Sunday, September 11, 2016

On Visible Mending and the Handiwork of God

A skirt I made from a vintage tablecloth
caught on something while my daughter wore it,
and a big, 90 degree tear resulted.
I thought about letting the work of my hands go, but it bothered me.
The tablecloth had been stained, and had holes in it when I found it.
I had carefully cut around some of the leaves in the border,
and applique-patched them over the holes.
I dyed the skirt a soft gray, which hid the stains.
I liked how I had taken an object that could not be used as it was created,
and repaired and restored and remade it
into what I thought was a lovely garment.
Now it was torn, and the tear was not able to be hidden.
I have heard my whole life that if a seam tears, you can repair it.
But this wasn't a seam.
It was ruined.

I set it aside for weeks, not willing to toss it,
but not knowing exactly how to fix it.
The cloth I made it from was long gone.
There was nothing to patch it with.

One day, looking for an embroidery project for a friend,
I came across visible mending on Pinterest.
Oh, my!
People were doing this on purpose, and loving the mended project
even more than something new and pristine.

I pulled the skirt back out, and sat down to make it useful again.
Instead of trying to hide my repair,
and pretend the damage had never been done,
I used embroidery floss with its subtle shine,
and stitched far more stitches than were necessary for usefulness,
enjoying every one.
That particular rip would not likely rip again.
When I finished, somehow I loved this handiwork
even more than I had loved it before.

I looked the skirt over, and found a couple of worn places
and a small hole I'd not noticed before.
I added a spiral of stitches over a worn place.
An embroidered rose to fill a small hole.
I'm too invested in this fabric now to toss it lightly aside.
I'd rather repair it.
Restore it.
Redeem it.

The useful has become a work of creativity and art.
A poetry of stitches instead of an exercise book sentence.
A painted portrait instead of a police sketch.
This shows the soul of the image -- not just its hair color and mouth shape.

This morning I was reading Nehemiah 9:17:
"[They] refused to obey, 
neither were mindful of Thy wonders that Thou didst among them; 
but hardened their necks, 
and in their rebellion appointed a captain to return to their bondage: 
but Thou art a God ready to pardon, 
gracious and merciful, 
slow to anger, 
and of great kindness, 
and forsookest them not."

I looked up several words, but it was that last phrase that arrested me.
He forsookest them not.
He didn't leave them.
He didn't depart from them.
He didn't leave them behind, let them alone, abandon them or neglect them.
He didn't let them loose, set them free, or let them go.
They were not deserted.
All those things come under the first meaning of the word.
There was a second meaning.
To restore, repair.

"For we are His workmanship, 
created in Christ Jesus for good works, 
which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them."
(Ephesians 2:10) 

Oh Lord -- I am so full of torn places --
stains and holes. 
My flaws are all in the body of the fabric, not the seams.
Don't let me go.
Repair and restore me. 

But He does more.
He makes beautiful things -- stitches art into our mending.
We are His workmanship, the Scripture says.
His creativity repairs us uniquely.
In places, His handiwork becomes far more visible
than the original fabric was,
His stitches the only thing holding any of it together.
Where we are stitched will not match anyone else's repairs.
Unique to our flaws, His creativity, and the material at hand,
each one becomes a newly-made creative expression in His overall masterpiece.
We are all worked into the whole.
Maybe you've thought of yourself as the worst patch.
But He repairs, remakes, restores --
and places you into the whole
as a trophy of His love and creativity.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Rear Guard

Our house passed out of our ownership today.
Our tenants moved out fourteen months ago,
and we've been paying the mortgage
and the rent where we live now
without the help of an income that just covered the mortgage
of the house left behind coming in.
We did not see any possibility of doing that,
and yet, by the Lord's mercy, we did.
And we ate, too.

Years ago, the Lord spoke a promise to us.
He directed our steps with it:
halting us when we were ready to go too fast,
and sending us forward
when we didn't see how we'd guard ourselves from behind.
He did for us as He promised,
and we are humbled by His care.
The mortgage debt is gone and the cost of our cross-country move.

While we were there, we prayed about how to impact the community for good.
But it felt like that was a loss when we moved away.
The family that bought the house from us are involved in the community,
in ways that build it up.
It's the first home they've ever owned,
and its age and history (read: constant need of upkeep because she is so old)
were part of the draw of that house to them.
I am so happy to have sold it
to people who will love it,
and who will be enabled to deepen their own roots
in a community they have already been investing in.

And yet, of course, I feel like crying.
For the first time in many years, we don't own a home.
And the bookshelves my daddy built me are someone else's now.
My books fill IKEA shelves, which are perfectly adequate,
but not labors of love.
I long for a place of our own.
A quiet sanctuary.
My husband reminds me of another promise:
'Everyone who has left houses
or brothers or sisters
or father or mother
or children or lands
for My name's sake,
will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life.'

You are our Home, Lord.
Thank You for covering us.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Breathe Life

Two weeks ago Thursday morning, my niece drowned.
I saw two urgent prayer requests come through,
and when I asked for details, my heart sank.
My sister's baby had gotten out of the house.
They found her floating on her back in a kiddie pool.
She was blue.
No pulse.
She picked her up and turned her over, trying to get the water out.
She ran screaming to her husband that she was dead.
"No!" he yelled.
He knew what to do, but who knows what to do?
He laid the baby on the ground and did chest compressions on her.
After about a minute, her heart started beating.
She started wheezing and moaning.
My sister brought her inside, and she vomited water,
but she wasn't responsive, and she was abnormally stiff,
and her cry was not right.
An ambulance took her to a hospital,
where no one answered questions, and the baby's eyes didn't focus.
Some of these details came through later,
but all I knew was that she'd drowned, and it didn't look good.

I trembled, and I wept, and I begged God to save her.
To restore her.
To preserve her brain.
To hold us all up.
"I don't know how to pray!" I cried.
I didn't eat, as I had intended to.
And I kept my heart lifted up, but almost wordlessly.
I just couldn't put it into words.
You breathed life into mud, You can rebreathe it into her. 
Please breathe into her?

We aren't exempt from the snakebite that bites us all.
"...And if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; 
they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover..."
Even this stunning promise implies snakebites, and deadly drinks, and sickness.

I hesitated to even ask for prayer. 
Like speaking the evil that had fallen on us made it real.
But it was real.
Better to call the snakebite what it is,
and throw ourselves on the mercy of God.
I texted a couple of friends for prayer. 
Lord, she's been bitten. Please restore her. 

My sister said the baby had been staring at a corner of the room,
not seeing it when she did open her eyes,
and not paying any attention to any of them.
My sister didn't know what to do, and she was hopeless.
But she prayed, and she kept praying.
The baby turned her eyes and looked at them.
She followed them with her eyes.
Her stiffened out body relaxed.
She said they saw when she was restored.
She was transferred to a hospital equipped for children.

Her breathing was at 99%
Her oxygen levels were good.
The x-rays looked fine.
Her neurological tests came back fine.
A few hours after the whole ordeal, she was laughing and eating Cheerios.
They wanted to watch her overnight, to make sure.

"And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, 
and laid them on the fire, 
there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. 
And when the barbarians saw the animal hang on his hand, 
they said among themselves, 
No doubt this man is a murderer, 
whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live. 
And he shook off the animal into the fire, and felt no harm. 
Yet they looked when he would have swelled, or fallen down dead suddenly: 
but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, 
they changed their minds, and said that he was a god."

It's an interesting phenomenon,
(and one that ought not to be our first response to hearing a story of misery),
that other people's misfortunes
are immediately used as a means for us to point at culprits,
to assign blame, and to heap scorn on the victims.
When Paul was bitten by a snake,
the response of the onlookers was first to make him at fault,
and then to deify him.
Both are wrong.
Paul was doing exactly what God had called him to do,
and serving in the way that he could when his service resulted in a snakebite.

It doesn't even say he prayed when the snake bit him,
and yet the Lord saw fit to keep poison from its usual course of action in Paul.
Blessed be His name!

So many times in the gospels, Jesus was brought a hopeless case,
and His compassion moved Him to heal.
And I love truly His kindness, and His genuine concern for the families,
and that we never once see Him say, 'Who sinned?!'
In fact, His answer to that very question from His disciples was, to paraphrase:
"Neither. But that God's work should be revealed in Him.
And that's My work. I am the Light in the darkness."
And with that little explanation,
He squatted down to mix His spit into mud
to put in the blind-man-suspected-of-sin's eyes.

Three hours after my niece's restoration,
my parents were sitting beside my grandmother, whose death has been expected,
when she breathed her last.
The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away.
Blessed be the name of the Lord.

Friday, June 10, 2016

He Will Come to Us Like the Rain

My heart has been so heavy lately--
heavy with sadness and anxious for my children's future.
Pondering and contemplating.
And there is just a weight on my shoulders.
I walked out of the house this evening with some errands to do,
and my six ducklings tagging along (one of which is taller than I am now).
I went to pull the car out, and there had been a little rain.
It's so lovely how it clears the air,
and fills my senses with its cleanness.
You don't know what a luxury and a mercy water is
until you move into a desert.
But it's such a precious gift when water falls free from the sky,
and washes out the dust.

The very first rain that ever fell on this earth was judgement.
Forty days and forty nights of it.
It was unfamiliar, but well earned.

Later, with the law, came a promise:
"I will give you rain in its season,
the land shall yield its produce,
and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit."
(Leviticus 26:4)

And there was a promise to Israel:
"The land which you go to possess
is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come,
where you sowed your seed
and watered it by foot, as a vegetable garden;
but the land which you cross over to possess
is a land of hills and valleys,
which drinks water from the rain of heaven,
a land for which the Lord your God cares;
the eyes of the Lord your God are always on it,
from the beginning of the year to the very end of the year.
And it shall be
that if you earnestly obey My commandments which I command you today,
to love the Lord your God
and serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul,
then I will give you the rain for your land in its season,
the early rain and the latter rain,
that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil.
And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock,
that you may eat and be filled.
Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived,
and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them,
lest the Lord's anger be aroused against you,
and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain,
and the land yield no produce,
and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you..."
(Deuteronomy 11)

"He shall come down like rain upon the grass before mowing,
like showers that water the earth."
(Psalm 72:6)

"Come, and let us return to the Lord;
for He has torn, but He will heal us;
He has stricken, but He will bind us up.
After two days, He will revive us;
on the third day He will raise us up,
that we may live in His sight.
Let us know, let us pursue the knowledge of the Lord.
His going forth is established as the morning;
He will come to us like the rain,
like the former and latter rain to the earth."
(Hosea 6:1-3)

If you follow the rain through the Scriptures, you find two things:
the judgement of God in its destructive power;
and the mercy of God in providing it in its season.
Oh, and also famine.
Whether in giving it, or in withholding it, our eyes ought to be on Him.
We need Him to rain softly on us, to water us for fruitfulness.
We need Him to hold it back in seasons of sunlight, so we don't drown.
We recognize His judgement in flood and in famine.

I rejoice in a soft rain.
The loveliness of its smell, the coolness it brings to the dusty earth.
But I want it temperately.
I do not want a flood of judgement.
And I want enough.

So this evening, I breathed in the cleanness, and thought of Him.
But I did my errands heavily.
We looked out the windows of the store
as we brought our purchases up to pay,
and the sun was low and slanting in the sky.
The clouds were dark.
The sun broke through, and lit up the wet world
and the green trees from within.
We hurried to buckle the babies in standing in the rain.
And to get them out again at the next store.
The kids deliberated over their purchases, but finally decided,
and we prepared to run out to the car again.
But one step out of the store, and we were stopped in our tracks.
There was a brilliant double rainbow spanning the entire town.
From the set of hills south of us into the set north of us.
Glowing neon.
We stood and pointed.
It was just a soft rain, and we were mesmerized.
And I was reminded again of His judgement,
and of His covenant of mercy.

And God said: "This is the sign of the covenant which I make between Me and you, and every living creature that is with you, for perpetual generations: I set My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between Me and the earth..." (Genesis 9)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Mind-Numbing Work of Redemption

I do the same things All The Time.
I pick up the dirty clothes, and sort them into the hampers.
I button the buttons, and turn the socks right side out.
I spray the stains, and I fill the washing machine.
I take the wet clothes out, and straighten them,
and hang them on the clothesline to dry.
I take them down, and fold them, and send them to be put away.
And then I sort them out into the hampers again.

I rinse dirty plates, and stack them,
and I fill the dishwasher with them.
I unload the clean dishes, and put them in the cupboards,
and then do it again.
Sometimes three times a day.

I nurse the baby in the middle of the night,
and I feed him again in the morning.
In the late morning.
At noontime.
In the afternoon.
In the late afternoon.
At dinner.
In the late evening, just before he goes to bed.

I change diapers.
And again.
And again.
The progress of my days
is marked by piles of used diapers,
moved bookmarks,
dirty dishes, 
and clothes that need another washing.

I told my husband, "I don't know what purpose I have right now."
A friend asked me how I am doing, and I said, "I feel dull."
And I do.
I mean, seriously,
what point is there
in washing and washing and straightening
what is never clean,
and never straightened out?
You would think I do nothing at all
if you looked at the crumbs on my floor.
Because if I vacuum three times a day,
there are still crumbs on my floor.

I have been meditating on the Proverbs 31 woman,
whose equal I am not.
And I've been thinking about how she wraps herself up in food prep,
and laundry maintenance.
And I was contemplating two questions the other morning:
What is God doing in my life?
And how do I join God in His work?

What is God doing in my life?
He's drawing me into fellowship with Himself and with others.
He's refining me.
He's making me new in Christ.
He cares for me and my concerns.
He redeems me.
He washes me.
He comforts me.
He heals me.
He plants, waters, weeds, prunes...
He fills my darkness with His light.
He's working resurrection in me.

And how do I join Him in His work?
Kissing hurts, and healing wounds.
Mending what's broken.
Washing what is dirty.
Straightening what is crooked.
Feeding the hungry.
Planting and weeding and watering.
Bleaching out the stains.
And returning what has become unusable to a state of usefulness. 

Suddenly the laundry stains are meditative.
And the dishes, endlessly worthless with grime,
are also endless reminders of the restorative work He does in me.
The children needing comfort,
and the babies needing baths --
are praiseworthy reminders of the comfort He gives,
and the washing of the Word.

The dishes and the laundry are in constant need of redemption--
as I must constantly be redeemed from the sin that soils me.
My usefulness depends on my washing.

I looked down at the pants I was wearing -- a thrift store purchase.
A cast-off redeemed.
I put the same things back in their places every single day.
I bring order out of chaos.
And while I work in the kitchen, the toddler is trashing the living room.
And the shoes are scattered out of their baskets in the laundry room.
And it isn't going to end.
But as they mature (and we have other areas in disarray to set right),
they'll lend their hands to the work.

The material matters.
These mind-numbing, repetitive tasks that I do again and again
are the very same tasks He has set for Himself in me.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

How To Sustain

Sunday morning, February 28,
I was in the Word
and had my attention drawn to two passages of Scripture.
The first is Proverbs 15:4:
"A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: 
but perverseness in it breaks the spirit."
A wholesome tongue.
A healing tongue.
Another version called it a gentle tongue.

So, I was praying about that.
Thinking about what James says about our tongues.
A very world of iniquity.
And that the man who has control over that is a perfect man.
I prayed for forgiveness and transformation.
Because I have not achieved such perfection.
And sometimes, the words escape me.

I want to heal with my words. 
To restore and redeem. 
To reconcile. 
To build up.
To bless You and Your people. 

Then the Lord brought my attention to Isaiah 50:4:
"The Lord God has given me the tongue of those who are taught, 
that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary."
Ah, Lord-- give me the tongue of those who are taught.
I want to know how to sustain the weary with a word. 

I read through these with my children, and we prayed together about them, too.

Sunday afternoon my brother went to the ER
because a pharmacist told him to when he saw his swollen elbow.
Tuesday afternoon, he went in for exploratory surgery
because of an infection that was not responding to antibiotics, and kept growing.
In surgery, he finally got a diagnosis: necrotizing fasciitis.
Maybe you never heard of it.
You probably don't want to.
I actually already knew what it was
because we have a family friend
whose life God miraculously spared from it in the 1990s.

A number of us skipped dinner for intercession,
(my oldest three children joined in that decision).
I did not sleep much.
My brother's ambulance was arriving at his third hospital very late,
and I wanted as much news as I could get.
And I was praying.

Once he was in surgery again,
and I knew the news would be awhile in coming, I grew so tired.
I fell asleep on my phone.
When I woke up, in the wee hours of the morning,
I looked at my phone and saw a little conversation, but still no news.
I prayed again, and found myself thanking God
for my brother, my family, my parents and my husband,
my very dear brothers and sisters in Christ
who were awake praying over my baby brother,
doctors and nurses who care and strain themselves doing it.

My sister said a little while later that she had fallen asleep
feeling guilty that she was so tired she couldn't stay awake.
So tired.
But here's the thing, and what really has been balm:
While we were collapsing exhausted,
the Lord was waking up people who love Him to intercede.
I've heard from at least fifteen people
(and I do not doubt there are more)
who were awakened to pray in the night.
And I think of Moses standing with his arms lifted but weary,
and friends who care coming in to support.
And I am overwhelmed with gratitude
at God's handiwork in uniting a family that is not family.
I am so thankful for the family He placed me in,
that transcends states and nations, that crosses over time zones.
When one member suffers, we all suffer.
Bless the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits.

And yesterday, as I was pondering the whole thing,
and thinking how like to flesh eating bacteria
the growing evil in our nation and world is,
and how we need to be directed to the care of a doctor,
to have the condition recognized for what it is,
to be scrubbed clean of it,
and to be prayed over,
but we are too tired and weak to intercede alone --
the words came back from Sunday morning again.

A wholesome tongue.
A healing tongue.
The tongue of those who are taught.
That I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary.
Because we are weary.
My brother's body is weary.
And prayer and the Word sustain.

And perhaps God will have mercy on our nation if we call out to Him.
Those who are taught intercede.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Quiet Time

It's that magical time in the morning*
when the sleeping baby begins to grunt
and snort
and squawk
and scream.
When a mother tries to pray,
and all the children outside her bedroom door quote movie lines.
When she opens her Bible
and hears a loud crash, and someone cries out in agony.
When the sound of small feet running slams into her bedroom door,
knocking it open,
and a smiling toddler appears saying,
"Me watch Baby Beluga?!"
When, even though she is trying to read in Genesis,
her mind sticks on this:
There is a difference also between a wife and a virgin. 
(You think?)
The unmarried woman is anxious for the things of the Lord, 
that she may be holy, both in body and in spirit: 
but she that is married, is anxious for the things of the world...
Talk about serving the Lord with distraction. 
Foiled again.
I guess I'll take a shower.

*Morning, to most people, signifies the early part of the day. Here, please take it to mean any point within the twenty-four hour span of a day in which a moment of silence might tempt a woman to try again.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Cream of Sausage-Sauerkraut Soup

When you make bratwurst cooked with sauerkraut,
and serve it with baked or roasted potatoes,
the leftovers are the perfect beginning to soup the next day.

Heat butter in a pan.
Saute onions in it, if you want to.
Add chopped kale or spinach if you have it.
I made it today without either onions, kale, or spinach,
but they really do improve it.
When they are softened,
add chopped sausage (Polish works fine, too),
and all the sauerkraut,
and cook a little before adding a couple of tablespoons of flour.
Stir well, and add a little chicken broth and your chopped leftover potatoes.
Heat to very hot,
then temper cream or milk with it before adding all of it back to your pan.
Stirring often, cook until thick and bubbly.
Even my soup-hater asks for seconds.