Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Turning this mud into a beautiful container of His goodness.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
    all those who practice it have a good understanding. Psalm 111:10

The oracle of Balaam the son of Beor,
    the oracle of the man whose eye is opened,
the oracle of him who hears the words of God,
    who sees the vision of the Almighty,
    falling down with his eyes uncovered.  -Number 24:2-5

Now Peter and those who were with him were heavy with sleep, but when they became fully awake they saw His glory. Luke 9:32

Blindness is often used as a metaphor in the Bible. Physical blindness is compared to spiritual blindness. And the interesting thing is that this blindness is something of a universal condition. On one end, the Pharisees, who some might consider the bad guys, are blind to the work of the Spirit. And on the other hand, the disciples, who some might consider the good guys, are also blind to the truths that Jesus is trying to teach. In short, we all miss the boat. We all are blind. I think in the gospels Jesus heals so many blind people because this is THE human condition. And that’s why He came- to proclaim freedom to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set loose those who are oppressed. This is why He came. –Heather Voelkel

Open the eyes of my heart Lord
To see You high and lifted up
Shining in the light of Your glory
Pour out Your power and love
We cry
Holy holy holy

The Monday Night ladies were reminded that Jesus started off His ministry with “Repent.”

That is the very beginning, the first step of why He came.

And when I went to Google to find the best etymology of “repent,” I found a meditation from last year. And I had always heard that repent had a lot to do with re-seeing, and a lot to do with turning back and heading in the right direction, but all the dictionaries I found had it coming from the Latin paenitere, or repo, to crawl. And of course, translating is always a problem, because there are a jillion Hebrew and Greek words translated to mean the same thing, but they are all shades of the same Big Idea: open eyes.

And that is my prayer for today, open eyes.

And last year I prayed: And today, I prayed to remain quiet, simply present.  Mindful of His great mercy. That the rays of His love enter my heart, pierce the fog of mistrust and give me the deep knowledge of His first-loved-me so that I would walk in His love, deliberate step by deliberate step.

And a few weeks ago I ran into a bunch of Imago Dei teachers and kids lined up on the sidewalk, and after all the hugging, someone told me that the kid from last year who practically lived in the hallway desk all by himself is a like a different kid, that he is doing great. And man, did it make me happy, because last year while I was pouring a lot of His mercy all over him, like oil dripping down, I fell in love with that kid and his brown eyes looking at me. Yep. 

And Ann Voskamp asked last night, “If repentance isn’t a daily part of your life, how is grace a daily part of your life? Repentance is what keeps turning you around, around, sanding you down, re-forming you, remaking you–making you into real.”

Mindful of His great mercy. 

Around and around on his wheel. 

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

And on Sunday, Heather reminded us all that He makes beautiful things out of dust.

Among the gods there is none like You, O Lord;
Nor are there any works like Your works.
All nations whom You have made
Shall come and worship before You, O Lord,
And shall glorify Your name.
For You are great, and do wondrous things;
You alone are God.  Psalm 86:8-10

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience. Luke 8:15

One other thing stirs me when I look back at my youthful days, viz the fact that so many people gave me something or were something to me without knowing it. Much that I should otherwise not have felt so clearly or done so effectively was felt or one as it was, because I stand, as it were, under the sway of these people. Hence I always think that we all live, spiritually, but what others have given us in the significant hours of our life. These significant hours do not announce themselves as coming, but arrive unexpectedly. Nor do they make a great show of themselves; they pass almost unperceived. Often, indeed, their significance comes home to us first as we look back, just as the beauty of a piece of music or of a landscape often strikes us first in our recollection of it. –Albert Schweitzer

Today we pray for the courage to dig ourselves deep, to hold fast, so that Your word my take root in us and bring forth fruit.

The ends of many seasons are piled pell-mell higher and higher, overflowing cardboard box after heaped up cardboard box. And stacks of furs and leathers and paints and feathers are neatly arranged on three of those Calvary Missionary Press tables up against the wall as Nicole digs deep into crafting twenty-five, more or less, viking-native-apocalyptic-greekgods sorts of costumes.  And last night, Heather and Dustin received word that the sale of their house went through which is a good thing because they are flying out of LA for Barcelona on June 4 but there are a few boxes between then and now and a lot of saying gut-wrenching goodbyes. And the letter in the morning from a lawyer underscoring my need to move some other boxes and the word NOW was typed in all caps. And sixteen of us gathered in Momma’s new place for its first family dinner amid even more cardboard boxes and stacks of unhung pictures although she and Jenny and Alene and Scott have done a masterful job of creating home and beauty in pretty short order.

My little plastic IN boxes are crammed stuffed with not only multi-genre research papers and final drafts of business formatted letters to a politician of their choice and design proposals for constructing a theoretical guest house on a secluded hill hidden in Saguaro National Forest east and journals detailing twenty-one days of reducing energy consumption, but there are textbooks to count, laptops to scrape clean, and btw I just found out that I am responsible for putting together the entire middle school section of the yearbook before I leave for graduation.

Breathe in.
Breathe out.

Another thing on my plate is creating an “award” for each of my students to be read aloud at graduation in a week. So my thoughts ramble about, mulling over specific and detailed affirmation points in the midst of Please sit down in your chair and Please spit out your gum into the trashcan and Please remember to retake your genetics quiz. Oh yeah, and I have a goodbye speech for graduation to at least think about. Gotta do that too.

And today after the flag-raising ceremony and shouting Happy Birthday to this week’s celebrants, I am packing eighth grade onto a city bus and heading off for a (long) day of bumper boats and laser-tag. Except for that rather long list of kiddos who are going to spend today in the library with the rather long lists I generated of missing work.
And especially now I am so very aware of Schweitzer’s observed truth. You just never know. Yesterday there was a little orange note in my staff mailbox to Dear Mrs. Voelkel you will never know the impact you have had on my life slid between the permission note forms and a reminder that the server is going to be down for a few hours.

And yesterday afternoon there was a request that pulled me away from my google.classroom docs. I needed to make a phone call in Spanish to a high schooler’s mother about an essay she wrote in class that day, an essay about wanting to sneak into her dad’s closet and use his handgun to splatter all of her problems to bits. And the older sister was an addict that got thrown out of the house and lived on the streets until she got tossed into jail. And this youngest of four sisters, this babecita, is all that the parents have left. And in all their thirty-four years of marriage they never fought in front of the kids but always went into another room. It was a long phone call.

This morning I woke up way early. Way too early. I thought about Jesus waking up to pray while it was still dark.  I wondered if His prayers went upward, sparks rising up towards the starry sky marveling in worship or outward, casting a thoughtful eye into the oh-so-many-conversations of the day, for He cares for us. Or inward. Settling into Presence.

Holy Spirit, You are welcome here
Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere
Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for
To be overcome by Your presence LORD

Breathe in.
Breathe out.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

See but through a glass darkly.

A candle is lit
May my whole being be bright
With Your glory now.

O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet You
As the day rises to meet the sun.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever, Amen.

You might say, that sounds nice Heather- but what about the verse we just read together from John that the bad thing happens so that the glory of God can be displayed? Hmmmm???? What about that??? I am bringing this up because it was also my question, to myself.

After some reflection, I think it came down to the fact that I, at times, have a distorted definition of glory. I sometimes feel like the godly thing to pray, “Dear God, thanks for this awful thing that happened to me so that you, God, can bask in some sort of wonderful glory that makes you look good but is horrible for me and means that I am in extraordinary pain. Thanks. Amen.” This is not the definition of glory and I don’t think that Jesus wants us to adopt that type of definition.

True glory is something that fills up and blesses everyone. With true glory, everyone feels more loved and more light and more seen. There is a verse in the Old Testament that says the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord like water fills the sea. There is no difference between water and the sea- the sea is water. The world will be filled with a heavenly good where everything is actually GOOD. Everything will be shot through with lightness and laughter and hope. When we run into the heavenly good we have a deep sense of joy.

And when Jesus says glory- He is talking about THIS type of glory- the heavenly good that is actually good for everyone. There is a type of heavenly good that can come out of pain if we let Jesus get involved because otherwise, it’s just plain old pain. And it should not be called anything otherwise. –Heather Voelkel

Restore us, O God of hosts: show the light of Your countenance, and we shall be saved. Psalm 80:7

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance! And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead itself through contemplation. –Clare of Assisi

There was no holding back at the cross. The entirety of the Godhead committed itself to that crux of unconditional love.

And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” –Luke 7:40

Speak, LORD, for Your servant is listening.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow.

Through the branches glance
The moon’s pale round glow of peace
Let my soul rise up

I have been walking through Common Prayer these mornings.

Every morning begins with a prayer to let my soul rise up
To greet Him as the sun rises
Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit
As it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever.

And  there is always a song.
Today was “The Servant Song”, and as always, YouTube provides a plethora of options. There are the usual sunsets and ocean vistas lyric powerpoints. And one with clips from Sister Moon and Brother Sun.
Will you let me be your servant
Let me be as Christ to you
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant too

But there was also one with clips from The Lord of the Rings.
Last night was the last night for the Coverdale family at 6902 E Fourth Street. Some of the stuff of homes has already been hauled across town to the waiting two-bedroom condo. And there are boxes of dishes wrapped in newspaper and the to donate piles are growing. And of course, because this is the Coverdale home, stacks and stacks of books are being sorted and ever-so-many-half-empty-photo-albums. 
We are pilgrims on the journey
We are brothers on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load

The heat of day had dissipated and the night air was fresh under a just-waning moon. We all bounced up and down in the bouncy black patio chairs by the double-bowl fountain. And the stories flowed a bit, of the climbing rope Scott got for his thirteenth birthday and how he and Tom would sneak over to the neighborhood school to rappel off the roof. And how on the back of the silverware drawer of the cupboard that Grandpa Eckberg made for mom and dad it is written that the wood came from the shutter of their 1815 house. There was a scary moment when Jenny realized that it was NOT dad creaking around in the backyard because he and mom were standing together at the end of the hallway so it must be a burglar. And dad chased him out through the squeaky gate.

I will hold the Christ light for you
In the night time of your fear
I will hold my hand out to you
Speak the peace you long to hear.
But mostly, it was a gentle night of Coverdaleness. The Mexican salad in Alene’s carved wooden  bowl. Homemade rolls covered with sesame seeds. Green beans and almonds. Grilled Portobello mushrooms and mozzarella cheese and basil. Zach chatting about his new job at University Medical Center’s intensive care unit. Jenny giving me her great idea of writing a haiku of gratefulness each morning. Scott spending the day with Uncle Jim helping him with his money management. Mom actually sitting at the end of the table, drinking iced tea, and not in the kitchen sticking dishes into the washer.
I will weep when you are weeping
When you laugh, I’ll laugh with you
I will share your joy and sorrow
Till we’ve seen this journey through.
One of the Coverdale things is that we spent a lot of time traveling together, mostly in a blue Chrysler station wagon back and forth and around these united states playing the license plate game and spelling out GHOST, but also in an orange VW van through Belgium and Holland and Switzerland and Italy and France and Spain, and we stayed in a lot of pensiones and Motel 6 motels and even more KOA campsites and for a couple of years I read the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy out loud.
And sometimes I am pretty stubborn and quick to make a decision. And when I brought home a used dog with a crazy smile to hang out with my dad, I announced that her name was Samwise Gamgee. Because old Samwise Gamgee pretty much sums up my feelings about my family. Old Samwise who couldn’t carry the unnamed burden, but he sure could carry Mr. Frodo up that last dark cliff of Mt. Doom.
All of the sideways cracks about hitching up your britches and stopping your bellyaching is just part of the Coverdale story. The real story is that my family is really about serving. We all know that my dad’s first words whenever he answered the telephone were, “How can I help you?” Without a shadow of resentment, he was filled with a deep quiet joy at yet another opportunity to be like his Jesus. And it doesn’t really matter where or what, if it was hauling shoes and haircuts to orphans in Tijuana or sitting through endless doctor visits with our Vietnamese boat family or sticking on long strips of labels onto missionary newsletters, this was our true legacy that will not end when we all drive away from the oleander-bushed pink brick house at the end of the cul-de-sac. Not the gold-gilt Mama Gert mirrors or Papa’s sturdy oak chairs, but the lived out look of what it means to be as Christ.
When we sing to God in heaven
We shall find such harmony
Born to all we’ve known together
Of Christ’s love and agony

Thank you daddy. Thank you momma.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

May you be surprised today with His joy

In Your majesty ride out victoriously
    for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness. Psalm 45:4

And He said to him, “Follow me.”  Luke 5 

Joy is the echo of God’s life in us. – Columba of Iona

And so once again, during my morning fixed prayers I stare at my Tuesday prayer for myself, typed out so long ago: May the joy of the LORD be my strength as I fix my eyes on You and Your faithfulness- My Rock and My Redeemer.  That you will specifically guide me as to how you want me to minister to Your hurting and broken world. 

And every week, this prayer takes on new nuances and new shimmers in the light of the present… Ann Voskamp reminded us last night that “the past is a memory sealed right into you, tomorrow is a mystery unknown to you, and today God’s momentary gift to you–which is why it’s called the present.Continuously make Christ present.”

Surprise us with Your joy, O Lord, and let it resound in all that we do. Amen

And I know that His joy is what we can offer the world. Joy is what shines light over the achy breaky thirteen-year-olds with whom I spend my long hours every day. And in only thirteen days I will send them off to the big bad beautiful world, with a few carefully crafted words and a big squishy hug.

Sunday night I snuggled under the breezy night skies to listen to Ryanhood close out the 32nd Annual Tucson Folk Festival in El Presidio Park downtown. And for the first time in public they sang their new song, “Thirteen.”  And my Monday afternoon Writer’s Club kids sing this song in every word they share. Thirteen was the worst thing, was the worst thing being thirteen, When no one can find you, and no one believes you and every conviction is full of contradictions all you can see is who you never want to be…”

And really each of us can be trapped in the age thirteen perspective
I tried to turn the sound up 
I tried to drown it out, but 
Somehow the shouting 
Always found me down the halls 
There’s so much inside
We were hoping to hide
So, I won’t be unkind
I won’t be unkind 
I still go there sometimes 
We still go there sometimes.
And then Cameron followed up this song with his love song from Jesus.
No need to be so confused by
All the fires you have to walk through
‘Cause they’re breaking you
And making you
And building you to be
Soft enough to love the least of these
And even me

And I will always love you
Even when you feel you walk alone
When you walk away from my love for you
I will walk along with you unknown
And I always love you
Even when you feel you walk alone
When you walk away from my love for you
I will walk along with you unknown
Oh, I will walk along with you unknown
‘Til you come home

And so dear Lord, as I step out into the day, You are alongside of me as we walk the path of “Follow Me.” And may I believe deeply. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin urges, Give our Lord the benefit of believing that His hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of felling yourself in suspense and incomplete.
Because joy is the clear marker of one who believes.
The echo of God’s life in us.
'Til we come home.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Backwards planning our way into eternity.

I cry to you, Lord; I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.” Psalm 142:5

It seems we always find some way to avoid the transformation of our pain. We are all tempted to project our problem on someone or something else rather than dealing with it in ourselves. As long as the evil is “over there” and we can keep our focus on changing or expelling someone else (as the contaminating element), then we feel at peace. But this is not the peace of Christ, which “the world cannot give.”
Playing the victim is another way to deal with pain indirectly. You blame someone else, and your pain becomes your personal ticket to power because it gives you a false sense of moral superiority and outrage. You don’t have to grow up, let go, forgive, or surrender—you just have to accuse someone else of being worse than you are. And sadly, that becomes your very fragile identity, which always needs more reinforcement.
All of these patterns perpetuate pain and violence rather than bringing true healing. Jesus took the more difficult path: to know the depths of suffering and sin and yet to forgive reality for being what it is. That is the Third Way, beyond fight and flight, and yet in a subtle sense including both of them. Only the Spirit can teach us the paradox of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the pattern of all growth, change, and transformation. It is equally hard to trust both sides—the dying itself and the promised new state. –Richard Rohr

Lord our God, we seek Your light and pray that You shed Your light upon us so that we live not only on earth but in You, the eternal and living One. May our lives be drawn into eternity, to the praise of Your name, O Father. May we take Your Word to heart so that we can become true men and women, able to bear everything in Your name and to remain in the love You want to give us. Rouse us to become true men and women at the side of Jesus Christ our Savior, who has been patient in all things with all people. Be with us at all times, Lord our God. You are our help and our refuge. Amen.

Well, I know all about the path of pain and violence. I just finished off six weeks of Romeo and Juliet with 37 eighth graders whacking each other with Home Depot paint stirrers spray painted silver with black duct-taped handles.

And while Romeo does pause just once to ask He that hath the steerage of my course to direct his sail, he then turns and follows his lusty gentlemen friends and their fearful date with this night’s revels.

My eighth graders are also studying the role of the President and foreign policy in Civics. Um, there’s a lot of pain and violence in those paths as well. This morning we are hearing reports on Syria, North Korea, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Mexico… the list beats on, even including Australia and France.

So where do we turn for hope? How do we smash through the way of the world?  Where can my kiddos find the paradox of the death and resurrection? The pattern of growth, change and transformation?

I went to Seven Habits of the Highly Effective Teen. Not scripture, but tools to break through the way things have been, to shift from and will be forevermore, tools to dig through the muck and look towards transformation. Tools that shine with His light and truth: I am a responsible person. I take initiative. I choose my actions, attitudes, and moods. I do not blame others. I do the right thing without being asked, even when no one is looking. I plan ahead and set goals. I do things that have meaning and make a difference. I spend my time on things that are most important. I balance courage for getting what I want with consideration for what others want. I listen to other people’s ideas and feeling. I try to see things from their viewpoint. I listen with my ears, my eyes, and my heart.

And we have these last thirteen days together, backwards planning our way into the future with a multi-genre research paper chock full of stories, poems and promises, working through our last energy physics lab evaluating our energy consumption and calculating hundreds of thousands of btu’s and reducing our own energy consumption by shorter showers, raising the thermostat three degrees just as the temperatures are hitting a hundred, or not eating meat three days a week, and reading the headlines with the Constitution clutched in the other hand. And woven throughout all of these powerpoints and handouts and grading rubrics are the conversations that really matter.

These crazy kids. And I get glimpses of my Father’s love for me, His crazy kid, all day long.

Oh Lord, You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living. May I live in You, the eternal and living One. You who are patient in all things with all peoples, may You direct my sail.