Friday, December 31, 2010

Long Loved Love

Our son and his wife left a "Happy Anniversary voice message the other day when they couldn't reach me in person.  I laughed when I heard the smile in his voice and a laugh from his wife at his side: "We're glad you're still married."

So am I.

During the first decade or two of our marriage when many thunderstorms of conflict seared our souls with pain, David and I frequently reminded ourselves that we had meant our vows of lifetime commitment to each other, and we would not consider divorce as a viable option of "solving" our problems.  At one point we even agreed not to wield it as a verbal weapon in our fights - just as we promised not to storm off angry or hurt in a motorized vehicle, setting ourselves up for vehicular manslaughter or suicide.  

There were a few occasions when each thought the other so disgusted or disappointed on multiple relationship fronts that we wondered aloud if our partner desired divorce ; but always, upon further reflection, the answer was "no - divorce would make more problems than it would solve."

We have been married long enough now for each to have gone through some pretty devastating dashing of hopes, desires and expectations in our relationship.  We have each had, at different times, to very deliberately choose to find ways to live with, love, respect and support each other in the face of (still!) unyielding differences of  values, motivations, and goals.  

When I look back now, I see the first twenty years of our union as necessary training to strengthen our "humilty muscles" to prepare us for complete exposure within the transparency of our relationship.  We needed the humility practice to be willing to allow the skin of self-protective reasoning to be pulled back, to see the tentacles of SELF beneath so many actions and motives we had previously labelled pure. 

It has been our attempts these past 15 years or so to know, communicate and reconcile the deep, unyielding differences between us that have really stripped the scales from our eyes to see our "SELF" motivations and agendas, to empathetically feel, not simply know, just how much we have unintentionally wounded the other - simply by being ourselves, by pursuing our goals, powered by our differing pasts, values, sin patterns, and ego drives.

This truth-telling and stripping, painful as it has been, is one of the treasures to me of our long-term relationship.  Like Eustace's experience in C.S. Lewis' The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, it has taken Another, with better eyesight, sharper claws, and a willingness to tear deep to the diseased underlayers, to uncover and strip us of our deepest layers of SELF.  

I'm not saying that the process is done.  Only that the divine claws within the paws of our mate have done what we, by ourself, cannot do, even with the best intentions and disciplines.  

Monday, December 27, 2010

Working Man

holy experience

On this Multitude Monday I give thanks for David, my husband of 35 years, as provider.  

Thank you, David, for working so diligently to provide so well for me, our children, and our grandchildren over all our years together.  I am grateful that you are a man who sees the opportunity to work hard to provide for your family as a blessing and that you simply love to work.

Thank you for being willing to leave the house in the dark of morning all these years of our marriage, to work long days, and then come home to love and play with your family.

I'm grateful that you've been willing to dream, push forward and take calculated risks that have enabled our business to grow and provide for many.

I'm also very grateful for your integrity.  I've seen you tell the truth and do what was right, even when it was costly, time and time again.  

I thank God for the care and compassion you have for the employees (and their families!) who have worked alongside us in the business.

I greatly appreciate your humility in apologizing to me, you sons, and your employees when you have realized your  "bad behavior" toward of us.  So many people refuse to humble themselves publicly when they have been wrong - what a gift to have a strong husband who nevertheless humbles himself before a child, a wife, an employee, a contractor.  Thank you.

Thank you for trusting God to provide work and payment and wisdom during some very challenging seasons of our company.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent Wait

One of the first ASL (American Sign Language) signs I learned after Michelle and Kyle brought Prema from Kolkata, India into their home was "wait" - both hands extended, palm up, with all the fingers waving, like an upside down movement on a computer or piano keyboard.  Prema had NO symbolic language and I had very few ASL signs at my command, so I used it a lot in all my interactions with her those first few months.

Venir:  to come.  Advent: 1. an arrival; a start or commencement 2.a. (usu cap), the coming of Christ into the world  2.b. (cap) the penitential season beginning four Sundays before Christmas

It's a season of waiting, looking forward to a Coming.  We celebrate the waiting with candles and colors, with words and song, with groaning hearts that strain to see.

Last Sunday evening, I sat with Eli on my lap and Prema at my side at FBCIR's Christmas program, listening to Grandpa David play his trombone with the orchestra and enjoying all the choral groups and ensembles.  We try to take advantage of local programs that have a chance of communicating Biblical stories visually in the forms of nativity tableaus and re-enactments as well as great music, because Prema's world, even at Christmas time, with all its boisterous activity and noise, is silent.

We sit up front, directly in front of the interpreters for the deaf, close to the manger and hay, three year old Eli looking and listening intently to everything, eleven year old Prema watching with wandering attention the interpreters, the changes in spotlights and choral ensembles.

I watch my grand-daughter move in and out of attentiveness, think about the scarcity of visual story for her in this sound-focused performance and wonder how she will ever understand God's story and offer of life and love for her:  How can she know the choice You give her to know you, God?  Her ability and motivation to take in and learn are so scant, her language so limited .... Kyle and Michelle have, with much purpose and pain, been living a daily definition of love for her this side of the veil....but having once been abandoned by love, can she know it now? Will she recognize it and draw near when she sees in it You?

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."

The music is wonderful, the narrative thread simple and cohesive.  Delight sits on my left with Eli, while Sorrow, mourning Prema's loss and alone-ness, squeezes in on my right.

 Children skip down the long aisles waving circlets of streamers, banners of "light" call forth joy.... I love it......but I am waiting for the drummers.

David had informed me earlier that my favorite part of last year's program would be repeated:  a drum corps regiment, pulled from various local high schools marching bands, spread out in the aisles of the mega church sanctuary, each drummer standing erect in uniform with a spread of drums hanging from his shoulders, waiting for the "Drummer Boy" soloist to finish, awaiting the haunting choral descant, "I'll play for my drum for you".

The sound explodes in the air as sticks hit drum rims, skins and sides, clacking, pounding, reverberating, piercing the night.  We thousands of listeners almost collectively hold our breaths as we experience the cadence performed by the drummers around us, among us.  The sound fills our ears, our bodies, our souls.  I turn away from the drummer four feet to my left to look at Prema on my right to guage from her reactions if she can feel any vibration from the engulfing sound.  No.  She does not.

"In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him....Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..."

You became man for me, but what will You do for her?  How can she receive You?  How can she understand and believe in Your name?  Will You take her in Your arms at her passing from earth, open her ears with the breath of Your whisper?  Put language and understanding into her being?  Will you beat a cadence that envelops, enchants, enflames HER with knowing?  Will You?  Will You?

The drumming continues, drummers' bodies erect, hands flashing, pounding rhythm.  My lap still holds and my arms still surround Eli, but my body is shaking with sobs that no one hears over the sound of the drums and tears are coursing down my face.   "I'll play for my drum for you..."

This is the joy, the purpose held out to us.... to play for You, to offer our best, to live Your love day after day, in desire and discipline, in dream and despair, in delight and drudgery...while we wait.  Wait for the day when eyes and ears will be opened.  Wait for the day when WORD will be known.  Wait.  With arms outstretched, palms turned up, fingers moving.  Wait.  While all creation groans.  

Wait and watch, 
groan and hope.  
for God to become baby, 
slaughtered Lamb, 
triumphant Lion.

I do not want the drumming to stop.  I want to bury my groaning and hope in the crack of the sticks, in the flash of the hands, hide in the beat, hide in the sound.

The drumming stops.  Silence reigns.  Then with collective breath we shout and cheer.

"The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.  We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth." 

So we wait. 
We trudge with bags heavy 
with groaning and hope 
to the top of the hill 
in the dark of night 
for a glimpse of a star, 
a stable, a babe,
to remind us LOVE hears, 
LOVE knows, 
and LOVE, also, 

Emmanuel.  God with us.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What I Really Want For Christmas

Very soon I will need to answer the "what do you want for Christmas?" question.  Hmm....

What I would REALLY like for Christmas, if someone could give it to me, would be the gift of being a good listener.

This morning when I pulled up in her driveway to take my granddaughter to school, my daughter-in-law greeted me with a smile, "There's no school today.....remember.... I told you last week."  I remembered the conversation, but I had been so focused on the piece that was the answer to my immediate  question, that I did not take in or remember the other school schedule details she had given me.

At least twice within the last week, my husband has brought to my attention something he told me earlier  of which I claimed no awareness.  I could remember one of them after he jogged my memory with particulars of the conversation, but the other two were lost somewhere in non-listening or non-hearing land.

To some charges of not listening, I can protest "But I can't hear you when you talk to me from the other room or while you're walking away from me or while I'm working in the kitchen next to running water or appliances - you know I can't hear you over those noises."  Because those things are all true.   I do have some hearing loss, and I have great difficulty discerning conversation correctly in a crowded room with much ambient noise.

But it is also true that I often don't pay enough attention when someone speaks to me.  I don't zone in to his/her words soon enough or stay focused long enough.  I am all too often a lazy listener, moving my focus, without my notice, between the speaker and my thoughts.  I am always thinking, reasoning, figuring something out, connecting ideas.  That can be a good characteristic, but it can also be a major impediment to effective listening.

I remember seeing a picture definition of the character trait of "attentive" when our boys were young:  a line drawing of two children in a small tent, with alert eyes and cocked ears, listening, listening to a coyote howling at the moon.  I've spent decades learning to listen to God.....but how much real practice have I given to the discipline of listening well to His people?

I've wanted to be, tried to be a better people listener for a number of years be able to routinely give whoever is speaking to me the gift of my full attention.  But honestly, some days I don't think I've made any progress.

Perhaps carrying pen and paper to write details of what others say to me would help me focus - I usually took superlative notes during class lectures and sermons in church.   Perhaps I should ask my family members to give me pop quizzes on what they've said to me - maybe repeated poor grades would motivate me.   Perhaps someone else has an idea that can help me learn this discipline.  Because I'm pretty sure its not a gift I'll find under my tree this Christmas.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Character Mirrors on Multitude Monday

holy experience

A brief conversation with my husband got me thinking about how grateful I am for some of the "Character Mirrors" in my life.  A "character mirror" to me is any person who or circumstance that holds up a mirror to me, so I have the opportunity to see what I look like to them (and very possibly to God, also :-).  

I've been a bit slow and resistant at times to pay attention to those mirrors, especially when the the people who held those mirrors were people whose actions and life choices I didn't  respect, or whose messages were delivered in ways that seemed harsh or hurtful to me.   My loss - I've learned that valuable critiques can come from those character mirrors, too, if I will humble myself and turn my head to gaze into their mirror, then look inside myself and to God for confirmation, clarification and correction.

So, I thought I'd post and give thanks for a few of the memorable "character mirrors" from my life thus far for my Multitude Monday gratitude exercise:

1.  A high school friend who rebuked me sharply for telling someone else something he had told me in confidence.  That was my adult introduction to the importance of guarding confidences - something that was an absolute basic requirement for the prayer and mentoring work I would do decades later.

2.  A young mother who slammed me openly in a small group of women for leading a  Bible study and NOT controlling/disciplining my young sons in the other room to her satisfaction.  I learned I would not be allowed to influence others the way I wanted, if I did not have their respect.  A KEY principle I needed to learn.

3.  How I wish I had taken a good hard look when my brother-in-law first told me I was a know-it-all at the family dinner table.....was he ever correct!

4.  Luckily, for me, I DID pay attention when he told me, years later, that I always had to be RIGHT (in any disputed matter).  That comment pierced my pride and became God's surgical knife that opened an infected area of my past for careful examination, my choice to forgive, and huge healing to my psyche, which I had been praying about for years. 

5.  A car trip, during which, my husband and sons listened to me rant about a relative, then told me my reactions were quite out-of-proportion to the "offense" she had committed.  I initially strongly denied it, but had the sense later to look long enough in the mirror they held up and to choose to "step back" and "jet down" from my anger.  Not until much later did I realize I had made a scapegoat of the person I'd been so angry with to avoid confronting the woman I was really angry with and risk a close relationship being destroyed.  That SELF-DECEPTION was so powerful and effective, that it has slowed me down in "pronouncing judgement" many times since then.

I've got many others, but you get the idea....:-)

I think listing more of these people mirrors as well as circumstance character mirrors would be a fruitful thanksgiving discipline for me.  How about you?

(This picture was originally for a post idea that was to be titled "What person, in their right mind, would pay good money for these?"  The rhetorical answer was SO obvious...... why waste time writing it?


Sunday, October 24, 2010


Amber asked us recently to tell the story of an answered prayer.  You can read her story and 6 others here.  I'm late, but I figured I'd tell my story anyway.

A couple years ago I came across a piece of notebook paper on which I had written a prayer for our sons who are now 30 and almost 32 years old.  I believe I wrote out the scripture prayer when they were about 9-13 years old.

"Best of friends, worst of enemies" flew off my tongue many times when Kyle and Sam were young boys as my answer to people who would ask about how they got along with each other.   They played great together for hours every day, but when they disagreed, they could, with amazing speed, employ shoves and punches to make their point.   One of them, in particular, never considered an argument won when the other one said, "I give up - you win".  The argument is not  over until the one giving up declares full acknowledgement that the victor's argument was TRUE and RIGHT!

My husband, David, has often told how a dispute during a family game of Rack-0 quickly became a boxing match, with the two boys "standing toe to toe, slugging each other".  In addition to a multitude of baseball games and practice sessions at home, our family played a lot of basketball on the front driveway and many games involved bodies slamming into bushes, or the garage wall or to the concrete driveway as a result of self-control gone awol - "FOUL!"  I often feared we would be making a trip to the hospital emergency room.   

When David tried to reassure me that our sons' highly competitive personalities would help them succeed in our very competitive society, I pleaded for him to structure  family games so our sons had to work together on the same team, instead of against each other.  I feared broken hearts more than I feared broken bones.  As the boys got older, I worried that the frequent conflict "resolved" in such physical fashion would result in unforgiveness that lodged in our sons' souls,  destroying their friendship, and infecting all of their relationships with bitterness.

So, at some point during their late elementary and middle school years I began to pray that kindness, compassion,  and forgiveness would reign in their relationship.  I took a passage from Ephesians 4, along with some other passages and prayed that they would use their tongues to encourage and build one another up, that they would get rid of bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, and slander, and that they would be "kind and compassionate, forgiving one another, just as in Christ, God forgave them."  I prayed that God would give them a great love and appreciation for each other.  For a season, I prayed that prayer every day.

Gradually that prayer got replaced by others, and one day when they were in high school, I came across that old "scripture prayer" in my handwriting, with blanks to insert my sons names, tucked away in a journal or book.  I didn't remember exactly WHEN that prayer had been answered...I knew only that our sons seemed to fully enjoy and prefer each other's company, respect each other's wisdom, and root for one another's success.  Somehow, miraculously, they had been able to forgive the many offenses against each other.  They played together on the same high school baseball team, and ended up, eventually at the same college for a year, playing baseball together there also.

Their friendship deepened far beyond the simple thoughts I had when I began praying.  I know they have a friend in their brother that many men long for, and one of my greatest joys is watching them together, whether playing with the children, discussing issues and ideas, or engaging in the raucous humor for which they are known.

A week ago, I tagged along on a brief car trip peppered with laughs and practical jokes, as the two of them drove to the start location of "The Hilly Hundred" - a group bike ride over a course that wound its way for a hundred hilly miles.  They took off together in the early morning light and pedaled back into the parking lot, hours later, still together, still talking and making jokes.  It was a great day.

Monday, October 18, 2010

To Be Understood

holy experience

On this "Multitude Monday" I give thanks to God for the "simple" gift of being understood in basic, everyday conversation with those around me.

My granddaughter is deaf.  Which wouldn't be as huge a hinderance to our communication with each other if she had been born into our family.  She would likely have had otherwise good health and a lively intelligence as do our three grandsons - an inheritance that comes "naturally" to children born to dedicated, nurturing parents with the circumstances, resources and will to provide superior nutrition for body, mind and spirit.  Her deafness wouldn't be as huge a hinderance to our communication if she had entered our family as an infant, because our daughter-in-law and son would have taught her symbol and language from the knowledge of her deafness.

But instead, she entered our family as a child alone, an "unaccompanied minor" from the streets of Kolkata (Calcutta) India.  Some women who lived with their children on the streets knew our son and our daughter-in-law as people who cared about them and their children's well-being, people who would care about the child wandering the streets alone, and who would - because they were Americans and of course wealthy beyond imagination - find the little girl and do something.

Our son and his wife did search for the girl and find her.  She was obviously deaf and obviously alone.   She climbed onto my daughter-in-law's lap and fell asleep - a harbinger of other troubles which neither they nor we had knowledge to see.  They took her to some trusted others where they knew she would be safe and eventually oversaw her placement into one, then another orphanage, while they talked and prayed and decided to seek adoption to bring her into their family.  If the adoption went through she would be their second child.  Their first child, a delightful, well-loved son, who would bring the hope and reality of laughter into their lives after the darkness of Kolkata, was already in the womb, growing in darkness.

This "unaccompanied minor" came into our lives 14 months after the birth of the healthy and charming firstborn son, and with her came much chaos and anger and heartbreak.  Within six months we all became too familiar with the hope-strangling enormity of attempting to parent a child with reactive attachment disorder (RAD).  Terms like "childhood trauma", "deprivation", and "safety" filled our conversations and this child's new parents, who had already spent an inheritance to bring her into their family, faced mounting financial drain and emotional bankruptcy as they faced one problem after another, rising to the surface like bubbles in carbonated water that is being continually poured out - a seemingly unending litany of problems which forced major adjustments to our concept of "normal family life".

Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects of trying to nurture and train and help heal this emotionally traumatized child was the challenge her deafness added to the mix.  We often did not know, could not tell, through much of the next three years of intensive home and professional intervention and therapy, whether her refusal to follow simple instructions, communicated through ASL, pictures, repeated demonstrations and acting out, emerged as a symptom of her psychological emotional disorder or because of her complete poverty of symbolic language.

The RAD specialists available to our son and his wife through appointment, book, and internet spoke only of experience with hearing children, with children who possessed language, children who could at least name everyday objects and understand simple instructions, even if they could not voice with words the great wounding within them, and many of the suggested therapeutic strategies required that the child have ability to hear and understand common language.

This child's adoptive mother and father had invested much time, the year before her arrival, in college level ASL (American sign language) classes and attending local ASL conversation and story-telling events, holding to a thread of a hope that money and instruction they had sent for the purpose of sign language instruction for the girl resulted in lessons.  That had not happened, and though this new daughter started public school in a program for the deaf within two weeks of her arrival, the task of teaching her rudimentary language largely fell to our daughter-in-law and son, both consummate and excellent teachers, and for a season of home-schooling, necessary to address the most pressing aspects of her reactive attachment disorder, they were her only teachers.

Little by little, as I listened to my son and daughter-in-law share what they learned from their classes, specialists and books about language development in the deaf person, and as I watched, the unending frustration of getting her to understand ANYTHING we attempted to communicate to her, her utter BANKRUPTCY OF SYMBOL gradually seeped into my comprehension.  Her poverty in this regard stunned me then and continues to stun me whenever I ponder it.

I have lived my entire life filled with the richness of words and language and symbol.  I love to read and write.  I had had multiple arguments with my husband and at least one conference with our son's teacher over the proper use of words.  Language and the ability to communicate has been so much a birthright in my thinking, that even working alongside and attending classes and worship events with deaf people in our area did not prepare me for my granddaughter's poverty, because the people I saw engaged in lively hand-conversation with one another, their communication punctuated with loud grunts and stage-quality facial expression, obviously understood one another, and the ASL I saw as songs and sermons were translated for the deaf often impressed me with the richness of the visual symbol.

But this "unaccompanied minor" who changed everything when she entered our lives was poor beyond measure in the acquisition of language.  She had come so late in her development to this family to whom language and symbol mattered so much and her emotional wounding stole the remaining "developmentally fruitful" years before puberty.

So on this Monday morning, like every school day of this new year, I am picking my granddaughter up to take her to school.  No longer a literal "unaccompanied minor" she is still a stranger and an alien when we attempt to communicate - I with my six weeks of "ASL for seniors" instruction interrupted by three years of "signing silence" between us ( to encourage the establishment of proper bonding of this child with her new parents) and she with her hasty signing embellished with much grunting, pointing and facial expressions but very little grasp of words that are not symbols of things that can be pointed to or actions that can be demonstrated, very little grasp of sentence structure or tense or story telling order.

Last year, I picked her up from school each afternoon, and required her to sit in the back seat - a therapy guideline prescribed at that time for her to feel safe and protected.  She usually grunted and gestured with a stream of "signs" tossed into the mix...newly learned words tossed indiscriminately into a list of words that meant something to her....her standard signing of past endlessly repeated events "me-go-fly, dog-my-baby" tossed in with the name-signs of her teacher, therapist, or classmate with no regard for coherency of subject or timeframe to help me understand.  I, newly released from the linguistic prison that the constraints of therapeutic process had imposed upon me as grandparent, attempted to revive the tiny remnant of ASL in my brain and understand her.

This year my granddaughter sits in the front seat, her vocabulary has steadily increased, and she feels she has things, sentences, stories! to tell me.  But my proficiency in ASL has not increased enough to keep pace with what she is trying to communicate to me, and several ASL "mis-speaks" and mis-understandings are making it obvious to me that our inability to effectively communicate is now my responsibility as much, if not more than hers, and frustrating to her as well as me.

This morning she repeatedly pointed to the outside "bus entrance" to the doors next to her special education unit, circling her fist next to her jaw in a sign I did not recognize.  I signed "No. Before, I tell you we not go that way (pointing), we go that way (pointing to the front entrance - the much longer, prescribed entrance route)".  Frustrated, she repeated her signs with more vehemence and volume and threw in a "clothes" and a "my" sign among others I did not recognize.  I thought she was telling me that her clothes were over there, and when I signed "your clothes there?" twice to confirm that guess, she signed "yes", gave me a puzzled look, then resigned, followed me to the entrance.

We snaked our way through crowded hallways to her classroom door where I asked one of the aides if my granddaughter had left some of her clothes there.  When I asked if she knew any sign language she brought the new interpreter over to me.  During my parking lot interchange with my granddaughter I'd forgotten the upcoming personnel change.   "Are you Sue?" I asked, pulling from my usually inaccurate name files of casual mentions and newly introduced people.

"Susan", she answered.

"How do you sign your name?"

She answered with fist circling at her jaw....and recognition slowly dawned within me of my granddaughter's "S" hand circling at her jaw was meant to signify a female whose name began with "S".  My granddaughter had either spotted the interpreter entering the building or had anticipated seeing her, and her "clothes-my" sign had perhaps referred to the clothes of the interpreter or was an ASL sign or partial sign for "interpreter" (I struggle to retain for later repetition and translation a fast stream of signs I do not understand).

So, in my halting sign, with gestures and facial expressions to fill in for my lack, I tell my granddaughter I understand what she was trying to tell me.

Her entire body smiles.

On this Multitude Monday, I give thanks to God for the gift of being understood.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

His Ways

I've been thinking about Amber's recent writing invitation for just shy of two weeks now, trying to figure out what I would write about what God was up to in this season of my life.  For much of my adult life, I would have had a ready answer, so certain was I of my intimate realtionship with Him, of listening to His voice and recognizing His fingerprints.

I remember pondering this verse for months from one of my many favorite, oft-prayed psalms:

"He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:" (Psalm 103:7)

What follows that phrase is a brief listing of some of the personality traits, or characteristics of God's interactions with humans.  Though for many years I had read "ways" and "deeds" as a simple literary repetition for emphasis, at that time I began to focus on the difference between knowing God's "deeds" and knowing God's "ways" - his habitual ways of acting.  It seemed to me then that seeing or recognizing God's deeds was a first and necessary step to knowing his ways, but that knowing his ways- his likely ways of acting, his inclinations, his motives- was an indication of intimate relationship and that was what I wanted - and what I thought I had.  I spent a lot of time reading, studying and praying the Bible, journaling the movements of my heart and tracking His footprints in the lives of others.

But now....NOW what is God up to in my life?  What has He been working on in this questioning, doubting, grieving, pondering and longing season of life, so filled with noisy celebrations of life concurrent with drawn-out mournings of disappointment and loss?  My own questions have clamored for so much attention in this season that I've either been deaf to or highly suspicious of any questions God might be asking me.  What questions or challenges might He be throwing down for me on which I've yet to stubb my toe?  I do not know.

But I do know that I am still alive.  For this day, this moment, I have been given life and health, sustenance and safety, and the ability to choose what I believe to be true and how I will respond to people and events.   I have been given husband and sons and daughters-in-love and grandchildren to know, love and encourage; brothers, sisters, mothers and more to respect and love.  Though there have been heartaches aplenty in this season, moments of joy and laughter have sparkled through my days like the bright morning sun transforms the surface of the bay into a million sparkling diamonds.

I know I have learned valuable life habits and insights in this season of withrawal and winter that I did not learn in other, more green and "fruitful" seasons of life.

At certain moments in these past 6 years I have whispered to my soul, "I have become weary in well-doing" (Gal 6:9) and "I do not please God now because I am not sure He exists, I am not certain of what I do not see" (Hebrews 11:1, 6).

At quite a few moments in these past 6 years, my husband of almost 35 years has asked me, sometimes with fear and sometimes with teasing in his voice, the question I have asked myself "Sandy, are you a Christian now?"

My answer, both to him and myself, has been rooted far more in my experience of God's compassion, patience and covenant, then in my intellectual struggles or even in my desire to live love and truth:  "I do not think he has abandoned me, even though some days I doubt He exists."   My answer is rooted in my experience of the psalmist's words of His ways that follow the "ways and deeds" phrase in Psalm 103:

"The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him...
As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust."

Monday, October 4, 2010

Gratitude Walk

holy experience

133.  I had a brief, unanticipated meeting with an old friend as I walked in the park Sunday morning.

134.  Though I smiled inwardly at this friend's ready assertion to me of personal attendance at a worship service earlier that morning and wondered if a smile might come to his face if he knew how few corporate worship services I'd taken part in these past few years

136.  I greatly appreciated his transparent admission of entertaining world view quandaries and theological struggles similar to some of mine

137.  and the few moments of empathic conversation.

138.  I returned to photographing the water lilies before hurrying home to dinner with my husband and son and his always lively family.

139.  The intentional "gratitude walk" with camera in hand, had succeeded, as it almost always does, in turning my thoughts to thankfulness to God for the beauty that surrounds me

140.  and for the gifts of a safe community in which to walk

141.  and the awe and inner relaxing and reordering of thoughts that awaits when I step outside.

141.  Thank you, God, for healthy grandsons and a morning at the park staging "zoo animals" for photos

142.  and for missing the small "no swimming" logo on a nearby sign even though I searched for it before allowing

143.  the boys to play in "the river" fountain for many fun-filled minutes

144.  feeling like a community trouble-maker when parents walked past refusing water access to their young'uns

145.  and for those boys' quick obedience to end the water play once I spotted the prohibition...sigh...the threat of litigation spoiling fun once again...

146.  for noisy, tiring, but happy family meals together

147.  where babies can get baths in the kitchen sink

148.  and attentive cousins can get a sink-side tutorial

149.  and hang together when the bath is done.

150.  For generous friends to lay-out and form and family to help pour the footer for the new family house on the old family lot

151.  for the blessing of grand-parenting

152.  and afternoons of working together

153.  while listening to the Rays CLINCH the American League East

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Experiencing God's Goodness Through People

Seven years ago I was preparing to host an open house to celebrate Kyle and Michelle's wedding with all our Florida friends.  Kyle had been serving with Word Made Flesh in Kolkata for a couple years, and had met and fallen in love with Michelle when she had volunteered there the previous summer.  They'd been courting long distance most of the year and had gotten married in Wisconsin in July.   We wanted to host an open house for our many friends in Florida to meet Michelle and visit with Kyle who had been away - at school and then India - for so long.  Our house is plenty large enough for David and myself, but rather compact when considering having 100-150 people over.

My friends helped me plan the menu and spent hours helping me prepare a number of the dishes.  One made several desserts and spent the hours during the open house plating hors d'oeuvres and cleaning up.   One friend ran a food pick-up for me, and one friend with mad scrapbooking skills took an hour or two to lead me through making wedding photo posters - a process that would have taken me days by myself.

One friend even helped me clean out and organize my garage a couple weeks prior to the event (a mountainous task that had been overwhelming to me) to gain much needed storage and prep space for the party supplies and food.  On the two nights of the open house, because my friends had been so good to me, sharing their time and expertise, I was able to fully relax and enjoy all our friends and Kyle and Michelle.

I experienced the same kind of goodness in getting set up for Sam and Amber's wedding rehearsal dinner.  Family and friends helped us prepare food, set up tables, displays and games and made short work of the clean-up at the end of the evening.

Over the years I've learned to know myself, in part, by noticing how I differ from the motivations that drive us, the ways we work and communicate, our skill sets and preferences for doing things together or by ourselves, etc.  Though I've spent waaay too much time moaning about my dismal rate of productivity over the years, I've worked to exchange moaning about my weaknesses for a willingness to ask for help and gratitude for the people in my life with the skills, gifts and willingness to help me bring about the plan I've envisioned.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Counting Blessings

holy experience

101.  While taking Prema to school in the mornings this fall, I've seen the pastor who served as Kyle and Sam's middle school pastor.

102.  He's still at it - caring about kids at one of their most awkward stages, investing in their lives with prayer, fun activities, group Bible studies, and opportunities to serve.

103.  One of Kyle's and Sam's high school teachers stopped by the lot where the new house will be going up when he saw David and Kyle working the other day.  He too, invested himself in the students way beyond the requirementsof his paycheck...he cared...and it showed.

104.  These two have made me think of many other men and women who served as teachers and pastors and coaches during our sons growing up years...who served, who cared, who invested in my children.

105.  Amber's posts about people who encouraged/influenced her made me think about all the "everyday folks" who gave of themselves in the small church in which I grew up...

106.  the older gentleman who cut out wood parts for our VBS projects

107.  and his wife who taught us girls some hand sewing skills

108.  who together offered their acreage for the annual sunday school picnic

109.  and who served corn picked fresh from their garden and cooked in massive quantities

110.  the pastor's wife who always seemed glad to see me no matter how much I was interrupting her day
(she never let on, but now when I look back I shudder at how often I barged in to "parsonage"

111.  and who cleaned the church sanctuary every week  (did we pay her?)

112.  and could keep us kids interested in the flannel graph stories she wove

113.  in a voice so quiet we listened intently to hear her

114.  and the three pastors who served during my growing up years at that small neighborhood church

115.  who knew me personally

116.  and visited my family

117.  sometimes just to connect

118.  and sometimes to comfort

119.  who never seeemed to mind my interruptions of their study time to ask them questions

120.  who never made much money, but kept caring about people, investing in lives.

121.  I'm grateful to live in a neighborhood where I know and like my neighbors

122.  and their dogs

123.  and a spirit of helpfulness and cooperation is the norm.

124.  I'm grateful we got to see the incredible, full rainbow

125.  seemingly springing out of the water by the boat ramp at thelake

126.  during our casual family bike ride late Sunday that turned into

127.  a rainy biking adventure

128.  where the shower refreshed us with its drenching

129.  and brought cooler temperatures this morning.

130.  I'm grateful for my husband who shows his love for his family by acts of service

131.  and provision

132.  and for two sons who do the same.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Daily Gifts

holy experience

This week I give God thanks:

101.  for honey bees

102.  that have lived within our walls for more than a year 

after they first came to visit "the homestead"

103.  with their gentle nature 

104.  and their daily work

104.  of harvesting and making (in addition to pollinating plants)

105.  honey....its distinct taste.

106.  for the hope and inclination to find a skilled beekeeper

107.  willing to give instruction and move the hive to a better location in our back yard 

108. for sitting on the curb with my 3 year old grandson

109.  on a hot sun-drenched morning

110.  after he finished explaining the A/C system of the John Deere tractor (riding toy) to me

111.  listening together to the squirrels quarrel

112. and the birds sound

113.  and seeing three honey bees fall to the ground

114.  and two different butterflies dance for us.

115.  for brushes and paint

116.  for glorious color

117.  for little boys who love stories and books

118.  and moms and dads who wisely feed that hunger and stoke that fire

119.  for the satisfaction of long-distance bike rides that our sons are doing together

120.  and the physical and emotional benefits

121.  for the privilege of getting to know our sons as adults

122.  and watching our daughters in law "build" their lives, their homes, their families

123.  for the gift of music

124.  and David's pleasure in playing trombone

125.   and in the "community" that takes place in band and orchestra rehearsals and performances

126.  for "family/community dinner" nights at our house

127.  the discipline and joy of planning and preparing house and meals

128.  for the connection and conversation and deepening friendships

129.  for C.S. Lewis 

130.  and his "Chronicles of Narnia"

131.  and David's enjoyment of the same 

132.  for Leanne Payne's knowledge and perspective of the writings of Lewis

133.   and her sharing her marvelous intellect and insights with us through books and lectures

134.  for delicious conversations with good friends

135.  and paintings that make my heart sing 

Friday, September 10, 2010

Only One Savior

I had already practiced the much-needed discipline of telling myself, "I am not the junior holy spirit!" regarding insights or changes I thought might benefit my husband, when I discovered Leanne Payne's wonderful intelligence and insight and her passionate knowledge and experience of Jesus.  Either Listening Prayer or Restoring the Christian Soul through Healing Prayer introduced me to Leanne's writings, and very quickly I devoured every book by Leanne that I could get my hands on.   I have read most of her books at least twice and have given away numerous copies to others.  I currently have Listening Prayer, The Broken Image, Real Presence, and Healing Presence on my bookshelf.

I came across Leanne's writings about 15-20 years ago when I had been getting my toes wet in the waters of intercessory prayer, bringing hurting people to God's throne, asking for His grace and mercy for them. Influencing others is one of my strong personality traits and since I had been barred from teaching at my church and I hadn't developed the necessary disciplines and skills to write and publish on a regular basis, I moved toward the next best thing for someone not allowed the use of manipulation tactics or holy spirit status - prayer on behalf of others.  I felt like God had done so much renovation work in my own life and I was hungry to see Him use my prayers to help others.

Leanne Payne's understanding of the psychological and spiritual processes at work in our lives, and her teachings about the presence of God in our lives - incarnational reality, the role of forgiveness in healing prayer, the writings of C. S. Lewis, the dangers of inviting gnosticism and Jungian symbolism into our thought lives and Christian communities has been a skillfully sharp sword in my life, and I could quote many passages that have helped me over the years.  

I am choosing a passage from Listening Prayer that confronts and exposes a type of "prayer" that has been around for centuries: substitution.   A quick scan may not yield its treasure,  so I encourage you, if you spend any time at all helping, praying for or mentoring others, to read it again when you have the time and focus to read it fully and use the very specific prayers.

"When we receive the gift of tears and strong crying out to God in intercession, we are not given special merit.  Rather it is a gracious "work" of God's Spirit.  We should be grateful and thank God for it. Trying to duplicate this grace is folly and gets in the way of intercession.  Much of our best work of prayer will be done without sensible knowledge of this grace.  When it comes, we simply give thanks for it.

Having said this, there are bona fide ascetic practices that, when absent from our lives, pretty well guarantee that we will not do much interceding.  We are powerless when fasting, solitude, silence, and the classic ways of training our bodies to be temples of the Holy Spirit - as we see in our Lord, those He taught, and the early church - are missing in our lives.  Dallas Willard's book, The Spirit of the Disciplines, should be read by all who are serious about true ascetics as applied to prayer and the Christian walk.

Besides the matter of false ascetics with its misbegotten ideas about God or ourselves, two other practices that hinder us in prayer are widespread today.  One involves the practice of substitution.  This occurs when we pray to take someone else's pain, illness, fear, or sorrow into or upon ourselves.  In such a case, we do not intercede to God for them,but try to substitute for them.  Rather than looking to Christ as the One who died to take their pain, sin, or darkness into Himself, we ask to take it upon and into ourselves.  Rather than looking to the Savior, we attempt to be one.  Instead of helping someone carry their burden of guilt, pain, sickness, or whatever to God in prayer, we ourselves fail to trust God.  We attempt to carry the person's need in our own strength.

Substitution occurs, then, when we blur the distinction between being a savior-redeemer --something only Jesus could ever be and do -- and being His disciple, a sacramental channel through whom His life is to flow.  To substitute is to attempt to do the work Christ has already finished, while simultaneously missing our own proper work.  To take upon or into ourselves as mediators the darkness of others is at best based in ignorance, at worst based in pride.  Either way, we fall into a messiah or savior complex and will have to confess pride to get out of it.

One of the great dangers in substitution lies in the fact that spiritual forces we do not understand or fail to discern can be directly involved in sickness of spirit, soul, and body.  In the case of demonic presences, these are quite amenable to  "transferring" themselves from the sick person to the one who asks to "substitute." Such a person unwittingly opens his or her soul and body to darkness, saying to the enemy "Come in" while simultaneously sending messages to his or her own mind and body, "Disintegrate, I give you full permission."

This action, of course, is not rooted in looking to and trusting God -- that is, in true prayer.  The well-publicized movie The Exorcist did not feature an exorcism at all, but a substitution.  A priest, failing to pray to God and exercise the authority of his office, instead took into himself the demonic force afflicting a child.  The movie ends with the priest leaping from a window to his death.  This illustrates most graphically the price to pay in substitutions.  This price is not one connected with legitimate Christian suffering.

An interesting sidelight here:  in PCM conferences, we bring the gospel to bear on the healing of souls.  Since we are psychomatic unities--body and soul--our bodies begin to heal as a natural course and sometimes even instantly.  Near the end of each conference, we are often led to pray for physical healings, especially those connected to the emotional and spiritual healings received by the people.  Invariably, however, when people have the opportunity to renounce their substitutions, we see dramatic and instantaneous physical healings--as well as mental and emotional.  There have been miraculous healings of cancer, emphysema, and others from these renunciations.  Healings, such as those connected to the practice of substitution, do not seem to occur apart from specific teaching and opportunities to pray for them.  Our grief is that there is never enough time in these meetings to get all the teaching and healing prayer exercises in.

If after reading the above, you know or even think that "maybe" there has been a substitution of this kind, now is the moment to name it, repent of it, and renounce it.  You can look straight up to God and pray as follows:

"Lord, I asked to take on [so and so's] pain, disease, or darkness of [name the spiritual darkness, physical disease such as blindness, crippling condition, or mental and emotional depression or darkness of whatever kind].  I name my foolishness and pride before  You right now.  You alone are Savior-Redeemer.  My faith in you was lacking, and I asked to do what You have already done--You carried our sicknesses, our sins, our sorrows.  Forgive me, Lord, even as I renounce this substitution."

The substitution is then renounced, specifically:

"Lord, I have confessed as sin the pride and unbelief that was in this substitution.  I now renounce it before You.  [Renounce as specifically as possible the substitution you made, for instance, 'Lord, I asked to take on so and so's blindness, I renounce that substitution, confessing as sin the pride and unbelief that was in it.']  I look directly to You for [so and so's] health and wholeness, and thank you for removing from me, as far as the East is from the West, this malady I've suffered due to this wrongful practice.'

This prayer ends in praise and thanksgiving to God for His forgiveness, for His release from the substitution, and for all the healing that accrues from it."
Leanne Payne, Listening Prayer,  copyright 1994, pp 58-60,  Hamewith Books, a divsion of Baker Book House Co., Grand Rapids, MI 49516

Though I cannot remember wanting to take on another's physical or mental illness, I have definitely, on occasion, fallen into a "savior complex", which really only, in my experience, impedes or delays the true work of God.  

I have been able to steer myself away from commitments and entanglements motivated by the "be the savior" temptation many times by reminding myself:  There is only one Savior, and I am NOT Him.