Friday, November 28, 2008

Mountain Climbers and the God Who Loves Them

Why do people tell their story? That's what I kept asking myself as I read Karen James' account of her mountain climber husband's death in her book, Holding Fast: The Untold Story of the Mount Hood Tragedy.

It's interesting how I became familiar with this story: I first heard about this tragedy on the news, and then I heard more about it when Karen James' sister-in-law came to a nearby women's conference and was going to highlight this story as the theme for the conference. The brochure let me know what the coming conference was going to be called: When Life and Beliefs Collide: How Knowing God Makes a Difference. And where there's a collision, there's usually agony and tears. I decided not to go to the conference that year.

The thing about this story that gnaws at you the whole time you are reading the book is- why didn't God answer the prayers, the thousands of prayers that went before Him, pleading with Him to calm the continual storms that buffeted the search teams and halted them in their tracks? It seemed the more that people prayed, the more the rescue was thwarted day after day, until at the end, one climber's body, Kelly James, was found, and the two other climbers were deemed as lost.

Why did Karen James want to tell this story? Utilizing her background in journalism and PR, she painstakingly recounted the details and the days of this tragedy. I had a hard time relating to her voice, though, because I kept thinking, I could never write this way. I could never put all the photos in a book and show them to the world, indicating the magnitude of the search, the gravity of the moment, and the evidence of a personal trial so grave and gut wrenching. I could never go on a trail of clues and try to figure out what what happened to my lost and freezing husband isolated in a snow cave. I could never write about the interviews and news conferences I was doing during the search because I don't think I would be doing them.

But she was a journalist. She was functioning out of her world, her expertise, her coping skills. Everybody handles stress and tragedy in their own way. And hopefully you don't ever have to handle a tragedy such as hers. You would, though -if you married a mountain climber on a mission to find adventure and challenge at every turn. She had a husband so unlike mine that I struggled to take in his beauty of character because he also seemed so hell-bent, even if he was heaven bound. He was a believer. A kind man, a giving man. A man full of creativity and a man crawling and climbing toward danger every moment he could.

Here's where life and beliefs don't collide as much as you would think: Kelly James seemed more comfortable with the idea of a possible climbing tragedy than you would first realize. Thousands were praying for this man to be found on that mountain. But Kelly James left his own heart's desires penned on paper, and these thoughts, prayers, and poems let us know- after the fact- that Kelly James perhaps knowingly began steps to his possible death the moment he stepped on a mountain.

I'm not sure if the author meant for me to have this conclusion but I had a revelation when I read this book. The account of this tragedy is gripping. The loss of the three men is tragic. The efforts of all the search teams were heroic. And the wish of Kelly James was to climb mountains- at any cost.

Perhaps what was colliding was not God's desire to take Kelly James home to heaven verses the countless prayers that were imploring God to save him. Perhaps what collided was a man's prayer for adventure-even-unto-death with the prayers of many who requested a rescue. It was clear in this book that Kelly James' heart felt desire was to challenge limits. He was a man who could not "resist the lure of adventure", who was "absorbed by challenge & to a certain extent, Danger."

This is what amazed me and surprised me in this book: that the author would share so boldly the inner conflict of life and death in her mountain climber husband's soul. He loved adventure, danger, and perhaps the very outskirts of death- and we see this by the poems and bits of writing she shares with us. She talks about what God's purpose was, concerning her husband's death. But perhaps there is also this unspoken message as well: mountain climber Kelly James had a purpose to live a life climbing mountains, defying the odds of survival until one day the mountain defied his wish to live and climb and survive.

This isn't a book to read if you are looking for a good ending, a moralistic account of how to get God to answer prayer, or even how to be a noble Christian living a quiet godly life. What I found at the end of the book was that I got a glimpse into the life of a man who I don't understand at all. I don't understand the need for danger, the risks, the ice and the snow and the altitude of his passion. But I understand that he believed in God, that he loved his family, and that he was undivided in his quest to go higher while holding fast at the same time.

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008

The Shallow End

The day before Thanksgiving is a day of errands and activity in preparation for homage to the great bird, the Turkey. Errands and chores and cleaning and baking- these are all shallow things, we suppose in our minds. This is not a day for lofty thinking and philosophical pursuits.

I have a list of things to do today. Having been away for five days, the house is lacking in attention, the fridge is almost empty (and needs cleaning) and I have two teenagers still sleeping who will wake up hungry and after eating breakfast, will want lunch, then dinner, and then my son will have a bunch of college-aged kids over who will congregate in our lower level and I better not run out of food. I have a lot to do today.

I have to pay bills today, also. I have to juggle the finances and make things stretch. I have to look at Alex's tuition bill and address that. I'm not even going to think about my husband's career crossroads and what needs to happen there.

I'm going to stick to the simple shallow things of ordinary life today. Do what I can do. And I'm going to remember what Oswald Chambers wrote about how the ordinary "shallow aspects of life" are "ordained by Him equally as much as the profound".

I'll try to remember that as I'm scraping dried apple crisp off the oven doors. I was taking the pan of apple crisp out of the oven last night, gloating over the crumbly browned topping, when I suddenly half dropped it. I caught it in time to keep half the contents in the pan (thinking to myself that I would tell my ravenous son, "Half is better than nothing". See how I have these moralistic little lessons ready on my tongue all the time?!). But the rest of the apple crisp splattered all over the hot oven, sending smoke and a pungent burning aroma throughout the house.

So I'm cleaning the oven today as well. But I'm going to remember that"we are safeguarded by the shallow things of life." And I like the idea of being safeguarded. I like the idea of anything having to do with being safe. So I'm listening to the words of Oswald Chambers. He's right. "We are so nauseatingly serious, so desperately interested in our own character and reputation, we refuse to behave like Christians in the shallow concerns of life."

So how does a Christian clean a dirty oven? How does a Christian pay the bills and grocery shop and scrub counters and clean toilet bowls? Not with a halo on their heads. Not even with a pious look on their face. If smoke is still in the air and the acrid smell of dried baked on brown sugar is filling their nostrils as they bend over the oven and scrape and scrub, the Christian will wrinkle her nose and wish she had held onto the apple crisp pan better. The Christian will scrub the toilets and not try to act like it's a great service for God. It's not. It's simple service. Its taking care of the shallow things of life.

And you can only do that if you're alive. You can only wrinkle your nose in disgust at burned apple crisp if you're still breathing, simply trying, still standing after all is said and done.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Home Sweet Home

I have not fallen off the face of the earth. I've been traveling. Lots. That's why I haven't posted in a while.

Bill, Abby, and I drove 14 hours down to Kentucky on Friday and picked up our son at his college and drove 4 hours the next day over to Nashville for a weekend of wedding festivities. My oldest niece, and godchild, got married. Talk about highs and lows, smiles and tears, stress and a test of your equilibrium! It was wonderful. It was beautiful. It was a lot of family (and friends) together- so that always makes it interesting.

Then we drove- well, we were going to drive 16 hours all the way home to upstate New York but heaven poured down its emotions as well. It rained. And it poured. And though we got onto the road Monday morning at 6:30 am, by 6pm we were still on darkened wet highways wedged in between massive trucks on a mission to get someplace. I was pressing my foot to the floor looking for that imaginary brake, calling out to Bill "Watch out! Slow down!" and the kids were having a blast seeing me squirm under the pressure. (They sat in the backseat, and sometimes things look a lot less dangerous when you don't have a full frontal view of whats coming at you).

Sometimes the journey is long, mercilessly long. And sometimes a kind neighbor or brother will step in and let you know, "You're running dry. Stop here. Refresh. Refuel."

And that's what we did. We wound up staying the night in Pennsylvania at my oldest brother's home. We walked into their beautiful home with shaking knees (okay, just mine were shaking) and bloodshot eyes. They made a fire in the wood burning stove, put sheets and blankets on the beds, and we dove in. I was a wreck.

But I woke up and the sun was streaming in. My heart wasn't racing anymore. The second leg of the trip awaited us, but now I felt ready to go on.

So we're home now. In one piece. Sound in mind and body. Harry is delirious with joy at our return for him. (He was staying at my in-laws. He only tried to creep up into their bed one night. What can I say? He's needy).

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Smoke Signals

People do various things to bring comfort into their lives when times are troubled. Toddlers suck their thumbs, some people turn the television on and numb their pain by watching mindless sitcoms, and then there's me: I trim my hair. Not cut it. Just trim.

"Mom!" my daughter will say in a scolding voice at finding me looking in the mirror with the scissors in my hand.

"What?" I protest. "I'm just trimming my hair."

And this scenario repeats over and over. It got to the point that Abby hid my scissors for a couple days. She and my husband had to do an intervention of sorts. No more trimming for me.

I have always dabbled in cutting hair. This started out innocently enough when I was younger and I began to trim a girlfriend's hair and help her style it so that she could look as pretty as she ought to. She was hiding behind her hair and I wanted to help her.

Then I began to cut my husband's hair, years ago, due to economical motivation. He was a pastor in a small church with a small salary. I needed to help make ends meet. So I learned how to use the electric clippers and the different attachments. I give pretty decent haircuts considering most men go into a barber and the barber just mows them down with a clipper. I can do that, I thought, and I did.

Then a year ago my teenage son wanted to grow his hair as long as he could, considering the rules of the Christian school he was at, and it was up to me to keep trimming the ends when his hair would reach his collar (a big no-no). Then after school ended, Alex wanted me to texturize his hair to take out some of the bulk. I know how to use these texturizing scissors pretty well
(a word of caution here: don't try this at home or you could end up bald in a zig zag pattern!).

And then there's me. I have always trimmed my own hair, contorting myself into weird positions so I can see in the mirror the back of my head and get everything just right. I trim my hair partially because its just plain cheaper to do so than to go to a salon every two months and plunk down a huge wad of cash.

But I also trim my hair lately because it comforts me to make something, something, even and straight and right. The last couple years I have been trimming more and more. That should tell you something about my life, or at least tell you something about how I see my life. I see it as a bit uneven, jagged , something's not right here, and then there's this part of my life that I want to get right. I'm coping and I'm comforting myself, when I trim my hair, with the idea that there's something more I could do to fix things, to arrange things better.

Now I know enough about Psychology and I've read enough self-help books to know that in this aspect of my life, this habit is not a good one, that its a reflection of my need to control or cope, and that it's not helping me any. I know this. I don't trim my hair without thinking - this is not good, Lauren.

If you've been trimming your hair, figuratively, in an attempt to get a bit of relief from living in a world which needs a lot more than a new hairstyle, then you may have been asking God for help, for comfort. And until you've heard from God, you've snipped a little here, snipped a little there. Maybe you're doing a lot more woodworking than you did before, and the log you're working on has been whittled down to a toothpick and you're still trying to get it right. Maybe you keep painting the same canvas over and over. Maybe you've been cooking and baking and cleaning to save your life, and people have been asking you- why the frenzy? Why the increase in this activity, this habit of yours?

Sometimes we just do something because its the one thing we know how to do to make sense of something. It's the one thing about which we have a bit of expertise or a bit of wherewithall and we are exerting all we know to do to affect something positively.

I'm not really bringing much comfort to my life when I trim my hair, even if in the very moment I'm trimming I have a momentary sense of satisfaction, of accomplishment, of evenness. I want a comfort that's more enduring. I want a pervading sense of peace. I don't like to feel like I'm in a precarious place of transition and trial.

I've not only been asking God to comfort me, I've been signaling it with my dysfunctional constant trimming of my hair. I see this and God sees this clearly. He's ready to do an intervention of sorts. Because God not only hears our prayers and petitions and requests for help. He sees them as well.

"I love the Lord, because he listens to my prayers for help"
Psalm 116:1

Monday, November 17, 2008

A Certain Economy

Be careful about reading news headlines that scream out shocking truths about the economy. They're meant to scare you. They're pretty much the truth. They're meant to jolt you awake. But they're not meant to minister to your spirit. And you need that just as much as you need truthful information about our economy.

There's a certain veracity to the argument that our nation's economy is on a roller coaster descent of frightening means. Like a roller coaster that got mad and fed up with staying on track and now its off track, and plunging downward. And the fact that its shocking everybody with its plunge makes the roller coaster slightly pleased. It can't help itself. It was telling everyone that it was coming off the tracks and no one was listening.

But then there's another economy that we have to consider. And I was reminded of this at church yesterday. There's God's Economy. And in this economy, the headlines never scream for attention, never delight in evil and in scaring people. There are sober warnings in God's economy- such as you reap what you sow. Such as -be careful to take the plank out of your own eye before you help someone with their lack of vision. And in God's economy, there is an assurance of harvest after a sowing has taken place. What there is not in God's economy is an absolute time table laid out that tells you exactly when this harvest occurs, exactly when everything takes place.

I felt a lifting in my spirits yesterday. That happens when people pray for you. That happens when the yoke of fear gets broken. That often happens when you get together with other people who are honestly and earnestly seeking the Lord. I think we've found a church home. I think we're home now- even if we're still journeying onward.

There's this guy at our church who sits near the back usually. He has a low voice, a soothing voice. And all throughout the worship time- times of exuberant singing and times of beautiful repetitive singing of a certain chorus- this guy will interject his heartfelt exclamations of truth. "You're the King of Kings and we love you" or "You're worthy of praise" or in the case of yesterday, "You've lit our fire, Lord." Oh, yes. That He has.

And God can light a fire of faith in you that rages stronger than the frightening news of a troubled economy. God's economy and its truths can be your internal compass. And while the effects of our natural economy do hit us, hard at times, we still can decide which economy has the most influence over us, over our state of mind, our sense of well being.

In God's economy, those who sow- even while weeping- eventually come to a place of reaping a harvest. Psalm 126 reminds of this. Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him.

My favorite part of that verse is actually just one word- doubtless. Without a doubt. Cause everything in our natural economy tells you that you don't have assurance of anything. So everyone is filled with fear and doubt. But in God's economy, there's Someone eternally solvent who is backing up every single one of His promises. He will have the ultimate say. His kingdom economy is stable and just. No one can sow in faith and come back empty handed. I say that without a doubt in His mind.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

I Do Believe

No sooner had I talked about the fact that lately I've been reading nothing but memoirs than I suddenly got the urge to read a certain book- and it's not a memoir. You might even call it a self help book. But don't worry, it's not one of those "7 Simple Steps to Peace and Prosperity" books. It's a book that simply states, by its title, what we all want to know when we feel we can't go another step: Believe that You Can.

I needed this book this past week. I needed this book's message and I needed to read this author's personal accounts of times when he almost laid down his dreams and his calling because he thought he was all done in. Jentezen Franklin isn't just a good author or pastor. He's also a dreamer. Not a dreamer in the sense of pie-in-the-sky but more like "how to have a dream when there's mud in your face". I wasn't looking for eloquent language or powerful principles well stated and documented. And that's not what I found when I read this book. What I found was hope and a bit of a kick in the pants. A loving one.

I can't even write right now all that's going on in my head and in my life. It's been tense and its been tight financially and its been a bit toxic- the anxiety and the confusion about where we are, where we are going, and where did we get off track- if we did get off track. Cause after reading this book, maybe - I'm thinking- maybe we're just "three days from nowhere" as Franklin writes. Maybe we're closer to a breakthrough than we realize. Maybe we're not giving ourselves enough credit for trying to follow God, even if we fail and flub our way into finding His will. And maybe we're not giving God enough credit for wanting to show just the right time. His right time. Not mine.

Here's the best quote, maybe, in this entire book- and it comes right after he talks about the seasons of our life when we have no answers, no clarity about where we are anymore, and no lack of hurt and pain either:

"Let me give you a little pastoral advice. The biggest room in your brain had better be reserved for things you don't understand. If you have to understand everything before you will trust and serve God, you don't understand the concept of faith!"

Now ask me next week what my favorite quote from this book was and I may tell you something different. But for me, right now, for where I am at, where we are at financially, career wise, ministry wise- this is the quote that echoes in my head.

This quote reminds me of what an African Bible student once shared with me-over twenty years ago- when we were discussing God's will and how confusing it was to interpret God's will. He told me to put the things that I didn't understand "on a shelf" and leave them there till the time would come when I could take that question, that issue, off the shelf, dust it off, and smile- cause faith had finally turned to sight. In that day. That glorious day.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Readers, Writers, Authors, Life Changers

For the first time in over thirty years, I kept a Reading List this year. Thanks to this blog and the widgets and the gidgets they have here, I decided to keep posting and recording the names of the books I read this year(for the most part- I'm sure I forgot to write down some of the books, but I think I got most of them).

When you think about a book's influence on you, how a book can be used to challenge you, soften your heart, make you hope again, influence your perspective, make you want to weep, or run onward- you realize a book is no small thing.

I'd like to honor these authors listed below. Some of these books I loved, some I enjoyed, some moved me mightily, and some I didn't care for- but I still learned something- SOMETHING- from each book I read.

So here's my reading list from September '07 to early November '08:
  • Blue Sky July (a memoir)- Nia Wyn
  • Courage and Craft: Writing Your Life into Story - Barbara Abercrombie
  • Here If You Need Me: A True Story -Kate Braestrup (Nov 08)
  • The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir - Patricia Harman
  • Cancer Is a B***h: (Or, I'd Rather Be Having a Midlife Crisis)- Gail Konop Baker (Oct.08)
  • Blink - Malcolm Gladwell (interesting, to say the least!) (sept 08)
  • Follow the Stars Home- Luanne Rice
  • Light of the Moon- Luanne Rice
  • Digging to America- Anne Tyler (August 08)
  • The Shack- William P. Young (Wow!)
  • Weary Warriors, Fainting Saints- Joyce Meyer
  • The Success Principles- Jack Canfield (interesting!)(July '08)
  • My Sister's Keeper- Jody Picoult (a deep and moving story. Loved it)
  • Inside the Investor's Brain- Richard L. Peterson (interesting !)
  • Amazing Grace- Kathleen Norris
  • The Best Year of Your Life- Debbie Ford (May 2008) (life-changing principles)
  • Rise and Shine- Anna Quinlan
  • Lost & Found (a Memoir) - Kathryn Slattery (honest!)
  • Get Out of that Pit- Beth Moore
  • Blue Like Jazz- Donald Miller
  • Live Like You're Blessed- Dr. Suzan Johnson Cook
  • Donkeys Still Talk (Hearing God's Voice When You're Not Listening)- Virelle Kidder (March 2008)
  • A Three Dog Life (a memoir)- Abigail Thomas
  • Crazy for God- Frank Schaeffer (not a light read at all!)
  • Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear- Max Lucado
  • Chicken Justice... by Steve Coffman (light reading)
  • Dangerous Surrender- by Kay Warren (Feb 2008)
  • Pride, Prejudice and Jasmin Field- Melissa Nathan
  • Austenland- by Shannon Hale (just a bit of light reading)
  • The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen- Syrie James (a lovely read)
  • Bird by Bird- Anne Lamott (fuel for writers)
  • The Secret Life of Bees- Sue Monk Kidd
  • Waking the Dead- John Eldredge
  • The Mermaid Chair- Sue Monk Kidd
  • The Flip Side (Break Free of the Behaviors that Hold You Back)- F. Flippen
  • The Journey of Desire- John Eldredge (loved this!! -thought provoking!)
  • The Identity Code- Larry Ackerman (First book I read in Jan. 2008)
  • I Wear the Maternity Pants in this Family- Susan Konig
  • A Place to Call Home- Martha R. Carr
  • Walking in Your Own Shoes- Robert A. Schuller
  • A Walk with Jane Austen- Lori Smith (Great book to read with a cup of tea)
  • Heaven is Real- Don Piper
  • What's So Amazing About Grace? Philip Yancey (Loved this)
  • The Richest Man Who Ever Lived- Steven K. Scott
  • Dealing with the Crazy Makers- Dr. David Hawkins
  • Talent is Never Enough- John Maxwell
  • How Starbucks Saved My Life-M.Gill
  • Become a Better You- Joel Osteen
  • Right People,Right Place, Right Plan- Jentezen Franklin
  • No Man is an Island- Thomas Merton
  • A Short Guide to a Happy Life- Anna Quinlan
  • Thinking Like Your Editor- Rabiner & Fortunato
  • A New Kind of Normal- Carol Kent
  • Thinking about Tomorrow by S. Crandell
  • Reposition Yourself- T.D. Jakes
  • You, Inc.- H. Beckwith
  • Knit Together:Discover God's Pattern for Your Life- D.Macomber
  • When I Lay My Isaac Down- Carol Kent (oh this is gripping!!)
  • Laughing in the Dark- Chonda Pierce
  • The Promise of the Second Wind-Butterworth & Merrill
  • A Life Unleashed-Christine Caine
  • What Happens When Women Say Yes to God- Lysa TerKeurst
  • Pathway to Purpose- Katie Brazelton
  • Running to The Mountain- Jon Katz (love his honesty and his style of writing)
  • Katz on Dogs-Jon Katz
  • It's All Too Much- Peter Walsh
  • Communicating For a Change- Andy Stanley (September 07)
HOW ABOUT YOU? Read anything lately that's changed your life-even just a bit??

I'd love to know what I should read NEXT!

Saturday, November 08, 2008

My Little Reading Corner

Maybe the best way to describe how I'm doing is to tell you that I am reading nothing but memoirs, right now. That should tell you something.

This summer I read nothing but novels- some good ones, some so "light" that I didn't even bother to write them down, some with interesting characters. All easy reading. All fiction. I only wanted to read so that I could temporarily enter another world, a story land, and have the novel end well, and with things all tidy and in place. I read on the beach when we were on vacation, and I read at night, and by the community pool my daughter swam in, and I read while waiting for the light to change.

And boy, did the light change. Not only because it's Fall, and it's daylight savings and everything gets dark and somber by 4pm or so' but also because things in my life have recently gotten...tight. Constricted. Like I'm facing a dark corner and I'm told to go in even deeper. And I say to the person instructing me, "But it's a corner you're asking me to walk into! What can I possibly accomplish being cornered and facing a wall?" That's when I realize I am talking with God. And that's also when I realize He apparently thinks a lot can be accomplished by bringing me into a dark corner, a seeming dead end.

So that's why I'm reading memoirs now. Nothing but memoirs. Because right now I can't stomach any light frivolous reading, any romantic scenes that end in roses and smiles and happily ever afters. I'm looking for something other than fiction. And I don't want to read 12 Steps to Success, or whatever self-help book is indicating that it is clear cut, that the road is straight and clear.

I only want to read about real people and hear them share with me how they got brought into a corner and ... survived it, whatever it was - drastic health issues, widowhood, a failing business, having a child, a son, born with a body that betrays him. I can hear pain in their voice. I can understand their questions, even if I can't really understand the whole scene, the whole complicated scene.

Each story is different. And no one has the same exact values as I do, the same religious, spiritual convictions. But I can still learn from them. And I am. I'm learning that it's amazing what God has put in us, and that it rises up when things get dark and possibilities are not in sight. I'm learning that being an overcomer starts, first, with a decision to be one- or perhaps just with the decision to let God turn you into one.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

All Kinds of Victory

The last couple nights I have slept terribly. I wake up with a throbbing heavy head, feeling exhausted and confused. Can't remember what I dreamt. There are no symbols or images in my mind to help me understand what I was grappling with in my sleep. Whatever answer I was trying to find, I didn't find it in my dreams.

I spent yesterday sighing a lot. Not good. For me that is the tinge of something near to depression. But its just a tinge; like a spot of mold on your cheddar cheese, and you decide it's only a spot and wipe it off...and then eat the rest of the cheese. And so yesterday I kept wiping off that tinge of darkness that hovered near me. I kept going over lessons with Abby, giving her a vocab test, making us a healthy lunch, running out to the post office and then grocery store later in the afternoon. But I did all this with the sheerest of determination and grit- like a cowboy on a dry dusty trail who finds out the trail is longer than he expected and so he digs in, he keeps going, but he feels lost.

It didn't help that in the morning I was reading the early news about the election results, and I was scanning forums and sites where people were writing words of exultation as well as scathing words of hostility, viciousness, and attack . One man won a presidency, there was a victory-and yet there was a lot of alarm, fear, and despair. I tried not to let this plague of distress enter my newly found grateful-thankful mindset...but it did. I felt my optimism and my happy outlook burst like a balloon that was shot at by a nasty little boy with a slightly evil grin. Even at the grocery store, it seemed like people were rude and mean, and children were out of control and screaming and flailing. One little boy was threatening to run out in the road and the mother was nervously trying to placate him as well as keep him alive at the same time.

"I never had to do that," I told Abby as we headed to the car with our groceries.

"Never had to do what?" she asked.

"I never had to worry about Alex acting up and throwing tantrums and terrifying strangers who passed by. He was a pretty mild kid," I paused in my reverie and then smiled at her. "But he made up for all that in his teenage years, didn't he?!". I wanted her to know that I try not to idealize the past. There are all kinds of pasts: the recent past, the real past, the long-ago past, the past that never really occurred but we keep thinking it did.

Here's why I often return to the past- cause that's when I can see God's hand, His presence, a lot better than I can see it in my "now". Like right now, I know He's with me, that He's for me, but is He in front of me paving the way? Because I often feel like I am in uncharted territory, stumbling forward only to look back for His approval of my direction and seeing that He is not there.

"Why do you look for the living among the dead?...He is not here" the angel said (Luke 24). Why do I keep looking back to see if I can find answers for my future? My past can't help me go forward- especially if I am often repeating it! And if I repeat a lesson that I already learned, that I thought I learned, then where exactly am I- in the past, or in the future regretfully remembering the past?

Either way my feet are dogged by memory, by the good memory of seeing how God intervened, and by regret over how bad it was, over how bad I was. But at least I am pretty clear on what happened in my past. I am not clear on what is happening now. If God is in front of me paving the way, I can't see Him, that's for sure. I can't always feel His presence. I only feel my frantic beating heart on those days where I wake up in a hostile world and remember that I have to go out into it. I do hear His words, though, calling to me from up ahead: Do it afraid, Lauren. Do it afraid.

And if I stumble ahead and go grocery shopping and grade a test and make dinner- even though I'm thinking Does any of this matter- if I do all this feeling wretched and dry and short on air, I find that this pleases Him. This. It's so ironic. I feel queasy and unstable- but He sees, instead, a beautiful sight. He calls it....Faith.

"And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him"(Hebrews 11:6). It's just that it seems God always wants to reward me with more opportunities to get to know Him, more chances to stumble ahead, and that's not exactly the Reward I had in mind.

I had in mind a warm blanket and a soft chair; a chance to exult in my recent victory of faith (Lord, I was grateful and optimistic for three whole days!). I had in mind a soothing, "Well done, my child". And instead I hear Him say- from ahead- "Now let's go onward, shall we?".

And so that's what I do.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Not Just Today

It's Tuesday and it's Election Day, and already it seems as if things are being written about this day like it was a done deal, like it's over already. Wall Street was raring for an Election Day rally Tuesday, sending stock futures soaring as millions of Americans battered by tumbling home prices, tight credit and an uncertain job market headed to the polls. And even as we headed to the polls, there was no solace there- no matter who you were voting for. (And trust me, there is one particular jowl ed presidential candidate that I am voting for).

Change may be found at the polls, but not solace, not comfort; it's not a place to rest your heavy heart. You'll place your vote and then you'll walk away and your future may seem to be in the hands of the one who got the most votes- but it's not. It never has been. I'm trying to remember that today.

My future does not lie in this president's future choices. They will affect me greatly- his choices- but that's not where my whole future lies- in what he decides, in what he chooses. I have my own choices to make, and while my choice in the voting booth is important, it is not the most important thing I am voting for. Cause all my votes eventually add up.

I vote daily. I vote with my purchases at the grocery store, with my contributions to certain things, with my selections of food, with the businesses I decide to frequent- or not frequent. There's a store at the mall in town that I detest. It has the word Toys in its name and its signage and you think its meant for children. But its a twisted combination of novelties, some toys, and some vulgar stuff. You might go in there with your child and suddenly realize you made a very bad choice to enter that store. And when that happened to me a while ago, I voted with my mouth and told the shop owner I was surprised by his audacity to sell the stuff he does in a family-looking place. I voted against the place when I walked out of there.

I intend to keep voting even after today, Election Day, ends; and people will have to deal with the results of my votes as well as the fact that I will have to deal with political leaders' decisions and votes. I'm not afraid of what the future president will choose. I'm not afraid of the direction our nation may take- although I'm greatly concerned. Let me be concerned with how I exercise my will, my vote, every day.

Cause it all adds up. Each vote matters. Yours and mine. Today...and every day.