The Promises are True.

What a few weeks.

During the last week I have watched my FaceBook and Twitter feed carry on a long discussion fed by strong opinions on both sides of the same-sex marriage issue and both sides of the issues of race. Deeply personal reactions to flags, laws and how we are to live in this Nation together. I have listened and watched and seen some carry themselves with wonderful grace, and others with deep frustration and anger.

I am not one keen to dive into political or theological conversations on FaceBook. I need to have the time to pause and to think and to hear the tone in your voice. I need to be able to back up and correct how I state things. I need conversation in these topics, not wall posts. I listen, but I very rarely engage online.

This last week in the midst of listening to these conversations, deeper situations have held my attention. There is a young man who plays hockey a level up from my oldest. He completed tryouts a few weeks ago, even though he was not feeling well. His mother, concerned with his color, took him the ER the day after tryouts. They have been through a tailspin of diagnosis pointing to viral meningitis, viral infection, heart failure. Lungs filled with gunk. Liver and kidneys failing.

What is that argument on FaceBook? It does not have me holding my breath in the way that this young boy’s struggle has caught me and held my attention.

His mother has prayed. She has offered her fear and her distress alongside her hope and her trust in God.

She is trusting in a reality that is beyond what is before her eyes. She, and others reposting her thoughts, have kept us updated with each step of this young man’s struggle.

Suddenly, unexpectedly, in the midst of posts laced with hope, this young man Mitchell passed away.

All the other debates on FB feel trivial at the moment, and I apologize because I know they are not. I know they are deeply personal and important…but did you hear me? This young man who had just skated in tryouts for the highest level of hockey in our town, died three weeks after those tryouts.

At the same time, I heard from my family. A soccer teammate and friend of my nephew jumped into a river in Colorado to cool off. Strong, athletic, responsible young man. Hiking with friends who are co-workers at a camp, he hopped in a flooded river to cool off. Last I had heard they still have not found his body.

What do we do with the promises and the reality beyond what we see?

I have no idea how I would react in those situations, in the moments that follow. I cannot imagine the grief.

We could all list rapidly the stories of those in our lives who are walking through such deep pain and such tremendous struggle. Pastor Saeed and his family, little ones struggling with cancer, parents fading to dementia and Alzheimer’s.

Here is the reality, though. I do believe in a God who is true and who does fulfill His promises. I believe that He heard every one of those prayers, and that somehow he holds this grief and these situations in His care in a way we cannot understand in the moment.

Those promises…that reality, is founded on a the truth that He Is. The reality that He carries not only the desire, but the power, to care for those who believe in Him.

That He is the Way the Truth and Life.

And that means something.

That His revelation to us is true and even when things seem out of control, they are not. He is still there and there is a reality deeper than the surface we see.

That He rose from the dead.

Is this simply platitudes and fairy tales?

What if the reality is that the revelation of God is true?

What if the promises are true?

In order for the promises to be true, there has to be an authority behind them. There has to be One who causes the promises to be true. Otherwise they are simply platitudes we hang on our walls. Sayings we hope carry some encouragement.

When the promises are given by someone who has conquered death, they carry weight. They carry authority. They are spoken by One who can change everything.

And when God has spoken in ways we can understand, we need to pay attention. When it is not simply fairy tales and wishful thinking, we need to listen. We need to understand that He understands our reality far more deeply than we.

What does He say?

He says that His grace is there for us. For all of us. He says that He has overcome all the boundaries which keep us from knowing Him.

He says that He is near, and that He cares.

He says there is a way to live that brings healing and life, and there are ways to live which leave us broken.

He says to love our enemies, and to care for the widow and the orphan.

When those in our midst are overwhelmed, when they are beyond themselves with grief, there has to be a truth that is deeper than hopeful thinking. I need to pay attention to that truth, so I have something to offer those who are overwhelmed, those who are broken, those who are in despair.

Something to offer that changes everything.

Something that speaks to that mother mourning her son. To that soul that is in torment because they simply do not know who they are. To that child watching their parents age and slip to dementia. To the young person wondering how they will find a job, how they will succeed in a life that looks so daunting.

To them, the promises held by the One Who conquered death hold a reality that is more firm than any law can provide. In that moment, I trust that the reality that these promises are not fairy tales gives a foundation when there seems to be none.
Truth.

And here is the catch….that those of us who proclaim to know this truth live in a way that reveals the utterly amazing truth that we believe. That we live in a way that proclaims compassion and grace. Ultimately it is not about winning arguments, and sometimes we will come to different conclusions when we read the words that I believe are God’s revelation to us. Ultimately, it is about realizing we are all broken people needing grace.

Reacting with Gospel Reality.

I have been walking for a couple months now. Some weeks better than others, however for a few weeks I was walking between 5-10 miles a day.

It was a commitment.

It took time out of my day and called for sacrificing other things.

I walked so I would feel better, and so I could lose some weight. After about 5 weeks of walking consistently I was at a house with a scale (our scale is broken). I thought I would see how I was progressing.

I had gained 6 pounds.

I didn’t walk the rest of that week out of irritation and frustration.

This week I am starting again…realizing again that some things simply take time and commitment. They take discipline and a long view.

The walk of the Christian is the same.

I have always loved the book title from Eugene Peterson, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction. The reality of our pursuing Christ, of our Christian walk of discipleship, is that it is a long obedience. Sometimes there are dramatic results which happen quickly, but far more often the results of the Spirit working in our lives play out over long lengths of time.

When we are struck by a circumstance which used to excite in us anger or frustration and we react instead with compassion and patience, we realize the work that has been happening. Prayer and reading Scripture, worship and teaching and community have been at work in our character.

I don’t think any of us could imagine a circumstance that would allow for a reaction of anger and frustration as much as the shooting in Charleston. In the midst of a Biblestudy to be met with something so evil.

The forgiveness that was evidenced, immediately, by the family members and congregation in Charleston happened because that is their character. The reaction of forgiveness could not have simply been manufactured that evening in an attempt to do what they thought was correct. They reacted with grace, with great emotion, and with forgiveness because they have pursued the One who makes that possible. In the moment they showed the result of years of walking in prayer and the reality of a God who is both Just and Compassionate.

I don’t know that I could have reacted so quickly with such grace. There is still deep mourning, deep grieving. That does not overshadow the grace that has been so on display.

The result? A community which has joined together in their mourning. No rioting, no violence. Grace. Still calling for justice, yet so marked by grace.

The rest of us? We are grasping at ways to react. Banning flags, ridding ourselves of guns. Hugging people we might not otherwise hug. Listening with a more compassionate ear and trying to hear through the anger and the frustration.

We want to stop this from happening again. We want to somehow shore up these people with compassion…and sometimes the best way we find to do that is to shout angrily against the evil, or even the symbols of the evil.

We have to do something. The evil in our midst demands a reaction.

We can only react with forgiveness and grace when we are so immersed in the language of Gospel that it comes naturally. Otherwise we are left to our insufficient fixes.

There are some things we can do physically and immediately to move forward. We can dialog and we can listen, and we can care deeply. Not cliche, not simplistic…we can truly deeply care. More than our agenda or what makes us uncomfortable, we can listen with Gospel reality.

Gospel which calls for reconciliation and grace and true peace. Gospel which calls for caring for others more deeply than ourselves. Gospel which proclaims hope in the midst of confusion. Gospel reality which proclaims a God who intervenes and transforms.

it is good to debate and to think through our stands on all the issues involved. Let’s follow the example of those who are most intimately impacted, and who have earned to have a louder voice, reacting with grace and forgiveness. Debating with grace and compassion.

Taking down a flag will not solve evil.

Flying a flag will not secure freedom. 

Transformation by the Gospel will prepare us for the next moment we are shocked and we hope to react in a way that proclaims we are Children of the Savior.

Whenever, though, they turn to face God as Moses did, God removes the veil and there they are—face-to-face! They suddenly recognize that God is a living, personal presence, not a piece of chiseled stone. And when God is personally present, a living Spirit, that old, constricting legislation is recognized as obsolete. We’re free of it! All of us! Nothing between us and God, our faces shining with the brightness of his face. And so we are transfigured much like the Messiah, our lives gradually becoming brighter and more beautiful as God enters our lives and we become like him.  

2 Corinthians 3:16-18 The Message

Strengthened by the Testimony of the Saints.

“My story is important not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours… it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us more powerfully and personally. If this is true, it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually” – Frederick Buechner

In the last few months I have heard of several more people with families members now marked by Dementia or Alzheimer’s. Several more families now watching the person they love diminish before them. Several more families wondering how to care well for these loved ones, how to walk through this new season without becoming exhausted and overwhelmed.

Those that are closest to me, I refer to my Dad. The husband of one of these I told to call my Dad because he has walked through this with a wisdom and a grace that give strength. Not perfectly, and he will say he has done so with nothing remarkable…but the truth is he has shown all of us how to walk well in the season of suffering. I’ve learned from him. His story gives strength to those who hear it; they know they are not alone and that this challenge is not impossible.

The reality is that so many are touched by some form of this disease. The quotation from Buechner above is often used, mostly because of the deep truth it tells. We need to hear each others’ stories because they tell us more about our own situation. They give us strength in the midst of our own fears or our own uncertainty. We need to hear the testimony of those who have walked a little further in the struggle than we, and can tell us of God’s grace.

In the Book of Revelation, when it tells of the accuser of the saints being conquered, this is said:

“And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death” Revelation 12:11

Our testimony carries weight.

Our stories carry weight.

So. To those friends who have just begun the journey of Alzheimer’s or Dementia, to those who are overwhelmed with fear and sadness: God is still there. God is still in the midst and His grace is present. The testimony of the saints who have walked this way proclaims that.

Here is what my testimony in the middle of this journey proclaims:
It’s okay to be sad, to be overwhelmingly saddened by the loss of the personality of the one you love. To grieve deeply as life events unfold and you are aware that this person who is present is not completely with you…and to know how different the situation would be if they were. To know how they would love your children, to know how they would laugh and would rejoice over your accomplishments.
It is okay to grieve, in the midst of the journey…but know you cannot grieve the entire time. There will be moments of laughter in the midst of this craziness. There will be moments of light.

Dad: “Good morning, my dear. I love you.”

Mom: “Well. What do you want?”

———————

Brother: “Mom, did you like that restaurant?”

Mom: “Yes.”

Brother: “Would you like to go back?”

Mom: “Well, not tonight!”

There will be glimpses of that personality that pop up. And they will be all the more treasured because they are rare and they will bring a flood of memories of who that person is who is in your midst still.

 Laugh and rejoice in those moments, and don’t be afraid to laugh.

GrandmaWatch

This is a long and tiring mourning. This is a slow losing of the person in front of you: pace yourself. Rejoice when you can, and mourn when you need to. Then look for God in the midst. See Him in graces small and large. In family coming together in the midst of struggle. In strength you didn’t know you possessed. In appreciating this person in ways you might never have done without this change.

And realize that as we weep over this disease and what it does, we weep with God. This wounding of creation, this loss…I truly believe that He grieves with us. As Creation groans…as we groan. We cling to the promise of new life, of new creation. Of grace and of a Creator who cares and who intervenes and who redeems. We cling with hope as we hear the testimonies.

Tell stories. Tell of the one you love and remember them well, in the midst of the struggle. Write down the stories and remember. Know that you are not alone and pay attention. Know that eventually your testimony will bring strength to someone.

Again, Buechner

“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

The Necessity of Play

Yesterday as I was walking I listened to a TED radio hour about play. Now, I was outside and I was moving, but I wasn’t exactly playing.

 

I was working to get my body in better shape…so that I can play more. With my kids. Because sometimes they need encouragement to play.

 

We all need that encouragement, and yet after listening to the speakers, I realized the importance of play. Or I remembered.  Play should be a priority.

 

We are born stamped with the image of a Creative and playful God. Yes, we face a myriad of struggles in this life, and there are so many things to think deeply about and to weep over. There are enormous, staggering issues that surround us. There are also the mundane duties and necessities of life, which demand our attention.

 

Still, there is this wiring in us that looks for and loves play.

 

There are waterfalls and rainbows and amazing sunsets and wonder all around us. There are signs everywhere of a Creator at play.

sunset
The colors purple and pink.

 

The platypus.

Laughter. Deep, releasing and spontaneous laughter. The kind where you can’t contain yourself.

SammyGrandmaLaugh

 

And when we play we relate in such a different way. With freedom and with joy. Imagination.

IMG_0759

“That’s a sure way to tell about somebody–the way they play, or don’t play, make-believe.” Madeleine L’Engle

 

Part of the TED talk was with a Dr. Steve Brown who had researched the role of play in murderers. They didn’t play. They didn’t engage in spontaneous play as children. And they didn’t learn empathy. They didn’t learn the necessities of life that come through play. That is fairly staggering.

 

 

The true object of all human life is play. Earth is a task garden; heaven is a playground. G.K. Chesterton

 

We have to have a release in the midst of the struggle. We have to sometimes be reminded to play.

 

Pinterest and my Facebook feed are full of ideas to spark play in our children this summer. There is a tinge of sadness that we have to sometimes manufacture play because our children need the encouragement. Maybe we need to incorporate more play in our lives so it becomes more engrained…then it can be more spontaneous. Maybe we, I, need to not say no when the children want to play…we need to encourage it and enlarge that desire.

 

 

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.” G. K. Chesterton

It’s summertime. Let’s play. Let’s let down our guard a bit and get silly and get wet in the sprinklers and run around with the kids. Let’s laugh until we pee. Then laugh some more.

Let us allow that joy to revive us this summer.

Let’s play, and show our kids we still know how to be alive. Go throw a water balloon at someone, or color a picture, or play video games with your kids.

“I do not think that the life of Heaven bears any analogy to play or dance in respect of frivolity. I do think that while we are in this ‘valley of tears,’ cursed with labour, hemmed round with necessities, tripped up with frustrations, doomed to perpetual plannings, puzzlings, and anxieties, certain qualities that must belong to the celestial condition have no chance to get through, can project no image of themselves, except in activities which, for us here and now, are frivolous.

For surely we must suppose the life of the blessed to be an end in itself, indeed The End: to be utterly spontaneous; to be the complete reconciliation of boundless freedom with order–with the most delicately adjusted, supple, intricate, and beautiful order?

How can you find any image of this in the ‘serious’ activities either of our natural or of our (present) spiritual life? Either in our precarious and heart-broken affections or in the Way which is always, in some degree, a via crucis?

No, Malcolm. It is only in our ‘hours-off,’ only in our moments of permitted festivity, that we find an analogy. Dance and game are frivolous, unimportant down here; for ‘down here’ is not their natural place. Here, they are a moment’s rest from the life we were place here to live.

But in this world everything is upside down. That which , if it could be prolonged here, would be a truancy, is likest that which in a better country is the End of ends. Joy is the serious business of Heaven.” – C.S. Lewis

The Unexpected is Exactly What We Needed

September 2010 I realized I was pregnant. This was unexpected and a surprise that staggered. Overwhelming would probably be the best word.

Sometimes the unexpected can stir fear or a sense of unease.

Sometimes the unexpected turns out to be the most wonderful, a source of delight we never knew we needed.

Madeleine has been just that. Four years old today, she has utterly changed our lives. She has brought a lightness and a humor, a touch of femininity to our lives we were not aware we were missing.

newmaddie271024

This little one has already begun to soften her brothers. They care for her in ways I couldn’t have imagined…they love her quite well. Their future wives can thank Miss Maddie for this change she has brought.

sammaddie

259375_10150212040915419_2742771_o

253627_10150219377620419_7508323_n

From the start she has captured our hearts with this sense of delight she has about her. Her laughter, her charm, her intelligence. And her simple innocence and beauty. Every day she stops us and helps us see something good.

537631_10150895095145419_1503047223_n

She was unexpected, and she was exactly who our family needed.

315565_10150374167035419_1144777439_n

576096_10151105182810419_1722623677_n

616124_10151247893410419_1118022419_o

Maddie Bday9

As she has grown, she just seems to get better. She has a temper, and she does think she can interrupt any discussion to make her words heard. We’re working on that. Still, she is feisty and feminine in just the right measure. She stands her ground, but she can turn and be compassionate and tender in a heartbeat.

Maddie Bday

Maddie Bday10

She knows more about soccer and hockey than most 4 year old girls, and has watched probably a hundred games.

She loves art and books and pretty things.

Mostly this, though:
She simply is alive to life and it is delightful. I love a day to celebrate her, and a day to indulge in posting far too many pictures in one blog post. She is the only one I will take a duck-face selfie with. She brings out our best and makes me want to be not only a better mom but a better woman.

Maddie Bday5

Maddie Bday4

Maddie Bday6

Maddie Bday13

Maddie Bday7

Maddie Bday8

Maddie Bday15

Maddie Bday11

Maddie Bday3

And she has done all of this in four short years.

Happy Birthday, Maddie Jane.

Maddie Bday17

A Little Hard Work is Required.

Maddie 3

 

 

This is the face of a little girl in a little pain, and a little frustration. This is the face of a little girl after her first swim lesson.

 

The lesson ended in tears and the exclamation that she never wanted to swim again.

 

“They made me put my face in the water. I had water in my nose and I couldn’t keep it out.”

Despair.

 

And the toes. Do you remember when you were little and swam and scraped your toes on the bottom of the pool? Do you remember those little sores, the little raw circles on the bottom of your toes?

 

Yep. All ten toes now have waterproof bandaids.

 

As we walked away from the lesson, tears still dripping down her cheeks, I told her,

 

“Sometimes we have to do a little hard work and something not too fun so we can have lots of fun in the end.”

 

She’s almost four. She has no idea what I mean…not really.

 

I meant it, though, even in the simplicity of swimming lessons. This life of ours requires discipline, it requires sacrifice and it requires some not too fun things all done with the hope of success and growth.

 

Sometimes we have to set aside the fun activity to complete the necessary activity. In the end the things that are not as fun can give us room for other things: taking care of the household chores leaves us a space where we can relax and rest, taking the time for study enriches our brains and sets the stage for creativity and imagination and curiosity.

 

Sometimes we have to put to death our flesh in order to see the Spirit come alive.

 

Sometimes we have to do the hard work before we see the growth.

 

But, to be honest, there are days (weeks? months? years?) where it feels as though everything is the hard work and nothing is enjoyment or growth. That is when we have to listen well; we have to pay attention.

 

 

“Listen to your life. Listen to what happens to you because it is through what happens to you that God speaks . . . It’s in language that’s not always easy to decipher, but it’s there, powerfully, memorably, unforgettably.”

Frederick Buechner

Even today. Even in the difficult times and the joyful times…God is speaking.

Even when we give advice to four year olds when we really are talking to ourselves.

The next day? She jumped in the water and came up laughing. She was the first one in line for the slide, even though it meant going deep under the water for her. She came up with joy and had already forgotten the tears. After the second day the exclamation was, “When can we do this again!”

Fireflies and Struggles.

Someone asked the other day why I have not been writing. There have been many mornings when I wanted to write over the last several months, yet the words simply didn’t flow.

Sometimes words just dry up.

Sometimes life is mundane and busy and distracted and I find it difficult to pull thoughts into focus. Thoughts more than what to make for lunch, what the kids need to be studying and did I finish all the things I needed to today.

Then, sometimes, I read an article like Ann Voskamp’s about her journey in Iraq and I wonder what on earth I could say. I sat utterly silent after reading about the journey of the women in Iraq, about the true horrors and suffering. Talking about my inability to complete my laundry sounded just a little petty.

Still, that is mostly the stuff of which my days consist: Laundry. Dishes. Lunches. Dinners.

Or is it?

There is a discipline to our thoughts. When I am lazy the words do not come, mostly because the thinking is vague and random. I tend to mope.

No one wants to read moping.

I have to go back to Ann Voskamp, who has been bringing me a bit out of this funk of undisciplined thought. Her book and challenge to count our blessings. To write them down and remember them…all the way up to 1000 and beyond. One Thousand Gifts. Discipline our thoughts and our vision to see the wonder and blessings around us.

Write them down. Look at them and be amazed by all the wonders around us. All the blessings, even in suffering.

Just after beginning to count these blessings that fill my life, I drove on a quiet Tennessee country road to pick up the eldest from a party. Just at twilight. In the early summer. If you have lived in the South, you know what that can mean: Fireflies. Lightning bugs.

There was an aroma of honeysuckle, everything was green, the air was cool and the windows down. The light caught my eye and I thought it was ribbons farmers use to keep birds from eating their crops. Then another field, filled with this twinkling light. Thousands of fireflies.

This exercise in counting blessings brings an awareness  that this reality of ours is not so simple. It is touched by eternity, touched by a Creator who delights in fireflies and fuzzy chicks, sunsets and landscapes. A Creator who gives gifts, even some gifts that challenge us.

I wonder if the women in Iraq can number their blessings to 1000. Maybe I am greedy in seeing the blessings I have, and sometimes try to hoard.

That is not what they are for. They strengthen us and move us beyond our funk, beyond our mundane days, beyond our limitations. These wonders and blessings remind us that God is, and that He is near. They remind us that we can walk in a faith which expands our feeble actions.

Go and read the update Ann wrote after people responded to her first article. Really…go and read the Update. Now.

Sometimes I come to this blog and think all I have to write about with depth is the journey of my Mother’s Dementia. Heavy things. Hard things.

Or I write about birthdays. Light things. Joyous things.

The reality is, most of life is spent somewhere in between. We cannot constantly focus on the struggle or we exhaust ourselves. We cannot constantly analyze and postulate about the deeper meaning. Sometimes we have to do the laundry, or color a picture with a three year old.

 

And those things don’t sound terribly interesting to write about…yet maybe they are just the things I should think about.

 

I’ll end with this…reading Walter Wangerin Jr.’s book  Letters from the Land of Cancer:

“But the promises of the Lord endure forever. He and his promises – Jesus, between the making and the keeping them – these embrace Time. They give Time its edges and its shape. And it is not wrong, on days like this one, to take one’s stand as well as one’s rest within such Time, the anteroom of eternity. Not in order to blind ourselves to the iniquities and the woundings around us, nor to withdraw from our service on behalf of the wounded, but simply to rejoice.

It is a good day. Gladness is available. Christ is at hand.”

 

Whatever this moment holds: suffering, joy, mundane duties, boredom, excitement. Whatever the moment holds…Christ is present. That really does change everything.