life

Ripening, Gathering, Harvesting Joys

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It was a tiny bit chilly that morning as I sat on the bench of a picnic table, beside the lake, sipping coffee and watching the early sun glisten off my diamond. I had just awoken for the very first time as someone’s wife and I was surprised, sitting there with coffee in hand, husband out at the end of the dock checking his minnow trap, admiring the pairing of my engagement ring with its wedding band. I was surprised by a feeling of increased social status. Of feeling like being the Mrs. to someone’s Mr. made me a little bit more. More what, I couldn’t quite pinpoint, just felt like more.

Surprised because I had not a smidgen of a thought on any day of the 26 years leading up to that morning that I was less or lacking.

Sitting there, basking in that early morning summer sun, I was looking forward to joining the young marrieds Sunday school class and forging life-long friendships. My then-husband’s parents both grew up in the same Swedish covenant church, married and formed close friendships that lasted their entire lives – even as many of them aged and moved to the same retirement community in Florida.

That’s what I wanted: Friendships laid in our carefree newlywed years and forged as we reared our children together, served shoulder to shoulder, laughed, rejoiced and grieved together through the ups and downs of life.

I was reminded of that long ago morning this morning when I read a quote on Facebook:

Almost everyone finds their early days in a community ideal. It all seems perfect. They feel they are surrounded by saints, heroes, or at the least, most exceptional people who are everything they want to be themselves. And then comes the let-down. The greater their idealization of the community at the start, the greater the disenchantment. If people manage to get through this second period, they come to a third phase—that of realism and of true commitment. They no longer see other members of the community as saints or devils, but as people—each with a mixture of good and bad, darkness and light, each growing and each with their own hope. The community is neither heaven nor hell, but planted firmly on earth, and they are ready to walk in it, and with it. They accept the community and the other members as they are; they are confident that together they can grow towards something more beautiful.  —Jean Vanier

I longed for that journey toward something more beautiful.

And then, six years and one two-year old in, my then-husband bailed.

My Sunday school class of no-longer-newlyweds didn’t know how to respond. I tried to stick it out, but back then Baptists shot their wounded, lest anyone mar the happy illusion of happy Christian marriage.

A single friend – who discipled me when I was a new Christian – invited me to attend her church. We taught Sunday school together and my daughter was loved there.  We settled in. But when my single friend moved to Atlanta, a couple of the women pulled me aside and said that the church was geared toward families headed up by COUPLES, not single parents. I’m pretty sure they were worried I might try to steal their husbands. I wasn’t going to steal anyone’s husband. Not only would I not do that, but, as if.

My daughter had started kindergarten by then, so she and I went back to our original church, where she was attending their Christian school. Week after week I went, worshiped and left. No Sunday school, no fellowship, no community, really, just worship and go.

Over the years I’ve bounced back and forth from church to church. Sometimes because I was rejected by the community, sometimes because it didn’t have what I needed. Or what my daughter needed. Or what my new husband and I wanted or needed.

Perhaps if my first husband had stuck it out through the disillusioned second phase of our marriage, I would now be enjoying the deep, enduring, hard-won, life-long friendships I envisioned that first morning of my first marriage.

But maybe not. All these years later I am still loosely connected enough to a few of the women from that first class to know that even they, whose marriages succeeded, are no longer walking in close community together. Many of them have scattered to new church communities.

Blessed be the ties that bind…for now.

I didn’t get to “grow towards something more beautiful” with that little band of young marrieds all those years ago, but I’ve got the hub. And together we are on a journey to enjoy “the deep, hard-won truths of marriage.”

Perhaps the greatest blessing in marriage is that it lasts so long.
The years, like the varying interests of each other,
combine to buttress and enrich each other.
Out of many shared years, one life.
In a series of temporary relationships,
one misses the ripening, gathering, harvesting joys,
the deep, hard-won truths of marriage.
Richard C. Cabot

#longing

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life

It’s a Battle, Not a Leap

You’ve heard the expression, “Leap of faith,” but it isn’t a leap, it’s a nearly bloody battle:

Dear Julie,

While reading keep in mind that although the use and abuse of alcohol began in the teen years, its all out assault began about 1975, and culminated in 1977.
Something was really pushing me to put all of this down on paper.  Having done it, I can see that the “having done it,”  and not the four pages, was the important thing…
Love,
Dad

Concerning Hope

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.  1 Peter 3:15

On the night of April 18, 1977, I was alone in my apartment, face down on the floor and immobilized.  For years I had traveled the road of addiction.  Alcohol was the propelling vehicle.  At the end of this road is death, and death was to be found in the bathroom which was but a few yards ahead.  One travels this road with companions who are faithful to the end.  The fellowship includes perfectionism, a law giver demanding consummate tidiness even in a terminal act.  Wrists slashed at the bottom of a filled tub preclude the washing of blood from walls and ceiling.

Born into a world of taste, touch, smell, sight and sound, the cry of an infant brings response and gratification to his demands.  Response and gratification instill a sense of power, and power promises hope.  But hope circumscribed by the senses is counterfeit hope and bears within itself the seed of its own destruction.  Despair is the short-lived child born to be the executioner of its father and he who gives sanctuary to the father.  Born there on the floor, despair matured quickly and, like a lemming, yearned to dash across those last few yards to hurl itself into the water of the tub.

But despair was frustrated.  Wanting to get moving, it found itself trapped within immobilized flesh.  The delay made the last few yards ahead the turf of terror for consciousness.  The road became clogged with figures which looked vaguely familiar – ghostly manifestations of unresolved issues, hit-and-run victims at various points during the long trip in the vehicle called alcohol.  They were singing a song, my song; that seemingly immortal lyric which says, “I’ll do it my way.”  They knew the tune well.  I was singing it as they were victimized.  For consciousness, the legacy of despair is the recognition that the last stanza is being sung.  The song was inspired by counterfeit hope, but manipulation was the talent which penned its innumerable stanzas.  Fueled by alcohol, years of practicing the art of manipulation had produced exhaustion and immobility.  Peter had been robbed to pay Paul and Paul had been robbed to pay Peter so many times that both had resolved to make a trophy of my hide.  Their breath was on my neck; I could see a noose suspended from the branch of a tree.  There was no longer a will to pen new stanzas.

At this point a word presented itself to consciousness.  The word was addressed: “You are said to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent.  If true, You are not light years away, but here with the prodigal.  If there is a road that does not terminate at the tub, You will have to pick me up and put me on it.  I give up.  God help me!”

This appeal came as an ominous threat to my hope.  A battle ensued in which consciousness was but a spectator.  Hope drew its battle line as it addressed consciousness: “You don’t need help.  Those ghostly manifestations out there need help.  They are the problem.”  Picking up the towel that I had thrown into the ring, the Word responded:  “You are the problem.”  Gravely wounded by the Word, but not yet dead, hope crawled from the field of battle.

In his book, Power of the Renewed Mind, Bill Bansky comments on this battle:

“God doesn’t speak through your mind, into your mind.  He speaks into your spirit that’s born again.  When God speaks to the spirit, the Spirit of God brings the thought into your mind, and then you know that God is speaking to you.”

Surrender gave birth to a new spirit which was to be followed by a renewed mind and a new hope.

Consciousness became aware that the telephone table was within reach.  A pull on the cord brought the receiver to the floor.  Names and numbers were beyond the grasp of both hand and mind.  After a number of misadventures, a finger found the “0” button.  My thickly muttered message to the responding voice was simply, “Alcohol!”  She grasped the situation immediately.  Learning that I was alone she asked if I could take down a phone number.  The long established habit of keeping a ball point pen in my pocket proved useful.  Laboriously and with much repetition, I labeled my arm with the phone number of a detoxification clinic.  Consciousness ended at this point.  During my long trip with alcohol, I had come to know periods of blackout.  This is not to be confused with passing out.  In a blackout one can act, but unconsciously.

With the return of consciousness at 3:00 A.M., I found myself on the porch of an old brick building which resembled an army barracks.  Later I would discover that it was one of several identical buildings which had once been a mental institution.  The buildings were on a large, secluded piece of property twenty minutes by car from my apartment.  It would be difficult to find this place at noon while sober.  The fact of having driven for twenty minutes in a blackout was not disconcerting.  That sot of thing had been part of my repertoire.  What was disconcerting was the realization that God was giving me what I had asked for.  He had taken my request seriously and had responded earnestly.  The plan was that I must follow Him on this new road one step at a time, one day at a time.  But false hope was not yet dead.  As I lingered at the door of the clinic, it strained to find something in the plan that could be manipulated.  There was nothing.  The absoluteness of this absence was depressing.

When called from the tomb by our Lord, Lazarus emerged looking like a mummy.  He was alive but still bound by the wrappings of death.  Similarly, having been resurrected from the floor to a vertical position at the entrance of the clinic, I was wrapped in my depression and essentially immobilized.  Though I lingered with fear and apprehension, this depression was something that could almost be enjoyed when compared with those ghostly manifestations at the end of the old road.  But if one is to cross the threshold and follow Him down a new road, depression is a barrier; a bitter fruit in a bowl designed for gratitude.  On the floor the reins had been relinquished to an omniscient God.  This omniscient and omnipotent God resurrected me and set me in front of doors which marked the beginning of a new road.  Depression is to doubt His wisdom.  Doubt seek alternatives, and alternatives are born of thought.  But there is danger in thinking with a mind whose only song has been, “I’ll do it my way.”  Such a mind entertains but one thought, “Take back the reins.”  A response to this temptation came as consciousness circumvented thought in contemplation of that resurrection from floor to porch; a resurrection hidden in the realm called blackout; movement void of thought and doubt.  Consciousness opted for thoughtlessness and answered temptation with silence.  Temptation relinquished the porch and departed for a time.

With the rejection of temptation, something washed over my depression, then receded.  Depression became the sands of an ocean shore.  At high tide there was “peace beyond all understanding.”  At low tide there was a return of fear and doubt.  As the wash was receding during a low tide, the tempter returned with a thought; “Lay hold of it and pull it back over you as you would a blanket on a cold night.”  Consciousness discerned this to be but a more subtle expression of the earlier thought.  Again temptation was answered with silence and from the depths came a voice, “Lo, I am with you always.   My ebb is the season in which vessels are to empty themselves of self.   My flow cannot fill a full vessel.”  With His words consciousness recognized that something which had washed against depression – a new hope.  I opened the door and entered the clinic.  I was on a new road.

As Lazarus stood mummy-like before the tomb, Jesus addressed those present saying, “Loose him and let him go.”  Upon entering the clinic, the first respondents to His command were the staff physician and a substance abuse therapist.  The therapist’s shift was ending and his relief had already entered the examining room.  Having completed a preliminary examination and blood work, the physician addressed the relief therapist saying,  “Stay on top of him for the duration of your shift.  Don’t let him sleep; he could slip into a coma and expire from alcohol poisoning.”  Apparently Jesus had already commissioned the first therapist.  He addressed his relief saying, “Get about something else.  This one is mine.”  During the following eight hours, and without additional pay, he nurtured this fragile new life.  Sometime late the following day consciousness recognized, received and embraced the loving care and concern with which the therapist had fulfilled his commission.  As I placed my offering in that bowl designed for gratitude, counterfeit hope expired, along with doubt and its depression.  The lemming was in the water.

With the surrender of self-will and death of false hope, sin ceased to be a lifestyle.  The weight of sin which had immobilized me was absorbed by Jesus Christ as He hung on the cross.  His cross is a point of orientation which sets the course for the journey down this new road.  The point of destination is that place where “I shall know just as I am also known.”  It is a place where I shall see Him who is the author of my hope. In his book, A Theology of the Cross, Charles Cousar speaks of death and resurrection:  “Easter does not erase or eclipse the godforsakeness of Good Friday.”  At the beginning of each day I position myself at a place where both His death and glorious resurrection stand between me and the point of destination.  This destination is seen through my sin which hangs there on the cross.  On the cross sin does not invite morbidity, but gratitude – gratitude for the fact that He took it and paid the price.  The price that He paid gives my sin transparency.  The view to the destination is not obscured.  At the beginning of each day I am grateful to find that my sin still hangs there.  That by His strength I had resisted the temptation to take it back.  At the beginning of each day I am grateful that the cross is there as a place to hang that which has been emptied from this vessel.

So what sustains hope, one day at a time, during the journey on this new road?  To focus on that future point of destination, through union with Him at the cross, gives sustenance.  Charles Cousar comments, “The future so impinges on the present as to give it a distinctive buoyancy.”  In this world our pilgrimage is through terrain which would have us to stumble and fall;  “Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”  That “distinctive buoyancy” keeps us up and moving, if our focus stays on the destination.  In all things I give thanks, and praise His holy name.  Glory be to God!

I first published my dad’s story in January 2015 in two posts:
Concerning Hope
Concerning Hope part 2

And then I told you how it played out for me:
Grateful

Back then I said I inherited two things at his passing: His hooded sweatshirt and his Bible. But I also inherited his love for Jesus, passed on to me by his prayers.

He is one of a great cloud of witnesses, still sharing his testimony, and I’m hoping it speaks to someone today.

 

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life

Party Hardy

Last night at midnight I was watching the movie Always (Richard Dreyfuss, Holly Hunter) with the hub. We talked about toasting the new year, but neither of us were committed to the plan enough to go downstairs and fetch a bottle of champagne.

I did have a small bowl of salted caramel ice cream at one point in the evening, though. So that was a party.

The daily post wonders whether I would have rather been somewhere else.

Nope.

Happy 2016 everyone.

 

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life

Panic & PJs

I was standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs that led to the platform of a large stage. Thousands of people were waiting in the audience.

As I put a foot on the first ascending step, I realized that I was in my pajamas, and I had nothing to say!

As I put the next foot on the next step, I searched frantically for a hook, an opening line that would get some words flowing. Nothing.

I know how to wing it, but there was absolutely nothing to wing.

I couldn’t stand before these people in my pajamas – with no words in my mouth, no thoughts in my head.

Turn and run?

Panic?

Wake up?

Yes, wake up. It was going to be all right.

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“Face”

I met him in the weight room at the men’s intramural building. At first he just stared at me. And then one day he approached. He did not introduce himself, he just started bantering. I was cordial but clearly disinterested.

He continued to approach daily. He didn’t ask my name, just called me “Face”.

I was focused on working out and found him annoying.

And then I found him mildly amusing.

Eventually he wore me down. I agreed to dinner.

It was the date from h-e-double-hockey-sticks.

I was dressed in clean jeans and a cute t-shirt – my college date uniform – when he arrived to pick me up.

“Is that what you’re wearing? I’m taking you somewhere nice.”

Back into my room I huffed to change. The pickings were slim. I was a college student who had to ration her bagels for crying out loud. I should have just gone back out there and told him to take me as is, but I managed to scrape together an outfit.

“Somewhere nice” turned out to be the Playboy Club.

“Um, no.”

This time it was his turn to try again.

We ended up back near campus at the Pantree.

I looked at the menu for naught – he told me what I could order.

He started talking about how good-looking our children would be because of my “face.”

Then he reached his fork across the table and started EATING FROM MY PLATE.

Ew.

I was no longer hungry.

Needless to say, the date did not end with a kiss.

We continued to chat in the gym.

He asked me to accompany him to a resort in Colorado Springs for a medical conference.

“Just as a friend,” he promised. “All the other docs are taking a spouse or a date.”

A long weekend at a posh resort in Colorado Springs sounded kinda’ nice (I must admit). I finally agreed. Until I learned we would be sharing a room.

“Sorry, can’t.”

“All the nurses at the hospital say you’re crazy. They say I’m one of the most eligible bachelors in Lansing.”

He was thirty and an established doctor. He knew what his life was going to be. I was a 20 year old college student with possibilities still in front of me. I certainly wasn’t ready to be his good-looking-baby machine.

“Maybe you should date one of them.”

 

 

 

 

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life

Nothing Says Love Like Diabetes and Tooth Decay

minimalist cookie

Sugar.  The kids at BSF loaded up on it last night.  It was our last class before Christmas break and – in violation of the guidelines – a couple of the kids brought treats to share.

Under the table.

Literally.

We were in a circle of chairs and in the center was a small table. One kid opened 2 boxes of Starburst candy canes and placed them under the table. Another brought a package of cookies and placed it under the table.  Candy canes and oreos slid back and forth under the table and across the floor from student to student.

“Sugar is the devil,” I kinda’ wanted to say.

But who wants to be the killjoy?

The church I used to attend throws a party for underprivileged children at every holiday.  And at every party they show God’s love by loading the kids up with sugar.  Trunk loads of sugar at Halloween, plates piled high with sugar cookies and candy at Christmas. Baskets brimming with chocolate bunnies and jellybeans at Easter.

They show God’s love by putting the children who are the least likely to be able to afford diabetic care at risk for diabetes; they put the children who are least likely to be able to afford dental care at risk for tooth decay.

I shake my head and suggest we find healthier ways to show God’s love.

“Oh just let the kids have fun,” I’m told.

Yes, I don’t bother to say, let’s let them have fun – let’s play FUN exercise-getting games with them, let’s give them fun GIFTS, and a few cookies.

Let’s stop reaching out to children with cheap and easy.

Because God isn’t.

https://dailypost.wordpress.com/prompts/pour-some-sugar-on-me/

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Light, Revelation

Revelation 6

I know I already posted today, but I am posting again.

I know I already responded to the daily prompt today, but I am responding again.

Because I want to.

Last year I challenged myself, in the month of December, to make each daily prompt to which I respond about Jesus. In honor of His birthday.

So here I go.

I spent the morning preparing to teach Revelation 6 on Monday night. Studying Revelation is really bringing what is important in life into focus. And it’s putting all the nonsense of life into perspective.

In Revelation 4, John wept because there was NO ONE anywhere in heaven or on earth or under the earth who was worthy to open the scroll – not even Jesus.

Until He showed up as a slain Lamb.

Even Jesus wasn’t worthy until He was slain.

It was His sacrifice, not His being, that made Him worthy.

And as He took the scroll with the seven seals, there was much REJOICING in heaven.

But then He started to open those seals and, here on earth, not so much.

Jesus opened the first seal and John saw a white horse. It’s rider held a bow and was given a crown. He rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.

I wonder if that rider is Jesus on a conquest to rescue as many as possible from the coming wrath. Or perhaps the rider is the Holy Spirit, and with His bow He is going to shoot arrows of Truth, prophecy and warning.

Isaiah said, “He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver.” 49:2

Zechariah said, “Then the Lord will appear over them; his arrow will flash like lightning.” 9:14a

So I’m thinking the bow belongs to Jesus.

Then He opened the second seal and John saw a fiery red horse with a rider who had the power to take away peace, a large sword and the ability to make people kill each other.

That rider seems to be riding high these days.

At the opening of the third seal, John saw a black horse with a rider who was holding a pair of scales. He heard a voice saying, “Two pounds of wheat for a day’s wages, and six pounds of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!”

The commentaries I read say this rider is bringing famine, but I disagree.  Here’s why:

The Greek word translated as a pound, is “choinix”.

Here’s how Strong’s lexicon defines it: “a choenix, a dry measure…less than our quart, one litre, or as much as would support a man of moderate appetite for a day.

So I’m thinking the rider is providing exactly what the people to whom he is riding need – their daily bread.

and do not damage the oil and the wine!”  AND, not but.

Here is more evidence that the crops are being spared, not destroyed:

Zechariah went on to say, “The Lord their God will save his people on that day… How attractive and beautiful they will be! Grain will make the young men thrive, and new wine the young women.” 9:16-17

Wheat, barley and wine to make the young men and women thrive.

Now look here at Zechariah 6:1-8:

I looked up again, and there before me were four chariots coming out from between two mountains—mountains of bronze. The first chariot had red horses, the second black, the third white, and the fourth dappled—all of them powerful. I asked the angel who was speaking to me, “What are these, my lord?”

The angel answered me, “These are the four spirits of heaven, going out from standing in the presence of the Lord of the whole world. The one with the black horses is going toward the north country, the one with the white horses toward the west, and the one with the dappled horses toward the south.”

When the powerful horses went out, they were straining to go throughout the earth. And he said, “Go throughout the earth!” So they went throughout the earth.

Then he called to me, “Look, those going toward the north country have given my Spirit rest in the land of the north.”

I rest my case.

Back to the seals.

The opening of the fourth seal brought a pale horse whose rider is Death, and Hades was hot on his heals. Death and Hades were given power over a quarter of the earth to kill by sword, famine, plague and wild beasts.

The opening of the fifth seal revealed the souls of those who have been martyred, waiting under the altar to be avenged.

And then the sixth scroll opens and things grow dark.

The sun turns black, the moon turns blood red and the stars fall from the sky.

The heavens recede like a scroll being rolled up and everything changes.

Princes and paupers alike hide in caves and between mountain rocks. Wealth, position, popularity, intelligence, cunning and celebrity cannot save them. “Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne,” they cry to the rocks, “and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can withstand it?”

No one.

Except those who take refuge in  Jesus.

 

 

 

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