Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Finding Joy in an Ordinary World Celebrates 1000 Ausome Things #AutismPositivity2013″



For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Psalm 139:13

I am here at my desk this morning, early-early, thinking about what to post.  What to say.  I've read my daily scripture and I don't really want to write about the kings of Judah and Israel - the ones who walked with the Lord, and the ones who didn't.  Fascinating, yes - I even read some of the commentaries and 'lessons' attached.  But Joy-worthy - not today.

I read the latest post on A Deeper Story - one of the blogs I recommend.  It was a well-written post tying music to the passing of a daughter - a daughter with special needs.  Someone shared by the mom writing the paragraphs - someone who loved music and spread joy.  I get that.  My daughter does that.  And I could feel that mother's love, and her 'missing' through the words.  I understand.  She mentions going through the valley of the shadow - I've been there - different circumstances not tied to the death of a child - but I've been there.  I know.  I am thankful for this mother's comfort, for her words, for her view.

I can't write about that either.  It's been done.  Then I looked at another blog - The Third Glance -written by a young woman with autism.  I didn't know.  There's a call for postings about the 'ausome' in autism.  Here's something.

I met Katy when I was bringing my daughter - my daughter with Downs Syndrome - to the youth group on post at Fort Hood for the first time.  The youth leader was confident that she would be fine.  "We have special needs," she said, "we even have a youth with autism."  Of course, I recognized that Katy was 'the one' on sight.  She was wearing a t-shirt - I forget the exact saying - that proclaimed something about the wearer being autistic.

My daughter wears her disability on her face.  There are unique facial features associated with the syndrome - epicanthic folds on the eyelids, a small nose with a flat bridge, low muscle tone which can result in a protruding tongue....  But here was something different.  This high-schooler was advertising her uniqueness on her t-shirt - proclaiming to the world her difference.  How brave, I thought.  How refreshing.  

Over time, I got to know the whole family.  Two teenagers with autism - a young man, Kurt, and his older sister, Katy.  Katy always brought her bible to chapel and sat in the front.  The better to answer the rhetorical questions in the sermon.  I loved to hear her no-nonsense, straightforward, biblically-correct answers.  She was usually right on - and held our chaplain to a pretty high standard of more practicality and less fru-fru.  Katy's brother sat in the back of the chapel, with his mom and an electronic device.  He was usually plugged in - headphones on, fingers and thumbs playing.  Dad played recorder in the praise band - he was in the perfect position to keep an eye on everyone.

The youth group grew and I found myself sitting with these parents while our kids did their youth thing.  I guess we were always in a position of seeing the social pieces.  Kurt stayed in the back for the most part, pacing - it was a loud group of kids and the fact that he was in the same room said a lot for his wanting to fit and belong.  Katy brought a bag of books.  She liked to stay in the middle of the group - she could distance herself as needed by reading.  My daughter - she yearned to be part of the clique in the middle - the social movers.  She was happy when they gave her a moment's attention.

It was hard, as parents, to see our kids - hovering on the edges of this dynamic group of typically developing youth.  Katy and Kurt's parents had no other kids.  My daughter was also an only child.  It was hard for us to keep from projecting our own social needs and wants onto our children.  It is so easy for us, who know our children, to see their core values and strengths.  It is so easy, for those who don't know our children, to only see their surface actions.  My daughter's hugs and smiles come from a deep place of acceptance and joy.  Katy's no-nonsense answers come from a deep place of intelligence, moral strength, and self-esteem.  Kurt's pacing and electronics come from a deep place of inner conversation and thought.

I remember hearing a parent once, explain how he was a little bit insulted by the term special needs, used for his daughter.  He explained that she really had the same needs as everyone else: the need for food, clothing, shelter, mental stimulation, and love.  The need for social interaction.  Needs that we all have.  His daughter just had a few extra needs.  She needed some different circumstances in order to access the others - a wheelchair, someone to help her with grooming.... She learned at a different rate, but she learned.  She communicated, but differently.  She was differently abled - not dis-abled.

There was a line from the movie Avatar that resonated with me.  I see you.  It was used as a greeting, as a phrase of respect - an understanding.  I know you - I understand you.   I see your challenges and your spirit - I see your strength and your courage.   I know you - I undertand you.  Sometimes, my daughter and I meet someone who actually does see her.  I have learned to value those people - especially.  They are gifts in our lives.

Like our kids.  Like Katy and Kurt.  Like my daughter.  I love this family of differently-abled young adults.  They are gifts in our lives.  Katy is going to college - to study accounting.  Kurt is working toward expertise in technology. Their parents are superheroes - navigating that narrow channel of advocacy for them and teaching them to advocate for themselves - surrounding them with support, seeing the big picture in the long haul - looking forward, always forward toward to a time when others will see their children as they do.  Looking forward to a time when others step up to fill the gaps of needs and extra needs.  Looking forward to a time when all children truly move from where they are to where they need to be in order to live a successful, contributing life - no complaints, no battles, just a can-do attitude and willingness.  Looking forward... always.  I think that's pretty darned ausome.


Monday, April 29, 2013

#TellHisStory: Coffee Time Lessons



"I am the Alpha and the Omega,” 
says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, 
and who is to come, the Almighty."  
Revelations 1:8

"It is 29 today,"  My daughter and I were sharing coffee in the office again this morning.

"Mmm...Twenty-nine, what?"

A smile crept onto her face.  "April.  It is 29.  Tomorrow is April 30."

"Yes," I said, after a quick check of my desktop calendar.  "Today is April 29th; tomorrow is the 30th."

Bigger smile, on her face and in her voice...  "May 1st, tomorrow..."

I love the way she thinks, sometimes.  She really does understand the passage of days and days of the week.  She gets that there's a day after tomorrow, and a day before yesterday.  But those are either details she doesn't want to waste her time with, or something between the thinking and the saying gets confused and comes out wrong.  I know what she's working her way up to - in this conversation.  Her birthday is in May.  She's been telling us that her birthday is getting closer.  Telling us on a daily basis - morning and night.  I'm guessing that birthday is pretty important to her...

"No, honey.  It's April 30th tomorrow.  May is the day after tomorrow.  But it's coming..."

Just when I think her smile can't get any bigger...

She starts counting on her fingers.  "April, May, June - "

Oops!  She passed right by that birthday month.

"July, August, September."  And she stops and looks at me.  "Kali and Rachel - babies in September."

Oh my!  It's not her birthday this morning.  It's anticipation for her cousin and my friend.  They are going to have babies in September.  Exciting for them, and apparently exciting for my daughter.  Something to look forward to - something to count time for.  Like birthdays.

My daughter teaches me so much.  When the calendar date and the simple passage of days, just counting forward, brings a smile to someone's face, as it does hers, then it seems to me she holds a kind of secret.  Maybe I can learn that secret, learn to enjoy these moments - even enjoy dates as they march by - toward something exciting.  It's not really as much a countdown, as it is a countoff.  This day is here, tomorrow is next, and then, according to my daughter, tomorrow again...

I wonder, sometimes, about God and time.  Time kind of fascinates me - the concept of moving forward or backward in time - the idea of multiple timelines.  I've had just enough physics and calculus to get myself in trouble trying to-kind-of-sort-of understand the theory behind a sum of histories - how multiple possibilities can all exist at the same moment -  I think God exists in all the possibilities.  I think His nature is way beyond our ability to understand - He lives out of time - out of physical space and distance - out of the rules and regulations of science.  Faith is our connection to God's reality.  Faith that what we can't and don't understand, still occurs.  Still exists.   Like my daughter's tomorrow.  And the day after.

Amazingly, God - this awesome God who exists in all possibilities - speaks to us.  Through prophets, through scripture, through circumstance and whispers.  Through the words of our children.  He lets us know that we can look forward to something.  Something exciting.  Something that's worth a countoff.  Not a countdown; we don't know when it's coming - but it will be here.  Before we know it.  And in the meantime - He gives us little gifts - every day.  We can enjoy the moments...the dates as they go by.  Like my daughter does.

Thank you, God, for the gift of days and moments.  Help me to find the joy in them;  help me to look forward with anticipation and excitement.

Again - from the Archives
Linking with Jennifer at TellHisStory, and Beth at Three Word Wednesday


Friday, April 26, 2013

Our Right Condition




The Legend of the Dogwood

When Christ was on earth, the dogwood grew
To a towering size with a lovely hue.

Its branches were strong and interwoven
For the cross of Christ its timbers were chosen. 

Being distressed at the use of this wood
Christ made a promise which still holds good: 

"Never again shall the dogwood grow 
Large enough to be used so 

Slender & twisted, it shall be 
With blossoms like the cross for all to see. 

As blood stains the petals marked in brown 
The blossom's center wears a thorny crown. 

All who see it will remember me 
Crucified on a cross from the dogwood tree. 

Cherished and protected this tree shall be 
A reminder to all of my agony."


The first ones I remember seeing, were outside of our kitchen window in New Jersey.   Between the house and the hedges, they created a blossom-filled canopy - fraternal twins of white and pink.  Dogwoods.  I loved them then; I love them still.  

So, I was thinking about dogwoods as I was walking out to the end of my driveway today.   We have about five of them in our little woods between the house and the road.  I wasn't sure if we had any when we moved in, because it was Fall and the beautiful blossoms I had so loved from my childhood had long dropped.  The four-petaled flowers that distinguished the tree for my eyes, from my memory, that sit - eager-to-please - on top of the spreading limbs were gone.  I wouldn't recognize the trunk, or the shape of the fall-colored leaves.  I didn't know if we had any dogwoods.  But I hoped.

I remember driving through Missouri one Spring, on the way to my parent's home.  There were woods lining the roads.  The leaves had not yet opened completely - the trees were still in that should-I-or-shouldn't-I stage of budding too early.  But I remember the dogwoods.  Peeking through the trees - like the forest was showing its undergarments to passersby.  Perfectly placed.  Lacy, delicate, ruffly and white.  They reminded me of anticipation, of looking forward, of the promise of green things to come - Spring and then Summer.

I was still thinking about dogwoods as I was walking back from the end of my driveway today.  The few that we have look lacy, delicate, ruffly and white.  I was wondering how they can be so showy with those beautiful white blossoms, those cross-shaped, thorny-crown-in-the-center four-pointed petals - when they are placed beneath the shadow of taller trees.  Don't they need the light?  I looked it up - googled it.  "In the wild the dogwood is commonly found as an understory tree growing under hardwoods and pines. Growth problems are more likely in hot, dry exposures. On the other hand, planting in dense shade will likely result in poor flowering."  So, yes, they need light - but in moderation - as an understory tree.

Hmm... Here's the thing.  With too much light and heat, dogwoods die.  It was too much for the Israelites when they were exposed to God in Exodus - On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.  Exodus 19:16-17.  God, in all his glory was too much sun for them. 

With dense shade, dogwoods do not do well.  Like us.  It is when a person walks at night that they stumble, for they have no light.  John 11:10.  

But dogwood trees do flourish in a variety of places.  Like us.  With the right conditions.

Jesus is our right condition.

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
John 8:12

God in heaven, thank you for Jesus.  Thank you for your light, that came down to us, that comes down to us - your truth, your life, and your way.  And God, thank you for dogwoods.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

Six Degrees



Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.
Philippians 4:8

I was watching traffic at a busy intersection -  cars, trucks, pedestrians - stopping and going, stopping and going in that city-rhythm imposed by red, green and yellow lights.  I saw pedestrians gather - waiting for the Walk image to appear.  Three lanes coming, three lanes going, a lane in the middle for turning - fill and release in regulated lines.  Like blood cells pushing their way from great arteries to small,  funneling through those single-cell-width capillaries to their important delivery/pickup destinations.  Fill and release.

It fascinated me.  Thinking about all of the lives - the full, complicated lives - represented by each of the vehicles.  Thinking about the comings and goings of the people at the intersection.  Together for a moment - for a red-light pause - then gone, travelling to their important delivery/pickup destinations.  Strangers.  Passing through.

I imagined the spider-web connections between them - crossing at points of commonality.  Some lives are bound to share the same space at the same time, lives regulated by implacable schedules.  It looks linear; vehicles pass or follow the same vehicles days after day.  Work and school - ebb and flow.  Passengers nod and wave - no names - nod and wave to familiar faces.

And then there is another kind of intersection - it looks circular.  Not influenced by a circumstance of meeting at the intersection - but rather by the ever-expanding rings of intimate acquaintance to social acquaintance to what is referred to as consequential strangers.

Oh brother!  I watch traffic, start thinking, and find myself smack-dab in the middle of the realm of social theory.  Believe it or not, there is a theory out there, a theory about how our world is shrinking.  Not physically.  Not in terms of population size.  Shrinking socially.  The theory says that everyone in the world is a mere six steps away from anyone else in the world.  Six degrees of separation by way of social introduction.  It's a chain theory - based on increasing social connectedness.  I like that.

Here's the thing.  I write everyday - to an invisible audience of people I don't know.  My words.  My thoughts.  I don't know if anyone is even reading what I write - but the words, the thoughts, are out there.  In cyberspace.  Available.  And that audience is six or fewer steps away from being in my social circle.  The funny thing is, I feel responsible to that invisible, possibly non-existent audience.  Everyday I choose between a myriad of topics.  Everyday I try to show the positive.  I am purposeful in trying to find joy - like the title - the joy in this not-so-ordinary world. Because with joy, this world becomes extraordinary.  In our choices, in our purpose, in our vision - this world is anything but ordinary.  It's biblical.  I like that.

Thank you, God, for helping me to see joy.  Continue to help me find the true, the noble, the pure, the lovely, the praiseworthy, the admirable.  

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Season of Singing


Flowers appear on the earth;
the season of singing has come,
Song of Solomon 2:12

Season of Singing

If I invented color
I would make a flaming pink
So intense
It would burn
Through the green.

It would burst
Out of buds
Nestled
In cool hands
Of spring leaves.

Flamboyant ruffles, 
Delicately veined petals
Proudly strutting
Through hidden
Branches.

If I invented color
I would make a flaming pink -
A party
On a bush.
A season of singing!


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Storm


God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways;
He does great things beyond our understanding.
He says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’
And to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’
So that everyone he has made may know his work.
Job 37:5-7

It rained again.  The weather reports were all over it - news about being under a tornado watch - severe thunderstorms.  Warm amoebic colors - red, orange, yellow - wound their way around the map on the television.  Counties and towns scrolled across the bottom of the screen.  Take shelter, take care.  It's coming.  Wind and water.  Coming our way.

We drove through it, my daughter and I, on our way home from meeting new friends - new friends with her syndrome, her age.  New friends for me - other parents - friendly, caring, knowledgeable.  On our way home from a good time with good people.  Through a storm.  Lightening flashed across the sky - long threads splintering against the blackness.  Beautiful.  Dangerous.  Headlights reflected on the pavement; painted lane lines disappeared in the water and reflection.  Trees swayed.  Big trees - rocked and swayed - bending with the gusts of wind.  The storm passed us, traveling north as we headed south.  Home.  To shelter.  Safety and sleep.

Morning felt like rebirth.  Air scrubbed clean by wind and water; it felt heavy, saturated.  The grass, a wet, thick, velvet carpet of deep green, was crowned with diamond droplets of moisture.  Trees stood proudly, taller than before the storm, pruned by the wind, pruned of dead branches, trunks darkened in contrast to the multitude hues of green leaves.

We drove through it, my daughter and I, on our way to a community event - a 5K sponsored by my school.  Through the aftermath.  Trees were down in places, laying across the ground with great rootballs and clinging mud.  Branches lay like litter - in the yards, on the road, in the parking lots.  The temperature had dropped.  It was cool, refreshingly cool, and the sky was clearing, and the sun was coming out.  A good day for community.

I took pictures before the race.  Pictures of flowers and trees - the growing things - the green things - the colorful-spring things.  The tulips bravely held their raggedness up to the new morning sun - torn by the storm - petals strewn on the ground below.  Grace, redemption, healing.  Azaleas shyly opened impossibly-colored buds - a party of brilliant blossoms.  Saturated, satiated, full.  The air, the earth, had been cleansed, made new.  They had been drawn through the wind and the rain, pulled through the storm - like sheep through a valley... And they had survived - strengthened.  It felt like rebirth.  Beautiful.  Dangerous.

Heavenly Father, thank you for taking us through the storms in our lives.  Thank you for rebirth. Remake us - beautiful and dangerous - your children for your glory.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

Azalea Red


She is clothed with strength and dignity;
She can laugh at the days to come.
She speaks with wisdom,
and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
Proverbs 31:25-26

I found myself thinking about you as I painted my nails this morning.  The first painting of the year - a beautiful azalea red.  It reminded me of your signature color - when you would pull your bottle of nail polish out of your purse during our break.  A little bottle of not-quite-red, not-quite-pink - the perfect complement to your skin.  You would pull that little bottle out and twist it open.  The brush filled with the glorious shade - shiny and smooth.  Your concentration evident, you spread your hand and stroked each nail, as you spoke of children, learning, God, and life.  Stroked each nail lovingly, carefully, the polish clinging to the perfectly oval beds.  And your words over all - calm, comforting - wise words born of difficult experience and joy.

You spoke of raising your children, your boys-now-men, and how you had embraced your role of mother-father.  You taught them respect for women, for their elders, and you infused in them self-respect and confidence in who they were.  Who they are.  Strong.  Successful.  Compassionate.  

And it was hard.  You - who wanted to break down - could only cling to your own strength - could only pray for more strength.  No tears. Lots of prayers.  And stamina.  Alone in your room, when you whispered in the darkness Am I doing right?  When you longed to beg God for respite.  But you didn't.  Because you knew this raising of your sons, this life you were leading, was required - and you were obedient.

You, the child who had cared for your family when your own parents had to work.  You, the rebellious, defiant child - the feisty one, who wanted to tell the world what you really thought.  You made the decision to move your family across the country.  You made the decision to settle in a place without roots - because it offered a better life for your sons.  And you made it a better life for yourself.  You found work.  You spread that tough love of yours into the classroom.  Into many classrooms.  You found a church, a community.  You allowed people into your story - you allowed me into your story.

You should know how profoundly you influenced me - during those precious talks we had during our breaks together.  I saw a strong woman.  An attractive woman.  A woman who took care of herself - emotionally and physically.  I admired your sense of style.  I admired the thoughtful way you put your words together - saying the hard, necessary things kindly, purposefully.  Oh!  I wish I could learn to show your restraint - that restraint you don't think you have - that ability to not say the things that won't change a situation, the things that will just cause hurt and confusion.  I admire your wisdom.  I admire your absolute faith in God - your absolute love of Jesus.  

I am thinking about you, as I polish my nails this morning.  You should know how valuable you are - how important you are.  You polish lives, like that beautiful signature shade, of the people you meet, the children you teach, your coworkers, and your friends.  I am proud to call you friend.  I miss you.

Heavenly Father, thank you for leading me to this special friendship.  I miss my friend, and I know she's not done going through difficult times.  Continue to infuse her with your wisdom, and your strength.  Comfort her.  Today, I lift up my friend to you - let her choose joy.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Ecclesiastes



He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
Ecclesiastes 3:11

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?  The short answer is Yes - because sound is quantifiable.  It is a mechanical wave that is an oscillation of pressure transmitted through a solid, liquid, or gas, composed of frequencies ... The long answer is No - the rest of the definition says ...within the range of hearing.   If the sound is not actually heard, then it doesn't exist.  Interesting.

The English language labels males and females as he and she.  Romance languages take that a step further - nouns are either masculine or feminine.  A little bit of unofficial research shows that there are languages without any male/female distinction.  Everything is it.  On the other side of the spectrum, are languages with more than he/she/it - with animacy markers.  When I was first studying a foreign language, I found it kind of entertaining to think of a cough as a she, but a sneeze is a he - chickens and cows are female, horses and pigs are male.  Who decides these things?  What does it say about the culture of the language?  Is English just cut and dry - if it's not alive, it has no gender - it just gets...cut?  Ouch!  The real question is - if gender is or isn't in the language...the description - is it in the culture?

Thank-you to Google search.  Ask a question and you shall find an answer.  Again, I've done enough scholarly research to understand that this is VERY unofficial.  But intriguing.  Here's one answer:

In Indo-european languages, masculine nouns are descended from agent nouns - things that do things. Feminine nouns are descended from adjectival nouns - things that are something. However, the meanings of words have changed so much in the past five thousand years that the distinction has become obscure. The words for female and male humans take after the nouns, not the other way round, so it's basically because women tended to be thought of in terms of their attributes and men in terms of what they did.

Sometimes, it does make a difference. For instance, in Danish the word "ore" (with a crossed-out O that i don't know how to type) means a kind of coin in one gender but an ear in another. Similarly, in French "un calculateur" is someone who calculates but "une calculatrice" is a pocket calculator.

In other languages, for example Arabic and Hebrew, the gender has other characteristics. In Hebrew, objects that naturally come in pairs such as eyes and shoes are feminine. This is similar to the tendency in English to describe single objects which are in some way doubled as if they were plural, such as trousers, scissors and glasses.

Like I said.  Intriguing.  So now my question is - if your language doesn't give you the ability to describe something, does it exist?  I have been told that the Inuit have nine different words for snow.  I don't know of nine different kinds of snow.  I know wet snow, powder, crusty snow, dirty snow, clumpy snow.... I don't think I can name nine... Does that mean the other four don't really exist? Because I don't recognize them?  That doesn't seem right - it exists for the Inuit...

I have heard that people who lost their eyesight, then had it restored, had to relearn how to see.  Contact lenses are being used that correct near vision in one eye, and far vision in the other.  The trick is to learn the two types of vision.  The translators in the brain have to be taught to understand what the optic nerve is sending.  In some ways, that makes sense.  Try to imagine seeing as a newborn - colors and shapes, lines and movement - without the labels, the words - to categorize and understand.  We see perspective - depth and distance - we see three-dimensions on two-dimensional surfaces.  People who have been raised with curves don't perceive the depth in the same way - they see lines at angles that are exactly that - lines at angles.  Does distance, then, not exist?  Until we learn to see it?  Ask our legs on a long walk, or our separated families...

Perception.  Description.  Conclusion.  Related.

I am enjoying Ecclesiastes.  The Teacher.  Wanderings, ramblings, observations, advice.  Perception. Description.  Conclusion.  The book is definitely not the do-all, end-all.  King Solomon, wise as he was, was still a man.  But this book is a window.  An eye into a man, into a life, into meaning, into God.  There are ways and there are ways to look at the things in this world - to describe them - the its, the whos, the whats, the hows, the whys, the hes, and the shes.  Surface.  Observe.  Describe - Language - what do you see?  What do you hear, smell, taste, touch?  What about beneath the surface?  Depths.  Perceive - what do you feel?  Where are your emotions?  How is your soul?  What pulls at your heart?  Culture - our beliefs, our standards, our religion, our instructions for living.

God has set eternity into our hearts - Hmm...describe that.

I can't.  Not with words.  What I know is that the thought of God's eternity in my heart gives me peace, puts me at ease.  No one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  Again - language only describes the not-knowing... Words fail.  But culture doesn't fail.  Theology 101 - He is God, I'm not.  I am absolutely ok with giving this plan thing - this control - over to Him.  I don't have to describe every little detail.  I don't have to understand and explain every little question.

I can wonder.  I can marvel.  I can stand in awe of my Maker and my King.  Life will go on - people will be born; they will die.  They will live.  I can look forward to God's plan - to His timing. Ecclesiastes...everything in its season.  Selah.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Do I Get to Choose?



How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
1 Corinthians 7:16

So many things rushing through my mind.  Images.  Snapshots.  Snippets of songs, videos, visual/audio clips.  Words.  Kind of a kaleidoscope of thoughts - look through the lens - scraps of color and shape.  Turn and the scraps become a quilt, a pattern, a stained-glass window.  Turn and they move - change - reform - reorganize - repattern.  Endless design, endless thoughts, endless outcomes to endless decisions.

Today I saw a video on Facebook.  A video about self-image.  You can see it here.  I recognized myself.  Not literally, I wasn't part of the making of this video.  Figuratively.  How many times do I look in the mirror and only see what I consider my faults?  How many times to I push and tug at wrinkles and bulges.  Pull to stretch things out that were smooth thirty years ago.  My head knows that I'm getting older, my heart knows it doesn't matter.  It's a struggle.  Outer - what I see, what others see, versus inner - how I feel, how I act, how I think.  And the people around us - the people who know us - see that inner us.

The woman fussed at her clothes, pulling the gathers to the back, adjusting the scarf.  She loosened the belt to sit lower on her waist.   Her brow furrowed at her husband in the mirror; she tugged again at the waist that was a little too tight.  She was getting to that decision point in her weight  - eat less, exercise more, or give it up and start buying a new wardrobe.  Ugh.

One last flip of the hair, turn and check out the back...she continued the turn to face her man - her partner and best friend.  

"You look fine."  She could see it in his eyes - appreciation, admiration - a little bit of that come hither thing she got such a kick out of.  "You look better with a little more umpff on you," he put his hands on her shoulders, purposely eyeing down, then up, stopping at her eyes and smiling.  "Really.  You look healthy."

She shrugged his hands away.  She was never going to see her goal if he kept this up.  Couldn't he tell how unhappy she was with this body - this lumpy-extra-chin-cottage-cheese ick?  The weight had been slowly gaining on her for the past couple of years, but she hadn't really noticed the difference in her clothes until recently.  It was like everything had just - pouf - exploded out on her.  Another ugh.

"You don't really listen to me," her husband was talking again.  "I see it in your face."  Now he had his hands on her waist, turning her back to him.  Intimate space.  Close.  "I know, you think you're fat - I'm telling you, you aren't."  He tilted her chin up.  "You are beautiful - just as beautiful on the outside as you are on the inside.  And I love you."  He kissed her - a quick good-morning peck - just a brush of the lips.  "And I want you."  He kissed her again - longer this time - lingering.

She smiled.  "Then I'm either going to need a new wardrobe, or I'm going to have to go naked - because these clothes don't fit..."  She was enjoying the attention - undeserved - but nice.

He laughed.  "Do I get to choose?"

I have a friend in Texas who is stunningly beautiful.  I don't think I'd like her very much - just out of jealousy - if she weren't so darned nice.  Her inner beauty shines from her - it shines from that God-place inside of her that holds Jesus delicately and reverently.  She is one of those people who become lovelier over time - more beautiful in the knowing.

My eyes see a different me than my heart sees - than you see.  Unless we are only looking at the surface - we end up seeing a person's heart.  Through that God-place, the one that holds Jesus delicately and reverently.  You know, God made us in His image - He is beautiful and He is ugly.  He loves us all.  As a teacher, we have pictures taken a couple of times a year.  I remember one, taken a couple of years ago, where my colleague said "Nice picture - they caught your friendliness."

Hmmm...a new wardrobe doesn't sound half bad...

Thank you, God, for my husband, and for men who tell their wives they are pretty.  Help me to shine with your beauty and joy - to live up to the inside - the heart that others see.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Lift Me Up


Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Romans 12:21

But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.
1 Corinthians 1:27

Flood   (Click on the title for the song by Jars of Clay)

Rain, rain on my face
Hasn't stopped raining for days
My world is a flood
Slowly I've become one with the mud

But if I can't swim after forty days
And my mind is crushed by the crashing waves
Lift me up so high that I cannot fall
Lift me, oh, woh

Lift me up when I'm falling
Lift me up, I'm weak and I'm dying
Lift me up, I need You to hold me
Lift me up and keep me from drowning again

Downpour on my soul
Splashing in the ocean, I'm losing control
Dark sky all around
Can't feel my feet touching the ground

Calm the storms that drench my eyes
Dry the streams still flowing
Cast down all the waves of sin
And guilt that overthrow me


Today is a day to share.  I keep thinking about Boston - and I think about other needless, senseless, crazy violence.  Not only in the news, but all over - in movies, books, music, shows - all over. 

Sometimes I feel this violence around me - like rain - incessant, unmerciful - puckering my skin, saturating the air, making it heavy, hard to breathe.  Blurring my vision, dulling my hearing, deadening my touch.  We are all exposed.  

I think back to conversations with my daughter about rain.  How it is good for the plants, for the trees, for us.  I think about the significance of water - cleansing, washing, refreshing - new birth and new life through water.  I think about the Valley of the Shadow of Death and I think about how Jesus calmed the storm, and how God sent a rainbow.

I see the rainbow on the news - on the relentless news about Boston.  I see first responders - coming to the aid of victims.  I hear about runners, exhausted from their race - continuing their personal marathon to give their own life blood - help for the wounded.  I am overwhelmed by a sense of victory - good over evil.  People are gathering to pray, to strengthen, to comfort, to aid.  People are choosing to gather - despite fear - they are choosing to celebrate the living, to honor the dead and injured - despite the not-knowing.  

I know - like Job who surely had a right to feel like a drowning man - I know that my Redeemer lives.  By His blood, I know that evil has been defeated.  In God's time, I know that this violence will be no more.  

But today, in this world - in this time, I walk in the Valley. The Valley of Fear, and Not-Knowing.  The Valley of Unanswered Questions.   The Valley of Downpour On My Soul.  But, Jesus is with me - with all of us.  He leads us through.  With His help, we can overcome evil with good.  With His help, we can be balanced - strong and weak, wise and foolish.  With His help, we will choose joy.

Heavenly Father, thank you for lifting us up, for holding us, for keeping us from drowning.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Green Leaves


 Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.

Ezekiel 47:12

Again with the drive.  When I took this job, I knew I would be in the car awhile, twenty miles each way.  About 30 to 35 minutes.  And I don't mind.  

I don't mind.  First, there's very little traffic.  It's the time of day.  I am fortunate in that I leave my house after early-morning rush hour, and I leave my job before most late-afternoon/evening congestion.  Second, my car is pretty darned comfortable.  I can heat the seat and the steering wheel in the winter, and it has an amazing sound system.  It's not too big and it's not too small; I like it's zip and maneuverability.  Finally, I love the view.

I like looking at houses.  Because the route I take is along county roads and highways, most of the houses are not cookie-cutter development homes.  There's variety.  Brick colonials, shingled capes, stone ranches.  There's one house with some kind of glass-cathedral type of addition, built right next to a stream.  As far as I can tell, the only way into the addition would be through the basement of the house.  By the time I reach the little section of town I work in, the houses have changed to turn-of-the-century victorian, with crenellated details and ginger-bread colors.  It kind of fascinates me, to think of all of the people who live and work - who make decisions about their homes - who get out and mow their yards and plant their flowers.  People with full lives - complete strangers.

I love looking at the trees.  So much of my way is tree-lined - tree-tunneled.  And again, like in the fall, the variety of color amazes me.  Green.  How many shades of green are there?  Mustard-yellow green, aspen green,  florescent spring-green, olive green, forest green, kelly green...shoot, I swear I've even see red-green.  This is my first spring in Virginia, and I feel rich beyond words.  In the last week, I feel like I could just about watch the leaves grow.  One day, buds.  The next day, leaves.  And it's just beginning.  Some trees bloom first - full-color blossoms.  Then they get their leaves.  I am thrilled to see the tall trees - those stately sentinels standing guard in the woods - I am thrilled to see them fill out.  At first, just a hint of green on limbs silhouetted on the sky.  Now, branches still visible, but green-lined with new leaves like little feathery wings. 

Yesterday, when I got home from work and turned the TV on, I watched in horror as the news agencies reported about bombs in Boston.  At the finish line of the Boston Marathon.  Among the spectators - men, women, and children.  The bombs were made for destruction.  They were made to hurt people, and the news reports were full of descriptions and video of the broken - bodies, blood, glass.  My daughter came around the table to give me hugs.  She might not have understood the thoughts that were going through my mind - screaming silent thoughts of why, and anguished thoughts of deep sadness.  But she saw something in my face - something that told her to comfort.  I saw people helping others - emergency crews, soldiers, police, first responders.  I saw bystanders become upstanders - they did what they could to help.  Like my daughter.  I saw victims patient, silent, shockingly still, waiting for their turn.  We prayed together, for the injured and for their families, for the responders, for the ones who did this thing.  Could their lives have so little hope, so little love, so much despair - that they would do this thing?  To strangers?

Today, I'm thinking of trees.  How they bend, how they grow, how resilient they are, how they survive.

There are nine to ten references in the bible for green leaves (depending on the singular or the plural).  Mostly metaphors for a good life.  I can imagine.  I grew up in the desert.  These trees, these green leaves are the result of water and care.  They bear fruit; they give shade.  They offer respite from heat and glare.  They offer comfort.  They heal.  I am healed, everyday, on my drive to and from work.  I am healed when I go for a walk.  I am healed when I look out my doors and windows.  Today, I am thankful for trees.  Again.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Bloom



That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
Psalm 1:3

"Mom, it's purple flowers.  The tree."  We were driving to church.  My daughter was being her observant self.  She has been extra vigilant lately, watching the news in the mornings - keeping her eyes and ears open for the daily forecast.  Definitely a warm-weather girl, she was really excited to get into her shorts drawer last week - shorts and t-shirts.  And sandals.  Funny girl -  she shows me how the pink in the plaid of her shorts matches the pink shirt she's picked out, that matches the pink sandals... Where did she get that (I'm rolling my eyes, here...)

One of the discussions my husband and I have on a fairly regular basis, is about where we are going to retire.  This last move was a hard one.  We left a house we loved, a house we had worked on - made to fit our wants and needs - to start over again in a new place.  I remember talking with my sister about the impending move.  She was telling me that the thought of moving boggled her - having to set up a house, establish - new friends, new schools, new church, new, new.  Silly me.  I told her that home isn't a place - it's not the bricks, wood, plumbing, and yard.  It's not the house.  It's the people - the family; it's bringing out and putting up the keepsakes that travel from place to place.  The pictures, the books, the familiar...

So, we moved into a house - a rental.  And we should be happy.  We have our stuff - we both have jobs.  My daughter has been able to establish a schedule that she likes.  It's not a small house.  It has a big yard - with trees, and grass.  It has a big driveway.  It's not too close to neighbors; it's not too far from shopping and amenities.  It's in a safe neighborhood.  We thought - two years.  We can make it work for two years.  Yet....

We've been struggling with this house.  It doesn't belong to us.  We can't change the things we want to change.  There is no flow - the rooms are choppy and isolated.  We have made the house work for us, but it doesn't fit us...  Everyday, we think two years...

We love this area.  It fulfills a lot of our family wants and needs.  I like four seasons.  The area has four seasons.  My husband and daughter like warmth.  Spring, summer and fall stay fairly warm - winter is short.   It's close to the things we need - a good church, a military base, a good school district, active adult programs for my daughter, proximity to interesting locations - the beach, historical sites, cities.  The people are friendly.  There are lots of outdoor recreation opportunities... We love this place.

We're in the process of looking for a house to buy.  Something that fits.  Something that will be a home for us - a place of refuge.  These trees fascinate me.  I was impressed with their fall colors last autumn.  I enjoyed the tracery of their bare branches during the winter.  I relish the neon green of the leaves that are now pushing through the spring buds.  The variety and intensity of the colors blooming amaze me.

About two states ago, as I was leaving a 'dream job' for our move to Texas, I was told to bloom where I was planted.  That's what these trees are doing - glorious leaves and blossoms.  That's what we need to do here - God is preparing a place for us - a sanctuary.  We may find it soon, we may not.  Our job, my job, is to bloom where we're planted.  Home is not this house - home is us.  It's time to appreciate those purple flowers with new eyes.  Eyes of gratitude.  And praise.

Thank you, God.  For providing us with this home, this place, this opportunity.  Help me to choose joy.


Friday, April 12, 2013

Holy Mystery


Scanning through program offerings on television can be an adventure - kind of a sideways commentary on society.  When we moved here, my husband decided we were going to get the complete package of TV programming - sports channels, music channels, premium movie channels - all in addition to 'regular tv'.  Honestly, with about a million choices, we still have a hard time deciding on what to watch.  Especially when we're home in the middle of the day - not feeling well - without the energy to do much else....  So, I was watching HGTV the other day.  Not one of the remodeling shows - but one of those "The World's Most Unusual...." - you fill in the blank - This one was about bathrooms.

I found it strangely fascinating.  First, what in the world do these people do in the huge bathrooms they build?  I mean, I understand spa, and I get privacy, but goodness, I could probably fit my whole house into some of these so-called bathrooms...  You could honestly get lost in them.  I can't imagine spending enough time, doing what you do in a bathroom, to make the sheer space/value worth it.  And, if I'm not mistaken, we generally do what we do in the bathroom, alone.  Right?  So the value is not in the party possibilities -

There was one guy, in Spain, I think, who didn't go for huge.  He went for extravagant material.  He had a shower made entirely of 24-karat gold tile.  He said it made him happy to shower in all that 'lucky' gold every day.  Again, the funny thing to me - was size.  The guy they interviewed was kind of big - maybe rotund-ish would be a better word.  The shower he'd built was not so big.  Was he trying to save money?  Really?  I could just picture him (oh, please, no!) hitting the golden sides of that shower every time he soaped up or rinsed off.

So I was reading about King Solomon's temple today.  Oh my!  The scale alone is daunting - 90 feet long, 30 feet wide, 45 feet high...It had to have dominated Jerusalem in its day!  The exterior was built of stone - dressed off-site to keep the construction noise down.  The interior was paneled in cedar - then overlaid with gold.  Imagine walking into that - I bet that would make you happy - all that 'lucky' gold...  But then, this temple was to be God's house on earth.  It was where the Ark of the Covenant was to be kept.  It was holy ground.  And regular people would never actually see it.

I suppose that's what causes me to think.  We have so much information available at our fingertips, today - through the internet, through television shows, youtube, movies and films.  When I couldn't quite grasp how the temple would have looked, I googled an image.  When we have a question, we google and get multiple sites for a variety of answers.  I love the availability of information - but I think, sometimes, I miss the 'not knowing'.  The faith required to believe something without seeing it.

When the priests came out of the Holy Place, a thick cloud filled the Temple of the LORD.  The priests could not continue their service because of the cloud, for the glorious presence of the LORD filled the Temple.
1 Kings 8:10-11

Imagine... About three thousand years ago, a great temple was built for God and HE filled it with his presence.  Now that is holy mystery.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Been There Done That




What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun.       Ecclesiastes 1:9



Kids.  Can say the darned-est things.  As best as I can remember, this dialogue took place a few years ago, after an incident at recess...

Student:  Yes, I hit him.

Teacher:  Thank you for taking responsibility for your actions.  Is there something you could have done differently?  Something more appropriate than hitting?
Student:  No, I was doing what you always tell us to do.
Teacher:  Really?  What do I always tell you to do - that involves hitting another student?
Student:  You told us we should follow the Golden Rule.
Teacher:  Yes, we talked about the Golden Rule.  I don't understand how following the Golden Rule allows you to hit another student.
Student:  The Golden Rule says we should treat others how we want to be treated.
Teacher:  That's right.  So, you hit the other student because you wanted him to hit you?
Student:  No, he hit me first.
Teacher:  I still don't understand how hitting back is following the Golden Rule...
Student:  I figure he wouldn't have hit me, unless he wanted me to hit him.  I was just doing to him what he did to me - the Golden Rule.
Teacher:  Oh.

Real conversation.  Real student.  I remember being a little bit impressed by the child's unique interpretation of Do unto others... Impressed and horrified.  This child was twisting what I had always considered to be a moral standard.  Twisting it into justification for violence.  I flashed forward a few years in the child's life and could only imagine what other actions he'd try to justify by manipulating the words of moral standards.  Or laws.  My brain literally exploded into snapshots like a music video - current images alongside historical images - made movie-vivid, 3-D real - genocide, slavery, rape, violence, violence, violence....


There's a science activity that's really powerful for teaching kids about erosion.  They set up a mixture of sand and clay in a flat, plastic tray.  Kind of like building a miniature topographic map.  Instructions call for a 'cliff' - usually about a third of the way up the tray.  Sometimes the kids get to put 'buildings' on the map, or get to design land features.  Then they get to make it flood.  This is the best part.  The water comes from a cup, suspended above the tray, with a hole for the water to pour through.  The size of the hole determines the speed of the flow.  And the water does some amazing things to those little topographies.  It creates floodplains, and streams; it carves canyons, and deposits deltas.  The kids are mesmerized by how quickly the changes occur, by how forceful the water can be.   


But it starts off small.  And it's only water.  Soft, pliable, flexible water.  Soothing, comforting, refreshing water.  One drop at a time.  The drops gather.  Speed, intensity, volume.  And they become a force to be reckoned with - a force that can move mountains.  Literally.


So it is with our actions.  It only takes a small excuse to open the door to bigger and more.  It only takes a little manipulation, a little justification to twist something good into something evil.  To explode into violence.  


I was surprised to see this in Proverbs today.  My student, years ago, wasn't being original in his manipulation of the Golden Rule.   He was doing exactly what mankind has been doing for thousands of years - starting small.  King Solomon, that wise old King, called it.  Been there.  Done that.



Do not say, "I'll do to him as he has done to me; I'll pay that man back for what he did."  
Proverbs 24:29 

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wealth



Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man's friend deserts him.
Proverbs 19:4

It's hard to believe that King Solomon was only 12 years old when he was anointed King over Israel.  One of the very first stories of his rule is the tale of the two mothers.  I remember hearing it told on a felt board at Bible school.  It was one of those stories you don't easily forget - "Cut the child in half..."  The words echoed in my head - I couldn't imagine the feelings - to be called before the king, in the royal court, pleading for your child.... My mind was filled with this King and his order for what could have been a bloody mess.  It was only later that I understood the wisdom - and the sacrifice in the mother's response.  Later I understood the happy ending.

King Solomon - the wisest man who ever lived.  King Solomon - the last King of a united Israel.  King Solomon - builder of the temple of Jerusalem.   Author of three books in the bible, diplomat, trader, husband.  Wealthy.  Beyond measure.  Son of a King.  He had everything - wives, concubines, horses, chariots, fleets of trading ships.  The bible says he made silver as common in Jerusalem as stones, and cedar as plentiful as sycamore trees.  Almost impossible to visualize.  Opulence.  Excess.  

I don't think Solomon ever did without.  I don't think he ever had to make a choice between wants and needs.  In fact, I'm not sure he could have.  He just wasn't raised in a position to understand the difference.  He was, after all, royalty; he had to keep up appearances.

Personally, I think he missed out.  The year I turned 12 was the year my family went to Canada for vacation.  We camped by a lake in Ontario - Rice Lake.  We met some of my mother's family. We had driven up from New Jersey; they had come up from Indiana.  We had a big tent, they had a camper on the back of a pick-up truck.  My uncle brought his boat.  We stayed for a little over a week - fishing, water-skiing, swimming, exploring.  The lake was the site of an archaeological dig, so there was some interesting stuff going on... We hunted night-crawlers at dusk to use as bait in the morning.  We ate fish - freshly caught and fried on a camp stove - for breakfast, for lunch, and for dinner... We made friends with fellow campers.  We played cards and sang around the campfire.  It was one of my favorite vacations ever.  Family, friends, music and laughter.  

Later, I understood that this was the kind of vacation my family could afford.  Camping.  No fancy hotel.  No all-inclusive resort.  No dinners out.  We didn't have a lot of money - but I didn't know that.  We were so richly blessed in other ways, I simply didn't know that we weren't considered wealthy.  

King Solomon knew wealth.  He knew what wealth could buy.  He used his wealth for stuff - wives, concubines, horses, chariots, fleets of trading ships - appearances - friends.  Where did it get him?  Oh yeah, he wrote that proverb up there:  Wealth brings many friends, but a poor man's friend deserts him.  I feel sorry for that lonely, old King.  Here's my take:  Wealth buys friends, but a poor man's friend looks beyond a man's stuff for friendship.  Poor King Solomon, he should have left all that wealth and all those bought friends, and gone camping with us. 


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Storytime


Maybe it's just a by-product of age, but I seem to spend a lot of time thinking about the stories behind the stories.  Like this saying - apparently there's some regret about growing older...?

I picture a multi-generational family gathering, maybe an outdoor picnic, with lots of color in motion and good food on a long picnic table...old and young together... Perhaps the regret is in the loss of youthful vigor and energy, perhaps it's in some kind of fading visual acuity.  Maybe the regret is because of diet restrictions...But that doesn't seem to completely use up that word regret - What if the regret of growing older is looking back at missed opportunity in a life lived.  What if it's reflecting on choices - good or bad - and the consequences of those choices.  See... I don't know because I'm missing the story.

Years ago, right after I graduated from high school, I had the opportunity to spend a year in Brazil as an exchange student.  I was seventeen.  Fitting into another family in a different culture was difficult.  I felt isolated - language was more of a barrier than I had anticipated.  Personality doesn't translate very well without words.  So I wrote.  A lot.  For the first four months.  Looking back, it's almost amusing to read.  Drama.  Drama.  Drama.  Almost amusing.  But not quite, because I remember how absolutely lost I felt...

I kept a journal.  I wrote poems.  I wrote lists.  I wrote letters.   I wrote these little one-sentence statements from who-knows-what part of my seventeen-year-old brain.  Like I was full of wisdom...

  • Love your enemies - they will no longer exist.
  • If everyone made love instead of war, they would be too busy taking care of babies to fight.
  • Love is understanding.  Understand love and you'll love to understand everything.
  • Self-confidence is selfishness made right.
  • Isn't it funny how people always talk about what they did, and don't realize that what they're doing is what is important?


Oh, there are more - they're just too familiar to all of those other one-liners that are so prevalent on Pinterest, and Facebook...  So there I was, feeling isolated and alone,  spouting out the wisdom of the ages... statements that have been said in some way or another for thousands of years.  Without the stories behind them to give them substance.  To make them believable.  To make them creditable.

Like Proverbs.  I'm having a difficult time reading through Proverbs this week.  Even though I realize that King Solomon definitely had a whole lot more life experience than a 17-year old girl from the 20th century, I'm missing the stories.  Proverb after proverb.  Some seem repetitive; I guess he felt the need to get the message across.  Some seem like they don't even go together, written like analogies that don't match.  Some are just plain obvious.  So obvious, it makes me even more curious to know the story - 

So, for now, I read Proverbs.  For later, I study.  I search for the stories.  By the sheer density of the material,  I might be busy for awhile...  Hmm...there's certainly no time for regretting growing older - I'm looking forward to satisfying this story-curiosity of mine - I guess I've kind of come full circle in age - It's storytime.


 

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Mostly Ordinary Weekend


My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.

Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
Psalm 131


It was a mostly ordinary weekend.  My husband had to go in to work for a little while on Saturday.  The plumber came and fixed the pressure gauge on our water - something to do with the well.  After lunch, the family did a little grocery shopping together, then came home to barbecue and watch a movie.  Sunday morning, before church, we worked to get ready for the coming week, cleaning house and cutting up fruit.  Mowing and naps after church.  Another barbecue.  Mostly ordinary.

It would be hard to write a story about the weekend - about any one or two events or moments.  The only thing that stands out at all, is the fact that I've been getting over being sick.  Sick over spring break - such timing!  But there are precious moments.

My daughter standing next to the dinner table - standing to sing our prayer of thanksgiving before the meal, because mom's voice is gone and she's going to have to sing solo - standing by her chair to sing a solo - eyes closed, sweet sincerity.

My husband, leaning around my daughter in the pew, giving me the significant eye when the pastor mentions falling asleep in front of the TV as one of those things that married couples do.  Smiling indulgently at me - his sleepy wife.

Napping on the sofa - waking up to the sound of snoring - mine.

Perfectly grilled brats with sauerkraut and beans.

Catching up on Survivor episodes - my daughter coming off of the sofa to give us hugs with the merge - They're together again!  Together - she smiles excitedly.

Nice.  There's something to be said about ordinary days.



Saturday, April 6, 2013

Like Shadows



He reveals the deep things of darkness and brings utter darkness into the light.
Job 12:22

We were at an outdoor music festival, sketchbooks in hand, drawing random people in the crowd.  I wanted to draw the outlines.  I wanted to box the figures at that festival in.  Here's a man; see the short hair, the beard, the boots, the glasses.  This one is a child - ruffly dress, fly-away hair, size.  I wanted to use colors - bright festival colors.

I have heard of sculptors freeing their subjects from the rock which entombed them.  I have heard of carvers seeing lines and form within the grain of the raw wood from which they chiseled and cut.  Such vision.  Such faith in themselves, such integrity to their work.  I have heard of writers who, once they establish their characters and plot, allow those characters to dictate their journey.  Such letting go of control.

"Just draw the shadows."

I drew shadows.  Charcoal.  A little messy, smeary.  It was kind of fun, looking squinty-eyed at the figures, squeezing out the colors.  Looking away from the lines and into the spaces.  A new way to see things.  It felt like power.  Almost magic as the figures materialized on the pages.  Out of the shadows... because of the shadows.  No labeling with outlines - no pigeonholing.  Out of the darkness - out of the negative spaces - came the form.

Amazing.

Like untold stories.  We have all been shaped and molded by our stories - our experiences.  Yet we don't wear those stories like signs.  We don't advertise our shadows.  We want to box each other in - categorize - fit - pigeonhole - stereotype.  We want to draw outlines of expectations around the people we meet - how they dress, what they do, who they know.  Untold stories.  Like shadows.  Waiting to be found.

Thank you, God, for reminding me that you are a God of light and shadow- seen and unseen.  Thank you for showing me untold stories.





Friday, April 5, 2013

Even Weeds





And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man
1 Corinthians 15:49


It's a weed.
My husband told me.
As I knelt in the wet turf
Holding camera steady

Yes, a weed, I acknowledged.
Perfectly formed sphere of
Filament and seed
Poised above winter's mess

Like fine silk threads
Shimmering in the light
Here today
Gone tomorrow

When he mows
Or with the wind.
Beauty is
In the eye of the beholder.


Thank you, God, for loving weeds.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Something to See


The LORD your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will exult over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
Zephaniah 3:17  New American Standard Bible


Her visit to the base was going to be short.

"Post," she reminded herself.

Her son had told her again just that morning - "Base is Air Force, Post is Army."

She pushed the smile down.  He was being such a show off.  All those acronyms and specialty words.  Military words.  Like a code; he was in a secret-code brotherhood.  This time, the smile stayed for a second.  Imagine, her big, old football-hero, should-have-been-in-college, got-the-girlfriend-pregnant son, was graduating from his AIT school - Advanced Individual Training.  He'd scored pretty well on the test thingy the Army had given, and now he was graduating.  Then he was moving.

Now, he wanted her to go to chapel with him.  With them.  He'd married the girlfriend...she was as big as a house, due any day now.  Church?  They hadn't gone as a family when her son was at home.  Sure, she believed in God and all...  But church had always just succeeded in interfering with their weekends.  And the endless sermons on giving and tithing, fire and brimstone....Ugh!  Sometimes the music was ok, though.  Well, she figured it was the least she could do before he left for his first duty station.

He said she didn't need to dress up.  The chapel on post was pretty casual.

"Ok", she thought, stepping into her boots, "here goes."

So now she was sitting in the pews.  She had been surprised at the amount of cars in the parking lot - surprised by the size of the building.  Chapel?  This was a full-grown church.  Her son had proudly explained about the Spiritual Fitness Complex - a craft building, a gym, classrooms, kitchen, and last but not least, the sanctuary.

"Of course, we share it with the Catholics," he said, his eyes twinkling.

She looked around.  There were lots of people.  Young, mostly.  Lots of families with kids.  There were a few older people - dressed up.  The young ones - she guessed they were soldiers - some tattoos, short hair, high and tight, she remembered - shaking her head - all those code words...  The young ones were mostly in t-shirts with rock bands emblazoned.  There were a couple of pews with soldiers in uniform.  Women, too - not just men.  Warriors.  The old-fashioned word came to her mind.  Yes, they were trained in warfare. Warriors.   Her son and his wife fit right into the crowd.  He wasn't even the biggest guy there, with his football muscles and height.

The praise band was pretty good.  The big screens were down and the words and pictures were marching along.  She was standing with everyone, singing.  The lights were dimmed.  It was such a new place; she kept noticing goofy details.  A typo on the screen -

"Really," she thought, "we can't use spellcheck.."

She looked at her son to see if he'd noticed.  No, he was standing with arms stretched up and tears.  Tears.  Streaming down his face.  She looked farther - the soldiers in uniform, the tattoos, - they were standing with faces upturned, palms raised.  It was like a brotherhood.

"My chains are gone.  I've been set free.  My God, My Savior, has ransomed me... "

Now she was listening to the words.  To the meaning.

"And like a flood, His mercy rains.  Unending love, amazing grace."

Imagine that, she thought.  Imagine unending love.  Her divorce had been nasty; her ex-husband had done everything in his power to discredit and break her.  But she had managed.  Unending love - what a comfort that would be.  And grace...she had not always been perfect.  Understatement.  She knew chains.

"But God who called me here below, will be forever mine..."

The music had ended.  She heard the rustling of the congregation, sitting, adjusting.  She could feel their attention, their focus.  The message was about God's love - in the midst of battle, overseas, on post - about God's everlasting, ever-present love.  There was something about seeing those tough-looking, muscles-showing, tattooed kids worship, that had pulled her into this service.   Drawn her next to this brotherhood - like she could look in, but couldn't quite join.  It was something to see those big men pray.  Humbling.

More music.  She looked again at her son, with new eyes.  He was the believer.  Not her.  She looked at her daughter-in-law.  A believer.  Joy apparent on her face.  She had heard about the Spirit being present in a service.  Now she had seen it.  She wanted that.  She wanted that joy; she wanted that grace; she wanted that unending love.

He smiled down at her.   They walked together to the altar rail.  Wouldn't you know it would be a warrior - her soldier - her son - leading her to peace...

Thank you, God, for our soldiers.  Our warriors.  Keep them and their families safe.

Linking with Beth at Three-Word Wednesday