Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Willing Compliance

At this time of year, there is much talk of the circumstances and persons surrounding the birth of Jesus. I will admit that I do not identify strongly with all characters in the story; I have never herded sheep, and I am not a Wise astrologer or historian who would follow the path of a star hoping to find a new king (though I confess that, in times past, I may have done a great deal to find a new president for our country!)

The one whom I do identify with is Mary, the mother of the baby Jesus. As a mother myself, I can know how she felt when the child moved in her womb; I can know her joy at seeing His first steps and hearing His first words. And I know well the swell of pride in seeing a son (or, in my case, sons, as I have two) grow to be a fine man. These things I can easily identify with. There are things in Mary's life, however, that I have not identified with. I have not, fortunately, had to share her sorrow at the loss of her beloved son.  And I can also not say that I am, as Mary seemed to be, an always willing and compliant person to God's every will in my life.

I frequently ask 'Why?' and demand 'How?' and even utter an occasional 'You've got to be kidding!' in  my conversation with God about His will for my own life. In contrast, when Mary realized the task God had set before her, she is recorded as saying:

             "My soul magnifies the Lord,
    and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
               for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant."  (Luke 1:47-48)

Willing compliance. I believe God looks for that in His servants, no matter how great or small His will is regarding their life tasks and situations. I would love to rejoice in every situation and task the Lord sets before me. I would love for my life to magnify my Lord. Mary did not have an exalted role put before her. Hers was the task of having a child the community probably saw as the result of her unholiness; hers was the task of going through painful labor in a barn; her task was to change diapers and clean up messes; hers was to raise the Son of God in a world of men; hers was the task of watching him die a horrible death. Mary had it much harder than I have it, without a doubt. But she was willing and compliant.

Can I not be more willing and compliant in the tasks and situations God sets before me and places me in? I need to remember God's servant, Mary. I need to be the kind of servant in my life that she was in the life God gave her. I need to be willingly compliaint.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014


I don't know if it is Life itself, or if it is a cultural thing, but it seems that, as we reach and pass through significant times in our lives, the true Milestones of our time here, we are kept too busy and too tired to stop and even assess their significance. Think of it: births, graduations, marriages, deaths. All are surrounded by a flurry of activity, either planned or necessary, that keep us from stopping and marking the significance of the event.

We are going through several milestones in our life right now. The first is my husband's retirement from his career of over 40 years. He is, of course, busy working up until his last day (which will be tomorrow.) At the same time, we are working towards moving my parents here to be nearer to us, and to have some help in an assisted living apartment. So we are busy filling out papers, attending retirement receptions. doing our usual church and home jobs, planning the move and travel for my folks, and collapsing each evening in total exhaustion. Over the years, we have discussed my husband's retirement, but now that the time has come, we are just busy moving through each day, checking things off our ridiculously long ToDo lists, and looking forward to bedtime. We have not yet stopped to say, 'Wow, this is Huge. This is a Milestone; something we have worked toward for years. With the Lord's everpresent help, we have done it!"

In 1 Samuel 7:12 (ESV) it says, "Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, “Till now the Lord has helped us.” In other places, Abraham and others built altars to commemorate milestones, and as thanksgiving to the Lord for bringing them to that time and place. The words “Ebenezer—Jehovah Jireh” together say in Hebrew, “The Lord has helped us to this point, and He will see to it from now on.” A suitable inscription for a milestone!

Rose Kennedy is quoted as saying, "Life isn't a matter of milestones, but of moments." And that is so true. But there are times when many, many moments added together create a Something, a Sum of Moments, a Milestone. I am so proud of the work my husband has done for these many years; for the many children and families he has helped and effected in a positive way. I am proud of his humble, generous spirit. I am proud of my part in helping us together achieve this milestone. And I am grateful that the Lord has blessed us so richly in our journey to this destination.

Ebenezer - Jehovah Jireh!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Strange Convergence

I have been reading Anne Lamott's little book, Stitches. I love the things she says, and the way she says them. But what I perhaps love most when I read her work is what she doesn't come right out and say, but leads me to think of on my own.

Anne (and, since I read pretty much all she writes, I feel I am on a first name basis with her) is talking in this little book about how we 'patch together' the hurts and wounds in our lives and the lives of those around us; like a quilter using re-purposed fabrics and stitches, sometimes loose and sometimes tight. A lovely analogy, especially for a fiber lover like myself.

But the question arises, "Why do we so often need to patch our lives back together?" Why doesn't God keep the things from happening that tear and burn and stain the fabric of our lives? It's not that He can't do it. If I believe in God at all (and I do,) I believe in His power to do the impossible. So why does He leave so much in our incompetent hands?

Anne leads me to believe that the answer to that hard question is this: He leaves it in our hands and allows these painful events to occur for our own sake. He has created us to be, or to become, loving and compassionate. As He is. And how could we do that or become that if the need never arose for us to exercise our Love and Compassion muscles? Look at how people respond to disasters: they give and love and react with the best of themselves, and they draw closer together in the giving. Maybe the more pain and distress we go through and that we are called to respond to, the more God is telling us that we need to have more 'practice' at becoming the people He wants us to be. Especially in these times, when many of our 'closest' friends are online, and are, in reality, people we would not recognize if they were sharing an armrest with us in the theater. God wants to bring us together. He wants us to be truly responsive to those He puts in our lives.

So.... what is the 'strange convergence' I refer to in the post title?

I have been obsessing for over a week on the Bruce Springsteen song, "Dancing in the Dark." It plays in my dreams; I am trying to learn an acoustic version of it on my guitar; I have listened to I-don't-know-how-many artists sing and play their versions of it. I have been loving the song, though I have not really thought about why it cropped up on my musical horizon at this time, or what the song actually means. That is, I had not considered those things until I was mopping the kitchen floor this morning, thinking of Anne Lamott's words and where they led my own thoughts.

Right in the middle of the floor, right in the middle of a 'deep thought,' Bruce burst loudly in my brain: "You can't start a fire worryin' about your little world falling apart... This gun's for hire, even if we're just dancing in the dark."

Oh, my dear Lord! You are telling me what this song is about! All through the song, the singer frets about 'being bored with myself,' about wanting to 'change my hair, my clothes, my face,' about everything being predictable and tiring. But then,  "This gun's for hire..." (or maybe, 'I'm here if you need me"),  "even if we're just dancing in the dark..." ('Even if you just need me to hold you through the dark times of your life.')  Even if you just need me to exercise my love and compassion on your life, to stitch you back together, to help mend a tear or patch a hole in your heart.

Is that a stretch? Maybe. But it gives new meaning to the song as I play and sing it - possibly a meaning Sprinsteen never intended, but who knows? It fits so well for me right now.

I am pretty good at stitching and patching and weaving things together, but I may not always make myself as available as I should to those who might just need to be held tightly together through the hard times - to dance a bit in the dark. And I am not very good about asking others to dance with me when I might need it either. 

Do you need to dance? Don't be afraid to seek out a partner - a friend who might just need a bit of love and compassion practice. That is what God has put us here to do... to dance together in both the light times of joy, and in the dark times, when the dancing might just hold someone up.

And by the way ("Hey, Baby!") I do occasionally need a dance partner, as well.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

"Life...a cuckoo clock with rusty gears" (Anne Lamott)

I have a hard time with imperfection. Imperfection in others, and most especially in myself, offends me. We are made in God's image, so why, I frequently ask Him, did He leave out the 'perfect' part?

I don't like to know that my paintings are less than masterpieces, that I will never play the guitar like Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello, that my tapestries are not ones that that the Louvre will ever choose to hang, that my hair is grey and even laughter is giving me more wrinkles every day, that my house is dusty and my garden is filled with weeds, and that I always sing a bit flat.

Anne Lamott (Stitches) has said that "life is more like a cuckoo clock with rusty gears" than it is perfect. 'Life is hard, and then we die': both a goofy old bumper sticker, and a Truth. Life can be cruel and heartless, though we can find kindness and compassion within it. Life can be everything that is imperfect... in fact, life is everything that is imperfect. How can it be otherwise, when it is populated by such imperfect beings as I?

I look for pockets of perfection, but I rarely find them. The few I have discovered have found me when I was not looking or expecting them. Perfection seems to come in very tiny doses: a child's love, an unexpected hug from a friend, a moment of beauty in nature or art or music that brings tears of wonder to my eyes, shared laughter, and tiny glimpses of compassion and understanding for or from others.

Imperfection, on the other hand, seems to bombard us constantly. We are slammed in the face with ugly violence, with deceit, with greed and hatred. All of those are so far from the perfection that is God, that is Love.

I would have liked, as I grow older, to have come to a greater understanding of this life; to know why, to understand the meaning of all the imperfection in our lives and our world. But that has not happened for me. Age has not brought about an understanding, or even an acceptance. I continue to rage at inequality, at cruelty, at violence for the sake of greed or power. I still do not understand or accept when children become victims of these things, when families and nations are torn apart by them.

The bad news? 'Life is hard, and then you die.'
The good news? 'Life is hard, and then you die.'

That is the only hope I have to give for dealing with all these imperfections. Someday, I will be perfect. And then I will understand. I will know the 'whys' of the Sandy Hook massacre, of wars and of weeds. I have that hope, because I know it is not in my hands, nor in the hands of those who are as imperfect as I, but in the hands of my God. And, because of His Son and His sacrifice and resurrection, I will someday face him as a perfected me.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Her Children Arise and Call her 'Blessed!'

From my sketchbook

Proverbs 31 A wife of noble character who can find?
    She is worth far more than rubies.
11 Her husband has full confidence in her
    and lacks nothing of value.

My Mother will be 92 years old this week. She has been married to the same good man for over 66 years. Surely my father has had confidence in her, and she in him, the greatest majority of that time. Together, they have been an example of a Godly marriage, not only to their children, but to all who know them.

12 She brings him good, not harm,
    all the days of her life.

15 She gets up while it is still night;
    she provides food for her family
17 She sets about her work vigorously;
    her arms are strong for her tasks.
18 She sees that her trading is profitable,
    and her lamp does not go out at night.

My mother was a school teacher. I remember many nights, going to bed while she was still at the kitchen table, grading papers or making lesson plans. She took pride in her work, and it was evident in the love shown by her students and the creative atmosphere in her classrooms. My mom taught school before she was married, with a 'normal school teaching certificate.' When the Kansas teaching requirements changed, Mom went to work part time at Sears to put herself through college, so she could teach again, all the while, keeping up with a rowdy household of eight (and often more.)
19 In her hand she holds the distaff
    and grasps the spindle with her fingers.

Although my mom was not a spinner, she made many of our clothes when I was a child. And she has embroidered sets of tea towels for wedding gifts for many of her grandchildren. Watching her embroider these on my porch or in their motor home was a delight to me, knowing that my love for handwork came from her and from her mother.

20 She opens her arms to the poor
    and extends her hands to the needy.

I do not know of all the stories of good deeds my mother (and father, as they are always 'in it together') have done for others. But I have heard and seen enough of them to know they have often been willing to do without themselves, to help others through hard times.

22 She makes coverings for her bed;
    she is clothed in fine linen and purple.

Mom's home has always been tidy and lovely, decorated with many chickens, and often smelling of homemade cinnamon rolls. The doors have always been open, as we shared many meals with college students, random family members, church members, and stray friends that hung around us most of my growing up years and beyond. Mom has also always been very careful in her own appearance, and in the appearance of we 'kids,' making sure she and we always looked attractive and modest.

23 Her husband is respected at the city gate,
    where he takes his seat among the elders of the land.

Anyone who knows my Father knows this to be true. He is still highly respected, wherever he goes, and my Mother shares that respect for, and with, him.

25 She is clothed with strength and dignity;
    she can laugh at the days to come.
26 She speaks with wisdom,
    and faithful instruction is on her tongue.
27 She watches over the affairs of her household
    and does not eat the bread of idleness.
28 Her children arise and call her blessed;
    her husband also, and he praises her:
29 “Many women do noble things,
    but you surpass them all.”
30 Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting;
    but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
31 Honor her for all that her hands have done,
    and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.

I am one of six children who have always been able to arise and call my Mother "Blessed." She has been, and still is, the kind of Christian wife, mother, friend, and woman that I strive to be. She is an example to the many who know and love her: her husband, her children, her 16 grandchildren, and even her many great-grandchildren.

Happy Birthday, Mom! I love you very much!