Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Reading the Last Chapter

"Here, do you want this lottery ticket? We already know it wins a million dollars."

"Um, no...no. I'm not ready to be rich."

This supremely telling dialogue was created by my loyal sister as a pretty fair summary of some recent events. I've had it humming around in my head ever since. While the OneThing08 conference here in Kansas City has been unveiling a whole new arena of thought to many of the attendees, and re-energizing my own pursuit of the full Gospel of the Kingdom, it has become so clear to me once again that God has unlimited extents of treasure for us to dive into and explore -- but we have to actively choose to do so. However much our own ignorance or blindness or short-sightedness comes into play in our choices, the root of our answer is the same. We are either giving a "YES" or a "NO" to Him. We are either saying, "Yes, make me rich," or "No, I'm not ready to be rich." But the fact that richness is available is definitely not in question.

Mike Bickle, who I respect very much, has been diving into the book of Revelation and teaching on that most controversial of subjects: the end times and second coming. I know that many Christians are hesitant to think much about these things, hesitant even to read Revelation because they feel it will simply confuse and frighten. I left the first evening of teaching on Sunday thinking about it in terms of my own passion - writing. Who would read an entire novel, only to stop just before the last chapter? Not only would such an experience be entirely unsatisfying, it would leave one in the dark as to the real story, the full meaning of the novel. Without the ending, in which the hero or heroine triumphs and all the threads of the story come together, it would be no story at all. I, personally, have never met a reader who leaves out the ending chapter. (I've met some who read the end first, though :).

But, to be honest, it is certainly the reader's choice. If they want to read all 65 chapters and then lay the book aside before the 66th and last, they can. We can do this with the Bible. We can read it all but the ending. We can study the parts of Jesus we feel are accesible, and then set Him aside before we're confronted with the majesty of His holiness, with how His love is expressed in righteous judgment, with His simultaneous identities as a King, a Bridegroom, and a Judge. But, just like in my sister's little scenario above, what great richness we are voluntarily giving up if we do! It's like abdicating an entire kingdom. I am not content to meet Jesus face-to-face having only known the parts of His personality I picked and chose. In reality, that would mean I did not really know even those parts, for His mercy cannot be understood apart from His truth, and His love cannot be known apart from His power. Let's read the last chapter!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Good to Me

“The Lord is good to me,
And so I thank the Lord
For giving me, the things I need
The sun, the rain, and the apple seed.
The Lord is good to me.”

Did everyone sing this in their childhood? I must have, but it has been years since I’ve heard or thought of it. As Dora drove the curve into the Honolulu airport this afternoon, this song dropped into my mind; rather, it dropped into my lap. That’s what it felt like. God had dropped it on me, specifically, purposefully, and with a mischievous smile. I’ve been humming it ever since…

  • As I watch the bluewater below me on this trip back from the far end of the earth.
  • As I consider the city-like clusters of poofy cream clouds below my vantage point and imagine little worlds populated by air fairies who not only move with the ever changing cities, but pull them this way and that like taffy candy designers.
  • As I shiver deeply for the second time in 7 months (airplane air, you know). The first time was a few nights ago on Malia’s lanai. The breeze off Pearl Harbor was cooler than I’d anticipated.
  • As I realize humans are proud of their technologies and jet-settedness, but that God made the earth traversable – just the right mix of challenge and achievability. It’s pre-designed for us to win.
  • As I ponder the thought that the people who are raptured up to meet Him in the clouds will come from a generation used to seeing the world and the earth from high up. We won’t be so distracted by flying as, say, the saints of 200 years ago would have been. Happy thought, eh? :)
  • As I rehearse all the ways God has been good to me. (Don’t get excited; there are too many to list here).

But one of them is very apparent to me now. For some reason, Alaska Airlines has a few more inches of leg space in their rows. I’m almost positive, for my knees are not touching the one in front of me. When I rule the world, I’ll do something about the profound discomfort imposed on long-legged travelers…probably by telling people not to travel so much :).

Oh, never mind. Do travel, please. Travel to Kansas City and see me. Travel to Windward Oahu and see the Creator. Travel to Croatia (according to the retired guy in front of me) because you’re interested. See, I’m not Rebecca Lynde, whom travelers remind of Satan, always roaming too and fro over the earth.

The earth, by the way, is very large and small at the same time. I’ve been on the most remote archipelago (that’s hearsay; I haven’t googled it because I’m on a plane at the moment) on earth, and it’s only taking me 5 hours to get back to Seattle.

Seems I’ve evacuated at just the right time. Yesterday we took the morning to enjoy Lanikai, my favorite beach, one last time. Supposedly, soon Mr. Obama will be coming to do his Christmas vacationing there. Can you imagine the disruption…secret service people blocking off beach and roads and parking spots and – horrors – turquoise waters? Yes, just in time. A turtle came to say “hi” to me as I swam, but he stayed underwater and swam back out. I realized the other day that a human being in Hawaii who killed sea turtle eggs would be imprisoned, heavily fined, and suffer the horror of the entire populace. But one who killed a human still in its unviable state…well, nothing. (Sorry, mentioning Mr. Obama reminded me of these sad things. May God show him a turtle, and bless him with the same revelation during his days on Lanikai!)

Monday, December 01, 2008

No Story of Deliverance

"If Daniel had never entered the lions' den, there would be no story of deliverance."

An author friend of mine sends daily devotionals, and this was in today's. He's so right. I've had a super hard month, and am facing another very difficult transition. December is going to be a challenge. In fact, it seems that every time I'm confronted by a challenge it is more difficult, nuanced, and multi-faceted than the one before. In the end, will it all be worth the trouble?

Let's see... what are the pro's?

It's an opportunity for Grace -- to acknowledge my need of it, and to expend it on others freely.

It's an opportunity for Strength -- to admit I have none, and to operate out of the Lord's unending supply.

It's an opportunity for Joy -- to sweep around the circumstances and envelope them, until they have little to do with my internal state of constant worship and constant communion. I am loved by a Man who will always be greater than any other.

It's an opportunity for Courage -- in the spirit of Joshua, I've been instructed to have courage. It's kind of fun to look back and see where I've obeyed, and how the Lord has come alongside and provided all I've needed for it, and how pleased He is (sort of pleased and proud) with me.

Yes, I think it will be worth it, but I've definitely had to make the choice to grow through it all rather than to just endure it all, holding my breath until the end. This is the choice we always have to make; it's confronting us every day with every imperfect circumstance. What sort of waiting will we do? -- the sort that covers its eyes and holds its breath until everything has passed, or the sort that opens its eyes and looks toward the hope at the end even while the roller coaster is still rising and falling and throwing your body from side-to-side? I want the active waiting, the one that actively endures because of the hope set before me, the one from which I emerge a woman built up with patience and character and hope, the one out of which I will not walk disappointed.

Years ago a prayer team prophetically described me as a pillar of strength, a woman "able to bear great weight." It did not seem good to me...I thought of all the weights I didn't want to bear: the weight of great sorrow, of great difficulties, of long waits, of constant postponement, of unfulfilled dreams, of tragedy and loss (can you tell I'm a novelist? :) Perhaps I will (and in some ways already have) encounter all these things, but the meaning of this prophecy was far different. I will be able, when the Lord has brought me fully forth into my design, to bear the weight of great responsibility, of great joy, of great purpose, of life on a great scale. How am I to become such a person? By bearing and entering into a great love with a great God, by bearing His yoke, by learning to experience it as an easy and light thing, by counting all the deep sorrows and difficulties as joys to draw me closer to Jesus, by sharing in His sufferings. By sharing in His sufferings.

Like Daniel. He was punished for being upright; he was hated for being pure. He was almost destroyed for the great "sin" of loving God...a "sin" that enabled him to be the most useful, loyal, faithful, and loving subject any king had ever had. Daniel. What injustice he suffered as he longed to return to his true home and love - Jerusalem. It is like us, longing for our true home, for Jesus to come back and set all things right. But if he had never entered the lions' den, there would be no story of deliverance. And I want a story of deliverance! Oh how I want it, because oh how I want to glorify God with that story!

Here, finally, is the song I mentioned in my last post. Mercy first, and eventually...eventually...EVENTUALLY...JESUS RETURNED TO ME.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

I Just Want Jesus to Come Back

Jesus, I just want You to come back. Come back to us.

I feel the blow of an unkind word and know that it was spoken in sin and out of the speaker's history of bearing the brunt of other sorts of blows. I shouldn't be spoken to in such a way, yet Jesus shouldn't have been spoken to the ways he was, and he took it silently and meekly. I give up the right to be treated with dignity and consideration, because the One I follow didn't demand such treatment.

Come back. Why have you been gone so long? Come back to us.

Sin has dug its claws into those I know, and torn them. They walk with limps, broken in soul places that should be full of joy. It's all in the spiritual realm, though, and none of it visible on the surface. When it does appear, others just shake their heads and say, "Oh, he has insecurity issues," or, "She needs to grow up a little." But I say it doesn't have to be this way. Saints don't have to be walking wounded; and sin's remnants don't have to control our present or our future. Neither do the injustices we suffered. But this takes You, Jesus. You. You are the only One who is able to both identify and to heal what is veiled to human eyes.

I wish You would come back. Jesus, please come back.

Children in Bangladesh are purposely hurt in order to elicit more sympathy (thus more money) while they beg. Infants are drugged and passed from beggar to beggar.

It won't be right until You come back, Jesus.

Believing women in China often cannot marry, because there are far more female than male Christians. They share the Gospel; they lay down their lives to spread it; they pray for husbands.

We are lonely until You come back. Jesus, won't You come soon?

Relativism hanging on the coat-tails of individualism and tolerance enters the church and feeds on its weakest, newest babes. Sin is tolerated; the great freedom of repentance is not preached; her heel is wounded, wounded.

Jesus, I just want You to come back. Nothing can be finished until You do.

***


Merchant Band sings a song that almost always makes me cry by the ending bridge, which runs something like this:

Lord have mercy, cause it's my only means
to find You here with me, to find You here with me

Life is not right until You split the skies
The Spirit and the Bride cry, "come"
We long for the day when You make all things new
We want to be with You

I can't find this song online, but here's a good substitute: I Can't Wait

Monday, November 24, 2008

Foolish Reason

Reason only goes so far. A childhood friend who is on the opposite side of the political & spiritual spectrum from me recently commented that although he'd be totally open to debate with me, he realized he has no need to. He's right. The affection I've had for him and his family ever since I was little will never change, nor will his for us. He's super intelligent, so the conversation would definitely be a good one, but a pointless one. It doesn't matter what he believes or does or if I never see him again for 40 years...at the end of those 40 years, if he needed anything (including a kidney) I'd give it.

As I sat still thinking over his comment, I began to wonder about reason in general. If reasoning with one another (and you know I love a good, strong debate) was really the way to arrive anywhere, all the intelligent people in the world would be the happiest. Assuming people could get over themselves and be objective in debate, countries would eventually be run perfectly and consensus would quickly be reached on all the major problems of the world...how to end the HIV epidemic in Africa, whether big government or small government is best for the economy, what the perfect stuffing recipe is for the Thanksgiving turkey. Sadly, all the less intelligent people (I'm talking pure genetics here) would be the, well, sad ones, as they wouldn't have been able to use their reason to run their lives and their finances in the best possible way. But look around. Most of the happiest people aren't from those super-intelligent classes. In fact, the majority of happy people come from amongst those who have less and do less.

Life would be supremely unfair if reason was what made it work. As expected, a bit of scripture popped into my head:

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
(1Co 1:26-29)

What is weak, and foolish, and low? Love. (I know, I'm treading on the toes that view love as the highest of all high things. While it is that, it is also the most delicate and despise-able of all high things. Strong and weak at once.) Love displayed itself most fully in the cross, an object of scorn for many extremely intelligent people.

Do you ever have conversations in your head in which you completely confound and rout the wicked or the unbeliever by the elegance, intelligence, and undeniable logic of your argument for God? I do this almost instinctively when I think about issues up for debate, like abortion or creation or the very existence of God. For a long time I've clung to the reality that "the wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God" (James 1:20) and have let it instruct my reaction in conversations that would naturally raise my ire. But I have not considered things one level deeper...down to the question of whether I should even be debating or conversing. (The scripture before James 1:20 actually instructs us to be "slow to speak".)

Back in that 1 Corinthians verse Paul says he was sent to preach the gospel "not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power." He says "the world did not know God through wisdom," and even more revealing, says that God set it up that way because of His own wisdom! I'm glad He's so smart. Imagine if it was wisdom that reveals God to us...imagine if it was wisdom that makes us happy...imagine if it was intelligence that solves our problems. The world would be a pitiful place...let's coin a new term...an intelligentsiocracy. (Sam informs me that meritocracy would be the better label, as intelligentsia's connotations are rather negative. But I like the fact that it has negative connotations...that's partly my point!)

Perhaps I will consciously lean more on love and less on reason to convince people of the truth. I am not giving up on reasonable and enjoyable debate. I am just letting my hope rest in something real rather than in my own ability to out-debate someone. Where is it? It is in the foolish, foolish, foolish, foolish love of Christ. What hope!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Beauty

Walking and bouncing, shhh'ing and rocking.
Crying and praying, mourning ... hoping.
Pacing and cuddling, pacing and cuddling.
Crying.

That was me this afternoon as I tried to quiet Genevieve, keep track of Arden, and deal with the news that Jeanine has leukemia. Pacing helps. Going in circles and circles around the coffee table, always seeing from the corner of my eye the beautiful roses Lizzie sent for Genevieve's birth. Holding the goochy baby and pacing.

They're stunning, these roses. (Pro Flowers has them sent straight from Ecuador, still closed, so that they actually bloom in the vase.) I never used to like roses. It was all the hype that surrounds them. So much commercialism. Being told by an outside source that something is beautiful, and knowing that outside source has selfish and ulterior motives, sours things for me. Like diamonds. But at one point I realized that I hadn't given roses a fair chance.

They're a fist full of soft beauty, with the potential of being actually perfect. When they open as they should, it's layer upon layer of gentle enticement. And yet, usually, the secret middle is still protected. Their petals are as soft as butterfly wings. You can feel them best with your lips, which are more sensitive even than fingertips.

I once said that I would know a man understood me if he brought me tulips in winter. (Remember, I'm from snowy, freezing Chicago.) In college, Lizzie and her transfer friends gave me a pot of tulips. It made me laugh and berate her, "A man, Elizabeth! You are not a man!" She agreed happily that she was not. I still enjoyed them greatly. But I've come to discover there is an unending sort of beauty about a healthy rose that tulips lose pretty quickly. All that is good and gentle and strong and sad lingers with them. They make me want to be a flower. This, in fact, is the eternal "almost", the constant frustration, the thing that pulls you back for third and fourth inhales when you should have already walked away from the bouquet. To watch and observe a deep beauty is actually not enough for our souls, for we were created to embody beauty. I think this is why the scripture gives voice to our longing...

1Jo 3:2 "Beloved, we are God's children now,
and what we will be has not yet appeared;
but we know that when he appears we shall be like him,
because we shall see him as he is."

We must be like Him, we just must. Such beauty must become part of us, it cannot remain a thing we simply observe.

Jeanine is a beautiful soul. She is the woman I wanted to be when I grew up. She was married out of my parents' home; Elizabeth and I carried her train down the aisle. She taught me kindness - she is kind. She taught me inclusion - she was devoted to all my siblings, to all her classrooms of children. She taught me adventure - she read a chapter of Swiss Family Robinson to us each night on her bed, little Sammy-boy included. She taught me patience - she waited 10 years to say "yes" to the man who had asked for her hand at the age of 18. She taught me purity - her "little sin" was the occasional pack of licorice gum. She was love embodied (or so it seemed to me as a child). I still remember her gentle rebuke as I sat doing my homework at the laminate kitchen table... "Oh, Amy, you can do better than that." I knew she was right. I never tried hard with penmanship, and it shows to this day.

She hasn't seen me married or a mother. I know how proud she was when I published Perpetua. It thrills me to know I gave her that pleasure, that she was able to say to the woman behind the counter at the bookstore, "The author was my student!" Oh, I pray I get to feel her joy when I do marry, when I do mother my children with some of the love she taught me. I've seen that joy in her eyes over my sisters and my friends, other young students of hers.

And so I pray and mourn at the same time. That she should go through such pain! That she should be in such danger! The Lord will keep her, and keep her heart safe.

Elizabeth bought roses for Suzy after little Samuel Eisenhower was born. Three dozen, from the toothless lady on the corner of Blue Ridge and Holmes. Her hand painted sign is permanently nailed to a rusty telephone pole, proclaiming in loud stick letters:

"Bokay. 5$"

Her husband is there sometimes, helping her. Her mind is slowly going. That's all I know about her. Her roses don't last long either. Well, you can imagine, by the time they get through all the channels to her-on the corner of Blue Ridge and Holmes, across from the pet store and just beyond the underpass-they haven't much life left in them. But I am glad for her, that as her mind goes, her work is to handle these reminders of God. As her husband helps her, watches her, keeps her active...she only knows she is selling bouquets that embody someone's joy, someone's baby, someone's anniversary. Or, as she would put it, "bokays".

Pray for Arden, as she cries through the transition to being one of two children.
Pray for Dora, as she waits for Sam to return and meet his daughter.
Pray for Jeanine, as she spends the month in the hospital.
Pray for the toothless lady, that she would know the Creator of her bokays.
And pray for me, that the constant tension I feel in desiring all that is beautiful but not yet having and being it, would not tear me apart nor open me to too great a grief.

As Genevieve's middle name so soundly proclaims, JOY is our inheritance because it is His inheritance. (She's been lying on my chest the whole time I've been blogging here. It's hard to feel too much grief when there's a tiny little snuggle-bug cuddling herself into your curves and breathing high and quick like a feather weight.)

Joy, please, dear Jesus. Joy.


Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Undercover Heaving

Dark clouds scudded over the moon, creating a misty halo that reflected off the wet asphalt and outlined our two darting forms -- I with a long ponytail and bangs repeatedly falling across my eyes, and Dora with the unmistakable curves belonging only to overdue pregnant women.

She ran ahead of me from can to can, checking to see how full the neighbors' garbage receptacles were. I followed behind in the shiny darkness, dragging overweight black bags behind me and tossing them in when she'd found an empty space. No, we weren't disposing of evidence, though it felt like it. And no, we didn't even know what exactly was in the black bags. All we know is that one of our neighbors piled about 12 huge black garbage bags on our front curb about two weeks ago and left them there - just left them - to fend for themselves. But around here, the garbage trucks don't pick up bags, just cans. And so the pile has sat under our palm tree, killing the grass and making us look sort of, well, trashy.

They could have been body parts. Or they could have been donations of clothing left out for the Goodwill truck. Or just plain kitchen garbage. Or... well, they could have contained any number of things. But Dora insisted they contained lawn refuse and laid out her plan to me last week.

"Hey, we're going to wait until dark the night before the garbage is picked up, then stuff as many of those bags in cans as we can find room for. We're going to do this until they're all gone."

I protested, of course. What if, what if... The other option was to put a witty sign on the bags instructing whomever had dumped them on a pregnant woman's lawn to come "get your traish!" This didn't sound like it would endear us to the perpetrators. I boldly declared that I would canvass the neighbors that very day to determine who the culprit was and to demand that they remove their trash. But then I looked out the window at how large of a man Brutus' owner is (that's the crazy dog that's continually trying to jump the fence next to us), and conveniently forgot. Or so I thought. Until...

Several days ago (the trucks come 2x a week) I woke to the news that Dora had heard the trucks in the neighborhood in the early morning, and had run outside in her flimsy white nighty (fully pregnant, mind you) and had stuffed as many of those bags as she could into ours and other cans nearby. There was still a huge pile, though it was significantly smaller than it had been. Shocked and horrified, I waited for the sky to fall. It didn't. So tonight, after the pouring rain had paused and all seemed dark and quiet, I slipped on my flip-flops with her, snuck out onto the puddle-ridden street, and grasped slimy bags filled with who-knows-what. The rain had soaked them so badly I could barely move some, and had to use (instead of the great arm strength we all know I possess) my body weight as a counter balance in order to drag them across driveways, over lawns, and up into garbage cans.

Dora did more than her fair share of this undercover heaving. Several cars passed, blinding us with their twin headlamps, and we attempted to stand up straight and look nonchalant, two women loitering amongst the cans on the side of the road. Yes. You often see women among the cans, don't you? Pretty common sight. No reason to stare, folks, no reason to stare. Just keeeeep drivin. And please don't ask us what we're dragging around the neighborhood, because we don't know.

You'll be happy to know the pile is gone and we're back inside, drinking tea -- Dora, Red Raspberry Leaf to help her go into labor; me, Chamomile to sooth my terribly sore throat. Red Raspberry Leaf indeed! If anything helps her go into labor tonight, it will be the surreptitious heaving of soggy garbage into unsuspecting neighbors' cans. But the pick up is tomorrow, and they'll never even know it happened. If they do happen to notice, the best scripture for them to apply is: "To him who has, even more shall be given."

And the perpetrator's scripture for the day is, from Dora: "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over, shall men give into your bosom. For with the same measure that ye mete withal it shall be measured to you again." (But personally, I hope that no one dumps trash on their lawn, whoever they may be. It will just junk up the 'hood again.)

And for Dora and I, "If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. For you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you." And, if he has dumped his trash on your lawn, clean it up yourself. Burning coals, people! Burning coals!

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Enfranchised!

Victory! Well, for me, not necessarily my candidates, but every little step helps. I actually received my absentee ballot in the mail. Strange as it may seem, I wasn't counting on getting it. See, I'm from a city that has been under the strangle-hold of the democratic party for a very, very, very long time. And voting kafuffles go hand-in-hand with that history. Every time I've voted there I've felt the thrill of having wrested something I deserved out of a hand resentful and reluctant to yield it to me.

This reminds me of a story... Once upon a time I went down to the local park department to vote. (Actually, this is a true story. Don't let the fairy-tale beginning throw you off.) It's only 3 blocks from my house, and the voting process is very easy. All you have to do is tell them your name. Thinking back, I realize I've never once shown my ID to prove that I actually am the "Amy Peterson" on the list who resides at --.

Anyway, at the double doors of the building's entrance were several very "beefy" men (read: large, muscular, and unmistakably descended from mafia), there to help people vote, I assume. As I approached the heavy doors they fell over themselves to hoist both wide open, creating a princess-like entrance into the dingy, echoing, CPD halls. All smiles and nods, they were the very picture of eagerness as they pointed me down the left hallway toward the voting room. (There is never a line. Chicago is very efficient when it comes to getting in the vote.)

I happily went through the process of punching my tabs and shoving my ballot down the slot. Somehow or other, when the old ladies at the table had given me the ballot, they also gave me a little receipt that I could carry out with me, showing that I had done my civic duty and voted. Oddly (as I think about it now), this receipt was colored -- one color if you were a registered Dem, and another if you were a Republican. They kept the tear-off part, which I guess was an added safety measure to ensure no one could pretend to be me and vote again.

Clutching my receipt in my hand I sauntered back toward the main doors, happy in the knowledge that there were several large men available to open them. These doors, you see, are huge, metal, fireproof sorts of things. Rather awkward.

I turn the corner to the short foyer hall. I'm on one end; the doors and three men are on the other. I see them. They see me. Their eyes drift down to the receipt in my hand. Their faces harden. Their arms cross. Their backs lean against the walls.

Undisguised hostility oozed toward me and my red receipt. Not a nod. Not a smile. (And I'd been looking rather fetching, as I was in a skirt and on my way to work. It didn't help a bit.)

There was only one way out, so I held my chin high, my eyes down, and walked the gauntlet. (I'd have rather run.) Three slouching guards (each at least twice my bulk, and I'm not a short woman) glared angrily at me on either side; six bulging arms remained stolidly crossed two feet away as I struggled with the heavy 1960's-weight metal doors.

When the door had finally opened and I'd slipped out to the other side, their following anger felt like brick weights pasted to my back. The feeling accompanied me all the way to the car. I shivered some, glad that it was morning and the sky was light, glad my receipt and I hadn't met these public servants in some dark alley.

Chicago's slogan is, "The City that Works", and it really does. I truly admire Mayor Daley's tulips, symbolic of the well-oiled bureaucracy that keeps things moving along and even keeps them looking good as they do. I've actually recommended just such a mafia-inspired governmental structure for poor D.C., which seemed in bad need of help when last I saw it. Chicago may be corrupt, but dog-gone-it, it works. The only thing is, it takes God on your side to get it to work for you.

Which I don't mind, as I have God.

Gosh, I love that city!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

What an unmarried woman had to say about that!

Tonight was the Bible study I wrote about a few weeks ago, where I'd be leading on the book The Power of a Praying Wife. Unbeknownst to me when last I wrote, I HAD volunteered for the week that the chapter was actually on the subject of marriage! So here I sat, an unmarried woman waxing eloquent while six married women listened. Only God does these sorts of things.
I was afraid of boring them, and perhaps I did (Dora insists I didn't). Yet, I enjoyed teaching what I did. Several days ago I was talking to my dad on the phone and he popped out with one of those memory-blazing phrases -- the sort that will in the future will always be prefaced with a "my dad says...." What did he say? Ah yes, good of you to ask.

"Satan is always warring against love. He is always warring against relationships."

I've thought about it several times since, especially as I prepared for leading this study. It is so true, and so infrequently considered seriously. Oh, we're aware of the enemy's involvement in major things like divorce and bitterness and adultery. But the little things escape our notice: irritation, annoyance, self-preservation, fear, accusations. The list is extensive, so I won't even attempt to complete it. The point is, we are actually in a war. If we never recognize the fact, we will never violently and vigilantly act to preserve the way of love.

God IS love, and we are made in His image. This means that what Satan hates in God, he hates in us also. The enemy hates love.

Can you imagine this? Really? A personality that hates love? I find it horrific.

We can already see how effective the enemy is in this. Our culture guzzles divorce like beer. What are our defenses against such an all-out attack? What are our counter-weapons? What tools and strategies has the Lord given us to counter this onslaught of powerful hate?

Prayer is the first. Love is the second.

There are two aspects to this love. The first is following the law of love toward one another. That law says that we are to love the other as we love ourselves, that we are to prefer the other above ourselves, that we are to lay down our life for the sake of the other. (Ever notice how much easier it is to follow this law of sacrificial love toward our friends and neighbors than toward our family and spouses?)

The second aspect is this: we are married to two men at once. One marriage will last about 50 years. The other will last over 50 million years (to name a smallish sort of number). Our marriage to Jesus is our first, and our longest. It is the real thing, of which our physical marriage is a picture and shadow and reflection. It is the blueprint. It is the guide.

What does this mean practically? Our capacity for love is greater than a human being will ever be able to fill. We are deeper people than our spouses will ever be able to plumb. Women (and men, I assume) habitually look to their spouses to fill needs God created so extensive that only He could fill them. He left room in us for Himself!

He took me once through the 23rd Psalm, having me declare back to Him that He was my shepherd, my husband wasn't. He was my provider, my husband wasn't. He would give my soul rest and peace, my husband wouldn't. And so on... It was a wonderful exercise. At each verse I acknowledged that God might use my husband as a tool and an avenue, such as providing for me financially and physically. But in the ultimate sense, at the end of the story, a spouse is not going to ever complete what only God can.

I told the girls tonight that they will always be in want, they will always be in need. No husband will supply what God designed only to be satisfied by Himself. Until the marriage of the Lamb and the bride, we will always be waiting. The only way for a physical marriage to be all it was designed to be, is for it to be second to our marriage to God. The only way to really love your spouse, is to love God more than your spouse.

And that's what an unmarried woman had to say about that!

Monday, July 28, 2008

I Am More Beautiful

Whatever you’ve heard about Hawaii, believe. Unless someone tells you it’s paradise. A friend was praying a week before I flew here and he accidentally asked God to bless me in heaven. It was quickly reworded, “Hawaii,” as we all giggled. My very first impression when I saw the mountains that surround my brother’s house, (one which has lasted these three months) was not that I would find beauty here, but that I would find the Lord. Every time I have paused to take in a sight and have intentionally opened my spirit to hear His comments on it, He has said this: “I am more beautiful.” It is no denigration of the creation lying in front of us. It is just simple truth. And I love that truth!

I was reminded of this in Kauai this past week. The beauty there should have been overwhelming, and to many people it probably is. But I’m just me, and God keeps whispering this thing in my ear, and I stare at lush mountains and white-frosted aqua seas and they seem remote and half-way compared to the tangible presence of Jesus.

The two things I don’t have pictures of are what most impressed a mark on me. At the organic farm where we camped one night we hung out in the “cookhouse” with a pile of the hippies who work 15 hours a week in exchange for a campsite. Laid-back, earthy, dull, and-in spite of their grasped and obtained “freedom”-visibly repressed, they welcomed us with an ease and a carelessness that was little interested in whether we were or were not. Two thoughts were paramount during those hours with them. One was whether or not it’s possible to get high accidentally off the fumes of someone else’s weed (oh, I’m so ignorant…it’s funny, but don’t laugh at me, Anna Lew!) and the other, fighting for predominance and winning, was how I could possibly share the good news with this group of people so in need of it. Conversation was not engaged in, openings were not being made, and I felt myself so ill-equipped (as Mr. Darcy might say) to recommend myself to strangers such as these. Why would they listen to a clean, groomed girl who had spent the last few nights in a posh resort, was a college graduate, and politely declined their offers to share in the joints? The more they smoked, the more each retreated into their own internal world and the chance slipped further out of my fingers. Do you know how frustrating it is to know how to save a drowning man but be tied to your boat? I kept praying for some sort of opening and finally God gave me the opportunity He had built into the evening. Hippie girl #1 (bubbly and carefree) had been to the store and bought markers and a journal. It was decided that everyone who stayed there should write in it, and Deanna and I were to inaugurate the book since we were the first who would be “leaving” the farm. When it finally got into my hands I knew what to write about—His voice, continually telling me, “I am more beautiful than this,” and my joy at having something more to look forward to than the beauty in the natural realm.

We retreated then, using a cell phone to guide our stumbling feet along ruts and mango rows and vegetables growing in the red dirt. Before bed we were invited into the owner’s metal barn-home, where we were supposed to be watching a movie but instead watched scuttling cockroaches in relief against the bright computer screen-the only bit of light in all that huge, dirty space. I was glad they were on the screen, for then they were not on me (at least, so I hoped).

The second interaction that impressed me was with Vladimir, the Russian-named Brazilian to whom we fed s’mores roasted to perfection in Lawrence’s beach campfire. Lawrence had gotten a job recently, but didn’t have enough yet to snag a place to live, so he was camping on the beach until he’d saved up. Tom, his friend, came and zipped himself up in his bag next to the fire, accepted one of our s’mores, and promptly slipped into an oblivion of sleep only the homeless achieve. The starry sky above us would surely turn rainy at some point during the night. I didn’t remember Tom being there until morning, after I had survived the disturbing hours of high wind and crashing surf from under the safe cover of a Marine combat tent. How Tom fared I don’t know. He was gone before we rose. But Vladimir, who was so handsome and thought he knew so much…who accepted our food and our help in the dark rain then carelessly insulted all we had told him of ourselves…whose request to impose himself on the rest of our trip we refused, yet who unknowingly slept all night as a tent guard between us and the creepo in the camp beyond… this man I tried to reason gently with under the stars. There is absolute truth. Religions are made by man, but God is still Himself, whatever we may say of Him. Should we throw away reality because someone else once offered us a twisted rendition of it? But he would not listen. Perhaps he was thinking too much about sleeping on the beach under such stars, or about managing to get a place in our car the next day, or about the very American experience of campfire s’mores next to pretty, kind girls. In any event, I was glad when rain abruptly sent us scattering to our various tents.

That is not a very complete rendition of our Kauai trip, which also involved treacherous hikes toward the wettest place on earth, views of an unparalleled Napali coastline, dances in the festival crowds around very Hawaiian bands, tastes of Kauai pie ice cream (coffee, coconut, macadamias, fudge), sushi and poke, destroyers anchoring off swimming beaches, birds playing among the resort’s breakfast buffeters while early surfers dotted the waves just beyond, pervasive and permanent red dirt, packaging up 70 lbs fresh mangoes for transport to the airport then Hilo, Queen’s Bath’s salty buoyancy giving us the ability to swim and watch the schools of fish around our feet at the same time… The beauty of Kauai is extreme, but even in the midst of it, He kept whispering the same thing to me: “I am more beautiful than this.” And I am so glad. I would be sorely disappointed if anything I could see or experience on this earth was the pinnacle of joy and beauty. I need more to look forward to than that, and I have it.

I've posted tons of photos w/lots of explanatory captions on facebook. Here's a link, for those of you who are interested :)

Monday, April 28, 2008

Dormancy and Bloom

Chicago.

The rain, which has been full and steady all day, has turned to snow. I suspected it a few moments ago, when the tall dining-room bays that overlook a row of neighbors' backyards seemed to be framing something in the air more substantial than transparent water. I looked hard then, but a change into snow is easier to detect by accident than by close observation, and I walked away unsure. Water falls so fast. But now it has all become apparent, because it has all become snow. Things with less substance, like snowflakes, are easier to see. Do you find that as odd as it is?

I arrived less than two weeks ago and there weren't even buds on the bare tree branches lacing the city's streets. Now everything is spring green. The tulip trees (I don't know what they're really called) have budded and bloomed great big hand-sized flowers. Green leaves are already pushing the blooms off, and the beautiful shedding process has begun. It will leave pink-and-white carpeted circles on the ground for a few weeks more. In fact, the entire city is the light, Irish-yellowish green of spring. It took only several days for the huge tree outside my window to produce egg-sized buds, spring them open, and form Dr. Seuss-like pinwheels of tall cone flower topping four spikes which each drip six long, finger-like leaves. Only a few days. To move from nothing, to multiple plant formations each at least 8 inches in diameter. Spring is like a corpse coming to life again. I suppose that is the nature of the very word we use to describe it. "Spring." But I still find it shocking.

Dormancy can be so ugly, so bare, and so unpromising. There is little to distinguish it from deadness, if such is a word. Yet an entire world could fill the void between the two. In the one, life is being stored up, tucked away, harbored and secreted. In the other, life is utterly gone; the shell and carcase might as well be burned.

When my parents purchased their home, theirs and their neighbors' yards both sported trimmed Mulberry trees. Less than six feet tall, with trunks perhaps 6 inches in diameter, the trees look like miniatures. It's a mystery how long they've been here, continually trimmed back every year into a neat, ball-shaped package. Mom is a gardener, more along the lines of the rambling English cottage than the pin-tucked tightness of little brick ranch-houses, and she treats her plants the same way. Our two Mulberries were not trimmed into tight shapes the next year, though they've been judiciously pruned. The neighbors (new owners, now) still have their just-under-six-feet tall miniature trees, and my parents...two Mulberries now tower over their four-storey house, assisting squirrels who want to caper on the roof and visually overshadowing the hundred-year-old structure. Many years had those Mulberries remained in what seemed like stasis--small, awkward, not fully themselves. But how deep was the root system they spread during that time? How wide and strong did each become underground, while above it nothing was happening?

Spring and dormancy are like this in lives, in ministry. What exactly is God doing underground? How strong are the pruning and the trials and the hiddenness making us? And what will happen when He says "Now" and everything is unleashed to grow? Nutrition absorbed over years and years will shoot to the tips of short branches, bulging out in a space of days into blooms and fruit and stunning, light-catching, attention-arresting foliage. Pruning will always be needed and life-preserving, but those times when He chooses spring, those times that come at the end of a long but silent nourishment, are insurpassible in pleasure.

This, the bloom, is not only to be hoped for but to be expected, because we are not of those who are dead! Dormant, perhaps. Dead? Never again.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Mir ist so wunderbar.... (How wondrous the emotion)

Something reminded me of this song today. I saw Fidelio performed in Chicago a few years ago, and loved this song from the first moment. It has stayed in my mind...and guess what -- youtube has a few versions! (It is a canonic quartet from Beethoven's only opera.)



Does anyone have the English translation of the libretto?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Three Teeth

I'm on a temp job assignment in the middle of industrial-land, where Starbucks are scarce and McDonald's coffee is the beverage of choice. My boss declared it BETTER and CHEAPER than Starbucks, and sent me on down the street to pay only $1.20 for a large. I sauntered right on in, and about 5 seconds later realized I'd accidentally cut in line in front of 2 men. While I'm stammering an apology and motioning them ahead of me, they both smile happily and insist I stay where I am. They couldn't have been older than their late 40's, but one, the happiest of the two, had only three teeth. That's right. Three. And that includes a top and bottom count. His smiling face woke me up and I started peering around with different eyes.

Happy. Faces. In factory-darkened overalls and worn shoes. Laughing, chatting noises. Black faces, white faces, brown faces. And some of them...some with only three teeth.

I got my coffee and went back to the car to munch on a peanut butter sandwich (sans jelly, which went bad in the fridge the other day), feeling comfortably at one with Industrial-land. It reminded me of St. Therese, the movie of whose life Lizzie and I subjected ourselves to several nights ago. I can't recommend the flick at all, but I can recommend her thoughts on life and God: Littleness is no obstacle to love. (Charlie Dodrill has a great song about it, too.) Industrial, factory, and general blue-collar areas may seem big on cavernous buildings and little on importance, but even so (and it's definitely debatable), that is no obstacle to love or joy. I'm glad a joyful, three-toothed man smiled at me today. It has sort of made the hours seem worthwhile.