Monthly Archives: February 2012

Plotting it all out . . .

I’ve struggled to start a post in which I lay out all that we’ve gone through in this past year and all that we have planned for the next.  This is my fourth attempt, I think, because I’m just not sure how to start.  How to make it flow naturally from my thinkings.  But I think I’m just going to create an abrupt beginning.  I’ll just dive right in, starting with a summary of what all happened just over a year ago.

Here’s the list.  In sum:

Thursday, January 20, 2011:  first raised is the possibility of Ry’s serving full-time with the National Guard, working locally.  This looms as a large question mark for the coming weeks.

Monday, January 24, 2011:  Ry visits random doc in family doc’s practice for unusual, disconcerting symptoms accompanying an illness, which leads to abdominal X-rays and a scheduled colonoscopy.

Monday, February 7, 2011:  Ry visits family doc who hears symptoms of two weeks prior and expresses total lack of concern, but says, essentially, “Sure, keep the colonoscopy appointment anyway.  It can’t hurt, even if it’s unnecessary.”

Thursday, February 10, 2011:  Ry has seemingly overkill colonoscopy at the GI office of a church member.  “Overkill” colonoscopy reveals giant polyp that must be biopsied.

Thursday, February 17, 2011:  Biopsy comes back:  cancer.  margins not clear.  bowel resection surgery recommended.

Saturday, February 19, 2011:  Ry receives word that he will begin on active duty orders as of the following Tuesday, February 22nd.

Sunday, February 20, 2011:  Ry announces to our beloved church where we’ve been serving for 5 1/2 years that as of Tuesday he will no longer be serving full-time as their pastor, as, instead, he will be serving full-time as chaplain to his National Guard battalion.  He offers to cover Sundays until a replacement is found.

If you go back and look at the dates, you might notice that all of that happened in one month.  One. Month.  Whooosh!

And that one month had an impact on the months that followed, in fact, on this entire year that has followed.  In fact, that month pretty much sent our lives in a whole new direction.  There’s more to the story.  But it really all starts in that one month.

Well.  That’s not true.  God had been at work, preparing us for the major turn in our lives for some time.  I just spent some time looking for those blog posts where I mentioned stirrings and leadings and God-is-up-to-something’s.  I knew they were there, and I found them.  And, funnily enough, I found that they were written around the same time of the year–the same time as one another, the same time as last year’s crazy month, and the same time as this year’s reflections on all of these things.  Weird.

So, on February 14, 2009, I mark the start.  The start of the changes, the stirrings:

I’m in a stirrings zone.  I can feel God stirring me up, prompting me, poking me.  I’m on the cusp of something new, but I have no clear idea of what it is.  But my brain keeps stirring, stirring, stirring.  And while I walk around lost in my brain stirrings, the rest of the world spins right past me.  My house fell into total disarray–although we have recovered the downstairs–and my children are having more time in front of PBS than I prefer.  I’m living life as I think it.  I’m thinking and life is zooming in and out and past and all around me.  Yet I can feel Him.  Stirring, pushing, pulling, molding, calling, leading . . . and when I’m not feeling completely discomfited I’m feeling incredibly excited.

And then the following year, on March 5, 2010, I dedicated an entire post to the stirrings and leadings and what’s-going-on’s.

And I’ve already described what was going on the following February.

And this February?  This February I feel like things have come together.  The stirrings are making more sense, even if the details aren’t completely clear.

On Ry’s first day of seminary, a New Testament professor asked his class how many Gospels there are.  And one student stood up and said, “Five:  Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and the fifth one is the one we are writing today.”  And I buy that.  I do.  Now the fifth Gospel is not authoritative, but it sure does testify to the Good News of Jesus Christ who continues to live and walk among his people.

I’d like to continue our testimony by unpacking some of those events I’ve laid out up there, as well as repercussions of each one.  Admittedly, it’s possible I want to do this for purely selfish reasons, to see how the whole year has played out, to remember, revisit, and make sense of it all.  But I do pray that my sharing our story will serve to witness to the One who wrote it, to his love, his grace, his strength, his power, and his enduring presence amongst us.


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because I said I would . . .

I started some other post today, but it just didn’t go anywhere.  So then I thought about taking Sundays off from my Lenten obligation observance.  Because, you know, Lent doesn’t include Sundays.  Because Sundays are the Lord’s Day.  The day we revel in the Resurrection.  Even during the dark days of Lent.  And how nice is that?!  In the midst of our time of discipline and repentance and intentional reflection on the wilderness days of our Lord, we have these shots of Light.  Every Sunday.  Because we’re just pretending here.  Not pretending . . . play-acting, maybe.  Because we are indeed embodying, and it doesn’t feel like any game.  But still.  It’s not the real story.  The struggle, the suffering, the guilt, the work:  it is finished.  It really is.  The trick is living like that is reality.  Living like it truly is finished.  That’s hard.  That’s really, really hard.  Because we look around us and life is difficult.  To quote one of my favorite movies, “Life is pain.”  It is.  There’s tragedy and mess all around us.

But life is not all there is.  This darkness, these difficulties, these challenges, these scary things . . . they do not get the final say.  They are, ultimately, finished.  That’s the hope we live for, that’s the hope we breathe for.

So, even in Lent, as we recall the darkness, as we wade through the sacrifices, as we work toward our goals, how fitting it is that we pause each First Day, and remember, that it is finished.  The sacrifice, the pain, the death, the uncertainty, the fear, the doubt.  It is finished.

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Nothing to say . . .

So hard to believe . . .

Give me a minute . . .

You know that problem will resolve . . .

Some might claim, if you have nothing to say, then say nothing at all.

Some might be silly.

I said I would write every day.  And I meant what I said, and I said what I meant.  And an elephant’s faithful, 100%.

I love elephants.  I really really do.  Because they’re big and strong and could stomp you out! but they don’t.  They eat plants.  I love that.  I love that they’re so big and giant and powerful, yet they eat plants.  They remind me:  Just because you can hurt someone, doesn’t mean you should.  And, yes, I need that reminder.  Not so much in the form of physical violence, but certainly with verbal violence.

And elephants just have this quiet appearance about them.  I mean, I know there’s someone out there doing bona fide research about elephants, and it could be that they communicate on a level of sound below which humans can hear.  Like the opposite of whales and dolphins.  But when you look at them?  They’re just lumbering along, so strong, so quiet, so steady.  And I’d like to be like that.  Not huge, of course, but able to go quietly, slowly through my life.  The slow I have covered, really.  But the quiet?  not so much.  But I’d like to.

The most vivid image I have of elephants comes from some nature show I watched once.  I’ve tried to find a clip of it, or one similar to it, but so far I’ve not been able to find it.  So, I’ll try to tell the story as I remember it.  I recall that a baby elephant died.  I don’t remember how, I don’t remember how little the elephant was.  What I do remember is how very sad the mother looked.  Yes, this ginormous animal.  She looked desperately sad.  But that is not the image that sticks out most in my mind.  What remains most vivid in my mind is the image of her companions.  Her aunts and sisters and female cousins, the whole community of female elephants who traveled together, gathered around the mourning mother.  They surrounded her.  They simply surrounded her grieving body, her head hanging low, and they patted her with their trunks.  And, the best part, they were silent.  At least from this outsider’s perspective, they were quiet.

I love that image of comfort:  of simply standing next to the one who is grieving, offering nothing more than a gentle hand upon a shoulder or back; a shoulder-to-shoulder presence.  And silence.

I’m reading Job right now.  And, I’ll confess that I struggle through it.  I’ve done a study on it with friends.  I’ve probably read some commentary somewhere along the way.  But I’m still not sure how we’re “supposed to” read it, to understand it.  Job is in anguish.  And here come all these guys showing up and explaining God to him.  And Job remains in anguish, but now he’s defensive and kind of angry with these friends to boot.  That just doesn’t strike me as helpful.  Job’s friends offer no comfort, only aggravation.

Every time I read Job, I want to close the book after chapter two, which ends:

11 Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this evil that had come upon him, they came each from his own place, Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. 12 And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. 13 And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.

I want the next verse to be “14. The End.”  Although, I also like God’s response at the end of the book, so I don’t want to end the whole thing there.  In fact, we could keep all of Job’s rants, and then loop back to Chapter 2, verses 12b-13:  “And [Job’s friends] raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven.  And they sat with him on the ground . . . and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great.”  That’s all.  That’s all I want those friends to do.

And that’s all I want my friends to do when I hurt.  Moan and groan with me, weep with me, mourn with me, pat me on the shoulder or the back–but respect me when I say “Please stop touching me”–put your shoulder against mine, so I don’t feel all alone.  But, please.  Until I’ve asked you a direct question, keep your mouth closed.

So, that’s why I love elephants.  I love that image of the big, giant animals, huddled together, moaning low together.  Just feeling one another’s pain.  And simply being present.

There is a time to talk.  And there is a time to shut. up.  And I pray that God will give me wisdom and discernment to know when’s when.


Filed under grieving, theologizing

Snow Day!

Snow days are exciting.

But they throw a wrench into my routine.

Of course, I barely have a routine, and what little routine I have is really just a couple of weeks old, so you’d think I could deal with it.  But this is what happens to me:  I struggle to create a routine, I struggle to follow the routine, and then something unexpected comes up–like a snow day, for instance–and it throws me all in a tizzy and I throw the whole routine out the window, and not just for that day, but for all time.  Because, you know, if you can’t do it today, you might as well never do it ever ever again.

That’s called “all or nothing.”  And that’s my middle name.

So, today’s a snow day and I very nearly didn’t blog today.  Since my usual blogging time has become right after I put Ruth on the van to head off to school, and Ruth didn’t go to school today, I almost said, “Forget it.  I’ll blog tomorrow.”  But then I though, No! Don’t do that!  You have to blog.  Just label it Snow Day and post a picture of Isaac’s snowman.  But then all these thoughts came rushing in, about how it might be worthwhile to reflect for a minute or two or ten on how I tend to just throw up my hands and quit in response to the smallest disruptions.  That’s no good.

Especially not now.

In six months’ time I’ll be about to move out of my home and attempt to go to school while living, effectively, as a single mom.  If I can’t find a way to “roll with it,” a way not to be “all or nothing,” a way to take the blow of an interruption, respond, and keep on going along my path, I won’t make it through the first week.  So.  In these six months of preparation I have now, I’d like to focus on rolling with it.  I’d like to focus on being able to lose focus momentarily and get right back into focus.  Yes, I used the word ‘focus’ three times in one sentence.  And I did so very, very intentionally.  I need focus, yes.  And I generally have focus.  What I lack is flexible focus.  Focus that can turn off and then turn back on again.  Wish me luck.  Or Pray me God’s help.  Because this is quite the task I’ve set for myself:  Don’t Let a Snow Day Stop You!

And, here.  For your viewing pleasure, Isaac’s snowman:


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I don’t know why I ever make plans . . .

That can be the theme of my Lenten reflections, if my Lenten reflections take the direction I plan them to take.  But I don’t know why I ever make plans, because, for example, here it is the first day of my plan to reflect on the last year and the next year and the thing I want to write about has nothing to do with that.

But the title still works as my planned theme.  Just not necessarily as my theme for today.  Which, I suppose, just serves to support the implications of my title, which, in turn, then makes it a very appropriate title.

Carry on, now, Lee . . .

Very often when I’m reading Scripture, I have the voice of an antagonist in the back of my head.  He’s a nice antagonist, really.  But he’s there nonetheless.  His is often the voice of some Other I’ve been reading or hearing or thinking about lately.  And so as I read the passage of Scripture, I hear Scripture arguing against that Other.  I’m not sure if that makes sense, so I’ll just go ahead and get to the point.

This morning I was reading 2 Corinthians 1, when I was struck by verses 8-11:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (ESV)

And that’s when Mr. Antagonist popped up in my head.  And he was representing all those voices that say things like, “God doesn’t give us more than we can handle.”  And, “God didn’t rescue you from that difficulty because you didn’t have faith that he would.”  Generally all those voices that make you feel like garbage when you have your doubts and fear death or utter destruction is near and you’re not sure how God’s going to pull you out of it, or if he’s going to.

In response to all those voices that beat you when you’re down, comes Paul’s own experience.  You know.  Paul.  The one whose words and witness shape most of the standards we set for our own faith.  Paul.  The one who was struck blind and saw the Lord himself!  Paul.  You know.  Paul.

Seems Paul suffered some afflictions and difficulties there in Asia.  So much so that it left Paul utterly burdened beyond his strength.  Paul!  despairing of life itself!  believing he had received a death sentence!  Paul.


I know I’ve said his name so many times now that it looks like a foreign word or some weird line-up of letters.  But think about it!  This is Paul describing his experience in these terms:  life was so hard, it was more than I could bear, I thought for sure I was going to die! it was all over!

He doesn’t say, “We could have despaired, but we did not, because we knew God was going to rescue us! we had faith! and God honored our faith and rescued us!”  The summation of that, you realize, is “Yay our faith!”  But, nope.  That’s not what Paul says.  He says he and his companions were flattened.  In utter despair, certain of death, all but lost.

Ever been there?

I have.

Ever have someone say, “Buck up, Little Camper, it’s not so bad.  Where’s your faith?”

I have.

But that’s not what Paul is saying.  Without apology, he puts into clear terms where he found himself:  at rock bottom.  Period.

And then.

And then he was delivered.  Not because he cried out to God.  Not because he believed that God would deliver him.  No.  God, who raises the dead! delivered him.  The dead!  The lifeless!  The ones who can’t do one thing on their own because they. are. dead.  God.  Raises them.  Delivers them.

We don’t have to rely on ourselves, on our ability even to muster the strength to reach up and grab God’s hand that he’s extending.  No.  In the  midst of our own afflictions, whatever they may be, God! who raises the dead! will deliver us.

That.  That is comfort.  That is hope.  That is assurance.  That is Good News for little ol’, prone-to-despar-and-pessimism me.  And for you.

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Lent again . . .

I’ll be honest.  I kind of have an ambivalent relationship with the liturgical calendar.  On the one hand, I like the rhythm it adds to the year, and I find value in our telling and retelling and telling again the story of our faith.  It is an ancient practice of the Church, so, it’s hard to argue that it’s completely wrong.  And I never really try to say it’s completely wrong.  However.  My own background leaves me bristling at the blind following of tradition.  Of doing what we’ve always done because we’ve always done it.  It also leaves me bristling at our human tendency to enjoy making things harder on ourselves than we need to.  And from a more pragmatic standpoint, when a church follows the liturgical calendar so closely, particularly by faithfully following a lectionary for Sunday Scripture readings, I feel like we can end up missing the bigger picture.  Or like we can just get stuck in this 3-year loop.

Now that’s a lot of words up there.  And I don’t even know who reads my blog.  But I know that I have friends who are Roman Catholic and have followed the liturgical calendar their whole lives, and I have friends from other traditions who might have no idea what in the world I’m talking about.

So, I’ll just carry on with my point.  I, for years, have not participated in much of a Lenten discipline.  It’s not that I have a problem when someone else does it.  It’s not really rooted in any core conviction of my own.  I think it’s simply part of my own faith story.  It’s part of my own living out of “for freedom Christ has set us free.”  I don’t observe a Lenten discipline because I know it’s OK if I don’t.  Now.  I am not advocating my approach.  Nor I am I saying it’s right and good and holy.  It may very well be so steeped in sin that it’s coal black.  But that’s what I do.

So.  My point was?  I think my point was, I’d like to write every day as part of my Lenten non-observance.

And in case you think you’re having déjà vu, you’re not.  I just remembered I wrote about Lent two years ago.  Here.  And when I went back to read it just now, I was amused at my repeated use of the word ambivalent.

So, there you have it.  A plan to write every day.  Again.  We’ll see how I do this time.  I hope to write about the insanely crazy year we just came out of, as well as the insanely crazy year we are now entering.  God’s fingerprints are all over all of it.  Reflecting on it, swimming around in the thinkings of my life during these years, dredging through the wilderness places of this past year, and thinking long and hard about the unknowns that lie ahead . . . all of these things are bound to leave room for God’s Holy Spirit to renew my faith, to draw me closer.  And I pray that my reflections will do the same for some of my friends.


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You’ll Always Have the Poor Among You . . .

Do you know I’ve heard that said as if it were a promise?  that I’ve heard people building their entire philosophy of giving over that verse?

“Jesus said we’d never solve the problem of poverty.”

“I mean, there’s only so much we can do, Jesus said we’d always have the poor among us.”

“It’s OK that I travel and live the good life.  That I have all these things.  Jesus said we’d always have the poor among us.  So, my sacrificing these things isn’t going to put an end to having poor people.”

These are real things I’ve heard real people say.  Really.

And now I’d like to say:  Stop.  Stop and think about what you’re saying.  About what you’re doing.

Did Jesus really say that phrase as a promise?  “I promise you, friends, poverty will never be wiped from the earth.  Those poor aren’t going anywhere anyway.  It’s all part of my plan:  to keep some people poor.”  And did he then imply the corollary?  “So, relax about all your luxuries.  Live it up!”

Um.  Given the full scope of Scripture?  I’m inclined to say No.  That was not his point.  And that was not his intended implication.  We don’t have to go very far to find a glaring contrast—from Jesus himself!—to this sentiment.  One chapter earlier, really just a few verses earlier, Matthew 25: 41-46, Jesus himself describes the time “when the Son of Man comes in his glory,” sits on his throne, and stands in judgment of all the nations who are gathered before him:

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’  Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

I don’t know about you, but that passage scares the pants off me.  In fact, perhaps it should scare the pants right off me and onto someone else who has no pants but is in need of some.  I look around my house full—FULL! Cluttered, even!—of luxuries.  Books.  Enough clothes for everyone to be dressed for seven days without washing anything.  Books.  Toys.  Oh-so-many TOYS!  Food.  Oh, glorious, glorious food:  the remains of several animals in my freezer, fresh fruits on my counter, milk, cheese eggs, rice, flour, sugar . . . you get the picture.  Blankets and heating oil and! Fresh water!  Right there! With the flip of a lever!  And (did I mention?) books!

I want for absolutely nothing.  Nothing.  And I have so much crap, I wish someone would come and steal 95% of it.  Imagine!  I live in a culture where having too much stuff is not only an option, but also a complaint!

Really?  This is right?  And good?  And as God intended?  I have a hard time swallowing that pill in light of the passage from Matthew I just copied out.  It would be much, much easier for me to quickly read down a handful of lines and hear Jesus’s reassuring words:  “You always have the poor with you.”  Whew!  I’ll always have the poor with me, so there’s no point in selling all I possess and giving the proceeds to them.  What kind of crazy nut would expect me to do that?!

Oh.  crap.

hmmmmmm . . .

There seems to be a bit of a conflict here . . . a conundrum if you will.  Scripture must be contradicting itself.  Surely that’s it.  Except only I don’t believe that’s possible. . . . Well, it’s Paul, so I don’t really have to worry about what it says . . . oh.  wait.  It’s not Paul.  It’s Jesus.  On both counts.  So, I can’t use that trick . . .

I’m just going to have to go ahead and consider the two verses in light of the entire witness of Scripture.  Like a good little Reformed girl ought.  I should stop for a minute and count up in just how many verses the Bible champions the plight of the poor, the oppressed, the widows, the orphans, the imprisoned (oh, no.  I’m not even going to go there today!).  How often Israel is punished for neglecting the needs of the poor, the oppressed, the widows, and the orphans.  To say nothing of passages about debt forgiveness and lavish grace.

But you know what?  I don’t even have to go there.  I can just read the rest of Jesus’s sentence.  (Go figure!)

“For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.”

He’s not making a promise.  He’s not making a promise with a  orollary for life application.  He’s stating a simple fact.  To real people.  Gathered in his presence under difficult, difficult circumstances.  The Man is about to undergo torture and agony.  He’s about to have his body ripped apart, his lungs crushed, leaving him broken, humiliated, and experiencing abandonment the likes of which we could never, ever imagine.  And he’s saying to a woman who is coming to him with her lavish gift, her lavish love, her lavish devotion:  Yes.  Please.  Love me.  Comfort me.  Serve me.  I’m only going to be here for a little while longer.  One jar of perfume ain’t gonna break the bank.  Yes.  Bring me your best.  Offer it to me.  Lay it at my feet.  Give to me lavishly.  Joe who sleeps on the corner is still going to be there tomorrow, but I’m not.

And how do I know he’s not talking in more general, more figurative terms?  Because here he says, “You will not always have me.”  And when I flip just two pages in my Bible, I read Jesus say,

“Behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

And that much I know is true.

Perhaps this whole “You will always have the poor with you” line must always be connected to, “but you will not always have me.”  And, perhaps we should live as if the entire sentence is true.  The implications of which, as I see it, give us two options:

1.  We will not always have Jesus because we have passed by someone who was hungry, thirsty, a stranger (at Coffee Hour, perhaps?), naked, or sick in prison, so we will be sent away into eternal punishment.

2.  We will always have Jesus with us, and, perhaps, in the form of hungry, thirsty, strange, naked, sick and imprisoned folk, and we had best love on him as lavishly as we possibly can, with the best of the best of what we have, with our very last penny if need be.

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