Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Sunset from the dogwood tree

The heavens declare the glory of Godthe skies proclaim the work of his hands.
Psalm 19:1

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

A moment by the lake

"That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake." Matthew 13: 1

Let's stop there, as I did this morning. I'd meant to read all of chapter 13 for my devotional time. But I couldn't get past this single verse. I love these glimpses of Jesus in ordinary moments. He just went out of some house (we don't even know whose) and sat by a lake, simply sat there. Perhaps He was communing with God, having time with His Father as we're told He did in the desert or the hills or the Garden of Gethsemane. But maybe He was just enjoying the quiet for a moment before the rush of the day began. Maybe He looked at the water, listened to the gentle waves, felt the wind on His face, and was at peace.

He didn't have many moments like this during those years with the disciples, living on the road, as they did. Once the cat was out of the bag, so to speak, there was always another person who moved Him to compassion. More stories to tell, more Kingdom to be proclaimed, one way or another. And that Kingdom had come was what HE had come to proclaim. "The Kingdom is among you. Right here, right now, in your midst, because I'm here," He'd come to say, by His very presence, by His actions, by His sideways parables, by His sending out of those He'd called to be His emissaries to the ends of the earth.

But Jesus spent thirty years or so years on this earth living a hidden life in a backwoods town. "Does anything good come out of Nazareth?" implies just how backwoods that place really was. We can't imagine. To us, Nazareth looms large because our Lord grew up there. But it was like growing up on the wrong side of the wrong side of the tracks, if there can be such a place. But that hidden town afforded Jesus the space to live quietly for a long time. He who was with God in the beginning (see John 1), had time and opportunity to see creation from behind human eyes. He felt the comfort of a mother's hug and tasted the goodness of simple cooking of simple people.

Think of all that Jesus experienced in those years He lived in the quiet town of Nazareth.
Think of how He must have loved this earth.
He looked around at every bush and saw it alive with beauty,
alive with the presence of the Creator.
Because He knew who had created it.

And yes, I think He knew not only who had created it, but who HE was in relation to the Creator because of the only story we have between His birth and His baptism. At twelve years old, He knew who He was, and He expected His parents to know it, too. "Didn't you know I would be in my Father's house?" They didn't understand, but He expected them to (see Luke 2: 49)

Other than that one scene, though, we have no picture of Jesus' life before He came to the river to be baptized by John.
So little moments like this one where He sits by the lake give me pause. They remind me that He was also a man. A real, fully human man. He needed to breathe in the silence. He liked the sweetness sitting by a quiet lake.
Hey, I like that too.

It's only a moment, however. The crowd is coming, will press in so closely around Him that He will get into a boat in order to teach them. Maybe in order not to be trampled by their needs. Another day when a crowd does press hard, He actually feels a woman among them touch Him differently. But that's a story for another time.

It's not for these quiet moments that He came.
It's for the moments when power goes out of Him, and a person is healed or changed.
Or the moment when He gets in the boat and begins to teach.
Or when He calls a person.
Or all.
But I like this moment.
And I want to share it with Him.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Just sitting with them

When Job's three friends...heard about all the troubles that had come upon him, they set out from their homes and met together by agreement to go and sympathize with him and comfort him. When they saw him from a distance, they could hardly recognize him; they began to weep aloud, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and seven nights. No one said a word to him, because they saw how great his suffering was. Job 2: 11-13

This afternoon, Beve and I spent some time with some dear friends whose lives we might hardly recognize if we saw them from a distance. They began a journey with a rare form of brain cancer 19 months ago. One morning she fell, thought she was having a stroke, had enough wits about her to still manage to call 911, and so it began. The cancer is so rare that no new advances have been made in its treatment in the last thirty years. It's rare to get, and rarer to survive beyond the diagnosis. I can't tell you the name of it (I think I'd need an advanced medical degree for that), but when the doctors finally figures out what was wrong with her, they told her to go home and put her affairs in order.

As you can imagine, she wasn't quite ready to throw in the towel that easily. Fortunately, there are world-class experts right down the road who weren't either. They didn't give up on her. She went through the whole cancer drill. I don't have to describe it here for you to know it began with surgery and ended with hair loss. But she made it out the other side and in those nineteen months has had a scan a month, checking her brain. Every scan has been clean.

Until Friday's. Within 15 minutes of that unclear scan, there was a new game plan, new marching orders. One more shot at trying to get those cells growing where they shouldn't right in her left frontal lobe.
Beve spent a couple hours with them yesterday and we went back over today as they prepare to drive down the freeway, marching orders in hand.

Mostly we just sat with them, let them guide the conversation wherever they wanted. She's always been a strong, independent woman, not too emotional. He's the emotional one, actually. At just one point today she showed emotion. Not surprisingly, it was when she spoke of her granddaughter's 2nd birthday, this coming Friday. She found a doll house on craigslist for little SM, and she called it, "Magic!" I told her about the dollhouse my dad made SK her birthday when she was little.
She asked me all about it (I know she'd loved to have built one herself if she'd still been able), what it looked like, how she reacted when she got it, everything. I told her that she loved it so much she barely noticed that we'd bought her a bike for that birthday. Nothing else mattered but that dollhouse.
"Did he love watching her play with it?" she asked.
"Oh," I said. "I don't think he ever saw her play with it after that weekend. He died that summer."

That's when she got upset. Not just upset, but angry. In fact, thinking about it now, it's not that hard to understand, of course. But I was shocked by her anger then.
She got to take all her anger and sadness and pain out about her own situation on someone else's death. She's exactly the same age my dad was when he died. And she's angry. She's sad and she's scared.

I didn't do the best job in that moment. I didn't have the right answer. She was angry that we hadn't sued anyone, or made someone pay, or something. It had to have been someone's fault, she kept saying.
"Money wouldn't have brought back our dad," I told her. That's the truth of how I felt when he died.

There's something very important about what Job's three friends did before they opened their mouths. They simply sat with him. "Sacramental silence," I remember being taught those days were called when I was in college and studying Job. They just sat on the ground with him. They didn't try to share his suffering because they couldn't. They didn't offer platitudes because there were none, they just sat there.  They'd have done much better, I always thought, if they'd never opened their mouths at all and simply let Job have it out with God, rather than get in the middle of something they didn't have a hope of understanding.

I think the same thing about us. When someone close to us is suffering, we do best when we don't try to explain it or offer platitudes. What is most helpful is the gift of being. I know this because I've been the one who's needed it. And I know this because sometimes (even accidentally) I've been the one who's offered it.

The ministry of being: this is what I call it. It's what it's been called by better folks than me. It's an important comfort. A Holy Spirit work.
Let me--and you--remember that we don't need to talk to do Kingdom work.
Yes, sometimes the best work can be done with no words as all. (I really wish I'd practiced it better today)

Friday, April 25, 2014

Winning the right...

We had dinner last night with a good friend and his girlfriend. We've known this man for almost as long as we've lived in this corner of the Evergreen State. He got a position at the high school where Beve works soon after Beve did, and over the years have lived a whole lot of life together. He was part of the brigade (about 30 people strong that day) that helped us move from a small town into this small city we now call home, and Beve's helped him move more than once too. We've sat at tables together for so many meals I can't even count. Our oldest children actually dated for a summer, which was nice while it lasted and uncomfortable when it ended for everyone but the one for whom continuing would have been far MORE uncomfortable. This man, MP, has been one of Beve's closest work buddies, closest friends in town, I guess you could say. When MP got cancer, Beve was there, driving him to appointments, sitting with him when he heard bad news and worse. He was there, when just as the cancer treatments began, his wife of two and a half decade didn't merely say she wanted a divorce, but that she HATED him (probably with capital letters). He was knocked down while he was already on the ground, with barely a hope past next week.

It was a terrible time. And we lived it with him. Well, I mostly lived it vicariously through Beve, because there were many months when MP could hardly bear to look at me, let alone speak to me, just because I'm a woman. Or I'm also a woman. Like the woman who had kicked him while he was down. So I stayed out of his way, tried not to take it personally.

It's been a long, hard journey. Of course, we don't know the end of it yet. After a couple of years of bad news compounding bad news, He finally celebrated one year of being cancer-free at the end of March. That was huge. And after the pain and suffering from his wife, from his divorce and all it brought, he met someone else recently, someone really amazing. Someone with common interests and a similar story.

So we sat at another table, ate our Indian curry, naan, drank our mango lasses and dove right into the heart of things. We all had parents die fairly young. Her mother died when C was only 18, so that was the youngest, but each of us had a parent who died in their mid-sixties. And for each of us, that parent was the heart of the family. I said that in my case, I'd call him the backbone but maybe it's the same thing. Anyway, it gave us a way in to talking about how families can splinter when the nucleus, or hub, is gone. It takes a lot of intention to keep that from happening. MP's family scattered. He is one of eight kids, and the three oldest didn't even come to his dad's service. They are MIA to this day. That's the saddest thing I can imagine, but I kept my mouth shut about that.
C said that her father "went off the deep end into religion." That's exactly what she said. He became so fanatical, he took her to Eastern Europe when she was 19, to some kind of religious mission/event/something (Beve told me today that it was the site where the Virgin Mary was reportedly baptized, which can't be right, so who knows).
"That's why I want nothing to do with religion ever again," she said, adamantly.
I kept my mouth shut about that, too. For a split second, I considered otherwise. But this was the first real conversation we ever had with this woman. As Beve and I talked about it today, we agreed that we want to live as believers around her for a while before we talk to her about being believers. When we were Young Life leaders, we were taught to 'win the right to be heard,' and with a person as vehemently closed as C, it's very wise counsel.

But it's wise counsel in most situations. We go in without that, and we're liable to do more damage. I would like a chance to talk to her sometime about what happened to close her off so completely. I'd like to understand. Until then, I'll just be here, getting to know her without agenda. Loving her--she's a treasure--and glad she's come into MP's life.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Simple and easy

I've been having a conversation with an old friend for the last couple of days.
By conversation, you understand, I mean an online communication wherein one person writes a few sentences then the other person responds, then back and forth it goes, stretched out over the internet rather than the kitchen table and cups of tea. I miss that kitchen table, I really do.
Nevertheless, I'm not so old a dog that I can't adjust (just barely).

My friend made a comment this morning that though life seems simple, it's never been easy.
I looked at that sentence for a long time, thought about my friend's particular life, about my own, about the lives of many, many other people I know. Sure, there are those who've had a fairly easy road, but most of us haven't. Life has bumps and bruises and fits and starts and mis-steps and failures and sin in it. None of those things are easy. Of course they aren't.

Perhaps an easy life is part of the 'wide gate.' "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction. But small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and few find it." (Matthew 7: 13-14)

I'm not pretending to be a scholar (Please don't get me mistake me for one!), but I wonder. Is it just this simple? Rather than asking Him to make OUR way easy, maybe we should be asking to be made fit for the road He has prepared for us, no matter how hard the road is. God, who created us, died for us, redeemed us, gave us new life, tells us that in order to follow Him, we must take up our cross daily and follow Him. There's no ease in that. The way of the cross has Love in it, but not ease.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote of this idea in the first pages of his seminal work, Cost of Discipleship  (this is one of my alltime favorite quotes from any non-scriptural book!):

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

Several pages later, Bonhoeffer writes, "When God calls a man, He bids him come die."
It's that simple, my friends. Daily dying to self. The costly grace by which we were bought asks this of us.
Not easy. No way, no how. It's the hardest thing in life. The life-long, never-ending battle.
But it is simple.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

In honor of Earth Day

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
    let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
12 Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
    let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
13 Let all creation rejoice before the Lord, for he comes,
    he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.  Psalm 96: 11-13

All of creation sings with His presence. That's the truth of it. No matter what we might do to it, do to each other, do to ourselves, Creation itself is a hymn, and every part has its own voice.
No, come to think of it, it's a whole symphony.
If you want to know what beautiful is, don't look in the mirror, look at what God has done outside your window.  Go for a walk through a forest, stand at the edge of the ocean, climb a hill and tumble down like a child. Let God speak to you THIS day--and tomorrow as well--of all the beauty of the earth.
 And perhaps, just perhaps, that will seep into your pores and remind you that YOU are part of that beauty.

You are His sixth day creation. His last, best creation, made to be you, made just the way you are, with your gifts, your passions, your bents and talents.
You fit in, the way everything fits in.
 He loves you as you are.
 He made you as you are. THIS day. As you are.Yes, just as you are, He loves you. You are beautiful in His eyes. The heavens rejoice in You, the whole earth is glad, the sea resounds. He came because He loves. He came because He loves YOU.
Happy Earth Day...
To you.

Saturday, April 19, 2014


It's Saturday.
It's the day the world stood still, the day the disciples hid somewhere in Jerusalem because they believed knew their hopes and dreams had died on the cross.
They'd left their nets, their tables of taxes, whatever other livelihoods they had to follow this man.
They'd believed him when he told them they'd become fishers of men.
They'd watched him heal the sick, restore sight to the blind, feed thousands, calm storms, walk on water. They'd listened to his words and believed them, even as inscrutable as they sometimes seemed.
Their feet had grown callouses from the hundreds of miles they'd walked with him.
They'd slept in a hundred different places, some just dirt and rocks along the road.
They'd eaten at tables with rich and poor, with the kind of folks they'd never have dreamed.

They loved him. That's why they'd done it all. They loved him and they believed him when he called them to come. They trusted him with their lives.

But this day is Saturday. This day, they were spent. This day they were bewildered and hurt and grieved as no one had ever grieved before. One would have to have left everything to fully understand exactly they felt. Their families might have despised them, turned their backs on them, wondered at their sanity. They certainly lost their income. Have you ever thought of that? How did Peter care for his wife, his mother-in-law while he traveled around with Jesus for those three years after leaving his nets?
And all for what?

That's what must have been going through their minds that Saturday--that Sabbath. It was the Sabbath, of course. They couldn't even do anything. They were governed by the laws that said they had to be still and quiet and not even lift a hand to pound it in the frustrated, even-angry grief they must have felt.

I always imagine them having retreated back to the room (somewhere upstairs in a house) where they'd last shared a meal with him. And I imagine these sorts of questions murmured with long silences between.

What had happened? How could it have happened?
How could he have done that to us?
He didn't speak a word in his own defense.
Did you hear that he said, "My god, my god, why did you forsaken me?"
He must not have been...
No, don't say it. Don't think it.

But they did think it.
Of course they did. Despite what he'd told them, on this day, to those men (and women!!!) in the upper room of a house somewhere in Jerusalem, Jesus was only a man. And he had been killed. With his death, all their hopes and dreams of him being the Messiah ended. He breathed his last, and it was over.

Make no mistake, that's what Saturday is about.
If the story ended on Saturday (indeed, if it ended Friday morning), there would be no capitalizing of the h in him, because he was only a man, a man whose life was as easy to snuff out as anyone else's.

It's Saturday.
I always take this day and live with this painful knowledge. We go about our Saturday-before-Easter in preparation for the most glorious of days, but in reality, it's a very hard day, because while the followers of Jesus were being kept in the dark, Jesus Himself (with a capital H) was in the dark, battering the gates of hell. This is the other part of Saturday that I can't fathom. I picture Him overturning the tables at the temple, His anger then, and I wonder if it's a picture of how He would swell to fight the enemy on his own turf. We think He unleashed his righteous anger at people, just imagine Him letting loose against satan! I don't know for sure, but I wonder.

Yes, it's Saturday.
It's right that we think about these hard, dark things for this day.
We have no fear, though, for we know what's coming tomorrow.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

That ear

I was going to begin this post as I often do--with some story of an ordinary moment in an ordinary life, usually mine. But this is no ordinary week. This is Holy Week. Everything has been leading up to this. It's the climax of the story of all stories--of yours and mine and every person's who ever was or will live. What we celebrate this week is the good, bad and ugly then best of our stories.

Hebrews 2: 14 says, "Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death--that is, the devil."  That's the story of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ in one verse.

It struck me last night as I was falling asleep (you know how these things can happen) what it meant to Jesus, the Son of Man, that last week before the cross that He shared our humanity. It's like everything that can happen in a whole lifetime came to him in that single week. In this one week, He:

  • Was welcomed into the capital city with a ticker-tape parade. People lined the streets, shouting His name, waving leaves in His face, and proclaiming not just that they wanted but that He was King. This proclamation enraged the Jewish leaders. It was blasphemous in their minds. 
  • Refused to accept the status-quo,, lost His temper (in a not very civil or Gandhi-like fashion), caused a riot all by Himself, informed the governing body that they were a bunch of vipers, and thereby, sealing His fate. Jesus knew what He was doing, what would come of it.  
  • Had one of His dearest friends turn traitor. Let's not forget this. Judas was one of His dearest friends. It was a stroke of fortune for the priests, and grave misfortune for Judas when he took that silver. What it did to Judas was far worse than what it would do to Jesus. That's the sad, awful truth. But here's the other part, Jesus loved Judas. Don't forget that when you look down your nose at Judas. When Jesus sent Judas away from the table, He loved him, when He met him in Gethsemane, it was with great sadness, because the cost to Judas would be too much for Judas to bear. Jesus had to say goodbye to his disciple that night when Judas kissed him. 
  • Had a feast with His closest friends, and said some things. Not everyone gets to have a final say to those they love most. Jesus got this. And what He had to say was, "when ever you break bread, you're  sharing with me." And, "Whenever you're drinking, It's in my name." In other words, whatever we do, who ever we do it with--if we're His, He's to be there with us. Yes, it's a Sacrament. It's also sacramental to eat and drink and be together with people. That's what the Last Supper is about. It's about the truth that Jesus is always in our daily lives, He's in the most elemental of our needs--our eating and drinking (give us this day, Lord, our daily bread). He is, after all, the Bread of Life.
  • Didn't sleep. I say it this way because He went out to the garden to pray. He'd gone off to pray myriad times before in the time the disciples had followed Him. But this time, when He asked Peter, James and John to come with Him, He asked them to 'watch' for a little while. To be with Him. But they were tired. They fell asleep. I don't suppose they thought it was that much different than any other time He'd gone off. But it was. And He felt alone when He came back to them. Felt let down by His closest friends. "Couldn't you be with me for a single hour?" 
  • Sweated like blood. That's heavy-duty sweat, my friends. Now, I'm married to a man who seems to have invented the concept of sweating, but I know nothing of sweating like blood. That's some powerful sweat. Hard core prayer. Beyond my pay-grade, I suppose. He was in anguish. Working it out with God, knowing those were His last moments alone until After, perhaps. The time was upon Him. Imagine all of history had come down to that moment. And it weighed like all the blood of humanity on His shoulders as He prayed. Maybe for the cup to be passed, nevertheless, with the most beautiful of surrenders. 
  • Healed an ear. In in those last moments, He was still healing. Still teaching, too. "No, Peter, put back down that sword." He healed a man who'd come to take Him to His death. For a moment, let that be you who has come. Let that be me. You have come to take Jesus to His death. You arrive and someone grabs a sword and cuts off your ear. Slices it right off. The man Himself first takes away the sword from the would-be fighter, then actually puts the ear back in its place. The ear reattaches, the blood stops flowing. THIS is the man you have to take to His death? This man just healed you. This man might just be who they say He is. What if He is? YOU are taking Him to His death but He healed you anyway?
And that's the point, isn't it?
All these things make Jesus very much human, in some ways. All these very human things He experienced in just the last week. The adulation we might all long for, losing His temper (righteously!), sharing meals and saying important things to important people, saying hard goodbyes to beloved friends, feeling lonely, and even full of anguish: these remind us that He really was fully human. 
But that ear...
That ear makes us know that He's also always fully God. And we ARE the soldier. We weren't there, but we are the ones who take Him to the cross. And we are the ones He heals there.
So that He might break the power of the one who holds the power of death. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Sunset suffering

It's been gorgeous the last few days. Shhh, I'm not supposed to tell you that. People in our neck of the woods think that it's a great joke to let the rest of the world think that it's rainy and gray 98% of the time, that we don't know what sun looks like. But I'll let you in on the secret, it doesn't rain nearly that much. Maybe only 85% of the time. Maybe. And we're kind of like the little girl with the curl in the middle of her forehead. You know, from the the nursery rhyme? My mother used to say it to my sisters and me whenever one of us was pouting: "When she was good she was very, very good...and when she was bad, she was horrid." Here in the northwest corner, when it's good, it's very very good.

I just stepped out my front door and took this picture because I wanted to share it with you. See what I mean? Doesn't such a sunset make you want to stand up and take notice?

Here's the thing. I've been sitting inside all evening working on my computer with my back to this view. It wasn't until the sun hit the glass in my china hutch and bounced back, hitting me in the eyes that I opened my eyes to what was beyond my computer screen. Then I turned around in my chair and saw this.

The problem is that we have to be looking to see beauty.  This morning I read in Psalm 119:
"It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees."  (71)
 "I know, Lord, that your laws are righteous and that in faithfulness you have afflicted me." (75)
"If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction." (92)
That's the way to look at affliction. That's how I want to look at it. I want to see it as beauty and something that comes from the faithful hand of God. When I'm staring up at Him, rather than at my own life, it gets put in better perspective. This isn't an easy thing. I'm not suggesting it is. But I'm speaking as a person who suffers, not as a person who speaks philosophically about them. For me suffering, or 'the problem of pain,' (as CS Lewis called it) is not an abstract question. It's wholly real. It's perhaps the most real question any of us face.
What strikes me is that this view from my front steps is of a day dying. The most gorgeous parts of a day are its beginning and end. And in the human life, there is pain associated with both ends. We enter and leave this world suffering (or at least causing suffering to others). So why do we resist it as an enemy? Why isn't it possible that these words from Psalm 119 are the best antidote to the enemy's compounding our suffering with doubt? "In faithfulness you have afflicted me." In HIS faithfulness."You are good and what You do is good." (Psalm 119: 68)

Don't read this and think I am so simple as to not consider that there is evil afoot in this world and, with evil, comes suffering of a maleficent kind. I am NOT so simple. If you know the difference, you can be sure I do as well. I'm talking about run-of-the-mill "I have chronic pain that impedes my entire life" suffering, not 'There's genocide happening in three different countries across the globe even as we speak" suffering. That's for another day...and is so much more complex I don't dare try to tackle it without a whole lot more theological ammunition and maybe even a better minds. More brilliant scholars than I work on this then have it fall down like a house of cards when they're struck with personal suffering--See CS Lewis, Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed.

Therefore, in typical circular fashion, I come back to my point. Your main issue isn't really global suffering anyway. It's your own. It's what you have to face tonight, now that the sun is down and the sky is dark and you're alone with your thoughts and worries and physical pain. This is the suffering that most often has a choke-hold on each of us, it's the suffering that makes us cry out in anguish that such a thing should come to us, that we don't deserve it, that it isn't fair, that God is mean or a tyrant or not even there.

I know these things too. I've been alone in the dark with my affliction. Plenty of nights. Let me be completely transparent here about my own pain. The very worst position for my nerve-damaged left leg is horizontal. Every single night when I lie down, I have to clench my teeth against the sheer torture of the pain in it. I sleep with 4 pillows cushioning it most of the time and still it's like lying with fire in it. So I put off sleep. And I've done every single one of these things I just wrote.

But I also come back to the truth that He meets me in the fire. That in His faithfulness He afflicted me. Without such affliction I would not have become this me, and would not be used as He intends to use me.

I don't know what your affliction is. I don't know if it's mental, physical, emotional, relational. I do know Psalm 119 also says this, "May your unfailing love be my comfort, according to your promise to your servant. Let your compassion come to me that I might live, for your law is my delight." (76-77)

Friday, April 11, 2014

A dream

Some days it's a struggle.
Just that.
I've felt overwhelmed lately.
None of my concerns are matters of life and death,
but they are life and death matters for God,
if you know the difference.
I mean, everything matters to Him. Each eye-lash, each finger-nail, each emotion are all of significance. Every moment we spend on this planet He cares about.
But He cares about more than this.

A few weeks ago, I had a dream. I almost always remember bits and pieces of my dreams, but this one was so vivid that when I told it to a friend, the response I got was, "Was it a dream or a vision?" And I don't really know the answer. Perhaps it doesn't matter.
 Still, because awakened from it--as if from a dream--let's call it that, shall we?

In my dream, a man was very ill--gravely ill with cancer. With his family, he went into his house, shut the door, closed up the shutters and hunkered down.  His house was a beautiful chateau--really quite a gorgeous  old stone home with a wide terrace surrounded by old brick wall overlooking a valley. But this lovely chateau was on the grounds of a more magnificent estate. In fact, up the hill stood a house so grand it made this dying man's home look shabby, gray and used up. The gardens and view from the larger house were so much more spectacular, with more light, open windows and fine features. I wandered the terrace of the man's house, staring at the mansion on the hill until night-time fell. Then suddenly all below me was light, coming from the grandest palace I'd ever seen. A palace meant for a king. It was like Versailles, only a more glorious, heavenly Versailles.

I pounded on the door of the house, trying to get the man and his family to come and look but they would not. They didn't want to leave their house, you see. All the world was in that house. Everything they thought was important was inside.

But I got it.
Yes, I awoke and I got it.
You do too, don't you?
"In my Father's house are many mansions," Jesus told us.
They are grand and more fine than anything we can imagine on this earth. But often we close our eyes to what lies ahead. We cling to this world, this life, this everything because it's what we know, it's where we're safe, it's what we love. These rooms, this beautiful home. But compared to the mansion He's prepared for us, and compared to HIS great House, this is a shabby imitation. Nothing to sneeze at, maybe, but also so small that once we get there, we'll wonder why we didn't hold more lightly.

Maybe just a dream, but one that gives me such joy, I can hardly stand it. In fact, I must kneel for the awe of it. What lies in front of each of us who call Him by name is good. Of course I don't know for sure what that will be, but I know that where He is, will be glory.

May this bring you comfort in your worries,
hope in your pain,
and just plain joyous expectation
in whatever place you call home today.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Sweetness in an envelope

I've been caught up in worries in the last week, caught up in such worries that it's like I'm breathing toxic fumes, sick with them, finding it hard to sleep, think, or get out of my own head. You might tell me that I play right into the enemy's hands when I respond to worry this way. You'd be right. My head knows it but at times the distance between my head and my heart feels much longer than the short distance the blood actually has to flow. Miles longer.

But 'good news from far away is like good medicine.' That's what Proverbs says, and so I found it yesterday. Amid the bills and ads junk mail came one letter. You know what I'm talking about, don't you? A letter in which someone writes (or types) to another person (or people) on paper, puts it into an envelope, puts a stamp on it and mails it through the postal service. Such things are becoming obsolete except at holidays. But we got such a letter yesterday, and it was a good one. A great one. One of the best from one of the most important people in my adult life. It was from my favorite professor and his wife. He was a life-line the first term I was in seminary, which I began the week after my father died. He taught a seminar I was desperate to take. He allowed me in, already sensing that I needed it in more than just academic ways. Over the years I was at Regent College we became friends, a friendship which included his wife and Beve. We spent many weekends at their home, working in their kitchen, serving students, sharing great meals, talking deeply while home-made candles burned in their hanging candelabra. Beve always made his cinnamon rolls for breakfast, my professor introduced us to the smokey tea called Lapsong Suchong, which we drank just before bed. Their book-lined home (and I mean, EVERY wall is book-lined!!!) on the water on the island in British Columbia has always been one of our favorite places to 'get away,' even when we worked very hard with this couple the whole time together. And (and this is no small thing) this professor was my supervising prof for my thesis, which was a novel. Yes, he was the first--best--reader of my still-unpublished novel.

But our kids got older, they got older. We haven't been out to their island home for several years now. The last time we saw them, they were stuck on this side of the border, and spent the evening with us. Beve often tells me I should get in touch with them, but I have been shy about it. They have many people in their lives. Many people who love them, want pieces of them.

So to get this letter, to be reminded of them, of their goodness, their inimitable selves and their profound impact on our lives was sweet. Sometimes sweetness is all we need to dispel the gloom no, let's call it what it is: darkness that the enemy wants to keep us in when we get stuck in worry. We need to know that we have others with us, others who are strong and true and living their lives well.

Monday, April 7, 2014

True fairy tale

My parents were academic types. Teachers. My dad was a professor of mechanical engineering, my mother an elementary school teacher. They raised us to read, to think, to discuss, to be curious.

We didn't believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, the Jolly Green Giant.
And barely in Jesus. They made allowances for Him because my mother's parents WERE Christians of that born-again type. You know the sort I mean, the sort that takes all this stuff seriously about Jesus being the Son of God who came down to earth to die and be resurrected. You know what I'm talking about...

My parents, at least when I was small enough to believe in all those other things, preferred to think of Jesus as an historical person, whose teachings helped us be moral and have the kind of ethics my parents believed were important. Love your neighbor, Respect each other, be kind. I sort don't think I thought of God so much as an old man with a white beard when I was young as a glorified Scout Master in the sky. The ethics of my father's beloved Scouting, you see, permeated our home far more than the Bible did back then.

My parents let us play the games of all those childhood rituals, however. We played at Santa Claus--knowing we were Santa for each other when we put our gifts under the tree. We acted like we believed in the tooth fairy when we lost our baby teeth and placed them beneath out pillows. I remember sleeping very carefully so that I didn't accidentally make the tooth get lost under the bed during the night. Why? Because I knew my father or mother was going to exchange it at some point for a quarter. Yes, I knew it would come from one of them; I knew it was a game, but I liked the game and I certainly liked the quarter reward. And at Easter, we dyed our own eggs, of course. Isn't such an activity part of the fun? When we found those eggs, they were the ones we'd dipped in dye, still smelling of vinegar.

But Jesus. He was something different altogether. He was a man, after all. He had a history, with a real birthday and a long book about his life. But what sometimes puzzled me when I was a child was the fact that unlike other people of history who had died, his death day (and resurrection day, for that matter) didn't have a sticking point in time. They seemed random. I hadn't the faintest idea what caused Easter to be March something one year and April something the next. It made the whole story of Jesus more fairy-tale-like, less real and true.

I'm trying tell you this like I thought about it as a child.
But then one year (perhaps I was in middle school--though I can't remember precisely, and didn't write it down) my Sunday school teacher told us that historians believed there are two possible dates for Easter: April 3 or April 7. It all depended on the calendar. Something began to change in me with that information. If the resurrection actually happened on a specific date, it might just possibly be real.

This was anywhere from 1-3 years before I asked Jesus into my life. But there was something about that date that stirred something in me. I can't look back and tell you everything it stirred now. It's too long ago. I can tell you I've known those two dates longer than I've been His disciple.

Jesus has a real story. He was born (probably in March, though I didn't know this as the time); He lived, He had parents and siblings, He had a life. He died on a specific date in history and He rose again--also on a specific date in history.

It's powerful to keep in mind.
Life-transformingly powerful. God did this.
Exactly this.
And the most real thing about it is
that it was/is/will be all for us.
And for us all.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A visit back to Faith Center

The first time I ever had a sense of what real worship could be was in a large Four-Square Church in Eugene, Oregon, named Faith Center. I was 20 years old, and had been a Christian for 6 years. Previously, I'd gone to an Evangelical Free Church, a few times, and of course, the staid old Methodist church I'd grown up in. But Faith Center was something new. People raised their hands there. Acted like they loved Jesus. Really, really loved Him. I couldn't quite believe it. And the songs were rhythmic and contemporary (my kids are going to laugh at these songs, because they're so ancient now, but in those days, they were fresh and new and no one had ever heard them before). I remember the first time we sang the songs, "Majesty," "Emmanuel," "As the Deer;" and the first time I raised my voice to sing, "Jesus, Name above all Names," which comes straight out of Philippians 2, it broke my heart.

At the EV Free Church I'd heard some great Biblical teaching, to tell the truth, by Jim Wilson who is still in the Palouse, strong and true and certain. We just got a pamphlet from his ministries the other day, inviting us to come for a weekend seminar, so I know the truth is still being spoken, straight from his mouth, from the Word, 30 years later. I'm grateful for that; and for what I learned from him, from his steady, Biblical teaching.

But in Eugene, at Faith Center, I encountered something else, someone new, a man named Roy Hicks, Jr, who I gladly sat under three times a week, for four years. I just couldn't get enough. He was passionate, a straight-shooter, with his jutted jaw and firm voice, and he told us what God had actually spoken in His Word, never what we wanted to hear. For a college student to show up Sunday mornings, Sunday nights, and Wednesday nights as well--well, there was something going on in that place. I think--no, I know--it was the Holy Spirit working in me, molding me. I remember walking in with a couple of friends one night in particular, chatting with our neighbors as usual--we were always a very chatty bunch in that big cavernous barn of a church--then settling down when Roy walked down the aisle, picked up the mike and said, "Go home. Spend time with the Lord by yourself tonight. Be faithful in private." We stood there a few moments, stunned. Then there came his voice from the back of the place, "I mean it--go home and be quiet with Him tonight." Then the lights went off. No one spoke and we went home. I don't know what other people did, but I felt convicted. I had been allowing church to take the place of my own devotions. I went home and opened the Word, then fell on my knees before my God.

I got baptized one Sunday night in the big tank up behind the piano. The song playing at the time was, "For those tears I died." A friend kindly wrote it down so I'd always know. I wouldn't remember otherwise. The moment I remember well, the song is a blur. It's an odd thing that I got baptized there. I'd been baptized as a child in the Methodist Church, so there was really no need...but there was for me. You see, when I was baptized as a child, not a single person involved was a Christian--not my parents, not the minister (I'm pretty sure), not me. So in my college-student-brain, it hadn't counted, and I desperately wanted it to count. So I was baptized in the first church that really counted in my life. From here, from the vantage point of 56 years, I might not counsel that decision. But I've never been sorry for that night, for the shock of the water as I was pushed under, dead to sin, and the rush of it as I was pulled back out, alive to new life, and the hug from the baptizing elder, welcoming me in. And the sense I had that it was done--finally--that I was in, as I'd wanted to be, In Christ.

I was at Faith Center when Keith Green made his first legendary concert tour north and played for a packed house right in our church with his simple band. He wasn't well known then, his music hadn't been heard yet, but he sat down at the piano and began to pound the keys, and speak to us between the songs and with the music and it was a Holy moment. Yes, he shocked us that day--in the way that the Holy Spirit can shock a room. The Holy Spirit was clearly there, in Keith's music, in his strong prophetic words for the nation. We might not have known those songs, but we stood and clapped--for God Himself--and barely let him leave the place. Later that year, about a dozen of my friends made a pilgrimage over spring break down to LA to sit in Keith Green's small upper room and listen to him sing and speak for the week. And a year or so later, when the Greens and band returned to Eugene, I was part of the throng that waited for hours to get into MacArthur Court at the University of Oregon to hear him play to a sold-out crowd.  A Christian musician playing in Eugene, Oregon to a sold-out crowd? It was magical! No, it was the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ. How many of us who were at that concert that night ended up on the mission field as a result of his death? I don't know, but I was definitely one of them (but that's for another day).

Faith Center, and Eugene. There have been moments in my life that I've thought of the Eugene years as a strange bend in my life that I could easily have snipped off. Like a four-year pinch in a hose, if you removed it, the hose would run smoothly. There was one giant pinch, and if I'd missed it, I'd have a smooth running past, and none would be the wiser. And I could have missed all that pain, all that awful, awful five years of pain...But I am who I am for that pain. I have great friendships that have lasted 30 years, have birthed others friendships. And I was changed by Faith Center. It was the first church I really loved, first time I understood what we're made for --this worship stuff. No matter what it looks like, no matter what the music is, what the preaching, teaching is. Faith Center was instrumental in teaching me that.

Years later--when I was married, and living far from there--I heard that Roy had died in a plane crash. I didn't know him personally--Faith Center was a very large church, and I was merely a college student. And I hadn't even sat under his teaching in a dozen years, but I felt sad. It was a sad day for this world, and a glad day for heaven, I think. "Blessed in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints."

As I've mentioned before, I'm wondering a lot about church right now. I've changed a lot since my Eugene days, of course. That church probably wouldn't suit the 56-year-old Carolyn as it did the 20-year-old one. But it helps to write about it. To remember, to consider what God wants, what is important. After all, it's not what I need in a church that matters, not how a church can meet my needs, but how God can be praised. Eugene Peterson tells us to just plop down next to your neighbor and worship. That's the point. They aren't going to look and act and be like me, or even nice probably. But that's not the point. The point is to enter into His presence, and help those next to me, no matter who they are, to do the same. Come along with me...I learned that in Eugene.

Yes, learning to worship, to crave worship--that's what I learned.
And it has stuck with me so that I can worship in season and out.

(This is an edited post from May 2006)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The real geography

Today, because it's Random Journal Link-up Day, over at Dawn's blog, little old me is the featured journal-keeper, diarist, whatever you might call us. I wrote up a little something about my journal-keeping, for those of you who might not have heard me talk about this once or a couple million times before. Besides me, there are other talents shared of many kinds. So check it out. I'm honored to be the 'guest of honor', so to speak, but we're all honored guests at this journal party, so come join the fun!

I shouldn't have been surprised but I was. I'm far more surprised by God than I should be. He so often does things that dovetail with other things that are happening in life, doesn't He? But I'm surprised anyway. I expect too little of Him, I know. Anyway, today when I grabbed a blue notebook (labeled Fall 2001), it opened to a page with no more heading than "Tuesday", but the words fit perfectly with what I wrote about journal-keeping to post on Dawn's blog. And I'm surprised to read them. Almost shaken to the core by what they reveal. One of the things I've always loved about journals is that I never lose an earlier self. I know the Carolyn who was 16, 26, 36, 46 as well as the one who writes this post, because I have these books. So the words from this particular Tuesday draw me back to the keen desires and worries of the me who lived 13 years ago.

But no more editorializing, just the words:

It's sometimes intimidating, the huge stack of blue composition books on top of the bookcase downstairs. Something to live up to. Will there be something valuable enough to keep? Many days, the answer is no. These pages are an assortment of profundities and trivialities, of deep concerns and whiny complaints. Sometimes I want to put down my pens once and for all, but rarely. More often, as my fingers itch to hold a pen, I hunger to a true thing to say--just ONE--to start me going. It's the kindling thought, the stoke of the fire I'm looking for, the spark that will ignite a blaze from my pen that I watch rush across the page. It's magic and mystery how those thoughts grow from a deep cavern of which I was unaware.
     Sometimes it's just me, recording thoughts I know, thoughts so full of me that I'm swamped with them. Not profound, not even interesting, I'm afraid. Just full of very me. But I think, I hope, I trust, that to get to the caverns of fire, I have to wade through the real geography of my life, the ordinary, sometimes ugly, terrain of the yet-to-be-fully-redeemed self. The already-not-yet quality of my salvation is never more apparent than here, where I unfold my private self. Saved but still sinning. Crying out from who I am to Him who is more. Asking Him to make me like Him rather than leave me to my own real (and yes, often, but not always, ugly!) geography.

Moving pianos

"Two are better than one, for there is more return for their toil."
I usually think of these words in terms of working, of course.  But recently, I've been struck by the way sharing a burden with another lightens one's load. I think of all the times I've tried to move a piece of furniture by myself. I've pushed at everything from end-tables and bookcases to pianos and even cars by myself. And I suppose you can guess which ones I'm able to move alone. Yes, only the smallest objects. I can move an end-table, but not a piano. I can move an empty bookcase, but not one filled to the brim with books.

And I can't budge a car an inch alone uphill. But I've managed to push one straight into the ditch when gravity and a little girl not steering very well and the power of an decline were helping me.

This is a very, very simple idea. Burdens are like these gigantic objects. We can't bear them alone. We weren't made to. When we try, they don't move. Or worse, they weigh us down, crumple us to our knees. My sister told me recently of hiking last summer with an over-heavy back-pack, getting knocked to her knees and being absolutely unable to get back up. She was completely, utterly stuck.

That's the power of burdens. Physical ones, mental, emotional and spiritual ones. We who are created in the Image of God are relational beings. This goes without saying, I suppose. Since God is Three-in-One, by His very nature He's already in relationship. So He made us that way. And He knows we need each other. He knows that we can't handle life alone.

Lately, there have been burdens overwhelming some beloveds in my life. And I'm hurting like I'm trying to move a piano on my own up the Matterhorn. Up Mt Everest. I've just taken them in, and am carrying a bulging pack full of them. And it's getting me nowhere.

It's in sharing those burdens that they're lighter. I was reminded of this in a concrete way yesterday. Someone came along and lifted the burden. Said, "here, let me have part of it. We'll do it together." And we'll carry the one who cannot walk to the only one who can actually take the burden away. The more there are to carry the hurting, the more the hurting's hurts are lifted. That's what I learned. I can't move a piano.

I guess what I'm saying is, if you're trying to carry your own burden, consider allowing someone to share it. If you're weighed down by another's burdens, even if you are constrained by someone's confidence, you can ask someone to pray without knowing. The Holy Spirit doesn't need the details. Another person who is really filled with Him doesn't need the details, he only needs the Holy Spirit and the burden will be shared. Two are better than one.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Reminded today

Today I am reminded that:

  • when the sun comes out here in the Pacific Northwest, it's been worth the wait! and
  • I really am a sun-fiend and
  • so are my dogs
  • I love having Beve home for Spring Break (Vacation Beve's in town)
But I'm also reminded that
  • there are people hurting all over this planet 
  • sometimes being there for a friend is all that is required
  • pain comes in all shapes and sizes
  • physical pain isn't the worst of it--not even close
  • "I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength."
Contentment. Being reminded today to be content with what I have, while praying for those who have not. Not reaching for what I don't have, not struggling for what isn't, but learning to stand with the suffering, to sit with the hurting, to be there, in body, in heart, in spirit with those who in need. This I am learning today.

Such things have no politics, no rights. Where there are hurting people, there I should be. Where there is someone in pain--perhaps someone who is a homosexual, for instance--there I should stand. I do stand. Gladly. That is what I believe. Where there are people who have been marginalized and ostracized and cut off, there, as a Christ-one, as His Ambassador, I am. Because He loves. Without thought to such things as what the nature of person. He knows the heart of each of us. And HE loves us. Therefore, as His, with only Him as my standard, so do I.

I am reminded of this today. The cross on which He died--excluding NO one, because He loves, excluding NO one.