Monday, December 31, 2012

A Last Minute Gift


I stayed up until 4:20 this morning, praying and waiting to hear good news.
The news came five minutes after I went to bed, worried.
My little brother, the first one I remember the gestation of,
has had his first child.
His wife labored long, and my breath was short in sympathy.
Last night, while I waited, I thought about him when he was so fat,
and when my sister thought he was her two-day-late birthday present.
When he sat in his highchair,
and Mom let the new puppies play on his high chair tray.
Supervised, of course.
He was delighted, and is married to a woman who loves dogs,
and they love their dogs together.
I have been waiting for him to be a daddy for years.

Years ago, when we would urge him to fatherhood, he would brush us off,
and say things like, "I don't know if I want children."
We stopped urging, but we didn't stop hoping.
We knew the value of the gift ourselves,
although for years he hadn't recognized it yet.
But his heart changed.
He started talking about the future differently.
Our hopes were raised.
And when he called me to tell me they were expecting,
and he sounded so happy about it, it was a precious expectation.

I think our Father has beautiful gifts in store for us,
gifts we would treasure above everything we owned --
if we could just get our hearts in line to want them and allow them first.
How many good gifts He has, and we are saying "I don't know if I want that."
I think if we would trust His good will toward us,
we would see the value in what He has,
and accept it with joy and hearts that overflow.
Thank You, Father, for the sweet gift.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Gleaning Grace


From the time I was a child, the end of December held dread for me.
There was Christmas to look forward to,
but the end of Christmas was such sadness.
There was no more fun to be had for the year.
Nothing to expect, but a return from vacation to that long stretch of school.
New Year's is my most hated holiday.
It has always felt like a dismal foreboding approaching.
And it made me sad even about Christmas itself.

Over the years, I have noticed that the news itself
conspires against hope particularly at this season:
The end of the world is approaching.
The wicked have come out in force to assert their evil wills over the innocent.
Again.
Only in worse ways than you imagined.
The bottom is about to fall out of the economy.
The only solution to these perplexing problems
is to surrender the freedom of law-abiding citizens
(and the tools of self defense),
to pay higher taxes,
and to live in the eternal dark.

But this year, although the darkness of the season
and of the world does oppress me,
I feel a hopeful flutter in my heart.
I am looking forward, though the new year promises no improvement.

One of my Christmas gifts is a book which I anticipate comfort from.
Comfort from one who was comforted in so much grief.
Two children lost within months of each other,
after bouts of miserable sickness which he also suffered.
And while that sounds like a terrible beginning,
he gleaned grace in it,
and offers it up for our edification.
And I intend to eat it.

The book is called Diary of an Old Soul by George MacDonald.
It is a book of poetry he wrote, seven lines every day,
while he wept over his children's deaths.
It is arranged as a devotional.
It is one long poem-prayer
broken into a short seven lines a day.

It is reverent, honest, grieving, and hopeful.
It looks in faith toward Him who conquered death.
And He is the only hope we have in the face of death and sin.

Although it is not January first yet, I cheated and read the first three poems.
And what I read made me, for the first time in my life,
look forward to the new year.

The very first one:

Lord, what I once had done with youthful might,
Had I been from the first true to the truth,
Grant me, now old, to do-- with better sight,
And humbler heart, if not the brain of youth;
So wilt thou, in thy gentleness and ruth,
Lead back thy old soul, by the path of pain,
Round to his best-- young eyes and heart and brain.

Is that not beautiful?
Does it not urge you to get out your dictionary and look up ruth?
I ought to have looked it up long ago -- it is my mother's name.
Compassion for the misery of another.
And yet, all that remains of this sweet word's usage in our culture
is the word ruthless.
Let's change that.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

All That Glory


Although the message we so often receive
is to despair and lose heart,
God's heart toward you and your families is a heart of peace,
and of good will.
His love extends so far as to offer His Son, His beloved Son.

Every time I think of Him
submitting to a human birth in bodily fluids
I am in awe all over again.
All that glory concentrated in a squalling infant.
Carried in human arms by night
to escape the murderous rage of a power hungry tyrant
who turned his wrath on the innocents who remained.

Hands that touched the sick and lame and blind,
and broke the bread and fish to give to the hungry,
and held the children whose mothers begged a blessing of Him
nailed through with a spike.

Feet that grew tired on earth-dirt roads,
ignored by those who ought to have washed them,
wept over by sinners and wiped off with hair.
They pierced His feet, too.

His head, anointed with costly oil,
and crowned with painful thorns.

The body His mother wrapped at His birth
was beaten and bloodied and hung on display.

The voice which He used to speak life to the dead,
to call out Lazarus from his grave,
to remind the weeping women:
"I am the Resurrection and the Life,"
to say to the dead girl, "Little girl, get up,"
is the same voice that said while He died,
"Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,"
and, "It is finished."

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 24, 2012

Love Materialized


The complaints at this season about the 'materialization of Christmas'
have some merit.
But my husband and I were talking the other day,
and he expressed that he thinks it's right
to give to those we love in celebration of Him.
God loved the world so much He sent His own Son --
the most lavish gift ever given.
He gave Him freely to us,
His beloved son,
His peace on earth,
His goodwill toward men.
Love materialized.

Jesus said, "If you being evil
love to give good gifts to your children,
how much more will your Heavenly Father
give the Holy Spirit to him who asks?"
Our children ought to have demonstrated to them
that we love to give them good gifts.
Though they fail us,
and turn cartwheels in the dining room,
and spill water all over the bathroom,
and cry over nothing.
I want them to know that their parents
(who are not the equal of God in goodness, or in love)
love to give to them.
Because I want them to recognize that their Heavenly Father
loves to give to them, too.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Gold, a Treasure From the Heavens


Because of the financially unstable base of fiat currency,
many people invest in gold.
It does not oxidize in air or water.
One of the least reactive chemical elements,
it is solid under stable conditions.
From the beginning of recorded history, men have sought it.

It conducts electricity: energy moves through it.
It can be pounded so thin that light passes through it.
It resists corrosion.
It makes a good heat shield.
The vast majority of gold discovered by men
is thought to be deposited by meteorites.
Not of this world.
Very little of it has remained near enough
to the surface of the earth to be retrieved by men.
Its density has caused it to sink to the core,
hidden out of the sight and reach of men.

Its chemical symbol Au, comes from the Latin word aurum:
shining dawn, or perhaps glowing dawn.
A fitting gift for our Dayspring from on high.
For our Light come into the darkness.

Strangely, gold also has also been used medicinally from ancient times.
It is anti-inflammatory, and used in nuclear medicine in some cancer treatments.

Wars have been fought over it.
Discoveries of new lands inspired by it.
Much of the gold mined throughout history is still in circulation;
perhaps as much as 85%.
I wonder how many hands my wedding band has passed through.

The town I grew up in was a Gold Rush town.
We drove past mines that my mother used to play in regularly.
It shaped my state, and built my town.
It brought the groups of people whose grandchildren grew up with me.
My uncle used to gold pan, and show me his vial of gold dust.
There were still old timers in the hills trying to strike it rich.

We crown our kings with it.
Accompanied by sacred oil,
it is supposed to represent the shining light of heaven.
We face our temples with it.
Make it into thread and embroider beauty into royal gowns.
The mercy seat on the ark of the covenant was covered in it.

To a rich church, Jesus wrote a letter in Revelation:
I counsel you to buy gold from Me.
It probably brought to mind something else He had said to them once:
Consider the lilies how they grow: 
They toil not, they spin not; 
and yet I say to you, that Solomon in all his glory 
was not arrayed like one of these.
If then God so clothe the grass, which is to-day in the field, 

and to-morrow is cast into the oven; 
how much more will he clothe you, O ye of little faith?
And seek ye not what ye shall eat, 

or what ye shall drink, 
neither be ye of doubtful mind.
For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: 

and your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.
But rather seek ye the kingdom of God, 

and all these things shall be added to you.
Fear not, little flock; 

for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Sell what ye have, and give alms: 

provide yourselves bags which become not old, 
a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, 
where no thief approacheth, 
neither moth corrupteth.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.


Thursday, December 20, 2012

Frankincense: Perfume of the Sanctuary


Slashing the bark of the frankincense tree is called 'striping'.
It, too, results in a resin bled out.
Tears form.
The hardiest species is the Boswellia sacra.
It is unusual in that it grows in unforgiving environments,
sometimes directly from solid rock.

'The means of initial attachment to the stone is not known
but is accomplished by a bulbous disk-like swelling of the trunk.
This disk-like growth at the base of the tree
prevents it from being torn away from the rock
during the violent storms that frequent the region they grow in.
This feature is slight or absent in trees grown in rocky soil or gravel.
The tears from these hardy survivors are considered superior
for their more fragrant aroma.' (Wikipedia)

Used to treat arthritis, to heal wounds,
and to drive germs from the environment,
it has been valued for many centuries.
It suppresses cancer cells.
The incense relieves depression and anxiety, healing the mind.

It accompanied the meat offering.
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
It was presented with the showbread.
It was given with thanksgiving.

Herodotus claimed it was dangerous to harvest
because of the venomous snakes which resided in the trees.

Perfume of the sanctuary,
emblem of prayer,
symbolic of the Divine Name,
its Hebrew name means 'white'.
Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord, 
though your sins be as red as scarlet, 
they will be white as snow.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The Weight of Myrrh


Gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Among His gifts, the aromatic resin of a repeatedly wounded tree,
cut to bleed.
Medicine for bruises, for injuries and sprains.
All My bones are out of joint.

Bitter.
It means bitter.
Like Mara, who ate bitterness,
and cried her heart out, and had nothing.
The tree that is cut to bleed out its healing is full of thorns.
Thorns that cursed our existence.
By His stripes we are healed.

It looks like the one I stepped on when I was eleven,
that pierced my shoe, and entered my foot,
and threw me to the ground in tears and howls so loud
that a nearby construction worker came looking to see what was wrong,
and pulled it out, and carried me to his car,
and drove me to my house, and got my mother.

I wonder if His crown was myrrh.
The thorns that pierced Him,
were they healing thorns?
Was its scent familiar to Him?
Had it perfumed His childhood?

It is antiseptic.
Washes out infectious material.
Analgesic.
It relieves the pain of the wounds so treated.
You can drink it in wine.
This is My blood which is poured out for you.

It is good for the heart.
A related species is considered one of the best substances
for the treatment of circulatory problems,
nervous system disorders
and rheumatic complaints.

The Egyptians embalmed the dead with it.
The Jews burned it as incense in the temple.

At times historically more valuable than gold by weight.
More valuable than gold?
The wounded-tree medicine?
The incense of worship?
The annointing for the dead?
The wound-cleansing, heart-healing, pain-relieving,
prayer-rising perfume of death?
How do I value it?
How do I value Him?

All thy garments smell of myrrh, 
and aloes, and cassia, 
out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad. 
~ Psalm 45:8 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

On Earth


The question screams: if God is good, how...?!

But Jesus told us to pray,
"Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be Your name. 
Your kingdom come. 
Your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven... 
And do not lead us into temptation, 
but deliver us from the evil one. 
For Yours is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever. 
Amen."

So much evil.
So many tears here.
Our Father is holy.
His will is done in heaven.
And He wants us to pray His kingdom comes here, to the earth.
That His will would be accomplished here, on earth.
Which makes it very clear that other things than His will
are being accomplished here on earth.

Deliver us.
We need His deliverance from the evil one.
We need Him to assert His kingdom, His power, and His glory forever.
Amen.
So let it be.

"We know that we are of God, 
and the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one." (1 John 5)
If we are of God, we ought to be engaged in acts of civil disobedience
while we live here in this world,
which is under the sway of the evil one.
Love is the weapon to revolt with.
The law of His kingdom is love.
Love the Lord Your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength.
And love your neighbor as yourself.
"A new commandment I give to you, 
that you love one another; 
as I have loved you, that you also love one another. 
By this all will know that you are My disciples, 
if you have love for one another." (John 13)

Father, please pour Your love into our hearts,
that we may do Your will here on earth,
where all the world is in slavery to the will of the evil one.
Deliver us from him and his kingdom of darkness.
Deliver our neighbors from the darkness of his wickedness,
and into the Kingdom of Your Son, our Light.
In the name of Jesus, who displays Your love and Your light to us,
we who were born in darkness.

Monday, December 3, 2012

What Did They Not Understand?


Two stories about Him are closely connected in three gospels.
I was only reading the second, a story that has always puzzled me.
Mark gives us the briefest account of most things it relates about Him.
A mere sixteen chapters to summarize Immanuel; God with us.
What a remarkable thrift of words.

He made them get in a boat and go without Him.
He saw them straining to obey, because the wind was against them.
He came to them, walking on the sea, and would have passed them by.
They thought He was a ghost, were troubled, and screamed.
To which He replied, "Be of good cheer! It is I: do not be afraid."
He got into the boat: the wind ceased.
They were were stunned, shocked, amazed --
because they hadn't understood the loaves,
because their hearts were hardened.

Apparently I hadn't understood the loaves, either,
because I sat there not understanding as I read it.
I mean, I know about the loaves.
I know He fed those five thousand people with a pittance of food,
and that His disciples passed it out to everyone,
and then they gathered up the leftovers in baskets and were sent off in a boat.
But how are the two related?
How does bread have anything to do
with this odd miracle that seems to have no purpose?
Why is it recorded so many times
like there's something He wants me to know from it?
What, Lord? How come I don't get it either?

I turned to the passage in Matthew 14:22-33 and read it there.
I read about the bread before it, and made note of a few additional details.
In the margin of my Bible, it says that He said literally, "I am."
Not that strangely awkward, "It is I."
Hmm. A clue.
Matthew tells me this is when Peter walked on the water, in that wild wind.
And that when He got into the boat and the wind ceased,
they came and worshiped Him.
"Truly You are the Son of God!" they noticed.

The John passage tells me another notable fact:
the response to the multiplied bread was,
"This is truly the Prophet."

Their hardened hearts had hidden His divinity from them,
even in the multiplication of the bread.
There is no record of their worship or marveling at Him
when He fed the five thousand.
It seems they just passed out the bread, gathered up the leftovers,
and got into the boat to leave.

They handled the bread He had multiplied;
they served Him in passing it out;
and they failed to worship, even as they gathered up the excess.

As my children's teacher,
I sometimes leave them with longer exposure to a problem
to let their minds work it over, in hope of their understanding.
One of these passages says He told them to gather up the leftovers,
so that none of it would be lost.
Why would Someone who could do this miracle
care about saving every scrap?
What good is a leftover miracle?
I think He had hoped that in handling it again, they might notice Him.
The indicator of their hardened hearts
was that they did not recognize Him, and they did not worship Him.

So He sent them into a wild wind,
where their God-blind eyes terrified them at the sight of Him.
Where the presence of their salvation prompted screaming.
And where their fear pushed Him to communicate to them.
Take courage! I am. Don't be afraid.
When He joined them and the wind ceased, they saw Him.

Truly, You are the Son of God: Immanuel: God with us.
And we do not recognize it.
We do not understand with our hardened hearts.
We handle Your work with dull hearts and stupid hands,
passing out manna, and gathering back miracles without any worship.
Please forgive me for my silent tongue.
For the fear that panics and does not praise.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Brothers


"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is 
for brethren to dwell together in unity!" 

"And there was also a strife among them, 
which of them should be accounted the greatest.
And he said unto them, 

'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; 
and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. 
But ye shall not be so: 
but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; 
and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.'" 
~Luke 22:24-26

There is a beautiful dynamic between brothers who love one another that does not exist in other human relationships where one 'outranks' another. I love to watch my sons when they are being kind and getting along. The older, who is eleven, helps his five-year-old brother with an understanding of how it is to be a little boy. He carries him around piggy-back, and wrestles with him gently, since he is half his size. The younger one, in his minuscule manliness, is not ridiculed for his weakness, but built up in his masculine identity. I see my older son slow a little, to allow his little brother to beat him in a foot race. I see him limit himself for the sake of togetherness. He plays games that are younger than his interests because they interest his little brother. He is 'being as the younger'. When his attitude is good, he cheerfully assists his brother in brushing his teeth, putting the toothpaste on for him. He oohs and ahhs over Lego creations that are not that amazing, even while he assembles his own designs that have gears and moving parts. And while he is older, and in a sense has more authority, they are both subject to the authority of their Dad and me. As they age, their relationship to each other becomes more and more equal.

One of the things I love the most about family dynamics over the holidays is the easy relationship that exists between the siblings in my family and our spouses. Some of us are older, and some younger, but we're all adults now. The first thing among us is our brotherhood. It isn't our age. There is a freedom to disagree, because we are all secure in our place in the family. I hear my husband and my brothers and brothers-in-law in loud, good-humored discussions on subjects that in many circles result in breaches. But they are brothers. And that ought to be the case among believers. Because they are brothers, there isn't that constant undertone of who is in authority, and who is subject to them. They shift from theological discussion to passing the salt -- to showing each other better ways to keep rhythm while playing the guitar and playing ping pong with the children. Three or four gather in one corner to sing, and two more go back and forth in Wii golf, since it is now too late to play real golf. One goes out to load the wood stove, and another joins him to help. We are one family. Many members. And the older ones are the ones making the meals, and cleaning up the spills, and picking up the ones who have scraped their knees, and rocking the cryers to sleep and running the vacuum cleaner. Over the three days we spent together, I saw three or four people vacuuming at various times. (Thirty-four people track a lot of sand in and out.) Two of the vacuumers were men. And the foremost among us, the one of highest rank -- my Dad -- was one of them.

"But you must not be called Rabbi," Jesus said, 
"for One is your teacher, Christ, and you are all brothers."

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Anniversary Thanks


What to say on this anniversary of her homecoming?
Looking back on my memories of her,
I look forward to realities she's already living in.
When next I see her, her eyes will sparkle more
than they always did when she arrived for a visit.
I expect she'll have a bag to unpack full of gifts of another kind.

"Give thanks in all circumstances," it says.
Grandma did that.
Here we are on the eve of Thanksgiving,
and many of us have suffered loss,
and perhaps only look forward to more losses.
In all these things, we are more than conquerors.
Our prize is already waiting.
The Son of God has crossed the finish line for us.
In Him, all the promises of God are 'yes' and 'amen'.
So remain in Him.
In Him we have Life.
Live in Him.
In all our sorrows, He has shared.
And we will share His joy.
Thank You, Jesus, for the fellowship of the Spirit,
the communion of the saints.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Quiet Ambition


I have been asked the question before,
"So... what are you doing now?"
Actually, they started asking me shortly after I got married.
I think I have finally come to the answer.
"We are living quietly."

There are circles of Christianity for whom quiet living is a failure.
Because we adopt the values of our culture.
And quietness and rest are not American values.
American values have to do with productivity.
With sweat and effort and efficiency.
With action and movement and full schedules.
If we aren't working hard, we strive to play hard.
But Christians ought not to be known for their tumult. 

God did not call us to live in immorality, but in holiness. 
So then, whoever rejects this teaching 
is not rejecting a human being, but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit. 
There is no need to write you about love for each other. 
You yourselves have been taught by God 
how you should love one another. 
And you have, in fact, behaved like this 
toward all the believers in all of Macedonia. 
So we beg you, our friends, to do even more. 
Make it your aim to live a quiet life, 
to mind your own business, 
and to earn your own living, just as we told you before. 
In this way you will win the respect of those who are not believers, 
and you will not have to depend on anyone for what you need. 
1 Thessalonians 4:7-12

I exhort therefore, first of all, 
that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, 
be made for all men; for kings and all that are in high place; 
that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life 
in all godliness and gravity. 
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; 
who would have all men to be saved, 
and come to the knowledge of the truth.
1 Timothy 2:1-4 

But the wisdom from above is pure first of all; 
it is also peaceful, gentle, and friendly; 
it is full of compassion and produces a harvest of good deeds; 
it is free from prejudice and hypocrisy. 
And goodness is the harvest that is produced 
from the seeds the peacemakers plant in peace.
James 3:17-18

It's a tall order in a loud world.
Let us not be the noise.

Then justice shall dwell in the wilderness; 
and righteousness shall abide in the fruitful field. 
And the work of righteousness shall be peace; 
and the effect of righteousness, 
quietness and confidence for ever. 
And my people shall abide in a peaceable habitation, 
and in safe dwellings, 
and in quiet resting-places.
Isaiah 32:16-18

One of the differences between the aged and the young
is their level of activity.
The youth in any society are the ones who speed around,
climbing and racing, and moving between their furious pursuits.
As men mature, they slow their steps,
and they lessen their speech,
and they value peace and home and family.
Their testosterone levels fall,
allowing the oxytocin they naturally produce
to work its magic in nurturing others.
Their aggression fades, and they take up gardening.
There is a good reason the church ought to be headed up by older men.
Older men don't need to fight with everyone.
They aren't off conquering the world, and beating their opponents.
They are accessible to younger men, to women and children.
Their ambitions have grown quiet.
They don't agitate for war.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

A Thursday Prayer

Please will You move in my nation and in the world?
I pray for my nation, 
that You would turn the hearts of the people 
away from murder and sexual immorality.
Lord, You have done it before in this land.
I pray You would do it again.
Have mercy on Your people.
Show Yourself strong and merciful, and full of lovingkindness.
About the election: I do not know what to pray for.
Will You please have Your will in this election?
I believe in You; in Your sovereignty in human affairs.
You don't need 'Your man' to run anything.
You can accomplish Your will 
through even the hatred and disobedience of Your enemies.
Their very sins can be made to serve You, 
though they intend them for Your destruction.
Please forgive my sins.
The sins of my heart, and the sins of my hands.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A 100% Return

His uncle offered him a deal:
lend him $10 for the night,
and he'd give him $20 in the morning.
A 100% return.
He had already offered the deal to my suspicious daughter.
She had refused to take it.
She was not going to be taken in by a sweet-seeming deal.
"I don't know him enough to trust him," she told me.
But Isaiah is more inclined to take a risk,
and more willing to take the word of someone he trusts.

"If he is honest in what he is offering,
and he can be trusted to keep his word,
that's too good a deal to pass up," I advised.
He thought about it for a minute,
and then went and got his money and handed a ten to his uncle.
And then everyone waited to see:
would he really double his money?
To his uncle's credit, he kept his word.
He had told him, "I am a Christian, and I am not lying."
In fact, he made Isaiah sit down and write a contract for him to sign,
signed it, and then paid him back about twelve hours early.
He told him, "Sometimes being willing to take a risk pays off."

Trusting the One who always speaks truth
is a worthwhile investment.
Normally, I would advise my son against these kind of deals.
Just trusting someone's word is pretty risky
in these days of phishing scams and banking scandals.
But I believed his uncle would follow through,
and I thought perhaps it would be something he pondered in the future.
And maybe he would remember it,
and take a step of faith one day,
trusting the word of Him who promised.

"...God, more abundantly willing to shew to the heirs of the promise 
the immutability of his counsel, did interpose by an oath,
that through two immutable things, 
in which it is impossible for God to lie, 
a strong comfort we may have 
who did flee for refuge to lay hold on the hope set before us, 
which we have, as an anchor of the soul, 
both sure and steadfast, and entering into that within the veil..."

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

All I Ever Got


"All I ever got from them was love.
They made no difference between us and their own kids," she told me.
She was talking about her aunt and uncle,
who took her and her brother in when they needed a home.
"They've always been like that," she said.
Becoming family to people who need one.
She went on to tell me
about the many strays she and her husband took in over the years.
Kids who had been on the streets, and didn't have anywhere to go.
Her husband died when her youngest was fifteen.
Alone, she kept taking kids in.
Her grandmother did that, too.
 
I knew a little of her story from her cousins,
who spent years living as siblings under the same roof as children.
I've seen her in the family photographs, tall and smooth-haired.
She's seen too many sad things,
but she smiles and helps others who hurt.
We keep looking at each other.
"You look like your mother," she tells me.
I see my great-grandmother in her cheekbones, and her dark eyes.
I was recently given copies of so many old pictures.
Pictures that show my sister's resemblance to my great-grandmother,
and that seem to have come alive in her.
And I see her uncle in her eyes, too.
I can hear my great-aunt's voice in some small measure when she speaks.
And I even hear how it passed down partly to my aunt.
And those eyes... like my great-great-grandfather's sister's.

She tells me stories decades older than my memories,
stories that fill in a little more family history.
I learn about her and her children
and grandchildren
and parents
and grandparents
and great-grandparents.
The ones I have seen in the pictures.
She tells things that they felt the pain of,
but she has her mother's humor, and makes me laugh.

I was afraid it would be uncomfortable.
I haven't grown up knowing her, and I am not an at-ease conversationalist.
But she talked about people I know and love,
and she knows and loves them, too.
And she saw them giving long before I did, and imitated it.
"I don't know what would have happened to me if not for them," she said.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

It Will Change Your Life


"If you will change this one thing about how you operate,
it will change your life:
throw garbage in the garbage can."

That is what I said as I sorted and sifted more miniscule bits of tin foil,
broken plastic toys,
used-up glow sticks,
old band-aids,
ripped paper,
bent needles,
pencil sharpenings,
and other debris from the things he actually loves,
and the dirty clothes stuffed in containers.

"Do you see how much work it would have saved
to simply throw trash away once you knew it was trash?"
And it strikes me: this is a good plan for my life.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

High and Low


I could be doing something important with my life,
instead of living out the normal --
feeding, sleeping,
working, playing,
going, staying,
fixing, and correcting.
But then I read:
"Do not set your mind on high things, 
but associate with the humble."
And who is more humble than a child?
Their self-importance does not stop them from dancing
when the music plays,
crying when they hurt,
eating when they are hungry,
even though they might get food in their teeth.
When I give them gifts, they wiggle in delight,
and let their faces share the joy with me.
They don't hide their drawings
to save themselves from criticism.
They leave their scraps of poetry littered through my house,
instead of shoved into a binder
in the back of a private shelf.

Perhaps it is for the important people to say,
"I could be wiping someone's nose right now,
or coaching them through using a toilet.
Why didn't I take that chance
to read a book to a five-year-old when I had it?
I could have had conversations about crayons and Play-doh
instead of these mundane philosophies
I have occupied my time with.
My life has been wasted in high places,
when I might have learned more
tying shoes,
and helping people out of their jackets,
and putting lotion on rashes,
and lying on my stomach watching ants,
and rubbing my hands on the bark of a tree,
and folding underwear."

Monday, October 8, 2012

Call me Mara.


She had worked all her life in service to her family.
She birthed those sons in pain and blood.
She packed up her home with her own hands,
and followed her husband out of the drought.
The famine.
Out of the homeland and its inheritance.
They left it all and moved away into Moab.
There in a land not her own, she fed them.
She clothed them.
She took care of them when they were sick.
And then her husband died,
and she had to lead alone.

She began to look forward in hope from all the leaving and the loss,
when her sons were old enough to marry.
She found them wives.
Moabite wives, yes.
That hadn't been her dream.
But these were nice enough girls.
One day soon, maybe the loneliness would fade.
There would be women to share the load with,
and sons who could protect them,
and make their living.
And babies.
Laughing grandbabies she could offer advice about raising,
and rock to sleep,
and pretend away the sadness with.
Maybe it wouldn't all be loss.

For ten years she hoped,
while her daughters-in-law did not conceive.
Every month at first, that hopeful excitement.
Is my grandbaby on the way?
Surely any day now...
But the day did not come.
And then her last living hopes died.

The sons she had birthed in pain and blood were gone.
Their father had led her here to this alien place.
She had no friends.
No sisters a few houses down.
And two barren daughters-in-law.
They probably blamed her.
Everything around her ended in disaster.
Everything she touched turned to dust.
But these women were past their fruitful prime,
and had a ten year record of infertility.
Who would marry them?

Her homeland had good crops again.
It came like a breeze in the market place.
Maybe she bought grain that had traveled the road from her home.
Working it into bread,
perhaps she thought about the fields her young husband had worked.
How they had built their dreams there,
and birthed their sons there,
and harvested life there.
It had been nothing but a harvest of misery for years.
She decided to go back.
She had nothing here to keep her.
Better to die among friends.
Better to cry over losses with friends.
They had known her husband,
and rejoiced over her sons' births.
They could sympathize with her.

She didn't want these poor daughters-in-law
to have the same fate she had suffered.
Bereft in a strange land.
They'd been good girls, but it was too much to ask.
Ruth, odd girl, chose the mourning.
She'd rather stay under the cloud.
It seemed like choosing a curse.
Even her words sounded like she was choosing death.

All those old friends still recognized her.
They were excited to have her home.
Ah, but they remembered her hopeful and pleasant.
They remembered her a landowner.
They remembered her a mother.
They remembered her a wife with a husband who loved her.
They remembered a woman with a future.
There was nothing for her now.
All her fruit lay rotting in Moab.

"Don't call me Naomi.
Call me Mara.
I had full hands when I left,
but the Lord has taken everything away from me.
The Lord afflicts me.
The Lord sent tragedy to me.
Call me Mara."
I've eaten bitterness, and I'm a disaster.

Aren't you glad it doesn't end there?
Because this woman with no hope
and no family
and no property
and nothing to live for
is cuddling her grandson in the last verses,
and her daughter-in-law is better than ten sons to her,
and the future she thought was cut off
is connected to the past by a different branch.
And she embraced it.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Questions And Answers


 "What did God the Father do while Jesus was being baptized, Silas?" I asked.
"He opened up heaven and talked," he replied.
"And what did God the Holy Spirit do while Jesus was being baptized?"
"He sat on Jesus's head." 

And Jesus came to them and spake unto them, saying,  
All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. 
Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, 
baptizing them into the name of the Father 
and of the Son 
and of the Holy Spirit: 
teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you: 
and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. 
Matthew 28:18-20

Thursday, September 27, 2012

An Injustice


He was despised and rejected--
a man of sorrows, acquainted with the deepest grief.
We turned our backs on Him and looked the other way.
He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses He carried;
It was our sorrows that weighed Him down.
And we thought His troubles were a punishment from God,
a punishment for His own sins!
But He was pierced for our rebellion,
crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
We have left God's paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on Him the sins of us all.
He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet He never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, He did not open His mouth.
Unjustly condemned, He was led away.
No one cared that He died without descendants,
that His life was cut short in midstream.
But He was struck down for the rebellion of my people. 
He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone.
But He was buried like a criminal;
He was put in a  rich man's grave.

But it was the Lord's good plan to crush Him
and cause Him grief.
Yet when His life is made an offering for sin,
He will have many descendants.
He will enjoy a long life,
and the Lord's good plan will prosper in His hands.
When He sees all that is accomplished by His anguish,
He will be satisfied.
And because of His experience,
My righteous servant will make it possible
for many to be counted righteous,
for He will bear all their sins.
I will give Him the honors of a victorious soldier,
because He exposed Himself to death.
He was counted among the rebels.
He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels.

And every time I read it, I am stunned all over again.
We looked the other way from Him,
turning our backs on His suffering--
but He was counted among us to intercede for us.
He is acquainted with the deepest sorrows... but they are our sorrows.
Our sin, our rebellion, our sickness,
our straying, our sorrow, our path.
His piercing, His crushing, His beating,
His whipping, His oppression, His slaughter,
His silence, His criminal burial.
The Lord's good plan.
Our righteousness: His work.
He is satisfied with the results of His anguish,
when He sees the accomplishment of it.
Our Hero -- better than a soldier.
His intercession saves us.

While I looked the other way, He did it.
While I turned my back, He interceded.
While I rebelled, He suffered.
While I strayed, He was crushed.
And doesn't it humble me?
And doesn't it exalt Him?
Shall He not have His reward?

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Phenomenally Bright: Can Barely Write Three Words

Through the encouragement of a friend
who is a speech language pathologist,
we decided to have our son tested for a learning disability.
We are nearly done with the process.

The test results have been surprising in several ways.
His strengths are 'phenomenal', according to the psychologist.
In fact, in the reading vocabulary results from one test,
they put him down as being age equivalent to a 48 year old.
He had a greater than 99.9% score.
I wonder if that is a typo.
He is ten.
He has the writing abilities of a six year old.
In academic knowledge, they say he is twenty, and a college freshman.
But he processes slowly.

It has been nerve-wracking for me as a homeschooling mom
to allow them to measure his education.
I don't have a school I can blame for academic failure.
On the psychoeducational report, and the special services report,
under relevant background information,
it is noted that he is home schooled and always has been.
There is a federal checklist they have to go down
to determine if he is eligible for services.
Does the child have a demonstrated need? Yes.
Is the low output due to low intelligence? No.
Is the low output due to inadequate instruction?
I felt like I was holding my breath as they went over this question with me.
Has it been enough?
Am I failing him miserably?
I didn't realize I was going to have to sit there
with a school administrator, a psychologist,
and a special education provider
and hear the answer to this question.
They told me they saw no evidence that he had been inadequately instructed.
That he had a very broad knowledge base.
Their educations between them probably add up to more than my age.
And they said the need was not due to lack of instruction.

The psychologist told me, "He has the mind of an engineer".
I knew that.
He draws intricate drawings with gears and levers and closeups of the details.
He can look at an object, spin it mentally, and draw it from multiple angles.
When he was two and a half,
he drew his first recognizable drawing: a many-windowed Jeep.
My other children scribbled.
As a still very small child,
he was drawing three dimensional vehicles in 3/4 view.
But he still writes letters and numbers backward.
I taught him to crochet a chain when he was seven.
He woke up early and crocheted a mitten.
With a thumb.
No pattern.
No skill beyond that simple chain had been taught to him.
Was it beautiful? No.
But it was functional.

He told them that he usually thinks of things in colors.
His mind makes different connections than the average person.
I feel my job as his mom
is to make sure he has the basic skills he needs
to allow his gifts to operate.

Why the 'areas of weakness', as the psychologist refers to them?
Because he pulled himself to standing at six months old
and started cruising the furniture within the week
and slipped and twirled in slow motion
just out of reach and too fast to catch
and hit the side of his head on the corner of the coffee table
and screamed like we had never heard him scream 
and while I held him and rocked and didn't know what to do 
his dad said, "What's wrong with his head?"
and I yelled, "There's nothing wrong with his head! 
What do you mean 'what's wrong with his head?'!"
and I looked at his head, and his skull was dented in
and we called my mom to ask for prayer
and grabbed the diaper bag and ran to the car 
to make the half hour drive to the emergency room
while he cried beside me in the backseat
and I cried too
and I prayed
and fifteen minutes in he stopped crying
and the amateur doctor questioned us closely
wanting to know when he really hit his head
because the CT scan showed 'an old injury'
and he said it would be swollen if it was new
and it wasn't swollen
but it was red
and they said he was fine 
and we knew the Lord had given him to us
but the dent took over four years to grow out?

Or is it because 
every time he had immunizations he spiked a fever of over 105 
and got double ear infections 
and that one time had a seizure but I didn't know it was a seizure
and thought he was being a freak 
and if I had known I would have brought him to the hospital
and reported an adverse event
and probably chewed out his doctor
but I hadn't done any research at that point and didn't know any better
and why didn't I look into it more before he was injected?

Or maybe when he tripped and fell in the fire ring 
and hit his head on the rock 
and I dragged him up the stairs to the bathroom 
to wash the blood away
and his knees buckled and I caught him
and he was so dazed he couldn't answer straight questions
and I watched him with worry to see if he was brain damaged
he was really brain damaged?
But that doesn't even make any sense 
because he already had trouble writing years before that
and I think I was a slow processor and probably still am
and it's more likely it was the vaccines.
And the dented head.
And I was vaccinated, too.
So maybe the slow processing is both genetic and environmental.
Both my fault and not my fault.

But what if he was brilliant in every single area
and I couldn't teach him anything,
and he was an insufferable ass
to everyone he met his entire life?
Weaknesses can be mercies.
Paul said, "that I should not be exalted overmuch,
there was given to me a thorn in the flesh,
a messenger of Satan to buffet me,
that I should not be exalted overmuch."
God's strength is made perfect in weakness.
His grace is sufficient for us.
His power is made perfect in weakness.
It was when Jesus needed water that He impacted the Samaritans.
In getting help He gave it.
In asking He offered Himself.

We're in a new community,
and we've met several people through this we would not have met,
and I have been praying
and wondering how to be a part of the community.
Maybe this is our introduction.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

One Measly Tomato


A few days ago, I uprooted two tomato plants.
They had no fruit.
Not one tomato.
I was tired of cultivating them.
Two others were saved by one measly tomato each.
But one measly tomato holds the future of tomatoes.
Fruit.
The promise of more fruit.
The hope of bigger crops.
One piece of fruit holds the hope of hundreds of future plants.
Thousands.
Millions.
Because fruit is the means of reproduction for a plant.
It's a formula for life and repetition.
It's a spark of fire that could keep the species warm.
As I yanked those worthless plants out, I prayed,
"Lord, help me to have fruit."
Even a little bit makes the time and effort spent worth something.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Defined By Five


"He repented," I said, explaining a change of heart and mind. "Do you know what 'repented' means, Silas?"
"Yes," he said. "It means you threw your sins away."
Well... yeah. 
It does.
It's when you throw that garbage out, isn't it?

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Borrowed Line


"So I think this paper, which the Old Man of the Moon said he borrowed," the king said, "this written line torn from the Book of Fortune is 'the borrowed line' you seek."

"Of course," Minli said, and excitement bubbled inside of her, "it must be!" But her excitement popped as she looked at the carefully preserved page and remembered how the king had had it on his person, carefully and preciously kept in the pouch around his neck. It seemed impossible that he would give her such a cherished treasure.

"It was only after much study that my great-great-grandfather was able to decipher the words," the king said. "And that is when he realized that the words changed according to the situation at the time. From then on, whenever a King of the City of Bright Moonlight has had a problem, he consults the paper."

"And it tells you what to do?" Minli asked.

"Yes." ...And with that, the king looked down at the line. As he read, a startled expression came across his face.

"What does it say?" Minli asked.

"It says," the king said slowly, "'You only lose what you cling to.'"

The king's words seemed to hang in the air. All was silent except for the soft rustling of the page in the gentle breeze. Minli, unable to speak, watched it flutter as if it were waving at her.

"So it seems your request," the king said, "deserves consideration. The line tells me as much. Let me think."

Minli looked at the king, quiet but puzzled.

"For generations, my family has prized this paper; we have honored it... It has been passed on and studied and cherished and revered. It has been valued above gold or jade... we guard and protect this written line so dearly that the rulers of the City of Bright Moonlight carry it at all times, not daring to let it out of their possession... We have clung to it, always afraid of losing it," the king said. "But if I choose to release it, there is no loss... And perhaps it was never meant for us to cling to..."

"You only lose what you cling to," the king repeated to himself. He glanced again at the paper and then looked at Minli. A serene expression settled on his face and then he quietly smiled and said, "So, by choosing to give you the line, I do not lose it."

~from Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, by Grace Lin

Reading aloud to my children,
I was reminded again of a truth I need reminding of.
"Whoever desires to save his life will lose it, 
but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 
For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, 
and loses his own soul?"

There was something else He said, too, that came to mind.
"Provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old,
a treasure in the heavens that does not fail,
where no thief approaches nor moth destroys.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

The other day I was reading
about a terrible judgment the Lord passed on Israel.
It was frightening.
He described such utter devastation, and He told them why.
"...Your hands are covered with the blood of innocent victims.
Wash yourselves and be clean!
Get your sins out of My sight.
Give up your evil ways.
Learn to do good.
Seek justice.
Help the oppressed. 
Defend the cause of orphans.
Fight for the rights of widows.
'Come now, let's settle this,' says the Lord.
'Though your sins are like scarlet, I will make them white as snow.
Though they are red like crimson, I will make them as white as wool.
If you will only obey Me, you will have plenty to eat..."

I read an article yesterday with this headline:
Banks Were The Worst Place To Keep Your Savings This Year.
The conclusion of the article was this:
"Going forward, in a twisted world of inflation,
massive government deficits
and interest rate manipulation by the Federal Reserve,
it may be extremely challenging for any asset class
to provide a positive real rate of return
to either investors or bank depositors."
What an opportunity.

I see advice everywhere on how to survive by clinging.
By stockpiling.
By building a bigger barn.
But that advice will end in ruin.
In devastation.
And the Lord has said before that if we will obey Him in this,
we will eat.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Faster

Derailed. 

Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus performed, 
said, 'This is truly that prophet that should come into the world.'
When Jesus therefore perceived 
that they would come and take Him by force, to make Him a king, 
He departed again to a mountain Himself alone.
John 6:14,15

Many years ago, a teacher of mine said something
that I have thought about many times over the years.
He said, "If the devil can't get in front of you and slow you down,
he will get behind you and push you faster."
And haven't you seen that?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Because I am a Woman


I am not supposed to love the smell
of orange cleaner on my floors
if I mopped them myself.
It is beneath me,
because I am a woman,
and domesticity enslaves me.
If my husband mops the floors,
or a legal alien in an apron mops my floors,
and I pay her/it/him for it,
I am allowed to enjoy it.

If I plan a meal and buy the food,
and prepare it,
and set it on the table
the ideal thing to do,
if I am a real woman,
is to resent the effort spent.
Because I am a woman,
and feeding people is beneath me.

I am not supposed to like sitting down to nurse a baby,
because the breasts that baby needs
and the womb it came out of
are the symbols of my servitude,
of my lesser pay.
Because I am a woman,
and nursing a baby is beneath me.
Paying someone to give it a bottle empowers me.
If the baby needs me,
it makes me smaller
than if no one needs me,
because I do a job that any man could do.

I was not supposed to like it
when a man wanted to make a home for me,
and asked me if he could keep me forever,
and buy me dresses,
and would I raise his children for him?
He wouldn't have asked if I was a man,
and that should anger me.
I should only like it if he offers to use me and throw me away,
because I am a woman,
and marriage fetters me.

I am not supposed to walk around barefoot,
because bare feet show my poverty.
I am supposed to wear high-heeled shoes,
so he can't sit down and take my feet in his hands
and rub the soreness out of them,
because I am a woman,
and my happiness is dependent on shoes and a power suit
and money.

I ought to feel guilty
when a butterfly in my stomach takes flight
as I pin clothes on a line
and a breeze blows on them.
Bad woman.

I should be embarrassed that I planned to cook for them,
instead of getting a job
and using my paycheck to buy them some frozen chemicals.
Or telling them to get a job and buy their own chemicals.
It's medieval for me to do it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Every Shaking Knee


How great is the goodness 
You have stored up for those who fear You.
You lavish it on those who come to You for protection,
blessing them before the watching world.
You hide them in the shelter of Your presence, 
safe from those who conspire against them. 
You shelter them in Your presence, 
far from accusing tongues. 
Praise the LORD, 
for He has shown me the wonders of His unfailing love. 
He kept me safe when my city was under attack.  
In panic I cried out, "I am cut off from the LORD!" 
But You heard my cry for mercy 
and answered my call for help. 
Love the LORD, all you godly ones! 
For the LORD protects those who are loyal to Him, 
but He harshly punishes the arrogant. 
So be strong and courageous, 
all you who put your hope in the LORD!  
~Psalm 31:19-24

I love the Psalms. 
They seem written for every kind of panic.
Every kind of fear the righteous face.
Every shaking knee and constricted breath.
And this is the one my eyes fell on this morning.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

For Fresh Water


Earlier this year my husband bought me a rainbarrel.
Rainbarrels rely on rain.
There hasn't been as much rain this summer as we normally get,
and much of the time my rainbarrel has been empty.
But what is beginning to dawn on me,
as we have now had the third rain that ought to have filled it,
and I have gone out hoping for water,
only to have less than I should have had,
is that my rainbarrel has a leak.
At first, there was the incredible heat, and I thought it all evaporated.
Then there was an inch of rain in 20 minutes,
and I thought, surely that barrel is full now.
But strangely, it wasn't.
At least, it wasn't for long.
But this last weekend, there was a long soaking rain,
a beautiful misty green rain, and I smiled to myself about my rainbarrel.
I had noticed two wet lines leading to the drain in my driveway
for the last two days, but mentally looked over it.
They were still there this morning.
I put my watering can under the spout to fill it,
and noticed the water pressure was not acting like it was a full barrel.
Weird. Must have debris in the spout.
But when I went for the fourth can, and had to tip it, I knew for certain:
it's leaking.
It can't hold water like it should.

O, for a spring.
For a source of water independent of my efforts.
For fresh water, that doesn't smell rank when I use it.
For water that really can wash, and nourish.
For living water.
I went inside this morning and looked up this passage in Jeremiah 2:
"My people have committed two sins: 
they have turned away from Me, the spring of fresh water, 
and they have dug cisterns, cracked cisterns that can hold no water at all."
What a stupid thing to do.

If my property had a spring, I might engineer an irrigation system.
But what kind of fool would abandon spring water for a stagnant cistern?
And especially for an empty one?
When I was a little girl, I visited people who had an empty swimming pool.
There was a dark, murky bit of green algae water in the deep end.
It was so horrible looking to me, that I still have bad dreams about it.
Unnatural.
Some of the cisterns we saw in Israel reminded me of that swimming pool.

No sane person would ever ask me for a drink
if I was sitting next to my rainbarrel with a cup.
In fact, many people post warnings on them
to keep others from trying to drink it.
Stagnant water is poison.
That's why places in the world without fresh water sources
have so much misery.
We wash our hands after handling the water.

A woman of Samaria came to draw water. 
Jesus said to her, Give me to drink. 
(For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food.) 
Then the woman of Samaria said to Him, 
How do you, being a Jew, ask a drink of me, who am a woman of Samaria? 
For the Jews do not associate with Samaritans. 
Jesus answered and said to her, If you knew the gift of God, 
and who it is that says to you, Give Me to drink, 
you would have asked of Him, and He would have given you living water.
...Jesus answered and said to her, 
Whoever drinks of this water shall thirst again, 
but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst, 
but the water that I shall give him shall be in him 
a well of water springing up into everlasting life.
~ John 4:7-14

If the water you're drinking stinks, and evaporates, and runs out,
it may be water -- but it isn't living water.
Perhaps it's time to return to the Source,
and abandon that broken cistern.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

In The Midst and During


I was reading last night from Psalm 138:

In the day when I cried out, You answered me,
and made me bold with strength in my soul...
Though the Lord is on high, yet He regards the lowly;
but the proud He knows from afar.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble, 
You will revive me;
You will stretch out Your hand
against the wrath of my enemies,
and Your right hand will save me.
The Lord will perfect that which concerns me;
Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever;
do not forsake the works of Your hands.

And then this morning, I was reading from 2 Chronicles 15.
These are the words of Azariah;
it says the Spirit of God came upon him,
and he gave this message to King Asa:

"The Lord will stay with you, as long as you stay with Him.
Whenever you seek Him, you will find Him.
But if you abandon Him, He will abandon you.
For a long time, Israel was without the true God,
without a priest to teach them,
and without the Law to instruct them.
But whenever they were in trouble 
and turned to the Lord, the God of Israel,
and sought Him out, they found Him.
During those dark times, it was not safe to travel.
Problems troubled the people of every land.
Nation fought against nation, and city against city,
for God was troubling them with every kind of problem.
But as for you, be strong and courageous,
for your work will be rewarded.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble...
I don't want to walk in the midst of trouble.
I don't want to live in dark times, unsafe times, wrathful times.
Don't we all just want to live quiet and peaceful lives?
But though we walk in the midst of trouble,
He will revive us.
He will stretch out His hand against the wrath of our enemies and save us.

Revive. Do you know what it means?
To live again. To return to life.
Let's set our faces toward His salvation:
to live again, to see His justice though we walk in the midst of trouble.
Jesus is the salvation of His right hand.
Jesus is the resurrection and the life.
He is our future and our hope, though trouble is our present.
Though the wrath of the enemy is our present lot,
He will perfect that which concerns us,
and He will not forsake the works of His hands.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

For All The Grace I Have Not Tasted Yet


My sister and I were praying together today,
and as she prayed, she was thanking the Lord for hard things:
for awkward times, and heartaches.
She thanked Him because those hurts impart compassion.
They limit judgment, and increase care.
I was already thinking about sharing this poem I read this morning,
but her prayer tied in with the part of this poem that most spoke to me.
Maybe it will also speak to you:

My heart is resting, O my God,
I will give thanks and sing;
My heart is at the secret source 
Of every precious thing.
Now the frail vessel Thou hast made 
No hand but Thine shall fill;
For the waters of the earth have failed,
And I am thirsty still.

I thirst for springs of heavenly life,
And here all day they rise;
I seek the treasure of Thy love,
And close at hand it lies.
And a new song is in my mouth
To long-loved music set:
"Glory to Thee for all the grace
I have not tasted yet;

"Glory to Thee for strength withheld,
For want and weakness known;
And the fear that sends me to Thy breast
For what is most my own."
I have a heritage of joy
That yet I must not see;
But the hand that bled to make it mine
Is keeping it for me.

My heart is resting, O my God,
My heart is in Thy care;
I hear the voice of joy and health
Resounding everywhere.
"Thou art my portion," saith my soul,
Ten thousand voices say,
And the music of their glad Amen
Will never die away.
~Anne Laetitia Waring

For the grace I have not tasted;
for strength withheld;
for intimate acquaintance with want, and with weakness;
and for fears that drive me to You:
Thank You.
Wow.
Yeah.

Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now I keep Thy word.
Thou art good, and doest good; teach me Thy statutes.
I know, O LORD, that Thy judgments are right, 

and that Thou in faithfulness hast afflicted me.
Let, I pray Thee, Thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, 

according to Thy word to Thy servant. 
Let Thy tender mercies come to me, that I may live... 
~ From Psalm 119:67-77

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Keeping My Brother


Our church assembles in a small building.
There are two joined rooms upstairs where the younger children meet,
and one bigger room downstairs,
and an outhouse.
Five minutes into worship this morning,
my five-year-old nephew came downstairs.
He looked around the room, spotted me and made a beeline for me --
pushing right through a row of people, instead of going around.
I assumed he needed to be taken out to the outhouse,
and his mom was upstairs, and his daddy was up front,
so I reached out my hand and took his
and started walking toward the back with him.

But he was just trying to ask me a question.
I leaned over so I could hear better.
"Is Aliyah okay?"
I made him repeat it, because I hadn't heard well.
When I did understand, I got a little alarmed.
She is my four-year-old niece.
Both her parents were leading worship, too.

"Isn't she upstairs?"
"No."
"Where is she?"
He pointed to the back row, and there she was, sitting with another family.
I'm sure her parents knew where she was.
But her teacher upstairs, who had expected to see her, didn't know.
And she cared.
"Yes, she looks okay."
He ran back upstairs to deliver the news.

Our 'service' was interrupted because of concern over one member.
Because we are family.
And when a member of your family is not where they ought to be,
family members grow worried.
Where is your brother?
Is someone missing who ought to be there?
Cain said, "Am I my brother's keeper?"
But we say, "Is Aliyah okay?"
Is she safe?
Is she wandering outside when she should be together with family?
Do you care? Do you check?
Or is the form of the service of more importance than the members of it?

Maybe a brother has fallen among thieves,
and lies bleeding on the road to Jerusalem.
He was coming from worship.
But he slipped when an enemy assaulted him,
and he can't get himself up.
His wounds have grown infected.
He has nothing left.
And he isn't even decently dressed anymore.
He curses to himself and wishes he was dead.
He's tried to yell for help, but the smell drives them all away.
They are headed to prayer,
and don't want to dirty their hands with his blood and pus.
The naked need is revolting.
Have a little pride, man.
How can you lay there so nakedly needy?
Wash your filth away, so you can enter His courts with praise.

But he cannot rise from the dust.
Which traveler will you be?
One of those who skirt around him?
Or one who is willing to reach out and be bloodied?
To get his dirt on you in the effort to wash his dirt from him?
Are you wearing an outer garment you could cover his nakedness with?
Is there water in your canteen?
Give him a drink.
He can't walk for the beatings.
Wrestle him onto your donkey.
Let your feet grow sore and blistered for awhile.
It will slow you down.
It will delay your business.
It will cost you your traveling money.
You may be in greater danger of being attacked yourself,
walking on your feet instead of riding in your saddle.
But that's a brother bleeding there.
He can't pay you for your help.

You've managed to bring him to an inn,
where you spend your evening giving the man a bath.
You've only got one bedroll -- you give it to him.
He can't feed himself, so you feed him like a baby.
He doesn't even notice you, he's so damaged.
You dig into your savings to pay the innkeeper,
to persuade a fellow human to be kind.

Jesus said that they would know we are His by our love for one another.
A love that washes feet.
A love that bandages wounds.
A love that looks for the wanderer, even if it has to interrupt service.
That applies the hot compresses and releases the infections,
and reaches out beyond its own class to heal.