Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Reconciliation



Recent events have many of us thinking, pondering, meditating on the state of relations among the diverse individuals who make up our nation. This evening, I'll be attending a meeting at my Atlanta church, Renovation, to discuss just that. Praying toward that end, I've reflected on my early days at Renovation, back in January 2011. I wrote the following after one of my first times there.


 
Continuing our orchestral performance, we haven't heard yet from the Communion section. Yesterday's communion at Renovation Church brought me to my knees, but not at a rail.

The pastor of this unusual church is a Louisiana-bred (read African, Cajun, French, Cherokee) former pro football player and trained lawyer who went to seminary and moved to Atlanta without a job because God told him to plant a church here.

My kind of guy. Eclectic. Not to mention passionate.

Communion there is more in the line of the liturgical churches where the communicants go to receive the sacraments, rather than passing them to one another in the pews. (Or opening up a pre-packaged wafer and grape juice from a bucket. Gag.) At Renovation, the pastors (or celebrants or I don't know what they call them here yet) stand around the perimeter of the room, each holding a tray with a cup and a loaf. We tear the bread ourselves (very visceral, very meaningful) and dip it into the cup and then partake. It grabbed my heart the first time. His body broken for me (by me), His blood shed for the remission of my sin (and I stain the body with His blood). Almost a swoon, but not quite.

Yesterday we sat on the second row, so instead of going to an assistant on the side, we were to go forward to receive communion from Leonce, the pastor mentioned above. As he began the celebration, I knew something special was coming. I could not take my eyes away, first from his face, then from his hands. Huge, powerful, beautiful, smooth, black hands, dwarfing the loaf he held. I wondered about the color of Jesus' strong hands, holding the loaf that night in the upper room, preparing to allow Himself to be broken. I wondered if His hands were large or small, rough or smooth. I knew they were beautiful.

And the next section of the orchestra joined in. I read last summer, for the first time, Uncle Tom's Cabin. The character of Tom so embodied the love of Christ, so inspired me anew to faithful following. The story in all its pain and ugliness and darkness still had light throughout because of Tom's unwavering faith in Christ Who ultimately must triumph. And the music of that story, and of that terrible period of our nation's history, joined the song of communion.

So suddenly Leonce was not just a man, any more than I am just a woman. We were both standing in the stream of history, of His story (as the Christian curriculum providers like to say), and we were both fully aware of all that has gone before and of where God wants to take us. This is a church founded specifically for the purpose of reconciliation, of renewal and renovation in the relations between and among all races in the city. We lost power during the last service and found out yesterday that it was because a man had stolen a car in an adjoining county, and running from police he had run into a phone pole and knocked out power for a several-block area. "Welcome to church in the city," Leonce said with a smile. "This is why we're here."

I braced myself to walk down the steps to the Table, grateful for a rail to hold along the way. I concentrated on not letting my tears fall before the Meal. I determined to look in Leonce's face, into his eyes, after receiving the sacraments. And so I did.

I made it back to my seat as my vision blurred, and I fell to my knees in front of the folding chair, letting the tears flow freely as I thanked the Almighty Who preserved a people who were beaten and torn and degraded and debased, and in His mercy also preserved those who brought down the whips and forged the chains that kept them there. It meant the world to me, as I told Leonce at lunch, to be able to bow and receive communion from this brother, this man whose history is so very different from mine, who is now willing to give what was withheld from his people for so long, even at the cost of receiving more of the same treatment.

Humility. Meekness. Power under control. In Christ's name and for His sake. Amen.



 This post is included in my forthcoming book, From Fortress to Freedom, due out December 2014. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Open the Gates


In the months since January 2011, when God released me from a self-imposed fortress of rules and restrictions, I have come to understand more of the truth which makes us free, as promised by Christ when He walked among us. I have run and danced and imagined myself flying; I have played and rejoiced and celebrated in myriad ways. I have never lost the awareness, though, that not everyone is living free.
 
Our bondage is sometimes personal, but there are cultural bonds as well, walls built of old hurts as well as new ideas, education as well as ignorance, good intentions as well as wrong motivations. They combine to construct nearly invisible fortresses that protect us from the unknown or misunderstood. Those fortresses also become prisons that keep us from being free to become what we are created to be: joyful creatures at peace with God and one another. 

The walls of some of those fortresses have become quite visible in recent days, in the harsh lights of events in Ferguson, MO, and Tompkinsville, Staten Island, NY, among others. Within our fortresses, it is impossible to find lasting meaning and peace in these situations, but it is exactly these kinds of circumstances that make us want to retreat to safety. I don't believe retreat is the best course, though. I think it's long past time to lay down arms (defensive and offensive), open the gates, and advance onto the field of battle not as warriors, but as peacemakers. To end the conflict, we all need to do the grueling work of finding, acknowledging, and releasing our own biases and fears.

My friend Judy Wu Dominick writes: "We need to come to terms with the truth that anti-any-kind-of-person bias is ultimately an act of violence against the image of God in them." Her essay is a long but very worthy read. If you are troubled by any part of the recent events in Ferguson, MO, I join Judy in her challenge that you "prayerfully ask the Lord to help you divest yourself of your assumptions and pursue understanding through earnest questions, with the eyes of a child who is learning something for the first time."

Be blessed.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

A Ramble on the Beach

I went once to Wrightsville Beach. Our friends - we all - had left Goldsboro and drifted far, liberated leaves on an autumn wind, our colors scattered to brighten other lawns. We collected ourselves at their new home in Wilmington to celebrate the connections, and they took us out to the seaside, out to the edge of forever. God's visible power had come blowing through, last hurricane season I guess, and humans and machines had "re-built" His beach. It was a horrid, coarse sand full of seashell shards that scraped shoes and scrubbed bare feet, but it got worse. The water was deceptively soothing in color, a pale aqua-blue, but the yellow flags warned we must take care. I'd not seen such waves before on the gentle Mediterranean and South Carolina beaches I'd visited. This was a damaged coast, and it had lost the gradually sloped shelf that should have sent whispering swells smoothly forward to caress silky white sands. The waves tossed angry white manes a few short feet from shore, then galloped in to pound their heads against the wall of ground up, spit out, dumped in skeletons that served as a beach that year. There was no bed for them to lie in to rest themselves before the long run back to sea; nor was there any place for human feet to stand before climbing onto the backs of the waves. A three-foot sheer drop marked the edge of land, and the bottom fell steeply away from there. To swim was like leaping over a racetrack fence in the second turn onto the backs of horses about to enter the home stretch. These were not patient, easy, playful horses. They were busy and in a great hurry, of course, and we bathers were troublesome distractions. Thus were we trampled and tossed and ultimately thrown back against that same wall we'd descended for the sake of this pleasure. Shell bits sanded the skin off our bare places, and the grit interposed itself in the tight spots between suit and flesh. Gasping for breath and grappling for handholds, we quickly reached the limits of our desire to swim on that particular day, at that particular beach.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Faith in What?


Thinking about faith, and what it is, and why it matters. The world as we perceive would not exist if not for faith. We cannot live in community without faith. I'm not sure we can live at all without it. We have to have faith in certain basic things, don't we? I pondered a bit; what do you think?



we all have faith in something. what do you believe?

do you believe that if you follow the traffic laws
everyone else will, too? anyone else?

do you believe that the price of a loaf of bread
will stay the same from the bakery shelf to the checkout line? in this country?

do you believe that mothers and fathers
never want to hurt their children? maybe not often?

do you believe that wars are fought
for high and noble reasons? or reasonable reasons?

do you believe that your friends
will always have your back? if they're able?

do you believe that if you're careful with your money
you'll never do without? much?

do you believe that if you work smart and study hard and live clean
you'll get your dream job? or at least a job?

do you believe that if you treat people right
they'll appreciate you? respect you?

I don't.
I don't believe any of those things.
The more I see, the more I learn, the less I believe. The less I trust in people or things or patterns or systems, or even experience.

But I believe God is real, and loving, and active.
For me, that faith
is enough.

It is enough, because even if no one else follows traffic laws, and I lose property or health or life as a result, my faith says that God is still real, and loving, and active. That means He's still in control, since He's God; and He's taking care of all of us, including me, since He's loving; and things will work out for the best, since He's active.

It is enough, because even runaway inflation can't stop God's work, and we ought to be relying on Him for provision, anyway, not a bakery or an economy or a government. He is the Bread of Life, and the price for us to have that bread has already been paid, and we can therefore be full citizens and participants in the perfect Kingdom of God.

Mothers and fathers aren't perfect, and neither are children. War is hell. Friends fail us. Even when we do all the right things, life is difficult. That's to remind us that we aren't supposed to be able to live by our standards of what's good or pleasing or perfect.

Instead, we can interpret the disappointments as challenges to switch around our faith. Instead of believing in people or policies or processes that seem to make the world go around, we can follow the advice in Romans 12:2: "Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will" (NIV).

We can choose to believe that when things are out of our control, they're still in His control, so we don't have to get too bent out of shape about things like traffic and inflation and anger and war and on and on. We can choose to accept the task of finding what is good and pleasing and perfect in what He is allowing to happen in our lives.

Then,
faith in that
is enough.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Secret Garden

video




There is a secret garden far away with clear water flowing over smooth stones into a small pond. Today I saw a moment of video from the garden, because the gardener shared it online. I’d seen still images of the place before, but I hadn’t listened to it. Today I heard water singing and dancing over stones, and I breathed deeply and enjoyed the moment of peace. Then, right in the middle of my moment, I heard the evidence that not everyone has a peaceful place to be: I heard sirens wailing in the near distance.

This garden, you see, is not in the remote countryside, where only the gardener, God, and His insentient creation can hear the music of the water. It is not in an ancient holy site blessed by centuries of spiritual reflection. It is not on the grounds of a church or a monastery or an abbey. The garden is in a city full of His beloved, souls who are made in His image, fallen from grace and struggling along to somewhere, mostly unaware that there's even a better somewhere to be. It is a place of stillness in the middle of commotion.

I’m full of puzzles, and here was one for today: I smiled when I heard the sirens. It made me smile to know of the gardener being there, actively, intentionally inhabiting a peaceful place. The smile broadened as I realized we are called to be a peaceful place, and that we get to be that no matter where we are, even in a busy, hurting, noisy, unsettling place.

I believe we all can find such peace if we focus properly. “Be still and know that I am God,” He said in Psalm 46:10. That wasn't a sometimes-when-you-feel-like-it good idea way back when. That's a lifestyle choice right now. In the middle of a city, even in that very emergency vehicle we heard, we are able to pay attention, to choose to believe that God is, that He is good, that all things have a purpose, that this moment is all we have so we may as well love in it, rejoice in it, bless in it. When we do that, we’re all secret gardeners. We create space to enjoy peace ourselves, but we are actively, intentionally involved in being a peaceful place, sharing ourselves (and Himself) with all who are willing to sit and abide and receive.

I think even God Himself smiles at secret gardens like that.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Why I Love to Teach, or The Joy of "x"


“Why?” is a perfectly reasonable question. Fortunately, I ask it often, so when one of my students inevitably wonders, I generally have a good answer ready. Any subject can inspire such a query, but solving for the unknown ("x") is almost  guaranteed to have the effect eventually.

Today my beginning algebra student asks, "What do we use this for?"

He says it rapidly, words running together with a zzzzz sound, like a bubbling consonant soup spilling out onto a hot stove. His eyes dart from notebook to textbook to table and almost to me as he freezes his pencil hand, but his feet are still fidgeting, running under the table, off on adventures he can't quite follow until he figures this out.

The expression under his pencil is 15y + 9x - 6x - 1y.

I tell him a story about apple picking, yellow and red apples, losing some, figuring out how many of each we still have.

He nods, not wanting to disagree, but still not quite there. He probably figures he’s not likely to pick yellow or red apples, so maybe I didn’t understand his question. "They said in another class yesterday, when we were talking, that after Algebra 2 the math isn't for any reason."

I'd been helping in that class, it turns out; I’d heard that. "Ah, well! About halfway through Algebra 2, you'll get to a kind of math that works with ideas and imaginary things. You can't pick up apples or boxes to explain it."

"OK."

"But people who need to make imaginary things real, those people use that kind of math. Like an architect who can imagine a cool-looking building. He has to figure out if he can actually build it. Will it fall down? How can he support it? Will the wind twist it too much? How many people can move around in it?

"So that other math helps people like that, people who imagine things. It helps them make them real."

Now he's with me. "I can imagine a LOT of things."

"Well, then you might just like Algebra 2!"

The hand unfreezes and pencil hits paper. The eyes stop searching and focus first on the textbook, then on the notebook as he starts copying down the next problem. "Yeah, so if I can just figure out the formulas and just do it, I can kinda fly with it."

Or something like that. It was really fast, and kinda buzzy. But he was smiling!

I love this stuff.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Stepping Forward

"I've been to a lot of airports. But I haven't flown much."

I wrote that nearly four years ago. It's about to be published in my book, From Fortress to Freedom, in a chapter called "Staying Behind." I re-read it today while proofreading the manuscript for the book. In the past two days, I've dropped off my son at an airport and bid farewell to a dear friend headed to another airport. And I still haven't flown much. I realized, though, that I don't feel like I'm staying behind any more.

I want to make some notes now, pile up some stones here on this side of the river, to remind me I've come this far. It took nearly fifty years for God to convince me of the truth that He loves me just as I am, and it's taking nearly thirty (so far) for me to believe that my husband loves me unconditionally as well. Out of fear of rejection, I've stayed behind and hidden behind and deliberately fallen behind for all these years. Now I'm seeing that I don't have to have that fear or that behavior. So at last, I am beginning to take shaky first steps into speaking my mind, asking for help, taking a stand, and charting my course. I'm learning to express who I am. What evidences can I stack up here to celebrate?

- I went on a beach trip with women friends and no family members for the first time in my life.
- I wrote and published The Mom's Guide to Surviving West Point with my friend Lisa Browne Joiner.
- I took three different dance/exercise classes; dancing with strangers: pretty radical.
- I participated in a practical drama class - not drama as history, not stagecraft - actually learning how to act.
- I got over my fear of trying new foods so now a menu looks like an adventure rather than a mine field for me.
- I auditioned publicly for a vocal solo (and got it); I am finding my own singing voice rather than copying others'.
- I took charge of managing my mother-in-law's suddenly complex medical care in her last days.
- I assisted in directing several dramatic performances.
- I substituted as a classroom teacher for the first time, with no advance notice, and I was able to manage the students as well as get some productive activity completed.
- I met several new friends and am now cultivating new relationships.
- I weathered what might be called a mid-life crisis, I guess, that severely challenged my marriage, and together with my husband I am daily learning to have a better marriage.
- I submitted two of my own books to a publisher and one has been accepted!

That's twelve first-times, twelve stones of testimony, as many as the leaders of Israel placed to remind them of crossing the Jordan. It marked their entrance into the Promised Land, and I feel as if I've landed in a promised place, too.

I guess maybe I've flown a bit after all!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

From Fortress to Freedom


In January 2011, God used a simple compliment to change my life. I had long struggled to be good in the eyes of God and man. In my immature, perfectionist way, I had developed strict rules and high standards designed to protect me from harm.  I effectively built a fortress around myself, a safe but increasingly restrictive haven. When God knew my heart was ready, He turned a friend’s words into a powerful tool to demolish my fortress and show me that His plan for me involved more freedom than I had ever imagined.
            The freedom astonished me. I had not realized how much I had been controlled by fear, guilt and shame in what I thought had been a life of faith. The joy of release left me almost speechless with wonder, but the Lord poured words into and through me to help me understand, resulting in healing for me and insight for others who read the material. I wrote almost every morning for many weeks, and the first forty of these writings are collected in From Fortress to Freedom.
            Now, in September 2014, I've just signed a contract with Light Messages to publish From Fortress to Freedom. I am sure there are many people who will be blessed by the messages it holds. Please check in here or on my Facebook page as I post progress reports!        

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Washing Sheets

On this, the morning my second son left for his senior year of college, I am three days past his Grandma Jane's funeral. We were all together, celebrating the joy of a life well-lived. Chins up, smiling, hugging, comforting. Being comforted, too, by our memories and her friends. On this morning, saying farewell again, when my heart closed itself against useless tears again, I needed to read, to find words to take me away from the place where I wanted not to cry.

I read about a pilgrimage. A friend is going to Ireland soon. Looking at richly colored photos, I began not only to see the landscapes, but to know my friend walking there, to pray for the Spirit to lead.

The feelings, this morning, in the reading and the praying, the grieving and the trusting, reminded me of Lockerbie. I'd read a play a few years back, "The Women of Lockerbie." Forgetful, I couldn't remember the name at first. Was it indeed in Ireland? No, I thought, but what was the name? It came to me at last, and I went to read a bit to refresh the memories.

Wikipedia had an article about Pan Am Flight 103, destroyed by a terrorist's bomb, crashed into the tiny town of Lockerbie, Scotland. The article stated what I'd learned from the play, that, "The people of the town washed, dried, and ironed every piece of clothing that was found once the police had determined they were of no forensic value, so that as many items as possible could be returned to the relatives."

So ordinary. So everyday.

Eleven people in Lockerbie died when the plane exploded on the ground. Two hundred fifty-nine human beings perished in the plane itself; some actually survived the crash and were found alive, though only for moments, by residents of Lockerbie. In the face of unfaceable horror, these open-hearted people asked, "What can I do to serve? I can wash." How beautiful it was, imposing sanity and order and safety on an unsafe world.

My pain is not nearly so immense. But I can wash.

When I woke fully for the day, I went to the room where that son has been sleeping. It's the dining room we turned into a music room, which we had changed into a curtained bedroom during Jane's illness and stay here. I stripped the sheets and I washed them.

Then I came to my room, my safe place, the room I had given up to Jane for seven weeks during her illness. There was a shopping bag in the floor by the rocking chair where I'd sat to visit with her as she propped up in my bed. In the bag I'd stowed some sheets after she returned home, ready to pick up and go at a moment's notice, to cover the hide-a-bed mattress in her apartment should she need me to come.

I'd used them once and brought them home, but hadn't washed and put them away. No need, if they would be soon needed again.

They'll not be needed.

I washed the sheets today. And I begin the work of making life make sense again, without the visits to the dear, caring doctors and nurses, without the long drives with time to reflect and meditate, without the company of her attentive and helpful friends. Without Jane.


Washing Sheets

I washed my sheets today.
Green and cool, smooth and soft,
they covered me
when I covered her with love.

I'll fold them next,
edges lining up sensibly
in a life
on the edge of making sense.

I won't ask why.
It was time.
They must be set for service
when called again.

Her sheets were white,
stiff and creased, very fine.
They suited her,
reflected and protected her.

I won't ask why.
It was time.
She is set for service
and called away.

I'll wash the memories,
fold them neat and orderly
for a time
with time to think.

I won't ask why.
It isn't time.
First, in faithful service,
I'll wash her sheets.

Deborah L. W. Roszel
August 8, 2014

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Being Still


It sounds obvious, and therefore simple, so it should be easy to implement. I don't have to defend my character. God can take care of that.

So I just stop, right? Or even better, I don't start. I don't have to make someone realize what a great person I am. God can take care of that.

Oh, wait. That's not what He said. He didn't say he'd convince my adversary of anything, did He? He didn't say we'd be at peace. Did he? He didn't say that at all. Wait a minute.

He said I would be what? Persecuted? OK, but this isn't that. My life's not at stake. My family's not being tortured or killed. I'm not on the run. So I don't need to call this "persecution."

Oh, gee. Hold on. Let me get this straight.

I don't have to defend my character because . . . I am a sinner, and I have no character.

Alright, let that sink in for a while. Just sitting here breathing.

But He's made me new, right? And I'm His, right? And I'm trying really, really hard to do what He says, right?

Then I hear him speak: Be still.

I have no character. All my works are as filthy rags. Ok, wait. Gosh. You mean even when I'm trying . . . really, REALLY hard? Aw, gee.

-Shh.

Mmph. Keeping my mouth shut, trying to listen.

- Good.

Ok, so . . .

- Not yet.

My goodness, I'm like a bug in a mud puddle. I keep wiggling and paddling and trying to get out of here. You aren't going to help me unless I get still, are You?

- I can't help you unless you get still, dear one.

And I guess all my work is just muddying the water, huh?

He smiles, and the twinkle in His eye reminds me that He adores me, and I remember that He loves me enough to lay down His life for me - and that He did just that.

So I don't have to defend my character. So when someone says, "I've known Christians like you before . . . " and spits out the word, "Christians," as if it's a vile curse . . . or when someone who doesn't know my whole picture, who doesn't know all I'm defending, accuses me of lying . . . or when someone implies that I am failing at the one thing on this earth I'm trying hardest to do right . . .

Gee, I could have saved a lot of money on blood pressure medicine and doctor's visits if I'd heard this earlier.

- Were you listening?

Oh.

I talk too much, don't I?

- I love you.

I'll stop trying to deserve that. OK?

He smiles that way that wraps all the way around me, even to the tight place at the back of my neck where I get sore because I'm so stiff-necked in my self-righteousness.

- Be still and know that I am God.

I need to pay more attention to what that means. Every single word of it.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Exhale - Five Minute Friday


Exhale? But what if there’s no air left to inhale? Isn’t it better to hold my breath, concentrate on staying alive without breathing? There’s too much in the air, too much discouragement, too much pain, too much disappointment, too much negativism. It’s so polluted, I’d rather not breathe.

I guess it doesn’t make sense, though, never to breathe at all. But where? Where can I let out this breath, pour out the fear and anger and bitterness I hold inside, without polluting someone else’s air? I’m not sure it’s wise or responsible to exhale.

Where can I inhale, too? Where is the air safe to breathe? People depend on me. I can’t run around not breathing. I have things to do. They need me. Where can I go, or we go, or they go, to be able to breathe? Exhale?

Inhale. Exhale. It sounds so simple. It’s not even conscious. For most people, I guess.

I’ve held my breath for most of my life, though.

Do I let it out in one brief, fierce scream of exasperation? In a long, low moan? I’d prefer it to be an exultant song, a praise to the Creator Who allows me to live and share in the joy of His being. If I’m singing, too, the breathing is easier, in and out in rhythmic phrases.

So even my breath can be a testimony to God’s goodness?

Yes, Lord, my breath came from You, and I will trust You to manage even that.

I . . . will . . . I will choose, intentionally . . . I will exhale.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Sailor Moon

Maybe because I'm currently reading Moby Dick, I want to call this one a sailor moon. The air is crisp tonight, the wind fresh and sharp. I can imagine this moon sailing over a vast dark ocean, presiding over the battle between the seasons. Yesterday the heat seemed to be winning, but today was grey and continually cooling, until tonight when the moon checked in, the tide was definitely withdrawing from sunny beaches, sandals and sunblock. Back we slip into sleeves and sweaters for one more shining evening. The moon's brightness promises barefoot walks with dancing black shadows and glowing white breakers, but not tonight; it is a promise for another moon, next month perhaps. This moon is the messenger, hurrying on over rolling waves whipped into foam by the last whispers of winter, carrying the news of summer coming soon, just over the horizon.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Grateful? - Five Minute Friday


Last Friday's prompt for Five Minute Friday was "grateful." I was surprised by how difficult it was for me to write on that. Finally, today, on Wednesday, I was able to find words to respond to the prompt. Five minutes; here goes:



Grateful? Gracious, I hadn't thought of it recently. Grace - we say thank you for our food.  Daily grind; grin and bear it; don't lose your grasp. Grateful? Grr. Grumbling does no good. Good grief. Grateful. Grimace.

What happened? I've been thinking all week about this word, and I can't write a cohesive sentence about gratefulness without getting angry. I don't like to gripe. I don't want to be UNgrateful. But I've been gripping so tightly to hold on to joy through some grim realities that I don't FEEL grateful. Just exhausted.

Not so many months ago I could have extolled the virtues of the mundane or celebrated the wonders of simple existence. I could have written pages about things that moved me to feel grateful. It would have been an uplifting exercise to meditate on being so. But not today. Not this week. Not this month. Not this year.

Not yet. I'm still hopeful.

I'm remembering to see the beauty. I'm reminding others to look for it. I'm encouraging those who falter. I'm honoring the weaker members. I'm structuring plans for improvement. I'm hoping this will all lead to . . . something to be grateful for?

I'll lay aside the grateful challenge. I'm grateful for grace to minister where I am sent. That'll have to be enough for now.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Unclean Lips


I heard a sermon based on Isaiah 6:1-7.

Isaiah was ashamed of himself, of his people, of his king who was dying of leprosy. Specifically he was ashamed of his lips, and God specifically healed him there.

Lepers lose digits, limbs, even lips. Their wounds fester and do not heal. In Isaiah's day, there was no reversal of the process other than divine intervention. It was a life sentence, punctuated only by loss, terminating only in death.

Isaiah felt acutely the disgrace of being part of an accursed nation. With its leader suffering under the punishing wrath of God, Judah was despised among its neighbors. In this low and outcast place, God chose to speak to His prophet in a special way - by giving him a glimpse of heaven itself. Conscious of his unworthiness, Isaiah cried out, "Woe is me!" but not because he had dusty sandals or grimy feet; that was normal in a desert country. He did not cry out because he hadn't washed his hands and face before coming to the throne room of God, or because his hair was unkempt. Much worse than that, Isaiah could barely speak, aware that even his lips, which we would generally hope would be clean, were filthy in comparison to what he was being shown. In his flesh, Isaiah knew he was as unclean as a leper and as deserving of being cut off, isolated, separated from the family - not to mention the very presence - of God.

This is the One Who comes even now to speak to us. Instead of letting us rot, decaying from the accumulated wages of sin, the leprosy of the spirit, He looks upon us, touches the painful places, and makes us whole. He has come that we might have life, and have it more abundantly than we could dare to imagine.

Make me clean, Lord.

Amen.




Today I remembered to link to Just Write - The EO. If you enjoy reading - or writing - check it out!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Mess - Five Minute Friday


Mess is an artificial construct, an implied judgment that reveals more about the speaker than the situation. That's my fancy way of saying there's no such thing as a mess unless you want to call it a mess.

My mother didn't like to bake bread because it was too messy. She baked biscuits, but that was a small, contained, short-term mess. Baking yeast bread required more mixing, more floured or oiled surfaces, more time - and ultimately more cleanup. I, however, prefer baking the slow-rising bread that requires more interaction, more tactile experience, more . . . relationship? With yeast? It can feel like that, yes. I don't mind the cleanup.

I wasn't sure I could help my children be artistic, because, you know, it's messy. Paint and Play-doh and bits of colored paper all over the carpet or the floor or the table or the clothes. I got over it. Watching them be creative was worth the price of wiping up a spill or doing an extra load of laundry.

I didn't think I could have people over to visit because my house was too much of a mess, until I finally realized I wasn't having people over to visit my house, but to visit me. Since I got over that hesitancy, I've had loads of people over, and never once has someone left in shock or refused to return because of the mess.

So I've stopped calling myself, my things, my place a mess. Mess implies less - less neat, less orderly, less self-controlled, less organized, the list can go on forever. Instead, I'm choosing more: more attention, more connection, more community, more relationship. And sometimes the peaceful folk who frequent my place even help me tidy it up.


Thanks to Lisa-Jo Baker for the weekly writing prompts. You can see more thoughts about messes over at her Five Minute Friday page.

Jiggity Jig

Back on familiar ground, dancing familiar steps. I have a newly stiff back, a still-sore knee, and a slightly off-kilter internal clock. I've hugged some children (and exactly one husband), sorted some laundry, fed some pets, emptied some trash. It's bedtime but I'm not ready. I'm the one who used to hide in the darkened bedroom floor, reading by the light that came under the closed or barely open door. I have to spend time with words to unwind my mind.

This was not an afternoon for unwinding. Quite the opposite. Exercise, snack, pack; visit a college capstone presentation; ride to the airport; eat a salad at an airport restaurant all by myself (what, no chicken nuggets?); fly home through apparently tornado-infested skies, though our able pilot and air traffic controllers kept us on a very calm course. That's where the stiff back came from, though - the flight was an hour longer than scheduled, and my feet barely moved from their place against my under-seat carry-on bag for all that time. I don't mind. Flying is worth it.

I saw serpentine rivers and oxbow lakes and rice paddies and cattle pastures and mountains toasted on the southern faces. I saw every shade of green and several of brown. I saw most of the cloud types I've learned to identify, and I saw sunset from above those clouds, then rain below them - but not on my window. I thought about living near a river, about how unpredictable life is when even a big river can change its course unexpectedly.

So here I am. Full of new stories, happy to continue the old ones. Expecting the unexpected, comfortable and still surprised by joy. Home again!

Jiggity jig.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Flying High


He laughed at me, this young man full of life and energy, ever spilling over with amusement. "Wow, Mom, did you ever do acid?"

A fair enough question, it was. I'd been talking about my recent airplane trip, the first time I'd flown with no one to watch over and no one to watch over me. To an acute, intentional observer like me, it was an ordinary experience full of surprise and wonder. I'd been describing the sensations of weightlessness and heaviness, giddiness and weariness. I'd admitted that I'd spent the first hour of the flight with my hand pressed to the glass, gazing out the window at the landscape and skyscape below and beyond me. I'd confessed that even the whiteness of the clouds was beautiful, the textures fascinating.

He laughed, yes, this one who craves and creates color and challenge and complexity.

"Who needs acid with a mind like mine?" I countered. He thinks I'm a little strange, I know. I wonder if I'm strange because I see, or simply strange because I slow down to look. I wonder if it's in all of us, the ability to see the color in whiteness, the challenge in stillness, the complexity in simplicity. I wonder if this young man will admit that he, too, sees what I see, but he paints his visions on canvas instead of speaking them in words.

I wish somehow we all could notice, pay attention, re-focus, that we could see, even just occasionally, the intricate beauty of life. I wish we all could celebrate, even on behalf of others, the victories of finishing a course, solving an equation, losing a pound, tying a knot, overcoming a failure. I wish we all could be amazed by ants, wowed by weather, nurtured by nature, tickled by technology, moved by music.

I wish - I think - I think I wish we all could fly sometime, all alone, with no one to interrupt the noticing, the focusing, the real life becoming dreamlike, the color and challenge and complexity of being, doing, living. Maybe not in a plane. Hopefully not with acid. But definitely high - as heaven is above earth, above the ordinary, out of the trenches, maybe over the rainbow?

Ha! He'll love that, the one who so enjoys teasing and taunting me. I'll reply, "If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow, why, oh, why can't I?"*

I hope you'll fly.


* I know you know those aren't my original words there, the ones about the bluebirds. Of course they're from "Over the Rainbow" by E.Y. Harburg.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Friend - Five Minute Friday

I took the Five Minute Friday instructions pretty literally this time. I read the prompt and just wrote for five minutes, letting the words line themselves up on the page. I decided to leave it as is, stream of consciousness, train of thought - even though I'm not sure the train's on the track at all. Sometimes I write to clear the rails, I guess. All aboard! Here we go.



"Friend"


so we were talking about, you know, marriage and life and relationships and loneliness and stuff, and I thought, well, I guess some people don't want to be married because they're like, I dunno, ok alone. but I'm not, I thought, except maybe I am? because sometimes i guess everybody wants things their own way, but do we like other people because they tell us our way is right, or because we like their way? or maybe, I dunno, it doesn't have anything to do with right or wrong? i guess the whole friend/lover thing is different for everyone because we're all different. i mean, how am I supposed to encourage a friend, I mean I think we're friends, but how can I say, yeah, it's cool if you don't want relationships. I mean, if you don't want to be with other people, do you want to be with yourself, though? do you want to be at all? i mean, human - doesn't that mean being with other humans? i can't figure it out, like, whether we're supposed to want to be together or if we just want someone else to want to be with us or if we really just want to be left alone unless somehow being together makes us better at being who we were in the first place.

What's a friend, anyway?



This is my contribution to Five Minute Friday over at Lisa-Jo Baker's site. She posts a one-word prompt every Friday morning, with the challenge to write for five minutes. She hosts anyone who wants to come along. Wanna play?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Glue - Five Minute Friday


Glue?  I’m chuckling, ever since I read the writing prompt.

Glue, as in the stuff that keeps siblings encouraging one another instead of tearing each other down?

Glue, as in the stuff that holds together the confidence of aging parents, supporting and ministering and accommodating so that they have space to be and keep becoming as time grows short?

Glue, as in the stuff that patches together shattered ideals and somehow makes a mosaic that’s still beautiful, still worth living in?

Glue, as in the stuff that secures the bandages, repairs the tears, tightens the bonds?

Glue. I guess I am. I’m not sticky on my own, though, because there’s obviously some pretty strong glue holding me together. Yesterday I was caught by surprise when I listed my duties for the next hour and a half: finish drama dress rehearsal, go home and change from rehearsal clothes to show-night garb, prepare and serve dinner for mother-in-law recovering at our house following surgery, get a bite of dinner for myself, bring a sandwich to the actor son, return to school as assistant director and welcome guests to the presentation. The surprise was in my friend’s voice when she heard this and replied, “Why do you look so calm? How are you holding all this together?” Ha! I didn’t know!

Glue. It’s pretty strong stuff. Thanks, God, for keeping me stuck together and sticky.





 

This is my contribution to Five Minute Friday over at Lisa-Jo Baker's site. She posts a one-word prompt every Friday morning, with the challenge to write for five minutes. She hosts anyone who wants to play along. Wanna play?


Monday, April 14, 2014

Love Leaves a Mark

Recently I needed to take off my wedding band and I was reminded again that whether I wear the ring or not, the promise is on my hand. The finger has grown into the commitment, taken the shape of the vow. It's narrower there at the base where a ring has rested for going on thirty years.  There's a little callous on the palm below that place. The eternal circle, with no end or beginning, is part of me, as I am part of the marriage.

It set me to thinking, of course. (Doesn't everything?) I didn't know, seeing the world through a bridal veil, how I would change. I didn't know that I'd go through childbirths and miscarriage, illnesses and surgeries, losses and victories, except that the old wives told me so. I knew I was committing to a partner who would go with me through whatever came, and he has. As he slipped the ring on my finger, though, I didn't expect it would leave a mark.

It has. So have the experiences. I've become simultaneously harder and softer, more flexible and more determined, kinder and angrier. My shape has changed. My body testifies that life has been full and complex. My heart knows that there's no going back to that tender, hopeful, eager, smooth form. And I'm okay with that.

I did all this to myself. I chose to love. I chose to commit. I chose to stay. As a result, I have a re-shaped ring finger, but also stretch marks and smile lines. It seems to me that love marks the lover.

 I walked outside and found a spring surprise: my presumed dead dogwood had burst back to life with huge white blooms. Do you know the story of the dogwood? Mother told  it to me. She knew lots of good stories.

Mother said we could remember Jesus on the cross when we looked at the dogwood blossoms. They open around Easter, so that's good timing. Probably not a coincidence. They're unusual flowers, with four petals (technically bracts) in the shape of a cross. Not many flowers take that form. The petal-bracts are creamy white, and that can remind us of Jesus' sinless life and that His sacrifice makes us clean, Mother said. Though our sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. At the end of each petal is a scar, though - a red-brown, semicircular imperfection that can remind us that nails pierced Jesus' hands and feet. He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities. In the center of a dogwood bloom, there are several tiny flowers that cluster together like a crown, and that can remind us of Jesus' crown of thorns. Mother said that some people say the cross was made from a dogwood tree, and that Jesus changed the shape of the tree so that no dogwood would ever make a cross again. She said she didn't know if our kind of dogwood tree grows in Israel, but it is true that dogwoods never grow straight or large or tall.

It's those bruised bracts that always hold my attention. My heart contracts when I see the marks, and in my mind I hear heavy hammers striking blows on great metal spikes. Even when I see a dogwood from a distance, I know the scars are there. I see the beauty, but I remember the pain of my Lord.

And by His stripes we are healed. Because He loved us so much, He chose to take those nails, that crown, that cross. Unlike the unknowing bride, our Christ knew exactly what he was doing. He knew He was facing not only scars, but death, when he set his face like a flint and turned toward Jerusalem. He loved, and he certainly was marked because of it. The dogwood blooms remind me of that, and the fingers of my right hand unconsciously stroke my left ring finger.

Love leaves a mark.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Soft in the Middle

I found these words and re-read them today. I'm glad, because I needed to hear them again. I wrote them months ago, on ruled notebook paper, with a pencil, the really old-fashioned way. Sometimes when the need to write presses me, I want to press as well, to feel the words pushing their way onto the paper as I watch. Sometimes I lose the papers, or pile them up and forget them, or put them in a "need to copy" folder. That's what happened with this work, so I don't even remember how long ago I wrote it - a few months, maybe a year, not more than two years. Regardless, I wrote it to share, so here it is.





To love, one needs to be soft, but not weak.

I am soft in the middle, not hard, like a warrior, though I've seen my share of battle.

"Love," He said, "is the greatest of these things that abide."

I abide. I endure. I persevere.

I love.

And love is strong, but never harsh.

I am soft in the middle because I wear my love, my determined commitment to open-hearted service, like body armor. No, you don't see it, because you don't know how to look. I didn't see it, either, until God gave me eyes to see. With new eyes, I can look in the mirror unashamed, look straight at that too-soft body armor, and know the truth.

Every extra pound of softness I carry around is made of tears uncried, retribution unsought, anger unraged, disappointment unexpressed. I am wrapped in bruised feelings and half-broken dreams. I carry around the rubble left over from surrender.

God didn't order that, of course. He didn't require me to clean up the battlefield. Quite the opposite: He commanded me to rise up and walk, to come and follow Him. He even said NOT to clean up - "let the dead bury their dead" - but I was bound in the habits of nursing the wounded, sitting up with the dead, cherishing mementos of the lost. I myself felt lost and wounded. I did not see that He had given me new life. So tear by tear, ounce by ounce, pound by pound, I cherished my losses and piled them on to remember the fallen, keep the hope alive.

It's not alive, though. This soft wrapper I've formed to cloak myself is made of bits and pieces of stuff I let go so I could be who I was called to be. It's scraps of immature expectations and selfish goals and specious arguments. It's shards of jealousy and strife and contentiousness that I threw down, away from the person He was making me: the rubble of surrender, the dross of purification. There is no life in this, no hope, no safety.

Yet, like the grieving mother who cannot process the murder of her son, I could not let go of the body of death from which God had raised me. I clung to the very things I'd grown beyond - the right to be heard, the entitlement to recognition, the claim to the last word. I was not made to carry these; I was ordered to put them down. Still, I carried little remembrances, battle trophies, evidences to shore up my self-esteem. "See here what I've overcome?" "See how much I've given up?"

Gosh.

What pride I've had in worthlessness.

And what a weight to carry! Pounds and pounds of artifacts of no use to anyone, I hauled around with me . . . because, I guess, I never really put them down when asked, so I kept cramming more and more sorrow and anger into my already-full storage, covering them with the love I sought to give.

Spiritual struggle has a way of showing up in the physical realm. My body could not hide  what I thought my spirit could. Now that I'm seeing more clearly, I can see that my spirit never hid it, either. I can look at myself and see that I don't need all that junk in the mental closet, so I'm finally letting it go. It's not a fait accompli - it's a work in progress. I'm sure it will take a long time for my body to release all I've packed into it.

So, yes, I'm soft in the middle. I have been weak. But I'm relying on love, God's love instead of mine, to help me grow stronger.

Will you please remember this when you see someone soft in the middle - even if that someone is you?

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Snow Moon

This moon is a whisper, sshh-ing over the shining face of the silent snow. Hold your breath or you won't see it. Breathe the chill air, you will feel it. This moon can see you; it sees me; it's a bright eye with a twinkle smiling at the night world.

Maybe it smiles because it sees its face here, reflecting back in whiteness the divine blessing of night light. Maybe it smiles because it sees me shining here, lifted by the transcendent beauty of winter night.

Maybe my heart's song brings the moon a smile, the childhood rhyme that comes to mind when I look up at night: I see the moon, and the moon sees me . . . 

Please do sing along. 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Rainbow Snow Day

Seated at the kitchen table, again and still. It's been two days of snow now, slowly but steadily increasing the white cover on the back lawn. I have trouble, on snow days, moving away from windows. This window is large, a bay, and my shepherd's crook birdfeeder is just outside, so needless to say I've spent a lot of time here in the last thirty-six hours. Part of the kitchen time has been taken with stirring up new batches of suet for my hungry guests. I've refilled the seed and suet feeders several times since the weather turned wintry.

All the indoor lights are off now, children tucked away to bed. I'm alone, husband working in the upstairs office some more. I left on the back porch light, and it makes sharp-lined shadows of the porch rails, a black grid on the smooth white lawn.

The day's been far from black and white, though. I've had Roy G. Biv at the birdfeeder! Red cardinals, red-bellied woodpeckers, red-winged blackbirds, and red spots on the downy woodpeckers. Orangey tummy on our little house wren, whose tail feathers somehow got shortened but who still flies in daily for a nosh at the feeder. Yellow underwings on magnolia warblers, a first for me; yellow dots on the white-throated sparrows' faces added to the show. Green winter plumage on the goldfinches and the tiny olive-toned ruby-crowned kinglets. The grackles found the feeder today, and they finished out the rainbow with their iridescent plumage, black shining blue, indigo, violet.

One spot in the yard is not white, and at first I was unhappy with the brown, wet place near the garden. Midday today I remembered that the birds need water on frozen days, and I'd started to plan a water station when I noticed a cardinal and a slate-colored junco sipping from the muddy spot. I guess I'd accidentally given them water already - the wet place is at the base of a composting pile of leaves. I'm sure the heat from decomposition was melting some of the snow and sleet, and the meltwater flowed to the low place I'm planning eventually to fill with the compost. For now, though, I'm glad I didn't finish the project yet, as my delay became a way of attracting and providing for my colorful, thirsty visitors.

Away from the kitchen window, I've watched a movie with the children, tried to make snowballs, helped make a snowman, made snow cream and three batches of cookies, dried a lot of snowy clothes, nursed a child's injured finger, and built a small fire in the fireplace. I guess I'll move away again and head to bed.

It's been a quiet and colorful, memorable day.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Fifteen Fahrenheit

I sat on the worn porch steps, alone in the peaceful dark of winter. The blue-black sky was pierced with stars, studded in the familiar patterns of the season, and the quarter moon floated silently, a white boat sailing westward through the night.

Not only the moon was silent. The world held its breath, too frozen to speak. I celebrated the cold, lifting my face to the moon's glow, closing my eyes, inhaling deeply, reaching with my spirit to take it all in. When I looked again, the cloud of my exhaling danced and dissolved before my eyes.

How can I explain the joy I felt as the chill settled into exposed skin and began working through my layers of clothing? Exhilaration, titillation, freedom, praise. 

I breathe in, I breathe out. The Spirit flows with me. His breath gives me life. The chill is His touch, reminding me I am alive. Life is beautiful.

The penetrating quiet fills me with wonder. As far as my hearing can reach, not a creature is stirring, not a branch creaking, not a leaf whispering to its neighbor. After the fierce winds of yesterday, this soundless landscape is a welcome relief, but there is more. Who is this God who can shake a world or make it still at His whim? He can shout in a tempest, call from the flames, but more often He waits for me to be quiet and listen in stillness. In smallness. In infinitesimal infinity. As I grow more and more aware of my smallness and His greatness, I feel more and more aware of His power in me, for me, through me. This is the wonder of the silent night - it is holy, full of His presence, even as my senses tell me it is empty and lifeless.

Thank you, Holy Father, for the boundless creativity of Your creation. Thank you tonight for cold, clear, dry, silent nights. Such nights as this remind me You are holy, wholly other, pure and lovely. Thank you that every place can be a sacred space when I pay attention to You. Alleluia! Amen.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

I Just Want to Say

I guess I want to say today, this first day of a new year, that even when life doesn't make sense, I still believe in God.

I guess I want to write this down, mark this, that despite my lack of understanding, I believe God's understanding is greater than mine, and in His mind, my sometimes-confusing life makes perfect sense.

I guess I want to note that even when I can't figure out which way to go, I believe He watches over all my ways.

I want to remember that when I feel lost, He has no trouble finding me.

I want to proclaim that when disappointments and delays and disturbances come, singly or in massive walls that seem insurmountable, I am free to celebrate the joy of relationship with a God Who is able to work all things for good.

I guess I want to say today, this first day of a new year, that nothing, nothing at all, can separate us from God's love, His care, His watchfulness. I guess I sorta want to write it on my forehead, maybe backwards, so I'll read it in the mirror when I look to see how I'm doing. I kinda want to mark it on my forearms so I'll see and remember when my hands are busy working at tedious tasks. I think I want to turn it into a song so it will pop up randomly in my head and remind me of the truth sometimes when I'm slogging through and slipping into forgetfulness.

I guess that's a good enough start for a year. I just wanted to say it.