Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Doing the gospel

6:33 AM and I've been awake for 3 hours. This is completely normal for me (NOT!!!!). I'm sitting here by the fire, which Beve, stumbling around in shorts, t-shirt and no glasses, kindly cleaned out for me, then made me a cup of tea before saying, "I think I'll go back to bed for a while if you don't mind."

He was just so disoriented. Seeing me awake at 4 in the morning when he's usually the one who's up and getting to it (whatever it is) while I'm heavy in REM sleep can do that to a man. But for the last couple of days I've been trying to get myself back on some kind of schedule that looks like an adult human being's. By this I mean that I don't take multiple naps during the day. However, apparently this is backfiring just a wee bit, since I'm falling asleep around 5:30/6:00 PM in the evening. Waking up at 4 AM. Not exactly a schedule I'd like to continue, unless I want to take up baking or newspaper delivery or something like that.


I got to thinking about Beve going off into the world so early each morning while I'm still deeply asleep, and how I just let him go without thinking a thing about it (obviously). When we were newly married, I was a prayer warrior for my husband. I mean, he didn't leave my sight without me stopping whatever it was I was doing and praying for him. In fact, the year before either of us knew we would ever be more than friends God put it on my heart to pray for him. Beve was living in Finland at the time and I was clear across the globe in our home town, and I can tell you there were times when God woke me up with a start from a sound sleep if I hadn't prayed for my old friend that day. Woke me so hard and clearly that I got down on my knees right then and prayed HIS heart out for the not-yet-the-Beve and whatever it was he was up to that day in Helsinki, Finland.

But, here's the honest-to-God way of things in a long (even loving) marriage. A person gets lazy. At least I have. I've taken that call to pray for my Beve lightly. I do it...but not daily. Not with the same--'this is my calling' just as much as his going out and DOing is his calling. But it is, you see. Doing is Beve's calling. We were just talking about this yesterday. And it doesn't take a genius to realize that this is why I was awakened at 4 AM with a bee in my bonnet about all this. You see, Beve sometimes feels guilty about his lack of discipline when it comes to spiritual practices.

I listened to him and thought of how both of us were taught from the earliest age that if we didn't spend a certain amount of time each day reading the Word of God and praying for others, we just we're really His followers.  In fact, we were failing at 'living our lives worthy of the gospel.'

And you, dear readers, might be among those who also believe this. You might read your Bible, say your prayers, make a check on the list, then go about your day, thinking you're exactly Who God intends you to be.

But I say, HOGWASH.
First, and this is the most important thing God has to say, HE LOVES YOU. The end. You don't have to do anything to prove it. HE did it all. The end. We're right in the middle of the season that reminds of that. God, who created EVERYTHING that was ever created, allowed--no, allowed isn't strong enough--CHOSE to become a human baby who could barely understand anything. HE'd listened to heavenly choirs, now had to learn the voice of His own human mother. Because HE LOVES US. And make no mistake, He didn't KNOW when He was wrapped in rags that He was GOD. He had to learn it as He learned language, to sit up, to walk, run, talk and think. By the time He was twelve He knew. BY thirty, clearly. And it was all--all, ALL about loving us, whether we have our daily quiet time or not. Whether we even love Him back or not (though that's another story).

But here's the other thing, and it's what I should be saying to Beve, but he's asleep, so I'm saying it here, until he wakes up. My spouse DOES the gospel. By that I mean, he lives it out. Just this week, while school hasn't been in session, he's given away wood pellets to a young woman with no money, he bought Christmas presents for a needy family (and used up our wrapping paper--and I was even miffed at the time!), he bought a ham for someone, he took clothes to some of 'his kids' who didn't have winter-wear. This is just what he does. Some of it is his job. Most of it is so far outside the parameters of 'school counselor' no one would even know how to classify it. It's the gospel. Taking care of widows and orphans. The poor and the needy. This is true religion.

And there's NOTHING to be ashamed about in such work.
"I don't do enough," are the words of a person who is being made into the image of Christ...and only sees himself in relation to the ONE. I suppose we who long to be like Him will always see the distance we have to travel.
But I see the Beve and see how close he is to the ONE.

It makes me resolve (a word I rarely use, and almost NEVER on THIS day!) to pray for him as he goes out and does. That is MY calling.

Friday, December 27, 2013

My launched (scarved) ones

I've said this before, but Wordle says it more poetically. At least more artistically.
Wordle: Untitled

That baby living among the folks in Bethelehem

By now a whole bunch of townsfolk have heard about this new baby that was born in the stable behind the busy inn Jethro and Martha keep. They work their fingers to their bones this census year but not their mouths shut. Why should they? It's not every day a couple for which they had no room but the stable had a baby among the donkeys, ox and other beasts whod carried the burdens of the travelers stopping to be counted. Now a baby was among them. A baby to be gawked at by near and far, shepherds from fields in the hills firsts, but townsfolk on the streets as well.

In the last week since I've been stuck where I landed after a major surgery, many folks have stopped or sent well wishes. Flowers, cards, Facebook greetings, soup, candy, scarves. So I imagine what was showing up when that baby was born unexpectedly in that stable in Bethlehem. Clothes, for one thing. You can count on it. New moms began digging through their baskets of just-out-grown baby clothes for this little one. Dads began working with Joseph to figure out how to make that stable a livable place. Make that manger a fit cradle. Joseph was a carpenter, he could have managed most of the work himself, I'm sure. But this is what people do when babies are born, when people need help. Hammers were offered, wood was given, hands were lent. Yes, that's the point of it, hands were lent. Meals were made at first, then dishes were borrowed. "I haven't used that jug in ages. I have plenty. Keep it."

We aren't talking a wealthy community. Just a community that came together. That was there to lend a hand when baby was born.  Mary and Joseph and that baby had to stay in Bethlehem longer than it takes to read the story. We can get the feeling that the angels came, the shepherds went running, the wise men appeared, Herod got angry (and insanely, murdurously jealous) all in the course of a single night. Maybe a week. But it was at least 40 days. At least that long before the baby was presented at the temple. So the little family had time to be shared with by their good neighbors in Bethlehem.

And then, when another angel spoke, that little family was up and gone like thieves in the night. By the time the next day was over, the worst kind of grief had swallowed the town of Bethelem. Babies lost. Not just one or two but ALL of them. ALL the baby boys younger than two. That's unfathomable.

A month before they'd been a town teeming with people just there to be counted.
People who'd come there because they were "The city of David."
In a single month we can imagine that they served a single family with a single baby.
Without even knowing who that baby was.

For us, their story ends here. It ends with the loss of all those babies.
But let us not forget that where it begins, is where it REALLY ends-- a KING.

I can't answer the loss of those babies.
None of us can. It's a loss of sin. Just as ever murder is. Not to be blamed on God, or on His providence. EVER. Murder came after the garden. God knew it would.

But I can say a something about that month where those townsfolk ministered to the family with the newborn baby without knowing who He was.
That's a precious picture to imagine, isn't it?
Having little, but giving it to a baby.
Not knowing what I have to give but giving it...and who it goes to is CHRIST HIMSELF.

THINK of this.

Sometimes I try so hard to think of how to give to Him.
But maybe, just maybe--being myself, doing what I do in my real life for those I do for--is for Him.
Maybe we should all stop trying so hard and just live with Him among us (perhaps like we don't even know it's Him!).

Monday, December 23, 2013

Where He's born

I've never been poor. Even when my father was in graduate school and my mother was a stay-at-home-mom, we had enough money to pay our rent, put food on the table and drive not one but TWO cars (with the generous help of our grandparents!). So I haven't had to make a home in a place where animals do their business right along side me, and I have to borrow whatever dirty rags I find lying about to wrap my baby in and call them 'swaddling cloths'--and who knows what they swaddled last. And am just plain glad there's a roof over my head on this night of all nights when I've had been aching and hurting and grunting and pushing to get that baby out of my body and into this place teeming with life of all kinds of animals. Vermin and bugs and cattle and sheep. I never had to worry about such things, because every one who touched my new-born baby was more sterile than I was as I labored to bring each into the world.

We don't think about the sheer dirt and grime of it often, do we? We don't think about the raw ugliness of how God was born. Not with clean hands or clean water or even clean swaddling clothes freshly pressed, smelling like roses. But there was NOTHING clean about His birth. Not the place, not Joseph's hands who'd been caring for the donkey as well as Mary as they traveled the road from Nazareth. Do you think Joseph took time to scrub his grimy fingers before he reached out for that baby? With what, exactly? What kind of hot water do you think was on tap there in that stable (or cave), hundreds of years before hot water heaters were invented? Before such a notion was even considered necessary? Joseph merely did what he had to do: he held out his hands with dirt under his fingernails, and helped the Son of GOD take His first breath in this world.

Isn't that something?

We're germaphobe.
And for good reason, we're told by one medical expert after another.
But God was born right in the middle of dirt and grime and bugs and shit (yes, I did use that word because it's just the truth!) because it's exactly where He meant to be born.

Exactly where He meant to be born.
Exactly where He MUST be born.
In your life
and in mine.

Lying in bed this morning, I got to thinking about this whole Peace On Earth thing.  And I know you know what I mean.  You ask every second person what they want for Christmas and they answer, "Peace on Earth."  It doesn't matter what religious persuasion they are, whether they're of any persuasion at all, they still answer Peace On Earth.  It's the common answer for young, beautiful, skinny, overly coiffed women prancing around on stage in evening gowns and swimsuits.  When asked what they want in the world, they answer (or at least this is the answer they all give in "Miss Congeniality," and I'm pretty sure that's a documentary!), "Peace On Earth."

Anyway, it hit me this morning that like so many things we say, so many expressions used or misused in the world, this has its root in the gospel.  You know that famous, now stolen, sign above the entrance to Auschwitz?  "Arbeit macht frei," it says.  Works makes free is the literal translation, but it implies that your work will set you free, which wasn't true at all, as we now all know (unless we're deniers of the Holocaust).  This is bastardized from the verse, "The truth will set you free."--The TRUTH who is Jesus is the ONLY one who will set you free. The one who came in dirt, and grime...and even in the hole that was a 'work camp.'

And what about the clause we use very often, "By the way,"?   This comes from the verse (very near the one mentioned above, actually) where Jesus says, "I am the Way, the Truth and the Life."  Originally when someone said 'by the way', they were saying something serious, 'by the Jesus,' in fact.  Like an oath.  It wasn't a throw-away remark almost forgotten to be mentioned.  "By the way, I picked up the toilet paper."  By the way was once (and maybe should be again!) an oath of the most serious nature.

And so this wish for peace on earth.  A phrase first uttered in the sky above sheep pastures outside of Bethlehem.  A phrase offered to shepherds--shepherds, who weren't in the first rung of their society, but the bottom.  Shepherds who had no actual power in their world, but did what they did because they had no other options.  These were not people who could effect peace on earth.  They were only concerned with peace in their pastures.  Peace from the tyranny of wolves, not of nations. Shepherds concerned with the business and grime of the animals in their flock. It's profound to consider--where HE was born, who HE was first proclaimed, what they were most concerned. It all lines up. Just as God does. To these shepherds, the angel offered, "Peace on earth."  On all of earth.

This peace of which the angel spoke was NOT what the shepherds--or the entire world--expected.  Not what they thought they wanted or needed.  It was peace with a price.  Peace with a whole lot of negative things attached.  Peace with misunderstanding, denial, cursing and a CROSS attached.  Not as the world gave/gives, but peace with eternal perspective.  Peace with repentance, forgiveness and transformation.  Peace on earth, it turns out, can only be enacted one person at a time.  Peace not by lack of hostility, but by the entrance within each person of the ONE who can overcome such hostility the enemy might level against him/her.

So when we hear--over and over, ad infinitum--those words, "Peace on earth," what is being wished is the Incarnate One, the One who is our peace.  The holiday wish, the beauty pageant peace, the peace wished for in every second remark on every momentous occasion on this planet, it turns out, is Jesus.  Don't you just love this?  Don't you just love that all sorts of people who have no idea of what they're really asking for, are pleading for Jesus' presence in the world.  Jesus! Just as He was the One the shepherds ran to see after hearing those words in that dark night outside of Bethlehem.  So when I hear it--from wherever direction the words come--instead of rolling my eyes (as I've been known to do)--let me join my voice to it, and breathe a prayer for peace to come, er, for Jesus to come.  Again and again and again.

BE born to us, JESUS. In whatever place we are. In whatever dirt and grime and poor, needy place we live. Come, Jesus, Come.

Constant prayer

I may have written this before, but no matter.
On this day, as I wait with fear and trembling and more than a little pain and discomfort, these words are exactly what I have prayed over and over and over in this season. Advent.
For Him to come.
For whatever He will do.
For whatever He asks ME to do (or NOT to do).
For me to simply hold on and be His.
I have prayed it so many times you'd think I'd know it by heart.
I don't, but the words are--truly!--written in my soul.

This is my prayer:
(It's The Methodist Covenant Prayer)

I am no longer my own, but Thine,
Put me to what Thou wilt,
     rank me with what Thou wilt;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for Thee;
     or laid aside for Thee;
let me be full, let me be empty;
let me have all things,
     let me have nothing;
I freely and heartily yield all things
     to Thy pleasure and disposal.

And now, O glorious and blessed God,
     Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
Thou art mine and I am Thine.
      So be it.
And the covenant
      which I have made on earth,
      let it be ratified in heaven.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A few pictures of my real life


Full disclosure: If you're faint of heart of body, you might want to skip the first picture of this post. The image below is NOT Hollywood make-up, but my real neck. And, though you can't tell, it's lumpy today. Dang.
This gives you an idea why I'm feeling a bit under the weather.
And since the weather here is gray and rainy that's saying something.
Actually what it's saying is, "Cover me with scarves, PLEASE!!!"
And I'm answering, "Don't worry, that's my plan!"
Scarves and scarves and scarves.
And more scarves.

Moving along to something much MORE BEAUTIFUL to look at, here's a picture of my Christmas present:

While I was taking one of my myriad naps the other day, Beve had it installed.
I've been asking for YEARS for this;
for years we've been looking for exactly the right wood;
and about three weeks ago at a reclaimed lumber yard, Beve found a perfect piece of Afrormosia, African Teak.
This exotic wood comes ONLY from the jungles of the west coast of Africa,
and is now considered endangered, due to over-logging and habitat encroachment.
We haven't the faintest idea how it made its way to a little shop here in the northwest corner of Washington State where most of the wood is used for boats, but there it was.
And because it had a few imperfections, it wouldn't be sea-worthy,
making it EXACTLY what we were looking for.
Hence, we have this beautiful piece of African wood in our living room, which is just about the most amazing thing I can imagine, because my heart is full of African, in almost every way you can imagine
(my living room as well, come to think of it!).

I was so inspired by FINALLY having a mantle that I made brand new Christmas stockings for us
(including one for brother BB)
finished them just last weekend before I went to the hospital.
Now my mantle looks exactly as it should for Christmas.

 actually decorated our tree.

I think Beve, BB and Maica are all tired from the effort. But we have a tree at the ready when our daughters swoop in for their quick visits (we are counting the minutes now!).

I'm recovering at the expected pace. Sleeping like a baby. Literally. Up to eat, sit around for a couple of hours, back down for a nap, and repeat. I get worn out easily. Also forget (EASILY!!!) that I'm not supposed to bend, lift or twist my head. You try doing that for a few weeks (months?) and see how easy it is.

Nevertheless, I am thankful.

For soo much.
Mostly, for this:

Yes, for a family who loves on me without question.
For friends who can laugh with and at me.
For the kindness of loved ones near and far.
For a year in which, even though I suffered, there were SO MANY blessings of community with those I love.
For more and more and more than I can express that I get this life,
and this life is good.
And HE is GOOD.

Merry Christmas.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Hospital conversations

Two days in the hospital gave me plenty of opportunity for conversations with people I might never have known otherwise. See, narcotics and I don't get along well. In fact, while they make most people sleepy, for me, they act like those oft-advertised '5-hour' energy drinks, only I think five hours is putting it mildly. Give me a narcotic--of any class--and you've doomed me to wakefulness. WIDE-awakefulness.

And, because this wasn't my first time around this surgery block, I knew it going in. Talked to my surgeon well ahead of time, and we agreed that I'd avoid narcotics. However, somehow, that message didn't filter down to the nurses who were actually responsible for giving me the medication. And I wasn't quite with it enough to stand up for myself.

Hence, I didn't sleep. AND I learned why it is that I can't stand narcotics. A shot of morphine (so I could get out of bed and walk the loop around the surgical floor!) in my IV was the most horrible sensation I can imagine. I can't even tell you.

However, the (lone) perk about all the not-sleeping was the opportunity I had for conversations with nurses, CNAs, OTs, PTs, and techs during those two days. At 11:30PM, or 2 AM, there isn't much going on on a surgical floor so even overworked nurses have time to share their stories a bit. And needless to say, I had plenty of time to listen. I heard talked with a nurse who loves horses, rides every morning before her swing-shift. She has gorgeous white hair that only true Scandinavians can accomplish without chemicals, is independent as they come, doesn't worry about her grown-up sons but her 'critters' if she moves to California to be near her sister as she'd like to. I talked to a younger woman who's working her way through school by being a Certified Nursing Assistant, wants to become a Physician's Assistant, and stopped being embarrassed of bodily functions of patients by the second day on the job (such things that embarrassed me to be doing in front of total strangers!). And I talked with an OT, who has small children, has a tender, sensitive son (much like our J) and worries that such qualities MIGHT mean he'll be picked on in middle school. I couldn't help her with that. But I listened.

I listened to all of them.
Even though pain clouded my ability to hear clearly, to answer cogently, it wasn't like I had any place else to go. If there was football to talk about at 2 AM, sure, I could do that. And unfinished holiday plans at 5:30--I could listen to that, too.

It made me think that most of these people who serve and serve and serve in such settings don't have the chance to be heard. They're there to answer when the red light goes on, to aid and abet whatever a patient needs from bathroom to bed movements. But there was something good about just listening to them. I didn't feel great, of course. I definitely NEEDED the help I'd pushed the button to get from them, but it didn't cost anything to ask about them. And I hope it made their day a little brighter, a little easier.

Before we left the hospital yesterday, three different nurses came by to tell me how much they'd enjoyed our conversations. And that, my friends, was a very sweet gift of a not very easy time. Worth the price of admission, I'd have to say.

Making connections with people, even when I'm most hurting--this is what I live for. This is what HE lives for. It was evening and it was morning--and He calls it good.

Plundering the Egyptians--repost

Continuing my recovery, continuing to plunder my old posts to find treasures to share (again!) with you. 

A couple of days ago, a young man looked around our living room and said, "I don't read much.  The only things I might be able to read are books about how to make money investing or other practical kinds of books that I could apply to my life.  But novels?  Why would I want to read about fictional lives, when my own is so interesting."  As I write that, I'm aware that this makes the young man look self-involved and superficial, which he in no way is.  Nevertheless, his words instantly categorized him in my mind as 'other.'

Far be it from me to criticize such an attitude toward 'stories', because Beve, my very own, beloved Beve, is also not inclined (though not entirely opposed) to reading novels.  Beve would say that he doesn't have time, which is an indication that he isn't drawn to fiction.  Of course, he also tends to attempt reading at precisely the wrong time of day for his body's daily clock--when he gets into bed to sleep.  Beve has always had the problem (or ability, depending on one's point of view) of falling asleep easily and quickly, and reading is as good as a Tylenol PM for him. For Beve, an early riser who greets the sun as it rises most mornings, reading at dawn would be a much better idea.  That is, if he was actually interested in doing so, and most of the time, he is not.  Having lived with him a long time, I've gotten used to the fact that if I've read a great book, a life-changingly great book, and believe me, I've read many of those in my life.  In fact, it's just possible those very books have taken up residence on every available wall of my house, and, if I had a 100,000 dollars or so, I'd put on a whole second story with soaring walls in order to be able to add to this volume of volumes, very few of which I'd expect Beve to even crack open, let alone read.

This, I think, makes Beve, and our insurance agent (the young man in our book-filled living room), 'other' than me.  I cannot imagine a world without fiction.  A world without other lives in which to first (and foremost) I simply enjoy, and find myself falling into as if the characters had actual addresses, actual lives, (I just read a review of a book that began with a quick antedote about the reviewer's mother who once prayed earnestly and lengthily for Irwin Chance, and then his older brother Everett, then began laughing hysterically when she remembered that these are characters in one amazing novel--which I knew the second I saw the names, but won't tell you).

But it's also part of reading fiction that  certain truths can be gleaned about life--truths which make me more than I would be otherwise.  I told this insurance man exactly this: that reading novels can be 'plundering the Egyptians.'  "Every woman is to ask her neighbor...for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters.  And so you will plunder the Egyptians." (Exodus 3:22) Moses' instructions to the Israelites before they left Egypt to take things of value from the culture in which they'd been enslaved for the last 400 years is exactly what we do when we read these stories of worlds not our own.  There is great value in this practice, truths that God uses to draw us closer to him.  Yes, sometimes those truths are like photographic negatives, where we learn how not to live by reading of how others do live.

I have learned to live with a man who doesn't read, I deeply love this man.  He has been tolerant, even encouraging of my reading over the years--buying or building more bookcases as I run out of room; gently suggesting, but not pushing me, that I cull some of my thousands of books (I think he even laughs at himself for the impossibility of such a cull).  But there are times, like at the candle-chandelier-ed table of my favorite professor and his wife, when we've talked literature until those candles were stubs and our heads were heavy in our hands, that I've longed for Beve to be more like me.  Longed for him to hunger for literature as I do.

But he plunders the Egyptians in his own way. He has made sport his own, made it the outlet for his creativity, made his passion for it one of God's vehicle to grow him up.  And just as I long to suggest a book to him that he'll actually stay up all night to finish--the Brothers K, Jayber Crow, The Poisonwood BibleSparrow, to name a few, I know he wishes I would--was capable of--playing some sport with him--tennis, bowling, basketball (!).  Other. These may be the most significant differences between us, more than the physiological differences, more than the temperamental ones.

And I'm mostly satisfied with that. Yes, I look around my house and wonder that anyone--anyone!--could live a life without books, but we are what we are, made as we were.  What is important, in the end, that we plunder the Egyptians--that we allow God to use whatever He will, in culture, in creation, in others, to teach us about Himself.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Following hard--repost

Another day, another repost. Since I'm planning all these ahead of the surgery, I can't tell you how well I'm doing yet. But if I come out of the haze well enough to let you know, there will be a PS at the end of one of these posts. In the meantime, press on...press on to know the Lord. And I'll do the same. May this post encourage you on your journey.

What do you do when you feel like the world as you've come to expect it has ended?  What happens when every dream you ever had goes up in flames...or at least morphs in such a way that you don't quite know what to do with the new?  I realize it sounds like I'm talking about myself, and my recent 'setbacks', but I'm not quite, or not exactly, except as I'm talking about all of us, and all the ways we fail, or lose, or find life different than we thought.

Maybe, just maybe what you do is...go fishing.  That's what the disciples did.  When the world tipped over, when they up and ran off out of fear, then watched (only one of them) or heard that their Teacher-Master-Lord had been tortured, nailed to a tree and died.  The next week, miraculously, He appeared in their locked room with them, but I'm here to tell you, nothing had gone the way they'd expected when they signed up for this.  They'd left everything for this man and now...well, the whole thing was pretty confusing. He came and went, told them not to touch him, and really didn't give them the game plan any reasonable person would have been hoping for.  So Peter, impatient, brash, the vocal leader, says, "I'm going fishing.  Who's with me?"

So off they go-- Seven of them. Trying to do something they actually felt capable of doing.  After all, before they were fishers of men, they'd been fishers of fish. So being out in that boat might make them feel like successes rather than the failures they'd felt since last Friday.  Yep, fishing was just the ticket.
Except that their nets floated aimlessly, emptily in the water, bearing nothing. The one thing they--Peter, his brother, John and his--were good at, they were failing at.  Imagine that.  Imagine the desultory conversation, the annoyance creeping into their voices as they tried to tell each other how to fix what seemed broken. All stinkin' night...all for nothing.

But in the morning, a voice called across the water, telling them where to cast their nets.  And when the nets break, they realize who'd called them.  Again, called to them in their boat.

After Peter (who had to get dressed before he leapt out of the boat to swim ashore--was he fishing in his underwear?) jumped out of the boat and swam ashore, and the others brought in the haul and the boat, had another tasty meal served by the Man Himself, Jesus takes Peter for a walk.  And though it would be good to sit a few moments with the beginning of that conversation, the re-instatement of Peter, who has to answer the same question three times, "Do you love me?" I am more compelled by what happens after those questions.  Peter, more than a little flustered, has told Jesus, once for each of his denials, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."  'Leave the fish," Jesus is telling him.  "Once and for all, be a fisher of men.  I've given you every fish I'm going to give you (all 153 of them--don't you love that John is this definite?  It has the ring of truth that he knows the exact number.  Me?  I'd be rounding up, for sure!) and now it's time to feed my sheep with what I've given you."  Then He tells Peter that this life of people-fishing won't always be easy, that Peter won't always be able to do, and go and even wear what he wants by himself.  He's under command of God, and will be so, even when he's old and infirmed.

"But what about him?" Peter asks, motioning to the young man following them, the one who recorded this scene for us.  John, the Beloved.  And this is the moment for me.  When Jesus says, "It doesn't matter what I do with him, even if I keep him alive until I return.  YOU follow me."

This is the moment we have to get to.  Past the failures of our lives, past lost dreams and empty nets.  We have to take that walk on the beach with Jesus and hear Him say to us, "Don't pay attention to what I ask of others.  Don't even look at them.  YOU follow me."  Obey His call to us, not His call to those around us.  However counter-intuitive it might be, it's just that simple.  Follow Him.  And it doesn't matter what the road looks like, how far away from where you thought you were going.  It doesn't matter what is going on around us, what the world looks like...Follow and follow and follow hard.  And no matter what, keep on following.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Widest Street in the World--repost

Some of you dear readers know this story, but others of you, new to this blog and new to my life, have never heard nor read this story, so I give it to you again. To tell you the truth, I don't grow tired of it myself. How could I? It's my story, after all. And it reminds me of how much God loves love. I mean, He loves romance just as much as we do, and He wants the best of it for us. 
And I find it completely appropriate to share it with you today, when my Beve is taking a week off from work, bringing me home from the hospital and taking care of my every need like I'm a feeble baby. That's about as great a love as I can imagine here on earth.

What is the decisive moment of a life? The moment one comes to Christ? Marriage? The instant a baby is placed in your arms? Yes, yes, and yes. But for me there was also YWAM, a sharp right turn into missions that so changed my life no hair was left untouched.

I never wanted to be a 'missionary.' Let's be clear about that. I wasn't hungry for exotic sheep--I liked the idea of feeding those I could talk to, right around the corner. I remember asking God to not send me overseas unless He not only called me but gave me such a heart to match that I couldn't bear to stay home. It was a pretty safe bet, I thought; the idea of going to India or Africa was the farthest thing from my brain. And though I wanted to go to Europe, I was thinking Literature and Art, not mission. But God has a funny way of answering earnest prayer. He actually does it, you know? And through a variety of great steps, mis-steps, back-tracks, and falls, by the summer of 1983, I was hungry to go to a Discipleship Training School with Youth With a Mission, then to serve long-term with them somewhere in the far east. Missions had become my goal--my passion.

My childhood neighbor, the Beve (who wasn't the Beve then) also signed up to go to a DTS, and in that odd-not-so-odd way of God, we flew off to Heidebeck, Holland together in the fall of '83, where we studied for 5 months. Worshipped, learned to pray daily in new and powerful ways, were put in a small group together--which was astounding, considering there were 250 people on the base, and there we were, two kids from the same street across the world, in the same group of eight--you should have seen us the night we had to introduce ourselves: I told my story first, then Beve, sitting beside me, pretty much said, "Ditto." That room full of strangers couldn't quite believe that only God had orchestrated such a thing as two people from the same street all the way across the world winding up in that little room in Holland. But if you think they couldn't believe it, you should have looked into my heart, my 'racing with feelings and wondering what on earth God was doing' heart.

 We were in each other's faces every day during that time, which was just what the doctor ordered--if you want to call God the healer the doctor! It was both wonderful and difficult for me, because I'd been fighting those racing 'feelings' for this 'neighbor boy' for a year, but was downright certain--based on my phenomenal track-record--that if I had said feelings, they were wrong. I lived in surrender, daily surrender, as I daily prayed. I was so grateful that there was a person like the Beve in the world, just that he was in the world--that's what counted, not that it had to have anything to do with me. That was how I looked at it in those DTS days.

But the things we learned at the DTS. About being made in the image of God, for example--I've carried that around with me for 25 years. About the historical Christian world view--that every civilization only exists for a finite length of time then begins to fall apart--that, too, has stayed with me, has kept me from being simply a myopic American. And the praying, oh the praying--being quiet with God, then listening to what He was saying before we began to pray, then first praising Him for Who He is--Creator, Father, Lord, INCARNATE Savior!!!--before praying to Him, praying His words with Him. It was powerful, humbling and changed forever how I pray, both alone and corporately.

And then we went to India. India. By the time the postings for the outreaches came, I'd been long praying for where God might send me. And what I felt was that God wanted me to go somewhere I'd never been, where I would have to relinquish control even more. And India was the obvious choice. But the Beve wanted to go there as well. So I went to a DTS leader and confessed my feelings--surely the leadership would not let me go with him, knowing I felt what I did. But they came to me very quickly and said, "You're supposed to go to India--you both are." So off we went, only 3 of us (plus 3 to Nepal), to New Delhi, India for 6 weeks.

India--it was like plugging my nose and diving into the pages of a National Geographic that smelled. I got up that first morning (it was November, mind you), went out to the balcony, and there was an emaciated cow wandering through this back alley, its nose bent into the heap of garbage. The air was thick with Bedees (like cigarettes), the garbage, the rice and dal cooking in our kitchen, and sounds of street venders from every direction. My clothes suddenly felt heavy and tight and my Nikes too clean and silly. We stayed in a Dilaram House, which means 'House of Peace.' Our ministry was to non-Indians who were stuck in India for any kind of reason. I was stretched more in that two months than I'd been in my life to date. A woman who'd had a botched abortion bled all over the floor of a taxi, right on my clean, not-so-white Nikes, as I was taking her to a doctor. Once I had the charge of taking a woman to the French embassy who was surely full of demons (I'm not making this up!!), and when I finally convinced them to take her and I left the Embassy, I hadn't the faintest idea of where I was, or how to find transportation home. I started walking and praying at the same time, and as you can tell, God did rumble by in a taxi sooner or later.

At some point we realized we were living Matthew 25--we'd literally done every single thing Jesus speaks of on that list, we'd fed and watered the hungry and thirsty, we'd given shelter to strangers, we'd given clothes to the naked, we'd cared for the sick, and we'd visited and fed those in prison. And we hadn't seen that it was Jesus we were looking at when we did so.

In a small village in India, where we went for a few days outreach during that time, the Beve also got sick. And while he was lying on his pallet, God told him in no uncertain terms to marry me. Now some might have dismissed that as the hallucinations of grave illness, but Beve--our children and yet unknown future generations are glad to know--did not respond dismissively. He weighed God's words, then shared them with me in a Lebanese restaurant in downtown New Delhi just before Christmas. To say I was surprised understated the moment. To say it was the decisive moment of my life does not. God was there. God had been there all along--gently, but firmly moving us to that place, at that time. "I believe God's calling us together," He said. And you know what I thought, what I really thought? God does not tease. That's it. Because all that time, all the ways the Beve had been right before my eyes were driving me crazy, feeling how I did. And I kept telling God--"Don't tease me like this." But God does not tease. And that's a pretty good thing to know. He loves romance, and He doesn't tease.

I thought there'd be long-term mission in my life as a result of the DTS. Instead, God, the God of romance, moved the Beve and me around this globe like chess pieces, teaching us, growing us, creating in us what was needed for us to be better instruments for His Kingdom together than apart. Long-term ministry, yes. Right here, like this. From the Palouse, to Finland to Holland to India--there was the Beve. It really has been the widest street in the world. Thank God.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

an update

A quick update: I came through surgery well enough...all things considered. By that I mean that I have a three inch cut across my throat. I'm picturing scarves in my future. But God is good and I can bear a little (or not so little!) Scar.

A Castle In the Desert--repost

This is the first of the posts I'll be re-posting while I'm recuperating from my neck/spine/cervical surgery. I don't know how long I'll be out of the blogging mood, but don't worry, I have thousands of posts from which to choose to entertain you while I'm away. And, while I'm gone, Happy Christmas.

My great-grandfather, Mat Roy Thompson, built a castle in a desert. It's very famous--you might have heard of it. It's called Scotty's Castle, and it's a spectacular place, as is the land on which it sits: Death Valley. My great-grandfather was the engineer who oversaw the construction of the castle for the very wealthy couple, named Johnson, who were having it built. This is a story of ill health, thwarted love, dreams unrealized--all desert kind of experiences. And you might have noticed that neither my grandfather nor those Chicagoan millionaires were the Scotty of Scotty's Castle. No, Scotty was the name of the old prospector who'd sold the rights to a non-existent gold mine to these fancy-folks. In the end, even when the gold didn't pan out, so to speak, they found the air amenable to their health and built their home/ castle anyway. But guess who ended up living there? Not my great-grandfather, whose designs had changed the style from a square shapeless structure to a one-of-a-kind desert hacienda that can withstand heat and cold and everything else, and still be beautiful. Not the money bags--they both died before it was actually completed. It was Scotty who lived out his days in the Castle. Scotty, the old prospector, who'd duped the folks once, then somehow outlasted them, and lived to enjoy the spoils. (By the way, I should give a shout out to Mat Roy Thompson's entry on wikapedia for all the helpful information.)

We often think of deserts as hostile places, barren places to barely survive. They're metaphors for the worst of what life throws at us, for the times when God seems far away, when we can neither see, feel nor even know how to reach Him. But long ago, the desert called the most devout of our faith. The desert fathers and mothers, they were called. Those who purposed went out to the harshest terrain to discover God, to strip away all else in order to meet Him and only Him. They made their homes in caves and under rocks, and asked Him to meet them, to see what there was to see. And we have some of the richest, most beautiful words ever written as a result. What we can learn from them--why it's like finding a castle in the desert. Like this one:

If you are praised, be silent. If you are scolded, be silent. If
you incur losses, be silent. If you receive profit, be silent.
If you are satiated, be silent. If you are hungry, also be silent.
And do not be afraid that there will be no fruit when all dies
down; there will be! Not everything will die down. Energy will
appear; and what energy!
St. Feofil, the Fool for Christ

Or this:
Every day you provide your bodies with good to keep them from
failing. In the same way your good works should be the daily
nourishment of your hearts. Your bodies are fed with food and your
spirits with good works. You aren't to deny your soul, which is
going to live forever, what you grant to your body, which is going to die.
St. Gregory the Great
There are thousands, literally thousands, of these writings that make me realize that maybe we're on the wrong track when we loathe the desert and think it to be avoided at all costs. Instead, perhaps there's something the desert offers that we can't find anywhere else. Something beautiful. So maybe when we find ourselves in the heat of a desert, in a dry and weary land where there is no water--and we all will sooner or later--maybe instead of simply trying to figure out how to get out of there, and praying for rain, we might think of building a a place to seek God. Build a castle so that we can hear God from that barren place that we couldn't hear in our lush garden. What is your desert? Loneliness? Dryness of spirit and desire? Build something there. Lean in, listen. He is God and He is not silent. He also created the desert.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Just a tune-up

"Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
creeps at this petty pace from day to day..." MacBeth

That's how I've been feeling lately. Tomorrow is so long in coming, and, though I don't want it to come at all, I also just want to get it over with. But it finally really is tomorrow. Just plain tomorrow. So I have a few things to say about it.

A couple of months ago, I wrote about talking to a woman who owned a quilt shop (check this out). I told her then that tomorrow's surgery (then unscheduled) might soon come. My 12th surgery, actually, and probably not my last. "Maybe you should think about it as a tune-up," she said. "Instead of a big deal, you just need a tune-up to keep your beautiful Janome (a quilting machine) running smoothly."

'Just a tune-up' has stuck with me so much that I've been at peace with what will happen tomorrow when a surgeon puts a knife to my throat, moves my vocal chords and esophagus out of the way and carves away bone from my spine. Sounds gruesome when I write it out, but not when I think, 'just a tune-up.' Really.

I saw the surgeon this week for my pre-op appointment, and the most amazing moment happened. "I'm like a mechanic," he said. "This surgery is like a tune up so that generally healthy people can live better." I think my jaw dropped to the floor. My spirit was certainly singing the Hallelujah chorus! because right there, right in that little exam room, was God the Holy Spirit confirming that He's in this, that all shall be most well, that a surgery as invasive as one that starts with a knife to one's throat is merely a 'tune-up' in His eyes. It's not a metaphor to Him, either. But pure truth. He uses modern medicine to tune up broken bodies for His purpose.

So I sit here this afternoon in peace and stillness. Comfortable, ready, my life in His hands, knowing who to trust.

I went back to that quilting shop after my surgeon's appointment to tell her (I now know her name) how much her words had meant to me, and what the doctor had said. Returning to say thanks--a gospel move, inspired by the Holy Spirit.  She was moved to tears, which moved me to tears, too. So there we were, both crying in a fabric store on a Wednesday afternoon. What could be better? The Kingdom of God right at hand.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Twenty-five days (or there about)

Four days from now I have my neck surgery. You can't believe the number of appointments I've had in preparation for it. Lab work, an EKG, a training session, Physical Therapy, Medical Screening. I'm no stranger to surgery but I've never been through anything like this before. All of it designed to make me more comfortable, but all of it could make a person more UNeasy. There's just so much of it. The preparation is a full-time job right now.

But it aligns perfectly with Advent, I think. A season of waiting.
Of preparation, planning, and praying.
But mostly of waiting. The period in which we contemplate the coming of the Christ. And in our waiting--for these short days--we experience in short what the people of God did for centuries. From the moment in the Garden in Eden when God told the enemy that "He will crush your head..." the true people of God were anticipating the Messiah. They didn't know what they were waiting for in the beginning, but they were waiting. He's right there when Abram was given the first covenant (Genesis 12: 1-3), "I will make your name great...and all the people of the earth will be blessed through you." And He's there when the people of Israel wanted a king so badly they got one who only looked the part--I'm talking Saul! And He's absolutely there when God gave those stiff-necked people David, a 'man after His own heart.' All through the centuries of prophets, through 324 prophecies, He's right there. And the true people of God waited. They weren't always patient. Just like us. Exactly like us. Impatient, stiff-necked, full of sin, badly in need of that Savior. Sometimes hardly knowing they were waiting at all. Still, some of them looked toward heaven, a remnant of them lifted their eyes to God and asked, ALL THEIR LIVES!!!, "When will He come? Soon, Lord?"

Imagine that. We wait 25 days. And while we wait through this Advent Season, we know Christmas is coming. We always see Bethlehem and that stable on the horizon. That pregnant girl and her faithful espoused husband is part of our Advent before we light the first candle. Those shepherds are watching their sheep night after night while we wait, and we know that soon, they'll hear an Angel shock their sandals off their feet. And a chorus of heavenly voices better than the best choir we've ever heard will send those sheep into a bunch so tight the shepherd won't have to worry about finding a lost one for days.

That's what our story is before we start it.. Our paltry 25 days is nothing compared to those centuries of waiting. Yet we're in this with them. We celebrate Christmas FOR them, in a sense. Hebrews says of these people, "These were commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect." (Hebrews 11: 39-40)  It's because of the promise to them that we also wait each Advent, I think. Abraham. Ruth, Joshua, Elijah, David, the prophets. All those who waited, who trusted, who believed.  We're in it together.

Twenty-five days (or there about). That's what we get to remind us of the centuries of waiting the world did for the most important birth that ever happened on this planet. Let's not squander it by thinking only of ourselves.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

In Solomon's shoes--repost

This is a post written during the Advent of 2010, and as  I read it tonight, I was awestruck (again) by the words I quoted in it. Awestruck as well by how it speaks so clearly to my little life, and to life as a follower of Christ. I hope it speaks to you as well:

The first time I read the story of Solomon, I was a little girl. Sitting in my grandparents' garage-converted, wood-paneled family room, I sat in a rocking chair covered with nubby fabric with an aqua colored Bible story book open to the pages of the two women who came to King Solomon practically tearing the arms off a new-born baby, each adamant that the baby was hers.  The king's solution first shocked me in horror then amazed me in wisdom.  That he would be so sly as to suggest slicing a baby in half to discover the real mother.  Years later, when I was reading an actual Bible, rather than the reader's digest children's storybook version, I discovered that Solomon's extra dose of wisdom had come in direct response to God telling Solomon in a dream to ask Him for whatever he would and it would be given.  Solomon, wise man that he was, asked for wisdom.   (See 1 Kings 3)

I don't know about you, but I've often thought of what I'd ask God for if He came to me in a dream and told me to ask for something.  For the longest time, I'd simply say, "Give me faith, Lord."  Then I discovered (and claimed as my own) Exodus 33:13 which says, "If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you."

But today I came across these words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose words I've been immersed in of late.  After reading the biography about him, I just couldn't help myself, I had to go back to the primary sources--Bonhoeffer's actual words.  So in the mornings this Advent, I've been slowly reading Cost of Discipleship, with a heavy dose of Letters and Papers from Prison.  This quote comes from toward the end of his long prison stay in Tegel, the military prison in Berlin, just after the unsuccessful attempt on Hitler's life in the summer of 1944, which was the beginning of the end of the resistance.  It's a long quote, but well worth the reading (pages 369-370 in my copy).  It's been in my brain all day until I just can't resist sharing them.  They're that good...

"I remember a conversation that I had in America thirteen years ago with a young French pastor.  We were talking about what we wanted to do with our lives.  We were asking ourselves quite simply what we wanted to do with our lives.  He said that he would like to become a saint (and I do think it's quite likely that he did become one).  At the time I was very impressed, but I disagreed with him, and said, in effect, that I should like to learn to have faith.  For a long time I didn't realize the depth of the contrast.  I thought I could acquire faith by trying to live a holy life, or something like it...
I discovered later, and I'm still discovering right up to this moment, that it is only by living completely in this world that one learns to have faith.  One must completely abandon any attempt to make something of oneself, whether it be a saint, or a converted sinner, or a churchman (a so-called priestly type!), a righteous man or an unrighteous man, a sick man or a healthy man.  By this worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities.  In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world--watching with Christ at Gethsemane.  That, I think, is faith; and that is how one becomes a man and a Christian (see Jeremiah 45).  How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God's sufferings through a life of this kind?"

I guess it's like my mother always said, "Be careful what you ask for."  But...even with this profound understanding of what it must come to that Bonhoeffer brings me, I continue to ask it.  For me, it's always about faith.  Especially the faith that makes me like Him--even if it has suffering in it.

 What would you ask Him if you were in Solomon's shoes?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Virgin Mother

After my surgery on the 17th, I'll be re-running some old posts for a while. I don't know what to expect, but I do know it'll take a while before my brain has de-fogged enough to write.

So, though that's over a week away, I've been looking through a whole lot of old posts (and I'm here to tell you, there are plenty of them!). And I found one that seems particularly apt for a cold night in Advent. 
From December of 2011:

Back when I was young and beautiful and traveling through Europe, I managed to be in Germany about the time when groups of children were practicing "Stille Nacht" for their Christmas Eve Services.  I spent about two weeks in Konstanz, Germany that December, staying with some friends of friends. My friend  (the original SK) and I did a whole lot of sightseeing based from Konstanz, and a few outings with the family. One particular evening we went to church with our host family for a Bible study led by the young pastor, who weekly held one such study for the English-speakers among his congregation.

I'm pretty sure he regretted opening that can of worms that night.  Or that the nice friendly American had brought her two house guests, because it was NOT my most stellar moment. Not by a long shot.  In fact, if I'd been in his shoes, I'd call what that young American woman did "hi-jacking" the whole study. Even as I write this I seriously cringe. But here goes:

The study that night was the Virgin Birth.  Isaiah chapter 7 is where this prophecy is found.
'The Lord spoke to Ahaz, "Ask the Lord your God for a sign, whether in the deepest depths of in the highest heights."
But Ahaz said, "I will not ask; I will not put the Lord to the test/"
Then Isaiah said, "Hear now, you house of David. Is it not enough to try the patience of human beings? Will you try the patience of my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel..."'

For some inexplicable-to-me-now reason that night I chose to argue with that pastor that it wasn't necessary that Mary be a virgin. Necessary being the significant word. My point, and in some very broad sense it's true, was that God can do things any way He pleases and He simply chose to use a virgin to carry His son. I mean I argued this up one side and down the other. God was using the virgin as a SIGN, a symbol. And, by the way, it shouldn't be called "the virgin birth," but "the virgin mother!" (which I still actually do believe). The end. I'm mortified to remember it, especially since that poor pastor was using his second language--English--to try to help me (and the other more teachable people around the table) understand.

I've long since repented of that night. Of course. Looked back on it with horror. Don't know what got into me.  So here's the real story about Mary and her virginity.  Only a virgin would do.
Genesis speaks of part of Eve's 'curse' as being desire for her husband, and travail in childbirth.  Therefore, in some strange sense, these things we imagine to be blessings also contain trouble and strain and pain between us. They strain relationships. My guess is that Mary, the betrothed of Joseph the carpenter, was a very good girl. A girl that the people in the small town of Nazareth knew as a good girl. She wasn't wild or rebellious or given to flights of fancy. That's my guess. I think God used a 14 year old who was stable and clear-minded and trustworthy. A girl others whom inspired trust and not disbelief.  And I think He used such a girl because it was going to be hard enough to believe this thing, and would be impossible if her character was at all questionable.

Only an innocent could be the mother of the Incarnate, but not only because of this strain, but because she knew, she absolutely, positively knew that no man had touched her.That's the thing about this sign. No man touched Mary, yet there she was, pregnant. She didn't have to question because she was not pregnant and then she was--without ever having sex. Without anything other than a conversation with an angel and God, the Holy Spirit entering into an egg in her and creating the life that would be Jesus.

Yes, God could have done it some other way. He could have come down in a space ship, I suppose. But He told his people through a prophecy Ahaz refused to ask for that THIS would be how He'd do it. A way so miraculous no one would think it up. No one would be able to manufacture it.

The virgin would conceive and give birth to a son. Mary did conceive. She sang her heart out to God when He told her, because she understood what He was telling her. She knew Isaiah. Her soul magnified the Lord, her womb, already filling with the One whom she'd name Immanuel, magnified the Lord. She knew, and He--two cells dividing--knew that with that one prophecy being fulfilled all the rest were on the way to fulfillment as well.

She was His handmaiden, His instrument, the very womb of God. It's no wonder she's called the blessed mother. An ordinary teenage girl was the most important part of the most important thing God's ever done.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Thirst and Living Water

It's December's Random Journal Link-up Day. And according to our faithful organizers, that makes it the LAST RJD of the year. I was shocked when I read this, because...where the heck has the year gone, anyway?

Anyway, I was hoping I'd pull out a journal from some winter or other, and find an entry from Advent. However, the problem with all my journals looking ABSOLUTELY THE SAME is that it's the epitome of random pulling out a blue notebook, and alas, I grabbed one from Summer/Fall 2008. I haven't opened it yet. But wait a minute, maybe there's a possibility of Advent toward the end of this book. Hmmm. Oh well, no such luck but here's my offering:

November 3 (Election Eve)
"He is the ground, the teaching, He is the taught, and He is the reward." Julian of Norwich

What hits me, as I read today's Psalm, 63, is that as I thirst from Him in a dry and weary land where there is no water, is that He is both the answer to my thirst AND the thirst itself. Yes, that's it: He is the Living water and my very thirst. Simply BEING thirsty for Him is evidence that He fills me with such thirst. On my own, I only want my way, only (ultimately) want ME. The fact of His indwelling Spirit changes ME to His. Only me cannot thirst for Him enough. But I do. So there He is. It's that simple.

And these words of Julian's bring clarity to what I'm struggling to articulate. He is the substance, the ground, the teaching...the TAUGHT. God speaking to/with the Spirit within me. God to Holy God. Holy God to God within. THIS is where the power comes from, the power I keep veering toward. It's like this huge untapped reservoir, the Spirit, I mean, and the power His presence in us brings.. We live without it, but we don't have to. It's right there for us to drink from. For the Kingdom to be expanded, for us to see, hear, know God as He comes, He meant us to USE what He gave. It's our inheritance. We don't have to second-guess every decision, every path--He is right here. We are armed with everything we need, with the power to see, know, hear and follow, because we're armed with Him.

To put it in the negative, "There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed without the Lord."
Proverbs 21:30

Thursday, December 5, 2013


That's been me this week.
At least in terms of blogging.
I've been in sewing overdrive because I have less than two weeks until my (wait, let me get the paper so I can write the proper medical words) "C6-7 Anterior Cervical Dishectomy and Fusion, Bone Marrow." In layman's terms, this means that starting the 17th of December when I get out of surgery, I'm going to be unavailable for just about anything for who-knows-how-long. Three months of no-driving, I know that. The woman who did my intake at the hospital actually asked if I'm going to a rehab facility after the surgery. YIKES. No way, I thought. When I told Beve that, he said I could bunk in Grampie's room. Nope, I'm coming home, but apparently the recovery's so grueling and everything so particular, I have to take a class at the hospital (with a coach even) so I can practice how to move. Kind of like Lamaze without the baby at the end. I've been trying to work on living my life without bending at the waist, moving my head in any direction, etc. It's tricky. VERY, VERY tricky. I think I'll be glad (at least at first) to have a neck brace on. By the way, I DON'T know my neck size, which is one of the questions I was asked. Like how many people who don't wear dress shirts and ties actually know their neck size? Beve said I should have just thrown out a number like, "142." That's his sense of humor (and timing), which I don't have.

All this to say, I've been something of a mad-woman trying to get everything done I envisioned having another week to finish. I decided to make new Christmas stockings this year, for example. But didn't start them until Monday. I know, I know, I could have jettisoned that project, but I didn't want to. I don't want to jettison ANY of them.

So this takes a toll on a reflective state of mind, if you know what I mean. However, this morning, as I was reading Psalm 31, I was moved. Not surprising, because it has a whole lot in it that applies to my NOW.  "...my strength fails because of my affliction and my bones grow weak (10)."
"I have become like broken pottery (12)."
And this beautiful, favorite verse, which is exactly what I feel about my upcoming surgery, 
"But I trust in you, Lord. I say, "You are my God," my times are in your hands (14, 15a)." 
Yes, I love how often a Psalm fits itself to my real-life circumstances.

And I learn this most from Psalm 31:5
"Into your hands I commit my spirit..."

These are the last words uttered by Jesus on the Cross, and along with the first verse of Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" I usually think of them as belonging to Jesus, in a way. Or perhaps like He was saying something new. At least I used to think that. But I can't forget that He was praying Psalms when He spoke laboriously from the cross. He used two of His meager lot sentences for Psalms, and not just any Psalms of lamentation, but ones attributed to David. And a few things strike me about this.
1. Jesus knew the Psalms. And He knew they were meant for life. They weren't just meant for high, holy moments, or to be said wearing skull caps in the synagogue, ceremony and ritual, and "Be careful of the Torah!" by only the most reverent of men at the most reverent of moments. No, they were also meant for the gritty moments, with shoes still on (sometimes), hidden in caves, running for your life, facing enemies, mourning the loss of a child. Confessing adultery or other sin. Real-life moments. David wrote them in such moments, he wrote them in response to his real relationship with God. Even a king wasn't protected from real life, and this king wrote out his real life--in prayer.
2. Jesus chose David's Psalms. KING David's, I should clarify. Jesus knew (Of course He knew!) that He was the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. The throne of David would be established forever. THROUGH Jesus Christ. Even as He was hanging on a cross, pulling Himself up on His nailed and bloody hands to gasp for breath, He spoke the words that would remind His listeners of who He was. Who He is. To His final breath, Jesus continued to speak the Good News. Sure, He was misunderstood. Probably more then than ever, but He preached the Kingdom by claiming the King's words for Himself. What David had written, Jesus spoke. How amazing is that? Those who saw it, those who would hear of it, and all of us who read these words are drawn in to how these words--and David's story--finds its home in Jesus. Emmanuel. The Incarnate Word.

And so do we. The Psalms can be ours because--and this isn't a trite thing to say--we have found our true home in Jesus. We can claim the WORD because HE is the WORD. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us..."  "...to all who did receive Him,, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A pictorial recap

A clutch of pictures today.
And maybe some bullet points to go with them.
But I'm not promising anything.

We all went to the Bay area of California because last summer
this young woman, SK, picked up her life and moved there.

We celebrated Thanksgiving.
We were VERY thankful.
Thankful that
My sister, LD, and our daughter, E,
LOVE to cook (and look fetching in aprons!).
We pardoned a turkey this year,
and were VERY thankful for that too,
because a delayed flight meant E basically 
hopped off a plane and started chopping vegetables.
For her famous

:Shepherd's pie.
It was delicious!

The next day was San Francisco in turbo-drive. From Union Square for morning coffee, to lunch in the Mission District, to afternoon on the wharf and ice cream at (of course) Ghiradelli's, we traipsed all over the place. Watched the fog roll in over the Golden Gate, and saw a few beautiful Victorians. Yep, we may have only had a day, but we can be tourists with the best of them. And when the adults got tired, the younger ones kept going--back down to Union Square, up to the Fairmont and Nob Hill, just walking the Hills of the city because really, you can't take it all in.

So here, in no particular order, are a few shots from our one and only day out in San Francisco:
Waiting for lunch at Mama Ji's Chinese Restaurant. Oh wow, how amazing that food was!
Victorians as far as the eye can see...I love the color palate of these houses,
though they might NOT be authentic.

My girls, with Alcatraz in the distance

 Still Daddy's little girl!
 Beve and me, squinting on the dock of the Bay.
J and his cousin (my sister LD's son).

Happy Advent from us to you.

Monday, November 25, 2013

A Thanksgiving potpourri

Tomorrow evening Beve, J and I head south to older daughter E's place because early Wednesday morning we catch a flight to Oakland to spend Thanksgiving with younger daughter, SK. When I say early, I mean 6:00 A-stinking-M early. And though that's the shank of the morning for Beve, it's knee-deep in rem-cycle for J and me, so we'll be struggling just a wee bit. Still...worth the price we'll pay to spend a few days in our baby's new neck of the woods...er, the bay.

We'll meet my sister, LD, her son (who lives and works in San Francisco) and LD's boyfriend, for a very non-traditional Thanksgiving day feast. We went round and round the turkey mulberry bush about this. Finally settled on something we're all licking our chops over, something that won't take all day, will allow us to get out and about, which is part of what we're there to do (the last time J was in the Bay area, he was a babe in arms!).

We had a turkey and the fixin's on Saturday with Grampie, who kept exclaiming, "This is pretty good." He was especially taken with the Martinelli's Sparkling Apple Cider. He couldn't quite make heads or tails of what it was but if it'd been alcoholic, we'd have had to cut him off a whole lot sooner than we did! It was a good evening for him--we talked about Beve's mom, of whom Grampie only has the vaguest of memories. We told him all kinds of things about her: that she sewed, did stained glass, welding art, loved to host parties, was tall and dark-haired. Then he said, "But I don't remember her very well." He may not have meant what I credited him with meaning but it was a significant distinction for a man whom I would have said had always equated who a person was with what that person did.

Now, because this is a potpourri of sorts, or perhaps a cornucopia, I thought I'd answer these questions posted by my daughter E on her blog. How it fits in with Thanksgiving, I'm not quite sure, but let's just go with it, okay?

1. What's one nickname you've had that you have hated and who gave it to you?
My mother called me Carrie-Terri sometimes when I was young because my full name was Carolyn Theresa. I don't know if I hated it because of the sing-song quality of the name or because it was when she was trying to fit in with my teen-aged friends that she trying calling me thus. And a couple of athlete-friends called me Little Crank, because my older brother was always called Crank. I didn't HATE that, just didn't love it. You know the difference?

2. Who is one person you've tried to model yourself after?
My first instinct was to say "Jesus" because it's absolutely true, but it sounds a little too trite. So I'll say my dad. Also true. Of course. He was strong and loyal and honest, and sooo many other things. And I miss our deep and transforming conversations. Also my Beve. He's the most giving person I know. He just never stops giving to people. His heart is so Christ-like, and what's crazy is that he doesn't even think about it, doesn't even know it.

3. How do you recharge? Time alone. Time in the Word. Writing, reading, praying.

4. What is your favorite holiday and why? I love Christmas Eve. I mean it. Christmas, yes. But Christmas Eve is even better. I loved it as a child when everything was anticipation, and our family had a whole lot of wonderful traditions, like reading the Luke story and playing "Santa", having a talent show and going to the midnight service; and now with our own family when we do a lot of the same, but have added our own tradition of being honest about where we are with God, then sharing communion in the room by the tree with only candles and the fire as the light. It's my very favorite moment of the year, when God comes close. We enter in, and He is there.

5. Where is one place you've always dreamed of vacationing? I'd like to go to the Gold coast of Australia. I like warm places. Beve LOVES the sun and I do better there, too.

6. If had to be one a reality TV show, but could choose, which one would you be on? Hmm, not so much for reality TV but, if I could dance, "So You think You Can Dance" or sing, "The Sing-Off". Real competitions for people who are gifted (which I'm NOT). I'll content myself with just watching. 

7. What is one dessert you can never say "no" to? Pumpkin Bread Pudding, which, coincidentally, we'll be eating on Thursday. Hmm, imagine that. It's AMAZING. But then, I LOVE almost anything pumpkin.

8. If you could spend time with any living person for the day, who would it be? Eugene and Jan Peterson. I LOVE them. I miss them. He did the Bible translation The Message, and I was fortunate enough to become friends with them when I was in seminary at Regent College. The day we spent at their home in Montana was a precious gift--I'd love to repeat it.

9. Is there a commercial that can make you tear up? What one? Any commercial about animals, especially with the Sarah MacLachlan song in the background. Stop it, I'm serious, just stop it right now.

10. What is your go-to karaoke song? If I actually ever SANG karaoke it, it'd be "Sweet Caroline." ;)

Oh yeah, we'll be eating good old American Irish shepherd's pie, E's recipe. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Learning from others

Wide awake at 3 AM the other morning I began thinking of how my marriage has benefited from others. Instead of counting sheep--because that has NEVER worked and seems a bit ridiculous from inside the flock, if you know what I mean!--I started counting marriages, and identifying the qualities that have touched or even convicted me/us to change how we practice ours.  Practice is a good word, come to think of it. We spend our lives practicing this thing we do together, working on it, paying attention to it, getting it right, backing up and figuring it out again when we've started down the garden path to a brick wall rather than a gate. Yep, it's a life-long practice, marriage is, and we do best to learn from each other. And by each other, I don't merely mean the person sleeping on the other pillow in our bed, but others who are also practicing their own.

So I thought it might be edifying (there's another good word!) for you already practicing, those who dream of practicing, and even those who know OTHERS in the practice, to share my list with you (sans names, as usual, of course).  Well, it's just part of my list, because otherwise, it'd be crazy-long--I did say I was trying to fall back asleep.

  1. My parents: From them I learned how easy it can be to apologize. My dad told me that once. My mother wasn't an easy person to love. She got mad quickly and loudly. And my dad apologized A LOT. Sometimes that actually made her even more mad. But it helped me take responsibility in my marriage quickly, rather than blaming Beve when I've really blown it.
  2. My aunt and uncle: They just plain liked each other better than any one I knew. They shared common interests, they slept (still sleep) in a regular double bed--though she's 5'10 and he's 6'2--and I wanted my marriage to look like theirs. 
  3. A couple of musicians: Intentionality. This is a couple with busy lives. I can't begin to tell you how busy. But their date-day is sacrosanct. They don't take it for granted, they don't take each other for granted, they are intentional in every part of how they treat each other and that time together. Always.
  4. our friends who moved away (and we still miss you!!!):  Their unwavering, deep, overwhelming support and belief in each other. I love listening to her talk about him and his gifts. She's so certain of who God's made him to be. Even when he doesn't always know it, SHE does. And he's there for her in the same way. It's pretty powerful.
  5. Two kinds of artists: There have been struggles in this journey together (as each journey as had, of course) but what has gotten to me is how he, M, said, "I'll be the wall!" Nothing will get past him, and she can do anything TO him, and he'll still stand there. You'd have to know more about them to understand, but it makes me cry to think of this. To learn from this. To be the WALL for each other. WOW.
  6. Across the country: From them I learned to love more fully. Or let my love fill in where there is a gap from others. And to wait, to hope against hope. To put hope to death and love anyway. To simply love. Theirs is a story of such deep love and commitment that you hardly ever see. EVER. No matter what was lost, no matter what MIGHT never come. And might be given back. And I keep learning from them what marriage commitment means. AND I learn from them what a gift can mean when IT comes. Finally. 
  7. a young married couple: This couple stopped for the day when they were passing through town a while back. She was pregnant, he was excited. We got to talking about marriage. We'd been married for many years, they only for a few. And he said, "One of the things I love most when she's upset is that she'll say, "I don't know if it's something I need to share with you or something I need to work out with God by myself." WOW. WOW. I learn from that. Took that away from that lunch and my spill-my-guts self immediately began to pray that I could practice that.
So there you go. 
I hope there's something here to edify you. 
Even just writing them down has re-affirmed and re-convicted me that there are ways to better practice marriage with my beloved Beve.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Cut off from the head

In response to a question raised by my last post, in which I casually mentioned I'm having neck surgery next month, I thought I'd explain it more thoroughly, because though my pain-flooded journey has been well-documented, the consultation with the neurosurgeon was very interesting, and has given me pause in the last week. Spiritual pause, I might even say. I do say, here and now.

Dr. H (as we'll call him) comes into every consultation with the idea that he'll say NO to the idea of surgery. Let's pause here, to begin with. A person who makes his living doing surgery starts with the idea--every time!--that he WON'T do that for which the person has come to him. He wants the images (from the MRI), the symptoms, the person's general health to make it clear that surgery will make a difference in her life.

So we began our consultation as I've begun many, many consultations over the last decade and a half. Telling him my story. "Back up," he said. "Tell me about the trauma that caused this. There was one, wasn't there?" So I told him about the car accident at seven, and he sang the same old song and dance number I've heard a dozen times before--about my body reacting like a football player's who was injured playing, and later had all kinds of physical problems as a result. I told Beve later that surely they must have all learned this song in med. school because they all know the words by heart. Come to think of it, I can sing it right along with them now.

But then the examination began and this is when it got interesting.
And new.
Dr. H had me walk across the room, then walk on an invisible line (and I laughed, because I've said for years that if I ever got stopped, a cop would think I'd been drinking because I can't keep my balance when I have to place one foot directly in front of the other. I stumble EVERY time).
Then he took out his hammer and started checking my reflexes on my knees.
"Tip your head as far back as you can," he told me (one of the most painful positions in my life!).
Then he pounded on my left knee again.
And my RIGHT leg jumped.
He did it again, and again, my RIGHT leg jumped.
When he pounded on my right leg, ONLY my right leg moved.

When he had me bend my head all the way forward, and tried it again, exactly the same thing happened.
Then he pulled on the middle finger of my left hand, and my thumbs moved.
Both of them.

It was the oddest thing.
If it hadn't been me, I would have thought it was magic. Or that someone was in cahoots with the doctor, trying to play a trick on me.

But he explained it to Beve and me thus:
The nerve in my neck is SO pinched that the impulse from my left leg (which is the one in constant pain!) doesn't get past that pinch but goes just to the neck then down the other side of my body. NOT much is getting all the way to my brain from the left side of my body, in fact. So the right side is healthy, and the left side is weak and in constant pain.

What I've thought all this time was my LEG is actually caused by my neck. And was probably the result of that accident.

But here's what gives me pause. Dr. H said that because I'm in good health, I am a good candidate for this surgery. This shocked the socks of my unevenly healthy feet. I needed an instant reboot to take in his words. For YEARS, I've felt unhealthy. But the truth is, it's THIS--this one thing--that has completely taken over my life, has made it hard to walk, to sit, to lift things, to be steady, to...well, to live fully. But my body is relatively healthy. That's amazing. So he said, "I'm offering to do this surgery. But I want YOU to consider whether YOU want to have it." It was a very liberating kind of consultation, I can tell you that. We spent a week really, really talking and praying about it. And decided that it's worth it. A long recovery awaits--with no driving, bending, lifting, sleeping on my stomach (!), turning my head, and sooo many other things I can't even think of right now, but we're hopeful about two things: 1. that my left arm will become stronger and will have no more pain. 2. the pain in my left leg will not get worse. He cannot guarantee that I won't have neck pain and I will certainly always have leg pain, but I can live with that. I'm used to living with it. I feel grateful for what I might get. For what is possible.

But here's the other part, the thing I've been thinking about for days now. Because that nerve in my neck has disconnected my left leg and arm from my head, I've lived in pain. We never consider a body literally disconnected from its head because that's called 'beheading.' Sure death. Right? But spiritually, we often live disconnected from our Head. Maybe even connected to other parts of the body. I've been imagining this. I've been thinking of times when believers get together, get off-track, and it's like a pinched nerve in the neck, like all the impulse from the pain-filled side just stops at that pinch and flows down the healthy side...and the so-called healthy side never even knows that they're compromised as well. I don't know if this makes sense to you, but it has to me this week. I can think of times in my life when I've spent in relationship with people, thinking it was good and right, and, even though they were weak or different or in pain, I was strong enough to carry us. But then something happened, and I realized how far off-track I'd gotten in my thinking to have done that without my Head. And...sadly, at least twice, it took painful surgery of a spiritual sort, to get the pathway cleared and the connection RIGHT again. Those were hard, hard lessons to learn. I wish I could say it only took once. I'm a slow learner, though. And I want--desperately--to believe that I can DO this, or be this, or whatever it is. And do it for Him.  Even if He didn't ask me. Even if He was clearly (yes, sometimes it's pretty dang clear) telling me NOT to.

That's the point. We can't DO ministry on our own. We just can't. We are the Body. We need each other. But we need to be connected to the HEAD. ALWAYS.