Thursday, July 27, 2006

Rodeos and Worlds


Rodeos, livestock auctions, and the hottest place on earth. Prairies, sheepdogs, and two-hundred-year-old country graveyards. Alfalfa, protective lamas, and rogue farmers who let their soy take over the section line…

The last week, spent in South Dakota, was actually spent in an alternate world. It’s a land where the greatest concern (by no means trivial) is whether it will rain. Where the rodeo was overtaken by a storm, and the spectators sat in the heavy drops and cheered.

Going from city to city, living four different lives in four different places, has made me comfortable during the last year with alternate worlds—places where life looks wholly separate from how it looked elsewhere. Could I ever be a cowgirl or a farmer? Could I enjoy an intricate understanding of all the factors involved in how sharp a turn I can make in a barrel-race and how fast I can rope a young steer? The closest I got this week was, perhaps, fixing the pasture’s barb-wire fences and accepting with ease the death of the kitten litter’s runt. Things live, and things die, whether they be animals, bugs, vegetables, or people.

Life in the city has separated us (me) from reality. In order to live we must eat. In order to eat, food must be grown, harvested, sold, and prepared. Livestock must be birthed, pastured, watered, and slaughtered. Dirt must be walked in, flies made peace with, and dung gotten between the toes (a phrase I’ve borrowed from Mika Waltari’s The Egyptian). And all these occupations consume the lifetimes of those involved in them. They spread into a half-century’s worth of learning and lore, amassed behind the leathery faces of old farmers and anticipated in the smooth cheeks of the budding 6-year-old rancher’s son who clings to a racing sheep at the rodeo and gives promise of being a great horseman. If all the conveniences of cities and distribution systems fell away, I would have to relearn processes that are essential to all life but completely obscure to me. I am in awe over how many things there are to know. An engineer lives in a world of facts that mean nothing to me, as does a rancher, a farmer, a diplomat, a chef, a fireworks designer, and so on. My fingers have dabbled in all their worlds of knowledge, but just enough to humble me. I need others’ help to live, and perhaps they need mine. And yet each of us must be content to admire and respect the other worlds around us, letting the pride of life fall swiftly away; for we cannot survive on our own and, if the truth be told, we cannot gain the others’ expertise.

I used to want to be a Renaissance woman (the desire is still there, I suppose)…to be able to do all sorts of things well—ride, build, sing, politic, negotiate, think, dress, drive, manage, shoot, etc. I suppose it came from all the old Louis L’Amour westerns I read, and was solidified when William Wallace fought like a barbarian one moment and spoke Latin and French the next. The humbler I have become, and the more at peace I have grown with the knowledge of who the Lord designed me to be, the sillier this desire has seemed. I do still love being able to switch worlds easily and participate in them adeptly, I admit. And I am laughing to remember the slight dissatisfied feeling I had in Pensacola at the thought that my brother was learning to fly planes I would never learn to fly. Hmm. But ideals often have little to do with reality. Just as the Lord puts the solitary in families, He designs our souls for particular actions and our spirits for pre-known good deeds. Fulfilling these will make me happier than being both a sophisticated city woman and a capable ranching wife, or a sharpshooting pilot and a well-versed historian-philosopher, simultaneously. I am happy being what He made me to be.

By the way, these separate worlds intersect at surprising moments. I stepped into my parents’ car in Chicago and found out that new-car-smell is the almost exactly the same as old-barn-smell. Odd and telling.

Peace to you all, and may you be content to fullness with the place God has put you today!

Amy

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Length of Time


<>The length of time I’ve allowed to pass since my last blog is, frankly, atrocious. There are reasons for this, which have nothing to do with lack of internet access. My plight is similar to yours, I’m sure. Haven’t you become so tired that though you longed to be asleep, you were unable to gather the gumption to rise and change into jammies? Haven’t you delayed returning a phone call for a week, or a month, then felt that length of time to be so ridiculous you were kept from ever returning it? But this is not even my only issue. When there is an enormous amount to say, I find myself overwhelmed into silence. When my thoughts are deepest, I speak them in one light sentence, my hearer never suspecting the fullness of what I would say if I could. Ah, what are blogs, that they should reveal the fallibilities stalking human relationships, failings that stem from the deepest uncertainties and passivities of the soul?


Now that I’ve brewed a new pot of coffee (strong enough this time), washed away the sweat from pregnant pilates (my sister, being an expectant mother, doesn’t have a regular pilates DVD in the house), and reconciled myself to write today instead of garden (my ankles will be exposed to the pleasure of the bugs all evening at Shakespeare-In-The-Park, and I figure giving them the same access all afternoon would be foolhardy), my thoughts are pretty simple. They have to do with patience, waiting, and having the heart of a pilgrim on earth. I moved to Kansas City in the beginning of June. Dora drove up with me and behind us we left a community in pain from the sudden death of a friend and colleague. A training helicopter, identical to the one my brother flies every day, had crashed. As Sammy and Dora comforted the young man’s widow, and I stayed at home alone packing my life up for the impending move, I found myself mourning deeply. In the midst of calling out to God for his comfort on our friend and his protection of my brother’s heart (for he had helped the rescue effort and seen far more than a man not at war should ever see), I discovered another layer of deep unrest with the ways the Lord uses time. Comfort them now, now! I seemed to be saying. I could not endure knowing these beloved ones were in pain. I would prefer the pain be mine, if the pain had to be.

<>I thought of another friend, a young widow who has recently remarried, and wanted this new widow to already have the comfort of heart and vision for the future that these few years have brought to my old friend. I thought of my father, who lost his best friend and his brother in the same year he married my mother, and wanted my own brother to already have the quiet peace and perspective on life and death that my dad walks in.


The first part of God’s answer (for He knows when answers really are necessary, and when they aren’t) came in the form of a phone call from my sister, Suzanna. She caught me alone, between weeping fits, and spoke wisdom. “Great callings are accompanied by great trials, great pains. Without these, one with a deep calling from God will never grow to fulfill it. If you look at the lives of every great man of God, you find a corresponding depth of fire, of trial. It forms us.” (Of course, this is not in any way verbatim…just my summary of her thoughts.) Mollified, I moved to a place of peace in watching the Beloved endure pain. God is to be trusted; even as He brings pain into their hearts, it is for their own redemption, their own future beauty in Him. I felt that I could release them, my brother especially, from the big-sister, motherly instinct that urges me to protect and guard others from all pain. I was releasing them into the far more secure position of God’s intricate formation of their hearts.

<>The second part of God’s answer has come over the last month as I’ve contemplated my own state and the aimless feeling I sometimes fall prey to after almost a year of watching my family moving forward in large lifesteps (more exactly, growing babies in their tummies) while I seem to be an observer, not moving ahead but suspended. Watching other lives change, watching the impatience I and dear ones sometimes have toward little things and big things, has brought to the forefront a desire to understand these crazy words God seems to always be using, and using at unexpected times: patience. waiting. Guess what I’ve discovered. The fourth person in the parable of the seeds, whose ground was good and who didn’t let the enemy snatch the Word away from his heart, bore fruit with patience. Could it be that it was through patience he walked away at the end with thirty, sixty, a hundred different sorts of fruits? What of the third man, the one with thorns choking him? Did you know he also started to grow fruit initially? (Luke 8) But his fruit stayed green, withered away. It did not come to maturity. Let me submit that patience was the difference between the two. It wasn’t impossible for thorns to grow in the fourth man’s soil. Weeds will grow anywhere, especially in nutritious ground. But how was it that the fourth man was able to keep the thorns (temptations and trials common to all men—the cares of the world, the deceitfulness of riches, the pleasures of life) from infesting, from killing, from growing up as strong as the seed. How was it that his ground and seed were so well tended that nothing hindered the development of the fruit, even though the growing season was a life-time long? Patience. Patient enduring. Active, fighting, weeding patience (the meaning of the word, hupomone).


I’m eating cherry tomatoes from Peter’s garden as I type. His mom planted them this spring; now that July has come, so have their juicy, pop-in-the-mouth pleasures. I’m supposed to choose bushes and perennial flowers to plant around the yard’s perimeter. But it will be years before they’re full enough to be pleasing to the eye, to make a natural screen between the neighbor’s yard and ours. I already put in some daylilies in the front, but they won’t come into their own until they’ve been in the ground for a year at least. Right now they look awful…spindly, ragged, thin. Frankly? They’re embarrassing. It’s been almost enough to keep me from wanting to go ahead with the other plantings. How discouraging is it to the human soul when the fruit, the end of the matter, the fulfillment of promises, doesn’t come right away? Intensely discouraging. Almost discouraging enough to impede us even starting on the journey, even being willing to endure the process of growth.

<>This is what my soul was struggling with as I contemplated the healing time, the deepening time, the growing time that Sam and our newly widowed friend would have to walk through before they would be completely whole, completely restored, and before any beautiful fruits could be seen growing from the trials they had endured. My soul—oh, so fleshly—was disagreeing with God’s use of time, with God’s call for patience, with God’s economy where working harder doesn’t produce results, but waiting expectantly does. In my impatience for pain to be healed and trials ended, I would have condemned those dear to me to lives of fruitless mediocrity, easy dullness, lazy full-bellied weakness. (I am sure your mind is already filling with parallels. Some of the simplest to see are all around us…imbedded in our fast food, instant gratification, why-wait culture.)


How do I know? How do I know that without patience we will remain surface creatures, rocky and thorny soil people? How do I know that only through patience will I become complete, perfect? “Let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:4) And what does patience allow us to do? Not simply to endure the trial in a grit-your-teeth-and-get-through-it sort of way. No. Patience allows us to wait on God. To wait in hope—not of our own strength increasing and saving us, but of a rescue from the hand of our beloved, our Savior. To wait actively—living by faith, not drawing back (Heb. 10:36-38). This is so pleasing to God. Humans like to take up their sword and do. We like to save ourselves, prove our independence. But what sort of a life is it where our hope is in ourselves? Oh, that God would wean us entirely from our own strength; oh, that our eyes would see only Him; oh, that our hope would be solely in His rescue, His coming. And guess what…patience doesn’t just allow us to wait on God, as we’re so frequently enjoined to do throughout scripture, it allows us to actually receive what we were waiting for! “For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise.” (Heb 10:36)

<>We actually have it much easier than millions of our brothers. Check out Abraham, Sarah, all the Old Testament faithful who lived before the mystery of God’s plan was revealed. They were given promises. And they walked in faith, in patient endurance through the most horrible trials (destitute, afflicted, tormented), never receiving the promises. (Heb 11:39-40) “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.” Wow. How easy it is, in comparison, for me to be faithful and endure. I know what the end of the story is going to be, because the middle of it has already happened – Jesus rescued us!


Well, I may have gotten carried away. (See, that’s what happens when one neglects to blog regularly.) This is pretty long. But I hope it is also edifying. If you want to think further, I’d suggest meditating on how patience is an active, verb-like activity. I could keep going…what implications does the Lord’s use of “wait” have for the course I should expect my life to take…not just my physical life, but my emotional and spiritual life? And how does it play into my moments and my days here in Kansas City, where everything is turned upside down again and I have to find my place, find my rhythm, find my purpose all over again?

Gosh, I love the Lord! He is so good, and I am so safe.

Peace to you all.

Amy

PS...The photo on top was a product of patience--nine months of it. This is Suzanna's new Judah David, his older sister Ariel, and his youngest Aunt, Annie! He was born on June 29th.