Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Texan--repost

I was reminded today of the importance of naming those who were instrumental in my growth as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Simply naming them to God is a way of giving them the honor they deserve for who I've become. For me, there's only one place to start. One person, I should say, was so foundational in my following-hard-after life as a believer, I can hardly imagine who I'd be if not for him. So I thought to write about him...then I realized I already did. In the infancy of this blog, I spent a week paying tribute to those who bent my unwieldy limbs into Him, who fed me milk then meat, who were the girding-up people for me as I grew.  This man is old now, struggling with dementia, and probably doesn't know who I am anymore, but God knows. God knows who he was to me...and not me alone, but countless others who live and walk by faith because of his teachings, his example, his love for us. And God knows the many jewels we are in the crown he will wear.

"My eyes will be on the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me;
those whose walk is blameless will minister to me." Psalm 101: 6

About a decade ago when I was studying at Regent College [it's now been almost 18 years], I took a class from Eugene Peterson called Spiritual Formation. For it we were asked to write about what/who shaped us spiritually. So for the next week, I've decided to write about seven of those influences.

This first person was a long, tall Texan, as the saying goes. An athletic man who loved kids and loved Christ and had been in Jim Rayburn's first Young Life club in Texas back in the 40s. We, my contemporaries and I, were lucky, in the way that God is lucky (which isn't luck at all!) that this Texan was in our town, teaching at WSU and willing to start Young Life with some eager college students back in the 70s, about a year or so before I started high school. By the time I walked into my first YL club, there were 100 strong a night, and more on the way. They were golden years of Young Life in the Palouse, and I was in the thick of it. Thick, too, was the drawl of the Texan as I sat at his feet every chance I got to lap up what he knew of Jesus, what he knew of the life of a disciple. I drank a whole lot of milk in those early days in Young Life and Campaigners.

I'd grown up in a liberal Methodist church, memorizing the books of the Bible like any good Sunday school kid, but not really learning much about Jesus Christ. When I heard the real story of the cross and resurrection,the summer before I started high school, it was like I'd been looking for Jesus all my life--waiting for that puzzle piece to fit my life together, I just didn't know it--and I wanted in. But I wasn't in my hometown when it happened and I wasn't sure but that I might not be the only Christian in our whole town. My first Young Life meeting, a couple months later, was a revelation. This big ol' Texan stood up and started talking about the Jesus I'd just fallen head over heels in love with. I walked up to him afterwards and asked him point blank (OK, so I'm a little dim!) if he knew the Jesus I knew.

He got me plugged into Campaigners almost before I could blink (which, I have to tell you, I first thought was going to be something like the Young Republicans. Think about the name. Where did that name come from, anyway?) and there two college students took me under their wings. It's funny how, in those days, those two women seemed so old to me. I mean, they were in COLLEGE. But now, we're all just empty-nesters together. We had some times together, I'm telling you. One infamous trip up a mountain getting stuck in the snow and having to sleep--nine of us--in April. Completely unprepared for the weather, the car-sleeping, all of it. We were babies. When I think of it from my age now, I shake my head at the potential danger. But the faithfulness of God in that moment. And in what was created in that moment--all those girls--every single one of them, is my very close friend 36 years later, because of that week-end, to no small degree. That, I think, is spiritual formation.

But the Texan. To try to distill his influence on a paragraph or two might be impossible. But I remember one Young Life message with absolute clarity: a cross-talk he did as Barabas, with a giant B on an old sweatshirt. He talked about being in prison, waiting to be killed, hearing the rumbling of the crowds, hearing the swelling noise as they began to yell, and then the dawning knowledge that the crowd was screaming, "Free Barabas!" His voice shook, it actually shook as he said, " I didn't deserve it. I deserved to die. But I was freed." And he spoke of the cross, and Jesus' death from his eye-witness's view-point, as if Barabas had had to follow, had to see this man who had taken his place, the place deserved. And then the clencher--we are all Barabas. I remember that talk, in the large crowded rec room of my friend's house on State street on Sunnyside Hill in my home town my freshman year in high school as if he was standing before me right now. I tell you, I haven't heard many sermons I can quote verbatim, but that one tightens my heart every time I think of it. So profound it could be given every Good Friday, and we'd still never get it. We deserve it--we sinners--and He took our place!

We had conversations about many important decisions in my life. Life decisions. Some of his advice I took, some I didn't. He tried to talk me out of going away to college. I went anyway. He was all for me marrying the Beve, of course. And was proud to do the marrying, in fact. We talked of matters of faith, and matters of the heart. Outside of my father, no other man had greater influence on me for so long a time. God used him. I am who I am because of him. Thank God.c

I guess my point in doing this is to ask you--whoever you are--to also take this week--and walk through your life with me. As I consider the godly of the land who have been invited into my house, think of yours. Who are they? What are they? Because though it's fun for me to talk about these people, God already knows them. Their names are written in His book and there are asterisks by each one. Those asterisks say--responsible for bringing souls to the Kingdom, for bringing C--. OK, maybe it doesn't really work this way. But there is something to this. I think it's true that none of us are in the Kingdom without someone else having done Kingdom work for us. If you're a believer, a disciple, someone talked to you, prayed for you, walked with you.

And--wait for it--am I the godly of the land? Are you? Would we be on anyone's lists? Do I live my life so that others are in the Kingdom?

Monday, April 27, 2015

The river

We spent the weekend up at our little lodge with dear friends. It was a time of great replenishing for each of us. Talking with dear friends can do that. But beyond the windows, we were all aware of this ongoing sound: the rush of a mountain river tumbling over rocks. It was ever-present, God's own white noise while we slept, ate, talked or simply sat together.

I woke up Saturday morning thinking about how that river is so like God. Always moving, without beginning or end. I thought of how His love permeates the world, whether we're conscious of it or not, how it spills over the rocky places in our lives, smoothing them. I thought of how much power there is in His love, to remold the landscape of the world and of our lives.

But it's been said (so often it's a cliche) that a picture is worth a thousand words. Right? In this case, a short video visit to our river might do even better. So here it is, the breathtakingly cold, wild Cascade River as it looks from the deck of our little lodge.

I can't seem to make the sound work but, hopefully, you'll get the idea. (This is from last fall--imagine that there are leaves on the trees and the moss is glowingly green now).

Monday, April 20, 2015

Grampie-style

It was quite the weekend. Finally, after a two-month wait, we celebrated Grampie's home-going to heaven Saturday with family and friends and a nice spread of food, in true Grampie style.

We met up with Beve's family for lunch on Saturday before the service to have our own moments together before the day got too busy. It's a good thing we did, too, since I don't think I spoke to any of them again the rest of the day. But that table in the Mexican restaurant was like a family dinner at the giants' house: loud with lots of food and more conversation from one end of the table to the other. I had to stand up several times and more and more of us poured into the place, and we kept having to add tables. Grampie would have gotten such a kick out of seeing us all there together!

Sons, grandchildren, friends and co-workers rose to tell great stories, also in Grampie style. In the weeks leading up to the event, I'd culled the myriad posts about him down to 69 to set on the tables for people to read as they ate and visited and caught up with old friends. Our daughters read scripture and prayed and our dear friend J, who's like a brother to me, like an uncle to our kids, is also very much a pastor. Maybe even OUR pastor. Indeed, he and his wife (and/or daughter(s) have been a part of almost every memorial service in our families since we've known him. Actually, since I had him on speed-dial when I had to preach at my brother's in Southern California several years ago, he was part of that one as well. He's known Grampie as long as he's known us, and when he spoke of him, he knew exactly what he was saying. I leaned over to Beve at one point while he spoke and said, "I could listen to him every week!" The service ended with the slide show that--sure enough--had us all in tears...and I've been humming the music ever since. Seeing his large grin on that over-sized screen was enough to do it, I think. Grampie had such style!

Beve and I spoke to so many people we hardly had a bite to eat of the delicious-looking feast set out for the company. I hadn't realized how much we'd feel like the bride and groom. Even as I was talking to one person, I could see another out the corner of my eye, waiting to talk to me. At one point someone asked me about Beve and I said, "I haven't the faintest idea. We haven't talked all day." That made me chuckle--yep, exactly like being a bride and groom. But it was wonderful to see so many old friends, OUR friends who knew him because they knew us. And HIS friends we knew because we belonged to him. And, I just have to say I was personally thankful for the support of my own family who made a huge effort to get there. "You rock!" I've told them about a dozen times in the last couple of months. They do. I am awed by their support. Always.

I raced down to Seattle for a quick visit with my sisters Saturday night, and to check in on my aunt who had so wanted to come to the service but couldn't leave her ailing husband. It was short and sweet and good to see them all. The Indian food didn't hurt either. We had a rollicking conversation around our naan and curries. Beve, meanwhile, was entertaining old friends and the Finns up at our house, an hour in the other direction from the church.

Sunday morning, we were back at our friends' church where SK was the 'Minute For Missions' speaker in their services. She shared about her journey toward Kenya, her hopes and needs for the coming year, her heart's passion to follow God wherever He leads. She spoke well (as usual--she was a theatre major!), and it warmed my heart to see her so certain. Often Mamas hear the other side of the coin. It's our job, of course. But I know that even as she's overwhelmed right now by all the details of fund-raising, getting her shots, having all the paperwork in place for her visa, working on the music stuff, she's pressing on intentionally and prayerfully. She is certain--certain of His calling, and certain He won't let her drop.

One more meal out with my family, where SK shared more information, and we got to hold and squeeze one of our newest members (he's a smiley little sweetie!). Then we scattered to 7 different cars and drove away from a glorious weekend of celebration.

Grumpy would have loved every bit of it.


Thursday, April 16, 2015

Alz-hammered (a repost)

One of the tasks on my plate for Grampie's memorial service was requested even before Grampie died. Beve wanted me to read through all the posts I've written about Grampie since I started this blog and copy them into a document for family and friends who might not be constant (or even infrequent) readers of this blog. And, because I'm a faithful wife, I took to this task like a certain Springer Spaniel takes to our bed every night. That is, I leapt to it! I was only a little daunted to discover I've written about my beloved father-in-law 243 times in the last 6+ years.

I finally finished reading through 'Grampie' posts a couple days ago. I had 97 pages worth of size 12 font. Yikes! I don't think that's exactly what Beve had in mind. So last night I started culling them down further. Some of them are redundant. Some of them are extremely funny but perhaps a little personal. And some...well, he looks like the prince he always was, but others in the story (namely me) might have been frogs! So I'm still slicing and dicing. We'll see where we get to by tomorrow. I still have all two whole days, right?

Anyway, in honor of him and the work I'm doing, I thought I'd repost one of my favorite posts. It's the first time he used a word we came to use from then on about his condition, so bears repeating. It's from just April 23, 2010, and that symmetry of being almost exactly five years ago seems fitting to me.

Yesterday was another marathon trip to a doctor with the elders.  Grampie's return neurologist appointment.  When all was said and done, the answer was clear.  The doctor was quickly but thoroughly going over the results of the tests, aiming his words mostly towards me when Grampie cut through to say, "So have I been Alz-hammered?"  I started chuckling.  Exactly! I thought.  Like a giant hammer came down on his head (wow, suddenly I'm singing "Maxwell's silver hammer!"), creating holes everywhere.  Alz-hammered.  The answer to Grampie's question is yes, all indications are that this is very likely what we're dealing with.  And I say we because Alzheimer's, more than most diseases, affects a whole family.

We've suspected this for a long time, of course.  Well before they moved here we thought there was something amiss, tried to tell him/them so, and they decided he "just needs to concentrate more."  "Think, Roger, think!" Thyrza says over and over. But since they've been in town, our suspicions have become certainties.  We know, we've seen these things before.  Everything's all too familiar, too sadly familiar.

What isn't familiar is this:
On the way home from the doctor, with Thyrza in the backseat, Grampie said, "It doesn't bother me to have Alzheimers."
"It doesn't?" I asked.  "Why is that?"
 "I'm 86 years old," he said. "I've already outlived most of my compadres.  Something's going to get me one of these days.  So it might as well be this."
"Well, Grampie," I said. "Then I'll tell you what the doctor wouldn't bring himself to say outright--you do have it."
"I know it," he nodded.  Then he drifted off for a nap in the sun.  Unfazed by it.  Content as a cat. 

As I drove on home, I thought of a conversation I'd had with my mother about 5 or 6 years ago, when she was first being tentatively diagnosed with Alzheimers (always so dang tentatively, which may make the process more painful (just put your money down on a spot and make an educated guess, doctors, please! If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, isn't it a duck?  An Alzheimer's duck?).  My mother was a puddle of pain in her living room.  Crying, worrying, fearful pain.  The idea of losing her mind seemed the most horrible thing she could imagine.  And almost nothing I said that day could pierce her fear.

And I have to say, the memory of her reaction made me push all of us to keep Grampie from having to face this.  I didn't think there was any point in putting him through it.  Didn't want to go through it myself.  But I'd completely overlooked two critical issues.  The first is that my mother was only in her early 70s when she first began dealing with the kinds of memory losses that Grampie has now.  When she sat in a room with a neurologist hearing about Alzheimers, she was dozen years younger than he is.  That's a huge difference.  Not just in quantity of years but in quality of life.  Her body was far more healthy at 73 than his is at 86.  Obviously.  Shoot, her body, even with no brain left in it, is healthier at 79 than his is at 86. A world of difference between them.

But a bigger world of difference is the difference between their core personalities.  I've never seen my father-in-law shed a tear.  Never seen him throw a fit of anger.  Never even heard him yell.  He has the steady-as-they-come gene that has passed to Beve and from Beve to E.  Why on earth would I have expected him to respond to this diagnosis in a non-characteristic way?  It just isn't in him.  The doctor remarked yesterday that even as we spoke of his declining mental acuities, he just sat there smiling and nodding. "I don't see many patients as calm as you," he said. "Does what she's (meaning me) saying bother you?" "Nope," said Grampie.  "Just telling the truth."

I've used this example before, and suspect I will again, but bear with me, because it fits soooo perfectly.  When you knock into a cup of water, what spills out is...water.  Whatever is in the cup when pressure is applied against it is what spills out.  And when pressure is applied against our lives, what is really within us spills out.  Not what we'd like to have in us, not what we think should be within us, but what is actually in us.  I think that the vicissitudes of age bear this out as well as anything else.  The older we get, the more like ourselves we get. Does that make sense?  We stop being able to fake it, I mean.  Too much pressure--too many infirmities, inabilities, whatever--is applied against our lives.  And whatever we are, whatever is truly in us, is bound to spill out.

It makes me bend my knees, knowing this.  Makes me want to empty myself of me, more and more and more.  Because I know that left to myself what will spill out of me will be--is--pretty pretty ugly.  Selfish. Controlling. More like my mom than Beve's dad. So, the more of Him there is filling me, the more of Him there is spilling out.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Death and taxes

That's what we're thinking about this week: death and taxes. I chuckle to think of it. We've been so blasted busy with life that we put off working on our taxes until this week, when we have Grampie's memorial service staring us in the face. So here we are, a living, breathing cliche'.

The adage goes (as quoted first by Benjamin Franklin), "In this world, nothing can be said to be certain except death and taxes." I've heard that in movies, read it in books, listened to people gripe the unquestionable truth of it. And every single time, I've thought, "NOT even close!"

You know where I'm going with this, but wait for it, okay?

First, let me say that until this year, Beve and I have never actually had to PAY taxes in April. We've always had children in our home or in college or dependent. But this year, none of those things apply. So we join the vast majority of adults who pay money to Caesar, so to speak. I have no problem with this, to tell the truth. I might wish our taxes weren't so high but I don't mind contributing to make our country run--roads, education and national parks better, for instance. It's a citizen's responsibility as much as voting is.  It's also my right to question when the money we pay ISN'T working toward the ends that we believe are good. It's OUR country, isn't it?

And I also have no problem with the truth that death is certain. That's kind of a "Well, duh!" statement, isn't it? But just thought I'd clarify that the two parts of Franklin's famous quote are indeed fair and true.

But they aren't the only truths. What about sunrises? Tides? That spring follows winter and autumn follows summer? What about love? What about the need of humans for food and sleep and comfort? Yes, make exceptions for one of these and I'll give you exceptions for taxes. And trust me, there are loopholes. Human truths have far more loopholes than nature does.

"I AM the TRUTH," Jesus said.
I AM THAT I AM, said the one who spoke at the burning bush.

This is the one certainty. HE IS. This ontological statement of being reduces every other truth to ash. He stands and IS. We can count on that.

This week, while Beve and I prepare taxes and a memorial service, this is what we know, this Truth upon Truth--that HE is TRUTH.  Everything He says, we can trust. That's what it means that He's truth. His word stands. His love is constant and never fails. He will not falter. He will never leave or forsake us. NOTHING can separate us from Him--NOTHING.

In the midst of all that the world throws at us, hold on to that.

Hallelujah!

Friday, April 10, 2015

What's inside

Beve's Finnish brother and wife have been here for the last week and will be with us for most of the month. In the middle of their visit we'll celebrate Grampie's life with a memorial service we've been thinking about for a long time. We had to wait until all the moving parts could land on the same square of geography to have this service, and, even at that, we'll be missing several grandchildren. Sigh.

We took the Finn and wife up to our little place in the mountains overnight. It was a little overwhelming to the quiet Finnish wife. She wasn't sure what she was getting herself into, going off into the mountains. Beve didn't help matters any, with his quirky sense of humor, when he told her that if "three of the four of us make it back alive we'll be lucky." She laughed, but then was too nervous to eat lunch. I kept telling her that she'd like it, that the river would soothe her, and the cabin would be nicer than she could imagine. Beve helpfully showed her the picture of the front, but that DIDN'T help (not surprising, the front ISN'T its best feature!).

But then we got there. Got out of the car, breathed in the fresh air, opened the cabin (with the hidden key because--of course, we'd forgotten ours! That didn't help either!), and she walked in. Walked straight through the cabin, out onto the deck and looked out at the river. She was charmed. Beve pulled out our camping chairs and the two Finns sat out on that deck facing the river for a long time, listening to it roar over the rocks, watching it swirl and pool and marveling and the clear brilliance of a high mountain stream. Beve and I put things away, bustled around our little place, and laughed together. There's something about that river.

There's something about expectations, too, I think. About fears and expectations, perhaps I should say. What we'd described about our little cabin on the river worried our Finnish guest. This happens to me at times too. Sometimes my life mirrors this to a dizzying degree. God whispers something to me. But it's only a small piece. He asks me to trust Him that what He has for me is beautiful and better than I can imagine. A place completely suited for me. But I get the wrong picture in my head. Why is it that I think God--the God who loved so much we actually got Easter because of that LOVE--would lead me to something miserable? To a place that wouldn't be good for me? Right for me? What does that say about how I trust Him? How much faith I have in Him?

What if I could really, always take Him at His word? "Come on, Carolyn. Get in with me. We're going this way, and it's going to be the best adventure of your life?" Maybe that adventure would look like our cabin--not so glamorous from the front, but oh, what's inside. And oh, the view!

Isn't this what life with Him is really like when you think about it? We aren't so much to look at, maybe but what's inside. And the view from here: why, I can see to all eternity!

Friday, April 3, 2015

A real date

Good Friday, 2015

By sheer fact of the calendar, today falls on one of the two dates historians believe Jesus was actually put to death in AD 30 (the other is April 7th). It's a rather long-winded, complicated historical argument to get to these dates, involving how many Passovers are mentioned in the gospels, whether the last supper was actually the passover meal (the synoptics say yes, John seems to imply otherwise) and how things were dated in the Roman world. Let's leave the stuffy historians to argue those things, though, and imagine that this WAS the actual date Jesus of Nazareth went to his chilling, gruesome, (temporarially) ignoble death.

We're used to a roving Good Friday. We're used to Resurrection and the Friday before being connected to the size of the moon overhead and the surge of the tides beyond our shores. This is one crazy way of doing things, if you think about it. Incarnate God came to earth, lived a real (often dusty) life among us, allowed Himself to die FOR us, and we celebrate that absolute truth whenever the moon and mother nature tell us we should. REALLY? When all the while, all these centuries, there's been an actual date on which He died.

Let's not forget that.
That's what I say. Let's NEVER forget that He actually died. That April 3rd (or Nisan 14), AD 30, Jesus Christ died. Or maybe Nisan 15. April 7th. My point is, He was a real man with fingernails and toenails that grew and needed clipping, a beard that needed shaving, teeth that got cavities, a stomach that got hungry, feet that got tired and undoubtedly cracked from walking around in sandals all the time. He lived in tough times and He was a real man.

And when He was whipped, His back bled. And those were rough beams, not sanded smooth. There would have been no point to that, of course. No, they were just cut pieces of raw wood, and He lifted them with hands not calloused from physical labor (at least not in the last three years) onto a back torn to shreds. Did He get splinters? Maybe.

But the heaviest part of that April 3rd wasn't the march up that steep hill to Golgotha. It wasn't any of what had happened that long night. Not the disciples dispersing like a bunch of chickens in the yard, not the standing before the Sanhedrin or hearing the crowd call for a different man to be released. This was the Incarnate. He had long since turned His face toward this moment. It was for this He came. But that April 3rd, AD 30, sometime in the morning, while He was hanging on the cross, God withdrew.

And then...all the weight of all the sin of all the world settled onto, into the person of Jesus Christ.
Stop a moment and let that thought settle in you.
Does it make you squirm?
It does me.
I don't quite know what to do with it, to tell the truth.
I can't even comprehend it.
Sometimes scholars talk about how short the time Jesus was on the cross. The seven sayings, the way most people lasted many hours longer. But no one else ever had to lift the world as they lifted their bodies to try to breathe. No one else was bearing the hearts of the lost in their chests as they struggled for every heart beat. That He lasted any time at all is a miracle. That He could speak the words He did is our gift. That He forgave His accusers...that He forgave the world in that moment.
As I say, I can't comprehend it.

We were won that day. Yes, I know, I know it's about resurrection. And believe me, I don't lose sight of that for an instant. But today, this April 3, 2015, I want to stop at the cross and simply look at Him.

And maybe learn to live my life in light of that.