Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A twirling pile of plates

Beve does a lot in a day. It starts early with a clutch of teachers in his office yakking it up about all things school and not-school, teachers who know the value of community and laughter as a way to start their day. Beve's office has become community central, with a couch, rocking chair, an old theater chair, and his desk chair all ready to handle whatever butt lands in it for that half hour of conversation before those men and the occasional woman lift themselves, deep-sigh and head off to face whatever the day brings them. A public high school with over 40% of its students on free and reduced lunch brings a cornucopia.

Before Beve has his first cup of coffee (oh wait, we're still waiting for him to have his first cup of coffee...I meant tea or hot chocolate or water or whatever), he's probably talked to the other counselors about what the day will look like, seen a few students to answer questions of consequence and trivia, and spent an hour in a conference with a student in danger of not passing some class or other, or another who has been abused by dad, has run away, is considering dropping out, or myriad other things of which I know almost nothing about. There are some crises so large and overwhelming they can take the whole day--the whole week, I should say.

 Then he'll wander down to the 'Teen-Mom' area, because he's their counselor, where he'll check in on the pregnant ones, play for a moment with the babies, and maybe talk to these young mothers about what  'baby-daddies' (not my word) can/should be expected to do; ie, help in the raising of their children--which is far different from what these girls actually experience from the fathers of their children. Or he'll have to take a load of kids to "Job Corps" or "Home-port" or the the alternative high school because they're an inch away from being lost altogether if he can't find a way to help them stay in some kind of school. Or he'll actually go to a kid's house to talk him off the ledge of truancy, if possible, before it becomes too late. Then he'll get a call on his school cell-phone from an administrator, asking for his presence in the main office, so he'll spend some time there, helping with some kind of personnel issue, listening to a principal deal with a behavioral matter. Back in his office, a teacher stops by, closes the door and pours out a problem (personal, professional--that door gets closed for either!), asks for Beve's calm and wise heart to help make sense of it.

Then, for a moment or two, he might--MIGHT--have a chance to check his emails or phone messages, if the line out his door from kids isn't too long or no other fire has sprung up. No wonder he has to put in so many extra hours, get there so early--how else can he get through all that so-called 'real' work, though I don't know what could be more real, more frontline than what Beve does all day!

Meanwhile, I'm trying to get a hold of him...because I've been fielding calls all day myself. Hospice is trying to get in touch with him. Some health insurance or credit card company he didn't even know Grampie had is suddenly calling to ask why the premium hasn't been paid (a very difficult issue, since he wasn't allowed near Grampie's finances while Thyrza was living here and since, apparently, most of it was forwarded to her) Thyrza wonders why he doesn't ever answer his phone--why he doesn't go see his father more (though he sees him every day), call her more, do more, be more, more, more, more.

And I want to tell him that our son isn't doing very well--again. That it's been a bad day or week, and that fear is rising up to choke me--again. That I'm afraid to leave J--even for a week. That I count his breaths like I counted them when he was that baby, and wonder that a large, grown man can so fracture a mother's heart. When I see J's hands begin to shake, and his legs begin to bounce and I know his anxiety is building, my heart sinks. My faith sinks, I suppose you could say. And I want to pile this too on top of the twirling, spinning, pile of plates my strong husband keeps juggling every single day, because he's the 'baby-daddy' here. But I worry about this worry being the one thing that is just too much.  I'm over my head here. So far over my head I don't know where the surface is, and I need my foot + taller Beve to help pull me to the top.

But the whole large balancing act he does every day when he walks out the door is in danger of crashing down any moment. That's what it feels like. I know it's not true. I know that God will not allow us to suffer beyond our powers of endurance, and I hold onto that with my teeth if that's all I have to hold with. But I'm here to tell you, it's not easy. The thing is, Beve does the whole thing--his job, handling Thyrza, Grampie, me, life itself-- with such calm and kindness that most of the time it isn't easy to tell how much it takes from him. That's what I've been thinking about lately. That's what I mean about Hawaii.  For Beve.

Because when we return, nothing else will have changed, and there will be plenty more to face. Decisions and logistics, things requiring the best of Beve and a faithful me. That pile of plates isn't going anywhere soon. The only change possible is within Beve. And me. The ability, the faith, the calm and steady hands to keep them all spinning--that must come from God, and keep coming from Him.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012


Almost a year ago, I made reservations for Beve and I to go to Hawaii during this year's Spring Break. A year ago, it looked like a fun idea. We invited some good friends to join us on the Garden Isle of Kauai for a relaxing week of sun. That's all we were thinking back then.

This sounds like we're people who can afford fancy vacations. We are not. There's almost always something going on that demands our attention. Lawns that need mowing, bills that need paying. Stuff and nonsense. Things we must do, things we can't.  And this year, all that's magnified. About a hundred times. It's hard to imagine a more difficult time to leave the continent for a week.

But every time we have a chance to really take the temperature of our lives, Beve says, "I'm overwhelmed--and exhausted." The toll this year has taken on him--on each of us, or both of us--is hard to measure.  So the vacation I booked thirteen months ago has become a far more important trip than just 'getting away.' Nothing so self-indulgent as we thought back then. Now it's a respite. As in respite from all the caring we do in our daily lives. We're putting into place several safeguards for the week away--when J will be the one to care for Grampie.

Anyway, we're going. Thursday. We'll be gone about 10 days.  Long enough, I hope. Beve's already getting a little squirrelly, and I've been trying on every piece of summer clothing in my closet in hopes of finding enough to fit me for a week (which, I know, is a good problem to have, but is still a problem).  And we're both getting ready to be warm. I realize the rest of the country has had plenty of summer weather; we haven't. Not yet. But Friday in Kauai. That'll be fine.

I haven't decided whether I'll take a computer yet...maybe just the Ipad. So maybe I'll post or maybe I won't. If not, you'll have to imagine that I'm too busy boogie boarding, snorkling, eating, swimming, reading and talking to be bothered. Sorry.

Not really.
I need the respite.


I've had some good conversations recently, the kind of conversations where it's clear that more is happening than simple words between two (or three or four) ordinary people in a ordinary (or even not so ordinary) room or across a phone line. Something moves. Someone joins the conversation and it's like I've been waiting for Him to show up. Or perhaps it's like He was waiting for me to invite Him. All day long we have conversations without inviting Him, after all. At least I do. I talk about this and that, and don't think twice about what He's doing, though I know He dwells within me. I don't think twice about what He's actually doing while I'm talking to Beve about going to see Grampie or taking out the recycling or picking up milk or taking care of one of a thousand things that make up our days. Things that don't concern you and wouldn't seem to concern Heaven.

Except that they do. I was reminded of that twice in the last week. I've been thinking a lot about a couple of conversations I had after the memorial service we went to a week ago.  Both were with people with whom we (meaning our family) took short term mission trips Mexico. The first was with the older couple Beve and I felt most connected. Beve and Carlos (the Spanish nickname Beve gave him the first summer) spent their days fetching and carrying water and food for the fifty of us spread out across a large swath of the Baja. M was our kitchen guru--serving up food and hospitality with grace and humility. They became family to us. Talking to them reminded us of a season of service we miss, a season when we gave our lives away in myriad ways, felt like we were impacting the Kingdom with every step we took. Carlos pointedly asked me whether I've done any preaching lately. He sounded like...well, like my dad, I guess, when he told me that it seems a shame that not only have I been trained, but am also passionate and gifted for the pulpit, so should practice it.  Honestly, it was like Dad was talking, though I didn't think of that until this moment.

But it really was beyond that. It felt like it was Spirit. Holy Spirit. I don't know what to do with it exactly, but there it is.

Then there was a conversation with the former youth director with whom we also traveled. I led those trips, so worked closely with this man as well. Spent many afternoons talking with him and his wife about life, the ministry, kids, missions, etc. So the conversation after the memorial service was a bit like picking up where we'd left off. And I found myself saying something I've long felt but have never said.  They too asked why I'm not in the ministry. And I told them that I've always struggled with the idea of being paid to work for the Kingdom.  In fact, I said, I wish no one ever needed to be paid to do God's work. That's the truth. I was a little surprised to hear such words coming from my mouth. But once said, I realized how deep those feelings are.

Don't get me wrong. I have very close friends who are in paid ministry. And I understand the desire to serve God and the need to make a living. And I realize that my idealism isn't realistic in this world. However, it is how I idealistically feel, because I think money absolutely gets in the way of ministry. I think the business side of ministry gets in the way so much that pastors can't pay attention to their work, and those called to mission have to raise funds and those in service organizations worry about providing service. And it all gets messy because people who give begin to think they're owed something. They think they 'own' their pastors, rather than belonging to the Body, and having their own part to do, their own place and responsibility and gifts and work.  I think that we get it wrong because we let money call the shots. This is what I think, and I hate that part of it. I really do.

So I've been pondering all this, wondering if the reason I've balked 'professional' ministry for all these years is that I am so allergic to the idea of being paid to do what God wants all of us to do.  The revelation of that has felt Spirit-opened to me. I'm still wrestling with it, of course, because there is still--always--the issue of how one actually lives in this world without money. But that's what I've been contemplating this last week.  Working out how I am made, and called, and meant to serve out of that calling.

A completely different kind of conversation came over the phone with someone in a very real life-struggle. I sat out on my back deck, spoke into the phone, and realized not very far in that the Spirit was speaking to both of us. Words more profound than I could have possibly thought up out of my own puny brain were pouring out of my mouth in such a way that I was in awe of Him...and His power to speak. Right there on a Sunday afternoon in the sunshine as I threw a tennis ball for our hyper Springer Spaniel, there He was. And though what He said wasn't for me, and therefore, a little too private for me to share here, it was powerful enough that I wanted to fall on my knees and cry for the sheer truth that He shows up and speaks when we need to hear Him. The real story is that we don't ask enough. It's what I said in the beginning of this post: I go about my day, without asking Him to join me in every conversation. I could be more wise and full of peace than I am. I could be more everything than I am because I have the One who defeated death itself living right inside of me.  "I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right and in the heavenly realms..." Colossians 1:  18-20   

Think about this for a moment. The very power that brought Jesus back from where He willingly went on our behalves. The power that conquered Satan, and destroyed death--this is the power available to us.  THIS isn't merely a possibility but what we already have if we have Him.  It's part of our inheritance. Right now. So if we're going about our days living in defeat, living in sorrow and pain and worry, fighting with the enemy on every front, it's not merely that we're playing into satan's hands but absolutely ridiculous. Because we've already won. And if we don't involve Him who IS that power within us, we're the idiots. Seriously. He's right here, "...Your power made perfect in our weaknesses."  That's not my puny brain thinking this up, it's TRUTH.

So live it. Live in it. In every conversation, ask Him in. In every encounter, invite Him, every action, allow Him to empower you to do what you are powerless to do on your own.  That's the point.

At least that's what He taught me Sunday afternoon sitting there in the sun.
Or, I should say, in the Son.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A round-up

A Monday round-up, though that makes it sound like I've made all these quilts in the last week, which would be super human. Even for me. Actually, the top one (an extra-long twin T-shirt quilt) I made for that young man so he could sleep under it at college--which he began last fall. So I'm a bit slow at getting some of these posted. That's how things go around here.
From there down, Beve's 'lap quilt', a baby quilt (which looks a whole lot bigger than it actually is--I was just standing very close when I took the photo), a couple of quilts from the same fabric line, because I had so much of the fabric, and couldn't decide what I wanted to do with all of it (it's for some good friends, and I don't even know which quilt to give them, though I am taking that white border off the larger one--it just doesn't work for me), another baby quilt, and a lap quilt yet to be designated because I really needed to work with some orange (my favorite color) for a while.

Friday, March 23, 2012


Often when I'm working my way toward sleep, some thought or other triggers something so profound I feel the need to sit up and write. Unfortunately, usually my reaction is, "Of course I'll remember this. How could I not?"  Then I don't. But last night, I clicked back on the light just long enough to write a few words on a pad beside my bed and discovered this morning that the mere act of writing those words was enough to help me remember the thoughts.

My niece M, who is now volunteering in Israel, has never lived in the United States. She was born and raised in Helsinki, Finland, with all the rights and privileges of a Finnish citizen. However, her father is Beve's oldest brother. His oldest, completely born, bred and raised American brother, I should say. This makes him a United States citizen, of course, a citizenship he has held onto though he's lived in Finland for almost 30 years now.  And because M (and her older sister) has an American for a father, she is also an American citizen, with a US passport. This has made her many visits uncomplicated by travel visas, and should she choose to live here (which she has a strong desire to do), she has every right--because this is her father- country, so to speak, as much as Finland is her motherland.

She is a citizen of a country in which she has never lived--but she has both all the privileges and responsibilities of that citizenship. And it hit me that her situation is exactly how we live as citizens of the Kingdom of God.

But maybe I should explain something.The Kingdom of God is the language I most often use to talk about what Jesus was all about--and what, therefore, we are meant to be all about.  Here's why:
First of all, it's language Jesus used very often in the gospels, particularly Matthew.  But it's in Revelation 12: 10 that I find the most helpful words, "Then I heard a loud voice shouting--'It has come at last--salvation and power and the Kingdom of our God and the authority of His Christ.'" These words parallel salvation with the Kingdom, the power (presumably of the Spirit) and the Kingdom, Christ's authority and the Kingdom, so 'Kingdom' is the most comprehensive description for what God is doing on this earth.

But here's the thing--we who are in Christ are actually citizens of a Kingdom which has no geographical location. Not on terra firma, that is. The Kingdom of God actually resides within those who believe, whether in a single person or a community of the faithful--there is some theological discussion about which (if not both) is meant by the words, "The Kingdom of God is within you."  I'll leave it at both. God the Holy Spirit comes into each of us, bringing with Him, the power, which is the sign of the Kingdom--"For the Kingdom of God depends not on talk but on power." (1 Cor. 4: 20)  The Holy Spirit is like our passport into the Kingdom. With Him we are given access to all that  the Kingdom has to offer, and we are given the responsibilities which come with that passport.

The other reason I use "The Kingdom", rather than say, "The gospel" (in some ways they are interchangeable,) is that when the disciples asked Jesus to pray, He told them to pray for the Kingdom. Jesus didn't mince words in that one famous prayer. He may have waxed on and on in the Sermon on the mount, and He spoke for hours the day He and the disciples fed the 5000, and He even managed to pray for what we've divided into about three chapters of John but when they asked Him how to pray, His answer was short and concise.  If you meditated on each separate clause, it would take you just over a week to get through.  And that's pushing it. So each small thought clearly packs a punch. Each is vitally important to our prayer lives (obviously) and our lives as His disciples, because these aren't simply personal requests but ultimately requests for all.

And right after Hallowing our Father's Name--keeping His very Name holy, we're told to pray, "May Your Kingdom come."  Right up there with the big guns, I suppose you might say. And  two things strike me about this. First, His Kingdom actually CAN come after His death, resurrection and ascension. The disciples didn't know what was ahead when Jesus said these words. They thought that Jesus Himself was the One through whom the Kingdom came. And they were right, of course. But after He was no longer present among them, the Kingdom not only could but should continue to come. And secondly, this actually implies the presence of the Holy Spirit--the presence of the Kingdom among us NOW. So, the Kingdom will and must come. And through us, in whom it now dwells. The Kingdom is present, and it must extend. That is what we pray when we pray this clause of the Lord's prayer. What a thought. Past present and future, there is the Kingdom--In the historical past, the Kingdom was in the Person of Jesus Christ.  Now the Kingdom is present in those who are His, and in the Future, the King will return, and The KINGDOM will come then, too. HALLELUJAH.

Yes in that grand and glorious day, the Kingdom of which we are citizens will not always be invisible.  Someday, the King Himself will return to His Kingdom which He now only visible through us.

Until then, we hold onto our passpost, and are comforted by the longing--yes, the homesickness--we have for the country to which we truly belong. It only makes sense that the nations of this world seem out of whack with who and what we're becoming, because the Kingdom of God is ALWAYS counter-cultural to the cultures in which we live. For example, "He who loves his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will keep it." (John 12: 25) and "The wisdom of the world is foolishness to God." 1 Cor. 3: 19)
"...For we look not at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen; for what can be seen is temporary but what cannot be seen is eternal." (2 Cor. 4: 18)

 But today we say by faith, "The Kingdoms of this world have now become the Kingdoms of our God and of His Christ and He shall reign forever and ever." (Rev. 11: 15)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Only once

I woke up with a headache. It wasn't a propitious start to my day. Nevertheless, I pressed on with the various tasks and responsibilities which are both my job and lot joy and least for this day.

Today's agenda included a doctor's appointment for a couple of issues neither of which have any bearing on this post. Before that, however, I had just time to begin work on this:
A long and lean lap (ish) quilt for Beve. Well, it kind of grew into a bed-sized quilt, because he's more like a bed-sized person. Anyway, I began working on it and realized that my usual method of quilting wouldn't work today. A few days ago I broke a thumb nail down below the quick and have been babying it along but to quilt, it take my thumbs pulling the fabric taut, and that poor, broken nail was breaking more and more with each pull. So I decided I had just time before my doctor's appointment to run to...
Jo-Ann fabrics and buy some quilting gloves, which I've never used before. They're working like a charm, by the way, though I think I might have liked the Larges a little better than the mediums. Oh well.

However, I knew time was at a premium, that I couldn't waste a moment.
Two things happened in my rush.
First I managed to...
yep, leave my tea--my very important cup of caffeine!-on the kitchen counter, which is a huge deal, considering the state of my throbbing left temple.

But I was in a hurry. A HUGE hurry. I laced up my Nikes, told the dogs to stay (and oh, the sad faces!) and raced out the door. Half way to JoAnn I looked down and realized I was wearing this:
That's right, folks. Pajama pants.  So did I turn around and forego the gloves? Heck no. I brazened it out, as flummoxed as I felt.  And when I told the cashier at JoAnn what had happened, she said she'd once come into to work and was hanging up her 'coat' and realized it was her bathrobe. Nice.

There should be some great moral lesson here, but mostly I just felt like one of those people who wear pajama pants everywhere, "though I'm not really like that," I told my doctor.
"No, you're categorically not," he said. "But I suppose it's okay once in a while."
 "Once," I said. "Only once."

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Weight Loss

Last night I actually told Beve my weight. This is a big deal to me, folks. A really, REALLY, gigantic deal. I'm married to a very tall, almost always very fit man for whom weight has never been an issue. And ever since I put on that white dress (and discovered it had been taken in too much so I thought I looked chubby, HA!), stumbled down the aisle in those ridiculously high heels and placed my hands in his for life, it's like my body is a living magnet for calories. I gained 10 pounds in the first six months, just eating meals with my own husband. But then, meals with the Beve (and his family) could stretch from breakfast to dinner with barely a moment to catch one's breath. My pokey metabolism couldn't, that's for sure. At big family gatherings, we'd still be washing up from breakfast and one of those giants was getting out nuts or cheese or some other snack to graze on to tide them over until lunch. I'd never seen such "hay-burners", as their parents called them.

Of those kids, only Beve has lived to keep his youthful physique. They all kept eating like there was no tomorrow, but it caught up with his brothers. Beve just kept moving (which is a different post!).  And I...well, I had three babies in short order, and managed to gain more than I lost (in every way, of course, and I certainly am glad I had them, and today I'm especially glad I had the middle one, who turns 25 this first day of spring!).  But that weight. More and more. Until by a year ago, I was creeping near a mark I never dreamed I'd close in on, a mark so large it made me squirm to imagine. And refuse to tell of--should Beve ever have asked, which he never did, because he loves me and not because of how I look, thank God.

But I'll tell you now. A year ago, I weighed 193 pounds. Wow, seeing that number in print is a little harder than I thought it'd be. But there it is. I was fat.  Not merely chubby, like I tended to call myself, but downright fat. And getting fatter all the time.  Drinking my ginger ale and eating my pastas and enjoying the donuts Beve bought on Saturday mornings, I was living large and barely fitting into my clothes and embarrassed by it all. I'd lie in bed at night thinking of what I'd do to change the course of this weight path--the sea-change in diet, exercise, life-style. Then I'd get up the next day and continue in the same old practices.

Just about a year ago, my sister began a cleansing diet, where she cut out sugar, wheat, dairy and soda. I think that was what her cleanse consisted of--I can't really remember now. But she felt better, she told me. So at the end of March, I decided to try it. I did cut out those things. The dairy was something I'd been meaning to cut out for a while, ever since my doctor told me I shouldn't eat any without taking a Benadryl first. Doesn't seem right to eat something one has to take a pill to ward off the allergic reaction guaranteed to come.  So dairy was easy. And I started putting honey in tea, on peanut butter and toast (the amazing home-made multi-grain!!!), stopped eating pasta, and stopped drinking pop. Well, stopped drinking everything except water and tea. Water became my new best friend. All day, all the time. ALL THE TIME.

Within three days, I felt better than I had for years. YEARS. The fibromyalgia pain has been gone ever since, which has made staying on this 'diet' easy and irrevocable, because even when I decide to have a dessert, or eat a few greasy french fries, I feel it the next day. And that's just not worth it. EVER. 

And--drum-roll, please--as of last week, I've lost serious poundage. More than a Christmas turkey poundage, by a long shot. 35 blessed pounds. And that's when I finally told Beve how much I weigh. And how much I weighed. About five months ago, when we were in a store, I held up a shirt and asked him what he thought of it, and he said, "It's too small for you."
"Beve," I said. "Look at me. What size do you think I wear now?"
He was a little surprised--he hadn't noticed that I'd lost that much weight. But these days, he constantly thinks I must be a size smaller than I am.  He started paying attention finally (which is nice, I must say!).

Here's the thing; I'm not very disciplined. I'm certainly not an exercise junkie. In fact, I haven't exercised at all to lose this weight (which I know, I know, I really need to!). My discipline starts and stops with spiritual disciplines. So I'm here to tell you, if I can change the way I eat, anyone can. And the only way I did it was that it made such a HUGE difference in how I felt. I sleep better, feel better, and have more energy for life.  For the life I have to live--which is full of hard enough stuff without dragging all that extra weight around.

There's plenty more pounds to lose. And there is more weight to lose in other ways as well.  The weight I carry from my past, the weight of worry and fear and obligations. Those pounds also have a way (weigh--get it!!!) of creeping up on us. Don't they?  But losing the physical pounds has made me very aware that it's possible. That it's always possible to drop the extra weight I carry around that keeps me from feeling as God intends me to feel. It's possible--and by God, yes, BY HIM, I'll lose that weight too.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Stinkin' to high heaven

First of all, this is my 1000th post. Seriously, that's a marker. As Laban would say, it's my pile of rocks stacked between you and me--my 'Mizpah', which is a reference from Genesis 31. "May the Lord keep watch between you and me while we are apart from one another." (Genesis 31:49)

So what do I write to mark such an occasion? What do I say that might distill what I've been saying--for better or worse--for the last almost 4 years?  I've been cogitating on this for the last 100 posts, to be blunt. That's because I've never been very good with math, and when I was approaching 899, I somehow got a little off and forgot a whole hundred. Tells you why even my father didn't press me to become an engineer.

But life has moved at a pace in the last hundred posts and here it is. And here I am, and though this won't necessarily be profound, it's what's on my heart tonight as I sit in my bed with a sleeping dog and Beve beside me.

The other night when E was home, we decided to make Thai curry for dinner. We're big fans of curry around here. While I was cooking the chicken and Beve running to the store for one more can of coconut milk, E took a shower. When she got out, she came into the kitchen and said, "It sure smells good in here."
"It's only chicken," I told her. "And the vegetables. I haven't even started the curry yet."
"Well, it still smells good."
I was surprised by that.  When E was a little girl, she didn't like chicken. We made our children take 'no-thank-you helpings', and made them eat the same number of bites as their age when they really balked. There were many, many meals of 'no-thank-you helpings' of chicken for E back then.  In fact, she'd come into the house with that freshly cut grass smell on her pink cheeks from having spent the afternoon outside, and just the aroma made her know what was coming.

Aromas do that. The smell of mayonnaise alone can make me gag. About a month ago, the huge Costco jar of mayonnaise somehow fell when J was trying to put it into the refrigerator, and he instantly yelled, "Don't come in here, Mom." Unfortunately, I misheard him, thought he was asking me to come, and ran--until the sight and smell caught up with me at the same time.  It was horrible. He cleaned it thoroughly, but I probably smelled that mayo for a good week. And got out the mop again every time!

We have strong reactions to aromas. It usually isn't the thing itself but our reaction which determines whether that aroma is good or bad. Life or death, we might say (except for skunks, one could make the case, but let's not press the analogy, okay?).

2 Corinthians 2: 14-16 says this:
Thanks be to God who always leads us as captives in Christ's triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To one we are an aroma of that brings death, to the other, an aroma that brings life.

Several observations about these verses--
1. We are captives in Christ's procession.  Paul alternately speaks of us as freed from sin and slaves to righteousness. Those two things are, in fact, part of the progression or journey of faith. We were slaves to the one, became His, are freed from that so become slaves to the other. That is, we aren't simply freed from sin to be licentious. We are freed to be holy. And wholly His. Here, however, our servanthood actually takes on a whole new dimension. It's counter-cultural to think of being captives, but we are HIS captives, the Kingdom's serfs, if you like that terminology better. We belong to Him, are here to do His bidding, rather than our own.  And that bidding is
2. To be used by Him to spread merely the knowledge, like it's a matter of mind alone, like we can reason others into the Kingdom or argue them there. But we are the very fragrance by which others will know them. This means that in every aspect of our lives--word, action, refusal to act--we stink of Him to those around us.
3. Those around us will not necessarily respond favorably to that aroma. It is God who is pleased by our stink. We stink to high heaven, and to Him alone. To the world, the stench may actually be unpalatable. A W Tozer once said that Christianity causes a revival or a rebellion. People will react strongly to the stench of our lives, but that's because to them--we carry the aroma of their own death. That's what they react to--if we're living fragrantly to Heaven.  And fragrantly to each other, I suppose.
4.  The choice is not ours.  That is, our responsibility to be fragrant to God, and what that causes in others is up to them. It's in their noses, so to speak.  What we must do is testify--with everything we are--about who He is. As captives in His triumphal procession in on this earth, as long as we are on it.  He will use us.

That's all there is.
Stinkin' to High heaven. Who knew it was the very best thing we could ever want to be?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The love of Christ compels us

Beve, SK and I went to a memorial service this afternoon. And were swamped by memories. We revisited--with tears and laughter flowing in equal measure--the life of this too-young man who lived largely, cared about what mattered and little else. His life so imitated his Savior's you couldn't help but see the parallels (if you were the thinking sort, as I always am). Living his whole life in a small corner of the world, never marrying or having children, never owning property or making a big splash in the world of commerce or finance or...or just about anything this world values. But always choosing the road that led to Heaven. Always a fisher of people--giving his life away for this person or those children, for this Kingdom-making ministry or that one. Yes, this was a man who walked in the steps of the first Fisher of people, and even today, when one might have expected him to have taken a pass, him having gone on to heaven, after all, he'd actually left a letter to be read at his memorial. And this letter was the best sermon at that memorial. We could have simply packed it up and gone home after that, because he'd said it all. Live well the lives you've been given, pay less attention to rules and more attention to each other, enjoy each other and mostly--MOSTLY--don't let program get in the way of Jesus.  Don't let anything get in the way of Jesus.

As I say, we could have packed it up and gone home then...except that we had to stand up, go out into the hall and practice those things. See, in that crowd were dozens--maybe hundreds!--of people we've known for many years, but haven't seen quite some time. Many of us no long go to the church where we all knew and were impacted by this man.  Even P had moved on from there quite a while ago. But today, we all met and exchanged old stories and caught up on new ones, hugged and communed and really WERE the church. The kind of church God is always most pleased by, I think, because there were no politics or policies, no worries over budgets or committees or whatever else are legitimate concerns of the institution. But not on a day when grieving and remembering and celebrating and just being together is what counts. On such days (with food in ample supply as well, of course), the best of the Body comes out. I miss these people. I will always miss them. That will never change.  And I'm glad that we are part of the Body together--whether together in person or in Spirit. Whether here on earth or in the Throne room with P and all those who are waiting for us--with their worshiping hats on and their hands lifted high!--I'm glad ALL these people are part of the community that has formed me into His likeness.

It was a privilege to be among them, as it was a privilege to know P. And I know--I KNOW--that he was laughing with us today, smirking a little (and yes, he could smirk!) but mostly, nodding his head and stroking his chin as he watched us live out what his letter (and his death) compelled us to do.

That's it, of course. "The love of Christ compels us." 2 Corinthians 5: 14  This was the verse we put on one of the T-shirts we wore on a mission trip to Mexico. It was out team motto that year. And it's as good a 'motto' as any for P's life, I think. The love of Christ compelled just about everything.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ambiguity and ambivalence

I'm not afraid to admit that I don't know everything. I've always been like that. Just the other day was National Pi Day, for example. Now I know that pi is 3.14 etc. (and actually stretches on forever) but for the life of me, and no matter how many people have tried to explain it to me--starting with my dad, who was the best of them--I don't really understand what it means. And trust me, I'm not asking anyone else to try. PLEASE. Trust me, that's about as close to torture as you could put me through to have me sit at a table while you try to expand my brain--just one more time--with an explanation of pi. Nor, for that matter, do I find a discussion of the another kind of pie very fathomable. Now I can understand that manure breaks down and is good for fertilization but I don't want to have a conversation about cow pie. Not today, not ever. Not interested, not interested in my lack of interest.  So there's a whole lot of ambiguity about what pi (and pie) means and why it's important.

And there are a host of matters between in which I know nothing and have very little opinion. I don't care whether someone does thing or thinks that. Whether they believe in fly fishing, for example, or fishing with lures.  I'm absolutely ambivalent about fishing.  I'm also completely ambivalent about Chevrolent and Ford. This is a matter of extreme allegience for some people. Deal-breakers, one might say. We drive Toyotas, so that's probably why, though now that we don't need to cart wheelchairs and elders all over the county we're looking at downsizing in size and numbers of vehicles, so have looked at both GMs and Fords--because we just don't have strong opinions about such matters.  You might say I'm ambivalent about such things.

There are also some things about life with God in which I feel some ambiguity. God's purpose allowing certain things, for one thing--like holocausts and genocides, for example. I don't understand such things and cannot profess even the slightest notion of them. Nor do I know when Jesus will return. Yes, I realize that every other brother and his son like to predict such things (and, of course, women are not immune to such things, I just liked the sound of brother and son together), but the truth is we're all unclear about these matters. ALL of us. If there wasn't ambiguity, living in faith would be a whole different proposition. So yes, I live with ambiguity in my Christian life.

And you would be right if you said I was ambivalent about certain practices within the Christian church.  That is, I might believe a certain practice is correct but I do not believe that a different practice (within a range, I should clarify) is wrong. For example, there are a variety of ways to celebrate the Sacrament of Communion--from as often as the Body meets to once in a while. Likewise, there are many differences in what different churches believe about that sacrament-the range runs from everything that the bread and wine (which is always wine) actually becomes the body and blood of Jesus as we celebrate it to the sacrament being a symbol of His presence among us as we celebrate it.  I believe any of the distinctions are possible and the most important issue is that we celebrate Him until He comes again. That's the point.

Likewise with baptism--and the practices of infant baptism and the baptism of those old enough to make their own decision.  Though I have my own feelings about this, I don't find this a make it or break it deal-breaker. No way, no how. I will, however, say, that the practice of baptizing the dead can NOT be backed up in the closed canon of Holy scripture. That IS a deal breaker.
So yes, I live with ambivalence in my Christian life.

However, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 1: 18f--"But surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not "Yes" and "No." For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us--by me and by Silas and by Timothy--was not "Yes" and "No", but in Him it has always been "Yes" in Christ."  There may be ambivalence in practice, and there may be ambiguity in future. But in faith there is only certainty. There is ONLY yes. Only YES.  There is no question about who Christ is. Or what He's done or what who we tell the world about Him.  We stand firm in who He is. Even in our ambivalence and ambiguity about other things, we stand firm about Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Because not only is Christ crucified, but we are also crucified to the world through Him--"For I have been crucified in Christ and it is no longer I who lives but Christ lives in me."  There is no equivocation in this. Christ died and the lives we now live we live IN HIM.

I'm not afraid to be unsure or unclear about things I don't understand. I don't have to know everything. Shoot, who would even want to? And I don't have to agree with everyone. Wow, how boring that would be! Even within the body, I don't have to break fellowship with those who aren't like me because HE brought together a whole slew of very, very diverse people--probably just to reveal to us how to do it, and that He wanted us to. But I do have to stand firm on Him. Always and always and always.

This is the sermon I always preach, I think...

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Oh, the madness

E not only drove up late last night after a class, but she actually set her alarm this morning. Got up, sprinted to the giant TV and turned it on. Then she sat up shop right by the fire, where she'll sit for the next 48 hours or so. She planned this trip north to have her car serviced, do some laundry (yes, I know we're push-overs as parents, don't talk to me about it!), all because she has only basic cable at her apartment.  Basic cable works fine for life, but NOT these two most important days of the year.

For those of you who don't know, who actually have a different kind of life than we do, who aren't what one might call a "Basketball family", these are the most important sporting days of the year. Bar none. For though there were 'play-in' games earlier this week, today and tomorrow are really the first two days of the NCAA basketball tournament, with something like 10,000 games played over the course of them. I'm pretty sure I'm not kidding.  Announcers and color-commentators are pulled out of the woodwork, the in-studio men work such long hours that by the end of the weekend (because though there are only half the games over the weekend, half of a gazillion is about a million, at least) they're all hoarse, looking like they've been running up and down the courts with the best (or worst) of those teams. And by then, we've seen amazing passes, runs, shots, dunks, jumpers, steals, rebounds, blocks, fouls, screams, tears, rants and analyses of every part of them.  Oh, the madness of it all. Oh, the unlikely heroes and villains, the underdogs and the big dogs, the come-from-behind winners, and the winners-take-all dominators. Oh, the madness of it all.

I rose a whole lot later than E did. I didn't need an alarm clock to get me out of bed. The sounds of whistles and horns were in my dreams before I was fully awake. But I knew exactly what day this is. And I take up my position with her in front of the screen...watching the madness unfold.

And loving every minute of it.

And feeling sorry for all of you who don't understand.

Learning from Alzheimer's

I was back at my favorite UPS store yesterday, mailing a couple of packages. Only one of them was addressed to Thyrza, but never fear, the month's still young.  Since she left, I should have  frequent-mailer miles at that place or something.  And the boxes have come flying this direction as well. This afternoon the mail woman pulled all the way up into our driveway because the two boxes were so heavy she didn't want to risk a back injury carrying them very far.  Later, Thyrza's daughter (on the phone about some other ongoing business!) told me those boxes are crammed with old papers probably not worth keeping but her mother wouldn't hear of throwing out. Yep, sounds about right, Sounds about like how we got ourselves into this mess of a house crammed like those boxes.

Oh wait, do I sound a little petulant?

Anyway, back to the UPS store, and the clerk who helped me. She recognized Thyrza's name from last week or the week before. Odd how someone might remember a name like Thyrza.  And you want to know what's really odd? She had three sisters, and their names were Charlotte, Elizabeth and Jane.  Really. I've always wondered about how she won that name lottery.

Anyway. This week I was mailing off Grampie's cell phone so Thyrza can use it. Grampie can't remember how it works any more, and if she has it, we can call her late at night without bothering anyone else in that four-generation household. So, because I was in a rather chatty mood (or prolific, as the clerk called it, but incorrectly) I answered the clerk's questions about Alzheimer's--about what I've seen that are similar in our parents' cases, and what are completely different. There's a certain vacant look in their faces that I thought was just how my mother looked until I saw Grampie with exactly the same expression in his eyes and mouth. Grampie doesn't look one bit like my mother so it has now become what I call Alzheimer's face.  The blankness that comes and goes with deadened eyes and a slackness around the mouth. It's hard to explain and impossible to imitate but once you see it you'll know it.

But the differences: Grampie hasn't lost his words, and that's a HUGE difference. Losing her ability to communicate meant Mom lost relationship much earlier than she lost the ability to recognize people. This is a very sad thing. But Grampie's coherent speech doesn't mean he's necessarily easier to converse with. The sharp relief in which it paints his memory loss is sometimes painful. "Where's Thyrza?" He'll ask--five times in a ten minute period. And that's EVERY SINGLE DAY. He absolutely doesn't remember that she's moved. And asks her while he's talking to her--over and over--where she is.  And he asks where he is. And thinks it's morning when it's night or wants to go swimming or go for a drive or walk the plank or any old out of the blue idea you can dream up. When Thyrza asks what he's been doing all day, he's liable to tell her he's been in meetings or off shopping for suits or boating...a whole lot of boating This whole boat thing--you can't imagine how fixated he is on the dang boat. Being on a boat. Or getting on a boat--or off the boat, or something. This morning they had a long conversation about talking to their investment man and Thyrza took careful notes of every single word Grampie said, as if he had a clue in the clear blue sky what he was talking about or that he'd remember it two minutes later. I was shaking my head silently the whole time but his voice sounded just so exactly like himself, she just can't get it through hers that he's no longer really there. No matter what how confused he is every other second.

Then this clerk (to whom I really wasn't this VERBOSE--which was the word she was looking for!) asked if I was scared to death that I'd be like my parents since they both got Alzheimer's.  'First of all,' I told her, 'Only one was my parent, the other's my father-in-law, so it's really our children' who need to be worried. If Beve gets it like his dad, and I get it like my mom, our kids are the ones who need to worry.'

The better, more honest answer to that question is that all this upfront and personal experience with this dreadful disease has made me both more and less worried about having it myself. The more is self-evident, of course. No one who has seen dementia can have anything but dread at the idea of having one's dread pulled from then one particle at a time. I admit that.

But the less is for two reasons. For one thing, we're so busy living with it now that we don't really have time to think about it for ourselves, though Beve thinks he really will get it. Even now, he actually thinks that--his memory isn't great on the best of days, so he thinks it's only a matter of time. And maybe he's right. Maybe there's a correlation. And if that's the case, I'll live with that, too. And I'll love him to the end of himself and beyond. I know I will because I've done it twice with people I loved a whole lot less than I love him. But maybe there's no correlation at all.

Maybe he can't predict. Maybe only God is in charge of what ends our lives. Maybe we do better to leave the ending of our days to Him and not trouble ourselves with whether that's in an instant or drawn out like a stretched-to-breaking rubberband. Maybe one day's troubles really is enough for that day. This is the second thing, you see: that I choose to take Jesus at His word when He says to seek first His Kingdom.  And that all the hairs on my head are counted. Even all the cells in my brain. And as I've watched two people disappear to Alzheimer's, I've realized that even when they stop knowing Him, He knows them. Even when they don't know where they are, He does. When they aren't even sure they're loved, we love them, and that's enough. More than enough is that He loves them.  And if that should be what He has for me, okay then.  Let me live to the end of my days with grace, no matter what that end is.

That's what I told that woman.  And yes, I am prolific here...but I've lived the right to be so.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

To Life...

Have you ever noticed how it takes knowing someone in a particular place to make that place really mean something? Take the frozen world of Siberia, for instance. I haven't paid more than an academic (or should I say literary) attention to the place in my whole life. Not since I read particular Russian writers.  The year I was pregnant with Elizabeth, I read both volumes of The Gulag Archapelago, which landed, that is,  kept my imagination there for many frozen months, so much so I'm surprised it didn't affect her temperament. That it didn't one whit surely speaks against the notion that we can influence who our child becomes by what we play or read or speak to our wombs from the outside. This reassures me somehow. Maybe lets me off the hook a bit, if I'm looking for that, which I'm really not.  And I've read a whole lot of other Russians who wound their way into Siberia one way or another, but it wasn't a real place to me, no more than a place in books or a large barren blot on a map until my brother landed his real person there. Then the real cold which took his breath away at first and the darkness which made sunlight seem like a luxury and the undulating white became real. Photographs of his real life.  We're still stuck in winter here in Washington State while the rest of this country has catapulted itself straight into summer but he posted the other day that the temperatures had climbed to 20 degrees F so it seemed almost balmy in Bratsck.  And that made me think again about how I've been complaining about our bit of snow.  Yes, Siberia has become a real place to me, and I'm looking for it in the news (though that news never comes--thankfully!) because someone I love now works there.

Likewise, of course, Finland has always been a country of import to our family. We have family there. Real family. Brothers and cousins and real kin. We look for it, listen for it, think of it as ours in some real way, though only they have a drop of Finnish blood to them, and only a few of us have visited and among us, only Beve has lived there for any length of time. Still our home is packed with Finnish goods--candy and coffee, glassware and fabric. We are Finnish by allegiance if not Finnish by genetics.

And now, one of those Finnish cousins, our niece M has moved to Israel for the year. She lives in Beersheva, volunteering with an organization that works with autistic adults.  The first two months were quiet enough, as she got used to her surroundings, the job, did some sightseeing, made new friends. But the last week...well, the last week has reminded her (and all of us, by extension) that she's living in a war-zone, that to live in the southern part of Israel means learning about bomb shelters and sirens, running to stair wells (even cloaked in only a towel from the shower), learning to watch where you walk.

She's been writing a blog since she got to Beersheva so I thought I'd post the link here. She writes well and her words bring you in contact with her life better than I can. But what I will say is that her being there has brought into sharp relief what all the news stories fail to do for me...I'm sorry to say. It puts a face on it--the face of a young woman I love. M is a very strong young woman--she's so much like E you'd think them twins, temperamentally. It's really quite crazy how this can be since they grew up across the world from each other and E's six years older than M. But as they would say, it is what it is.

So M's blog:

When you see the news about Israel, think about all the M's there. All the nieces and sisters and daughters and wives living there, doing their jobs, just trying to grow up and live their lives. And all the sons, brothers, nephews, husbands doing the same. Most don't have any more notion of this conflict than you and I do. Most are simply people who would get along with their neighbors, no matter what those neighbors believed and how they practice those beliefs, if they could do so. Most simply want to live in peace.

One of the most baffling things about the history of the Old Testament is that God sent His people to conquer a land that was already populated, thus, we might say, insuring this conflict from as far back as Joshua and the people crossed the Jordan. I would be less than honest if I didn't admit it troubles me. But I have to believe--I absolutely DO believe--that God knew/knows what He's about. Then and now. And that peace is coming. Someday. There's prophecy to back that belief up, of course. So we continue to trust Him amid the struggle and war and difficulty that abounds in that region, the one that has a more human face for me at the moment. The face of my Finnish niece.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Everything to lose

Today was not a good day for Grampie. As lucid as he's been the last couple of days, he was that confused today. I don't know what it is about the nursing facility that makes him think he's at sea, but again he's convinced he's on a boat. A ferry to be exact. He'd asked the nurse a dozen times before we got there if we'd be meeting him at the dock when they landed. She thought maybe he'd been a commercial fisherman back when his memory was running the show. Unfortunately the reality isn't nearly that simple, though the many years he lived out on the Penninsula afforded an up close and personal relationship with the ferry system of this state--both riding it himself and awaiting for people to alight from it.

 We just couldn't get him off that ferry boat treadmill he was riding either. Finally just gave up and joined him. Seemed like the prudent thing to do. Turned out to be a pretty nice ride there in the confines of his room...except that that didn't satisfy him for long. It made him determined to get all his belongings off the ferry when it stopped, including the walls, which, for some reason, he seemed to think belonged to him (probably because the hanging pictures on them are familiar). He ate his dinner, kept coming about (a boating reference) to the same issues over and over: 'Where did this ferry take off from? When will we get off? I couldn't make heads or tails of anything they were telling me (presumably the nurses, who presumably told him he WASN'T on a ferry).'  Then he suddenly grew very serious and very emotional. "I'm so glad I have you two. I don't know what I'd do without you." It was the first time in Beve's life that he can remember his dad getting choked up and teary. It lasted only a moment, but I saw that little boy inside him that I know is frightened of all this mind-losing for which he has no words but has many fears.

 So, as is often the case now, I'm thinking of Grampie when I come to this blog tonight. I'm thinking of what he most needs from God in this season. There are very few material things that matter to Grampie any longer. A warm enough sweater, his cozy Cougar slippers, perhaps the fuzzy red blanket to cover his legs, and he's good to go (and by go, I mean to sit). A few photographs of those he loves and still recognizes, a good basketball game on the television and he's happy to sit and drift off for hours, not even recognizing that time has passed. What he needs these days is comfort. Isn't it?

 And in answer to this need, I'm thankful that Paul has a beautiful prayer which I can pray in 2 Corinthians-- "Praise be to the God and Fathe of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God..." (1: 3-4)

But sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the needs of those around me. Very few of those needs as simple as Grampie's. And even my prayers sometimes feel inarticulate in the face of the deep and far-reaching worries in just the small corner of this globe in which I live. There are those people who recognize their need--who cry out for healing, comfort, sustenance, the Spirit, to grow in Him...and to surrender their will to His. I think of a person close to me who recently ssked me specifically how I pray for one beloved in my life. I told him that my prayer tends to live in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. "Let this cup pass from him--Nevertheless not my will but YOURS be done!" and "Do whatever it takes to draw him to yourself!" Every prayer I pray really falls somewhere in those two camps, or between them. And, at times, even both at once if that makes sense. Ultimately, these are the two prayers for ALL my beloveds--"Do whatever it takes, nevertheless, not my will but yours be done."

 Along with this comes one more prayer. A practical one, "How do you want to use me?" Use me as you will. Make me your instrument, to do your Kingdom work in this life of this beloved. Of any and all my beloveds. Beve constantly reminds me that we must all pray this, that to stop short is to not put feet to our faith...which we must do. Of course. This is the Kingdom-come call of Christ.

 But beyond those who acknowledge their need for Christ and their bowed knees before Him, and beyond those I pray for because they are MY beloveds, is the far larger ring of people I'm in contact with (and beyond that the whole world, of course) who neither acknowledge nor admit the very existence of ONe to fill that gaping need. They gird themselves to fight their own battles and fall woefully short (often flat on their faces). Even then, they stubbornly turn their backs on the ONE who loves them enough to make a difference in their lives. Who already did. What results from that back-turning is anything from sad to ludicrous. And my prayers should be passionate and far-reaching for them, should be knee-bending and soul-wrenching on their behalves. These are life-and-death issues they are neglecting and I neglect them in my prayers at their peril. It just strikes me that we believers often have it backwards. Or maybe it's just me. we spend an inordinate among of time praying for the small stuff--the unimportant stuff--each other asks and pay only lip service to praying for the lost. This Holy-Spirit thought convicts me. Yes, Grampie is fine. He has everything he needs. But others in my life--they are lost and, though they have much, have nothing. In fact, they have everything to lose.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Running Strong

I'm rounding the last curve of my year of writing on each of my oldest friends' birthdays. Today marks another such day, the 6th of 'the girls'. There are many things I could write about B: her passion for teaching which drives her days and fuels her imagination (a profession in which four others of us were trained and two others have had long, successful careers), her deep dimples that mark her face and appear with great regularity because she smiles widely and often, her love and concern for her children, which peppers every conversation and every move she makes. Or I might speak of how she is the most innocent of 'the girls', or perhaps the most naive or even gullible. And when she's been teased, there's her inimitable laugh. Ah yes, B's laugh when she gets the joke. I love that.

But what I think of when I think of B--along with all of these things, of course--is that she's a runner.  I'm not exactly sure when B discovered running but I do remember track meets in which she featured as far back as middle school. And though track mattered to her, it was the actual movement of running that has counted in her life. When the rest of us are barely awake, trying to get through our first cup-of-our-beverage-of-choice, she's already dressed in her gear, stretching incredibly toned legs and asking the best route to take from wherever we're parked that particular weekend. While I'm trying to find a comfortable place to rest my pain-laiden body, she's up working out whatever physical discomfort the running has given her.

And that running is also, I think, her healing place. And there's been plenty she's needed to run out of her life. I  won't share all the pain that life has piled on, but her large family has endured more than one might consider 'fair', if one was inclined to measure such things. I lay beside her one night not too many years ago in a bed up in a loft and listened to her tell the story of the first of those losses--the first death, I should say. That loss was suffered many, many years ago now, but I've always wondered how her parents continued to walk and breathe and keep on being after that. I wonder how any of them did. I think B ran it off. I think she put one step after the other and kept on doing so until the only pain was in her calves and the only hurt was in her chest and even that was only physical and somehow eclipsed the emotional, mental, spiritual pain--at least for a while.

Since that first loss, there have been other ones, more recent ones, and each one takes more from her--is more personal, actually. And still she keeps running. I think it's the only way she continues to stand. But what I know about her is that running has made her strong. Running has made those muscles work better, those limbs fast and sturdy and able to withstand what would buckle most of us. I'm sorry they've had to. I'm sorry--more than I can say--that there are more ways than death to lose someone you love, and that she's experienced most of them. But I'm not sorry she's lived to tell about it.

I'm not going to say the road through has been (or still is) easy. I wouldn't dare be so flippant with her life. It's been harder than I can imagine. She continues to lace up those running shoes, stretch out those hurting places and go out the door into her life.

Yes, she keeps on. And is coming through strong, backbone-straight strong, running-with-a-smooth-cadence strong. And yes, smiling-with-dimples-showing strong. Still with her inimitable innocence that makes her so sweet when you'd expect her to be bitter and hard and everything other than what she is. It's a sweet, sweet spirit B's been given and nothing--NOTHING--that life's thrown at her has taken that from her. Thank God.

Happy Birthday, B.
I love you.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Going Home

While I'm sitting snug in my living room today, in another part of this county a man I know is living out the last hours of his life. For many years, I was in almost weekly contact with him of one sort or another. He was the middle school youth director when my youngest child was that age--and what stories she can tell of her time with him. Retreats, weekly (rambunctious) youth groups where he had the privilege and responsibility of tackling their hearts and hormones, managing their hyper-ness long enough for them to hear the Gospel. He managed it well enough that they lived to tell about it, lived to worship and adore the One of whom he spoke week in and week out (after they'd run off enough steam to sit and hear).  The most startling (to them) retreat under his watch was an experience none of them will ever forget where he set them up in a field with very little food or shelter in order for them to get--really get--what being in the third world is actually like. . It was probably the most impressive act I've ever seen a youth director do to impact his kids. Some of them were changed, the others complained but none of them forgot.

During some of his tenure as the middle school youth director of that church, I was also the Youth elder, which meant our relationship extended beyond me simply being the parent of one of his kids. We met once a month to talk about his ministry, and it was then that his true heart was revealed to me. His true and noble heart. He is a man with a strong plumbline, if you understand that illusion. That is, he was always squaring himself to the gospel, always holding himself to the fire of Christ. Even with his quirky, dry sense of humor and (at least during those years) his uncertainty about what his future was meant to be, he knew one thing--he would serve Christ.  And he would see to it that those with whom he was in relationship would also serve Christ.

So he held my feet to the fire at times as well. He did. I admit this. We didn't always agree about how the ministry should look. He's a strong person and so am I, but sometimes I got lazy about my responsibilities as elder--and he didn't like it. Not one bit.  And though I felt uncomfortable when he called me on it (of course), it was the discomfort that comes because one hears the Spirit speaking through someone. That's what I'd hear through him during those times.

Twice during those years, I convinced him to go on our multi-generational mission trips to Uruapan, Mexico I was leading. By then he was stepping away from his time as youth director. But he answered the call willingly enough. He'd been to Mexico a dozen times before, I think. His Spanish was an asset. But more than his Spanish he was an asset. I knew he would be willing to do the most arduous relational work. Each year, he got stuck in a tent while most of us bunked inside a facility. He tented gladly--willing to do whatever would serve. He hung with the younger kids, or the squirrelly ones, pulled out his ministry hat and put it back on without missing a beat. I never had to worry about those kids I might otherwise have been pre-occupied with. That was his gift to us.

All this was years ago now. Though I'm still a 'Facebook friend' with him, I suppose it's been four years since we've had a real conversation. I'm sorry about that, especially because he's been in the fight of his life during the last four years. And now that fight is coming to an end.

One might say, in the world's parlance, that he's losing the fight he's been waging for so long now. But it doesn't really seem that way to me. Though the loss of him in this world will be inestimable to his family and  friends (and I dare not mitigate it), for Phil, he is almost to the finish line.  He has, as Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 4: 7, "fought the great fight, finished the race, and kept the faith..." and now there is a crown of righteousness in store for him.  I think of all the lives this man has touched, how he has extended the Kingdom by his words, his actions, his reaction to his illness. His very being has been about Jesus--through and through. So today, if this is his home-going, I know there's a welcome party with balloons and streamers and a giant cake, waiting for him to come walking into glory.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

A moment

I had my yearly appointment at the eye doctor today. That is, I had my yearly counseling session with our earnest young doctor who loves Jesus, with a small measure of eye exam thrown in for good measure. But that's how it works. It's pretty much the same when Beve has his exam too. I don't remember how he discovered that we're followers of Christ, though we aren't shy about it. In fact, just the other day at school, a person works with only via telephone about certain online classes asked if Beve belongs to the same church he did, because he couldn't imagine anyone would be as kind and respectful, etc and NOT be like him. Beve told him that, no, he isn't a Mormon. He did tell him, however, that he's a follower of Jesus. Just that. Not to get into some kind of debate (that would be more my style than Beve's!), but just to let him know.

Anyway, yesterday J had seen the eye doctor, so Dr. K commented that our son is very open about what's going on in his life. Yep, I told him, that's J for you, especially these days. J really impressed the doctor with his determination to work toward his own healing. "It's been a long journey," I said. "And many sleepless nights." I think we have the sleepless nights on one hand and our strong faith on the other and we lift them both to God at the same time, knowing that He understands exactly how we can feel both at once. Then the doctor told me that he's in something of the same situation right now.

His 11-year-old son had something go wrong with the optic nerve in his right eye a few years ago, rendering him just about blind in that eye. ("Ironic, huh?" he asked.) And just two weeks ago, the same thing happened in his left eye. They've been down in Seattle at Children's Hospital, and no one can quite figure it out but at the moment there seems to be no human solution. So unless God heals him, he will be blind.

I sat in that chair with the funny instrument in front of my face listening to him talk and felt overwhelmed by the need to comfort. To speak words not of platitude but of understanding to this father. And it was a long time before he actually moved that instrument up to my eyes (and discovered that my eyes are actually BETTER than they were a year ago!). Instead he talked for a long time. And I listened. And then I told him a few things I felt God put on my heart. How seeing our children suffer is the worst suffering there is in the world, but how God intends to use even that to produce more of His character within us.  And that God loves their son and cares about his eye sight. I know that. But I don't know whether God will heal him. Maybe He will. But maybe He wants to use him to extend His Kingdom in a different way than they expect.

 He said that all day long, everywhere they go, people say, "Keep positive," and "Keep your chin up." But that merely makes them feel  worse. Hearing the truth from me was refreshing. It was like a weight lifted from him for a moment, he said. Like my appointment was today just because he needed to hear those words.

I love that. It isn't very often that we hear right in the moment that we've been used by God so directly. That our words were actually HIS words. I don't take it for granted. I don't pretend for a moment that they really came out of my pea-sized brain. No way, no how. They were born in fire, washed in blood and spoken by the Spirit. I just got to be the vehicle today. And I'm thankful.

Such moments make me hungry for more. You know?

I promised to pray for this doctor and his son. And, as I said yesterday, I don't take that lightly either.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How I pray

As long as I've been a Christian, I've been in small groups of one kind or another. Young Life Campaigners was my first such small group with a winsome leader who fed me milk and helped me learn to take my first baby steps in the faith. She listened to copious tears (metaphoric and literal) and in no small way, gave me a faltering voice with which to talk to God. Back then, when we prayed, both in that small grade and gender-only group of which I was a part and the larger all-high-school Campaigner group, often requests were asked for before corporate praying took place. I remember the quietness in the room (particularly the large den when we all crammed together on Sunday afternoons) where we shared our concerns and the more awkward (at least when I was very young) silence while we waited for someone to pray.

But I learned to pray in that room/ those small groups. And those requests helped direct my prayers. We all did. I remember the retreat the believers (more guys than girls by a LONG shot) in our class  took at the end of our senior year in high school. We spent the weekend at a friend's lake cabin, mostly eating, talking, laughing and doing fun lake activities. But we also spent a whole lot of time singing and praying. By then we knew who the real pray-ers were in our class; that is, who tended to be verbose, and who barely ever opened their mouths. It probably won't surprise you that I was a pray-er. But so too was the not-yet-the Beve.  Others fell asleep while we prayed--so soundly asleep that there was some actual snoring going on, but I won't name names at this late date.  What had changed by then--after four years in the school of praying-- was that we no longer needed prayer requests to lead us into prayer, nor did any silence feel awkward. We knew each other well, and we knew God better.

Since then, I've been in so many different prayer groups I can hardly list them. Wouldn't even want to try. And even more than that, of course, I've been asked to pray privately. "Please pray for X," I've been asked. Every believer is asked and answers such a request. And often, the second clause of that request is, "Pray that..."--with specific directives for what our prayers should constitute.  And, as I said, when I was young, and thought like a child, such directives helped guide me. They also actually helped me remember to pray at all. This is a common malady among believers, I think. We say we will pray...because we ought. But then we sink back into our own lives and that other person and that need doesn't pierce beneath our skin.  So a specific request pierced slightly more--it was more information, I suppose.

However, the older I've become, the less I appreciate such directives. For several years while my children were in high school, I was involved in a weekly prayer group of women who met for only a single hours or so early in the morning. Early on we made the decision NOT to spend our limited time sharing our requests because it would eat away actual prayer time, not to mention that such requests are often simple gossip in masquerade.  And I think those five years with those women in that hidden room off the bathroom in that church taught me more about prayer than any other group or study in my life. We didn't talk about it, or talk to each other, we talked to God. And our prayers grew and expanded and built on the Spirit's knowledge of needs that we didn't always know existed.

Because of that time in particular (though even before that I'd been leaning toward this), I've grown increasingly disinterested in knowing specifics about those for whom I'm asked to pray. It seems to me that directives slam the door in prayer. There have been too many times when I've tried to pray for that one thing, only to feel strongly that that one thing is exactly what God DOESN'T intend for good for that person. He is working, but not in that way, ie, that prayer is NOT His will. That's the scriptural way of saying it.

In contrast, to be asked to pray for a person and know nothing but the person's name is to allow the Spirit the freedom to roam around within, to direct and speak. And amazingly, this is how He wants to work--through our participating with Him in doing what He intends. What a high calling this praying is--to pray that a person is met at his/her place of need rather than simply getting what they want.  After all, isn't that really what we're after? That is, don't we really want to be met by Him, to have Him meet our needs. "What does it matter if we gain the whole world but have not God?" That's the point. And to that end I pray. No matter what a person thinks they want or even what they assume they need.

And...this is why I seldom ask people to pray for me. I have the strongest sense that except in critical--ICU--moments, God the Spirit will put me and my needs on people's hearts. As HE sees fit. To ask is of itself a directive.  Perhaps I take it to the extreme, perhaps it's a reaction to a practice I have come to dislike. But that's the result in my life.

Nevertheless, I pray. And am thrilled that the more I pray, the more God reminds me to pray. I rarely tell a person I will pray for them without doing so. I would say never, but that can't be true...I am a sinner. I fail. But the more I pray, the more He reminds me to pray. Not to talk about it, just to do it.

Tell me to pray and I will do so. Tell me how to pray and I probably won't.
That's the bottom line.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Don't waste them

Bear with me, I'm feeling a little long-winded this morning for several reasons. And it's entirely probable that this will be somewhat disjointed, but stick with me and hopefully it'll become joined by the end.

First, a quote from 2 Corinthians 1, which distills something I've always had a difficult time expressing on my own. People ask me all the time what my blog is about. Is it devotional or theological? Hmmm. Yes, I tell them, something between, I suppose. Both and rather than either or. It's a crazy quilt of my life as well. Sometimes about the ordinary happenings that don't seem to have much to do with God at all (though I refuse to admit that there's anything in which He has no part--can you think of anything? Name one. I dare you, I double-dog dare you!). So I began 2 Corinthians last night because I've had this sense (see the following paragraph) of what I need to be studying next, and there it was, in a bold statement, exactly what my blog is all about. "Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God's grace. For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand." (2 Corinthians 1: 12-13

So, last night I realized that what I've been doing is turning my back on rather than facing straight into the eye-teeth of the storm of this season and (ultimately!) standing firm in faith.  I've been like Job's wife, who asks, "Are you still maintaining your integrity?" (though not quite getting to the second half of her sentence, which is "Curse God and die.") When really, the ring of truth deep within, the ring of the Spirit in me is telling me to say with Job, "Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?" (Job 2: 9-10) I've been wasting these sorrows God has given to me/us. I've been complaining like an old fish wife about them every which way but up, and though I'm surely old and wrinkled, I'm no fish wife, but a fisher of people, as Jesus called us, and THAT should be my starting place when I face trouble--no matter what those troubles are. So I started reading 2 Corinthians.

There are, as Eugene Peterson would put it, 'Biblical locations' for whatever we experience. If we are
 looking for how to live in the Body of Christ, we could do no better than to take a good hard look at Ephesians, to let ourselves marinate in it for a long season. If we need to reclaim the land of worship, of course, the rhythm of the Psalms is not only our textbook but our life's blood, but there is much to be said for Colossians 3, and the whole book of Hebrews. And, obviously, if we're feeling out of touch with the Incarnate One, we must--we must--walk in the gospels and let them seep into our pores. There are shorter pieces, too, of course--these are just off the top of my head. So, 2 Corinthians is Paul's great treatise on suffering. Along with Hebrews 11, it is the most comprehensive look at suffering in the New Testament and sits right on the shelf beside Job. And for me, it's vital that those eye-teeth I stare into are Christ's, if you know what I mean. That is, I need the cross in front of me as I think of suffering in the abstract, and my own in particular. So 2 Corinthians it is.

This led me this morning to remember a particular Sunday afternoon that Beve and I spent in a hospital ICU with Beve's beloved sister, Glo.  She'd been there since early that morning with an excruciating headache. While we were visiting (and she was, it must be said, her typically cheerful, joyful self!), a neurologist (who happened to be female) came in, sat down in a chair and with red-rimmed eyes, haltingly told Glo that she had not one but three brain tumors, one in a rather precarious position in her cerebellum. The doctor was so shaken that we, of course, were affected deeply, though we naturally would have been shaken, in any case. The word 'brain tumor' has a way of doing that to people.But the doctor's obvious fear infected us even more, because she didn't hold out ANY hope that Glo could survive that one tumor--instead she simply laid out how terrible the treatment would be, and what Glo needed to do to prepare to die. She asked if Glo had children, and when Glo said yes, the doctor cried in earnest.This was as complete a death sentence as one could get. Finally, she left and when she did, Beve and his sister looked at each other and began to weep. Clasping each other like they were little kids back in their shared room on M street in Springfield, Oregon.  I stood there, watching them, tears streaming down my own face. We didn't think of hope because a human doctor--and her human tears--had told us there was none. The end.

About an hour later, a neuro-surgeon came in to explain the surgery to remove that large, precarious tumor to give her even the smallest chance of survival. He was the best neuro-surgeon in the hospital (which is a VERY good hospital in Seattle!). Glo, a nurse, listened, asked about a thousand questions, and I took copious notes. And right as he was speaking, the oncologist came in. And suddenly, it was like...well, to be honest, it was like God himself had walked in the door. I'm not kidding. The neurologist had returned, the neuro-surgeon was talking, a nurse was in the room, and they all stopped talking the moment this rather rumpled man walked in and rapidly began to talk. He already knew what kind of tumor it was--without even seeing it. So rare he'd only seen one other case, but he had a plan and that plan was good. He'd spent all afternoon talking to people around the country, laying out a protocol and was ready.

By the time he left the room, the emotional temperature had gone down about 50 degrees. Everyone was calmer. Then the nurse told Glo how lucky she was to have this man as her doctor because he's the best--the unmitigated best in the city, maybe the country.

But this plan meant suffering. A whole lot of suffering. More than anything our Glo with her PhD in suffering could have imagined. But that plan also saved her life. At least for a few more years.  She didn't die from that cancer. She lost her hair, lost a whole lot of cognition but she would tell you, if she was alive to tell you, that it was worth it. Those things she lost were worth it for the time she gained with those she loved.

Glo was a person who didn't waste her sorrows (this is a phrase, by the way, taken from a title of a book by that name by Paul E Bilheimer). She took every one of them and allowed God to use them for good and not for ill. She knew the great work of God depended on her allowing Him to use what He would in her life. If healing could have done it, He would have healed her. But if suffering was what was necessary--for her, and through her, for the world she touched--then, so be it.

This is what I want to learn. Again. And again. Mere cessation of suffering and stress will never give God glory. Healing might--depending on our circumstances and how we then proclaim Him to the world. But suffering also might. The bottom line is, to that He be formed in us, one way or another, and then, through us, proclaimed to the world.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Sunday dinner

Our Sunday night dinner wasn't exactly the Sunday night dinner my mother used to make while Dad took us kids up to Smith gym pool up on WSU's campus to swim. We'd come home and sit down to pot roast, potatoes and gravy, perfumed by chlorine with wet hair and blood-shot eyes from spending our eyes open under water, having races across the pool, holding our breaths, and being launched from our father's arms.  It gave Mom her five minutes (or a couple of hours?) peace and helped us become the fish we all became. One such Sunday--and that day I must have had a cold or was in trouble--while the sibs and Dad were gone, Mom got a call that the wait for a baby was over. A week later, we were sitting in a downtown Seattle office building waiting for a social worked to bring us a seven-week-old baby boy. Our brother A.

When I think of Sunday dinners, it's those meat and potato dinners that always come to mind. Tonight however, Beve and I shared a Dairy Queen feast with Grampie who finds mushroom-swiss burgers, strawberry milkshakes and our company about as good as it gets. He was pleased as punch to see us, as if he hadn't seen us in a hundred days. Each time we go, we take him something so his room feels a little more like home. Today it was the painting of a white horse his Finnish artist granddaughter painted for him several years ago and a small bedside lamp. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw that painting--it was like we'd lasso-ed the moon, as "So it's a Wonderful Life" would put it.

As we walked past the nurses' station, the charge nurse stopped us, "I have a strange question. Did Grampie play in the NBA?"
"No," Beve answered. "But he was drafted by it."
It was like a bomb had been dropped right there in that nursing home. That nursing station is the happening place, you have to understand. It's the gathering place, like everyone's sitting on their front porch and shooting the breeze together. Grampie was sitting right among them, his head drooping, his long legs stretched out beyond his wheelchair, practically blocking the road. He was sound asleep, while the bustling community waited for the story.
Needless to say, we didn't get to Grampie's room without telling that well-worn story of him turning down the opportunity to play professional basketball for the more stable job of teaching, coaching and being a family man. Not even a call from a senator from Massachusetts (who later became a president who lost his life to a bullet) could make him change his mind.
"And that's a true story," I told them when I finished my recitation--just the way Grampie always tells his stories.
"Grampie--he was a baller!" A nurse said.
Yes, he was.
I wonder how they'll look at him now, because him being a baller is/was very little about what made him who he is. In fact, the most important part of that story is that he chose NOT to be a baller at all.

Anyway, while Grampie ate his strawberry blizzard (foregoing the burger, but what the heck, right?), I cleaned up his room, hung the painting, put a few pictures on his bulletin board. Then we told him about a new painting this artist had done of him. "It's of you, Grampie."

His smile just about broke his face. "She's a great one, our M." He said. "Well, they're all great ones. every one of them. I'm a lucky man." Yes he is.

Even if he did want to leave half his blizzard for Thyrza, who he seemed to think was also in the room.

When we left, for the first time ever, he wheeled himself quickly down the hall after us. "This isn't right," I told Beve as I glanced back. Just about that time, Grampie lifted his voice and his body straight and tall for a moment. Then he  bellowed at us. "HEY! Are you coming back for me?"
Oh dang.
"Not tonight, Dad," Beve said as he walked quietly back to his father. "But we'll see you tomorrow."

"All right," Grampie answered, slumping again.
Resigned, I think.

We felt resigned too. Walking away with unshed tears. Knowing there will be other days when we'll have to tell him the same thing, leave him the same way, sad and resigned. Sigh.
It wasn't quite a pot roast and potato dinner, but I'm sure glad we were there.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Dependent on the belt

I've spent the last couple of weeks decades coping with a bad back. Yuck, I hate actually writing that sentence. A bad back. When I was hit by that car on Valentine's Day in 1963, my parents were told that I'd someday have a bad back. Apparently your hipbone isn't supposed to be pushed into your spine like that after all. But for many, many years my back didn't bother me at all. However, once those lowest vertebrae began protesting, it flares up with astonishing regularity. So, with my typically reluctant regularity (if that makes sense) I find myself at Physical Therapy every year or so. I always have a choice between that and chiropractics but...(well, I won't tell you the graphic, horrifiying reason I will never go to a chiropractor again, but let's just say I'm pretty sure it was at least misconduct and likely a crime--and not surprisingly, when I refused to pay my bill, it was not only NOT sent to a bill collector but 'forgiven').

So, physical therapy. And the relentless work necessary to tame the inflamed muscles which are hampered by the mass of scars pinching nerves, etc. Always teeth-clenching, grueling work. I'm never very good at following orders in the beginning and include repetitious working of already hurting parts of my frame. This time, however, with the spectre of surgery hanging over my head like the ghost of Scrooge's Christmas yet-to-be, I felt far more compelled than usual. So, I tried. Keeping my abs taut, I tried lifting my fiery, aching left leg two inches off the table, and couldn't do it without gasping in pain. So my physical therapist, whom I'm now calling 'the Genius', placed her hands just above each of my hips, squeezed tightly and asked me to try again. And wah la: leg up, no gasp! She left the room for a moment, came back in with a belt which does the same thing. Like a girdle it cinches in those flaring muscles, giving me the support I need to exercise.

I was shocked by the difference. This narrow belt will help me strengthen those muscles in a way I cannot do on my own. I'm not supposed to be dependent on the belt--it's not a crutch so that my own muscles don't do their own work, but it is an aid while I'm hurting.  And it's doing the job. When I went back yesterday, after just four days exercising with that belt, the Genius was encouraged at my progress. I am too. Completely encouraged. Living without it now, other than when I exercise, walk or stand for long periods. And what a HUGE relief. No surgery in sight (at least for now, she reminds me...but I'll take what I can get!)

As I was lying on the floor yesterday, pulling my knees up to my chest with that belt aiding and abetting me, I got to thinking about how like the body of Christ it is. I often think of the Holy Spirit as re-bar--the strong metal that keeps us firm and straight from inside, that holds up the whole foundation. If this is the case, the body of Christ, our fellow believers are like the belts or girdles we wear on the outside to help keep us strong and move our hurting muscles.  I think of all the people in my life who have been like this belt--who have cinched in tightly so that I can walk when I felt I might otherwise fall down. As Ephesians 6: 14 says, they have stood firm and are, in no small way, the belt of truth I fasten around my waist, speaking His truth to me, and speaking to Him of me when I had no words of my own. So though I might not want to grow dependent on that physical belt, I will always, always need the spiritual belt of the Body of Christ. Absolutely. Just as I'm dependent on the re-bar of His Spirit.

This is how it should be. Isn't it? Re-bar within that is Him. And belt on the outside that are also Him. It reminds me--as everything does, if I'm really paying attention--that, as 2 Corinthians 4:10 says, "...we always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body."