Thursday, February 28, 2013

Intent or result?

The question on the table this morning is: is it sin if you do something in good faith, with the best of intentions, but hurt someone anyway? In other words, is it intent or result that is/cause sin?

How often have you been hurt by someone, talked to them about it, and had them answer,"but I didn't mean to. That wasn't my intent." Or even, "I was only trying to help the situation."? Still you were hurt anyway, sometimes deeply so. You don't want excuses, as those answers seem to you, but apologies. You want the other person to take responsibility for the pain they caused you and to ask forgiveness for it. Often--the more mature among us--do exactly that, do ask forgiveness.

Still the question lies on the table, at least on the table in my house. I should say, the table in my heart. You see, I'm the one who has been 'only trying to help the situation.' I'm the one who, with the very best of intentions, hurt and made worse what I had hoped to make better. What I saw as acting as a bridge was actually acting as a barrier between people. I've done so because I can't stand conflict, am such a peace-maker that I'll do just about anything to bring it about.

I think it's possible probable that I've taken on this role my whole life. As a child, when our parents were out in the evenings, my older brother and middle sister would often get into disagreements. Often these fights became wrestling matches. I hated such fights--they made me VERY stressed. And I'd stand on the sidelines, saying, "Don't fight, Don't fight! DON'T FIGHT!!!!" Yes, finally yelling as loud as they were for them to stop. Now I'll admit that part of my motivation was that I wanted to be able to tell our parents that I hadn't been a part of them, but our parents didn't find out about them anyway (It seems to be we had a code of silence about them). Mostly my motivation was simply that I couldn't stand the escalating tension between them. So I tried to intervene, though I really wasn't very successful at it (they were both a whole lot bigger than me!).

Later, I got more sly (as it were) about my interventions. When friends would be upset with one another, I always wanted to be Switzerland, not taking sides, but the place where peace between the parties could happen. But I suppose even then there were many times when such positions backfired on me, when it seemed two-faced and disloyal to one person or the other, when my intent was not equal to the result.

And now the stakes are much higher. Two of my best-beloved have had an ongoing struggle to understand each other, so I've acted as something of a translator between them. My intent has been to help them understand each other's language. But in the last couple of days, it's come to light that what I did for good was not good. In fact, it had the opposite effect. I've not only hurt them but actually made the barrier between them widen.

Hence the question: is intent or result sin?
And of course, I know the truth. We all do. It's the result that counts. We can think of extreme cases that show up on the news daily--domestic violence is one of them. "I didn't mean to kill her, I just wanted to scare her" is something we hear as a defense all the time. She's dead nevertheless.

 It doesn't matter what I intended, it only matters what has come of it. And what has come of it is something that I'm in no small way responsible for. And must--MUST--repent of, ask forgiveness for, and also ask Him to turn me around. The peace-maker is part of my made-in-His-Image self; I'm not saying I should ever despise that or ask Him to take what He gave away what He intended me to be. But I am saying that He must rein it in. It must be in submission to Him. Even our gifts must be used in surrender, under His control. I must do what HE intends me to do and the result has far more chance of being in line with what He wills. Far more being completely, that is.

I asked forgiveness of the parties who have suffered because I stood between them. I told each that I will step out of the way. And come what may in their relationship, by HIS grace, I will keep watch and pray and listen. And ask Him to muzzle my mouth.

Then we'll see what result He'll bring.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Spring comes

It's like the spring is coming. Yes, I realize it's still February, that much of the world has a down coat of snow  on it. But I speak metaphorically here. And personally. But also, perhaps, you have lived through long winters yourself. Times when everything felt a little darker, when the road to the Godhead felt treacherous and almost not worth stepping out for it. Or when your life was a white-out blizzard of crises. Maybe even an avalanche. And it was all you could do to hold on, keep breathing and trust that He had not forsaken.

Trust in His sovereignty.
Yes, just that, trust in His sovereignty and hope for spring.

Spring does come.
Gently at first, before I saw the first signs, He was softening the ground of in me. Don't ask me how, I can't quite say. I just know that my devotional life had the weight of winter in it for a long season. Trudging through it, trying to pray through the white clouds (oddly so much denser than dark rain clouds). Continuing, by faith, because 'You are God...and You are God...and You are God.' I repeated these words in the snow. Maybe they were the Holy Spirit's prayer within me, speaking to me. And maybe those very words melted the snow and softened the earth.

Now I know it's early spring. The difference is palpable.

And I know what He used. Who, I should say. Some very important conversations with a few very important people in my life, conversations in which my frozen soul was laid bare. And what stared back at me in the eyes of my loved ones was His love for me. His acceptance, understanding. He is here and has been here all along. Not only that, but He made me as I am, not unfitted for anything, but exactly, precisely His instrument--this way, this broken body, this quiet life. Indeed, THIS is His call on my life for this time. This is the ministry He asks. Not larger, not more 'important,' as the world (or even the church) might see it. This.

The other day I wrote about making sure we're doing something that we're called to do. However, He reminded me through these conversations (with Beve in particular) that "whatever you do in word or deed, do all to the glory of God in Christ Jesus." To paraphrase my paraphrase, where you work is your ministry. It is where He calls you to be His ambassador. And if, like me, He has set you, broken, on a couch, that, too, can be/should be/is where He uses you.

If you let Hm.
Yes, spring comes.
And I awake to see it. To see Him alive and fresh.
Again.

Monday, February 25, 2013

May my first thought...

May my first thought in the morning be of You, Lord,
And the last thought as I'm drifting off to sleep.
May my mouth speak yours in every conversation,
and my eyes see you in all the faces of my day.
May my ears be wide awake to hear your whisper
and my touch be ready to contain your touch.

May I know rushing of the wind to be your Spirit
And remember that it's you who makes the rain.
May the desert sands in my life not confuse me,
And may you lead me over mountains sharp and steep.

May my roots grow deep to bedrock,
May my heart grow soft as newborn skin.
And forgiveness wide as all the oceans.
May my faith be as strong as purest diamonds
And grace be as sure as steel.

But,
Most of all,
May You be You.
All that You are in my life.
Forgive me for where I neglect you.
I repent once again...once again.
may my life be yours
Only Yours,
And may you--in my life--
Glorify YOU,
not
me.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

The watches

I'm not sure anyone should ever publish a post written at three in the morning but if you're reading this, here I am and here it is. And who knows what shall come of it?

Insomnia. The curse of the aging. Or maybe the blessing, if I can stretch myself like a rubber band to think about it so. Tonight (or this morning) I attempt it.
The Psalmist says, "I will think of thee through the watches of the night." The watches. Standing like a sentinel when the world is dark, the loved are sleeping and all one has is one's thoughts. My thoughts often skip like stones across a pond from thought to another, never settling. The most ridiculous thoughts, really: trying to remember the phone numbers of all my high school friends. The birthdates of all my cousins. Reciting the presidents in order: I usually get stuck after Ulysses S. Grant--was it Chester Allen Arthur? Benjamin Harrison? Then James Garfield who was assassinated? Oh gosh, and there I go, right here, right now, fixated on something entirely unimportant at 3 AM.

What I seldom do is get out of bed, which sleepologists (a word I just made up) tell you is absolutely wrong. Research says a person should get right up and sit in their cold house until they're sleepy, and then go to sleep. And the same research says a person shouldn't read books in bed. When the sleepologist I went to told me about no reading, I didn't go back. If there's one thing I can't abide, it's not reading in bed (and yes, I DO know that's a double negative). I simply MUST read in bed. The last thing I do is read, then write, then read some more. And then pray.

But...then I stop. Stop praying, I mean. And that's where these encouraging words from the Psalms come in. It's possible, of course, that they were written by a man standing on the ramparts, guarding the city. Or standing at the edge of the tents, while the Kingdom slept in tents. But I don't need an advanced degree to guess that such men would have been less likely to have the education necessary to write such words (though certainly some had enough poetry in their souls to express them).  No, these words were written by a person who didn't have such a job. He wasn't required to stay awake by a human master.

Perhaps by a Heavenly One at times. Jesus took three of his disciples with Him, asked them to keep watch with Him...and not one of them could do it. Even for us insomniacs, staying awake in obedience is no easy matter. But oh, how they must have looked back and wanted a 'do-over!'

My best 3:30 AM guess, then, is that the Psalmist struggled with sleeplessness. At least now and then. And rather than simply endure it, he prayed it into a sweet time. The sweetest. Communion with God through the watches. When all is quiet and nothing is there to distract (like a computer where he could write about this communion, rather than just being with God).

So I go now. To be with Him. Yes, I will get back into my warm bed because my fingers are frozen at the ends of my hands. But until I drift away, I will drift into Presence. His full and Holy Presence. Or allow that Presence to be the what the watches are. Yes, that's it--the watches of night becoming about His Presence.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The view from here

Here's a confession for you:
I'm a 'House-Hunters' and 'House-Hunters, International' junkie. I love to walk through the rooms, whether large or small, listen to the comments of young people who are just starting out and must--MUST!!!--have granite in their kitchen, two sinks in their bathrooms, hardwood through-out, and sure enough, that GIGANTIC master bedroom 'is a little disappointing.' And we play along, Beve and I do. We act like we're in the market for a home in Biloxi, Mississippi or Cincinnati, Ohio or Paris, France. We pick and choose like we have all the money in the world and care about such things.

My very favorite comment, though, is when people look or step outside and say, "I like the view." And the view is of the backyard. Maybe a few trees, an expanse of grass. A fence, if they're lucky. Now and then, of course, there's what I call a view--of mountains or water or a little of both--usually in Italy or the Caribbean. I hunt up my contacts on my phone when I see such views and try to figure out how many of our friends and relatives we'd have to go in together with to afford to buy such a place. Throw away our responsibilities, hop a plane and stare at that vista with a cup or glass of something soothing until the cares of our lives fell off our shoulders.

The funny thing is, we actually have a real-live water view from our real-live front patio. And a mountain one, out back. We don't have to pack a bag to watch the sunset (when said sun isn't covered by our famous NW rain-clouds).  We can step our our front door and watch God color the sky with all the shades on the red part of the color wheel.

But you know, we don't pay attention to that view very much. We walk in and out of our house without even turning our heads toward the bay. Now and then we notice a storm rolling in. A couple of weeks ago, E pointed out fog in the bay; it was amazing to see the blue sky above it and the fog like a mattress lying on top of a bed of water. When someone new comes to our home, they always mention the view and I almost always turn toward the window like I'd never noticed it before.  And maybe because I want to see it through their eyes.

I wonder how many others who live in homes with such views (or even better ones--and I have been in many with much better views than ours!), also forget to pay attention.

I got to thinking about this today because of something I read earlier in Frederick Buechner. He's one of my favorite writers: he writes of the created world and the Creator with simplicity and depth and I'm challenged by him to do the same. He's always going on about paying attention to life, to one's ordinary, daily life because it's in the course of that life that God shows up. It's in the views we've been given, I suppose you could say. Whatever it was I read this morning made me think of the view from my front step and how I get so wrapped up in what isn't right with my life, what is hurting in me and hurting in others that I have just plain forgotten to simply stop and look. To pay attention to what He's put in front of me to see.

The view from here, I mean. The long view, maybe. Sure, the next step that might still be hard to take, but even that has His hand written all over it, with all His glorious colors. Dawns and gloamings and every thing between. When I say, 'this day--He made it', I must also say this: the dust on my shelves, the dog hair on my floors, they are also his creation. The dishes in the sink speak of food eaten that nourish our bodies. When you think about it, it's all a pretty good view.

"Everything I have seen teaches me to believe in a Creator I have not seen."

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Glad you're in my life

It's been over a week since my last post. A trip east of the mountains, a family get-together, a run-in with the flu and a date with an MRI machine kept me busy. The first two are reasonable excuses, the last a bit more difficult to swallow. I know. I remember when my mother was in the early/middle stages of dementia. It was my habit to call her each day, but some days she'd tell me she couldn't talk to me the next morning because she had a dentist appointment. Her appointment might not be until 3 PM, but somehow that one appointment threw her off so much she couldn't talk to me for ten minutes at 10:30 in the morning.

And so my MRI appointment must sound to some of you: one appointment and you can't squeeze in time for anything else the whole live-long day? On paper it sounds that way to me. However, it actually did impact the whole of yesterday. The minuscule hole in which a body must fit in the donut-shaped MRI machine means that my not-small nose is only about an inch from the 'ceiling.' The MRIs I've had in the last month aren't my first jogs around the MRI block, and it used to be that I was adept at simply closing my eyes tightly, forgetting where I was and praying the hour+ away. However, a few years ago, I fell asleep (no easy task in the rattling, pounding of the machine!), woke up and naturally opened my eyes. And FREAKED OUT!!! Had the closest thing to an anxiety attack I've ever had. They had to get me out of there FAST, abort the test, and...
ever since then, I've been given some pretty mean drugs so I can survive the ordeal.
But such drugs mean that afterwards I lose the rest of the day.

Wow, that was a ridiculously long explanation of a day of which I have practically no memory.

But it was a good weekend with the extended family. We've made Presidents' weekend our time to gather. It's good for the farmers who have less to do (though there's always something--those cattle don't feed themselves during the barren winter, you know!). We were fewer in number this year. We didn't even ask one section of our family because we knew they'd be busy--and sure enough, their first-born son (and grandson) was born last Wednesday (how the time flies--, little JH is a whole week old now!!!). But the few of us there did what we always do--laughed, ate, played games and ate some more. My family, like most families, is made up of many kinds of people with many ways of being. We're conservative and liberal, republican and democrat, protestant and catholic. There are those who love coming to the country but couldn't live there, and those who can only handle the city for a day or two before they hunger for the large expanse of their rural lives. We're genetically linked, and married in, we're old and set in our ways and young and learning faster than the speed of light (and captivated by lights themselves). We're so different that there's no possible way in the natural course of our real lives that we'd find ourselves in the same place at the same time. Even know each other.

Except for this: we are family. We want to make it work. As much as we are different, we're the same. It's the knowing that does it, for one thing. The four young women among us--my daughters and their cousins--are in it for life. They might as well have each other's names tattooed across their chests, for how deep their commitment is. And my nephew feels the same about my son (who wasn't there). I watch them lean in toward each other, listen to how they value each other, and realize that this is what community really looks like, of course. It isn't about being the same, about having every opinion in common, it's about caring more about the other than about those opinions. It's about knowing that those differences, as deep and important as they are, aren't the bottom line. The bottom line is the commitment they have for each other--for the whole community. It's breaking bread together, and saying, "You aren't me, and I can't be you. But I'm glad for who you are. I'm glad you were made and that you're in my life."


That's what I see in these young adult women. They humble me with their love. And I'm glad they're in my life.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Exceedingly abundantly

Here's something about me that is a bit unusual: I don't like chocolate. Well, maybe that's too strong a way to put it. What I don't like is the after-taste of chocolate that lingers around until I have to get up and drink some water or even brush my teeth. Given my choice, I'd probably choose a whole lot of other things to eat ahead of it. Like a good strong piece of bread with lots of stuff in it and a whole lot of peanut-butter on it.

And I'm not a fan of roses either. Oddly, my mother thought I was. Specifically, she thought I liked yellow roses. From the time a college boyfriend bought some for me through our wedding when she pushed me to have the attendants carry them rather than the tulips I actually prefer (she thought I was trying to save money!) until she lost her 'ever-loving mind,' as she used to say, she talked about my love for yellow roses. And, on occasion, bought them for me. Or bought sheets or tea cups covered with them. Gave me old family dishes (Spode), which have yellow roses with brown embellishments. The set isn't complete and I find them, sadly, rather unattractive, anyway. But she had it in her head for most of my life, so I stopped trying to convince her otherwise.

Beve, on the other hand, knows me. Through and through. He's never--EVER--bought me roses or chocolate for Valentine's Day. The only candy he's ever bought (because I am, after all, very picky!) was back in our very, very lean years: yogurt-covered almonds. Hmm, I could go for them about now, come to think of it. Usually, he gets me a book. He can't go wrong with a book. One of my favorite Valentine's books was the whole My Friend Flicka trilogy he bought me when our children were tiny. I'd loved it as a child, and he knew that--such a sweet, romantic thing.

Here's the thing about the Beve. He doesn't like Valentine's Day. He doesn't like the idea that culture dictates when and how he should show/tell me that he loves me. He'd rather surprise me with tulips on some random Friday afternoon because he's thinking of me than on a holiday created by a greeting card company. This is a very prosaic view, of course, and not always one I've appreciated in the course of our marriage. Don't get me wrong, I've loved the surprise of those unexpected gifts when HE thinks of it, but I've also wanted the romance of Valentine's Day. And, let's be honest here, I hear of what my friends' husbands do and feel envious.

But last night, Beve surprised the socks off me. I was sitting in bed reading his Kindle because mine has been limping along for months. Finally, two days ago, it gave up the ghost. Even Kindle support couldn't help. So Beve suggested I take over his. Very sweet of him, but not a huge sacrifice since he doesn't use it all that often, and I read EVERY SINGLE DAY (by the way, just finished Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin--magnificent. I'm reeling from it and from how it deepened and broadened the movie, "Lincoln").  Beve was sitting beside me looking at cars on Craigslist. Yep, his nightly craigslist devotional.

 Now, let me be clear, I was leaning back on my pillows as I read. Leaning back on them. But suddenly, I shifted to discover something very strange and hard under them. A new Kindle Fire. An  exceedingly abundant, beyond all that I could ask or think Valentine's gift. I was so shocked, I said his name loud enough that SK told me today she thought something was wrong. It wasn't the cost of the gift that so amazed me, it was the dead-on rightness of it, and the more than I'd asked for. I was completely content with using his Kindle. I was just glad to have one that I could trust. But Beve wanted me to have more than just what was necessary.

Today I'm really thinking about how much my husband reminds me of my Father in heaven. How his love for me points to the Father's love.  Though God gives us what we need, we are also told that He's the one who gives 'exceeding abundantly, beyond all we can ask or think." (Ephesians 3: 21) Sometimes I think that my desire for God is too small, that I don't allow Him to give me as much as He wants to; there is so much more that He desires for us. He gives us relationships on heart to point to how much He loves us, but He loves us infinitely more. Let's let our imaginations run wild with what He might do for us if we let HIM be our Valentines this year.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Today is not that day

There will be some of you for whom this post will hit very close, and I'm sorry for it, but here goes:

Just as I reached the stop sign at the bottom of our hill this morning, I got a call from Beve. And because I was stopped, I answered. The result of that call changed the direction I'd turn the car, but the whole day. Beve had just gotten off the phone with the Skilled Nursing Facility where Grampie lives. The news wasn't good. Grampie was unresponsive this morning, his vital signs all over the place, his breathing catching and holding for long gaps of time. She told Beve she thought the end was near.

As I said, I turned right rather than left, raced over to pick up Beve and we got to the nursing facility about 20 minutes later. By then, we'd talked about communicating with family, changing weekend plans, finances, locations for a memorial service--all the business one does to keep from having to face what is really ahead. Finally we talked emotions. He said he felt sick to his stomach, I said I felt like my whole skin was tingling. We got there, rode up in the elevator, standing across from each other, gripping the handicap railings like we were each in danger of falling ourselves. We'd run out of things to say.
Then we walked down the hall, rounded the corner and coming toward us was

 Grampie in his wheelchair, on his way to lunch.

Yep, revived all by himself. Rebecca, the charge nurse hurried down the hall toward us to explain when she saw our obviously dumbfounded, jaws on the floor, expressions. His vital signs still aren't great, he probably had another small stroke, and is likely in danger for a larger one at any time. However, once he came to, they couldn't keep him in bed, he was flailing so much. He was very confused and quiet when we saw him, though. More than ever. He had no idea how to eat his own lunch so I fed him (even the canned peas, which is about as sacrificial a love as you can get from me without putting mayonnaise on them!). He barely said a word, didn't finish his food and didn't want us to stick around.

Today was not that day we've been dreading and waiting for. But it was a harbinger of it. That day gets closer and closer. I told Beve as I dropped him back off at school finally (just about the time the last bell rang) that in a way, he won't really remember the dad of his life until he dies. Until then, he's too busy caring for this dad with dementia. It covers everything, just the way fog does, so one can't quite see the real terrain, of history...even if you know it's there. I remember that with my mom. For Beve, it'll be a sweeter grief, of course. Sweeter and harder all at once.

But the sweetest thing, I know he'd say, is that today is not that day.

Monday, February 11, 2013

In His Image

I've probably told this story before but I remember a specific night when I was in Kindergarten after saying my prayers and having the lights turned out, that I lay in my bed and was suddenly shocked by the thought that my classmates across the street or on the next block or somewhere in a house I'd never seen were doing the same thing, or something different altogether. For the first time I understood that people actually existed when they weren't with me. Before that--in my five-year-old brain-- people mattered, even breathed, only in relation to me. Even as I write about it now, I can remember the bed where I was sleeping with the padded vinyl headboard, and my sister in the twin bed beside me. I remember wanting to go out into the living room past the bathroom, to ask my parents to help me understand, but I knew better. An iron-clad rule in our house was NEVER to get out of bed. So I just lay there and thought about it. Began the long journey toward really understanding that I wasn't the center of the world, nor even the center of what I thought of as my own life.

And toward to poing where I was asking the great "Why" which that understanding begs. Before too many years, I was--as most of us do--tackling the question "Who am I?" Why was I made? There are many ways to answer this. Science does a bang up job of it, and what we were  taught in our health classes has a lot to do with the science of it. The physiology of our make-up, male and female. And with morals: the right and wrong ways to act accordingly. But though those were/are good questions to ask (and betters answers to follow), they weren't the questions that troubled me. Nor, I suspect are they the questions that trouble most of us even when we know all those answers long past the days of sex-education. We lower ourselves by defining who we are in animal, societal, political, ways. Even, sadly, like we're natures's mistake, accidentally evolved over time when all of life was banged into place like a giant popping of a cosmic balloon. However, Who am I? is still the fundamental question at the heart of every human, and answering that question draws us as a revelation says we are fashioned in God's image. Crowned with glory and honor because, we're related to God.

 As magnificent as mountains, as wild as a stormy sea, as captivating as a field of tulips all are, only humans can answer, "We are made in the Image of God." That's who we are. Made in the Image of God. I use this phrase often because I never want to forget that it's true. Even at the worst of moments, even when life is crashing down around me like a castle built on sand, I am made in His image.  And without this revelation, we are left like me before I knew there were any other people in the world, left lonely, isolated and ignorant of what we're made for, and who we're made by.

But what does "Created in His Image" actually mean? I was reading through my Old Testament Theology course lecture tonight (after Downton Abbey--love that show!!!) and came to Bruce Waltke's brilliant exposition of this section of Genesis 1. I'm quoting liberally from my notes, and can't be sure what he said and what I paraphrased, so just know these are Walkte's ideas, and they're informed my thoughts ever since. So image. .
a. It refers to something concrete. Real, the whole thing (as used in the OT--the word here is selem and is used 16 times)
b. It's a faithful and adequate represented. We know what God is like by ourselves. So we can fellowship, have communication. (See Psalm 94: 9)
c. Possesses the life of one being represented. Putting life/breath into image. Like Michaelangelo--God in act of putting life into Adam
d. Represents the presence of the one being represented. We represent His presence. Think of this, WE represent the PRESENCE of GOD.
e. entails Kingship--the functional approach. In ancient near East, only the King is in the image of God. In OT, we all are.

This is who we are. Look in the mirror. Look into the face of someone you love. Look into the face of someone whom you can barely tolerate. Each one is made in His image. Whether they know it or not, whether they've welcomed him in or not. His real, concrete presence dwells, and has since they were given life. And when you're thinking about/praying for those whom you can't imagine EVER coming to HIM, remember that because every human was made in His image, they also have him within them. Maybe locked in a closet, but He's there. And if He's there, when you're praying for their lives from the outside, you're joining HIS prayers deep within them.

Made in His image, His real presence in everyone you meet. Even if you only thing of them when they're right in front of you. He thinks about them every minute because each of us is His real Image.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Bare to the bone



For almost 4 years 
and over 1200 posts 
my heart and life have been laid bare 
in the words of this blog
sent out into the world as
an offering
"this is who I am,"
I say in small letters. 
This is my ordinary life, 
with joys and hopes
and fears and pain
laid out naked for all who
might come and see.
Read and laugh,
read and weep.

But 
"I AM WHO I AM."
writ in giant letters
slashed across
the best of posts. 
In the most naked ones 
(often when I don't even know it).
When, unexpectedly,
bare to the bone, 
I say what is,
but
believing what is TRUE,
even in my ordinary life.
HE is
and HE is
and HE is
God.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

More than we can do on our own

"We are all asked to do more than we can do."
These are the first words in this morning's devotional. I couldn't get past them. They stopped me dead in my tracks and hung in the air like a giant neon sign. The truth of them, the very truth of them. How they rolls around in my head.

But as I parse them, a few thoughts come to mind.
1. Our God is a God of order. Genesis 1 reveals this as clearly as any place in scripture. He created light first, divided that light into day and night, thn separated the earth into water and land...and so on. All very orderly. Likewise, he has gifted each of us in clear and certain ways. It's true that some of us may not (yet) have a strong sense of what His given gift is, but that doesn't mean He hasn't given it. Therefore, I believe that whatever He calls us to do almost always involves the gift HE gave. Yes, there are unusual moments when a person may be asked to act in contrast to what they know to be natural--"more than we can do" as these words say--but this call is for a specific moment or season, not the rule.

We've all heard people say (or something like it), "The last thing I would ever want to do is  X, so it must be God," speaks from a faulty understanding of God's character, I think. God is LOVE. Such a sentence implies the opposite. They reek of fire and brimstone and God's desire to punish us by what He wants us to do for His Kingdom. He wants us to WANT to serve Him, not to go about His business with a heavy heart, clenched hands and a sense that such work is the worst of sentences. "In Him is Life and that Life is the light of men," John tells us in his prologue. "I have come to bring you Life, and not just life, but ABUNDANT life!" Jesus tells His disciples (paraphrase mine) in John 10:10. Our work for Him will bring life to us.

2. However. Sometimes we are stretched. Within our gifts. Most of us are lazy believers. At least I admit this. I have often been unwilling to allow Him to change me into more than I can be on my own. I know what He's asked of me, but fear and that laziness keep me from it. It's easier to justify what I'm already doing as proof that I'm involved in Kingdom work, than to admit that He knows (and expects) more of me. Perhaps you're different than this. But I recognize that His prompting for me to stretch is for two reasons.

 First, obviously, it's to stretch the Kingdom. He invades the world through His people. That's a pretty humbling thought, isn't it? He invades the world through His people. We are His chosen instruments to change this planet. And we can. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to do just that. And with your gift and my gift and all our gifts put together, we have everything we need to broaden and deepen His word, His work, His Saving Grace to all people. WOW.

Secondly, we are stretched because of what it does for us. Also obviously, I suppose. If He's about the business of changing the world, He's also about the business of growing us up in Christ. The more we are willing to listen and obey and get outside of our comfort zones, the more this happens. Yes, just that simple. We are His children and He wants us to get beyond milk to meat so that we are His adult children.

3. It's possible to over-spiritualize what He asks of us. When things go wrong, or even when we face a choice, it's easy to look for the complicated answer. Or to be paralyzed from action because we expect something complicated from Him. One of the stories Beve often tells is being at a Bible study with a man who was supposed to take a trip across the state, but when he went out to start his car, the battery was dead. He asked the group to pray for him that he might have clarity about what God was trying to tell him. The man sitting beside Beve leaned over and whispered to Beve, "Buy a battery."

4. We are given circumstances in which we have to handle more than we thing we can. This is the world. The fallen, broken world. We might wish it otherwise, dread the truth of it, and pray that we never get what we see others facing, but none of us get out of it alive--this world, I mean. And I really believe that HE knows what we can handle. He knows far better than we do. A long time ago, when Beve and I had what might have looked like the 'perfect' life, I began to believe that there was a correlation between how much a person suffered and how much God knew a person could suffer. Does that make sense? Now that we live in a pressure cooker of pain and suffering and stress and exhaustion, I have to still trust that this is true. We have not been given more than we have the power to endure. Nor will anyone.

As I said at the beginning, God's a God of order. He will/does ask us to do more than we can do. But He asks it within our own lives. Where we live He stretches us. Who we are is who He asks to act. But He loves us. That is the rock bottom truth. He loves us and will never leave us--no matter what He asks or how hard it seems to us. And that, my friends, is the true word of the day.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Marriage as a Mattress--repost

A friend is hosting a "celebrate your spouse" link-up party for February, in honor of Valentine's Day. I think it's highly likely that no one who regularly reads my blog is unclear about how I feel about the Beve, so I'm not certain I have anything new to share. Not that I don't appreciate him more today than I did yesterday. I absolutely do. He has weight on his broad shoulders that he's never had to bear before, and his hair is graying from the pressure (though I did dream he also had his accidentally dyed red, and if I think mine's bad, you should have seen his--not only was it a bad look, but a horrible dye job as well!). I feel for him, pray for him, want to lighten his load even as I suspect I'm part of what makes it heavy. However, I love him. Trust that God knows and God knows and God knows what He's about in Beve, in purifying him through all this--that He is making this amazing man even more shining gold.

All that to say, I thought instead of writing an entirely new post about him, I'd repost what I wrote on our 25th wedding anniversary in 2009, because other than what we had for lunch, I could have written it this morning.


This is the 25th wedding anniversary of the day I limped down an aisle on a broken foot to a grinning giant who couldn't wait to say his beautiful vows to me. Vows he wrote himself, of which my dad later said, "He's really painted himself into a corner if he lives up to those--which he will, of course."  25 years.  We went out to lunch and I asked him if he wanted to re-up for another 25.  He said he wants at least double that but I said he was probably on his own.  50 years from now, he'd be 102 and I'd be 101, and if he should be so unfortunate to live that long, he'll have to do it with a second wife, because I'm not planning to pass the century mark.  I can't imagine...
But I am grateful for these last twenty-five years.  Almost half my life of loving the Beve, sharing table, bed and home with him.  Sharing the load of parenting, of aging parents,  house ownership and dog ownership.  Twenty-five years of squabbling like siblings at moments, of being selfish and acting like children, and selfless and being Christ to each other, of seeing the best in each other and the worst in each other, and taking those things together to make the imperfect, perfect whole that is US.  Two-become-one adventure that is us. I guess I'm saying that our marriage is the core of the community in which we grow up in Christ and Beve is the first 'other' through whom God works to make me mature.  At the best of moments, I know this is true.  At the worst ones, I'm sorry it's so.  At lunch today--at this lovely little Italian cafe where the owner had the beautiful lilt of Italy in his voice, and I ate a wonderful tomato and gorgonzola soup--Beve prayed that we continue to get to know each other, that we continue to discover new ways of being one, new adventures of this life we are called to live together.  I smiled at his words, echoing them in my head.  To continue to get to know him, to continue to find new ways of loving this man--it's a good goal for our 26th year.

And as the vicissitudes of life roll around us--aging, demented parents; children who--oddly--think they're actually adults now that they're in their 20s; friends with various ailments of body or heart; jobs and ministries to the broken and needy--may this marriage continue to be the sanctuary it has always been to us.  May it be the metaphoric mattress we each fall onto at the end of the day (just as our bed is the physical one), when life hits hard and we are exhausted by it.  May this marriage be a witness for good, a testimony to God to all with whom we rub shoulders.

Monday, February 4, 2013

E is Random: Grampie (a.k.a Doc the Rock)

E is Random: Grampie (a.k.a Doc the Rock)
My daughter wrote this post on her blog today.
I don't know what I can add.
Just read it.

X-rays

I had to get a bunch of x-rays this afternoon. Stood on a cold linoleum floor in my argyle socks and hospital gown (tied in back) while a technician moved my body hither and yon to align my spine with the angle he wanted. There was even one taken with my mouth wide open, to show the bones of my neck from that angle. Being x-rayed is a fairly painless proposition on the surface of it. One doesn't feel the effects of those rays shooting through clothes and skin and muscle and organ all the way to bone. I simply stood there. And each shot was brief--they always are. But technicians always seal themselves away in glass enclosure where such rays will not touch them. Hurt them. And, even at my ripe old age, the technician wanted to be sure I wasn't pregnant before starting. "I'm 55 years old," I said.
He flushed. "You don't look it."
"Oh, well, maybe I should have just said I don't have a uterus," I said. "Then you wouldn't have known."
Then he REALLY blushed. I think it might have been the word uterus.
Poor kid.

Anyway.
As I was standing there like a mannequin, being moved around as though I wasn't a self inside my body, I got to thinking about spiritual X-ray machines. What we might see in each other's souls if we could see beneath clothes and coverings down to each other's true skeletons. As soon as I thought it, I shuddered because it's a scary thought to imagine people knowing all the warts on one's soul. We work so hard to cover our bones with Christian muscle, with spiritual flesh. But I have to admit it often is simply pious fat.

Still, God's all about dividing muscle and marrow; about knowing what we keep deeply hidden. He IS the X-ray machine, I suppose one could say. He just is. He looks down at my life, and knows all there is to know. Doesn't have to rotate me against a plate so He can get a better angle on my pain. And He doesn't have to protect Himself from what it takes to see far inside me--or any of us. His whole being is invested in knowing us down to our core, cell-level. It's the whole point of our creation. Made in His image so He can know us. Because He knows us.

And even as He knows us--and knows all that ghastly stuff we hope will never see the light of day--He loves us. Right there in it. Right there in the X-ray room, He loves us. "Yep, that's where you're broken. That's where you're writhing in pain...You did it to yourself, of course. I see that, and I love you." That's what He says. "I have a way out. I have THE way out of whatever ugliness you find yourself in. I AM the way out."

Whatever it is, He is the way out. Hallelujah!

Friday, February 1, 2013

It's life

It's Random Journal Link-up Day. Apparently I didn't get the memo that today's the first day of February. This means two things: 1. Two posts from me today; 2. I have to go find a journal, open it and post what I find there. Hang on a minute, I'll be right back.

OK, I'm back. On the top of the pile (where my journals are at the moment, awaiting a shelf to be built to house them after we re-paint our bedroom), I picked up a notebook from 1985. Halfway through it, where I opened it, I came to an entry which is mind boggling in many ways. First, it's 18 months later; second, it's written in PENCIL, which is akin to...I don't know what but a giant no-no in my OCD journal-rules; and third, it's the last entry in this particular book, also a huge no-no.

But when I read it, it's all self-explanatory:
December 21, 1986
I barely know how to write. Sometimes that gnaws at me. It has lately. But I don't always know what to do to begin again. So I open these pages with trepidation. Perhaps I expect a symphony when I haven't even played chopsticks in a year. My hand scarcely knows how to hold a pen, cannot race across a page ahead of my consciousness,
I can write about a child's cry, about the agonizing frustrations of parenting as well as the awe-felt wonder. I still believe this life of mine is a GIFT--His specific gift for me--but it's also where I live and do the laundry. I doubt change can happen in the midst of squalor very easily. And I think there's squalor in my soul these days...but maybe that's the only place change has to start. It's just that my essence seems so much more superficial than I ever imagined.
I have a 17-month-old-bundle of life and a growing, kicking presence within to remind me of creation--His creation. In fact, they remind me of the Incarnation in the most dynamic way I've ever known. This is Christmas. I don't need cathedrals or candles or Christmas trees, because a baby's round-mouthed "Ooo" and shining starry eyes tell me exactly who the Father sent to earth. And at the same time, they remind me why I was born as well. It's for this moment. It doesn't have to be super-spiritual or super-deep. It's LIFE.

Today I believe

A prayer for your day, from Celtic Daily Prayer:
(Evening profession of Faith)

Lord, You have always given
Bread for the coming day,
And though I am poor,
     Today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
Strength for the coming day,
And though I am weak,
     Today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
Peace for the coming day,
And though anxious of heart,
     Today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept
Me safe in trials,
And now, tried as I am,
     Today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked
The road for the coming day,
And though it may be hidden,
     Today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened
This darkness of mine,
And though the night is here,
     Today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken
When time was ripe,
And though You be silent now,
     Today, I believe.