Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Going to India

R, my father's namesake, firstborn son, my elder brother, who followed in his father's footsteps in so many ways I can hardly count them, has spent the last two years working in Siberia. Yes, that Siberia. And he went voluntarily in his work as an engineer for an International Paper Company. For those two years, he's managed a climate, a language, a culture very unlike the comfortable life he's been used to. And I would have definitely said, prior to this, that my brother was a man who liked his creature comforts. I suppose I'd still say that. Only he's been willing to sacrifice them as well.. He lives in a townhouse that was shoddily built to his very fastidious engineering eyes. When he couldn't figure out why his normal gait wasn't working on the stairs, he took out his trusty measuring tape and determined that the stair treads were unevenly different in height--10" then 6" then 12" then 8", etc. You can imagine how this could drive even a non-engineer crazy, but my brother, who likes to build, and likes things to be right (he was also trained by the best--his wife, and our dad) had to loosen his shoulders and take a whole lot of deep breathes to handle all the ways things like that affected him, particularly on the job site.

He learned the rhythm of talking through a translator, of looking up words the translator hadn't quite gotten right, of understanding how a different mindset governs different work ethics. And he's done all of this placidly enough. He's survived the excruciatingly long trips across the globe every month or so; he lives in Tacoma (which is south of Seattle) and on a map you'd think flying west from Seattle to Siberia would be the faster trip. But it isn't. He flies across the pole to St. Petersburg, has a layover, then on to Siberia. It takes about 28 hours.

His assignment to Bratsck, Siberia is coming to a close now. And I, for one, had begun to imagine an easier next step. Maybe a US move, where he'd be home every weekend. Could manage the time zones better Skyping with his wife and married sons. But...

He's going to India. Southern India. From a place where winters reach 40 degrees below zero to a place where it's always a sweat-bath. From a place where the landscape was fairly desolate (though he did ski the other day, so there are some hills and trees) to a place verdant with life. Of every kind. (Note: I've been to India, though to say I've been to India so I know what he'll experience is a bit like saying that someone who's been to New York City knows what it's like to live in Bellingham, Washington. Yes, the same country but not really the same. However, I've studied India, like I do all things in which I have an interest) It's a populated country. I remember riding on trains and seeing people--even in the open, more rural spaces outside of the city. It's also a country lush with religion. Fairly swamped with it. So many varieties with so many layers within those varieties that one can be overwhelmed by it all. The United States is growing increasingly religionless, the block of countries once under Soviet rule had religion pushed so far underground  that what burns burns brightly but is not widespread yet. But India leans the other way. Think of a major religion in the world, and you'll find a home for it on that subcontinent. Among our own Indian friends, we have Hindus, Sikhs, Jews and Christians.

It's among this rich variety, in landscape, culture, faith and culture that my brother will spend the next three years of his life. This time, however, due to the increased responsibility of his job, he will become an 'ex-pat', meaning his primary address must be in India, and he will only be able visit the US four times a year. This is the difficulty of a promotion that was too much to pass up. There are costs to choices, costs to reaching our dreams (or maybe surpassing them) and this is my brother's. He will go.

And be stretched--again--in ways he cannot not yet imagine. Stretched beyond the responsibilities and privileges of the new position but by simply being in such a place and rubbing shoulders with those around him. He will take off his abominable snowman coat and put on cool cotton (but please, R, not just all those Hawaiian) shirts and pants. He'll continue to talk to his wife (who, because of an elderly mother must remain at home) by Skype, and get to know his grandchildren by face-time. These are the days of technology. If they weren't, it would be a whole different story.

God will meet my brother in southern India.  The man who once didn't seem like someone who'd do anything outside his comfort zone has stepped out again in faith, and this is what most pleases God. So I trust that R will be more changed by the next three years than that paper plant that he will build will change the land.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Literature enlarges my being

Still thinking about books and what they've meant and continue to mean to my life. So, in words better than my own, I give you these words to ponder:

Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own. They may be beautiful, terrible, awe-inspiring, exhilarating, pathetic, comic or merely piquant. Literature give the entree to them all. Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom realize the enormous extension of our being that we owe to authors. we realize it best when we talk to an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we would be suffocated. My own eyes are not enough for me. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or bee.

In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in a Greek poem, I see with a thousand eyes, but it still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself: and am never more myself than when I do.
CS Lewis. An Experiment in Criticism, 140-141.

Monday, January 28, 2013

It's enough

The weekend was a flurry of activity around here, bringing with it a flurry of dust, I'm sorry to say. I'm just so terrible at managing the dust that collects on high surfaces--like over Beve's head. Unfortunately, we have bookshelves high on the walls of our TV room and that was where our work was centered. 

You see, I finally culled my books. I've been meaning to do it for...oh, I don't know, maybe a couple dozen years. But rather than get rid of any, I just kept adding and adding, and requiring more and more bookcases in our home. Our bedroom, which was sized quite generously back when this house was built, scared the living daylights out of me when Beve first laid out the measuring tape in our bedroom in our last house. I couldn't even imagine how we'd walk around in such a small space, once we got our necessarily large (my husband is king-sized, remember) bed in here. But we've been living here for almost a decade now, and managed to squeeze two extra bookcases in here because of my obsession collection of books. And Beve's lived with those books, partly because he collects many things himself (like receipts!), but mostly because he's a patient man who loves me.

And it's a gargantuan thing to let go of books if one is a bibliophile. I cannot speak for others but this is what I know about myself: when I read a book I love, I want to keep it, to have it available to read again, yes; but also simply to have it in my life as MINE. To know it's there, because books mean something. Those words within are living to me. They are imbued with real life or fictional life or hope or teaching and I am made more because of them. And it's painful to let any of them go. Because I am who I am because of them. You want to know me? You could do worse than look at my bookshelves. 

But there's gluttony there too. I know that. I've known it for a long time. Books that are merely fat and have added no muscle to my soul. Even (though not many) books I haven't read. 

OK, that was a long-winded introduction. Or maybe a long excuse, depending on who you are. There are a couple of people in my life who (if they read this blog) would be appalled/horrified to think of me getting rid of ANY books. You should see their house. You'd know what I mean. I feel a little ashamed of myself, just thinking of that. Nevertheless, I am not them. So cull I did.

And once begun, it moved swiftly. Beve and my brother pulled books from the shelves as I told them. They didn't try to influence me, just did my bidding. I appreciated that. And now it's done. I've sent away my babies. I've donated them out into the world, where, hopefully, they'll find homes with people who will love them well. And what I kept? Well, it's enough.

Our bedroom is suddenly larger, too, without any bookcases in it. That was my goal. And I feel lighter as well. Beve will paint our room, then build one more long shelf high on our bedroom wall, to hold my journals (which are currently on the dining room table). I can cull my books, but those journals are here for the long haul.

It has made me think today about what I need to cull from my life to make it more simple and sleek spiritually. I don't know if that makes sense, but sometimes I think I spend too much time on all kinds of spiritual knowledge. Theology. Things I know ABOUT God. The more important thing is simply knowing Him. Loving Him. Or more basically, being loved by Him. Basking in His love. Marinating in it. He loves me. That's it. Just that simple. So simple even the most illiterate among us can get it, so straight-forward a child can lead us. Yes, Jesus loves me. The Bible tells me so. When it comes down to it, if that's all I know--all any of us know--it's enough.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Old Books

You'll notice my new background. I took the picture this morning in my living room of my dusty bookcase full of dusty, broken-down books (and I didn't notice how dusty the shelves were until I began playing with the picture...sigh!). Once read so often that now they're falling apart at the seams. Among these books are two very old Bibles, with names of children born, children wed, children and spouses dying. Family histories on the front and back flaps of the Word of God. I wonder at this practice as I trace my hand over the names. Perhaps the Bible was the only book in the house, the only place to keep such a record. Or maybe the record of those lives was revered enough to be set down in the Book of Life, like He suggested it should be.

One of these Bibles belongs to my great-great aunt Carrie, whose name I share, at least in root. The other belongs to Beve's great-great grandfather's family, though I cannot quite make out the connection, for though it has many names, there is no 'owner' listed. So right in our home, right on my dusty old bookcase of dusty old books are our family geneologies, at least in part.

But these are only two of the treasures on my bookcase. I began collecting old books thirty-five years ago, when I was in college and found a whole collection of 19th century leather bound American novels at a garage sale going for a song. I was as poor as you can imagine in those days, but books came before eating for me, so I bought them. And have added to the collection ever since. An early, broken-down Thesarus is on the shelf along with some of my great-grandfather's engineering reference books. And part of his father-in-law's voluminous collection resides there as well, books I'd really love to read, if I wasn't afraid of hurting them. They are old and fragile, but so comely in form.

There's something about old books. Something about knowing they've been loved well by people I will never know: it gets me right in the heart. Even when I've bought the books from a used book store (and gotten a bargain price for something the proprietor had little idea was so valuable) I'm awed by the history. By the hands that have held it before me. I'm not talking about value for its own sake, though I know some of my books have more value than others, and, according to a few antiquarians I've talked to, really should be insured. No, it's the value of the words within and the stories that are related to those words that fascinate me. I see names inside the covers of these old books and wonder about them.

For instance, I have a very old copy of Streams in the Desert, published in 1929. The author is Mrs. Chas. E Cowman. That's telling, isn't it? She was only known in relation to her husband. But this isn't the most compelling thing to me. Inside there's an inscription. "Next to my Bible, this book has meant more to me than any other." Sister Galbraith. More than any other, now that's high praise. . I used a copy of Streams In the Desert a friend gave me in college, and I can understand how someone might think it so important as a spiritual help.

Still, it begs the question:  what book would I give to someone if that was my objective? The book that's meant more to me than any other...hmmm. I honestly can't imagine. There are so many. But here are five. Most of them I've written about other places/times on this blog, but they bear repeating as often as they've borne rereading.

Something by CS Lewis to start, of course.Weight of Glory, if I had to pick one. Find it, read it, keep it. I mean it!

Eugene Peterson's Leap Over the Wall. Vignettes from the life of David teach us about the life of the church. Nothing short of convicting for me.

Frederick Buechner's Listening to Your Life. This is a devotional, made up of his writings in other places. I am always being changed by it.

Celtic Daily Prayer--my favorite devotional, because it creates a monastic rhythm in a 21st century world.

Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (translated from the German by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy). It's exactly what it claims to be: love poems. To and from God, actually. It sometimes breathes life into a rather dry spirit.

So there you have it, my bookshelf, and my old bookshelf. Now, I suppose I should go dust them.

But first, my favorite before-meal prayer, by Robert Farrar Capon. Feel free to use it. We heard it first from my dear seminary professor, before eating the most luscious meal we've ever had!

The poor shall eat and be satisfied.
They that seek after the Lord shall praise Him; your heart shall live forever.
O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad of the oil that runs down Aaron's beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all give us grace to live as true [people]--to fast until we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve Thee as Thou hast bless us--with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and the plenty of corn and wine. Amen.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Waiting

Sitting and waiting.
It's hard, you know.
We aren't built for waiting. We chafe at it. get annoyed before we've been at it for ten minutes. Sitting at the DMV on hard plastic chairs among a slice of humanity is excruciating, for example (if you live in a town the size of ours or larger). Sometimes those chairs are full and the numbers called seem so random and unrelated to the one you have in your hand that your blood boils and you begin to imagine being someone you aren't. Someone who pushes people out of the way and says to a seemingly unconcerned state worker, "Look, guy (my son says calling a man 'guy' is about as pejorative a moniker as there is), I've had enough of this. I've been waiting for hours. Days. I've changed my dang address to this building I've been here so long. Now take care of me!"

We don't do it, of course. We just seethe. And sit. But one can barely call it waiting. At least not the kind of waiting we're told to do in scripture.

"Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord." Psalm 27: 14
"I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry." Psalm 40: 1
"I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits and in His word I put my hope.
I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning." Psalm 130: 5-6
"Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for Him." Isaiah 30: 18
"But those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up like wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not be faint." Isaiah 40: 31
"The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.
Not only so [that creation waits], but we ourselves wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies." Romans 8: 19, 23
"...and He will appear a
second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him." Hebrews 9: 28

Have I overwhelmed you now?
Good. This is isn't even all the scriptural references to waiting. But you get the gist. Waiting is a spiritual concept. An active, rather than a passive, participation in our relationship with Him. We get to wait--for His work in the present, for His coming in the future, for what He will do in us. And it's one of the most counter-cultural things we do. The world is bent on NOT waiting. On not believing that anything is happening without our doing something about it. If something needs doing in our lives, it's up to us. Isn't this what the world says? My parents, in their pre-Christian days, always harped on our effort. They were more concerned about our 'trying' than just about anything else. But it seems to me that scripture tells us exactly the opposite. It tells us that our effort is for nothing. That all the try in the world (because it's of the world) has always added up to failure. While faith, and HIS work, is success.

And then waiting to see what He will do, where He will lead and who He will make of us.

This isn't to say we don't participate in our own lives. I don't mean to imply that we sit around on plastic chairs like we're at the DMV, and never get up, even when He calls our name. I only mean that we don't get impatient. We don't move ahead of Him. And we seek what He seeks, go where He goes. And wait patiently for Him.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Slowing down

Slowing down.
That's what Beve has learned lately. He doesn't stop easily. His is a body made for motion. Before there was such an idea as Attention Deficit Disorder, he had it. As a child he couldn't sit still. I remember this. I remember the tall boy in wing-tip shoes who could slide down the steep hill at our elementary school when it was snow-covered and kids lined up like snakes to take their turns on the well-packed tracks. That hill has been bull-dozed away now, but it lives in my memory and with it, lives that tall boy who put the rest of us to shame with his athleticism and power. He could slide down the hill and across the parking lot, missing the light pole (helpfully padded with an old mattress) almost into the wall of the school building itself.  When there was no snow on the hill, he chased the girls, pulled our hair, or played football up on the plateau.  And he was the boy with so much energy he drove his fifth grade teacher not only out of the profession but clear out of the country back to Canada, or so the legend goes.

And Beve was the teenager who spent every free hour of every day, playing basketball. Even after basketball practice, he and his buddies would hightail it up to the college gyms, find some pick-up games with college students, and more likely than not, beat those students to a bloody pulp, until they got kicked out of that gym, then the next gym, then the next, until they'd used up all the gyms on campus. By default then, he'd go home and shoot a bit at the old hoop his dad had put up in the family driveway.

And so his continual motion has carried into our marriage. He's always the first up in the morning, first up from the table, first to do the dishes, out the door to do whatever he can find to do. There's just so much action in this man I've spent my life with. It's like he's one big fast-twitch muscle that doesn't even stop when he goes to sleep. I've grown used to the leg twitching that makes out bed shake, the way he walks out of rooms when we're having conversations because he just thought of something he has to do and it can't wait another minute. I've grown used to his mowing lawns that began when he had to stop playing basketball (due to bad knees), and the competitive drive that makes him feel satisfied when he breaks his personal record for lawns mowed in a single day (17 at last count!). In fact, This is the man to whom I'm married, this bundle of energy, this leg-shaking, this "Don't talk about it, just do it!" son of his mother who first coined those words to me.  So he moves. To work longer hours than anyone else in his building, to care for the staff, to be there and be there and be there, even if that means leaving the house at 5 AM and not returning home until 7 PM. I knew what I was getting into, and I'm far enough in now, that I wouldn't change him.

For all his action, he's NOT a driver. That is, he doesn't move in order to produce. He doesn't care about getting ahead or being noticed or being promoted. He merely cares about doing well what has to be done. But sometimes even the most active of people hit a wall. Things pile up. Relationships can't be solved by doing. This is what happened to Beve ten days ago. So, with his administration's blessing (even encouragement), he took last week off. And it rejuvenated him. Helped him see more clearly what needed to be seen. Helped him let out the breath he's been holding about his dad, his son, his wife, his life. He came home from that much-needed time with our friends, ready to dive into the work ahead.

But last Friday, on his way to meet a colleague, he lifted a box of books wrong. Or something else equally benign. He doesn't really know. And put his back out. And when I say he put his back out, I don't mean he wrenched it so that it was sore and achy if he moved the wrong way. I mean it flayed him. Made him horizontal for two days. And just when he began to feel incrementally better, he tried to move our now-100lb. 10-month old puppy, and took a giant step backwards to worse than it had been before. To more pain than I've ever seen my giant in. He's been unable to walk, put on his own underwear or do anything for the last four days.  Even the mighty can fall.

We've been to the doctor twice and know it's merely muscle spasm, but those are enormous muscles at the bottom of his enormous spine and the spasms must be the same size. If you knew him you'd understand. Beve just doesn't spend days in bed doing nothing. He just doesn't. It's been a time out of time. Strange that I've been the strong one, the healthy one who has to care for him.

He's slightly better tonight. Thinks he'll try going to work tomorrow.
We'll see how long he lasts.
I'll be glad to see my strong, active husband return.

I did tell him today that maybe God's been using this to get his attention. I'm not saying that I think God did this, just that God uses whatever happens to us, and works in it for His purposes. So He's slowed down Beve. And, for my money, that's no small task.

For most of us in this world, that's probably true. Slowing down enough to simply be. So we can feel whatever it is that we're feeling about all the stuff in our lives.  That's what Beve has done thes last couple of days. And it's been hard and good all at once.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A few thoughts on prayer

Sometimes it feels like the list of people for whom I'm compelled to pray is so long it's overwhelming. Almost every conversation involves some profound need, either of the person, or of one of their loved ones, which begs for intercession. And I confess I haven't always been successful at keeping all those needs people in my head. It's all too easy to be swallowed up in the pain of my own nearest and dearest.

But intercession is every believer's responsibility. To pray for one another puts us at the center of the Holy Spirit's action on earth. And it takes us out of the pit in which we wallow. Or if we happen to be in a high place, a place of rest or even joy, it puts us in touch with the weaker in His Kingdom.  I've learned this. I've learned that when I practice intercession in an ongoing, meaningful way, I'm a deeper believer, a disciple in whom He works more widely. And I have to say, there's something kind of...well, addicting about being used by Him so powerfully. It can lead to more hunger to pray because I see Him working in those for whom I pray and simultaneously gets me out of myself and my own selfish pre-occupations. It is the path on which I "walk in a manner worthy of Christ..."

So I thought this morning I'd talk about a couple of the simple practices I've used in my intercession life.When I was a young believer, I used to tell almost everyone I met that I was praying for them. Then didn't. The Lord convicted me of this years ago. So now, I don't tell someone I'll pray for them unless I intend to. In order to do this, as soon as I finish a conversation with someone in deep need, I pray for them. Even if we've ended that conversation praying together. As I hang up the phone or walking away, I'm praying. As I get into my car, I'm interceding... because often the pace of life (and, of course, my own self) makes me forget. I have the best of intentions, of course. But the road to hell is paved with...well, you know the old saying (indeed, my mother often repeated it when we made excuses for undone chores). Anyway, an instant response is instant obedience to His injunction to pray, I think. And clearly, the Holy Spirit uses it.

There have also been long seasons in my life when I've used prayer cards with names of people on them--names and their troubles or situations. These are seven  3x5 cards obviously divided into days of the week.  Some people, like family members, are permanent fixtures on the cards. Others, penciled in, come and go with request (or just observed need) and answer recorded. It can take a long time each day to pray through my list, and I admit that I've been granted the luxury of hours that allows for this. However, when my children were younger, I'd carry those cards in the diaper bag or purse, and pray along the way. I'd take them out as I was driving and peek at a name at a stoplight, remind myself of them as I was about to take a shower. It's amazing how much time there actually is during the day for prayer, if one gives herself to it.

However, (and this is a rather large however) there have been seasons when His pressed-on-me practice of praying has been sporadic. Like lately. I don't know how long that lately is, to tell the truth. Did it begin with our son's mental illness or has it crept up on me so slowly I didn't notice? It's still easy to pray after conversations. That's so deep-set, it's like muscle memory, but the more intentional daily prayer is missing from my life. Of course I feel guilty about this. Convicted. And finally, it's why I'm writing about it. Confessing and repenting. Asking God to turn me around, set me back on the path even as He forgives me.

At the same time, I suppose this post is a kind of written plea for  accountability. I believe that He understands that need and will hold my feet to the fire. You see, the huts of people depend on the prayers of the faithful. I believe this. I'd stake my life on it. I want very much to be a part of His Kingdom work. Maybe it's even my little life's work. And when I say little it's a modifier for life, and as the world sees it, NOT a modifier for work, and certainly NOT how He sees it.
A small life but a large work. Praying with Him. I hear and obey, Lord.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Her laugh

24 years ago...
An oath was taken, 
and our country does what it always does 
after a long hard battle,
it celebrated,
As if the difficulties of that battle had never been
A new day dawned,
A house welcomed a new president
A white house welcomed a new member to its large, illustrious family.

I didn't watch George HW Bush take his oath of office.
Because precisely as he took that oath,
a breath was taken,
a cry was uttered,
a cord was cut.
And I was supremely concerned with these things.
"It's a girl," my Beve cried, glad for the surprise.
I couldn't hold her 
but I couldn't hold back my tears either.

The cords was cut
but never severed. 
Not in this Mama's heart.
The promise of that day,
of that tiny "prettiest baby in the nursery"
has been realized in 
laughter, dance and song.
In dress-ups and tea-parties,
in Bible studies and slumber parties, 
musicals and concerts,
in big city lights,
and rural Mexican orphanages.
In worship and in play.

Her Daddy and I have watched, 
listened
and loved this life
for 24 years--
guided her, 
made mistakes,
and
tried to stay out of His way.

Here she is,
our brightly-lit,
sparkling-eyed, 
"crowned-one"
youngest child.
If I could, I'd give every one of you reading this blog
a recording of her voice.
Not singing,
though she does that very well.
Not acting, 
though she's brilliant at that as well,
But laughing.
You can't be within range of my daughter's laugh
without feeling better,
no matter what life has dealt you.

Happy 24th Birthday,
Stephanie Kathryn,
I love you. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Cherished

I stood before a jam-packed church and thought I knew what the word meant. He towered before me, singing. SINGING. A song he'd practiced all alone to surprise his bride. "Like sweet music, we go together," he sang. He held my hand tightly and I felt cherished.

Almost thirty years later, I know better. That day in white was a mirage. A dream. It's the life in diapers and tears and cemented by the grind of loving (together) hard-to-love kids, parents, colleagues, neighbors and each other that makes one cherished. Makes me feel cherished. Like gold in the fire. Yes, just like that, I've been cherished into who I am by the hard days of this life with the towering man I call my Beve. Even on our hardest days. Even on the days I don't even know that I can say, "I love you." Yes. This is more cherished than I ever knew I'd be.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ten things about this week

Ten things I've loved about this week:


  1. Processing our complicated lives with people who don't need the back-stories to understand.
  2. The luxury of such conversations without watching the clock or waiting for our appointment to be over.
  3. The ease with which tears come and are acknowledged without drama. Just acknowledged and cared for. And moved into the flow of conversation and, "There's a box of Kleenex right there."
  4. Awaiting meals with laughter, preparing them with ease over a kitchen table where homey smells waft from a pot in the oven that takes me back to the most sacred meal of my childhood week: The Sunday roast, with all the family gathered.  
  5. Verily reeking of family together these few days, falling before our friends in our need, them standing behind us in their care, their love, their strength, to see our lives more clearly, help us walk more steadily through the verbal processing and back to the living we must do in our own home.
  6. Under a canopy beneath a starry winter night with snow 18" high on the deck, we bared our winter-white limbs to frostbite and raced to the hot-tub to sink in and say, "Thank you, Jesus," like that first moment was as close to communion, to worship as one might get. The woes of the world, the heavy weight of stress on every bone and muscle let go as the water slides over flesh and buries us in the warmth. And, at least for me, a cessation of pain. Yes, the one place in the world where there's a true cessation of pain is water. And warm water is best of all. So I sank down and sang my hallelujahs and meant it to my marrow.
  7. A movie date with my spouse and our friends when we'd grown weary of our own words for a while. Not weary of meat, though. On the way out of the theater, our friend saw a former student who said, "That movie had too much talking and not enough action for me."  Simplifying and minimizing what was surely one of the best movies I've seen in a long time. Lincoln. Yes, words. Of course words. But brilliant and lives-changing and gut-wrenching and eye-opening. Words that changed minds and words that kept minds from changing course. And words that set a people free who should have long been (and had, after all, been long been setting themselves) free.
  8. We were asked tonight what these beloved friends can do for us in this critical hour of need. We felt blank at the asking. At least I did, and Beve seemed no more articulate. It's been hard for me to reach out and ask. To admit how much I need the body of Christ to do body work for this weaker body just now. Too often I've prided myself on being the strong in the body, the care-giver, the pray-er rather than the prayed-for. And even our small inarticulate attempts of late to reach out have been met with hesitancy. People are busy. So we step away, not wanting to put our stuff on top of theirs. But these few days have given us space to be cared for. Space to admit all there is to admit, no matter how small we feel or how little we believe for our greatest desire.  And just the laying it all on the table, and allowing them to pick it up with us, has lightened the load. More than they can know, more than I have language.
  9. So we stay silent. The silences are sweet as well. The waiting for the next thing, the lack of hurry to fix or advise or organize or do anything but simply be in the silence with us. To sit shiva and hope all at once. Shiva for the dreams now dead, hope because where He lives, He is hope. Where there is life, He gives hope.
  10. And finally, the utter knowledge that we don't drive away alone. This is the sweetest thing. Though we do drive away. Back to face it all, where NOTHING has changed, we aren't alone in this. They are behind us. Even here, such a long day's drive, they are here. And that is gift of the highest measure. And, we are together as we drive away. We haven't always been together in the last few months. This is stark truth. It's been too much, and a creeping separateness has risen. But not today. These last days have solidified something between us. Or reminded us of the solidity already there. We ARE who we are and He has done this great thing in us. This great thing that is the community of our marriage and the community of those who surround us, no matter where they live. We are not alone in this.
So I thank God for these few days, and for the couple who talked, sat, and lived them with us.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Travels

I've been in the car a lot in the last three days. From Bellingham to Portland, Oregon back to Bellingham over the weekend for a very quick, but very special event. E and I drove down to Portland to be part of the throng celebrating the engagement of E's very first friend. They actually met before memory, when Chels was 3 months and E was merely 3 weeks old. Chels's mom and Beve both became hall directors in dorms at Pacific Lutheran University that fall and they came complete with spouse and brand new baby. We learned all about parenting smack dab in the middle of a college campus with students running in and out of our apartment at all hours, and hall director meetings that STARTED at midnight! It was a strange time, with some obvious perks for both parents and child. Part of our 'salary,' which included tuition and a very small stipend, was room and board. Board meaning that no matter how poor we really were, we were assured of meals in the dining hall across campus. When the girls got old enough, we kept baby chairs that attached to the tables in a storage closet, and the cooks, who knew them by name, had special treats ready when they saw them coming. A whole host of students knew them by name as well. In the spring of our second year, when our son was being born, Beve's mom came to stay with E, and took her turn at pushing the red and gray stoller across the green and leafy campus. Grammie was astonished at how many students stopped to say hello to "Bethie!", and how E responded in delight when she saw her favorites coming.

And Chels lived this life with E, In the dorm just across the quad. They shared baths and toys and even clothes. There were four married couples among the hall directors who became friends beyond the job. Because of the job but beyond it. We had a fancy 'homemade' meal once a month. Went camping together, sat almost every day in the back corner of the dining room--being grown-ups among the students.  We were all together, clapping, the day E took her first steps.

These little girls were in and out of each other's lives on almost a daily basis for the first five years. Since then, though a state and interests have parted them, they fit together naturally enough whenever they have the chance. Just as I've always fit with Chels's mom, a woman very, very different from me, but someone with whom I can have deep and honest conversations, who listens and wants to grow and longs for more than what she is.

So there E and I were, among a hundred of our their closest friends Saturday night, witness to the happy couple who will join their lives in August. Chels's mom, my friend, throws the best parties in the Pacific Northwest, I think...at least that's what I was told more than a dozen times that night. It was a little out of my comfort zone, however. Too many people, too much small talk, too much libation and ...I ended up in the TV room watching football with a few older men, a couple of lesbians and E. It felt like the safest place in the house.

But we were there; sometimes showing up is what counts. Sometimes, even when people are very different than us, it's our presence that speaks volumes. These friends know who we are. They always have. They censor their language, hesitate to say certain things (though I encourage honesty, even about 'religion'), and they seem to find both E and me refreshing in our responses.  I heard M, my friend, tell one young man who was buzzing like a bee around my daughter, "She's way out of your league. She's intelligent, strong, has morals and values and faith. She's not a one night stand, or even out for the kind of relationship you could offer. So get over yourself and leave her alone." It warmed my heart to hear her so protective of my grown daughter (who can surely take care of herself), because it tells me our friends know and value who we are, what we stand for. I think they even understand WHY we stand as we do. And that, I hope, is the germinating of the seed of faith in their lives. I pray so.

Now Beve and I have driven east to be quiet for a couple of days. He's never taken time off in the middle of a school year before. But this hasn't been a normal year, and the stress is weighing too heavy on his shoulders. So we have burrowed in a quiet place for a few days, to talk and rest and debrief and find our bearings with the help of some people whom we trust very much to be something like our counselors or spiritual friends in our conversations. To listen and wade through the muddle and try to make sense of how to do better with all we have to do.

So I'm turning off this computer for the rest of the week. At least turning off this blog. I'll write again when I get home.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Springs of water

I had a whole post ready in my brain about an hour ago. In that hour I raced through my night-time ritual so I could climb into a warm bed with my laptop perched in front of me, next to a snoring Springer Spaniel and a twitching giant husband. However, those ablutions were hi-jacked in the middle because I couldn't find my water bottle. If you have ever been in my presence you'll know what this means: All hands on deck, RED ALERT. I don't go anywhere without my water. I mean I don't walk out the door, even just to run to the store, without it filled so full with ice that I can hardly screw the lid down on it. I'm absolutely addicted to water. Every hour of every day. Even at church, I sneak a smaller version in in my purse.

Mostly this is because so many of the medications I take for the nerve damage has the side effect of dehydration and cotton mouth, and partly because I don't drink any other liquid besides tea (and occasionally coffee). But whatever the reason, if I actually don't drink any water through the night, sure as anything I'll wake up with a migraine. I know a whole lot of you can't imagine that since you have to get up several times a night (Beve!), but not me. All that to say, that missing Starbucks water bottle is more worrisome than missing my phone, which I misplace with such regularity it's like I'm actually allergic to it. Hmm, maybe I am.

And I'm usually quite proficient at finding what's lost around here. I'm not called 'the finder of all lost things' for nothing. But tonight I was stumped. Then annoyed. Then threw up my hands in disgust at my inability to retrace my steps. Finally grabbed another lidded cup from the summer stash and went on my merry way.

Then, as I was pulling back the covers to get into bed, there was my own cup, perched on its side between the bed and the nightstand. I must have knocked it over sometime during the day when I set it down. Don't ask me why or when.

Anyway, rather than the post I'd intended (which has been swept clean from my brain after all that), I'm thinking about water and thirst. I used to hate water. I hated the taste of it growing up. Only drank it when there were no other options. I liked it at our cabin, drinking straight from the well, or out of the dipper from one of the buckets we'd hauled up the meadow and onto the cabin's porch. When it was hot and we'd been playing, that dipper of fresh water was the best thing in the world. But at home, where our water was hard and our glasses were those colored metal glasses everyone seemed to have in the sixties, the taste was too metal-ly for my liking. I'd screw up my face and down it like medicine. And taking medicine with it was like a double dose for me.

But somehow along the way, water became sweet and good and life-giving. The best drink of all.

And this, I think, is exactly where Jesus starts when He sits on the wall of a well and talks to a woman who has to come out in the heat of the noonday sun to fetch her quota of water, because she was, of all things (gasp!) a Samaritan, which was akin to being a prostitute. And, given her life-choices, it isn't a stretch to imagine she was quite a loose woman, loose enough that she was ostracized.  But the text implies that it's her nationality that keeps whole village from allowing her in. Jesus paid no heed to this, of course. Jesus spent his ministry seeking those whom society had ostracized. The marginalized were His people group. And in John 4, He takes what she's seeking on a material level and uses it to speak to a spiritual need.

First, He asks her for water. Jesus asking for exactly what she most needs. This is a remarkable thing. Stop with me and think of this. We are the ones who are most thirsty, who most need water. But He asks for water because He, too, is made of flesh and bone and feels thirst. This moment reminds us of His human-ness. And it reminds us that we have something to give Him. We can serve Him.

But the primary serving is not what we do for Him, but what He does for us. That is the service that transcends our physical need. "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water." It is for us to ask Him. I think we forget this. I think we forget to ask Him to quench our thirst for Him. Or maybe even to create that thirst. To open our eyes so that we know to ask Him for it.

 The Samaritan woman is told that water from the well is all well and good but she'll get thirsty again. And I can certainly attest to that. My thirst is NEVER assuaged completely. But thirst for the LIVING water is a different thing. "Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life."

This is the water within. It's what flows out and never runs out. It's what we are and what we do and where we'll end up, if we walk with Him. We are His springs and all those who come near us have the chance to drink from the well of the Living water that He's given us. That the Holy Spirit IS when He dwells within us. Even during those times when we feel like nothing more than dry bones in a desert, He is living water. We don't have to feel it, these words of Jesus are His promise in red letters.

In you, in me, springs of water.

Drink up, well up, overflow your banks. Flood the world in which you live.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go get a drink. I'm still a little thirsty.

Thank God for the web

Sometimes it's humbling to be connected in the blogisphere. It makes me eat my words, and not merely words I've spoken, though I've been vociferous enough in the last decade and a half about how virtual relationships are no substitute for in-person ones, how the internet would be the great destruction of community. Given time, I could lay my hands on a paper these very fingers and this very brain wrote in seminary about this topic, for a class called Christ and Culture, if I remember correctly. And, to tell you the truth, no one on earth can convince me that face-time, skyping, cell-phoning, texting, instant-messaging, 'talking' on facebook, and comments on blogs will change my fundamental belief that we were made for side-by-side, face-to-face relationships, where one can touch and hug and simply be with each other.

However--and this is a HUGE however for me--lately I've realized how blind I've been to the wealth of relationships possible with people all over the globe because of technology. The other day I was doing a little research on an ancestor who was born in Bern (or Berne), Switzerland in the early 1700s. He married a girl who came from the village of Eptigen, a picturesque dot on the map of only 500 or so people even today.  That village is an hour north of Bern, thus begging the question of how these two people happened to meet. What takes an hour by car now would have been a very long journey then. Almost beyond the reach of one's world.  But Frederich Schwander did meet his Katerina, married her, journeyed to America, and began a family that would someday bring me and my children into the world.

My point, though, is that most of the world through most of history has been isolated from each other for long periods of time. The notion of instant communication began in my grandparents' lifetimes, and easy travel in my parents'. The computer was born during my youth and the cell-phone, the internet, and everything with it, only since my children have been alive. Do we ever stop for a single moment and think of how very profound it all is--how we live, how we keep in touch, how we can be in relationship with anyone on this planet as long as they have the technology we have? Or have we begun to take such immediacy for granted?

Today alone I texted my brother who works in Bradskt, Russia, wrote an email to a family friend in New Zealand, commented on the blogs of friends from Australia to Florida to Finland to Africa. And feel connected with each of them. In very real ways.

And I'm humbled by that. I can hardly believe how wrong I was. I care greatly for these people. Even those I wouldn't recognize if I ran into them on the street are true friends to me. As close as if we broke bread together all the time. As if I could really lift their burdens for a while so they could have a rest.

Because, you know, I can.

And that's because, after all, God isn't local. I don't know why I forget this, but He isn't confined to time and place. And my prayers leap across time-zones as quickly as they reach toward heaven. They reach through the computer, through the microwaves or beta-waves or sound barriers or whatever it is that makes these wireless computers connect us to each other.  Of course, it's Him working as much as anything, when I'm asking Him to intervene in lives I really know very little about. He touches with familiarity what I can only pray, and He doesn't care what means I have for knowing what/how to pray. And that's the most amazing thing about this beautiful connection we have via the net.

I am so glad to be living now, to be in contact with such a diverse and spread-out community, and to be His instrument of prayer. "In my own little corner, in my own little room," as Cinderella sings (in Rogers and Hammerstein's version) He hears me, and does whatever He's asked to do. This is a privilege not afforded to my ancestors, cloistered as they were in smaller worlds.
So, tonight, as I pray for these people--for RWC, for P and D and K and K and M and all the others--I also thank Him for for the glory of virtual relationships.

Hmm, wonder if I should go back and revise that paper. And if I did, would I still get the A?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

How's your day?--revisited

I have an appointment with a very small, very noisy machine in about half an hour. The one where a person must wear headphones to block out the jack-hammering noise and determinedly keep her eyes shut so that she doesn't notice the 'ceiling' is just centimeters from her nose. I've been pushed through that opening into that small space before, so I know what that of which I speak. But today's run has me lying on my stomach with my left arm held in place overhead. And in the week since I first learned about it, I've tried to put off thinking how physically uncomfortable this position will be for my body, not to mention how psychically claustrophobic I'll feel. All that to say, I was given a pretty strong sedative with the hope that I'll sleep through it...and I sure hope it works. Now I'm just waiting for Beve to come and get me.

In the meantime, I thought I'd re-post one of my favorite posts from the last four years. In explanation, it was written November of 2009 when my sister-in-law was dying. It was a painful time for our family, and this post has the immediacy of that. Still, it also speaks to a more universal truth, I hope.
So without any more explanation:


It's come to my attention that I've been a bit heavy, even depressing, in the last several posts.  Perhaps the last dozen posts, for that matter.  The thing is, when living through a time such as this, a time in which doing everyday tasks seems strange, and conversations with salespeople in stores seem surreal and almost impossible, finding a light and easy topic is equally impossible.  The other day when I went into an Eddie Bauer to pick up some XLT long-sleeved shirts for Grampie who had cross the Sound in two places to get to his daughter's bedside, without any shirt but the purple (think Huskies) turtleneck--complete with a hole right at the base of the neck--he was wearing, a teenaged girl behind the counter cheerfully asked, "So how's your day been so far?"  I answered honestly, as I am wont to do.  "Not that great--my sister-in-law is dying."  You should have seen the look on her well-made-up face.  You'd think she'd never heard of death before, certainly had never had a run-in with it.  Didn't expect someone to be so rude as to mention it in answer to what was clearly just the question she'd been trained to ask.  She didn't want to hear such an answer.

It seems to me that there are only a couple of acceptable answers to the query casually put forth as a Starbucks barista prepares a drink, a grocery checker scans canned corn, a salesperson helps you find the XLTs, a phone soliciter tries to get you to buy new windows.  The best answer is "Great!" or "Fine." So they can answer, "That good," and go about their business, small talk finished.  It's also possible to say, "So-so," to which they respond, "I hope it gets better," with a meaningful inflection tone.  Often, when I say, "Fine," I'll add, "And how's yours?" which, for some reason, seems to catch them off guard.  Or, I'll say, "You look like you've had a long day," which really throws them.  A girl the other day (at a different Eddie Bauer), said, "Yeah.  I just came on here, straight from my job at Barnes and Noble."

But it's really a rare thing to tell the truth in business transactions.  Yesterday in a fabric store, I also played the 'dying sister-in-law' card.  And I admit, it was with an agenda.  See, this little store, which I love and am on my way to spending a fortune in, had a 30% off everything last Thursday through Saturda'[y.  Exactly the same days I was sitting in a CCU in Seattle.  I secretly hoped that my admission that I'd wanted to come to the sale, but a family emergency had kept me from it, would create such sympathy that I'd be given the discount a couple days late.  To no avail, however.  The owner, who was waiting on me, was more humane than most, though.  "If you don't mind my asking," she said. "What's she dying from?"  We had a good, simple conversation about her father and G-J, and I left the store with no sales fabric, but glad to have made a real human connection.

That started me thinking about how rare such conversations are when we're doing business.  I made it a point to tell the truth every place I went yesterday, and beheld more uncomfortable people than I've seen in a long time.  Death is such a hard thing to talk about.  Even among strangers.  But somehow I think, because of the way our world is now, that it's harder than ever.  There are too many ways to avoid human contact.  And, of course, too many ways to put death off, at least momentarily.  Not permanently, of course, not for one of us permanently.

It seems to me that if the gospel means anything, it means we should engage with each other in truth.  We should actively seek ways to "seek the Kingdom", the Kingdom which is love for God and love for our neighbors, wherever we encounter them.  Start with--at least start with--meaning it when we ask, "how's your day going?"  And meaning it when we answer.  See where it goes from there.  Perhaps that small thing, that easy start, is the first step toward the Kingdom for someone.  Someone with whom we had an honest conversation.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Conundrums in prayer

Before I close my eyes tonight I'm determined to write about all the jingle-jangle-jumble of thoughts swirling through my brain. I'm splintered in so many directions when I quiet myself to pray these days.

And I begin with a quiet life. That is, I don't awaken to an alarm, race out the door with coffee slopping out of my travel mug, getting my raincoat stuck on the car door because I'm already late and the day's barely began. Deadlines and expectations and quotas and responsibilities and whatever else carves peace from a person's morning doesn't happen here. I roll out of bed with only a puppy as my alarm clock, and pull on a clean pair a pajama bottoms--as much my uniform as a nurse or cop might have as his.

But even in this quiet life, I can feel hard-pressed on every side. All around me are people caught up in life and death situations.  And it causes me to toss and turn and pray in fits and starts. And be troubled in every sense. Because I want GOD to meet these people. I want GOD to intervene in the lives of those who are barely navigating each day in their life-and-death battles. I ask Him to reveal Himself to those who most need Him. That's it. Beve and I have been blessed to have been engaged with many hurting and sick people through out our married lives. From our earliest days, we felt a calling to be what Beve termed, 'burden-bearers.' And in the 30 years since he first coined that phrase, I can hardly count the number of people who have crossed our paths for an hour, a day, a season or longer--all of whom needed shoring up. Having their burdens carried because they were being squashed beneath the heavy load. So He lifted those burdens and gave them to us.

And now when I start to pray, I think of those close to us who face these very deadly situations, and I have a hard time knowing how to pray. Or, perhaps I should say, knowing what God wants for them separate from what they want at their cell level. Their cries are, "Don't let me die!" And that's what they want me to pray. Even the 'they' who don't believe in God at all want me to pray this. But what is most important to God here? It's never the mere physical breathing-in and breathing-out, heart-beating life on this planet that counts to Him. And therefore, our physical health or ill-health is only important in relation to what REALLY counts.
"You must be born again," as Jesus tells Nicodemus.  It's being reborn in Him. Being saved from death not for our sake but for His Sake. Saved for NEW LIFE.  This is what my prayers must be made of, rather than simple petitions for healing.

Others I know are staring down the twin paths in Robert Frost's yellow wood. The choice they make here will make a difference. A profound difference, I think. And these people's decision is swirling around inside my head. I am very different from these people. I know that. And it's been an interesting thing for me to pray for them, particularly in the last twenty-four hours. It reminds me a little of giving gifts, if you'll bear with me for this analogy. The woman counselor Beve works with really wanted an I-Phone for Christmas. Her husband bought her a "CAR-SPA." A car spa? Apparently, it's the nicest detailing job money can buy. Yippee, I thought.
"Did she like it?" I asked Beve.
"I think she did," he told me. "Her husband said it would make the car easier to sell."
"Does she even want to sell?"
"She'd never thought about it."
EXACTLY, I thought. The husband bought a gift HE wanted. He didn't think about her at all.

And sometimes this is what we do when we pray. We think we know what's right for those for whom we're praying. Or we just know what we'd want in the same situation. And this is exactly what we cannot do. We must offer our prayers for those around us as gifts. Not the gifts WE want, or the ones we think they should get. And not like we're the ones giving those gifts at all. We offer our prayers to God, and HE works. We bring requests, supplications and thanksgiving to Him. He reveals His way.

The truth, of course, is that this is exactly how we must approach our most intimate prayers as well.  What will bring new life to our own inner being first? Then what does HE want for us? The goal is to align ourselves with Him so that our desires are His desires and our will HIS will. Then, of course, when we ask HE will do it. It's all about offering ourselves to Him as a gift. As a thank-offering.

This is what brings what Paul calls, "The peaces that passes understanding." It's what will keep me from tossing and turning.  Do you feel confused and overwhelmed by a decision ahead of you? Do you feel you can't see the way through the darkness? Surrender your way and ask Him for His. Then pray for that.

It sounds simple...
But it's not.
It's life-long,
day by day,
a forever work.
Let's get started now.
I'll pray for you, if you pray for me.
That too is what He asks us to do.
It's called being His Bride.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

A bit of wisdom


A bit of wisdom from Solomon:

A friend loves at all times, 
and a brother is born for a time of adversity.


...but there is One who is closer than a brother.

Hope you're experiencing Sabbath today with those close (and the One closer) to you.

Friday, January 4, 2013

The driver-teacher

After that whiny post yesterday, today didn't come a moment too soon. Maybe I needed to take this dive a week ago, and stop my moaning. Enough. ENOUGH. Today is Random Journal Link-up, so who knows what God will reveal from my past to encourage or challenge or exhort. And who knows what God will use from all of the other journals to do the same for those of you who wander over to Dawn's blog for a peek other folks who through art and word and Word.

This journal entry was written in 1998, when my kids were in elementary and middle school, and I was in my second year of seminary across the border in British Columbia at Regent College. Beve was the boys' 9th grade basketball coach at the high school where he's a counselor. I don't need to tell you any more than that.

December 8, 1998
Raced back from Regent to spend 3 1/2 hours in the car, driving my children to various functions. Picking SK up from Tube Time, she asked where J and E were. When I answered that they were at basketball practices, another parent I'd been talking to said, "Sounds like you need another sport." I replied, "No, what I need is another Mom in our house to help with all this driving." Sometimes if feels like that's the sum total of what being a Mom means these days.

I don't have the luxury of time to speculate about what being a woman means for the class on women in ministry, I'm too busy talking to my kids as we drive about what it means to be human, family, Christian, etc. The best conversations I have with my children is while we're captive on the road. I wouldn't trade that, even if I do get tired of the driving. I wouldn't miss dropping them off at school and praying for them as they walk away. I wouldn't miss the open windows into their hearts that happens the first minutes home after school. I have been formed by such times as much as they have. I no longer know who I'd be without them. But I know that all our home-schooling friends underestimate how much teaching I (or any parent who drives a car full of their own kids) get to do....or maybe I should say, how much learning we do together.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Very me

"Teach us to number our days,
that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Relent, Lord! How long will it be?
Have compassion on your servants.
Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love,
that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days.
Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, 
for as many years as we have seen trouble." Psalm 90: 12-15

My blogging hands have been quiet of late. The weeks of Beve's vacation were both restful and disquieting for me. I love having him home. He throws off the weight of his intense job and is lit up with the wit and goofiness that we know as "Vacation-Beve." Our kids and I look forward to this version of him as much as any other part of vacation.  The older our kids get, the more they understood why his job brings so much intensity. He works with so many troubled kids and their families, sees and hears things I can't even imagine. He talks about putting his big ol' size 15s into the shoes of those kids' lives and walking around with them as they struggle. "He's a really good kid," I've heard him say over and over, about even the most difficult and hostile kids around. And much of what he deals with, he cannot share with us. Beyond this,  he gets buried in paperwork that leaves his ADD, random-abstract self always feeling behind the eight-ball looking for which pocket he's trying to the billiard ball into. So you can see how throwing off such things, even for a week or two, can be like taking off a coat of nails. Not that he stops thinking about those kids altogether. Not in this life-time.

And there were our kids, running in and out of the house to their lives, like adult children do. Making us laugh with their antics, loving hearing what God is doing in their lives, having conversations deep and rich with each of them. Hard, painful ones, ones full of dreams and joy. Like the story of life itself. Like the story of the Incarnation itself--God born among us, but born to suffer and die for us. And die to give us life eternal. It's joy and pain and joy again. This is the story of every life, because it is His story, even as the Psalmist wrote hundreds of years before Christ was born.

There was time with my brother between his trips east to my sisters' home and south to see friends, as we have so often now it's like our home is also his home (and his home ours?). And I love this. Honestly, I think I might have prayed for it in one corner of my heart when I was also praying for something else for the years he lived across the country. At least I know how glad I am we are home together now.

We had our yearly "Cousins" dinner at my aunt's home last week. It was a Louisa May Alcott bunch of us that night, "Eight Cousins." That may sound like a lot to some of you.  It would be just short of a full quiver for my children on each side of their families. But the eight of us represented just over a third of the cousins on my paternal side (My mother was an only child, so these are my only cousins). We ate, laughed, talked, photographed ourselves, spilled cranberry juice (that was me!), and lived to tell the stories. Again. Because I only see some of these folks once a year, I always look forward to this night.

And there were friends who found sanctuary here for moments along the way, whose lives are full of chemo and radiation and marked by trips to oncologists to hear whether any of that suffering has prolonged their lives on this planet. And each of these is really, really in the end game, having fought too long, or with too few results to feel much hope in the season we might spell HOPE itself.

It is more than a little narcissistic of me to write of my own struggles after such profound suffering as those of our friends, but there it is. Unfortunately, lately I've been wrapped up in very-me, if that makes sense. The physical pain in which I live has been creeping up to strangle me in the last few months. There are good days, but they are fewer than the bad ones. And as the pain increases, my ability to put together a coherent word decreases proportionally. It hit me one night what a mess I am. One hot mess of a body, put together with shot nerve, arthritis, limps and migraines. This isn't merely a complaint today. It's an all-out scream. That's what I've been doing lately. I've been lamenting with the best of them, shouting my complaints before God, wondering if He's listening or if they're just bouncing off the ceiling as one more thing goes wrong. I have a husband who is strong and stoic, even with a cocktail of ailments himself. He's a man who can do and do and do all day long, while I can barely get off my couch without falling. It worries me, the creeping difference in our abilities.This, too, is part of my lament. Then my life stretches out before me and I try to imagine how much worse all this pain can get. What more will be required before the pain and suffering is lifted by heaven itself. Ten years? Twenty? Thirty? Oh, imagine thirty more years of this...no, don't think of it. Please God, don't think of it. Tell me that you won't.

This is the raw truth of my 'holiday.'
Lament. Sunk into depression, brought on by self. "Who am I?" I ask, that I should suffer so. "Relent, Lord. How long will it be?" asks the Psalmist. It's a cry for compassion to the Lord. A cry for His mercy. But Psalm 90 is also a plea for joy in the midst of whatever is given, for gladness in suffering as well as ease. I have always known that THIS is how He intends me/us to live: with joy IN our struggle. Even as we pray for mercy, we thank God for what He gives. TODAY. This year.

My lament must end with praise and it does. On this frosty morning, at the dawn of this new year, I thank God for my life. This very life. For what my life is made of, for what He's making of me through it. And pray that HE grants me the heart of wisdom for which the Psalmist also longs.  Through it. And, of course, beyond it. Whenever that day dawns.