Thursday, December 27, 2007
That pesky Grinch is messing with me, threatening to rob me of my Christmas cheer. W e were really looking forward to having Rex’s office staff over to the house last Sunday for a Christmas party. As you know, it snowed—A LOT. The dear woman who cleans for me came on an off day so the house would be spic-n-span for our guests. Like many other events, we canceled our party. But I bought THREE cheese cakes from GFS!!! Now what am I to do with the 39,924 calories and 2,808 fat grams stored in my freezer that are screaming to be devoured? (Yes, this is an exact count!!!)
Ah, well… I used my free evening to write our yearly Christmas letter. I had it just the way I wanted and saved it on my laptop. Then I set to the task of updating my mailing list and printing labels. What?! The option tab for “Envelopes and Labels” is missing. It was there last year! Now poor Rex has to hand address all those envelopes (I’m great at delegating.)
Monday morning, I reread the Christmas letter, did some tweaking, and saved it—so I thought—but evidently the Grinch got it!!! So now, along with addressing envelopes, I have to rewrite my newsletter! I feel a chocolate attack coming on! I believe one of those cheesecakes is chocolate…
…You’ll be relieved to know that the letter is retyped—and printed, and after merely two hours at my computer, I finally figured out how to print those ?@%&*?! labels.
The Grinch is messing with Rex, as well. His task was to pick out a family picture to include with our cards. Digital cameras and computers make it so easy to upload (or download?) pictures from camera to computer to disk to Snapfish—and you breeze into a local store and pick up your photos. NOT! The Grinch is playing hide and seek with Rex on the desktop computer. Inserting the disk, the computer flashes a warning “no disk found.” Another 45 minutes to fix the problem.
Who ordered the pictures? “I thought you ordered them.” “No, I distinctly remember YOU saying you would order them! It’s now Wednesday and I’ve e-mailed a picture order to Meijer. Alas, the Grinch is messing with their computer, too! Yikes, I just glanced at our nicely printed Christmas letters and I see one—no, THREE; make that SIX—errors!!! (Word to the wise: don’t proofread on only five hours of sleep.)
As if that is not enough Grinchiness, my brother-in-law had the audacity to fall and break his hip, messing up the plans for the Teeple Christmas to take place at our CLEAN house. So, we’re taking the party to him. “I truly am sorry for your suffering, Steve, and I’m very glad you’re doing well. But your timing is just awful! There’s a cheesecake with your name on it headed for your freezer. You can listen to those calories and fat grams singing their siren song of calo-chloreste-ric doom!”
Hey, am I going to let that Grinch steal my Christmas spirit? There is so much to be grateful for this Christmas. Like, it could have been ME who broke a hip. This winter wonderland is “Just gorgeous!” I have the ability and time to rewrite, copy, catch errors, and reprint that letter. Everybody loves cheesecake! There’s always next year for having Christmas gatherings at our house. (I’m warning you, Steve, you’d better watch your step next year!!!)
A little bit of humor goes a long way during the holidays. I hope that you can laugh at the Grinch and grab on to the grace of this holiest of times.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…
and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The mighty God,
The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Isaiah 9:6 KJV
P.S. to Santa: I’d like a computer geek for Christmas!!!
Monday, December 17, 2007
Waiting is not my forte. Especially at Christmas time. I have too much to do to wait while you dig out your coupons from the bottom of your bottomless purse—and then discover that you left your check book in the car. Oh, ye, who blocks the aisle with your shopping cart, totally obvious to my anxious presence—beware! I’ll be smiling and cordial when you turn and apologize profusely for inconveniencing me, but, trust me, you don’t want to know what I am thinking. Practicing patient grace during the holiday rush is one of the best gifts you can bestow in the long, lingering lines and parking lot jams of holiday life.
Examples of waiting overflow the pages of the Bible. Abraham and Sarah had to wait until they were ancient before they had a baby. Poor Noah and his family waited for the torrential rains to stop and the flood waters to recede, all the while pitching poop over the side of the ark (just think what a major job THAT was, with the myriad of monkeys, mules, mynahs and gobs of other prolific poopers sequestered on the ark!!!). Joseph, Paul, and Peter, languished in prisons—with no blackberries, I-pods, or laptops to keep their minds off their troubles. But that’s nothing compared to God’s chosen people waiting hundreds of years in captivity or exile, and even centuries for the Messiah to come! And we complain about a two hour delay in an airport!
You would think that by this time in my life I would have gained some skill in the waiting game, but I don’t see much progress on my part. I bet Methuselah was an expert at waiting, given all the experience he accrued during his 969 years on this earth! Mature waiting involves patience, faith, trust, and hope. I can engender small amounts of these spiritual qualities some of the time, but to get them all active at the same time and in sync would take a miracle. Occasionally that miracle does indeed happen and I know that I am standing on holy ground, surrounded by grace.
Elizabeth Canham, in “Pay Attention to How You Listen” (Weavings, November/December 2007) reminds us that “even God waited for the fullness of time before Christ was born among us (Galatians 4:4).” Waiting on God’s timing—whether that be humdrum, day-to-day waiting in a slow-moving check out line or crisis waiting in a hospital waiting room or waiting for the fire truck to arrive, “waiting is a holy thing.”
Waiting—a holy thing??? You’ve got to be kidding! But think about this for a moment. In the midst of the rush, rush, rush of life, waiting is an opportunity to give God a call or send him a text message. Better yet, it is a time to listen for God’s voice.
For a child, waiting for Christmas morning is excruciating. This was especially true for me the year I was eight. In January, we would be moving from New York to Indiana, and my Dad’s new job required that he move to Indiana ahead of us while Mom stayed at home to sell the house. Daddy was driving home for Christmas and I was so excited to see him that I could hardly stand it. Mom made me go to bed, promising me that she would wake me when Daddy got home. Amazingly, I was able to fall asleep.
It was my Daddy’s voice drifting from the kitchen into my subconscious that roused me. I dashed into the kitchen and made a bee line for his lap. I was in seventh heaven! How often do we listen for our Heavenly Father’s voice with such anticipation? Are we eager to find God home in our hearts? I challenge you to take the opportunity to listen for your Heavenly Daddy’s voice while you wait in line for gas, wait for the light to change, wait for…whatever. And then watch for that “all is calm, all is bright” feeling to warm your heart.
I know that the holidays are shrouded with grief for many of you as well. For some, your grief is fresh and raw, from an immediate loss. For others, your grief may be a dull, throbbing ache or a painful stab of remembrance, from losses of years past. “Going through the motions” may be the very best you can do this year. “Bah! Humbug!” may find its way from your lips far more often than “Merry Christmas!” If this describes you, please know that you are not alone. If this describes someone you know, please be gentle and compassionate.
Today I share with you, “The Author of Our Salvation,” a devotional I wrote in December 1998, based on the lectionary for December 27. I must have been aching then, too, but I have no recollection of the source of my grief:
“In bringing many sons (and daughters) to glory, it was fitting that God, for whom and through whom everything exists, should make the author of their salvation perfect through suffering… Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity… For this reason he had to be made like his brothers (and sisters) in every way… Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:10-18
At this time in the church year, we are accustomed to reflecting on images of our Savior as an innocent newborn “babe, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” Yet Hebrews calls us to ponder how “the author of our salvation” was perfected through suffering. “Wait a minute! Stop the tape!” we shout. “That’s the video for Lent; for Good Friday! Pop in the video about the Christ Child surrounded by angels and shepherds and wise men!” We don’t want to contemplate suffering right now. It’s Christmas. We should be pondering happy thoughts, surrounding ourselves with good cheer. C’mon! Get with the program!”
Many of us arrive on the threshold of this Christmas season in the midst of suffering. For those of us who are experiencing family conflict or separation, coping with a lengthy, or even terminal, illness, caught in the shock and grief following the death of a loved one, or perhaps dealing with depression or job loss, the image of the suffering Christ may bring more comfort than the image of the Christ Child.
In my own times of suffering, I cling to the fact that my Savior knows first hand what it’s like to suffer. It helps to know that Jesus understands my pain. So this Christmas, as we set out the manger and hang the angels on our trees, let’s also keep this image from Hebrews 2 in our hearts. After all, the Christmas Story is only the first chapter in the memoir of “The Author of Our Salvation.”
Sunday, December 2, 2007
So what do you do with Thanksgiving dinner leftovers? I’ve come up with a list of ways to entertain Evan in the years to come, utilizing—what else—leftovers:
A “Keeping Kids Entertained While All the Adults Fall Asleep Watching Football” List
Wondering what to do with all those leftovers? Unleash your child’s creativity:
1. Turkey leg: create a “tom-tom” with a pie plate and used turkey leg as drumstick (pun intended).
2. Cranberry sauce: great for finger painting; CAUTION: do not use in the vicinity of white carpet or anything else you do not wish to look like it has chicken pox.
3. Mashed potatoes and gravy: another great medium for finger painting; chilled mashed potatoes are great for creating snowmen, igloos, and other wintertime wonder ; or roll out like cookie dough, cut into heart shapes, paint with cranberry sauce, freeze, and serve to parents on Valentine’s Day.
4. Grandma’s Famous Oyster Dressing: form into mushy balls, insert a wire or string hanger, hang up and allow to dry overnight; hang outside for the wildlife to dine on; or play “find the oysters,” and whoever finds the most, wins an “I do not have to eat this yucky, slimy, disgusting dressing” coupon for Thanksgiving dinner 2008.
5. Green bean casserole with mushrooms, water chestnuts, almonds and French’s Fried Onions: rinse beans thoroughly with hot water and wash in soapy water; dispose of all non-green-bean thingies (if you can’t stand to touch mushrooms, get an adult to do this for you); allow to dry for a couple of hours; string on yarn and create necklaces and bracelets; great as Christmas gifts for Mom, Grandma and teachers; best if given ASAP, before shriveling occurs.
6. Sweet potatoes: for leftover raw sweet potatoes, use for a lively game of “toss the potato” – preferably outside; for cooked sweet potatoes, mash with hands and use for finger painting.
7. Rolls: play “How many rolls can you stuff in your mouth at one time without gagging.”
8. Aunt Edith’s mystery gelatin salad: play “name that item” or create silly names for the ridiculous things—like carrots and celery—suspended in the Jell-O.
9. Carrot and celery sticks: throw away—they’re inedible and useless! (Well, I suppose you could use them for finger painting…).
10. Pumpkin pie and Cool Whip: also great for finger painting; may substitute RediWip or genuine whipped cream; if you really want to be cool, have a pie eating contest—no utensils allowed and messiest face wins. WARNING: under no circumstances should you give a pie in the face to one of your relatives sleeping in front of the TV. (If you are between the ages of nine and eleven, you will be unable to heed this warning.)
Almost all silliness aside, I think there is a lot that we can learn from the creativity of kids. Who says that God only created yams and green beans for eating? I live in soybean country and it wasn’t until my daughter lived in San Diego that I learn that people actually eat soy beans as beans (versus a reconstituted additive used in tires, diapers, and wallpaper paste—please don’t quote me on this)! Just because your idea of a perfect afternoon is a tryptophan-induced stupor doesn’t mean your kids can’t have a good time, too!
I believe that God wants us to experience life in all its richness—and most of us would do well to play with our food rather than let all that richness go to our hips.
They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. Psalm 36:8 NIV
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Later, over lunch, I recreated this conversation for my friends, Sandra and Cindy, and had them hooting. Inspired by Misty’s unique response, the three of us had a ball creating the “Top Ten Reasons Women Give for Turning down the Opportunity to Attend a Holiday Gala.”
10. I’ve got to stay home and color my hair, paint my toenails, pluck my eyebrows…
9. I’ve been putting off my spring cleaning and I need to get it done before my mother-in-law comes for Christmas
8. I’m conserving energy for my Black Friday shopping spree.
6. I’m preparing my “All I Want for Christmas” list for my hubby and I’m only on item #25
5. My E-bay bid for a dovetail router ten piece bit set ends in 3 hours, 2 minutes, 16 seconds
4. I’m waiting to fit into my holiday dress—and according to the scale, I should be able to zip up in 369 days, 7 hours, 33 minutes, 56 seconds
3. I ate all the chocolate chip cookies I baked and I need to get in 30 minutes of cardio on the treadmill
2. The ten pound box of Swiss chocolate I ordered on QVC just arrived.
And the #1 response, given by Misty—who is, by the way, a real girlie-girl, with her fashionable hairdo, glowing complexion, and gorgeous nails:
1. “Saturday is opening day for gun season.”
As I choked on my coffee and my eyes popped in surprise, Misty stared back at me innocently, as if she’d given a perfectly normal response for a female of our species. She remained silent as I processed her response, realizing that SHE WAS SERIOUS! Yep, come Saturday morning and evening, Misty would be perched in a small airborne shelter, shotgun poised, dreaming of a freezer stocked with venison. I tried to picture this feminine creature dressed in camouflage and a bright orange hat, a shotgun slung over her shoulder.
“So how did you get interested in hunting?” I inquired. It turns out that Misty used to be a Bambi-hugger, just like me. Then she became smitten with an avid hunter and became curious about why on earth he likes hunting. The first time she saw a dead deer strung up, she was horrified and told her young man, in no uncertain terms, that she would not stand for his hunting. A very long conversation ensued in which she became educated to the facts of life for deer: either they die of starvation, because of overpopulation, or they die a quick death so that other deer might live. Now Misty helps her hubby put meat—lean, good-for-you-meat—on the table.
My favorite part of Misty’s story is about how much she loves to be out in the woods and hear and see the forest wake up in the morning. Now that part of hunting I could really enjoy—if only I could get myself up before dawn, which ain’t gonna’ happen anytime soon!
I bet you’re wondering where the spiritual application is in this story. I wasn’t sure either, until I wrote about the facts of life for a deer. The facts of life for a Christian center on the reality that Christ died that we might have life. His flesh and blood, shed for us, put meat on our spiritual tables and continually feeds our hungry spirits with God’s love and grace, forgiveness and salvation. We never have to go spiritually hungry again. Christ’s love and sacrifice are the turkey (not venison!) and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie, and all the other fixins’ of our spiritual banquet.
Say grace. Dig in. Enjoy!
"Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God."
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
It was so exciting to line up at the bar along the mirrored wall in the dance studio. I was going to be the next Annette Funicello and make it big on the Mickey Mouse Club! As the youngest and smallest child in the class, I was positioned at the end of the line closest to the instructor so I could see what was going on. Unfortunately, for me, there was a second instructor at the other end of the line, and when the class turned to face her, I became the caboose. I would lean over as far as I could to catch sight of this instructor, but it was a big class, so I had to wait until the next dance position slowly inched its way back to me, and by then, the class was already on the next move.
Those of you who enjoy ballet (this does not include my husband) are familiar with the strategy of one ballerina performing a pirouette, or some other fancy-termed movement, and then, one by one, the other tutu-clad dancers follow in turn. Well, I’m certain that the origin of this dance motif was discovered by my astute dance teacher as she observed her modeled movement make its way, one student by one student, along the mirrored wall, much like the movement of the segments of a centipede, inching its long body forward.
On second thought, maybe it began as a settled-for performance of four-year-olds who always look to the left or right to see what the dancer next to her is doing, and thus each dancer is one or two seconds out of sync. Did some exasperated teacher notice that the proud parents and grandparents thought this phenomenon was oh so cute and see its potential as a show stopper on a grander scale?
Alas, I never made it to the stage because my mama pulled her frustrated, whiny, little girl out of class, with good intentions of reenrolling me when I was a bit taller—which never happened. Ever since that day, I have had a dancer locked away inside me, screaming to be unleashed. A few years ago, my hubby invited my inner dancer to participate in a ballroom dance class at the Paramount. I lamely agreed to do so, and proved to everyone that my latent dancing abilities were past their prime. It’s sort of like how the best time to learn a second language is in childhood when the brain is eagerly creates new pathways for such learning. The road to the dance center in my brain was closed, my creative energy long ago diverted elsewhere. Once again, I became a dance school drop out.
Bemoaning my failure as a dancer, to my friend, Cheryl Surbaugh, she creatively pointed out to me that my graduate degree from IU was in “GuiDANCE and Counseling” and that I was, in fact, dancing metaphorically with my clients. This was about the time I was reading books by Harriet Goldhor Lerner entitled, The Dance of Intimacy and The Dance of Anger and I could really grab on to Cheryl’s metaphor and dance with it. Still to this day, I use the metaphor of dance with my clients, reminding them that, “In life as in the dance, grace glides on blistered feet.” (Alice Abrams)
Take a closer look at the word “G-U-I-dance. Might it also mean, “God, you and I dance”? While I may always be a clumsy three-footed dancer, like Gene Kelly, GRACE lovingly takes my hand and glides me skillfully through the storms of my life—to the tune of Singin’ in the Rain, of course.
“Take up your tambourines and…dance with the joyful.”
Saturday, November 10, 2007
I reached for it, and I missed.
So I accepted the sky.”
On Sunday afternoon, I attended a tree planting ceremony in memory of my friend, Mary Knipp, who died of breast cancer last December. Actually, I missed most of the proceedings because I missed an important turn and ended up miles north of where I was supposed to be. I arrived as people were taking turns shoveling dirt into the hole. It’s a nice tree—a tulip tree. Mary would have like that, I’m sure.
“I have a book for you,” Betty, Mary’s mom, said to me. I found it among Mary’s things. It’s about grace and I want you to have it.” I love books and I went home and immediately dove into its pages. Well, not immediately. I again got lost because I was lost in thought…
This morning, the backhoe is back next-door. Occasionally, I peer out the window to keep track of the progress as my neighbors’ house is scooped up in pieces and loaded into large dumpsters. As much as I have not liked looking at their beautiful house in ruins, at least a part of them was still there. Now almost all signs of their having dwelled there are gone. It’s an empty lot and I feel empty inside. I hate that feeling of not being able to turn back the clock—like we did last Saturday. If only this, if only that…maybe the house could have been saved. No use in wishing on a star. Sigh…
I rescued the stone turtle candleholders off their deck, lest the backhoe grab them and gobble them up. One is in perfect condition, the other a little crispy around the edges, but useable. I still have such a strong urge to rescue bits and pieces of their lives. Kind of silly, perhaps, but it’s my way of helping them salvage something, anything. In truth, it helps helpless me feel a wee bit helpful.
Loss is such a huge theme in my life these days. I’ve been focused on how I’m losing neighbors but I now realize, with John and Donna’s house gone, I can see the home of my NEW next-door-neighbors. I think I’ll bake Charles and Loretta some bread and go introduce myself. This also seems silly, because we already know each other—but I still think I’ll do it, just for fun. It’s nice to again see lights on “next door.”
Attending the tree planting drew me back into my writing about Mary’s journey (“Saturdays with Mary”). I reread a portion of Lance Armstrong’s book (Every Second Counts: My Journey Back to Life by Lance Armstrong and Sally Jenkins) about his grueling encounter with cancer. Sally Reed, a fellow cancer survivor who lost her house in a fire, told Lance, “My house is burned, but we can see the sky.” (God is always drawing me back to books at strategic times—and I think this is one of those times!)
“My house is burned, BUT WE CAN SEE THE SKY.”
In the very same section, Lance says, “Any temptation I have to brood over losses is tempered by the knowledge that I can afford to lose just about anything except my life and the lives of people I care about.” Both John and Donna said something similar, even as we stood in my yard and watched the fire.
I’m lost in so many ways these days: lost it thoughts about a past that I cannot recapture; lost in an ongoing journey of grief in which I must let go of my brother-in-law, my friend, my mom, my neighbor, all of whom died in the last year; lost on the highways and byways that connect me to the present. My writing is a way of bridging the past and present and beginning to envision a future that is more hopeful. Mary, Lance, and Sally, and John and Donna, help me see the sky.
Lift your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one,
and calls them each by name.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
“Linda! Get up! John’s house is on fire!” Adrenalin cocktail number one! Several hours later, the shooting flames quelled and the fire died down to the point of burning embers and smoke, my husband and I retired to our bed to attempt to get some sleep. It felt wrong to go back to my comfy bed when my neighbors had lost their home; when, just on the other side of my bedroom wall, firefighters held vigil over the smoldering remains.
Sleep eventually came, following vivid images of the fire and a mental reliving of the last few hours, with tears seeping through the fog of shock. Prayers of gratitude for lives protected and requests for comfort and strength for my neighbors carried me into a fitful sleep.
When I awoke, the adrenalin surge that had raged internally throughout the wee hours of the morning, had plummeted, leaving me fatigued yet antsy, unable to relax. Fueled by a sense of helplessness, I had to “do something,” anything, to keep busy and hold my feelings at bay. I poured those feelings onto paper, which became my September 29th column, Rising from the Embers.
As I journaled, a backhoe dug out buckets of rubble so firefighters could extinguish the fire smoldering underneath. Family members dug through the huge pile of debris, hoping to find salvageable treasures.
That afternoon, around 2:00 p.m., my cell phone rang with news that my grandbaby was on the way. Adrenalin cocktail number two! Grandma and Grandpa-to-be raced to St. Vincent’s Women’s Hospital to hold vigil on our grandchild with an excited group of family members.
One of the things I most looked forward to was seeing my son’s face when he told us that the baby was here—a face beaming with happiness and excitement. When Matt strode into the waiting area—we thought to tell us the good news—his face was grave. The baby’s heart rate had dropped several times, and although it kept coming back up, there would be a C-section. Adrenalin cocktail number three!
Thirty years ago, during labor for our first child, the baby’s heart rate dropped and I was whisked into an emergency C-section. You can just imagine where my mind went as I hugged my son and told him that everything would be OK.
“LORD! I’ve prayed earnestly that you would spare my children ever having to go through the pain we endured when our first son, Jason, died shortly after birth! And now, here’s my other son, scared to death, knowing full well that his brother died following an emergency C-section! Not fair, Lord! How could you!”
I was so furious that my son and his wife had to feel that fear. I knew exactly what Matt was feeling—and I couldn’t do anything to spare him the fear and pain! I really wasn’t too worried that the same thing might happen to my grandbaby—but then, I really was worried that the same thing might happen.
To make a long story short, I did get to see that face beaming with joy and excitement, albeit, with a measure of weariness and relief around the edges. “It’s a boy!” Matt proclaimed, and our cheering section screamed with joy. Adrenalin cocktail number four!
That’s the reality of life: sorrow and joy; joy and sorrow. We often have rubble to dig out from under and it can be hard to find the treasures in the midst of grief and sorrow. And yet, “joy cometh in the morning” (or at 7:35 p.m.)! Psalm 30:5
To every thing there is a season…
A time to be born, and a time to die…
A time to weep and a time to laugh…
A time to mourn, and a time to dance…
A time to get, and a time to lose…
Monday, October 29, 2007
It’s mid September and I’m proud to say that I’m still making an effort to tend my precious babies, although this dry spell is testing my devotion. My routine involves spraying myself thoroughly with bug repellent and throwing myself to the mosquitoes who are not to be fooled by a little chemical barrier and are soon attracted to my sweat as it swiftly washes off the repellent. I fill up my watering cans and lug them to the front yard where I give each flower a generous drink of water. I know that there is an easier way to accomplish the task, but I continue to fill, lug, and quench. I love to be outdoors, so I don’t care that I’m not being time-efficient.
One afternoon, I noticed something floating in one of my watering cans. Thinking that it was a leaf, I ignored it and kept to my task. After I was done, I placed the can back in it’s rightful spot by the hose caddie—and noticed a scratching sound coming from the can. Low and behold, what I thought was a leaf was actually a toad!
Just imagine what Mr. Toad’s tenure in the can must have been like! There he is, minding his own business, quietly contemplating toadly concerns, when all of a sudden, he finds himself in a deluge of water riveting down on him from my highly specialized nozzle which, by the way, I have set on “jet.” Up he floats, as the water rises, to the top of the can, finding himself smooshed between can and the churning water surface, precious little breathing room to boot.Much to his relief, the water level begins to drop, eventually depositing him safely on the bottom of the can once again. Oh, oh! Look out below! Water once again pellets him, and slowly floats him to the top amid the roiling waters. And the cycle repeats itself again and again.
Finally, the can is dropped to the ground where it tips over, allowing an escape. While toads can hop quickly, avoiding capture, they can also be tentative in their actions. Mr. Toad takes his time, resting cautiously on the threshold. He listens patiently as I offer my condolences and apologies for the traumatic experience I have caused him to endure.
As I continue my yard work, I peek back occasionally, to see if Mr. Toad is still debating whether to stay or flee. Yes, He’s still debating… and debating… and debating… and finally I look and the watering can threshold is toadless. But he’s not ventured far. I can see him hiding out in the shade under the heat pump.
I’ve had days like this, haven’t you? Life in the watering can can be a tumultuous wash, can it not? Such days you just want to say, “Can it!” and go back to bed. I could go on and on with my canny humor, but I won’t. Gotta’ go water my flowers!But before I do, I’d like to share with you David’s words of blessing for difficult days:
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
and grant you support from Zion.
Ah, nature! While I’m partial to furry, fuzzy, cuddly critters, occasionally my attention is taken captive outside the woolly realm of mammalian warmth:
During the heat of summer, I relish the opportunity to light the Tiki torches on the mossy-bricked patio, where our domestic domicile meets the wooded cliff, and curl up on my swing to read in the pleasant coolness of the evening. As my eyes scan the pages illuminated by my tiny book light, my mind absorbed in images and ideas, the pungency of citronella stinging my nostrils, my senses are double-tasking, on the alert for a snap of a twig or a wiggle of leaves in the absence of a breeze, signs that a four-footed visitor may be cautiously approaching. An eerie “whoo-o-o-o-o” mingles with a whispered whistle of an approaching train, the drone of a single-engine sand-piper taking flight from the nearby airstrip, and the chorus of cheers from the parent-infested bleachers surrounding a ball diamond on the far side of the river.
Despite the citronella oil, and its renowned reputation for warding off insects, bugs are beckoned by the irresistible gravitational pull of my battery-powered high intensity light rays. The literary leaves now function as a landing strip for all sorts of bugs wooed and enamored by the light. My longing for enlightenment is compromised by my winged friends’ hunger for light. Who’s to say that my needs are more important than those of the bugs! Granted, books are created to impart knowledge and provide entertainment, but I delight in the creativity and ingenuity of the tiny critters sunbathing on the beaches of wisdom. My environmentalist within relishes and welcomes the opportunity for my light to serve a dual purpose.
Absorbed in a book about grace, nothing was further from my mind than investigating bugs. Nevertheless, after brushing away a truly amazing array of “pests,” my focus begrudgingly shifted to this tinker-bell ballet—a command performance staged under the floodlights of Grace—for this hand-picked audience of one. In spite of my irritation with this seeming interruption, I had to laugh. Was God trying to get my attention? What was I missing?
Always intrigued and amazed by God’s infinite and outrageous creativity, in this particular moment of grace, I marveled in the sampling of bugs sharing my light. I was especially captured by how tiny some of the bugs were and wished that I had a magnifying glass at my ready to get a closer look. And where do all these bugs come from? Do they live here in my yard, right under my nose, yet invisible, undetected? (Or is it I who is crashing the party in their yard?)
Why on earth does God need so many different kinds of bugs? It must be that God has the insatiable desire of a curious child, hungry for more, and more, and more!!! Are bugs to God like toys are to children—you can never have enough? Is God a compulsive, bells-and-whistles-out-of-control creator, never knowing when “enough is enough, already!”?
I am awed and tickled that a parallel universe populated by a myriad of tiny creatures flits and flutters around me, and—intelligent though I be—I am obtusely oblivious to its intricate, bustling existence. I have been reading about bees—another universe I have been blind to, except for when a bee buzzes too close for my comfort—which undoubtedly has sensitized my mind to the winged world at this moment in time. What parallels might I see between my life and the life of the night creatures buzzing my reading light?
Spiritually, I am drawn to the Light and the warmth of God’s love. Intellectually, I revel in bathing myself in new ideas and perspectives, basking in energizing enlightenment. Emotionally, I occasionally find myself enveloped by the darkness of depression or loneliness and seek out people and experiences that lighten my heart. Relationally, I like to gather with others of my species to cheer on the Little Leaguers or absorb divine Light amid the buzz of fellowship. Light is essential to my existence on many levels, and like my light-crazed companions on this sultry eve, I am bewitched and bedazzled by Light wherever I may find It.
I wonder, in these moments when I am drawn to the spotlight of Grace, am I, also, a tiny creature crashing unceremoniously into another being’s universe, inviting them to shift focus and experience God's grace in a new way? Do they marvel over my intricacy and chuckle over my pesky presence? Am I the light of another being’s world, as Christ has called me to be? Am I most like a beetle, well protected by a shiny, iridescent, impermeable shell, or am I like the teeny-tiny, delicate bug whose wings and body are vulnerable and transparent? Am I satisfied to rest in the Light or do I flutter about, seeking who knows what? Where do I go when the source of my light is snuffed out?
Gracious God, may I always have the good sense to rest in your Light
seed-bearing plants and trees on the land
that bear fruit with seed in it,
according to their various kinds.’
And it was so… And God saw that it was good.”
One hot, summer day, when I was a little girl, my daddy introduced me to the delicious hunt for strawberries. We were visiting Grandma and Grandpa Reuman, my mother’s parents, in Attica, New York. Their large home—hand built by Grandpa—overlooked a picturesque valley. I doubt that Dad and I talked much out there in the field behind the house, but just being with him and having him all to myself was a real treat. I couldn’t resist popping a few of the reddest and juiciest sun-warmed treasures into my mouth right there in the field.
Suddenly, the muted, country quiet was broken by an alarm sounding from Attica State Prison, far off in the valley, alerting the community that a prisoner had escaped. The harsh sound scared me to death, and I just knew that the escapee would come get me! Dad tried to allay my fears, explaining that the occasional escapee was usually a “trustee,” a prisoner who was trusted enough to work outside the wall. Such prisoners were typically due to get out of prison soon, but the security of what was familiar was more appealing than freedom, so they’d head downtown to a bar and wait to be captured, successfully extending their tenure. My fears were soothed and we enjoyed our berries with Grandma’s homemade shortcake.
Strawberries have always been a vital part of my summers, even when I did not have easy access to a strawberry field. During the summer, our neighborhood was frequented several times a week by a truck laden with berries. I got just as excited when I heard this truck coming as I did for the ice cream truck (well, almost). These luscious, locally grown berries sold for the tempting price of four quarts for a dollar. Mom would make shortcake and we’d top it all off with a generous spritz of Reddi-Wip. Dad registered his appreciation with groans of delight and lots of lip-smacking.
Before moving to Anderson, my husband and I lived in Northern Michigan where I went berry picking around the 4th of July. When we returned to Indiana, I couldn’t wait for July to come around, only to discover that I was a month late! You can bet I didn’t make that mistake twice.When my parents retired and moved to Anderson to be near my family, Dad and I took up pickin’ once again. For several years, we went to a local fruit and vegetable farm, oftentimes accompanied by my kids, Matt and Beth, who were as young as I was when I picked my first berry. Later, Dad put in a big garden next to his condo, a generous portion of it dedicated to strawberries.
Bethie and Grandpa loved to trek out to the strawberry patch where Beth would load up her t- shirt with berries and bring them in, thrilled with her payload. It was a special time between little Beth and Grandpa, reminiscent of my own special times with my strawberry-loving papa. I plan to take my own grandkids pickin’ someday!
Exodus 20:5-6 tells us that God promises his love “to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Just think: when we receive God’s love and respond with obedience, we pass God’s love on to the next one thousand generations! Is “a thousand generations” simply a metaphor to emphasize the abundance and availability of God’s love? I don’t know. But if the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Indiana can impact the ecosystem in China, then I certainly think God’s love has its own eternal “butterfly effect.”
Just as we receive a legacy from our Heavenly Father, our own family legacies are also passed on. Enjoying strawberries together is a love-filled legacy, a crimson thread in the enduring weaving that is my family. Such a simple act of grace! Every Father’s Day—appropriately celebrated during strawberry season—I fondly remember my strawberry-loving father, Frank Elmore. Thanks for the legacy, Dad!
whoever enters through me will be saved.
One summer afternoon, while soaking and floating in Adams Lake with my school day buddies, Lea and Kathy, we engaged in storytelling about—what else—our kids. “My favorite story of Matt,” Lea announces, chuckling, “is of how Rex and Linda had to gate him into his room at night with THREE gates!” I’m sure Kathy has heard this story before, but it is also one of my favorites, so I readily share the details.
Matt learned to walk early (way too early, in my opinion!) and strongly objected to any form of containment. Climbing in and out of (or on top of) just about anything was his forte’ at a very early age. At around age two, he decided that the crib was more a vehicle than a stationery object best utilized for slumber. By shaking the crib, he discovered that he could masterfully maneuver it across the shag carpet to within arms reach of the dresser. His goal: the jar of Vaseline, which works quite nicely for creative expression on all sorts of surfaces.
Not to be outwitted, Rex and I craftily removed the wheels and chuckled with delight as we lay him down for his nap. Not a problem! Matt quickly learned that he could escape the crib by climbing over the bars with the wall at his back to keep him from falling. However, without the wheels, he would become stuck between the wall and the crib and we were afraid he might hang himself. So, it was back to the drawing board.
Feeling somewhat defeated, yet ever hopeful, we removed the crib from his room, placed the mattress on the floor and tried every psychological trick we could think of to convince Matt that he was now a big boy and ready to sleep in (and stay put in) a big boy bed. Matt reveled in his new-found freedom, wandering the house from the minute we put him down. Not to be outwitted (yet, again!), we placed a baby gate in his doorway. No problema! He loved to climb and joyfully took the challenge like a squirrel to a squirrel-proof bird-feeder.
The gauntlet was thrown! A second gate was installed above the first gate. But freedom still remained a mere scramble away. Rex wanted to just close and lock the door, but I couldn’t bear the thought of locking my child up or of not being able to peek in and check up on him. So a third gate was purchased and the doorway was now impenetrable. We definitely won this round, but at quite an emotional cost.
Have you any idea how guilty a parent can feel upon discovery of one’s two-year-old curled up on the floor, by the gated doorway, tightly hugging his blankie and stuffed monkey, sound asleep, looking so sweet and innocent? Trust me, it’s traumatic. But hey, incarceration worked! We could work through the trauma.
The new nightly routine now became a process of setting up camp for Matt at his doorway, settling him down for a story and prayers, the designated parent of the evening sitting cross-legged in the hallway. After kisses, gates one, two, and three were installed. Some nights, the inmate would scream and holler and other nights, he accepted his incarceration peacefully. Eventually, the gates were no longer needed (I can’t remember if this was when he was around four – or sixteen…)
Twenty-five years later, the parental guilt has abated, and Matt does not seem to have been too terribly traumatized. We look forward to having grandchildren—we just hope Matt has a child “just like” him!
I wonder, do our Heavenly Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit ever hang out, like Lea, Kathy, and I—floating on a cloud, perhaps—swapping stories about their children?
“Hey, did you hear that Linda locked her keys in the car again—that makes three times this summer! And this time the dog was in the car! What on earth would she do without our rescue service?”
“Oh, I can top that! Did you hear the one about when Rex…?”
“If you think that’s funny, just listen to this!”
I imagine that, from God’s perspective, we often act like two year olds, in need of constant parental vigil and ingenuity. Does God get exasperated with us, impatient with our immature behavior? (Just check out some of the Old Testament stories about the Israelites and you’ll know that he does!) Does God heave a big sigh of relief when we’re safely tucked into bed at night, knowing we’ve made it through another day of shenanigans?
Daily, I am tempted to climb over the gates erected by my heavenly parent to keep me safely contained. Sometimes I actually make an escape. But like the time when I was five or six and climbed over the backyard gate—and caught and tore my pants on a picket—my escapes are less than graceful. While I crave freedom, and desire to be my own boss, ultimately I know that living in God’s gated community is in my best interest.
Awhile back, I was visiting with my good friend, Sandra, and her two young children in the living room of their home when Caleb, her youngest, unobtrusively sidled up to his mother, as we were chatting, and rubbed his snotty nose on her sleeve. Now, you could say that he didn’t know any better, which perhaps he didn’t, but the crucial point, I think, is that a mother’s love “bears all things,” including snotty sleeves, saliva-soaked shoulders, a lap full of runny poop (on her Sunday suit, of course), a face squirted with warm pee, and the volcanic eruptions of a child’s partially digested stomach (of candy, pop, corn on the cob, and cotton candy following a hot, hectic day at the carnival). And she gracefully bears such indignities with dignity and grace. A Congressional Medal of Honor is definitely in order.
My second example transpired one warm, sunny, summer afternoon while boating. Rex had just boarded the boat dripping wet, having slalomed around the lake, and was toweling off when our newly acquired daughter-in-law, Kristy, informed him that he had snot on his face. Now, snot on one’s face following skiing—especially if you’ve done a nose dive and taken in a face full of lake water—is not uncommon. But passing on such delicate information to one’s new father-in-law is significant, to say the least. Obviously, Kristy felt comfortable enough with “Dad” to broach the subject and take it upon herself to inform him that he needed to wipe his nose. And “Dad’s” gracious acceptance of her remark was equally as significant. I remember commenting, as we all laughed, that this was a sign that Kristy was truly one of the family.
And so, I believe I’ve quite adequately demonstrated the subtle, graceful connection between snot and grace. Metaphorically speaking, life is full of moments when our noses run, catching us unawares and unprepared without a tissue or handkerchief handy. How we handle those moments, both as the one caught in the act of being human, and as an observer of the flaws and frailties of others, reflects our ability to give and receive grace.
I can’t think of any passages in the Bible that talk about snot (thank goodness!), but Scripture certainly has a great deal to say about God’s abiding love and grace. The realization that we are loved and of great value comes, on rare occasions, in the form of an eye-opening, lightning bolt experience – a dramatic exclamation point lighting up the sky of our hearts. Much more frequently, though, a slowly dawning awareness that we are deeply loved is nurtured in the day-in, day-out showers of tiny droplets of human love reflecting God’s incredible love for us. To be able to rub one’s nose on Mama’s or Papa’s sleeve, or to feel secure enough in one’s new family to be forthright (with tact, respect, and a dash of humor, of course), speaks of love on the grassroots level. This is love that grows imperceptibly, day by day, rooting itself firmly in rich, well-prepared, sun-warmed, heart-soil: embodied grace.
Isn’t it good to know that even when we’re feeling or acting snotty, we can sidle up to our Heavenly Father and… well, you get the picture!
While I was “out of the country,” my “Pondering the Crosspoints,” entitled “Snot and Grace,” was to appear in our church newsletter. I was a little bit anxious about the reception of this piece, anticipating a few “Oh my gosh!”es and “Well, I never!”s from the more conservative members of our congregation. Several times I thought I heard my ears ringing, but as it turns out, this physical phenomena was totally unrelated to the buzz I thought I was creating back home.
Before publishing “Snot and Grace,” I sought, and received, the blessings of all the major players mentioned in the snotty scenarios. I spoke with my pastor, John Young, and received his blessing as well. Even so, I felt like I was climbing out on a limb and had invited him out there with me. I was an avid tree climber as a child, but over the years I’ve developed a fear of heights, and I did not relish a “fall from grace” among my peers. But up the tree I went! While perched together precariously on what felt like a very bouncy, flimsy limb, John spoke to my reservations: “Well, if anyone has difficulty with your writing, they just need an extra dose of grace.” More grace-filled words I’ve never heard!
Evidently God was not finished with my “Lessons From Snot (not to be confused with Lessons From Morey by Mitch Albom).” Two days into our trip, my sinuses unleashed a flow of drainage for which there were not enough tissues in all of Costa Rica to contain. Tissues are a third-world luxury and, as a member of the “Kleenex Generation,” I panicked when my supply from home quickly ran out. Having experienced a cold during her stay in Costa Rica, Beth tipped me off to the paper towel dispensers, which very few rest rooms provide (it’s so HOT there that one’s hands air dry before you can reach for the door knob).
The Costa Rican paper towels, thinner that what we use in the U.S, proved to be better snot-catchers than anything thus far developed by the combined efforts of Kleenex, Puffs, and Scotties! But, as I alluded to earlier, these heaven-sent dispensers of grace were few and far between, and I had to filch and hoard whatever I could of the valuable commodity whenever possible. I did find a few miniature boxes of actual “Kleenex” brand tissues strategically placed around one of our lodgings, but these pour excuses for tissues could not even handle the emission of one of my tender nostrils.
Now, I don’t know about you, but I find uncontrollable fits of sneezing, coughing, and blowing my nose in public a bit embarrassing. Even though I know Emily Post would be aghast at my public display of nose control (Mom having taught me that it is impolite to blow one’s nose at the dinner table), I was at the mercy of my out of control proboscis. If I had excused myself from the table every time I needed to clear my nostrils (Doesn’t that sound “politically correct”?), I would have missed entire meals at a time and missed the opportunity to get acquainted with many of the mission team members. Fortunately, my traveling companions looked on me with pity and accepted me, snot and all, with grace and aplomb.
It wasn’t until I was back home that it occurred to me that God had given me my very own “snotty” lesson on grace. Once again, my fears of rejection—rooted in long ago childhood experiences—were proven false. Every day, several people would ask me how I was feeling and express empathy for my condition. Jeanine had gotten sick during our mission trip to Kenya in 2000, so she was especially compassionate and supportive. Tom, her husband, informed me that I could request a medical consult at the hotel desk. Jeanette’s husband is susceptible to pneumonia, and she was so concerned about my cough, that she thought I should be Med-Jetted home. Nuria, our Coco de Playa Lion’s Club hostess, took me to a farmacia for cough medicine (nasty tasting stuff—like what I imagine turpentine to taste like!). Bob gave me a supply of better tasting Americano cough syrup that went down much easier. And Rex and Beth were so loving and sweet. I couldn’t have felt more loved and accepted.
While I wish I’d not been sick on our trip, between all the coughing fits, sneezes, and blowing, I did manage to enjoy being reunited with Beth, the beauty of God’s prolific handiwork—Pacific sunsets, itsy-bitsy sand crabs scurrying on ocean beaches, exotic butterflies and birds vividly accenting the Cloud Forest, brilliant orange lava trickling down Mt. Arenal—and the companionship of many wonderful people. Once again, grace came through.
Ah… Ah… Ah… Excuse me… Ah… does anyone have… Ahhhhhhh… a tissue??????????????
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
written on our hearts,
known and read by everybody.
You show that you are a letter from Christ,
the result of our ministry, written not with ink
but with the Spirit of the living God,
not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
2 Corinthians 3:2-3
When I was a child, I attended Martin Luther Elementary School in Buffalo, New York, and during my second and third grade years, I had the most wonderful teacher. Miss Albers was the prettiest, smartest, kindest, most fun teacher ever created! Midway through my third grade year, my family moved to Indiana and I had to say goodbye to Miss Albers.
My parents were fond of my teacher, as well, and I was delighted that they kept in touch with her. I was so excited when the news came that she was to be married and that she and her husband were to be missionaries in New Guinea. I have a picture of the happy couple with their baby girl, Debra, and a second picture of their two little girls sitting on a blanket with grass huts in the background. Miss Albers was now more wonderful that ever—and I wanted to be “just like her” when I grew up!
Could it be that the seed for missions was written on my heart, so many years ago, by the example of a woman who created a safe, warm, nurturing environment in which to learn and grow? I think St. Paul would say a resounding “Yes! Yes, indeed!” I am your letter, Miss Albers, and because of you, the Spirit of the living God is written on my heart.
C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite writers, had a great deal to say about love and vulnerability. I believe that we all come into this world with tender hearts vulnerable to the touch of the Spirit, open to the love of God. When someone like Miss Albers writes upon our hearts, we learn to be open and vulnerable, willing to risk love.
However, when someone with a wounded heart, wields the pen of rejection, criticism, and discouragement, our hearts become hardened lest we be hurt again. Most of us have experienced both kinds of etchings, and a battle ensues within: Should I reach out, risk, be vulnerable? Should I withdraw and protect myself from hurt?
I am very thankful for Miss Albers, as well as the many other wonderful people, who have written upon my heart with the Spirit of the living God. I am their letter. I, too, have written upon the vulnerable hearts of many individuals, and they are my letter. I pray that, more times than not, it is God’s Spirit who guides my pen, yet all too often I flinch with shame for a wounding mark I have carelessly left. It is an awesome privilege and responsibility—and an amazing gift of grace—to be both the pen of Grace and the tablet upon which Grace is written.
C.S. Lewis, “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” http://www.painterskeys.com/auth_search.asp?name=C.%20S.%20Lewis
the Root of David, has triumphed.”
I don’t know about you, but for me the image of Jesus as a roaring, wild-maned lion is quite intimidating and less than inviting. It’s also hard to reconcile with my long-time favorite image of Jesus as Shepherd. Of course, there is that passage in the Bible that predicts a time when the lion will lay down with the lamb – a popular Christmas card picture – but this is really hard for me to cuddle up to. It’s beyond my comprehension and experience.
Many years ago, my good friend, Lea, who was studying to be an elementary teacher, and avidly devouring children’s literature, introduced me to The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. The “mane” character, Aslan, is an inhabitant of Narnia, an unseen world penetrable only to innocent, imaginative children whose hearts are open to mystery. This delightful fantasy, enjoyed equally by children and adults alike, is rich with spiritual metaphor. The saga of the children’s experiences in Narnia parallels our own “spiritual safari” and relationship with Christ, the Lion of Judah.
I read Narnia before having children and loved it for its wonderful characters and adventure-filled story, as well as for the spiritual message encoded in its imagery. And I have since read it to both of my children when they were young. I think I need to read it again before I put on my crash helmet and go on safari with this madman Annie Dilliard speaks of!
While I can’t remember much of the story line and few of the names of the characters, I do remember the feeling of safety and security that grew in me as I journeyed through Narnia. It was a spiritual safari deeper than I’ve ever traveled into the tangled jungle of trust and faith. Aslan was powerful and scary, but also gentle and loving. My encounter with Aslan, if only as reader and voyeur, nurtured my trust in God, and I wanted my children to know Aslan as a door into understanding God.
I invite you to strap on your crash helmets and venture, however tentatively, into the jungle with a wild-maned madman. I imagine Jesus, the master of metaphor and parable, a broad smile stretched across his face and a twinkle in his eye, exclaiming, “Now, why didn’t I think of that one!”
 Dillard, Annie, referenced in Dancing to the Heartbeat of Redemption, by Joy Sawyer, InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 153.
 Sawyer, Joy, Dancing to the Heartbeat of Redemption, InterVarsity Press, 2000, p. 153.
and I will give you rest.
I let her back in, a blast of frigid winter air rushing in with her. We’ve had a cold streak plunging the temperature to zero and below for days. Panda’s dogging me now, following me closely as I turn on the coffeepot, traipse to my closet to grab my terry cloth robe and slippers, and I know this means no going back to my warm bed and cuddling up with Rex. So I situate myself in my favorite living room chair, rest my achy back against a heating pad, and cover up with my mom’s soft, pink throw to sip my coffee and write.
It’s not long before Panda-Dear is peering up at me, patiently waiting for an invitation to take over my lap. We play our little game in which I coax and she pretends indifference, until she says, “Well, if you insist!” (No, of course, she doesn’t really say this – it’s printed in the little comic strip bubble above her head.) Having saved face by making me beg, she is now curled up safely in my lap drifting back to never-never land. I, on the other hand, am AWAKE! My legs are beginning to ache from her weight, but I know from experience, that in just a few minutes, she’ll abandon my lap, stretch elegantly and luxuriously like a dancer warming up before a performance, and settle peacefully onto the carpet a few feet from my chair.
My mind alert for a spiritual application, I smile as I picture God curled up in a Lazyboy chair, dressed in rumpled, flannel PJs and robe, hair all matted from sleep, sipping a latte (heaven’s kitchen is a wee bit more gourmet than mine). I’ve awakened Grace and she graciously invites me to join her, yawning deeply and rubbing her eyes as I climb gratefully into her generous lap. I realize that it is Mama-God who rises with me in the early sleepless hours before dawn and sits with me, a comforting presence when I’m ruffled and restless. I just need to sit in her lap for a bit, just long enough to synchronize my breathing to hers, like I used to do as a little girl curled up contentedly on the sofa next to my daddy.
Just a few minutes in the lap of Grace is all I need.
My first-best-friend, Mary, and I spent hours together coloring such pictures, one after another. We were like the artists who paint for the starving artist art sales—painting essentially the same picture over and over again, with minor variations. We wouldn’t stop until all the scrap paper my mom provided was converted into works of art.
What caught my attention in Merton’s poem is that he mentions four times that Grace has not included a road. No driveway; no brick path winding from the picket fence gate to the inviting front door; no way at all to get to Grace’s beautiful house. Merton’s repetition of this seeming oversight offers implications for our spiritual walk.
Sometimes there are days (or weeks or months) when, try as I might, I feel like I can’t find the road to Grace’s (God’s) House. There’s got to be one! The Bible talks about the “straight and narrow” road to the Kingdom of Heaven: “Small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” It sounds like I’m definitely not alone in my struggle!
Wouldn’t it be nice if finding the road to Grace’s house were as simple as doing a Mapquest search? With map and step-by-step directions, I could navigate myself right up to the heavenly mansion—with nary a wrong turn—and approach the throne of God with my complaints, questions, and numerous requests.
But could it be that there really is no road?
Perhaps no road is necessary because Grace knows exactly where I am and comes to me, before I even send out a distress signal. Scott Peck, author of The Road Less Traveled, states, “We do not come to grace, grace comes to us. Try as we might to obtain grace, it may yet elude us. We may seek it not, yet it will find us.” What wonderful news for those of us who are directionally challenged!
In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus posed this question: "Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?”  And then—get this—the shepherd rejoices and throws a party! Isaiah, the Old Testament prophet, says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…”  When we wander far a field and lose our way, what comfort it is to know that our Shepherd is seeking us.
Maybe no road is needed because Grace’s path mysteriously intersects with, my own. "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.”  I can visualize myself standing expectantly at the crossroads, where my life intersects with Grace, my eyes straining for my first sight of her.Grace coming to me; I like the sound of that!
And Grace will come again: Hours before he died, Jesus told his disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled; ye believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also…" 
When I was an adolescent, we sang this scripture in choir and the verse and tune are a promise firmly planted in my heart. The morning that my father died, sitting on the foot of his hospital bed, I picked up his Bible from the bedside table and opened it to the page he had marked. Highlighted in yellow was this very passage. I surmised that only hours before he died, he read this passage, knowing that Jesus was coming for him soon.
“So, is there a road to Grace’s house?” rational, inquiring minds want to know! As I bring a close to this pondering, I’m remembering the final scene in the popular movie, Back to the Future. “Doc” (Emmet Brown, played by the zany Christopher Lloyd) has returned from the future to get Marty (Michael J. Fox) and his girlfriend, Jennifer, because, “Something has to be done about your kids!” Marty and Jennifer trustingly climb into the De Lorean, Doc’s time machine. “Hey Doc, we better back up, we don’t have enough road,” Marty advises. “Roads? replies Doc, as he coolly lower his futuristic sun glasses over his eyes. “Where we’re going, we don’t need roads.” Is there a spiritual parallel here? I’ll let you chew on this awhile…
 Matthew 7:14
 Peck, M. Scott, Recovery Devotional Bible, “The Welcoming of Grace,” p. 1182
 Luke 15:3-7 NIV
 Isaiah 53:6 NIV
 Jeremiah 6:16 NIV
 John 14:1-6 KJV, C.S. Lewis, “Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless – it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” http://www.painterskeys.com/auth_search.asp?name=C.%20S.%20Lewis
Sunday, October 28, 2007
Metaphorically and spiritually I also need to periodically clear away the “dead wood” in my life—those thoughts, beliefs, attitudes, and actions that clutter my path and trip me up on my spiritual journey. I consider myself to be a “good person, certainly not someone who needs to chain saw my way through massive fallen-ness, like major addictions (do chocolate and Dr. Pepper count?), infidelities, criminal conduct, etc., but, truth be told, I have some logs, not only in my eye, but in my life!
Since the fire that destroyed the home next door, and threatened our own home, I feel no desire to smell burning leaves and wood this fall. What used to be a charming aspect of the ambiance of autumn is now an all too vivid reminder of tragedy. As I write this, I am watching the latest news report on the California fires. My daughter, Beth, just recently moved back to Indiana after living and teaching in San Diego for three years. I am SO THANKFUL that she is not out there right now, but I share her anxiety for her California friends and their families.
This national disaster also takes me back to my two weeks with the Red Cross in Louisiana, following Hurricane Katrina. A part of me would like to go and help, but I do not feel the call, like I did with Katrina. I knew then, without a doubt, that I was supposed to go. It’s so unlike me to step out of my comfort zone, to go into the unknown—and all by my lonesome. That was obviously a God thing!
Wildfires have roared across the California landscape, fueled by the Santa Ana winds, for hundreds, maybe even million of years, and will probably continue to do so. Fires, floods, and other monumental disasters have ravaged the earth for eons (Despite the current controversy over humanity’s culpability in global warming!). So, too, “wildfires” will roar across the landscapes of our lives, sometimes due to our own carelessness in not attending to “dead wood,” and sometimes simply because lightning strikes. Most, if not all of us, bear the scars of having been struck by divorce or the death of a loved one, struck by a car—or cancer, depression, job loss…
Like Yellowstone National Park, in which 988,975 acres of forests were devastated by fire in 1988, we, too can survive the searing heat and destruction of life’s wildfires. I was awed and inspired the second time I visited Yellowstone and witnessed the rebirth that is taking place among the charred, lifeless spires of once thriving trees. Fertilized by ash, and miraculously re-seeded from pine cones programmed to release their seeds only under intense heat, Yellowstone’s forests remind me that God wastes nothing and uses everything, in nature and in human life, to bless His creation and his creatures.
When have you risen from the ashes of wildfire? How and where have you reseeded yourself, proving that God works all things for good for those who love him and live according to his ordinances? As we rise out of the ashes in our lives, we are uniquely enabled to offer support to others in the midst of their fire storms. We can empathize, respond with compassion, offer encouragement, and be living proof that grace can and will prevail.
The Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud
to lead them along the way,
and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light.
Can you see God in the fire?
Sunday, October 21, 2007
When you are in a wondering mood, what captures your wonderment? Can you recall the last time you were enthralled by the mystery of grace? As adults, we’ve little time in our busy lives to stop and indulge in childlike wonder. Sadly, like an unused muscle, this precious, life-giving ability seems to atrophy.
As a new grandma, I love to watch baby Evan. In between his two primary activities—eating and sleeping—are brief episodes of wakefulness. His beautiful, wide eyes gaze around intently, taking in his surroundings. For three week old Evan, the world is fresh and captivating, just as it was for Adam and Eve when they opened their eyes for the first time in the Garden of Eden.
Just imagine experiencing things visually for the very first time, unencumbered by memories and interpretations. I wonder, does an infant see things exactly as God created them and exactly how he wants us to experience them—free of fear, skepticism, judgment... Imagine being completely open, without expectations, hidden agendas, or mixed motives… Just pure, unselfconscious communion and oneness with God’s creation and with our Creator. Just the thought of this makes me want to sing,
“Open the eyes of my heart Lord, open the eyes of my heart.
I want to see You. I want to see You.”
The eyes of my heart. I wonder, do the eyes of baby Evan’s heart see with such spiritual clarity and discernment?
We are surrounded by the wonder of God’s creative frenzy, yet somehow we often see right past it. Bouts of fear, worry, resentment, complaining, lethargy, grief, anger, sadness, _____________ (you fill in the blank) cloud our vision. The challenges of life, and the emotions they unleash, are crosspoints on which we teeter between growth and retreat.
Often it is in the very midst of a crisis that we encounter God’s living presence in life-changing ways. In The Ragamuffin Gospel, Brennan Manning, states that “the spirituality of wonder knows the world is charged with grace, that while sin and war, disease and death are terribly real, God’s loving presence and power in our midst are even more real.”
Recognizing a subtle, spine-tingling charge of grace, and responding with wonder, is sometimes even more elusive as we deal with the ordinary, mundane activities of daily life. For me, little children, furry animals, and nature are gifts of grace that, in the words of Joy Sawyer, “help me return to the sense of wonder at common, everyday events.” (Dancing to the Heartbeat of Redemption)
Little children are enthralled with the itty-bitty. When my daughter, Beth, was a tot, the sight of a daddy-longlegs was cause for excited squeals and uncontrollable bouncing, and all action came to an abrupt halt while she paused in rapt attention, fully absorbed in her latest discovery. Then would come the non-stop questions about every minute aspect of the newly discovered creature. And this process would be repeated with each-and-every daddy-longlegs she spied—every day—for an entire summer! A child’s wonder can be exhausting for a busy toddler’s parent! Oh, to have such vision!
Our heavenly parent welcomes our questions and delights in our curiosity and is never exhausted by our wonder. Whether you are in the midst of an overwhelming crisis or trudging through the tedium and frustrations of an ordinary day, I pray that you will have the eyes of an infant, the curiosity of a child, and the attentiveness of the psalmist, discovering anew a “world charged with grace.”
“I pray…that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened.”
St. Paul, Ephesians 1:18
“Just put this one last block in the basket – just this one,” the fatigued and frustrated father said. The blond-haired two-year-old, sitting on the floor next to him, contemplated the one remaining brightly colored Fisher-Price block. Glancing at his father sideways out of the corners of his vivid blue eyes, he heaved the block across the family room where it bounced off the paneled wall and tumbled to the floor. The obstinate, PJ-clad toddler and the twenty-something, highly educated, professional-by-day father had been locked in this scrimmage for control for at least an eternal half-hour.
“Why can’t he just obey? Why won’t he put one lousy block in the stupid toy basket, for Pete’s sake!” my frazzled hubby exclaimed to me later that evening. Upstairs, his worthy opponent lay sleeping, secured for the night, the epitome of innocence and sweetness, his wiry arms enfolding, and his sweaty, rosy cheek resting on, his beloved stuffed monkey. Suppressing a smile, I pondered silently how alike father and son are in so many ways, including their “tenacity.”
“He’s so unbelievably stubborn!” Rex proclaimed as he fell into his recliner, his energy spent, his spirit sagging. How is it possible, he wondered, for a mature adult capable of abstract thinking, logic, and other sophisticated intellectual skills to be bested by a mere child who thinks concretely and can’t tell the difference between make-believe and reality? We both sighed deeply and turned our waning attention to the TV. My sigh was one of relief, so, so glad that it wasn’t my night for bedtime duty!
Returning from my reverie, I contemplated my son and his question. For years, we’ve teased Matt—in moments of his obstinacy—that we hope he has a child “just like” him. There are other qualities that we’ve jokingly wished upon his progeny, like his proclivity for climbing and his love for disappearing into clothes racks while shopping, all the while scaring his mother to death. His favorite Sesame Street character was Ernie—which should give you a glimmer of his lively personality.
So, do I wish that Matt has a kid just like him? Be careful now, Mom. This is a million dollar question. Do I want to call a friend or poll the audience? Nope. I’m on my own here. What’s my final answer? What makes this such a tricky question is that cradled in my son’s arms as he rocks, is his very own newborn son, Evan. (Late, breaking news flash: I interrupt this article to announce that I am a GRANDMA! Evan Jason Teeple was born at 7:35 p.m. on September 28, weighing in at 7 lbs. 3 oz. and measuring 20.5 inches.)
Oh, yes! I do most definitely hope that Evan is a chip off the old block, but in oh so many more ways than I meant when I have teased Matt in the past. Matthew (his name means “Gift of God”), this precious, precocious boy of mine, has grown into a fine man. I love him dearly and am very proud of the son and husband and father he has become. While I do hope that Evan will give Matt a taste of what it was like to raise him (so that Matt will deeply appreciate our heroic, parenting efforts all the more, and hopefully take care of us in our old age), I hope that, amid the challenges, he will enjoy this little guy as much as we have enjoyed raising him.
Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. Psalm 127:3 KJV
By the way, the name Evan is the Welsh form of John, a Hebrew name meaning “God is gracious.” I hope my daughter (in-law), Kristy, will keep this in mind in those moments when Evan causes her to utter, “You are just like your father!!!”
Saturday, October 6, 2007
Matt has fond memories of Mrs. Doris, not just from classroom and hallway encounters, but also from her presence at his football games and track meets, his graduation, his graduation open house… Goodness! Mrs. Doris must be the busiest person on the face of the earth on open house days! Everyone wants her to come to their house, and come, she does, with camera in hand. If you run into Mrs. Doris, it’s likely that she’ll dig into her purse for a picture she took of you and your friends that she’s been meaning to give you.
The year that Matt graduated, Mrs. Doris was awarded her very own letter jacket. The student body went wild, rocking the Wigwam with joy, as Mrs. Doris modeled her coat of honor. Mrs. Doris “lettered” in encouragement, enthusiasm, compassion, attentiveness, inspiration, loyalty, commitment, kindness, humor, hugs, smiles and twinkling eyes. An encounter with Mrs. Doris is an encounter with grace.
I am very thankful for the Mrs. Doris’ in my kids’ lives. There is so much in life that wears our self esteem thin and we need mentors and encouragers who love us and believe in us, who show us there is goodness in life, and who model for us the qualities that make a person truly great. If I could sum up in one phrase the gift that Mrs. Doris bestows on kids, it’s the message that, “You are significant.”
Even more important than conveying to children that they are significant to us, is our responsibility of conveying how very significant they are to their Heavenly Father. The psalmist, David, captures this beautifully in the 139th psalm:
O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in—behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. ... you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother's womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body. All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
David understood, from the inside out, that he was significant in God’s eyes and that God had a plan for his life. We can each be a Mrs. Doris in the life of a child, conveying to them their significance to us, and most especially, their significance to God.
Mrs. Doris loves to tell the story of how touched she was when our Matt gave her his captain’s star to put on her jacket. Like Matt, please let the Mrs. Doris’ of your life know that, in your eyes—and in God’s—they are a shining star.
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
“Linda. Get up!” My husband said with urgency. “John’s house is on fire!” Instantly I was fully awake and quickly dashing out the front door, as Rex called 911. As we hurried across our lawn into John’s yard, a firm voice instructed us to, “Stay in your own yard, please!” “We just want to know if they got out of the house!” my husband shouted from behind me. They did! John and Donna were safe and the fire department was already there.
There was little we could do, except be present with them as they watched the beautiful log home, that they and their five children had built together thirty years ago, be devoured by fire. John had heard the smoke alarm and wakened Donna. As they descended the smoke-filled staircase from their second floor bedroom, they were scared that they would not make it out of the house.
As I sit here writing, thirteen hours have passed since my husband woke me. There are still fire engines and numerous other emergency vehicles lining the street, and I can hear heavy equipment at work. A massive plume of smoke is still rising from the hole in the ground where three levels of rubble are piled atop burning embers. The heavy equipment is raising the rubble up out of the hole so firefighters can extinguish the remainder of the fire.
In the wee hours of the morning, our yard was teeming with concerned neighbors and John and Donna’s family members. We all stood helplessly watching their beautiful home disappear before our eyes. As one of the tall trees standing between our two homes caught fire and burning embers drifted over our house, I became afraid that our house would also catch on fire. Rex hosed down our roof while I dashed around inside our house grabbing a few things, in the event we should fall prey to the fire.
When the firefighters turned their attention on our home, hosing down the roof, I felt guilty that precious water was being diverted to our house while my neighbors’ house was engulfed with flames. That was when I realized that their house was beyond saving.
Surrounded my by neighbors, I thought about all the crises that our few families have dealt with during the last year. The protective denial I live with—that surely my family is immune to tragedy because, “those things only happen to other people”—was juxtaposed with the reality that cancer, the death of loved ones, fires, car accidents, job loss, divorce, and on and on, ARE a part of life.
There is no immunity, for any of us. But in the midst of strive, there is grace. God’s presence was palpable this morning, embodied in the love and concern of neighbors and in the dedication of the many wonderful volunteer firefighters.
So what crossed your mind as you pondered my opening question—what would you grab? I bet that, like me, you immediately thought of things that connect you to your loved ones. A home is so much more than four walls, a roof, and the things housed within. It is a throbbing heart full of memories of the past, experiences of the present, and dreams for the future. A home is a haven of love and security. Home is something we carry in our hearts and I have no doubt that John and Donna have all that they need to create a new family haven.
Crises are powerful reminders of what is truly important in life. Hug your loved ones today. Tell them you love them and how very much they are a gift of grace in your life. Don’t wait. And, please, make sure your smoke alarms are in working order!
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord,
"plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.
OK! What’s your final answer?
When I ask GOOGLE this question, I got 1170 hits, and what I found was quite eye-opening—sometimes encouraging, sometimes disheartening, and sometimes shocking. After searching just seven pages of hits, I discovered a diversity of responses:
· Most frequent responses: music, the American dollar, freedom
· Most comprehensive arena: commerce and finance: the American dollar, services, fast food, American jobs, junk debt, the disease of consuming, intellectual property, Capitalism
· Culture: jazz, blues, rock and roll—and Bob Dylan himself, arts, entertainment, fame, the culture of hip, Hollywood, our image
· Patriotic: the Constitution, freedom, security, democracy, Manifest Destiny
· Most inspiring: dreams, creativity, ideas
· Most pessimistic: weapons, war, bombs, death, exploitation, mediocrity
· Most unique: The expression "O.K."
· Silliest: Clowns
· Most shocking: a Godless culture
· Most encouraging (to me): the nonprofit social sector
Did your answer make the list? What surprised you? If you had to choose just one export from this list that you believe represents what the average Joe and Jill America think, what would it be?
I was inspired to ask this question by a true story recounted by Tim Kimmel in Grace-Based Parenting. Kimmel attended a luncheon where the question, “What do you think is America’s most strategic export?” was being discussed. Among the many responses was one given by a WWII recipient of the Medal of Honor (which had been presented to him personally by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a White House ceremony): “The greatest commodity we have to offer the world,” he said, "is freedom.”
When I surfed the web, I truly expected to see this same answer come up repeatedly, but as you can see from the above list, freedom is wedged into the list like a tiny volume of wisdom misplaced in the more popular paperback sections of romance or sci-fi.
Kimmel used this story as an illustration to set the scene for another question he wished to invite his reader to explore. Several Englishmen, in the mid 1900s, were deep into a discussion on comparative religions when one diner asked, “What separates Christianity from every other religion in the world?” Again, how would you answer this question?
Answers were proffered by these learned men of academia: the Incarnation, the resurrection of Christ… Walking in on the debate of his Oxford colleagues late, none other that C.S Lewis declared, “Oh, that’s easy! It’s _______.”
While Tim Kimmel acknowledges Jesus as the very core of Christianity, he challenges us to dig deeper with yet another question: “What is it about Jesus that inclines us to cast our lot with a simple carpenter from an obscure, ancient village?”
Both Lewis and Kimmel are in agreement:
“Oh, that’s easy!” says Lewis. It’s grace.”
“It’s because of His grace,” offers Kimmel, “grace He has shown us by first purchasing us from the depths of our lost condition. It’s His grace that loves us when we’re being foolish, or stubborn, or selfish or mean-spirited.”
Imagine what the world would be like if every Christian imported grace into their hearts—and then exported it to even just one other person. Music, money, and freedom are life-enhancing, God-given gifts, all usually attainable, if we work hard enough—and yet, all can be snatched away or lost. Grace, however, is a unique and priceless gift, one that we cannot earn, or buy, or attain on our own, no matter how hard we try—a gift that is eternal, and always available. With grace, there’s an endless supply, more than enough to go around, no coupons needed, no limits on how much you can take, no restrictions, no small print, no lines, no waiting,.. Grab grace with gusto and go!
We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment
that he has already thrown open his door to us.
We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—
out in the wide open spaces of God's grace and glory.
Romans 5:1 The Message
What is your greatest export?
Kimmel, Tim, Grace-Based Parenting, W Publishing Group (division of Thomas Nelson, Inc.), 2004, pp. 27-30