Small Kitchen Theology

IMG_3055I’m learning to live with quiet and a more restful spirit. I’ve been railing against my enforced solitude and non-working status for almost two years now…striving to find something to fill me the way teaching did. Truth is: teaching consumed me. I missed so much of my family’s touchstone events because I believed that what I did was more important than anything else. Ok, I didn’t consciously believe it, but I acted as if I did. My actions were those of a woman entangled with her own sense of self-importance. My identity rested with my ability to do my job well. Exceptionally well. And I was dedicated to my craft and perfecting it. I was also dedicated to my students whose love fed my need for purpose and meaning.

As my life flew away from me three years ago, I began to fight against the loss of meaning and purpose. I clung to a vision I’d had since I had returned to college as a 32-year-old single mother of three: I wanted to teach at the college level. I still had visions of writing my master’s thesis on WWI poetry and how it reflected an ideological fracture that expressed itself in new modern art and writing styles. I had planned to work as a teaching assistant while I finished my PhD and then find a wonderful university where I would get to teach my favorite things to sponge-like undergraduates who would savor every lecture.

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One delightful clump of irises.

It sounds ridiculously naïve when I read it in print. It sounds like a romantic novel’s innocent heroine. It sounds like a woman’s need to hold fast to a dream that was anything but her reality.

It was a necessary dream at the time, but dreams have a way of dissolving themselves…and sometimes God dissolves the dream so He can make something more purposeful from a life spiraling out-of-control quickly.

Yesterday was one of those yucky days I get sometimes now. My body has a mind and mood of its own, and yesterday the pain and exhaustion overwhelmed me. I kept pushing forward doing small tasks. My life has become quite small now. And quiet. And lonely sometimes, but mostly it’s quiet. After my husband leaves for work, I have a pattern: take shower while listening to podcast (usually Ravi Zacharias or Kay Arthur); do upstairs chores while listening to podcast; do lower back exercises while listening to podcasts or music*; do Bible study (in silence); finally, I pray. Yesterday it was hard to do anything. I just wanted to lie down and close my eyes and wait for the day to pass. But I didn’t! I persevered! HAH! But I did move forward and tried to follow my routine.*NOTE: Apparently I need podcasts to fill the silence!

After lunch my energy started to return, as did the sun. (Let me just say that I love the sun in Colorado. Northern Colorado’s spring season starts later than it does in Oklahoma-my home state. It’s the first of June and mornings are still 40 degrees. Highs are in the mid 60’s or 70’s. Zilch on the humidity. In the last two weeks, the trees have filled out and my garden is opening up.)

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A small window box my hubby made out of old wood and antique door.

I’ve been refinishing an antique window to use as a frame for family photos, and I needed to finish distressing the window and then add a little antiquing wax to emphasize the grain of the wood. The sun acted like a tonic on my old bones and I spent the afternoon listening to Schubert and finishing the window. In between coats of wax, I read a novel and drank an espresso (made in my fun, Italian moka pot). As suppertime got closer, I decided to start chopping tomatoes, onions, and peppers for a salsa I’d put on top of the fish tacos I’d planned. Quiet, right? Unassuming? Non-tumultuous? No lesson plans. No essays to grade. No conferences to attend.

Here’s the thing I’m noticing about my new life as an unemployed teacher living in a new town: I like it. I like the deliberateness of chopping the veggies for salsa while looking out my kitchen window and watching the irises blossom in the backyard. I like letting my thoughts wander without worrying about what I must achieve in order to feel valuable to the world. I like having my husband help me when he gets home and then hug me because he appreciates the supper.

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My kitchen window. Rosemary, the pig, contains–what else–rosemary. What can I say…I like pigs.

These are all things I missed before . . . before the small kitchen and the small life and the smaller dreams. It sounds corny, but I love listening to the birds—even the squawky blackbirds that chase off the smaller birds in order to eat at my bird feeder. I like sanding a piece of old wood and turning it into something new. I like to hear the children’s chatter and laughter as they play now that school is out. My new quiet life feels like a gift today.

And that’s the revelation. I’ve been striving internally for months now trying to figure out the next stage of my life once my back gets strong again. I’ve been begging God for answers and for purpose. Then today I finally “got it.” The gift. Anyone who really knows me and knows my history, also knows the nightmare my life was in my 20’s and 30’s. They know the despair and the rejection and deep sorrow. The helplessness and hopelessness. They also know that my children, family, and job provided me with the healing I desperately needed. And thus the Gift. I heard God tell me (in that still, small voice that I can only hear when I’m quiet): Cindy, be still. Your purpose rests in Me. Your dreams are secure in Me. It’s time for you to rest, heal, and be amazed at the life I have given you. Be still my daughter. Be still my child. Be still.

Suddenly, ZAP, just like that I realized that this quiet year has been God’s gift to me. A relief from the last 26 years of college, teaching, raising children, surgery, more college, and a move away from the familiar and comfortable. Instead of worrying about my financial future, God is telling me to enjoy this time. Relax in it. Don’t see it as a pause button until my real life begins again, but as a well-earned vacation.

I still strive, of course. But today the sun is out again and my garden is calling me. Weeds continue to bloom and I must be diligent in my weeding so I can keep gazing out my small, kitchen window and watch the birds fly and the irises bloom.

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More irises and Jeremiah, the gnome. 

 

 

 

Prayer: Not for the Faint of Heart

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My “Wall O’ Prayer Post-Its” 

A Passive Aggressive Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

It’s been a hard week (month or year) and, I’m not sure why I’m praying…it’s not like you can do anything, can you? Or will you? I’m just a lowly creature whose problems don’t mean much in the scheme of the universe. Do you even care? I mean, why should you? I’m a pretty awful example of a Christ-follower. But I’m praying anyway hoping you’ll actually listen and move. But I doubt it. You’re just going to do what you want to do anyway. Sometimes it seems like you’re a tyrant god who likes to watch us squirm so we can see how incapable we are without you. Right? But I’m going to ask anyway…just in case. But I don’t expect much. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

And so it goes.

I never thought of myself as a passive-aggressive person. I don’t try to manipulate people to do what I want them to do through subtle derogatory remarks intended to zing or pinch. Well, sometimes I do. It’s a cowardly technique. I should just say I what mean instead of trying to get someone to feel the way I want him or her to feel. Even writing it sounds tacky, but I do it and I practice it with God sometimes.

I’m trying not to do it anymore. My New Year’s resolution for 2016 was to develop a prayer discipline that was consistent and focused. I resolved to read Christian authors I respect and study the scriptures regarding prayer, from Old to New Testaments.

I also determined to keep “prayer promises.” Whenever I tell someone, “I’ll pray for you,” I do. I write it on a post-it note and stick it on my prayer wall. I have a big sheet metal board that my hubster made for me a few years ago. It hangs over my desk and I used it to keep my teaching plans organized. Since I don’t teach anymore, it has become a catch-all for “meditation notes,” pictures, quirky magnets, coffee sleeves from favorite coffee shops, and now it’s also covered with family photos and post-it note prayer requests. I may need another board…

I wish I could say that in these last four months I have discovered some great prayer insights. Maybe even a step-by-step process into manipulating God into answering prayers. I didn’t though. Some of my prayer post-its haven’t changed at all, while others have been removed and altered. But the big ones have stayed in place. No movement from Heaven that I can see.

However…do I walk by faith or by sight? Does the character of God change just because I don’t see answers? Is He a Father of love who listens and moves, or is He a judging, condemning Father who likes us to suffer so we learn to be stronger individuals?

(Quite frankly, I prefer not to have anymore “character-shaping” moments. I prefer being weak and wimpy if it means life goes more smoothly. In fact, I kind of like my “ostrich faith.” Sticking my head in the sand so I don’t have to feel fear, disappointment, anguish, or grief. My character is shaped enough, thank you very much. God disagrees.)

Prayer is more complex than all my whining. It isn’t a “fix,” but nor is it empty and fruitless. It is an essential component—even “THE” central component for a Christian. But be forewarned! Diligent—and sometimes urgent—prayer requires concentrated time and effort, and it will reveal your true self while also revealing a fearsome glimpse of the God who created all.

Here is a bit of what I have learned: 

  1. Prayer reveals the status of my own heart first, and it can be a very painful experience. I don’t say this lightly. It is very painful. During this prayer process, I’ve become acutely aware of my own failures. My “dirty-ness.” It’s like I’m looking at an overview of my entire life and seeing all the places that I’m ashamed of—all the things I thought were secret play out again and again. Emotions I thought I had dealt with long ago resurface. It’s crushing. I am not the person I thought I was. I am a frail, sinful person who hurt people I loved over and over again—not through intentionality, but through my choices and behavior patterns. Oy to the vey. This is not what I expected to have happen through disciplined prayer. I guess I thought I’d become respected and admired for my righteousness. Woe to me. A Pharisee by nature; however, I am a child of God through Christ. Prayer has tuned me into my base nature and thus my need for a Savior.
  2. Prayer doesn’t always have to be an emotional heart cry. Sometimes it will be, but when I look at my prayer board, I see a journey I need to take everyday, and it’s hard to keep that emotional state going daily. Nor should we. Prayer is disciplined. Emotional outpourings are also necessary and will occur, but most days, prayer will be a steady procedure anchored in faith that God hears and Heaven moves according to HIS will and not mine. And some days, I merely plod through my wall in a circular pattern because I promised I would do so. Usually during my plodding, more sincere and even new revelations happen that shift my prayers slightly. But sometimes it doesn’t happen. Sometimes it stays a steady plod forward. That’s ok…I hope. I’m trusting God that He still finds pleasure in my supplication even when I don’t feel that emotional pulse that exhilarates.
  3. Bible study is essential. Experts continually write books that explore the Lord’s Prayer, the Gethsemane prayer, Jesus’ quiet times in the wilderness (40 days and nights), fasting, the Psalms, Daniel’s prayers…seemingly every prayer written in God’s Word. These writers analyze and pull biblical prayers apart at the seams trying to decode the secret to making things happen. Prayers for prosperity and healing leave hurting people cynical when their formulaic prayers aren’t answered. So many well-intentioned folks try to figure out why these prayers aren’t being answered and often turn the blame back on the pray-er. There must be secret sin in your life. You’re not praising God enough before you make a request (as if God doesn’t understand when He’s being manipulated). There’s a tinge of condemnation and self-righteousness in those remarks. I’ve been on the receiving end of those well-intentioned folks, as have so many that I love. I have found this to be true: the only authority on prayer is God. And it follows that the only way we can know God is through His Word. The character of our creator is spread out through 66 books written by man, but inspired by God. He has given us everything we need to know about His character through His Bible. Nothing added. Nothing taken away. The more I understand who God is and what His plan is for the world and people He created, the more I can pray with assurance that God will not act outside of His character. He is an unchanging God, full of love, compassion, mercy, and holy justice. I am to stand in awe of Him, and the Bible shows me why He is deserving of my awe. Read the Word. Bill Hybels (Willow Creek Community Church of Chicago) talks about “chair time”—15 minutes a day in God’s Word. I love that.
  4. Pray with a sense of the eternal: The soul was not created for the body, but the body for the soul. We are eternal creatures stamped with the image of God. We defiled that image, so now we are but poor shadows of what God intended for us to be. But we will be like Him. In a moment. In a twinkling of an eye (God does love poetry!). My life feels so rooted in the “right now,” but I’m also very conscious of an ache for something more. Something purer. I think that is part of our eternal longing. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes 3:10-11: “What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” We long for something that we can’t name (but advertisers certainly can!). I notice it most when I’m in nature. Colorado is so beautiful and majestic, but people continue to defile it and make it less so! Stop it! An example: Steve and I went on a short traipse the other day—a trail we had been wanting to try for a while. We parked the car, got out and started walking. The grasses were high and the red-winged blackbirds sat on them without bending them. We could hear their songs, as well as the rustle of critters scurrying around us. But shading the sounds of nature was the steady thrum of traffic. All those cars and trucks flying down the road depleted my joy. Then as we headed back to our Jeep, the wafting smell of pot from a nearby truck sealed my mood. I became very aware of a sense of the eternal. Cars became symbolic of man’s need for more and more while depleting natural resources and finances, and pot…well, outside of medical usage, it’s just another drug used to alter a state of being rooted in dissatisfaction or unhappiness. God has placed eternity in my heart—a longing for Eden. For what was intended. When I pray, I try to remember that God has eternal purposes that I can’t see. I let that shape my prayers so that I don’t pray without hope.
  5. Prayer “tunes me in” to God’s will. The older I get, the more I understand that religion is man’s feeble attempt to understand God. God is not religion. Jesus did not come to earth, die, and then return to Heaven in order to create a religion. He came that ALL men and women might know God and repent–to serve the one true God and only the one true God. We mess things up by trying to make God completely knowable. Sometimes I think religion tries to shape God in order to make him smaller. We set up rituals and doctrine to explain the character of God. There is nothing wrong with rituals and doctrine as long as it is rooted in biblical truth. Yes, I am one of THOSE Christ-followers who believe that the Bible is inerrant. Everything that God needed us to know is in His Word. And if you study it—really study it with a searching heart—He reveals Himself. I taught books for years. It’s my identity, I’m afraid: A teacher of books. I love great writing whether it’s classic or whimsical, but literature only reveals truth about mankind’s nature; it can’t reveal the nature of God. Only the Bible can do that. The more I pray, I find myself getting a glimpse of our world through God’s eyes. His word becomes a filter through which I see the heartbreaks and joys of life. As I watch our culture move so far away from God, I can’t help but contemplate what the world would have been like had Jesus never come. And the vision I get breaks my heart. Such darkness and hopelessness. Such hedonism and selfishness. Such desperation and searching. I hesitate to make this statement, but I must: the Church has failed to be salt and light as Jesus commanded. Culture will go the way cultures will go, but Church—we should have been salt and light. We should be praying and seeing through Jesus’ lenses. Loving the poor and broken, not lashing out at them in fear. There is no fear in God. And there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. We should be proclaiming this truth instead of condemning first and then trying to justify our condemnation. No, I don’t agree with the direction of our culture. Making everything morally acceptable is not how God wants us to live. But how will they know if we don’t tell them? How will they know if we don’t show them by our actions through love…not fear. Consistent and disciplined prayer, with Bible study, allows me to glimpse the world through God’s eyes and for just a moment, I feel His agony for a lost and striving people. God’s eternal purpose moves me to action and prayer.
  6. Unanswered prayer. This is my last category because I could write another 10 pages on prayer and never get to a conclusion! Unanswered prayer can defeat us and cause us to turn away from prayer in cynicism and disappointment. One of my favorite teachers is Amy Orr-Ewing. She is an apologist out of England who works with Ravi Zacharias. One of the many “meditation notes” on my prayer board is a quote from a YouTube video I watched of her. It says “Disappointment can blind us from seeing Christ.” When our prayers go unanswered, we begin to doubt that they even matter. We doubt that God is in action for us. When healing doesn’t occur, when that pregnancy doesn’t happen, when a wave of depression or anxiety overwhelms once more, unanswered prayers turn to anger and rejection. It seems safer to reject God than to trust Him in circumstances that appear hopeless. Despair is dangerous, and unanswered cries to God can build a wall in our hearts that is difficult to tear down. It’s easy to travel along our path of anger and disbelief because God has not performed. The world cries, “If God exists, why did he let _________happen?” Yesterday—Mother’s Day—two young brothers drowned in the Big Thompson River in Lyons, Colorado. They were both under the age of 10. The police spokesman was shaken when interviewed.Those on the recovery and investigation teams were clearly devastated. I think of that mother and what she is facing today as she wakes up and realizes her sons are gone. Where was God? Why couldn’t He have prevented this? I don’t know. Such tragedies happen every moment across the world. Suffering is a common thread across humanity. Yet God reigns. He wins in the end. And because He wins, I can face the unanswered prayers and questions about the future. My hope must rest in Christ alone. It must. Right now, a dear family member is in isolation at a hospital in Arkansas fighting to defeat the cancer that has invaded his body. He is a good man. A good husband. A good father. A good son. People need him. We pray for healing every day. We pray the transplanted stem cells will start doing whatever those stem cells were created to do. Prayers for healing haven’t been answered yet, but we remain determined in our seeking for God’s hand in this dear life. Yes, he struggles, but as he struggles his emails show all of us how God is sustaining him through this time. I picture our prayers as God’s hands holding him close, and I feel a sense of urgency to pray and pray, as if our prayers keep God’s hands in place.

Are my prayers actually moving God? When I ask myself that question, I remember the character of God: loving, compassionate, merciful, just, fearsome, and above all, HOLY. Ultimately my prayers connect me to my Father. They empower me to move through this tumultuous life with hope that is based on the truth of God’s unchanging character. I may never know or see the results of my prayers. I doubt the angel, Michael, will show up as he did for Daniel and say, “Cindy, your prayers have moved heaven!” I’m just an itty-bitty light (as my Bible study ladies said) with an itty-bitty voice. A speck on the earth for a brief moment of time. An itty-bitty blink. But God’s Word—His sacred covenant—promises that I am a child of God. And He loves me with an infinite love that I can’t even fathom. His character is my promise, and prayer reveals that character even when He is silent.

I’ve learned so much more than this and may write a “Part Two,” but right now, my prayer board is calling. Time to pray.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A More Desirable God

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A few of my poetry books…I will not be separated from them! Now, I must determine which child should get them when I die…any takers?

Towards the end of December, a dear friend started me on a journey of prayer. Real prayer. Not just the casual God toss up: “Oh yeah, I said I’d pray for so and so…Dear God, help precious so and so today in Jesus name, amen.” My friend’s New Year’s resolution was prayer, and something pricked my heart and mind.

I wasn’t working anymore due to some silly discs in my lumbar region deciding to act up, so I thought I’d give prayer a serious effort, or as my favourite British television detectives would say, “Give it go, Cindy.” So I did. I am. And it’s changing me, shrinking the ME and teaching me to see the specific needs of others.

Another part of concentrated prayer is that it requires concentrated Bible study with an intensity and urgency I haven’t ever experienced. It’s a different urgency than that of teaching. As a teacher of all things literary, I examined short stories, novels, and poetry with an intensity bordering on obsession. I wanted to “KNOW” –I wanted a depth of understanding that would help me be a better teacher. I needed to be the best—to thoroughly grasp and grapple with T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” or the short stories of Flannery O’Connor. I spent hours poring over texts and commentaries; requesting books from the library that were in storage for lack of use became a badge of honor for me. I wanted to be an expert in something.

Funny, the more I studied, the more I realized that becoming an “expert” was an impossible achievement. Besides, was it really so important that I understood Eliot’s poetry? How was it relevant in my daily life journey? And more importantly, was I giving God’s Word equal attention and persistence?

I’m in a place of stillness right now, which is very conducive to both prayer and in-depth Bible study. I’ve been going through Luke as a continuing review of the Gospels. Since kindergarten, I’ve been learning about Jesus. I remember the large pictures of Jesus with

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You can get these at Etsy! Vintage! Ah, Google is amazing.

the children. Soft, wavy, long brown hair, brown–sometimes blue eyes, and a very clean beard. He was often dressed in a white robe tied with some sort of rope—kind of like a monk’s robe. There were also pictures of David with his slingshot, and a young Daniel in the lion’s den (Daniel was actually about 81-83 years old when he was tossed in with the carnivores), and of course, baby Jesus in the manger. I remember these stories, but when you’re a child, they are presented out of context with no connection or chronology provided. It’s easier for children that way, I guess. But now, 50 years later, it’s time for me to really KNOW the Gospels. I want to see how they each connect to each other, and how God uses different voices and perspectives to tell His story. It’s much more real and believable that way.

So Luke. An Antiochian. A physician who traveled with Paul, and who states in the first verses of his book that his purpose was to write a “complete narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us, just as those who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word have delivered them to us, it seemed good to me also, having followed all things closely for some time past, to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught. “ Luke 1:1-4. I’ll leave it to you do discover who Theophilus was. It was a fascinating rabbit trail to follow.

IMG_3117I have filled up one notebook so far and have just hit Luke 17. I follow the cross-references, look up the original Greek (I actually have The Complete Word Study Dictionary for the New Testament by Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D. It’s so awesome and fun!) I used to teach my students to study an author’s tone by looking at their word choices. Then I’d have them “slash” out the word to look at its nuances and connotations.

Here’s an example: knowledge/epignōsis/acknowledged/confirmation/truth: An acknowledged, confirmation of truth. Cool.

It’s fun…and turns a single chapter into an investigation of customs and Old Testament connections. It’s inductive, sorry Sherlock.

At the end of my first notebook, I got stuck on Luke 17:5. “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’” Wowsers. Though they heard them teach and saw his miracles daily, they still had doubts—He wasn’t at all the warrior Messiah they had expected. They seemingly ignored Old Testament prophecies like the words of Isaiah 53 written almost 800 years before Christ: “He grew up before him like a tender shoot and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”

By ignoring the prophecies, they had molded and shaped the Messiah into the god they needed at that moment—one who would free them from Roman oppression and give them back their Promised Land.

“Lord! Increase our faith!”

We do that, don’t we? Shape a god to fit our needs for the moment. I had a good think about this and created my own “god list.” I can’t use a capital “G” for god here because I’m not talking about the one true God—I’m talking about the one I want. The one I create for myself.

My desirable god:

  • Doesn’t care how I act as long as my good outweighs my bad.
  • Doesn’t allow tragedies to happen in the world, i.e. tsunamis, earthquakes, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes…NATURE MUST BE IN HARMONY WITH MAN!
  • No more turmoil in the Middle East. No ISIS or Boko Haram or Bashar al-Assad’s…
  • No more cancer, or Zika, or AIDs, or heart disease, or DIABETES (for my Katie), or any of that awful stuff that erodes our health and sometimes our faith.
  • Gives health and wealth to my family and me as long as I stay within His boundaries most of the time. He should provide my family and me a sort of protection bubble.
  • Gives me the perfect job and house that includes an “open kitchen” with quartz countertops. And room for horses or alpaca. Or sheep.
  • Gives me enough money to travel the world (now peaceful since it’s ISIS-free).
  • I’d also like my new god to miraculously give me a longer neck and legs, and erase the minor tributaries running around my eyes, chin, and neck.

*Oh, an addendum: Please, please could this new god keep us from creating a political and social culture that allows people like Donald Trump to be an elected despot!!

Sure, it’s not an exhaustive list; I have more specific requests that are too personal for public consumption. Things about eradicating past mistakes as a woman, mother, wife, and even as a teacher…

As I look as my desirable god list, I see Eden. What once was and what God wanted us to maintain. Nature in harmony with man and itself. Man and woman in harmony with each other and their Creator—not just striving for an identity outside of what He has designed. We’d be secure in who we were created to be—secure in His love and perfection.

But like children are wont to do—we scramble after a different sort of life then what God intended.

Ultimately, He desired us to desire Him. I recently heard a great take on the concept of “relationship.” There is no relationship without choice. Even parenthood does not guarantee relationship—ask any parents with teenagers or adult children. Nor does marriage promise relationship—ask any man or woman who has gone through a divorce or who plods through a marriage lacking love. Relationship takes daily effort—putting love first and forgetting our need to be loved. Instead actively loving.

And so God—not my desirable god, but the one true God—gave His creation a choice. He loves without condition and waits for us to respond. He forgives, sacrificing Christ so we’d have a redeemer who waits for us to repent—or turn—so He can throw our sins as far away as the east is from the west (I think it’s somewhere in Australia).

Through my study of the Gospels, I gave up trying to create an idol god. I gave up my perceptions of who Jesus was and basked in the truth of who He is. I chose—and choose—relationship with Him as most valuable. Above all things.

Still I cry, “Increase my faith (Greek—pistis—conviction of truth)!” But it’s ok if I do ask because Jesus—the true God—provides the faith I need to move through even the darkest parts of this life journey.

 

 

Prodigal Dog: A Strange Parable

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Zoey “sleeping it off.”

Finally! Spring is here. Since this is only my second spring season in Northern Colorado (or NOCO, as the locals call it), I keep expecting some daffodils and tulips in March. My eyes aren’t used to winter brown when it should be spring green. But yesterday…yesterday was glorious! Virtually no wind and a warm sun moving the thermometer to 70 degrees.

So, I did what any native Coloradan would do: I put on my shorts and tee shirt (baring my oh so white legs) and harnessed my dog Zoey for a long walk.

I live east of Ft. Collins—about 10 miles east. The land around me is cluttered with a mixture of farms and tract homes. Horse farms, cattle farms, and sheep farms all lend their fragrance to what I call the NOCO aroma. My little tract home is close to a gravel trail that takes me past open fields and lots of fracking stations. Not beautiful, but the mountains are clearly visible to the west, and my soul leans towards their beauty during my walks.

Yesterday I wanted to wander “lonely as a cloud”(Wordsworth came to mind). I wanted to head away from civilization and breathe in a NOCO aroma-free day. Not exactly the Lake District Wordsworth was so fond of, but I could imagine.

Zoey wanted to wander, too. We headed straight south toward Greeley, but I decided I want to turn east and make a giant loop back to our neighborhood. As I pulled Zoey to my left side, she slid out of her harness—a new one that didn’t go around her neck. She slid out right onto the road as a car headed straight towards her! And she wouldn’t move! She stared at the car and me as if we were playing with her.

Thankfully, the car stopped but Zoey did not. She made a sharp west turn into an alfalfa field. An overgrown, briar-filled alfalfa field. And thus began a humorous chase.

There I was—a bespeckled, wild-haired, white-legged middle-aged woman chasing a small puggle through the alfalfa fields. It was a war of wills. I would walk off like I was leaving her and she would follow—but not too closely. Just close enough to feel safe, but far enough away that I couldn’t touch her. Occasionally, I’d sit down on the ground and she’d stare at me, circle just out of reach, and then plop down on her belly, warily. Watching.

I did this several times. The sitting. The plopping. I always got up and start moving again, hoping she’d follow and I could catch her and save her from an awful death, because I knew if I didn’t catch her, she’d get walloped by one of the many giant trucks that zoom up and down the country roads as if no human–or dog–would dare walk nearby. Oy.

So I crossed that field again and again, even criss-crossing a recently plowed garden. I stomped through the field behind a water treatment facility (trying not to breathe in that particular odor), and jumped over small fiords. At one point I even carefully balanced over a rather ratty old board–conveniently laid over another briar-filled fiord by a previous wanderer–that provided the only quick route back towards home.

And Zoey? She followed me through the fiords, avoiding the board and instead carelessly attacking the briars, smiling her defiance, probably thinking I was crazy. I finally gave up, sat down, and called my hubster.

About five minutes later, I saw his Tahoe spinning a wake of dust clouds as he tried to locate his loony wife who was waving him down with the red leash.

Zoey came running as soon as she saw who it was. DADDY! She ran right up to him…and then stopped. Just out of reach. She ran around both of us as if to show us that she was in control of this game.

Steve finally said, “Cindy, go get in the car.” We both headed to the car and Zoey ran ahead and jumped right into the front seat. The air conditioning was running and she plopped on the passenger seat as if she’d had all the hot air she could handle and we could drive her home now in style.

I. Was. So. Freaking. Mad. And hot. And dirty. My curly hair frizzed in all the wrong places and my waterproof mascara defied its label running black circles under my eyes. We all drove home and Zoey pranced into the house as if nothing had happened. Oh the arrogance of that dog!

I refused to look at her. She gulped down water from her dish and then plopped on the floor looking at me with a smile as if to say, “That was all great fun, wasn’t it?”

I refused to smile back. Instead I washed my face, replaced my dirty clothes, and went to my small kitchen to start dinner. A roasted chicken with lemon, butter, garlic, potatoes, carrots, and fresh rosemary. Thank you Barefoot Contessa.

I chopped and seasoned with a righteous vengeance. How dare Zoey run off that way! Why didn’t she appreciate my tummy rubs, her lovely bed with a squashy blanket, the occasional treat from the dinner table?! Why wouldn’t she come when I called her? What was so appealing about romping through the bristly, overgrown alfalfa fields? Didn’t she understand I was trying to protect her from the coyotes and giant, menacing trucks?

Of course not, she’s a dog. A spoiled, undisciplined dog who has owners that don’t know how to train her to “stay” or “come.”

She is the prodigal dog.

You might think I exaggerated this two-hour debacle, but I didn’t. Just ask the teenagers on spring break sitting outside their tents across the way. They had a perfect view of the entire ridiculous episode.

But there is a parable in all this: God has let us off leash. We are free to wander through whatever fields we choose. We can stare at Him, smile with our silly human smiles as if to say, “See! I’m free! I can do whatever I want to do. I can choose my own trail and chart my own life course! I can run into the streets and dare trucks to hit me! I can proclaim my own freedom and my own ability to save myself! I can shake my fist at You and declare You irrelevant!”

I can defy God’s “boundaries” saying there is no moral law in my heart that I didn’t create for myself.

I am the prodigal child.

I have been that prodigal child. I know what it’s like to break boundaries and tell God I don’t care what the Bible says—I’m hurting and the magic God formula doesn’t work! You know the formula: Pray. Have a “quiet time.” Be good. Don’t cuss, have sex, smoke, or do drugs. I have been obedient and life still hurts.

I weep for the prodigal child I once was. I thank Him that he let me come back to Him without condemnation and great mercy and love.

I weep for all the prodigals I know and love. There is mercy and grace and love with Christ.

God says, “Come home.” He leaves the 99 for the one who is missing.

“So I [Jesus] tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” Luke 11:9-10.

Dear prodigals, come home.

 

You can find the roasted chicken recipe at the link below. (It was absolutely delish! I added a little chicken stock, fresh rosemary, dry white wine, and some lemon pepper! I also only roasted some chicken breasts and legs instead of the whole chicken.)

http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-/garlic-roast-chicken-recipe.html

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life in Context

IMG_3026“Stop trusting in man, who has but breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?” Isaiah 2:22.

God spoke very strongly through His prophets and it still resonates, but you have to read these kind of verses in context. Context is everything.

I believe in context, after all I taught literature for 20 years. Whether it was Kate Chopin or Dostoevsky, context was vital to the interpretation of literature. The “who, what, where, when, why, and how” was key to understanding authorial purpose. If I didn’t understand 19th century Russian culture, how would I make sense of Crime and Punishment? And what about Kate Chopin’s The Awakening? How would I grapple with Edna Pontellier’s decision to walk into the ocean, leaving behind a domineering husband and sons destined to become like their father if I didn’t understand Chopin’s social commentary on women’s roles in late 19th century America? Context.

Context adds depth of understanding to any piece of literature. The same is true for God’s Word. The Bible even as literature must be read “in context.” It’s one book with one purpose: Jesus Christ. The Son of God who was and is and continues to be– eternal. It is the story of redemption. God created (the Trinity was in on this whole thing from beginning to end) us and had a plan to redeem us because we are a rebellious people prone to creating our own gods and trying to save ourselves. We are messy creations. We need redeeming. And we are part of the story…we are part of God’s context. He includes us in His story.

Back to the verse in Isaiah 2.Here’s some context:

The Bible is largely a Jewish book. Sure, we “Gentiles” are grafted into God’s people by way of Jesus, but the Jews were called out to be God’s chosen people via Abraham. (see Genesis 12).

By 740 BC, the Jews were a pretty secular people. Throughout the reign of various ungodly kings and the division of Israel into two nations, they began to adopt the habits and culture of the surrounding nations. They started to act like them. Walk like them, talk like them, dress like them, intermarry with them, and worship like them. Oy to the Vey!

Isaiah begins this chapter warning the Jewish folks about what is coming. (Check out the book of Revelation to fully grasp God’s plan for His chosen people—the correlation with Isaiah is amazing.) Isaiah talks about the New Jerusalem and how amazing it will be and how God will dwell once again with His people. By verse 5, Isaiah is begging the Jews to “…walk in the light of the LORD.”

But then, wham! Verse 6 starts the condemnation and warning. We don’t like the judgmental aspects of God (even though He is perfect Justice), and the Jews weren’t too thrilled about it either. They didn’t like the warnings. They didn’t like being told what to do or being condemned by God for living like the nations who didn’t worship the one, true God. We don’t like it in 2016 either.

Isaiah ripped into them pretty harshly: “The eyes of the arrogant man will be humbled and the pride of men brought low; the LORD alone will be exalted in that day.” Isaiah 2:11. 

Arrogance. In the Hebrew, Isaiah is using two words: gabhuth and ruwm. Both mean “loftiness; haughtiness; pride; elevation; elation of the mind.” It’s the kind of arrogance that suggests that we know better than God. We lift up ourselves—and even others—as our source of salvation. WE become the context that God should fit into rather than vice versa. 

Example: I hate not being in control. I want to obliterate the suffering of anyone I love. I want to help the people in Syria who are starving or watching the children starve. I must find a part-time job that is fulfilling and purposeful. I can change my life story.It’s MY context and I’ll write it. I want…I must…I can. All lies.

Very little is within my control, but when I lift myself up to the place of self-sufficiency, I’ve put myself up equal to God.

A bit of hyperbolic fun: Let’s say I made myself a wee “Cindy Idol.” Curly blonde and white hair. Little round tummy. Old grey Converse tennis. I sit her on top of my bookshelf, so that I can worship her a little whenever I walk by. The problem? She has yet to ever fix anything. She hasn’t yet spoken a word to intervene in my life as a positive life force. She doesn’t bring me peace when I chant to her or practice my own version of yoga in honor of her. She doesn’t provide me with enough strength to move my body when my joints ache and crack. She hasn’t provided me with a job yet. And I’m diligent in my worship. Really. I dust her and move her around with me—sometimes in the car when I’m heading to town.

My “Cindy Idol” hasn’t spoken a world into being or created an ocean or delicate flowers or intricate life. She is powerless in the face of my struggles. Worthless. She cannot save me.

“Stop trusting in man, who has but breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?”

 Sometimes we lift up others as gods. We don’t do it knowingly—that would be silly. But we do. We make them fit into our own context.

Example: I hate politics. I listen and read and consume media in a variety of forms and try to form intelligent positions based on the evidence. The world is a rather terrifying place, and politicians want to assure us that they can save us.

They can conquer ISIS, build giant walls to seal out undesirables who might destroy our economy, create new jobs, generate even more affordable healthcare, provide tuition-free state universities, save unborn babies or allow women to kill unwanted babies without guilt, protect us by letting everyone have an assault weapon if they want one…

Wow. In the context of American politics, one man or one woman is in the position to save us from everything that might prevent us from attaining the American Dream.

I have to admit that at times I am disgusted and frightened for this country. Has it come to this? Have we moved so far away from God that we lack any kind of moral compass that directs our leaders to do what is right and good?

When I get concerned and frightened, lashing out at the television screen, I have let a politician slip into a god position. I’ve made a “Hilary Idol” or a “Marco Idol” or a “Cruz Idol” or a “Bernie Idol” or God help us, a “Donald Idol.”

“Stop trusting in man, who has but breath in his nostrils. Of what account is he?”

I’m definitely not saying to quit voting or pushing politicians to serve they way they are supposed to serve. But I am saying stop being ridiculous idolaters. Man cannot save us. As Christians, we have a duty to elect leaders who will best serve the good of the people. All of the people. And if we want to throw our Christianity around as a cheap voting block, then at least choose someone that represents Christ-like qualities. Only God knows the state of their soul, but actions do represent internal qualities and values. Actions represent our context.

Into what context do we fall? Are we writing God into the context of our lives–claiming his healing and wealth and power as if we can manipulate him into performing as we want him to? OR are we letting God write us into the context of His story?

Ultimately we must put our faith where our mouths are. Speak truth. Speak love. Speak from a humble spirit and a merciful heart. But speak firmly and with boldness declaring that our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. Hope isn’t built on my abilities or a politician’s abilities; it is built on the truth of God’s character and Christ’s actions.

We have to put our lives in the context of God’s story. We have to see the world through a God filter. We have to trust and relax in the Truth.

Consider this poem by Wendell Berry”

“We Who Prayed and Wept”

We who prayed and wept

for liberty from kings

and the yoke of liberty

accept the tyranny of things

we do not need.

In plenitude too free,

we have become adept

beneath the yoke of greed.

 

Those who will not learn

in plenty to keep their place

must learn it by their need

when they have had their way

and the fields spurn their seed.

We have failed Thy grace.

Lord, I flinch and pray,

Send Thy necessity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Age of Replacements: An Undiscovered Manuscript by Edith Wharton

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How I sometimes see myself. The one in the back is seriously school “marmish.”

I have an uneasy soul. It doesn’t rest well, but instead rises and falls on the whims of my emotions. Silly soul.

I’m far too contemplative—but not in a good way. This week I started “contemplating” whether or not I actually please God? What do I do that pleases him now that my life is so much smaller? Am I less relevant?

I say my life is smaller because I sort of lost my identity. It happens to all of us in some way—particularly in late middle age. Wait a minute, I’m not sure 58 is “middle-age” at all. If it is, I’ll live to 116. Let’s see…if the average lifespan of an adult woman in relatively good health is 79.26 (I looked it up), then I’ve finished with 73% of my life. So middle age doesn’t work any more. Maybe three-quarter age? Or end age? Oy to the vey! Scary. Time to buy the funeral plots and get the will in working order. 

14929069710_67688fc162
Love her face and can identify with the eye bags. Ouch moment.

Hillsong United at Relevant Studios“End age” brings with it a change of circumstance, which is why my life is smaller. My cronies all have some sort of age-related chronic illness or pain. A lady in my Bible study asked us to pray for her husband who just had hip replacement surgery. They are in my age category (58-68). I had an “ouch” moment. Forget Oprah’s “Ah ha” epiphany—this moment hurt. All of a sudden I realized I was at THAT age.

The age of replacements.

I was teaching last semester and one day “BAM!” I realized that words like “experienced” and “wisdom” were thrown my way quite a bit by the 30 and under crowd. I also saw an unintentional lack of respect and relevance thrown in just in case I didn’t realize that maybe I needed to step back and let the new generation step forward. An “ouch moment.” Time for a walker and sensible shoes.

The age of replacements.

Next week I will get a couple of shots in my spine in order to relieve some disc discomfort. Can I get an “AMEN”? I’m not working this semester. Instead I’m taking care of myself and my hubster. I’m cooking more suppers. I’m spending a lot of time writing and praying and seeking ways to be relevant.

2366525625_e02339e349_nI’ve also been volunteering at a local pregnancy crisis center for a year now. I work as a mentor for young women who are pregnant and lacking the support system in place to sustain her. No judging. No condemnation. Just love and support in the name of Christ. It’s a very difficult job—mentoring. You basically step into a young woman’s life and try to show her how to parent and how to find purpose and a future.

It makes me think about what kind of mother I was. Ever wonder what those stinking mistakes are for? How God can take something awful in your life and turn it into good? (Romans 8:28) My life is an example.

If you’re at “Three-Quarter Age,” you’ve no doubt had some pretty awful life stuff happen. Maybe you’ve seen how God has taken that experience and made something good out of it. You’ve been “repurposed”! (God is a DIY master.) Hallelujah! We can take those years of experience and failure and joy and use them for something relevant. My failures help me relate to what my young mothers-to-be are going through. I know the rawness of life.

They need to see what redemption looks like.

The Irreplaceable Age

My purpose has shifted. My dreams have shifted. My routine has shifted.

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One of my many bookshelves.

When I started teaching, I realized I didn’t know very much. For 21 years I kept learning and learning, devouring every bit of information I believed essential for teaching. I learned humanities, British literature and history, American literature and history, colonial literature and the history of Africa and India’s colonization, how to use Photoshop, digital cameras, in-Design, world literature, and how to write essays the College Board would love. I read constantly. The library was–as is–my friend.

The result: I still know nothing, Jon Snow. (Game of Thrones allusion) The world is too huge. And there are too many books.

On Wednesday mornings, I sit in my Bible study and realize how much time I had spent reading everything but the history of God’s word. I listen to women cite chapter and verse with depth and sincerity. I envy their knowledge of something so relevant.

So what if I have all the knowledge in the world? If I don’t know the Word…if I don’t cherish the truth found there…if I don’t have the passion for it that I had for Cormac McCarthy or Flannery O’Connor, then what is my life worth? How can I be relevant during my “Three-Quarter Age”? (See Mark 8:36)

Have I studied the wrong thing? Do I regret my hard-earned knowledge? No. Not at all. God gave me a passion for the written word. And God used the written word to communicate with his creation.

But I regret the lack of balance.

So now I have a chance to really study the book that is my source of truth and wisdom.

OK. I’ve rambled long enough. I’m using up too much of what time is left to me now. I need to get back to God’s word. It’s waiting. He’s waiting. And I’m confident that he will guide me towards a purpose that fulfills me and glorifies His goodness.

We are at an irreplaceable age.

 

 

photo credits: 

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/23119147@N08/2217889245″>welsh women</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/67084790@N03/14929069710″>DSC_1126</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/7203470@N03/2366525625″>Playing with light</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

 

 

 

 

 

Pruning

IMG_2622
Colors of Autumn

Nature is coming full circle.

The junipers are full. The mums crowd the narrow pathway in the back yard. The sage and yarrow darken into their autumn shades of golden brown and rich plum.

The tomatoes refuse to recognize the change, diligently hoping for the intense Colorado afternoon sun to help them ripen.

It’s time to prune.

I like putting on my gardening gloves and purple Crocs and heading out back– secateurs in hand—to cut away at the extraneous.

Another day. Another season, and you’ll be back. Blooming and shouting with color and life. But rest now.

A form of death and resurrection. God’s pattern alive in every living thing.

Mums busy being mums.
Mums busy being mums.
Happy tomatoes.
Happy tomatoes.

A Sacred Practice: Finding God in the Mundane

“But we have this treasure (knowledge of the glory of God) in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.” 2nd Corinthians 4: 7-10

Clay jars are fragile and imperfect…like me.

Some clay jars at Cafe Mexicali in Ft. Collins. We were there to help our church raise money for their Czech mission.
Some clay jars at Cafe Mexicali in Ft. Collins. We were there to help our church raise money for their Czech mission.

A quick word about depression: It’s not something you can just decide not to have—it’s not a deficient clay jar, either. It’s an intangible fog that gathers in front of your eyes and distorts reality. Sunshine helps. Exercise helps. Working helps. Getting out of your head and focusing on life around you helps.

And…medication is a tool (Praise God) that helps level life’s playing field.

This verse soothes my troubled spirit—I am afflicted, but not crushed. I don’t despair of life because Jesus is my hope; but don’t be fooled—I am not healed. It’s Paul’s thorn, but in my flesh. We all have one, and the more we try to handle it ourselves, the more impaled we become. We can do some things to help ourselves, but we are fragile jars of clay.

I am a fragile jar of clay—indwelled with the Spirit of the Creator God who spoke the universe into being. I am a redeemed and forgiven jar of clay that worships the resurrected Messiah. I am a Christ follower. And I’m a sinner. And I’m fragile. And I crack under pressure.

But God whispers to me through bird songs in the morning. He proclaims his glory through the blooming irises and spouting greenery. The mountains cry out his sovereignty as I drive west to the local Costco. The mountains stand immovable in the distance, dark violet bruises against the horizon.

My hectic teaching life is done. It was a life I loved. It was a life that consumed me. Every breath was accounted for—every step measured and calculated. The responsibility sat heavily on me like it does for most teachers. Our early morning thoughts during coffee scatter to the day ahead. As soon as we park our cars in the school parking lot, we’re on stage. It’s a performance—teachers have to be “on.” I was “on” all the time. I never stopped.

I graded and planned until 9 p.m., eating dinner (cooked by my orphaned husband) at my computer or desk. Bed at 10 and then back to work mode at 5:30 a.m. I took Saturday mornings off, but worked through Saturday afternoon and evening.

I had no Sabbath rest. No “off switch.”

Now it’s off. The switch is off, and I’m learning to be still and know that God is beside me.

Being still is so hard for me. Slowing down and not feeling the anxiety to be perfect…to be “on” all the time is hard for me. I’m such a fragile, cracked jar of clay.

Brother Lawrence—a 17th century French monk—found peace in the simplest of tasks. He wasn’t one of those intellectual monks–but a manual laborer who became disabled over time, but never lost sight of his center: the presence of God—the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. He found that conversing with God continually—regardless of how menial the task—eventually leads us to “ . . . find His love inwardly excite us to it without any difficulty.” Whether he was peeling potatoes, working the garden, or kneeling in prayer, he practiced the presence of God.

Discipline. Being a Christ follower means being disciplined. No, not performance-based. Not works-based (then we could boast about our self-aware holiness). It means disciplining our minds to focus on the things of God.

Practicing the presence of God means honoring Him consciously in every tedious task we do.

I’m learning to practice God’s presence. I still get up at 6 a.m., but I savor my coffee. I enjoy the quiet time with my husband and puppy. We discuss the news (including the puppy) and remind ourselves that God knows and He alone is our hope.

I like walking my dog in the morning or afternoon or whenever. I like the sound of my shoes on the gravel and hearing trucks in the distance. And seeing the mountains. I always love seeing the mountains–they create the sense of wonder Margaret Feinberg talks about in her book, Wonderstruck.

I find pleasure in opening my Bible and preparing for my Bible study on Revelation. Or writing in my journal and recording my prayers. Or reading a Psalm aloud to Him. Praising Him quietly. Alone. Unmoving. No breaths accounted for or steps calculated.

Apron on and ready to chop!
Apron on and ready to chop!

Even chopping vegetables for dinner is fun. I enjoy mixing my own spices and using a mortar and pestle to crush them and open up their aromas.

Pulling an avocado apart and marveling at its giant pit.

I love spreading my arms out in the sun and letting its warmth soothe my joints and pain.

My depression lifts…but it will return. It always does. I am a fragile jar of clay, after all.

A bit cracked and worn, but still indwelled by God’s spirit. Still forgiven. Still loved. Still useful.

Practicing the presence of God.

Digging Into the Darkness: Grace Wins.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men. The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. John 1:1-5.14819905018_99e1a23788_o (NASV) In the beginning, I was a child. I was a child that imagined a huge God and a small Jesus. My most vivid memories of Jesus are during Christmas—particularly Christmas Eve. I remember staring out of a window and imagining a bright star, a bumpy donkey ride, and an infant wrapped in white blankets—the Son of God. I couldn’t wrap my tiny, inexperienced brain around the incarnation, but I unquestionably accepted the truth of it and wondered at the miracle of it. The light of Jesus eventually carried me through some extremely dark times. At times I felt lost in the darkness and tried to make sense of it through my own machinations. As I peer back through the years, I can see how futile my machinations were—nothing achieved except digging myself deeper into darkness. Yes, I’m keeping this metaphorical—certain things need to stay metaphorical. And Cindy Lou dwelled in darkness for seven years—for seven years she wrestled with God Almighty. Anyone who has studied the Old Testament or Revelation totally gets God’s sense of humor here—seven is the Old Testament number of completeness. I see the irony now…not so much then. And her children suffered. And her family suffered.  It haunts me still…what I put my children and family through. My children bear the deepest scars. Eighteen years later I still struggle with forgiving myself. Only through God’s grace and mercy do I find the ability to move through this life. Only through God’s grace and mercy do I walk in light now instead of staying bogged down in the darkness. I pray daily that my children will forgive me. I’m so proud of the adults they are now. And I pray daily that my children will continue in God’s light, walking continually in his grace.  Eighteen years later, I see how God kept his hand of grace over me despite my anger and rebellion:

  1. My children. They were my comfort and joy. My anchor.
  2. My parents. They acted as God for me when I no longer listened to Him. My mother learned to give my daughter her insulin injections while I went to school to finish my English degree. She watched my sons and daughter while I studied and worked. She protected them. She loved them unconditionally. My father gave me a home. He provided for me as I wallowed and rebelled. He pointed me towards teaching when I couldn’t focus on a career goal. He swept the pavement outside my house so I could rollerblade without stumbling on gravel. Talking about a metaphor for God’s protective hand!
  3. My family. They didn’t understand, but they loved me. They loved my children. They helped me through the darkness.
  4. My friends. They surrounded me. One in particular pointed me towards the contemplative Christianity that started me journaling prayers and questions.
  5. My husband, Steve. Fifteen years ago God heard my loneliness. He brought me Steve. He is my best friend and partner in this journey.
  6. My students. They loved me. I’ll never understand. I always felt inadequate to the task. They were…and are so brilliant. They pushed me to learn more.
  7. My children. Again and again.

photobooksI am still a tad dark and twisty. I don’t always see the silver lining…ok, I rarely see a silver lining. I know how hopeless life feels. Shoot, I taught literature for 20 years; I totally understand the hopelessness, as well as the dark and twisty. I could go on forever about literature and the human condition it illustrates. Most novelists search for truth in their works of art, whether that truth is an internal truth that comes through suffering (ahhh, the Russians) or through relationships with nature, people, or culture. Few ever point to God, except metaphorically, and often God is an abstract, distant God who rarely intervenes in humanity’s suffering. Literature sometimes concludes with an epiphany of some sort. I love that. I love the epiphany. I had that epiphany 18 years ago. It was an act of God’s grace. Yesterday our pastor began our study of Galatians. Grace vs. Law. He gave one of the best illustrations of grace I’ve ever heard. I’ll paraphrase: Imagine you’ve been dropped in the middle of the Gobi Desert (he mentioned a hot air balloon accident). You’re lost. You’re 15035388844_e6de0e822dthirsty—dying of thirst. Freezing at night, melting during the day. And then you see a rider in the distance—a Mongolian (of course) who knows the desert—knows where villages are located—where water and relief can be found. He reaches you, climbs down from his horse and gives you a sip of water (he needs to keep enough for himself—duh). Then he draws a map in the sand pointing you in the direction of the closest village, after which he rides off leaving you to save yourself. Then imagine the same scenario, only this time the rider gives you a full container of endless water, scoops you up in his arms, and carries you to his home. To salvation. He saves you because you can’t save yourself. Oh my. I weep. Grace. I was lost in the desert trying to follow a map of my own making. Trying to make meaning of the darkness. I’ve dwelled in the valley of the shadow of death. Grace swooped down and carried me. Praise Jesus. He swooped down and carried me in his gracious arms. Darkness loses: Grace wins. I will serve Him forever.

Photo credits: License: <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a> photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/108716348@N08/15035388844″>FV7A9761</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/”>(license)</a>

My Soul Says: "Hello Hope."

3137202517_afa6f281fe_qFor my children and their spouses, for my sister, for Blake and Courtney, and for Jeffrey. My prayers lift up daily.

A tiny fictional vignette—I love beginnings. The middle is difficult. Real life gets so messy in the middle.

First she saw the sheep. A few hundred of them, dirty white curly wool standing closely, heads to the ground munching invisible bits of brown grass. The shepherd was a dark shadow, hooded and sheltered against the cold spring wind. Towering hay bales blocked him from the worst of the gusts. His black and white border collies—two of them—sat at his feet, heads down. Waiting.

She’d always romanticized these types of vignettes imagining what it be like to live the shepherd’s life . . . the indie bookstore owner’s . . . the English professor’s . . . the librarian’s . . . oh, and a sculptor’s.

Rose resisted the urge to pull her car over and take pictures with her new (to her) Nikon D3200. Oh. That was her other dream—to be a photographer for National Geographic. All those incredible life stories best told through pictures just waiting for her to reveal. Unfortunately, she was still having a problem understanding apertures . . .

Like I said, I love beginnings. Middles and ends get so messy and real.

I’ve been reading a lot of fiction lately. Escapist fiction—not really good fiction—just really well written, fun fiction. Characters I like. Plots with twists and turns, but one where hope remains at the end.

Hope. I like novels to end with hope. Authors have so much control over their characters. They can inflict them with everything imaginable, and still bring them to hope in the end.

Unfortunately being human means not having control. Jesus knew this. He lived it.

Don’t let anyone ever tell you that being a Christian is easy. Following Christ is sacrificial because He was sacrificial. It means sacrificing control. Christ did. He was one with His Father, yet He chose not to claim His power for approximately 33 years. He walked with man in human form. Grappled with the same problems we deal with in our own lives, yet remained sinless. And he chose to die—to relinquish his power and control over the universe and take on our sin while suffering unimaginable pain on the cross. He let go. He turned everything over to His Father.

He is our example. Not a politician or a preacher or a friend. We must follow after Jesus. Emulate him. And he suffered. He sacrificed. He served.

It’s so stinkin’ hard when suffering encompasses us daily. We take a shower each morning and wash our body all the while thinking of the one we love that is suffering. We unconsciously shampoo and shave, nicking ourselves as we go because our minds and hearts—tied so intricately together with a thread that we can’t reach to cut—are devoured by worry over our loved ones.

Right now my daughter is facing huge health obstacles. I can’t fix it. I can’t control it. My sister is suffering with unfathomable grief. Diseases run rampant through family members—some helped with medication, but only helped. Not healed. Dear, dear friends carried a dying child to term, delivered this beautiful boy who then died within days. The grief haunts and is not lifted. It zooms in and leaves them breathless with pain. Another dear friend is watching his wife suffer with cancer.

Surrounded. Loss of control. Grief. Anxiety.

Yet this is a time of resurrection. The resurrection of Hope.IMG_2281

Jesus: a man of sorrows thoroughly acquainted with grief. We do not have a Savior that lives on a cloud, floating in white robes glowing in majesty. Distant. Unreachable. Unknowable.

Eugene Peterson who translated the Message Bible into the vernacular (What? God doesn’t speak in King James English? Oh my.), did a beautiful job with Isaiah 53. Just think for a minute: Isaiah wrote this approximately 700 years before Jesus was born.

“The servant [that would be Jesus] grew up before God—a scrawny seedling, a scrubby plant in a parched field [Earth/Israel]. IMG_2283 There was nothing attractive about him, nothing to cause us to take a second look [Hollywood needs to take a look at this!]. He was looked down on and passed over, a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand. One look at him and people turned away. We looked down on him, thought he was scum. But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us. We thought he brought it on himself, that God was punishing him for his own failures. But it was our sins that did that to him, that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins! He took the punishment, and that made us whole. Through his bruises we get healed. We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost. We’ve all done our own things, gone our own way. And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong, on him, on him.

He was beaten, he was tortured, but he didn’t say a word. Like a lamb taken to be slaughtered and like a sheep being sheared, he took it all in silence. Justice miscarried, and he was led off—and did anyone really know what was happening? He died without a thought for his own welfare, beaten bloody for the sins of my people. They buried him with the wicked, threw him in a grave with a rich man, even though he’d never hurt a soul or said one word that wasn’t true.”

He died to give us hope. A future. He knows the suffering that surrounds and envelopes us making us feel like we’re walking through a foggy nightmare that won’t stop. But then we get a glimmer of the hazy green whiskers of the birch tree next door or the bursts of green from a garden still partially covered with the white death of winter and remember resurrection. Christ’s hope springs eternal.

Hallelujah.

Photo of sheep: photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/33690003@N07/3137202517″>IMG_3236</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>