Monday, September 29, 2008

In the Land of Hope

We didn't really want to go there, yesterday, but we did. Bill, Abby and I talked about hope, for some reason, as we drove there. Abby brought up that word. She's amazingly instinctive and even a bit prophetic at times- for a 14 year old. So when we arrived at the church that we were going to visit that day, we carried that word with us as we went inside: hope, that we would be glad to say that we had gone to the house of the Lord, hope that we would feel "included" and not like wandering, uninvited strangers crashing a party, and hope that we would leave there...changed.

There was a part of me bucking and rearing deep inside, like a bull out of the chute. I did not want to go through "all this" again. If you care about being in fellowship with other Christians, if you want to find a church "home" as we call it, there's nothing worse for a disguised introvert like me than to walk into new settings where you supposedly should feel immediate love and bonding with the people there- because they're Christians.

But Christians can be mean, resistant to outsiders, rude, or cold. I should know- I'm one of them. I have my days and my moments and my seasons, even, where I am not in love with other Christians at all. You could even say that I get tired of these people, tired of our rules or our Agenda or our strange culture of love and grace and grim faced judgment. We want to be gracious and kind and above all meanness and spite- but we are not. I am not. I hate that about myself and when I go into a church I see people like me who are trying to get above it all, trying to see Him in all His reality- so that our reality changes.

So we went inside. And we were not sorry that we did. We were welcomed by people, but more than that, the presence of the Holy Spirit was strong, heavy, like a comforting blanket that descended from the heavens. We'd heard that this church was not exactly the most seeker sensitive, meaning that it expressed itself in fervent outspoken worship, sudden cries coming from people who call out the Name above all Names, behavior that is not staid and riveted to the seats in decorum and human nobility. I was quiet in my seat, but comfortable with all that was going on around me. I didn't know what I would hear next, what I would experience next , and I was so glad for that.

We left the church and drove home quieter in thought than when we had arrived. Did we find our church home? I don't know yet. But I do know that I was touched and I was changed. I went in there with my invisible shroud of hurt and guardedness. I left there reminded that I was not allowed to keep that shroud on. I have no right to dwell in the land of mistrust and suspicion and reservations.

"Enlarge the place of your dwelling..." Isaiah 54:2 begins. I believe that where I am to dwell is the Land of Hope. And my dwelling in this land is supposed to increase and spread out. Because these three remain- faith, hope, and love, the Bible tells us. Hope is wedged right in the middle, I think, because our faith in His love for us should cause Hope to arise and spread out, like the smile that suddenly appears on my face because He surprised me again. He always does.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Read the Headlines

I wonder if we Americans are really in touch with the raging undercurrent of economic anxiety this nation is feeling. This past week I was dealing with my own situational concerns: a son sick with potential pneumonia based 13 hours away at college, a highly sensitive dog who had to be clipped down to the skin at the Groomers, a home schooled teenage daughter in need of more social interaction and who was just plain tired of me being her teacher- after only three weeks of home schooling.

I was aware of the news headlines, the dire straights that certain banks were in, the predicament that we all are in- but I couldn't do anything about these big, huge economic concerns. My own concerns were in front of me, and I was just trying to figure out what was required of me. What was I supposed to do, and what was I supposed to let God handle?

In the end, I saw my son miraculously recover from what would normally have taken chest x-rays and antibiotics to deal with. I saw my daughter end the school week yesterday with a smile on her face after a jaunt to the local mall with a friend and then an easy supper of pizza and wings where Bill, Abby and I enjoyed what I call our "happy meal" and Harry calls his sad meal- because he doesn't get a scrap of anything. When I say that this dog is delicate, you have no idea. The least bit of a change to his diet, and we all know in a very pungent way that he can't handle the change.

The changes in our nation right now are so upsetting and nauseating to so many that I imagine many have not been able to sleep or eat, much less have a happy meal. Our family already lives at a higher risk level than some families do because my husband is self-employed, we have no pension or retirement fund, and we've journeyed this way for so long now that I am used to the constant underlying pressure of living close to the edge financially. I don't enjoy it nor do I ever welcome it with open arms, but I have fully accepted that this is how we travel, so to speak- a bit like vagabonds living in a comfy suburban world with strange, out-of-this world beliefs that are best expressed in verses from melodies like "God will make a way, where there seems to be no way" and "Jehoval Jireh, My Provider, His Grace is sufficient for me".

But I still feel the tension and the wobbliness of what's going on nationally, economically, politically. There's a great amount of fear in our nation that's trying to go undetected so that the tidal wave of crisis and change doesn't become unnecessarily bigger than what it has to be. I think we want to be brave and stoic but many of us feel vulnerable, at risk more than ever, and shaky- whether we're employed, retired, unemployed, self-employed or just starting out.

I think this might be a good place to be- in touch with reality, in touch with the fact that we've never been so high and mighty that we've eliminated Risk and secured the big Guarantee. We don't want to feel vulnerable, but since when have we not been exposed to situations bigger than our control, mountains seemingly impossible to climb, rough choppy seas that should overwhelm a tiny boat?

This is walking-on-water time. Being in your little boat isn't any safer when you're in the midst of a turbulent, thrashing storm. I think walking on water may just be the thing we were born to do. It may just be exactly what God has called us to do- anytime we are tempted to hold back and hole up. Instead, God says, Hold Me.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Love and Relief

There are some days when I have a lot of petitions, complaints and questions that I bring before God, but this is not one of those days. Today is a day of peace, both inner and manifested. My son is well. He is not critical or in danger. And that means that I am speechless with relief and in awe at how God worked in this situation.

I knew Alex was going to be okay when I received a text message from him at noon, yesterday, asking about bananas and exactly how do they ripen? These are the strange, delightful things that my son will often throw out to me- when he's full of questions or ready to do something silly or crazy because he is full of life.

There are certain gaps in his schooling where Alex missed simple facts and important data, such as memorizing the months of the year. I found out last year that he doesn't know the months of the year in order (I home schooled him in kindergarten so this must be my fault) yet the kid memorized the Periodic Table of the Elements for fun. Anyhow, Alex texted me a question about bananas. I furiously texted back, "Never mind bananas-Are you okay? Did you sleep well last night? Are you eating breakfast right now? How is your breathing?"

Just a few words from him about feeling surprisingly okay made me take a deep breath and sigh with relief. He told me the college nurse had him in twice to check on his breathing and that she was taking good care of him. I wanted to hug that nurse and squeeze her tight with all the relief and gratitude I felt. This is a major breakthrough for my son. If he comes through this cold without it turning into pneumonia and causing an Asthma attack, this will be a big deal. A very big deal.

Weeks before Alex left for college, he wound up getting the Pneumococcal vaccination. It happened only because his sister was sick, again, with a sinus infection and her doctor brought up having her tested to see if this vaccine would help. Alex's health history was brought up, and they were both tested. Abby didn't need the vaccine, they said, but Alex did. A shot in the arm was administered- which Alex took cheerfully. We had no idea that this vaccine would prove to be an ally in battle.

So my son is well enough to send text messages about green bananas and about the pizza he ate last night. He is still standing. I am too, for that matter. Standing on the promises of God, as that old hymn goes, and standing tall and strong in love and relief. I have no big questions to ask of God today. I don't want to discuss with God any plaguing questions I've had about justice or war or what seems to be unfair in life.

I am quiet with awe right now. My son was not only rescued but I was too. While fear rose up within me, something greater rose up as well. My cry went out to God. He heard my voice. He hears mothers everywhere. He listens to the lonely. He cares about the downtrodden. He lifts up those who have fallen. And everywhere you look, you'll find God at work, somehow, in some way, in a miracle in the making...if you will just wait long enough to see what He will do when you ask God to carry you through.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

My Hand in His

When my son, Alex, and I first visited his college campus, we arrived in the early evening and it was cold, dark, and dreary in the town. Very dark. There were hardly any street lights illuminating our way as walked from the bed and breakfast we were staying at to the college campus down the street. I thought to myself, I don't like this and its cold and dark, and I turned to my son and said, "We're only here a couple days and then we are going home." I felt relieved at that thought, that he and I would leave the place that made us feel uncomfortable and cold and go to the place where we felt "safe and secure from all alarm".

But when we walked into the campus building, up the stairs into the student lounge area, we walked into warmth and light and friendship and new beginnings. Within hours I knew that this is where my son was going to be going to college. I knew it and I felt sure that it would be good. And it is good. But now it's hard.

My son is sick with a cold. That's nothing, as far as news, for most people. But to the mother of a preemie, the mother of a son who spent nights in emergency rooms struggling to breathe, the mother of a son who gets quiet and pale when a simple cold takes him down with asthma or pneumonia, this is knee-shaking news. This is going where I do not want to go: I am at a loss to help him the way I have always intervened when he was sick. I cannot assess how bad it is, from where I am. I can only hear his voice, by phone, and feel the fear inside me; the kind of fear that makes me nauseous with worry so that I only half hear what my daughter is saying to me when she asks me a question about her history lesson.

I feel cornered by God- because this is what I had dreaded and what I had known I would go through. I knew my son would be far away at a college campus and I would be reduced to a distant doctor's assessment of his health, with me assessing his health by phone call. That I would be trying to gauge, from a distance, where my son was at as far as the critical nature of breathing, just breathing.

I believe God does not want me to fear. In my head I know this. I believe God loves and cares for my son. But HOW do I get through this? I don't want to go through this. I don't like this kind of trial, this challenge He presents to me so that I can learn to not only trust Him, but trust Him as I am learning to trust Him.

"'A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master'(Matthew 10:24). In other words, the same things that happened to our Lord will happen to us on our way to to our 'Jerusalem' "(My Utmost for His Highest). I imagine that Christ knew where He was called to go, knew what lay ahead for Him, yet that doesn't mean He enjoyed the route, that He grinned and laughed on His way. No one smiles at a trial ahead of them, however big or small it may seem to others. Sometimes people, loved ones even, cannot understand what makes you quake in your boots. What we go through, we go through with shaking, cold hands that others may not see, but God feels them, He holds them, "for He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust" (Ps 103:14).

And as long as He intimately knows what its like to battle fear, to have to go where we do not want to go, then I can be comforted by Him. I can let Him lead me through a trial, across a mountain and up the difficult side, so that I can know the heights of His love, the depth of His comforting peace. I know in the end I will not have to say that I enjoyed the journey, but that the outcome of the journey was worth it all.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Accepting the Ride of Your Life

I didn't think so at first, but I really do have a lot in common with those professional bull riders. I realized that after watching Sunday afternoon's broadcast on T.V. I sat there with my eyes glued to the screen, coughing up a storm due to this terrible cold we've been battling here these last couple days. I felt weak and and like I had been stomped on. But these bull riders don't just feel like they've been stomped on. Many of them actually have been stomped on, beat up, and pulverized by a snortin', whirling bull. And yet they often walk, or limp, out of the arena with a grimace of dignity and hope. Hope- because they're still alive, even if some bones are broken, and dignity, because at least they dared to try to ride a bull.

I'm trying to be daring, myself, lately. Daring and brave about anything that intimidates me or makes me feel like I want to turn back. And I've been holding on to a new principle, lately; and that is that sometimes holding on for dear life is about all you can do. In the bull rider's case they hold on to the rope with a gloved hand and muscles pulsing in their arm like fireworks going off. I have to hold on to God, grasp hold of what and Who He is, at the same time that I accept His plan for my life for the season I'm in. This kind of acceptance is equivalent to sitting on top of a snorting bucking bull and reminding yourself that you chose to get on it. You accepted the challenge.

I've gotten used to the schedule of homeschooling my daughter and answering questions while forgotten, wet laundry mildews in the washer, and more dirty pots and pans get hidden in the oven till I can get to them. If I make it sound like my house is messy, it really is. I just can't get on top of everything and do it all well. The old me got bothered by situations like that.

Now I am accepting what I cannot accomplish. I am accepting where I am, and where I am not. I'm not advancing in measurable things, right now. Success has a whole new meaning for me. Success means contentment, yielding of my will, a relaxing of my high standards for proving that "I am woman, hear me roar". What I am is a bit tired, a bit more apt to say, "let it go" and a bit more quick to smile at the mess I am in. The mess I am in, literally. Bill is wiring something so he tore apart the living room, and Alex's room has been turned into a quasi-office/homeschool room, and my bedroom is as congested as ever (as Bill and I are, physically, also).

This is not how I like things to be. I like order and I like to feel unashamed of my surroundings- as if a neat, orderly home really reflects a true, terrific person. A neat orderly home could, actually, reflect a fanatic and a fiend, I think. So, lets get off the subject of housekeeping and get to the things that affect our heart.

I have been asked to take a route in my life that I didn't think I'd be taking. And this is not just referring to me homeschooling my daughter. There are so many things going on in my life right now that I didn't expect- and so many things that are not going on that I had hoped would be happening. I have been asked, in effect, to ride a scary bull that wants to throw me off. And all that is required of me is to look that situation in the eye- as if staring into the eyes of a bull- and get on that bull as though this is what I normally do.

Because everyday that I follow the path and the plan of God, I wind up going where I do not want to go, only to experience something I'd never dreamed of- the exhilaration of seeing God take me onward and higher. I get to face Fear and say good-bye to Regret and hold on to God for all I've got.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Remembering What Counts

What a day. 9/11 is a day Americans will never forget, but it's also a day we don't particularly want to remember. Nobody wants to call upon sad or bad memories, painful times, days of trouble and scarring just for the sake of remembering Pain. But for some, a bad memory or sad memory is still a way to link with someone you loved; its still a way to stay in touch with someone you lost.

Last night we were able to do some kind of video-cam thing on the computer where we could see our son and talk to him at the same time. The reception was a bit choppy and we sometimes missed each other's words, but the gist of our conversation was there. My son looked well and there was nothing like looking into those dark eyes of his and seeing life. He is loving what he is learning and I have to say- so am I.

I am learning that sometimes we go through a long rough period in the trenches where we are fighting a battle of some kind, and then when God takes you out of the trenches and gives you a leave of duty from the battle, you find yourself feeling a bit out of sorts. You think you were trained only for war (and Scripture does tell us that He trains our hands for war), and you forget that He also trains you to be quiet and at rest, and maybe I would add - a bit bored. Not that I always loved putting out fires, but I never realized how active, full-time mothering of a teenage boy was so exhausting. Exhausting and never boring.

It's not that my daughter is a complete walk in the park, but she is more compatible with my temperament, and we don't clash much. Being with her I find myself laughing a lot, chuckling over her funny sayings and her honest assessment of things. I don't have to threaten her that her savings will have to buy hair coloring for me because she is not turning me gray. But that-kid-who-turned-me-gray is my son, my first born, and I am aware that he took a big turn down a road leading away from me. And now I don't care that he made my hair go gray. I only care that he is well, that he is safe and sound.

I only care about a couple things right now, in my life. I cared about a lot more, a whole lot more, a year ago. But right now what matters to me is that my daughter has a happy year learning what an 8th grader should learn, that our dog recovers from his anxiety over missing Alex and wondering why that boy is not where he should be- which my dog considers is here, with us, in that messy room of his that is now so quiet and still.

I only care that the few things I have put my hand to are done with simple obedience, no drama, and no fanfare. Now I am getting close to understanding what that passage was about when the household servant was to have this attitude: "The servant should not get any special thanks for doing his job. He is only doing what his master told him to do. It is the same with you. When you do all the things you are told to do, you should say, 'We are not worthy of any special thanks. We have only done the work we should do" (Luke 17).

It's not a false humility. It's simply a realization that you are called to do certain things. They are laid out for you. There is a simple obedience required- and it is good for you to have things simplified down to the Necessary, the Good, the Essential. Too often we get caught up with the fluff and the frills and the failures of trying to produce these things. I've had enough failures to know that many of them happened because I was caught up in trying to produce something significant out of the banal, the trite, the stupid, if I really get honest with myself.

So God is freeing me up, in a way, by winnowing me down. It's the brass tacks of Obedience 101. God knows what He is doing, He has a way for us to take, and when we come forth we will be shining as gold, even if we don't see how we shine.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Quote for the Day

"We are to be fountains through which Jesus can flow as 'rivers of living water'.... Do you look at yourself and say, 'But I don't see the rivers'? Through the history of God's work you will usually find that He has started with the obscure, the unknown, the ignored, but those who have been steadfastly true to Jesus Christ."

9/7 My Utmost for His Highest

Monday, September 08, 2008

One Day at a Time

I'm still missing my son, I've started homeschooling my daughter, and I'm just taking everything "one day at a time, sweet Jesus." Everything is scaled down in my life, scaled down to the basics, the necessary, the fundamentals. This is not a time for dreaming big or even for reviewing my personal goals. It's more a time for just looking up, every so often, and asking God, "Remind me why I am doing this?". And the answer will come, every time: Because He leads me there, to that point, that place, that situation where HE thinks I should be. So nothing is about me, anymore, really. It's more about Him than ever before. And for that, I feel more at peace than I have in a while. More at peace yet completely in the dark. And its not a scary place to be after all.

I'm getting used to talking to my son by phone (very, very brief phone calls, on his part), brief emails, and with my every day look at his senior photo in the living room when I look into those deep brown eyes and whisper to him, I miss you. He says nothing back, because photos can't talk, but I still feel better talking to him that way every day.

I'm getting used to homeschooling my daughter again, and the even the joy of learning with her, learning more about her, and learning from her. It's just the three of us at the dinner table, now, with Harry hovering at our feet, and we have great conversations about how my cooking has not improved, the house is messier than ever, and how we miss Alex and can't wait to see him at Thanksgiving.

Fall is definitely almost here. The weather is getting crisp and cool in the evenings- just the way I like it. I also like that I feel younger than ever, somehow, and I think its because I am more unsure of everything and more confident in His provision, His care. Instead of feeling wise and mature, I feel young and so aware of all I don't know. Yet He is constantly telling me that this is how a believer feels and lives: you walk by faith while you feel lost in the dark, all the while telling yourself that its not what you feel that counts. It's more what you know, for sure, that matters.

Monday, September 01, 2008

Bull Riding and Bridal Bliss

Bill said the dog followed him around the house like a shadow the whole time I was gone. It was only three days that I was gone, but I think the dog understood that I was miles away, in another world- a world of bull riding and bridal bliss.

I flew down to Tennessee to be with my niece and god-child, Jennifer. We spent Friday talking and catching up, planning her wedding, dreaming out loud. Then I watched my niece try on bridal gowns. I oohed and awed over the beauty of it all, the glowing face looking at herself in a mirror and seeing herself soon walking down the aisle. She picked THE dress of her dreams and we rejoiced over being one step closer to that glorious day when she will say "I do."

Then in the evening we geared up for something on the other side of the spectrum. We were going to a PBR Event and seeing our first Professional Bull Riding Event live and in color and up close. We were not close enough to see the bull snot fly as the riders fly off the backs of the bulls, but we hear there is a lot of it. We yelled and cheered and roared our admiration of these bull riders along with the crowd.

Saturday, we walked around town, talked more, and I took in the sights and the sounds of the South. I loved every minute of it. On Sunday I visited the church she and her fiance go to, and I participated in the Sunday School class. Of all things to be studying, they were doing the book by John Ortberg, If You Want to Walk on Water, You've Got to Get Out of the Boat. And I heard the message loud and clear.

I nodded my head in agreement as different people in the class shared their fears and their concerns about getting out of their comfort zone. While they were sharing, deep inside me I heard the whisper of the Holy Spirit, "Get out of the boat, Get Out of the Boat". And when you get out of the boat, you can sink or float, but you'll definitely be in His Will if You're walking toward Him, away from what holds you down and what holds you back.

“Lord, if it's you,” Peter replied,
“tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said..."

Matt 14:28,29a