written on the calendar,
Lists of stocking-stuffers with that precious name
lays on the counter next to a small note
that says, "I love you, Mommy," in uneven (maybe misspelled) handwriting
 signed with both first and last name--
as if  Mommy wouldn't recognize the giver without such identification.
Meals that will never be finished. Art that is the last art.
First grade handwriting that will never grow up.
A note that will be kept for the length of that Mommy's life.
For the hole in it will also be kept.

These are the things I've been crying over this weekend.
These are the images that cause tears to fall.
Tears that cause my knees to buckle and prayers to join the host of others for a small town who keens with grief.

I think of the rush of a Friday school day, of trying to get a first grader (and older siblings?) out the door in time for that all-important bell. I think of the "morning noises," that aren't always pleasant. The many times those noises consist of harried words like "Did you get your worksheet?" "Finish that last bite." "Keep still while I brush your hair." "I told you to brush your teeth." "What do you mean, you can't find your shoes?"  Not all mornings are like that, of course. But some are. Some were for me, I know. And this is the kind of morning I imagine. Then I picture such a morning as the last morning. The last moments of being with my first-grader. And how the horror, the absolute, rest-of-life pain of losing a child would be compounded by what I'd missed in that last morning. Though taking a few moments to simply sit and be with my child wouldn't change their home-going just a mere half-hour later (O God, so short a time?) but it would haunt me.

But it all haunts, of course. It always will. Because it started out as a typical morning. Like all such unfathomable events begin. They start from where we cannot predict. Going to shopping malls. To hear a congress-woman speak. To school. So many times, just to school. People leave their lives just as they always do, and someone takes it because...well, that's the burning pain that haunts.
And we cannot pretend it doesn't. We cannot. Even here, a continent away from those parents, I sit shiva with them. I am not IN their pain, but I acknowledge it.
We lean from wherever we are in this world to  acknowledge. To pray. And to love you as you hurt.

PS.If you missed it, the speech President Obama gave at the Interfaith Service tonight was very moving. No matter what your politics, it was pretty powerful especially in the very beginning and very end. "When you become a parent, you watch your very heart beating outside your body," he said someone told him once. I'd never heard it put that way before, but it's the best way of explaining a parent's love that I've ever heard. And at the end, he simply spoke the first names of those twenty children. I was crying before he finished. Powerful.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Lessons of the star

The town I grew up in was small enough that on clear nights there were stars in abundance overhead. And from my house it was half a block to the water-tower that marked the very edge of town in those days (though now, there are neighborhoods in every direction beyond that water-tower). But back then there were only rolling hills as far as the eye could see. I liked walking out there and often did, any time of year. But in the winter, covered with snow when I walked past the water-tower, it was like I was alone in the world out there with only those layers and layers of stars the lights to mark my way.

But I've never been able to identify more than the Little Dipper in the sky. And the North Star at the tip of its tail, of course. The North Star is a good star to know, if its the only one in one's arsenal, a metaphor for God if ever there was one, I'm told. But I confess, it has never been such for me. I only see stars when I look heavenly. Though my sister's astronomer boyfriend would cringe to know it, I'm as close to a dunce as they come when it comes to finding lines to form shapes of bears, goats, or whatever else is supposedly up there. And it's not for lack of trying, either. My dad tried pointing out planets, and constellations when we were out  camping, but I couldn't even see the difference between planets (apparently brighter and with less (no?) twinkle). Saturn's rings? Really, Saturn has rings? Could have fooled me. Not even in the telescope a brother-in-law once set up in our back yard did I see anything more than dimples in the moon (and at least I saw those!).

To me, it's good enough that the heavens declare the Glory of God. They don't have to align themselves as animals to make His glory more breath-taking. But whenever I ponder the star that God hung in the sky in 4 BC over a tiny town in a tiny country where the most monumental event in history was taking place, I really believe even I could have seen it. Men from half a world away (or so) did. So brightly that they left home and position and were compelled to bring extravagant gifts on a arduous journey to find the source of that star. The one under whom that star shone. And by camel (as tradition has it) that journey would have been a long one, which leads us to this startling revelation: the star over Bethlehem began to twinkle months before the babe lay in the manger. In fact, perhaps it began to glow as soon as an angel visited a young girl in Nazareth and she said, "May it be unto me. I am your handmaiden."

It's not so far-fetched an idea, is it? That God would put into place such a thing. Now it's possible the people of Bethlehem saw the star and were surprised at first by it, even frightened by it's sudden overwhelming appearance, but when it didn't go away but didn't become a menace, grew used to its presence. Perhaps. More likely, however, God revealed His glory--His star--to the magi alone. In their sky, so to speak. As the earth turns, they saw it before those directly under it glimpsed what God was about.  This is a more obvious conclusion, since we have no mention in the text that any other than the magi saw the star.

So let's trust that only the magi saw the star. Interpreted it not merely as unique but important. Even at this they made some missteps. And as missteps go, this was taking a step off a cliff. Through no fault of their own--perhaps with all the good will in the world--they went to the one person they should have most avoided when they finally reached Jerusalem: a paranoid king whose desire for power made him as malevolent as any Hitler. He was the worst of villains. He knew at once what their journey was all about, asked for confirmation from the Jewish elders, then immediately began to plot a baby's death. A baby's death. Not an assassination of a man already at the height of his reign but a baby. And when the magi, warned by God NOT to inform on said baby, didn't return, he actually killed EVERY baby boy in Bethlehem.

Imagine, every single baby a town. Every mother crying over her baby's empty manger, so to speak. Every single baby boy not to grow up to work with his daddy in the fields, or shops, or whatever. It's a picture of decimation like we've seen other places, at other times through-out history.

And it can be a stumbling block for the glory of this story. I know this. Couldn't God have saved those babies? Yes. Let's admit that. But let's also admit, that in this world, there has always such evil. It points out in sharp relief the absolute point of His coming. A man is evil. They sin. People die as a result. Even babies. Yes, because of sin. And from the first sin, God promised a way out. He didn't say that the moment He came to earth there would be no more sin, He said He would save us.

And, in order to do so, He was spared the day those babies were killed. Herod killed the babies. He couldn't kill Jesus. Jesus would not be killed until HIS time. Until the time was fulfilled.

The other piece of this episode is that we, too, are the magi. We take mis-steps. I mean, sometimes, through no fault of our own, we put into motion events that cause great harm. Is it our sin? No. But sin is the result. The magi are not culpable for what happened to those babies. In fact, God told in a dream to return to their countries by a different route. He warned them to have no more part in the grave sin that was coming. Sometimes this is our lot as well. Have you ever questioned whether you've sinned if you meant something for good but it resulted in something terrible? The magi's story is the answer. You aren't responsible for what others twist into ugliness. You are responsible to pray for the lives affected. As always.

These, I think, are the lessons of the star.
Happy Friday.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Shepherds

I have to confess that I don't know much about sheep personally. I've had an occasion or two to run across their paths now and then in the days when our family was spending time on Hunterston Farm on Galiano Island of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia. It's a working sheep farm but also has space for vacation homes for people I know, and an year-round home for my all-time favorite Regent College professor and his wife (whom I also took a course from). The road to their home went straight through the sheep's land, so we had to open and close gates to keep the sheep penned. And sometimes yell at them to move from sleeping on the road so we could pass. During our visits there we'd often take walks among them and the ewes would lumber away from us--if they felt like it--and only the lambs had charm to them. In fact, from what I could see, sheep are a dirty, lazy animal, their wool matted with sticks and other things sticking in it that isn't fit to mention in gentle company.

I consider, then, those men whose job it was to take these sheep to the hillsides in search of grass, to herd such lazy, unlikely animals. The climate in British Columbia makes for good eating for sheep, grass is verdant and lush and on Hunterston Farm they are merely moved from one pasture to the next to keep the grass down.  But herding sheep is harder work in the dry, rocky terrain of Israel, where the heat and aridity creates the need to search out grass enough to feed sheep. Shepherds must have been nomadic and hardy, their most frequent community the dumb and lazy sheep themselves. Sometimes other shepherds would sit around the fire sharing stories of the work, the day's herding, the lost lambs, the climb, whatever shepherds might talk about at night when sheep were drowsy in the fields beyond the firelight.

And those shepherds might wrap their cloaks more tightly around themselves to ward off whatever chill was in the night air, and drowse themselves. But lightly, like a mother with her newborn baby. Ready any moment to be wide awake at the slightest mew or change in breathing from the herd.

That night, that wondrous night, to these marginalized, set-apart men came the singular moment of all time for they were the first humans to hear the gospel. Imagine that. Imagine being the very first to know that Messiah has come. Waiting not simply through the night, with one ear half-listening, but through all of history for Him to come. And in a heart-beating-out-of-your-chest instant, an angel tells you it is so.   "Don't be afraid," the angel says (because the unexpectedness of angels ALWAYs cause fear in mere mortals!). "For I bring you...good news."  Good news, indeed. "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah.." To you. Not simply to the rich and powerful and those living in houses even but to you.

And this is such an earth-shattering moment that all of heaven must burst into song at such news. To those men on the hillside. They have the unparalleled experience of hearing/seeing the choir of heaven whose only  'job' is to worship around the heavenly throne break through the dividing wall between the world and heaven. Between the visible and the invisible. Between what we know in part, see in a mirror dimly and what they see face-to-face.  What lies wrapped in cloths, lying in a manger is the very one those angels worship day and night. And these men hidden on the hillside, awake as they've never been awake before, have the Kingly honor of hearing, seeing, having all their senses positively drip in that heavenly choir's harmony.

And once the last chord has rung in the air and only the stars sit quietly in the sky (in the understatement of history), the shepherds say to one another, "Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." Without any discussion, the text says, 'they hurried off...' They found their way to that manger, to the parents hovering over the manger, the animals lowing in the barn.

 Let's leave them there, shall we? And think a moment about where we find ourselves when the Good News comes to us. It may not be with such fanfare. In fact, I'd guess that was a one-time only performance by that choir. Incarnation-only, I might say. But we are always more like shepherds than kings when we hear the good news. No matter what our lives look like. I'm not talking about wealth or power or privilege or beauty now. I'm talking about our real place before our real God, the place that made the Incarnation necessary. We are the marginalized. Paupers. Beggars. With our hands out, tattered and torn from what we've done...who we've been. Who we are.

In exactly this state, He comes. The Good News comes. The baby comes. God wrapped not in the cloths of flesh just like ours comes. And we are privileged to hear this news, to have heaven break so open that we are let in by it. This is who that baby is--that heaven sings and we are let in to that song. And let in to heaven itself if we hurry to Him, fall at His feet. Who we are, in our needy flesh worshiping who HE is in His Holy wholeness. God among us. Messiah.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

First, the animals

It's been anything but a day-of-rest kind of Sunday. Beginning with our pellet stove not lighting (or even clicking), it was a cold morning. A bit later, while I was still trying to warm my chilly hands around my mug of tea, I asked Beve if he heard the water I was hearing. "Well, I started the washer a while ago." Hmm, that must be it, I thought, and dismissed it from my mind. But then I heard a bang. And then Beve, coming out of our bathroom, said, "I hear water, and our toilet isn't filling." When Beve opened our basement/cellar door a frantic moment later, water poured out, and two inches covered the floor. And worse, a waterfall was flowing from a pipe above a metal storage unit where everything from our high school yearbooks to our kids' childhood treasures, to Beve's parents' early photo albums are stored. And now ruined. Beve got the water turned off, a plumber arrived half an hour later, the problem remedied for now (though we need a new regulator, whatever that is). But those treasures are toast. Irreplaceable.

We've been drying things all over the house all day. And, as I was leaning over at some point, my cell phone fell out of my pocket and our incorrigible dog, Kincade, grabbed it and--you guessed it--chewed it up. That's the 4th cell-phone since school started. I screamed. Literally screamed so loud Beve came running from the basement. Put Kincade in his kennel, calmed me down. Asked me if I want to get rid of him (sometimes I wonder!). Fortunately, I have a back-up for the back-up for the back-up for the back-up...now I'm using my sister's old phone. Sigh.

Oh, and did I mention that Beve put his back out?

As I said, it was a really relaxing Sunday. A true Sabbath.
We never even got over to see Grampie today. Not that he'll notice. But we did.

And I intended to write this post a whole lot earlier, and with a lot more sensitivity. Sweetness. But the truth is, sometimes life is raw and gritty and we spend what should be restful and reflective cleaning up a flood. Calling plumbers. Working in the cellar.

And maybe that makes it even more sweet that I'm still thinking about that stable, that most base of all places, where very little is clean and all of life is carried out right there in the hay. Life and death and eating and elimination for all the creatures who call it 'home', if they had language to call it anything. I think of all the creatures we can find in such places as barns and stables, like the ones stabled or fed there, like cows and sheep and horses and donkeys (I'd include pigs, but that stable was a Jewish stable so you can be sure there were no pigs there). But there are the uninvited creatures as well--rats and fleas and lice and other bugs whose names I do not know. Other burrowing rodents, perhaps, a stray cat, birds in the rafters. Who knows what else.

The stable is teeming with life. Ripe with it and you can bet that at any given time there are pregnant animals and fowl and insects. There is creation happening everywhere you turn.

Into this fully alive place is born the baby Jesus. And before a single human saw Him other than His human mother and dad, the animals saw Him. They who were created BEFORE humans saw Him as a human first. There's a startling symmetry to this, I think. Those creatures didn't sin against Him. God created them and saw that they were good, Genesis says. And when He created humans those creatures of every kind were given to us to rule.

We like that, I think. We're glad to have dominion over beasts. To rule the earth and every other species on it. I've often read of our superiority over all the other creatures on this earth. We have language, for one thing; the ability to communicate with each other. And we use tools. These are two of the things that separate us from beasts. But though these things are great gifts, they can cause great harm. They have. Because we are also sinners. We are separated from the rest of the species on this earth by our ability to choose, because we alone are made in His image, which is the most spectacular creation of all. And it's ours, and with that creation, comes the free choice that is part of His character. Yet...from the tree-of-life beginning, we have chosen, and choose wrong. Daily. Bluntly, we sin.

So maybe that's why is this Genesis moment of the Incarnation, He honors the animals. Just for a moment. It isn't for them that He came, of course. I  certainly don't intend such a distortion of the gospel. I'm not even saying the creatures understood what they saw that night. But God knew. And God is always intentional. I can imagine that He had purposes in that place, and gave a spirit there that we cannot begin to understand, no matter how often we read the gospels, or how long we walk with Him. His coming will always be a mystery. It doesn't take much to imagine the scene in the moments before anyone else enters the story.

When He's simply lying in the manger with only Mary, Joseph and the stable animals watching Him, it's like a held-breath of time. A pregnant pause before the action starts. I suppose it gives Mary and Joseph a few moments (though we don't actually know how long it was) to collect themselves. Mary and Joseph were just two country folks from Nazareth, they were used to such sounds so the gentle sounds of the stable was soothing, I imagine. I think even this moment becomes an irreplaceable treasure to Mary.

But then, of course, the story takes off.
And when the angel appears to the shepherds, when the host joins in the chorus to those people on a hillside, we're invited in as well. Because these are not dignitaries to whom the news comes, but the most lowly of the lowly. Over and over, the most important Good News is given to unexpected people. The disenfranchised. Those who we might overlook.
Us. Really. Us. Each of us falls into the story as the lowly. The sinful, but the beloved to whom He comes. It's a contradiction that saves our lives.

But first, let's hold our breath, and listen to the sounds of the creatures who get to see Him first.

Friday, December 7, 2012

A real baby

It's the first Friday of the month, which means I'm digging into past journals along with others like me. We're a mixed bag of artists, poets and those who write in prose (me!), but each of us brings something tasty to the banquet. Check us out at Dawn's blog.


I was hopeful this morning as I reached for a journal among the ubiquitous line-up on my shelf. Hopeful that I'd grab a composition book containing an advent reflection. And, God who is faithful, certainly intended the same because not only did I pick correctly (no small feat) but amazingly opened the notebook to December 2, which was the first Sunday in Advent in 2007. I am humbled sometimes that I have so little faith that God will work as I ask. Even in such small a thing as this.

Those of you who are regular readers of my blog might find this somewhat similar to part of what I wrote earlier this week, but what is that to me? This is what I'm always thinking about when Advent begins. It's the astonishing thing.

Enough prelude.

December 2, 2005
"Mary, did you know...
when you kissed your boy,
you kissed the face of God?"

A song from church this morning that I keep singing as I walk through the rest of a quiet Sunday. It takes me to the heart of Incarnation. A soft, dewy new baby's face the matchless face of God. Hands curled into fists clutching at his human mama's breast the hands that had 'flung stars into space' and would be punctured by the darkest shade of blood--our sin. A real human baby. A real face the face of God.
As real as my own son for whom He bled. As real as my son who laughed and ran and played deep and hard. As earnest, tender and all boy as my son.
A real boy.
Real God all at once.
This is the story of Advent.
Come, Baby, come.
Come, God-in-new-flesh, come.
Come, Jesus, Emanuel, O Holy One, Come.

 One more thing: this was five years before my son began his struggle with mental illness, so today the words are even more poignant to me. God reminds me today of what is true for all of us, but for my son in specific. And I crumble to my knees in hope. And that's what Advent is, after all, isn't it? Hope in the darkness. Hallelujah.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Pebble in the shoe

It was a morning of errands for me and if there's anything I can't stand, it's driving from this place to that to drop off, pick up, check on, do a single thing. It's just so dang inefficient. And...I'm just the opposite of my beloved Beve who, I swear (though I don't really), LOVES to run errands. Seriously. We can't get into the car to go somewhere without him having to stop by somewhere else (or two or three) on the way home. And there I am, trying not to grind my teeth because he didn't mention it and I should have known and really, why the heck do we need to go to Costco every single time we visit Grampie, anyway?

There are always things about our spouses that annoy us, right? But it's because we're different. And that balance makes us better, I suppose. At least that's what I tell myself when I'm walking through Costco for the fourth time in a week...and it's only Wednesday.

Anyway, today I wasn't being drug by my reluctant fingernails by Beve. It was a morning of my own making. And it seemed like everywhere I went the lines were long and people were chatting to take their minds off the time. Standing near the cutting counter at Joanne Fabrics (clutching my number like it's my lifeline), waiting to have my flannel backing cut  (for the Christmas tree skirt I'm finishing), I moved before the woman cutting fabric called my number.
"If 67 comes after 66, I'm next," I told her.
She laughed and said, "It did back when I learned to count."
"I think I could count that high in Kindergarten," I said.
She quoted Erma Bombeck--something about kids from Kindergarten to about 13  being capable of ruling the world and after that needing to be locked up until they finish high school. Beve and I were lucky to start with a child who was born 30, and is just now growing into her age. And because of her, our younger two didn't slam doors or yell at us either when they hit those apparently volatile years . But..."teenagers are my people group and I could hardly wait until my kids got to 13," I said. "I didn't do as well when they were little." She laughed. "I never heard it put that way," she said. "I'll have to tell my daughter. I think she'll be relieved to hear that not everyone has to be great with their toddlers and it still turns out okay."

Then I went off to Comcast where the line was snaking out the door. Shudder, sigh. All I needed to do was return Grampie's router. Yep, router. We had one put in about a year ago so we could try Face-time with Thyrza, but since that's been a giant FAIL (even her daughter can't make it work), returning it seemed only reasonable. I spent 40 minutes in the line at Comcast. Talked to all those around me about all manner of things--routers (like I actually know any thing about routers!), babies, food (it was lunchtime), how we'd actually been there overnight, and, finally, about Grampie and his Alzheimer's. The man just ahead of me told me he used to work in an Alzheimer's unit, but the patients really scared him with their violence. I nodded. I've heard that about people with dementia, of course. We all have. However, the two parents in our lives haven't moved to violence. As I told this man about my mom and her sad fright, and Grampie and his continuing sweetness, the line seemed to lean in and I began to feel like something bigger was going on. Could feel Him right there in that long line.  I just told this man (and the others) what I've often said before: that it's what's most deeply in a person that comes through when their brain empties. When the filters are gone and the masks are lost, you can really discover who a person is. Angry, sweet, insecure...even if they don't have words for it, you can tell. The man blanched, I could see it. "I'm going to be one angry *#&%!"
Dropping the F-bomb right there in Comcast, like it was no big deal.
My reaction was as instinctive as his, I think. "But you don't have to be."
"How can I help it?" He asked. "I have three daughters who are all out of control, I've lost two marriages, so many jobs I can't count, and none of it's my fault."
"Except how you respond to it," I said (though I'm pretty sure a whole lot of it IS his fault).
He looked at me a little like I have two heads.  And was probably relieved that he got to walk away just then. But maybe, maybe he left, thinking that there's a different way of being than just angry, and blaming everyone else for his life.

I love such conversations, though. I love that suddenly, unexpectedly, something more is going on that those participating in the conversation know. And I love being His vehicle for change, even when I never see that change. Even if all that conversation is a pebble in the shoe of how someone thinks or lives. I hope that man feels the pebble rub and rub and rub. So much that he has to take off the shoe, look at his life more clearly. May God use that pebble to change his life for good.

Yes, it's a sweet thing to be out in the world, being Christ among the people. Being His pebble in the shoes of those we walk among.

Hmm, I guess I should look at errands as a privilege.

Monday, December 3, 2012

A stable

After this summer, I really understand the words, "No room in the inn." When we had people sleeping in every bed, couch and cot and a trailer in our carport, we were full up. In fact, some old friends wrote an email just at the beginning of that time and asked if they could stay with us for their son's baseball tournament here in town, and we wrote back to say, "If you're willing to pitch a tent, we'd be glad to have you."  It was wild and wonderful and I wouldn't change a thing. Well, except maybe to have a second floor on our house with more sleeping space and a couple more bathrooms. Maybe a larger kitchen. But the hosting of people, the community that happens around a table, the grins on Grampie's face every day: these are the precious gifts of our summer.

For all that, I can't imagine running an inn. Making it my life's work to keep linens clean and fresh, to make meals for people who are passing through. For me, it would be a harried life, one very far out of my comfort zone. I'm not a servant by nature and would not be equal to the many domestic tasks necessary for such a venture. Beve might, and what he'd be doing with grace and ease, my work would be clumsy and I'd be harried and stressed. Probably eight days out of seven.

A person must be called to the work of hospitality. To inn-keeping and making folks feel relaxed and special and able to rest in a place not their own. And when I think of Bethlehem's inn on that day during the census when the town was swollen to bursting with David's descendants, I like to imagine inn-keepers good at their calling. Deft at handling the crowd at their table, able to bark orders and put out 'brush-fires' with good humor. I don't imagine a mean-spirited woman but a somewhat matronly, kindly woman with an apron around her ample waist, and her more lean husband, the actual inn-keeper, hustling to do the heavy work--help put up the animals, carry bags, chop wood, etc. Yes, I'm mixing a whole lot of centuries in my imagination (were there aprons in 4 BC?), but imagination has license.

So I imagine the last man coming to the door, late at night, his wife on a donkey just beyond the reach of light. She's been sweating lightly though the night is cool, and her gasps of pain have come more frequently in the last few hours, making him sweat as well. She presses on the hard bulge beneath her cloak, holding it, swaying, and it's all he can do to hold her on the donkey and guide them to this inn. Now he knocks with the force of fear, and when the inn-keeper opens the door, the man's face alights with hope.
"A room, please." he says.
But the inn-keeper frowns. "We're full up."
"But my wife...she needs a place." He looks back at the young woman slumping on the donkey. "A baby's coming."
The inn-keeper looks away, awkwardly (this is not a thing for men), and motions to his wife. She comes toward the door, drying her hands on her apron. The inn-keeper whispers to her. They look at the man sadly, but shake their heads. "We've people in hallways, in the eating room. There really is no room left." Then the inn-keeper says, "but the stable...it's not clean, but out of the weather, at least."
The wife says, "Go now, I'll bring you some towels, some hot water. Some soup."

So they are turned away from the inn.
But not turned away from shelter. A stable. A dirty, musty, messy stable. Not with just one cow, a couple of chickens, lambs as our creches always give include, but also full up. Full of the pack-animals of all those folks who have come to Bethlehem. Jam-packed with them.  But Joseph finds a somewhat clean corner, places his cloak down on the hay and helps his young wife off the donkey finally. She lays back on the hay and breathes out, "Thank God."

Yes, thank God. She means it. For His presence on their journey, for His provision in the stable, for the end of that hard journey and the end of her longer journey.

And for what lies ahead. Immediately ahead. For the work of the next few hours, and the result of that work. "The virgin will conceive and bear a child..." She will see the fruit of that conception soon. The son she will love as no other. And she alone can thank God for that.

Imagine Jesus being your child. Imagine. I think of how I love my children, how I felt when they were born, how I could hardly wait to see their faces and curl their hands around a finger. To pick features that came from Beve or me or someone else in our family.  So I imagine those hours in the stable (or cave, as some scholars believe), and imagine Mary waiting for the giant, "THANK GOD," she'd be saying when she sees her baby's face. Her baby--and God's.

I don't think she cared where she was then. I don't think any of us would have. The world itself is only encompasses that small baby in her arms. I know this feeling. Every woman who's ever had a baby experiences Mary's moment here.

But we also have this momentwhen we first meet Jesus. In a stable. On a street corner, in a church sanctuary or camp, when we first see His face, we are like Mary. That is our Christmas morning. Face to face with the one we've been longing for--even when we didn't know it. Face to face with the One we've been struggling about or laboring over or whatever. The story of the road to Bethlehem is our story. Our coming to Him story. It looks different on each of us, but in the end, when we see Him and know Him, there are angels singing Glory to God. FOR US. Yes, for each of us.
Glory to God in the Highest.

Who is on the road in your life? Who is in labor (even if they don't know it)? Who is sweating and working and struggling in the dirt of a stable without recognizing what is about to happen?
Thank God for them, ask God for them, trust God for them.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The step-dad of God

Last night I was awakened from a sound sleep by a dream, a nudge, a troubled sense that a family we know needed prayer. So I obeyed. My prayer was whispered--or said without spoken words at all--in that place between waking and sleeping, and had the sense of a dream about them, too. But then I was conscious that my prayer was rote, not deeply felt or meant, and so I asked the Holy Spirit to pray through me. After all, He had encouraged my participation in whatever the great need was, a thing He knew (and knows) completely. Then the substance of my praying changed. Became real, I suppose. It wasn't long after that that I fell back asleep.

 It wasn't the first time such a thing has happened to me, but it was the first time for this strange phenomenon: though I remember praying, I cannot remember who the family was for whom I prayed. That, apparently, is not mine to know right now. They are friends--I wasn't unfamiliar with them--but I have the feeling that I don't pray for them on a regular basis.

This may well seem strange to you--that God, the Holy Spirit would come to me in a dream. But there have been a variety of ways He's done so. For instance when I was writing my novel, I'd often spend a day struggling with a scene, go to sleep, and the answer would come while I slept. I KNOW this was Him, because it was God Himself, via a dream, who gave me the idea (a very clear and developed storyline) in the first place--a story, scene I cannot imagine EVER thinking up on my own. He's also given me peace when I've struggled with relationships, my own heart, a path to take (like laying down that novel--which was the hardest decision I've ever faced). And this call to pray. So many, many times. I never quite grow used to it, but always welcome such invitations because the idea that He's there in the dark of night, asking this of me is sweet.

Dreams, of course, are not uncommon in Scripture. We all know that. The one I most love is of the man who thought the best--most loving--solution to his espoused wife's pregnancy was to let her go (presumably to the other man? I like the think this). But his decision was exactly the wrong one. So God came to Joseph in a dream to tell him not to be afraid (of Him, of the public outcry, of the miraculous thing happening within Mary?) but to take Mary as his wife. Joseph probably woke straight up after that dream, rubbed his eyes, and wondered for a moment. Then sank back down on his pallet (no mattress topper for him!) and believed by faith. Believed in the dream. Believed in the One who'd spoken in the dream.

Then he got up and obeyed.
Which makes Joseph the first follower of Christ. Mary didn't have to believe by faith. She KNEW she was a virgin. Joseph had to believe it. Mary KNEW that God had put His seed within her. She'd felt the baby--the INCARNATE--kick inside. Joseph had to believe (though, of course, he'd watched her grow big with child.
Joseph, the follower. Joseph, the faithful. This is the man who became the step-dad to God. The man who would raise HIM.  Could there have been any other man?

We neglect Joseph too often. Mary is deified. And rightly so. She carried God in her womb. She was His mother. But Joseph's place was only barely less amazing. Clearly purposed. And we do well to honor him.

And, from his example, learn to listen when (or even ask for) God to speak to us in our dreams.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blessed am I

I was fourteen when He first came to me. Fourteen and wet  behind the ears, barely beyond the reach of childhood, not sure I was ready for what was just ahead. Responsibilities I wasn't sure I wasn't quite capable of.  Fourteen and innocent. So innocent that, unlike my more mature girlfriends, I'd backed away from relationships--even offered ones--though I'd been dreaming of them, playing make-believe about them, practicing for them my whole life.

When He came to me, He took me by surprise. Of course. How could it have been otherwise? I was going about my day, doing what was required of me, and suddenly there He was. Asking such a thing of me. Asking the world of me. The world and beyond, it seemed. In my innocence I didn't understand how it could be, but His calm, strong voice told me to trust Him.
And so I did. It wasn't as hard as you might think. If you'd been there, with Him in His glory standing in front of you, saying such things, asking such a thing, you'd know. There was no way to fall but toward Him. And so I did. "I am your handmaiden," I told Him. Just His handmaiden. No exalted place for me, when there is One such as Him doing the asking. A privilege, an honor, but a servant's privilege. "The Father will honor those who serve [Him]."

"Be it unto me," I said.
And it was.
He came into me. 
And it changed me. In an instant, though it took a bit for me to feel His presence. And then I knew. He was alive in me. And my life would never be the same. I had said Yes to Him. He would be born in me. Through me. And all the world would know. Would be changed.

So I sang. I sang glory to God. Glory, glory to God. Blessed am I!

This is, obviously, my retelling of Mary's story (with small licenses, if you'll forgive me). 
However, it's also my story in a way. I, too, was an innocent fourteen-year-old girl when He came into my life and changed it. I, too, was taken off-guard by Him, by the privilege of His coming and residing within me, and the profound change it made in my life. I, too, was humbled by His presence, though the manifestation of it, though instant, was also a process, a pregnancy, if you will.

And I think that perhaps Mary, though absolutely real and historical and as set-apart from the rest of us as the moon is from the earth, is also an archetype for each of us when He comes to us, enters into us. When our life is changed by the Holy Spirit being born in us. It is ours to bear Him, to say, "Be it unto me, I am your servant," to whatever He calls us to. It is ours to respond, "Be it unto me," in trust, in faith, with joy. Humbly believing that He will honor our calling, whatever it is. It is ours to witness to that calling but not to blow our own horns about it. And it is ours to sing His glorious praise for what He does in us. To say--with our hearts and minds and souls and strength, "Blessed am I!"

"Come to us, reside in us, O Lord, Emmanuel," says the old carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem. 

And I guess that's my point.
She alone is Mary, mother of Jesus.

But we are Marys, bearers of Christ, the Holy Spirit.

Monday, November 26, 2012

A little identity theft

Something I learned today: when Beve calls to say he'd gotten a message to call our credit union IMMEDIATELY, it isn't good news. A few minutes later I got a text from him with these exact words: "It appears someone has been making transactions on our account." Ten thousand dollars of electronic checks were written and posted to our account. And...let me just say, we don't have an extra 10,000$ sitting around in that account, especially not this close to the end of the month. Of course, things began to bounce, including an important payment scheduled to come out today. Moments later the credit union called me, and I spent the next hour going over our transactions, verifying that I hadn't, in fact, changed our address, password, etc. Then we closed that account and opened another one all over the phone. And all the while I was feeling the hair standing up on the back of my neck. 

Beve and I are probably easy targets, in some ways, though I shouldn't admit this. We don't have triple locks on things, either physically or electronically. We don't have a whole lot of excess in our lives--not in our bank accounts, not in our life-style--so we never consider ourselves targets. But this isn't the first time we've had such problems. Years ago, when we were trying to get financing to buy a house, we were told our credit rating was poor, because of one particular phone company we owed many months' bills.We were flabbergasted. Then we discovered that the phone company was in southern California, where we've never lived. Someone used Beve's social security number and name to apply for the phone service. In order to fix our credit rating, we had to send many kinds of verification proving we'd lived in Washington the whole time.  It was arduous.

But that was personal. We knew almost instantly that the person behind that identity theft was my now-deceased younger brother, Andrew. It was the first time we'd been his victims but not the first time he'd done such a thing (and he didn't hide his tracks well--ask BB!).

This, on the other hand, is completely different. Much harder to trace, the bank said, because of the use of electronic banking. 

But once I finally got off the phone, my shoulders began to relax. This is part of the fallen-ness of this planet. People steal. Money, yes, but identity as well. And that is a scary thought because we trust in our identity. We trust that only the real us have access to what is rightfully ours. 

And yet.
Even as I wrote that last paragraph I began to smile. To see beyond the superficial to a deeper truth. First, 'we trust in our identity': This is true. For better and for worse. That is, we trust in who we know ourselves to be, what our names are, what we've accomplished, etc. and stand on them as the sure foundation, even as we say we trust Him. At least I do.
That's one 'and yet.'
Second, 'we trust that only the real us have access to what is rightfully ours.' This is true, also. I like knowing my money's safely in the bank. MY money, only for me (and Beve, of course). 

But what if it's taken away? What if our earthly identity is stolen from us, and our worldly goods taken from us? My true identity does not lie in my social security number (which I'd gladly give you right now, if I didn't think some would be shocked), or in my bank's routing and account number. Nor does yours. No, true identity doesn't have a whit to do with anything we can put our hands on. It was given. It's been given. It is given BY GOD. At birth, at the Cross, and as we are being saved (and yes, it's a process!) by Him.

 If we bank our treasures anywhere else...we'll go bankrupt. That's just the truth.
So, come at us, if you will, enemy. Try to steal our name, our numbers, whatever. Those are merely human inventions. What lasts, what will last, is who we are. And we are safe. I believe this. I TRUST in my God to protect us. Amen.

Vigil

So it begins.
The movement toward Christmas. Someone said the other day that they are always a little sad when Thanksgiving is over because it signals a rush of hunting and gathering somewhat like what our ancestors did...though they'd be shocked that our gathering was of such frivolous things, not to mention how scared out of their pantaloons they'd feel at all the electronic devices.

But, as many have said before me (and like far more eloquently), it doesn't have to be so. Twenty years ago (really? REALLY? 1992 was 20 years ago? Yikes, bikes!) I read a book called The Vigil. It wasn't my common fare but changed the way my heart and mind moved toward Christmas. Waited for it, actually. Vigil means a devotional watching, or keeping awake, through the customary hours of the night. The author,Wendy M. Wright, says, "Our entire lives are a vigil, a keeping watch, for the fulfillment of this hope. All creation holds vigil with us, as it has from the beginning. All generations before us and those that come after us will hold it as well.
     "But it is especially in this season of the church year, during Advent and Christmas, the season of the Coming, that we rise up on tiptoe to dance. We open our throats to sing and to proclaim this vigil that we keep." p. 16

Once in the long history of time, that hope for which all Creation waited came. HE came, I should say. From the first, through all the fits and starts, the successes and failures, the covenant-keeping and (far more often) covenant-breaking, creation waited. Kept vigil. Through the dark hours of night that was all that history we call BC.

But let's be clear. We are not merely observers of creation. We forget this, I think. We gaze out on mountains, oceans, deserts, rolling hills, lush valleys and call THAT creation. But the climax of God's creation was human beings. Not the apex but representing the completion because we alone bear His image. We alone are given dominion and authority over the rest of the earth. And when creation sings, we are part of it, when it rocks with storm and breaks we share that as well. We are His created Ones. So we need to get over this idea that we are set apart from Creation, that we can observe it as good and other and beautiful without recognizing that God intended the same for us.

Because He so intended this beauty for us, and because we so messed it up (and messed up as much of the rest of His creation as we can get our hands on along the way), He told us to wait for Him to make it right again. That He would come.

So began our vigil for the once and for all answer to what we've done to spoil our rightful place with God and our rightful place with the rest of creation. Waiting for the Incarnate, it turned out, though sometimes the mist was so thick we hardly knew it was God Himself for whom we were waiting. Even His clear (looking back) words ahead of time somehow clouded the truth for many.

But He came.

And for those who believe, we have the good fortune--the GREAT GRACE--to practice, once again this year, a devotional watching through the darkness (corresponding with the darkest time of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere) for the Incarnate to come. God born in flesh. This vigil can quiet every other thing we do, can still us within so that all the tasks, the goods and gifts and harried pace is slowed. Waiting within. Letting the anticipation for His birth settle on our shoulders like a warm cape so we wear it, show it, live it in whatever we do.

When creation sings, we are the voices. Lift yours in song, whisper them in prayer. Quiet them in meditation. For, behold (as the old words would say), the Son of righteousness will come...

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A moment with CS Lewis

It's been a quiet few days with just the five of us (and Grampie) for our feast. We did feast, though, and have been reaping the benefits ever since. Beve just ate some pumpkin bread pudding for breakfast (a dessert I love so much I want it at my last meal!), and that's about par for the way we've been eating. However, such a sugar and fat hit to my usually austere diet has given me a rather bad migraine, so today I thought I'd simply  write some 'found' words (as Annie Dillard would say). I've quoted part of this before, but in context, it's brilliant and has governed my prayer life for many, many years.

From CS Lewis' Letters To Malcolm Chiefly on Prayer, page 22:

Your other question is one which, I think, really gets in pious people's way. It was, you remember, "How important must a need or desire be before we can properly make it the subject of a petition?" Properly, I take it, here means either "without reverence" or "without silliness", or both.
     When I thought about it for a bit, it seemed to me that there are really two questions involved.
      1. How important must an object be before we can, without sin or folly, allow our desire for it to become a matter of serious concern to us? This, you see, is a question about what old writers call our "frame"; that is, our "frame of mind."
     2. Granted the existence of such a serious concern in our minds, can it always be properly laid before God in prayer?
     We all know the answer to the first of these in theory. We must aim at what St. Augustine (is it?) calls "ordinate loves." Our deepest concerns should be for first things, and our next deepest for second things, and so on down to zero--to total absence of concern for things that are not really good, nor means to good, at all.
     Meantime, however, we want to know not how we should pray if we were perfect but how we should pray being as we now are. And if my idea of prayer as "unveiling" is accepted, we have already answered this. It is no use to ask God with factitious earnestness for A when our whole mind is in reality filled with the desire for B. We must lay before Him was is in us, not what ought to be in us. (emphasis mine)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving...and a story

It's been a week. A wonderful, relational week. Exactly what the week in which we give thanks should consist. As a representative of all that I have valued in this year, these days spent with people have been full of  superficiality and depth, laughter and tears, grace and truth, and I treasure them--because wherever two or more are gathered in His Name, He is there. Absolutely. And I testify to these moments for which I give Him thanks--in just this week:

An evening with friends who have walked the road we walk with mental illness and could speak into our fear, unknowing and drowning. They were wise and real, transparent and profound and by the time we'd prayed ourselves out the door, we we buoyed with encouragement. Renewed faith in God's sovereignty.

SK and I (and E from her home) drove through a torrential downpour two hours south to my brother's home high on a hill in Tacoma, overlooking the waterfront where (on clear days) there's a view of Mt. Rainier, which must be breathtaking at dawn (though I'd never know, even if I lived there. We spent the day with him, his son and daughter-in-love, and their darling, very pretty 6 and 1/2 month old daughter. It was a quiet day, with the pouring rain outside, and the rhythm of a baby setting the tone, but the conversation was like the lovely sweaters my brother's wife creates, knit together by the knowing that comes because we're family. E left, R's wife survived an arduous commute home from work and we sat down to a dinner my brother deftly made while the conversation flowed without a hitch. And when we left, we felt blessed, (especially to have met Amazing A! Good job, K & C, if I didn't tell you. Hang in there, you're doing a wonderful job. I pray for you!)

Beve's brother visited over the weekend for a flying visit to see Grampie. It was good to see this mountain of a man. We tried to take Grampie out to dinner but for the first time, Grampie refused to come with us. I choose to thank God for this new hard development. I choose to sit here this morning and thank Him for what we have left of Grampie today: his face-lighting smiles when he sees us, his large appetite that hasn't abated, his ability to talk (even when he's confused), his presence in our lives. We will try to bring him here today. Hope for the best. Please, God.

A hard thankfulness this week is that close friends had to put their beloved Golden Retriever, George, down this week.  I've hardly known a dog more loved, and I've loved dogs deeply. As I hurt and cry with them, I give thanks for the furry almost-son George has been in their lives. This was a dog who thought broccoli was a treat! Incredible. Really. Anyway, as I hold in one hand the grief of his death, I'm very thankful for this beautiful, loving, scared-of-thunder dog, thankful for the tremendous joy he brought to D and ML. By the way, he featured in a post a couple of summers ago (and it's a good one, if I do say so myself), which you can find it here.

And finally, on a completely different note (and apologies for those of you who know this story already) our Thanksgiving story, told every year, like people tell the Christmas story. It just has to be done.

The most famous of our Thanksgivings was the first Beve and I shared. Now when I say shared, I simply mean Beve and I shared the same table, sat down as friends, stood up as friends, and nothing but friends.  It was a start, though we didn't know it at the time.  That year (the olden days to our kids) Beve and his brother were living in Finland.  The living there stuck for Beve's brother, and he's called no other place home since, though that was something else none of us knew at the time.  My Europe-traveling friend and I had made our way north like we were following the twilight, getting to Helsinki just about the time the sun went over the horizon for the years.  At least it seems that way as I look back on it.  So after hanging with Beve and his brother for a few days, we decided to put on the bird, so to speak, for a few of their friends.  None of the four of us had ever cooked a turkey before, but we'd seen between 24 and 30 years of them cooked, so we thought we could do the job well enough.

 Unfortunately, Finland in November isn't exactly a turkey farm. While my friend S (actually, she was the original SK, the one whose middle name we gave our own SK) and I made a shopping list, Beve went turkey hunting.  When he walked back in the door, grinning, he said, "I looked all over Hell...sinki for this turkey."  Inimitable Beve, one down the road our kids would recognize as Vacation-Beve!  Later that night, the three of us  went grocery shopping for all the ingredients of an American Thanksgiving.  More easily said than done, however.  Looking for specific items like 'french-fried onion rings' and sage and thyme isn't simple when most store clerks wouldn't admit they spoke English, and we couldn't make heads, tails or anything else of ingredient labels the multi-voweled, double-consonant two-mile long words that make up the Finnish language.  We managed, but just barely.  Looking for sausage for the stuffing I intended to make, just like dear old Mom, was the hardest task.  However, with the help of a clerk, some highly inventive sign language, including pushing our noses up like we were pigs, we found a package similar to good ol' Jimmy Dean's, so we were set.  The clerk seemed to find us odd, shook her head at us a bit, but we'd gotten that a lot since we'd stepped off the Viking line ferry into the land of the reticent Finns.

While Beve and his brother duly worked that Thursday--after all, it was no holiday in the land of  the Northern Lights--S and I cooked.  First things first.  The sausage for the stuffing.  After frying up some onions, adding celery and herbs, we peeled back the packaging, and discovered Finnish sausage is maroon. I'm talking a deep crimson that was my father's favorite color, but has almost no resemblance to the ground sausage (or any other meat) which we expected. And it didn't fry up like ground meat either.  It kind of clumped and stuck to the spoon.  However, with enough seasonings, it began to taste okay.  Then, with the bread, it actually tasted quite good.  So we stuffed the bird, put it in the minuscule oven and went on with our preparations.  When Beve got home, there was still some left in the pan, so he had a taste as well. OK, so it's just possible we spent the day tasting that sausage stuffing. Dang, we were good cooks! At some point, after many spoonfuls, we decided it was so tasty, we might need another roll of sausage--leftovers, you know.  So Beve went back to the store for that amazing crimson Finnish sausage.

While the potatoes boiled, and the turkey cooked. we moved every table into Beve and his brother's small living room, created our own banqueting table. And then, just as we were folding napkins into festive triangles (I never have learned the art of napkin folding), Beve returned with the largest grin on his face I'd ever seen, and I can tell you Beve has a smile to melt a heart.  He could hardly contain himself.  Really. "It's not sausage," he said, exuding glee like a little boy. (And this may have been the moment I first saw him as more than a friend)

"IT'S DOG FOOD." 
Dog food.   Dog  food, stuffed in our gullets all day long.

And dog food, stuffed--gasp!--in the turkey we were about to serve our Finnish guests.  So the moral dilemma was, obviously, should we serve it to them?  I mean, we'd been eating it all day and were still alive to laugh about it. Or should we take it out of the turkey?  What would you have done?
 Can you guess what we did? 

Months later, back home in the states, I got all my film developed, and the picture of the trip for me was the one of my friend S, standing at the stove in Beve's apartment, holding a large spoonful of that dog food stuffing, about to take a bite. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A hypocrite

Beve and I spent some time yesterday who was grousing about how, via the media and in person, he hears a certain negative response from non-believers. A response of intolerance that's clothed in this one specific phrase:W
"But Christians are such hypocrites."

He was defensive and angry about these words, pointing his fingers back at those who would say such a thing. And I know that, having heard this sentence aimed at me more than once--more than a hundred times--in my life, it's easy to feel offended and defensive. Such feelings are knee-jerk, aren't they? I've always thought it somewhat difficult that Christians are actually the only people in the world who are called intolerant when we believe this world is not our home and therefore, not the end-all, be-all of all things, when we make choices that are counter-cultural.

However, this sentence, "Christians are such hypocrites," should elicit a completely different reaction in us.

"It does not depend on human desire or effort, but on God's mercy. ..For scripture said to Pharoah, 'I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my Name be proclaimed in all the earth.' " (Romans 9: 16-17) The story in Exodus--even in Pharoah--is FOR US! God's master plan is to display His power in us. His power.

Without Him, or without giving over to Him, we're every bit as much hypocrites are the people next door. We raise our voices in anger against those who we should love, we are so busy condemning practices those who practice such things never know that there is One who SAVES. Who doesn't change change behavior by our effort, but by coming to us, forgiving us, and giving us NEW LIFE. Each of us has experienced this. Each of us has been reborn in Him. Each of us has HIM indwelling.

And still we fail. We are hypocrites. We come before Him in need of forgiveness.
Sometimes it helps me to imagine the story of the woman caught in adultery. I think of the great 'sins' of this generation: homosexuality, those who choose abortion. I imagine us as those who bring these people before Jesus. I imagine Him writing in the sand. Finally saying, "If any one of you is without sin, let him/her cast the first stone."

Then I imagine the roles reversed. I imagine some world in which my greatest sin, whatever it is, is the one we have decided is the one worth stoning. I am the one taken by my upper arms and dragged to him by an angry crowd. People yelling at me, protesting, fighting, taking up the cause. And standing before Jesus where they say I should be stoned. My heart is pounding straight out of my chest. I am beyond humiliated, beyond any fear I've ever felt. Certain of death. And even afraid of the silence of this man writing in the sand.
Then I hear the soft--but strangely carrying--words He says to the crowd about them being without sin casting stones at me. I cannot raise my head, so certain am I that a rock will hit me any second. Instead I hear the shuffling of feet walking away until only this man, this Jesus, and I are left.

"Look at me, "He says. I raise my head.
"Does no one condemn you?"
I shake my head. "No, sir," I whisper.
"Then neither do I," He answers. "Go and leave your life of sin."

And I can. I can leave my life of sin after such a moment. A moment so bathed in blinding love I'd never imagined it. THIS is what will change me.
This is what changes all of us.

Yes, I'm a hypocrite at moments. We all are.
HE never is.
And the more He is given rein (and reign) in my life, the less a hypocrite I will be.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Revising my bucket list

The last time I made a bucket list was almost 4 years ago (I just read through it and the ONLY one I can cross off is "Learn to sew." Still, some of those things don't quite hold now. So halfway through my fifties is probably a good time to revisit this list. So here it is, revised...in no particular order.

  1. Visit Finland to see the relatives (with Beve, of course!).
  2. Go to Africa, see the great Rift Valley, Amboseli, the  David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Participate in a ministry. I'd go anywhere on that continent...I have it in my heart.
  3. Return to India, to see the places we lived and worked and first admitted we were in love. But also to see other parts, like Calcutta, the south (where Amy Carmichael worked), Goa on the west coast. There are just so many different cultures in that large sub-continent. But especially go back to Delhi where we ministered, so see what work is still going on.
  4. Follow the missionary journey (s) of Paul...ending up in Rome, as he did, to see the Pieta, the Cistine Chapel, St. Peter's. Of course, such a trip would include a Greek Island to soak up the glorious sun.
  5. Stand on the steps where Jesus faced Pontius Pilate. And visit the olive grove that is Gethsemane, and the wailing wall, and...well, all of it.
  6. See my children settled in careers about which they are passionate and fulfilled.
  7. Cry at their weddings.
  8. Hold my grandchild (ren). *
  9. Know/have interest in/be compelled to return to my novel. Have it succeed and be finally published.
  10. Hear God's voice in a clear, audible way. Just once. Like Saul/Paul or Samuel or anyone of a thousand people. To really hear it outside my own head, so He doesn't sound like me but has His own voice with His own cadence.
*No pressure, JESK!
I don't need to do any of these things, God knows. My life will keep moving. Bucket lists are like that. They should be. I can let my imagination run wild, because the sky's the limit, right?
So what's on your bucket list?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fire--again

I often think that I have been put in this small, reduced place in which I live for the specific purpose of witnessing to the gifts in the fire of suffering. I believe with all my whole heart and broken body that pain experienced on this earth--in any guise--is useful to God in making us more like the One who suffered for us. More than simply useful, however, it is actually something to welcome, as James puts it.

One cannot read the New Testament without seeing this. We might try to turn our eyes from it, but it's there in living, God-breathed color. And right in the middle, right in the beginning of the Church, when the apostles were so newly filled with the Holy Spirit they were still wet behind the ears, so to speak, they began to be persecuted.  And their first, knee-jerk reaction to such persecution stops me in my "it's not fair"s and "Why me?"s and all the other responses we have to suffering.
The word in Acts 5: 41 is, "The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name."

Counted worthy of suffering?  Oh my God. Seriously, oh God, will I ever get to that?

If there's a hierarchy of suffering, most of us don't get to this most exalted place. We live in places where we are free to worship and believe what we will. And even when we share the gospel with those around us, we aren't thrown into jail for it. Yes, sometimes (in this current climate) met with derision, sometimes with arguments and stone faces and people turning away, but not chains or beatings.

And how many of us, if such things DID happen could say, with these first followers of Christ, men who certainly hadn't always been without their own flaws, but were now on fire, "What a privilege to be worthy of suffering for Him!" Could I?

I don't know.
I do know that counting it worthy can start here and now with the pain and suffering is in my life. James 1: 2-3 says, "When all kinds of trials and temptations crowd into your lives, my brothers, don't resent them as intruders, but welcome them as friends! Realize that they come to test your faith and to produce in you the quality of endurance." This is from the JB Phillips New Testament, a translation my friends and I (and a whole generation of Christ-followers in the 70s)  were enamored of when we were young. In my own here and now I'm becoming more of a connoisseur of suffering that I couldn't have imagined then. And certainly would have been apprehensive about if I'd known. And learning to welcome my suffering--physical and as a not a once and for all thing, but a life-long process. A step or two forward, a fall on my knees (if I actually could) in pain and confusion backward. Rejoicing one day, crying out from my heart in fear another.

And yet.

And yet, I come again and again to the Cross where I gaze upon Him. The one who suffered so infinitely more than I can imagine FOR ME. And I trust Him. Trust that He is using whatever He will to make me like Him. If health and ease could do it, that would be my lot. But it can't. Not as suffering can. Not if I want to have my old self carved away and only HIM left for the world to see. AND for Him to see when I stand before Him. Welcomed by Him, because I have endured and thrived and welcomed whatever fire my life has brought.

I will not witnessing to Him walking with me in the fire. Molding me in the fire. Giving Him glory for whatever He allows. AND believing He wants to do the same thing in each of you. If this is my ministry, I welcome it too.
To Him be the glory.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Being thankful

November is the month in our country when we turn our hearts toward Thanksgiving. And thanksgiving.  Around the table next week, many of us will be asked to name what we're thankful for this year. And, as we've approached that, I've also seen the upswell of people who have because of a particular (wonderful and thoughtful) book or simply because it's a good practice, taken a moment each day to name what the small or large thing for which they are thankful.

I'm certain God is pleased with such lists, pleased with such re-settings of people's attitudes. After all, we are    explicitly told--admonished, even--by Paul to "Be thankful." I have to admit (and take no pride in this) that I'd fall down on the job, if I tried to spend an entire month making such a list. I'm just not a list person. This doesn't exempt me from the mandate, of course.

However, I was struck the other day by one particular list I've seen, my niece's.  Rather than simply finding the good, the sweet, the lovely, which she could easily find (she's a young mom with an adorable one year old son in whom she fully delights), she's been facing the things that normally frustrate and annoy her, drive her crazy and exhaust her. Then turning them on their heads to find joy IN them. To see them as joys rather than pain. To see that God can use every circumstance in her life for good. She's willing herself to say, "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength."

And make no mistake about it, it is Christ who gives strength for such a list as my niece's. In comparison to a list of what is good (and don't get me wrong, this is a GODLY pursuit and nothing to sneer at. Read Philippians 4: 8, if you don't believe me!), finding contentment, the good, JOY in life's difficulties is hard stuff.

On the flip side, of course, is the idea that we don't get caught up in our own goodness. Our own credentials, some might say. We don't consider ourselves more highly than we ought, but look at the whole of life--of our lives--as gifts. And are thankful on a daily basis for what we've been given. So perhaps, in the end, these lists of thankfulness go together. The good and the frustrating, the amazing things we see and experience as the awkward and uncomfortable together form a whole that is His work in us. And should cause us to rejoice. He is at work in us.

Such work is Kingdom work.  As Paul says in Philippians 3, "Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Be still and know...

Be still.
Be still and know.
Be still and know that I am God.
It starts with being still. Busyness will not bring the knowing that is needed. We can know many things is the rush of life in this century. Can study all manner of things. And, in fact, it's easy to tell what matters to a person by the content of their knowledge.  A person who spends her days with grease under her fingernails lying on her back beneath a car will likely know about auto mechanics. A person who stares through a telescope into the dark of night for a living hopefully knows astronomy. Where we store up our treasure of knowledge, we might say, reveals where our hearts are.

So what if we stop there? The world does. The world stops with knowledge as the great treasure worth seeking and personal satisfaction from that treasure as our chief aim. We have a right to it. To ourselves. To be still and selfish for our own aims, to plow down others in the way of getting what we need to achieve what we're meant to have. This is the lie of the world. And, sorry to say, even those of us who follow Christ allow it to creep into our thinking, though we wouldn't dare put it so baldly. We mask it, we put a face on it that looks pretty and pleasant and even unselfish, but then we go about our business, trying to get ahead.
Without getting past the first clause,
Or the second,
To the third,
Where the heart of this simple--but incalculably important--word from Psalm 46 resides.

Be still and know that I am God.
The knowing of eternity, the Kingdom knowing that "I" am God, and not anything or anyone else--this takes stillness. This takes a laying down of self, human knowledge (at least so far as it rules and pre-occupies us).  We are not God. This is one thing we have to know--to where our heart beats in our chest and our blood carries life to every part of our body, we must know this.
I AM God. I AM [is] God. The great I AM THAT I AM is God.
This is the omni-knowing we are given when we still ourselves to know Him.
How about that?
The closest we get to omniscience--to the Omniscient!--is in our own stillness.
It's not in learning more, seeking more, claiming more, hurrying after more. It's in being still before Him more.

Be still 
and know
that I am God.
Psalm 46: 10

“In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength."
Isaiah 30:15

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dreams run wild

In the months just before we married, Beve and I lived in Holland and India. And while God moved us toward marriage, He also taught us to communicate. Or I should say, He re-taught us how to communicate. We'd known each other for so long that teasing and laughing with each other was easy, and talking about all things outside of ourselves the go-to setting, but we had no earthly idea how to talk about the down deep and dirty truths of our hearts and souls. And those months were spent in a Discipleship Training School with Youth With A Mission, which meant we weren't supposed to be more than friends anyway. So how did God teach us to communicate as people who were designing their wedding invitation from a YWAM base, and would be husband and wife just six weeks after unpacking our bags from our cross-the-world flights?

We learned by writing to each other. Several times a day, sometimes short, sometimes long, always bathed in prayer and self-revelation. They are sweet and innocent and bring up old memories of people we haven't thought of in years, of experiences that were life-changing--and cross-cultural, and full of passion: for God, the gospel and each other.

I know this because yesterday, Beve and I pulled out the large, overflowing box of letters because we've decided to read them to each other for as long as it takes. I read one of mine, he reads one of his, and we listen to the young version of ourselves looking forward to this day (though they didn't know it) as they dreamed of a life together. Then we pull out letters from others we received during that time; feel the confirmation God intended in their words. 

I'm awed seeing this huge pile of letters, though I don't know why I should be. God always knows what He's about. He does romance well, our God does. If we let Him. And He does it with gusto. It humbled me then to have been the recipient of so great a gift as our romance. But looking back on it, living it into our thirtieth year, I know He intends such gifts for each of our lives. One way or another. Yours looks different than mine, but is no less a possibility--for Him.  In those days, Beve would say, "let's let our dreams, hopes, thoughts and imaginations run wild in the Lord."

The letter Beve read last night ended with a poem. Beve LOVED Ruth Harms Calkin in those days so it isn't surprising that he used her poem to tell me what he wanted me to understand about how God sees me.

"You dreamed me up!"
O dear God
It was You, You alone
who dreamed me up.
Nobody else
would ever have thought of me
or planned for me
or looked right through me
with future contemplation.
I was all your idea.
You had big things in mind for me
Good things, glorious things
And now, with magnificent dexterity
You are making them come to pass.
And I?
Well, I stand amazed on the sideline
And praise Your infinite patience.
                      --Ruth Harms Calkin

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mentally disabled

When my family first moved to the college town on the the eastern edge of Washington state, we lived in a neighborhood next door to a house with lowered shades and dark, covered porch that, years later, reminded me where Boo Radley lived in To Kill A Mockingbird. Other children in the neighborhood told us that a 'retarded' girl lived there, whose name was Bobbi or Robbi (47 years dulls the memory a bit!). I apologize for using this politically incorrect and offensive word, only do so because it was first time I ever heard such a word, and didn't even understand the concept, only knew that, from the tone of their voices, it meant something awful. Something scary. Then, within the first few days we lived there--on a hot, late August afternoon, I saw this girl. She was sitting on a blanket in front of her house, surrounded by a large wooden fence, like a giant playpen. She wasn't a girl at all, but a very large, maybe even grown, woman, with short dark hair, wearing nothing but a shirt and a diaper. An enormous diaper. Gurgling as she played with baby toys. I was scared to death. Couldn't make sense of what she was.

That year I began third grade at a school where all the mentally disabled children from the whole area were bused and educated. Their classrooms were in my wing of the school; one was right next door. I began to know them as 'Whitmans' for having come from all over the county, and to this day, that word, sadly, has negative connotations to both Beve and me. And though I grew used to seeing kids in wheelchairs, walkers, with all kinds of disabilities, I was never really comfortable around them. It wasn't that I was mean to them, more like that first fear never really went away. I was a child, and thought like a child. It doesn't reflect well on me, I know but...there it is.

After college, however--because God is God, and is ALWAYS in the business of correcting our misconceptions and redeeming our fears (if we let Him)--as a VERY employable young woman with degrees in English and Biblical Studies (read the sarcasm here), I had trouble finding a job. Finally I took one working with Mentally Disabled Adults. Men and women approximately the age of Bobbi/Robbi who had first scared me.  It wasn't an easy job. I lived and worked 24 hours a day, 4 days a week with these people, cooked for them, cleaned their messes, washed their hair, did all kinds of things I never dreamed of doing. It was like taking care of children (something else I couldn't imagine doing at that age, though I was within 5 years of doing it full-time).  But taking care of children who had more physical problems, more communication problems, more everything problems.

And I learned from them. Was changed by them. It wasn't easy. It wasn't within my natural gift-set, but God used me. One evening a woman named Linda began freaking out. She freaked out monthly with the appearance of blood (if you know what I mean).  And this particular night while she was freaking, she sat down in someone else's place on the couch, causing that woman to immediately start a cacophony of her own. To calm the situation, I tried to talk Linda off the ledge the couch, then made the colossal (rookie!) mistake of thinking I could 'help' her move. I bent in front of her, grabbed one of her arms and pulled. And in her fit, she kicked me. Right on the left side of my ribs. By the next morning when I was free to see a doctor, I could hardly breathe and I was sporting quite the bruises. When he pressed on my ribs, I threw up on him. Fortunately, those three ribs were only cracked not broken all the way through, but I didn't know the difference. Learned another lesson there too. Reasoning skills are different with different kinds of people.

Now, over and over, we walk into the skilled nursing facility where Grampie lives. There's a closer resemblance to those children in the Whitman class and the mentally disabled adults I worked with in Eugene than to who these men and women were when they were working, raising families, going to school, dreaming of their futures. Every person with Alzheimer's or any kind of dementia has become a person with mental disability. A person who has a brain tumor, or with a catastrophic head injury does as well. There are many ways to join those sitting in their places on the couch, who need their hair washed. Grampie got himself outside the facility the other day, and if he'd had the strength to wheel himself away, there's no possible way he'd have been able to get back. The only way he could sit outside alone would be with a big wooden fence around him. Wearing--as always now--a diaper.

My point is, if we live long enough, we all get there. Thyrza turns 94 on Sunday and now there's a baby monitor by her bed so that her daughter can hear her if she gets up during the night.

I was afraid of what I didn't understand when I first saw it as a child. But now I am an adult. And I see it with adult eyes. In the born-that-way, and the it's-coming-down-the-road ones. God puts people in front of us to show us how to live. To teach us that being born in His image comes doesn't simply come with perfect bodies at the height of our powers or age. It means here and now, no matter how smart or able or healthy or anything else. What we look like, what we can do, how long we live. It's having been made in LOVE, and breathed into Life by Him. And loved today--and always--exactly as we are.

Update: This afternoon, SK commented that she isn't sure that what she sees when she looks into the mirror is really the truth. I suggested that for women it almost never is. However, that's probably true for all humans. We look at what's there. See the flaws of youth, the wrinkles and sags of age, what we aren't on...well, the face of our faces, if that makes sense. We look in the mirror and, no matter how able-bodied we might be, focus on what isn't.

God, however, without a such a mirror, gazes down at us, looks out from within us, bled from the cross at us, and sees who and what we really are. And calls us worthy. Worthy of birth and re-birth and indwelling and resurrection.