Monday, December 24, 2012

the little snow people, with the carrots and buttons, loss themselves in love, and are now transformed, never to go back

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise Him.  Psalm 28:7

Right now, I am liking that the I am helped is present tense and right now.  He is my strength–He nourishes my bones and keeps me upright and sturdy, perhaps even rising up on the wings of eagles, and He is my shield, protecting me from the poisonous lying darts of the enemy who attempts, fairly ceaselessly to rob me of joy, whispering lies of bitterness and accusation. The joy that comes from Him, that comes from drawing my water from His well; let it splash over my head and run down my entirety. He is sufficient.

And thus, because He is my strength and shield, let my heart rejoice.  
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And heaven and nature sing.

Let me open wide the door of my heart, sweep out all of me, and welcome You in.  Just thinking... what an unself thing laughter is– one of those complete eyes off me moments.  


Sunday, December 23, 2012

My prayer for you as well today

When You said, “Seek My face,”
My heart said to You, “Your face, Lord, I will seek.”  Psalm 27:8

There is something about this verse that fills me with joy.  The simplicity of it all, stripped down, with no distractions.  A love song.  Just You and me. 
You are my love and my life, 
You are my inspiration. 
just You and me. 
simple and free. 
baby You’re everything, I ever dreamed of. 
yea, yea.

May it be.  And as I consider the day ahead of me, and the trip to Costco after swimming and a quick cup of coffee with Jenny and Tim for salmon and bacon and Brie and stocking stuffers and the wrapping of gifts but the quilt is done and the printing of minivan complete with a GPS reservations and the sweet breads to be knead and old rock and roll stickers for Giovanni’s guitar case and I sure better not run my stockings tonight and from whom to borrow a good coat from to withstand the 27 degrees waiting for me in Vermont, may I continue to seek His face.

The Lord bless you, and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine on you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.

And I am so looking forward to tomorrow’s midnight mass at St. Cyril’s with Giovanni.  Pause, breathe, peace.  

But. This is not about place. And time.  Rather the heart and seeking.  Pause, breathe, peace.  

Friday, December 21, 2012

Go ahead and turn on the light

Examine me, O Lord, and test me; try my reins and my heart. Psalm 26:2

Nicole just returned from her grand finale with Rachel’s Challenge- they were dined, gifted and...evaluated, they got to go over tapes of their lectures with an instructor.  As a teacher, I know the scariest and most humbling thing ever to be videotaped and then watch it.  It’s all there, the incomplete sentences, the clapping of hands, the marching back and forth, the ineffective classroom management, documented and in full color.  I can still exactly picture the last tape I saw of myself... with piles of bones in the middle of each lab table and I was leaping about garnering enthusiasm for Scientific Illustration and really seeing.  But it’s also the most effective means of growth.  Suddenly it’s not about what we imagine we are doing or hoping we are saying, but what is real. And that is the foundation for all growth.  Truth.  

I am quite sure that I blow right past the discipline of confession- beyond just the general hurriedness of my life, I am not much of one for any mirror, especially that of my soul.  A quick glance, or the occasional sharp Holy Spirit stab, and that is it.  And it’s really not if I am brave enough to unbare the hidden parts to the keen eye of Him, but am I humble enough?  Am I willing to stop pretending and let him rip out all of the Christyness and leave Himself in her stead?  

“Give me all of you. I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want you, all of you.  I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to kill it.  No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them all over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self---in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.” C. S. Lewis

Yes.  One doesn’t really want to settle for playing Christianity, going through the motions, trying to do everything right, sort of, most of the time.  One wants to be.  Thus the discipline.  Pause and let His loving eyes probe deep within.  There are no secrets from Him, only from myself.  Thus, it is time to drop the robe of social niceties and allow Him free rein to do as He will, the Master Craftsman creating in His own image.  

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the way everlasting.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Stand in the gap before me for the land

Good and upright is the Lord;
Therefore He teaches sinners in the way. 
The humble He guides in justice, 
And the humble He teaches His way.
All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth. Psalm 25:8-10

Humility.  This word has been on my mind for the past week.  The board of my organization at last stepped in and replaced the president with a missionary kid from Africa.  Whose first presentation was centered on this word, humility.  And what does it look like in real life and how does it impact our decisions and even bigger, our mission and values.  A dark cloud has lifted.  I have been praying for so many months: May all of us be aware that we have been called to serve “the least of these.” Action verb: serve.

Max knows all about the least of these.  And serving.  He just got a grown-up sought-after job yesterday with the - a staff of "lawyers and social workers, parent advocates, investigators, civil advocates and team administrators committed to providing zealous, compassionate representation both inside and outside the courthouse." And really, to me, this is humility.  To serve the absolute down and out, who are there for whatever reason of brokenness- poverty, substance and alcohol abuse, mental illness, family instability... it’s all what Christ came to restore.  He did not come to condemn the world, but through Him the world might be saved.  There is nothing neat and tidy about the business, well, outside of the welcoming front foyer with cushy leather dignifying seats, but this is the Father’s business, and we should be about it.

The humble He guides in justice, 
And the humble He teaches His way.

Even if the strides are a little too long

...who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity... Psalm 24:4 

There are so many distracting baubles in our world.  That simply are of no lasting value.  Mere soap bubbles caught in the breeze. And while it is all good to enjoy the beauty and warmth and unique preciseness dangling about my head, let me not lift up my soul to them, allowing them to chomp at the roots of my joy, my peace and my most of all my love, which are from the Spirit.  

My heart echoed “Amen, brother, amen” at Saturday’s wedding, as we listened to two friends publicly affirm their value statement.  Colossians 3 says to Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. And rather than let the glitter and the beeping and the approval of the world worm its way into my heart, rather I shall chose, again and again, as God’s beloved child, to put on His compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. To be even-tempered, content with second place, and quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love.

And maybe some of this is the sort of dressing up that my sister and I did when we were little, wanting to be big and beautiful like our momma, we would swirl around in the long living room curtains, swish, swish, oh so lovely.  I am certainly in process. But it’s all about choosing the footprints that I will follow. Even if the strides are a little too long.

The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the work of His hands.  And it is good.  But let me choose wisely, the better way.  He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.

And once again the gold glints off the snow-tipped Catalinas

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Psalm 23:6

The thing about being a scientist is that you never really prove anything, unlike math, which is full of proofs.  What science does is predicts: If under these circumstances, then this will happen.  Science is all about making careful observations of what we see in the world around us and making predictions called hypotheses.  Really and truly everything is theories, and the laws are regularly blown out of the water, as any physicist will tell you.  

And as I consider the world around me, complete with bullets and earthquakes and flames, goodness and mercy still exist, in spite of all of the odds against their very existence.   Still rising up and declaring truth.  Still reflecting the God outside of the box.  His very nature.   And as I watch the sun come up over the Rincons every morning and set behind the low-laying Tucson ranges, I can say to myself, surely the sun will rise tomorrow. 

Likewise I will declare that His goodness and mercy will not fail, but rather they are new every morning; great is His faithfulness.  

It’s all about seeing.  Much like noticing the unchanging moon; acknowledging what is there.  And being thankful.  Great is Thy faithfulness.  

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Jasmine rice with lemon chicken and chopsticks

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies. Psalm 23:5

So yesterday was full of drop-in visitors and long conversations strapped together from small talk and despair for my project-driven husband who was gracious beyond compare as he watched his hopes for a Saturday rainy afternoon and evening dribble down into a pool at his feet, much like the water stain on the back bedroom wall.  

For me the day was framed by the movie of the previous evening, our Friday night group whose very warp and woof shifts from week to week.  An amazing feast of Asian food was followed by a film by Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda, After Life.  The premise is a bit difficult to place in the setting, but when one dies, one goes to what appears to be a midcentury English boarding school, where for one week a team of kind and humble experts help you sort through your life to come up with the one memory you want to take with you to the afterlife.  They film it, from your interview details, and then everything else is forgotten.  Everything.  Sort of like the biblical briars and thistles that will burn.  

And there were some memorable concepts, beyond the vividly quiet characterization of twenty-three disparate souls intended to represent all of humanity.  The emotional connection to the moon shining up above, unchanging over the generations, except for the perspective from which it’s viewed.  And a man desperately sorting through a stack of videos of his life, looking for evidence of life.  But what was most striking, was the sameness of the selected moments, from a World War II prisoner of war eating a plate of rice to a sweet young thing who decided it was not Disneyland, but a three-year-old swirling in a bright red dress to the shared memories from our group afterwards, simple and sweet, leaping carefree and beloved in an attic bedroom, hanging with a group of chosen friends, or watching the steeple of a monastery disappear in the dusky sunset, bereft of cultural baggage and stuff.  

And as I pieced together a conversation at a wedding feast, sitting next to Chicago friends of the parents of the bride, I was struck by how these moments tie together humanity.  With everything stripped away, the moments for a Sudanese refuge would not differ much from an electrical parts salesman who is building a second home in the suburbs.  Or the girl from Alamos to do Christmas shopping sitting on the couch in front of the fire while it is dark and cold and rainy outside, to the rocket scientist who is so enjoying the round almond cookies left over from last night.  The LORD is our shepherd. Each of our shepherds. 

As the preacher last night reminded the bright-eyed smiling couple, life is not easy. We will have tribulation.  Howling wolves will circle around watching for the kill. Or it could just be the piles of rat-a-tat things I gotta do, I gotta do, I gotta do that rip their teeth into my joy. But Thou preparest a table for me.  He feeds my soul in the presence of mine enemies.   And anyone who knows her cannot help but picture Nicole and her bottles of olive oil, smoothing a healing balm into every imaginable ache of life.  Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. With the moments.  That last. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

I will cause you to pass under the rod

Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

When I was almost fifteen I spent the summer at Forest Home Camps, volunteering with the children’s program. They fed us and housed us and we played with the kids during the morning and babysat them at night so their parents could attend night meetings.  We got to go swimming at the lake in the afternoon, and I remember vividly playing dozens and dozens of games of solitaire by flashlight, alone except for sleeping children in the dark creaky woods. Every morning our leader met with us in a little room off the gift shop and we read through A Shepherd Looks at the Twenty-third Psalm.  I felt so cool and in-the-know.  Not only was I like a almost-real staff person but I was also really understanding what this psalm was about that I had memorized when was in first grade, along with the books of the bible in order to earn and red leather Bible with my name on it in gold gilt letters.  

And as Brandon knows we have one of those very cool rods sitting by our fireplace that he always likes to swing and sort of hopes that I will give to him someday.  It is glossy smooth, with a big swollen ball at one end.  The rod was an extension of the owner's own right arm. It stood as a symbol of his strength, his power, his authority in any serious situation. The shepherd could whip it right at any danger or threat.  No problem.  And the staff represents lift and support for gently guiding the sheep, and disentangling them from the woes of the journey.  

And thus that rod so beautifully crafted, leaning up in the corner next to the machete and the log poker, is a clear reminder of His continual care, protection and detailed attention.  The LORD is my shepherd.  I shall not want.  

It's all about the brand, baby

He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Psalm 23:3 

I am His name-bearer on so many levels. 

Christine.  Little Christ.  Anointed. Follower of Christ.
Christian.  Follower of Christ.
Child of God.  Beloved.

I think the idea goes beyond not embarrassing the name of Jesus, which is certainly a very real possibility, especially in consideration of our very real brokenness.  There is the clear implication of bringing honor and glory to His name, which is a celebratory calling of worship and purpose.

But I also think that it has something to do with sort of logic, “This is my child name-bearer. And how I lead her reflects on my leadership and trustworthiness.  If I am indeed the good shepherd, and she bears my mark, my brand so to speak seared into her very being, I will demonstrate my truth and rightness in the paths where I lead.”  

And when one explores the idea of leadership and followership, the burden is light if the leader is strong.  In sweet followership, I am so close to Him that His light of presence falls upon my path, and we can converse along the way.  Brother Lawrence wrote, “I drove away from my mind everything capable of spoiling the sense of the presence of God.... I just make it my business to persevere in His holy presence...  We ought to act with God in the greatest simplicity, speak to Him frankly and plainly, and implore His assistance in our affairs.”

I suspect that this is very closely tied up with the closing refrain: Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The pain which shadows the common human experience

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me.  Psalm 23:4

The rhythm of the merengue does not hint at the forced patience of the people.  Its fire laughs spinning in bright colors ‘round and ‘round.  Yet wait.  Another circle reels, dancing to the heart-wrenching song of birth, love, and death- linked together with heavy chains that try to weigh the dancers down.  One chilly night I step into this dance, rather clumsily and confused, just up the road from the grey rows of refugee camp where my husband and I live, working with an international relief and development organization.  I join the circle of the rehydration room, where even my beloved and wise friend Ramona has lost three babes to its vicious sway. 

The room juts off the entry to the same small health clinic where my daughter Nicól first entered San Jose de Ocoa nine months ago- ah, another wait, my first hupomoni- remaining under- with the Dominicans- a forty-two hour wait celebrated by breathing-room-only crowds to greet this blue-tinged novelty.  Once again I step into the clinic’s mawing jaw, this time cradling a limp child.  Vomiting and diarrhea has ripped four pounds from her overnight.  A brusque nurse straps her into place.  Stained and flood-pocked walls close in tightly around the circle of planks strung with IV bottles.  Twelve bottles, twelve limp bodies with only a flicker of eyelash or a faint tremor.  2”x 4” boards hammered into the wall form a shifty bench to prop up mothers filled with a grievous calm, refined and polished to a sheen from this life of theirs which stretches across the island to Haiti, across the tear-salty oceans, across the ages.
this patient circle of eyes
like so many glistening olives
pooled in the pain which shadows
the common human experience
round gleaming olives
lacking warmth
olives have no warmth
and as we settle uneasily into
our designated eighteen inches of board
we each hide our fear and bewilderment
and loneliness

We can each protect ourselves by fussing a bit with our children.  Nicól looks translucent, a ghostly waif, strapped in line alongside equally feeble dark glowing bodies.  I straighten her cloth diaper and stroke her bald head.  Both set her apart in this fetid room.  Dominicans love to stroke her baldness as they cluster behind me, around me, oh so closely everywhere we wander in this dusty town.  Round olive eyes cannot help but gaze unblinkingly at this white woman and her white baby.  The only whiteness in their collective experience is found in bright Dallas silks on their small television screens or peering cheerfully from Gerber food cans.  With a deep breath, I tighten my jaw and drag my line of vision upward to these watching eyes.  I smile weakly out of habit.  It certainly isn’t a smiling sort of situation but I have no training or forethought for this moment.  I need to settle in and sort through the moment.  There are few options, and one most definitely is not snatching my child and running for the Santo Domingo airport.  I stop standing, hunched.  Wretchedly looming at six feet tall.  Conspicuous in my awkwardness.  Instead I kneel on the sticky tile floor. The close contact brings to mind a previous hospital visit and the wade through two inches of sludgy river with a veritable flotilla of soiled bandages, wrappers and tissue, to be slapped onto a delivery table still warm from a previously splayed-legged woman.  The floor, albeit sticky, is dry.  Dry and hard as I squirm, adjusting weight and pressure from knees to toes and back again.  

Sweet Nicól so close.  I count the drips.  Irregular.  Very irregular.  None of the one, one thousand, two, one thousand of my nursing days in distant Flagstaff, Arizona.  I can see the veins in Nicole’s lids.  She isn’t sleeping, but she hasn’t the strength to open her eyes.  Her fingers lay slack in my hand.  The olive eyes still weigh heavily on my bowed blond tangles.  Not hostile, yet too distant to even be curious.  Just watching.  Reluctantly I slide to my feet and join the propped-up bodies lining the wall.  I return the distant curiosity, willing friendly compassion into my gaze.  Dominicans don't greet and politely drop their eyes.  The matched looks last much, much longer than a shy American can bear.  I delicately shift my attention to the setting.  Actually, now that I am peering out away from behind my private discomfort, the room fairly shivers with low-grade activity - shuddering arms and legs, low whimpers as vomit trickles out of parted lips and the furtive wipes of damp rags smoothing away bubbling diarrhea.  Giardia’s distinct sulfurous twinge hangs heavy in this world far from  Pampers and lightly-scented wet wipes.  Actually the stench battles in and amongst us.  A broken-hinged door opens permanently into the toilet room and the multi-brown mound volcanoes from the white porcelain moat.  It is clear that once again the water system is out in San José de Ocoa.

no one knows no one
we are all from separate villages
on different hills surrounding Ocoa
perhaps a face or two is familiar
from the market square
strung with freshly slaughtered cows
covered in raisen-pie flies
patient dangling chickens await
a swift swipe of machete
we are all strung here waiting
in the land of mango heaps and guandules
and cans of sardines

Dusk fades in the lone window of the adjourning waiting room and we settle in.    I dutifully fuss at the occasional nurse about the broken regulator in Nik’s IV bottle but it seems fairly trivial in this environment.  A few lunch pails are brought in by relatives, but most of us merely swallow and shift our belts.  At least I won’t need to use the restroom in my dehydrated condition.  That’s a little trick I’ve learned in this country; if I don’t drink I won’t need to use the never satisfactory bathrooms.  It is going to be a long night, but our attention is sucked away from our dry throats to the twelve babies struggling at the cellular level.

This room is also a battlefield of mine on another, yet related front, and I am the only woman wrestling with the dangling tubes and straps in order to breastfeed.  The last curtain of polite disinterest had been rent as the dark eyes watch la americana wage an ungraceful war on Nestle’s multinational food conglomeration.  Slick advertising with blond women dressed in doctor coats has convinced Dominicans that all good mothers use formula for their children.  I know that proud shiny pyramids of empty cans line each and every house no matter how humble or isolated they are.  A traditional Dominican photo is of the one-year birthday celebrant seated proudly in front of the triangle of financial sacrifice.  This insidious lie is directly responsible for most of these babies being here tonight.  Formula is diluted with river water which is seldom boiled because firewood is scarce and it is served diluted for economy strengthened with sugar and peanut oil.  Hardly a formula for producing sturdy, resistant bodies.  I am hardly a sweet picture of maternal bliss scrunched over the unsanded boards, but the point is made, and a respectful murmur marks my discomfort.  Deep within I somehow know Little Nicól will leave this room unscathed and restored, but few other other mothers have this assurance.  Death is too common, too likely.  In this valley less than half of the children make it to five years of age.

The night wears on.  No conversing with each other.  Nothing to say.  Every topic is weighed and found superficial and distasteful.  The only sound is breaths of comfort kissed over a child’s brow.  Waiting marked by the unsteady drip of clear liquid in twelve bottles. 

Until an explosion of sirens and lights and screams and music and slamming strikes the hospital door.  A bus load of drunken baseball players has run off a ravine and pickup truck beds of them are being hauled to the hospital.  A few lay quietly on stretchers lost on a lonely path of stoic pain, but most are raining curses down on the hapless candystriper sorts who were left to fluttering ineffectively like the tattered moths around the bare bulb which hung from a wire.  I certainly do not begrudge them the curses.  Raw bones rip through sooty sweat-gleaming flesh mingled with pulsing blood. The scene is ugly, and doctors are not hurrying to help from their air-conditioned homes on the other side of town.  Suddenly someone spies the norteamericana and the tone shifts with a screech.  A twisting avalanche squeezes through the door and sweeps over me.  Que bella.  Que ojos.  Que vaya conmigo. There is no personal space in this country, and the men jostle and grope me freely.  I huddle down, unweeping, longing to push through the nightmare. Finally the young men notice that I am not the Farrah Fawcett who smiles through tousled hair from every barroom wall.  Several doctors finally arrive and slowly the rumble next door subsides and silence once again drapes itself over the twelve mothers propped against the weary walls, waiting for dawn.  One little boy convulses weakly as his body squeezes every last drop of moisture from his cells.

his mother weeps
this is her only child
her whole world lies trembling
flailing for another breath
and she bends hopelessly over him
sobbing to the now less-distant eyes
now only weariness separates us
as we watch this little boy’s life seep away
the only light dimly wavers
in from the waiting room
and here we ourselves

With a low moan, the young mother hefts herself onto the wobbly planks and curls over her child.  A low grade panic grips the pit of our stomachs, but we are immobilized, perhaps by our own fear.  We do not reach out to build sand castle walls against this tide.  We lament our cowardice, but freeze doe-like.  Only one sound presses past the gut-wrenching mourning- a soft hymn weaves through the thick air.  Glancing over to the most worn of women, I catch her eye and smile in agreement.  The corito does not waver.  I can only muster a soft echo, but the gentle words cut across the looping wires and wraps hope like a tejido shawl around the trembling mother.  The sobs subside.  The hope offered is not realized in the present.  The boy is going to die.  Nor does it make paved-in-gold promises for the distant future.  The song offers up the hope of love.  The very pulse of passion beyond animalistic urges is testimony of a greater purpose, a greater will outside of teal green walls flecked with squashed bugs.  The very fact that a song of love can float in the midst of bleak weariness is proof of some existence beyond.  Imaginations cannot create new colors; they must work with what exists.  

This wind of love cannot be seen, and yet its effect can be witnessed and held to a shriveled breast.   We are comforted by a presence more concrete than the walls that surround us.  Life’s cadence is irregular and unrelenting.  Yet wait.  In its oscillating circle of birth and life and death there is the steady undertone of love which beats faithfully past deep nameless grief to wildly thrusting hips and stiletto heels, punctuating out rippling circles of life.

The rehydration room.  Thirty years ago He was with me.  And I will never forget.  I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.  

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Unless a grain of wheat

He restoreth my soul.  Psalm 23:3

Is this not the most practical truth in the Bible? Stunningly simple.  Hope.  

The holy reboot.

Perhaps there are actually anchor people out there, deep and steady, no matter the swirling winds or crashing waves.  But they are not I.  Yes, yes, I know all about James and wisdom and faith and not wavering, for he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.  A double minded man is unstable in all his ways. Yep.  

Discouragement, hurt, impatience, misunderstanding, unforgiveness.  Yep, yep, yep. I can do them all.  And yet something profound and merciful and good beyond all comprehension touches my soul, something beyond the “just need a good night’s sleep” counsel of my sensible husband.  Restoration.  

And this miracle, when considered, is more majestic that the towering Catalinas from whence comest my strength, and the spiraling galaxies and the pulsing cellular mechanics,  but is part of the same story, the rhythms of the universe, the seasons.  

And as we watch my poppa stumble through this very crinkly, crunching stage of autumn we are comforted by the gently swelling presence of his great-granddaughter, whose lively kicking and flipturns already demonstrate a spritely determined soul.  Restoration. 

Death into resurrection. New every morning, new every morning, great is Your faithfulness.  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Really, I just snuggle in a little more deeply

The LORD is my shepherd: I shall not want.  Psalm 23:1

So, wandering around google clarifies that “shall” indicates a promise, in fact, it carries with it legal implications that this promise is indeed binding.  

This is my comfort, a metaphoric blanket so to speak, to wrap around my shivering shoulders if I were to ever wake up in the middle of the night full of angst and bother.  Whenever I wake up, I mean, with chill winds breathing down my neck and dark thoughts twisting in my mind.  

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters.

These are statements of fact, continuing present tense.  What is true.  Whether I choose to acknowledge the reality of His very active verbs.  

May I pull back the bramble bushes and lie down, content in His provision, at rest.   

Amidst the noise and clatter of my kitchen

The meek shall eat and be satisfied; they shall praise the Lord that seek Him. May your hearts be quickened now and forever!  All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord, and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before Thee.  Psalm 22:26-27

I never cease to marvel how He meets me every morning, answering the very questions that I am unable to form with words: Lord, all my desire is before You. Today He spoke through the famous dishwashing brother from the 1600s.   He whispers, "Follow me,” and I respond like Lucy, who went first, biting her lip and trying not to say all the things she thought of saying. But she forgot them when she fixed her eyes on Aslan.

Brother Lawrence: I ask His forgiveness, I abandon myself in His hands, that He may do what He pleases with me. I found myself changed all at once; and my soul, which till that time was in trouble, felt a profound inward peace, as if she were in her centre and place of rest. And I make it my business only to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I keep myself by a simple attention, and a general fond regard to GOD, which I may call an actual presence of GOD; or, to speak better, an habitual, silent, and secret conversation of the soul with GOD, which often causes in me joys and raptures inwardly, and sometimes also outwardly, so great that I am forced to use means to moderate them, and prevent their appearance to others.

This King, full of mercy and goodness, very far from chastising me, embraces me with love, makes me eat at His table, serves me with His own hands, gives me the key of His treasures; He converses and delights Himself with me incessantly, in a thousand and a thousand ways, and treats me in all respects as His favourite. It is thus I consider myself from time to time in His holy presence.

Sometimes I consider myself there, as a stone before a carver, whereof he is to make a statue: presenting myself thus before GOD, I desire Him to make His perfect image in my soul, and render me entirely like Himself.

At other times, when I apply myself to prayer, I feel all my spirit and all my soul lift itself up without any care or effort of mine; and it continues as it were suspended and firmly fixed in GOD, as in its centre and place of rest.

I know that some charge this state with inactivity, delusion, and self-love: I confess that it is a holy inactivity, and would be a happy self-love, if the soul in that state were capable of it; because in effect, while she is in this repose, she cannot be disturbed by such acts as she was formerly accustomed to, and which were then her support, but would now rather hinder than assist her.

Yet I cannot bear that this should be called delusion; because the soul which thus enjoys GOD desires herein nothing but Him. If this be delusion in me, it belongs to GOD to remedy it. Let Him do what He pleases with me: I desire only Him, and to be wholly devoted to Him.

May it be so.

He brought me to His banqueting table, His banner over me is love. 

a sunbreak in the clouds

For the king trusteth in the LORD, and through the mercy of the Most High he shall not be moved.  Psalm 21:7

In this psalm, David the king celebrates who he is and how he is, but with the understanding that it all is because of the LORD, Most High.  “Joy” is an action verb, the king shall joy in Thy strength, O LORD. 

I have a friend who holds my position in the Northwest and she is simply an inspiration to me as she faces the enemies of her gladness: an unemployed husband riding the emotional waves of job application after job application, chronic back pain and a crazy workload, with peace and with the action verb of joy.

It is sunny and GORGEOUS here in the NW.  Grateful for God’s blessings: my job… sunshine… great colleagues… family… shelter… clothing… and food.  God is GOOD!

And even if the circumstances of life do sway and uplift, with the force and heartbreak of a Japanese tsunami, my heart shall not be moved, because of His great mercy.

And really, I have no tsunamis.  Just the ins and outs of a regular day, hummed through with yet another tuneless tune from my childhood: The joy of the LORD is my strength which rolls right intoHe gives me living water and I thirst no more and ends with a  Ah,  Ha Ha - Ha Ha - Ha Ha ah.

May I joy all day long.  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

As I hold the prayer list in my heart

May He grant thee according to thine own heart.  Psalm 20:4

As I meditate on this blessing, I realize how very little I consider what is in mine own heart.  What do I yearn for or plan for the future? My thoughts don’t go very far out.  It could be the mundane practicality of no one knows what tomorrow will bring, or the more-than-slightly bruised hopes that have been dashed and jumped upon in the past. Why bother looking up from the to do lists to daydream a bit?  

But looking beyond those tidy scratched out bits of paper that then sift over to the brown plastic bin next to the dining room table is what gives beauty and joy and all that is good for tomorrow.  And most likely what binds me to the lists is pride, the idea of self-sufficiency and tightly gripped control, and fear, will God prove trustworthy?  

Nicole makes me nervous.  She strides into the room, her arms bursting with Salvation Army orange tag treasures and her head bursting with visions just needing a little bit of spray paint and a lot of glitter and it will be beautiful and trendy and maybe we could all get together and drink egg nog and build a huge fire and blast dance music.  Which is not exactly me tapping away at with free shipping.  And maybe her sleeping patterns are not exactly regular and maybe sometimes she gets stuck by the side of road in some off-the-GPS road in Texas.  But maybe, just maybe, it will give beauty and joy and all that is good for tomorrow.

And I am quite sure that old Bruce Olsen made a few people nervous as he barely packed off to Colombia.  Or Albert Schweitzer as he headed east through the purple slashed horizon.  Or Gladys May Aylward as she took the one coin from her pocket and purchased a one way passage to Yuncheng.
...This sphere of earthly soil 
Astounding plans e'en now are brewing: 
Still gives us room for lofty doing. 
I feel new strength for bolder toil... 
The Deed is everything, the Glory naught.

And today’s Psalm is full of David demands.  
May the name of the God of Jacob set you up on high,
Support, refresh, and strengthen you
May He grant you according to your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans,
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions,
He will answer him from His holy heaven.
We are risen and stand upright;
O Lord, give victory; let the King answer us when we call.

Today I am praying birthday blessings over a couple young men, and I know darn-tooting that I am not praying for a safe and quiet hobbit hole for them.  Rather the generational prayer lifted up by my kneeling-by-the-bed parents of May they love God and may they have interesting lives seems pretty good.  And the David Demands. 

It looks like that I need to pay attention and listen as well.  What is mine own heart? And may He grant me accordingly.  

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”  C. S. Lewis

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

My arms can bend a bow of bronze

Thou hast also given me the shield of Thy salvation: and Thy right hand hath holden me up, and Thy gentleness hath made me great.  Psalm 18:35

You protect me with salvation-armor; You hold me up with a firm hand, caress me with Your gentle ways. Psalm 18:35

This is one of those fireball psalms with lots of consuming fire and shaking mountains and blasting breath of nostrils.  The LORD God stepping into the midst of our overwhelming situations and putting things straight, in a fairly Rambo-like manner.  Not that I have ever seen Rambo, but how I imagine it.  

And in the midst of all these great bolts of lightening and blazing burning coals, He reached down from on high and took hold of me; He drew me out of deep waters.

And all of the translations grapple with the concept of an Almighty sweepingly powerful God reaching down in humility and grace to rescue me.  And what a marvel that is indeed.  

You, Lord, keep my lamp burning.

Really not wanting to clump with the fools

Hold up my goings in Thy paths, that my footsteps slip not. I have called upon Thee, for Thou wilt hear me, O God.  Psalm 17:5-6 

There are bunches of things that I do not know– particularly things like five-year or ten-year plans.  I am struggling to wrap my head around the next month of calendar events, unable to imagine how it will unfold.  However is one thing that I can say with simple confidence– one conversation with myself that I have walked out all the way to the end: with my whole heart I can say, Hold up my goings in Thy paths.  I have reached the point of no return.  I have absolutely no interest in any other path.  

As Pastor Chris rolled into the Christmas season with yet another rendition of Matthew, I was struck by foolish Herod. Here was this classic wheeler-dealer (does that term come from used car salesmen?) who darn well believed in the ancient (re: 750 year-old prophecy) Micah words enough that he was willing to send in soldiers to murder his future tax base, but how in the heck did he think he was going outsmart the One who held both history and hearts of man in the palm of His hand?  And those foolish high priests and teachers of the law also whipped out the correct jot and tittle but had zero inclination or curiosity to go check out Bethlehem.  Here was a pack of fools who knew what was True in their heads, but their hearts said that there was no God.  

My head is way too full of eyewitness accounts of God answering through the mist of my calls.  Really only one breakthrough the material laws that bind us into unbelief would be proof of the other worldly, but my path is littered with the revealed hand of the Almighty–voices speaking out of corn fields, vision rolling out on the wall, cars running on empty through the night, multiplying peanut butter sandwiches, smashed bones wrapping themselves up in healthy flesh, yep my head gets it.  

And my heart does too.  I I can join in with David, Thou hast proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; thou hast tried me, and shalt find nothing. Perhaps the flesh is weak. It will waver and mutter. And the turns are many and unexpected.   But with that said and very done, I will step out on the path. Really and truly As the hart panteth and the parched thirsty land my heart yearns for the water brooks. And like that ol’ desert, I perk right up straight and tall and with a little bounce in my step after slaking my thirst.  

 And my footsteps slip not.  For Thou wilt hear me.  

Saturday, December 1, 2012

And the lemons have come back after the hard freeze

The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.  Psalm 16:6 

One of the pleasant lines that have fallen unto me is the little early morning vuelta across the street.  Who could have possibly imagined twenty some odd years ago when we landed in Tucson Arizona with an orange van with shag carpeting and five duct-taped together suitcases, this beautiful home right across from meandering trails through the sunlit creosote and prickly pear and mesquite.  Besides Nicole’s dream about moving next door to Mrs. Tiggly Winkle’s I mean.  And the fading round moon is up high and the swelling sun is down low, casting sharp shadows on the sweeping Catalinas, which happen to be my “one place that may seem small on the surface but has a profound effect on you.”

And that backyard which was hard dirt and scrabbly oleander bushes with squawking geese nibbling at a few brave weeds for so long.  No longer.  The Friday night group nestled under the now-covered-with-twisty-vines-Marco-arch next to the blazing fire nursed by freshly split logs.  Freshly split logs that came from that very house so many years ago that we cleaned up after one of Jean Doerge’s diabetic patients who lived with a billy goat and four huge dogs and Alan shoveled four fifty-five gallon drums of trash and used needles from the kitchen floor and I tried to paint over the living room walls covered in scrawled poetry and behind every single picture frame packed exact solid squares of hiding cockroaches.  

And we gathered around autumn squash soup and pear cobbler with real whipped cream and of course there were a few loaves of bread to rip up and dip in olive oil and answered wonderful Sophie-questions and Joella is a hermit crab scuttling from slightly too big beautiful shells to slightly too big shell and growing into them and is all dressed up in a professional suit as a bone-fide accountant, except now she is not dressing up, this is real grown-up now and Jackson is a Peregrine hawk.  And Sophie read a bit on community and listening, and Alan talked about community at Wakefield as they face closure and gardens drying up and empty soccer fields and Jackson has a community of men who sit up late at night and talk through big questions.  And what is the efficacy of prayer and how does prayer affect others and how does it affect the person praying?  And maybe we don’t exactly understand it all, but the LORD God of the Universe does understand and He has commanded us to prayer.  And there was certainly something powerful in Jackson’s blessing for the women gathered and in the quiet rest after Alan’s close.  And the warmth and the candles and the fire and the lights swaying in the breeze overhead and the lines have fallen in pleasant places.  

But fallen is sort of a passive word.  And there is nothing passive about life and redemption and digging up caliche and teaching Spanish to middle school students and studying late at night with a little too much coffee and wondering what is going to happen and Alan and Jackson are out there chopping wood even though he has final exams and to meet with the wedding cake lady and sometimes and actually a lot of the time I wrestle long nights learning what Not my will but Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven really looks like.  

And as Nicole and I arrived a little bit late to the airport and packed Jack and MaryAnne’s multiple and very heavy book-packed bags from Colombia into the trunk and as I bent down and picked up glass shards and Wendy’s hamburger foil and crumpled real estate flyers from along Country Club on my way home because I am my father’s daughter, I am very aware indeed of my goodly heritage.  And yes there is much pain and brokenness and sin at so many levels.  But He is in the business of redeeming His creation and especially His beloved image-bearers and He does it well and good.  And may I too be about my Father’s business.