Friday, November 30, 2012

The step-dad of God

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Blessed am I

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 26, 2012

A little identity theft

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vigil

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

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

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

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

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

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

But He came.

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

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

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A moment with CS Lewis

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

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

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

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thanksgiving...and a story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 18, 2012

A hypocrite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 16, 2012

Revising my bucket list

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

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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Fire--again

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yet.

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

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Being thankful

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Be still and know...

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dreams run wild

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mentally disabled

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Not time to worry

My youngest child is a worry-wart. If you were having a cuppa whatever you like with her, she'd tell you so herself. Along with her ready, infectious laugh, quirky and inimitable fashion sense, she lives with worry.  When she a little girl sleeping on the bunk beneath her older sister, after we'd read and pray together each night I'd often hear concerns from each of them as we turned out their bedroom light, concerns so characteristic of them, I could have drawn a picture of who they are by their night time queries alone. E would remind me of anything I'd mentioned what might do during the day and hadn't done, and SK would tell Beve and me of some little (or larger, depending on the day and her mind's wanderings) worry. "What if there's a fire?"  "When we go on the airplane to Alaska, what if it crashes?" "What happens if I can't learn my multiplication tables?" "Who will I be friends with when we move?" "If I forget my library book, will I get to check out another one?" 

No matter what the content of SK's question and our subsequent reply, the end of my answer to her worries  was always, "It's not time to worry about that now. I'll tell you when it's time to worry about it. OK?" 
And she'd calm down, snuggle into her bed and sleep. Mama and Daddy were taking care of her worries for her. I think there was something very comforting about the idea that her worries were safe with us. Not pooh-poohed, but just kept for the right time. At least that's what we wanted her to feel. Not silly, not wrong for worrying, but released from the burden of them.

I asked her just now if she remembers me saying that to her, and of course, she does. And I suppose now that she's 23, and trying to figure out her future, she'd really like to have us simply take all her worries for her as we did when she was small. That's partly why she'd like to be a kid again (at least in some ways).

But the truth is, we do have a Daddy who says this to us. I do. And I forget it. I can't keep it in my worry-flooded brain that when Jesus says, "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will take care of itself." (TLB) He's saying, "I'll tell you when it's time to worry, and that time isn't now."  He knows there are things out there tomorrow that are troubling. He doesn't pretend for an instant that such things don't exist. He simply says, "Don't let those things strangle you. Let Me carry the burden of them for you." 

All those things SK worried about as a child don't worry her now. I never did have to tell her the time had come to worry about them. Of course. God knew this would be the case. I knew it too. And...He knows that taking our worries from us means He won't give them back. 
What are you worrying about today?  No matter how big your worry is, no matter how grave your situation, 
Jesus is saying these words to you, "It's not time to worry about that yet. Let one day's troubles be enough for one day." 
Trust Him.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Marching orders

Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in from of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, "Are you for us or for our enemies?"
"Neither," he replied, "but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come."
Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, "What message does my Lord have for His servant?"
The commander of the Lord's army replied, "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy."
And so Joshua did.
Joshua 5: 13-15

Are You for us or against us? For us or for our adversaries? For us or for our enemies?
We ask this one way or another every time we pray for a certain outcome in a sporting event, a job interview, a political election. And yes, I do believe in our wholly Sovereign God when I write such words. The context of Joshua's conversation with the Commander of the Lord's army was Joshua's literal marching orders around Jericho. Clearly God intended a certain outcome.

However, the reality is He is also as far above us as we are above a gnat (as CS Lewis would say). He's God. It is our calling--our job, if you will--to follow Him, not His to follow us. Ours to do His will, not His to do ours. As commander of His army He comes and it is ours to fall on our face, take off our shoes and recognize that we are in the presence of Holiness itself that He chooses to come to us. We do well to remember such words this week. Any week.

Because here's the amazing truth--He comes. To each of us. Here and now, He has come. He is in the process of coming. It's a present tense on-going verb. He lives in each of us, breathes in us, whispers to us, and IS. He is. That's the awesome reality of this day. Take off your shoes, throw yourself before Him and listen. He will come...and give you marching orders.

"Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." Isaiah 30: 21

"Today, if you hear His voice,
do not harden your hearts."
Hebrews 3:7

This is the word of the Lord.
Praise be to God.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Living now

It's November.
Wow, November. Raise your hand if this year has been a blur.
Mine are both raised so high it's like I'm praising God.
Maybe I am.
I should be. For the good and hard alike. He's seen us through. Faithful is He...

And this first Thursday (now Friday!) of November brings another Random Journal Link-up. So you have two choices, friends. You can simply scoot over to Dawn's blog and check out the other blogs OR, if you're a journal-er, add a treasure to the trove. There's always room for one more at the table.

My offering this month comes from 2004. As usual when I open one of my blue notebooks, I can't simply stop at the first page I read because I'm plunged back into that time. Kids in high school and middle school meant life was full of activities. And I was just finishing a stint as elder of our church at a very tumultuous time. So now that I've read about a month's worth of entries, I can't remember where I started. So I'll just give you this snippet of thought, nothing overtly spiritual, but a window into me.

April 3, 2004 (one of the two dates--along with the 7th--scholars believe was the actual resurrection of Jesus):
(Ed note: My book list tells me I'd just been re-reading Daisy Miller by Henry James)
There's a commode in our front hallway from the late 1800s. On it sits a tarnished silver dish where Beve puts keys, wallet and other pocket miscellany each evening. Rather than piece of bathroom furniture, I imagine it a fancy table where, a century ago, a woman calling, might leave her embossed calling card in it. The dish would fill and I would feel proud that I was so popular. I am important because so many trussed up women seek my afternoons. See how many guest squeeze into my front parlor? We sit in our lawn dresses and fine hats pinned to piled hair, drinking tea in tiny cups held in long, white-gloved hands. Take delicate bites of rich cakes I had no hand in the making.  Sweating on hot days because our clothes make no allowance for weather. I can't imagine a single sentence of conversation I might have have so attired, so besieged by such rigorous societal constraints. There is no possibility of intellectual discourse. I can only see the calling card dish, and the table surely from that age.
     A word or two of interaction of any meaning with the opposite sex would be as impossible as not wearing those cumbersome dresses. Like wearing no clothes at all. For all the wealth such a life implies, I would be poorer. So much poorer I cannot grasp how I'd have breathed--in two ways--inside those tight corsets.
     I am a creature of my decades. I was born at the right moment. My children might be incredulous, or even laugh, at the world I/we grew up in--no computers, videos, cell-phones, digital cameras, DVDs, all things technological--but I know our lifetime, and theirs as well, has been a whisper.
However, even though there have been more changes in the last hundred years than all the centuries before, when it comes down to it, the biggest change that ever happened in the world happened in a stable. Before I was even a thought anywhere but in God. It wasn't only the WHO I'd be...He was also intentional about the WHEN of my life. I was meant to live now.