Friday, May 31, 2013

Never Alone

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 
Isaiah 55:12

Alone in the darkness, in her room with the curtains drawn tightly against the glare of the streetlight shining like the moon on a pole outside her window.  It seemed like ages since she'd felt peace - since she'd felt comfort - since she'd been at ease.  Worry weighed on her chest - tight like an overblown balloon - like something caught in her throat - choking, squeezing, pushing.  Alone.  She was alone.

She closed her eyes again, tears seeping at the edges; her lashes were soaked and she could feel the moisture of them resting, hovering on her cheekbones.  In the blackness.  Crying silently - there was no one to hear, no reason to draw attention to her emptiness.  Deep sadness squatted like a toad - a bloated, lumpy, misshapen toad - filling the void.  

Another night of sleeplessness.  Another night thinking, cycling, wishing.  

She knew it would pass - this feeling of dread, of despair.  She knew she would get up, come morning, and go through the motions of the day.  She knew she would smile, and speak, and eat, and drive - she would do and be all those things that looked normal and healthy.  All those things that would bring the day around again.  To night.  When she was alone again.  Another night of sleeplessness.

Divorced years ago - her now-husband, a good man, was gone.  Not gone from her life, just gone from her place.  Sent across the country  - working hard to create a new life in a new location for his family.  Just a little longer and she would join him.  With her daughter.  Hopefully.  

But first, first she had to sever the hold of her daughter's father.  Oh, that she had never met him - the man from her first marriage - the wrong marriage - the wrong man.  Crazy, violent, mocking, unholy.  Like a flesh-eating disease, only this disease had eaten at her confidence, at her self-esteem, at her soul.  He had threatened her life.  I will kill my wife and take my daughter.  At the courthouse - in front of witnesses.  His wife...she hadn't been his wife for over five years... The police had come to the door, to see that she was safe.  She thought of his guns, his background, his paranoia.  His sickness.  And now he was stalking them.  She had seen his car passing by the house - their house - on the street where he had no business but to check on them.  He had given copious notes to his lawyer, disclosed in court, that documented lights on and off in her household - when she was home, when she wasn't - who was there... He had sent a packet of lies and innuendo to the district where she taught - accusing her of abusing her daughter - demanding that she be released from employment.  It was bad.  

He was, truly, mentally ill.  And without him, she wouldn't have her daughter.  Her beautiful inside-and-out, special daughter.  She couldn't wish him away.  So she prayed.  Every night.  For her own safety.  For her daughter's safety.  Her daughter who still had to spend time with him.  Who came back from her visits talking about Daddy's words, and Daddy yell, and Daddy slam the phone.  She prayed for strength to face the days, and she prayed for peace to face the nights.  Soon, she thought, soon they would be away - where he couldn't reach them, where her daughter wasn't exposed, every week, to this subtractive man, to his take-away life.  And she prayed for him.  She prayed that God would place someone in his life who would expose him to Jesus - to the life-changing joy, grace, and forgiveness that was Jesus.  

Another night.  She had just spoken with her husband - across the country.  He was excited about the upcoming move.  It was always worse, that sense of loss, after shared conversation... She looked forward to seeing her daughter again the next day - home from her required visit to her father.  Father, she prayed, I know you're there.  I want to feel you, tonight.  Hold me in your hand.  Help me.  Tell me I'm doing right.... Her thoughts drifted off - she was out of energy and that toad was squatting in the emptiness.

I am well pleased...

Her eyes opened.  The voice...

I am well pleased...

"God?"  She spoke aloud in the blackened room.

I will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.

She smiled.  Then her laughter filled the room.  The dark room - not a place of sadness.  Not a place of worry.  She imagined a hand, the palm of a hand, closed lovingly over a treasured object.  God's hand.  God's palm.  Protecting.  Loving.  Not alone.  Never alone.  She knew; she had known.  She was being reminded.  

Years and years ago, the Israelites were held captive.  The prophet Isaiah told of their release from that captivity - how they would be led in peace, and joy.  So much joy that all the earth would rejoice with them.  In the same passage - God's people are told about the Savior, Jesus, who would lead them from darkness into light - and the whole world would rejoice.  

As real today as it was when spoken by Isaiah years ago - we just experience our captivity in different ways...

God, thank you for reminding me of your constant presence - when I had been held captive by my own issues, my fears, my worries.  Thank you for your constant presence, Emmanuel, God With Us.    Thank you for your Son -  your peace and your joy.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Sandals on Dirt Roads

John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.  And this was his message: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.  I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
Mark 1:6-8

What do we do with this man?  How do we place him in our lives of traffic lights and speed limits, yellow school buses and garbage trucks?  Where does he fit in our churches with steeples rising to the limits of technology and colored glass and upholstered pews.  Where in our nine-to-fives - our schedules of summer vacations and weekend plans?  How do we reconcile his story - his birth in a stable, his death on a cross - so long ago, so far away.  How do we relate to his life?  His teaching?  His stories?  His love?

Sandals on dirt roads, robes frayed with washing and use.  No laundromats.  No deodorant.  Nothing easy or readymade.  No grocery stores.  No cars.  A man and his followers walking in the dust.  In the heat.  Gleaning in the fields.  Fishing.  

Come, he said, and I will give you rest.

I am the Way, he said.

I am the truth, he said.

I am the life, he said.

Follow me, he said.

I drive through the city and see the frayed coats, worn and dirty, shuffling behind grocery carts piled high with street treasure - bundles of cast-off clothes and blankets.  A horn honks, traffic moves on.  The woman on the corner holds a sign, a cardboard sign.  She doesn't look up as I pass.  A sleeping figure wrapped in a blanket on a park bench.  A lump of humanity in the busy day - alone.  Wrapped.  Sleeping.  In the open, under the sky, beneath the stares of people passing by. 

Sandals on dirt roads.  No laundromats.  Would we have seen him?  That man?  Would we have been curious because of his words - What if he lived today - would he be a YouTube sensation - gone viral for the miracles he worked?  For the chaos he created in the temple?  For his different point of view?  Would he be the next big news item - another cult leader with a claim to divinity?  A homeless, scruffy old hippie touting a religion of free love and back-to-nature living.  Would he found a movement of  live-in-the-moment, one-day-at-a-time, don't-worry-be-happy?  A give-it-all-to-the-needy simple life?

He had to convince his followers.  Time after time, story after story.  Patiently explaining, patiently repeating - truly, I say to you - over and over - pleading for understanding, his message urgent and oh-so-difficult-to-believe.  A message of non-competition - the first shall be last.  A message of forgiveness and grace - undeserved and unearned reward given in the land of law and obedience.  How hard it must have been to be him.  How difficult to be his follower.  Nothing easy or readymade.  The Son of Man has no place to lay his head.  

I sit at my computer, in the early, early morning and think about my Savior, my God, my Hope, my Light.  And the details don't matter.  He lived.  God came to earth in the form of Jesus, two thousand years ago.  He lived.  He died and he rose from the dead.  He lived and now He lives.  There is nothing easy about Christ.  Everything is easy with Christ.  Sandals on dirt roads.  I understand that.  I can start with that.

Father, thank you for Jesus.  Truly.  Thank you for your Son.  Thank you for the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  Thank you for Jesus.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Your Beauty in Our World

For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.
Isaiah 52:15

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  I had to look it up.  Apparently it first appeared in the third century, BC, in Greek.  Then made its way through literature in various forms, until it showed up as a line in Molly Brown, a book written in 1878, by Margaret Wolfe Hungerford.  Fascinating?  Probably not for everyone.  But I love words.  I like the way they're crafted.   I even like to pull them apart - find their pieces - those little morphemes of meaning - that knit together into the thing, the description, the action.  I like the precision of grammar - I like the ambiguity.  I am fascinated by language, verbal and non-verbal communication - written communication.  Taking an idea, an emotion, a story, that's hidden inside the head or heart and making it accessible to the world.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  True.  

We teach it to our kids in school.  Schema.  Background knowledge and experience.  You have to bring your schema to bear in reading for comprehension.  There has to be an anchor to hook new information to - to hold when swimming in new ideas and new information.  There has to be context to bump up understanding.  It works across the board - in all subjects.  Use what you know to learn what you need to know.  Inference - combine the knowledge in your head with the knowledge you are accessing.  You wouldn't think we'd need to teach it - no, it's more like we need to make students aware that they are using it - schema - background knowledge - based on experience and prior learning.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  Yes.

Surrounded everyday by images and videos.  On the television.  In magazines.  My fifth-graders knew about WWII because of a video game.  I don't even know which one - google video game WWII and you get a list that scrolls off the computer screen.  For awhile.  Clothing manufacturers strive to have multi-national models.  Shiny new cars rev around the mudflats; big trucks climb mountains and ford rivers; successful clydesdales form everlasting friendships with long-lost trainers and encourage their up-and-coming offspring.  Cyber players in chrome armor jump and dance at the corners of our football broadcasts - game warriors of the future.  Entire movies are created with computer-generated graphics.  We are inundated by digital reality - idealistic reality.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  As is truth.  And faith.  And belief.

There's a story about a little girl in Sunday school, drawing a picture of God.  Her Sunday school teacher points out that she can't draw a picture of God.  No one has ever seen God.  No one knows what God looks like.  The little girl looks up at her teacher, then down at her drawing, then back up and replies in a voice-of-little-girl-wisdom,  "Well, they'll know in a minute."

In high school, I was fortunate to have had an English teacher who was transparently passionate about literature and writing.  His enthusiasm infected many of my peers, me included.  He left our school, right after my graduation, to teach at a Christian College, and to write.  Prolifically.  Christian stories - short and long.  I still follow his blog.  Several years ago, I rediscovered him.  I googled him and found a list of essays and titles.  One of his essays resonated with me.  How, he asks, can a Christian writer overcome the issue of characters and situations that aren't necessarily Christian.  Believable characters have flaws, some are truly evil.  Life situations revolve around choices - the road less traveled versus the way of the world.  A writer needs to understand - needs to have schema - to access these characters, to create these situations.  How can they also be Christian?  Living in the world - writing of the world.

I just finished reading an article about Christian art.  You can read it here.  There are several phrases that stick in my head.  Art points us toward eternity; it re-imagines and re-expresses the beauty of God, lifting our sights and changing our vision of reality.  One artist, Ruth Naomi Floyd, speaks of facing the darkness while still believing in the light - like my English professor - sensing God's silence and sorrow.  Another artist, Makoto Fujimura, in discussing art as evangelism, goes into the gospel itself:  The gospel is life. The gospel is about the Creator God, who is an artist, who is trying to communicate. And his art is the church. We are the artwork created in Christ Jesus to do good works. If we don't realize that fully, then the gospel itself is truncated and art itself suffers.

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And understanding.  And illumination.  Our eyes, our vision, the sum total of our lifetime of experience and information.  In an age of information.  Being Christian is a responsibility.  Who we are by what we do.  In art, in words and in actions.  We are Christ's representatives.  In second Corinthians, Paul writes about this very thing.  The world we live in cannot define who we are, cannot define our perception of beauty.  Instead, we must access divine power, divine strength and wisdom, to fight - right against wrong - light against darkness - evil against good.  Without recognizing and acknowledging the things of this world, how can we ever defeat them?  To find the beauty.  To find God.

Heavenly Father, thank you for artists and writers, actors and dancers who sometimes lead us into the darkness of this world - then through your divine strength and help, guide us back to your light.  Thank you for the gospel of art.  Thank you for the gift of these brave men and women who express our doubts and our failings - who show us hope and faith.  Hold them close and keep them safe within Your hand, beneath the wings of Your angels.  Help us all to understand the things that have influenced our eyes and ears, things that have molded our comprehension; help us to make sense of bombarding information.  Help us to find Your beauty in our world.  

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

#TellHisStory: Fiercely, Protectively, Tenderly

I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.
Isaiah 45:3

"It is my birthday, tomorrow.  Are you scared?"

Last night, my daughter smiled at me from the sofa.  "It is my birthday, tomorrow!"  Her life, for the past month and a half has revolved around this event.  Her birthday.  Twenty-two years.  Somewhere along the way, I must have told her that the idea of her turning 22 was scary to me.  I'm guessing it was more a comment about my age than hers, but it was a comment she remembered.

And now, as I sit at my computer writing, she has gone upstairs to get her tennis shoes - has turned the tv on in the exercise room.  Using the remote, she has switched the signal from TV to component, turned on the WII and is following the 45-minute exercise program that came with the Dance IV game.
Who would've ever thought, when the doctor put her in my arms those many years ago, when he said "Have you ever heard of Down Syndrome?", who would've ever thought that my adult daughter would be able to navigate her way through today's electronics and setups?

I had just finished talking to my mom on the phone - in my hospital bed - my then-husband on his way from work.  "It's a girl!"  I told her.  We were so excited - planning when my parents would be able to come out and visit - the birth unexpectedly early.

Then the doctor came in.  "Have you ever heard of Down Syndrome?", he asked, in his oh-so-professional manner.  I was alone in the room.  His voice echoed across shiny, shiny tile and bounced off  antiseptic walls.  I was waiting for my daughter to be brought to me.  My new-born, tiny daughter.  The crying girl they had laid on my chest  - then taken away - her little lip pouting.   I couldn't speak - Retarded.  - my first thought.  Images of that special class from my elementary-school years.  Drooling, hulking, shuffling.  Those kids we rarely saw - never spoke to - never played with.  We had a neighbor.  She used to play with a hula-hoop.  Laughing and spinning.  Alone - as my friends and I played across the street.  Mongoloid.  

The word came out - I spit it out at the doctor - while inside I screamed - No, no no no no no no - an internal wail of loss, of sorrow, of insult, of horror, of pain.  Not my girl.  Not my baby.  Not my child. I'm sure he saw it - the disbelief and pain - held together by the sure knowledge that he was right.  I had seen the shape of her head before they took her away.  The shape of her eyes.  Even in the moments after birth, my heart knew.  And in that moment - I was scared.  I was scared of the prospect of an unfamiliar life.  I looked into the future and saw all of the would-nots, and the could-nots, and I was scared.

My father called to congratulate me.  He had only just heard the news - the good news of the birth of another granddaughter.  He called to share in my happiness.  He listened to my tears.  He tried to comfort me, to assure me; I could hear the sincerity in his voice as he tried to tell me everything would be ok.  It was a short call - I wasn't celebrating anymore.

The doctor explained about Down Syndrome.  Briefly.  There were about 50 'markers' - he had recognized enough of them in my daughter that he was fairly confident in his diagnosis.  Diagnosis.  It sounded so clinical.  So dry.  So sterile.  Not like that soft, warm body that I remembered from the delivery.  That sweet face.  Those pouting lips.  To know for sure would require a test - with a long, complicated name - they needed to count her chromosomes.  Down Syndrome meant an extra one - Trisomy 21 - three chromosomes instead of the typical two, on the twenty-first pair out of twenty-six.  Who would have thought that one extra chromosome could cause such a change - mental retardation, low muscle tone, along with multiple possible health issues: heart defects, hearing loss, vision challenges, delayed speech...

We had the karyotype done.  It would take two weeks to get the results.  Sierra spent one week in the hospital.  In a glass-walled incubator.  I could hold her finger through the arm-holes cut into the sides.  She was so tiny - she wore a pint-sized string bikini, a surgical mask, tied at her sides - so she could be exposed to the light - the jaundice-defeating light.  I drove to the hospital everyday to spend time with my baby.  I called in the middle of the night, when she was fed; I made my own body conform to her schedule.  We brought her home - wrapped in way too many blankets - I no longer cared about how many chromosomes my daughter had or didn't have.  I loved her for her - fiercely, protectively, tenderly.

"It is my birthday!"  Sierra is so excited.  It has been twenty-two years.  We barely knew what to get her - she has just about everything.  We did a pizza-birthday with the youth group from our church.  Technically, Sierra's too old for the youth - she already graduated from high school.  So we told her she was one of the youth leaders.  Now she tells us she's in youth ministry.  Yes, she uses those words - she read them in the church bulletin.  We had a bowling party with her boyfriend's family - she happy-danced her way up and down the alley all afternoon.  My husband got her a Redskins jersey and cap.  She's decided to ditch the Cowboys since we moved away from Texas...  I got her a subscription to Country Weekly, one of those gossip-y, glossy, full-of-pictures-of-the-stars magazines.  She'll look at and obsess about the pictures and the articles for years to come.  My sister sent her a Starbucks card; she loves her 'chocolate chinos'.

I am still scared, sometimes.  Scared of my oh-so-wrong perception of Down Syndrome back when I didn't know any better.  Scared of others who might still think of my daughter as less-than, or not-as-good; scared of bullies, scared of careless, hurtful remarks.  I am scared of stories on the news of wickedness and violence against the homeless, against the differently abled, against the innocent.  I am scared of my social-butterfly daughter alone - like my hula-hoop neighbor - laughing and smiling in her own world.  But I am no longer scared of her.  I am no longer scared of that syndrome - voiced by that doctor twenty-two years ago.  I am no longer scared of would-nots and could-nots.  Oh my goodness!  My daughter is full of surprises;  she has shown me joy; she has taught me about love - unconditional, un-prejudiced, live-out-loud love; she has given me grace.

Heavenly Father, you knew exactly what you were doing when you lent us Sierra.  Thank you for the blessings she has brought into our lives.  Keep her safe, keep her healthy, and continue to surround her with your love, your joy, your light.

Linking with TellHisStory

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Peace in the Valley

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
Revelation 3:20

I held his hand in the twilit room - his parchment-colored, papery-soft hand with the perfectly trimmed nails.  He was sleeping.  Gravity tugged peacefully at the age-folds of his skin, pulling them downward, toward the bed, to pool at the place his head and pillow met.  He was sleeping.  His hand was cool to my touch - my recently hurrying, catch-the-airplane-drive-in-from-the-airport touch.  Calm.  His chest rose and fell in time with the machinery in the room, the quiet room, soft whirrs and muted beeps melting on the edge of hearing.  The edge of consciousness.  He was sleeping.

Our family had gathered in this place to see him, my Uncle Norman, to tell him how much he meant to us, to let him know how much we loved him.  Before he slept forever.  He was old.  He was tired.  He was ready.  We had been called, arriving before it was too late.  Urgency in the travel.  Come.  Urgency in the visit.  We heard the knocking - the knocking at Uncle Norman's door.  Come.  Stay for awhile.  Come.

Well, I'm tired and weary but I must toil on
Till the Lord comes and calls me calls me away, oh Lord!

He was sleeping.  I held his hand.  I thought of years past.  Years of vacations to Indiana - to my parents' home - their roots.  Our roots.  Uncle Norman loved to fish.  He had a smile a mile wide.  He laughed from deep inside his soul, and it made his belly shake.  He taught us how to waterski - my sisters and me - first up with two skis, later with one.  Flying across the lake - like waterbugs - he said.  We were hardly big enough to keep the skis on the water when we started - skittering like waterbugs.

Where the morning is bright and the Lamb is the light
And the night, the night is as fair as the day.

I had started to sing, quietly - one of my favorite hymns.  Holding his hand in that quiet room.  We were a family of songs.  Soon, the room was full of music - melody and harmony blending with the whirrs and beeps - whisper-soft and beautiful.

There will be peace in the valley for me some day.
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray.

He opened his eyes, lids barely moving.  There were tears, tears of yearning.  His lips moved with the words.  We were always a singing family.

 No more sadness, no sorrow, oh Lordy no troubles I see.
There will be peace, peace in the valley for me.

He squeezed my hand, gently, weakly.  I felt his weariness.  I felt him tired.  He used to call me Jannie - even when I'd had a child of my own.  Jannie.  He put my little sister on his lap in the car and had her steer - on the country road, the lane to his house, the house he'd built with his hands.  They giggled that car right into the ditch.  And then laughed it out again.

The bear will be gentle, and the wolf will be tame,
And the lion will lay down with the lamb, oh yeah!

Years before, he had volunteered to serve his country.  When his country called.  He joined the Navy and left home and family to go to war.  I could see the ghostlines of the old tattoo on his arm.  His still arm resting across his chest, barely moving with his every breath.  I held his hand and his lips moved with the singing.

The beasts of the wild will be led by a Child
And I'll be changed, changed from this creature I am.

He was the oldest of seven.  Farm-raised, farm-strong.  Once upon his childhood, he'd had an older brother, too.  But his brother had passed - from a long-ago disease that in today's world would have been a mere inconvenience.  A disease that, in the old days, meant death for a ten-year-old boy.

There will be peace in the valley for me some day.
There will be peace in the valley for me, oh Lord I pray.

He took us to Coney Island - amusement park in the big city.  He took home-movies - my big sister and I wore matching outfits.  Jungle shorts with alligator shirts.  Matching outfits in different colors.  The movies - full of laughter - like my Uncle.  He enjoyed.  Everything.

No more sadness, no sorrow, oh Lordy no troubles I see.
There will be peace, peace in the valley for me.

I held his hand - the hand I remembered when we played cards.  We played Rook, and Hearts, and Euchre.  Whenever the family gathered - the Aunts and Uncles - in-laws and out-laws.  Cousins.  Gathered around the kitchen table - some in, some out.  We learned by sitting on stools behind the grown-ups - the city cousins behind the country.  Watching.  My grandmother thought my uncles were really drinking iced tea - Uncle Norman loved his beer...

And now he was here.  In this home.  Tired.  Weary.  Medication keeping his pain at bay.  It was almost Christmas and his family had gathered.  We were afraid to leave, afraid we'd miss something.  His last moments, his last thoughts.  He squeezed my hand.  It's ok.  You came.  Be a family.  Celebrate.  I could see the hint of a smile - a shadow of the laughter I'd known, the joy I'd remembered.  He was there, my Uncle Norman, shackled to a body grown too old to function.  He was there, ready to answer the door, the door to the Valley of Peace.  He was ready to go home.

We got the phone call on Christmas day.  Uncle Norman passed, peacefully in his sleep.

Today I need to remember my Uncle.  Brother, father, uncle, son, veteran.  Child of God.  Called home on Christmas day - a gift - peace in the valley.

There the flow'rs will be blooming, the grass will be green
And the skies will be clear and serene
The sun ever shines, giving one endless beam
And the clouds there will ever be seen

Friday, May 24, 2013

Like the Desert, Rejoice!

The desert and the parched land will be glad; the wilderness will rejoice and blossom. Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom; it will rejoice greatly and shout for joy.
Isaiah 35:1-2

Rain clouds lie low, hugging the land in cool embrace, flattening the light, pushing against the desert, the thirsty desert.  Coaxing out the green.   And the desert complies.  Not shy, not tentative.  Bursting greedily from the rocks, from the shadows, from the hidden places.  Reaching for fullness from the moisture.  Stretching accordion folds to accomodate the gift, the blessing of water.  Life giving, soul sustaining water.

The desert is always beautiful.  Sometimes fiercely so.  In the heat of summer, in the dry, arid oven of June, before the monsoons, before the humidity rides up from the gulf.  Fierce and protective.  With spines and thorns.  With razor rocks and slippery scree.  

"Beware!", it cries.  "Take care!"

There is life here.  A hard life.  A difficult life.  A life of scrimping and saving, of hiding away, of pushing away.  A life of hiding from the light - the harsh, glaring, burning light. 

Above the desert, hanging like a priceless chandelier in the night, are a million crystal stars.  A million million priceless gems, scattered, patterned, lovingly placed in the heavens.  Beauty in the darkness.  In the cool - a daily oasis.  Respite.  Above the desert, the sky - the blue, blue sky - Arizona blue - suspended between mountain horizons on a celestial canvas.  

"Come!", it calls.  "Come and learn of beauty - deadly beauty, life-sustaining beauty, wild beauty."

When rain comes to the desert, it transforms.  It becomes radiant - muted glare bright with color.  Full.    Satiated.  Abundant.  When Christ comes to us, we transform.  Come, he says, Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Like the desert, rejoice!

Heavenly Father, God of the Desert, thank you for your mighty hand of creation.  Thank you for Jesus, who transforms us from desert to abundant life.  

Thursday, May 23, 2013

I Want That

He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High 
shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.
Psalm 91:1

Wouldn't you know, the King James Version has the best description - the one I relate to most.  Secret place.  I used to find secret places.  When I was a kid, growing up in New Jersey.  If you've never been beyond the outskirts of New York, you just don't know the New Jersey of my youth.  It's called the Garden State - and it was beautiful.  We lived in a little town - one-mile square.  We walked to the Corner Store for penny candy.  We went to movie nights at the park, laying our blankets out to watch classics under the open sky and stars.  We played in the street - marking boundaries and bases with chalk - popping tar bubbles - floating boats in the gutters after rain.  It was a Norman Rockwell childhood.  And I loved the secret places I found.

My sister and I shared the third-floor attic space - finished into a slope-walled garrett bedroom.  Beneath the sloped ceiling were removable panels.  Panels that gave access to extra storage under eaves too low to be part of the room.  Panels that gave access to a secret place, where the roof met the walls of our home - where floor joists and insulation could be seen at the intersection.  Unfinished, like the house had been caught in the act of getting dressed.  My sister and I played games behind those panels - we would move them aside to enter, then carefully pull them back - an attempt to push the bedroom, the ordinary, away.  

We made forts out of everything.  In the wild, weedy space between the detached garage and the neighbor's fence, we built a multi-roomed fort from someone's discarded drywall.  We hung beach towels between the upturned foot and headrests of lounge chairs.  We climbed trees and found special seats high up on forks of limbs seemingly grown especially for our child-sized bodies.  

I roamed the 'woods' - a little plot of forest behind the neighborhood church that stretched from parking lot to powerlines, and from the fenced backyards of friends to the backyard stream of strangers.  It was about five acres of dreamland for an imaginative child.  I knew every path, every hidey-hole, every climbable tree.  I knew where the blackberries were - and I knew, that in the middle of one patch, there was a small, grassy space open to the sky, a bright blue visible between the shady branches of oaks, and elms, birch trees, and maples.   I knew because I crawled, on hands and knees, to that patch of green.  And I sat.  Away from the world for a moment.  Alone and satisfied.  

Secret places.  

David knew of secret places.  He had discovered enough of them - hiding from Saul and his soldiers.  Keeping his own men safe.  In caves, in ravines, in wild hills.  Running.  Moving.  No rest.  No peace.  David valued his moments of peace.  His moments away.  Those soul-satisfying moments of solitude and quiet.  He yearned for them.  Sanctuary.  When physical hiding met with spiritual rejuvenation.  

He that dwelleth in the secret places of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.  There's a comforting thought.  It feels like protection.  It feels like love, safety, sanctuary.  I want that.  The world wants that.  

David - no matter what happened to him, no matter what he did - David always kept his God, the Lord God Almighty, first.  In his own spiritual secret place - deep in his heart, always in his head, so much a part of him that he lived and breathed God.  He cried out to God in despair; he shouted and danced in praise and thanksgiving.  David asked; he begged; he yelled; he sang; he wept.  Imagine if we all had that kind of relationship with God.  Imagine if we knew Him well enough to live out loud like David.  Transparent and open.  Trusting.  Faithful.

I picture the shadow of the Almighty kind of like that grassy patch behind the thorns and bristles of the blackberry thicket, a Thomas Kinkade painting lit by sunlight streaming through protective branches of towering trees.  A secret place of sanctuary.  David lived in God.  He rested under the shadow of the Almighty.  I want that.

Heavenly Father, Almighty God, thank you for your stories.  For the example of David - shepherd and King - your child.  I want to live in you, as he did.  Help me; guide me; teach me.  

Wednesday, May 22, 2013


Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 14:27

Imagine her, at the breakfast table, in the morning - "I'm a big girl, Mom, let me try your coffee," or "I'm old enough to go to So-and-So's boy/girl party this weekend," or even "I want to wear the pink shirt, today; we're all wearing pink."  Asserting her independence.  Proclaiming her impending teen-hood followed by adulthood.  The girl at the table, eating her breakfast, drinking her juice, petting the dog that comes up for a scrap of bacon.  

Imagine the getting ready.  Getting ready for work, getting ready to take the bus, making lunches, packing homework into a bookbag.  Last minute messages - "Remember, I'm going to be a little late from work tonight, Honey, you can make yourself a snack, to hold you until dinner."

"Ok, Mom."

Love, like the deep roots of trees, opens its leaves in the every day conversation.  Every day miracles - leaves - budding and growing on every day trees.  Love.  Taking care.  Daily care and schedules.  Making breakfast.  Packing lunch.  Coming and going in the home.

And then the world is turned upside down.  Destroyed.  Annihilated.  Reduced to unrecognizable rubble.  Trees stripped of their leaves - families stripped of their homes.  Those miracles of growth and life taken in an instant of incredible, unbelievable wind.  God in the wind.  God in the trees.  God in the home.  Sovereign God.  Almighty God.  Terrible God.

I do not give as the world gives. 

The stories are coming out of Oklahoma.  Devastation and loss written hand in hand with rescue and heroism.   The pictures are coming out of Moore, Oklahoma.  Homes like matchsticks scattered on ground scoured by wind and storm.  Metal siding twisted onto trees like apocalyptic sculpture.  Snapshots of destruction.  Snapshots of hope.  A mother whose face can't hold all of the care and worry and love she feels for this child - carrying her daughter, her too-big-to-be-carried daughter - the girl at the breakfast table - the girl in the pink shirt - across a landscape of debris - homes in the faded background - honor guard of the American Dream.

How does one quantify the loss?   Great columns of debits and credits written in red and black.  How does one quantify the love?  Poured out by strangers - parents - teachers - first responders - soldiers... How does one answer the whys.  My daughter watches the news and looks to me in horror - why?  What did they do?  Those people in Oklahoma?  Why them?  Why there?  Then she looks outside at the grey sky and the drizzle of rain - and I can read her mind.  What about here?  Will it, could it happen here?

And I do the best I can.  To explain to her.  To tell her what to do.  To get her phone - to get her helmet - the one she uses when my husband takes her for a ride on his bike - to go to the little bathroom - to close the door and call me.  To call my husband.  We will come home.  And I remind her of the time when we went to a closet and sat, waiting out a warning - she had the helmet, I had a comforter pulled over the two of us.  Sitting in the closet, giggling and laughing like school girls, because it was the best we could do.  Love, like leaves, in our conversation.  Until the sirens stopped.

I do not give as the world gives.

I think, sometimes, that if I could choose - life would be easy.  Full of easy things - clear answers pointing the way to right decisions.  No stress.  No worry.  The news would be full of happy stories - stories of joy and laughter, healing and help.  But then I think about the hard times, difficult choices, even unexplainable tragedy and loss.  And I am pulled, kicking and screaming, to the realization that there really is no easy.  Our God - the creator of the universe - our Father in Heaven - is a sovereign God.  There is no explaining.  There is no justifying.  He IS justice.  He IS explanation.  He is beyond our comprehension.

Jesus tried to teach us.  He tried to help us understand.  He tried to bridge our emotions to the circumstances of the world.  Peace - Shalom.  A greeting and a farewell.  A blessing - be at peace, be of good health, let your soul rest.  From Jesus it becomes more than a greeting, and definitely more than a farewell.  He knew the circumstances of his impending sacrifice and death.  He knew the pain he would bear and the sorrow he would leave.  He also knew how to comfort.  His peace - that blessing he gave - that He continues to give - was a  gift of pure love.  His peace.  In the midst of his circumstance, knowing as he knew what was to come, he was at peace - he was a tranquil lake in a hidden place.  He was gentle rain on thirsty ground.  He was the morning dove in the hushed light of dawn.  He was the rising star on a quiet evening.  And he gave that gift - that peace, that sense of balance, that ability to hold off fear - he gave it to his disciples.  And he gave it to us.

I will never understand the tragedies of this world - caused by man or by nature.  I will never understand the whys of them, or the why nots.  I am a child.  I learn.  I grow.  Hopefully, I mature.  Jesus gave us his peace.  I choose to accept it.  Today I will hug my daughter tightly, and I will tell her how much I love her.  Today, I will kiss my husband to work.  Today I will love on my kids at school - precious children to their parents and families. Today, I see hope in the images from Oklahoma.  I will not let my heart be troubled or afraid.  Today I choose joy.

Abba, Father, God - you are.  You have always been.  You will always be.  Thank you for your Son.  Thank you for your peace through Him.  Thank you for hope and joy - 

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


But as for me, I watch in hope for the LORD, I wait for God my Savior; my God will hear me.
Micah 7:7

A dog
Thank God
In the rubble
Sticks and stones


Lost and found
Tears and laughter
Litter the neighborhood
Stepping through debris
You're on the news
Child in your arms

Oh God!
Oh God!
Oh God!
Oh God!

It strode.
Seething wind
Twisting through the landscape
Hug from my daughter
With my safe coffee
In my safe kitchen
I weep

God in the ashes.  God in the rubble.  God in the aftermath.  God in the storm.  God in the wind and the rain.  God in the arms of the rescuers.  God in the eyes of the victims.  God in the frantic, the impatience, the waiting.  God in the comfort of strangers.  God in the morning light.  God on the earth; God in the heavens.  

Heavenly Father, I can only imagine what the night was like for these people in Oklahoma.  I can only imagine the fear, the helplessness, the worry - the fierce sense of family - the preciousness of life, the sense of loss.  Oh Father God, help them.  Comfort and strengthen them in these hours as well as in the days, weeks, and months ahead.  Infuse them with hope.  Hold them in your hand.  Let us, who watch from the safety of our homes and kitchens, let us love them.  Help us all to build each other up.  Guide us.  You have blessed us in so many ways - help us to be blessings to others.  Father, I ask this in the name of your precious Son, Jesus.  Amen.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

You Have Saved the Best

Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.
John 2:10

I was always curious about the water into wine thing - the first recorded miracle Jesus performed - at the wedding party of a friend.  It just seemed so unimmortal - kind of an anti-miracle.  Not exactly what one would expect from the Son of God - not something as common as wine and water.  He changed water into wine.  Because the feast of celebration had gone on for three days and his mother had told him of the shortage.  Because he and his disciples had added extra mouths to the party.  Because he didn't want the bridegroom or his family to be embarrassed by the shortage.  Because it was needed.

I had to look it up - on - just to see how important a role wine had in the day.  Wine.  Is kind of a miracle in itself.    Fruit of the vine, grown to sweet ripeness, picked, and pressed - the juices separated from the husk - stored, and strained.  Sometimes simple - like grape juice - sometimes fermented like the wine we are more familiar with today.  Spiced, reduced, imported, or home-grown.  Wine was common.  Drunk by all ages, all castes, rich and poor alike.  It was offered as a drink offering in the temple; it was considered a basic household staple.  Although warned against overindulgence, people in Jesus's time didn't mind a little tongue-loosening and happy partying with good wine.  An abundance of wine ranked right up there with signs of God's blessings.

Which is exactly why I'm curious about this water into wine thing.  Jesus was helping the party - that three-day-old-I-can't-even-imagine party - to party on.

Yesterday, my family and I took a little day trip to the coast.  We went via the 'scenic route' - which we thoroughly enjoyed for all the right reasons.  It was, after all, scenic.  We came home via the highway - been-there-done-that with the longer, slower route - we wanted to get home  We had things to do, schedules to follow, deadlines to meet.  But the highway didn't end up being the shortest distance on the timeline - someone had driven off the road and was stuck in the median - and we were stuck in a giant traffic jam.  We moved slowly, for the most part.  Very slowly.

Slowly enough that I had some time to actually look along the shoulder of the road.  The shoulder of the highway was verdant and lush - it had been recently mowed, but there were errant stalks of wild grass bravely swaying in the breeze of the crawling cars.  I was fascinated.   Enough so, that I pulled my camera off the floor, opened my window, and started shooting.  This camera has an amazing lens on it - a 42x optical zoom.  I actually enjoyed the time spent in that traffic.  What I saw was eye opening.  Looking through the viewfinder is an introduction to a whole different planet.  A whole different planet also created by God.  But this is a planet of small things - things missed from normal vantage - beautiful colors and incredible compositions.  Common things.  Things I would miss in my normal day-to-day drive.  

But you have saved the best till now.

He changed water into wine.  Common things.  He didn't rant and rave and wave his arms.  He didn't mutter incantations and burn incense.  He didn't even lay his hands on the water jars.  He told the servants to fill them with water and then to pour and present the pouring to the headwaiter.  For his approval.  So the marriage feast - the celebration - could proceed without apology - a gift, perhaps even  a blessing to the marriage.  In the common acts, in the common sequence of events, Jesus performed a miracle.  On the highway yesterday, I had an opportunity to see the world differently - instead of the busy, hurry-up-and-go world of my everydays - the common weeds along the side of the road became something special.  A miracle.  God gave me a gift - perhaps even a blessing.  Like water into wine.

Heavenly Father, I know I lose sight of what's important sometimes.  The great will be small and the small will be great.  I need to remember those small things.  The details.  The unnoticed.  Thank you for showing me - again - the wonders of your creation.  Thank you for showing me the miracles in common things.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Hold Us In Your Hand

All people will fear;
they will proclaim the works of God
and ponder what he has done.
Psalm 64:9

"It'll never make it, all the way across the country.  I told you it's been acting up, like the engine cuts out.  I was supposed to have it looked at next week.  I have an appointment."  The woman was packing clothes into a duffle bag.  Clothes that would get them through the next couple of weeks.  Hopefully.  Thank God it was summer because shorts take up less room, she thought with a pang of humor.

"You could stay here."

There it was.  That choice.  Stay, and live with the threat, the worry, the constant looking-over-her-shoulder.  Or go.  That had been the plan.  She and her daughter could go and they could be a family again -  across the country where her husband was stationed.  It wasn't even a choice.  It was a must.  He knew it - just voicing the option clarified their decision.

No more living in fear.  No more paranoia - seeing her ex-husband's car parked down the street from her home.  No more death threats.  No more calls from the school about having to give her daughter a shower, at school, because she'd come from his house with unwashed hair, stinking of smoke.  Her daughter would finally not have to navigate that divided life she'd been living - different sets of expectations - different temperaments.  It took at least a day, every week when her daughter got back, to lift her up again - to psychologically massage that head-down shuffle out of her walk - to help her child find joy again - the joy she had kept in the secret place her father couldn't destroy.

It was time.  It was past time.  The permission part had not been easy.  Her ex-husband had fought hard in court - had tried to force the judge to make her stay.  But in the end, in the end...

They had just received the verdict.  Mother is allowed to proceed with her child forthwith...  It was 5:00.  They'd been waiting for a couple of hours.  Her ex-husband had also been waiting.  He was here, in this town, waiting, like a spider.  He was unstable.  She and her husband, her husband of nine years, her steadfast soldier - had decided that this town, this place, at this time was not a safe place to be.  Forthwith.  Now - you have to leave now - before he comes after you - before he tries to make good on his threat.  Urgent.  Impatient.  Now.  Forthwith.  So they were packing - enough for a couple of weeks.  Enough to get them across the country.  Away.  They would worry about packing the house and the rest of their things later.  They needed to go.  Now.

"It'll never make it, all the way across the country."

"Let's get out of town.  If it goes down, what's the worst that can happen - we have to use a taxi?  We get it towed somewhere and wait for it to be repaired?  At least we'll be away."  Always the voice of reason.  Her husband was such a practical man.  She whispered a prayer of thanks for this man - who was her protection.  Her clarification.  She whispered a prayer of entreaty - Keep us safe,  God, hold us in your hand.

Well no matter who you are
And no matter what you've done
There will come a time
When you can't make it on your own
And in your hour of desperation
Know you're not the only one
Prayin' "Lord above, I need a miracle"
I need a miracle

And in your hour of desperation
Know you're not the only one
Prayin' "Lord above, I need a miracle"
Lord above, I need a miracle

We drove three days.  The car never failed us - even in the three-hour construction traffic going through Arkansas.  In June.  When we reached our new home, it started acting up again - the same issues I had seen before our trip - engine cutting out, difficulty starting, misfiring.  My husband ordered the parts to do a complete tune-up on the car that had taken us across the country safely.   I'll never forget him walking into the kitchen to show me something - a handful of spark plugs - soaked in oil.  His face told the story.  Disbelief.  Awe.  He said the car had been running with one clean plug.  One.  For three days, it had run perfectly.  No lagging, no misfires, no stalls.  Just enough to carry us to our new life.

I believe in miracles.  I've seen them.  Big and small.  God doesn't have to show his presence through shock and awe.  He is by our side in all of our little moments as well.  In a judge's decision.  In the urgent choice of words - leave forthwith.  Even in a three-day trip to a new life.

Thank you, God, for miracles.  All around us - thank you for your presence with us. 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Coffee Time - Be Ready

I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil—this is the gift of God. I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that people will fear him.
Ecclesiastes 3:12-14

"What is it, today?"  My daughter was exercising on the rowing machine.  I was on the elliptical.

"Today is May 15th,"  I told her,

"It is my birthday next Tuesday," she replied with one of her looking-forward-to-her-birthday grins.

"Not next Tuesday, Sweetie, the Tuesday after.  Your birthday is on the 28th.  Next Tuesday is only the 21st."

"It is not real."  She was referring to the music video on the TV in the exercise room, apparently her birthday was forgotten.  "The accident.  It is not real."

"I know," I smiled down at her from my machine.  "I like this video."

"Like ER.  You know ER?"  She was telling and asking in the same breath.

"Yes, I know ER, but I've never watched it."

"ER, it is nasty," she proclaimed.  Like I'd never heard her say it before - every time something or someone comes up bloody or broken on a show or a movie.  Emergency Room.  ER.  She used to watch it when she visited her dad.  It was one of their shows.  "It is blood."

"Yes, it is.  The woman was in an accident.  She wasn't paying attention to her driving.  She was looking for her phone.  There is blood."

My daughter was looking intently at the screen as she pulled the rower back - squinting a little, wrinkling her nose at the images, concentrating.  "See, Mom, it is coming.  The accident."

"I know.  Does it bother you? You know it's not real.  It's just a video."  I look down to gauge her mood, her feelings.

"Taylor Swift."  She's labeling the people and images.  "And Keith Urban, too"  The 'th' in his first name sounding more like an 'f'.

Apparently she's moved on again.  A different topic.  "Yes, he plays the guitar."

"It is hospital."

Hmm...back to the ER thing.  "Yes, they took her to the hospital.  Sierra, you've seen this video before, right?"

She looked over at me - waiting.

"Watch their faces, Honey.  Can you tell if the woman is ok?  Watch their faces.  There's the doctor.  Now there's hugs.  Look - can you tell?"

"She is dead."

"No, Sweetie, look - they're hugging and smiling.  What do you think?"

Focusing on the video - staring - my daughter suddenly blurted "She is ok.  Awesome God."

"Yes - Awesome God."

"Jonathan is hugging me."  She had that I'm-teasing-my-mother twinkle in her eye.

"No," I laughed.  "Jonathan is not hugging you.  Jonathan isn't here right now.  He is not hugging you."

"He is my boyfriend, Jonathan."  Still with the teasing smile.  My husband and I told her, years ago, that she couldn't have a boyfriend until she turned 25.  She'll be 22 in a couple of weeks.  I started to answer...



"It is my birthday.  Next Tuesday."

"No, honey, your birthday is still a couple of weeks away."

Conversations with my daughter tend to circle around.  You get used to it.  It's calming.  Deceptively calming sometimes.  Kind of like an old habit - you put it on like a favorite dress everyday and expect it to fit a certain way, hang to certain length, move just so - comfortable.  Then, out of nowhere comes the pow.  The change.  The unexpected.  My daughter has become an expert at the pow.  Just when I think I know where she's going in her circular thinking, she comes up with something new.  Something surprising.  Something unexpected.  Like hugging a boyfriend in the middle of her conversation -

The sun comes up, the sun goes down.  We go to work; we come home.  We walk through our dailys blindly - our daily meals, our daily schedules, our daily relationships.  We sometimes take our dailys for granted.  Even our daily God.

Even our daily God.  We get comfortable with Him - kind of like an old habit.  And that's not a bad thing.  Like conversations with my daughter.  Everyday conversations about everyday things.  God did create, after all, our every days.  But then, out of nowhere comes the pow.  The shift.  That little voice.  The nudge.  The unexpected change in circumstance.  Do we not expect God to communicate back to us?  Be ready.  God pursues us - He wants us in relationship with Him.  We want to be in His will.  Be ready for the pow.  Sometime, somewhere, in the midst of our dailys - He reveals His plan for us.  Like my daughter - in her conversation - her plan revealed...  It can happen anytime.  Be ready.

Heavenly Father, you have given us gifts - gifts to use to glorify you.  Thank you.  Help me to seek you; help me to hear you in my every days.  And God, help me to obey.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him; for he thought, "Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me." 
2 Kings 16:23

What was she thinking?  This was craziness - this joining thing, this going along, this fitting in.  She didn't fit in.  First of all, she didn't have the right clothes, those designed, color-co-OR-dinated, up-to-the-minute clothes.  She didn't have the right hair - glossy, down-to-the-waist, move-in-the-wind hair.  She knew that when others looked at her, they saw freckles and curls, hand-me-downs, and glasses.  She definitely didn't look the part.

Yet, here she was.  Trying.  To fit.  To be like the crowd.  Watching from her chosen corner, she saw the ebb and flow of conversations like gatherings of colorful birds, cluster and disperse, cluster and disperse - moving across and through the room.  She smiled, a guarded smile, a secret smile.  It was almost like watching a crowd doing the wave at an athletic event.  The smile broadened as she pictured these colorful birds waiting for their moment to raise their arms...  

Silly.  She thought.  It's just silly that I'm even here.  It was her mother's idea.  Her mother - perfect hostess, perfect parent, perfect wife.  Relegated to a small life.  A stay-at-home-neighborhood-mom life.  Her perfect job had been taken from her with the crash of the market, the downward-turn-of-the-economy.  And she was feeling the effects of social isolation.  She was feeling the effects of living on less, of making do, of sacrifice.  Her mother had determined to lift her daughter out of the drudgery - kicking and screaming - into a network of social and professional opportunity.  Her daughter wasn't going to have to make do;  her daughter was going to be one of the lucky ones, successful.  She was going to find a good husband, an educated, professional man, who would carry her into a better life.

But first, she had to fit in.  Fit in and be accepted into that network.  This group.  The rich, the powerful, the doers.  The deciders.  Birds - all of them.  Clucking, squawking, flapping birds.  In all of her mother's stay-at-home years, she still didn't know her daughter.  How she felt unique and special because of her differences.  How she didn't mind the hand-me-downs - the gently-used clothes with stories of their own.  How she liked the creativity, the challenge of making do.  How she valued the friendships she had cultivated - friendships based on shared experience and deep discussions.  Lasting, rooted friendships, like oaks from acorns.  

Not this.  Not surface, dandelion-blowing-in-the-wind.  Like a meet-and-greet.  Craziness.

She sighed.  For her mother, she would try.  For her mother, who had lost her way, she would become. She would smile.  She would talk about the weather.  For her mother, who had been defeated, she would rise up.  She would swallow the parts that didn't fit.  She would sacrifice to the gods who had won - the social, the successful, the shallow.  So they could help - not her - but her mother.  So they could help her mother regain her self.  Her perfect life.  Lived through her daughter.

How many times do we take on things in this life that aren't ours?  Things that don't belong to us, that aren't a part of us - because those things are working for others.  How many times do we go along with the crowd - without thinking - because everyone else is doing it?  Compromises in our jobs, at home, in relationship.  Keep up with the Jones', dress to impress, choose from a menu of the politically correct.  

The King of Israel offered sacrifices to the gods of the Damascus.  Even though he knew it was against his religion - against the law of his God.  Thou shalt have no other gods before me.  He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus because the King of Damascus had beaten him in battle.  He was taking on things in his life that weren't his.  Gods that didn't belong to him.  Because everyone else was doing it.  Instead of thinking his actions were being held in account by the God of Israel - judged - he had done evil in the eyes of the Lord - instead of thinking he was being taught a lesson - the King of Israel thought the gods of Damascus were more powerful.  After all, he'd been beaten.  He and his God.  Who he only called on in times of need.  Like battle.  Who he ignored otherwise - ignored and disrespected.  Tossed away in the changing tides of fortune.  I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.

What was he thinking?  It was craziness.  

Hear, O Israel; the Lord our God, the Lord is one!  

Heavenly Father, help me to be true to You.  In my actions, in my thoughts, and in my words.  It can be easy to lose sight of You in my daily living - easy to sacrifice to a different god.  Help me to see You in the ordinary and everyday.  Remind me who I am to you. 

Remind Me Who I Am     
by Jason Gray

When I lose my way,
And I forget my name,
Remind me who I am.
In the mirror all I see,
Is who I don't wanna be,
Remind me who I am.
In the loneliest places,
When I can't remember what grace is.

Tell me once again who I am to You,
Who I am to You.
Tell me lest I forget who I am to You,
That I belong to You.
To You.

When my heart is like a stone,
And I'm running far from home,
Remind me who I am.
When I can't receive Your love,
Afraid I'll never be enough,
Remind me who I am.
If I'm Your beloved,
Can You help me believe it.

Tell me once again who I am to You,
Who I am to You, whoa.
Tell me lest I forget who I am to You.
That I belong to You.
To You.

I'm the one you love,
I'm the one you love,
That will be enough,
I'm the one you love.

Tell me once again who I am to You.
Who I am to You.
Tell me lest I forget who I am to You,
That I belong to You.
To You.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

#TellHisStory: Even at Lunch

When the king of Israel saw them, he asked Elisha, "Shall I kill them, my father? Shall I kill them?" "Do not kill them," he answered. "Would you kill men you have captured with your own sword or bow? Set food and water before them so that they may eat and drink and then go back to their master." So he prepared a great feast for them, and after they had finished eating and drinking, he sent them away, and they returned to their master. So the bands from Aram stopped raiding Israel's territory.
2 Kings 6:21-23

"I could never be a Christian," she said, with that I-really-want-you-to-understand-me stare, a look of pleading, entreaty.  We weren't alone.  We were in the teacher's lounge - eating lunch - as we did daily. Regular circumstances, not-so-regular topic.  Sure, some of us went to the same church in town.  Sure, sometimes conversation included church stuff.  But not salvation.  Never something as deep as actual belief.

"I just can't get past the saving part," she confided, "the part where if you say you believe in Jesus, you go to heaven."  I was a brand-new Christian myself.  That saving part was a precious gift in my mind. Grace.   That saving part was a miracle to me.  A miracle that I had finally claimed - desperately.  And now that I had invited Jesus into my life, I knew I would never let Him go.  So, here I was.  In the teacher's lounge.  Listening.  

"Is it true," she asked, "that once you accept Jesus, you go to heaven?  He is the only way to heaven?"  I nodded, she had opened that tiny little door to one of my own issues.  The only way.  Every day I prayed a little prayer to cover my own issues.  God, I believe.  Help my unbelief.   The only way - surely good people, moral people, saintly people would have a way.  It sounded so exclusive - so Manifest Destiny-ish.  My inner turmoil...not now...spinning a web in my head....not now.  God, I believe.  Help me overcome my unbelief.

I listened.  She was so intent, so intense; her face hardened.  "My father became a Christian.  According to Christianity, he's going to heaven."  She looked away for an instant, her hand unconsciously clenched on the table.  Then unclenched as her eyes turned back to mine.  "He abused us, my sister and me.  Years ago.  He doesn't deserve to go to heaven."  She stared through me, laser focus to a time and place only she could see.  "He deserves to rot in hell."  Her lunch was half-eaten, napkin neatly laid out, yogurt cup opened, plastic spoon ready.  We were in the teacher's lounge - eating - as we did daily.  Regular circumstances, not-so-regular topic.

She wasn't a hugger.  My natural reaction was to give her a hug - of reassurance, acceptance, understanding.  She wasn't a hugger.  

What do you do with that?  What do you say?  How do you comfort?  Words weren't enough.  "I'm sorry," I said.  "I'm sorry that you had to go through that."  Oh God, help me.  Help her.  I see you, knocking.  Like you did with me.  Surround her with people who know you, help her to continue to seek You.  Let this not be about her father, but about You.  God, help me to know what to do...

God isn't easy, sometimes.  He is awesome.  He is terrible.  He is all-powerful and all-knowing.  He has high expectations of and for us.  That lunchtime was difficult for me.  I wanted to help, to share, to rejoice about Christ in my life.  It was not a time for words - and neither were the next six months at that school.  Not directly.  To her. was a time for action.  Our actions speak for us - louder, more eloquently, more consistently than our words.  I was changed - working to glorify God in my life - which affected the lives of those around me.  Not always successful, but lifted through my failures by grace.  Working, even at school.  Even at lunch.  Through action.  

Thousands of years ago, a prophet of God told the King of Israel to show mercy to the soldiers of a rival king.  Not only mercy, but generosity.  So he set out a feast for the captured soldiers.  And released them.  The story could end here - with the obedience of the King of Israel.  But God went a step further.  Cause and effect.  Because the King did as he was told, his subjects, the Israelites were kept safe from further raids by those released troops.  Cause and effect.

I continue to pray for my friend.  I pray that she is shown God's love and God's grace in her life.  I pray that she open the door to Jesus, so He can strengthen her, teach her, help her - to forgive, to love.  I pray that He lead her to peace.  Her questions will be answered - He is the Truth.

God, I believe.  Help my belief.

Linking with TellHisStory

Monday, May 13, 2013

I Learned Those Things From My Mom

Her children arise and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:
Proverbs 31:28

Everyday.  Well, almost everyday.  I look forward to our conversations - long distance between states, between lives, between families.  My mom ranks right up there on my list of people-worth-knowing.  I call her almost everyday.

If she were a drink - she would be something bubbly, with a rich gold color, full of flavor, a little old-fashioned - a Vernor's ginger ale.  If she were an item of clothes - she would be a jeans jacket - white denim - with a little bit of sparkle - dress up or dress down - comfortable and classic in any circumstance.  She'd be the turquoise in a jewelry box - standing out like a blue sky - anchored to the earth - anchored to life and family.

Some days, my mother speaks of wishing she had done things differently when raising her four daughters.  "Why?"  I ask.  "Would you change us?"

"No", she smiles.  "No, I'm proud of all my girls."

My mother.

Maybe we should have done things differently - to make her life easier.  To give her less worry.  She purposefully tried to be the very best mom she could be - maybe we should have tried as hard to be the very best daughters we could be...

My mother.  Has forgiven us those nights of worry.  Has forgiven us that frustration - children not listening, talking back, bad attitudes, and poor choices.  My mother encourages.  She celebrates.  She learns and shares.  She listens.

Day after day - phone call after phone call - we talk.  We talk about ordinary, everyday things.  Her volunteer work, my school.  Family.  Church and home.  We talk about cars, and washing machines, about cleaning house and losing weight.  We talk about exercise.  We talk about friends.  Books and movies.  Kids.  Everyday, we talk.  Precious moments - priceless.

Years ago, when I was a fairly new mom, I wrote a poem about motherhood.  It's kind of like two sides of a coin.  I think I took my mother for granted - for a long time - not realizing the fierceness that was motherhood.  Because I was on the receiving end.  After my daughter was born, the coin flipped.  Now I was doing the protecting; I was doing the worrying; I was singing the night-time songs; I was doing the planning and detailing of our everydays.  This poem isn't about not receiving good mothering, it's not about knowing it from the outside - it's about discovering what good mothering is all about - from the inside... It's about finally experiencing motherhood - kind of like joining a club.  And the things I know about mothering - I learned those things from my mom.

I Never Knew

I never knew mother-love, mother-pride or gladness.
Never tasted mother-fear, nor drank of mother-sadness.
Living in the quiet heart of singing lullabies.

The pulling, lusty life-joy in a newborn baby’s cry.

I never touched the steely strength of mother-confidence,
Or suffered lonely outcome teaching independence.
The fierceness of protection, the glimmer of delight,
The pain, the thirst, the hunger, the ache to ‘make things right’.

I never noticed homey details, nor stopped to wonder ‘why’?
Never sensed the sacrifice inside a mother’s sigh.
I never thought I’d understand or feel the way I do

Till I became a mother...I simply never knew.

Heavenly Father, Lord of the Universe, thank you for my mother.  Especially for my mother.  Hold her in your hand and let her rest in your peace and in your love - let her feel your pride in her - in her life well done.  Thank you for my mother.