Sunday, September 30, 2012

Counting Fish

I'm a reader of novels, and, as a person with a degree in English Literature, should be, don't you think? I realize that some believers never would...but here's the thing: there are times--oh, so many--when I've learned something profound about the Kingdom from novels. And I'm not talking about those overtly Christian novels with a neon gospel flag waving. I appreciate that there are those who are encouraged by such books, whose faith is strengthened by them. My own mother was one of them. However, most of the time, they are not for me.

What I find appealing is novels with voice and depth and revelation that sometimes the author doesn't even know they're making.  The novel I've been lately reading has such a revelation. Its author, David James Duncan, is a believer and has written a rather powerful book called People of the Book, which is about the relationship of cultures though-out history to the Bible. However, this novel is, oddly enough, about fishing.  I'm not, nor have ever been, interested in fishing. But this doesn't keep me from loving this book. His writing is so compelling, the story so funny and poignant in turn, that I've been drawn in. And, I loved, loved, loved his other book, The Brothers K. I mean loved it as much as I've loved anything written in the last twenty years, and it was about baseball, sort of, but many other things as well, and was a tome.

So, The River Why. I'm barely into it, but Duncan's voice is familiar enough that it's like I'm reading an old friend.  And the other day I came to a paragraph that opened up something in me that I just have to share in totality.  And yes, it's about fishing:

"Like gamblers, baseball fans and television net works, fishermen are enamored of statistics. The adoration of statistics is a trait so deeply embedded in their nature that even those rarefied anglers the disciples of Jesus couldn't resist backing their yarns with arithmetic: when the resurrected Christ appears on the morning shore of the Sea of Galilee and directs his forlorn and skunked disciples to the famous catch of John 21, we learn that the net contained not a "boatload" of fish, nor "about a hundred and a half, nor "over a gross," but precisely "an hundred and fifty and three."  This is, it seems to me, one of the most remarkable statistics ever computed. Consider the circumstances: this is after the Crucifixion and the Resurrection; Jesus is standing on the beach newly risen from the dead, and it is only the third time the disciples have seen him since the nightmare of Calvary. And yet we learn that in the net there were "great fishes" numbering precisely "an hundred and fifty and three." How was this digit discovered? Mustn't it have happened thus? upon hauling the net to shore, the disciples squatted down by that immense, writhing fish pile and started tossing them into a second pile, painstakingly counting, "one, two, three, four, five, six, seven..." all the way up to an hundred and fifty and three, while the newly risen Lord of Creation, the Sustainer of their beings, He who died for them and for Whom they would gladly die, stood waiting, ignored, till the heap of fish was quantified." 14-15

But then Duncan says, on  page 16:
"Concerning those disciples huddled over the pile of fish, another possibility occurs to me: perhaps they paid the fish no heed. Perhaps they stood in a circle adoring their Lord while He, the All-Curious Son of His All-Knowing Dad, counted them all Himself."

Happy First day of the week.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Separation of Church and State

My son is a historian, and retains a ridiculous amount of information in his brain about the world--practically from the dawn of civilization. When our kids were in middle school, after a particularly animated conversation at the dinner table, E said, "It's probably best to start with the premise that J is always right."  And I'm pretty sure his friends have discovered this about him more than once in their associations with him.  A person thinks they know something, something so true we take it completely for granted, then J comes along and debunks that notion completely.

For example, tonight he was telling me about how a friend of his was certain that the principle of separation of church and state comes from the 14th amendment to the Constitution. But it doesn't, J told me. In fact, it's not in the Constitution at all. Really. He looked it up for me so I could see for myself, and sure enough, it's nowhere to be found. The idea was first coined by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The phrase he used was, "a wall of separation between church and state." The point he was making in this letter was that 'religion' is a private matter between a person and his/her God, and that government should not interfere with that.

And here's another interesting fact about this principle that we consider almost 'sacred' in our country: The Supreme Court did not use that exact phrase in relation to the First Amendment rights--"that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of a religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"--until the 1870s. However, it wasn't until 1947 that the Court actually considered the question of how this applied to the states, in Everson v. Board of Education.

What a progression, huh? Within the rights of the First Amendment is the right to worship and practice our faith. But not only is there no sense that all government, public, educational activities are to be kept separate from faith, but in the first 150 years, work and study and prayer were not seen and indivisible from each other. And that said notion came from the pen of Jefferson in a semi-private letter, and ended up as one of the lasting 'walls' of society reminds me of the exact progression of our country in many ways.

A week or so ago, a pastor friend said that we're now living in what is termed, 'post-Christendom.'  And it seems to me that the garden path we've been led down in privatizing our faith is emblematic of whatever that post- implies. More people don't go to church than do. More don't believe in God than do. More aren't than are.

And He weeps.
And we should weep as well.

Go into all the world, He told us. I've been chewing on my friend's words for the last week, thinking that even if we've gone into all the world once, maybe we have to start over. Go out. Go into. Be with those who don't believe, who don't go to church, who are tax collectors and sinners.  Maybe we need to break down that wall of separation between church and state, and say there is NO place God does not belong. We need Him to come in. Wherever we are, whatever we are doing. In schools, in our jobs--and certainly, certainly in our government. We need Him to come in!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Islands

For those of you who know me well, this will come as a surprise, but I've been having trouble lately finding things to write about. Crazy, right? Can you imagine? A writer's block, I suppose you could say. But it happens. To everyone, even those of us who are unusually verbose. And I can't say it's because there's so much going on. Most of the time this isn't true. In fact, I've been finding myself rather dull-witted in very part of life. Beve calls and asks what I've been up to all day, and I can't think of a single thing, though the day passed one way or another. Thankfully, tomorrow I see my neurologist who may be able to help determine whether there's a medical or pharmacological reason for this unremitting fog in which I've been dwelling for the last month.

In the meantime, I press on.

My baby brother (who is old enough that I really should stop calling him that, but that's the breaks, BB) moved to an island last month, San Juan Island of the group of islands in Washington state also called The San Juans. In a very quick, the-nick-of-time, God-ordained decision he took a high school science job out there, flew back to Massachusetts, and drove his life across the country with our daughter, E, along to help drive. They made the made dash in 3 1/2 blurry days, and he drove onto the ferry to San Juan Island less than 48 hours later to begin a new life.

I love islands. Really love them. I love that (at least in my experience) they are only reached via ferry, and, once there, a person is stuck, at least for a time. It makes going and being and living on an island an entirely different thing than on the mainland. Intentional, I suppose. Planned and thought about. Not taken for granted. So something emerges that can be sweet and rich. It might be called Koinonia. Fellowship. Community.

San Juan isn't the first island in BB's life. Nor the first island in the history of our family, for that matter. When our ancestors landed on the rugged shores of this 'new world,' they set up shop--a fur trading company--on an island in what is now Boston Harbor. My mother (and therefore BB, my siblings and I) are direct descendants of the man for whom that island is named, David Thompson.


Four hundred years later, my Thompson grandfather, Chief, took his family to two different islands as he was posted in the Pacific as a radio man in the US Navy. Mom spent two years of her life out in the Pacific Ocean in the Hawaiian Islands well before it was a state (which begs the question--would a person who was born in one of our territories, like Hawaii before 1959, be eligible to be president? Just wondering...;)). She didn't remember much about living in Honolulu, but definitely remembered the next island she lived on, which was Tatoosh, a tiny island 1/5 a mile off the NW coast of Washington State (making it the most western point of the contiguous forty-eight states. And when I say tiny I mean minuscule, about 17 acres. These days it's protected land for birds, housing only the famous Point Flattery Light House, but back in the 30s, when mom was a child, it was a naval station where about 12 families lived on its barren top.
This is what it looked like about the time Mom and her family lived out there. Pretty barren, right?

About a decade later, my dad's parents were spending what seemed like an exorbitant amount of money to buy a vacation place on Whidbey Island in Puget Sound. I'm talking break the bank kind of money. Like 1500 dollars or there about. It was a real stretch for this University professor and family. But they did it. And for their stretched-too-thin money, they got 15 acres which included a gorgeous meadow full of apple trees, high banked beach, two room farm house with no running water or electricity, barn, chicken coop and all freedom one could ask for. AND what would become the hub of a family for going on five generations now.

In the kind of symmetry I've come to appreciate about God, BB was born on this very island about 25 years after my grandparents first bought the place. The very first 'home' he came to was this one, the first bath my mother gave him was in the old white square tub used to wash dishes and babies alike--including every single grandchild and great-grandchild who's spent a night in under these eaves. You can't tell looking what this island place looks like, but I can smell it as I write. It has the smell of baking bread and forest and rain on the grass and salt water on the skin.  It has the smell of community.

But then, each of these islands in my families history has meant community to those who lived there. David Thompson, the fur trader, like Abraham, like Moses, left a settled life in Plymouth, England, ventured to an unknown future and found community on an island as he set up the first trading companies in New England. My mother's dad, who was gregarious and expansive, larger than life even in his 6'4" frame, found community wherever he went, and the navy served his purpose very well. But his daughter, also tall, was less gregarious. Formed by the constant upheaval of following her father's ports of call, she never felt at home until she found community on the top of an isolated island with a small crowd of people who knew and accepted and gave her space to grow. It was there that her life's desire to teach took root, a desire that was the last thing to leave when Alzheimer's began holing up in her brain. And our island place has made us a family when we might otherwise have drifted apart. I am conscious of strong differences when I'm around my cousins--differences in interests and faith. But there's community between us, shared stories and history lived together.  Whidbey Island is a long, lean island, with several towns and a highway running down the middle, but to our family, these acres on the south west side are the place we call Whidbey.

I could write of Vashon Island, where my mother first taught elementary school as a University of Washington graduate at the grand old age of 19, living out the dream she'd had since those isolated days to the west on Tatoosh, experiencing a different kind of community fulfilling what she was surely made to do with her people group--children. And of Chichogof Island in the panhandle of Alaska where the tiny Tlinget town of Hoonah lies. Beve, our children and I learned about community in the form of short term mission trips with high school students. It was community both rich and difficult. 42 high school students, six adults and 6 small children in a church with no showers, two toilets and only a small kitchen is gutty community. And living among people who eke out their lives as the Tlinget have for generations before we were a glimmer on this continent was a revelation. Those three summers changed us, changed our children, gave us family while we were at work and prayer and table together. And I could write of Galiano Island, part of what is known as the Gulf Islands off Vancouver Island in British Columbia. During my years in seminary, Galiano became synonymous with community for us. There in the cedar-sided house overlooking a bay, my favorite professor brought classes to learn more about the word Koinonia--fellowship, community--than one can ever learn sitting in straight-backed chairs in a classroom. We were privileged, by virtue of my unique-- and yes, privileged--relationship with him (and his brilliant straight-spoken wife) to spend more than our share of time in that home. Cooking together in the kitchen, serving others, eating and sitting around a table. It may have been the best of all the islands of my life.

So my BB has moved to another island. Full circle from his birth. Or from our ancestors, I suppose. And across the continent from where a community splintered and hurt him. From where he was excluded from what should have been his closest community. But on this island he now calls home, he's already beginning to find what he lost. He's been welcomed in like he was always headed there, like he was what was missing, who they'd been waiting for. I watch him emerge, listen to his voice take on the lighter cadence I recognize as his true self. And am reminded again of how islands can form Koinonia.

"No man is an island," the old quote goes. But perhaps, every man and every woman could do no better than to dwell for a time on an island. And discover community.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A game

Beve and I are watching my Alma Mater, pejoratively called "Nike U", play football. Beve was born in the city where I went to college, which is just one of the many so-called coincidences of our lives. Only God could manage to put such a list together. I knew his family had history in that place when I picked up my life and moved there to go to college. Of course I did. His dad wasn't exactly a small figure in our town, and his shadow still cut a large one over the gym where he'd played basketball and I sat high in the rafters 30+ years later. His free-throw records hadn't been broken yet, his name and picture were in the glass cases I walked past to climb the many steps when the student ticket lottery pulled up my number...which wasn't often.

I loved that place, that school, the vine-covered old buildings and the river that ran past where, on warm days on each end of the school year, my friends and I would walk across a foot bridge to swim, or to the football stadium where we'd cheer our then-hapless team. Even when they lost, which they usually did, it was fun to be out in the autumn with friends, enjoying popcorn and each other together.
And I loved being able to ride my bike all over town because it was flat; after spending my life among the hills of the Palouse the Willamette Valley was quite a change.But mostly I loved the friendships and community that grew up for me in that town among my college friends.

This is what happens in college. This is why people feel allegiance to the places where they get their degrees. For the first time in many people's lives, community is not determined by someone else's decisions (parents'  employment) but by one's own. And therefore, college is the first opportunity people have to really find identity.  So they take to heart the idea that they are now (and forever) Ducks, Horned Frog, Seminoles, Blue Devils, Cougars.

But here's the thing: such monikers aren't real. Such allegiances are only skin deep, no matter what the most faithful of fans might think. No matter how much you want to argue with me, or shake your fist that I would dare be a Duck and NOT a Huskie...or whatever.  The whole thing is like...

Well, it's like the Emperor's New Clothes, to tell you the truth. I guess it's looking at these fancy, endless array of uniforms Nike's trotted out for my University's team that got me to thinking about this. And building such facilities as has been built on that same university's campus, the one that looks a little like a giant church, might be--dare I say, IS, like a house built on sand.  It's all good and well to root for a team, to be cheer for your Alma Mater (and, trust me I do it. In fact, my allegiance is like a tug-of-war, having roots in one university town and gone to another!). But for those of us who love Christ, we have to see how superficial it all is. We have to--always--look at it with both enjoyment for now but a large grain of Kingdom salt.

But when I think about life in this way, it occurs to me, that many things we get caught up in, that we are roused to the point of  'taking sides' should also have that same Kingdom salt shaker sprinkled on them. Political differences, for example. Denominational ones. National pride and borders.

It's not possible to completely know what all will matter when we leave this world to dwell forever with Him, but He's pretty clear in some ways. People matter. Salvation matters. Holding lightly to the things of this world.

So, let's hold lightly, even as we cheer loudly. Put on those T-shirts with the logo on them but maybe even laugh at ourselves as we do it, recognizing that whatever we're cheering for, is, after all, only a game.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The river

Sometimes life just moves along at a rather even pace. Even when it's busy and is crowded with rapids, it's also ordinary. At least for us. We grow used to the challenges, I suppose. Beve comes home exhausted this time of year, when he spends hours a day working to make sure every student has a complete and reasonable schedule, talking to parents who aren't pleased with those schedules and to teachers who somehow find it difficult to find an extra chair, let alone extra time, for the 39th student in their class. And talking to administrators who disapprove of such schedule adjustments. But it's a balancing act Beve's been doing in for over 20 years now, so it just means that this season if a little more difficult to navigate in the river that is our life.

And, if not comfortable, we've grown at least used to the slow changes we see in Grampie on a weekly basis. His continuing slide into dementia, his daily surprise and sadness that Thyrza is across the country rather than just across town, the sometimes amusing delusions he has about where he resides (boats, planes, trains, office buildings) have stopped surprising us. Though we never know what we'll find when we find him, he's still sweet and glad to see him each visit and that's enough for now.

And even the pain we of living with our son's pain has become the new normal in our lives. We no longer expect more of him than we should, don't measure him against others his age, but just take him as he is and are glad for the better days, sad for the harder ones, and pray through it all.

This is the river we're paddling. One with ordinary things in it like laundry and grocery shopping and playing with dogs and being so tired at each day's end that we watch some TV, vegging on the couch as though we've run marathons.

But now and then--in everyone's life, I think--there comes a time when the river of life overflows its banks. This week has been such a time for us.  We've been flooded with events so momentous that we hardly keep our head above the new water line.  And I don't mean to say that all of these things are bad. By no means. In fact, on one side of the river, have been such glorious things that we are overwhelmed by hope and joy and knee-bending thanksgiving for God's faithfulness. And though I tend to share such things easily, there is a strong sense right now that we are to treasure them in our hearts, to wait and see and trust that what has been promised will come to pass. But He knows and He knows and He is faithful.

At the same time--yes, at exactly the same hour, in fact--on the other side of the river, the breaching of the banks has brought pain and sadness and worry and...well, all those things that one feels in the worst of situations. Though we aren't quite intimately in either situation, we are close enough to be swept up in it, and hurt deeply with the hurting. And, of course, this is often how Kingdom-work is, there are people burdened to breaking and there are burden-bearers who help carry the load, who, by the gift of presence stand in the flood and feel the rush of the swirling waters and hold up the drowning.  This, too, has been our week. Again, stories not mine to tell, naturally.

But here we are. Flooded on every side. But not crushed or broken. Living a week so extraordinary it feels like it's been a month long already. And it's only Thursday. Whoa. God alone knows what today and tomorrow will bring.

But for in joy or in sorrow, we know WHO tomorrow will bring. For now, I stand in the river. Between the extremes of the flooded banks. Stand firm between hope and suffering, relying on Him who is in it all, who knows it all, who goes before and behind and keeps those who trust in Him.
Thank God.

Monday, September 17, 2012

What I've been up to...

A couple things:
Because it might seem hard for some of you to believe our 'puppy' is as huge as he is, let me take you on a little photo journey, since we got him three months ago.
                                                       Week one, sleeping on Jamaica.

                                                 End of July, sleeping by Jamaica.

                                     Yesterday, sleeping on Jamaica (with SK sleeping on him! Ok, from this angle, Maica looks bigger than she really is...)

Secondly:
It's been a long time since I posted pictures of my quilting projects. There wasn't a lot of time for quilting this summer but I've been making up for it in the last few weeks. So here are the quilt tops I've been accumulating. Now if I can only get the energy up to do the actual quilting, which is always the most laborious part.


Yes, that's Jamaica sitting in the middle of my quilts. A quilt top is like a magnet to Maica; she comes running from wherever she's been sleeping to plop right down like she owns the place.
J and I decided, when our 'Big Lug' Jackson died, that I'd make a quilt  remembering him. This is the quilt I made in his honor. I'm looking mighty fine today, squinting into the sun, huh?


This is a quilt towel I made for SK, who has sensory problems with towels. She's been loving that she can touch a quilt rather than that 'nasty' terry cloth.

Another quilt-towel, which I've loved using all summer.  I'm telling you, I'm going to make a whole lot of these by next summer.




This is a table runner I made for Beve's brother and his Finnish wife., who likes blue,  burgundy and  green.
The other quilts have no designated recipient yet, but I've got time. And plenty more fabric...and I'm sure that once the rain begins to fall, I'll be more more motivated. I've made over eighty quilts since I began quilting three-ish years ago. So 100 is in sight. And I'm looking forward to it. Maybe I'll trying posting all of them at once (if I can get one of my more techno-smart kids to help me!).

Until then, happy Monday.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Search me and Know me


For the last 15 years or so, I've been reading straight through the Psalms over and over, one a day. They give a beautiful starting place to my devotional life; settle me, even those Psalms that begin as laments or cries for vengeance against enemies. God consistently meets me in the Psalms. Of course, I didn't invent this practice. Monks have been doing it for so many centuries, back to St. Benedict, but maybe even before he wrote his Rule.
Anyway, though today's Psalm is 63 (a Psalm I love so much I could dwell here for a week: "You, God are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you in a dry and parched land where there is no water!"), I've been thinking this morning of Psalm 139, one of the most familiar and beloved Psalms. I got to thinking about it while praying for many people who are struggling with serious health and life issues. So I thought I'd re-post this post (sorry for the redundancy of such a sentence, there isn't a synonym for post yet), from exactly two years ago.

September 16, 2010
Back before the turn of the century, when I was in seminary, I became friends with a husband and wife who'd re-located to Vancouver, BC from New York city.  He was an actor studying to be a pastor, she was an artist who had spent 20+ years in the fashion industry, creating sweaters for men.  I have to say, Jim wore the most gorgeous sweaters I've ever seen on a man, far out of our tax bracket, that's for sure.  This couple was in my community group so I got to know them well during the two years they lived in Vancouver. And it was a season of fire for them.  Just the week before they moved across the continent, Linda's breast cancer, three years gone, re-emerged with a vengeance.  So she spent the two years in BC crossing the border weekly to get treatments in the states, flying to NY monthly for her job.  It was grueling.

And Jim studied.  Cared for their two daughters when she was gone or sick.  He got involved at Regent with a bang.  I had several classes with him, so we often studied together.  Once he told me that I was more pastoral than most pastors they'd met, so why wasn't I in the divinity track?  Though I thought of becoming an MDiv, I never quite felt the draw to being a church pastor, but his comment made my day, and I've apparently never forgotten.

Anyway.  Chapel is held every Tuesday morning at Regent.  The whole student body, faculty and staff gather in the chapel for a worship service.  Various faculty members, visiting profs, artists, etc. speak.  The music is always varied but engaging.  You get that many seminarians together and you won't find them nodding off in their pews, if you know what I mean.  Maybe taking notes, or critiquing, but not sleeping.

My most compelling, breath-taking, moving experience in chapel at Regent College (and perhaps in any worship service in my life!) was done--performed, really--by my friend Jim.  One morning he sat up in front on a stool and began speaking the words of the 139th Psalm.  Not reading them, not reciting them, but speaking them as if he'd just been thinking about them, or was just praying off the top of his head to God and we were part of their conversation.  "God," he said. "You have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit down and when I rise."  As he talked to God he untied a shoe, took it off, pulled the sock off and placed it inside, and put it on the floor, speaking the words of the Psalm the whole time. He did the same with the other shoe and sock, and then he stood up. Taking off his shoes to speak these words, reminding us of the holy ground of such thoughts--of the awe of standing before Him and knowing He is in control and we are always safe with Him.  That God knows us, hems us in, that we cannot go anywhere He is not.  That darkness and light are the same to Him.  Jim's voice rose as he spoke these beautiful ideas, and somehow they were new to me that morning.

And then there was this moment, this holier than holy, this lump in my throat, take my breath and toss it into the sky to God moment, when Jim got to a particular section where the Psalm says, "For you created my inmost being..." In those words each of us is reminded that our creation is purposeful, not accidental, that God had intention, far more than our mothers and fathers did, for our lives--the length and breadth of them.  God always knew who we'd be, even when we did not.  That's what Jim's speaking of this Psalm helped me hear that long ago morning.

But then his voice rose and got angry.  I mean,climbed into the rafters to yelling.  Because You had purpose," Jim shouted, "because You created each of us with intention, because You alone know...yes, in light of all this, only You can slay the wicked, can take care of the evil ones.  YOU must do this."  And as he yelled, Jim also put on his shoes.

Then he said, quietly, "Search me.  Know me."  See if I, too, am the wicked, the evil one.
And suddenly I got it. Those shoes, his raised voice helped it make sense. WE have taken what is holy ground and tarnished it. WE have forgotten that He created us, that He is in control, that HE is our God. That He knows us. What should be holy--our very selves!--we profane by sin.

My breath caught.  But then, I think there was a deeper collective inhale by all of us in that place, if such breath was left in any of us.  Yes, search me.  You have searched me, you have known me.  Now search me and know me. Search me even more than you already know me. Am I among those I rail against? Am I one who causes such great harm?
The Psalm had never fit together so clearly before. 
Those verses (19-22) weren't accidents.  They are also for us.  All for us.
Then: "Keep me from this," the last words imply. "Lead me in the way everlasting."  My Christ-saved heart led to these words, "Holy Spirit, indwell in me so that I walk in a manner worthy of YOU--and what You have made--Me."

Psalm 139 was my mother's very favorite Psalm, her very favorite section of scripture.  I wish she could have heard it amplified in such a way that gave it life.
No, Incarnated it.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Heart lessons

After taking the puppy to the vet and playing with the Spaniel (she's ridiculously happy not to have that monster mauling her at every turn), I sat in the sun and for some reason (God?) began thinking of my 'cardiac event' last fall. Heart attack, one might call it.  Though my arteries were pronounced 'beautiful when the angio-gram was completed, the hours spent in the emergency room were pretty pain-flooded.  Machines hooked up to me, nitro-glycerin stuck under my tongue, cardiologist checking me out, and Beve sitting beside me, keeping our kids, siblings and friends updated and praying about the ongoing situation.

What I got to thinking about this morning, though, was how calm I felt beneath the pain.  It was the second most activity I've ever experienced in a hospital setting (the first being when J had a nicked artery from surgery and had to have a second surgery right in the examining room because there was no room in the OR and he couldn't wait). About a dozen techs and nurses checked me out. And many times the nurses especially encouraged me to relax. The EKG came back with so many jagged lines on it even I could tell it was dead wrong (but without going into details, I have reasons to know what my EKG should look like so often in my adult life you'd think I'd been born with a heart condition...oh wait, I was!).  As a result of that 'wrong' EKG, three different cardiologists came in after the ER doc saw it.  They made the decision that, without passing go, I needed to go straight to surgery to have a catheter put in to see what was going on.  And the rapid pace at which the tech moved my bed through the hospital was something of a wild ride, and before I could catch my breath (though, come to think of it I wasn't breathing all that well anyway), a catheter had been threaded up my right wrist (I was aware enough to insist that they NOT use my left arm, somehow knowing that it would be a problem post-surgery to have my dominant hand hampered). And then I was out for the count. That fast. Crazy fast.

This morning, certain, distinct thoughts came to me about that day almost eleven months ago:
  1. I was always fully present in my body. As you can tell from my memories, I didn't lose a moment until strong anesthesia rendered me out before the count.  My typically good memory was working just fine, thank you very much. The fact that there was no out-of-body experience (if one believes such things, and why wouldn't one, God can do what He wills--though my guess is that most of the time the eye-witnesses don't have the opportunity of telling us about them!) probably implies that I was in no real 'danger' of going home that day.
  2. I felt completely calm.  Though the nurses continually encouraged me to relax, their words weren't really necessary. I didn't feel worried or anxious. Not one little bit. If you knew me well enough, you'd know that I struggle with such things. I do get besieged by worry, especially when a loved one is hurting--in any way. But that day, there was a supernatural calm inside that flooded as fully as the pain.
  3. And that's the other thing. Though there was peace, there was still pain. God didn't take away the pain when He gave me His sense that 'all was well and all would be well and all would be most well,' as Julian of Norwich put it. In fact, I might go so far as to say it was the worst pain I've ever experienced. We were propelled to go to the hospital by that pain--by the thought that it was perhaps a heart attack, and so serious that I might actually die. That's pretty exquisite pain, as a doctor once called such significant pain, and I believe it. I felt it.
But it's interesting that His Comfort, His peace, His 'I will be with you' doesn't mean the elimination of pain. In fact, rather than assuming that the words, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" imply that there won't be struggle and pain within that strength, we should look at Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego in the fire--and "a fourth who looks like a son of the gods.'  We know who that is, of course. There was Christ, right in the fire with them, untying their bonds, keeping them from being scorched, protecting them from harm. He gave them strength IN the fire to survive it...but He didn't blow it out. He could have, of course. With a single breath He could have simply turned that fire into ash. But He had other purposes--for these men, but more importantly as a witness FROM these men.

In the same way, He gave Paul peace about all the hardships in His life, even as those hardships compounded.  And, His purpose was exactly the two-edged sword that suffering brings: to make Paul get to the place of absolute dependence on HIS strength; and to show the world through human weakness (like Christ's human weakness) that He alone is God.  Perhaps it's counter-intuitive, but the Kingdom breaths this way.

Yes, this is my broken record. But perhaps it's the one sermon God's given me to preach, the singular lesson of my life. How to live for His glory, glorifying Him through my life, no matter what my physical circumstance.  "Yes, whether rich or poor,[sick or healthy], I have learned the secret of being content. I can do all things through HIM who strengthens me."

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ordinary?

So, an ordinary day, ho-hum:

  • Wake up to the whine of a 70 lb. 60 month old puppy at the end of my bed, telling me in the only way he knows that the sun is up, Beve's gone to work, and for Pete's sake what am I still doing lolly-gagging around in bed?
  • Stumble into the bathroom, followed by two dogs, who are like velcro to me. I mean, even when I'm in the shower, Kincade sticks his head in, and I'm pretty sure one of these days he's going to jump all the way into the tub with me.
  • Walk down the hall to the kitchen, Jamaica on my left side, Kincade on my right. This NEVER varies. It's all a long string of dog-training back to our first lab Jemima, whom I trained to walk on my left side, because I'm left-handed. So when Jackson came along he took his place on my right side. Jamaica then took over Jemima's left-sided place, and Kincade has now taken over the right. They have no idea what has gone on before them, but I know. And there's a pretty clear spiritual message here, but I'm a little too tired for it tonight.
  • While my tea water is boiling, I go outside to play with the wild puppy and Maica.  He likes sticks. Sticks. And likes tug-of-war. And never quite gets tired of playing. Some days I get NOTHING else done. I mean NOTHING.
  • SK, thankfully, takes him for his daily walk up and down the hills around here, so that Maica and I can have a little breather, and he can use up some energy.  I throw a tennis ball for her the whole time he's gone, and she's so happy her little stub of a tail is wagging faster than you can see it.
  • Just about the time I think he might be winding down, he comes charging down the hall with a shoe or piece of paper or TV remote or whatever he can get his mouth on. We should have named him Robber--because his favorite pastime is stealing our things, and daring us to catch him.  It's taking all the discipline I have in my brain to discipline him to out-alpha this alpha male. To show him--over and over and over--who's in charge.  To do it firmly, evenly and lovingly...if that makes sense.  Twice in the last week I heard someone talking about how putting rocks in an aluminum can and shaking it at a dog will make the dog sit and obey instantly.  I tried it today.  Both of our dogs stopped what they were doing, then Jamaica skittered to her kennel. Kincade simply bounced away like I'd been playing a musical instrument.
  • When he finally wears down, he plops down on hardwood or tile with a thud and is out for the count. It's honestly like a switch gets turned off. I really wish I knew that trick...
  • Among the various items he likes to steal are deck cushions. And what he has begun to do with them...well, let's just say he's a male puppy who's growing up. Got it?  Thought so.
All this to say, I called the vet this week. And tomorrow, rather than spending my day following around a puppy, I'll be having a quiet day, doing what I've been neglecting all week. And Kincade will come home late in the afternoon wearing what we like to call 'the cone of silence.'

There have been moments lately when I've wondered if I'll survive this gigantic puppy who so happily romps through our home, thinking everything's a game.

The thing is...
I'm so much like him in some ways. We all are, I suppose. We all romp through our lives, assuming everything is ours for the taking, not easily obedient, more willing to do what we must if there's a reward involved rather than simply for its own sake. For the right of it. Wanting to be the Alpha of our lives. Don't we? But we aren't, of course. We have a Master who lovingly guides us, who desires to mold us into what is better for us than we can even understand in our puny human brains. We don't always trust Him anymore than my puppy trusts me yet, but then, His brain to mine is exponentially larger than mine to my dogs. 

He is my Master. 
The Psalm of my day was 62 (I read one a day, every day, every year).
In it I read "Truly my soul finds rest in God; my salvation comes from Him...
Trust in Him at all times, you people, pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge...
One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: 
'Power belongs to you, God and with you, Lord, is unfailing love'..."  Psalm 62: 1, 8, 11

Monday, September 10, 2012

Apple Season

The air turns crisp. It's apple season here in Washington, which is known for its apples, of course. And for me, even from our measly three trees I pick them once, twice...okay, several times a day. I'm sooo thankful for the bumper crop we have this year, the branches too heavy laden Beve had to stake them twice to keep them from breaking off before they were ripe.

 I'm a fair-weather fan when it comes to apples. I don't want a thing to do with them about three seasons of the year. Walk past them in the grocery store like I'm allergic to them. All those red delicious apples in my lunch box must have done it to me, I suppose. No offense to those of you who love and/farm red and yellow delicious apples, but from my point of view, they have neither the right texture or flavor and I'm sorry to say I may have thrown them away uneaten more than once when I was a child.
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But this time of year when apples are crisp and juicy and weighing down our trees, they're calling my name. My taste buds. I can eat them morning, noon and night. So often in fact that my tongue has been known to get a bit raw just about the time the only apples left are those on the ground. By then, not only have we picked our own apples but we've been given them from others and have made apple pies, apple crisp, and enough apple butter to last...well at least until Christmas (we do go through it pretty fast and it doesn't keep like jam does).

As I'm munching (and wiping the juice from my chin and trying to keep it from my computer keys), I got to thinking about fruit and the glorious thing it is, about the blessing it is in season. John 15 is the best location in the gospels for thinking about fruit, and Galatians 5 is Paul's contributing description of the fruit.. But what does that add to those important 'fruit passages' if we consider that fruit--of any kind--is only produced when the time is right? There is a rhythm to the planting of a crop. Jesus speaks of this in other places when he is talking about our being part of Kingdom work--that one sows, another plants, and another reaps, but all are part of the harvest. In John 15 when He says, "Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in the vine." And, "Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing."

Isn't it possible, then, that there is a season of being in Christ before a person begins to bear fruit? I don't imply that this is always the case. Obviously there are times when a person comes to Christ the change is so great that their life is unrecognizable from what it was in the past. That person instantly begins to bear love, joy, peace, etc. as Paul describes fruit. However, sometimes I think we believers don't give time to our weaker brothers and sisters, don't allow for what surely can take Him several 'seasons' of developing that fruit within a person before "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control..." flow naturally. And sometimes it takes a very long time for that process. I can't tell you why this is. Honestly, I'm just thinking with you this morning. But I'm wondering. Because I've seen it happen in people around me. I've known people who claim to love Christ, who certainly do all the right things, but who don't seem to bear fruit from their branches. Then, years down the road--literally years in some cases--there it is. God has been working all along. And why it took longer is between that person and God, I have to say. But the season has come, the fruit is ripe, crisp and fragrant and sweet to see on the tree that is Him.

I could be wrong about this. As I say, I'm just wondering this morning. But somehow, as I toss the core of my apple to Kincade (our puppy likes apple cores, which amazes and delights us--Jamaica will have nothing to do with them), it makes a kind of sense to me in the natural order of things. His goal, of course, is that apple season comes.
"Taste and see that the Lord is good" in you, in me, in each of us.
 Apples remind me this day...of what He has made me and what He is surely making of my life.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Pleasing

Random Journal Day is happening once a month now, so you only get to (or have to) discover with me what I was writing about at some point in one of my myriad blue composition notebooks over the past 40 years. Before you read my old entry hop over to Dawn's blog to check out these.

Monday, December 29, 2008
Just re-read "Weight of Glory (by CS Lewis)." It truly is one of my all-time favorite essays. The idea of longing that Lewis talks about--the 'glory' of pleasing God, of hearing "well done!"--this longing haunts me. Not only to please Him but to get through the veil. But the notion--the truth --that "some of us, that any of us who really chooses, shall actually survive [the] examination, shall find approval, shall please God. What a thought.  To please God, to be loved by God, not merely pitied, but delighted in as an artist delights in his work or a father delights in a son--it seems impossible, a weight of glory which out thoughts can hardly sustain. But it is so." p. 10
These words--"To please God..." make tears pool at the corners of my eyes. Make me stop and take a deep breath and dwell in them for a moment. He can be pleased by me. It's not simply a matter of the greater bending down to the lesser, not just His nature loving me whether I deserve it or not, and not even just loving me because I am His. No, it's ALSO possible that my very own human free-willed actions and life can and do please Him. Just as I am. It's hard to fathom that the Holy Other, the One who set the stars into space actually LIKES the tiny life I live on the corner of this globe. But He does.
I know it's true. And I know, as CSL says, that my desire to please Him, to live a life worthy of Him is not only good but right. The reward worth seeking. And that hunger to please, in itself, is the very indication of what lies beyond the veil of this world, just waiting to be satisified.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

An explanation

The writing impulse has been stilled lately. There's no profound reason for this, sadly. I wish I could say I've been settling into silence purposely in order to reboot, so to speak, since, as I wrote last week, I am made for such rebooting from the daily noise of life to the quiet that comes only with Him. And within. No, there's a simple prosaic reason for my silence. Or I should say a simple medicinal one.

Last week I saw my neurologist. The people who work in that office have come to know me so well, they pull out my chart as I walk through the door, asked me about my new puppy, my summer guests, Grampie...well, it's almost like we're friends, but for the small, insignificant fact that they're sitting behind a counter complete with glass window which they close the moment our conversation is finished, and are there to take my money, make sure my insurance is up-to-date, and rarely divulge more than a snippet about their own lives.
Nevertheless, we have developed a relationship of sorts in the decade I've been coming to that neurology office.

A decade. Ten years. Yikes, that sounds like a long time. A long time and a whole lot of treatment--if only you knew the various things that have been tried to stem the ongoing and (dare I say) increasing nerve pain in my left leg?  And before you begin suggesting alternative treatments to me, they've most likely already been suggested and discarded when they also failed to be successful.  So here I am. Living my life, and being grateful for this office and the doctor who continues to to help me find some level of comfort.

Last Tuesday when I saw him, I had to tell him that a new symptom has developed: the inexplicable unreliability of the leg in holding me when I stand. Not every time--no, that would be too easy. But capriciously. Without warning. This moment when I try to stand, I lose my balance, fall back into the chair or couch. It's annoying. Really annoying.

So a new medication was added to the cache I swallow each morning (yes, all at once, like a pile of cod liver oil in mixed sizes and shapes).

And here's the rub of this new medication: it makes me so drowsy that before the clock strikes noon, my eyes are sinking into the horizon and I'm staring blankly into whatever space is left. Me...a person who can hardly sleep at night, so sleepy during the day you'd think I was pregnant (since that was the only other time in my life I was like this).

The good news is that the medication actually seems to be working--I haven't tripped yet this morning. Thank God! The bad news is two-fold. First, the doctor said this might happen until I get used to it, and, as usual, he was dead on--dang it! The compounding bad news is that I double my dose tomorrow (two hours isn't quite long enough to assume I've hit the right dose yet). So...will I be doubly sleepy tomorrow? Hmmm.

All this to say, I'm in no shape to write unless I write here and now for a moment or two. You'll have to excuse my silence for a while. I'll try to find the small window of inspiration and coherency to put it on screen. Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go back to staring blankly into space.