Sunday, September 27, 2015

What it Takes

We should not have made it. By most markers designed to project marital success, we should not still be together...

Ours was a teenage marriage--I was 18 and Ron barely 21. Neither of us went to college. We had five children we could not afford at inopportune times. Only one of us was employed and we hovered below the poverty line for many years. Our personalities were not compatible. He was introverted and private, I never met a stranger. He liked to work, I liked to play. He was cautious and needed to plan, I craved adventure and preferred to fly by the seat of my pants. As you can imagine, there was friction in those early years. Lots of it. We fought noisily in our mobile home in the tight quarters of our trailer court. We fought in the car. We fought quietly in front of others with murderous looks and jabs under the table. I embarrassed him. He infuriated me. Three months into this gig I learned I was pregnant. While Ron spent those early days detailing cars and changing oil at a nearby car dealership, I laid around the house napping and puking. It was all terribly romantic. Two weeks before our first anniversary, I gave birth to our daughter after a long and truly awful labor. They handed us our dark-haired, flannel-wrapped, burrito-baby and we looked at her with pity. "They should require a license to take one of these home," we thought with great anxiety. "What in the world are we going to do with her?"

Somehow we managed to muddle through our daughter's infancy and toddlerhood and, over the next ten years, we added three more children to our collection. During this time, we moved perhaps a dozen times. We lived in a camper on Florida's gulf coast, a double-wide prefab with mysteriously lumpy carpet in rural Missouri, and with the in-laws on two separate occasions. He milked cows and did field work, red-eyed night shifts as a hotel clerk, bagged groceries, did custodial work, and odd carpentry jobs, and started his own business--all so he could pursue youth ministry, his real passion. I dabbled in gardening, canning, and making my own baby food. I got good at living off almost nothing--acquiring most of our clothing and furniture from yard sales, baking my own bread, culturing gallons of raw milk yogurt, folding mountains of line-dried cloth diapers, gestating and lactating all the while. His work required him to take more risks and to put himself out in front of people. Motherhood calmed me and made me more introspective and careful.

In our thirties, we moved some more. Our older kids changed schools six times in six years--from a quiet country schoolhouse to a burgeoning Philadelphia middle school to a hundred year old private high school. We became foster parents and welcomed some amazing and challenging people in and out of our home. We bore our fifth and Final Hurrah Child into a houseful of teenagers who left the house one by one to attend college, marry, and reward us with beautiful grandchildren in sets of two and three.

This last half of our marriage has brought less moving and more aging. If bodies are like wrappers, ours have gone from tight and shiny shrink-wrap to faded, sagging Saran Wrap. In 36 years, we have seen each other in holey underwear, unshaven, and before make-up. We have beheld the ugly tears. We have voiced the meanest words, the most selfish thoughts, uttered with the worst breath. Door slamming, phone throwing, dysfunctional, disorderly, disabled messes; there were days when there was very little that was loveable about either of us. NOT the best foot forward--ours was the stuff you hoped to hide. We all quickly realize that the masks come off in marriage and, all to often, so do the gloves. But back there, behind the scenes in the place where Real Life happens, we have been privileged to experience the Best in one other human being: One person who always has your back that would defend you to the death, take the bullet, hurl themselves in front of a speeding train without a second thought, give you the last life vest on a sinking ship or the last brownie in the pan. Thirty-six years and you can almost read the other's thoughts, anticipate their actions, speak in their place. We are learning what it means to be ONE--the messy melding of two very different people into a team that reflects more than any sappy Hollywood romance ever could.

Because God...God was there all along. We invited Him to the wedding. He was there on the honeymoon for the having and the holding. He's been present for the better and the worse, sustaining in the richer and poorer, holding us in sickness and in health, teaching us what it means to love and to cherish another, FAITHFUL to US 'til death. We've never spent one moment on this journey alone. Marriage was God's idea, after all, not Man's. He knows what we need and He's very much in the thick of the process with us. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 rings as true today as it did September 29, 1979:

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor:
If either of them falls down, one can help the other up.
But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up.
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken."
Thank you, Lord, for being the Strand that has held it all together--to YOU be all thanks and glory and praise! And Happy Anniversary to my BEST and Other, Ron. I would do all again in a heartbeat! I'm so glad you chose ME.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Plus Also Principle

Have you ever been told to "Go the extra mile?" Or have you ever described the generosity of a person by saying, "He'd give you the shirt off his back?" Where do you suppose phrases like these originated? I think they go directly back to Jesus' teaching in his famous Sermon on the Mount where he defines what constitutes "blessing" and "blessed." I highly recommend that you read the whole fifth chapter of Matthew for context when you are able, but I want to remark here on a few points that have been circulating in my head in recent weeks:

1) I must not love only the people who love me. I am commanded to love my enemies, to love and care about strangers. Oh, this goes against everything in us! Consider the familiar story of the Good Samaritan. You know how it goes: There is a man who is traveling that is waylaid by criminals who beat him up, rob him, and leave him for dead along the road. Many "good" guys see him and keep going, not wanting to get involved, until one unimpressive foreigner happens by. He feels compassion. He stops and gives medical attention before bringing the man to today's equivalent of an ER. He nurses him overnight and, when he must continue about his business, he leaves money for someone else to care for him saying, "Whatever more it costs to continue his care, I will pay when I return." Did you notice this story gives no background on the victim? It doesn't tell us if he was innocent and upright or a scoundrel. Maybe he had a reputation for swindling others and was suffering payback from those he'd taken advantage of? Maybe some of the people who passed by him on the road knew who he was and purposely kept going? We don't know. The only focus of the story is on what the Samaritan did. He went the extra mile. He gave more than the shirt off his back. He loved a stranger.

2) I am called to go beyond what is asked or expected. In his sermon, Jesus told the masses that if
someone forces you to go a mile with him, go two. If someone demands your coat, give him your shirt also. This sounds strange. This sounds like a hijacking and robbery! What in the world is he talking about? He is talking about what I call The Plus Also Principle. This is not just an ideal to employ when you find yourself a victim of criminal behavior, but rather a maxim you can act on every day of your life in much more ordinary scenarios: Maybe you are asked to wash the car--go ahead and do it--plus vacuum the floor mats and clean the windows and dash. You are expected to give a ride to an elderly friend--take them to lunch also.Your job is to clear the table--pick up a broom and sweep the floor, too. In what ways can you creatively honor God by giving above and beyond?

3) I need to lay down my life. Jesus said, "No one takes my life, I sacrifice it voluntarily." While we were ENEMIES of God, hating him and not the least bit interested in looking for him, he GAVE his Son.  Lay down my life? I have a hard time laying aside my agenda, my preferences, my momentary comfort for the benefit of someone else before I feel grievously violated. How do you feel when someone takes something that is yours? Do you feel angry? Vengeful? What if you decide that you are releasing it as a gift instead? Would it change how you felt? Which is better; to feel put upon or taken advantage of--or to decide what you are doing/giving is a GIFT and expect nothing in return? What if you loaned money to someone who asked and considered it a gift instead? What if you fed the guy on the street corner without needing a disclosure of how wisely he'd spend your donation? What if you strongly committed to consider the needs of your neighbor as every bit (or more) important than your own? How would this affect our little corner of the planet?

When we behave in this counter-intuitive, reverse-culture manner, we prove that we are Children of our Heavenly Father, and do you know why? WE ARE ACTING LIKE HIM. He gives to the ungrateful constantly. (That would be you.) He rains down continual blessings on those who think they deserve it and those who don't. This, Friends, is how we are Salt for the earth. This is how we are Light for the world. Go. Do. Be.

Photos from Hillcrest Academy's mission trip to the Dominican Republic, Spring 2015

(Matthew 5, Luke 10:25-37, Romans 5:8, John 10:18)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Return to the Garden

The Garden. THOSE were the good ol' days but we never realized it. Those were the days before violence, before hatred and murder, anger and selfishness. There was no doubt, no knowledge of evil. No bloodshed no sickness, no suffering of any kind. All was only good, all the time. But it wasn't enough. We wanted more--more knowledge, more power, more experience, no limits. And so we traded perfection for these: Brokenness, thorns, pain, sadness, death, and the perversion of eve...rything good. The first humans chose this and we continue to choose it--surrounded by all the beauty and glory of God's creation, we choose independence from Him. We choose war and disregard Him who made it all for our good. We treat others, made in His image, worse than animals enslaving and selling children for vile pleasure. How far we've wandered away from the Garden! Claiming to be wise, we've become fools and exchanged the glory of God for corruptible, temporal pursuits! And yet there burns this spark of hope, this sense that things ought not be this way. We long for innocence for our children, safety for our sons and daughters, peace for our souls, a return to beauty. That's what God offers us in Christ--a one way ticket back to The Garden, back to Him. We can look at all that is happening around us and KNOW that we are on our way. This place is not our Home. This is how I am encouraging MYSELF today, June 16, 2015. There is hope, dear friends. There is hope for me and for you, for our children and grandchildren. We cannot fix this ourselves. No amount of cosmetic surgery or propping up of the broken system will make it better. Our job is to be a preservative of the good that remains and a light that points to the Only Solution. He is all. There is nothing else. Come quickly, Lord Jesus

Monday, June 15, 2015

Ordinary June Days

Enjoying this damp, cool morning with 7 year-old Sawyer. We ate strawberries, dewy from our little patch out back and shared some with the chickens who graciously traded warm, smooth eggs. Next we thinned the carrots and spinach rows and fed the excess to the bunnies before checking the rain gauge--three quarters of an inch.

A tall glass of iced tea, the roar of the lawnmower, chicken soup bubbling on the stove, the yeasty smell of bread rising, sheets gently waving from the clothesline

Sipping coffee on the back porch this morning, watching the animals. The cat is laying with her head tucked under the wicker arm of the loveseat watching the chickens. I can see the rapid rise and fall of her rib cage as her breathing quickens with the movement of the birds. She is fascinated, but scared of them (fraidy-cat) and they are nervous (chicken) about her presence. Mimzy's pupils dilate, her tail twitches. The chickens move about the grass, pecking here and there at things I can't see--purring, clucking, and growling at one another. All of a sudden, one of them thinks that the hen on the opposite side of the yard has found something good and races across the lawn, wings poised for take-off that never comes. False alarm. Heart rates return to normal. Time for a second cuppa coffee

Ahhhh...the end of a perfectly ORDINARY day. The sun is soft, casting lengthening shadows on the freshly clipped lawn. The ceiling fan is singing it's own lopsided song over my head and I can see the platties and mollies in the aquarium next to me darting about, ever hopeful that I'll sprinkle food their way. The smell of grilled salmon lingers, mixed with the heavy scent of cut flowers. My shoulders are tired, in a good way, after a routine day of puttering about. I am thank...ful for a house to clean, a yard to groom, and strength to work. Tonight I will wash my dirty feet in the tub before I flop onto crisp sheets and a billowy down comforter edged in eyelet. A box fan will blow the cool evening air through the window filling the bedroom with a perfect sleeping temperature. Mimzy will stretch out, fluffy tummy-side-up at the foot of the bed. I can relax as darkness falls, knowing that God is at work on my behalf--morning, noon, and night. I am secure in the shadow of the wings of the Almighty.
"God provides for His own. It is pointless to get up early, work hard, and go to bed late anxiously laboring for food to eat; for God provides for those He loves, even while they are sleeping." Psalm 127:2 (The Voice)

Friday, May 29, 2015

Too Busy

There are two phrases I plan to completely eliminate from my vocabulary this summer. 1) I'm so tired, and 2) I'm so busy. When I talk about being tired, it makes me MORE tired. When I tell people I am SO BUSY they probably feel as irritated as I feel when they tell me the same thing. You know what? We are ALL busy. Whatever. Fact: We are TOO busy. Here's an idea--what can you cut out of your schedule this summer? What sport can you NOT sign your kid up for? What volunteering ...can you take a break from? How about if you plan for some blank days on your calendar? Don't tell me you can't. The world will not stop turning if you pause to catch your breath, I promise. What if you stopped to smell the roses every day? What if you sat on the sidewalk and watched ants? What if you threw a blanket on the grass and read to the kids or just closed your eyes and listened to them play? When was the last time you watched clouds? Stayed in your jammies and drank coffee all morning? Listened to the birds singing while you painted your toenails on the back steps? Life is full of MOMENTS. Moments that tick by so fast we don't ever notice them until they become hours and days, weeks and years. And all we do is run from one thing to another telling everyone how tired and busy we are. STOP. Just stop. Shhhhhh...quiet your little soul today. Be present. Be aware of the world and your tiny little part in it. Breathe. There is rest for you in this crazy world. But first, you must want it. Quit wearing your Badge of Busyness like it's an honorable calling. Let's humble our prideful hearts and choose the better thing.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Sunday's Here!!

Sunday's here! The grave is empty--Jesus is RISEN! This is the season in the church when we celebrate the greatest act of love in history. The past couple of days, I have been thinking a lot about "the holy catholic church," the universal body of believers. So often we extol individuality--even in our personal relationships with Jesus--and while that is certainly important, I think there is something we lose sight of in our independent western culture: Corporate faith, collec
tive faith, the fact that "Wherever two or three are gathered in My name, there I am there in the midst." (Matthew 18:20) We can and must have our own private, intimate fellowship with God. But we can't deny the fact that something supernatural happens when we come together with others who believe.
Before he ascended to heaven, Jesus wanted more of Peter than he had been giving up to this point. He asked him, "Do you love me? Then feed my sheep." (John 21) Maturing faith is never just about me. It is about US. Just as my hand can't tell my eye, "I have no need of you," neither can I dismiss others who claim the name of Jesus. I have seen Jesus in Presbyterians from Nigeria, Lutherans from Norway, Mennonites from Florida. I have seen him in Catholics from Pennsylvania, Baptists from Washington, and Charismatics from Korea. I have seen him in Brethren from India, Dutch Reformed from Minneapolis, and Pentecostals from Missouri. There is One Event which all Christian faith centers on: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Without the resurrection, all faith and hope is pointless. Without the resurrection our brief lives here are futile, filled with inexplicable pain--the suffering of loved ones with cancer, the sudden death of a child, endless woe and misery and struggle. But He AROSE! I believe it. And I draw energy from those of you who believe it, too. No, we don't have every answer to all the whys in our world, but we know the One who does.
Great men and women down through history have died waiting for the Promise of His Coming. And now you and I wait with them--old men, grandmothers, young parents, teenagers and toddlers from every nation, tribe, and tongue. We join together on Easter to remind ourselves--and the world--that this is not our home. That Jesus has gone before to prepare a place for us beyond our wildest imaginations. That, where HE is, we will be also. A place of no tears, no sickness, no suffering. Because He lives, there is strength to live lives of purpose, focusing on the goal that lies ahead. Easter's message of hope is for us and for all who are far off that will yet believe because of our stories of faith. Won't you tell yours?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Saturday's Silence

Waiting. Silence. Guilt and Sadness. This is what Saturday felt like to all those who loved Jesus. Had yesterday really happened, or was it all a bad dream? But no, the ones who had taken down the body of Jesus and carried it to the tomb still had his dried blood staining their robes. They who had heard him cry, "My God, my God--why have you forsaken me?" could not block out the memory still ringing in their ears. How had this ended so terribly? Weren't they just walking alon...g the road with Jesus, basking in his growing popularity, feeling honored that THEY were the ones he had chosen to follow him? How could they have abandoned him, still cowering in secret--afraid for their lives? Surely they were dismayed to see Peter--their fearless leader--broken and despondent, wrestling with his public denial. They had no doubt heard what had become of Judas and maybe some thought he had chosen the only way out. We know the story and what happens next. But they did not.
Have you ever found yourself in this place of waiting in the face of God's silence? An earthquake has ripped apart your life (your health, your family) and you think you can never recover--things will never be good again. You pray, but you feel your prayers rise to deaf ears or bounce off the ceiling. You doubt if God is there, if he hears you, if he cares. And yet we KNOW that things were happening that Saturday after the crucifiction. Jesus descended into hell and took the keys of hell and death, triumphing over his enemies and making a mockery of them. (Colossian 2:13-15) His dying words, "It is finished," meant he had successfully delivered the blow God had promised the serpent way back in the garden of Eden; "[Adam's] seed will crush your head." Satan may have celebrated on Friday, but he didn't laugh for long.
Whatever you may be going through today, know this: God is near. He is aware, he is paying attention, he KNOWS. And though you may not see it or feel it, he is busy on your behalf. Can you rest today? Can you take advantage of the Sabbath given to you and just rest? Times come when we are told, "...having done all to stand..." to continue to simply STAND. Stand and see the salvation of our Lord who has defeated the ultimate enemy, who has all authority in heaven and earth, and who loved you SO MUCH he died for you. Sunday is coming, Sweet Friend. Just you wait!